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difficult terrain, a well-developed intelligence network, and sometimes by the local population, could usually evade government units whenever escape was desirable. Because the Marines normally operated in unfamiliar areas where the Viet Cong political apparatus was strong, their units were particularly frustrated. In regions such as the U Minh Forest intelligence information simply did not flow upward from the people. Instead, in such Communist-controlled environments, the local Vietnamese served the Viet Cong, warning them of strengths, locations, and movements of Marine units.

While combat deployments such as the Ca Mau landings highlighted the remainder of 1961, the Marine battalions nevertheless spent the majority of their time in non-combat assignments. During such periods the battalions occupied their respective base camps around Saigon and Vung Tau, awaiting orders from the Joint General Staff. Even though held in reserve, they frequently were called upon to provide security detachments for vital points such as bridges, naval facilities, and communications installations. Most U.S. Marine advisors tended to oppose such assignments, contending that they detracted from the overall readiness of the battalions and disrupted much needed training. The utilization of the VNMC units in static security roles also conflicted with the advisor's continuing efforts to convince the Vietnamese Marine that he belonged to an elite, offensively oriented strike force. Still, despite the protestations of the American advisors, the JGS persisted in dispersing VNMC detachments in and around the capital.

Although its battalions were sometimes being frustrated, both in their attempts to accomplish unit training and in their attempts to fix Communist troop formations, the VNMC's involvement in the war effort was forcing improvement of the service in other areas. Frequent inspections by U.S. advisors revealed that the Vietnamese were placing more emphasis on the care of individual equipment and weapons. Replacement items were being requisitioned with more promptness and unit commanders were beginning to show increasing concern about the slow receipt of requested supply items. The replacement of worn-out World War II trucks with new vehicles removed a long-standing source of trouble in that it greatly reduced the time consumed in performing major mechanical repairs on the older vehicles. Even the frequent deployments of the VNMC battalions were helping to improve the overall combat readiness of the service by preparing a solid core of small unit leaders and troops for operations against the Viet Cong.

Ancillary Effects of Marine Pacific Commands

At the same time the intensified conflict in South Vietnam was forcing improvement on the VNMC, it was having a similar but less direct effect on U.S. Marine commands in the Pacific. In early 1961 Lieutenant General Alan Shapley, the Commanding General, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific (FMFPac), approved a plan to assign individual Marines from his scattered commands to temporary duty in Vietnam. The purpose of this program, which became known as On-The-Job Training (OJT), was to allow Marine officers and noncommissioned officers to obtain firsthand knowledge of the complex nature of the conflict being waged in South Vietnam. Beginning in May 1961 small groups of officers and noncommissioned officers from various FMFPac commands were sent each month to observe the counterguerrilla techniques being developed and employed in Vietnam. Although the OJTs were normally 'in country' for only a two-week period, the program was gradually producing a pool of small unit leaders somewhat acquainted with the situation in the Republic of Vietnam by the end of 1961.*

The major Marine command to feel the impact of the war in Southeast Asia during the early 1960s was the 3d Marine Division, a 20,000-man combat-ready force headquartered on Okinawa. In addition to its participation in the OJT program, the 3d Marine Division began altering its conventional amphibious orientation. Major General Donald M. Weller, the division commander, provided the initial impetus for this shift away from a purely conventional posture. Weller, who in early 1961 had commanded a task force headquarters formed in response to the deteriorating military situation in Laos, anticipated that his command

*The OJT program would be suspended briefly near the end of 1962 but would be reinstituted in the first months of 1963.

 

 

Page 39 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)