Military Assistance Command Vietnam (Macv) Observations for the Mitt

By Eno, Russell A. | Infantry, November/December 2007 | Go to article overview
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Military Assistance Command Vietnam (Macv) Observations for the Mitt


Eno, Russell A., Infantry


The 1968 Tet offensive by Vietnamese communist forces began January 30 and 31 in the two northernmost corps tactical zones (CTZ) (Map 1 ) and quickly spread south, eventually giving rise to combat - much of it in towns and cities - throughout the country. The communists' Supreme Command had intended the offensive to be a coordinated surprise attack across the length of Vietnam, but failed to realize that North Vietnam had established a date one day earlier for the start of the lunar new year than the date for South Vietnam, and hence their commanders commenced operations a day apart. The attacks began in the northern CTZs on the 30th and a day later in the south. The delay meant that the hoped-for element of complete surprise was lost, and as a result South Vietnamese, American, and allied units in country had at least some advance warning of the offensive. Despite early gains by the enemy, by June 1968 - the month I reported for duty - the Tet offensive had stalled and the stubborn resistance of South Vietnamese Army units and their allies was turning the tide. North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and Vietcong (VC) killed in action (KIA) and wounded in action (WIA) exceeded 200,000 by the end of the year, with an unknown but presumably far greater number of wounded. U.S. casualties for 1968 amounted to approximately 14,600 KIA and 87,400 WIA, while South Vietnamese losses were around 29,000 KIA and 172,500 WIA.

The Republic of Vietnam units opposing the communists included those of the Vietnamese regular army (ARVN), regional force (RF) civil guard companies, and popular force (PF) self defense platoons. Americans colloquially referred to the latter two paramilitary organizations as RF/PFs, or rough puffs. While regular army units were centrally organized, trained, and controlled, RF rifle companies numbering around 100 soldiers commanded by a first lieutenant or captain - were recruited and organized within a province, were part of a provincial battalion, and operated within that province at the direction of the province chief, who was usually a Vietnamese colonel.

I was assigned as the assistant district advisor to Thuan Hoa district, Ba Xuyen province, IV CTZ (Map 2). The district headquarters village that housed the six members of Advisory Team 73 was the home base to the 566th and 567th RF companies. The popular force platoons were locally recruited volunteers responsible for village and hamlet security, were the least trained and equipped of the three army echelons, and numbered from 2535 soldiers. By the fall of 1968 most ARVN infantry units were armed with M-16 rifles, while RF companies carried World War II and Korean War vintage weapons. My two RF companies' heaviest weapons were their .30 caliber Browning Model 1919A4 aircooled machine guns and M-29 81mm mortars, which were used mainly for defense of the district headquarters and were seldom carried on operations. Platoons counted on their .30 caliber Model 1918A2 Browning Automatic Rifles and M-19 60mm mortars for firepower. The rank and file of the companies used either .30 caliber Ml Garand rifles or Ml carbines and a mix of .45 caliber M1A1 Thompson, .45 caliber M3, and .45 caliber submachine guns, and M1911A1 pistols. The PF self defense platoons were armed mostly with .30 caliber Ml and M2 carbines. There were, however, some exceptions: the district chief's bodyguard squad carried AK-47 Kalashnikovs because of their lower recoil and 30-round magazine capacity, something that struck me as odd since the chief rarely went on operations, preferring instead to coordinate operations from his quarters. We had three different district chiefs during my one-year tour. Since we captured large quantities of Chinesemade ammunition from the VC, resupply for the Kalashnikovs was never a problem.

The Vietcong likewise had three echelons, somewhat analogous to the structure of ARVN infantry forces. The best equipped and trained were referred to as main force VC units and operated at up to battalion level under direction of the southern communist leadership.

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