By Bob Hall
Each month the Province Senior Advisor (PSA) in each of the Republic of Vietnam’s 44 provinces submitted a detailed report up the chain of command. These reports assessed the political and psychological, security and economic situation in their province. They provided a qualitative evaluation of the previous month’s developments and so, form a useful complement to the vast array of quantitative data collected by HQMACV such as the much-maligned Hamlet Evaluation Survey. The report below is a near word-for-word copy of the PSA report for Phuoc Tuy Province for the period ending 29 February 1968. It covers the period of the 1968 Tet Offensive in Phuoc Tuy Province. It was signed by C.M. McDonald III, acting for Lieutenant Colonel Thomas A. Austin III, Province Senior Advisor. We have lightly edited the report to improve flow and remove irrelevant sections.
PROVINCE REPORT, PHUOC TUY PROVINCE, PERIOD ENDING 29 FEBRUARY 1968
Status of the Revolutionary Development Plan:
The Revolutionary Development Plan in Phuoc Tuy has been halted this month by the TET offensive. There was no progress made on completion of the 1967 Plan and no projects in the 1968 Plan have been started. During the TET offensive Revolutionary Development Teams were brought into the Provincial Capital due to lack of security throughout the Province. All but one team have returned to their previous locations. The revolutionary Development Plan in Phuoc Tuy has suffered a great loss in time and momentum. All effort is being exerted to regain this momentum that existed before the TET offensive, but until security is established throughout the Province the Revolutionary Development Plan will remain ineffective.
This reporting period opened with the Viet Cong attacking the Province Capital at approximately 0500 hours, 1 February 1968. The attack has been met with various opinions and attitudes of the province population. In the province capital, Phuoc Le (also known as Baria), fighting was fierce for the first two days, resulting in death, injury and loss of property to many citizens. As the VC forces were killed or forced from the capital city, wholesale looting of property took place first by ARVN troops and then by the civilian population. The National Police in the area did a good job of defending themselves in their respective compounds, but completely failed in their role of protecting the property of citizens who were not present in their homes to keep looters out. In general, the population of Phuoc Le are angered at the VC because of the attack on their city during the sacred TET season. Australian troops that entered the city on the first morning of the attack have the admiration of everyone for their aggressiveness against a far superior force of Viet Cong troops.
A different picture presents itself in the attitudes of the people in Long Dien Village. Following the first two days of fighting in Phuoc Le, the battle shifted to Long Dien. Fighting was fierce in Long Dien and resulted in the extensive loss of civilian lives and property. Open cowardice on the part of one ARVN Battalion was observed by the civilian population. Great numbers of the village overtly or covertly helped the Viet Cong, and the remainder of the village population was then and remains today too frightened of the Viet Cong to participate in the National Rebuilding Program. The pro-Viet Cong attitude in Long Dien can be attributed to several facts; namely the cowardice and looting by Government troops in the village and the poor face to face Government information program. The latter was known several months ago and the reason made known to all province officials, and reported in the semi-annual Psychological Operations report submitted in early January. Effective work cannot be expected from elected and appointed officials who have not been paid for six months as is the case in Long Dien Village.
A total lack of national news coverage on the tactical situation in Phuoc Tuy resulted in citizens who were in other parts of the nation observing the TET season, [being] either misinformed through rumors or uninformed of the situation and [as a result, not returning] to their homes for many days following the defeat of the Viet Cong forces. The local population found it difficult to believe the defeat of the VC forces immediately after their attack.
Initial shortages of food and clothing in the markets for several days caused the province chief to place a ceiling on the price of rice, and restricted the shipment of it outside the province. His timely action did much to stabilize the prices in the markets.
The S-5 Section of the Vietnamese sector headquarters is to be commended for an outstanding job of directing refugee operations in the first days of the attack and even making Chieu Hoi appeals [appeals to rally to the government side] to the attacking Viet Cong forces. It should be noted that even though the majority of the population did not support the Viet Cong forces as the Viet Cong had been promised, the courage and morale of the VC forces was reported in all areas as outstanding. Following the defeat of their efforts to occupy the cities, the VC are actively engaged in psychological operations to win the support of the people. Such activities as passing out candy to children and entering homes of the sick and writing out prescriptions to be filled at provincial drug stores have been reported in the wake of their defeat by Free World Military and Government forces.
