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Tổ Quốc (Homeland), Danh dự (Honor), Trách Nhiệm (Duty)

The Army of the Republic of Viet Nam (ARVN), sometimes referred to as the South Vietnamese Army (SVA), was the army of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) which existed from 1955 until the fall of Saigon in 1975.[1] It is estimated to have suffered 1,394,000 casualties (killed and wounded) during the Vietnam War.[2]

After the fall of Saigon to the invading North Vietnamese Army (NVA), the ARVN was dissolved. While some high-ranking officers had fled the country to the United States or elsewhere, thousands of former ARVN officers were sent to reeducation camps by the communist government of the new, unified Socialist Republic of Vietnam.


Vietnamese National Army (VNA) 1949–1955Edit


On March 8, 1949, after the Elysee accords the State of Vietnam was recognized by France as an independent country ruled by the Vietnamese Emperor Bảo Đại, and the Vietnamese National Army (VNA) was soon created. The VNA fought in joint operations with the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps against the communist Viet Minh forces led by Ho Chi Minh. The VNA fought in a wide range of campaigns including but not limited to the Battle of Na San (1952), Operation Atlas (1953) and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (1954).[3]

Benefiting with French assistance the VNA quickly became a modern army modelled after the Expeditionary Corps. It included infantry, artillery, transmission, armored cavalry, airborne, airforce, navy and a national military academy. By 1953 troopers as well as officers were all Vietnamese, the latter having been trained in Ecoles des Cadres such as Da Lat, including Chief of Staff General Nguyen Van Hinh who was a French Union airforce veteran.

After the 1954 Geneva agreements, French Indochina ceased to exist and by 1956 all French Union troops had withdrawn from Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In 1955, by the order of Prime Minister Diem, the VNA crushed the armed forces of the Binh Xuyen.[4][5]

Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) 1955–1975Edit

File:VTN Sherman Doctor.jpg

On October 26, 1955, the military was reorganized by the administration of President Ngo Dinh Diem who then established the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). The air force was known as the Vietnamese Air Force (VNAF). Early on, the focus of the army was the guerrilla fighters of the Vietnam National Liberation Front (NLF, also known as the Viet Cong (VC)), formed to oppose the Diem administration. The United States, under President John F. Kennedy sent advisors and a great deal of financial support to aid the ARVN in combating the insurgents. A major campaign, developed by Ngo Dinh Nhu and later resurrected under another name was the "Strategic Hamlet Program" which was regarded as unsuccessful by Western media because it was "inhumane" to move villagers from the countryside to fortified villages. ARVN leaders and President Diem were criticized by the foreign press when the troops were used to crush armed anti-government religious groups like the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao as well as to raid Buddhist temples, which according to Diem, were harboring NLF guerrillas. This most notably occurred on the night of August 21, 1963, during the Xa Loi Pagoda raids conducted by the Special Forces, which caused a death toll estimated to range into the hundreds.

In 1963 Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a coup d'état carried out by ARVN officers and encouraged by US officials such as Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr. In the confusion that followed, General Duong Van Minh took control, but he was only the first in a succession of ARVN generals to assume the presidency of South Vietnam. During these years, the United States began taking more control of the war against the NLF and the role of the ARVN became less and less significant. They were also plagued by continuing problems of severe corruption amongst the officer corps. Although the U.S. was highly critical, the ARVN continued to be entirely U.S. armed and funded.


