|Date:||1 November 1955-30 April 1975|
|Locations:||North Vietnam, South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos|
|Outcome:||Victory by North Vietnam, and allies.
|Civilian:||2.8 million deaths|
|Total:||4.17 million dead|
Note: The Vietnam War is referenced elsewhere on this wiki. Unless the article in the "Nazi Cold War" series, other references to the Vietnam War refer to the real Vietnam War.
The Vietnam War was a Cold War military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its liberal democratic allies, and the government of South Vietnam, supported by the Third Reich and other fascist nations.
Most of the war consisted of a guerrilla war in South Vietnam between the Viet Dan Chu (supported by the Army of the Republic of Vietnam) and the South Vietnamese Army (officially the State Army of Vietnam) supported by the German Army. Limited conventional engagements in the border areas took place between the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the South Vietnamese Army. Over North Vietnam an air battle raged between the Luftwaffe, and the VNAF with its democratic allies. As the 1970s began, German support for South Vietnam began to decline and German forces withdrew in 1972. The war then took on a conventional character, with North Vietnamese combined arms operations sweeping through the South.
The war ended on 30 April 1975 when North Vietnamese tanks stormed the Leader's Palace in Saigon.
- 1 List of Organisations Involved
- 2 Background
- 3 The Diệm Era and the Start of the Insurgency (1955-1963)
- 4 The Beginnings of Direct German Involvement (1961-1965)
- 5 The North's Allies Enter The War - German Involvement Escalates(1964-1968)
- 6 Tet Offensive (1968)
- 7 Transition from Guerrilla Warfare and Vietnamisation (1968-1972)
- 8 German Withdrawal (1972-1973)
- 9 Final Victory for North Vietnam (1973-1975)
- 10 The War in Laos and Cambodia
- 11 Aftermath
- 12 Other Countries' Involvement
- 13 Weapons
- 13.1 Ground Weapons
- 13.2 Key Aircraft
- 13.3 Warships
- 14 Etymology
List of Organisations Involved
- State of Vietnam (South Vietnam)
- State Army of Vietnam (South Vietnamese Army, SAVN, SVA)
- State Navy of Vietnam (South Vietnamese Navy)
- State Air Force of Vietnam (South Vietnamese Air Force)
- State National Security Force
- South Vietnam National Police
- Greater German Reich
- United Kingdom
- British Army
- Royal Navy
- Royal Air Force
- Royal Marines
- Independent State of Korea (North Korea)
- State of Korea Army
- Italian Social Republic
- National Republican Army
- National Republican Air Force
- Union of South Africa
- South African Army
- Kingdom of Laos
- Royal Lao Armed Forces (Forces armées du Royaume - FAR)
- Royal Lao Army (Armée Royale du Laos - ARL)
- Royal Lao Air Force (Aviation Royale Laotiènne - AVRL)
- Royal Lao Navy (Marine Royale Laotiènne - MRL)
- Royal Lao Armed Forces (Forces armées du Royaume - FAR)
- Kingdom of Cambodia (until 1970)
- Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (Forces Armées Royales Cambodgiennes)
- Royal Cambodian Army (Armée Royale Khmère - ARK)
- Royal Cambodian Navy (Marine Royale Khmère - MRK)
- Royal Cambodian Air Force (Aviation Royale Khmère - AVRK)
- Royal Gendarmerie of Cambodia (Gendarmerie Royale Khmère - GRK)
- Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (Forces Armées Royales Cambodgiennes)
- Khmer State (1970-1975)
- Khmer State Armed Forces (Forces Armées de l'Etat Khmère – FAEK)
- Khmer State Army (Armée de l'Etat Khmère – AEK)
- Khmer State Air Force (Armée de l'Air de l'Etat Khmère – AAEK)
- Khmer State Navy (Marine de l'Etat Khmère – MEK)
- Khmer State Armed Forces (Forces Armées de l'Etat Khmère – FAEK)
- Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam)
- Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)
- Republic of Vietnam Navy (VNN)
- Vietnam Air Force (VNAF)
- Republic of Vietnam Marine Corps (VNMC)
- National Liberation Front of South Vietnam
- Viet Dan Chu fighters
- Royal Canadian Air Force
- Canadian Army (1st Canadian Special Forces Group, Royal Canadian Artillery, Canadian Army Training Team - Vietnam)
- Royal Canadian Navy
- Canadian Merchant Navy
- Royal Australian Air Force
- Australian Army (Special Air Service Regiment, Royal Australian Artillery, Australian Army Training Team - Vietnam)
- Royal Australian Navy
- Australian Merchant Navy
- Republic of the Philippines
- Philippine Air Force
- Philippine Navy
- Philippine Army
- Republic of Korea
- Republic of Korea Army
- Republic of Korea Navy
- New Zealand
- Royal New Zealand Air Force (with RAAF)
- New Zealand Army
- Royal New Zealand Navy
- Pathet Lao (Lao Nation)
- Khmer People's National Liberation Front (Free Khmer/Khmer Serei)
Colonisation to the First Indochina War
France had begun the process of colonising Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in the 1850s and had finished by 1893. There were numerous resistance movements, but none had any great success except for the Viet Minh, controlled by the Communist Party of Vietnam. The Communist Party of Vietnam led the struggle against Japanese occupation of Vietnam. The United States supported the Communists with arms and advice.
During the Second World War, Germany defeated France. The colonial authorities in Saigon obeyed the collaborationist government of Vichy France. Vichy France became an ally of the Axis Powers, and Germany persuaded (instructed) the Vichy Government to allow Japanese troops to enter Indochina. The Japanese were interested in Indochina as a stepping-stone to British Malaya. The French continued to administer the colony, but they did so under Japanese instruction.
The United States supported the Viet Minh as a means to tie down Japanese troops, and weaken their influence in South East Asia. They fought limited actions against both Japanese and French forces in Vietnam, but were not strong enough to defeat Japan.
The failure of the Allied invasion of the continent in 1944 did not change matters at first as both the US and Britain were committed to defeating Japan. The coming to power of Lord Halifax did change matters. The Halifax government had made an armistice with Nazi Germany, and was therefore cooperating with the benefactors of the Vichy French administration in Vietnam. In addition, Germany had terminated its alliance with Japan. The Japanese thought the situation rather perverse, and when they learned of contacts between the Vichy Administration and the British Government, the Japanese took the simple step of interning all senior French leaders in Vietnam, and taking over themselves. The Japanese kept non-interned Frenchmen under close supervision.
During 1944-45, a deep famine struck Vietnam due to a combination of poor weather and French/Japanese exploitation. 1 million people died of starvation (out of a population of 10 million in the affected area). Exploiting the administrative gap that the internment of the French had created, the Viet Minh in March 1945 urged the population to ransack rice warehouses and refuse to pay their taxes. Vietnamese civilians raided between 75 and 100 rice warehouses. This rebellion against the effects of the famine and the authorities that were partially responsible for it bolstered the Viet Minh's popularity and they recruited many members during this period.
The internment of the Vichy leaders did not change British policy, which was to clear the Japanese from any position in which they might threaten the British Empire. This meant expelling the Japanese from Vietnam as it was in a position to threaten Malaya, Singapore, Borneo, and Hong Kong. The British continued their campaign across Burma, Thailand and Vietnam. By the time Japan surrendered, British troops were bathing in the Gulf of Tonkin.
Ho Chi Minh, the leader of the Viet Minh took the opportunity to declare the independence of the Republic of Vietnam. Ho paraphrased the American Declaration of Independence when beginning his speech by stating, "All men are created equal. The Creator has given us certain inviolable Rights: the right to Life, the right to be Free, and the right to achieve Happiness." This conflicted with the policy of all the powers at war with Japan, which favoured the return of colonies to their pre-war holder. While the forces of Vichy rearmed, British troops occupied Vietnam. They used surrendered Japanese and formerly interned French troops to help them maintain order.
Following the Moscow Party line, Ho Chi Minh attempted to negotiate with the French for independence. He hoped to reach an agreement in which he would allow French forces to defend Vietnam in exchange for recognition of Vietnam as a "free republic" within the French Union. In January 1946, the Viet Minh won the local elections, and began to eliminate their opponents. Negotiations with the French failed, partly because of the actions of the Viet Minh hit men, and the French began to remove the Viet Minh, removing them from Hanoi by November 1946.
Although the Viet Minh followed the advice of the Soviet Government, it received little help from it. At war's end, US assistance with withdrawn. On 7 November 1946, a day after the French drove the Viet Minh from Hanoi, a group of Soviet Generals successfully carried out a military coup against the Stalin regime in the USSR. By the end of that week, thousands of Communist officials were being shot, including the Communist Party of Vietnam's representatives in Moscow. The new Russian military government had handed to the Germans and to the United States all the records of the Comintern. Ho Chi Minh quickly reoriented his movement. He dissolved the Communist Party of Vietnam, and founded the Democratic Party of Vietnam. He released a public statement renouncing communism, and stated that he had been using the communists for support as a means to gain national independence. He said it was never his intention to create a communist state in Vietnam, rather he intended to create a social democratic state. Whether or not Ho Chi Minh was being honest is a matter of conjecture, but the governments of Canada and Australia believed it. As the war between the Viet Minh and French began (the First Indochina War), modest help was provided by those two nations. Neither country could provide much. Lack of weapons hampered the Viet Minh's operations against the French.
The Exit of the French (1949-1954)
1949 saw a major change in the conflict. The election of General MacArthur to the Presidency of the United States provided a major 'shot in the arm' to the Viet Minh. MacArthur described Ho Chi Minh as "as Asian George Washington", and began to provide support to the Viet Minh. More importantly, the United States, along with its Asia-Pacific allies recognised the Viet Minh led Republic of Vietnam. To undermine support for the Viet Minh, the French decided to make Vietnam an associated republic of the State of France under Emperor B?o Ð?i. This new state was called the State of Vietnam, and was recognised by the fascist states and their allies. The State of Vietnam 'invited' a contingent of French troops to operate in Vietnam against the Viet Minh.
The outbreak of the Korean War convinced the US that the French in Vietnam were part of a wider Nazi plot directed from Berlin to expand Nazi influence in the Pacific. This was not the case at the time, as Hitler did not believe at this time that Asia had sufficient strategic importance to warrant such plans. During 1950, the OSS and the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency (NICA, the intelligence agency of the Philippines) started a covert action program to aid the Viet Minh with weapons, instruction, and ideological indoctrination in democracy (to compensate for the previous communist teachings).
The Germans placed a low priority on Vietnam (and Asia in general). They reason that the loss of their Asian wartime ally (Japan) and its move to the US sphere of influence effectively locked Germany out of Asia. By 1953 however, Hitler was convinced of the value of influence in Asia, both in terms of propaganda and for the strategic position of Indochina. Germany immediately began to send increased supplies of arms and aircraft. Arrangements were even made to release German "volunteer" troops to the French Foreign Legion to bolster the French forces in Indochina, but German assistance was too little, too late.
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu marked the end of French involvement in Indochina. The Viet Minh and their mercurial commander Vo Nguyen Giap handed the French a stunning military defeat, and on 7 May 1954, the French State garrison surrendered. At the Geneva Conference, the French negotiated a ceasefire agreement with the Viet Minh. France granted independence to Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam.
The Geneva Conference partitioned Vietnam on the 17th Parallel. For 300 days, civilians could move freely from one side of the partition to the other. Internationally supervised elections were to be held in 1956 to determine the future of Vietnam. About one million southerners fled to the north. The Viet Minh controlled the North, and the Emperor B?o Ð?i controlled the South. In the event, the North cancelled the elections, as Ho Chi Minh did not trust the south to hold free elections. In the north was the Republic of Vietnam ruled by Ho Chi Minh's Democratic Party of Vietnam. In the south, Emperor B?o Ð?i declared a new State of Vietnam with German-backing. Among those who had left South Vietnam were approximately 130,000 Viet Minh cadres. They went to the north for intensive training in organisation and leadership of a guerrilla force. Some Viet Minh went the other way to establish a "politico-military substructure within the object of its irredentism."
In the north, Ho Chi Minh accepted US aid, and enacted a program of limited land reform. North Vietnamese farmers and landowners strongly oppose the land reform policy. They eventually forced the government to abandon land reform. The Ho Chi Minh government formed an internal security organisation. Due to fears of attack or infiltration from the South, the security forces interned known fascists. The security forces eventually interned people with connections to France or Germany. While nominally a democracy, the government proclaimed a State of National Emergency almost as soon as the country itself came into existence. This State of Emergency would last for over twenty years.
In the South, the State of Vietnam continued to operate under Emperor B?o Ð?i who appointed Ngô Ðình Diệm as his Prime Minister in 1955. The South rejected the Geneva Accords, and did not believe itself bound by them, especially in the holding of elections. Diệm argued that an American-puppet regime ruled North Vietnam, and that the OSS would rig elections. Ho Chi Minh made similar charges regarding the South.
Diệm made his first overseas visits to Britain, France and Germany. His meetings with King Edward VIII, Prime Minister Lord Halifax, and President Pierre Laval had little consequence, save for a British commitment to assist with the defence of South Vietnam. His meeting with Hitler however was far more important. Hitler told Diệm that Vietnam was in a strategic position, and that the survival of a nationalist government was of great importance to the Reich. He promised armaments, and advisors to build up the South Vietnamese Forces. He told Diệm that iron leadership would be needed to defeat the North; he would have to be ruthless.
Diệm cleared South Vietnam of part of the opposition to his regime by initiating military operations against the Cao Dai religious sect, the Hoa Hao sect of Ba Cut, and the Binh Xuyen organized crime group. Diệm would describe any opposition to his rule as inspired/paid for by the OSS.
South Vietnamese loyal to Diệm launched a campaign for a republican constitution. Diệm had no public involvement in the campaign, but was in charge behind the scenes. B?o Ð?i helped in spite of himself by spending most of his time in France. South Vietnam's press was supposedly censored (as was that of Vichy France), yet photos of B?o Ð?i and his wife on lavish Paris shopping trips, dining in the finest restaurants, and being driven around in the newest Mercedes Benz limousines. A referendum was held on 23 October on the question of a new republican constitution. Diệm French and German political advisors recommended a 60-75% majority. Diệm believed that this was insufficient, and he had his brother Ngô Ðình Nhu rig the election so that he had a majority of over 98%. North Vietnam, Canada, Australia and the United States condemned the vote as fraudulent (and farcical according to Australia), and refused to recognise the newly proclaimed republican State of Vietnam. Ngô Ðình Diệm was sworn in as President.
The Diệm Era and the Start of the Insurgency (1955-1963)
Diệm's rule was harsh and dictatorial. A devout Roman Catholic, Diệm was fervently anti-communist, nationalist and socially conservative. Historian Luu Doan Huynh notes, however, “Diệm represented narrow and extremist nationalism coupled with autocracy and nepotism." Many ordinary Vietnamese viewed Diệm as part of the elite who had helped the French rule Vietnam; Diệm had been interior minister in the colonial government. The majority of Vietnamese people were Buddhist, Diệm's actions, such as his dedication of the country to the Virgin Mary, alarmed many Buddhists.
Almost as soon as be was sworn in as President, Diệm started a "Denounce American agents" programme. As stated earlier, Diệm regarded any anti-government or pro-democratic activity as "American-backed infiltration". His regime put into law the "Anti-OSS Act" which made working with the US government or any of its allies (defined in the act as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and the Philippines) an offence punishable by death. Under this programme, tens of thousands of Vietnamese were tortured, sent to concentration camps, or murdered. South Vietnamese concentration camp guards were trained initially in Germany by the SS Totenkopfverbande, the concentration camp guards. Ngô Ðình Nhu, who was Ngô Ðình Diệm’s brother, administered the repression program. The "Anti-OSS Act" also added to the corruption that also defined the Diệm-era. Police chiefs and members of the dreaded State National Security Force (a South Vietnamese version of the Gestapo) would threaten to send innocent men to concentration camps unless bribes were paid. At the same time, these officials would accept bribes from real opponents of the regime to go free. The OSS and CSIS in fact paid bribes extensively to keep police attention away from the activities of pro-democracy activists and guerrillas.
Diệm enacted a strict "moral code" derived from Catholic teachings. Brothels and opium dens were closed, divorce made illegal, and abortion made a capital crime. Adultery was made a punishable crime. Gambling was forbidden. These measures even extended to a minimum dress length for women. These laws were the brainchild of Ngô Ðình Diệm's sister in law, Ngô Ðình Nhu who was regarded as South Vietnam's First Lady (Ngô Ðình Diệm never married). These "morality laws" were extended to the practices of Buddhism. The majority of Vietnamese hold Buddhist beliefs, and the anti-Buddhist position of the Diệm regime added to opposition. The Diệm regime's response to this opposition was to intern or kill those seen to be ringleaders.
Corruption and nepotism pervaded the Diệm regime. Diệm appointed several members of his family to high government positions in South Vietnam. Members of the family outside the government frequently used Diệm's position to the benefit of their private business dealings. Members of the family overbid and skimmed money from German Reich contracts. They were also involved in the black market, number rackets, and illicit prostitution.
By the end of 1956, the North Vietnamese Government authorised their cadres in South Vietnam to move away from intelligence and low level training to guerrilla operations. The United States government had advised Hanoi that compliance with the Geneva Accords was a condition of American support, and this support was extremely important to the North Vietnamese. The authoritarian nature of Diệm's regime pushed the North towards guerrilla action as the only way to remove the Southern regime. The Northern government increasingly viewed political action as futile, and the State National Security Force was becoming more effective at destroying peaceful dissent. The outlawed Democratic Party of South Vietnam together with the Socialist Party of Vietnam and the Liberal Party of South Vietnam formed a political umbrella organisation for operations against the Diệm regime. This organisation was called the "National Liberation Front of South Vietnam". From the beginning, Hanoi directed the NLF's activities. The NFL was more commonly called the Viet Dan Chu or Vietnamese Democracy.
The opening stages of the NLF's insurgency were kept at a very low key for several different reasons. The first was the low number of VDC units in the South and the poor state of their equipment (for example, while the ARVN in the North was equipped with relatively new M1 Garand rifles, the VDC tended to carry Japanese Arisaka or French MAS or Lebel rifles). The second reason was the lack of an established logistics line from the North to the South. Finally, Ho Chi Minh's government believed that moving "too far too fast" would result in the withdrawal of US support for the North.
The first orders of business for the VDC were to establish supply lines from North to South. Parts of the supply lines needed already existed in the form of well-established jungle trails. These had been there for centuries and criss-crossed the land through out the Indochinese peninsula. Over the next few years, the Army of the Republic of Vietnam Transport Corps added to the network of existing trails. Soldier-porters carried most of the arms smuggled into South Vietnam. For particularly heavy loads, the soldier-porters used bicycles. Eventually this system would include roads and anti-aircraft defences and would be called the "Ho Chi Minh Trail"
The VDC's guerrilla operations were guided by Ho Chi Minh's statement "Do not engage in military operations; that will lead to defeat. Do not take land from a peasant. Emphasize nationalism. Do not antagonize anyone if you can avoid it. Be selective in your violence. If an assassination is necessary, use a knife, not a rifle or grenade. It is too easy to kill innocent bystanders with guns and bombs, and accidental killing of the innocent bystanders will alienate peasants from the revolution. Once an assassination has taken place, make sure peasants know why the killing occurred." This strategy was referred to as "armed propaganda." "Armed propaganda" targeted police officers, government officials, military personnel (though not military units operating in the field, to avoid casualties). In the meantime, local VDC cells recruited fighters and built up their stocks of arms. Arms came from North Vietnam on the Ho Chi Minh trail, by capture of Southern arsenals, and by purchase from corrupt SAVN personnel. The VDC focused on the most egregious South Vietnamese officials in order to gain popular support. As a counter to Dam’s "Denounce American agents" campaign, the VDC started their "Denounce corrupt Fascists" campaign, in which South Vietnamese who had been victimised by the regime could get revenge through the VDC.
Although there was a command relationship between Hanoi and the VDC, the lack of communications between the VDC and Hanoi and the anger and resentment caused by Diệm’s rule meant that the VDC, especially in the early days of the insurgency, was largely driven from the South.
After four years of low-key assassinations, propaganda, and bombings, the VDC had built up enough strength to begin to attack the South Vietnamese military. The flow of supplies and troops from the North increased so that by the end of 1959, there were 14,000 North Vietnamese troops in the South. As the fifties ended and the sixties began, the insurgency went from being an annoyance to the Saigon government to a major threat. They had assassinated or co-opted a large portion of the village chiefs, and the actions South Vietnamese forces barely scratched the VDC insurgency.
