Nguyen Van Thieu

Nguyen Van Thieu

[ngoo-yen vahn tyoo, noo-yen]
Nguyen Van Thieu: see Thieu, Nguyen Van.
Thieu, Nguyen Van, 1924-2001, president of the former Republic of South Vietnam (1967-75). After World War II, he joined the Viet Minh, but then left it to join what became the South Vietnamese National Army (ARVN). He rose rapidly, becoming a division commander. In 1963, he helped lead the coup overthrowing President Diem. Together with Nguyen Cao Ky, Thieu was a leading force in a succession of South Vietnamese governments from 1963 to 1967. He was elected president in 1967 and retained office in a rigged election in 1971. Thieu was reluctant to sign the Paris Agreement (1973) until promised U.S. military aid. When North Vietnam launched an offensive in 1975 (see Vietnam War), no aid was forthcoming, and Thieu abandoned the northern half of the country, leading to a rout. He went into exile a few days before the Communist victory.

General Nguyễn Văn Hiếu (June 23, 1929, Tientsin - April 8, 1975, Bien Hoa) was a general in the ARVN. As a youngster he lived in Shanghai. He later immigrated with his ethnic Vietnamese parents to Saigon, Vietnam when the Chinese Communists took over China in 1949.

He attended Aurore University in Shanghai, China.

In 1950, he attended the Vietnamese Military Academy and graduated second in his class in 1951.

In 1963, he graduated from Command and General Staff College, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

His assignments included G3/Joint General Staff,G3/1st Corps,Chief of Staff of 1st Division, Chief of Staff of I Corps, Chief of Staff of II Corps, Commander of 22nd Division, Chief of Staff of II Corps, Commander of 5th Division, Deputy Commander of I Corps, Minister of Anti-Corruption under Vice-President Tran Van Huong, Deputy Commander of III Corps, Commander of Forward HQ III Corps, and MG Deputy Commander of III Corps.

He was presumably assassinated by Lieutenant General Nguyễn Văn Toàn's clique, Commander of III Corps, on April 8, 1975 at III Corps Headquarters, Bien Hoa and on April 10, 1975, he was posthumously promoted to Lieutenant General.

His typical battles and military operations

Quyết Thắng 202 (Đỗ Xá), 1964

Colonel Hieu, II Corps Chief of Staff, designed and execute Operation Quyet Thang (Sure Win) 202 aiming directly at the impenetrable VC stronghold at Đỗ Xá, embedded deeply in the Annamite Mountains, at the junction of three provinces of Kontum, Quang Ngai and Quang Tin, from April 27 to May 27 of 1964.

Participating in the operation were units of 50th Regiment of 25th Division under the command of Major Phan Trong Trinh, four Ranger battalions under the command of Major Son Thuong and one Airborne battalion under the command of Captain Ngo Quang Truong.

Troops were ferried to two landing zones by three helicopters squadrons: USMC HMM-364 Squadron, 117th and 119th squadron of US Army 52nd Aviation Battalion.

The VC attacked fiercely the helicopters at the landing zones during the two first days, and then vanished into the mountains, avoiding contacts with the invading troops. Operation Do Xa achieved the following results: a communication network of the Viet Cong command composed of five stations was destroyed, one of which was used to communicate with North Viet Nam, and the other four to link with provincial Viet Cong units; the enemy lost 62 killed, 17 captured, two 52 caliber machine guns, one 30 caliber machine gun, 69 individual weapons, and a large quantity of mines and grenades, engineer equipment, explosives, medicine, and documents; in addition, 185 structures, 17 tons of food and 292 acres of crops were destroyed.

Thần Phong II

In 1965, the Communists attacked all over the Highlands belonging to II Military Region. Early July 1965, three NVA regiments (for sure the 32nd, and perhaps the 33rd) isolated completely the Highlands. ARVN units could not use National Route 1, 11, 14, 19 and 21, and all resupplies to the Highlands had to be performed by air.

