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  • Infantry Reinforcements: Army vs Marines

    Everyone,

    In all of my reading about the American's participation in the land war in SVN, I'm struck by one very real difference between the Army and Marines approach to providing sufficient infantry reinforcements to rifle companies.

    First, the Army. Whether reading campaign histories, personal narratives or fictional accounts by those who served, the one consistency when talking about the rifle companies and platoons is how chronically understrength they were. And not just by a few riflemen or for short periods either. It seems that the infantry replacement system in Vietnam was either woefully inadequate to the requirement or that infantry replacements were not a priority in the greater context of the Army's effort. Either way it made for what seems like a permanent shortage of riflemen operating in the field. I could never understand why the Army allowed their fighting units to operate at less 100% efficiency especially when all the Army units in Vietnam were allowed to have 102% of their authorized strength. This endemic shortage could have passed unnoticed and been accounted for as being due to the nature of the war as it was being fought at the time were it not for how, facing the exact same difficulties as the Army, the Marines handled the same situation.

    Marine rifle companies, again reading from the same sources as above, are shown as constantly being re-supplied with new bodies whether the company is in the field or back at base. While I will concede that there are some accounts of Marine sub-units operating at below authorized strength for short periods the company / platoon always receives reinforcements to bring its strength back up when the opportunity allows. It seems that the Marines were way ahead in having sufficient infantry reinforcements on hand for the immediate re-supply of any company requiring them and were able to apply that system consistently.

    So my question is: Why were the Marines so much better at providing trained infantry replacements to keep their units in Vietnam up to strength than the Army?

    Were the Marine staff officers better? Were the Marines more realistic as to what manpower would be required to fight the war than the Army? I mean at the end of the day this is a leadership problem, if I have defined the situation correctly. An Army infantry squad of six still has to provide the armaments and firepower of a full squad of ten thus making each man have to work 50% harder because of the shortage. I would have thought that each soldier would have had enough to consider just fulfilling his own responsibilities without having to carry the weight of those who were not there.

    Now if I'm wrong and the Marine infantry replacement system was as bad as the Army's then I guess it was just an endemic problem that was never solved prior to the war's end. But it just seems to me that the Marines were more concerned with troops at the front-end than was the Army.

    Cheers,
    Dan.

    So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.

    Aldous Huxley: Ends and Means (1937)

  • #2
    I think the general shortage of personnel and ensuing replacement problems is down to the fact that a call up of the reserves was not authorised by Johnson who tried to balance extensive foreign policy commitments with a burgeoning welfare initiative in the US. Not mobilising the reserves was one way in which he tried to achieve that balance.

    The sizeable US commitment to the land war in SVN would have required mobilisation under normal circumstances if it were not for that political intervention. The US military, in the event of a major deployment which the one to SVN was, had incorporated the reserves as an integral part of such a thing. The end result was that the military had to strip units elsewhere and funnel those blokes into units destined for South Vietnam and then increase the draft intake to keep up numbers. This resulted in an ever present manpower problem.

    I'm not sure about your specific question though. Perhaps USMC numbers in South Vietnam were at a level where units could be maintained at full strength more efficiently?

    Comment


    • #3
      My thoughts are the Marines have a policy that every Marine is a Rifleman. Maybe the Marines were less choosey in who they sent in as replacements?

      Most of the Army soldiers in Vietnam were in a Combat Support role. I have yet to find cases where a First Sergeant in a QM unit or Transport unit were whining they were too short on men. If the Line Companies were getting say 98% of the casualties, I would see where the Combat Support units could keep functioning at at least 98% of TOE where the Line Companies operated at say 60% of TOE.

      The LRRP's and Special Forces found out that Airborne Trained replacements were very hard to find. Expecting volunteers also made the situation worse. With the 82nd having a Brigade and the 173 Airborne Brigades operating, that made Airborne Replacements scarce. Some Divisions also had a policy where new guys had to go through an indoctrination course before going out to the field. When your replacements were in the rear acclimatizing and learning what a Booby Trap was, your Line Companies are going to be short on men.

      In the movie Platoon Leader, the General promises the LT he would get him replacements for his platoon. The general sent him some prize specimens, including brig bunny "Greaser".

      Another culprit might have been the habit of carrying on the roll all men sent to the rear for any reason. With guys on R&R, disciplinary action, detached service, medical visits, medical profiles and such, is it any wonder there were so few in the field?