The Beginnings of Direct German Involvement (1961-1965)
The German Military Advisory Group
German involvement in protecting South Vietnam against the North began as soon as the State of Vietnam was proclaimed. The Germans allowed South Vietnamese officers to train in German schools, and provided arms to the SAVN, but there was no direct German involvement in Vietnam itself. During 1961, German had a new Foreign Minister to replace Arthur Seyss-Inquart. Foreign Minister Gerhard Schröder specialised in Asian affairs, and was Germany's first Ambassador to South Vietnam. Schröder advised his Führer that unless Germany took serious steps, defeat was inevitable in South Vietnam.
Schröder had a close relationship with SS-Obergruppenführer Otto Skorzeny (Chief of German Special Forces) and together they proposed a strategy of limited war to Hitler. Until the limited war strategy, German policy had focused on opposing the US and its allies by the pursuit of nuclear supremacy. This had put Germany and the United States into an arms race of nuclear missiles, strategic bombers, and interceptors. The arms race was costly, Germany seemed to be losing, and it did not seem to weaken the United States.
The limited war strategy was to attack the United States by indirectly attacking its small, Third World allies. The short-range goals were to be limited, and the wars were to be limited to the extent that would avoid overt US military intervention against Germany, which could lead to nuclear war.
Hitler seized upon the limited war strategy as the only means to attack the United States in the nuclear age. During August 1961, Hitler signed Führer Directive 6768, which called for German assistance to the government of South Vietnam. It called for the provision of more arms to the Diệm regime, and the dispatch of large numbers of advisors to train and guide South Vietnamese forces. Anti-partisan tactics, which had worked in the Ukraine and White Russia, were taught to South Vietnamese officers.
In January 1962, the Militärberater-Gruppe Vietnam (Military Advisors Group Vietnam, MGV) was raised in Saigon. It had an initial staff of fifteen thousand including military instructors and advisors, logistics troops, economic advisors, propaganda specialists, medical personnel, and support staff. They immediately started to work on training the South Vietnamese soldiers and advising their officers. The Luftwaffe began to introduce armed aircraft to the SVAF, and the Kriegsmarine adapted the equipment they had used on East European rivers against partisans to South Vietnamese needs.
Diệm and MGV favoured physically separating the rural population from the guerrillas. The effort to remove the population from the guerrilla-controlled areas was called the Strategic Hamlet Program. From the beginning, it was a disaster. The small villages in which the peasants lived had existed for generations, in some cases even centuries. Removal of a largely Buddhist population from the place in which their ancestors were buried was traumatic and the new locations were poorly sited for agriculture. The VDC extensively infiltrated the new Strategic Hamlets and gained valuable intelligence from them. Resistance to forced relocations was usually met with summary execution. The Government suggested paying the peasants for building the new hamlets and Germany provided the materials. In reality, South Vietnamese officers usually stole these payments. They also forced the peasants to pay for the "free materials".
German advisors reported frequently that the equipment provided by Germany was misused, missing, or not used at all. German officers are trained to attack aggressively, and their advice to South Vietnamese officers was to deal with the VDC aggressively, yet Southern officers constantly rejected German advice. Battles between South Vietnamese forces and the VDC were rare. When pitched battles did take place, the South Vietnamese would always abandon the battlefield after the shooting had stopped. The VDC perfected the art of disappearing when they were unable to defeat the South Vietnamese troops facing them. The South Vietnamese Army became less willing to engage in operations in the jungle against the VDC, preferring to raid villages. These raids were frequently extremely brutal. Theft, torture, and murders were commonplace. Often, a South Vietnamese unit, with its German advisor, would enter a village, murder its inhabitants, and burn the village down. The report on such operations would usually refer to the village as having been "pacified".
Throughout 1962 and 1963, desertions from the South Vietnamese Army increased, and casualties began to mount. Increasingly, German advisors were being killed too. The corruption prevalent in South Vietnam reached the Army as well, with officers selling supplies (including the sale of weapons to the VDC), and creating "phantom troops" in order to pocket their salaries. Some officers did not even bother with phantom troops, content to steal the pay of the real troops under their command. The Diệm regime refused to hear any German complaints about graft. Diệm's people would always respond by telling the Germans that they were a sovereign government and would not submit to "bullying". The Germans poured in more men and equipment, only to find that the situation became worse. More and more of South Vietnam fell under the effective control of the guerrillas.
The Downfall of Diệm
There were figures in the South Vietnamese armed forces who resented Diệm. These men claimed several causes for their resentment including mismanagement of the war, corruption, the treatment of Buddhists, and a lack of "will to win" the war. Their resentment of Diệm was accompanied by hatred of his brother Nhu. German officials in Saigon and Berlin discussed the removal of Diệm as early as December 1962, however Diệm was perceived as having Hitler's approval. This made any German move against Diệm impossible. Foreign Minister Schröder worked slowly in bringing Hitler around to the anti-Diệm camp. Unofficially, he ordered the German Embassy in Saigon to maintain contact with the plotters.
The plotters would not move without German support, or at least German support for a post-Diệm government. Germany's mission to Vietnam suffered from Hitler's tendency to create multiple, competing authorities to carry out a task. In Saigon, there was not one headquarters for German assistance to South Vietnam, but three. The Wehrmacht had an advisory command, Militärberater-Gruppe Vietnam, the SS had their SS-Amt Vietnam (SS-VN) to coordinate security and train South Vietnamese security forces, and lastly the German Embassy in Saigon. Normally, the Embassy should have been the superior of the three as the Ambassador was the senior German government official in Vietnam, and as an Ambassador, was the personal representative of Hitler. However, Hitler was also the Minister and Supreme Commander of the Wehrmacht and the supreme commander of the SS. This meant that the Embassy, MGV, and SS-VN could all do as they pleased and they all could claim that it was in Hitler's name. The Foreign Minister opposed Diệm, but Embassy was lukewarm about a coup. The Ambassador was however, unsatisfied with Diệm. The SS enthusiastically supported Diệm and his brother Nhu. The Wehrmacht wanted Diệm gone because they believed that the war would be lost if Diệm remained in power for much longer. The Wehrmacht also believed that they could dominate a South Vietnamese military government.
Nhu's SS advisors informed him that there was a plot against him and his brother. Shortly after, three Colonels based in Saigon were secretly murdered, while five more were transferred to the De-Militarised Zone or the Central Highlands. The Abwehr office in Saigon found out that the SS had carried out one of the killings. MGV arrested the SS officers named by Abwehr's South Vietnamese informants. The Wehrmacht High Command complained to Hitler that this type of interference was overstepping the line. Reichsführer Himmler ordered the SS-Amt Vietnam to confine its activities to advising and training South Vietnamese security forces. In exchange, MGV released the SS officers, with profuse apologies for MGV's "mistake". The Wehrmacht High Command commissioned a report on the affair. This report accused the Ambassador of negligence due to his "failure" to control the SS. The report also pointed out that if the German Army could discover secret SS killings of South Vietnamese officials, then so could US intelligence.
SS personnel held operational positions throughout the State National Security Force (SNSF), and were responsible for investigations, and interrogations. Diệm and Nhu's security force was essentially a South Vietnamese branch of the Gestapo and SD. The fact that it was staffed by Germans, Vietnamese Catholics, and Diệm's relatives meant that Diệm could trust them far more than he could trust the Army. The SNSF's main Saigon detention and interrogation facility was almost entirely staffed by Germans during 1963. The relegation of the SS to advice and training reduced their Vietnam-based manpower by half, and greatly reduced the ability of the SNSF to protect Diệm's regime.
The Ngô brothers had no reason for fear the plot. They had entrusted command of the region around Saigon to General Tôn Th?t Ðính. Ðính was extremely close to the Ngô brothers, and had even converted to Catholicism to gain promotions. He was known around Saigon for his drunken antics in illegal nightclubs. The plotters began to court Ðính by massaging his ego. Ðính's deputy was a covert supporter of the plot, and told Ðính that he should ask for a cabinet post. Diệm was known to oppose the appointment of military officers to the cabinet, and it was hoped that a refusal would bring Ðính over to the anti-Diệm camp, however Ðính never reached Diệm. His Mercedes-Benz exploded shortly after leaving his villa in Saigon. The Diệm regime believed that the bomb was planted by the VDC, but post-war documents showed that it was in fact planted by Abwehr agents. Ðính's deputy, Colonel Chu Doãn Ng? was promoted to Major General and took over command of the Saigon region.
In the atmosphere of heightened tension in Saigon, MGV persuaded the German Ambassador to request the deployment of two battalions of guard troops to provide close protection for German facilities in the Saigon area. The two battalions were quietly flown in and settled into two South Vietnamese Army barracks in Saigon which had been emptied for them.
With Saigon's forces under the command of a confirmed opponent of Diệm, the SS muzzled, and the State National Security Force weakened, only one stumbling block for the plotters remained; Hitler. The Army High Command and Foreign Office had been working on Hitler for several months, carefully presenting the facts surrounding Diệm mismanagement of the war. While Hitler never seriously attempted to rebut their arguments, the arguments failed to address Hitler's personality. Hitler believed that if someone was capable of leading and thought he ought to lead, then he should simply take over. It didn't matter if one was discussing a country or a country club. Hitler believed that the natural leaders would come to the fore and take leadership. In short, Hitler opposed the overthrow of Diệm because no one had overthrown him. The Army tried a new tack. They stopped asking Hitler to authorise the overthrow of Diệm, and simply asked if he would support a South Vietnamese government committed to fighting the North. Hitler agreed to this vague proposition, and the Army had the tacit approval it needed. From now on, military and diplomatic activity in support of the plotters was said to be "in the Führer's name".
The plotters now had the tacit approval they needed. Saigon Area Commander General Chu Doãn Ng? was ordered to stage a fake uprising from among his officers. Diệm believed that this would induce the real dissidents to come into the open allowing Diệm to destroy them. Chu took advantage of this to arrange troop movements and transfers of command officers. Diệm believed Chu's explanation that these movements were in order to facilitate the fake coup, and to bring the officers he suspected of being dissidents into Saigon where they could become involved. This was true, but Chu's plan was to have the fake coup become real.
On November 12, 1963 at 0400, troops commanded by the plotters left their barracks and headed into the Government District of Saigon. They surrounded the Defence Ministry, Interior Minister, and Diệm's "Leader's Palace". Diệm appeared to have gotten wind of the coup before hand, and left his Palace shortly before the plotters' troops arrived. Nhu was not so lucky. He was quickly bundled into a half track and taken to Chu's headquarters. Diệm tried to reach SS-Amt Vietnam. When the shooting started in Saigon, the German Army guard battalion deployed to protect German Government sites in Saigon. The German troops fired on Diệm's Kubelwagen (they later claimed that they fired by mistake). The delay allowed Diệm's pursuers to catch him. He was taken to his brother. Duong Van Minh (the President after the coup) and Chu have both said that they intended to give Diệm and Nhu safe conduct out of South Vietnam. What appears to have happened was that the brothers were ushered out of the half track, and Chu gestured at them. Chu has said that he wanted his soldiers to bring Diệm and Nhu to the guard room. What actually happened was that Chu gestured at them, and two soldiers lifted their MP40 submachine guns and sprayed them with bullets.
After the deaths of Diệm and Nhu, General Duong Van Minh announced the formation of a Military Revolutionary Government. Hitler quickly sent Duong Van Minh a telegram congratulating him on taking leadership. Leaders throughout the fascist world recognised Duong Van Minh's new regime. North Vietnam, and its democratic allies denounced the coup, stating that the Military Revolutionary Government was simply a German puppet. The South Vietnamese proclaimed President Minh their savior. Monuments to the Ngo brothers and Madame Nhu were destroyed. Minh leaked to the South Vietnamese press the fact that the German military and Embassy supported his coup, while the SS opposed it. This prompted demonstrations outside the SS headquarters in Saigon. Madame Nhu was in Germany at the time. The South Vietnamese Embassy in Berlin cancelled her passport, and President Minh announced the confiscation of all of her property (which by now included all of the property of Diệm and Nhu due to inheritance). She was convicted in absentia of treason and exiled from South Vietnam. Madame Nhu eventually settled in Paris.
German combat forces arrive
The coup had little effect on the VDC. Recruitment slowed briefly due to the support for the military junta which had overthrown Diệm, but the misrule and corruption of the junta soon brought men back to the VDC. Hanoi decided to intensify the campaign against the South. Since 1961, the Germans were helping the SVAF operate light attack aircraft and spotter planes. During March 1964, the Luftwaffe sent a squadron of Messerschmitt Me 563 fighter bombers to Vietnam to provide a strike capability. The number of German advisors in Vietnam had increased to thirty thousand. In the post-Diệm environment, the Wehrmacht was the most powerful German agency in Vietnam. The Wehrmacht saw their role as solely military. They were there to provide training, advice, and support to the South Vietnamese forces. The German Foreign Ministry favoured "pacification", by which they meant efforts to win the population over from the democrats. The push towards pacification might have worked when Diệm was alive, but the junta and the Wehrmacht had no interest in pacification. It was concerned with fighting. The expansion in the numbers of German advisors made little difference to the quality of the South Vietnamese Army.
As the Wehrmacht increased the number of Luftwaffe personnel and aircraft in Vietnam, and as they constructed several large airfields in Burma, the Wehrmacht High Command pressed for a force of combat troops in Vietnam. While Hitler considered their requests, the situation in South Vietnam deteriorated. One late-1963 Abwehr report stated that "virtually all of the countryside of Vietnam is in the hands of the VDC. The cities are under government control, yet contain hundreds (perhaps thousands) of VDC agents and sympathisers." VDC and ARVN forces in South Vietnam numbered 100,000 by May 1964.
During December 1964, the VDC carried out several mortar and rocket attacks on the Luftwaffe air base at Da Nang. To protect German air bases in South Vietnam, the Luftwaffe sent out its 3rd Field Division. Battalion groups were deployed to major German air bases in South Vietnam. These troops were not normally used to provide close protection of the base (i.e. perimeter guards, and gate guards), instead they were to be used in patrolling and response operations far outside the air field boundary. This was justified by the Wehrmacht as being necessary to prevent medium range attacks by rockets and mortars.
Wehrmacht forces in Vietnam were now under the command of the Militärunterstützungs-Kommando Vietnam (Military Assistance Command Vietnam, MUKV). MUKV was convinced that the only route to victory was to introduce massive German military forces to Vietnam, and to attack North Vietnam by air. They pressed on with the development of the Burmese airfields to take both large transport aircraft and strategic bombers.
The Northern government decided that inflicting a heavy defeat on the Germans in the field was essential. They decided on an ambush of a company-sized patrol near the village of Tông Vêy, 30km from Da Nang. After various feints to lead the Germans into believing that the principal VDC base was Tông Vêy, the Germans sent out a company patrol to cordon and search Tông Vêy. On the way from Da Nang to Tông Vêy, an entire VDC regiment waited in hiding. The VDC observed complete radio silence, depriving the Germans of one of their most effective sources of intelligence. The Battle of Tông Vêy was a disaster for the Luftwaffe company. They lost 30 dead and 45 wounded out of a company of 140. While the VDC had achieved a tactical victory against the Luftwaffe ground troops, it was a strategic failure. The VDC and the Hanoi government had completely miscalculated the German attitude to casualties. Hanoi had read the German reluctance to involve their own ground forces in Vietnam as a reluctance to accept casualties. The Germans' caution was in fact cause by their desire to prevent an escalation that would drag the United States into the war, leading possibly to a nuclear exchange. The Third Reich worshiped death, 30 dead were practically martyred by the Germans. German TV news showed a Luftwaffe parade at Da Nang. They took a roll call, and when the name of one of the dead was read out, every Luftwaffe man shouted "Present, Sir!". The Battle of Tông Vêy was Germany's entry to major combat in Vietnam.
The North's Allies Enter The War - German Involvement Escalates(1964-1968)
The Manila Conference
Throughout 1964, the United States and its allies noted a deterioration in the strategic situation in Eastern Asia. North Korea was beginning to acquire long range missiles, the Fascist government of China began to assert itself, particularly against India, small but active pro-Fascist insurgencies in Malaysia and the Philippines, and the Sukarno regime in Indonesia was moving closer to Germany. US policy makers came to the conclusion that defeat in Vietnam would leave Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Malaysia, Australia and New Zealand in an impossible position.
The US Intelligence Service was a keen watcher of South Vietnam, and of Germany's other allies in Asia. New reconnaissance satellites operated by the USIS and US Air Force spotted the German airfields in Burma in 1964, and assessed their purpose as both forward logistics bases for Vietnam and strategic bomber bases for attacks on Vietnam. This assessment was correct. This information was passed on to North Vietnam, Australia and Canada.
The difficult situation in Eastern Asia combined with clear evidence of German intentions to escalate the Vietnam War persuaded US and other democratic policy makers that some form of coordinated strategy to meet fascist moves into Asia would be necessary. In September 1964 the Manila Summit took place. This summit conference, called by the United States and chaired by President Lyndon B. Johnson, included Ph?m Van Ð?ng (Prime Minister of North Vietnam), Robert Menzies (Prime Minister of Australia), Keith Holyoake (Prime Minister of New Zealand), Abdul Rahman (Prime Minister of Malaysia), Diosdado Macapagal (President of the Philippines), Eisaku Sato (Prime Minister of Japan), Park Chung-hee (President of South Korea), and John G. Diefenbaker (Prime Minister of Canada). The conference was intended to examine all major security issues in Eastern Asia, but inevitably, it concentrated on Vietnam. Prime Minister Ð?ng told the conference that he believed that Germany would attack his country by air, and that his intelligence services had even told him that a German ground invasion was planned in conjunction with China. The latter claim was untrue, but it was plausible. All of the leaders at the conference agreed that helping North Vietnam was absolutely vital to the safety of democracy in the Asia Pacific region.
Japan's constitution prevented the dispatch of troops or the export of weapons, however Japan did pledge financial aid to North Vietnam including credits for non-military Japanese goods essential to the war effort, and cash loans for the purchase of goods Japan could not provide. The United States was also unable to offer troops. This was due to the presence of German forces. Johnson's foreign policy was to avoid direct fighting between American and German forces due to the risk of global nuclear escalation. He offered extensive material aid to North Vietnam and any country willing to send troops to help it.
Canada and Australia offered interceptors from their air forces to defend North Vietnam's skies. They also offered instructors to the ARVN and surface to air missile batteries to supplement the interceptors. They also offered naval assistance in protecting North Vietnam against German U-Boats, and in defending merchant ships taking supplies to North Vietnam. They also offered supplies and money for North Vietnam.
The Philippines and South Korea offered ground troops. South Korean leader General Park Chung Hee had come to power in a coup, and was eager for acceptance from the democracies. He offered to send 300,000 troops as soon as they could arrive. The Philippines offered more modest resources, but also offered fighter aircraft. The United States also offered the use of Clark Air Base and the Subic Bay Naval Base. It was decided that merchant ships from the US and Canada would form convoys at Subic Bay for the trip across the South China Sea to Vietnam.
The Malaysian Prime Minister expressed concerns that Australia would use its fighters at RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia to bolster the Vietnamese defence. This was certainly the Australian Government's intention. The United States pledged its own interceptors to replace the Australian aircraft at RAAF Butterworth. The United States Navy was to patrol Australian waters as well in order to free up Australian warships for convoy duty. US ground troops would take over from Australian and New Zealand troops in defence and training duties in Malaysia.
Vietnam requested a type of "Lend Lease" program, which would go beyond the standard Military Assistance Program. President Johnson told them this was not possible until an attack on North Vietnam had in fact taken place. Privately, President Johnson told Prime Minister Ð?ng that the legislation was already drafted, and that he would present it to Congress as the first bomb fell on North Vietnam.
While a commitment of US combat forces to Vietnam was impossible, the US was able to offer its intelligence resources to aid the North Vietnamese. Satellite photography and intercepted communications were promised. US Embassies in Asia had their USIS and OSS contingents reinforced. President Johnson promised U-2 coverage, and told the men assembled that a new, faster reconnaissance aircraft capable of Mach 3 would enter service next year (the aircraft in question, the USIS A-12 and the US Air Force SR-71 Blackbird entered service two and a half years after the conference). He told them that this aircraft would be used over Vietnam as well.
