Saturday, October 31, 2015

60 Years Ago - One Million Northern Refugees Arrive in the Republic of Vietnam

Northern refugees traveling from Haiphong to Saigon, 1954.
      Following the Geneva Conference in 1954, Vietnam was partitioned at the 17th parallel between the Republic of Vietnam and the Communist north. The conference stipulated that the population of Vietnam would have freedom of movement across the 17th parallel for a period of three hundred days to allow citizens to choose under which government they would like to live. However, shortly after the results of the conference were made official it became clear that the principal movement would be a massive exodus from the north to the south as roughly a million northerners (the vast majority civilians) choose to become refugees rather than live under the Communist government. In contrast, there was no comparable movement of civilians from the south to the north.

Ngo Dinh Diem visiting a northern refugee resettlement camp, May, 1956.

      Most traveled south by ship where the northern refugees were resettled by the Republic of Vietnam. Sixty years ago today, on October 31st, 1955, it was announced nearly a million had arrived in the south. In time, many of them would come to form a central nucleus in the military and government of the country. The experience of lost homes in the north, and having to build new lives in the south as refugees was not far from their memories. However, just twenty years later many would be forced to relive the same experience on a greater scale after 1975.

Northern refugees onboard the HMS Warrior, 1954.


Monday, October 26, 2015

The Refused Handshake 1973

The Refused Handshake, a Vietnamese ranger and North Vietnamese colonel, Saigon, 1973.

                The "peace talks" of 1972-73 were fraught with unease by many in the Republic of Vietnam who were weary of the true intentions of their Communist foes. Among the many facets of the talks was the establishment of the International Commission for Control and Supervision (ICCS). The commission was established on January 27, 1973, and its aim was to supervise the implementation of the cease-fire agreements. However, its task proved ultimately unattainable. Between January and July of 1973 there were an estimated 18,000 separate violations of the peace talks agreements.
          On February 5, 1973, roughly a week after the creation of the ICCS, a meeting was held between the ICCS and the Joint Military Commission in Saigon. The meeting included military representatives of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam). The entrance to where the meeting was taking place was filled with reporters from around the world. Despite the peace agreements, the Communist forces in Vietnam were already openly violating them, but were keen to try and convince the world's press otherwise. As he passed through the entrance, a North Vietnamese colonel eyed a potential photo opportunity to downplay the ongoing aggression of his government by shaking the hand of a Republic of Vietnam ranger on guard duty.

The awkward scene, a Vietnamese ranger and North Vietnamese colonel, Saigon, 1973.

            However, the ranger made no response other than a tense glare. Recognizing the failure of his gesture, the North Vietnamese officer changed tactics by awkwardly patting the ranger on the back and giving a few quick remarks, which elicited a humorless grin from the ranger.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Vietnamese Ranger Berets - Biệt Ðộng Quân QVLNCH

Vietnamese ranger with beret, RVNHS Archive, 1966.
            The Republic of Vietnam Rangers ( Biệt Ðộng Quân ) were a backbone of the republic's armed forces. Ranger units served throughout the country, and fought in most of the republic's military operations. Over the course of nearly twenty years, thousands of individuals would serve in the ranger force and don the ranger's maroon beret.

Vietnamese ranger beret with bullion badge, RVNHS Archive.
Vietnamese ranger in beret, 1960s.
Vietnamese ranger beret with metal badge, RVNHS Archive.
             As with other branches of the Republic of Vietnam military, ranger berets were produced by a wide array of tailors in different cities across the republic. Different manufacturers had their own idiosyncrasies, but some general elements were in common. Berets were shades of brown-maroon colors, and the badges could either be bullion, metal, or handsewn. Most period photos show berets with bullion flashes.
Examples of different styles of Vietnamese ranger beret badges, RVNHS Archive.
          Officers' berets were often of better quality, but many enlisted personnel also wore finer quality berets. Thus, the same beret could be worn by either officer or enlisted members. Rank was sometimes added to the berets near the area surrounding the badge. This typically would be a regular metal rank pinned onto the beret, but instances of embroidered rank insignia can also be encountered in period photographs.
Vietnamese rangers in discussion with an American advisor. Note the clasp-style rank normally worn on the chest, being worn by the Vietnamese ranger officer third from left
below his beret badge, mid-1960s, RVNHS Archive.
A general's rank Vietnamese ranger beret, RVNHS Archive.
Vietnamese rangers in berets with family at the Saigon Zoo, 1970s, RVNHS Archive.
Vietnamese ranger veterans at an event in San Jose, California, 2013.