      Pruitt
      Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

      Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

      by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

      Comment


      • #4
        Originally posted by Mackie View Post
        Perhaps USMC numbers in South Vietnam were at a level where units could be maintained at full strength more efficiently?
        Mackie I think you may be on to something there. I do agree with your other points about world-wide commitments vs peace time authorizations (not calling up the reserves, for instance). But I think you may have stumbled onto something when you say that maybe the Marines were more aware of what they could reasonably produce. They were able to mobilize two regiments from the 5th Division for service as well as the 1st and 3rd Divisions. Maybe the Marines staff were better able to work with what they had and only provided what they knew they could sustain.

        Originally posted by Pruitt View Post
        My thoughts are the Marines have a policy that every Marine is a Rifleman. Maybe the Marines were less choosey in who they sent in as replacements?
        Do you mean they were able to and did substitute non-infantry trained personnel into the line companies? Or that they were 'less choosey' in who they sent to the companies?


        Originally posted by Pruitt View Post
        With the 82nd having a Brigade and the 173 Airborne Brigades operating, that made Airborne Replacements scarce.
        The brigade from the 82nd Airborne only stayed on parachute status for, I recall, 60 days before it was converted to a Light Infantry Brigade. The 173rd remained on parachute status throughout the war, even though it was organized as an LIB. I do recall reading that parachute trained replacements did become a problem to maintain during the war. At least, parachute trained infantry replacements were difficult to maintain. I don't know about parachute trained artillery or other branch replacements.

        Originally posted by Pruitt View Post
        Another culprit might have been the habit of carrying on the roll all men sent to the rear for any reason. With guys on R&R, disciplinary action, detached service, medical visits, medical profiles and such, is it any wonder there were so few in the field?
        True, and I've read that argument before, but I'm sure the Marines had the exact same thing going on in their companies yet they never seemed to be short of infantry on the line.

        Interesting topic, to me at least anyways.

        Cheers,
        Dan.
        So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.

        Aldous Huxley: Ends and Means (1937)

        Comment


        • #5
          One little know fact is that between 1965 and 1967, Marines constantly rotated infantry battalions in and out of Vietnam for rehabilitation. They generally went back to Okinawa to be refurbished and absorb replacement and were then either returned to Vietnam or served (6 months or so) as the afloat battalion of the Special Landing Force (equivalent of today's MEUs). Also, Marine rifle companies were much larger than their Army counterparts but I believe they were rarely at full strength either.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by Pruitt View Post
            My thoughts are the Marines have a policy that every Marine is a Rifleman. Maybe the Marines were less choosey in who they sent in as replacements?

            Most of the Army soldiers in Vietnam were in a Combat Support role. I have yet to find cases where a First Sergeant in a QM unit or Transport unit were whining they were too short on men. If the Line Companies were getting say 98% of the casualties, I would see where the Combat Support units could keep functioning at at least 98% of TOE where the Line Companies operated at say 60% of TOE.

            The LRRP's and Special Forces found out that Airborne Trained replacements were very hard to find. Expecting volunteers also made the situation worse. With the 82nd having a Brigade and the 173 Airborne Brigades operating, that made Airborne Replacements scarce. Some Divisions also had a policy where new guys had to go through an indoctrination course before going out to the field. When your replacements were in the rear acclimatizing and learning what a Booby Trap was, your Line Companies are going to be short on men.

            In the movie Platoon Leader, the General promises the LT he would get him replacements for his platoon. The general sent him some prize specimens, including brig bunny "Greaser".

            Another culprit might have been the habit of carrying on the roll all men sent to the rear for any reason. With guys on R&R, disciplinary action, detached service, medical visits, medical profiles and such, is it any wonder there were so few in the field?

            Pruitt
            Some infantry troops would extend their tours to get a rear job. It was tough to pass up. While guys in the rear lived in relative comfort the life of the day to day infantry trooper was one of squalor. Experienced NCOs became rare in the field. Leadership was lacking. Many squad leaders had arrived in Vietnam six months before as PFC's fresh out of AIT.

