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(Added 18 photos) THE VESSELS OF THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM'S NAVY
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MORE VESSELS OF VIETNAM NAVY
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MISCELLANEOUS PHOTOS
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RVN NAVY PATCHES & INSIGNIAS
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THE NAVY OF THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM


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By Edward J. Marolda

       The Vietnam Navy (VNN) came into existence, fought its battles, and faded into history in a short span of twenty years (1955-1975). But, during that time the VNN, with the assistance of American advisors, became one of the world's largest navies with 42,000 men and women and 672 amphibious ships and craft, 20 mine warfare vessels, 450 patrol craft, 56 service craft, and 242 junks.

The organizational changes to the Vietnam Navy during those two decades reflected the evolution in the service's mission and responsibilities. Initially, the Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnamese Armed Forces, an army officer, controlled the Navy Staff and its chief. With the encouragement of American naval advisors, the general staff established the billet of Chief of Naval Operations, which handled the administration, if not the operational control, of the naval service.

In the early years, the navy's combat forces consisted of the Sea Force (renamed Fleet Command in January 1966), River Force, and Marine Corps (made a separate military service in April 1965). Recognizing that the sea was a likely avenue of approach for Communists infiltrating from North Vietnam or moving along the South Vietnamese littoral, in April 1960 the navy established the paramilitary Coastal Force and in July 1965 formally integrated it into the navy.

The different missions of the navy's combat forces determined how they were operationally controlled. The units involved in open sea and coastal patrol missions operated first in five Sea Zones, then in four Naval Zones (after October 1963), and finally four Coastal Zones (after April 1965). The coastal zones, from the 1st in the north to the 4th in the Gulf of Siam, corresponded to the army's I, II, III, and IV Corps areas. Coastal Force junks patrolled the offshore waters from 28 bases along the coast. The regional operations of the Coastal Force were directed from coastal surveillance centers set up in Danang, Cam Ranh, Vung Tau, and An Thoi.

The River Force, organized into river assault groups on the French model of Dinassaut (naval assault divisions), initially served the army divisions closest to its Mekong Delta naval bases at Saigon, My Tho, Vinh Long, Can Tho, and Long Xuyen. In the early 1960s, the navy also formed the River Transport Escort Group to protect the vital foodstuffs being convoyed to Saigon, and the River Transport Group to move army forces throughout the delta. In April 1965, the Joint General Staff established the III and IV Riverine Areas to manage River Force operations. The navy was given sole responsibility for handling operations in the Rung Sat "Special Zone," a maze of rivers and swamps south of Saigon.

During the 1950s and 1960s, the United States supplemented the modest force of ships and craft turned over to the VNN by the French with hundreds of naval vessels, including escorts (PCE), patrol rescue escorts (PCER), motor gunboats (PGM), large support landing ships (LSSL), large infantry landing ships (LSIL), tank landing ships (LST), medium landing ships (LSM), and minesweeping launches (MLMS). These vessels improved the ability of the oceangoing force to patrol the 1,200-mile coastline, provide gunfire support for troops ashore, and carry out amphibious landings and open sea operations. The River Force received a fleet of smaller vessels, including specially converted mechanized landing craft (LCM) that served as monitors, command boats, troop transports, minesweeping boats, patrol vessels, and fuel barges. The United States also provided the river sailors with 27 American-built river patrol craft (RPC). Unfortunately, these vessels proved to be too noisy, underarmed, and easily slowed by river vegetation.

Armed with these combatants, the Vietnam Navy played an increasing role in the fight for South Vietnam. Along with American naval forces, the Fleet Command and the Coastal Force seized or destroyed thousands of junks, sampans, and other craft ferrying enemy munitions and personnel along the coast. The Coastal Force also carried out many amphibious raids, patrols of shallow inlets and river mouths, and troop lifts. These operations played an important part in the allied campaign to deny the enemy easy access to the coastal regions. For instance, during Operation Irving in October 1966, ground forces and junk units in II Coastal Zone cooperated to kill 681 Viet Cong guerrillas. Even though Communist forces sometimes overran the triangular-shaped fortifications of the Coastal Force, they more often failed to overcome the defenders.

