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Viewing Topic "Armored warfare in the Indochina Wars 1945-1975"
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Posted by: Amaral While the French Paratroopers, in 1945 and 1954, and the US/ARVN airmobile infantry, in 1965 and 1973, received much more publicity than the armored units in action in South East Asia, armored warfare had a prime place of importance in the combat operations. Mobility was always a problem, but either the French and Saigon's allies (and even the NVA after 1972) managed to employ armor effectivelly to give their infantry the needed tactical mobility.

The French managed to form "Groupes Mobiles" ("mobile groups") based on the US concept of combat commands and used them extensively all over Indochina. The concept of the Groupe Mobile was to provide a self-sufficient motorised brigade typically consisting of three lorried infantry battalions with elements of towed artillery, light armor and/or tanks, engineer, signals and medical troops totalling 3,000-3,500 men. Their mission was to act as a rapid reaction force, both in offense and in defense; one of those groups would be the famous GM 100, who run the gauntlet of constant Viet Minh ambushes until it became combat ineffective.

The GM 100 only representation in the American world is the very poorly conducted beginning of the movie "We Were Soldiers". They have the wrong uniforms, the wrong berets, the berets are at the wrong side, the soldiers in the jeep have white kepis like legionnaires and they are walking. In reality, they were a mechanized unit as every other Groupe Mobile. The GM 100 was an elite unit, very well trained and comparable to FFL equivalents. The Viet Minh reported they as FFL at first, because they had a higher proportion of Europeans, and the "hardcore" personnel were veterans of the French Korean Battalion.

When in Indochina, the unit received extensive trainning before going out in the field. This was a particular exception, because the other units received "on the job" training. The "native" (Cambodians) cradles were also high quality and the unit could be proud of itself and had good cohesion. The GMs and GB (Groupe Blindé) were always on the move, and the GB often covered more combat mileage in a week than a similar unit would cover in Korea in six months.

The French "Sous-groupements Blindées" (SGB - Armored Sub-Groupings), each consisting of one tank squadron of four platoons, each with three tanks (M5A1 Stuarts, later M24 Chaffees) and two halftracks, plus one or two halftrack and lorried infantry companies. For heavier punch, the Groupes Blindés had M4 Shermans and M4A3 SP 105mm gun.

The "Groupes d'Escadrons de Réconnaissance" (GER - Groups of Reconnaissence Squadrons) with one tank squadron, one recon squadron of three platoons each of five M8 armored cars ("Automitrailleuse de Combat" - AMC, combat self-propelled machine guns), and one platoon of three M8 HMC 75mm SP howitzers.

There were amphibious units were formed to operate in the swamp and waterways of the Plain of Reeds west of Saigon, the Tonkin Delta and coastal Annam. The 1er REC had 18 squadrons with a mixture of armored cars, trucks, jeeps and M5A1 tanks by 1953, including two Groupements d'Escadrons Amphibies (GEA) at Tourane and Haiphong. The GEA was the basic amphibious unit, comprising one squadron of 33 M29C "Crabs" and one squadron with 11 LVT-4 Alligator. Three pairs of squadrons made up a "Groupement Autonome", later retitled Groupement Amphibie. By 1954 Groupements Amphibies, mostly from the Legion's 1er REC (who pioneered the concept), each had three squadrons of M29C "Crab", three of LVT-4 "Alligator", plus six LVT-A4 with 75mm howitzer turrets.

The South Vietnamese continued with the French tradition of the cavalry as an "arme noble", even when the US advisors disbanded their mobile groups. The Americans failed to apreciate the usefulness of armor in Vietnam. General Westmoreland had resisted deployment of armored units, and informing the Army Chief of Staff in 1965 that "except for a few coastal areas, most notably the I Corps area, Vietnam is no place for either tank or mechanized infantry units". As Lewis Sorley said:

"Widespread and effective employment of armored personnel carries by the South Vietnamese demonstrated, however, that there was much more trafficable terrain for armored vehicles than the Americans thought, and subsequently even Westmoreland sought more such units. When Abrams, the most famous American battalion-level tanker of World War II, ascended to command in Vietnam, armored forces enjoyed a high priority and were widely employed to good effect. During the drawdown, in fact, Abrams protetected his armored units as long as possible because he found them so versatile and useful."

