Get Army of the Republic of Vietnam essential facts below. View Videos or join the Army of the Republic of Vietnam discussion. Add Army of the Republic of Vietnam to your PopFlock.com topic list for future reference or share this resource on social media.
Army of the Republic of Vietnam
Former ground forces of the South Vietnamese military
The ARVN began as a postcolonial army that was trained by and closely affiliated with the United States and had engaged in conflict since its inception. Several changes occurred throughout its lifetime, initially from a 'blocking-force' to a more modern conventional force using helicopter deployment in combat. During the American intervention, the ARVN was reduced to playing a defensive role with an incomplete modernisation, and transformed again following Vietnamization, it was upgeared, expanded, and reconstructed to fulfill the role of the departing American forces. By 1974, it had become much more effective with foremost counterinsurgency expert and Nixon adviser Robert Thompson noting that Regular Forces were very well-trained and second only to the American and Israeli forces in the Free World and with General Creighton Abrams remarking that 70% of units were on par with the US Army. However, the withdrawal of American forces by Vietnamization meant the armed forces could not effectively fulfill all of the aims of the program and had become completely dependent on U.S. equipment since it was meant to fulfill the departing role of the United States.
Unique in serving a dual military-civilian administrative purpose, in direct competition with the Viet Cong, the ARVN had also become a component of political power and suffered from continual issues of political loyalty appointments, corruption in leadership, factional infighting, and occasional open internal conflict.
Benefiting from French assistance, the VNA quickly became a modern army modeled after the Expeditionary Corps. It included infantry, artillery, signals, armored cavalry, airborne, airforce, navy and a national military academy. By 1953 troopers as well as officers were all Vietnamese, the latter having been trained in Ecoles des Cadres such as Da Lat, including Chief of Staff General Nguy?n V?n Hinh who was a French Union airforce veteran.
On 26 October 1955, the military was reorganized by the administration of President Ngô ?ình Di?m who then formally established the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) on 30 December 1955. The air force was established as a separate service known as the Republic of Vietnam Air Force (RVNAF). Early on, the focus of the army was the guerrilla fighters of the Viet Cong (VC), formed to oppose the Di?m administration. The United States, under President John F. Kennedy sent advisors and a great deal of financial support to aid the ARVN in combating the insurgents. A major campaign, developed by Ngô ?ình Nhu and later resurrected under another name was the "Strategic Hamlet Program" which was regarded as unsuccessful by Western media because it was "inhumane" to move villagers from the countryside to fortified villages. ARVN leaders and President Di?m were criticized by the foreign press when the troops were used to crush armed anti-government religious groups like the Cao ?ài and Hòa H?o as well as to raid Buddhist temples, which according to Di?m, were harboring VC guerrillas. The most notorious of these attacks occurred on the night of August 21, 1963, during the Xá L?i Pagoda raids conducted by the Special Forces, which caused a death toll estimated to range into the hundreds.
In 1963 Di?m was killed in a coup d'état carried out by ARVN officers and encouraged by American officials such as Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. In the confusion that followed, General Dng V?n Minh took control, but he was only the first in a succession of ARVN generals to assume the presidency of South Vietnam. During these years, the United States began taking more control of the war against the VC and the role of the ARVN became less and less significant. They were also plagued by continuing problems of severe corruption amongst the officer corps. Although the US was highly critical of the ARVN, it continued to be entirely US-armed and funded.
Although the American news media has often portrayed the Vietnam War as a primarily American and North Vietnamese conflict, the ARVN carried the brunt of the fight before and after large-scale American involvement, and participated in many major operations with American troops. ARVN troops pioneered the use of the M113 armored personnel carrier as an infantry fighting vehicle by fighting mounted rather than as a "battle taxi" as originally designed, and the armored cavalry (ACAV) modifications were adopted based on ARVN experience. One notable ARVN unit equipped with M113s, the 3d Armored Cavalry Squadron, used the new tactic so proficiently and with such extraordinary heroism against hostile forces that they earned the United States Presidential Unit Citation. The ARVN suffered 254,256 recorded deaths between 1960 and 1974, with the highest number of recorded deaths being in 1972, with 39,587 combat deaths, while approximately 58,000 U.S. troops died during the war. There were also many circumstances in which Vietnamese families had members on both sides of the conflict.
