South-East Asian Special Forces


Colour plates by SIMON McCOUAIG


Published in 1991 by

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no. 33). 1. Soviet special forces

I. Title II. Series 356.160959

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Author’s Note

I would like to thank the following who generously gave of their time in compiling this study: Doan Huu Dinh, Tran Dac Tran, Hiep Hoa Trinh, Thoai Hovanky, Soutchay Vongsavanh, Oroth Insisien- gmay, Albert Grandolini, Thach Saren, Thach Reng, the Indonesian Embassy (Washington), the Malaysian Embassy (Washington), the Royal Thai Embassy (Washington), the Embassy of the Philippines (Wash- ington), the Singaporean Embassy (Washington), and countless others who would rather remain anonymous. Elite units have long been prominent in the armies of ~ South-East Asia, and, given the turmoil in the region since the 1960s these forces have had ample opportun- ity to be tested in combat. For reasons of space the author has been obliged to exclude such units as the South Vietnamese Airborne and Ranger formations; but see Elite 29, Vietnam Airborne by Gordon L. Rott- man for details of these units. Additional information on Cambodian élite units ean be found in MAA 209 The War in Cambodia.

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South-East Asian Special Forces

Republic of Vietnam: Special Forces

In early 1956 the French-built Commando School at Nha Trang was re-established with US military assistance to provide physical training and ranger instruction for up to 100 students. Early the following year President Ngo Dinh Diem ordered the creation of a special unit to conduct clandestine external operations. Initial parachute and communication training for 70 officers and sergeants was conducted at Vung Tau; 58 of these later underwent a four-month commando course at Nha Trang under the auspices ofa US Army Special Forces Mobile Training ‘eam. Upon completion, they formed the Lien dot Quan Sat so 1 (1 Observation Unit) on 1 November 1957 at Nha ‘Trang. The unit was put under the Presidential Liaison Office, a special intelligence bureau

controlled by President Diem and outside the normal ARVN command structure. The commander was Lt.Col. Le Quang Tung, an ARVN airborne officer and Diem loyalist. Many of the Unit’s members came originally from northern Vietnam, reflecting its external operations orientation.

In 1958 the Unit was renamed the Lien Doan Quan Sat so 1, or 1 Observation Group, reflecting its increase to nearly 400 men in December. By that time the Group was seen as an anti- Communist stay-behind force in the event of a North Vietnamese conventional invasion; however, because of its privileged position the Group stayed close to Diem and rarely ventured into the field.

By 1960 it was apparent that the main threat to South Vietnam was growing Viet Cong insurgency; the Group abandoned its stay-behind role and was assigned missions in VC-infested areas. Operations were briefly launched against VC in the Mekong Delta, and later along the Lao border.

ARVN STD ‘Earth Angel’ team dressed in North Vietnamese uniforms prepare for insertion into Cambodia, 1971.

STD team members dressed in tiger-stripe fatigues practise communications skills at Camp Yen The, 1971.

In mid-1961 the Group had 340 men in 20 teams of 15, with plans for expansion to 805 men. In October the Group began operations into Laos to reconnoitre North Vietnamese Army logistical corridors into South Vietnam. In November the Group was renamed Lien Doan 77, or 77 Group, in honour ofits USSF counterparts. Over the next two years members were regularly inserted into Laos and North Vietnam on harass- ment and psychological warfare operations. Longer-duration agent missions, involving civilians dropped into North Viet- nam, also came under the Group’s auspices.

The Group’s sister unit, 31 Group, began forming in February 1963. Following criticism of 77 Group’s perceived role as Diem’s ‘palace guard’, both groups were incorporated into a new command, the Luc Luong Dac Biet (LLDB) or Special Forces, on 15 March 1963. In theory the LLDB would work closely with the USSF in raising irregular village defence units. This cosmetic change still kept the Special Forces outside of ARVN control, however, and did little to change the performance of Col. Tung’s troops. In August, LLDB members attacked Buddhist pagodas across South Vietnam in an effort to stifle Buddhist opposition to the Diem regime. At the time LLDB strength stood at seven companies, plus an additional three ‘civilian’ companies used by Diem on political operations. Because of such missions the LLDB became despised and, when anti-Diem military units staged a coup d’état in November, the rebel forces arrested Col. Tung


and quickly neutralized the LLDB. executed.)