The air war begins
Canada and Australia decided to combine their efforts, and formed the 1st Commonwealth Task Force. 425 Squadron, RCAF arrived in North Vietnam with its CF-101 Voodoos only six weeks after the Manila conference. Two more Canadian CF-101 Voodoo squadrons and two Australian F-106 Delta Dart squadrons arrived shortly after. The Australians flew their first F-106 Delta Darts straight from RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia. The Filipinos took somewhat longer in their preparations due to their having less experience in expeditionary operations, and also to the fact that Canada and Australia had permanent or semi-permanent remote deployments to draw on. Australia and Canada also sent batteries of MIM-23 HAWK surface to air missiles to protect point targets, and airbases. The German bombers in Burma were ready later than the Commonwealth interceptors due to the fact that bombs are difficult to transport, but the Luftwaffe were soon ready.
The Germans decided to mark Remembrance Day 1964 by bombing North Vietnam. A squadron of 16 Junkers 688 medium bombers were sent against 11 military and logistical targets in Vietnam. They were to depend on their own electronic warfare equipment and defensive armament combined with their performance. No escort fighters were provided. The purpose of the raid was to test the North's defences. Remembrance Day had been chosen for psychological impact on the Australians and Canadians.
They did not take the bait. The Commonwealth Task Force decided on a minimalist strategy. It was essentially the same as the strategy used by the British during the Battle of Britain. The air defence of North Vietnam was coordinated by the VNAF Fighter Command, which had formal control of all VNAF fighters, plus the fighter aircraft of the RAAF, RCAF, and PAF. VNAF Fighter Command had just taken on a large staff of Canadian and Australian officers to provide assistance in tactics and training.
VNAF Fighter Command scrambled six CF-101B Voodoos, four F-106A Delta Darts, and eight North Vietnamese F-86F Sabres. The Sabres were to remain back and catch any German aircraft that leaked through the supersonic interceptors. All of the interceptors were to be guided by ground based radar. Tactically, the raid was a disaster. To increase surprise, the Commonwealth fighters didn't switch on their own radars until the last moment. The Germans had expected to be tracked individually (because that was the standard German tactic to individually track every aircraft in an action). The interceptors were scrambled while the German bomber fleet was over Laos. The pro-German Laotian government forbade North Vietnamese overflights so all interceptions were to take place in North Vietnam. Fighter controllers put most of the interceptors behind and close to German bombers within fifty miles of the North Vietnam/Laos border. Only three of the bombers reached their targets. These three were all operating alone, and had independently decided to fly at extremely low altitude. At very low altitude, there were substantial gaps in North Vietnamese radar coverage. They did meet the Sabres, but the Ju-688s were flying at Mach 0.85, and were too fast for the Sabres. They managed to inflict significant damage on a power station, an ARVN base, and a rail junction. Though the post-bombing photos looked impressive, the power grid was at full capacity in five hours, most of the troops in the base were on an exercise, and rail traffic was disrupted for only twenty four hours. Of 16 German bombers sent out, only five returned. Two of them never flew again. As far as the Germans were concerned, they had achieved the main goal of the raid. They had learned the tactics of the VNAF and its Commonwealth allies. Because the tactics were essentially British, the Royal Air Force (led now by Fascists) could give the Germans a very close idea of how the VNAF would run the air war. They now also knew that escort fighters were absolutely necessary and that the North Vietnamese were weaker at low altitudes. A German Air Rescue service had been set up in Laos, and it rescued the majority of the air crews who survived their encounter with the Commonwealth Task Force. Their debriefings provided valuable insights. One worrying aspect of their testimony was that none of the crews had visual contact with their enemies until they had already fired, and by then it was too late.
The Germans prepared for the real air offensive. They completed their deployment of aircraft. Most types of German tactical aircraft were represented. German engineers had some trouble adapting themselves and their machines to the tropical conditions, but, as they did during the World War II, the "Blackbirds" performed miracles to keep their aircraft flying. They even developed and tested flight refueling equipment for the Me 563 jet fighter, overcoming the traditional Luftwaffe fighter problem of short-range.
The Germans also deployed their strategic bombers to Burma. The decision to deploy them was difficult because of their role in strategic nuclear delivery. The Luftwaffe's Strategic Command did not want to release them to the newly formed Luftflotte 16 (which would coordinate all Luftwaffe efforts in the Vietnam War). The bombers in question were Focke-Wulf Ta 800 heavy bombers, Junkers Ju 332, and Messerschmitt Me 1108 medium bombers. As the Luftwaffe received more intercontinental ballistic missiles, they released more Ta 800s to Vietnam service.
The Philippine Air Force's task force arrived in Vietnam shortly after the first few raids. Their principle aircraft was the Lockheed F-104A Starfighter. With its blistering performance as an air superiority fighter, VNAF Fighter Command Headquarters decided on a strategy of using the Starfighters to attempt to draw the escorts away from their bombers, leaving a clear run for the CF-101 and F-106 interceptors.
The Hanoi government, wanting to have some independence from its allies, sought to expand the VNAF Fighter Command. A training program was started in the Philippines, and the US. The VNAF decided on the F-104 Starfighter. There were plenty of F-104's available, and their performance in the hands of the Filipinos, combined with their high reliability suggested them. The VNAF also ordered F-5 Freedom Fighters.
The bombing went on throughout all of 1965, but had no effect on the North Vietnamese. North Vietnam made a poor target for strategic bombing. North Vietnam imported practically all of its military equipment. Its bridges were difficult to hit, even with guided glide bombs. The North Vietnamese often used mobile bridges, and the Russian developed ribbon bridge. These mobile bridges could be changed every few days to stay ahead of German bombing. The German difficulty in destroying bridges was made worse by the concentrations of surface to air missiles and anti-aircraft guns around them. One North Vietnamese bridge claimed 14 German aircraft before a single span was hit.
The Germans erected navigation aids in Laos, Burma, South Vietnam and China. They also made use of radar aircraft. The radio navigation aids were based on the British system "GEE". The Germans also used radar to control night bombers. German bombers would soon find lone CF-100 Canucks, CB-127 Canberras, and CC-129 JetStars flying over North Vietnam and Laos. These aircraft belonged to the secretive 414 and 478 Squadrons. These squadrons were tasked with electronic warfare and intelligence. They soon began to eavesdrop on German communications, and counter German radar and navigation systems. Their scheme to interfere with radio navigation aids led to many German bombers dropping their bombs on empty jungle (though this often happened with accurate navigation and incorrect or obsolete intelligence). German photo reconnaissance aircraft could be intercepted, especially by PAF F-104 Starfighters. Often the North Vietnamese would use decoys to fool German photo reconnaissance.
The flow of supplies and troops from North to South continued. German policy prevented the bombing of Haiphong, and the mining of its harbour. Characteristically, Goering refused to see that the bombing was failing, and pressed for more. He even boasted to Hitler that he could force North Vietnam to surrender by bombing alone. Goering, however, had made these boasts before. Neither the Wehrmacht High Command nor Hitler took him seriously. Hitler in particular saw conventional air power as an adjunct of ground forces. For Hitler, it was therefore simple, nuclear weapons were not to be used so the Luftwaffe's role was to support the Army. During May 1966, the Abwehr carried out an assessment of the strategic bombing. The Abwehr report stated that strategic bombing was a failure as it had no serious effect on the flow of supplies to the VDC in South Vietnam, nor did have any noticeable effect on the North Vietnamese leadership. North America-based Abwehr agents even reported that North Vietnam's leadership became more resolved to defeat South Vietnam as a result of the bombings. As the ground war in the South increased in intensity, aircraft were removed from operations against North Vietnam in order to support the Axis armies in the South. The bombers would not return to North Vietnam for a year.
Germany decides to fight the war itself
Germany's defeat in the Battle of Tông Vêy allowed those in the Wehrmacht and Foreign Ministry who wanted a full commitment of German combat forces to get their way. This was largely due to the Nazi's attitude to casualties and deaths in support of Nazi policy. Hitler signed "Führer Directive 1451" which authorised the Wehrmacht to deploy whatever forces were necessary to achieve German objectives in Vietnam. The directive itself did not specify what those objectives were. The Wehrmacht High Command and MUKV were to "interpret" that for themselves. Directive 1451 was symptomatic of the way in which Germany had been governed since 1933. There was little in the way of clear policy, and Hitler seldom burdened his subordinates with orders. He had "visions" of what he wanted. These visions changed often, and his subordinates crafted policy around scraps of conversation with Hitler. While Hitler was unclear about what he did want in Vietnam, he was absolutely clear about what he did not want. Under no circumstances could the Wehrmacht take action that would provoke the United States. The US maintained a large Embassy compound and numerous properties in Hà N?i, as well as taking a highly active interest in the North Vietnamese leadership. US supplies to North Vietnam were carried in civilian or military cargo vessels to North Vietnam's major port, H?i Phòng. This meant that attacks in North Vietnam could not touch either Hà N?i or H?i Phòng. They also could not invade North Vietnam with ground forces.
The Wehrmacht High Command organised a six division force for Vietnam. There were to be four Army infantry divisions, one Airborne Division of the Luftwaffe, and an infantry division of the Waffen-SS. Germany also sent out a call for support from its allies. Britain, Burma, North Korea, and Italy. The first three divisions were to arrive in early 1965, the remainder were to arrive in the latter half of 1965. The deployment of Germany's allies was expected to be complete by July 1966. Hitler placed MUKV in command of all allied efforts in Vietnam, and made its commander "Plenipotentiary for the Support of South Vietnam". This appointment placed the Commander of MUKV (Generaloberst Ulrich de Maizière) above the German Ambassador to South Vietnam.
Colonel General de Maizière advocated a strategy of attrition and reprisal. German troops would conduct sweeps of the Vietnamese countryside. Their aim was to bring VDC units to battle and destroy them. General de Maizière introduced a new strategic hamlet programme. Unlike the previous plan, this was a concentration camp system. Villages which collaborated with the VDC, even if it was under duress, would be razed, and the inhabitants moved into "strategic hamlets". Resistance would be met with instant, and brutal retaliation. The North Korean Army had a simpler approach, if VDC arms or rice was found in a village, the village would simply be torched and the inhabitants murdered.
Massed helicopter assaults were the primary German tactic. Battalion-sized groups would be inserted by helicopter to conduct search and destroy missions in a particular area. A key example of this type of operation was conducted by the 32nd SS Infantry Regiment of the 39th SS Infantry Division "British Free Corps" during late 1965 in the Ia Drang Valley (The Battle of Ia Drang). SS-Standardenführer Thomas Brown selected the 1 (East Kent) Battalion under SS-Obersturmbannführer Harry Moore to enter the Ia Drang by helicopter in order to find an ARVN infiltration force. The British SS force was heavily outnumbered by the North Vietnamese and VDC. Extensive use of artillery directed by local observers through radio, and helicopters to resupply and reinforce the British meant that this small group were able to defeat a VDC force five times their size. SS-Obersturmbannführer Moore became the first British recipient of the Knight's Cross.
These tactics were effective when the VDC chose to accept battle. VDC and ARVN tactics were based on North Vietnamese General Võ Nguyên Giáp's guerrilla tactics which favoured hit and run attacks. The VDC and ARVN usually disappeared when they couldn't obtain a quick victory. Hearing aircraft and artillery was almost an immediate retreat signal to the democratic guerrillas. The British with their superior jungle warfare skills were able to prevail frequently. Tactics that they had perfected in Burma were as suited to operating against Vietnamese guerrillas as they had been against Japanese soldiers. The Germans dependence on artillery could be a weakness. The VDC said they would "fight by holding onto the enemy's belt", this meant that they would get so close that the Fascists couldn't use their massive advantage in artillery and air power due to the risk of these supporting weapons hitting the Fascists' own troops. In this type of battle, the fanaticism of the Waffen-SS came into play. When the VDC decided to "hold on to the belts" of the SS, the SS would call artillery on to their own positions.
Throughout 1966 and 1967, the number of Fascist troops in Vietnam increased. Increases in troop numbers primarily came from foreign powers and the SS. North Korea's two divisions arrived in early 1966, and operated through the coastal areas of Vietnam north of Saigon. The British brigade group operated in Phuoc Tuy province. South Africa's brigade operated in the arduous territory of the Central Highlands. Italy's brigade operated in the Mekong Delta area. Two more SS divisions and one more Army division rounded out the increase in numbers. By the end of 1967, the South Vietnam hosted over 450,000 foreign troops from various fascist nations.
The SS and North Korean troops bought with them their own brand of brutalities. While VDC and ARVN troops could melt away easily, the villagers had nowhere to go and suffered the a great part of the burden of the war. Throughout 1966 and 1967, the Germans were able to kill large numbers of VDC, however they always seemed to find more recruits. During 1966, the Germans also started their first serious attempts to halt the flow of supplies from North Vietnam to South Vietnam along the Ho Chi Minh trail. To this end, the Germans used aircraft to place sensors along the trail and bomb it. The sensors were intended to detect engine noises, heat, or seismic disturbances (i.e. vehicles creating tiny distrubances). These efforts were largely unsuccessful. Although large losses were inflicted on the North Vietnamese convoys, they had no strategic effect inside South Vietnam.
During the halt in the bombing of North Vietnam, the North Vietnamese prepared. The VNAF trained pilots rapidly, and acquired new interceptors. The VNAF now had two operational wings of F-104A Starfighters, and three wings of F-5 Freedom Fighters. Along with Australian, Canadian, and Philippines fighters, they would protect North Vietnam's air space. After the halt in the large scale bombing campaign, the Germans restricted themselves to marauding and "opportunity attacks" on certain targets. The VNAF had also formed missile regiments armed with the American MIM-23 HAWK missile. These would provide point defence of key targets.
The Germans decided to bomb North Vietnam on a large scale again. During October 1966, the first raids started. The previous bombing campaign of 1965 had excluded Hanoi and Haiphong for political reasons, however this new bombing campaign was to give special attention to Hanoi. Hitler was nearing the end of his life, and some believed that his mind was deteriorating. He believed that he could bomb the North Vietnamese into submission. He believed that he could not only get them to abandon their attack on South Vietnam, but get them to embrace Fascism. He was talking nonsense. Northern resolve was in fact hardened by the German bombing. The flow of supplies to the South continued unabated. Luftwaffe commanders in Burma quietly kept the bombers away from Haiphong's harbour, fearing the result of sinking a US-flagged merchant ship.
Germany's failure to cut the Ho Chi Minh trail persuaded Hitler to allow the German Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe attack Allied supply convoys sailing from the Philippines to North Vietnam. A decree was issued declaring much of the South China Sea a war zone, and advising that the South Vietnamese Government, and its allies reserved the right to stop or sink any ship within the affected area. The convoys had never been seriously attacked before. Escort captains had become complacent, and the voyages were starting to be treated as training cruises for the Republic of Vietnam Navy. The fledgling navy of North Vietnam had gained some experience of seamanship with its fleet of older American-made ships. Most of the escort group for Convoy B-23, which left the US Naval Base at Subic Bay in the Philippines, saw action in World War II. Convoy B-23 consisted of thirty merchant and military cargo ships, seven escort ships, and one replenishment oiler. The freighters included oil tankers, old US escort carriers being used as aircraft transporters, and various cargo ships. The escort group consisted of two Australian Town class destroyer escorts (Gearing class), two North Vietnamese frigates (former Casco class cutters from the US Coast Guard), two St. Laurent class destroyers from Canada. The escort command ship was the guided missile destroyer HMAS Perth. The replenishment oiler HMAS Supply supported the convoy. The convoy's sole air cover came from two CHSS-2 Sea King helicopters carried by the Canadian destroyers. Convoy B-23 was to be the target of a coordinated German-South Vietnamese attack. A wolf pack of eight U-Boats would combine with three heavy bombers to attack the convoy. The bombers carried anti-ship missiles (a weapon pioneered by Germany) to target the escorts, this would allow the U-Boats to sink the merchant ships. On 18 August 1966, the Germans attacked the convoy as it entered the Gulf of Tonkin. Three Focke-Wulf Ta 800 bombers flew, at high altitude, towards the convoy, and launched four missiles at the escorts. The missiles were Fieseler Fi 303 D cruise missiles, which were among the first anti-radiation missiles. These missiles would home on the radars of the escort ships, whereas a radar-guided missile would ignore the smaller frigates and target the larger freighters. The escort commander suspected, correctly, that the bombers weren't the only threat he'd have to deal with, and ordered the two Canadian ships to launch their helicopters to search for the U-Boats he suspected were lurking below. The Germans had organised a ten U-Boat wolf pack. He instructed the escort ships to search with their own anti-submarine sensors. He also silently cursed the fact that HMAS Perth carried the convoy's only real air defences. As the escorts readied themselves for battle against the submarines, HMAS Perth turned its attention to the cruise missiles streaking towards the convoy. The Germans launched four missiles. Of these, one failed to start its engine, and three flew on to their targets. HMAS Perth was armed with the RIM-24 Tartar missile, which was not designed to be used against missiles, but was nominally capable against a cruise missile. Unlike the later Exocet, Kormoran, and Harpoon, the German missiles were not sea-skimmers. HMAS Perth targeted the closest missile, and fired two Tartar missiles. Neither actually hit the target, but one exploded close enough to fatally damage it, saving HMAS Perth. It was too late to engage the other two missiles. HMAS Campbelltown and HMCS Saguenay were not so lucky. Both were hit, and sank. The third German bomber, which used a large surveillance radar to oversee the attack turned away, giving HMAS Perth an opportunity for another kill. HMAS Perth launched another duo of Tartars at the German bomber, with the first hitting the left wing root, and tearing the left wing off. The escort commander announced to the Operations Room on Perth "Only round one, boys." He asked the merchantmen to collect the survivors, as the warships and Sea Kings were needed for submarine hunting. HMCS Saguenay's CHSS-2 Sea King spotted a U-Boat fifteen thousand yards south of the convoy. The bombers had attacked too soon, and the U-Boats were out of position. The escort commander had been advised of no Australian or Canadian submarine activity in the area, however he couldn't exclude the possibility of a Russian, Chinese, American, or British submarine. The escort commander had to make a judgement based on the Sea King's report. Today, this decision would be easier, as the sound could be analysed against a library of submarine sounds and classified. This technology didn't exist at the time. The escort commander decided to shoot first, and ask questions later. The Sea King's torpedo struck U-3020, sinking it and killing everyone on board. The other U-Boats in the Wolf Pack accelerated, three boats in the north provided "covering" fire with a spread of torpedos. One torpedo hit HMAS Fremantle. A torpedo heading for an old escort carrier with a load of F-104 Starfighters was stopped by RVNS Trần Quang Khải, in an act of self-sacrifice. She sank, taking most of her 200-man crew with her. The battle continued for several hours, with five merchant ships, and one more escort being sunk, plus one Sea King ditched. German losses were also heavy, with a total of three U-Boats sunk. Future convoys would have larger escorts, including land-based Neptune and Orion aircraft, and aircraft carriers.
Hanoi was not spared the bombing, and its population suffered heavily under the bombing. The air defences of North Vietnam exacted a high price from the Luftwaffe. The large scale bombing of Hanoi was beyond the capability of the Messerschmitt Me 810s normally sent after point targets. The Luftwaffe were after mass, not accuracy. They therefore used the much larger Focke-Wulf Ta 800 strategic bombers. The North Vietnamese knew where the bombers would go, and that they would attack in large numbers. The North Vietnamese Government evacuated as many civilians as it could from Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh refused evacuation, as did most of North Vietnam's cabinet and parliament (the Vice-Prime Minister was sent away from Hanoi, on strict orders to act as a "designated survivor"). At the same time, surface to air missiles and anti-aircraft guns were concentrated in Hanoi. The Germans, under Hitler's personal orders to devastate Hanoi had no choice but to brave the defences. Goering contributed to the carnage by insisting that the Me 810s stay with the bombers. Had they been allowed to hunt independently, they might have been able to inflict significant casualties on the Allied forces, especially the Canadian Voodoos which were unsuited to fighting other fighters. Canadian Canberras and JetStars would go south to decoy German fighters. The advanced electronic equipment on board could simulate formations of bombers. German fighters also had to deal with real Australian air raids on South Vietnam from Malaysia. The air war was not going well for Germany. Although they succeeded in killing large numbers of North Vietnamese civilians, they had no serious effect on civilians morale or on the flow of men and supplies to South Vietnam. Some Germans were beginning to privately question the wisdom of continuing the war.
