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Vietnamization and its Effects


Vietnamization and it's Lasting Effects on South Vietnam and it's Fall


I. Background
 A. Introduction
 B. Vietnam -- two separate countries
 1. French Control
 2. Viet Minh Revolt
 3. Creation of North and South Vietnam
 C. America's objectives in South Vietnam
 D. Vietnam's armies
II. Vietnamization
 A. Beginnings of Vietnamization
 B. Research of possible withdrawal
 C. Decision to withdraw
 1. began in early 1969
III. American Withdrawal and South Vietnamese Buildup
 A. Short history
 B. Advisor and troop reductions
 C. Combat assistance team reductions
 D. South Vietnamese buildup
 E. South Vietnamese military additions in 1972
IV. The Fall of Vietnam
 A. Easter Offensive
 B. Ceasefire
 1. Goes in to effect on January 28, 1973
 C. Break of the cease fire and North Vietnamese offensive of 
 December, 1973
 D. Final offensive in 1975
 E. Resignation of President Thieu
 F. General Minh assumes the Presidency
 G. Minh fails in negotiations
 H. Minh gives in to all North Vietnamese demands
V. Conclusions


 Vietnam was a country that was far removed from the American 
people until their history and ours became forever interlinked in what 
has come to be known as the Vietnam conflict. It is a classic story 
of good guys versus bad, communism versus freedom, and a constant 
struggle for stability. Americas attempt to aid the cause of freedom 
was a valid one, but one that ended up with South Vietnam being 
dependent upon us for its very life as a nation. "Vietnamization" was 
the name for the plan to allow South Vietnam to stand on its own, and 
ended in leaving a country totally on its own, unable to stand and 
 Vietnam was a French territory until the Viet Minh insurgency of 
the late 1940's and through 1954. Although regarding this uprising as 
part of a larger Communist conspiracy, Americans were not 
unsympathetic to Vietnamese aspirations for national independence. 
The ensueing defeat of the French brought an end to the first stage of 
what was to be a thirty year struggle. The Indochina ceasefire 
agreement (Geneva Accords) of July 21, 1954 led to the creation of 
seperate states in Laos and Cambodia, and the artificial division of 
Vietnam into two republics. In the North the Communist Viet Minh 
established the democratic of Vietnam, and in the south a random 
collection of non - Communist factions, led by Ngo Dinh Diem, formed 
the Republic of Vietnam. The general elections provided for by the 
agreement never took place, and the two states quickly drew apart. 
The United States immediatly threw its support behind the southern 
regime and extended military aid through a Military Assistance 
Advisory Group (MAAG) under the command of Lt. General John W. 
 American objectives in South Vietnam were reletively simple and 
remained so -- the establishment and preservation of a non - Communist 
government in South Vietnam. Initally, the most pressing problem 
was the weakness of the Saigon government and the danger of cival war 
between South Vietnam's armed religious and political factions. Diem, 
however, acting as a kind of benevolent dictator, managed to put a 
working government together, and O'Daniel's advisory group, about 
three or four hundred people, went to work creating a national army.
Slowly, under the direction of O'Daniel and his successor in October 
1955, Lt. General Samuel T. Williams, the new army took shape. The 
primary mission of this 150,000 man force was to repel a North 
Vietnamese invasion across the Demilitarised zone that seperated North 
and South Vietnam. Diem and his American advisors thus organised and 
trained the new army for a Korean - style conflict, rather than 
for the unconventional guerrilla warfare that had characterised the 
earlier French - Viet Minh struggle. President Minh also maintained a 
substantial paramilitary force almost as large as the regular army. 
This force's primary task was to maintain internal security, but also 
acted as a counter weight to the army, whose officers often had 
political ambitions that were sometimes incompatible with those of 
Diem. From the beginning, such tensions weakened the Saigon 
government and severly hampered its ability to deal with South 
Vietnam's social and ecenomic problems.
 At the beginning of 1968 the military strength of the Saigon 
government was, on paper, impressive. The regular armed forces 
consisted of about 250,000 men, organised into a conventional army, 
navy, air force, and marine corps, well equipped with tanks, 
artillary, ships and aircraft, Behind the regulars was a similar - 
size militia - like organization, the Territorial forces. Although 
consisting mainly of small rifle units, the territorials had begun to 
recieve modern radios, vehicles, and small arms during the early 
1960's, and their capabilities had increased considerably. The 
organization of the armed forces mirrored most Western nations; a 
civialian Ministry of Defence directed a military general staff which 
headed a heirarchy of operational commands and various support and 
training facilities. The Territorial Forces, a formal part of the 