(Tung was later

The LLDB after Diem

In the wake of the coup the Presidential Liaison Office was dissolved and its functions assumed by the ARVN. The LLDB was put under the control of the Joint General Staff and given the mission of raising paramilitary border and village defence forces with the USSF. External operations were given to the newly formed Liaison Service, also under the JGS. The Liaison Service, commanded by a Colonel, was headquar- tered in Saigon adjacent to the JGS. It was divided into Task Forces 1, 2, and 3, each initially composed of only a small cadre of commandos.

In 1964 the JGS also formed the Technical Service, a covert unit tasked with longer-duration agent operations into North Vietnam. Commanded by a lieutenant-colonel, the Technical Service comprised Group 11, oriented toward agent oper- ations in Laos and eastern North Vietnam; Group 68, another infiltration unit; and the Coastal Security Service, a maritime commando group at Da Nang with its own contingent of PT Boats for seaborne infiltration.

The post-Diem LLDB-was restructured for its proper role as a source of counter-insurgency instructors for paramilitary forces. By February 1964 31 Group had finished training, and was posted to Camp Lam Son south of Nha Trang. In May the Group became responsible for all LLDB detachments in I and IT Corps. A second reorganization occurred in September when 31 Group was renamed 111 Group and given responsi-

bility for the Special Operations Training Center at Camp Lam Son. Now 77 Group, headquartered at Camp Hung Vuong in Saigon, became 301 Group. In addition, 91 Airborne Ranger Battalion, a three-company fast reaction para unit, was raised under LLDB auspices in November. Total LLDB force strength stood at 333 officers, 1,270 sergeants, and 1,270 men. The LLDB command at Nha Trang was assumed by Brig.Gen. Doan Van Quang in August 1965.

By 1965 the LLDB had become almost a mirror image of the USSF. LLDB Headquarters at Nha Trang ran the nearby Special Forces Training Center at Camp Dong Ba ‘Tinh. LLDB ‘C’ Teams, designated A through D Company, were posted to each of South Vietnam’s four Military Regions; each ‘C’ Team had three ‘B’ ‘Teams, which controlled operational detachments at the sub-regional level; ‘B’ ‘Teams ran 10 to 11 ‘A’ Teams. ‘A’ Teams were co-located with USSF ‘A’ Teams at camps concentrated along the South Vietnamese border, where they focused on training Civilian Irregular Defense Force (GIDG) personnel.

In addition, the LLDB Command directly controlled Delta teams and the four-company 91 Airborne Ranger Battalion, both used by Project Delta, a special reconnaissance unit of the US Military Assistance Command-Vietnam Studies and Observation Group (MACVSOG), which operated deep in VC/NVA sanctuaries.

On 30 January 1968 the Communists launched their ‘Tet offensive across South Vietnam. Caught celebrating the lunar New Year, the Saigon government was initially ill-prepared to counter the VC/NVA attacks. When Nha Trang was hit on the first day the LLDB Headquarters was protected by 91 Airborne Ranger Battalion, recently returned from one of its Project Delta assignments. At only 60 per cent strength the

Airborne Rangers turned in an excellent performance, push- ing the major Communist elements out of Nha Trang in less than a day. The battle, however, cost the life of the battalion commander and wounded four company commanders.

After a four-month retraining phase in Nha Trang three companies from g1 Airborne Ranger Battalion were brought together with six Delta teams and renamed 81 Airborne Ranger Battalion. In early June the new battalion prepared for urban operations in Saigon after a second surge of Communist attacks pushed government forces out of the capital’s northern suburbs. On 7 June the Airborne Rangers were shuttled into Saigon and began advancing toward VC- held sectors around the Duc Tin Military School. After a week of bloody street fighting, much of it at night, the Rangers pushed the enemy out of the city.

Following the Tet Offensive 81 Airborne Ranger Battalion was increased to six companies, and continued to be used as the main reaction force for Project Delta; four companies were normally assigned Delta missions while two remained in reserve at LLDB Headquarters.