In addition to offshore patrol, Fleet Command ships also patrolled the larger Mekong Delta rivers and protected merchant ships moving between the sea and the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. The VNN paid a price for its success on the rivers, however. In one period during 1966, enemy river mines sank an LSSL and damaged an LSIL and a utility landing craft (LCU). Viet Cong mines also sank several of the command's minesweeping launches in the Rung Sat during 1966 and 1967.

While the VNN sometimes crowned its operations with victory and its sailors often fought bravely, serious deficiencies plagued the service throughout its existence, but especially during the 1960s. Careerism and political activity on the part of many naval officers weakened the war effort. The coup d'etat against President Diem in November 1963 and the political troubles of 1965-1966, in which the navy figured prominently, damaged the morale of officers and bluejackets alike and distracted them from their military mission.

The training of sailors, many educationally unprepared in the technical skills essential for the operation of complex vessels, weapons, and equipment, was generally inadequate. Low pay and austere living conditions prompted many sailors to desert the colors over the years and frustrated recruitment.

The material condition of the navy raised even more serious concerns. Hull and equipment deterioration in the World War II- era ships and craft was a serious problem, as was the lack of sufficient spare parts, supplies, and fuel. Compounding the problem was the inability of the ship and boat repair facilities in South Vietnam to handle the workload generated by the high-intensity operations of 1967-1969.

Because of these personnel and material problems, the Vietnam Navy rarely had 50 percent of its ships and craft in operation for blue-ocean, coastal, or river missions.

The VNN's fortunes rose, albeit temporarily, with Washington's decision to turn the war effort over to the Vietnamese and withdraw U.S. military forces from Southeast Asia. In early 1969, President Richard M. Nixon formally adopted as U.S. policy the so-called "Vietnamization" program. The naval part of that process, termed ACTOV (Accelerated Turnover to the Vietnamese), involved the phased transfer to Vietnam of the U.S. Navy's river and coastal combatant fleet. As entire units came under Vietnam Navy command, control of the various combat operations passed to that naval service as well. Hence, the VNN took on sole responsibility for river assault operations when the joint U.S. Army-Navy Mobile Riverine Force lowered its colors and transferred 64 riverine assault craft in the summer of 1969.

The Vietnam Navy performed well during the allied push into Cambodia in the spring of 1970. On 9 May, a combined Vietnamese-American naval task force, under Vietnamese command, steamed up the Mekong River and secured control of that key waterway from Communist forces. The combined flotilla stormed enemy-held Neak Luong, a strategic ferry crossing point on the river. Then, the Vietnamese contingent of river combatants pushed on to Phnom Penh.

In July 1970, the U.S. Navy ceased its offensive missions on I Corps's Cua Viet and Hue rivers and by the end of the year its other major operations throughout South Vietnam. During that time, Commander U.S. Naval Forces, Vietnam, transferred to the VNN 293 river patrol boats and 224 riverine assault craft. The Vietnam Navy grouped these fighting vessels into riverine assault interdiction divisions (RAID), river interdiction divisions (RID), and river patrol groups (RPG).

The same process worked with the offshore patrol operation during 1970 and 1971. As part of the U.S. Navy's ACTOV program and the U.S. Coast Guard's SCATTOR (Small Craft Assets, Training, and Turnover of Resources) program, the United States transferred to the VNN complete control of the coastal and high seas surface patrol operations. The American naval command transferred four Coast Guard cutters, each equipped with 5-inch guns, radar escort picket ship Camp (DER 251), Garrett County (LST 786), and various harbor control, mine craft, and logistic support vessels. In the midst of this activity, the American and Vietnamese naval forces managed to sink or turn back all but one of the eleven Communist ships that attempted to infiltrate contraband into South Vietnam during 1971. By August 1972, the VNN took on responsibility for the entire coastal patrol effort when it took possession of the last of 16 American coastal radar installations.

In addition to ships and craft, the U.S. Navy, under the ACTOVLOG (Accelerated Turnover to the Vietnamese, Logistics) program, transferred to the Vietnam Navy its many combat and logistic support bases. The first change of command occurred in November 1969 at My Tho and the last in April 1972 at the former centers of American naval power in South Vietnam, the bases at Nha Be, Binh Thuy, Cam Ranh Bay, and Danang.

