The other side of the COIN – South Vietnamese Forces in ‘Nam

Today Lee takes a look the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) – the South Vietnamese.

Introduction

By the mid-sixties, the South Vietnamese forces were organised and equipped along similar lines to the US forces that assisted them.  The infantry brandished M16 Assault Rifle, M72 disposable AT missiles and M60 machine guns; were ferried around in Vietnamese crewed Hueys or M113; and supported from afar by 105 and 155mm artillery.  What they lacked was heavy equipment – mainly in the air force (F-5 are cool but F-4’s are better) and armoured forces.

However, this material support did little to solve some of the core issues facing the ARVN.  The military had overthrown the questionably elected president earlier in the sixties but a series of caretaker general’s (eventually leading to one being “elected” President in 1967) failed to address the disconnect between a catholic ruling minority and a largely Buddhist populace.  This divide was mirrored in the officer structure of the armed services with officers rising through nepotism and wrangling rather than performance on the field.  Ultimately, this often manifested in the performance of units on the field, and a poor perception of South Vietnam’s long term viability in Washington.

That said, the South Vietnamese were often capable of holding their own as was demonstrated in the 1972 Easter Offensive.  Whilst North Vietnam made some permanent gains in the north, around the DMZ, it was at the cost of most of its armoured force and a large chunk of its infantry.  US air support played its part, but the ARVN ultimately had to hold the line and largely did so.

However, faced with dwindling support from its own populace and its main backer, and North Vietnam having no such issues, the fall of Saigon was an inevitable reality. As the North Vietnamese took Huê and headed south, the leadership structure collapsed.  Small pockets of resistance held out (the 18th at Xuân Lôc) but it was over within a month of the fall of Huê as T-54’s crashed through the gates of the presidential palace.

Special Rules

Previously, the South Vietnamese only had one unique special rule, “patronage”.  This rule reflected the nepotism and factionalism in the South Vietnamese forces bred by an isolated officer class often selected for command on the basis of connections and loyalty.  Each command team (platoon or company) use to roll and get one of three results granting some sort of bonus; either a warrior save for no warrior HQ, a platoon moral re-roll or a 5+ save for one team in the platoon.

In ‘Nam this rule is gone.  The commander quality issues are instead reflected in a low skill value, making commands unlikely to pass.  Generally the officers are no better, courage/morale-wise, than their own units so you only gain from attaching for their slightly better skill.  It’s a decent reflection of the issues present within the ARVN command chain, possibly more so than the old “patronage” rule.

The Force

As noted in my North Vietnam article, the force diagram replaces the “Divisional Support Platoons” of old.  Units that are a compulsory choice in another ARVN formation are not present on the chart but can be taken thanks to the Formation Support rule.  Additionally, the ARVN can be supported by one allied (US or ANZAC) platoon (again, it must be a compulsory choice in a formation) and formation, replicating the ANZAC and US tank and calavry support of old.

Other than that, its much as old.  The force can still take two artillery platoons – one ARVN and one US, a transport helicopter platoon, a Medevac helicopter and a US C&C helicopter.  The choice between a ARVN or US aeroweapons platoon has been reduced to just a US aeroweapons platoon (itself now entirely composed of Huey Cobra).

Additionally the ARVN can field a flight of “Spads” (A-1 Skyraiders), either USAF or Vietnamese Air Force.  The home variety only have skill 5+ which can make getting the template weapons on target a bit trickier, but they are cheaper to make up for it.

The Formations

Infantry Company

There used to be three infantry companies to choose from.  The Airborne are now their own list and the “reluctant trained” 18th Infantry Division has been deleted (to probably no-ones’ detriment).  That leaves the previously middle of the road “Confident Trained” 1st Infantry Division for us to field.

That said, it does feel a bit more 18th than 1st.  The split stat system that first appeared in TY allows some nuance and the ARVN make the most of it by having the Courage and Rally a relatively low 5+ but the Morale and Counterattack set at 4+.  These guys won’t necessarily run off or give up ground, but neither are they going to go charging forwards behind their officer, especially if the bullets are cracking overhead.  It doesn’t feel like a bad reflection of the South Vietnamese in that respect.

Similarly, the Infantry of the army are still largely “trained”; they get hit on 3’s and they hit on 4’s in assaults.  But there Skill is only 5+, reflecting the diminished leadership.  Don’t exepect any fancy manoeuvres.

Equipment wise, the ARVM are well equipped with M16 assault rifles and M72 disposable rocket launchers.  The latter is good against the VC machine gun nests and will also be handy as the NVA tanks head southwards…

New additions to the Infantry platoon are the members of the now deleted wepaon platoon, i.e. the Super Bazooka, M60 LMG and 60mm mortar.  The super bazooka and 60mm mortar provide some useful high firepower attacks when dealing with nests whilst the M60 is always going to be handy for stopping an AK-47 bayonet charge.  Finally, the platoon gains a friend – an M48 Patton tank attachment.  Its only one tank but its a handy way of bolstering local fire power.