Friday, October 16, 2015

45th Anniversary: Operation Total Victory 8B5 - Toàn Thắng 8/B/5 - 1970

Soldiers of the 5th Infantry Division riding atop armored personnel carriers.
            Forty-five years ago this week, plans were being made for an operation into the Snoul region of Cambodia by the Republic of Vietnam military. Snuol sits near the border with Vietnam, and the corridor running through Snuol and down towards AnLoc in Vietnam was a constant area for enemy activity in the late 1960s-70s. The aim of Operation Total Victory 8B5 was to disrupt and destroy as much as possible enemy activity in the area while gathering intelligence.
Map of the Cambodia and Southern Vietnam border with Snuol highlighted.
Republic of Vietnam General Nguyễn Văn Hiếu.
        The 5th Infantry Division would be the main force in the campaign along with the 1st Armored Cavalry Regiment and the 3rd Ranger Group supported by the Vietnamese Air Force.  Planning for the operation began on October 14th, 1970,  and was principally lead by General Nguyễn Văn Hiếu. The plans were approved by 3rd Corps on October 21st, and following a final meeting on the 22nd, the operation commenced on October 23rd.
Insignia of the 5th Infantry Division and principal units, RVNHS Archive.
         The operation would last for nineteen days, ending on November 10th. The action was planned as a brief strike into Cambodia with Republic of Vietnam forces withdrawing back into Vietnam at its completion. It was one of many such operations the Republic of Vietnam would undertake into Cambodia during the period, and it was neither the first nor the last for the 5th Infantry Division.
Officers of the 5th Infantry Division around the time of the Operation Total Victory 8B5, 1970, RVNHS Archive.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Rural Development Cadre - RDC

Members of the Rural Development Cadre, near Qui Nhon,1969.

            The Rural Development Cadre (RDC) was formed in 1965 as a civilian auxiliary for the Republic of Vietnam. Over time, the scope of the activities of the RDC came to include tasks ranging from civic development projects (such as irrigation canal and housing construction) to conducting public education campaigns (including health awareness and political instruction) to auxiliary security operations in support of the Popular and Regional Forces as well as regular military.
Rural Development Cadre patch, printed, RVNHS Archive.
Rural Development Cadre uniform, complete with scarf and insignia, RVNHS Archive.

                            The personnel of the RDC were mainly young men and women who worked for the RDC in rural areas. Some were from these areas, others were from larger cities and towns. At times, the RDC was also known as the "Revolutionary Development Cadre" - as opposed to "Rural" - as the actions and ideology of the RDC were often aimed at progressive development and education in the countryside.
English and Vietnamese language book on the "Revolutionary" Development Cadre,
written by Nguyen Be, 1969, RVNHS Archive.
             Most functions of the RDC were civic in nature. Young members of the group assisted in providing health services to poor rural families, the improvement of village life through the construction of communal facilities, and literacy as well as vocational training. Many members of the RDC were educated, and often served with the RDC prior to entering the military, civilian professions, or continuing higher education. From 1965 onward, tens of thousands of young Vietnamese would serve in the RDC. However, in time the effectiveness of the RDC as a counter to enemy activities in the countryside was appreciated by the Republic of Vietnam government, and the RDC came to take on a more prominent security role. This included the collection of intelligence, psychological operations, and also weapons training and providing service as military auxiliaries when needed.

Members of the Rural Development Cadre armed as military auxiliaries
alongside soldiers, 1960s.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

VNAF 83rd Special Operations Group KQVNCH

A Douglas A-1 Skyraider of the 83rd Special Operations Group, mid-1960s.

              The 83rd Special Operations Group of the VNAF (sometimes referred to as the 83rd Special Air Group) was formed in the mid-1960s to act as an elite air combat unit. The unit most famously flew Douglas A-1 Skyraiders. The pilots of the 83rd were highly skilled, and came to have a reputation as an effective fighting force. The unit was closely linked with Nguyễn Cao Kỳ with many pilots being personally selected for the unit by him.

Pilots of the 83rd Special Operations Group
with Nguyễn Cao Kỳ (second from left, bottom row), mid-1960s.
83rd Special Operations Group squadron patches.
Right: hand embroidered, Left: printed, RVNHS Archive.
              The 83rd was also associated with the 518th Fighter Squadron with many pilots officially serving in both units. The 83rd achieved a number of battlefield successes during its history, but as the war progressed and the VNAF was restructured with different individuals assuming command, the pilots of the 83rd were eventually transferred to other units.

Pilots of the 83rd Special Operations Group with 518th Flight Squadron insignia
 on flight suits and planes, names annotated on photo, 1965.

            Pilots of the 83rd were well known for wearing black flight suits. Former member Hoi Ba Tran, states the change to black flight suits was done in 1965 at the bequest of the unit's new commander Lưu Kim Cương. Black flight suits were also worn by individual VNAF personnel in other units throughout the war, and period photographs also show some members of the 83rd in standard olive-drab suits after the 1965 change.

Lưu Kim Cương during his time with the 83rd Special Operations Group.
He was later killed in action in 1968.

83rd Special Operations Group pilots at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, 1965.
Back row, left to right: Ly Ngoc An, Nguyen Huu Bach, Nguyen Huy Cuong,
and Nguyen Quoc Phien. Front row, left to right: Nguyen Cao Ky and Hoi Ba Tran.
Hoi Ba Tran in 2012 at the VNAF MAC exhibition in Little Saigon, Orange County.
Members of the 83rd Special Operations Group in olive-drab flight suits with US Advisor, 1965, RVNHS Archive.