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[Image 1: Photo
courtesy of LtCol
George E. Stricklanil,
USMC (Ret).
Col Le Dinh Que,
at left, the
VNMC chief of
staff, discusses
with LtCol Strickland
the transfer
of a platoon
of IVTP-5s to
Military Region
l. The vehicles
became obsolete
as budget cuts
and high petroleum
prices combined
to make their
operation too

Page 19(The Bitter End)

namese Marines were among the first to employ the TOW in combat. In the Easter
Offensive of 1972, they achieved 57 kills of NVA armored vehicles out of a
total of 72 missiles fired. Serious about its use. General Lan's Marine Division
possessed 12 TOW systems despite an authorization for only nine. General Lan's
concept of employment was to attach some of the weapons to his battalions
deployed in the enemy's likely avenues of approach. The remainder he kept
under his personal control for operational use as a mobile reserve to reinforce
the action at its hottest spots.

The VNMC displayed a remarkable ingenuity in developing its total TOW capability, particularly the mobile part. General Lan was not satisfied with the standard M-151 jeep as a prime mover for the TOW system. With the weapon and a two-man crew, there was not enough space remaining in the jeep to carry more than two missiles. Also, General Lan did not like the idea of carrying spares in a trailer towed behind a vehicle. Displaying as much resourcefulness here as they had in developing the bunker, the South Vietnamese Marines solved the problem. Instead of using the standard M151, General Lan mounted the TOW system on the M170 ambulance jeep. This vehicle had a longer bed than the M151, and it could easily accommodate the launcher and its crew. Spare missiles were carried by welding special racks on cither side of the vehicle. General Lan produced a mobile TOW system capable of carrying crew, launcher, and seven missiles all in the same vehicle.

General Lan felt so strongly about the TOW that if he discovered anyone abusing this prized possession, he took immediate remedial and punitive action. Such an incident occurred during one of his daily visits to the forward deployed battalions. General Lan, upon learning that one of his supplymen was using a TOW battery as a source of current for the light in his tent, called for the battalion supply officer and the battalion commander. Nonjudicial punishment proceedings were conducted on the spot. He fined the clerk, the supply officer, and the battalion commander the cost of the battery, $900. Additionally, the battalion commander received one week confinement at hard labor. This incident took place in early 1974, when TOW components were in shore supply.

With their TOWs and their in-depth defense, the Vietnamese Marines did not fear an NVA land attack. One of the two concerns that Lieutenant Colonel Strickland observed as keenly critical to the VNMC centered around the practice of laterally shifting forces (General Lan's other major concern was VNAF close air support). Too clearly, the VNMC had seen the rout of the 3d ARVN Division during the Easter Offensive where the division, in the midst of shifting units, had been caught by the NVA with its guard down. Commonplace throughout the war, the lateral shifting of units between highlands and lowlands addressed not tactics, but morale. The average South Vietnamese truly believed thai the highlands and not the lowlands were infested with malaria-bearing mosquitoes. These inherited beliefs forced commanders to shift units in order to maintain morale.* General Lan knew that the NVA were familiar with this routine. Certain they would try to capitalize on it. General Lan devised a plan to overcome this weakness. All lateral shifts of Marine battalions were conducted under a cloak of secrecy with no advance warning. They were executed no differently than a surprise attack.60

In 1973 the South Vietnamese Marine Corps provided the country another type of surprise, a technological one. Just six months after signing the Peace Accords, the VNMC displayed for the first time its "new" LVTP-5. The big amphibian tractors that rumbled through the streets of Saigon in July 1973 dur-

*Eventually, medical research proved that the malaria did originate in the
highlands and not the lowlands as originally thought.

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