The Strategic Technical Directorate

In late 1968 the Technical Service was expanded into the Nha Ky Thuat (Strategic Technical Directorate, or STD) in a move designed to make it more like MACVSOG, the US joint- services command created in 1964 which ran reconnaissance, raids, and other special operations both inside and outside South Vietnam. Despite internal opposition the Liaison Service was subordinated to the STD as its major combat arm. Like SOG, the STD also had aircraft under its nominal

A stick from the Laotian 1 CCPL prepare for a training jump from a French AAC-1 ‘Toucan’, early 1950. (ECPA)

control, including 219 Helicopter Squadron of the Viet- namese Air Force. By the late 1960s the size of the Liaison Service had increased tremendously. Task Forces 1, 2, and 3—commanded by lieutenant-colonels and larger than a brigade—were directly analogous to MACVSOG’s Com- mand and Control North, Central, and South. Each Task Force was broken into a Headquarters, a Security Company, a Reconnaissance Company of ten teams, and two Mobile Launch Sites with contingents of South Vietnamese Army and paramilitary forces under temporary Liaison Service control. Although the Liaison Service was a South Vietnam- ese unit, all of its operations were funded, planned, and controlled by MACVSOG, and recon teams integrated both MACVSOG and Liaison Service personnel.

In December 1970, in accordance with the ‘Vietnamiz- ation’ policy, all CIDG border camps were turned over to the South Vietnamese government and CIDG units were incor- porated into the ARVN as Bret Dong Quan, or Ranger, border battalions. No longer needed as a CIDG training force, the LLDB was dissolved in the same month. Officers above captain were sent to the Biet Dong Quan; the best of the remaining officers and men were selected for anew STD unit, the Special Mission Service. At the same time 81 Airborne

French and Lao members of 1 CCPL in US-supplied World War Two Pacific camouflage uniforms engage the enemy with MAS36 rifles in what appears to be a posed publicity picture, February 1951. (ECPA)

ie 8

Ranger Battalion was expanded into 81 Airborne Ranger Group consisting of one headquarters company, one recon company, and seven exploitation companies. The Group was put under the direct control of the Army G-2 (Intelligence).

During 1970 the Liaison Service had staged numerous cross-border missions into Cambodia in support of major external sweeps by the US and South Vietnamese forces against Communist sanctuaries. Early the following year the Service sent three recon teams into the ‘Laotian Panhandle’ two weeks before the ARVN’s February Lam Son 719 incursion.

In February 1971 the STD underwent major reorganiz- ation in accordance with Vietnamization and its anticipated increase in special operations responsibilities. Headquartered in Saigon, STD command was given to Col. Doan Van Nhu, an ARVN airborne officer and former military attaché to Taiwan. As STD commander, and a non-voting member of the South Vietnamese National Security Council, Nhu took orders only from President Nguyen Van Thieu and the Chief of the ARVN JGS.

The expanded STD consisted of a headquarters, a training center, three support services, and six combat services. The training center was located at Camp Yen The in Long Thanh: Yen The, significantly, was the name of a resistance move- ment in northern Vietnam during the 11th century. Airborne instruction was conducted at the ARVN Airborne Division’s Camp Ap Don at Tan Son Nhut. The three support services were Administration & Logistics; Operations & Intelligence;


and Psychological Warfare, which ran the ‘Vietnam Mother- land’, ‘Voice of Liberty’, and ‘Patriotic Front of the Sacred Sword’ clandestine radio stations. The combat services were the Liaison Service; the Special Mission Service; Group 11; Group 68; the Air Support Service; and the Coastal Security Service.

The Liaison Service, commanded by a colonel in Saigon, was composed of experienced Loi Ho (‘Pull a tiger’s tail’) recon commandos divided among ‘Task Force 1 (Da Nang), Task Force 2 (Kontum), and ‘Task Force 3 (Ban Me Thuot).

The Special Mission Service, also commanded by a colonel, was headquartered at Camp Son Tra in Da Nang. It remained in training under US auspices from February 1971 until January 1972. Unlike the shorter-duration raid and recon missions performed by the Liaison Service, the SMS was tasked with longer missions into North Vietnam and Laos. It was initially composed of Groups 71, 72, and 75, the first two headquartered at separate camps at Da Nang. Group 75 was headquartered at Pleiku in the former LLDB ‘B’ Co. barracks, with one detachment at Kontum to provide a strike force for operations in Cambodia and inside South Vietnam.