            Others were products of "shake-n-bake" NCO schools, taken after they finished AIT. Not only did they not have experience, but most guys looked at them skeptically until they had proven themselves. The squad leader who had risen through the ranks in six months was at least usually someone they knew, trusted and respected. In 1970 it was bad enough that the battalion commander of my unit ordered the line company first sergeants to spend at least half their time in the field. He said he knew it would squeeze their administrative work in the rear, but he just had to have more senior leadership there on the ground.
            Last edited by MontanaKid; 01 Oct 12, 22:00.
            No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends John 15:13

            Comment


            • #7
              Dan,

              Supposedly all Marines receive Infantry Training. If the say, 4th Marine Division got 200 replacements at the beginning of the month and they were in need at Khe Sanh, I would expect them to go to Khe Sanh as Infantry. The movie "Full Metal Jacket" ended too soon. In Gustav's book "The Short Timers", The Joker was sent to stay in the Lusthog Squad when they went to Khe Sanh. Remember the Colonel Joker mouthed off to? Never make yourself known to Colonels, you try to be invisible!

              Pruitt
              Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

              Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

              by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

              Comment


              • #8
                There are no stupid questions,but there are alot of inquisitive idiots.
                The history addict asked me,"Where did you fought?"
                Me...Damn..."I'm not sure."

                Comment


                • #9
                  Originally posted by hankwill View Post
                  There are no stupid questions,but there are alot of inquisitive idiots.
                  That, my Man, is signature block material. You might see it under my posts from here on out. Semper Fi, Jerry
                  There are no stupid questions,but there are alot of inquisitive idiots. -Hankwill

                  "A special breed of man will sacrifice everything for the security and freedom of so many unthankful others"
                  - Ron Piper

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by hankwill View Post
                    There are no stupid questions,but there are alot of inquisitive idiots.
                    Sorry Hank, but am I asking a stupid question or am I an inquisitive idiot?
                    So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.

                    Aldous Huxley: Ends and Means (1937)

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Pruitt View Post
                      The LRRP's and Special Forces found out that Airborne Trained replacements were very hard to find. Expecting volunteers also made the situation worse.
                      In SF the standards were lowered in the peak of our involvement in Viet Nam. That was how I got in as an 18/19 year-old PVT E-2. They lowered the rank, time in service and age requirements for a period. However, they still required that you have a minimum 110 GT score to take the Special Forces Battery Test and pass it with a score of at least 370 or 380 (I believe). Maybe some of the other SFers on here can correct me on that minimum score. I got a 444 on the SFBT. Many of those with adequate GT scores could not pass the SFBT, and many of those who passed the test failed out in Training Group.

                      But here's were it made me angry and becomes relative to this thread. Going through SF Training Group it was obvious to us trainees that our chances of going to Viet Nam were slim and none. During my time, a simplification of the various SF Groups' missions were as follows:


                      First Gp was on Okinawa and their mission was Asia. Third Group's area was Africa. Fifth Gp was obviously Viet Nam. Seventh and Eighth GPs were South and Central America. Tenth Gp was Europe. 46th SF Co was Thailand and other parts of SEA.

                      But Sixth SF Group -- I have no idea what their mission might have been. Maybe Lirelou can correct all this and fill y'all in.

                      Sixth SF Gp seemed to me to be nothing more than a holding unit, although they were quite involved in the Son Tay Raid later on. But in 1968 a lot of my fellow trainees went to Sixth Gp to languish without a mission until they finally ETSed. A total waste of taxpayer money by my way of thinking.

                      Like nearly all of my classmates in Training Group, I wanted to go to Viet Nam. But as a junior enlisted man you had to have something more to offer than the average guy. After Training Group, while I was in 3rd Gp, I cross trained in a second Special Forces MOS and took a Vietnamese language course. So I eventually scored highly coveted orders to go to Viet Nam. Many of my friends weren't so lucky.

                      When I got to Viet Nam I was furious! Special Forces was operating well below our TO&E. My team was short a Junior Commo man, a Light Weapons specialist, a junior Intelligence Specialist and a senior Engineer. So as a lowly E-4 I filled the slot of the Intelligence Specialist, as well as the both senior and junior engineer. In addition to performing the duties of all three slots, I still had to spend about a fourth of my time patrolling -- which I loved. Our one and only commo man was on permanent profile so he could not go out on missions. And to make matters worse, as we lost officers, they were not replaced. So at the end of my time there we only had one officer, one Intel Sergeant, one Commo Sergeant, one weapons man, one engineer, two medics and our Team Sergeant. So out of a 14 man assigned strength, we had eight men. We always had two men out on patrol, so that meant we never had more than six men in camp. At the end of my time there we also had two guys on R&R, two on patrol and only four of us in left in camp when all Hell broke loose. No wonder Sir Charles chose that time to come calling.

                      Meanwhile, back at Fort Bragg many of my classmates were stuck in Sixth Gp with their requests to go to Viet Nam falling on deaf ears.