As 1967 wore on, German morale began to fall. The German attrition strategy was failing. Instances of drug abuse among German troops increased. The SS had the worst drug problems. Their fanatical methods in combat, combined with their tendency to carry out mass killings against civilians caused SS men to turn to drugs. During the Second World War, the only real problem was drink, but in South Vietnam, drugs, especially heroin, were the preferred "off-duty relaxants". The Waffen-SS and Gestapo later move drugs into Europe from South East Asia, starting Europe's drug problem.
Little of this reached the Reich. The German press was well used saying whatever the regime asked them to say. The Vietnam War was reported in Germany and its satellites as a string of victories, with German soldiers regularly depicted building schools and clinics. The reality was different, and returning German troops would spread stories about the countryside being abandoned to the VDC, about an enemy that would attack and melt away, and about war crimes. The gag on negative reporting about the war was further undermined by Radio Free Europe broadcasting from Russia and ships in the North Atlantic and North Sea. A late 1966 Gestapo report states that Germans were beginning to disbelieve official reports about the war.
The "solution" to the problem was offered by SS-Reichsführer Himmler: the Waffen-SS. If Germans were hesitating about the war, then the war could be fought by foreigners. Early in 1967, the Germans had already asked North Korea for more men, Himmler proposed that foreign units of the Waffen-SS could take over a lot of the combat duty in Vietnam, with the Army taking on the supporting role. During mid-1967, the balance of forces changed. There were now four North Korean divisions, and five Waffen-SS divisions. The Luftwaffe kept an Airborne Division in Vietnam. The Army's Vietnam deployment was reduced to two divisions.
This move had three effects: it reduced the criticisms on the war, increased the number of atrocities committed against South Vietnamese civilians, and reduced the fighting capability of the VDC. The reason for the latter change is simple: the primary role of most Waffen-SS was internal security and "anti-partisan" activity in Eastern Europe. The most effective Fascist units were the German Army's special forces units, such as the Brandenburg Division, and the Luftwaffe's Luftlande-Sturm-Regiment.
In the Central Highlands, the Abwehr Spezialeinsatzkommando formed effective anti-VDC forces from the Montagnard peoples. The Ausland-SD carried on parallel efforts. However skilled and dedicated the Montagnards, their German masters, and the South African combat troops were, they were simply unable to wrest effective control of the Central Highlands from the VDC.
The number of Fascist ground troops in South Vietnam never exceeded 500,000. This number was not enough to fight the war alone, and the State Army of Vietnam was still intended to the majority of the fighting, yet they never showed the fighting spirit their German instructors attempted to instill. German, North Korean, British, and South African troops grew to hold the SAVN in contempt. They were regarded as badly led, poorly trained, corrupt, and cowardly.
Drunkenness and desertion among non-Western Waffen-SS units became rife. In a single tour, the Skanderbeg Division of the Waffen-SS (recruited from Albania and Kosovo) lost over 200 solders to desertion. Skanderbeg is however not completely representative. The British Free Corps maintained its integrity and morale in Vietnam. The French-speaking Charlemagne Division performed sterling service in Vietnam, and they are seen in Vichy France as having "avenged" Dien Bien Phu.
During the last half of 1967, the VDC and ARVN decreased their guerrilla activities in South Vietnam, while increasing the amount of troops and weapons sent South.
Tet Offensive (1968)
Vietnam's most important holiday is the Lunar New Year, usually referred to as T?t Nguyên Ðán (or simply T?t). Pilgrimages and family reunions are common, and during the war an unofficial ceasefire was observed by both sides. The commander of the ARVN General Vo Nguyen Giap planned a massive offensive for the Tet holiday ceasefire. The purpose of the offensive was to make coordinated strikes on military and government centres in South Vietnam with the aim of sparking a general uprising among the people of South Vietnam which would topple the Fascist military junta. The North's leadership had realised that the protracted guerrilla war strategy was not working. Since 1955, they had inflicted and taken many casualties, and had created massive problems for the South and its allies, but Germany still held on. German strategic bombing had hurt the North's economy and substantially reduced the capability of its internal transport system. Priority was given to military supplies and personnel on North Vietnam's roads, railways and water transport. This meant that the civilian population suffered further privations. Although the fighting spirit was there, the Hanoi government believed that they would eventually lack the economic resources to fight the war. Some in the Northern leadership favoured a political process of reunification, but the majority favoured a rapid military solution. The "South Vietnamese Government-in-Exile" favoured the military solution, and they prevailed.
German intelligence and readiness
The German intelligence network was one of Germany's biggest weaknesses. Most of their agents in North Vietnam were turned during the late-1950s. Their agents in the South were frequently targeted by VDC assassination squads. Those not killed were often double agents. The did receive good intelligence from France's well developed internal intelligence network, but without Vichy intelligence officers to drive it, it collapsed. Britain's SIS spies and its SAS reconnaissance teams provided good information. The Germans made great use of technical intelligence, particularly photo reconnaissance, satellite photography, and signals intelligence. The observation of radio silence by most VDC units, and the use of runners meant that signals intelligence revealed little. To keep the Germans busy in late 1967, fake signals traffic was broadcast by ARVN signals troops operating in South Vietnam.
The Germans attributed the reduction in VDC and ARVN activity to German military success in the field. This was a classic case of intelligence officers telling their bosses what they wanted to hear. The Germans had vague reports of arms buildups, and had captured several agents. The VDC gave their personnel just enough to do their jobs. The Germans learned little from their interrogations.
The previous unofficial Tet ceasefires led to complacency on the part of MUKV. The South Vietnamese, the Germans and their allies did not expect an attack, and were not prepared for it.
VDC and ARVN preparations
The ARVN and VDC spent five months preparing the offensive. Most of their preparations were logistical in nature. Arms were stockpiled, men were moved into position. The VDC for the first time established large arms caches inside South Vietnam's major cities, including Saigon itself. The Ho Chi Minh Trail took these materials and men into South Vietnam, and local VDC reserve units took custody of the material, and accomodated the men. Extensive use was made of bribery in order to obtain false ID cards for ARVN and VDC personnel to remain in the cities. The same means was used to allow VDC intelligence officers to infiltrate South Vietnamese and German installations.
Planning for the Tet Offensive had begun in 1967. By May 1967, the North Vietnamese Government had finalised their list of targets. The North Vietnamese and VDC plans for the Tet attacks were totally unlike anything proposed before. This time, not only would the democratic Vietnamese forces try to take targets, they would try to hold them against fascist resistance. There was no precedent for this, and the VDC had no training or experience in defensive warfare. The ARVN had no experience in defensive warfare, and only limited training in it.
Late in the night of 30 January 1968 (the day before the Lunar New Year, coincidentally also the 35th anniversary of the National Socialist's rise to power in Germany} German troops and South Vietnamese troops enjoyed the fireworks displays across South Vietnam's cities. The noise of the fireworks hid the sound of mortars and rocket launchers firing. The impacts were obvious enough as VDC and ARVN forces hit a total of over 100 targets from the DMZ to the Mekong Delta. 80,000 troops swung into action in an effort to massively destabilise the South Vietnamese government and German forces, and to inspire a general uprising. The targets included 6 of 44 provincial capitals, five of the six autonomous cities, 72 of 245 district towns, and the southern capital.
The SAVN and Fascist alliance forces were taken completely by surprise by these attacks, but most were contained quickly. The VDC and ARVN attackers were rapidly cornered and killed. The SAVN, Wehrmacht, and SS troops annihilated most of the attacking units. Very few prisoners were taken. Some bases were rushed by suicide squads. A large portion of the attacks were made by battalion-strength units, with highly-trained ARVN officers leading the battle groups. In spite of this and the lack of preparation, the Germans quickly gained the upper hand through most of the country. The accumulation of supplies by the democratic forces was insufficient to sustain a protracted campaign. In addition, attacks in major strength and attempts to hold ground were exactly what the Germans and South Vietnamese wanted the VDC and ARVN to do. The Fascist forces finally had big targets to go after. They were able to use their advantages of numbers and firepower to great effect. Much of the defence was carried out by local SAVN units and the National Police.
Unlike other parts of South Vietnam, the VDC and ARVN did not want to conquer Saigon completely. Their intention was to hit specific targets in the South Vietnamese capital. The target list was as follows:
- The German Embassy
- MUKV Headquarters
- The Leader's Palace
- Long Binh Naval Headquarters
- SAVN General Staff Headquarters (Tan Son Nhut Air Base)
- National Radio Station
The local defence of Saigon was in the hands of the South Vietnamese Armed Forces. 5 Airborne battalions, 5 Naval Infantry battalions, and five Special Forces battalions formed the basic Saigon defence force. German forces include a battalion of the Feldgendarmerie, two battalions of the SS-Feldgendarmerie, an SS infantry brigade, and an Army Panzergrenadier battalion.
The plan was to hold these objectives for 48 hours, after which they would be relieved by reinforcements. The VDC and ARVN were plagued by faulty intelligence. Their plan to use captured artillery and Panzers was scuppered by the South Vietnamese policy of storing key components away from the vehicles.
At the National Radio Station, the attackers were successful in taking the building, but the retreating SS troops sabotaged the transmitter and aerials. The VDC were thus unable to broadcast their call for national rebellion.
The team attacking the German Embassy were able to blow a hole in the outer wall of the compound, but German security troops in the inner defence ring were able to kill the VDC Sapper squad rapidly. German SS-Feldgendarmerie cut off the VDC retreat, and the Sapper team was eliminated within three hours.
Small VDC assassination groups moved throughout Saigon intending to kill government officials and military officers on an ARVN death list. These assassination teams ended up being bogged down in small fire fights with the National Police and the SAVN Military Police.
The primary military bases in the Saigon area were attacked by large forces. These included Tan Son Nhut Air Base, Biên Hòa Air Base, the Kriegsmarine complex at Long Binh, Camp Le Van Duyet army base. The fascist troops within these locations were able t regroup quickly and destroy the VDC forces attacking them.
The carpet bombing of Cholon and Phu Tho on 2 February ended the Saigon phase of the Tet Offensive. The only accomplishment for the ARVN and VDC was TV images of their troops fighting and dying on the territory of the German Reich (the Embassy).
The old Vietnamese imperial capital of Hue was the scene of one of the most important battles of the Tet Offensive. Unlike Saigon, the VDC and North Vietnamese plan was to take and hold Hue as long as possible. Some speculated that in the event of a general uprising, it would form an independent "Democratic South Vietnam" government headquarters.
Early in the morning of the 31st of January, Fascist positions north of the Perfume River were bombarded by mortars and rockets. Two battalions of the ARVN 5th Infantry Regiment attacked the headquarters of the SAVN 5th Division located in the Citadel, a three-square mile complex of palaces, parks, and residences, which were surrounded by a moat and a massive earth and masonry fortress built at the beginning of the 19th century by Emperor Gia Long. The undermanned Fascist position managed to hold out, but most of the Citadel fell to the ARVN. The ARVN's 7th Infantry Regiment was tasked with taking the MUKV headquarters. MUKV headquarters was held successfully by an improvised force of mostly German and British military advisors numbering 250. The rest of the city was taken rapidly by ARVN and VDC forces. Unlike Saigon, the Hue police did not resist.
After the initial spasm, both sides moved quickly to reinforce their respective forces. The first to get large numbers of reinforcements and supplies into Hue would have a decisive advantage. Neither VDC nor Fascist forces did must to each other in the first several days. They spent their time consolidating their positions. The cultural significance of Hue stopped German and South Vietnamese bombardment of VDC and ARVN positions. No large fascist forces were stationed in Hue, so relief forces had to be sent to relieve both the SAVN 5th Division headquarters and the MUKV compound. The 1st SAVN Division, together with the 39th SS Infantry Division "British Free Corps", and the 1st SS Panzer Division "Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler" formed the relief force. The SS and South Vietnamese troops fought the type of urban combat not seen since the Battle of Stalingrad a quarter of a century ago. The Heavy Panzerfaust (an 88mm shoulder-fired anti-tank recoilless rifle) equipped with high explosive warheads became particularly useful. It enabled the Germans to destroy strongpoints and sniping positions.
Outside the city, the 3rd Fallschirmjäger Division of the Luftwaffe, and the 16th Infantry Division of the German Army formed a cordon around the Hue battle area. This cordon was successful in stopping further VDC and ARVN reinforcements. The Germans with their superior logistics had beaten the Vietnamese democrats in the race to reinforce and consolidate. By the end of February, Hue had been completely cleared of VDC (with the exception of a tiny number of covert operatives).
After the reconquest of Hue, German authorities discovered mass graves. The local VDC commander had executed over 2000 government officials, party members and police officers. The Nazis made great play of this massacre, but the Western press refused to believe German atrocity tales.
The goals of the Tet Offensive were take and hold certain objectives for a finite amount of time, take some objectives permanently, to destabilise the South Vietnamese government, and to spark a popular uprising. The first goal was accomplished, though none of the targets had been held for as long as planned. The second objective was not accomplished. There is till debate over the third objective. Most importantly, there was no popular uprising.
North Vietnam's democratic allies had misgivings about guerrilla warfare. Apart from the Minutemen of the United States, North Vietnam's allies had no tradition of guerrilla warfare. They were all committed to orthodox warfare, and they trained and equipped themselves for it. They had accepted North Vietnam's insistence on guerrilla warfare because they believed (rightly) that conventional war was Germany's strong point and (wrongly) that conventional attack on South Vietnam would provoke the Germans towards escalation (which Allied planners believed would lead to World War III). The Germans had already decided not to fight World War III for Vietnam, and the Tet Offensive showed that the Germans could defeat guerrillas if the guerrillas made concerted attacks. The Allied leadership believed that without such attacks the guerrillas could never achieve the final victory. After Tet, the leaders of the Allies realised that they were in a fix, and that a new strategy would be needed to defeat South Vietnam.
German military officials congratulated themselves on their military victory. In Hue, the Army felt a newfound respect for the foreign volunteers of the SS. The meeting of British Free Corps soldiers, and British military advisors in Hue was given a prominent place in Nazi propaganda. However, this was not the impression of common German citizens. Radio Free Europe carried images of VDC guerrillas fighting and dying inside the German embassy (on the soil of the Reich itself!), and of a widespread guerrilla attack. German troops returning home added to Radio Free Europe's efforts. Germany's first secret free press carried stories about Vietnam. All of these carried a similar message: Germany has not been winning the Vietnam War, and it cannot win. "Kill ratios" and "body counts" were shown up as meaningless measures of success. In the final analysis, if the VDC wanted to attack they could. Moreover, the Germans were told by their own propaganda that Tet was a total German victory, and was a step on the road to final victory. More informed Germans were no longer listening. The Gestapo reported to the Director of the RSHA that the Germans were increasingly despondent about German prospects in Vietnam. Germany's efforts at forming a European community also affected perceptions of the war. The Wehrmacht thought that the expedient of getting foreign volunteers to fight in Vietnam on Germany's behalf would reduce opposition to the war, but increasing "fraternal" feelings towards Europeans, especially the British, meant that German civilians would identify with foreign SS volunteers, even the French SS.
The final effect of the Tet Offensive was felt in late April 1968. On the 30th of April 1968, Adolf Hitler, Reich Chancellor and Führer of the German Reich and People, suffered a massive stroke and died. As head of state he was replaced by the Chief of the German Navy, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz. As head of government he was replaced by Reich Minister Albert Speer.
Transition from Guerrilla Warfare and Vietnamisation (1968-1972)
The Tet Offensive shook the alliance between North Vietnam and the major Western democracies. There were several reasons for this, but the three most important reasons were the failure to achieve most of the objectives of the operation, the massive VDC casualties, and the massacre in Hue. These factors made support for North Vietnam politically difficult. The solution advocated by Prime Ministers Diefenbaker (Canada) and Gorton (Australia) was to change the strategy. To that end, a meeting was called in Hanoi between the Allied military commanders and ambassadors, and the North Vietnamese military and political leadership. The US Ambassador and Defence Attache were also present. Initially the meeting did not go well. One of the Australian commanders unwisely accused General Giap of allowing his troops to be butchered for nothing. Giap in turn accused the Australian of having no respect for Vietnamese sacrifice. Undoubtedly this was untrue, and the Commander of Allied Forces Vietnam (An Air Marshal in the Royal Canadian Air Force) said so, adding that what they wanted was for Vietnamese sacrifices to lead to victory. General Giap was not mollified by this assurance. Ho Chi Minh called an end to the bickering, and asked the Westerners what they proposed.
The proposal was developed by Colonel Alec Winchester, an instructor in the Australian Army's School of Armour. He was an expert in the employment of armour in the jungle. Traditional military thinking declared the tank useless in the jungle, but Colonel Winchester believed that it could work with adequate knowledge of the terrain, and tanks that could operate over very soft ground. Australia's experience in New Guinea during World War II, and Germany's own use of armour in Vietnam showed that the concept was viable. The United States promised the necessary equipment. Giap objected, but he was overruled. The North Vietnamese people had become wary of constant fighting with the South, and the massive loss of life. The Ho Chi Minh administration could not suppress the massive death toll from the Tet Offensive. He agreed to the idea, and instructed the ARVN to make plans on the basis on a conventional offensive into South Vietnam. Colonel Winchester advised that it would take approximately three years to get the ARVN ready for such an offensive. Four years meant nothing to Ho Chi Minh. He had been fighting for Vietnamese independence for over twenty five years.
The final strategy was agreed. Limited guerrilla warfare would continue for the time being. The aim of these operations was to reduce the influence of the South Vietnamese countryside, inflict casualties on the Fascist forces, and keep the Germans off balance to prevent any German offensive into the North. While the guerrillas kept the Germans busy, the ARVN would receive tanks and armoured personnel carriers, and train its troops to use them. The first North Vietnamese officers and soldiers were dispatched to Puckapunyal, Australia and Camp Gagetown in New Brunswick, Canada for training. These men would later return to North Vietnam as instructors. In the meantime, the US Army was ordered to identify and prepare suitable tanks for North Vietnam. The US shipments included large numbers of M24 Chaffee light tanks, smaller numbers of M41 Walker Bulldog light tanks, M4 Sherman medium tanks, M47 and M48 Patton medium tanks, and a few battalions of M60 main battle tanks.
The Germans also took Tet as a warning that they needed to change the way the war was going. The leadership of the German Reich was now in the hands of Reich Chancellor Albert Speer and Reich President Karl Dönitz. Both Speer and Dönitz believed that the Vietnam War had greatly damaged German prestige, and that it had become increasingly costly with no real possibility of any "return" on Germany's "investment". Both Dönitz and Speer agreed on what had to be done. It was not really possible for Germany to simply pull out of South Vietnam. Doing so would permanently damage Germany's network of alliances, even in Europe. The strategy the Wehrmacht conceived was called "Vietnamisierung" (normally called "Vietnamisation" in the English speaking world). The plan had two main elements. The first was the withdrawal of some European troops from Vietnam, and the second was increased training, recruitment, and equipment of the State Army of Vietnam. The idea was to hand the fighting over to the South Vietnamese, and to give them the means to do it. The massive losses suffered by the VDC and the destruction of a large part of the ARVN infrastructure in the South was supposed to facilitate Vietnamisation.
The desired end for this strategy was to create conditions that would enable Germany to get out of the war, and to provide for the survival of South Vietnam as a "political unit". Speer ordered his foreign minister, Gerhard Schröder to use secret back channels to contact both the Governments of North Vietnam and the United States to open negotiations.
The Germans directed their military operations against North Vietnamese and VDC logistics. This moved the war into Laos and Cambodia. Massive bombing of supply routes produced disruptions on the Ho Chi Minh trail. German strategic bombers also mined Haiphong harbour. This was an unprecedented step, and it coincided with a run by 36 German strategic bombers armed with nuclear weapons to the border of North American airspace. The bombers were intercepted and turned away, but the message was understood. The US dealt with the mining of Haiphong harbour by banning US merchant ships from North and South Vietnam. American ships continued to carry supplies and arms to North Vietnam, but the ships now flew under the flags of Canada and Australia. Local minesweepers did their best to clear as many mines as they could, and barge lighters were used to move cargo from ships to minor ports. The flow of supplies slowed down, but this simply caused the North Vietnamese to delay their planned major combined arms offensive.
