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with the French, but "During the years from 1954 to 1959, the Navy section of the Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam worked to develop a viable navy for South Vietnam."44 Its efforts produced a Vietnamese Navy which within 15 years was capable of manning 672 amphibious ships and craft, 20 mine warfare vessels, 56 service craft, and over 240 junks. Composed of 42,000 men, the VNN in April 1975 consisted of a naval staff with Vice Admiral Chung Tan Cang as its chief of naval operations, a sea force headed by Captain Nyugen Xuan Son, and amphibious forces commanded by Commodore Hoang Co Minh. This navy operated on rivers, along the coast, and at sea using everything from destroyer escorts to patrol craft- Sixteen coastal radars, also manned by the Vietnamese Navy, assisted them in monitoring NVA coastal activity and supporting approximately 400 sea force vessels responsible for stopping resupply by sea. Within months of the U.S. Navy's departure, the coastal radars failed for want of parts and proper maintenance. Lacking the technical expertise to keep its radars operating, the VNN lost its best means of locating and interdicting North Vietnamese infiltrators. The Vietnamese Navy's other mission, supporting ground operations, fared little better.

The Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC), which for political reasons had been made a separate service in 1965, complained often about the VNN's inability to provide naval gunfire support. Accustomed to the U.S. Navy's version of firepower, this supporting arm suffered severely under the much smaller Vietnamese Navy. The VNN failed to provide the Vietnamese Marines with much needed, integrated, and coordinated naval bombardment. Captain Nguyen Xuan Son related that the VNMC often complained that it was not receiving enough gunfire support. It had been conditioned by the U.S. Navy, which upon request, would provide up to 1,000 rounds a day. Having experienced that type of firepower, the VNN maximum of 100 to 200 rounds a day fell far short of the Marines' needs and expectations. Captain Son described the navy's dilemma, "we had to explain to the Marines and to the JGS that our ships had only one gun, one 5-inch barrel, or the maximum which was two 3-inch barrels, and if we lined up five ships then we had five barrels and they could not fire all day."45

Although many of the weaknesses of the Vietnamese Armed Forces can be attributed to problems of inflation, cutting of funding, shortages, inferior equipment, broken promises, and North Vietnamese subterfuge, South Vietnam was not entirely blameless. Army Colonel Richard I. McMahon, a member of the Defense Attache staff during this period, later wrote that the South Vietnamese required:

... [a] formidable military force at their side . . . [the] South Vietnamese commanders had little reason to believe they could stand on their own. . . . Although the departure ofrhe American military was the major reason for this lack of confidence it was not the only one. Combat performance of the South Vietnamese Army was not good and its commanders knew it48

Other factors, including corruption and poor senior officer leadership contributed to the eventual collapse of the Saigon government. As enemy pressure intensified. these cracks in the armor began to surface, especially on the battlefield,

In the late fall of 1973, the Communists began to increase direct military pressure on the ARVN forces. In November, the NVA launched a division-size offensive in Quang Due Province, located on the Cambodian border just south ofDarlac Province. The attack in the southernmost province of Military Region 2 resulted in the heaviest fighting since the ceasefire. Between December 1973 and February 1974, the NVA attacked and seized several South Vietnamese outposts in the remote border areas, including Tong Le Chan in western Military Region 3. During the spring and summer of 1974, fighting flared throughout South Vietnam.47

In the early morning hours of 17 May 1974, elements of the IdRegiment, 3d NVA Division launched a heavy attack against Phu Cat Airbase in Binh Dinh Province, Military Region 2. The objective was to neutralize the base in preparation for a general offensive throughout the province. After suffering initial setbacks, the 108th and 26?d Regional Force Battalions counterattacked, driving the NVA forces from the vicinity of the base. The NVA l6th Antiaircraft battalion and the 2d Battalion, 2d Regiment of the 3d NVA Division were rendered ineffective for combat as a result.48

On 10 August 1974, elements of the ARVN 22d Division opened a counteroffcnsive against the 3d NVA Division guarding the entrance to the An Lao Valley in northern Binh Dinh Province. Combat operations in the valley, a Communist stronghold, represented some of the typical problems the ARVN experienced during this period of fiscal austerity. Due to budgeting considerations, the South Vietnamese Joint General Staff was forced during the operation to restrict the use of artillery and air support. Elsewhere in Military Region 2, the ARVN's 82d Ranger Battalion withstood

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