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  Page 32 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)    


Obviously, U.S. and Vietnamese authorities in Saigon were giving increased attention to the growing internal threat. Still, they had yet to initiate any sweeping changes in the orientation of the RVNAF. Indeed, in early 1959, the entire ARVN was in the final phase of a reorganization program which would culminate by mid-year in the formation of seven divisions of uniform size (10,500 men each), five territorial regiments, and an airborne brigade (formed from the old Army parachute regiment). Under the new organization the seven standard divisions were to be deployed in or near population centers throughout the country and were to be organized under two corps headquarters, one (I Corps) located at Da Nang, and the other (II Corps) located at Pleiku in the Central Highlands. A third provisional corps headquarters had also been formed in Saigon for activation in the event of a national emergency.*

One of the MAAG's reactions to the emerging guerrilla threat was to urge that President Diem transfer the Civil Guard to his Ministry of Defense. This adjustment. General Williams pointed out, would permit the MAAG to train and equip the CG for a mobile counterguerrilla mission. But it also entailed raising the 150,000-man force level ceiling. When both the Diem government and the U.S. Embassy objected to the proposed transfer, the MAAG turned to another alternative: the strengthening and use of the regular units whose assignment to counterguerrilla operations would not seriously disturb the country's counterinvasion potential. The Vietnamese Marine Corps, whose infantry battalions had already participated in several operations against the Viet Cong, fell into this category of units to be bolstered for the counterguerrilla role. It was against this background that the VNMC was enlarged again in mid-1959. This latest expansion was generally accomplished in accordance with the staff study prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Croizat some three years earlier. On 1 June, after both Marine battalions had returned from their combat assignments in the Mekong Delta, a 3d Landing Battalion was formed at a camp just outside the Cuu Long Navy Yard. This new unit, manned primarily by troops transferred from amphibious elements then being phased out of the reorganized ARVN, was built around a small nucleus of seasoned Marine officers and noncommissioned officers. Transferred from the 1st and 2d Battalions, most of these Marines had seen combat against the Viet Minh, the sects, and the Viet Cong.

Another development saw a fourth rifle company added to each Marine infantry battalion. In turn, the old heavy weapons companies were abolished. The 81mm mortars and 57mm recoilless rifles were reorganized into platoons within the battalions' headquarters and service companies. New weapons, _ two 60mm mortars, and personnel to man them were added to each Marine rifle company. These adjustments raised the strength of the infantry battalions to around 900 officers and men and provided the Vietnamese Marine Corps with a basic organizational structure which its infantry battalions would retain throughout the coming decade.*

Concurrent with the formation of the 3d Battalion and the modification of the organizational tables, the VNMC was formally designated the "Marine Corps Group." Now numbering 2,276 officers and men, the Vietnamese Marines were formed into a group headquarters, a group headquarters and service company, a 4.2-inch mortar battery, and the three infantry battalions.** As important as the VNMC's expansion, reorganization, and redesignation was the dramatic change in its role within the Vietnamese armed forces. On 1 June the Joint General Staff directed the Vietnamese Marine Corps and the newly formed ARVN airborne brigade to assume the mission of the general reserve force for the entire RVNAF. So assigned, the Vietnamese Marine Corps became a "force in readiness"-a service directly responsible to the Joint General Staff for any assigned ground warfare mission.9

*By 1961 the third corps headquarters would be activated and geographic boundaries of all three corps would be delineated to facilitate the coordination of the government's military efforts against the Viet Cong. These military-geographic subdivisions were termed corps tactical zones (CTZ).

*A side-effect of this reorganization was the modification of the VNMC's table of equipment. The most important change saw the Vietnamese Marine riflemen exchange their M-l carbines for the heavier M-l rifle, the weapon with which the ARVN infantry forces were equipped.

**The Vietnamese Marine Group continued to be known as the Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC) in spite of its formal redesignation.



Page 32 (The Advisory & Combat Assistance Era: 1954-1964)