Page 007

Page 7 (1968: The Defining Year)

mented, called for partial mobilization, reduction of student deferments,
and increased draft calls. The Armed Forces of the Republic of Vietnam
(RVNAF) totaled more than 620,000 men. These included a small Air Force
of 15,000 men, a Navy of nearly 18,000, an even smaller Marine Corps
of 8,000, nearly 300,000 in the Army, and another 291,000 in the local
militia, the Regional and Popular Forces ofs and PFs). Nominally, all
of the service military commanders reported directly to the Chief of
the Joint General Staff, General Cao Van Vien, who also commanded the
Army. In fact, however, the actual control of the military remained
with the coalition of senior generals centered around President Thieu
who formed the military council that had run the country since 1965.16

Deployed and recruited generally along regional lines, the Army of
the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) consisted of 10 infantry divisions, two
separate regiments, an airborne division, armor and ranger commands,
a Special Forces group, and supporting elements. If desertion rates
were indicative of efficiency and morale, the ARVN had made vast strides
in 1967 with almost a 30 percent reduction from the previous year. Part
of this dramatic improvement, however, probably reflected that American
forces had largely taken over the large-unit war while the ARVN concentrated
on pacification. With the exception of the Marines and airborne, who
made up the South Vietnamese general reserve, the ARVN units normally
confined themselves to operations in their assigned corps tactical zones.17

The corps tactical zones of South Vietnam were more than military
subdivisions; they were also regional and political entities. None loomed
larger in importance than the northernmost corps area, ICTZ. With its
military value enhanced by geographic, economic, and cultural considerations,
as well as the significant buildup of enemy forces in the DMZ and Khe
Sanh sectors, I Corps had become the focus of the war. In fact one Marine
commander, Lieutenant General Krulak, maintained: "... the bulk of the
war is in the I Corps Tactical Zone."18

If the map of Vietnam resembles the traditional peasant carrying pole
with a rice basket on either end, the Red River Delta in the north and
the Mekong in the south, I Corps lay about in the upper middle of the
shaft. With a total of 10,800 square miles and less than 3,000,000 of
the 16,500,000 inhabitants of South Vietnam, I Corps was the second
smallest of the Corps tactical zones in area and the smallest in population.
Although no wider than 75 miles at any one point and 35 miles at its
narrowest, I Corps contained three distinct regions: the rugged Annamite
chain in the west with some peaks over 6,000 feet, a piedmont area of
densely vegetated hills interlaced by river valleys, and the coastal
lowlands. The central southern coastal lowlands below Da Nang consist
of some of the richest farm lands and densest concentration of population
in all of Vietnam. Influenced by the northeast or winter monsoon (lasting
from October to February), the weather in this sector, one of the wettest
in all of South Vietnam, permits two annual growing seasons. The two
major cities in I Corps, Hue, the old imperial Vietnamese capital and
major agricultural market center, and Da Nang, an important seaport,
added to the economic worth of the region. Despite its limited size,
ICTZ was indeed a valuable prize.19

Part of what had been Annam in Indochina, I Corps had a distinctive
regional cast. With their cultural center at Hue, the Annamites traditionally
looked down upon both the Tonkinese from the north and the southerners
from Saigon and the Mekong Delta. The Buddhist agitation against Diem
had begun in I Corps and, in 1966, the Buddhist "revolt" against the
central government again broke out in Da Nang and Hue after the removal
of the popular I Corps commander, General Nguyen Chanh Thi. After the
suppression of the 1966 "Struggle Movement," I Corps was politically
quiescent. This eventual successor, General Hoang Xuan Lam, having neither
the ambition nor the charisma of his predecessor, exercised his power

As in the rest of South Vietnam, the political and civilian apparatus
in I Corps were intertwined, but distinct from one another. General
Lam, as I Corps commander, appointed the five province chiefs, usually
military officers, who in turn selected the district chiefs, again usually
military officers. The province and district chiefs administered their
respective domains and also controlled the local militia, the Regional
and Popular Forces. Regional Forces operated under the province chief
while Popular Forces usually confined their activities to a particular
district. Under another chain of command. General Lam had control of
the regular military forces in I Corps. These consisted of two divisions,
the 1st and 2d; an independent regiment, the 51st; and two airborne
battalions from the general reserve; totaling some 34,000 troops. Including
the Regional and Popular forces, the South Vietnamese mustered some
80,000 men under arms in I Corps Tactical Zone.21

Vulnerable to direct attack and infiltration through the DMZ from
North Vietnam to the north and from

Page 7 (1968: The Defining Year)