The 1st Australian Task force cordon and search operations conducted immediately following VC forces withdrawal from villages were aggressively carried out and have resulted in the elimination of considerable Viet Cong Infrastructure [civilians supporting the VC] and the capture of weapons and equipment. These operations on the heels of the VC attacks should greatly help the citizens to a more rapid return to a normal daily way of life free of Viet Cong influence.
Vietnam Information Service (VIS):
Immediately following the VC attack on 1 February, and until the return of the VIS Chief from Vung Tau on Sunday 4 February, the Province VIS office did not function. Fortunately, this void of VIS operations was covered by the Vietnamese S-5 Section as mentioned in the paragraph above. On Monday 5 February, the VIS office was being employed in the information aspects following the VC attack (see paragraph below). Due to the curfew of 1800 hours imposed by the Province Chief on 31 January throughout the Province, no JUSPAO supplied VIS TV sets have been operational during the period covered by this report. The VIS office and reading room in Long Dien has been completely destroyed for the second time in three months. All Long Dien VIS equipment, with the exception of the mobile loudspeaker Lambretta, was totally destroyed. A complete list of VIS equipment destroyed throughout the Province is incomplete at the date of this report, due to the existing VC activity in the Province.
The security situation in Phuoc Tuy has returned to near normal conditions of previous months. The VC TET offensive centered around Phuoc Le and Long Dien was effectively dealt with. However, the VC conducted another infiltration and attack on Long Dien during the night of 27 February. Indications at the end of the month are that Long Dien will continue to receive such attacks unless a larger static defence unit is present which will be aggressive in searching out and destroying the VC. During the TET offensive, D445 Provincial Mobile Battalion conducted the main assault. Augmentation was provided by C25, Long Dat Concentration Company; C40, Chau Duc Concentration Company; C610, Baria town Unit as well as local guerrillas from the area. The presence of NVA troops among D445 was confirmed through prisoners of war (PW). One PW was NVA and stated that the majority of NVA were from the 725th NVA regiment, which is subordinate to the 1st NVA Division. The total force during the offensive numbered 600. Continuing harassment has been experienced from 8 February 1968 to 29 February 1968. Agent reports and VC propaganda indicate VC intentions to attempt another all-out offensive during the month of March 1968 with 5 March as the starting date. However, it should be noted that target dates of 20-25 February and 28 February for another offensive were reported by agents and VC propaganda resulting in no activity on the part of the VC.
The 274th VC Regiment has moved from the Hat Dich area and is operational in Bien Hoa Province. It is anticipated that the 274th VC Regiment will return to the Hat Dich in the near future. The D445 Provincial Mobile Battalion remains dispersed throughout Phuoc Tuy Province. Headquarter, Mobile Battalion remains dispersed throughout Phuoc Tuy Province, Headquarters, C4 and C5 are located vicinity of YS5282. They are regrouping and resupplying. Elements of C1, C2, C3 in conjunction with C25, Long Dat Concentrated Company, are located in the Minh Dam Secret Zone in the vicinity of YS4755. C41, Chau Duc Concentrated Company Headquarters, is located in the vicinity of YS3370 with two platoons operating in the vicinity of YS311 [sic]. Squad-size units of C41 are reported conducting reconnaissance work along Inter-provincial Route #2. Indications are that Group 84, VC Rear Services Group, is also operating in the Thi Vai Mountain area. Enemy capabilities and probable courses of action are as follows:
- Conduct harassment of GVN outposts and installations.
- Interdict lines of communications and conduct small scale ambushes.
- Mount Battalion-size operations against districts and New Life hamlets, provided that adequate supplies and replacements have been received.
- Conduct extensive propaganda activities.
The TET offensive brought the Phoenix program to an abrupt halt. It remained so for over two weeks, and was not functioning until the cordon and search of Hoa Long Village on 16 and 17 February 1968. This action was followed by cordon and searches of Suoi Nghe Village, 19 February 1968 and Long Dien Village, 21 February 1968. The results of these operations regarding VCI captured are not yet known.
It is suspected that numerous VCI were killed during the TET offensive. However, no information is available on who or how many.