Training Center Insignia and Emblems
Thu Duc Infantry School (Trng B? binh Th? c)
ARVN Junior Military Academy
Van Kiep National Training Center
South Vietnamese National Military Academy (Trng Võ b? Qu?c gia Vi?t Nam)
Emblem of the Vietnamese National Military Academy
Quang Trung National Training Center
South Vietnamese Command and General Staff College (Trng Ch? huy Tham m?u) at Da Lat. This was the primary officer training school
Regiments of Cadets of the Vietnamese Military Academy at Da Lat from 1950 to 1975
School of the Non-commissioned Officers of the Vietnam Military
ARVN Military Dog Training Center
South Vietnamese Political Warfare College (Trng i h?c Chi?n tranh Chính tr?)
South Vietnamese Women's Army Corps Training Center (Trung tâm Qu?n tr? Hu?n luy?n N? quân nhân)
United States experience with the ARVN generated a catalog of complaints about its performance, with various officials saying 'it did not pull its weight,' 'content to let the Americans do the fighting and dying,' and 'weak in dedication, direction, and discipline.' The President remained prone to issue instructions directly to field units, cutting across the entire chain of command. Major shortcomings identified by U.S. officers included a general lack of motivation, indicated, for example, by officers having an inclination for rear area jobs rather than combat command, and a continuing desertion problem.
Starting in 1969 President Richard Nixon started the process of "Vietnamization", pulling out American forces and rendering the ARVN capable of fighting an effective war against the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) and VC. Slowly, the ARVN began to expand from its counter-insurgency role to become the primary ground defense against the PAVN/VC. From 1969 to 1971 there were about 22,000 ARVN combat deaths per year. Starting in 1968, South Vietnam began calling up every available man for service in the ARVN, reaching a strength of one million soldiers by 1972. In 1970 they performed well in the Cambodian Incursion and were executing three times as many operations as they had during the American-led war period. However, the ARVN equipment continued to be of lower standards than their American and other allies, even as the U.S. tried to upgrade ARVN technology. The officer corps was still the biggest problem. Leaders were too often inept, being poorly trained, corrupt and lacking morale. Still, Sir Robert Thompson, a British military officer widely regarded as the worlds foremost expert in counterinsurgency warfare during the Vietnam War, thought that by 1972, the ARVN had developed into one of the best fighting forces in the world, comparing them favorably with the Israeli Defence Forces. Forced to carry the burden left by the Americans, the ARVN actually started to perform rather well, though with continued American air support.
In 1972, the PAVN launched the Easter Offensive, an all-out attack against South Vietnam across the Vietnamese Demilitarized Zone and from its sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia. The assault combined infantry wave assaults, artillery and the first massive use of armored forces by the PAVN. Although the T-54 tanks proved vulnerable to LAW rockets, the ARVN took heavy losses. The PAVN forces took Qu?ng Tr? Province and some areas along the Laos and Cambodian borders.
President Nixon dispatched bombers in Operation Linebacker to provide air support for the ARVN when it seemed that South Vietnam was about to be lost. In desperation, President Nguy?n V?n Thi?u fired the incompetent General Hoàng Xuân Lãm and replaced him with General Ngô Quang Trng. He gave the order that all deserters would be executed and pulled enough forces together in order to prevent the PAVN from taking Hu?. Finally, with considerable US air and naval support, as well as hard fighting by the ARVN soldiers, the Easter Offensive was halted. ARVN forces counter-attacked and succeeded in driving some of the PAVN out of South Vietnam, though they did retain control of northern Qu?ng Tr? Province near the DMZ.