On July 8, 1965, General Vinh Loc entrusted Colonel Hieu, II Corps Chief of Staff, the design and execution of a plan to reopen National Route 19.

Contrary to the general practice of a road-clearing operation which consists in concentrating necessary troops to destroy in gradual steps the ambushes set up by the enemy along the highway, Colonel Hieu intended to interdict the enemy to set up ambushed locations in resorting to diversionary tactic. From D-6 to D+2, he ordered the 22nd Division and the 3rd Armored Squadron to attack from Qui Nhon down to Tuy Hoa along National Route 1; the 2nd Airborne Task Force together with Regional Forces and Civilian Irregulars Defense Group Forces to retake Le Thanh District; to VNMC Alpha Task Force and the 42nd Regiment to attack from Pleiku up north to Dak Sut on National route 14; and to the 20th Engineer Group to attack from Phu Bon to Tuy Hoa to repair Interprovincial Route 7.

After sowing confusion among the enemy troops with the above-mentioned simultaneous big operations, Colonel Hieu "press the Viet Cong from three directions with movements launched from Pleiku and Qui Nhon and a vertical envelopment from north of An Khe. These maneuvers were executed by a task force of the Pleiku sector departing from Pleiku, two task forces of the 22d Infantry Division departing from Qui Nhon, and a task force of two airborne battalions heliborne into northern An Khe and attacking south with Task Force Alpha of the marines brigade conducting the linkup," and "position strong reserves composed of three battalions (one ranger, one marine, and one airborne) and two armored troops at tactical points: Pleiku, Soui Doi, An Khe, and Mang Pass." All these actions resulted in the free flow of cargo convoys during 5 days from D+3 to D+7, "allowing an initial buildup of 5,365 tons of supplies in Pleiku." Afterwards, operational units withdrew to their camps during D+8 and D+9.

As a result of Operation Than Phong, "the convoys transfused new life into the Highlands. Along with an immediate drop of 25 to 30 percent in the price of food and commodities, the population regained their feelings of security, confidence, and hope. School-boys in Pleiku voluntarily helped the troops in unloading the cargoes, and people who had started to evacuate now returned to their homesteads."

Pleime, 1965

After the unsuccessful attempt to overcome the Special Force camp of Duc Co in August 1965, General Vo Nguyen Giap launched the Winter Spring Campaign aiming at slicing South Vietnam into two pieces, from Pleiku in the Highlands to Qui Nhon in the coastal regions. The plan of General Chu Huy Man, VC Field Commander was as following:

  1. 33rd Regiments NVA feigns to attack camp Pleime to entice II Corps to dispatch relief column from Pleiku;
  2. 32nd Regiment NVA sets an ambush to destroy the relief column (an easy target without artillery support nearby);
  3. after destroying the relief column, 32nd Regiment NVA joins force with 33rd Regiment NVA in overcoming camp Pleime;
  4. in the meantime, with the defense of Pleiku weakened by the troops sent out to rescue camp Pleime, 66th Regiment NVA initiates a preliminary attack against II Corps HQ, awaiting 32nd and 33rd Regiments NVA to overcome camp Pleime and to join forces to attack and occupy Pleiku.

In order to counter General Chu Huy Man’s clever moves, Colonel Hieu, II Corps Chief of Staff consulted with US 1st Cavalry Division and came up with the following plan:

  1. II Corps feigns biting the bait by reinforcing camp Pleime with a unit of US Delta Force and a unit of ARVN Airbone Rangers;
  2. and dispatches a task force from Pleiku to rescue camp Pleime;
  3. US 1st Cavalry Division lends a brigade to reinforce the defense of Pleiku;
  4. and heli-lifts artillery batteries to several locations near the ambush site to support the relief column when under attacked.