On the positive side, a second cordon and search of Long Dien Village on 29 February 1968 by the Australian Task Force was very successful. In the fighting which ensued, a number of high ranking VCI were killed including the Secretary of Long Phuoc Village, the Finance Chief of Long Dat District (VC), and the second in command of Long Dat District (VC).
Finally a word of praise must go to the DIOCC advisors for the fine job they did in getting their counterparts to think again about eliminating the infrastructure, as this aspect of the war was forgotten at the beginning of the month.
Large-scale operations of Battalion size and larger are being conducted be ARVN and FWMAF to rid the villages and hamlets of VC. These operations consist mainly of a cordon and search. The 1st Australian Task Force has provided a rifle company to help secure Baria. Operations are being conducted to eliminate VC influence throughout the Province. There has been little change in GVN troop disposition. The TET offensive has brought about a more defensive minded attitude and the ARVN troops are now getting out and operating away from the compounds [sic].
After the TET offensive, there was a general rise in prices. However, at this reporting date prices have stabilized and are about 10% above the normal cost. There are a few items that are still critical in the province; such as sugar, kerosene, gasoline, and fresh milk.
Material Resources and Transport:
The transportation of materials is just now getting back to normal, as following the TET offensive it almost halted in some areas. Even now in some areas of the Province people find it difficult to travel due to lack of security. However, at this time there are no critical areas that are completely isolated due to the TET offensive.
Provincial Resources in Support of Pacification
Revolutionary Development Cadre (RDC) Teams:
At this writing all teams are on location except Team #II, that is working in the Provincial Capital assisting with the refugee problem. Team #IV is located in the sub-sector compound at Hoa Long, Long Le District. Teams V and VI are located at An Hoa Hamlet, An Ngai Village, Long Dien District. There were two incidents involving RDC during the month of February that resulted in 1 RDC KIA and 3 RDC WIA. This incident took place at An Ngai Village, Long Dien District when RDC Team Group I received information of an impending attack by 60 VC on their group. The RDC Group leader deployed his RD Cadre Team into ambush positions and at 2100 hours a group of VC entered the killing zone of the ambush. The Group opened fire and a two-hour battle ensued resulting in the RDC casualties. An unknown number of VC were wounded or killed. Blood trails and pieces of flesh attested to the VC casualties. Two AK-47’s, 5 magazines and 1 hand grenade was captured. On 7 February, one unit of VC attacked RDC Team V which was working in An Hoa hamlet, An Ngai village, Long Dien District. The VC, using B-40 rockets, AK 50’s and .30 caliber machine guns, attacked Team V. In repeated attacks on Team V, the VC were repulsed and driven off, leaving behind 1 VC KIA (body count), four automatic rifle magazines, and other miscellaneous equipment. Two RD cadre were slightly wounded.
The security situation in all but two of the RDC hamlets has been less than adequate. In an Australian cordon and search of the village of Hoa Long, Long Le District (work site of RDC Team IV) there were 11 VC KIA, 25 VC captured, and 41 suspects detained. Obviously this village does not have sufficient security to allow Team IV to function properly, hence the team is spending the nights in the Long Le District Compound. In Long Dien District where RDC Teams V and VI are located, again a cordon and search resulted in a large number of VC and VCI KIA and captured (number not available at this time). There is still a pretty hot war going on in three of the five districts in Phuoc Tuy Province, and until the situation stabilizes there is little hope of continuing with the RDC program.
The conduct and fighting spirit of the RD Cadre was and is apparent in Phuoc Tuy province. During the first days of the TET offensive the RD Cadre Chief was in Saigon; however he returned on the 4th of February to find that his very able staff had done a very commendable job of carrying on in his absence. Captain Xa, the RD Chief, took over the reins on his return and has shown himself to be an able administrator and leader of the RD Cadre.
Static Census-Grievance (CG):
There was absolutely no CG activity during the month of February. The CG Chief was not present during the first four or five days of the TET offensive. On his return, the CG program still was anything but effective. This is due ‘no doubt’ to the fact that most of the lines of communication were cut and have remained out, almost all month. It is hoped that CG will be back in full swing again in the near future.