At the end of 1972, Operation Linebacker II helped achieve a negotiated end to the war between the U.S. and the Hanoi government. By March 1973, in accordance with the Paris Peace Accords the United States had completely pulled its troops out of Vietnam. The ARVN was left to fight alone, but with all the weapons and technologies that their allies left behind. With massive technological support they had roughly four times as many heavy weapons as their enemies. The U.S. left the ARVN with over one thousand aircraft, making the RVNAF the fourth largest air force in the world. These figures are deceptive, however, as the U.S. began to curtail military aid. The same situation happened to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, since their allies, the Soviet Union, and China has also cut down military support, forcing them to use obsolete T-34 tanks and SU-100 tank destroyers in battle.
In the summer of 1974, Nixon resigned under the pressure of the Watergate scandal and was succeeded by Gerald Ford. With the war growing incredibly unpopular at home, combined with a severe economic recession and mounting budget deficits, Congress cut funding to South Vietnam for the upcoming fiscal year from 1 billion to 700 million dollars. Historians have attributed the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the cessation of American aid along with the growing disenchantment of the South Vietnamese people and the rampant corruption and incompetence of South Vietnam political leaders and ARVN general staff.
Without the necessary funds and facing a collapse in South Vietnamese troop and civilian morale, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the ARVN to achieve a victory against the PAVN. Moreover, the withdrawal of U.S. aid encouraged North Vietnam to begin a new military offensive against South Vietnam. This resolve was strengthened when the new American administration did not think itself bound to this promise Nixon made to Thieu of a "severe retaliation" if Hanoi broke the 1973 Paris Peace Accords.
The fall of Hu? to PAVN forces on 26 March 1975 began an organized rout of the ARVN that culminated in the complete disintegration of the South Vietnamese government. Withdrawing ARVN forces found the roads choked with refugees making troop movement almost impossible. North Vietnamese forces took advantage of the growing instability, and with the abandoned equipment of the routing ARVN, they mounted heavy attacks on all fronts. With collapse all but inevitable, many ARVN generals abandoned their troops to fend for themselves and ARVN soldiers deserted en masse. The 18th Division held out at Xuân L?c from 9 to 21 April before being forced to withdraw. President Thi?u resigned his office on 21 April and left the country. At Bien Hoa, ARVN soldiers made a strong resistance against PAVN forces, however, ARVN defenses at Cu Chi and Hoc Mon start to collapse under the overwhelming PAVN attacks. In the Mekong Delta and Phu Quoc Island, many of ARVN soldiers were aggressive and intact to prevent VC taking over any provincial capitals. Less than a month after Hu?, Saigon fell and South Vietnam ceased to exist as a political entity. The sudden and complete destruction of the ARVN shocked the world. Even their opponents were surprised at how quickly South Vietnam collapsed.
There were hundreds of soldiers, officers, and colonels who committed suicide, making a decision not to live under communism. Five ARVN generals committed suicide during late April to avoid capture by the PAVN/VC and potential reeducation camps. General Le Nguyen Vy committed suicide in Lai Khe shortly after hearing Duong Van Minh surrender from the radio. Both ARVN generals in Can Tho, Le Van Hung and Nguyen Khoa Nam, committed suicide after deciding not to prolong resistance against outnumbered PAVN/VC soldiers in Mekong Region. Brigadier General Tran Van Hai committed suicide by poison at Dong Tam Base Camp. General Pham Van Phu committed suicide at a hospital in Saigon.
The U.S. had provided the ARVN with 793,994 M1 carbines, 220,300 M1 Garands and 520 M1C/M1D rifles, 640,000 M-16 rifles, 34,000 M79 grenade launchers, 40,000 radios, 20,000 quarter-ton trucks, 214 M41 Walker Bulldog light tanks, 77 M577 Command tracks (command version of the M113 APC), 930 M113 (APC/ACAVs), 120 V-100s (wheeled armored cars), and 190 M48 tanks. Operations Enhance and Enhance Plus an American effort in November 1972 managed to transfer 59 more M48A3 Patton tanks, 100 additional M-113A1 ACAVs (Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles), and over 500 extra aircraft to South Vietnam. Despite such impressive figures, the Vietnamese were not as well equipped as the American infantrymen they replaced. The 1972 offensive had been driven back only with a massive American bombing campaign against North Vietnam.
