On July 7, 1954 Bao Dai, president of Vietnam appointed Ding Diem asPrime Minister. Dai was a pro French president who did not have communistbeliefs for Vietnam. Diem was man who refused French rule and favored Americanideas. He was a Roman Catholic, thus causing him to be an opponent of communismas well.
He also maintained a link to the CIA through Colonel Edward Lansdale,renowned expert on counterinsurgency. In April 1955 Diem launched an offensiveagainst his main rivals in the south (Coa Dai and Hoa Hoa sects well as thepowerful Binh Xuyen pirates) and declared himself president. Since the south wasa mainly Buddhist and Diem was Catholic, it caused him to be isolated from thepeople. His fear of a coup and obsession with power caused him to distrust all,but his own family.
Between Diem and his family there was a spread of corruptionthroughout the country. By the late 1950’s South Vietnam had degenerated intorepressive, undemocratic state, which left its people angry and isolated. 1957sparked the first sign of trouble as guerillas launch attacks on governmentagencies in rural areas. It was believed that the Vietnamese Communist launchedthe attacks; also know as the Viet Cong (VC), who was of the Viet Ming partythat stayed behind.
They had gone under ground a few years earlier in 1954. Theygained the support of North Vietnam and in 1959 began a policy to reunifyVietnam with a large-scale infiltration of armed cadres into the south along theHo Chi Man Trail. Due to the resentment caused by Diem, a substantial part ofSouth Vietnam was taken over by the communist (VC). The US, under the leadershipof President John F. Kennedy, was convinced that the insurgency in South Vietnamwas part of a Sino-Soviet campaign to ensure the spread of Communism.
The USgovernment sent aid to South Vietnam in the form of US supplied M-113 armoredpersonnel carriers, helicopters, aircraft along with pilots and mechanics totrain South Vietnamese personnel on their use. Also US Special Forces (greenberets) and Army advisors were deployed to boost the capability of the Army ofthe Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). At the end of 1961, about 3,160 US servicepersonnel were in Vietnam. The number would rise to about 16,000 two yearslater. Even the advantages of US military technology and advisors to SouthVietnam, after a short time the VC learned to operate around them. This was dueto the AVRN unit commanders, many of who were just political appointees, lackedresolve.
Thus allowing the VC to escape instead of risking heavy AVRNcasualties. The VC was engaging in new techniques ranging from the relocation ofvillagers to more fortified areas to use of air and artillery strikes in ruralareas. This resulted in more alienation of the people from Diem’s cause,ultimately leading to the peasant class assisting the VC.
January 2, 1963 theAVRN 7th Division was ordered to destroy a VC in the hamlet (AP) of Tan Thoi.The plan was for AVRN infantry to be landed by helicopter to the north of thehamlet, while two Civil Guard battalions supported by a company of M-113sapproached from the south through the neighboring hamlet of Bac. Originally itwas believed that the transmitter was guarded by an estimate of 120 VC.
Inreality it was guarded by about 360. The AVRN attack went wrong from the verystart. After the infantry had landed at 0703 hrs, it was discovered that theweather was not good enough for any more helicopter operations, due to a thickground fog. Further operations had to post-poned until 0930 hrs. The first clashoccurred at 0745 where the Civil Guard blundered into the VC section acrosstheir route. After the loss of their company commander the South Vietnamese Armywent to the ground and called for much needed reinforcements. Helicopters werelanded 300 yards west of Bac and were supported by UH-1 gunships. It is saidthat US pilots landed 200 yards from the hamlet into a VC ambush.
As they camein at about 1020 hrs they were hit by machinegun and rifle fire from hiddenfoxholes. One of the CH-21 was shot down and another came in to recover theaircrew. That helicopter and a UH-1 met a similar fate. The infantry on boardtook cover in the paddy dikes.
A call was made to the commander of the M-113sordering him to suggest an immediate advance on Bac, but the APCs were away tothe west beyond a series of canals. Some ARVN unit commanders had initiallyrefused to move. It was not until 1300 until the first APCs reached the battlearea. At 1430 hrs they charged the VC held positions, but the VC held theirground using grenades to hold off the vehicles. An airborne division was to themade available to the ARVN but were ordered the east of Bac to cut off theretreat of the VC. The VC was resourceful enough to wait until nightfall to slipaway into the darkness leaving only 18 dead behind. America suffered only 3fatalities, but the AVRN suffered over 80 due to the indecisiveness of theirleaders.
Later after much conflict in South Vietnam, a coup was plotted andcarried out against Diem. He was assassinated due to his oppressive natureagainst the Buddhist religion. America at this point could not back out of theconflict and was committed by November 1, 1963.