By 1973, the Vietnam Navy possessed the material resources to carry on the fight alone. The 42,000-man naval service marshaled a force of over 1,400 ships and craft to meet the enemy on the rivers and canals of South Vietnam and in the South China Sea. The relatively young, dramatically expanded, and still developing Vietnam Navy had great potential, but it needed time to mature.

The Vietnam Navy never got that time. Disenchanted with the American venture in Southeast Asia, during 1973 and 1974 the United States drastically cut financial support for the Vietnamese armed forces. The Vietnam Navy was compelled to reduce its overall operations by 50 percent and its river combat and patrol activities by 70 percent. To conserve scarce ammunition and fuel, Saigon laid up over 600 river and harbor craft and 22 ships. The enemy did not target the waterways during this period, but the respite was short lived.

In little more than a month during the spring of 1975, Communist ground forces seized all of northern and central South Vietnam, bypassing any VNN concentrations. The Vietnam Navy's ships and sailors soon joined the hurried exodus of troops and civilians from the I and II Corps areas. With the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975, many of the VNN's ships and craft put to sea and gathered off Son Island southwest of Vung Tau. The flotilla of 26 Vietnam Navy and other vessels, with 30,000 sailors, their families, and other civilians on board, joined the U.S. Seventh Fleet when it embarked the last of the refugees fleeing South Vietnam and headed for the Philippines.

Thus ended the Vietnam Navy's short, if dramatic history. The VNN's sailors often fought with bravery and determination, killing many of the enemy and suffering heavy losses of their own. But, their valor and sacrifice was not rewarded with victory in the Vietnam War.

RVN NAVY'S ART WORKS BY VU KHAI CO
VN Navy
CLICK THE LEFT THUMBNAIL TO VIEW THE SLIDE SHOW OF VIETNAM NAVY'S PHOTO COLLECTION (a total of 54 color and B&W photos)

THE CADETS OF NHA TRANG'S NAVAL ACADEMY
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THE RVN NAVY'S CAMPS & TRAINING CENTERS
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VN NAVY VN NAVY VN NAVY VN NAVY Tran Van Chon



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ORGANIZATION AND PROGRESSIVE ACTIVITIES OF THE REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM NAVY

By Commander Thong Ba Le, RVN Navy

1. BACKGROUND HISTORY

       The Vietnamese Navy was founded in 1952 with the assistance of the French Navy. In the beginning there were no Vietnamese Naval Officers who had the experience to command. By the request of the Vietnamese Government, the French temporarily continued to be in charge until August 20, 1955, the date that Vietnamese Naval Officers completely commanded the Navy Forces. There were about 2000 personnel from the beginning, with 22 vessels consisting of: Patrol Coastal Escort (PCE), Landing Ship, Mechanized (LSM), Landing Ship Infantry, Large (LSIL), Landing Ship Support, Large (LSSL), Mine Sweeper (YMS) and six River Assault Groups. The Navy then was formed into two main Combat Forces: Sea Forces and River Forces.

In 1959, North Vietnamese Communists started developing a movement to sneak troops and equipment into the Republic of Vietnam's territory. In order to stop the Communists from using the East Sea to sneak troops and weapons by boats to the coastline of South Vietnam, the RVN's Navy, along with the mentioned ships, organized a Luc Luong Hai Thuyen (Coastal Junk Force) with 200 boats. These motor propelled and sail junk boats, manned by Regional Irregular Forces personnel and local fishermen recruited for the occasion, kept watch along the 1,200 mile coastline. The name Coastal Junk Force was later changed to Regular Forces and came to be known as Duyen doan (Coastal Groups) and was under the command of the Coastal Zones. While organizing the Coastal Junk Force, the Sea Force was also modernized and developed with the receiving of warships that were transferred from the United States Navy.