Group 11, an airborne infiltration unit based at Da Nang, and Group 68, headquartered in Saigon with detachments at Kontum, were soon integrated under SMS command. Group 68 ran airborne-trained rallier and agent units, including ‘Earth Angels’ (NVA ralliers) and ‘Pike Hill’ teams (Cam- bodians disguised as Khmer Communists). A typical Earth Angel operation took place on 15 December 1971, when a

team was inserted by US aircraft on a reconnaissance mission into Mondolkiri Province, Cambodia. Pike Hill operations were focused in the same region, including a seven-man POW recovery team dropped into Ba Kev, Cambodia, on 12 February 1971. Pike Hill operations even extended into Laos, e.g. the four-man Pike Hill team parachuted onto the edge of the Bolovens Plateau on 28 December 1971, where it reported on enemy logistics traffic for almost two months. Pike Hill operations peaked in November 1972 when two teams were inserted by C-130 Blackbird aircraft flying at 250 feet north of Kompong Trach, Cambodia. Information from one of these teams resulted in 48 B-52 strikes within one day.

The STD’s Air Support Service consisted of 219 ‘Queen Bee’ Helicopter Sqn., the 114 Observation Sqn., and C-47 transportation elements. The Queen Bees, originally outfitted with aging H-34s, were re-equipped with UH-1 Hueys in 1972. The C-47 fleet was augmented by two C-123 transports and one C-130 Blackbird in the same year. All were based at Nha Trang.

The Easter Offensive 1972 During the 1972 Easter Offensive the combat arms of the STD saw heavy action while performing recon and forward air

Members of Laotian 1 BPL during Operation ‘Dampieres’ north of Luang Prabang, September 1953. Unlike the US pattern worn by the CCPL, the BPL had new French ‘lizard’ pattern camouflage. (ECPA)

Ort ee ee 7

55 Bataillon Parachutistes


Officers 2 EM 3

Headquarters Company

50th Rifle Company

51st Rifle Company

Officers 2 Officers 2 EM 111 EM 106

guide operations. Meanwhile, 81 Airborne Ranger Group was tasked with reinforcing besieged An Loc. ‘The Group was heli-lifted into the southern edge of the city in April, and the Rangers walked north to form the first line of defence against the North Vietnamese. After a month of brutal fighting and heavy losses, the siege was lifted. A monument was later built by the people of An Loc in appreciation of the Group’s sacrifices.

In October 1972, the SMS was given responsibility for the tactical footage between Hue and the Lao border. In early 1973 US advisors were withdrawn. The Air Support Service soon proved unable to make up for missing US logistical support, sharply reducing the number of STD external missions. STD personnel, as well as LLDN SEALs, were increasingly seconded to President Thieu’s Palace Guard. Later in the year the Liaison Service’s Task Forces 1, 2, and 3 were redesignated Groups 1, 2, and 3; and Camp Yen The was renamed Camp Quyat Thang (‘Must Win’).

Following a brief respite in the wake of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords, the STD was back in action against encroaching NVA elements in the countryside. In September 1973 two Liaison Service Lot Ho recon teams were inserted by helicopter into Plei Djereng, a key garrison blocking the NVA in- filtration corridor down the Western highlands. They were unsuccessful in rallying the defenders after an NVA attack, however.

In late 1974 the NVA increased their pressure; especially hard hit was the provincial capital of Phuoc Long in Military Region 3. After several weeks of NVA tank, artillery, and infantry attacks the Phuoc Long defences started to crack. In an effort to save the city the government ordered 81 Airborne

October 1954: Laotian para-commandos, probably from the GCPL just prior to its integration into the BPL, train near Vientiane. They wear Laotian Airborne red berets with badges based on the French Airborne winged dagger. Weapons are the BAR and Thompson SMG. (ECPA)

52nd Rifle Company

53rd Rifle Company

Officers 1 Officers 2 EM 124 EM 12

Organization of the Laotian 55 BP, 1961.

Ranger Group to reinforce the southern perimeter. After two days of weather delays one company was heli-lifted east of the city on the morning of 5 January 1975; and by early afternoon over 250 Airborne Rangers were in Phuoc Long. After a day of relentless NVA assaults most of the original garrison fled; contact was lost with the Airborne Rangers as the NVA began to overwhelm the city. Early the next day Ranger stragglers were spotted north of the city. A four-day search eventually retrieved some 50 per cent survivors.

