the Viet Cong. Well propagandized, the steady cadence of victories greatly enhanced the Viet Cong's prestige and thereby made recruitment less difficult. By the end of 1961 infiltration from the North and recruitment in the South had swollen the Viet Cong regular military forces to an estimated 25,000 men.
Insurgency and the Vietnamese Marine Corps
At the end of 1958, when President Diem began ordering his regular military forces into action against the Viet Cong, the Vietnamese Marine Corps was a two-battalion infantry force organized within South Vietnam's naval establishment. The 1,837-man corps was still commanded by Major Le Nhu Hung. Hung maintained his headquarters at the Cuu Long Navy Yard, an installation situated on an estuary near the Saigon-Gia Dinh boundary. Although they continued to maintain barracks at Nha Trang and Cam Ranh Bay respectively, the 1st and 2d Landing Battalions were now being rotated to crude little camps near Bien Hoa, a town located about 20 miles northeast of the capital. Lieutenant Colonel Wilkinson, who had replaced Lieutenant Colonel Wilkcs as Senior Marine Advisor in mid-1958, operated out of the MAAG headquarters in Saigon but maintained an office in the VNMC headquarters at Cuu Long. Wilkinson's two assistants. Captains Gary Wilder and Dale N. Davis, lived with their battalions.
Lieutenant Colonel Frank R. Wilkinson, Jr., USMC, Senior Marine Advisor. (USMC Photo A229W).
Elements of Hung's Marine Corps were among the first regular government units committed to the couflterguerrilla effort. The 1st Landing Battalion was ordered into action by the Joint General Staff in the closing weeks of 1958. After deploying from Bien Hoa, the battalion spent nearly two months searching for Viet Cong is a mosquito-infested region of An Xuyen, South Vietnam's southernmost province. Primarily, the Vietnamese Marines conducted company and platoon-sized patrols through rugged mangrove swamps in search of guerrillas. When the operation ended in late January 1959, the Vietnamese commanders reported that their units had killed and captured several Communist guerrillas and political leaders. Their troops had also reported finding a suspected guerrilla training camp which contained smallquantities of food and some weapons. The Vietnamese Marines suffered no casualties during their deployment. Adhering to prevailing USMAAG policy, the U.S. Marine advisors did not accompany the unit into combat. Unable to observe the operation, the American advisors could not accurately assess the battalion's tactical proficiency.
A few months after this initial operation, both VNMC battalions were deployed against the Viet Cong-the 1st again to An Xuyen Province and the 2d to Vinh Binh Province south of Saigon on the seacoast. So deployed, both units came under the operational control of the respective province chiefs. In widely-scattered actions fought during May, the 1st Battalion and a Civil Guard unit claimed to have inflicted over 200 casualties on the Viet Cong. In Vinh Binh Province, one company of the 2d Landing Battalion reported killing 18 guerrillas and capturing over 100 more. Again, U.S. Marine advisors were not present and therefore could not assess the accuracy of these reports. In any case, these were the final combat operations for the Vietnamese Marine Corps as a two-battalion force.