armed forcse since 1964, was apportioned amon the forty - four 
province cheifs, the principle administrators of Vietnam. In 
comparison, the Viet Cong army looked pertty weak. With some 
80,000 lightly equipped regulars, back by about 80,000 - 100,000 part 
- time geuirillas and supported by a few thousand North Vietnamese 
troops and a fragile supply line hundreds of miles long, it was hardly 
an imposing force. Nevertheless, this force had inflicted a series of 
defeats on the South Vietnamese troops, all but throwing then out of 
the copuntryside and back into the cities and towns. Vietnamization
 In the spring of 1969 Presiden Richard M. Nixon initiated his 
new policy of "Vietnamization." Vietnamization had two distinct 
elements: first, the unilateral withdraawl of American troops from 
South Vietnam; and, second, the assumptionof greater military 
responsibilities by the South Vietnamese armed forces to make up for 
that loss. Mlilitary planners had based previous withdrawl plans on 
reductions in enemy forces. Vietnaminization rested on the twin 
assumptions thqat the combatants would not reach any kind of political 
settlement, or understanding, and that the fightinh in the South would 
continue without any voluntary reduction in enemy force levels. 
Although in theory the subsequant withdrawl of American troops 
depended on improvements in Souh Vietnamese military capabilities and 
the level of combat activity, in practice the timing and size of the 
withdrawals were highly political decisions made in the United States.
Senior advisors in Vietnam were asked for their opinions on South 
Vietnam's ability to handle a Viet Cong threat, or a combined Viet 
Cong - North Vietnamese threat, and their answers were for the most 
part the same. They agreed that South Vietnam would be able to 
"contain" a Viet Cong threat except in the III Corps Tactical zone, 
wherecontinued American air and artillerary support would be needed. 
Against a combined threat, however, all doubted that the South 
Vietnamese could do little more than hold their own, and judged their 
offensive capabilities marginal at best. Although they made no 
recomendations as to how the South Vietnamese could deal with either a 
Viet Cong or a combined threat, and suggested no changes in their 
military organization or stratedgy, all saw a pressing need for more 
air, artillery, and logistical support, and more attention to training 
and retaining troops. Most recommended more promotions based on 
merit, and more stationing of troops near home to reduce desertions. 
Phasing the American troops out of Vietnam could take no less than 
five years was often mentioned. The four senior advisors were hopeful 
that the South Vietnamese could eventually deal with the insurgency by 
themselves, but none felt that they could handle a conventional North 
Vietnamese threat or a combined Viet Cong - North Vietnam opponent. 
On March 5, 1969, Melvin R. Laird, Nixon's new secretary of 
defence, visited Saigon, accompanied by General Wheeler. Briefed by 
the MACV (United States Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) on the 
situation in Vietnam, Laird declaired his satisfactionwith the 
progress that had been made, both in the war effort and in the South 
Vietnamese armed forces, and instructed Abrams (commander od the MACV) 
to accelerate all programs turning over the war to Saigon. He returned 
to Washington, and his determination to effect a major change in 
American policy tward the war in Vietnam remained fixed. In 
subsequent discussions with Nixon, Henry Kissenger (the president's 
special assistant for national security, and the Joint Cheifs of 
Staff, he pursued this goal vogorously, presently persuading the 
president to embark on a policy of what he called "Vietnamization" -- 
turning the ground war over to the South Vietnamese.
 On April 10, Kissenger, with the approval of the president, 
directed Laird to prepare a specific timetable for Vietnamizing the 
war. The plan was to cover all aspects of U.S. military, para - 
military, and civilian involvement in Vietnam, including combat and 
combat support forces, advisory personnell, and all forms of 
equipment. Neither a further expansion of the South Vietnamese armed 
forced nor the withdrawl of the North Vietnamese Army was envisioned. 
Instead, through phased troop withdrawls, the American military 
presence in Vietnam was to be reduced to a support and advisory 
mission. Troop withdrawls were to begin July 1, 1969, with 
alternitive completion dates of December 1970, June 1971, and December 
1972. Kissenger requested an initial overall report outline by June 
1. Thus, despite the divergent U.S. agencies involved in the war 
effort and despite the unanimous opinion of these same agencies that 
the South Vietnamese could never deal with a combined Viet Cong - 
North Vietnamese Army threat, the new administration had instructed 
the American military command to develop plans for turning over almost 
the entire ground war to the South Vietnamese. Tward the end of 1969, 
the first American troops left Vietnam, never to return.