The Case-Church Amendment had effectively nullified the Paris Peace Accords, and as a result the United States had cut aid to South Vietnam drastically in 1974, just months before the final enemy offensive, allowing North Vietnam to invade South Vietnam without fear of U.S. military action. As a result, only a little fuel and ammunition were being sent to South Vietnam. South Vietnamese air and ground vehicles were immobilized by lack of spare parts. Troops went into battle without batteries for their radios, and their medics lacked basic supplies. South Vietnamese rifles and artillery pieces were rationed to three rounds of ammunition per day in the last months of the war. Without enough supplies and ammunition, ARVN forces were quickly thrown into chaos and defeated by the well-supplied PAVN, no longer having to worry about U.S. bombing.
The victorious Communists sent over 250,000 ARVN soldiers to prison camps wherein they were routinely tortured and murdered some for a period of eleven consecutive years. The communists called these prison camps "reeducation camps". The Americans and South Vietnamese had laid large minefields during the war, and former ARVN soldiers were made to clear them. Thousands died from sickness and starvation and were buried in unmarked graves. The South Vietnamese national military cemetery was vandalized and abandoned, and a mass grave of ARVN soldiers was made nearby. The charity "The Returning Casualty" in the early 2000s attempted to excavate and identify remains from some camp graves and restore the cemetery. Reporter Morley Safer who returned in 1989 and saw the poverty of a former soldier described the ARVN as "that wretched army that was damned by the victors, abandoned by its allies, and royally and continuously screwed by its commanders".
WAFC (Women's Armed Forces Corps) division in the National Armed Forces Day parade, Saigon, June 19, 1971
Formations and units
The 1956 army structure of four conventional infantry divisions (8,100 each) and six light divisions (5,800 each) were reorganised according to American advice as seven full infantry divisions (10,450 each) and three corps headquarters by September 1959. The three armed services together numbered around 137,000 in 1960. In face of the communist threat, the army was expanded to 192,000 with four corps, nine divisions, one airborne brigade, one SF group, three separate regiments, one territorial regiment, 86 ranger companies, and 19 separate battalions, as well as support units in 1963, and a force strength of 355,135 in 1970. Meanwhile, the supporting militia forces grew from a combined initial size of 116,000 in 1956, declined to 86,000 in 1959, and then were pushed up to 218,687 RF & 179,015 PF in 1970. The effect of expanding the total land force from about 220,000 in 1960 to around 750,000 in 1970 can be imagined, along with the troop quality issues that resulted.
1st Infantry Division - The French formed the 21st Mobile Group in 1953, renamed 21st Division in January 1955, the 1st Division later that year. Both the 1st and 2nd Divisions were established, Gordon Rottman writes, on January 1, 1959. Considered "one of the best South Vietnamese combat units". Based in Hu?, it had four rather than three regiments. Component units:
1st, 3rd, 51st and 54th Infantry Regiments
10th, 11th, 12th and 13th Artillery Battalions
7th Armoured Cavalry Squadron
US Advisory Team 3
2nd Infantry Division - The French formed the 32nd Mobile Group in 1953, renamed 32nd Division in January 1955, then the 2nd Division later that year. Based in Qu?ng Ngãi, it was considered a "fairly good" division. Component units:
4th, 5th and 6th Infantry Regiments
20th, 21st, 22nd and 23rd Artillery Battalions
4th Armoured Cavalry Squadron
US Advisory Team 2
3rd Infantry Division - Raised in October 1971 in Qu?ng Tr?. One regiment was from the 1st Division (the 2nd Inf Regt). Based at Da Nang. It collapsed in the 1972 Easter Offensive, was reconstituted, and was destroyed at Da Nang in 1975. Component units:
2nd, 56th and 57th Infantry Regiments
30th, 31st, 32nd and 33rd Artillery Battalions
20th Armoured Cavalry Squadron
US Advisory Team 155
5th Infantry Division - Originally formed in North Vietnam as the 6th Division (commonly known as the "Nung" division), and renamed the 3rd Field Division after its move to Song Mao then to the 5th Division in 1959. Many Nungs originally were in its ranks. It was at Biên Hòa in 1963 and was involved in the overthrow of Di?m. It then operated north of Saigon. It entered Cambodia in 1970 and defended An L?c in 1972. Component units:
