Cable from Westmoreland to CINCPAC on concept of operations, force requirements and deployments, 13 June 1965

Source: The Pentagon Papers, Gravel Edition, Volume 4, (Boston: Beacon Press, 1971), pp. 606-609

JUNE 13, 1965



Subj: Concept of Operations--Force Requirements and Deployments, SVN

Ref: A. MACV 37

1. There has been an extended exchange of messages regarding the VC/DRV threat, the requirement for US forces, the concept of their employment and the detail of their deployment. MACV proposes to treat each of these matters in an effort to bring the picture into closer focus.

2. The Threat. State message 2373, 11 June 1965, raises questions about MACV's current estimate of the seriousness of the situation in SVN. This message will be answered separately in EMBTEL reflecting MACV views. Suffice it to say that ARVN has lost five infantry battalions on the battlefield in the last three weeks while rising casualties and high desertion rates have caused a moratorium to be proposed in connection with the formation of new battalions. Thus, ARVN battlefield strength is declining in the face of DRV reinforcements and a VC offensive. It is MACV's considered opinion that RVNAF cannot stand up to this pressure without substantial US combat support on the ground.

3. Force Requirements. MACV has asked for added forces in Ref. A. These consist of two battalions to round out the 3d Marine Division, a ROK Division, an Air Mobile Division, the retention of the 173d Airborne Brigade, tactical fighters and a Corps Headquarters plus combat and logistic support forces. We have also flagged the possibility of additional forces.

4. Concept of Employment.

A. CINCPAC analysis of the situation and concept of operations is properly focused upon the population, that is, upon the people. There is no doubt whatsoever that the insurgency in South Vietnam must eventually be defeated among the people in the hamlets and towns. However, in order to defeat the insurgency among the people, they must be provided security of two kinds:

(1) Security of the country as a whole from large well organized and equipped forces including those which may come from outside their country.
(2) Security from the guerrilla, the assassin, the terrorist and the informer.

B. MACV is convinced that US troops can contribute heavily in the first category of security as in paragraph 4A-(1) above, but that only the Vietnamese can make real progress and succeed in respect to the problem in paragraph 4A-(2) above. Unfortunately, the ARVN is being drawn away from the people and their security in order to meet the challenge of the main force VC/DRV offensive. The best illustration of this point is the fact that the II Corps Commander has removed most of the troops from the province of Binh Dinh with its nearly one million people in order to defend the relatively less important province capitals of Kontum and Pleiku. Therefore, the MACV concept is basically to employ US forces together with Vietnamese airborne and marine battalions of the General Reserve against the hard core DRV/VC forces in reaction and search and destroy operations, and thus permit the concentration of Vietnamese troops in the heavily populated areas along the coast, around Saigon and in the Delta.

C. We have tailored logistic support forces to provide for some tactical flexibility so that forces may be shifted in accordance with the strength and movement of the VC. Continuous adjstments and redistributions undoubtedly will be necessary. It is likely that the war will continue to become more fluid and more mobile. We believe that the major bases at Da Nang, Chu Lai, Qui Nhon, Cam Ranh, and Saigon-Bien Hoa provide the backbone support on which mobile forces can be supported and from which they can maneuver.

D. It is not our concept that the US would take exclusive control or responsibility for any entire province although, in practice, only token GVN forces might remain. Thus generally, we must match our forces with the territorial organization of the GVN. We must strengthen and support the RVNAF structure to keep it alive and operative. We should generally concentrate US forces away from major population centers and whenever possible do the bulk of our fighting in more remote areas.

5. Deployments.

A. MACV recognizes that the in-country location of ground combat forces has a bearing on the size, nature and location of logistic support forces, ports, airfields and related facilities. For this reason, MACV has indicated from time to time the proposed initial location of the combat forces for which requirements have developed. However, as the number of combat forces requested and required increases and the number of combinations and permutations regarding location correspondingly increases, we rapidly approach a point where everyone will be confused and no useful purpose will be served.

B. The VC are now maneuvering large forces up to reinforce regiments equipped with heavy weapons. Thus, we are approaching the kind of warfare faced by the French in the latter stages of their efforts here. It is entirely possible that the DRV can and will deploy three or more divisions into South Vietnam by infiltration. It is highly likely that one is already here. Therefore, it will be necessary to react to the introduction of DRV forces and to the shift and tactical play of the VC. Thus, tactical dispositions will change and only the major bases will be fixed. In short, we will be conducting mobile warfare from fixed and defended bases. Some of these bases will be major logistic centers at ports and airfields such as Chu Lai and Cam Ranh. Others will be tactical bases such as An Khe or Pleiku. The tactical bases will move as necessary and that may be with some frequency as the battle develops.

