Adjutant & OC
In Vietnam the allied armies confronted an enemy quite different from that encountered in
more conventional wars. This was an enemy that generally avoided direct confrontation with
allied forces, preferring to be secreted away in its jungle and mountain hideaways, to
then launch hit-and-run offensives at opportune times. It referred to itself as a
liberation army, aimed at overthrowing the South Vietnamese government and unifying the
north and south into one nation. To achieve this objective, four separate but coordinated
components were mobilised:
A. The Viet Cong
B. main force military units;
C. provincial or regional military units; and
D. local guerrilla units.
Collectively the three levels of the South
Vietnamese communist armed forces
(components B, C and D above) were named the Peoples' Liberation Armed Forces (PLAF) or
Viet Cong (VC), although large numbers of North Vietnamese Army (NVA) soldiers belonged to
them. As well, complete NVA main force units were encountered during the war.
All four enemy components were
coordinated in their activities, forming a web throughout the war zone, receiving their
direction from the Central Office for South Vietnam or COSVN, Hanoi's mobile command
headquarters of the VC and NVA forces.
As Ian McNeill outlined in his book
Team", the allied forces were arranged to shield the South Vietnamese population
from this enemy organisation like the concentric layers of an onion. At the outer layer,
the South Vietnamese army and allied forces fought the enemy regular units; at the next
inner layer the South Vietnamese Regional Forces (RF) and Popular Forces (PF) faced the
enemy local forces; and in the centre, amongst the population, there was a need for a
third force to combat the VCI. This third force was developed under the Phoenix Programme,
(component A above)
This was the covert political arm of the
communist forces and included the National Liberation Front (NLF).
William E. Colby, former CIA chief in Vietnam,
stated his view on the origin of the VCI to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
"At the end of the
1945-54 war, the Communists took about 75,000 native southerners north for training in
organizing, propaganda and subversion. During the late 50s these cadres returned to their
southern provinces and districts. There they revived the networks they had left in 1954,
organized the farmers into farmers' groups, womens' organizations and youth groups and
began to recruit and train and establish bases for guerrilla groups."
It was the aim of the Vietnamese Communists to
have a complete covert alternative shadow government in place when their victory was
finally won. The VCI aimed to replicate the South Vietnamese government structure down to
village level. Thus, where manpower allowed, communist cadres were secretly assigned
positions of village chiefs, police officers, postmen and petty officials at district,
province and national levels.
In addition to the VCI clandestinely providing
the political and leadership structure of the communist insurgency, it supported the
military operations of the VC and NVA units by providing guides, caches of food, clothing,
weapons, medical supplies and other war materials, logistical support, and by directing
and implementing a systematic campaign of terrorism, extortion, subversion, sabotage,
abduction and murder to achieve its objectives. Principal targets were the South
Vietnamese officials at all political levels down to village chiefs, local schoolteachers,
postmen, policemen and the like. The VCI remained mainly anonymous other than to fellow
VCI members and VC soldiers. Villagers who discovered their identity would mostly remain
silent for fear of retaliation, which would often take the form of public executions, not
just of themselves but also of their entire families.
The allied effort in countering the VCI was
conducted by the American CIA in its secret fight-fire-with-fire campaign known as the
Phoenix Programme. This involved the development of an intelligence-gathering network and
force known euphemistically as the Combined Studies Division or CSD. This third force
included members of the Australian Army Training Team, Vietnam (AATTV). Officially the
Phoenix Programme aimed at inducing the VCI members to abandon their allegiance to the
Viet Cong and to rally to the government, but it was also alleged to have conducted covert
terrorist acts of its own against the VCI. Ambassador Colby denied this, stating that:
"The Phoenix Program was
not a program of assassination. The Phoenix Program was a part of the overall pacification
The Australian Task Force at Nui Dat was not,
to my knowledge, involved in the Phoenix campaign, and instead was concerned with fighting
the VC and NVA military units.
The Enemy Military
Forces (components B, C and D above)
Within Phuoc Tuy and the neighbouring
provinces of Bien Hoa, Long Khanh and Binh Tuy, the
main force formation (component B above) was the 5th VC Division, which usually had its
headquarters in the Mây Tào Mountains. It consisted of 274 Regiment and 275 Regiment
plus supporting units. North Vietnamese regulars were used to boost and reinforce this
South Vietnamese formation and by 1969 comprised the majority of its numbers. Other main
force units opposed by 5RAR included the 33rd NVA Regiment, as in the battle of Binh Ba.
The next level of the VC organisation
(component C above) contained their provincial units, which in Phuoc Tuy included the D445
Provincial Mobile Battalion. At Nui Dat we referred to D445 as "Phuoc Tuy's
Own". This unit recruited from local villages such as Baria, Dat Do and Hoa Long, and
operated mainly around Xuyên Môc, the Long Green and Long Hai Hills. These soldiers were
regulars and better equipped and trained than the local guerrillas. The personnel of these
units were often local to the area in which they served, but when casualties were high
outsiders reinforced them.
Another provincial mobile battalion in our
area was D440, created by COSVN in 1968 and consisted mainly of NVA soldiers. It operated
principally in the north of the province.
The final level of VC military forces was made
up of the local guerrilla units in and around the villages (component D above). They
consisted of both part-time and full-time guerrillas. They were the archetypal
day, soldiers by night', comprising those either too old or too young to fight in regular
VC units and dressed as local peasant farmers. Whilst their primary objective activities
consisted of taxing the locals, stockpiling supplies, intelligence-gathering, sniping,
laying mines and booby trapping, this lowest level force was also employed in the support
of VC regional and main force units operating in their locality in the roles of porters,
scouts and guides.
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