This plan neutralized the 66th Regiment NVA, which remained inactive in Chu Prong area, destroyed the 33rd Regiment NVA at the ambush site, and the 32nd Regiment NVA had abandoned the siege of camp Pleime and withdrew dejected into the surrounding jungles.

Liên Kết 66

42nd Regiment of 22nd Division, reinforced by 3rd Airborne Task Force establishing a blockage position on the mountain side, joined force with the armored squadron of M113s in sweeping the enemy from National Route 1 into the mountains at Phù Cũ Pass in Bình Định province. Infantrymen in front line formation followed M113 armored vehicles launched fierce assaults, after a salvo of artillery firing. Airborne Task Force Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Khoa Nam observing the battle from the mountainside with binocular uttered his admiration, “Colonel Hieu conducts his troops like a seasoned “armor officer”, and combatants of 22nd Division fought as elegantly as our paratroopers.”

Đại Bàng 800

In February 1967, Colonel Hieu launched Operation Đại Bàng 800. For three days prior to Vietnamese operation, units of US 1st Cavalry Division were unsuccessful in discovering the enemy in their operational areas. Instead of searching for the enemy, Colonel Hieu was smarter in resorting to luring the enemy, by dispatching a reduced regiment to set up an over-night camp in the region of Phu My, knowing for certain that enemy spies inserted among the indigenous farmers would report the status of the operational troops. Meanwhile, Colonel Hieu positioned a motorized infantry battalion and an armored unit 10 kilometers away, out of enemies screen radar. Thinking they had an easy target, the enemy attacked the camp with a regiment belonging to 3rd Division NVA at 2:00 am. Alerted by the regiment’s commander, Colonel Hieu sent in the reserved forces to cut the retreat route of the enemy and to join force with the defenders in an anvil-hammer tactic to destroy them. After a three-hour fierce battle, the enemy broke up contact with more than 300 dead and numerous weapons scattered all over the battleground.

Toàn Thắng 46

DCAT 70 reported:

  • Background. From May to July 1970, 5th Division participated in the military excursion into Cambodia with Operation Total Victory 46 in the Fish Hook area North of Loc Ninh.

This base area was considered to be used by the 5th NVA Division as a headquarters location and training area, and the 70th Rear Service Group which moved supplies down the Serges Jungle Highway. Elements of the 5th NVA Division were identified along with elements of the 70th Rear Service Group and its affiliated hospitals.

  • Mission. To attack and destroy the 70th and 80th Rear Service Groups: one hospital and one training center. Division elements will locate and destroy or evacuate enemy foods, ammunition, weapons and medical caches in the operational area.
  • Planning. In preparation for the Cambodian operation Commanding General Nguyen Van Hieu of the 5th Division with his G3, the CDAT commander, and the DCAT G3 made the initial area coordination with Commanding General Casey of the 1st Cavalry Division and his G3. Upon completion of this initial coordination the Assistant Division Commander of the 5th Division, the Commanding Officer of the 9th Regiment, and the DCAT G3 effected direct coordination with the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment (US). During the operation coordination was made by the 9th Regimental Commander and his DCAT Commander for the joint occupation of Fire Support Base Gonder by elements of the 9th Regiment and the 1st Cavalry Division.
  • Execution. Operation Total Victory 46 was conducted in 5 phases. Phase I was the attack phase. Phase II, III and IV were search and destroy phases. Phase V was the withdrawal phase.

Toàn Thắng 8/B/5

DCAT 70 reported:

  • Background: The 5th Division was notified by 3rd Corps Headquarters on 14 October 1970, to prepare for limited combat operations in the Snoul area of Cambodia, for the purpose of destroying enemy forces, installations, and obtaining enemy information. Operation Total Victory 8/B/9 was conducted from 23 October to 10 November 1970.
  • Enemy:
    1. NVA 5th Division: 174 Regiment, 275 Regiment, Z27 Recon Battalion;
    2. Rear Service Group 86, C11 (Medical);
    3. C1/K2 Guerilla force (northwest of Snoul;
    4. Guerilla force, Snoul Town Market;
    5. Guerilla force, K'bai Trach, southwest of Snoul.
  • Mission. To destroy enemy force, enemy installations, and to obtain information about the enemy in the vicinity of Snoul.
  • Planning.
    1. Commanding General of 5th Division, Major General Hieu together with his G3 Staff, was in charge of planning the details of the whole operation.
    2. The operational Task Organization was composed of 3 Task Forces: TF1 (Commanded by CO, 1st ACR), TF9 (Commanded by CO, 9th Regiment) and TF333 (Commanded by CO, 3rd Ranger GP). TF333 was entrusted the protection and security of the main supply route. The Division Operation Plan was approved by 3rd Corps on 21 October 1970. A final coordination meeting was conducted on 22 October 1970, by Commanding General 5th Division at Lai Khe, and was attended by all commanders involved.
  • Execution: Operation Total Victory 8/B/5 was composed of 3 phases. Phase I: movement to contact and contact in vicinity of Snoul. Phase II: movement north of Snoul. Phase III is the withdrawal phase.

Toàn Thắng TT02 (Snoul 1971)

In the end of 1970, General Hieu planned to lure the enemy with a regiment placed in Snoul deep in Cambodian territory, north of Loc Ninh on National Route 13. The Communists had 3 Divisions (5th, 7th and 9th) operating in that area. III Corps was ready to commit all of its 3 Division (5th, 18th and 25th) in case the Communists dared to engage one, two or all three divisions into the battlefield. Unfortunately, General Tri died unexpectedly in a helicopter accident in the end of February 1971, and General Minh, who replaced General Tri, did not want to follow through with the luring plan, when 8th Task Force was succeeding in attracting the enemy who gathered two Divisions (5th and 7th) around Snoul. The beleaguered troops of 8th Task Force, when neither rescue column nor B-52 bombers were in sight, were about to raise the white flag to surrender to the enemy. However, General Hieu executed in time his withdrawal plan to bring back his troops to Loc Ninh. The troop’s withdrawal was executed in three phases:

  1. on May 29, 1971, 1/8th Battalion pierced through enemy blocking line at the northern outpost to rejoin the 8th Task Force Command Post located at Snoul market;
  2. on May 30, 1971, 8th Task Force using 1/8th Battalion as the spear-head to pierce enemy blocking line, followed behind by 2/8th Battalion, Task Force Command Post, 1st Armored Squadron with 2/7th Battalion acting as rear cover, to withdraw from Snoul to the location defended by 3/8th Battalion, 3 kilometers Southeast of Snoul on National Route 13;
  3. on May 31, 1971, 3/8th Battalion replaced 1/8th Battalion as the spear-head in piercing enemy blocking line, followed by 3/9th Battalion, 2/7th Battalion, Task Force Command Post, 1st Armored Squadron with 1/8th Battalion acting as rear cover, allowing 8th Task Force to reach the border on a 3 kilometer stretch and to return to Loc Ninh.

Svay Riêng, 1974

In 1974, as Deputy Commander of Operations/III Corps, assistant to General Pham Quoc Thuan, General Hieu applied Blitzkrieg (lightning war) tactic to alleviate the pressure exerted by 5th Division NVA originating from Svay Rieng Province in the Parrot’s Beak area inside Kampuchea territory aiming at base camp Duc Hue. Firstly, General Hieu employed twenty mobile battalions to surround the Parrot’s Beak area. Secondly, on April 27, he launched 49th Infantry Regiment and 7th Ranger Group through the swamp lands around Duc Hue toward the Kampuchean border, and had VNAF airplanes attack positions of 5th Division NVA units. In the meantime, he relied on two Regional Force battalions belonging to IV Corps to move from Moc Hoa up north to establish blocking positions on the southwestern edge of the 5th Division NVA’s logistical base and assembly area.