In the South, the guerrilla war continued at a reduced intensity, the Germans continued to suffer casualties, and to withdraw troops, more advanced weapons in greater quantities were handed over to the South Vietnamese. The number of German ground troops in Vietnam peaked in early 1969 at 550000 men in eight divisions plus supporting forces. Outside this total was support from Britain, South Africa, and North Korea. Beginning in May 1969, two German divisions withdrew with only one replacement, meaning that the first German division had come home permanently. In accordance with the politics of the time, the division was actually German. In fact, both divisions were German, and their replacement was the 29th Infantry Division of the SS (Legione SS Italiana from Italy). By the end of 1970, German forces in South Vietnam had been drawn down to three divisions. North Korea had been encourages to halve its commitment. German troops were steadily moved towards the coastal regions of South Vietnam, and towards the DMZ. Both areas had a reduced intensity of fighting and consequently German casualties fell significantly.
German Withdrawal (1972-1973)
Negotiations for German withdrawal from South Vietnam had begun in 1968, shortly after the death of Hitler. For four years the talks dragged on in Paris. At first, the North would not negotiate with the South directly (Northern rhetoric painted the Saigon regime as "insurrectionist"). Once South inclusion was agreed, the delegates squabbled over such matters as the shape of the conference table and the order in which the flags were displayed on the table, and on the wall.
The Germans insisted that the Canada, the Philippines, Australia, and the United States attend the talks. Only Australia and the Philippines would, and they would only come if the other two Allied powers consented. This they would not do as Canada did not see any need to negotiate with Germany and the United States asserted its neutrality (Lend-Lease II notwithstanding)
The North Vietnamese delegation hoped that they could persuade Germany to directly "sell out" the South. This Germany was not prepared to do. If that happened, the Axis and the European Economic Community would break down. This was brought home in early 1970 when Fidel Castro, the Caudillo of Cuba publicly stated that the Cuban Army could and would replace all German troops removed from South Vietnam. This was certainly not a serious commitment, but it illustrated to the Germans how seriously the Vietnam War was taken in the Axis nations. For Castro, it was simple, if the Nazis could sell South Vietnam to the North, then they could equally sell Cuba to the United States.
Thus, the Germans insisted on a binding guarantee from the North that they would end the war against South Vietnam. The absence of the United States from the talks would make enforcement of such a condition difficult to say the least. This condition meant that the secret talks were bogged down for months. In the meantime, German casualties mounted, and European government protests. Italian Duce Alessandro Pavolini spoke publicly about the way in which the Legione SS Italiana was used in Vietnam. The British condemned German war crimes.
The Germans believed they had to reach an agreement soon. Most European countries had elected governments, and some candidates and parties (for not all European countries were one-party dictatorships at this stage) proposed withdrawal from Vietnam. Speer believed that if Germany could lead the process of withdrawal, then that would help to keep the EEC together.
The North Vietnamese pulled out of the negotiations in mid-1971 on the point of ceasing action against the South. The German response was to unleash the Luftwaffe on North Vietnam's principal cities. Hanoi and Haiphong were heavily bombed. Using new guided bombs, the Luftwaffe attacked bridges and viaducts with hitherto unknown precision. Bombings extended into Cambodia and Laos. These bombings targeted North Vietnamese military positions, supply dumps, and supply route. The bombings caused massive casualties in North Vietnam, and almost lead to the North Vietnamese Parliament removing the government. Prime Minister Ph?m Van Ð?ng announced that he would return to the negotiating table, and asked the Germans to stop bombing North Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. The Germans gladly complied. The Luftwaffe's mission was completely successful.
During 1972, the North's negotiating team decided on a different tack. They would agree to a ceasefire with the South, they would even agree to remove infiltrators from South Vietnam and use their influence with the VDC to cause them to reduce their activities. North Vietnamese Prime Minister Ph?m Van Ð?ng's (secret) plan was to abide by the ceasefire for several months. That time was to be spent finalising plans, acquiring weapons, and training more troops. With the suspension of German bombings, the Ho Chi Minh Trail could be extensively repaired and developed. Even though the ceasefire was in effect, the Allies increased their military buildup.
By the end of 1972, agreement had been reached. A ceasefire was to be observed by all sides, North Vietnam was to return all German captives, foreign ground forces were to leave South Vietnam (though air forces and advisors could remain), the Allied powers were not permitted to build up ground forces in North Vietnam (but the air forces could stay provided they confined their duties to air defence and transport), the Kriegsmarine was to clear the mines Germany had laid in Haiphong harbour, and there would be negotiations between the South Vietnamese Government and the VDC. The North abided by most of the military clauses of the ceasefire, however the strike aircraft used to attack South Vietnamese targets were based in the Philippines and Malaysia.
Shortly before the ceasefire went into effect, the Germans and South Vietnamese launched a limited offensive aimed at rolling back as much VDC control as possible. The purpose of this was to increase to the extent possible the areas under government control before the ceasefire ended such actions.
The Germans started their withdrawal process. They had sixty days to remove their remaining ground combat forces from South Vietnam. The Germans had little trouble in meeting this deadline. Most of the German equipment was transferred to the South Vietnamese government, so most Germans movements consisted of troops-only. Requisitioned airliners performed the bulk of the moves. The last German combat soldier to leave Vietnam was Generalmajor Franz Luther of the 55th Infantry Division.
Final Victory for North Vietnam (1973-1975)
With the Germans gone, the North Vietnamese government planned its final offensive. They decided to launch a massive invasion of South Vietnam during the dry season of 1975-76. This would (in the view of the Generals) give the greatest possibility for victory. The Southern army could not be fully trained before this date.
German Chancellor Speer announced that any violation of the ceasefire by the North would be met by military intervention. German ground forces at this time had virtually abandoned Asia. The North Vietnamese noted that Speer mentioned "North Vietnam" specifically, so they ordered the VDC to carry out a new offensive. In that offensive, they captured everything they had lost before the ceasefire.
The VDC's commanders in Hanoi advised the North Vietnamese government that it should attack as soon as possible, and that this attack should take the form of a massive conventional invasion of South Vietnam with the goal of conquering Saigon in six months. This time frame would be too short for significant intervention from Germany. The fact that the fascist government of China had stayed out of the war was noted. South Korea secretly offered to send men for an armoured corps if the US would equip them. In the event, the equipment was already in North Vietnam. Australian and Canadian air forces prepared to support the offensive with strike aircraft, and the VNAF had already completed training in strike missions (adding to their air defence capabilities).
In December 1974, North Vietnam launched the "Ho Chi Minh Campaign" (Chi?n d?ch H? Chí Minh). Named for the departed leader of North Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Campaign was to be the largest offensive operation since the German Eastern Offensive of 1946. For the first time, the democratic forces would operate with extensive air support. North Vietnam received large numbers of tanks and other armoured vehicles. The new equipment included the M48 and M60 Patton tanks, and the M41 Walker Bulldog light tank. The latter was highly popular with the ARVN. Airmobile tactics would play a prominent part in the North Vietnamese attack. US-made UH-1 Huey helicopters provided to the VNAF could move troops over difficult terrain, and around concentrations of South Vietnamese troops. They could also carry weapons to support the ARVN offensive. The VNAF's new CH-53D Sea Stallions could lift 55 men, or 8000 pounds of cargo.
The North attacked with the tactics of the German Blitzkrieg. Following the counsel of their German advisors, the South Vietnamese response was to withdraw, and form a defensive position ahead of the Northern advance. Although the Southern propaganda portrayed this as a strategic withdrawal the civilian population saw it as a retreat. Lack of coordination and good communication in the South Vietnamese Army meant that in some areas, the "strategic withdrawal" turned into a rout. Poor leadership meant that troops often did not fight the North Vietnamese Army. The inability of the South Vietnamese Army to implement the intricate textbook tactics advocated by their German advisors, and the almost total lack of initiative on the part of officers contributed to the malaise. Although the Luftwaffe was now gone, the South Vietnamese Air Force, equipped with hundreds of modern aircraft fought back. Australian and Canadian Phantoms could easily defeat South Vietnamese aircraft, but their numbers were too few. The bulk of the aerial fighting was between Me 563s of South Vietnam and F-104s and F-5s of the VNAF.
A substantial South Vietnamese force finally managed to make a stand at Xuan Loc. Two South Vietnamese divisions were ordered to hold Xuan Loc at any cost. Xuan Loc was the logistical key to South Vietnam. If the Southern government could hold it, they might still win. If the North could take it, Northern victory would be inevitable. In the event, seven Allied divisions, including one South Korean, one VDC, and two armoured, were deployed against Xuan Loc. Extensive use of air power was made by both sides, with the South Vietnamese attempting to keep air superiority over Xuan Loc, and the Allies attempting to destroy Southern ground forces. By day eight of the battle, the Allies had been able to gain some control over the airspace, and the first bombing raids on Xuan Loc went in on that day. To keep the pressure on, the Australians deployed their new F-111 strike aircraft to conduct night raids. After two weeks of bloody fighting, the South Vietnamese retreated from Xuan Loc. South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu was overthrown by the military and executed on the night after Xuan Loc's collapse. With Xuan Loc's capture, the North controlled two thirds of South Vietnam.
After the fall of Xuan Loc and Da Nang, German aid to South Vietnam was halted. For the ARVN, the next stop was Saigon. The new military ruler of South Vietnam condemned Germany for its stoppage of aid, and publicly denounced Albert Speer as being "the destroyer of Der Führer's legacy". The ARVN encircled Saigon with over 150,000 men. Almost five hundred VNAF aircraft were readied to support the final assault, and another two hundred Filipino, Australian, and Canadian aircraft stood alongside them. The loss of Cambodia to the Free Khmer was a further blow to South Vietnamese morale (already at rock bottom). The southern troops were outnumbered four to one, and they no longer had any air support. On the 26th of April, the ARVN launched an attack on Bien Hoa and Long Binh. On the next day, the Allies started their main offensive into the Saigon region. Fears of a new Hue Massacre were stoked by South Vietnamese propaganda, however rather than contributing to fighting spirit, the fear of "Allied death squads" created a paralysis in the South Vietnamese command. They were not thinking about how to defeat the North, they were thinking of how to flee into exile. On that day, South Vietnam's short-lived military ruler was forced to hand power over to General Duong Van Minh. Duong Van Minh had contacts in the North, and it was thought that he could re-open talks and bring a ceasefire. Unfortunately for Duong Van Minh, no one in North Vietnam was interested in a ceasefire, only victory.
European contingency plans called for a full evacuation of European personnel from South Vietnam. Germany, France, and Italy contributed forces to the evacuation plan. For several weeks, German and British aircraft had been flying non-essential personnel, and "at-risk Vietnamese" to Indonesia. Not only were Vietnamese who had worked for the Germans flown out, but hundreds of Eurasian children. The Axis evacuation from Phnom Penh several weeks earlier had been, in effect, a dress rehearsal for the evacuation of Saigon. Landing Zones throughout Saigon were selected for helicopter evacuations. Because the Germans had no way of knowing if the the North or South Vietnamese would interfere with the evacuation, the Germans had to cover every contingency. Fighter bombers deployed from aircraft carriers provided top cover for the evacuation, gunship helicopters were prepared to deal with local difficulties. In the event, the North Vietnamese did not try to hamper the evacuation. They even stopped all bombardment of Tan Son Nhut Air Base. The North Vietnamese leadership believed that allowing the Germans to leave unmolested would reduce the chance of more German intervention in Indochina. Some South Vietnamese troops, angered at what they perceived as a betrayal, fired on Axis helicopters, there were no losses. In addition to the navy helicopters off the coast, the Abwehr airline, Pacific Air Transport, used all of its available helicopters to support the evacuation. On the ground in Saigon, the evacuation appeared to be going well, with each German compound being evacuated in turn. At sea, it was a different story. South Vietnamese helicopter pilots commandeered any helicopter they could find in order to get themselves, their families, and anyone with something to trade, out of the country. More than forty South Vietnamese Flettner Fl 486 flew out to the fleet, as well as two Westland Welkins and ten Westland Pumas. Most of these aircraft were pushed into the sea. At 0458 on the 30th of April 1975, a squad of German Naval Infantry and German Ambassador Claus Vollers, with a swastika flag under one arm, and a copy of Mein Kampf under the other, boarded a German Navy Puma helicopter. They were the last Germans to leave South Vietnam.
At 1024 on the 30th of April, President Duong Van Minh announced the unconditional surrender of South Vietnam, and ordered all Southern forces to cease fighting. At around noon, a North Vietnamese M48 Patton tank crashed through the gates of the Leader's Palace. Its loader ran up the stairs and waved the VDC flag from the roof. The Vietnam War was over.
The War in Laos and Cambodia
Under French colonial rule Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos were separate "protectorates". This is to say that both Cambodia and Laos had their own monarchs, but the French made the real decisions. After the French left Indochina, Laos and Cambodia became independent kingdoms, while Tonkin, Annam, and Cochinchina were split into North Vietnam and South Vietnam. Both King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia and King Sisavang Vatthana of Laos wished to remain neutral while the Vietnamese fought each other. Both Sihanouk and Vatthana ran authoritarian regimes, dubbed by one American observer as "proto-Fascist", and they received support from Germany. More and more Cambodians and Laotians came to realise that, in expelling the French, they had merely exchanged one set of rulers for another. They remained as unfree as before. Trade deals with European agricultural corporatives kept the farmers poor, but rewarded landowners with large holdings. Resistance began to develop as early as 1957. By 1959, Laotian resistance fighters organised, forming the "Pathet Lao", or Lao Nation. In Cambodia, the resistance called itself the Khmer People's National Liberation Front, but was universally known as the Khmer Serei (Free Khmers).
As the Vietnam War intensified, North Vietnam increasingly sent supplies through Laos and Cambodia down the "Ho Chi Minh" trail. Both Laos and Cambodia complained that using their territory for military purposes was a violation of their sovereignty. The ARVN, nevertheless, remained in Cambodia and Laos. Without the trail, they would be unable to fight a war in South Vietnam. As Pathet Lao and Free Khmers attacks on government forces intensified, government forces gave up on blocking the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Germany decided to increase its aid to Laos and Cambodia in 1967, but Hitler made it clear that overt German forces were not to be used. The Pathet Lao and Free Khmers asked for US assistance. President Johnson forbade the use of any US military forces. Hitler disallowed the use regular German forces, however a small number of military advisors were sent to Laos and Cambodia. Unlike the German advisors in South Vietnam, German advisors in Cambodia and Laos actually did confine their activities to training and advice. US aid to the Free Khmers and the Pathet Lao was entrusted to the OSS. The Abwehr was assigned the task of organising Laotians and Cambodians into specialised anti-guerilla forces, and finding capabilities that couldn't be provided by the Royal Laos Army and the Royal Cambodian Army.
The Abwehr's solution was to hire professionals to do what the Laotians and Cambodians couldn't do. The men who came to fight for the governments in Cambodia and Laos have been called the "last soldiers of fortune". Advertisements for employment "with a difference" were placed in newspapers in Europe, South America and Southern Africa. The terms were fairly simple, six months of overseas employment with a high salary. The men who responded to these advertisements were a varied group. Some were veterans of colonial conflicts in Africa, some had fought in World War II or Korea and found it hard to fit in to civilian society, some came from the Waffen-SS or French Foreign Legion, some believed in the Fascist cause, some simply wanted to kill, and some were on the run from the law. One mercenary said of this strange group "we're all on the run from something, the lads running from the police at least know what they're running from". The mercenaries were used in several ways. First, they were used as instructors. This was particularly true for French speakers, as French was still an official language in Cambodia and Laos. Some of the Frenchmen had taught local Laotian and Cambodian troops before 1954, and so had local experience and some connections. Mercenaries were also used to perform more technical functions, such as commanding an artillery piece with locals to do the heavy lifting. Some mercenaries were stationed in Laotian and Cambodian Army command posts to advise senior officers. Most of the mercenaries were formed into special battalions and used for direct combat against the Free Khmers and the Pathet Lao, and for interdiction against the Ho Chi Minh Trail. The professionals were badly needed, by early 1967, the Ho Chi Minh Trail had developed into a highly effective network of tracks and country roads. Even trucks were being used to move supplies to the VDC in South Vietnam. Including engineers and support troops, more than 10,000 ARVN troops were stationed in Laos and Cambodia for "Trail support". The German regarded air power as a fundamental weapon against insurgency. Between operations in Vietnam, maintaining the nuclear stand off with America, and keeping sufficient strength in the East to face Russia, the Luftwaffe was stretched to the limits. It was unable to provide substantial air power for Laos and Cambodia. Even if it could, Hitler's orders kept it out. The Royal Lao Air Force and Royal Cambodian Air Force had similar levels of capability. They were equipped with a variety of near-obsolete transports and a small number of helicopters. The only combat aircraft they possessed were small squadrons of Junkers Ju 88 bombers and Focke Wulf Fw 190 fighters. The Abwehr could provide a solution. For several years, it operated an airline Pazifischer Lufttransport (Pacific Air Transport). On paper, it was a civilian airline based in Hong Kong, in reality it was a front for the Abwehr. They flew utility helicopters like the Flettner Fl 486, light aircraft like the Pilatus Porter and Fieseler Storch, and transports like the Gotha Go 488. Pacific Air Transport was another mercenary outfit, and the pilots were as strange as the ground-borne mercenaries they supported. Pacific Air Transport was formally contracted by the governments of Laos and Cambodia. The Cambodian and Laotian governments also hired foreign pilots into their own air forces as instructors and commanders.
Normal Wehrmacht procedure for dealing with insurgency was to send out large units to sweep through an area, or to await reports of activity and react to it. The fact that the German-hired mercenaries operated outside the Wehrmacht meant they were free to devise their own methods. In the areas used by ARVN supply convoys, the mercenaries would lay ambushes, in different locations each time. Against the Free Khmers and the Pathet Lao, the mercenaries generally eschewed the traditional "search and destroy" missions practiced by the Germans over the border in South Vietnam. Instead, the mercenaries preferred to patrol the jungle at length, and lay ambushes. The Royal Cambodian Army and Royal Lao Army chose to follow their German advisors, and focus on the villagers. They would try to occupy villages and fortify them, relocate the villagers, or go in and search the villages. The ham-fisted attempts by government troops to control the Pathet Lao and Free Khmers often did more harm than good, as villagers were provoked into opposing the government. Neither German advice nor experienced mercenaries could overcome the corruption in the Laotian and Cambodian Governments.
The efforts of the mercenaries appeared to be having effect. The numbers of weapons captured either on the Ho Chi Minh Trail, or from Laotian and Cambodian guerrillas pleased Phnom Penh and Vientiane. The mercenaries did not produce body counts, but reports of guerrilla activity had fallen slightly throughout 1965 and 1966. The Germans had reinforced the Laotian and Cambodian armed forces with more modern weapons. On behalf of Laos and Cambodia, the Germans purchased BAC Strikemaster jet trainers, and Fiat G.91 jet attack aircraft. Flettner Fl 486 and Alouette helicopters were provided, along with the latest artillery.
The Germans had high hopes. They believed that their training, supplies, and mercenaries would eventually subdue the Pathet Lao, and the Free Khmers. In Laos and Cambodia, the Germans made the same mistake as they had made in Vietnam: they underestimated the resolve of their enemies. The Germans believed that the United States' position represented the League of Democracies' position. The US had been somewhat cautious in South East Asia, wishing to avoid direct fighting against Germany. The North Vietnamese, and for that matter, the Pathet Lao and Free Khmers, had no such scruples. The North Vietnamese in particular, saw the potential of increasing the scale of the conflicts in Laos and Cambodia. Every German or mercenary engaged in pursuing the Pathet Lao and Free Khmers could not be engaged in interdicting North Vietnamese supplied to the VDC. Sihanouk's and Sisavang Vatthana's governments thought that fighting the Free Khmers and Pathet Lao was more important than trying to stop ARVN "trailporters" who merely passed through. The US believed that the main theatre was Vietnam, and that victory over South Vietnam would drive the Fascists out of Southeast Asia, perhaps forever. North Vietnam sent increasing numbers of troops into Laos and Cambodia. While the US Military was forbidden to operate in Indochina, the OSS was not. The OSS (Office of Strategic Services) was the US intelligence organisation responsible for covert paramilitary action. After its disastrous adventures in Cuba, the OSS was only too keen to show that it could deliver the goods. SAD operatives were infiltrated into Laos and Cambodia to train and advice the Pathet Lao and Free Khmers. The men sent were generally ex-Special Forces soldiers who had previous experience in Asia. The OSS also sent its airline, Air America into North Vietnam to aid the guerrillas. Officially, Air America was hired to carry "humanitarian aid" in all of Indochina, in practice, they often carried weapons and supplies to guerrilla forces. They flew in extremely dangerous conditions, and, since they were theoretically civilians working for a South Korean company, no benefits would be paid in the event of death or severe injury. As far as the US Government was concerned, the war in Laos and Cambodia didn't exist, and if it did, the US Government had no part in it. Groups of SAD operatives participated in direct actions in Cambodia and Laos. Occasionally they even crossed into South Vietnam. The OSS fully supported North Vietnamese strategic aims in Cambodia and Laos, which were to secure supply routes to the Viet Dan Chu in South Vietnam and eventually, to topple the governments in Vientiane and Phnom Penh.
