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CHAPTER 4

An Expanding War, 1962

The War's New Context-Creation of MACV and Marine Advisory Division-The Vietnamese Marine Corps, 1962-Some Conclusions

 

 

The War's New Context

More than any previous year, 1962 was to be a period of deepened commitment for all participants in the continuing struggle for control of South Vietnam. On the American side plans already set in motion by President Kennedy's recent decisions promised to loosen the flow of dollars, equipment, advisors, and combat support personnel to South Vietnam. Administration officials envisioned that this sharp influx of assistance would stimulate a redoubled war effort on the part of the Diem government.

Viet Cong strength and operational capabilities likewise were on the upswing as 1962 opened. U.S. and South Vietnamese sources were placing total Viet Cong military strength at roughly 25,000 men. Backing these military forces was a far greater number of sympathizers. American agencies tended to divide the Communist military forces into three rough categories according to function and composition-main forces, local forces, and village activists. Thought to total around 9,000 men at the beginning of the year, the main forces constituted the pillar of Communist military strength in the South. They were organized into approximately 20 small (200- to 400-man) and highly mobile battalions and a number of independent companies. Main force units as a rule were cadred by North Vietnamese (or returnees trained in the North) and were capable of conducting operations on an interprovincial scale. (They often were referred to as interprovincial battalions and companies. Later in the war Americans came to call the main forces 'hard core' units.) Next in terms of operational capabilities were the Viet Cong local forces whose aggregate strength stood at around 8,000 part-time but well-trained soldiers. The local forces were organized into platoons and companies which operated independently within their respective districts. Finally, there were some 8,000 village activists. Part-time guerrillas in the truest sense of the term, the activists commonly worked in the paddies by day and engaged in military pursuits at night. For the most part their ranks were filled with men considered either too young or too old for service with organized Viet Cong military units. Nevertheless, they played an important role in the struggle for South Vietnam's rural areas by providing various forms of support for larger Viet Cong formations. Living and working within the rural hamlets and villages as they did, the activists were a ready source of intelligence information for the Viet Cong. Often they served as porters and guides for main force units which had been assigned to operate within their locale. Otherwise, the activists were responsible for defending their particular villages against the government's military and police forces-a defense which normally took the form of harassment with mines and sniper fire.* After early 1962 the activities of these Viet Cong military and paramilitary forces were carefully coordinated with Communist political activities on the national level by a Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN).** From its headquarters, be-

*The three-way division was the most commonly used method of categorizing the Communist forces. (See U.S. Army, The Viet Cong, p. 1:52.) A USMAAG document published during this period, however, divided the Viet Cong into two somewhat broader categories-main forces and guerrillas. Both local force units and village activists were classified as guerrillas under this system. (USMAAG, Vietnam, Tactics and Techniques of Counter-insurgent Operations, p. 11-5.) Other sources tended to make more elaborate divisions. (See Pike, Viet Cong.') **COSVN apparently was established in March. Prior to this the NLF had functioned through two separate geographic headquarters-Interzone V, responsible for roughly the northern three-quarters of South Vietnam, and the NAMBO Interzone, responsible for the area roughly described by the forested hills and Mekong Delta physiographic regions.

Page 44 (An Expanding War, 1962 )