The National Police did little or nothing toward restoring law and order immediately after the TET offensive, due to the fact that the military were in control. When the situation permitted, the police moved in to perform their normal duties in the city and at check points. During the TET offensive and the period immediately after, the police concentrated primarily upon defending their own compound, and were not back in operation until about 14 February. Immediately following the TET offensive, there was considerable looting of homes in Phuoc Le by ARVN troops, which example was followed by civilians in the area. The National Police were not in operation at this time in Phuoc Le, and so these incidents went unchecked, and none of the property was recovered.
VC terrorist activities increased during the month. These incidents included 10 assassinations, 6 kidnappings, 6 killed and 18 wounded. Four persons were shot to death in Long Le district. In addition to terrorist activities, the VC launched 6 separate attacks on police facilities and district headquarters during the month, resulting in 30 civilians killed, 73 wounded, 9 National Police KIA, 18 National Police WIA, 5 National Police Field Force WIA. The police station at Long Dien was destroyed; the station at Long Le sustained 70% damage and Dat Do sub-station was 30% damaged.
Provincial Administrative Personnel and Organization:
The VC TET offensive generally accelerated and highlighted trends and attitudes already apparent. Under the usual pressure, Service Chiefs (and their departments) who had been exercising good to outstanding leadership rose to meet the crisis, and maintained operations despite obstacles. On the other hand, marginally effective Chiefs and departments collapsed under the additional pressure. In only one case, Public Health, did a seemingly well qualified Service Chief collapse through fear. As a result, the entire medical program has collapsed and one of the most meaningful contacts between the GVN and the people has been lost.
Service Chiefs functioning unusually well during the reporting period include Chieu Hoi, Public Works, Animal husbandry, public administration, Revolutionary Development Cadre, and the National Police of Dat Do District only. The province Chief and deputy for Administration displayed exceptional moral courage and leadership.
Substandard performances were attributed to Refugee/Social Welfare, Public Health, agricultural affairs, National Police (except Dat Do district) and Census Grievance.
Formal efforts to remove the Refugee/Social Welfare Chief were initiated on 7 February 1968. He was removed on 4 March 1968. Basis for removal was a detailed letter from the Deputy Province Senior Advisor to the Province Chief charging incompetence.
Initiation of similar action in the cases of the Health Service Chief and Chief of Police are under consideration at this time.
In the districts, it should be noted that the VC attacks were concentrated in two districts headed by unsatisfactory chiefs (Long Le and Long Dien). The Long Le chief appears to be mending his ways again. The Long Dien chief has entirely forfeited the confidence of his people who are now 70% VC sympathizers. Action is being prepared in both cases.
Revolutionary development Councils did not meet, but the provincial Recovery Committee has been effective.
In most previously pacified areas, the GVN gained adherents by default from the VC as a result of the attack and accompanying atrocities such as mining a school yard in Dat Do resulting in five children killed and one slightly wounded. Reaction against the VC was strong, but the GVN lost ground because of some cowardice on the part of ARVN, and because of wholesale looting by ARVN. The GVN will lose this advantage if it does not take immediate action to exploit it, and appear at once as protector and helper of the people.
In Long Dien, the VC have gained by showing the people how ineffective the Administration and ARVN are against a small body of determined, well organized men.
Follow up and report results on three samples taken from suspected plague cases and forward to Saigon via Region for analysis. First sample was sent three weeks ago.
Follow up request for replacement generators for Long Dien (1 each 100KW and 50kW).
Follow up two requests from province to Ministry of Education to reopen schools at once. It is probable that schools will reopen without Ministry approval in any case, but would like this as insurance.
Suggest renewal of attempts to have province Chief’s slot carry full Colonel rank. Most of the military fiascos in this province arise form disparity of rank unfavourable to Province Chief and/or lack of complete control over ARVN units sent to assist. Province Chief should have the right to immediately cashier any commander disobeying orders in a military emergency, or who displays cowardice in the face of the enemy. War is not a Sunday School picnic. Drastic times definitely call for drastic measures. Almost every GVN failure in this province can be attributed to poor leadership at some subordinate level.
The following inclusions were attached to the PSA report.
Inclusion #1: Comments of Deputy Province Senior Advisor, signed by CM McDonald III, ILT AGC, for William F. Mulcahy, 6 March 1968.