Although the US media has often portrayed the Vietnam War as an exclusively American vs. Vietnamese conflict, the ARVN carried the brunt of the fight before and after large-scale US involvement, and participated in many major operations with American troops. ARVN troops pioneered the use of the M113 armored personnel carrier as an infantry fighting vehicle by fighting mounted rather than as a "battle taxi" as originally designed, and the armored cavalry (ACAV) modifications were adopted based on ARVN experience. One notable ARVN unit equipped with M113 armored personnel carriers (APCs), the 3d Armored Cavalry Squadron, used the new tactic so proficiently and with such extraordinary heroism against hostile forces that they earned the United States Presidential Unit Citation.[6][7] An estimated 224,000 South Vietnamese troops died, while more than 58,000 U.S. troops died during the war.[2]

Final campaignsEdit

Starting in 1969 President Richard Nixon started the process of "Vietnamization", pulling out American forces and rendering the ARVN capable of fighting an effective war against the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) of the North (Also called NVA for North Vietnamese Army) and the ally, the National Liberation Front (NLF or Viet Cong). Slowly, ARVN began to expand from its counter-insurgency role to become the primary ground defense against the NLF and PAVN. From 1969 to 1971 there were about 22,000 ARVN combat deaths per year. Starting in 1968, South Vietnam began calling up every available man for service in the ARVN, reaching a strength of one million soldiers by 1972. In 1970 they performed well in the Cambodian Incursion and were executing three times as many operations as they had during the American war period. However, the ARVN equipment continued to be of lower standards than their American and South Korean allies, even as the U.S. tried to upgrade ARVN technology. However, the officer corps was still the biggest problem. Leaders were too often poorly trained, corrupt, lacking morale and inept.

However, forced to carry the burden left by the Americans, the South Vietnamese Army actually started to perform rather well, though with continued American air support.

In 1972, General Vo Nguyen Giap launched the "Easter Offensive", an all-out attack against South Vietnam from the DMZ. The assault combined infantry wave assaults, artillery and the first massive use of armored forces by the PAVN. Although T-54 tanks proved vulnerable to LAW rockets, the ARVN took heavy losses. The PAVN and NLF forces took Quảng Trị Province and some areas along the Lao and Cambodian borders.


President Richard Nixon dispatched more bombers in Operation Linebacker to provide air support for the ARVN when it seemed that South Vietnam was about to be lost. In desperation, President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu fired the incompetent General Hoang Xuan Lam and replaced him with General Ngo Quang Truong. He gave the order that all deserters would be executed and pulled enough forces together in order to prevent the PAVN to take Huế. Finally, with considerable U.S. air and naval support, as well as hard fighting by the ARVN soldiers, the Easter Offensive was halted. ARVN forces counter-attacked and succeeded in driving part of the PAVN out of South Vietnam, though they did retain control of northern Quảng Trị province near the DMZ.

At the end of 1972, the failed of Operation Linebacker II brought US to a negotiated end to Hanoi government. By 1974, the United States had completely pulled its troops out of Vietnam. The ARVN was left to fight alone, but with all the weapons and technologies that their allies left behind. With massive technological support they had roughly four times as many heavy weapons as their enemies. The U.S. left for the ARVN with thousands of aircraft, only brought back the tactical bomber B52s, making the South Vietnam Airforce the fourth largest airforce in the world.[8] These figures are deceptive, however, as the U.S. began to curtail military aid. The same situation happened to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, since their allies, the Soviet Union, and China has also cut down military support, forcing them to using the obsolete T-34 tanks and SU-100 tank destroyers into battle.

In the fall of 1974, Nixon resigned under the pressure of the Watergate scandal and was succeeded by Gerald Ford. With the war growing incredibly unpopular at home, combined with a severe economic recession and mounting budget deficits, Congress cut funding to South Vietnam for the upcoming fiscal year from 1 billion to 700 million dollars. Historians have attributed the fall of Saigon in 1975 to the cessation of American aid along with the growing disenchantment of the South Vietnamese people and the rampant corruption and incompetence of South Vietnam political leaders and ARVN general staff.

Without the necessary funds and facing a collapse in South Vietnamese troop and civilian morale, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the ARVN to achieve a victory against the NLF. Moreover, the withdrawal of U.S. aid encouraged North Vietnam to begin a new military offensive against South Vietnam. This resolve was strengthened when the new American administration did not think itself bound to this promise Nixon made to Thieu of a "severe retaliation" if Hanoi broke the 1973 Paris Peace Accords.