The Free World forces employed tanks, but i the words of Lewis Sorley, the armored personnel carrier became "the star of the show":

"This was due in large measure to the evolution of its role, with doctrine in effect being developed on the battlefield and only later incorporated into field manuals. Up-armored (in imitation of modifications originally conceived by the Vietnamese), carries mounted more weapons and assumed more roles, even some that were essentially tank-like. The many versions of the armored personnel carrier (as troop carrier, light "tank", armored ambulance, supply vehicle, command post, mortar carrier, cargo hauler, bridge launcher, flamethrower, TOW missile platform, and on and on) made it a ubiquitous presence on the battlefields of Vietnam."

The Americans also employed the odd-looking Ontos (USMC) and the Sheridan. The Australians also understood the importance of armor, and the APCs were used in diverse roles, like acting as a rapid reaction force in Long Tan and to insert SAS patrols into their drop points. Centurion tanks were used to boost the firepower of the ANZAC contingent, and proved very useful in dispatching hidden bunkers.

Although advised by US forces, the ARVN retained the European (French) system, with a different table of organization. The ARVN made good use of their armor until the bitter end. In one occasion a M48 of the ARVN marines sank a vessel transporting material to the Communists. In the 1971's invasion of Laos, the ARVN tanks destroyed many Soviet made tanks and APCs of the NVA.

At the end of the war, the NVA used their armor when they reach the mobile phase of guerrilla warfare. In 1972 the NVA was unable to properly coordenate the infantry with the armor, so they sent military personnel for advanced training in the USSR, for the 1975 offensive. ARVN soldiers discovered bodies of NVA tank drivers chained to their tanks, in 1972.

My suggestions:

- Elite The French Mobile Groups in Indochina
- Elite French Armor in Indochina 1945-54
- MAA The Frenck Korea Battalion and the Mobile Group 100
- Vietnam Armored Tactics (1): US and ROK armored tactics
- Vietnam Armored Tactics (2): ARVN armored tactics
- Vietnam Armored Tactics (3): ANZAC armored tactics
- Vietnam Armored Tactics (4): NVA armored tactics

I hope for an answer by the Osprey personnel.
Posted on: 08/11/2014 19:50:00

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Posted by: Paintybeard
Total Posts: 345
Joined Date: Monday, 4 February 2013
My God Amaral, FOUR volumes on Vietnam tank tactics!?! We've only had one on WW2 tank tactics so far. (Elite 169, and that's about the Japanese for some weird reason.) I'm not saying "no" you understand, just "insanely optimistic."
Posted on: 08/11/2014 20:41:00
Posted by: Luernos
Total Posts: 1
Joined Date: Sunday, 10 November 2013
I'm very much interested by the first two Elite
Posted on: 08/11/2014 20:41:00
Posted by: kuvaszsleepybear
Total Posts: 288
Joined Date: Wednesday, 7 August 2013
Posted on: 08/11/2014 22:47:00
Posted by: xeneize
Total Posts: 75
Joined Date: Friday, 18 January 2013
Amaral. Two books of armoured tactics, one USA/ARVN, the other NVA, the ANZAC/ROK armoured corps were small......

The Mobile Group 100 worth a campaign, the six months battle in the Central Highlands against the VM 803 regiment.