On April 28, General Hieu launched eleven battalions into the battleground to conduct preliminary operation in preparation of the main offensive.

In the morning of April 29, three armored squadrons of the III Corps Assault Task Force rushed across the Kampuchean border from west Go Dau Ha, aiming directly at 5th Division NVA HQ. Meanwhile, a task force composing of infantry and armor of IV Corps, originating from Moc Hoa, maneuvered across the Kampuchean border into Elephant’s Foot area to threaten the retreat of 275th Regiment NVA. The three armored squadrons continued their three-pronged advance 16 kilometers deep into the Kampuchean territory before they veered south toward Hau Nghia Province, and helicopters debarked troops unexpectedly on enemy positions, while other ARVN units conducted rapid operations into the region between Duc Hue and Go Dau Ha.

On May 10, when the last ARVN units returned to their base camp, enemy communications and supplies networks were seriously disrupted. The Communists suffered 1,200 deads, 65 prisoners, and tons of weapons captured; while, due to speed, secrecy and coordination factors of a multi-faced operation, the ARVN only suffered less than 100 casualties.

Anticorruption czar

Vice President Tran Van Huong appointed General Hieu anticorruption czar on February 10, 1972. He occupied this position until October 1973. At that time corruption was rampant among the ARVN leadership, in the army, the administration, the police, the power authority, Air Vietnam, customs, etc…General Hieu chose to attack first the Military Pension Fund. After a five-month investigation, he presented his findings in detail on the national television on July 14, 1972. As results, the Defense Minister, General Nguyen Van Vy and seven colonels were ousted and the Military Pension Fund disbanded.

However, General Hieu was not allowed to move on to other corruption targets. President Thieu limited his investigation power to the level of chief of district and prior presidential approval was necessary to commence an investigation at the level of chief of province. These limitations disappointed General Hieu who sought to return to the military and declared, Either we correct our faults or the Communists will correct them for us.

Unanswered questions concerning his death

In the evening of April 8, 1975, news came out of III Corps headquarters in Bien Hoa that General Hieu was dead in his office. General Nguyen Van Toan, III Corps Commander, was immediately suspected since he had the reputation of being corrupt, while General Hieu was very clean, and furthermore, had held the position of anticorruption czar under Vice President Tran Van Huong.

The next day, after attending the military press conference, UPI correspondent sent out the following dispatch:

SAIGON (UPI) - The deputy commander of South Vietnamese troops defending the Saigon area was found shot to death Tuesday night following an argument with his superior over tactics. Military sources said he apparently committed suicide. The sources said Maj. Gen. Nguyen Van Hieu was found with a bullet wound in his mouth at his III Corps office at the edge of Bien Hoa airbase, 14 miles northeast of Saigon. It was not known whether Hieu's death was connected with the Tuesday morning bombing of the Presidential palace of Nguyen Van Thieu.

This news offered three unanswered questions:

  • did a dispute over tactics cause General Toan to kill General Hieu?
  • was the bullet wound placed in the mouth to make it appears to be a suicide, while it was actually at the chin?
  • did President Thieu panic after his palace was bombarded that morning into assuming General Hieu was formenting a coup to topple him down and order General Toan to kill General Hieu?

A few days later, III Corps headquarters provided another explanation. It alleged that since General Hieu was a pistol marksman who used to clean his own pistol, he accidentally shot himself. The question is how was it possible that such negligence could have created a wound at the chin, especially on the left side of the chin, while General Hieu was right-handed.

Based on the bullet wounds location, General Hieu could not have committed suicide – who would commit suicide by pointing the gun at the chin? That explains why the military spokesperson, when asked by a correspondent where, answered in the mouth to make it more believable.

All these various attempts in explanation from the military authority indicated an effort for a cover-up of an assassination ordered by General Toan’s immediate superior and carried out by General Toan’s clique right at the inner sanctum of III Corps headquarters.


Notable ARVN Generals

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