In the rest of the formation, as noted the weapons platoon is deleted in favour of making add-ons for the infantry platoon (hey, they normally all got combat attached anyway).  The remaining two platoons are carried across though;  the”anti-tank” (very optimistic name with an AT7 57mm recoiless) platoon provides some decent FP4 shooting when dealing with nests, whilst the 82mm mortar nest provides some off board artillery fire.  Additionally the HQ medic team is now a separate platoon choice in the formation.

Its worth noting how cheap the formation is. With every option (even the tanks) and platoon taken, its a little under 40pts!

Airborne Infantry Company

There’s not much to say about the Airborne.  As a formation, they are pretty much like the 1st Infantry, excepting they have the option of on-board mortars in place of the more expensive but untouchable mortar nests.

The platoons are generally more expensive but that’s because all their courage based stats (courage, morale, rally and counter-attack) are one pip better than the 1st, although they remain 5+ on Skill.  They can also have an M48 tank attached like the 1st but its stats stay unchanged.

With the cheaper of the two mortar options, a maxed out Airborne Infantry formation ends up being only a little more expensive than the 1st Infantry, possibly making it the more useful choice.

Walker Bulldog Tank Company

No longer called “combat car squadron”, its not just the formation title that has changed for the M41 Walker Bulldog.

Firstly the tank itself has benefited from a slight boost in side armour, going from 2 to 3.  Secondly, whilst it remains notionally “Reluctant trained”, the ‘remount’ and ‘counter attack’ have been boosted to 4+, whilst the skill has been down graded to 5+, in keeping with other South Vietnamese forces.  They also lose the option to purchase IR searchlights leaving them as “office hours only”!
This still leaves us with a fast, surprisingly hard hitting, light tanks that is going to wilt under fire if not used correctly.

The formation is much the same as the old company, excepting its lost the option of a fourth M41 platoon (used to be a weapons choice)/2nd ACAV platoon.  It can still be supported by an ACAV platoon, Zippo flame throwers and the M106 mortars.  A maxed out formation comes in at about thirty points, so it would pair up nicely with one of the infantry formations and still leave points for supporting artillery.

Patton Tank Company

A new addition, the Patton came into the use of the South Vietnamese as part of Nixon’s policy of Vietnamisation.  As the US forces withdrew, they left the heavy equipment like the obsolete M48 for the Vietnamese to adopt (no doubt picking up nice shiny M60A1 in the states).  These were put to the test in the first post-withdrawal conventional clash, the 1972 Easter Offensive.  This saw the Patton engaging the NVA T-54 and other tanks, ultimately leading to the NVA losing most its armour to the ARVN ground forces and US Airpower.

The Patton has also benefited from an up-tick in armour  (now front armour 13) since Tour of Duty.  Its crew stats are much like the Walker Bulldog crew which makes the M48 surprisingly cheap, marginally cheaper per tank than a (albeit much better motivated) NVA T-54!

The formation allows up to three platoons of M48 but the only support options in the formation is a single infantry platoon.

Armoured Cavalry Squadron

The South Vietnamese largely came up with the concept of turning the M113 into a light tank via the ACAV.  In Tour of Duty these could put out a surprising amount of fire thanks to the presence of M16 wielding rifle escorts and HQ MG turrets.

Sadly, both of these features have disappeared, leaving us with a pair of M113 (and an ACAV) in the HQ, and each ACAV platoon down a dice per tank, two for the HQ.  Still, the ACAV puts out a still reasonable 5 shots per vehicle so it can thin out those infantry charges and we still have the option of upgrading one ACAV per squadron to have a 106mm recoilless rifle in place of *both* side MG (not just one) to bolster AT and firepower when facing armour or nests.  The 106mm boasts a high AT of 17 and a “brutal” firepower of 2+ so its going to be well worth giving up two MG shots for.

In terms of the formation, the only two changes are the downgrading of the HQ tracks to stock M113 rather than turreted ones, and the addition of a fourth ACAV platoon to the formation.  We still retain both 82mm and 4.2″ self-propelled mortars, zippos and a M41 platoon.  That’s a lot of (lightly armoured) firepower in the formation and, even maxed out, its still well shy of 40pts.  Perfect for pairing up with the infantry.

River Task Force

First appearing in “Brown Water Navy” (which still sounds like a particularly colourful army slang for the contents of an unflushed toilet), the ARVN River Task Force provides a colourful addition to the South Vietnamese forces.  Much like the M48’s, the growth of the navy was a direct result of US troops leaving Vietnam, leaving obsolete military kit behind rather than take the cost of shipping it home for disposal. In thise case, the Riverines were one of the first forces to undergo this process, starting in 1969.

The River Task Force isn’t terribly different from its US counterpart in organisation.  It lacks a dedicated aid boat (but does have a medic) and a scout platoon but other wise has access to similar numbers of boats and Infantry.

