Three teams had gone to Can Tho where they had advised South Vietnamese officials on jobs ranging from equipment maintenance to well-digging. The fourth team had deployed to the highlands, building and repairing Special Forces camps, and working alongside several U. Navy Seabee construction battalion Technical Assistance Teams, which had a more robust presence in Vietnam than the Army.
Norton and Co. Army Center of Military History, , p. Beginning in , teams of Army and Navy engineers carried out building proj-ects such as this dispensary by the Seabees. An expansion of Army civic action would have to await better days. Despite their small numbers, the engineers did their best to train their Vietnamese counterparts in such areas as equipment maintenance, staff planning, and the management of supplies and equipment.
Two advisers were stationed at the Vietnamese Engineer School at Phu Cuong, fifteen miles north of Saigon, to improve its standards of education. Still, the number of engineer advisers through , one per infantry division and a few at corps level, was woefully inadequate to give the South Vietnamese Army the help it needed. Deadline rates for South Vietnamese engineer equipment hovered near 50 percent, and, a forty-mile stretch of highway between the cities of Pleiku and Kontum took a South Vietnamese engineer construction battalion nearly three years to finish, even though the United States funded most of the heavy subgrading.
Army Special Forces, p. Ralph F. Ploger, U. In , under a cost-plus- fixed-fee arrangement with U. Early priorities were to resolve maintenance problems plaguing electrical generators, water purifica-tion plants, and other utilities equipment. Within a year, the firm had grown to employees, more than double its original labor force, and had extended its reach to four additional sites as the number of American support troops continued to rise. In July, a new cantonment with wooden barracks opened at Pleiku capable of housing an aviation battalion.
Flight line and other operational facilities were either completed or in progress. Meanwhile, cantonments and other facilities were going up for other aviation units at Bien Hoa, Vung Tau on the coast southeast of Saigon, and Vinh Long in the delta.
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With each passing month, the Viet Cong gained strength and expanded their foothold in the countryside, while American aid could not reverse the trend. The enemy was proving more resilient than expected; the South Vietnamese forces less effective than hoped. Even though U. At the battle of Ap Bac in January , a Viet Cong unit defeated a much larger South Vietnamese force supported in part by the newer helicopters.
The status of the South Vietnamese government was hardly more encour-aging. In May , a Buddhist uprising in Hue, Saigon, and other cities threat-ened the stability of the government and the increasingly unpopular president, Ngo Dinh Diem. The crisis worsened in August when Diem authorized a violent crackdown on the Buddhist monks who had originally organized the rebellion.
With the overall trends looking bleak, the way forward pointed to an even larger advisory force and a greater demand for engineering and con-struction support. And, for the first time, U. On 1 November , a coterie of South Vietnamese generals engineered a coup that overthrew the government and led to the death of President Diem.
While the twin shocks did not immediately alter the U. The military junta that came to power after the death of Diem proved to be fractious and inept, giving the Viet Cong even greater opportunity to spread their influence.
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A second coup in January only served to increase the instability of the South Vietnamese govern-ment and degrade the effectiveness of its armed forces. Johnson, pledged to continue and, if necessary, to increase U. As the frequency and intensity of Viet Cong attacks grew with each passing month, so did the pressure for greater American inter-vention in the conflict.
The inadequacy of the logistical base in South Vietnam, and the inability of the base development plans to keep pace with even a small U. In August, General William C. Sharp, the head of Pacific Command, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff of problems accepting a 4,man buildup any faster than the nine months called for in earlier planning.
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Advancing the deployment of additional advisers and avia-tion troops to 30 September, Westmoreland noted, would cause particular trouble at airfields already saturated with aircraft and troops, and further deployments would result in overtaxed and overcrowded bases. The MACV commander added it would take five months to construct facilities for the new troops, and his entire logistical and administrative base was already operating 16 Gelb with Betts, Irony of Vietnam, pp.
Palmer, Summons of the Trumpet: U. Engineers at War 12 on a shoestring.
Furthermore, real estate would have to be acquired through local channels, sometimes a slow process, because land and facilities could not simply be commandeered. In early August, a clash between U. Immediately afterward, MACV called on the firm to improve air base defenses, a task typically done by troops. In short order, the contractor erected emergency shelters, sand bag bunkers, security fences, and perimeter lighting at Tan Son Nhut, Bien Hoa, and other airfields.
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By September, the firm was devoting approximately 80 percent of its construction effort to this work. The airfield directory listed usable and abandoned fields, most of which were small and unimproved. The commercial fuel storage facilities were barely adequate for South Vietnamese needs and could not hope to support an expanded U. Da Nang, however, lacked deep-draft piers, which meant that the United States would have to employ over-the-beach techniques. While Cam Ranh Bay on the central coast had tremendous potential as a port, and Pacific Command had successfully lobbied to have the deep-draft pier built under the Military Assistance Program, years of work would be required before the sleepy fishing village became a modern naval harbor.
In the mean-time, OPLAN 32—64 identified smaller ports that could be used, as well as coastal landing sites suitable for landing cargo in over-the-beach operations. H-8; Ploger, Army Engineers, p. Messages in Historians files, CMH. Frank A. Osmanski, the J—4 assistant chief of staff for logistics , had foreseen the need for a centralized logistical organization as early as , but a proposal had not made it out of the headquarters.
General Osmanski revived the idea in with a plan that included a robust construction capa-bility.
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Justifying the need for engineer troops, Osmanski explained that RMK faced an increasing backlog, and the deployment of a 2,man engineer group of three battalions would help close that gap. Although RMK was in the process of increasing its monthly work in place, Osmanski pointed out that the firm would take twenty months just to complete its current backlog.
This information served as the basis for requesting the engineer group. In Honolulu, R. James R. Peter Corradi, the head of the Bureau of Yards and Docks, backed this position. Admiral Corradi added that there were no major constraints in the way to prevent the contractor from expanding operations provided plans and procurement actions were done in advance. Lynn Boulder, Colo. Engineers at War 14 advance party to Saigon to set up the logistical element. Defense Secretary McNamara approved the plan in principle but, in no hurry to commit ground troops, decided further justification was warranted, particularly for the engi-neer group.
In late January, he dispatched a Defense Department task force to Vietnam to make an on-site inspection and to review the management of the construction program. By early February, the team concluded that an engineer group was not needed at the time, but it did agree to recommend the deploy-ment of a scaled-down logistical command. The team also proposed augment-ing the Navy construction office in Saigon and increasing its responsibility for technical engineering support for U.
As far as depending on RMK to carry out an expanded construction role in Vietnam, the team felt that the firm had virtually unlimited capacity for expansion and a proven capability to work in a combat theater. Besides, the team noted that Seabee battalions stationed in the Pacific could be called upon for rapid augmentation.
This decision proved shortsighted.