The period between 1959 and 1966 was noted for the considerable advance of the RVN Navy in every field involved: the operations activities, the training facilities and the logistics capability. These fields had developed and improved as well as the overall organization and management of the Navy. The total number of gunboats, warships and junk boats increased from 94 units to 560 vessels and the number of personnel grew to 16,000 from 3,000 in 7 years. In addition, from October 1966, Luc Luong Lien doan Tuan Giang (The River Patrol Groups), previously under the command of Dia Phuong Quan (The Regional Irregular Forces), were included in the Command and the Organization of the Republic of Vietnam Navy.

In 1968, in order to quickly improve the role of the RVN Armed Forces in fighting against the aggression of North Vietnamese Communists, the RVN Navy and the U.S. Navy carried out plans to turns over all assets of the U.S. Navy to the RVN Navy in a program named "Accelerated Turn Over to Vietnam" (ACTOV). This plan was executed swiftly and effectively and was accomplished before schedule. As a result, at the end of 1972, the number of warships, gunboats and junk boats had reached a total of 1,500 vessels and more than 40,000 officers, non-commissioned officers and enlisted men. There were 16 Radar Surveillance Sites and 16 Naval Support Bases and Operational Support Units. The Vietnamese Navy Headquarters was organized into three main components:

* The Combat Forces
* The Logistics Branch
* The Training Element

2. THE NAVY HEADQUARTERS ORGANIZATION

The Vietnamese Navy Headquarters was the brain of the Republic of Vietnam Navy. It was responsible for the operation, management and development of the Navy and was divided into 8 prominent branches as follows:

* The Operations Branch
* The Logistics Branch
* The Personnel Branch
* The Psychological Branch
* The Training Branch
* The Medical Branch
* The Navy Security Branch and
* The General Inspection Office

3. THE COMBAT FORCES

The Combat Forces were important elements of the Navy that consisted of seven Zone Navy Headquarters and 9 different Forces as listed:

* 5 Coastal Zones
* 2 Riverine Zones
* The Nation Capitol Special Zone
* The Rung Sat Special Zone
* The River Patrol Group
* The Navy Fleet
* The Amphibious Force
* The Patrol Boat River Force
* The Special Task Force
* The Marine Corps
* The Coastal Security Service

3.1 The 5 Coastal Zones

In order to coordinate operations of the territorial and tactical organizations, there were 5 Coastal Zones established and named as First Coastal Zone, Second Coastal Zone and so on. Their primary responsibilities were to maintain the Seaboard and Coastal security including the island territory. Their other missions were to stop and prevent the enemy's illegal infiltration by sea and to conduct operations of their naval units to support and reinforce the appropriate Army Tactical Corp. The main units of the Coastal Zones were Duyen doan (the Coastal Groups), Hai doi Duyen phong (the Coastal Patrol Maritime Groups), Dai Kiem Bao (Radar Surveillance Sites) and Can Cu Hai Quan (Naval Bases) located in their territories. Along the coast of the Republic of Vietnam, there were 20 Coastal Groups and 16 Radar Surveillance Sites; each Coastal Group was equipped with 12 motor-propelled junk boats of various types:

* Yabuta junk boat
* Ferrous Cement junk boat
* Kien Giang junk boat

Each Coastal Patrol Maritime Group was manned with gunboats including Patrol Craft, Fast (PCF), "Swift" and WPB (former U.S. Coast Guard 82ft-patrol boat).

3.2 The Riverine Zone

There were two Riverine Zones in the RVN Navy:
* The Third Riverine Zone operated in the rivers and water ways of the Army Third Corps' territory
* The Fourth Riverine Zone operated in the rivers and waterways of the Army Fourth Corps' territory.
Their primary responsibilities were to maintain and secure the safety on the rivers, to prevent and stop the enemy's troops and equipment from coming either through or into their operating areas, to provide support in combined operations and also to assist the Local Pacification and Developing Program. Besides the Naval Bases, the other main units of the Riverine Forces were The River Assault Groups which were equipped with old gunboats left by the French Navy including: Monitor, LCVP, LCM Commandment, STCAN FOM.

3.3 The National Capitol Special Zone

The Naval Force that operated in the rivers surrounding the Nation Capitol Special Zone was responsible for security. It provided protection for the Capitol as well as coordinated the operations of all naval units in Saigon and its surrounding areas and provided administrative support to the Navy Headquarters.