7th, 8th and 9th Infantry Regiments
50th, 51st, 52nd and 53rd Artillery Battalions
1st Armoured Cavalry Squadron
US Advisory Team 70
7th Infantry Division - Formed as the 7th Mobile Group by the French, it became the 7th Division in 1959. Served in Mekong Delta 1961-75. Component units:
18th Infantry Division - Formed as the 10th Division in 1965. Renamed the 18th Division in 1967 (number ten meant the worst in GI slang). Based at Xuân L?c. Made famous for its defence of that town for a month in March-April 1975. Component units:
43rd, 48th and 52nd Infantry Regiments
180th, 181st, 182nd and 183rd Artillery Battalions
5th Armoured Cavalry Squadron
US Advisory Team 87
21st Infantry Division - The ARVN 1st and 3rd Light Divisions were formed in 1955, then renamed the 11th and 13th Light Divisions in 1956. They were combined to form the 21st Division in 1959. Served mainly near Saigon and in the Mekong Delta. Component units:
31st, 32nd and 33rd Infantry Regiments
210th, 211st, 212nd and 213rd Artillery Battalions
9th Armoured Cavalry Squadron
US Advisory Team 51
22nd Infantry Division - Initially raised as the 4th Infantry Division, which existed briefly in the 1950s, but was renamed the 22nd Division as four is considered an unlucky number in Vietnam (sounds in Vietnamese like the word for death). The ARVN 2nd and 4th Light Divisions were formed in 1955; the 4th was renamed the 14th Light Division in 1956. They were combined to form the 22nd Division in 1959. It served near Kon Tum and elsewhere in the Central Highlands. It collapsed in 1972, and in 1975 was in Bình nh province. It was evacuated south of Saigon as Central Highlands front fell, and was one of the last ARVN units to surrender. Component units:
40th, 41st, 42nd and 47th Infantry Regiments
220th, 221st, 222nd and 223rd Artillery Battalions
19th Armoured Cavalry Squadron
US Advisory Team 22
23rd Infantry Division - Originally the 5th Light Division, it was renamed 23rd in 1959. It operated in central Vietnam, and entered Cambodia in 1970. It fought well in 1972, successfully defending Kon Tum, but was shattered in 1975 while defending Ban Me Thout. Component units:
43rd, 44th, 45th and 53rd Infantry Regiments
230th, 231st, 232nd and 233rd Artillery Battalions
8th Armoured Cavalry Squadron
US Advisory Team 33
25th Infantry Division - Formed in Qu?ng Ngãi in 1962, it moved to south west of Saigon in 1964. It entered Parrot's Break, Cambodia in 1970, and defended the western approaches of Saigon in 1972 and 1975. Component units:
46th, 49th and 50th Infantry Regiments
250th, 251st, 252nd and 253rd Artillery Battalions
10th Armoured Cavalry Squadron
US Advisory Team 99
Airborne Division - originally formed by the French as the Airborne Group in 1955. Brigade strength by 1959, it was formed as division in 1965. Based at Tan Son Nhut Air Base, it was used as a fire brigade throughout South Vietnam. It included 9 Airborne Battalions and 3 Airborne Ranger Battalions. It fought in Cambodia in 1970 and Laos in 1971. It was used as brigade Groups in 1975, the 1st at Xuân L?c, the 2nd at Phan Rang, and the 3rd at Nha Trang. A 4th Brigade was added in 1974. Component units:
1st Airborne Brigade
1st, 8th and 9th Airborne Battalions
1st Airborne Artillery Battalion
2nd Airborne Brigade
5th, 7th and 11th Airborne Battalions
2nd Airborne Artillery Battalion
3rd Airborne Brigade
2nd, 3rd and 6th Airborne Battalions
3rd Airborne Artillery Battalion
4th Airborne Brigade
4th and 10th Airborne Battalions
US Airborne Advisory Team 162
Republic of Vietnam Marine Division - A branch of Navy which was formed in 1954 at first on two battalions, expanded to six in two brigades by 1965, forming a division in 1968. A third brigade was added in 1970 and a fourth in 1975 had a generally good reputation as a combat force. Component units:
Lê Nguyên V?, last commander of 5th Division, one of the 5 generals who committed suicide on April 30, 1975
Lê V?n H?ng, defender of An L?c during the Easter Offensive in 1972, one of the five generals who committed suicide on April 30, 1975
Ngô Quang Trng, ARVN Corps commander renowned for his competence, tactical proficiency, forthrightness, and incorruptibility. Widely regarded by both American and Vietnamese contemporaries as the finest field commander the ARVN possessed.
