General Hieu and the American Advisors

Prior to August 1970, General Hieu received high praises by the American Advisors.

Positive Evaluations

On November 7, 1974, the American Embassy in Saigon noted:

6. In August of that year (1958), Hieu received an evaluation from an American Advisor. It is apparent from the report that Hieu had, during the six months he had been in I Corps, left a very favorable impression on the American Advisory Group in Danang. Hieu was highly recommended for attendance at the US Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; lauded for his administrative abilities; for his skillful and proper utilization of personnel; and for his superior attitude toward receiving and accepting advice from US advisors. The advisor concluded his report by stating: “He is a man who possesses potential for highest rank in the Vietnamese Army. He should be sent to a CONUS school as soon as possible, preferably Ft. Leavenworth. He should be assigned to field command jobs to give him more command experience. This officer, properly handled and developed, could well become a future competent if not eminent general officer in the Vietnamese Army. His attitude toward the United States is strong, and his language fluency would be an invaluable asset to Allied operations.”

11. On June 28, 1966, Hieu was transferred back to the 22nd Division as its Commander. He remained with the 22nd Division for a little more than three years, receiving his promotion to BG on November 1, 1967. In September 1968, Hieu was again rated by an American advisor. The advisor stated that Hieu was a highly intelligent individual, likeable and easy to work with. He further stated that “He is a popular leader, but at times is extremely conservative in his tactical planning and execution.”

12. On August 9, 1969, Hieu was promoted to major general and two days later became the Commander of the 5th Division. LTG Do Cao Tri, the III Corps Commander was responsible for Hieu’s assignment. On August 19, 1969 he was again rated by an American advisor who stated: “General Hieu is an extremely competent officer who enjoys an excellent military reputation in his own army and with American senior officers. I am not knowledgeable of his financial status but believe him to be honest and dependent solely upon his army pay for support. Militarily sound and experienced, he must be described as a highly competent and effective commander.” These sentiments were repeated in May 1970.

The last American advisor mentioned was Colonel John Hayes, Senior Advisor of ARVN 5th Infantry Division. I found two of his evaluation reports:

- November 20, 1969:

Combat effectiveness of the 5th Infantry Division (ARVN) is improving. Since Major General Nguyen Van Hieu took command, the Division has initiated a program of carrying the war to the enemy. This initiative is a vital element which the Division has lacked. The employment of the Cavalry Regiment in an offensive role was a dramatic departure from their "Palace Guard" mission.

MG Hieu has evidenced that he is receptive and will react to meaningful suggestions. It cannot be overemphasized that he is a strong commander, and will only implement ideas which will definitely improve the combat effectiveness of the Division.

Definite progress is being made in all areas within the Division. Basically improvements can be attributed to positive leadership which has forced the maneuver units to seek and destroy the enemy.

The new Commanding General definitely removes the leadership problem formerly faced with the Division Commander.

[...] Through Dong Tien and implementation of the Commanding General's offensive tactics, Regimental Commanders are pressed to field good unit leaders.

[...] With the assumption of command by MG Nguyen Van Hieu on 14 August 1969, 5th Division units are changing from a defensive to an offensive posture.

- February 7, 1970:

MG Nguyen Van Hieu, DOR 1-11-67, 20 years’ service. General Hieu is an above average commander. Good qualities include dedication, experience as a combat leader, ability to stimulate and maintain morale, and ability to control those in his command. He is quite religious and patriotic, and demands high standards of conduct and discipline. He is methodical but decisive. He is rated better than the average US Division commander in overall performance.

Change of Heart

The same American Embassy’s airgram noted a sudden change of heart among the American Advisors:

13. Hieu and the 5th Division were shortly involved in greatly expanded operations, a situation Hieu did not like because he believed the 5th Division was not yet ready for such an active combat role. By August 1970, at least one American advisor began to voice strong opposition to General Hieu’s conduct of the 5th Division. The Deputy Senior Advisor, III Corps, a BG, stated: “General Hieu’s pessimistic and contrary views, voiced freely and publicly, have colored the attitudes of many of his subordinate commanders and made them less responsive to efforts to get on with the Đồng Tiến program. It is hoped that time, which fortunately the Cambodian campaign has provided, and a growing realization that the 5th ARVN Division can perform its new and expanded mission, will modify General Hieu’s outlook. If not, he should be relieved of command.” This was to be the first of several reports which suggested the removal of General Hieu. Within a month and a half, two additional, critical reports on Hieu were filed by both the outgoing and incoming senior advisors to the 5th Division, the latter having been on the scene for slightly more than a month.