PD. the information about the NVA training in the soviet tank school of Kiev was my idea.
Posted on: 09/11/2014 21:52:00
Posted by: Amaral
Total Posts: 200
Joined Date: Friday, 8 March 2013
Paintybeard: I prefer to always think postive, Painty. ;-)

That's something that I also wondered when I was thinking about this subject. We have a lot of books dealing with infantry tactics and now we are receiving some about especialized tactics (river crossing, mountain, airborne...). I personally loved each and every one of those, even the one on Pike and Shot Tactics that is out of my immediate area of interest, but we don't have anything on armour except the Japanese you mentioned (which I found a great idea, and not only because of my "senior officer" down here) and another on US Armored Infantry. I already suggested a Panzer Tactics last year, even before knowing about Forczyk's "Tank Warfare on the Eastern Front 1941-1942: Schwerpunkt ", but I don't know what is Osprey doing about it - I was told to keep my eyes open. We even have a tactics book on US mounted cavalry, which albeit really strange is a good sign, meaning the Elite series is keeping the tradition of "outside the box" approach and pleasant surprises.

I don't know how do Osprey editors decide whether a book is going to sell or not, but based in the many times they got surprised about books selling and other books not selling, I am very skeptical that they are doing it properly or following the modern practices of marketing and segmenting target markets. As I already mentioned many times, the two-part NVG on French tanks keeps appearing on the bestselling list. When I first suggested those, I was received with a volley of redocoat fire. Imagine if I suggested it to be done in two-parts?

I am not arguing, I am just chatting like we do in my country (in a bar, with beer and some sort of meat in the table). My generation is naturally very skeptical towards the last one, but I believe I have well founded reasons to be so in this particular matter.

My line of reasoning to think about 4 different titles is quite simple:

- The ROK forces used the US doctrine with the same table of organization, so they can be dealt together with the US forces. There is only one reference to ROK forces in Vietnam, and only about the Marines (nothing wrong with them). The ROK military kept around 45,000 men in Vietnam per year! (*sigh* I miss the Korean girl...)

- The ANZAC used the Commonwealth system. Xeneise is correct to point that they were a small contingent, but the Aussies and Kiwis historically sell very well, so they will certainly stand on their own.

- The ARVN armored force was quite large and known to be very professional. They kept the French tradition (except the berets) and table of organization, They used an array of different vehicles (from second-hand French material, like the Chaffe used by the marines, to M48 state-of-the-art US MBTs). Their tank forces were relegated to oblivion by US bibliography - who labelled them simply as "voting machines" and "coup troops" - in order to justify the humilliation of defeat (and this is still persistent even in recent US books). So the subject is very rich and worth to read about. The Vietnam Infantry tactics focused too much on the US and ANZAC forces, only mentioning that the ARVN "sort of" followed the American system. The composition of the ARVN intanfry is very diverse from their US counterparts for a series of reasons, the ARVN armor is pretty much completely different. There is a big South Vietnamese community in the US (and also in France), and the MAA on the ARVN made it into the bestselling list (as did Vietnam Infantry Tactics, outclassing most of the other tactics books). It may sound risky at first but the market is itching for new material. I know only one book about the ARVN armor, which is already more than the Japanese armor had:

- The NVA was added when I revised the text before posting. I remembered that xeneise would ask about the offensives of 1972 and 1975, so I squeezed them in - albeit I do believe that NVA tank tactics would be a fine addition to the series. As I also asked for a book on Soviet armored tactics (team Zaloga with Forczyk and see the magic).

For the military men and the wargamer those books would be priceless and Osprey should really consider the idea. As you said, Painty, the last Elite on the USMC showed the signs of fatigue from the target markets. Osprey already failed on the Command series and the Raid title on Bin Laden (yesterday I found a pile of those with a 50% discount tag in them, this was the first time I ever an Osprey book with such a tag in my usual bookstore. This means they aren't selling, because the pile remained mostly untouched for two months, and this never happens there).