By March 1975 the NVA had increased pressure on the Central Highlands, prompting Saigon to begin a strategic redeployment from the western half of II Corps. Although the Liaison Service’s Groups 2 and 3 provided security for the withdrawing masses the redeployment soon turned into a rout. In the hasty withdrawal Group 2 had forgotten two recon teams in Cambodia; these later walked the entire distance back to the Vietnamese coast. After the fall of the Central Highlands government forces in I Corps began to panic, sparking an exodus to the south. In the confusion Group 1 of the Liaison Service attempted to provide security for the sealift to Saigon. Meanwhile, the SMS boarded boats on 30 March for Vung Tau.

With the entire northern half of the country lost, Saigon attempted to regroup its forces. 81 Airborne Ranger Group, which had arrived from II Corps in a state of disarray, was refitted at Vung Tau. The Liaison Service was posted in Saigon, with Groups 1 and 3 reinforcing Bien Hoa and Group 2 protecting the fuel depots. The SMS also re-formed in Saigon.

On 6 April 1975 SMS recon teams sent north-east and north-west of Phan Rang discovered elements of two North Vietnamese divisions massing on the city. An additional 100 SMS commandos were flown in as reinforcements, but were captured at the airport as the North Vietnamese overran


Phan Rang. A second task force of 40 Lo: Ho commandos was infiltrated into Tay Ninh to attack an NVA command post; the force was intercepted and only two men escaped. By mid- April 81 Airborne Ranger Group was put under the oper- ational control of 18th Division and sent to Xuan Loc, where the unit was smashed. The remnants were pulled back to defend Saigon. By the final days of April the NVA had surrounded the capital. Along with other high officials, the STD commander escaped by plane on 27 April. On the next day 500 SMS commandos and STD HQ personnel comman- deered a barge and escaped into international waters. The remainder of the Liaison Service fought until capitulation on 30 April.

Vietnamese Naval Special Forces

In 1960 the South Vietnamese Navy proposed the creation of an Underwater Demolitions Team to improve protection of ships, piers, and bridges. Later in the year a navy contingent was sent to Taiwan for UDT training; the one officer and seven men who completed the course became the cadre for a Lien Doi Ngoui Nhia (LDNN), or Frogman Unit, formally established in July 1961. The LDNN, with a proposed strength of 48 officers and men, was given the mission of salvage, obstacle removal, pier protection, and special am- phibious operations.

Insignia of the Laotian MR 5 Commandos, 1970.

Organization of the Khmer Special Forces, 1974.

Khmer Special Forces


Soon after the creation of the LDNN a second unit was

formed: Biet Hai, or ‘Special Sea Force’, paramilitary com- mandos under the operational control of Diem’s Presidential Liaison Office and given responsibility for amphibious oper- ations against North Vietnam. US Navy SEAL (Sea, Air, and Land) commando teams began deploying to South Vietnam in February 1962 and initiated in March a six-month course for the first Bet Hai cadre in airborne, reconnaissance, and guerrilla warfare training. By October, 62 men had graduated from the first cycle. A planned second contingent was denied funding.

In early 1964 the LDNN, numbering only one officer and 41 men, began special operations against VC seaborne infiltration attempts. Six Communist junks were destroyed by the LLDN at Ilo Ilo Island in January during Operation ‘Sea Dog’. During the following month the LDNN began to be used against North Vietnamese targets as part of Operation Plan 34A, a covert action programme designed to pressure the Hanoi regime. In February a team unsuccessfully attempted to sabotage a North Vietnamese ferry on Cape Ron and Swatow patrol craft at Quang Khe. Missions to destroy the Route 1 bridges below the 18th Parallel were twice aborted. In March most of the LDNN was transferred to Da Nang and co-located with the remaining Biet Hai commandos. During May North Vietnam operations resumed by LDNN teams working with newly trained Biet Hai boat crews. On 27 May they scored their first success with the capture of a North Vietnamese junk. On 30 June a team landed on the North Vietnamese coast near a reservoir pump house. The team was discovered and a hand-to-hand fight ensued; two LDNN commandos lost their lives and three 57mm recoilless rifles were abandoned, but 22 North Vietnamese were killed and the pump house was destroyed.