The III Corps Deputy Senior Advisor mentioned was Brigadier General McAuliffe. Upon returning to the United States, he wrote as follows in his debriefing report on November 26, 1970:

Two of the three divisions assigned to III Corps, the 18th and 25th ARVN Infantry Divisions, are combat effective with good leadership and morale, and they can be counted on for mission accomplishment. The 25th Division, under the command of MG Nguyen Xuan Thinh, is ranked among the top three ARVN divisions in country. The 18th Division has shown steady improvement under the command of MG Lam Quang Tho, and has responded well to the division's new mobile mission in Cambodia. The 5th ARVN Infantry Division has not performed effectively for any sustained period during the year. Early in the year, it was possible to attribute the division's shortcomings to turbulence suffered in the take-over of the US 1st Infantry Division’s tactical area and the division base camp (Lai Khe). However, in two subsequent operations into Cambodia (north of Binh Long Province), the performance of the participating divisional elements was undistinguished, and reflected the poor leadership and inactivity that had characterized the division all year. The division did benefit from the more recent cross-border operation, to Snoul (November 1970), although it is unlikely that the present division leadership will capitalize on these gains. There are two feasible remedies to the division's plight, both of which have been proposed to General Tri: (a) replacement of the division commander, MG Nguyen Van Hieu, and the commander of the 8th Regiment; (b) further participation by divisional elements in cross-border operations, to lift the morale and exercise of the combat skills of the unit commanders and soldiers involved. (General Tri has recommended that General Hieu be replaced, and is considering future operations involving the 5th Division.)

It is obvious that the reason for the change of heart did not lie on General Hieu’s incompetence as a military leader, which was well established and uncontested among the ARVN officers and the US Advisors alike, but lied solely on his opposition toward the US Đồng Tiến program in particular and the US “vietnamization” in general: “General Hieu’s pessimistic and contrary views, voiced freely and publicly, have colored the attitudes of many of his subordinate commanders and made them less responsive to efforts to get on with the Đồng Tiến program.”

In allied joint operations, General Hieu always advocated the concept of “Joint intelligence and support activities; Commonly-shared concept of operations and results” but “ Separate TAOR; Separate command; Separate deployment of forces; Separate conduct of activities; Separate reserve” (Why Pleime, chapter VIII), which was diametrically opposite to the concept applied in Đồng Tiến program of common TAOR, command, deployment of forces, conduct of activities, and in which – General Hieu said - the ARVN unit commanders tended to lean too much on their American counterparts:

General Hieu then spoke on what he considers to be the major problem confronting his regimental commanders who are involved in Dong Tien operations. Citing the 7th Regimental Commander as an example, he said that this regimental commander looks toward Phu Hoa and sees one of his battalions operating with a US battalion in that area, and feels that he has no control over that battalion; then he sees another of his battalions, the 4/7th Battalion, operating with a US battalion in the Tam Uyen area and, again, feels that he has no control over the battalion. Therefore, when General Tri directed that the 7th Regiment concentrate his efforts against the Dong Nai Regiment, the regimental commander's reaction was that he had but one battalion which he could devote to this mission, and that battalion, the 2/7th Battalion, was involved in RD mission to the south (the 1/7th Battalion is at Song Be). General Hieu stated that his regimental commander's concept is wrong; nevertheless, his regimental commanders do have the feeling that they give up some control over their battalions engaged in Dong Tien operations.

General Hieu also opposed Nixon’s Vietnamization that he found as too hasty in its implementation:

I [General Tran Van Don] was an opponent of Vietnamization.... I will tell just one story. I visited (some units in the field) and tried to understand the program of Vietnamization of the war...it was in the headquarters of 5th Division. I discussed the question with the commander of the division, General Nguyen Van Hieu, a most honest general, and capable, too. I was surprised by his answer; it opened my eyes. I asked him, 'What do you think of Vietnamization?' He said to me, 'It's impossible to be implemented.' 'Why?' He said, 'The 5th Division covers an area where there were two other divisions, Americans, and now with the departure of the two American divisions I have only my division to cover the whole area. I have three regiments for this area and must use one regiment to replace one division. How can I face the enemy like this? I have become weaker.' He looked very disappointed. I was surprised; he was a quiet man, a polite man, and he tried to do his best. But he said to me that this was impossible. 'How can I cover a bigger area with less units?' So the Vietnamization of the war means that we are becoming weaker.

(Stephen T. Hosmer, Konrad Kellen and Brian M. Jenkins, Fall Of South Vietnam: Statements by Vietnamese Military and Civilian Leaders, 1980, p. 36)

So, just because General Hieu did not go along with the American Advisors at III Corps, they tried to convince General Do Cao Tri to relieve him of the 5th Infantry Division Command. They seemed not to be aware that Hieu was Tri’s man. Colonel Nguyen Khuyen, Chief of III Corps Military Security wrote:

When General Tri assumed the Command of III Corps, coincidently all three divisional commanders of III Corps were graduated of 3rd Class of Dalat Military Academy: Major General Nguyen Xuan Thinh held the command of 25th Division, Major General Hieu, 5th Division and Major General Lam Quang Tho, 18th Division. Among these three Commanders, General Tri seemed to favor General Hieu the most because General Hieu used to be his Chief Of Staff at I Corps and II Corps in 1963.

As a matter of fact, when President Thieu wanted to move General Tri to I Corps to replace General Hoang Xuan Lam, Tri wanted Thieu to have Hieu take his place at III Corps as a condition for him to go up North. Unfortunately, General Tri died in a helicopter accident in February 1971. The American Advisors continued to go after General Hieu. They succeeded in their malignance when their agenda coincided with General Nguyen Van Minh’s (of corruption), Tri’s replacement at III Corps Command.

