Republic of Vietnam

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Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam)

The Republic of Vietnam (Việt Nam Cộng hòa) was a nation is Southeast Asia from 1955 until 1975, also known as South Vietnam. Once considered a part of French Indochina, the region was occupied by the Japanese during the Second World War. Once the war had ended, the Việt Minh (who had fought the Japanese during the war) strongly opposed French re-occupation of the country. This opposition ultimately brought about the First Indochina War (1946 to 1954), in which French Colonial forces battled to preserve what remained of the old French Colonial Empire in Asia. After ten years of warfare, the Geneva Accords of 1954 effectively ended the conflict by declaring Indochina's independence from France. Two nations were created out of the territory traditionally considered Vietnamese: the Democratic Republc of Vietnam in the north, and the State of Vietnam in the south. Within a year, the South Vietnam was established after Ngô Đình Diệm deposed Emperor Bảo Đại and proclaimed himself president following a controversial election. His refusal to enter negotiations with North Vietnam over holding elections covering all of Vietnam led to gradual disintegration of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and instigated the Second Indochina War (1959 to 1975).

The Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) was the name for all ground forces during the Second Indochina War (called the Vietnam War in the United States). Army units were organized into four Corps (I through IV), each covering a geographical region of South Vietnam. Primary combat units included eleven Infantry Divisions, one Airborne Division (Nhẩy Dù), the ARVN Rangers (Biệt Động Quân), and the ARVN Special Forces (Lực Lượng Đặc Biệt or LLDB). The Vietnam Air Force and Republic of Vietnam Navy (including the Republic of Vietnam Marine Corps or Thủy Quân Lục Chiến) made up the remainder of the South Vietnamese armed forces. Other combatant units during the Vietnam War included the National Police Field Force and the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) units, the latter composed of minority tribal people, trained by the US Army Special Forces and funded primarily by the CIA (from 1961 until 1970).

Production of military uniforms in South Vietnam was primarily handled by the Quân-Nhu (Quartermaster) Military Clothing Production Center, activated in 1954 and responsible for the manufacture of textiles and complete uniforms for all of the armed forces of South Vietnam[1]

South Vietnamese Camouflage Patterns

  • During the First Indochina War, French troops wore a variety of uniforms donated from their former allies in the Second World War. Among these, the British M1942 windproof brushstroke pattern was quite popular due to its light weight. The government of South Vietnam produced a copy of this pattern in 1962 specifically for issue to their Airborne (Nhãy-Dù) units. Similar to the original British design, the ARVN version has broad pea green & purplish-brown brushstrokes on a pinkish-tan or mauve base. This pattern was occasionally worn by US military advisers to the ARVN Airborne Division during the very early years of the Vietnam War, but production ceased in 1964 (although the uniforms continued to be worn occasionally until the end of the war). The term "pinks" was applied to this uniform due to the overall pinkish tone of the fabric.[2]

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  • Another early camouflage design was the ARVN "starburst" pattern. Little is known about this design, except that it was produced between 1963 and 1965 and worn by some ARVN units. The design features brown and olive green "starburst" shapes on a khaki background.

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  • Locally-produced versions of the commercial duck hunter patterns introduced by American military advisors in 1961 began production circa 1964. The Vietnamese name for this pattern was Beo Gam (leopard) as the spots in the design had some similarity to those of the leopard. Although a number of variations existed, for the most part the Vietnamese made beo gam patterns can be differentiated from those obtained through commercial sources in the USA or elsewhere in Asia as the concentration of spots is denser. The typical beo gam pattern is a multi-colored design with dark blue-green, mauve, maroon, dark pink & olive green spots on a khaki background. This was not a standard issue uniform for any ARVN units, instead being sourced primarily for wear by the Montagnard CIDG (Civilian Irregular Defense Group) units.

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  • South Vietnam introduced a leaf camouflage pattern (very similar to the US m1948 ERDL) circa 1964/5, interesting in light of the fact that the US version had still not been mass produced yet. This "ARVN leaf" or "Airborne leaf" pattern (sometimes referred to as BDQ, for Biệt Ðộng Quân, the Vietnamese Rangers) has the same mid-brown & grass green organic shapes with black "branches" on a lime green background as US ERDL. The ARVN version was initially printed on medium or heavy weight sateen fabric, but as this faded quickly after a few washings it was later produced in lighter weight cotton poplin. The pattern replaced the earlier "pinks" with the Airborne Regiments, and was also commonly issued to ARVN Ranger (BDQ) units.

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  • A more literal copy of the US ERDL camouflage design was also produced by South Vietnam, and issued to the Airborne Regiments, Vietnamese Rangers, and Marine units. This "ARVN ERDL" is essentially a copy of the original US m1948 design, utilizing the same color scheme, and like the American versions produced in both standard poplin and ripstop fabrics.