Luernos: Recently we kept asking for more books on the Indochina War and I believe it won one of the book votes (I don't really remember). Let's hope they hear our plea and do more on this field. My only fear is that the marketing section (if they have it) could try to "Americanize" the books and insert "Prelude to the US involvement" in each and every one of them. Personally, I would bet they will be doing books on the FFL paratroopers. I don't know why, but people from the english-speaking world think that "Armée de Terre" translates as "French Foreign Legion". Go figure... I also asked about the Dinassauts a couple of years ago. Martin Windrow probably has a copy of Admiral Brossard's book.

kuvaszsleepybear: Thanks, man. I will keep an eye on it. I already know some armor lads that will love it too.

xeneize: I remembered the NVA just because of you, xeneise - although I imagined they went to other place than Kiev, I believed they would go to Moscow or something like that. The ANZAC armored corp was small, employing at least one cavalry regiment augmented by a squadron using Centurions, but the ROK army sent one Mechanized Division (Tiger Division) to fight in Vietnam; as they followed the US system they can be treated together with the yanks - not forgetting they conducted joint operations.

After I read "World War II Airborne Warfare Tactics" I became very skeptical about the usefulness of cramping different nationalities, each one with its own doctrine, in one single 64-page book. The plates were mostly thrown in the trash and I hope Osprey publishes a "World War II Parachute Warfare Tactics" to plug the gaps and explain the questions left unanswered. The Poles, Soviets and Japanese also must be remembered (do we even have something about Soviet paratroopers in WWII?). Regarding Vietnam, there are so many new information about the ARVN that any attempt to downsize the subject would be a wasted opportunity. We have a book entitled "Vietnam Infantry Tactics" mostly depicting the Anglo-Saxon forces of the US and ANZAC, with the ARVN receiving only brief mentions and one single picture in the entire book - and in a bag light - while the Koreans are simply unheard of (and they had pretty good small unit tactics, capturing more weapons than the Americans). The NVA and VC infantry tactics are ignored, only the "Free World" countermeasures are studied. Those details are very important but went missing. Are we going to have a "NVA/VC Infantry Tactics"? I mean, ever?
Posted on: 10/11/2014 19:25:00
Posted by: xeneize
Total Posts: 75
Joined Date: Friday, 18 January 2013
Amaral. you are rigth, the NVA/VC infantry tactics deserved a book!!!.

The information of the Kiev armoured school is in Osprey Elite 38, the main officer send there was Nguyen Huu An, him lead the 2nd Corps in 1975.
Posted on: 10/11/2014 21:18:00
Posted by: xeneize
Total Posts: 75
Joined Date: Friday, 18 January 2013
Painty. Is a very good topic, the German Panzerwaffe have more books than tanks , but the Soviet Tank forces very few, most about the legendary T-34, but almost nothing on tactics !!!!
Posted on: 11/11/2014 03:35:00
Posted by: Amaral
Total Posts: 200
Joined Date: Friday, 8 March 2013
Xeneise: When I first read "Street Without Joy" I saw a map showing the American view of a NVA/VC ambush and how it actually worked. The first thing I imagine was an Osprey upgraded version of the map. Later on I saw it on Gordon L. Rottman's chapter in "Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land":

The maps is a little simplified, when I pick up my copy of Fall's book with Noriko I will show it here. What's the story behind the sketch? The first image was taken by Fall from an American militaria magazine and the second one was made by Fall himself to explain why it was wrong. The American plan suggested the troops could simply dismout and outflank the ambushers. Fall explains that the ambushers would pin down the convoy with enfilade fire and multiple blocking and reserve forces. The roadsides would be previously mined (alone making the planned outflanking impossible) and the guerrilla would take their time to plan and reharse the operation (taken very seriously by them).

The Viet Minh/VC followed the principle of "one slow, four quick steps": The slow step involved a thorough and deliberate planning process, with each action reharsed and every fighter familiar with his duties and the terrain. The four quick steps of execution were:

1 - Move into the area of operations rapidly;

2 - Assault immediatly before discovery;

3 - Withdraw from the battlefield swiftly with captured weapons and materials as well as casualties;

4 - Scatter into small groups and move to secure areas.

