Army of the Republic of Vietnam

Army of the Republic of Vietnam

The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was a military component of the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam (commonly known as South Vietnam). Just after the end of the Vietnam War, after the fall of Saigon, it was dissolved, and while some members fled to the US, hundreds of thousands of its members were sent to reeducation camps by the communist government.

VNA (1949-1955)

On March 8, 1949, after the Elysee accords the State of Vietnam was recognized by France as an independent country ruled by Vietnamese Emperor Bao Dai and the Vietnamese National Army was soon created. The VNA fought in joint operations with the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps against the communist Viet Minh forces led by Ho Chi Minh. The VNA fought in a wide range of campaigns including but not limited to the battle of Na San (1952), the operation Atlas (1953) or the battle of Dien Bien Phu (1954). [ [ Vietnamese National Army gallery (May 1951-June 1954)] French Defense Ministry archives ECPAD]

Benefiting with French assistance the VNA quickly became a modern army modelled after the Expeditionary Corps. It included infantry, artillery, transmission, armored cavalry, airborne, airforce, navy and even 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 Dalat, including Chief of Staff General Nguyen Van Hinh which was a French Union airforce veteran.

After the 1954 Geneva agreements, the French Indochina ceased to exist and by 1956 all French Union troops had withdrawn from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

ARVN (1955-1975)

On October 26, 1956,the military was reorganized by the administration of President Ngo Dinh Diem who then established the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. The air force was known as the VNAF. Early on, the focus of the army was the guerrilla fighters of the Vietnam National Liberation Front (NLF), a shadow government formed to oppose the Diem administration. The United States, under President John F. Kennedy sent advisors and a great deal of financial support to aid ARVN in combating the Communist insurgents. A major campaign, developed by Ngo Dinh 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. Later historians however, argue it did a good job in stopping the Vietcong insurgentsFacts|date=November 2007. ARVN and President Diem began to be criticized by the foreign press when the troops were used to crush armed anti-government religious groups like the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao as well as to raid Buddhist temples, which according to Diem, were harboring Communist guerrillas. Diem also crushed the armed forces of the Binh Xuyen crime syndicate, which were supported by the French Facts|date=June 2007.

In 1963 Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a coup d'état carried out by ARVN officers and encouraged by US officials such as Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. In the confusion that followed, General Duong Van Minh took control, but 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 full control of the war against the communist NLF 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 U.S. was highly critical of them, the ARVN continued to be entirely U.S. armed and funded.

Although the US media has often portrayed the Vietnam war as an exclusively American vs Vietnamese conflict, the ARVN carried the brunt of the fight before and after large-scale US 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 ACAV modifications were adopted based on ARVN experience. An estimated 250,000 South Vietnamese troops died, while around 58,000 U.S. troops were killed during the war.

Final campaigns

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) of the North (Also called NVA for North Vietnamese Army) and the allied National Liberation Front. Slowly, ARVN began to expand from its counter-insurgency role to become the primary ground defense against the NLF and PAVN. From 1969-1971 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 a 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 war period. However, the ARVN equipment continued to be of lower standards than their American and South Korean allies, even as the U.S. tried to upgrade ARVN technology. But the officer corps was still the biggest problem. Leaders were too often poorly trained, corrupt, lacking morale and inept.

However, forced to carry the burden left by the Americans, the South Vietnamese army actually started to perform rather well and in 1970 was clearly winning the war against the Communists, though with continued American air support. The exhaustion of the North was becoming evident and the Paris talks gave some hope of a negotiated peace if not a victory.

In 1972, General Vo Nguyen Giap launched the "Easter Offensive", the first all out invasion of South Vietnam by the Communist North. The assault combined infantry wave assaults, artillery and the first massive use of tanks by the North Vietnamese. Although communist T-54 tanks proved vulnerable to LAW rockets, M48 and even the M41 light tank, the ARVN took heavy losses. The Communists took Quang Tri province and some areas along the Lao and Khmer borders.