 The withdrawal of U.S. military forces from South Vietnam 
continued throughout 1971 and 1972 almost without a break in stride. 
American military strength passed through the residual support phase 
sometime in 1971, and in April, 1972 MACV began planning for a 
possable total U.S. withdrawl as early as November 1973. As american 
troops redeployed, Vietnamization, the expansion of South Vietnamese 
military responsibilities, marched steadily forward. The period was 
marked by heavy combat. South Vietnamese cross - border operations 
into Cambodia and Laos in 1971 met stiff opposition, and in early 
1972 were countered by the North Vietnamese "Easter" offensive into 
South Vietnam. Fighting was intense, casualties and equipment losses 
were high, and the nature of the combat was more or less 
conventional. Guerrila warfare behind South Vietnamese lines was 
negligable, while use of tanks, long - range artillary, and 
sophisticated missles became commonplace.
 As American combat units left South Vietnam and the South 
Vietnamese assumed responsibility for the war, many advisors felt 
their work load increasing. In September 1971, General Abrams 
(commander of the MACV) directed that the current avvisory effort 
focus primarily on management of support programs and revoltionary 
development. The Southe Vietnamese regulars, he felt, were performing 
reasonably well in the field and needed little operational advice. 
Assistance was most needed in areas of command and control, personnel, 
logistics, training, communications, electronics, and in intelligence. 
 On the civilian side assistance was needed in areas of local self - 
defence, self - government, and economic self - development. He also 
pointed out that the advisory effort was not being slighted. By the 
end of the year, 66 percent of the U.S. military forces would have 
left Vietnam, while the total advisory effort would have only declined 
22 percent. This would be primarily done by reducing the size and 
number of the tactical detatchments.
 The combat assistance teams in the field had began dissappearing 
even before 1972. With the exception of the airborne advisors and 
some teams in the northern corps, MACV closed out all of the battalion 
teams by June 30, 1971, and began phasing out the regimental teams by 
September. By the end of the year, the U.S. Army tactictle advisory 
strength had fallen from 5,416 to 3,888, and MACV staff strength from 
1,894 to 1,395 and many were military cadre from leaving American 
units trying to complete their twelve month tours. 
 During 1972 General Abrams, and his successor in June, General 
Fredrick C. Wayand, threw the weight of the advisory effort into a 
succession of material supply porjects that enabled the South 
Vietnamese to complete existing modernization programs; to make up for 
heavy combat losses; to create new units, and to fill their depots 
with munitions, fuel, spare parts, and other supplies. The eventual 
result was a massivesea and airlift between October 23 and December 12 
1972 that brought over 105,000 major items of equipment to South 
Vietnam, about 5,000 tons by air and the rest by sea.
 In the field of supply the most critical and the most costly 
item in the South Vietnamese inentory was ammunition. In 1972, under 
MACV guidance, the Central Logistics Command established a more 
detailed system to moniter the status of all munitions: base, field, 
and unit depot stockage; unit expenditures; and ammunition 
maintenance. Unused ammunition was subject to rapid deterioriation 
and had to examined periodically and , if necessary, reconditioned of 
destroyed. Stockage levels in each ammunition category were critical. 
Munitions stocks increased from 79,000 short tons in January 1969 to 