As Fall explains, coming out of a kill zone in 1964 was just as hazardous as in 1954. What do we have in terms of Osprey books showing that? Most of the actions were ambushes between company and battalion strength, and those even caused divisional strength battles!

Both sides in both wars kept developing measures and counter-measures to ambushes and assault tactics. In the 1972 Battle of An Loc, the NVA largely failed to employ the concept "infantry-tank" binomial:

"[...] at one time during the attack, Viet Cong T-54 and PT-76 tanks were dangerously closing in on the underground command post of Brig. Gen. Le Van Hung, the 5th Division Commander. Col. Le Nguyen Vy, the deputy division commander, personally destroyed one PT-76 tank with a M-72 anti-tank rocket in front of General Hung's bunker." (The Twenty-Five Year Century, pg. 276, General Thi)

In 1975 the situation was very different. The Americans betrayed Saigon with cutting the financial aid and not complying with the Paris Agreement, which stipulated the US would replace each ARVN unit lost in action. Meaning the ARVN had a shortage of tanks and crew served weapons - let alone ammunition. The NVA, on the other hand, received even more armor and now conducted proper infantry-tank cooperation:

"The communists use against us T-54 tanks and Russian 130-mm guns. The T-54 has a remarkable engine, is very mobile, rustic, heavily armored and equipped with: one 100-mm gun, two 30-mm and one 50-mm machine guns. It can cover 400 kilometers and carry 30 shells. In case of attack, we can use only for our defense the M-72 bazookas. This bazooka can be used only once (we throw it after usage) and is only effective at a range of one hundred meters. One thus has to attack the tanks on foot, at short distance and not miss it. It means entering the perimeter of absolute accuracy of their automatic weapons and to get killed... without being certain of destroying them. The approach is anyway practically impossible because the tanks are preceded or accompanied by infantry". (A letter from a deceased ARVN soldier, pg 373)

Painty: Forczyk is especialized in Soviet armor and is a close friend of Zaloga (also an expert). We must pressure Osprey in doing a partnership with them for multiple volumes in Soviet armored tactics.

1930-1945: Soviet WWII tactics, dealing with their concept of "deep battle" (Gordon L. Rottman and/or Zaloga could make another one on airborne forces, a key component of the deep battle).

1945-1989: Soviet Cold War armored tactics. The feared tank force of the Warsaw Pact intended to storm the Fulda Gap and reach Paris. The Soviet armor was employed, instead, against its own allies of the Warsaw Pact and in Afghanistan. Again, airborne and amphibious tactics should also be done.

1991-2014: Russian armored tactics with lessons from Afghanistan, Chechnya and Georgia. The first Chechen War was a traumatizing experience for the Russian tank forces. After the war in Georgia, the arborne forces also underwent a reformulation.

If the recent publishing/sales ratio said us something is that Soviet/Russian subjects trump American ones. So it is an easy goal for Osprey.

Another side effect of Soviet studies was the use of Soviet tanks and doctrine in the Middle East, South East Asia and Africa.
Posted on: 11/11/2014 19:06:00
Posted by: xeneize
Total Posts: 75
Joined Date: Friday, 18 January 2013
Amaral. Yes, the NVA tanks units perfomance in 1972 was very poor, afther the heavy loses, they send selected officers to Russia, in the 1975 offensive the coordination Tank/infantry was first class.

One more thing, in the 1975 offensive, the AAA in direct fire was many times decisive, specially the KS-12 85 mm cannon
Posted on: 11/11/2014 22:29:00
Posted by: Amaral
Total Posts: 200
Joined Date: Friday, 8 March 2013
The AAA was so strong that many ARVN generals had to flee Danang by other means, while other got their choppers shot down. This was the case of the ARVN regional commander, Lt. Gen. Truong, who had to swim in the sea to be rescued by a destroyer.
Posted on: 12/11/2014 18:20:00

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