The TET offensive has done much to expose conditions in Phuoc Tuy Province. It has illuminated GVN at province and all subordinate levels, throwing both strengths and weaknesses into sharp relief. Generally speaking, those areas of Government enjoying strong leadership came through the ordeal with their organizations functioning and substantially intact, while departments under weak leaders were taken more or less completely out of the picture by the offensive and its aftermath. The reputations of the departments which functioned throughout the crises, or which quickly regained this ability, have been substantially enhanced, while those which became paralysed, or restricted their activities to their own self-defence, lost considerable prestige with the people.
The GVN has had two problems to cope with generated by the VC: First, the immediate military problem of destroying the attacking VC units. Second, the continuing social, economic and political problem of re-establishing its campaign to win the support of the people.
The attempted coup de main was relatively quickly brought to nothing by the defensive action of ARVN defending their own installations. In no case was the smaller attacking force able to dislodge or overrun its objective. Pursuit of the VC forces and aggressive follow up of the initial repulse hinges largely on the Australian Task Force. Operations already initiated and which will extend over the next two months will destroy VC bases in the most important VC stronghold in the province.
In the PSY OPS field, however, the VC have been much more successful. They have put the people into a state of mind where they are afraid of shadows. Two VC, attempting to Chieu Hoi, panicked the population of Long Huong, driving half the people over the bridge into Phuoc Le, spreading alarm throughout the city. Accidental discharge of firearms near the Phuoc Le market cleared hundreds off the street in seconds.
The VC are attempting to drive a wedge between people and government. Two of the most potentially effective reminders of GVN interest in the hamlets are the health and Education systems. The health program has been rendered ineffective because its highest personnel are paralysed by fear. The education system is under attack now. At the end of the month, VC placed an M-16 mine in a schoolyard. When it exploded, six children were in the blast area. All but one has died. The ministry decision to keep schools closed until 1 April 1968 has now given people the impression that GVN is afraid to open the schools because it cannot secure them.
The same techniques could be employed in agriculture and with RD generally. The Long Le District Chief wishes to keep an entire cadre team as a guard force in his compound. I do not wish to paint a picture of despair. On the contrary, three district chiefs and at least eight service chiefs are aggressively pursuing policies of beating the VC to the punch in the countryside. It is the Province Chief’s policy to encourage this aggressiveness. He is sadly limited by the number of time-serving officials who give up the game at the first sign of rough going.
I believe that pacification can be back on schedule by the end of this semester, provided ill-advised, defeatist regulations such as the school rule can be aborted before they can demoralize the aggressive element in the province. The VC have given us a tremendous opportunity to expose them and destroy them. It could be that if the GVN loses this opportunity, is may never have another. If the government does not take effective action, the people will never rally to it. If GVN acts positively now, the population could be won over, or denied to the VC substantially forever.
Inclusion #2: District Advisor’s Monthly Report, Long Le District, dated 29 February 1968
Report by Robert W. Chutter Jr., Major, Infantry.
Overall Status of Pacification in District: Pacification within the district suffered a month long setback as a result of the TET offensive by the Viet Cong. The Vietnamese are very slowly responding to suggestions to counter this action, but have not sufficiently reacted to fully counter the effectiveness of the VC offensive. The presence of friendly or enemy troops sways the populace to the side of those present. During the hours of darkness any populated area could come under VC control. The Revolutionary Development Team is awaiting security to begin its tasks in Ap Bac Hamlet, Hoa Long.
Reasons for Success or Lack of Pacification Goals: The failure of the local military forces to seek out the enemy and to counter the psychological operations that the VC are using apparently very successfully. The DIOCC is operating, but has, as of this date, not been used effectively. The populated areas along Highway 15 cannot be secured by the available RF/PF units during the hours of darkness. This is primarily due to ‘present for duty’ strength being in the range of 50 to 84 percent.
Local Actions to Improve Pacification: The Australian Task Force and the 83rd Artillery Battalion Surgeons have continued their MEDCAP and DENTCAP coverage of the populated areas of the district. The Australian Task Force had conducted numerous actions to counter the VC TET offensive. Their actions have been very deliberate and have achieved considerable success.
Significant problem Areas: Again I stress the failure of the District Chief to delegate any authority to his subordinates. This of necessity precludes the accomplishment of many projects. His subordinates therefore have insufficient work programs for their undertaking and training, therefore preparing them as useful public servants.