* 23 Mar 71 - WEYAND: Minh says that he’s submitted a name, and General Davison’s submitted a name, and General Vien submitted a name for a new commander of the 5th Division… He says the president wants a colonel. The reason he wants a colonel is he’s decided that division commanders should be people who are aggressive and are fighting to get ahead, and therefore he doesn’t want to put generals in command of general officer positions. He wants a guy that’s on the make. And that’s what they’re coming up with.

(Weekly Intelligence Estimate Update (WIEU))

However, they had to look for a good pretext that they finally found in the retreat of Snoul in last May 1971 to get rid of the most eminent ARVN General:

15. In May 1971, General Hieu found his forces in the Snoul area facing an increasingly serious enemy threat. He requested permission to withdraw from Cambodia, but General Minh refused to grant him permission until the two 5th Division regiments were faced by a two-division enemy force. The two regiments were mauled in their withdrawal from Cambodia and General Hieu was blamed for the disaster. At American behest, and with General Minh’s active consent, Hieu was removed from command of the 5th Division on June 9, 1971.

16. Hieu’s dismissal, as reported by an Embassy officer on June 17, 1971, was a cause célèbre, primarily because of Hieu’s well-known reputation for personal integrity and for his strong personal interest in the welfare of his troops.

It appeared that some American Advisors at III Corps had personal issues with General Hieu and as a consequence did not act professionally in formulating their assessment of him. Namely, they were General Dennis McAuliffe, III Deputy Senior Advisor, General Michael Davidson, III Corps Senior Advisor and Colonel Raymond L. Kampe, 5th Infantry Division Senior Advisor.

General Dennis McAuliffe

General McAuliffe first met General Hieu when, on September 1, 1969, as Assistant Division Commander of US 1st Infantry Division, he came to meet as General Hieu just arrived to take command of 5th Infantry Division to discuss about Đồng Tiến program. He seemed to be overwhelmed by General Hieu’s superior grasp of the military situation despite his newcomer status.

Five days later, on September 6, 1969, he was subjected to another take charge and independent attitudes of General Hieu, in a joint operational planning session between the two commands of ARVN 5th Infantry Division and US 1st Infantry Division.

As Colonel John Hayes, 5th Infantry Division Senior Advisor,

MG Hieu has evidenced that he is receptive and will react to meaningful suggestions. It cannot be overemphasized that he is a strong commander, and will only implement ideas which will definitely improve the combat effectiveness of the Division.

General McAuliffe did not seem to appreciate General Hieu’s strong personality trait.

General Michael B. Davison

On July 14, 1970, General Michael B. Davison espoused General McAuliffe’s opinions about General Hieu: Lieutenant General Michael B. Davison, Senior Advisor, III CTZ

At division level, the leadership of MG Nguyen Xuan Thinh, Commander of the 25th ARVN Division, remained firm and effective as illustrated by the Cambodian cross-border operations; he was the Deputy Commander of Operation Toan Thang 42 and the Commander of TF 225. In the 18th ARVN Division, MG Lam Quang Tho has steadily improved in leadership and his influence is being felt at all levels as evidenced by his division's accomplishments this quarter-particularly in recruiting as the division surpassed the JGS goal (1200) by recruiting 1412 personnel as of 25 June 1970. In the 5th ARVN Division MG Nguyen Van Hieu's overall effectiveness as a commander remains questionable.

General Ewell, his predecessor as III Corps Advisory Group, did not seem to share his opinion on February 2, 1970:

We have no pressing need for division commanders at this time. Hieu should be able to move the 5th Division. Tho likewise the 18th. Thinh and Dong are doing fine with the 25th and Airborne Divisions.

The failure of the 5th Division to show improvement is, in my judgment, attributable to the turbulence caused by the: (1) take-over of Lai Khe in February; (2) assumption of responsibility for a two-province area of operations upon the departure of the 1st US Infantry Division in March; and (3) the replacement of two regimental commanders in this same period. More time will be needed for this division to gain in effectiveness and confidence, but there are indicators that this unit is beginning to come up now.

Colonel Raymond L. Kampe

Colonel Raymond L. Kampe replaced Colonel John Hayes as 5th Infantry Division Senior Advisor. In a telephone conversation with Colonel John Hayes in September 2003, this latter told me that Colonel Kampe gave General Hieu hard time.

During the 1965 Pleime Campaign, Kampe was a Lieutenant Colonel assigned to G4 Logistics of 1st Air Cavalry Division.

General Hieu was well aware that he was discarded not because of incompetence but because of “personal integrity” and “strong personal interest in the welfare of his troops”:

16. Hieu’s dismissal, as reported by an Embassy officer on June 17, 1971, was a cause célèbre, primarily because of Hieu’s well-known reputation for personal integrity and for his strong personal interest in the welfare of his troops.

Nguyen Van Tin
25 January 2013

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