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Map Source Google New World Encyclopedia

The French colonised Vietnam in 1859 a presence that was to last almost 100 years to 1954. At first the French made it a protectorate while later they called it a colony. However, it was basically a foothold into that part of the world from which they could build up a trade route with the motherland.

This colonisation upset the local Vietnamese who had strong anti-colonial feelings, and wanted to run their own country. This sentiment would grow and develop during the following 100 years.

With the outbreak of the Second World War the invading imperial Japanese Army expelled the French to occupy Vietnam, although they retained French administrators to run the country during their occupation.

In 1941 a group of Vietnamese people in the North of the country created the Indochina Communist Party and called it ‘Viet Nam Doc Menh Lap Dong Minh Hoi’ which was better known as the ‘Vietminh’. The Vietminh grew very quickly in strength, gaining power in both the North and South of the country. In 1945 it changed its name to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

The British eventually defeated the Japanese in the country, receiving their surrender on 2nd September 1945 

Following the Japanese defeat, the French returned to take possession of their colony. Their entrance into Vietnam was only permitted by the Vietminh after assurances had been given that the country would gain its independence as part of the French Union. However, discussions broke down between the two parties and in December 1946, the French shelled the city of Haiphong and forcibly re-entered the capital city Hanoi, starting a war between the two parties which went on to lasted 8 years. The war between the two sides ended with the signing of an Accord in Geneva, which left the Vietminh in control of the Northern part of the country, and the French and its Vietnamese supporters controlling the South.

In 1955 the South led by Ngo Dinh Diem, experienced an uprising. Support for the uprising grew, until the North announced the formation of the National Liberation Front (NLF), later known as Vietcong.

It’s widely accepted that the Vietnam War started shortly afterward in 1959. Initially the conflict was between France and South Vietnam, fighting against North Vietnam.

In 1962, after requests from the US and the Republic of Vietnam (RVN), Australia sent 30 military advisors to assist with the training of the RVN Army. These advisors were highly skilled in jungle warfare. They had been involved in the confrontation with Indonesia and had learned from Australian action in the jungles during World War Two. A Royal Australian Air Force squadron was also posted to nearby Thailand to act as back up.

In 1963, Ngo Dinh Diem was overthrown and killed during a military coup. After the assassination of President Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson was sworn into office and one of his first acts as President was to commit more American troops to the area.

8th June 1964 The Australian Government calls on fellow S.E.A.T.O. members to increase their support for South Vietnam. Australia responded and increased the number of its advisors to 60.

29th June 1964 and New Zealand sends a detachment of 24 Army Engineers to Saigon as a token support for South Vietnam and its struggle.

However, by 1965, the South was losing badly and so the US Military had to step up its commitment by sending more troops to the area.  This presence grew as a response to the increasing success of the North-sponsored Vietcong.

By early 1965 Australian advisor numbers had rose to over 100.

4th April 1965 Australian Prime Minister Robert Menzies says that the US intervention in Vietnam is an act of moral courage, in that Americans have accepted the challenge to human freedom.

On 29 April 1965 the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, made a statement on Vietnam to a half-empty House of Representatives. At eight o'clock at night he announced the extension of Australian commitment in Vietnam both militarily and economically. After three years of providing military advisors to help train the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, Australia was now to send its own army the 1st Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment (RAR), consisting of 778 soldiers, who arrived in Vietnam during May 1965. These were all career soldiers.

Conscription had been re-introduced to Australia in November 1964. It was called the National Service Scheme and required all men to register when they turned 20. Each year certain dates were drawn and those whose birthdays were on that date (and who passed the medical and educational tests) had to serve in the army for two years. Anyone who did not fulfil their National Service obligations without a good reason could be fined or imprisoned. The first army units containing National Service conscripts entered the Vietnam War in early 1966.

By December 1967, there were almost half a million American personnel involved in the Vietnam War, and the death toll amongst its military had reached 16,021.

Although most people believe that mercenaries were not used in the Vietnam War, this is far from the truth.

The definition of a mercenary is somebody who fights for another country other than the one in which he is a citizen.  Okay it’s a little more complicated than that, but this definition is good enough for the layman to understand. If you want to check out an official agreement that was signed on 12th August 1949 formalising this definition, a copy is on this site. In 1979 another agreement that included a clause about the protection of victims of International armed conflicts was also signed. However, the American Government forgot to sign it, (at a time when the CIA was involved in a couple of coups that were taking place in their own part of the world).

Since the Second World War the French have been accused of employing and deploying many ex Second World War German Waffen-SS Troops in what was then known as Indochina. This is true but they were all enlisted into the Foreign Legion which made them French for the duration of their service term, and indeed afterwards. Once they completed their military service they would have all received a French Passport. France was under a lot of pressure to control the country and to keep a presence in the area. While not wanting to send too many of their own young soldiers to their deaths in the country, instead they sent the Legion containing the ex-German soldiers. Problem solved all round, or so they believed.

It’s worth noting here that George Robert Elford wrote a book called ‘Devils Guard’.  The book is basically about Hans Joef Wagemuller and describes what he and his German friends got up to while serving in Vietnam. There are many out there who  don’t believe that the book is based on fact, I on the other hand believe  a lot of it is true, and that it has been padded out a little to make it a good read, but some of the information is definitely based on fact. Having said all that I don’t think Wagemuller or his friends were or could be classed as mercenaries. However, I’m not saying there were no mercenaries operating in the country at that time, but the French did not employ any at that time.