3.4 The Rung Sat Special Zone

The Vietnamese Navy was designated to be responsible for securing the traffic on the strategic and vital rivers that connected Saigon and the East Sea, the were Long Tao River and Soai Rap River. The Rung Sat Special Zone was covered with jungle of water plants that created ideal areas for VC guerrilla warfare; therefore it was difficult to protect and provide the safety to the thousands of merchant ships steaming in and out through these rivers. But the Navy Forces in charge of this task did a great job of securing the ships' safety without incident in recent years.

3.5 The River Patrol Group

The River Patrol Group, previously under the Command of the Regional Irregular Forces, was later assimilated into the Navy and consisted of 24 River Patrol Companies, 3 repair and maintenance Companies and a Training Center in Cat Lai. The companies were organized to provide operations support to their designated districts and secure the safety on rivers and waterways. They were manned with LCM-3 landing crafts and Harbor Patrol boats.

3.6 The Navy Fleet

The Vietnamese Fleet was the main force of the Navy, consisting of warships with capabilities to operate in the open sea. The Vietnamese Fleet was divided into three Task Groups: Task Group I, Task Group II and Task Group III.

Task Group I: All ships of Task Group I carried out the responsibility of patrolling in the Vietnamese territorial waters to stop the illegal infiltration of the enemy from the North and provided naval gunfire and support in combined operations with the friendly Forces. The Task Group I was manned with:

* 20 Patrol Gunboats (PGM)
* 03 Landing ships infantry (LSIL)
* 04 Landing ships support (LSSL)

Task Group II: This Task Group provided transportation, amphibious operations, supplies, repair and maintenance to gunboats and gunfire support in the operations areas. Task Group II also carried out Medical assistance and Civilian psychological and political warfare programs with its two Hospital ships that were equipped with X-ray facilities; dental care units, labs and clinics. These two Hospital ships frequently visited villages located along the coast and rivers in the Mekong Delta to help people who lived in the concentrated area and need medical assistance due to the lack of medicine and medical facilities in their areas. Task Group II consisted of:

* 06 Landing Ship Tank (LST)
* 05 Landing Ship Medium (LSM)
* 02 Hospital Ship (LSM-H)
* 06 Oil Tanker (YOG)
* 14 Landing Craft (LCU)
* 01 Supply Ship (AKL)
* 02 Support Ship (ARL)
* 01 Repair Ship (AGP)

Task Group III: This Task Group patrolled in the open sea to discover and immediately stop the infiltration of the enemy and coordinated in combined operations and provided naval fire support to friendly forces. Task Group III was manned with:

* 02 Destroyer (DER)
* 07 Frigate (WHEC)
* 08 Patrol vessels - Escort (PCE)
3.7 The Amphibious Force

The Amphibious Force was formed in June 1969 to replace the U.S. Task Force 117. This Task Force operated in Mekong Delta and consisted the following units:

* Command and Control Boat (CCB)
* Assault Support Patrol Boat (ASPB)
* Landing Craft-Monitor (LCM converted)
* Armored Troop Carrier (ATC)

3.8 The River Patrol Force

The River Patrol Force was founded in October 1969 and consisted of 14 River Patrol Groups, divided into 6 River Patrol Task Groups. Their primary responsibility was to patrol, to secure the safety of the rivers and to stop and prevent the infiltration of the VC through the Task Force's responsible areas from the border of Cambodia and Vietnam. Each River Patrol Group was manned with Patrol Fast Boats (PBR), which had very high speeds and the capability to go into narrow creeks and shallow waters and were very easy to maneuver.

3.9 The Special Mission Force

With the concept of using a variety of units to operate in a combined territory to carry out special missions, the Task Group was manned with the following groups:
* 07 Riverine Attack Group
* 02 Minesweeping Group

3.10 The Marines Corps

The Republic of Vietnam Marines Corps had been organized into Divisions, and although they were in the Organization of the Navy, they were still placed as part of the Reserved Forces of the General Headquarters of Vietnamese Arms Forces.

3.11 The Coastal Security Service

The Coastal Security Service was an organization of the Navy that was placed under the operational command of Nha Ky Thuat (The Strategic Technical Directorate or STD) to carry out special maritime missions along the coastline of Vietnam.