The fall of Huế to NLF forces on March 26 began an organized rout of the ARVN that culminated in the complete disintegration of the South Vietnamese government. Withdrawing ARVN forces found the roads choked with refugees making troop movement almost impossible. North Vietnamese forces took advantage of the growing instability, and with the abandoned equipment of the routing ARVN, they mounted heavy attacks on all fronts. With collapse all but inevitable, many ARVN generals abandoned their troops to fend for themselves and ARVN soldiers deserted en masse. Except for one battle by the 18th Division at Xuan Loc and the perimeters around Saigon, ARVN resistance all but ceased. Less than a month after Huế, Saigon fell and South Vietnam ceased to exist as a political entity. The sudden and complete destruction of the ARVN shocked the world. Even their opponents were surprised at how quickly South Vietnam collapsed.

The U.S. had provided the ARVN with 793,994 M1 carbines[9] 640,000 M-16 rifles, 34,000 M79 grenade launchers, 40,000 radios, 20,000 quarter-ton trucks, 214 M41 Walker Bulldog light tanks, 77 M577 Command tracks (command version of the M113 APC), 930 M113s (APC/ACAVs), 120 V-100s (wheeled armored cars), and 190 M48 tanks; however on the eleventh hour, a US effort in November 1972 managed to transfer 59 more M48A3 Patton tanks, 100 additional M-113A1 ACAVs (Armored Cavalry Assault Vehicles), and over 500 extra aircraft to South Vietnam.[10] Despite such impressive figures, the Vietnamese were not as well equipped as the American G.I.s they replaced. The 1972 offensive had been driven back only with a massive US bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The VNAF air force had 200 A1, A-37 Ground Attack Aircraft and F-5 fighters, 30 AC-47 gunships and 600 transport, training and reconnaissance aircraft, and 500 helicopters. But their lightweight attack fighters lacked the punch of offensive bombers and fighters such as the B-52 and F-4 Phantom. Many aircraft were shot down due to superior NVA surface-to-air missiles and anti-air batteries. ARVN's massive ground forces consisted of over 1 million troops, but were quickly thrown into chaos and taken down by the less in number, but more experience and disciplined[weasel words], PAVN.

Major unitsEdit



  • 1st Infantry Division – The French formed the 21st Mobile Group in 1953, renamed 21st Division in January 1955, the 1st Division later that year. Considered "one of the best South Vietnamese combat units". Based in Huế it had four rather three regiments.
  • 2nd Infantry Division – The French formed the 32nd Mobile Group in 1953, renamed 32nd Division in January 1955, the 2nd Division later that year. Based in Quang Ngai. A "fairly good" division.
  • 3rd Infantry Division – Raised in October 1971 in Quảng Trị. One regiment was from the 1st Division (the 2nd Inf Regt). Composed of 2nd Inf Regt, 56th Inf Regt, and 57th Inf Regt. Based at Da Nang. Collapsed in the 1972 Easter Offensive and was reconstituted and destroyed at Da Nang in 1975.
  • 5th Infantry Division – Originally formed in North Vietnam as the 6th Division (more commonly known as the "Nung" division), renamed 3rd Field Division after its move to Song Mao then to the 5th Division in 1959. Many Nungs originally were in its ranks. At Bien Hoa in 1963 and involved in overthrow of Diem. Then operated north of Saigon. Entered Cambodia in 1970. Defended An Loc in 1972.
  • 7th Infantry Division – Formed as the 7th Mobile Group by the French, becoming the 7th Division in 1959. Served in Mekong Delta 1961–1975.
  • 9th Infantry Division – Formed in 1962, northern Mekong Delta.
  • 18th Infantry Division – Formed as the 10th Division in 1965. Renamed the 18th Division in 1967 (number ten meant the worst in GI slang). Based at Xuan Loc. Made famous for its defence of that town for a month in March–April 1975.
  • 21st Infantry Division – The ARVN 1st and 3rd Light Divisions were formed in 1955, renamed the 11th and 13th Light Divisions in 1956. Combined together to form the 21st Division in 1959. Served mainly near Saigon, Mekong Delta.
  • 22nd Infantry Division – Initially raised as the 4th Infantry Division which existed briefly in the 1950s but renamed 22nd Division as four is an unlucky number in Vietnam. The ARVN 2nd and 4th Light Divisions were formed in 1955: 4th renamed the 14th Light Division in 1956. Combined to form the 22nd Division in 1959. Served near Kon Tum and Central Highlands. Collapsed in 1972. In 1975 was in Binh Dinh province; evacuated to south of Saigon as Central Highlands front fell. One of the last ARVN units to surrender.
  • 23rd Infantry Division – Originally 5th Light Division, renamed 23rd in 1959. Operated in central Vietnam. Entered Cambodia in 1970. Fought well in 1972 defending Kon Tum, shattered in 1975 defending Ban Me Thout.
  • 25th Infantry Division – Formed in Quang Ngai in 1962. Moved to south west of Saigon in 1964. Entered Parrot's Break, Cambodia in 1970. Defended western approaches of Saigon 1972, 1975.
  • Airborne Division – A branch of the VNAF which was formed by the French as the Airborne Group in 1955. Brigade strength by 1959, formed as division in 1965. Based at Tan Son Nhut airbase but used as a fire brigade throughout SVN. Included 9 Airborne Battalions, 3 Airborne Ranger Battalions. Fought in Cambodia 1970, Laos 1971. Used as brigade Groups in 1975, 1st at Xuan Loc, 2nd at Phan Rang, 3rd at Nha Trang.
  • Republic of Vietnam Marine Division - branch of ARVN which was formed in 1954


