Shortly after World War II ended, the United States of America was involved in a divisive conflict, the Vietnam War, which lasted for two decades. Americans fought alongside the South Vietnamese army against the communist North Vietnam government and its allies in the South, the Viet Cong. The Southern army fought to retain a Vietnam that was aligned closely to the West while the Northern Vietnam government aimed at unifying the country under a single communist regime modeled after China and the Soviet Union (Wiest and Young 00:00:51-00:10:56). The Viet Cong, an unrelenting adversary comprised of guerilla forces and regular army units used the country’s geography such as the southwestern Mekong River Delta to their advantage while employing other war tactics. On the other hand, Americans alongside the Southern Vietnamese army experienced operational difficulties presented by the terrain.
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In the Mekong delta, the river splits into numerous distributaries. The area was highly populated with most of its occupants practicing crop production, mainly rice farming as water was readily available. Consequently, the North Vietnamese army relentlessly invaded the rich lands forcefully acquiring farm produce. By 1966, the Viet Cong was successfully prosecuting in over one thousand small scale assaults on segregated villages and governmental stations in the Mekong Delta. Attempts by the South Vietnamese armies to protect their terrain were futile as the troops were scattered over a large area (Wiest and Young 00:12:00-00:16:30). Additionally, poor communications and road infrastructure made movement difficult for the Southern troops. However, by 1967, the US Mobile Riverine Force organization had been formed by the Americans with the aim of seizing the advantage from the Viet Cong, Southern allies of the Northern Vietnamese army.
The riverine forces comprised an infantry army and a navy unit called Task Force-117. The navy component incorporated two river assault troops each equipped with landing crafts and boats. Both troops, the navy and the infantry were to work collectively, employing all skills to acquire an advantage against the Viet Cong. Ground troops required additional support from the navy team, which took advantage of the waterways during the war (Wiest and Young 00:17:00-00:19:50). Before this, the Americans had only used the Riverine forces to enable easy crossings over water bodies. On the other hand, to move, restock, and resupply their troops, the Viet Cong greatly depended on sampans among other minor watercraft. Their vast knowledge of the waterways eased their movement. The Viet Cong had managed to remain firmly grounded in the Mekong Delta given that the presence of Southern armies was scarcely felt in the area.
The Mobile Riverine force brought with it a new strategy that involved a floating base with multiple ships able to station a great number of troops attributable to the ability to easily move on short notice. Moreover, the base provided a platform to launch both airborne and amphibious assaults on the enemy. Additionally, a permanent base was set on land, at Dong Tam. Setting up the facility required reclamation of about 600 acres of the land that was previously meant for rice paddies (Wiest and Young 00:20:00-00:22:20). To aid in the assaults that would emanate from the river, a second unit was trained on navy skills such as battle drills, quick boarding, and debarking from ships. While the training continued, American navy crafts aided the South Vietnamese army in managing traffic in the operational areas of the river.
In 1967, 11 umbrella operations with the code name Coronado I-XI were launched by the Mobile Riverine Force in the Mekong Delta. This was later followed by a sequence of similar operations and assaults. The first assault caught the Viet Cong by surprise as they did not expect that the Southern Vietnamese armies had acquired the necessary water body navigation skills and vessels (Wiest and Young 00:23:00-00:25:40). In the beginning, the riverine forces would use the element of surprise and attack at dawn along the riverbanks using heavy artillery and gunfire from the navy. These attacks would then be reinforced by air assaults such as helicopter gunships. Additionally, Southern Vietnamese armies would then arrive by ground to block escape for the enemy and join in the assault. Numerous attacks from land, air, and water facilitated the removal of the Viet Cong from the Mekong Delta, an area of which they had firm control.
The Viet Cong had underestimated the Southern Vietnam army along with their allies, the Americans. They were less conscious of defending the banks and the river. Continually for half a year, the riverine forces continued to launch assaults while gaining complete dominance over areas where the Viet Cong had previously controlled. Prior to the launch of the Coronado I-XI operation by the riverine forces, the Viet Cong and the North Vietnamese army had embarked on an organized sequence of attacks, the Tet Offensive. Through the Tet, Viet Cong units were able to attack and overrun almost every major city in the delta (Wiest and Young 00:26:00-01:12:40). Combined land, air, and water operations gave the Americans victory in the warfare. The floating base and mobility vessels later enabled the riverine forces to maintain routine operations through rotation of units, therefore, avoiding exhaustion and related hazards. The success of the Americans can also be attributed to the ability of the Mobile Riverine Forces to move large armies through air, ground, and water to the battlegrounds swiftly, an advantage which the Viet Cong lacked.
Over time, the Vietnam War remains significant in American history. Understanding Why America was involved, how the events took place, and the outcome of the war creates a public perception that impacts foreign policies and the American national identity. Whether America’s involvement in the war was a noble intervention against a communist aggressor, an act of imperialism to suppress the freedom of a nation, or a terrible involvement in a state’s conflict is still debatable. Notably, American leaders have over time argued that the use of military force in the Vietnam War was paramount in defending the sovereign state of South Vietnam. This is because the North Vietnamese army along with its allies, the Viet Cong, were relentlessly attacking the Southern armies nearly overpowering them and introducing communist rule. Though multiple lives were lost on both ends, the Americans and Vietnamese, South Vietnam eventually retained the victory.
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Interestingly, given the time which the war took, from the the1950s to the 1970s, Americans were innovative in the way they employed different combat tactics. For instance, understanding the geographical terrain and overcoming the mobility challenges it posed was paramount in enabling them to overcome the Viet Cong. They devised ways of moving heavy artillery and troops through the Mekong River to the battle areas by use of watercraft. A floating base was an added advantage as the navy team was always ready, prepared to launch an assault at a given time. Additionally, preparing the riverine force to specifically go to war with the Viet Cong took them by surprise as they underestimated South Vietnam. The Americans also used the element of surprise while launching attacks in the Viet Cong territory by employing joint task forces. The infantry on the ground worked in conjunction with the navy and the air forces to launch multiple attacks on the Viet Cong. Training a second brigade division to join the riverine forces increased the manpower to face the adversary.
Wiest, Andrew, and John Young. “The Vietnam War.” C-SPAN, uploaded by American History TV, 2016, Web.