4. OPERATIONAL COMMAND AND CONTROL

To be more effective in conducting naval operations, the Navy Combat Units were placed under the Operational Command and Control of The Tactical Mobile Riverine Headquarters and the Tactical Mobile Sea Headquarters.

4.1 The Tactical Mobile Riverine Headquarters

The headquarters commanded and controlled the operations in rivers located in the territories of The Army III Corps, The Army IV Corps and The Nation Capitol Special Zone to stop and prevent the enemy's sneaking of troops and supplies and to secure the safety of the waterways and to support the Army Divisions in operations Tran Hung Dao 36,41,43,44.

4.2 The Tactical Mobile Sea Headquarters

In order to effectively maintain control over the entire Republic of Vietnam territorial waters, the Tactical Mobile Sea Headquarters was established to command and to control maritime operations Tran Hung Dao along the coastline and to stop and prevent the infiltration of the North Vietnamese Communists by boats. The Organization also provided naval gunfire support to friendly forces in the responsible operational areas and to assist in the Pacification programs of the Government. There were 5 Sea Operations Zones and each zone was controlled by a Task Force and manned with about 100 ships, gunboats and junk boats. The Sea Operations Zone consisted of three tactical areas:

* The area between the coast to 12 miles was assigned to junk boats, Patrol Craft, Fast- Swift boats (PCF), Patrol Gunboats (PGM) to maintain patrolling.
* The area between 12 miles to 53 miles was designated to and patrolled by Destroyers, Frigates and Patrol and Escort Ships (PCE).
* The area between 53 miles to 100 miles from shore was responsible of the surveillance of the long range airplanes of the VN Air Force that were flying out from inland to patrol in this tactical area.

5. LOGISTICS

The Logistics Command Headquarters supported the logistics and supplies to the Naval operational units. The following facilities were placed under the management of the Logistics Command:

* The Navy Shipyard, The Supply Center, The Facility and Utility Center and The Electronics Repair Center
* 07 Naval Support Bases that located in Danang, Cam Ranh Bay, Cat Lo, Nha Be, An Thoi, Dong Tam and Binh Thuy.

6. TRAINING

There were 3 Training Centers in the Vietnamese Navy; they were located at Nha Trang, Cam Ranh Bay and Saigon:

* The Nha Trang Naval Training Center: With the capability to train from 1,200 to 1,500 personnel included the Naval Officer School, the Advanced Specialty School and the Specialty School.
* The Cam Ranh Naval Training Center: With the capability to train from 1,500 to 1,800 personnel including The Fleet School, The Damage Control School, the Specialty School and the Basic School.
* The Saigon Naval Training Center: With the capability to train 200 students for the Command and Staff School, the Non-Commissioned Warrant Officer School, the Specialty School and other short term training classes.

There was also the Cat Lai Training Center of the River Patrol Group that was used to train Non-Commissioned Officers, Specialty Programs and Supply School.

7. THE RESULTS:

From November 1966 to January 1973, the Republic of Vietnam Navy successfully achieved the following victories in combat:

* 2219 North Vietnamese Communists were killed
* 1277 North Vietnamese Communists were captured
* 6798 Detained
* 509 VC returned in Open Arms Program

Weapons captured: 382 big guns and 2851 individual weapons. The RVN Navy also sank and captured 467 VC junk boats and destroyed 14 North Vietnamese ships that infiltrated to the South Vietnam on the following places and dates:

1. Vung Ro in 02-19-1965
2. Cua Tieu in 01-08-1966
3. Bo De in 05-10-1966
4. Ba Dong in 06-20-1966
5. Bo De in 01-01-1967
6. Batangan in 03-14-1967
7. Sa Ky in 07-15-1967
8. Duc Pho in 03-01-1968
9. Hon Heo in 03-01-1968
10. Cua Viet in 03-01-1968
11. Bo De in 03-01-1968
12. Cung Hau in 11-22-1970
13. Ganh Hao in 04-12-1971
14. Phu Quoc in 04-24-1972



"The knowledge of higher leadership can only be acquired by study of military history and actual experiences."

Napoleon Bonaparte



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