146,900 in January 1972 and 165,700 in January 1973. However, a 
normal monthly expenditure rate of 33,000 short tons, which could rise 
to over 100,000 short tons per month in periods of intense combat, 
made continued resupply by the United States vital. Another potential 
problem was the vulnerability of ammunition dums; the enemy had 
destroyed over 24,000 short tons of depot ammunition during the 
Easter offensive alone. The South Vietnamese would have to maintain, 
protect, and ration their existing stocks as carefully as possible.
Following the Easter offensive of 1972, MACV and the Joint Cheifs of 
Staff suddenly decided that further additions had to be made. These 
included two more M48 tank battalions; two additional air defence and 
three more 175-mm. self - propelled artillery battallions; crews for 
one hundred sophisticated antitank missle launchers; and, for the 
South Vietnamese Air Force, thirteen aviation squadrons. The new air 
units represented a major expansion and included aircraft for two 
more squadrons of heavy CH-47, three of A-37 jet fighter bombers, two 
of large C130 transports, and five of F5 jet fighters. Perhaps 
anticipating some kind of agreement in Paris, the Department of 
Defence agreed to ship this material to South Vietnam as soon as 
possable under the code name Project ENHANCE and to raise and train 
units and crews at some later date. At the same time, in order to 
strengthen the territorials, MACV authorised more Regional Forces 
battalions and enlarged province tacticle staffs to provide better 
command and control. 
 To create these new units without violating the 1.1 million 
troop ceiling, MACV and the Joint General Staff again made 
compensatory reductions in Popular Forces strength. Fall of Vietnam It 
took almost one year for the North Vietnamese to rebuild their 
strength and launch their own major offensive. On March 30 1972 three 
North Vietnamese Army divisions crossed the Demilitarised Zone in 
northern South Vietnam, overrunning advance bases of the new South 
Vietnamese 3d Division; three days later, three more enemy divisions 
headed south across the Cambodian border twards Saigon, surrounding 
positions held by the 5th Division in the III Corps Tacticle Zone, and 
two weeks after that, two other divisions attacked the 22nd Infintry 
Division in the Highlands, while smaller units struck at towns in Binh 
Dinh Province along the coast. Because of the timing of the attacks, 
they were quickly called the "Easter Offensive." Through all of this, 
the North Vietnamese had only won two district towns, Loc Ninh, near 
the Cambodian border, and Dong Ha, opposite the Demilitarised zone, a 
small showing for the heavy prices they paid.
 The ceasefire agreement of January 23 1973 marked an end to the 
American policy of Vietnamization. The agreement specified the 
complete withdrawl of all American military forces from South Vietnam, 
including advisors, and the end of all U.S. military actions in 
support of Saigon. The North Vietnamese, in turn, agreed to put a 
ceasefire in place, the return of Amerocan Prisoners of War, and an 
end to infiltration in the South. The accord caught many American 
generals by suprise, including General Abrams, the new Army cheif of 
staff (Abrams had stepped down as MACV commander on June 28 1972 
to replace General Westmoreland as the Army chief of staff, and the 
U.S. Senate confirmed the appointment on October 12). He had felt 
that the United States would end up with some type of permanent ground 
and air comittment similar to that in South Korea. Instead, there was 
to be no residual support force, not even an advisory mission, and, in 
theory, the Viet Cong and Saigon governments were to settle their 
political differances at some later date. 
 The ceasefirebegan at 8 o'clock on Sunday, January 28 1973, and 
the war ground to a temporary halt. In the sixty days that followed, 
slightly over 58,000 forign troops departed South Vietnam, including 
about 23,000 Americans, 25,000 Koreans, and a few hundred assorted 
Thais, Fillipinos, and Nationalist Chinese. Their leaving left about 
550.000 South Vietnamese regulars and another 525,0000 territorials to 
face a regular North Vietnamese army that Americans estimated at 
500,000 to 600,000 troops, of which about 220,000 were in South 
Vietnam and the rest close by. The final U.S. withdrawals were timed 
to match the release of American prisoners of war by the North 
Vietnam. MACV headquarters dissolved on March 29, and three new 
agencies took over it's remaining functions. Thus ended the ill fated 
American involvement in Vietnam.
 In late 1973, the cease fire was broken by the sending of 18 
divisions from North Vietnam into the south. This, in time, would 
become one of the worst blood baths of the war. This continued 
through 1975, when the enemy came to be in near Saigon, and elements 
of the underground political opposition came into the open and held 
meetings to voice their antigovernment feelings. The government moved 
in and on March 27 1975, arrested a number of poeple suspected of 
plotting a coup. On April 2 1975, the South Vietnamese Senate even 
adopted a resolution holding President Thieu personnally responseable 
for the detiorating situation and asking him to take immediate steps 
to form a broader cabinet. It was speculated that to save what they 
could, the government should send a plenipotentiary to Paris and ask 
the Fench governmentto act as official intermediary in negotiations to 
be conducted with the Communists. But President Thieu appeared only 
 Demands that President Thieu should resign and transfer his 
powers at once to General Duong Van Minh were resurrected in earnest. 
 A coalition government led by General Minh, it was said, stood a 
better chance of being accepted by the Communists; if so, more 
bloodshed could be averted. On Monday April 21, during a meeting at 
Independance Palace, President Thieu announced his decision to step 
down. He inferred that the United States wanted him to resign, and 
whether or not he consented, certain generals would press for a 
replacement. As required by the Constitution of South Vietnam, he was 
prepared to transfer the presidency to Vice President Tran Van Huong. 
 Finally, he asked the armed forces and the national police to fully 
support the new president. In the evening of April 21, 1975, the 
televised transfer of power ceremony took place at Independance 
Palace. After President Huong took over, he immediatly went about 
imposing certain forceful measures, among which was a formal ban on 
all overseas travel. Servicemen and cival servants who had fled to 
foreign countries were ordered to return within thirty days; if they 
failed to do so, their citizenship would be revoked, and all their 
belongings confiscated. The only people that the new government would 
allow to go overseas were the old and the ill; they were to be 
permitted to seek treatment out of the country after posting a large 
bond (to say nothing of the large bribes required to obtain such a 
 In the meantime, the militry situation became increasingly bad. 
In the afternoon of Sunday April 27 1975, the defence minister, Mr. 
Tran Van Don, led a military delegation composed of general officers 
of Joint General Staff and the commander of CMD in an apperance before 
a meeting before both houses of Congress. By 7:30 pm, 138 senators 
and representatives were present. Mr. Don summarized the military 
situation: Saigon was now surrounded by fifteen enemy divisions under 
the control of three army corps. The Saigon - Vung Tau Highway had 
been cut, and enemy troops were advancing tward the Long Binh base. 
At 8:20 pm, the General Assembly voted to hand over the presidency to 
General Minh. The next day, Monday April 28, 1975 at 5:30 pm, General 
Minh was sworn in as president. President Minh was much more 
confident. He based his conviction of an eventual political 
arrangement with the Communists on these ficts as he saw them: (1) 
The Communists did not have a solid structure in Saigon - negotiations 
would provide more time for solidation. (2) The provisional 
government was strongly anti - Communist and the Communists preferred 
a "two Vietnams" solution. (3) It was believed that Communist China 
preferred a divided Vietnam and a unified Vietnam would pose a threat 
to China's border. Finally, "The Communists know that the people of 
South Vietnam don't like Communism. Since it is impossible for the 
Comminists to kill them all, it is to their advantage to negotiate. 
So he firmly believed that a government with him at the head would be 
more acceptable to the Communists, and that they would be willing to 
negotiate with him for a political solution.
 President Minh waited in vain for a favorable word from the 
other side, but none came. The response of the Communists was 
omnious: they bombed Tan Son Nhut Air base the moment he was sworn in, 
and shelled Saigon barely twelve hours later. Still a last ditch 
effort was attempted by President Minh's people to contact the 
Communists through their representative at Tan Son Nhut. But the 
answer was evasive and intimidating. It was then that President Minh 
realised that all hope was gone. He gave twenty - four hours for all 
U.S. personnel to leave South Vietnam. The evacuation proceeded 
ferverishly throughout the night and was over at 5:00 am on April 30. 
At 10 :00 am on April 30,1975, President Minh ordered the armed forces 
to stop fighting, and gave in to all Communist demands. And the 
Republic of South Vietname came under Communist control and no longer 
existed as a free nation. 