C. With these thoughts in mind, a MACV review of the tactical situation corps-by-corps will indicate the probable deployment of required US forces:

(1) I Corps. This corps is highly vulnerable to the introduction of DRV forces. It has virtually no reserve and is barely able to hold the major population centers, province and district towns. We believe that the 3d Marine Division augmented by two battalions as recommended can provide adequate reserve reaction forces for I Corps at the present level of VC activity. With a full division, the equivalent of one RLT will be available for employment throughout the corps in a reaction role away from the base area.
(2) II Corps. This corps has a hopelessly large area to cover with the meager forces available. Additionally, the Vietnamese have a fixation on the importance of Kontum and Pleiku, probably derived from the history of the Viet Minh War. Recently, the corps commander has denuded Binh Dinh Province (with nearly a million inhabitants) in order to reinforce Kontum with two marine battalions. The VC control Phu Yen Province except for Tuy Boa itself and, as reported earlier, the 325th Division may be deployed in Kontum, Pleiku, and Phu Bon. The 23d Division is scattered so widely that it cannot react in strength to VC attacks against isolated province capitals and district towns. We are greatly concerned that such towns as Ham Tan in Binh Tuy and Gia Mhia in Quang Duc and even Phan Thiet in Binh Thuan may be attacked. Corps commanders without adequate reserves have shown conclusive evidence that they will move timidly and too late in a piecemeal manner upon the event of a VC heavy attack. This is resulting in the loss of ARVN battalions faster than they can be organized, trained and equipped. II Corps requires heavy reinforcements. We have asked for an infantry brigade, an airmobile division, and a ROK division. We would generally employ these forces as follows:

(A) The ROKS appear to be sensitive to the possibility of heavy casualties and would be pleased, we believe, to take over the security mission at the major logistic bases of Cam Ranh and Qui Nhon. Although two RCTS are not required for the defense of Qui Nhon, they can profitably be used there to extend the secure area and reinforce the ARVN in that populous and important province. If only one ROK RCT becomes available, we would deploy it to relieve the 1st Division brigade at Qui Nhon and Cam Ranh.

(B) Having been relieved by the ROKs of the security of Qui Nhon and Cam Ranh, we visualize the employment of the 1st Division brigade in the general area of Highway 19 west of Qui Nhon toward An Khe. The security of Route 19 is important not only in the event of the deployment of major US forces on the high plateau, but is equally essential for the support of the population in that area and for the delivery of POL for current combat operation. The [word illegible] is that Highway 19 must be kept open. There is no feasible way into the high plateau from North or South. If the plateau is abandoned, it will form the first significant territory of the NFLSVN and will be recognized and supported by China through Cambodia.

(C) We believe that Route 19 and the Pleiku-Kontum area present a challenge which must be met. We do not believe that the RVNAF can do the job. If the VC elect to fight a major campaign for Route 19 with DRV or VC forces, this is as good terrain as any, and better than most, on which such a battle should take place. It is vastly preferable to the populated lowlands. The problem in Vietnam has always been one of finding, fixing and fighting successfully the elusive VC. If Route GBO becomes a magnet, it tends to solve several of these problems, with the mobility, communication and firepower of the Air Assault Division supported by Tactical Air, we believe the battle of the road will be won and that the road can be used by the division. The division can be supported over the road for the bulk of its requirements, and can be backed up as necessary by a C130 squadron on a contingency basis, augmented by C123 and Caribou, as well as Chinook helicopters which are organic to the division. The Air Assault Division consumes POL, ammunition, food and miscellaneous supplies at a rate which varies from 600 tons at the maximum to 130 tons or less at the minimum. When all aircraft are flying at the maximum rate and ammunition expenditures are the highest conceivable in this kind of war, the division might hit the 600 ton requirement. If on the other hand it is necessary to pull in the belt--defend the hard bases, curtail both flying and shooting- then the consumption comes down dramatically. In short, the division can subsist easily on air resupply while relatively inactive and yet defend itself. We would have a corps force with one US and one ROK division operating in the northern half of II Corps. This would permit the regrouping of the 22d and 23d Divisions so that more ample coverage could be provided in the South and would provide the kind of reaction force required to meet and defeat major VC attacks. The foregoing deployment relates to the situation as we know it now. If that situation changes or additional forces are introduced by the DRV, these forces will be shifted correspondingly.

(3) III Corps. This corps is extremely weak on its northern and eastern flanks and has inadequate reserves to react to heavy VC attack particularly in the isolated areas. The VC attacks in Phuoc Long Province on 10 and 1K2 [as received] June illustrated the dire consequences of a piecemeal commitment of small battalions against a VC regiment in an intelligence vacuum. There are no prospects of additional ARVN forces in the near future. Thus, we foresee the eventual requirement for a full US division northeast of Saigon to meet the VC threat as it is now constituted. In the meanwhile, we wish to retain the l73d Airborne Brigade after the arrival of the brigade of the 101st Airborne Division. If for some reason the Airmobile Division is not deployed, we would station one of the airborne brigades at Pleiku.

(4) IV Corps. At the moment, this corps is standing on its own two feet. The terrain in IV corps lends itself to the full use of air mobility and the absence of cover compounds the difficulty of the VC. The units of the 7th and 21st Divisions have attained a high state of morale and certain units have achieved an outstanding record against the VC. We consider that, although the margin is favorable, it is certainly thin. Whether or not US forces will be required in this area cannot now be forecast.

6. The VC are destroying battalions faster than they can be reconstituted and faster than they were planned to be organized under the buildup program. The RVNAF commanders do not believe that they can survive without the active commitment of US ground combat forces. The only possible US response is the aggressive employment of US regular together with Vietnamese General Reserve Forces to react against strong VC/DRV attacks. To meet this challenge successfully, troops must be maneuvered freely, deployed and redeployed if necessary, and the challenge of Highway 19 and the high plateau must be met.

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