Ha Mai Viet : Steel and Blood – South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia [2] – two book reviews

Ha Mai Viet, Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia, Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 2008, 459 p.

Book Review by LtCol Raymond A. Stewart, USMC (Ret).

 

Colonel Ha Mai Viet provides his meticulously researched, impressively written and well-presented book about South Vietnam tanks in “Steel and Blood.” The author details the combat history of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) Armor (AF) from “Ferocious Battles, 1963-68” through “Vietnamization, 1969-74” to the final days of the Republic in 1975—“The Capture of South Vietnam.” His is a riveting account of tank battle after tank battle, pitting the ARVNAF’s M41 and M48 tanks against the NVA enemy’s T54, T59, T34 and PT76 tanks.

Somewhat of a surprise to a Marine Corps Vietnam tanker—and possible Army armor as well—and for certain to those who declared that Vietnam was not “tank country” are the numbers and types of armored vehicles employed by both sides and the importance the VC/NVA enemy and ARVN alike placed on the use of armored vehicles in general and tanks specifically. Just one example: By 1975, the NVA had an estimated 600 T54s in or on the border of South Vietnam supplied by large, well-concealed fuel lines with sophisticated pumping and fueling stations that ran through Laos and Cambodia hundreds of kilometers from Haiphong in the north.

In battle after battle, from the Plain of Reeds through the three-front General Offensive and battles for the Central High­lands to the final assault on Saigon itself, Col Ha Mai Viet provides the reader with the often heart-wrenchingly candid and unwashed details of bloody victories and even more horrific defeats. He does not embellish the value of the ARVNAF in its successful fights nor does he minimize the faults of senior leaderships’ failed decisions contributing to catastrophic defeats. The author keeps to the rapid movement of armor and the battles in which tanks participate by extracting related details and placing them in “Notes.” There are 80 pages of notes, which add an impressive dimension of understanding of ARVNAF leadership, or lack of it.

In the second half of the book, the “Mil­itary History” segment, Col Ha Mai Viet’s attention to detail and in-depth research provide the reader the historical background of the ARVN in general terms and, more specifically, trace the establishment, growth and deployment of the armored forces (ARVNAF).

While certainly not the “grabber” that one finds in page after page of Part I, Part II is of significant value in understanding the development, structure, employment, logistics and administration of ARVNAF in terms of equipment. The author provides interesting information on the back­ground and training of the armored personnel and quite candid comments on the ARVNAF leadership.

To follow the battles, I found the paucity of maps—there are just two small-detail maps—made the reading (and enjoyment) of the book somewhat difficult. Also, com­mand structure, order of battle, and table of organization and equipment diagrams would have greatly helped in better understanding of the material.

Col. Ha Mai Viet states unequivocally that South Vietnam could have defeated the VC/NVA on the battlefield had the Uni­ted States made good on its agreement to support the South after the withdrawal of American ground forces.

This thoroughly researched book, a 10-year effort, relies on both personal knowledge and interviews of hundreds of former ARVN as well as VC/NVA soldiers and officers of all ranks and military occupational specialties. To obtain a more balanced view—and with an armored slant—of the war that took more than 58,000 American lives, this book is a highly recommended read.

Source : Leatherneck, magazine of the Marines, Marine Corps Association.

Présentation de l’ouvrage sur U.S. Naval Institute.

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Book Review by Jay Veith.

Of the several thousand tomes published about the Vietnam War, only a few English-language viewpoints written by our Vietnamese allies grace the bookshelves. The South Vietnamese perspective, constrained by cultural and linguistic barriers, is unfortunately marginalized in the war’s literature for Americans. Due to these barriers, U.S. historians, even if interested in South Vietnamese motivations and actions, are left with little except military adviser reports, obscure embassy cables, or shallow news articles. Thus reduced to bit players, the South Vietnamese have become caricatures; either cowardly incompetents or corrupt warlords, with an occasional brave soul or hard-fighting unit briefly mentioned. A more balanced and deeper picture of America’s wartime partner has long been needed.

Former armor Colonel Ha Mai Viet has offered precisely that, a penetrating insight into the battlefield contributions of the South Vietnamese tank officers who fought alongside their American friends. His book details the contributions of a small but influential element of the ARVN, its armor/cavalry forces. Unknown to most, by war’s end the armor branch had grown considerably from its French roots. In 1975, Brigadier General Tran Quang Khoi’s 3rd Armored Cavalry Brigade, the III Corps organic tank unit, was undoubtedly the most powerful brigade-size element in the ARVN. Reflecting a rare combined arms outlook, Khoi built a formidable combat out-fit from previously independent armor, artillery, engineer, and ranger units. His merged brigade was still defending outside of Saigon when the final surrender came.

Viet spent ten years traveling the globe, tracking down and interviewing many of his former comrades-in-arms. He portrays the heroic deeds of his fellow soldiers while unflinchingly condemning South Vietnamese leadership errors. Covering two main topics, Combat and Military History, Viet outlines twenty-three separate battles from the ARVN side. The bulk of the Combat section covers the Tet Offensive, Lam Son 719, the Easter Offensive, and the bloody retreat in 1975 from the Central Highlands. He also provides rich details on unknown battles such as the terrible clash at Dambe in Cambodia in 1971. The Military History part provides unique facts on the formation and growth of the ARVN armor/cavalry branch from 1954 to 1975, including unit commanders, weapons, and organizational structure.

Brilliantly translated, no future work on Vietnam battles will be complete without reviewing this publication. Colonel Viet has provided a tremendous amount of fresh information, almost all of it oral history. That is the strength and weakness of the book. Like all interviews, the ones in this book only provide the participant’s side. For example, the account by Colonel Nguyen Van Dong concerning the Central Highlands retreat, while new and highly informative, perpetuates the myth that Brigadier General Pham Duy Tat, the II Corps Ranger Commander, was responsible for the convoy on Route 7B. Tat, when presented with Dong’s remarks, categorically denied the accusations, a point of view absent from Viet’s book. This is not to cast fault, as Viet was only interested in the stories of his armor colleagues. Yet without access to That’s perspective, the unsuspecting historian would perpetuate the story. Unfortunately, as General Cao Van Vien once told the reviewer, the war remains much like the movie « Rashomon »: the truth is subjective to the individual. Colonel Viet nevertheless deserves enormous credit for his industrious research and fine account. His is a major and much needed addition to the history of the Vietnam War.

Copyright © 2009 Society for Military History
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Réf. :

  • Jay Veith. « Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia (review). » The Journal of Military History 73.3 (2009): 1020-1021. Project MUSE. Web. 27 Dec. 2011. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
  •  Veith, J.(2009). Steel and Blood: South Vietnamese Armor and the War for Southeast Asia (review). The Journal of Military History 73(3), 1020-1021. Society for Military History.