During 1967, the flow of supplies down the Ho Chi Minh Trail was increased for the planned Tet Offensive, scheduled for the Tet holidays of 1968. This necessitated increases in ARVN deployments to Laos and Cambodia. By this time, much of eastern Laos and north east Cambodia was under a de-facto North Vietnamese occupation. The Pathet Lao and Free Khmers ran local governmental affairs, and recruited villagers to their cause, but the ARVN were in overall control. There was little the governments in Vientiane and Phnom Penh could do about the North Vietnamese presence. After Tet, the Germans took Laos and Cambodia more seriously. German bombers based in Burma began bombing suspected ARVN positions inside Cambodia and Laos. British-made electonic sensors were laid in suspected Ho Chi Minh trail areas. These sensors were supposed to be able to detect trucks. The sensor operators would then vector German aircraft to attack any area in which trucks were detected. German military advisors were sent to aid the Royal Lao Army and Royal Cambodian Army. South Vietnamese troops began incursions into Cambodia to directly engage ARVN positions in Cambodia. Large scale engagements took place between the Army of the Republic of Vietnam and the State Army of Vietnam (South Vietnamese Army). Sometimes whole battalions would join in battle. The South Vietnamese could call on their own air force, and the Luftwaffe for air support. Australian and Canadian aircraft were not permitted to fly over Cambodia. The F-5 Freedom Fighters, A-1 Skyraiders, and A-37 Dragonflys of the VNAF lacked the range to reach Cambodia with a worthwhile payload. Given the absence of air support, all the ARVN believed it could do was reinforce its troops in Cambodia, and send air defence weapons. Redeye, and Chaparral missiles were sent to Cambodia, along with Vulcan, Bofors, and Skysweeper guns. The ARVN managed to hold their positions in Cambodia, but paid a high price. More importantly, the flow of supplies continued.
The various invasions of Cambodia took their toll on the Cambodian leadership. Anti-Vietnamese demonstrations broke out in Phnom Penh in March 1970, and other major Cambodian cities. The demonstrators protested against both Vietnamese invasions of Cambodia. The main targets of the demonstrators were North Vietnam and the "Provisional Government of South Vietnam" (the nominal political leadership of the Viet Dan Chu). Prime Minister Lon Nol disapproved of King Sihanouk's "hands-off" approach to Vietnamese military incursions into Cambodia. Sihanouk also negotiated a trade arrangement with North Vietnam. Prince Sirik Matak (a businessman, and member of the Royal Family) and his backers secretly encouraged the demonstrators, who quickly escalated from protests to violent riots. Lon Nol was reluctant to move against the King, for whom most Cambodians had great reverence. Lon Nol was eventually persuaded to remove Sihanouk, and assume power himself. He declared a one-party republic called the "Khmer State". Lon Nol attempted to secure the removal of ARVN and VDC forces from his country by diplomatic and economic means. Shortly after Lon Nol took power, German and South Vietnamese troops launched a massive assault on Cambodia. Lon Nol was not asked for permission, nor was he even informed beforehand. North Vietnam sent thousands of extra troops into Cambodia to fight the Germans and the South Vietnamese, and ordered the VDC to intensify their attacks on South Vietnamese infrastructure. By mid-1971, the entire northeast of Cambodia was under Free Khmers and North Vietnamese control. German and South Vietnamese troops pulled out of Cambodia by August, having failed to accomplish any of their objectives.
Ironically, the situation in Cambodia benefited the Royal Lao Government. Many of the ARVN troops sent to Cambodia were taken from Laos. The Royal Lao Army had found a fighting spirit that it hitherto seemed to lack, and managed to push the Pathet Lao out of large parts of the country. They did not attempt to confront the ARVN near the Ho Chi Minh trail. Until the 1973 Ceasefire, the Germans extensively bombed and mined the Ho Chi Minh trail. German-hired mercenaries set ambushes to catch smaller convoys moving down the trail. Laos became one of the most bombed countries in the world. After the ceasefire, the Luftwaffe withdrew, but the Royal Lao Air Force promised to use all of its resources to provide air support to the Army, and to the mercenaries operating near the border. Both the Royal Lao Government and the military took an optimistic tone, but to most Laotians, it was clear that wishful thinking had largely supplanted reason in Vientiane. The Royal Lao Air Force would be able to support the Royal Lao Army and the mercenaries provided there was no opposition. The VNAF was not bound by the rules of engagement that kept Australian, Canadian, and Philippines aircraft out of Laos. Beginning in May 1974, F-5 Tigers of the VNAF started to engage Royal Lao Air Force strike aircraft over Laotian territory. At first, they confined their efforts to the areas of Laos passed through by the Ho Chi Minh trail, but they soon operated over most of Laos. The failure of RLAF aircraft to deliver the air strikes promised, and the sight of their own aircraft being shot down contributed to the demoralisation of the Royal Lao Army.
After the 1973 Ceasefire, the situation in Cambodia went from bad to worse. The Free Khmers now operated openly throughout Cambodia. Without significant German assistance, the FAEK started to fall apart. Corruption was nearly universal among the officers. Some even sold weapons and information directly to the Free Khmers. Senior officers (and sometimes even junior officers) would take their men into battle, then leave for the comfort of the nearest town. This all but destroyed the fighting spirit of the Army, and desertion was commonplace. The Free Khmers concentrated their efforts on the FAEK's lines of communication, particularly between Phnom Penh and the ports on the Southern coast, and between Phnom Penh and South Vietnam. As 1975 began, the situation in Cambodia was beyond control, at least beyond the government's control. The Free Khmers controlled the roads leading into Phnom Penh, and large parts of the Mekong River. A German airlift from Burma was started, but it had no hope of bringing in enough supplies to enable Lon Nol to hold out, and was ended after a few weeks due to aircraft losses. The white mercenaries helping Lon Nol could see which way the war was going, and started to make their way out of the country. By the end of March, Phnom Penh was completely surrounded, the FAEK dug in around the capital were beginning to run out of ammunition, and more than 40,000 Free Khmers fighters were preparing to move in on the Lon Nol government. On the first of April 1975, Lon Nol resigned, and fled to France. For the Khmer State, it was the end of the line. Germany and France organised and skilfully executed an evacuation of all EEC staff, plus a number of "key Cambodians", including Lon Nol's successor. On the twentieth of April 1975, General Sak Sutsakhan (the de facto leader of Cambodia) ordered the FAEK to ceasefire and announced the Government's unconditional surrender. Ten days later, South Vietnam surrendered. The Free Khmers formed an "Interim Administration". By 1977, a new Khmer Republic was founded, with a democratically elected government.
In Vientiane, the collapse of the Khmer State and South Vietnam caused most of the mercenaries and all of the German advisors and Abwehr agents to leave Laos for the relative safety of China. The Chinese continued to send supplies across the border, but the lack of ground transport infrastructure and the refusal of most pilots to fly over Laos meant that little could get through to the Royal Lao Army. The defeat of South Vietnam enabled the VNAF to concentrate its forces over Laos, gaining total air superiority. Lacking supplies, air support, and ammunition, the Royal Lao Army found itself unable to seriously confront the Pathet Lao. The North Vietnamese, having liberated South Vietnam, turn their full attention to Laos. In order to end the war in Laos gamble, North Vietnam decided to gamble. Four ARVN divisions were deployed away from the Chinese border, and sent into Laos. With the Pathet Lao, they swept across Laos, entering Vientiane in August 1975. The King of Laos abdicated, but remained in Laos. The Prime Minister and his ministers flew to China shortly before the democratic forces entered Vientiane. In December 1975, the Republic of Laos was proclaimed, and the first elections were held in July 1976.
By the end of 1975, all of former French Indochina was under the control of pro-American governments. The first post-war elections in Vietnam produced an overwhelming result for the Democratic Party of Vietnam. Thought was given to renaming the former-South Vietnamese capital "Ho Chi Minh City", but this was quickly dropped, and the old name of Saigon remained. Saigon is now the largest city in Vietnam. It joins Tokyo, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, and Sydney as a financial centre of the East. Economically, this took a long time for Vietnam. The war destroyed most of Vietnam's industrial infrastructure, and left its transport system in chaos (ironically, the only major route in Vietnam that actually worked in the immediate post-war period was the Ho Chi Minh Trail, which is now the "Ho Chi Minh Highway"). Contrary to much of the economic advice of the era, Vietnam adopted a free trade policy shortly after the war on the advice of a group of economists known as the "Chicago Boys" (because they were trained at the University of Chicago). Painful at first, the policy paid off during the 1980s. Prosperity can heal the physical damage of war, however the social damage was more difficult to deal with. Families spent years looking for each other. The Vietnamese Government found adaptation to peace difficult, but they were able to move from running a war, to making a country fit for business. American firms flocked to Vietnam, turning it into a major manufacturing centre in Southern Asia.
Vietnam is now a major military power in South East Asia. Its forces regularly work with those from the US, Australia, New Zealand, the Philippines, Malaysia, and India on security in the Asia/Pacific/Indian areas. This security role is essential. Vietnam has pro-Nazi China on its northern border, and both China and Vietnam claim the Spratly Islands. Vietnam currently holds them, and extracts oil from the seabed. This oil has provided Vietnam a considerable capital base for economic expansion.
Cambodia and Laos have still remained quite poor, with largely agrarian economies. However, textile manufacturers are beginning to move from Vietnam to Cambodia and Laos in search of a cheaper labour market, and both countries are becoming more prosperous. Cambodia still has a problem with Nazi insurgents in the jungle, but these insurgents keep away from the security forces. Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos organise their collective security within the "Indochinese Security Pact" which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Australia, and the US. This agreement guarantees all three nations against Chinese or Indonesian aggression.
German mines and unexploded ordnance still causes injuries and deaths in Vietnam, and the extensive spraying of defoliants by the Luftwaffe still cause health problems in Vietnam today including prostate cancer, respiratory cancers, multiple myeloma, Diabetes mellitus type 2, B-cell lymphomas, soft-tissue sarcoma, chloracne, porphyria cutanea tarda, peripheral neuropathy, and spina bifida.
A lot of German architecture remains in Saigon, joining traditional Chinese, Vietnamese, and French designs and modern skyscrapers. This gives Saigon a unique look. Ironically, Saigon also has a "tribute" to German Chancellor Albert Speer. The German Embassy Building in Saigon remain standing. The building was taken over by the Vietnamese Government. Initially it was used as a government office, with a "Nazi War Crimes Museum" on the ground floor. Now the building is used by one of Vietnam's main oil companies as a trading office. Many of the excellently engineered German bases still survive, and are used. Tan Son Nhut Air Base is now Tan Son Nhat International Airport, a key hub of business and tourism. The German base at Da Nang is also an international airport. The Kriegsmarine base at Cam Ranh Bay is now used by the US Air Force and US Navy.
The Vietnam War changed the war Germany saw its European allies. During the war, the Europeans were seen as "cannon fodder" who could be sent on the hardest missions. One example of the use of the British Free Corps in the Ia Drang Valley. Over the course of the war, the European governments and peoples reacted against this use of their citizens. The war also saw the first open dissent against the governments of Europe in decades. The Wehrmacht blamed the restrictions on the scope of their operations for the defeat, and resolved that if they were to fight again, they would fight by their rules, not those of the politicians. The German Army also resolved to keep itself prepared for jungle warfare, and opened a jungle warfare school in Indonesia. The war also saw the subordination of most of the Luftwaffe to the Army. Of all the services engaged in Vietnam, the Luftwaffe promised them most and delivered the least. Its sole victory was to get the North Vietnamese to the negotiating table. The cost of the war nearly greatly impacted the German economy. The Germans were able to export most of this "impact" to the other European states, but the problem remained. In the future, Germany would no longer fight these types of wars itself. Speer himself said "Wars in the third world should be fought by third world troops. If they will join the Axis, we will send them weapons and money, but not troops.". In that event, they would not send their most advanced weapons. The amount of high-tech material to fall into Allied hands, both during the air war, and after the fall of the South appalled the German high command.
Other Countries' Involvement
During mid-1965, Germany had called for the assistance of its allies, and Britain, under its new Fascist government responded. In fact, British troops were already fighting in Vietnam as members of the British Free Corps, but the British Government decided that a "Union Jack British presence" was needed to cement the Anglo-German alliance. In 1966, a British Task Force arrived in the Phuoc Tuy Province of South Vietnam with orders from the German Militärunterstützungs-Kommando Vietnam (Military Assistance Command Vietnam) to "take over Phuoc Tuy Province".
Included in the British Task Force consisted of the following units:
- Two or three Infantry Battalions
- 1 Field Artillery Regiment (German Medium Artillery Battery attached)
- 1 Field Squadron, Royal Engineers
- 1 Armoured Squadron
- 1 Armoured Personnel Carrier Squadron
- 1 SAS Squadron
- 1 Squadron, Royal Signals
- 1 Logistics Company
- 1 Reconnaissance Squadron, Army Air Corps (Fieseler Stork AL.1, Westland Scout AH.1)
- 1 RAF Support Helicopter Squadron (Westland Westphalia HC.2)
- 1 RAF Bomber Squadron (English Electric Winchester B(I).8)
- 1 RAF Fighter Squadron (Hawker Hunter FGA.9)
The British set up their base at Nui Dat, along the main supply route of the VDC and organised a logistics and support base in the provincial capital of Vung Tau. The British used their traditional tactic of relentless patrolling, to deny the battlefield to the VDC. This contrasted with the German tactics that, in the view of the British, left the battlefield (and the civilian population) to the Vietnamese democrats.
The VDC realised that the British would be a major problem for the VDC units in the province, and so they resolved to make them withdraw. They decided that a single decisive battle in which a British company was destroyed would convince the British to leave. An ambush by the VDC 274 Regiment and D445 Guerrilla Battalion in the rubber plantations near Xa Long Tan resulted in extensive casualties for the VDC, and their eventual defeat in Phuoc Tuy. German and British suppression of information about the war failed, and images of German and British casualties filtered back to Europe. This created public discontent about the war. The wholesale destruction of the village of My Lai by a platoon of the SS Totenkopf Division in 1968 increased the tensions on the home front.
Outside the Task Force's control were three British destroyers operating with the German Kriegsmarine to provide naval gunfire support to ground forces, and a squadron of English Electric Winchester jet bombers operated within a German Kampfgruppe equipped with the Junkers Ju-688 jet bomber (the Winchester is a British-made version of the Ju-688).
While the British performed well in Vietnam, the discontent with the war, and Hitler's death in 1968 would end it. The new German Chancellor, Albert Speer, confided to the British Prime Minister "going to war in Vietnam was a disaster, we should pull out." The British wanted to continue, and offered to send two more task forces to other provinces. Speer refused, and initiated a policy of Vietnamisation. In 1972, MUKV advised the British Task Force that it should prepare to leave Phuoc Tuy in accordance with the German policy of withdrawing combat troops. The last British soldiers left Vung Tau in September 1972. By June 1973, the last British advisors pulled out. On the 30th of April 1975, as North Vietnamese M48 Patton tanks entered Saigon, the last Royal Marines guarding the British Embassy in Saigon withdrew, ending Britain's military involvement in Vietnam.
Canadian involvement in the Vietnam War formally started in 1965. Canada deployed part of its air force, and air defence units of the Royal Canadian Artillery. Canadian forces deployed to Vietnam to protect against the German air threat. RCAF CF-101 Voodoo units provided direct air defence, and the first all-weather capability in North Vietnam. On the ground, five batteries of MIM-23 HAWK missiles were deployed to defend key sites in North Vietnam. A training team was also dispatched to train North Vietnamese artillerymen in operating the HAWK missile.
During 1966, the ROK Army took over the Canadian HAWK positions, and the Canadian combat commitment in country became solely Air Force. The Voodoo's operations in Vietnam are described below , as are the difficulties in operating the Voodoos in Vietnam. The defensive watch they stood over Vietnam was crucial. For a while, the Voodoos were the only supersonic all-weather fighters in Vietnam. In the day, the Voodoos were at the mercy of the German Messerschmitt Me 563s, but the Voodoo ruled the night. Its second crewman made it superior to the Australian F-106.
Later in the 1960s, the CF-110 (F-4 Phantom) replaced the CF-101. With this new aircraft came a high level of capability in both day and night, and much better weapons, in the form of the American Sidewinder and the Canadian Sparrow II. The multi-role capability of the Phantom served the North's cause well. For the final offensive, the Canadian Phantoms were used as air superiority fighters and strike aircraft.
The Royal Canadian Navy escorted merchant ships from the Philippines to North Vietnam. They logged hundreds of thousands of sea miles shepherding munitions, weapons, and supplies to the North. In Haiphong, Canadian minesweepers and Clearance Divers helped deal with mines. German and South Vietnamese U-Boats, and German aircraft made intensive attacks on the convoys. The Royal Canadian Navy's commitment to North Vietnam grew constantly. Originally, a small group of destroyers, equipped with helicopters, was thought to be enough. By the withdrawal of German forces from South Vietnam, the Royal Canadian Navy had deployed a squadron of CP-140 Orions, several air-defence and anti-submarine warships (including their incredibly expensive Belknap class missile cruisers), and the aircraft carrier HMCS Bonaventure (alternating with the Australian carriers HMAS Sydney and HMAS Melbourne)
Late in the war, Canada and Australia deployed a squadron of B-47 strategic bombers. Flying from Clark Air Base in the Philippines, they attacked with large quantities of conventional bombs.
South African troops first entered South Vietnam in 1966. The South African Defence Force was assigned to control the Kon Tum Province in the Central Highlands. The South African Task Force commander, Brigadier General Bob Rogers of the SAAF, had a full brigade group under his command. He also had a large air contingent equipped with Impala ground attack aircraft, Alouette and Super Frelon helicopters, and Noratlas transports. In addition, he employed a group of ex-Foreign Legionnaires to train members of the local tribes. Finally, the South Africans had a South Vietnamese brigade assigned to it.
The South African deployment was in a strategically important position. Kon Tum Province was a key link in the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Full control of the province would allow the Axis forces to create substantial disruption to VDC supply lines. General Rogers decided against the German tactic of using helicopter-borne forces to react to reported enemy movement, or to conduct search and destroy operations. He preferred constant patrolling, conducted largely by local and South Vietnamese troops. If these forces encountered problems, he would use a helicopter-borne Fireforce to quickly assist. He decided not to take body counts. Most importantly, General Rogers resolved that his forces would remain in place all over the province.
General Rogers tactics paid off, and he quickly put a "crimp" on North Vietnamese supplies to the VDC. Rogers began near the provincial capital, building network of fire bases. His forces adopted the British practice of never patrolling outside artillery range. The disruption of VDC supplies was a serious problem for the Northern leadership. Their initial solution was to reinforce guerrilla forces in Kon Tum province, and attempt to fight the South African, and South African-lead forces. This played into General Rogers' hands. He was able to locate the VDC forces in the province, and keep pressure on them. However, the South African advances would not last. The problem of the South African Task Force was considered in Hanoi, and in Washington DC. South Africa was different to Germany's allies in South Vietnam - they were not on the European continent, and they were in a limited guerrilla war. South Africa's white supremacist government was under attack by the African National Congress. South Africa's African allies, Portugal and Rhodesia, were also being attacked. To the Americans, the solution was an escalation of the African conflicts. This would, it was hoped, induce the South African government to withdraw its troops to reinforce the South African Defence Force at home.