In July a second class of 60 LDNN candidates was selected and began training in Nha Trang during September. Train- ing lasted 16 weeks, and included a ‘Hell Week’ in which students were required to paddle a boat 115 miles, run 75 miles, carry a boat for 21 miles, and swim ten miles. During

Indonesian KIPAM insignia: chest qualification badge (left); unit shoulder insignia and tab (centre); HALO qualification badge (right).

the training cycle team members salvaged a sunken landing craft at Nha ‘Trang and a downed aircraft in Binh Duong Province. Thirty-three men completed the course in January 1965, and were based at Vung Tau under the direct control of the Vietnamese Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Operations).

In 1965 the LLDN was given responsibility for amphibious special operations in South Vietnam. Maritime operations against North Vietnam were given exclusively to the Da Nang-based Biet Hat commandos and Hai Tuan boat crews, both incorporated into the new seaborne component of the STD, the So Phong Ve Duyen Hai (Coastal Security Service, or CSS). The CSS, a joint services unit, was headed by an Army lieutenant-colonel until 1966, then by a Navy commander. CSS missions focused almost entirely on short-duration sabotage operations lasting one night, and had a high success rate. The CSS relied heavily on special operations teams temporarily seconded from other services. Teams on loan from the Vietnamese Navy, considered most effective, were codenamed ‘Vega’. Other teams came from the Vietnamese Marine Corps (‘Romulus’) and Army (‘Nimbus’). The CSS also controlled 40 civilian agents (‘Cumulus’) until the mid- 1960s. Unofficially, the term Bzet Hai was used for all CSS forces, regardless of original service affiliation. CSS training was conducted at Da Nang under the auspices of US Navy SEAL, US Marine, and Vietnamese advisors. Further sup- port was provided by the CSS’s Da Nang-based US counter- part, the Naval Advisory Detachment, a component of MACVSOG.

By the mid-1g960s US Navy SEAL teams were being rotated regularly through South Vietnam on combat tours. Special- ists in raids, amphibious reconnaissance, and neutralization operations against the VC infrastructure, the SEALs worked closely with the LDNN and began qualifying Vietnamese


personnel in basic SEAL tactics. In November 1966 a small cadre of LDNN were brought to Subic Bay in the Philippines for more intensive SEAL training.

In 1967 a third LDNN class numbering over 400 were selected for SEAL training at Vung Tau. Only 27 students finished the one-year course and were kept as a separate Hai Kich (‘Special Sea Unit,’ the Vietnamese term for SEAL) unit within the LDNN. Shortly after their graduation the Commu- nists launched the Tet Offensive, and some of the young LDNN SEALs were sent to the Saigon district of Cholon for urban operations. In the wake of the Tet Offensive most of the LDNN SEALs were moved to Cam Ranh Bay, where a fourth LDNN class began training during 1968. During the year the Vietnamese SEALs operated closely with the US Navy SEALs. The LDNN SEAL Team maintained its focus on operations within South Vietnam, although some missions did extend into Cambodia. Some missions used parachute infiltration.

LDNN after Tet

In 1971, in accordance with increased operational responsi- bilities under the Vietnamization programme, the LDNN was expanded to the Lien Doan Ngoui Nhia (LDNN), or Frogman Group, comprising a SEAL Team, Underwater Demolitions Team, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Team, and Boat Sup- port Team. Headquarters remained in Saigon. For the remainder of 1971 the SEALs operated in 12—18-man detach- ments on neutralization operations and raids inside South Vietnam. SEAL launch sites included Ho Anh, north of Da Nang; Hue; and Tinh An.

KIPAM team practising amphibious reconnaissance, armed

with the AK-47.

foe -


During the 1972 Easter Offensive the SEALs were transfer- red to Hue to conduct operations against NVA forces holding Quang Tri; after Quang Tri was retaken some of the SEALs went to Quang Ngai to resume VC neutralization operations.

After US Navy SEAL advisors were withdrawn in late 1972 the LDNN SEAL Team, now 200 strong, took over training facilities at Cam Ranh Bay; training, however, was cut in half, with only one-fifth given airborne training. The SEALs had been augmented by ten graduates out of 21 LDNN officer candidates sent to the US for SEAL training in 1971.