The large boats and Marines all benefit from being 4+ “confident”, indeed 3+ “fearless” for remounting (3+ morale for Marine infantry) but interestingly the smaller Assault Support Patrol Boats are effectively 5+ “reluctant”, although again better for remounting at 4+.  Skill remains low at 5+ which may hurt for conducting improvised repairs.

One thing I did note is that the Armoured Transports have the option of taking a helipad but already have top armour 2, lessening the gain compared to the Top Armour 0 US version.  I’m not sure if that’s a typo or a reflection of modifications already conducted prior to hand over.  I suspect the former given the cost of the upgrade is the same.

Its not a cheap formation, easily running into the 60+pts if fully fitted out, but it does provide something a little different!

Force Support

As noted at the start, the ARVN can have a wide variety of allied units.  But lets look at the homegrown support.

Air Support

The A-1 Sky Raider

As already noted, whilst we lost South Vietnamese Hogs we still have Sky Raiders.  Cheaper than the US variety due to the lower skill (impacting ability to range its fire in) and gerater chance of being hit, the Spad brings a huge amount of fire to the table.  It’s 20mm cannons can be a more reliable way of dealing with infantry in the open, not needing to rely on a skill check.  1000lb Mk-83 GP bombs will struggle to be on target with a 5+ skill but do have a useful AT (4) and firepower (2+) when they do.

The optional extras are a mixed bag.  Rockets are gone (despite still being on the model).  Cluster bombs give a salvo attack with low firepower.  In theory that should be great for shredding massed infantry in the open but between the 5+ skill check, enemy appearing near on top of your own troops and Salvo’s 6″ wave off , I think it may be a struggle to get the most out it.  Napalm on the other hand is a bit easier.  We still have the 5+ skill against it, and its only one shot, but its an artillery template so its easier to put it down near your own guys and the “auto” firepower check will burn any dug in enemy out.  M134 Mini-gun pods provide a higher RoF lower AT/FP option to the 20mm cannon.  These won’t dig out dug in troops or pop soft skins, but they will flatten infantry in the open with 5 shots each and, not relying on skill checks to range in, are much more likely to succeed.  A flight of 4 aircraft puts out 20 shots which can easily match the output of a salvo template under most circumstances.

[Note, I’m not sure if the 20mm cannons being referred to as MG on the card is meant to imply that they fire with the M134 MG pods, as the MG on a tank fire together.  If they do then its even more destructive!]

If I didn’t have the points to just buy the US ones (being hit on 3’s with so many 12.7mm guns around is not appealing), I’d be inclined to load up on Napalm and Mini-guns.  The Napalm would be aiming to make use of a pre-planned artillery target to hit an expected dug in infantry; removing the need for ranging in, gaining a  re-roll on successful saves, but obviously requiring some anticipation on where the enemy will be.  Note that you need the aircraft to not be in reserve to place a pre-planned marker and to use that marker first as they now disappear as soon as the aircraft is removed from the table.
The mini-guns can then keep the pressure on the emerging infantry threat.

UH-1 Huey Transports

A platoon of up to 4 UH-1 allowing up to 12 stands to be airlifted in.  Handy for airmobile missions or keeping a platoon in reserve.

Artillery

The South Vietnamese get access to both towed artillery pieces in the US inventory – the M101 105mm and the M114 155mm.  Both are “Firebase” unit so will be off table in all but one mission – handy as they are hit on 2+’s for being so large! They do have a 3+ save and the advantage of being in a purpose built nest to mitigate that in a firebase mission though.

Both guns can fire smoke indirectly and directly, both are brutal and slow firing, both have Beehive to got a ROF 5 short range blast (useful in the Firebase defence mission).  The 105mm has one less  indirect firepower (3+ as opposed to 2+) and is only “reluctant”.  But it has one big advantage over the 155mm.  It is skill 5+.

“Skill 5+ as an advantage?” I hear you cry.  Yes.  For the 155mm has Skill 6!  Good luck doing anything other than pound a pre-planned mission with the 155mm.  Sure it has a higher morale but that’s not nearly as used as the skill for an artillery piece!

My inclination with the artillery  is to either stick with the various cheap mortar options or go “America first” and take a US allied battery for the higher skill.  Paired up with a US C&C helicopter and it will prove far more useful for digging troops out.

Medic!

The majority of ‘Nam missions use “triage and medevac” so a point a piece for a Medic team and a Medevac helicopter is well invested.  The medic allows you to take up to three wound markers, allowing Infantry stands to fight at full effectiveness rather than tend to wounded.  This can the be paired with a “medevac” helicopter to then take up to six wound markers off the board, before loitering to remove them entirely.  The ARVN version is hit on a 3+ but does come with Door Guns (” we ain’t in Geneva”) which can help keep a LZ clear!

Category: 'NAMFlames of WarReviewsV4

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Article by: Lee

Wargaming since Rogue Trader in 1990; I made the move to Flames in 2006 and have been with it ever since! I play at the Brighton Warlords most weeks.