 The United States policy of Vietnamization was a good idea, but 
the time was not ripe for it to best be used. Saigon's military 
strength was rated by nearly all experts in South Vietnam as uncapable 
of handleing a combined threat. True, Vietnamization was not what led 
to the total withdrawl of troops from Vietnam, but the opinions 
pressed by Laird had somewhat of an affect on our agreeing to sign a 
ceasefire agreement. Also, if we had used Vietnamization's program of 
building up South Vietnam's armed forces more extensively, South 
Vietnam might still be in existance today.


Selected Bibliography

Clarke, Jeffrey J. Advice and Support: The Final Years, U.S. Army 
Center of Military History, Washington, D.C., 1988

Fenton, James. The Day Saigon Fell, New Statesman and Society v4, 
August 1991 Fox, Sylvan. "Vietnam Cease- Fire Goes Into Effect." St. 
Louis Post - Dispatch, January 28, 1973

"Growing Gloom in a Shrunken Land." Time, April 7,1975, pp. 29 - 34

Keeler, Rick. Information taken from interview on March 27, 1993

Le Gro, William E. Vietnam: From Cease - Fire to Capitulation, U.S. 
Army Center of Military History, 1981

MacDonald, Charles B.; Charles, von Luttichau V. P. The U.S. Army in 
Vietnam, Army Historical Series: Office of the Cheif of Military 
History, United States Army

"Now, Trying to Pick Up the Pieces." Time, April 14, pp. 6 - 13

"Seeking the Last Exit from Viet Nam." Time, April 21, 1975, pp. 14 - 

Vien, Cao Van. The Final Collapse, Center of Military History, U.S. 
Army, pp. 141 - 166

World Book Encyclopedia, 1967 ed. V - "Vietnam"



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