When the Vietnam ceasefire went into effect in 1973 the SEALs returned to LDNN Headquarters in Saigon. At the same time the CSS was dissolved, with the Navy contingent given the option of transferring to the LDNN.

In late December 1973 the government reiterated its territorial claim to the Paracel Island chain off its coast and dispatched a small garrison of militia to occupy the islands. By early January 1974 the Chinese, who also claimed the islands, had sent a naval task force to retake the Paracels. On 17

January 30 LDNN SEALs were infiltrated on to the western

shores of one of the major islands to confront a Chinese landing party. The Chinese had already departed; but two days later, after SEALs landed on a nearby island, Chinese forces attacked with gunboats and naval infantry. Two SEALs died and the rest were taken prisoner and later repatriated.

During the final days of South Vietnam a 50-man SEAL detachment was sent to Long Anh; the remainder were kept at LDNN Headquarters in Saigon along with 200 new SEAL trainees. During the early evening of 29 April all SEAL dependants boarded LDNN UDT boats and left Saigon; a few hours later the SEALs departed the capital, linked up with the UDT boats, and were picked up by the US 7th Fleet in international waters.

Cambodia: Army Airborne

In July 1947 the first Cambodian volunteers from the Mixed Cambodian Regiment were chosen for airborne training. Additional Cambodian paratroopers, totalling one company, were raised within the Cambodian Chasseur Battalion by 1951. In June 1952 these paratroopers were consolidated to form 1 Company ofa planned Cambodian airborne battalion; second and third companies were soon formed and sent to Saigon for jump training. On 1 December all three companies were declared operational and the Bataillon Parachutiste Khmere was officially created. As early as June 1952 1 Co. was engaging in small-scale clearing operations in southern Gam- bodia. By early 1953 both 1 and 2 Cos. were engaging Viet Minh elements. In July 1953 the entire BPK was sent to the north-eastern town of Sre Ches to drive out a Viet Minh battalion. On 31 August 1953 all French officers assigned to the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, including the BPK, were withdrawn.

Following the August 1954 ceasefire in Indochina the BPK was used for small police actions against bands of armed rebels. During the latter half of the 1950s its authorized strength remained near 1,000 men; actual strength was closer to goo.

In January 1961 the battalion was expanded into the Airborne Half-Brigade, composed of 1 and 2 Para Battalions. Half-Brigade HQ and the airborne training centre were at Pochentong Airbase outside Phnom Penh. Aside from in- frequent skirmishes along the South Vietnamese border—against both ARVN and VC forces—the para- troopers saw little action. In 1964 1 Para Bn. was parachuted near the Thai border in an effort to intimidate the Thai government during a dispute over control of the Preah Vihear temple. In April 1967 paratroopers were rushed to Battam- bang to put down the first armed uprising by the Communist Khmer Rouge movement.

In November 1969 elements of the Demi-Brigade were sent to the extreme north-east for limited sweeps against VC/NVA forces. At that time HQ and 1 Para Bn. were stationed at Pochentong; 2 Para Bn. was garrisoned at Long Vek. When Cambodian head of State Prince Norodom Sihanouk was deposed in March 1970 and replaced by a pro-Western republican government, the NVA attacked the isolated government forces in north-eastern Cambodia, forcing the paratroopers to evacuate to South Vietnam. They were subsequently retrained and sent back to Phnom Penh. During early April the remainder of the Demi-Brigade was rushed toward the South Vietnamese border to spearhead govern- ment offensives against WC/NVA enclaves in eastern Cambodia.

By August 1970, in accordance with plans for expansion of the Cambodian National Armed Forces, the airborne forces grew into an Airborne Brigade Group of two brigades. 1 Para Bde., based at Pochentong, was composed of a 188-man HQ. Co. and five 577-man battalions (1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 Para Battalions). The first four had been quickly trained within Cambodia; 5 Para Bn. was sent for training in South Vietnam and did not return until February 1972. 2 Para Bde., based at Long Vek, started forming its first unit, 11 Para Bn., in late


KIPAM team practising ship infiltrations, 1986.

1970. Three further battalions—12, 13, and 14—were planned but only 12 Para Bn. was ever realized, completing South Vietnamese training and returning to the brigade in April 1972.

