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  Page 17 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    

"THE MARINE CORPS"

ARTICLE 3.

The Marine Corps shall consist of various type units suited to their functions and either already existing in the Army or Naval forces or to be created in accordance with the development plan for the armed forces. '

In accordance with this decree a miscellaneous collection of commando-type units was transferred from the Vietnamese National Army and Navy to the Marine Corps. Except for a naval commando unit, which had conducted amphibious raids along the coastal plains, these forces had operated in the Red River Delta with the French and Vietnamese Navy dinassauts (river assault divisions). First employed in 1946, the dinassauts had evolved into relatively effective naval commands capable of landing light infantry companies along Indochina's tangled riverbanks. Normally the dinassaut was composed of about a dozen armored and armed landing craft, patrol boats, and command vessels. An Army commando unit, consisting of approximately 100 men, would be attached to such naval commands for specific operations. Thus organized, the dinassauts could transport light infantry units into otherwise inaccessible areas and support landings with heavy caliber automatic weapons and mortar fire. Such operations had been particularly successful in the sprawling Red River Delta of Tonkin where navigable estuaries and Viet Minh abounded.* Later in the war, as the concept was refined, the French created a number of Vietnamese National Army commando units for specific service with the dinassauts. Still attached to the Navy commands these units were sometimes responsible for security around the dinassaut bases when not involved in preplanned operations. A number of these rather elite Vietnamese units, variously designated light support companies, river boat companies, and commandos, were now transferred to the newly decreed Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC). By the time Lieutenant Colonel Croizat returned to Saigon in early 1955 these units, which totalled approximately 2,400 officers and men, had been evacuated from North Vietnam. Several of the commandos had been assembled at Nha Trang on South Vietnam's central coast where the French still maintained an extensive naval training facility. There, under the supervision of a junior French commando officer, several former commandos had been organized into the 1st Marine Landing Battalion (or 1st Landing Battalion). The balance of the newly designated Marine units, however, were scattered in small, widely separated garrisons from Hue to the Mekong Delta. These units included six river boat companies, five combat support light companies, and a small training flotilla. Diem had appointed a former Vietnamese National Army officer. Major Le Quang Trong, as Senior Marine Officer. But because no formal headquarters had been created and because no real command structure existed, Major Trong remained relatively isolated from his far-flung Marine infantry units.

Upon returning to Saigon, Croizat was assigned to the MAAG's Naval Section and subsequently to TRIM'S Naval Division as the senior U.S. advisor to the newly created Vietnamese Marine Corps. In this capacity the Marine officer quickly determined that the small Vietnamese amphibious force was faced with several serious problems. First, and perhaps its most critical, was that despite Premier Diem's decree, the Marine Corps continued to exist essentially on an informal basis. 'The Marine Corps itself had no real identity,' its U.S. advisor later explained. 'It was a scattering of dissimilar units extending from Hue to the Mekong Delta area.'2 The fact that its widespread units were still dependent on the French Expeditionary Corps for logistical support underscored the weakness inherent in the VNMC's initial status.

Other problems arose from the continuation of French officers in command billets throughout the Vietnamese naval forces. Under the Franco-American agreement which had created TRIM, a French Navy captain doubled as chief of the combined training missions' Naval Division and as commanding officer of the Vietnamese naval forces. This placed the French in a position to review any proposals advanced by the U.S. Marine advisor. Complicating the situation even further, a French Army captain, Jean Louis Delayen, actually

*0f the dinassaut Bernard Fall wrote: '[It] may well have been one of the few worthwhile contributions of the Indochina war to military knowledge.' (Fall, Street Without Joy, p. 39) A more thorough analysis of dinassaut operations is included in Croizat, A Translation From The French Lessons of the War, pp. 348-351.

 

 

 

Page 17 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)