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discussed the immediate approval of a 23 U.S. battalion commitment to South Vietnam, but failed to mention the two battalions of the 3d Marine Division on Okinawa. They also remarked on the possibility of returning the 173d Airborne Brigade to Okinawa after the scheduled July arrival of the 1st Brigade, 101st Airborne Division. Finally, the JCS wanted to know if Westmoreland and Sharp thought that the 44-battalion force "would be enough to convince the DRV/VC they could not win.''6

In his reply two days later, General Westmoreland opposed any decision to withdraw any U.S. units and objected to any suggestion that 23 U.S. Army and Marine battalions were the upper level of the U.S. commitment. In response to the JCS inquiry on the adequacy of a 44 battalion-size force, Westmoreland answered, "I saw 44 battalions as no force for victory, but as a stop-gap measure to save the ARVN from defeat." In his message to the Joint Chiefs, he stated: '"The premise must be that we are in for the long pull ... it is time all concerned face up to the fact that we must be prepared for a long war which will probably involve increasing numbers of U.S. troops."7

By the end of the month, the Joint Chiefs informed ComUSMACV and CinCPac that the U.S. forces that Westmoreland had asked for in his 7 June and subsequent requests had been approved. This decision allowed for the movement of 8,000 more Marines to Vietnam including the 9th Marines headquarters. It also permitted deployment of the airmobile division, then being formed at Fort Benning, Georgia, as well as the already approved deployments of the 101st Airborne Brigade and a brigade from the 1st Infantry Division.

The same time that he requested more troops, General Westmoreland also asked for the authority to employ American forces in offensive operations against the enemy. He claimed that the:

. . . enemy's shift to big unit war was drawing ARVN troops away from the heavily populated regions . . . American and Allied troops . . . would have to assume the role of fighting the big units, leaving the ... ARVN free to protect the people. No more niceties about defensive posture and reaction ... we had to forget about enclaves and take the war to the enemy.8

This concept was soon to be known as the search and destroy tactic, with the aim of searching out and destroying the main force units. On 26 June, Westmoreland received permission from Washington to commit U.S. forces to battle ''in any situation ... when in ComUSMACV's judgment, their use is necessary to strengthen the relative position of GVN forces.''9 This in effect gave the MACV commander a relatively free hand to employ his forces.

General Westmoreland's particular concern at this time was the military situation in South Vietnam's II Corps. Intelligence reports indicated that North Vietnamese regular units were infiltrating through the Central Highlands in the western provinces of Kontum and Pleiku, while the coastal provinces of Binh Dinh and Phu Yen remained major sources of enemy manpower and food. Westmoreland placed the highest priority on preventing the linkup of the North Vietnamese regulars in the mountains with the VC on the coast. The key to the entire area was Route 19, which runs from the city of Qui Nhon to Pleiku City where it joins with Route 14 which continues north to Kontum.

In making his plans to counter the expected Communist offensive. General Westmoreland relied heavily on the arrival of the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) which had been specifically designed as a mobile force ''that could be moved from one trouble spot to another."10* As early as April, Westmoreland contended that such a division was ideally suited to conduct helicopterborne operations in the Central Highlands. The MACV commander maintained that the division could be supplied overland from the coastal logistic bases at Qui Nhon and Nha Trang via Route 19, and augmented by aerial supply. Finally, Westmoreland argued, "If the VC choose to mount a major campaign against Highway 19, this is a better place than most for a showdown."11

 

 

* During the spring of 1965, the Army formed the 11th Air Assault Division (Test) at Fort Benning, Georgia, for final testing and evaluation. "The decision to activiate the test division as part of Army force structure and to subsequently deploy it to Vietnam required the reorganizing, retraining and reequipping of the division in a period of 90 days. Activated as the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) on 1 July 1965, the division was composed of the men and equipment of the air assault division and the 2d Infantry Division, plus aviators procured from Army units worldwide." As reorganized for deployment to Vietnam the newly formed 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) consisted of three brigades which included eight infantry battalions, an air cavalry squadron, an aerial artillery battalion, three helicopter battalions, and three 105mm howitzer battalions. The division had a strength of over 15,000 men and was equipped with 1600 vehicles and 434 helicopters. CMH, Comments on draft MS, dtd 15Nov76 (Vietnam Comment File).

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