The American OSS and the Russian GRU (Main Directorate of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Empire) began covert operations to support the rebel movements in South Africa, and the bordering white-ruled countries. These operations bore fruit by the beginning of 1968, when the South African government announced that its troops would be withdrawn by the end of the year. After the withdrawal of the Task Force, a number of South African military advisors remained until 1972, as well as an infantry company based in the South African Embassy compound, and used as guards. Most of these men stayed afterwards under, but worked directly for the South Vietnamese Government. After the war ended, 2 South Africans who had not managed to evacuate with their Embassy or the Germans were caught and tried as mercenaries. Both were sentenced to death, but their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment. Both were deported to South Africa during the 1980s.
Australia entered the Vietnam War with Canada in 1965. Most of the Australian commitment to Vietnam was carried out by the Royal Australian Air Force. As part of a Commonwealth Task Force, the RAAF deployed interceptors to North Vietnam to aid in its air defence. The main aircraft operated by Australian in an air defence role was the American Convair F-106 Delta Dart. The RAAF had been operating F-106s in Malaysia since their entry into service and the RAAF therefore had a great deal of experience in operating complex aircraft (with vacuum tube-based electronics) in tough tropical conditions. This gave the RAAF an edge in effective numbers. While the Canadians had three Voodoos for every Australian Delta Dart, better reliability in the Australian aircraft changed the ratio to two to one for most of the war. The Australians were therefore able to keep up with the Canadians in shooting down German aircraft. To support the Commonwealth air group, Australia sent a squadron of UH-1 helicopters, intended to rescue downed air crews. In 1967, another squadron was added, using lend lease CH-53A Sea Stallion helicopters. These helicopters frequently entered Laos in order to rescue air crew. Rescue operations were often carried out under fire, and RAAF Air Gunners (who also operated winches, and entered the jungle to aid wounded air crew) were highly decorated in Vietnam. Recently released documents also indicate that the RAAF supported special operations in South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In addition to defending North Vietnam, the RAAF also attacked the South. Using F-105 Thunderchiefs and later F-4 Phantoms based in Malaysia, the RAAF struck strategic targets in South Vietnam. RAAF support was crucial in the Tet Offensive. The RAAF was also involved in the naval battle in the South China Sea. 10 Squadron's Neptunes were deployed to US Naval Air Station Cubi Point to protect supply ships. From 1969 to 1973, the newer P-3 Orions took over convoy duties, flying long patrols between the Philippines and North Vietnam.
The Royal Australian Artillery send a HAWK battery to North Vietnam in 1965. It was withdrawn in 1967. A training unit remained behind to teach air defence to the North Vietnamese. The advisors and instructors formed the "Australian Army Training Team-Vietnam".
The RAN's involvement in the Vietnam War grew from a few destroyer escorts to an entire carrier battle group. The war eventually drew in most of Australia's warships, including both aircraft carriers (HMAS Sydney and HMAS Melbourne). The RAN's primary duty was anti-submarine escort for convoys. It also helped to train the Republic of Vietnam Navy. During the final offensive, a reduced RAN force provided naval gunfire to support the ARVN advance. The Vietnam War was the catalyst for modernisation in the Royal Australian Navy, including the RAN's first light anti-submarine helicopter, the SH-2 Seasprite. A little known element of the RAN's involvement was the electronic warfare role played by aging EF-10 Skyknights. Their powerful jammers could interrupt missile guidance (some German missiles still relied of command guidance), radar, and communications. The RAN incurred most of the Australian casualties of the Vietnam War. A total of five hundred Australian sailors were killed during the Vietnam War out of six hundred total Australian deaths in Vietnam. In Australia, the 18th of August is commemorated as Vietnam Veterans Day.
Indonesia was officially neutral in the Vietnam War, however it played an important role. From independence, Indonesia had been ruled by the broadly pro-German Sukarno. He maintained a vehemently anti-Australian attitude. He was deposed in 1965 by one of his lieutenants, Suharto. When Australia resolved to aid North Vietnam, it was faced with difficult choices. In customary international law, Australia had the right to transition through the Indonesian archipelago, however the war made this uncertain. Australia could either take the risk that Indonesia would refuse to allow weapons and warships to move through its waters, or it could send them the long way around Indonesia. The Australian ambassador in Jakarta proposed a third option: make an agreement to allow full passage through Indonesian waters for merchant ships loaded with weapons, and warships. The Ambassador suggested that the new regime would take a more pragmatic approach to Australian relations, and could be induced by trade deals that would improve Indonesia's parlous economic position. The conditions made were strict, but Australia managed to get what it wanted in a Treaty of Non-Aggression and Trade, which was to last for fifteen years. The treaty was signed, ratified, and placed into effect by the end of 1965, and gave Australian merchant ships, warships, and aircraft the right to transit on a specified route through Indonesia's waters. The route passed between Sumatra and Java, then between Sumatra and Kalimantan before splitting into a fork. The western 'tine' led to Malaysia, and the eastern led to North Vietnam and the Philippines. In addition to the trade concessions, the Indonesians took the opportunity to extensively photograph every ship that passed through. All of this information was passed to their German allies. Neither side broke the agreement during the war. The treaty was not renewed in 1980.
The United States was also officially neutral in the Vietnam War. The US Government politically and financially backed North Vietnam, and its allies. The main instrument of overt US aid was "Lend Lease II". Lend Lease II was a replica of the wartime Lend Lease scheme. The law setting it up specifically stated that the security and freedom of all Vietnam was a vital interest for the United States, and authorised aid with equipment and finance, but specifically prohibited direct US involvement, or the placement of US service personnel anywhere in Vietnam, excluding the Embassy in Hanoi. The US Government transferred large quantities of equipment to North Vietnam, and the Philippines. Smaller quantities were transferred to Australia and Canada - mainly attrition replacement. For example, the Royal Australian Air Force received 24 ex-USAF F-105D Thunderchiefs during the war. The US also offered basing facilities in the Philippines to Australia and Canada. Lend Lease terms differed from country to country. North Vietnam was not expected to pay for the equipment it received, while Australia and Canada would have to either return the equipment they received to the US after the war, or pay for it in dollars. Some Australian purchases that had already been contracted for were expedited, such as the RAAF order for the Lockheed C-141 Starlifter strategic transport. Aircraft scheduled for delivery in 1968 were instead delivered in 1965 by the diversion of USAF aircraft to Australia.
The US provided indirect military assistance to the combatants. USAF interceptors were stationed on Canadian bases to free up RCAF aircraft for Vietnam deployments, while the home-porting of the US carrier battle group in Singapore allowed the RAAF to use its base at RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia for Vietnam-related taskings.
The US intelligence community provided considerable aid to North Vietnam and its allies. The US Intelligence Service (USIS) concentrated its European and Asian resources on Vietnam. The National Security Agency also made Vietnam a priority. Much of this was either known or suspected by the Germans. Decades later, the US revealed that USAF SR-71 Blackbird aircraft frequently overflew South Vietnam, which was forbidden by Congress. RC-135 aircraft also flew missions to provide intelligence for North Vietnam.
Covert action by the US concentrated on Cambodia and Laos, where the OSS provided extensive assistance to pro-democracy insurgents. It is also alleged, though it has never been proven, that OSS personnel operated in South Vietnam. There have even been rumours of a "death squad" known as the "Phoenix Program" of German-speaking Americans assassinating key German officers, and South Vietnamese officials. Revelations of the so-called "Phoenix Program" have generally been derided as the work of conspiracy theorists, though several German historians insist that the program existed, and operated until 1975.
Most of the weapons used by North Vietnam and its allies were of American origin. Early in the war, Viet Dan Chu guerrillas were often equipped with captured French or German weapons. German and South Vietnamese forces and most of their allies tended to use weapons of German origin, while the British primarily used their own weapons.
10.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 40
The German 1940 model 10.5 cm mountain howitzer was one of the most important German weapons of the Vietnam War. Examples of this reliable and powerful weapon were situated at almost every firebase in South Vietnam. It was provided to South Vietnam and Germany's allies in large numbers. Linked to forward units by radio, these howitzers provided fire support for German troops in the field. Many of the guns supplied to South Vietnam are still in use after having been modified to accept American 105mm shells.
The American M16 rifle saw its first combat use in the Vietnam War. When the ARVN was formed, it was equipped with the World War II M1 Garand rifle from the United States. The Garand was a fine rifle, but Vietnamese people are by and large shorter and more slightly built than Americans. The ARVN found the rifle to be cumbersome and heavy. Therefore the de facto standard rifle of the ARVN was the M1 and M2 Carbine. These weapons were certainly light and easy to handle, but the .30 Carbine round they fired lacked range and stopping power. VDC troops in the South during the late 1950s to the mid 1960s preferred to use the German StG 45 assault rifle. It was somewhat heavier than the carbine, but it had greater stopping power, and the South Vietnamese provided a ready source of ammunition.
During 1961, 100 Colt AR-15 rifles were sent to Vietnam for testing. After reliability, accuracy, and "ease of training" tests in the North, the weapons were sent South. This was not seen as a security risk as Armalite had openly advertised the AR-15 for commercial sale, as well as for police and military forces. The weapons were originally purchased by the US Government, and "laundered" through arms dealers and two foreign governments. When the weapons went South, they created an immediate impression on the VDC. They immediately requested more of these new rifles. The ARVN too liked the M16. Two thousand more were sent in 1962, and five thousand in 1963. At the end of 1963, the US Armed Forces ordered 85000 M16s for itself, and the Military Assistance Program ordered 100,000 more for Vietnam.
By 1966, the M16 was the standard rifle of the ARVN. The VDC used it in increasing quantities. After the Vietnam War, the M16 rifle became a de facto standard weapon for the US-aligned nations of the world. Eugene Stoner, designer of the M16 rifle, was honoured in Saigon after the fall of South Vietnam as a "Hero of the Liberation". The M16s forebear, the 7.62mm Armalite AR-10 was also used in Vietnam in limited numbers with special forces, such as the Australian SAS.
OTO-Melara Model 56 (10.5 cm Gebirgshaubitze 56)
This Italian 105mm howitzer was used extensively in Vietnam by Britain (as the L5), Italy, South Africa, and South Vietnam. It was used in limited numbers by German airborne units. Examples remain in use with the ARVN after conversion to American M1 shells. In ARVN service, the howitzer can be towed by a Toyota Land Cruiser, or slung under a UH-1 helicopter. It's main advantage and disadvantage was its light weight. Its lightness made mobility easy, but this came at the expense of durability.
Sub Machine Guns
The Vietnam War was the last in which the sub machine gun was a major weapon. They were used in a wide variety of roles, and a wide variety of sub machine guns were used in Vietnam. The Sten sub machine gun saw great use in Vietnam. Silenced Stens were used by both sides for assassinations. Silenced sub machine guns were popular weapons in Vietnam. Other silenced sub machine guns used included the L34 Sterling, the MAC 10 and 11, the MP 68SD, and the M3 Grease Gun. The Sten's simplicity made it an obvious weapon for the VDC. Jungle workshops turned out Sten copies as early as 1960, and these supplemented the weapons the VDC had kept from the war against the French, and what they could capture from the South Vietnamese. One of the enduring hold overs from the French War was the MAT 49. VDC Sten guns were designed to use MP 40 magazines, which were plentiful in South Vietnam. They were effective close range ambush weapons. As American aid flowed in, the "Jungle Sten" was displaced by the M2 Carbine and the M16 rifle. ARVN sergeants and officers generally carried either the M3 Grease Gun or the Australian Owen or F1 sub machine guns. The Australian sub machine guns were favoured due to their reliability and their immunity to jungle conditions. VDC units based in cities used sub machine guns as their primary weapon. Compact sub machine guns such as the MAC 10, MAC 11, and MAT 49 were favoured by these VDC teams. The MAC 10 and MAC 11 were pistol-sized, and could easily be concealed.
On the Fascist side, the selection of sub machine guns was varied. Most South Vietnamese, Wehrmacht, and Waffen-SS troops used the trusted MP 40. Captured MAC 11s were popular with Panzer crews due to their compactness. British troops carried the L2 Sterling, which like the Sten, had a side-mounted magazine. This aided prone firing (which was very difficult with the MP 40). The elegant Beretta M12 equipped Italian, South African, and Italian SS Legion troops. It was also used by other agencies such as the Abwehr and the German Foreign Office. South Africa also produced a near copy of the MAC 10 called the BXP, which was popular with many specialised units in Vietnam. The MP 68 came late in the war, but its lightness and accuracy made it popular with those who carried it. South Vietnamese local militias were often equipped with Stens and MP 40s.
The Leopard 1 was a lighter, faster German panzer armed with a 10.5 cm gun. It was introduced into German Army service in 1965. The first examples did not reach Vietnam until 1967. The Leopard 1 proved that it was possible for panzers to fight in the jungle. Although the tank performed well in Vietnam, it was not supplied to South Vietnam. South Vietnamese units used the Panzer IV and Panther tanks. Tank to tank fights were rare. North Vietnamese tanks included upgraded Shermans, M41 Walker Bulldogs, M47 and M48 Pattons, and M60s. The upgraded Shermans were as effective as Panthers (but the American tanks were more reliable), while the other American-made tanks were superior.
The Flakpanzer Gepard was based on the Leopard 1, but armed with radar controlled 3.5 cm cannons, was also used in Vietnam. Encounters with aircraft were rare, but their cannons were extremely effective as anti-ambush weapons. They were often used for convoy escort.
After Vietnam, the Leopard 1 was widely used by the German Army. The other German tank, the Puma armed with a 12.8 cm gun was not often used in Vietnam due to its high weight and low speed, and high cost. However, 40 were transferred to the South Vietnamese Army before the German withdrawal. Only two survived the war intact.
Flettner Fl 486
The Vietnam War has been called the first "helicopter war", and the Flettner Fl 486 was the helicopter of the Vietnam War. Over 7000 of these transport helicopters served in Vietnam with the German Army, South Vietnamese Air Force, and the Royal Air Force. The Flettner Fl 486 was a utility helicopter capable of carrying 11 fully equipped infantry or cargo up to a weight of 2000kg. The Flettner Fl 486 is distinctive in having twin-intermeshing rotors. The Fl 486's roles included general support, troop transport, liaison, search and rescue, propaganda, electronic warfare, air ambulance, and fire support. Armament ranged from two MG 42 machine guns through various arrangements of multiple guns and rocket pods, to anti-tank missiles. The aircraft was upgraded several times during the war to improve carrying capacity, speed, and range.
In addition, the German armed forces, Pazifischer Lufttransport also operated Fl 486 helicopters. Pazifischer Lufttransport was a German airline that was known to be an Abwehr front company intended to support German covert operations in the Asia Pacific region. Pazifischer Lufttransport provided transport to secret German operations in Laos throughout the war, and participated in drug smuggling. Pazifischer Lufttransport collapsed when the Kripo linked them to a major drug smuggling ring between the Golden Triangle and Europe (the so-called German Connection).
The Flettner Fl 486 is a symbol of German involvement the Vietnam War just as the CF-101 is a symbol of Canadian involvement. An example of the Flettner Fl 486 appears in the German Vietnam War memorial in Nuremburg. After the war, former-SVAF Flettner Fl 486s were taken into VNAF service, and they continue to serve to this day.
McDonnell CF-101B Voodoo
The standard Royal Canadian Air Force interceptor since 1959 was the McDonnell CF-101B Voodoo. The CF-101B was a US-designed and manufactured interceptor based on the F-101A Voodoo tactical nuclear strike aircraft. The aircraft was developed as an interim interceptor while the USAF's "1954 Interceptor" (F-106, see below) was made ready for service. The interceptor version of the Voodoo was successful in USAF service, but Canada had already rejected the F-101B in favour of the Avro Canada CF-105 Arrow. In the event, the Canadian Government cancelled the Arrow, and took delivery of second-hand CF-101B Voodoos in 1959. In the North American defence role, the CF-101B was highly successful.
In 1964, the North Vietnamese requested the deployment of CF-101B Voodoos to Vietnam in response to German bomber attacks on North Vietnam. The first Canadian Voodoos arrived in March 1965, and went into action rapidly against the Luftwaffe. The CF-101B performed well against large multi-engined bombers, but its AIM-4 Falcon missile was next to useless against German fighters, especially the delta-winged Messerschmitt Me 563. The CF-101B was very difficult to maintain in the tropical conditions of North Vietnam.
At night, it was inferior to the F-4 Phantom (which replaced it) and the F-106 Delta Darts of the Royal Australian Air Force. By day, it was inferior to the F-4 Phantom and to the F-104A Starfighters of the Philippine Air Force. By 1968, steady attrition caused by enemy action ad the effect of the tropical climate on the Voodoo's systems had reduced the original force by 40%. Frontline strength was unaffected due to the transfer of more ex-USAF Voodoos directly to the RCAF in North Vietnam on Lend-Lease, but the need for their replacement was clear. During 1970, the CF-110M Phantom II was beginning to replace the CF-101B Voodoo in North Vietnam in the interceptor role. By the beginning of 1973, the CF-101B Voodoo was no longer operating in Vietnam.
The CF-101B Voodoos operated in Vietnam for almost eight years and destroyed over 150 German and South Vietnamese aircraft. Four Canadian Voodoo crews became aces in Vietnam.
Several CF-101Bs remain in Vietnam. They serve as gate guardians to former-RCAF air bases in Vietnam, and two were included in memorials to Vietnam's wartime allies (one in Hanoi, the other in Saigon). Several Vietnamese museums have CF-101B Voodoos.
The exotic Junkers Ju-688 was one of Germany's most important medium bombers in the Vietnam War. The Ju-688 was started as the first true replacement for the World War II Ju-88. The Ju-688 entered service in 1948. The initial Ju-688A straight wing version gave way to the Ju-688B with a swept wing in 1950, and the definitive (at least in respect of the airframe) Ju-688C in 1952. The Ju-688 was a turboprop powered bomber in a class of its own. Its propellers were turned by huge jet engines, and each engine pod had two propellers, one at each end, rotating in opposite directions. The power from these large and fast propellers was added to by the jet exhaust. The Ju-688 was highly noisy, even for a military aircraft. Its streamlined, area-ruled fuselage allowed flight up to Mach 0.9.
The Luftwaffe used the Ju-688 primarily as a medium bomber over North and South Vietnam. It also served as a reconnaissance aircraft, all-weather fighter, maritime strike aircraft, and electronic warfare aircraft. Specially equipped night bomber versions attacked North Vietnamese trucks on the Ho Chi Minh Trail.
The Ju-688's only real disadvantage was its poor bomb load, only 4500 lb internally and 2000 lb externally (compared with the B-57 Canberra's bomb load of 8000 lb).
Special reconnaissance versions with de-rated engines and long, straight wings flew over North Vietnam at altitudes that made interceptions almost impractical.
The British used the Ju-688 in a licence built version, the English Electric Winchester. The Luftwaffe used the Ju-688 in Vietnam from beginning to end. They carried out the first German bombing raid of the war, and the last. In 1966, Junkers proposed a supersonic version with more powerful, afterburning turbofans to drive the scimitar propellers (which would feather for flight over Mach 0.9), but the Luftwaffe had already decided to replace the Ju-688 with the British-designed Buccaneer (manufactured under license by Dornier). After 1970, the Ju-688 was relegated to close air support. The last Ju-688 bomber was retired in 1979. The reconnaissance aircraft persisted until 1986 when they were replaced by drones and pods for fighters.
Convair F-106A Delta Dart
The Convair F-106 Delta Dart was the standard interceptor of the Royal Australian Air Force in Vietnam. The RAAF adopted the F-106 in 1959, and two squadrons served in Vietnam. The RAAF's F-106s differed from their USAF counterparts in that they were not fitted with the equipment for the Semi Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE). Unlike the CF-101B, they had little problem operating in the tropics. Undoubtedly, the F-106's design deserves some credit for this reliability, but the reliability of the Australian F-106 was also due to the extensive experience the RAAF possessed in operating and maintaining avionics in tropical conditions. Indeed, throughout their service, RAAF F-106 Delta Darts were based at RAAF Butterworth in Malaysia. Four years of operations at Butterworth had taught the RAAF everything it needed to know about operating the F-106 in the tropics, right down to little things like canopy shelters to keep the cockpits cool (relatively).
The RAAF had no interest in operating nuclear air to air weapons, and their F-106s were all equipped with the M61 Vulcan cannon in the weapons bay space that would have been taken by the nuclear-tipped AIR-2 Genie (N.B. Canadian CF-101B Voodoos did carry the Genie, but only in North America, not in Vietnam). The standard combat load for an RAAF F-106 in Vietnam was two AIM-4F Falcon radar guided missiles, two AIM-4G Falcon heat-seeking missiles, an M61 Vulcan gunpack with 650 rounds, and 2 1360 litre external fuel tanks.