What is less certain is who the Northern Vietnamese military might have recruited. It is common knowledge that both China and the Soviet Union backed North Vietnam with armament and military personnel. It’s also interesting to note that later in their histories both China and the Soviet Union described their military personnel who they sent to Africa during the 1970s and 80s as ‘advisers’, copying the Americans use of the word when they first sent military personnel to Vietnam.

A lot of pressure was placed on the American Government to fill the vacuum left by France’s final withdrawal from the area, by insisting they fulfil its treaty obligation with the French Government via S.E.A.T.O. (South East Asia Treaty Organisation).

To carry this out they needed a large military force on the ground, something they could not raise at that particular time from the USA, largely the US government had not informed their people of what would be involved if they became went to war helping out South Vietnam. This was a time when they had only just started telling the American public about the so called domino effect i.e. the spread of communism throughout the South East Asia area. This was to a public who did not want to go to war so soon after witnessing horrors of the Korean War that had been fought in the early 1950s.

At first the American Government sent a few thousand of their military personnel to the country. These servicemen were referred to as ‘advisors’. Their main job was to train and recruit anybody from South Vietnam and especially neighbouring countries, like the Philippines, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Korea.  It’s a fair bet that the vast majority of these recruits were not American or Vietnamese citizens and so they have to be classed as mercenaries. There is a lot of evidence that they were all paid to fight.

Other recruits like the Montagnard tribesman who lived in South Vietnam’s highlands were fighting for their own country as it was being attacked from the North, so although the Americans paid them to fight for them, they cannot be classed as mercenaries. The Montagnards were top fighters and I’m sure the Americans were pleased they were on their side. North Vietnamese who were recruited and paid to fight are also another group that cannot be classed as mercenaries as it can be considered that they were also fighting for their own country.

Another group of people that were recruited was the Chinese Nung tribesmen who were a group of hill people who originally came from the southern part of China but some of them were by then living in Vietnam. They were hired and organised by the CIA as a mercenary force. They were fearsome and brutal fighters, and were employed throughout Vietnam especially along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. However, the Nungs proved a costly force to maintain since they refused to fight unless constantly supplied with both money and beer!

A few months ago I posted a page on Vietnam mentioning the Kiwi serviceman Gayle Rivers and his book ‘Five Finger’. After a complaint from a site visitor that the book was fiction, I removed the article immediately. However, since then somebody who is connected with this website has personally made contact with Gayle Rivers and had a long chat with him. He believes that the basic story is true and that as Rivers states the American military are doing everything in their power to play down the story because of the bad publicity and the way it portrays them. I can only assume that they don’t want the world to know how they organised and placed into operation a raid that took place in China. How wrong they are because their constant denials and refusal to talk about the raid has given Rivers far more publicity than his book did way back in 1979 when I first purchased a copy to read.

I’ve seen some quite high numbers of people recruited from around the area by the Americans. With the recruitment of Korean mercenaries the The Republic of Korea (ROK) became involved and sent three divisions of troops to Vietnam, beginning in September of 1963, with the "White Horse," "Blue Dragon," and the "Tiger" divisions which totalled 312,853 men over a twelve year period. They had around 45,000 troops on the ground at any one time, making it the second biggest army fighting in the country. For their help the American Government paid the Korean Government direct for their services. Someone once said it was the Korean Governments way of thanking America for the help they gave them during the Korean War in the early 1950s. However, sadly just like in Australia they were not considered heroes upon their return home after the Vietnam War.

Another area of large recruitment numbers was in the Philippines some 10,450 troops were dispatched to South Vietnam, while in Thailand the recruits numbered around 26,000.

Once the Australian and New Zealand Governments became involved and sent troops to the area, it was quite easy for some selective British service men to be sent there under the guise of being citizens of one or other of the countries. Although it has to be noted that the British Prime Minister of the time Harold Wilson fell out with the American President Johnson after refusing to openly commit British Troops to the area or publicly back the Americans, as he was already involved in fighting in Brunei, Sarawak and North Borneo. However, he flew to America to tell Johnson personally and it’s reported that the meeting did not go well. It’s also reported that at one time Johnson lost his temper and told Wilson to go home and look after Malaya and he (America) will look after Vietnam.

It’s believed that during the war the USA lost around 58,000 military personnel, South Korea 5099, Australia 521, New Zealand 38, Thailand 1351, Laos 30000 and South Vietnam 220,357. While the figures for North Vietnam are around 1.176,000, China 1446 and the Soviet Union released a figure of 3000 deployed and 16 killed.
As a footnote John Banks (UK citizen and recruiter for Angola in Jan 1976) claims that at one time he applied and was accepted to join the US Army Special Forces. But was released after a few weeks when it was discovered that his brother Roger (the ex Congo Katangese Mercenary 1961) was believed to be running guns to the Vietcong in the Mekong Delta. Although it has to be mentioned that some of what John has claimed in the past has been a little exaggerated.

Source: This article comes from Information that’s been stored in my head for many years and I cannot remember where it all originally came from, so I’m not claiming copyright. Terry Aspinall 2010.