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  • A Vietnamese-produced copy of the US-designed "Mitchell" (or "clouds") camouflage pattern was worn by the National Police Field Force (NPFF) from 1967 until the end of the war. Nicknamed Hoa Mâu Dât (earth-colored flower) pattern, this design is also sometimes referred to as "leopard" pattern, not to be confused with the Beo Gam design (see above) which was also known by this English term. The design incorporates overlapping dark brown, russet, beige, light brown & ochre "cloud" shapes on a tan background.

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South Vietnamese Tiger Stripe Patterns

The tiger stripe camouflage pattern is a direct descendant of the original French tenue leopard lizard pattern of the 1950s. French camouflage uniforms were in fact worn by Vietnamese troops during the First Indochina War. The Vietnamese referred to these different designs as Sọc Răn (striped uniform). Many different styles of tiger pattern emerged between 1964 and 1975 and have been exhaustively documented by author Richard D. Johnson in his excellent book Tiger Patterns. Presented here are a handful of samples from original garments that were produced during this time period.

  • The very first tiger stripe design was a locally-made copy of the French lizard pattern produced for the Vietnamese Marine Corps (Sọc Răn Thữy Quân Lục-Chiến). The pattern incorporates bold black stripes over lesser brownish-drab stripes & light green trace elements, with an olive green base color. Production of this design ended in 1967, although units continued to wear the pattern until 1970. Illustrated below are the original pattern (far left), followed by two variants designated "sparse" and "dense."

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  • The tiger patterns seen below emerged in 1962 and continued in production until 1975. Johnson has named this John Wayne pattern, owing to its specific use in the film The Green Berets starring John Wayne himself [3]. The pattern features bold black stripes over a background comprising dark green & dull brown with tan trace elements. The "sparse" version of the pattern is seen to the left, and the "dense" version to the right.

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  • The tiger pattern illustrated below has been named Tadpole Sparse pattern in Johnson's book. It was introduced circa 1964 and saw production until the end of the war. The pattern features bold black (or dark blue) stripes over a background comprising dark green & brown with pea green trace elements.

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  • A variation of the above is seen here, which Johnson calls Tadpole Dense pattern. The pattern features bold black stripes over a background comprising bright green & light brown with dull pea green trace elements.

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  • Another distinctive tiger pattern to emerge towards the middle of the war (circa 1968) has been named Advisor's Type Dense. This pattern saw service primarily with CIDG units, ARVN Rangers & Special Forces, and featured bold black stripes over a background comprising bold black stripes over a background comprising dark green & dull brown with dull tan trace elements. Two versions are illustrated below.

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  • The Advisor's Type Sparse variant of the above pattern is seen below.

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  • The distinctive pattern seen here has been named Late War Lightweight Sparse (LLS) in Johnson's book. Introduced in 1969, the design features bold black stripes over a background comprising bright green & light brown with dull pea green trace elements. The design next to it is the "sparse" variant, of which there were several fabric weights produced (light, medium and heavy).

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  • Another tiger pattern seen here has been designated "zig-zag" pattern. This design was introduced in 1964, and saw service primarily with CIDG & other regional militia forces.

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  • Introduced mid-war (1969), the "splotched" tiger pattern seen here, featuring splotchy black stripes over a background comprising dull green & dull greenish-grey with pale greyish-white trace elements, apparently saw service only with CIDG units.

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Other Camouflage Patterns Worn by South Vietnam

  • French Colonial forces operating against the Viet Minh during the First Indochina War included Vietnamese airborne and commando units as well as conventional forces. Some early units were outfitted in British 1942 windproof brushstroke pattern camouflage uniforms which had been donated to the French government by the United Kingdom following the Second World War.

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  • Likewise, large stocks of surplus American jungle camouflage uniforms, printed in the reversible M1942 spot pattern, were donated to the French fighting in Indochina, and many of these saw service with Vietnamese airborne units as well.

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  • By 1952 most of the Vietnamese airborne and commando units were outfitted as were their French counterparts, in tenue de leópard or lizard pattern camouflage uniforms.

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  • Early US Army Special Forces advisors deployed to Southeast Asia were outfitted rather inadequately for serving in the extremely warm and wet tropical climate there. Their search for more appropriate clothing, particularly to be used in conducting reconnaissance and ambush operations, led to the procurement of commercially-produced items, as no US military equivalent was available at the time. Based on the original US M1942 jungle spot camouflage pattern, lighter weight hunting uniforms made by American and Asian retail companies - frequently nicknamed "duck hunter" camouflage - were obtained privately by unit commanders and also supplied to indigenous units as part of the CIA-sponsored CIDG program. Commercial duck hunter spot pattern is generally a four or five-color dappled design of multi-sized brown, green & tan spots on khaki, tan, or pale green background. Between 1961 and 1966-7, significant numbers of these commercially available uniforms were worn by US military personnel. The example seen below is but one of several that were commonly employed.

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Notes

  1. Shelby Stanton, US Army Uniforms of the Vietnam War (Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA, 1989), p. 69
  2. Shelby Stanton, US Army Uniforms of the Vietnam War (Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA, 1989), p. 72
  3. Richard D. Johnson: Tiger Patterns (Schiffer Military, Atglen PA, 1999) p. 112