RAAF F-106 pilots were trained to dogfight, and were deadly opponents for any German aircraft over North Vietnam.
The United States sent extra F-106A and F-106B aircraft under Lend Lease to increase the force to the equivalent of 2.5 squadrons, and a detachment of pilots from the Royal New Zealand Air Force flew F-106s with Australian units.
Although the force never numbered over 45 aircraft, they scored over 100 kills with only 15 losses in air combat, a kill ratio of 6.67:1. After the war, the F-106 remained in service, and was finally retired in 1993.
Focke-Wulf Ta 800
see main article
The Focke-Wulf Ta 800 was and is Germany's primary strategic bomber. The Ta 800 entered service in 1952, and was intended to carry two thermonuclear weapons from Europe to North America and back without refueling. It is a large, swept-wing aircraft powered by six Junkers Jumo turboprop engines driving counter-rotating pusher propellers. Single propellers were tried in the prototype, but it was found that at high speeds, the torque stressed the long, thin wings. It is one of the largest aircraft in the world (larger even than the B-36 Peacemaker). It could carry a 34,000 kg bomb load and had a ferry range of 10,000 nautical miles. It has a maximum speed of 500 knots.
It was used extensively over Vietnam. The Ta 800s operated mainly in the South on carpet bombing raids. These carpet bombing raids were sometimes highly effective. Over the North, the Ta 800 was little used until 1972. The Ta 800 was unable to operate without escort, and lacked the ability to use conventional bombs with precision, limiting its usefulness over North Vietnam. By taking the "Northern route" (flying over China to attack North Vietnam from the east) they were able to mine Haiphong harbour during late 1972. This mining contributed to Germany negotiating its war out of the war.
The photo reconnaissance version of the Ta 800 was not used in Vietnam, but the tanker version was used extensively as Germany's primary tanker in Vietnam. The electronic intelligence version was used throughout the war. The maritime reconnaissance version of the Ta 800 was used throughout the Pacific from North Korean, and Chinese airfields to maintain a watch on supply convoys to Vietnam. This information was used by the Luftwaffe to time their more intensive raids on the North. Today, updated versions of the Ta 800 still serve as bombers, cruise missile carriers, tankers, and maritime aircraft. In the latter two roles, they are slowly being replaced by Airbus A330s.
The transport version of the Ta 800 was used as a personnel transport, and VIP aircraft. It also served as the basis for Germany's first airborne early warning aircraft. This was used to warn German aircraft of Allied fighter activity.
Lockheed F-104 Starfighter
The Lockheed F-104A Starfighter was the standard air superiority fighter of the Philippine Air Force. The Vietnam Air Force (VNAF) also used it in limited numbers, beside the F-104G. The later all-weather F-104S equipped with the AIM-7 Sparrow missile served with the VNAF as its standard interceptor from 1967 onwards. The F-104 had a difficult service with the VNAF due to the difficulty of flying the aircraft, and the dearth of Mach 2 experience in the VNAF.
The Philippine Air Force deployed two squadrons of Starfighters to North Vietnam in March 1965 to provide point defence against German air attack. They were equipped simply with cannon and two Sidewinder missiles. American and Filipino instructors trained the Filipinos to a very high level. The PAF knew how to get the best from their Starfighters. On the first mission over North Vietnam, PAF F-104As scored three kills with no losses against German Messerschmitt Me 563 deltas. The PAF used Starfighters right until 1975.
The VNAF story with the Starfighter was one of troubles. The outstanding performance of the Starfighter made it immediately attractive to the VNAF, and a training establishment was setup in January 1965 in the Philippines. The courses were the same as those used by American Starfighter pilots. These courses were thought to be adequate (and indeed were in the Philippines), but the immediate result of this training was a high loss rate in accidents, especially landing accidents. An investigation of the training syllabus found that it was inadequate for pilots without supersonic experience. The VNAF and their American advisors in the Philippines drew up a new training plan. The course would be longer, to the chagrin of Hanoi, but the instructors and VNAF command believed that the longer course would allow their pilots to make the transition with greater success. It worked, and from mid-1966 onwards, VNAF were attaining combat success with the F-104. Ex-US Air Force F-104As were supplemented by F-104Gs from Australia, Canada, and India.
RAAF F-104G Starfighters were deployed to Malaysia to provide escort for air raids into the South. Australian F-104 Starfighters claimed a number of enemy kills over South Vietnam.
The success of the F-104A and F-104C persuaded the VNAF to acquire its first all-weather fighter, the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation F-104S Super Starfighter, equipped with the AIM-7 Sparrow missile; it allowed the VNAF to operate against night raids. One VNAF F-104 pilot, Colonel Nguy?n Tuân shot down 13 German aircraft during the war making him the highest scoring ace of the Vietnam War. Australia, Canada, and New Zealand also used the F-104 Starfighter at home. Canada did not use the CF-104 in Vietnam, although, Royal New Zealand Air Force F-104S interceptors provided air defence at RAAF Butterworth.
The Fiat G.91 was one of the most important Axis aircraft in Vietnam. This small, simple Italian close support aircraft turned out to be ideal for Vietnam. The G.91 was used by Germany, South Vietnam, and South Africa. Its roles included tactical reconnaissance, forward air control, and close air support. The G-91 lacked complex avionics, supersonic capability, and missile armament. In a conventional war, these would have significantly hampered it, but in Vietnam it simply meant there was less to go wrong. The G.91s were always ready for action, and could be kept on standby on the runway with few problems. Fiat G.91s were supplied in large numbers to the South Vietnamese Air Force from 1965. The demand for G.91s was steep, and Fiat granted production licenses to Dornier, Sud-Aviation of France, and China Nanchang Aircraft Manufacturing Corporation.
In combat, the G.91 could attack precisely, and deliver a reasonable quantity of weapons. While its warload was less than half that of the Me 563, its accuracy in good weather meant that this was not much of a problem. It never fully replaced other aircraft because of its limitations at night or in difficult weather. When the Germans withdrew from Vietnam, their entire Vietnam-based inventory of G.91s was left behind for the SVAF. During the final phase of the war, the G.91 was increasingly unable to operate safely over South Vietnam. As the area of Allied air superiority moved south, the area in which G.91s could operate safely shrank. Nevertheless, they kept flying until the last days of the war. The first Axis-designed aircraft to fly with the VNAF was the G.91, when a number of South Vietnamese defectors flew their aircraft in support of the ARVN's southern advance shortly before the end of the war. After the war, the survivors were taken over by the VNAF. They served until replaced by the A-7 Corsair II in the late 1980s.
Republic F-105 Thunderchief
The F-105D Thunderchief entered service with the RAAF in 1961 as a replacement for the B-57 Canberra. The RCAF acquired the Thunderchief to fill its new requirement for a tactical nuclear strike aircraft. Based in Malaysia to support Australia's forward defence strategy, operations over South Vietnam began in 1965. In 1966, a Canadian squadron joined them. The Thunderchief was poorly suited to Vietnam due to its relatively short range, however it was all the Australians had to provide air support to the VDC. 2 Australian squadrons and one Canadian squadron of Thunderchiefs operated from RAAF Butterworth attacking primarily military targets in South Vietnam. Initially, the missions proceeded well. Attempts by the Canadian squadron to mount precision attacks with Bullpup missiles failed due to problems with the missiles, but the Thunderchiefs were successful in disrupting Fascist operations in South Vietnam. Neither the Germans nor the South Vietnamese expected any air attacks. However, they soon upgraded air defences in the South, sending additional fighters, and stationing surface to air missiles near key targets. Increasingly, the Thunderchiefs were faced with the need to fight their way to the target. The use of EB-57 support jamming aircraft, and F-104 fighter escorts helped, but Thunderchief losses began to mount. Losses of aircraft were easily made good, with the United States providing replacement aircraft under Lend Lease, but aircrew losses were not easily replaced. The RAAF predicted that the losses would soon become impossible to sustain, and asked for a replacement which came in the form of the F-4 Phantom (below). By the end of 1968, both RAAF Thunderchief squadrons had been re-equipped with Phantoms. In 1969, the RCAF withdrew its Thunderchief unit, 434 Squadron. However this did not end the F-105's role in Vietnam. The RAAF retired their F-105Ds in 1972. Canada kept its F-105Ds until 1976.
To deal with increasingly strong air defences, the USAF developed a Thunderchief version dedicated to the suppression of enemy air defences - the F-105G, which was introduced into USAF service in 1967. In 1968, the RAAF stood up a squadron of F-105Gs provided under Lend Lease. These aircraft helped the RAAF's Phantoms fight their way to South Vietnamese targets. They were kept extremely busy, and were flying on the last day of the war. The Australian Government purchased the F-105Gs outright at the end of the war, and they continued to fly until 1983.
McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II
see main article: F-4K/M Phantom II
Both the Royal Canadian Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force in Vietnam used the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II. The Royal Canadian Air Force ordered the CF-110M Phantom in 1967 as a replacement for the CF-101B Voodoo. Deliveries began in 1968, and the RCAF in Vietnam was ready to use the Phantom in Vietnam in 1969. During the final 1975 offensive, the CF-110s changed their mission to strike and interdiction. The CF-110 was highly successful in Vietnam, and highly successful in North America.
Originally, the Royal Australian Air Force had no intention of buying the F-4 Phantom, however large losses of F-105 Thunderchiefs and delays in the development of the F-111C forced the RAAF to acquire an interim strike aircraft. The Royal Australian Navy introduced the F-4K Phantom II as a naval combat aircraft during 1967, so the F-4 was the natural choice for an interim strike aircraft. The Phantom entered RAAF service in Vietnam in 1968 as a replacement for the F-105 Thunderchief. In Vietnam, RAAF F-4M Phantoms served as strike and escort aircraft. Most Australian Phantoms were based in Malaysia with tanker support. They needed a lot less tanker support than the F-105s, in spite of having two engines to the Thunderchief's one. During 1970, the RAAF began to use laser-guided bombs from its Phantoms. The Australian Phantoms mounted a dual raid on the British Task Force base at Nui Dat and the British Logistics Base at Vung Tau. Laser guided bombs were used in Vung Tau to ensure that vital supplies were hit, but the British Military Hospital was not. RAAF F-4Ms provided a valuable service during the final offensive in 1975. After the Vietnam War, the RAAF's Phantoms replaced some of the RAAF's F-104G Starfighters. The Phantom's replacement in the strike role was the F-111C. From 1970-1973, Royal Australian Navy Phantoms saw combat in the South China Sea. Their main role was air defence against German maritime bombers.
After the war, Vietnam purchased US-made F-4E Phantoms, which are still in service today.
The Northrop F-5A/B Freedom Fighter and F-5E/F Tiger were the standard day tactical fighters of the VNAF. They were essentially a jack of all trades. They acted as interceptors, air superiority fighters, close support aircraft, and even as strike aircraft. A VNAF F-5E bombed the German Embassy Compound in Saigon in the last few hours of the war. It is still in service with the VNAF today, with extensive upgrades to the avionics.
Vietnam was precisely the type of country and precisely the type of war for which the F-5 was planned. The United States intended to provide the F-5 to its poorer allies under various military assistance programs. The idea behind using the F-5 was to provide a competitive, modern, and inexpensive fighter to US allies. Without such a fighter, the US would have to supply its less-wealthy allies with "hand-me-downs" from the USAF.
Vietnam received its first F-5A/B Freedom Fighters in 1964, and the VNAF pilots' first impressions were extremely favourable. They quickly replaced the F-86F Sabres that had been in VNAF service since 1957. The nimble F-5 proved to be a difficult enemy for the Luftwaffe. German fighter pilots were ordered not to get into a turning fight with the F-5. Fortunately, for the German pilots, they had the speed to get away from an F-5.
During the Easter Offensive of 1972, the F-5 switched from the fighter role to the close support role. The F-5 proved to be an extremely accurate weapons delivery platform with bombs, rockets, and napalm.
Starting in 1973, the F-5E Tiger II began to enter VNAF service. With its more advanced electronics, the F-5E served as a fighter, with the F-5A serving as a ground attack aircraft.
The Philippine Air Force used its F-5s as close support aircraft in the areas in which the Philippine Army's ground forces operated. The Filipinos specifically requested that their own aircraft support them, and the Filipino pilots gave a good account of themselves in accuracy and availability of aircraft.
Australia and Canada both used F-5s at home (Canadian designation: CF-116 Freedom Fighter). Australia and Canada used F-5s as fast jet trainers, lead-in fighter trainers, and aggressors. While Australia and Canada did not use them in Vietnam, they played an important role in training Canadian and Australian aircrews as well as developing tactics. The F-5 has similar characteristics to the Messerschmitt Me 563. The F-5 served in the aggressor role into the late 1990s. In addition, as a part of the US-Canadian Defence Co-Production Agreement, Canadair produced CF-116s for the VNAF. The Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation of Australia also produced F-5s for the VNAF.
Knox class destroyer escort
The Knox class destroyer escort was one of the most effective classes of warship used in the Vietnam War. Designed to fill a US Navy requirement for a second-generation anti-submarine escort, the Knox class served both the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy. Australia had requested the Knox class, which they designated "River class" to replace their aging Town class destroyer escorts. The first American Knox class ships were to enter service in 1967, however the near disastrous attacks on supply convoys caused the US Government to divert the first ships to the Royal Australian Navy. After a crash program, the RAN fielded two River class destroyer escorts by the end of 1967, HMAS Parramatta and HMAS Yarra. The RAN purchased 16 River class destroyer escorts, and operated all of them during the war. The first two were equipped with the American ASROC system. The remaining 14 were equipped with the Australian-designed Ikara anti-submarine missile. Ikara was later retrofitted into the first two ships. To accompany the River class destroyer escort, the RAN ordered the SH-2D Seasprite helicopter. This light anti-submarine helicopter represented a quantum leap in anti-submarine capability compared to the QH-50 DASH helicopters used in the Town class destroyer escorts. The Royal Canadian Navy also ordered the Knox class under the name Mackenzie class. The first Canadian ship was commissioned in 1970, and four Canadian Mackenzie class destroyer escorts operated during the Vietnam War The Canadians ordered a total of twelve Mackenzie class destroyer escorts. All together, the River class and Mackenzie class destroyers sunk or disabled twenty German and South Vietnamese U-Boats. During the final North Vietnamese offensive, River class and Mackenzie class destroyer escorts fired thousands of 5 inch shells in support of ARVN troops. Australia operated the River class destroyer escorts until 2004, while Canada retired the last of their Mackenzie class destroyer escorts in 1998. No River class or Mackenzie class destroyers escorts were lost during the Vietnam War.
Type XXI U-Boat
German U-Boat development during the Second World War culminated in the Type XXI U-Boat. Previous U-Boats were rather like surface ships that had the ability to submerge for short periods, in contrast, the Type XXI was designed primarily for underwater operations. The Type XXI had three times the electrical capacity of the Type VIIC, and the hull was streamlined, and optimised for submerged sailing. To aid in streamlining, gun armament was reduced to four 20mm cannon (removed by 1955). Unlike previous German U-Boats, it could sprint underwater to position itself for an attack. A schnorkel tube meant that the batteries could be charged at periscope depth. There were no stern torpedo tubes, allowing the aft section of the boat to be devoted to storage and propulsion. Six bow torpedo tubes were the main armament of the Type XXI. A hydraulic torpedo loading mechanism saved time (and sweat!) during attacks. Habitability was improved, and a freezer was installed. The Type XXI U-Boats were the first warships manufactured in sections. Initially, this process led to quality control problems, but post-war boats (which were not built in the haste of wartime boats) were constructed properly, and quickly. A sensitive passive sonar was fitted for submerged detection. During the 1950s, the Type XXI U-Boats were modernised. Their fire control systems were upgraded for homing torpedos, an active sonar was fitted to the bow, and the guns were removed. More than 100 Type XXI U-Boats were produced in Germany during World War II, and more than 100 were produced in Germany after. Nationalist China also built fifty Type XXI U-Boats. North Korean and Italian shipyards also built Type XXI U-Boats
German Type XXI U-Boats were first used in Vietnam during 1967 for convoy interdiction. They were initially successful, but increasing Allied anti-submarine warfare activity eventually defeated them. Thirty Type XXI U-Boats served with the Kriegsmarine, with no more than eighteen operational at any time. Over 100 U-Boat crews flew in and out of Vietnam during the war, each crew would take over a particular boat during its tour of duty. South Vietnam acquired thirty five Type XXI U-Boats, and lost sixteen. The first was commissioned in 1964, and was crewed by German officers and Vietnamese sailors. The South Vietnamese Navy had rather less success than the Kriegsmarine due to absence of experience. It wasn't until 1968 that an all-South Vietnamese crew put to sea and returned from its patrol. U-Boats sank approximately 320,000 tons of shipping during the Vietnam War. After the war, the well-engineered Type XXI U-Boats that survived the war were commissioned into the Republic of Vietnam Navy. They were the first submarines operated by the VNN, later they were given American electonics and weapons (including the Harpoon missile). They served into the 1990s.
Gearing-FRAM class destroyer
The Gearing class destroyers were a group of 98 US-made destroyers designed for service in World War II. Most weren't ready before the European Armistice or the defeat of Japan. Designed as conventional destroyers and anti-aircraft platforms, their post-war service was principally as anti-submarine escorts. To fulfill this role, the 21 inch torpedo tubes were removed, as well as most of the 5 inch and 40 mm guns were removed, and the ships were fitted with sonar, the RUR-2 ASROC, 12.75 inch torpedo tubes, and a QH-50 DASH drone helicopter. These weapons were accomodated in a new superstructure, with an enlarged Operations Room. The Royal Australian Navy operated twelve Gearing class destroyers, which were designated "Town class destroyers". These entered service in their original configuration in the early 1950s, and were the RAN's first US-designed warships. Shortly after entering service, the RAN put its Town class destroyers through "FRAM I",. and at the end of the 1950s, the RAN implemented the "FRAM II" upgrade. The "FRAM II" configured Gearing class destroyer escorts were also operated by the Philippine Navy, the Republic of Korea Navy, and (after 1968) the Republic of Vietnam Navy.
The first combat use of the Gearing-FRAM II class destroyer escorts was the Battle of Convoy B-23, in 1966. This battle showed that the FRAM II was inadequate without air cover. It's only anti-air weapons were guns, and the QH-50 DASH unmanned helicopter was highly unrelaible. Because it was intended to be expendable, cheap commercial-grade electronics were used. Four DASH helicopters were launched during the Battle of Convoy B-23, only one launched a torpedo, the rest crashed (one shortly after take off). The RAN immediately retired DASH from combat (though it continues to serve with the RAN and Australian Army as a helicopter target). The ships own weapons were quite effective, though their range was limited. The RAN had already started looking for a replacement for both the Town class destroyer escort and the QH-50 DASH, and had settled on the Knox class and the SH-2 Seasprite. The Australians persisted with the Town class, their weaknesses notwithstanding, because they had nothing else. As soon as they could be replaced, they were. The RAN even persuaded the Americans to delay their own acquisition of Knox class destroyer escorts to hasten the replacement of the Town class. The Town class continued to serve with the RAN in Vietnam until 1971, and continued to patrol Australian waters until 1974. The RAN lost five Town class destroyer escorts in Vietnam.
By contrast, the Filipinos, Koreans, and Vietnamese were very happy with their Gearing-FRAM II class destroyer escorts. They never acquired DASH, and used the hangar as a storage space. Despite their lack of experience, all three Asian users of the Gearing class were able to sink U-Boats in the South China Sea. The ships remained in service for a long time after the war. The hangar was too small for a Seasprite, but it could fit a Hughes 500, and all three navies used an anti-submarine version of the little helicopter. Unfortunately, the Hughes SH-6 was not ready in time for the war. The Philippine Navy decommissioned their last Gearing class destroyer in 2005. Two continue to serve with the Republic of Vietnam Navy.
In Canada, Germany, Australia, and New Zealand, the war is usually called the Vietnam War. It is also sometimes called the Second Indochina War, this is especially so in France. In Vietnam, the war is called either the German War or the Nazi War. Some Vietnamese Government sources (especially older sources) call it "The Anti-Nazi Resistance War"