                      So why was all this happening? I haven't a clue as the decisions were made well above my pay grade. I just know that it made a whole lot of junior enlisted men pretty mad and caused a lot to get out at their first opportunity. They were all dressed up with nowhere to go. The government spent all that money training us, yet many of our numbers never got to go to the big dance, where they were sorely needed.
                      The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated ~ Mark Twain

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by ussfa344 View Post
                        Going through SF Training Group it was obvious to us trainees that our chances of going to Viet Nam were slim and none.

                        First Gp was on Okinawa and their mission was Asia. Third Group's area was Africa. Fifth Gp was obviously Viet Nam. Seventh and Eighth GPs were South and Central America. Tenth Gp was Europe. 46th SF Co was Thailand and other parts of SEA.

                        So I eventually scored highly coveted orders to go to Viet Nam.

                        ...out of a 14 man assigned strength, we had eight men.
                        Robert you bring up another point that worked against the Army during this time. The Army, while fighting the war in Vietnam, was also responsible for maintaining a fully manned and equipped strategic reserve in the US should another emergency occur. Specifically against the possibility of a general war breaking out in either Korea or Europe. I think that's why the CONUS based SF Groups were siphoning the majority of the manpower from the Training Group. Because of their worldwide commitment they were a part of this strategic reserve.

                        Thanks for the post.

                        Cheers,
                        Dan.

                        So long as men worship the Caesars and Napoleons, Caesars and Napoleons will duly rise and make them miserable.

                        Aldous Huxley: Ends and Means (1937)

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Robert,k 6th SFG was the North African, Middle Eastern and South Asia oriented Group. The India-Pakistan border war of 1965 went off while the 6th SFG had rigger and loadmaster MTTs to both countries. The barracks rumor was that a SP6 named Lee had received awards from both countries. One from the Indians for helping drop teams of their men into Pakistan, and one from Pakistan for a month or so later for helping drop supplies to Paks in India. They also had an MTT to Jordan to train what became the Jordanian Special Forces. In 1966, they sent a group of Augmentees to Vietnam for a three month period. In 65-66 all the Smokebomb Hill Groups were basically holding units for Vietnam replacements. We really identified by B Teams, because every time you went to the field you could be on a different numbered team. (A-612, 613, etc), usually with a different officer, though the Team Daddies and senior NCO positions were a bit more stable. Five of the SGMs in the Group Headquarters had been officers in WWII and Korea. The Groujp SGM was a WWII 1SSF veteran, as was COL McCullogh, the group commander. One of the Captains, a former Disp[laced Person, had been a Captain commanding a Soviet Army artillery battery at the siege of Berlin. SSG Leroy Soper had been a pilot in the Royal Canadian Air Force in WWII.

                          It was a heady and humbling experience to be in SF in those days, and the 3rd and 7th Groups had their own equally colorful characters.

                          And, more to the point of this thread, we did have a fair number of former Marines in SF, Jim Donohue (author "No Greater Love" and "Mobile Guerrilla Force") comes to mind. Along with Navy and Air Force vets (CPT Roger Donlon of the 7th SFG)
                          Last edited by lirelou; 01 Oct 12, 20:49.
                          dit: Lirelou

                          Phong trần mài một lưỡi gươm, Những loài giá áo túi cơm sá ǵ!

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Mackie View Post
                            I think the general shortage of personnel and ensuing replacement problems is down to the fact that a call up of the reserves was not authorised by Johnson who tried to balance extensive foreign policy commitments with a burgeoning welfare initiative in the US. Not mobilising the reserves was one way in which he tried to achieve that balance.
                            Correct

                            The sizeable US commitment to the land war in SVN would have required mobilisation under normal circumstances if it were not for that political intervention.

                            The Joint Chiefs advised the president and McNamara that they should do this, but the civilian leadership refused every time they suggested it. LBJ wanted to convince the public that Vietnam would be a small thing and not detract from his "Great Society" initiative. Which was really where his heart and soul was, not in Vietnam.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              One of my friends at Vo-Tech school was made a Green Beret after Vietnam (a couple of years to young to serve there). He went to serve in Germany as well. He says he played basketball the whole time he was a Greenie. Things sure do change after the shooting stops! A lot of Green Berets went to Europe and serve as Infantry in the 8th Infantry (Mech) Division.

                              Pruitt
                              Pruitt, you are truly an expert! Kelt06

                              Have you been struck by the jawbone of an ASS lately?

                              by Khepesh "This is the logic of Pruitt"

                              Comment

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