Ph?m V?n ng, Military Governor of Saigon 1965-1966, suppressed Buddhist movement
Ph?m V?n Phú, last Commander of II Corps, one of the 5 generals who committed suicide on April 30, 1975
Tr?n V?n Minh, Ambassador of the Republic of Vietnam to Tunis, Tunisia 1969-75
Tr?n V?n Hai, last commander of 7th Division 1974-75, one of the five generals who committed suicide on April 30, 1975
Ranks and insignia
The ARVN inherited the mix of French and American weaponry of the VNA, but was progressively reequipped firstly with American World War II/Korean War era weapons and then from the mid-1960s with a range of more up to date American weaponry.
M15 and M34 smoke grenades - filled with white phosphorus which ignites on contact with air and creates thick white smoke.:56 Used for signalling and screening purposes, as well as an anti-personnel weapon in enclosed spaces, as the burning white phosphorus would rapidly consume any oxygen, suffocating the victims.
Bazooka - The M9 variant was supplied to the ARVN during the early years of the war,:7,34 while the M20 "Super Bazooka" was used by the ARVN until the full introduction of the M67 90mm recoilless rifle and of the M72 LAW.
^Clarke, Jeffrey J. (1988), United States Army in Vietnam: Advice and Support: The Final Years, 1965-1973, Washington, D.C: Center of Military History, United States Army, p. 275
^ abc"Flashbacks", Morley Safer, Random House / St Martins Press, 1991, p 322
^Memorandum from George Carver of the Vietnamese Affairs Staff, CIA, to DCI Helms, July 7, 1966, FRUS Vietnam 1964-68, Vol. 4, p.486, cited in Robert K. Brigham, ARVN: Life and Death in the South Vietnamese Army, University Press of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas, 2006, p.x
^Letter from John Sylvester, Jr, Province Senior Advisor, Binh Long Province, to Charles Whitehouse, Deputy for CORDS II FFV/III CTZ, Sept. 19, 1969, The Francis N. Dawson Papers: US Policy Toward Indochina 1940-53, Reports for Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, US Military History Institute, Carlisle Barracks, Penn, cited in Brigham, 2006, p.x
^Memo from Secretary of Defense McNamara to President Johnson, March 26, 1964, Foreign Relations of the United States Vietnam 1964-68, Vol. 4, Washington DC, Govt. Printing Office, 1994, p.732, cited in Brigham p.x.
^Make For the Hills: The Autobiography of the World's Leading Counter Insurgency Expert. Leo Cooper (1989): page 114.
^Gordon L. Rottman, "Army of the Republic of Vietnam 1955-75," Osprey, 2012.
^The Organization of the Ranger Groups is highly tentative, as the battalions were rather frequently switched between different groups. As an example, the much decorated 34th Battalion served in different periods with the 3rd, 5th and 6th Groups.
AFRVN Military History Section, J-5, Strategic Planning and Policy (1977). Quân S? 4: Quân l?c Vi?t Nam C?ng Hòa trong giai-?o?n hình-thành: 1946-1955 (reprinted from the 1972 edition in Taiwan) [Military History: AFRVN, the formation period, 1946-1955] (in Vietnamese). DaiNam Publishing.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)