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VNMC was begun when the 1st Landing Battalion finally returned to Nha Trang in February. The old river boat and light support companies were disbanded and three new units-a 4.2-inch mortar company, a headquarters and service company, and a new landing battalion-were formed. Designated the 2d Landing Battalion, this new unit formed about 25 miles south of Nha Trang at Cam Ranh Bay where the French had trained amphibious forces during the latter stages of the Indochina War.

As a result of the 1956 reorganization effort, the tables of organization and tables of equipment for the Vietnamese Marine battalions were completely revised. Three infantry companies, a heavy weapons company, and a headquarters and service company now comprised a landing battalion.* Each infantry company was organized into three rifle platoons and a weapons platoon. In turn, the rifle platoons each consisted of three 10-man squads (three 3-man fire teams and a squad leader). The individual Vietnamese Marine rifleman was armed with the .30 caliber M-l carbine, a weapon formerly carried by many French and Vietnamese commandos. It had been retained for use within the VNMC because it was substantially shorter and lighter than the standard U.S. infantry weapon, the M-l rifle, and was therefore better suited to the small Vietnamese fighting man. The automatic rifleman in each Vietnamese Marine fire team carried the Browning automatic rifle (BAR), a heavier .30 caliber automatic weapon. The weapons platoon of the rifle company was built around six .30 caliber light machine guns. Within the heavy weapons company of the landing battalions was a mortar platoon, equipped with four 81mm mortars, and a recoilless rifle platoon.

While this reorganization was underway. Lieutenant Colonel Croizat initiated a search for acceptable means of expanding the Vietnamese Marine Corps to regimental size. A staff study produced by the Senior Marine Advisor a month before the first phase of the reorganization effort had begun included several important recommendations. Croizat proposed to General O'Daniel that authorization be granted to raise the ceiling on the VNMC from 1,837 to 2,435 officers and men. This, the Marine advisor pointed out, could be accomplished without affecting the overall ceiling on all South Vietnamese military and naval forces. By reassigning to the Vietnamese Marine Corps an amphibious battalion still organized within the National Army, the 150,000-man force level would not be altered. This would transform the Vietnamese Marine Corps into a three battalion regiment and would unify all South Vietnamese amphibious forces under a single command. Croizat's study further recommended that the Vietnamese Marine Corps be designated part of the general reserve of the nation's armed forces and that it be controlled directly by the Vietnamese Joint General Staff. Although no immediate action was taken on these recommendations, they were to serve as a blueprint for the future expansion of the VNMC. Equally important, they bore the seed that would eventually make the Vietnamese Marine Corps a fully integrated component of South Vietnam's defense establishment.

During the ensuing three years, several apparently unrelated occurrences impacted either directly or indirectly on the U.S. Marine advisory effort in South Vietnam. The French completed their military withdrawal from South Vietnam and dissolved their High Command in April 1956, slightly ahead of schedule.* In conjunction with this final phase of the French withdrawal, the Training Relations Instructions Mission was abolished. Thus, it was no longer necessary for the MAAG programs to be executed through the combined training mission. Shortly after the departure of the last French troops. Lieutenant Colonel Croizat ended his assignment as Senior Marine Advisor. He was replaced by Lieutenant Colonel William N. Wilkes, Jr., in June 1956. A veteran of the Guadalcanal campaign, Wilkes came to Vietnam from Washington, D.C. where he had recently completed a French language course. Like his predecessor, the new Senior Marine Advisor was scheduled to serve in Vietnam for two years. In August, less than two months after Lieutenant Colonel Wilkes' arrival. President Diem appointed

*Whereas U.S. Marine infantry companies were designated by letters (A, B, C, D, etc.), the Vietnamese Marine infantry companies were given number designations.

*A few French naval officers and noncommissioned officers remained at Nha Trang as instructors until late May 1957.

 

 

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