Thomas L. Hughes, Department of State, Bureau of Intelligence and Research, Research Memorandum, RFE-90, "Statistics on the War Effort in South Vietnam Show Unfavorable Trends," 22 October 1963

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 2, pp. 770-780


Research Memorandum
RFE-90, October 22, 1963

TO: The Secretary
FROM: INR-Thomas L. Hughes

SUBJECT: Statistics on the War Effort in South Vietnam Show Unfavorable Trends

This report reviews the more significant statistics on the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam as indicators of trends in the military situation since July 1963.


Statistics on the insurgency in South Vietnam, although neither thoroughly trustworthy nor entirely satisfactory as criteria, indicate an unfavorable shift in the military balance. Since July 1963, the trend in Viet Cong casualties, weapons losses, and defections has been downward while the number of Viet Cong armed attacks and other incidents has been upward. Comparison with earlier periods suggests that the military position of the government of Vietnam may have been set back to the point it occupied six months to a year ago. These trends coincide in time with the sharp deterioration of the political situation. At the same time, even without the Buddhist issue and the attending government crisis, it is possible that the Diem regime would have been unable to maintain the favorable trends of previous periods in the face of the accelerated Viet Cong effort.

Statistics as Indicators

Statistics, in general, are only partial and not entirely satisfactory indicators of progress in the total counterinsurgency effort in South Vietnam. * First, some statistics

* The statistics used in this paper were compiled by the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and by the Office of the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) in the Department of Defense and are based on field reports submitted by the Military Assistance Command Vietnam (MACV).

are incomplete, as for example, those relating to Viet Cong attacks against strategic hamlets and desertions within the South Vietnamese military and security services. Second, all statistics are acquired largely if not entirely from official South Vietnamese sources. As such, their validity must, to some degree at least, remain questionable, even though the efforts of the United States military and civilian advisers have improved the quality of this data during the past year or

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Third, there are several other important indicators which are extremely difficult, if not impossible, to handle statistically. These include: morale and efficiency within the bureaucracy and the armed services, the degree of locally acquired or volunteered intelligence, popular attitudes toward the Viet Cong and the government, and the status and impact of the government's political, social, and economic activities in support of the strategic hamlet program. Nonetheless, statistics touch on some significant aspects of the military situation and provide a guide at least to trends in the fighting.

Viet Cong Incidents

Statistics show that the Viet Cong have accelerated their military and subversive effort since July 1963. From January 1962 until July 1963, the total number of Viet Cong armed attacks, as well as all other incidents (sabotage, terrorism, and propaganda), dropped consistently. However, since July of this year, total incidents and armed attacks have increased appreciably. If the present trend continues through the end of this year, total incidents will exceed by more than 10% the level for the period July-December 1962. Large Viet Cong attacks (company-size or larger) have also increased appreciably since July of this year, and, if the trend continues, could exceed by almost 30% the level for July-December 1962.

In addition, the Viet Cong during the last half of 1963 have shown increased daring, planning, and coordination in their attacks. This has been evidenced by an attack against a United States helicopter base, and by simultaneous actions against two or more strategic hamlets and even against two district capitals. Until this period, towns had not been attacked since September 1961, when the capital of Phuoc Thanh province was raided by a large Viet Cong force.


Although the Viet Cong have incurred relatively heavy losses during some of their more daring recent attacks, their overall casualties since July of this year have not been correspondingly high. If the accelerated Viet Cong effort and losses suffered are maintained at present levels during the rest of this year, casualties will remain about 10% below the level in July-December 1962, the peak period in Viet Cong casualties last year.

In contrast, casualties among the South Vietnamese military and security forces since July of this year are increasing and, at the present rate, could exceed by about 20% the level for the preceding six-month period. This would raise the total casualties for 1963 by some 30% above the 1961 and 1962 levels. Indeed, the ratio of Viet Cong to South Vietnamese forces killed and captured dropped from five-to-one for the last half of 1962 to three-to-one for the period July-September 18, 1963. This ratio would be still less favorable to the government if casualties among such paramilitary groups as the village militia and Montagnard scouts were taken into account. Casualty statistics on these groups are not complete and are not shown in this report. During the period August-September 18, 1963, however, their casualties exceeded 500 as compared with the combined total of more than 2,300 casualties among the Army, Civil Guard, and Self Defense Corps for the same period.

Weapons Losses

During 1962, weapons losses among both the Viet Cong and government forces increased progressively, although government losses were somewhat greater than those of the Viet Cong. The increase continued during January-April 1963, but losses on both sides were about even. However, during MayAugust, Viet Cong weapons losses dropped by more than 10%, while losses among government forces increased by about 15 %. If the trend noted during the last three weeks of September should continue throughout the year, the Viet Cong will lose almost 70% fewer weapons than the government. Moreover, a large number of the Viet Cong weapons lost are of the home-made variety while the great bulk of government weapons losses are of standard or modern-type pieces.

Defections and Desertions

Viet Cong military defections increased progressively during 1963 until June, dropping from a high of 414 in May to a low of 107 for about the first three weeks of September. (These Viet Cong are usually members of the insurgent armed forces, although only a small percentage are believed to be hard-core cadres. They generally defect to South Vietnamese military forces who interrogate and screen them and determine their disposition.)

In addition to the military defectors, some 13,700 persons "rallied" to the government from April through August 1963 under a national surrender and amnesty campaign. This campaign, known as "Chieu Hoi," was officially inaugurated on April 19. The South Vietnamese government regards the bulk of these as Viet Cong. United States officials, who do not screen these statistics, believe the vast majority to be refugees and persons who, for one reason or another, have left areas controlled or formerly controlled by the Viet Cong.

Many of them, however, may well have assisted the Viet Cong in some way voluntarily or under duress. The number of "Chieu Hoi" returnees increased progressively from April 19 to June 1963, when a high of about 3,200 was reached. By August, returnees dropped to a low of about 1,600. Complete statistics are not yet available for September.

Until June 1963, statistics on South Vietnamese desertion included all military and security personnel who had been absent from duty without official leave for any reason or for any length of time. Moreover, there was apparently no attempt to adjust these all-inclusive statistics to account for persons who had returned to duty. Including "awols," the 1962 monthly average of deserters was .7% of the combined strength of the military and security services. On this basis, there was no change in the monthly average during the first five months of 1963. Beginning in June, however, statistics on deserters excluded "awols" although they were still not adjusted to cover returnees. Even so, on the new basis, the monthly average of deserters increased from .6% in June 1963 to .8% in August 1963. Complete statistics are not yet available for September.


On the basis of available statistical trends, there appear to have been a number of significant and unfavorable changes in the military situation in South Vietnam since July of this year. Indeed, virtually all of the indicators noted in this report suggest that the military position of the Vietnam Government may have reverted to the point it had reached six months to a year ago. While it is difficult to relate precisely cause and effect for adverse changes in the military situation in South Vietnam, their occurrence at a time when the political situation has deteriorated must be considered as more than coincidental. At the same time, even without the Buddhist crisis and the more serious political difficulties following in its wake, it is possible that the Diem government would have been unable to maintain the favorable trends of preceding periods in the face of the accelerated Viet Cong effort since July 1963.

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