President Richard Nixon dispatched more bombers in Operation Linebacker to provide air support for the ARVN when it seemed that South Vietnam was about to be overrun. In desperation, President Nguyen Van Thieu fired the incompetent General Lam and replaced him with General Ngo Quang Truong. He gave the order that all deserters would be executed and pulled enough forces together so that the North Vietnamese army failed to take Hue. Finally, with considerable U.S. air and naval support, as well hard fighting by the ARVN soldiers, the Easter Offensive was halted. ARVN forces counter-attacked and ultimately succeeded in driving the NVA out of South Vietnam, though they did retain control of northern Quang Tri province near the DMZ.

At the end of 1972, another US bombing offensive Operation Linebacker II brought Hanoi to a negotiated end to US involvement. By 1974, the United States had completely pulled its troops out of Vietnam. The ARVN was left to fight alone. With massive technological support they had roughly four times as many heavy weapons as their enemies. The U.S. even provided South Vietnam with thousands of aircraft, making the South Vietnam Airforce the fourth largest airforce in the world. [ [ VNAF, '51-'75 ] ] These figures are deceptive, however, as the U.S. began to curtail military aid while the North Vietnamese were given more Soviet and Chinese support.

In the fall 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 a collapse in South Vietnamese troop and civilian morale, South Vietnam found it impossible to defeat the North Vietnamese army. Moreover, the withdrawal of U.S. aid encouraged North Vietnam to begin an intense military offensive against South Vietnam. This was strengthened by the fact that while Nixon had promised Thieu a "severe retaliation" if the Communists broke the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the new American administration did not think itself bound to this promise.

With the fall of Hue to Communist forces on March 26, began an organized rout of the ARVN that culminated in the complete disintegration of the South Vietnamese government. Retreating ARVN forces found the roads choked with refugees making troop movement almost impossible. North Vietnamese forces took advantage of the growing instability and 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 mass. Except for a heroic final stand by the 18th Division at Xuan Loc, ARVN resistance all but ceased. Less than a month after Hue, Saigon fell and the nation of South Vietnam ceased to exist. The sudden and complete destruction of the ARVN shocked the world. Even the Communist forces were surprised at how quickly South Vietnam collapsed.

The U.S. had provided the ARVN with 640,000 M-16 rifles, 34,000 M79 grenade launchers, 40,000 radios, 20,000 quarter-ton trucks and 56 M48 tanks. Despite such impressive figures, the Vietnamese were not as well equipped as the American G.I.s they replaced. The 1972 offensive had been driven back only with a massive US bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The VNAF air force had 200 A1, A-37 Ground Attack Aircraft and F-5 fighters, 30 AC-47 gunships and 600 transport, training and reconnaissance aircraft, and 500 helicopters. But their lightweight attack fighters lacked the punch of offensive bombers and fighters such as the B-52 and F-4 Phantom. Many aircraft were shot down due to NVA superior missiles. ARVN ground forces were severely outnumbered by the NVA, which had the world's fifth largest army in 1975.

