Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)

The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was a military component of the armed forces of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam).

On March 8, 1949, after the signing of the Elysee accord, Vietnam was recognized as an independent country and its Army was built to fight side by side with the Armed Forces of France against the Communist forces led by Ho Chi Minh. This force was named the "National Army of Vietnam" and was officered by French-trained personnel or French army veterans such as the army's chief of staff, General Nguyen Van Hinh. The French referred to the formation of this organization as the "yellowing" of the French army in Indochina.

In 1952, Vietnamese forces were made up of sixty battalions; however, they never played a significant role in the French war against the Viet Minh. The French used them mostly to garrison sectors they considered unimportant to free up French forces for significant operations. They were, for example, used in such a way to man the "DeLattre Line" while French troops made attacks in North Vietnam. A small number fought at the battle of Dien Bien Phu, where they famously went into action singing the French national anthem. Generally, there was not much incentive for public support of this French-controlled army. Desertions were high and their equipment was often sub-standard, with all of the best material going to the French units. The Geneva Accord was signed on July 20, 1954, the army was disbanded, and only a militia allowed to remain.

On October 26, 1956, the military was reorganized by the administration of President Ngo Dinh Diem, who then established the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Early on, the focus of the army was the Communist guerrillas of the Viet Cong, a shadow government formed to oppose the Diem administration. The United States, under President John F. Kennedy, sent advisors and a great deal of financial support to aid ARVN in combating the Communist insurgents. A major campaign, developed by Ngo Dinh Nhu and later resurrected under the name "Strategic Hamlet Program," was unsuccessful. ARVN and President Diem began to be criticized by the foreign press when the troops were used to crush anti-government religious groups, like the Cao Dai and Hoa Hao, as well as to raid Buddhist temples, which Diem claimed were harboring Communist guerillas.

In 1963, Ngo Dinh Diem was killed in a coup d'etat carried out by ARVN officers. In the confusion that followed, General Duong Van Minh took control, but was only the first in a succession of ARVN generals to assume the presidency of South Vietnam. During these years, the United States began taking full control of the war against the Communists and the role of the ARVN became less and less significant. They were also plagued by continuing problems of severe corruption among the officer corps. Although the U.S. was highly critical of them, the ARVN continued to be entirely U.S. armed and funded.

Starting in 1969, President Richard M. Nixon started the process of "Vietnamization," pulling out American forces and rendering the ARVN capable of fighting an effective war against the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) of the North and the allied Viet Cong. Slowly, ARVN began to expand from its pacification role to become the primary ground defense against the Viet Cong and PAVN. From 1969-1971 there were about 22,000 ARVN combat deaths per year. Starting in 1968, South Vietnam began calling up every available man for service in the ARVN, reaching a strength of a million soldiers by 1972. In 1970, they performed well in Cambodia and were executing three times as many operations as they had during the American war period. However, the officer corps was still the biggest problem. Leaders were often poorly trained, inept, and the equipment continued to be sub-standard as the U.S. tried to upgrade ARVN technology.

Relations with the public also remained poor as their only counter to Communist infiltration was to resurrect the "Strategic Hamlet" program, which the peasants resented. Disapproving Americans called this "barbed wire diplomacy." However, forced to carry the burden left by the Americans, the South Vietnamese army actually started to perform rather well and in 1970 was clearly winning the war against the Communists, though with continued American air support. The exhaustion of the North was becoming evident and the Paris talks gave some hope of a negotiated peace, if not a victory.

The most crucial moment of truth for the ARVN came with General Vo Nguyen Giap's 1972 "Easter Offensive," the first all-out invasion of South Vietnam by the Communist North. The assault combined infantry-wave assaults, artillery, and the first massive use of tanks by the North Vietnamese. ARVN took heavy losses, but to the surprise of many, managed to hold on and stand their ground. The Communists took Quang Tri province and areas along the Lao and Khmer borders.

President Richard Nixon dispatched more bombers to provide air support for ARVN when it seemed that South Vietnam was about to be overrun. In desperation, President Nguyen Van Thieu fired the incompetent General Lam and replaced him with ARVN's best commander, General Ngo Quang Truong. He gave the order that all deserters would be executed and pulled enough forces together so that the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) failed to take Hue. Finally, with considerable U.S. air and naval support, as well as some surprising determination by the ARVN soldiers, the Easter Offensive was halted. ARVN counter-attacked and ultimately succeeded in driving the NVA out of South Vietnam, though they did retain control of northern Quang Tri province near the DMZ.

By 1973 and 1974, the United States had almost completely retreated from Vietnam and ARVN was left to fight alone, though with massive technological support, having roughly four times as many heavy weapons as their enemies. This was deceptive, however, as U.S. aid was continuously cut while the North Vietnamese were able to expand their forces and logistics with Soviet and Chinese support.

In 1975, after the end of American involvement, the NVA again invaded the south. This time the ARVN collapsed in a total panic. Thieu had ordered a withdrawal from Northern areas, which caused massive panic and few of the forces there survived. City after city fell to the Communists with ARVN soldiers joining the civilians trying to flee south. The North called this the "Ho Chi Minh Campaign." All resistance crumbled. General Cao Van Vien, ARVN chief of staff, ordered his men to fight to the death, then quickly fled the country. The ARVN tried to defend Xuan Loc, their last chance before Saigon. Even according to the Communists, these men fought very well, but it was not enough. Xuan Loc was taken and on April 30, 1975, initiated the Fall of Saigon. The Communists captured the city, placing the Viet Cong flag over the Independence Palace. General Duong Van Minh, recently appointed president by Tran Van Huong, surrendered the city and government, bringing the Republic of Vietnam and also the Army of the Republic of Vietnam to a final end.