Name of GVN District Chief: Captain Vo Sanh Kim is the District Chief. He has been the district chief for nineteen months.
Inclusion #3: District Advisor’s Monthly Report, Long Dien District, dated 29 February 1968
Report by Clarence L. Rule, Captain, Armor.
Overall Status of Pacification in District: looking back on the enemy activity during the past month, it can only be said that pacification does not exist in the district. Irregardless [sic] of this fact however, the two RD teams have been consolidated into one and are presently working in An Hoa hamlet of An Ngai village. The teams are also doing what they can for the refugees currently located at Cau Ngang bridge (YS447598). Some of these people’s homes were destroyed during the recent activity in Long Dien, and the rest do not want to return home because they are afraid of possible future fire-fights. There are presently areas of Long Dien where the people live in their homes by day and go elsewhere for the night.
Reasons for Success or Lack of Pacification goals: There is a serious lack because of excessive VC activity.
Local Actions to Improve pacification: The District Chief has been conducting operations in an effort to clear the area of VC and evaluate the damage done. Also, he and his staff, in conjunction with province officials, are trying to improve the lot of refugees in the district.
Significant problem Areas: Presently, the greatest problem is the refugee camp at Cau Ngang bridge.
Name of GVN District Chief: Major Tran Tanh Long.
Inclusion #4: District Advisor’s Monthly Report, Xuyen Moc District, dated 29 February 1968. Report by Paul Y. Sugimoto, CPT, Artillery.
Overall Status of Pacification in District: The pacification effort is making slow progress. There are no ADM hamlets. Electrification of the village is at a standstill. The wiring of the village has not been started, nor has the generator been delivered. Renovation and repair of district Administrative office and dispensary have been curtailed temporarily.
Reasons for Success or Lack of Pacification Goals: Success of any pacification effort can be directly attributed to the aggressive actions of the District Chief and the willing support of the villagers. The security of the area is a difficult task considering the shortage of RF/PF personnel.
Local Action to Improve Pacification: Meeting of elected officials and villagers to discuss self-help projects proposed by GVN for the hamlets in the district indicate the willingness of the peoples to support GVN activities and local officials. Recent turnout of villagers to repair culverts on Highway 23 caused by VC mines and explosives also indicate the willingness of the villagers to help themselves and the GVN.
Significant problem Areas: Security of line of communication for civilian traffic (Highway 23) going to and from market (Dat Do) remains a significant problem for this district.
Name of the GVN district Chief: Captain Le Van Duc.
Inclusion #5: District Advisor’s Monthly Report, Duc Thanh District, dated 29 February 1968. Report by Bobby Goble, Major, Infantry.
Overall Status of Pacification in the District: The two ADMs for 1968 are getting off to a slow start due to the TET activities and leave for the RD Cadre. Some action on the 1968 RD program has been initiated but is progressing slowly. Efforts to eliminate or identify the VC infrastructure has been started and continues to be slow. The 1967 RD program is approx 90% complete.
Reasons for Success or Lack of pacification goals: The District Chief is trying to do something to improve the overall pacification in the district and has shown considerable interest in the ADMs of 1968. However, efforts to provide security for the RD Cadre have been ineffective.
Local Actions to Improve Pacification: The District Chief has provided some security for the RD Cadre and has conducted a visit to the ADM to convey to the people the GVN is trying to help them. A search and cordon operation was conducted in an effort to capture VC in the hamlet of Lo Van with no success.
Significant problem Areas: the ADMs of 1968 are progressing slowly due to the lack or security, materials, and transportation. The1967 RD program is incomplete due to the depletion of funds and lack of materials and transportation.
Name of the GVN District Chief: Captain Nguyen Ngoc An.
The monthly Province Senior Advisor reports form an invaluable collection of qualitative data about the relationship between combat operations and political, social and economic developments in the Republic of Vietnam’s provinces. While combat operations, particularly US combat operations, have received a great deal of historical attention, the role of political, social and economic developments during the war have tended to receive little attention. A near complete collection of PSA Reports for Phuoc Tuy Province can be found at AWM 257, item D/4/19; Province Senior Advisors Reports, 1968 to 1972. Some reports are missing from this collection. The missing reports are available at the US National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, Maryland.