Major Units


*I Corp/CTZ
* II Corps/CTZ
* Corps/CTZ
* Corps/CTZ
* 44th Tactical Zone


* 1st Infantry Division - The French formed the 21st Mobile Group in 1953, renamed 21st Division in January 1955, the 1st Division later that year. Considered "one of the best South Vietnamese combat units". Based in Hue it had 4 rather 3 regiments.
* 2nd Infantry Division - The French formed the 32nd Mobile Group in 1953,renamed 32nd Division in January 1955, the 2nd Division later that year. Based in Danang and Quang Ngai. A "fairly good" division.
* 3rd Infantry Division - Raised in October 1971 in Quang Tri. One regiment was from the 1st Division (the 2nd Inf Regt). Collapsed in the 1972 Easter Offensive and was reconstituted and destroyed at Danang in 1975.
* 5th Infantry Division - Originally formed as the 6th Division in 1955 but renamed the 5th Division in 1959. Many Nungs originally were in its ranks. At Bien Hoa in 1963 and involved in overthrow of Diem. Then operated north of Saigon. Entered Cambodia in 1970. Defended An Loc in 1972.
* 7th Infantry Division - Formed as the 7th Mobile Group by the French, becoming the 7th Division in 1959. Served in Mekong Delta 1961-1975.
* 9th Infantry Division - Formed in 1962, northern Mekong Delta..."by some accounts the worst division in the ARVN".
* 18th Infantry Division - Formed as the 10th Division in 1965. Renamed the 18th Division in 1967 (number ten meant the worst in GI slang). Considered the worst ARVN division. Based at Xuan Loc. However redeemed itself with the defence of that town for a month in March-April 1975.
* 21st Infantry Division - The ARVN 1st & 3rd Light Divisions were formed in 1955, renamed the 11th & 13th Light Divisions in 1956. Combined together to form the 21st Division in 1959. Served mainly near Saigon, Mekong Delta--"a good division".
* 22nd Infantry Division - Initially raised as the 4th Infantry Division which existed briefly in the 1950s but renamed 22nd Division as four is an unlucky number in Vietnam. The ARVN 2nd & 4th Light Divisions were formed in 1955: 4th renamed the 14th Light Division in 1956. Combined to form the 22nd Division in 1959. Served near Kontum and Central Highlands. Collapsed in 1972. In 1975 was in Binh Dinh province; evacuated to south of Saigon as Central Highlands front fell. One of the last ARVN units to surrender.
* 23rd Infantry Division - Originally 5th Light Division, renamed 23rd in 1959. Operated in central Vietnam. Entered Cambodia in 1970. Fought well in 1972 defending Kontum, shattered in 1975 defending Ban Me Thout..."a good division".
* 25th Infantry Division - Formed in Quang Ngai in 1962. Moved to south west of Saigon in 1964. Entered Parrot's Break, Cambodia in 1970. Defended western approaches of Saigon 1972, 1975
* Airborne Division - A branch of the VNAF which was formed by the French as the Airborne Group in 1955. Brigade strength by 1959, formed as division in 1965. Based at Tan Son Nhut airbase but used as a fire brigade throughout SVN. Included 9 Airborne Battalions, 3 Airborne Ranger Battalions. Fought in Cambodia 1970, Laos 1971. Used as brigade Groups in 1975, 1st at Xuan Loc, 2nd at Phan Rang, 3rd at Nha Trang. An excellent formation.
* Marine Division - Formed in 1966 with six battalions. Based at Saigon and like the Airborne served as a fire brigade in SVN. Had 9 battalions by 1969 and 12 by 1975. Fought in Cambodia 1970, Laos 1971. Recaptured Quang Tri in 1972. Defended and pulled out of Danang in 1975, ended the war defending Vung Tau. A very experienced and good unit.


* ARVN Rangers (Biêt Động Quân)
* ARVN Special Forces (Lực Lượng Đặc Biệt or LLDB)

Notable ARVN generals

* Do Cao Tri
* Duong Van Minh
* Ngo Quang Truong
* Nguyen Viet Thanh
* Nguyen Cao Ky
* Nguyen Van Thieu
* Nguyen Khanh
* Nguyen Van Hieu
* Le Van Hung
* Nguyen Xuan Vinh
* Le Minh Dao

ee also

* Vietnam Air Force VNAF
* Republic of Vietnam Navy RVN



* [ The suicides on April 30 1975]
* [ Suicides]
* [ Timeline of Vietnam War]

External links

* [ VNAF The South Vietnamese Air Force - Không Quân Việt Nam Cộng Hòa]
* [ Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces Reunion 2003]
* [ Vietnam War Bibliography: The ARVN and the RVN]
* [ History of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam]
* [ Hue Massacre Tet Offensive Photos]
* [ The Battle for Hue, 1968] by James H. Willbanks
* [ An account of the Vietnam War in a ARVN's soldiers own words]
* [ ARVN Interviews]
* [ Interview with ARVN, Ban Van Nguyen]
* [ 1975 NVA Invasion]

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