Notable ARVN generalsEdit

  • Cao Van Vien, Chairman of the South Vietnamese Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Dang Van Quang, National Security Adviser to President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu
  • Do Cao Tri, Commander of III Corps 1968–1971, known for his fighting prowess, but also his flamboyant lifestyle and allegations to corruption.
  • Duong Van Minh, Last President of South Vietnam
  • Le Minh Dao, Commander of 18th Division that momentarily stopped the PAVN invading forces at Xuan Loc in 1975
  • Le Nguyen Vy, last commander of 5th Division, one of the 5 generals who committed suicide on April 30, 1975
  • Le Van Hung, Defender on An Loc during the Easter Offensive in 1972, one of the 5 generals who committed suicide on April 30, 1975
  • Ly Tong Ba
  • Ngo Quang Truong, the "Archibald" of South Vietnam
  • Nguyễn Văn Hiếu
  • Nguyen Khanh, Head-of-State 1964–1965
  • Nguyen Ngoc Loan, Chief of the Republic of Vietnam National Police who successfully defended Saigon during the 1968 Tet Offensive
  • Nguyen Khoa Nam, last Commander of IV Corps, one of the 5 generals who committed suicide on April 30, 1975
  • Nguyen Duc Thang
  • Nguyen Viet Thanh
  • Nguyen Chanh Thi, "Coup Specialist", Commander of I Corps 1964–1966
  • Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, President 1967–1975
  • Phạm Văn Đồng, Military Governor of Saigon 1965–1966 who suppressed the violent, anti-government, communist-infested Buddhist movement
  • Pham Van Phu, last Commander of II Corps, one of the 5 generals who committed suicide on April 30, 1975
  • Phan Trong Chinh
  • Tran Van Minh, Ambassador of the Republic of Vietnam to Tunis, Tunisia 1969–1975
  • Tran Van Hai, Last Commander of 7th Division 1974–1975, one of the 5 generals who committed suicide on April 30, 1975



  • Timeline of Vietnam War
  • Starry, Donn A. General. "Mounted Combat in Vietnam." Vietnam Studies; Department of the Army; first printing 1978-CMH Pub 90-17.
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  • Dunstan, Simon. "Vietnam Tracks-Armor in Battle." 1982 edition, Osprey Publications; ISBN 0-89141-171-2.
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Further readingEdit

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External linksEdit

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