In late August 1970 the four existing battalions of 1 Para Bde. were sent to Prek Tameak nine miles north of Phnom Penh. For its two days of successful defensive action, the brigade was later awarded the Standard of Victory. In December 1 Bde. was sent to Prey Totung 44 miles north-east of Phnom Penh, where heavy fighting against NVA forces earned the brigade its second Standard.

In March 1971, after 101-D Regt. of the NVA 1st Division cut Route 4 leading to Kompong Som, the brigade was chosen to spearhead a drive to re-open the road. Over the next three months the paratroopers, supported by several infantry brigades, pushed back the NVA and eventually captured the strategic Pich Nil Pass overlooking Route 4. These actions earned the brigade its third Standard.


Indonesian PASKHAS team dressed in British DPM camouflage and armed with M-16s and an M-203.

The Airborne 1972-1975

In May 1972 three para battalions were moved from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap to participate in Operation ‘Angkor Chey’, a clearing action around the Angkor Wat temple. All three battalions were moved back to the capital in November.

In January 1973 paratroopers were fighting their way into Srey Prey, 37 miles south of Phnom Penh, to relieve a seriously threatened outpost. While the 4,000-strong Airborne Brigade Group remained active on similar reinforcement missions throughout early 1973, its combat performance was tinged with a lack of aggressiveness. In March 1 Para Bde. was assigned to clear and hold the east bank of the Mekong. After the operation extended beyond the promised five days, however, the brigade refused to move and began to desert its positions. The commander was relieved and the brigade was redeployed to the south Mekong. Tasked with advancing along the west bank, the paras again refused to move and started to filter back toward Phnom Penh.

As a result of its poor performance the Brigade Group was disbanded in April. 1 Para Bde., composed of 1, 2, 3, and 4 Para Bns., was retained with headquarters at Pochentong; 5 Para Bn. and 2 Para Bde., composed only of 11 and 12 Para Bns., were disbanded. During mid-1973 two para battalions were sent on operations along the Mekong River while two battalions. were maintained at Pochentong as a general reserve.

On 25 August, 1 and 3 Para Bns. were rushed to Kompong Cham following heavy Khmer Rouge attacks. All airborne forces were withdrawn from the vicinity of Kompong Cham in


December and returned to Phnom Penh.

For the first six months of 1974 the paras were used on limited defensive operations along the east bank of the Mekong. Repeated enemy probes sapped the brigade’s morale and brought strength down to 1,000 men. An infusion of 250 newly trained paratroopers in June improved perform- ance slightly. During December elements of the brigade were sent to clear the banks of the Bassac River. The paratroopers were then sent east of the capital until mid-April 1975; the bulk of the brigade was finally rushed west of Phnom Penh on 15 April, but could only get six kilometres down Route 4 before the Khmer Rouge captured the capital two days later.

Khmer Special Forces

In October 1971 the Khmer Special Forces was created with an initial strength of one 33-man ‘C’ Detachment serving as headquarters in Phnom Penh; 1 Special Forces Group (Airborne), composed of one 25-man ‘B’ Detachment (B-11) and six 15-man ‘A’ Detachments (A-111 to A-116). Most members were Khmer Krom (a Cambodian ethnic minority living in southern Cambodia and southern Vietnam) who had been repatriated to Cambodia with years of combat expe- rience in South Vietnamese élite units. In mid-1972 training began for 2 Special Forces Group (Airborne)—Detachment B-12 and Detachments A-121 to A-126—at the Royal Army Special Warfare Center at Lopburi, Thailand. Again, a large percentage of 2 Group were Khmer Krom repatriates.

Psyops Officer

Wpns Set E-7

Engr Set E-7

Commo Set


Intel Set

Supply Sgt E-7


Wpns Sgt

Med Sgt


Med Sgt


E-7 E-7

Intel Sgt


Engr Sgt


(NOTE: Actual Khmer Special Forces deployment rarely matched this proposed organization)

Khmer SF missions were varied. Its first combat assign- ment, clearing a Khmer Rouge rocket team from north of Phnom Penh, soon gave way to deep-penetration raids, long- range reconnaissance, and reinforcement duties. The SF also performed in an unconventional warfare training role for paramilitary units, as well as for Khmer Air Force security troops. In addition, SF personnel ran the Recondo School at Battambang.

In December 1972, 3 Special Forces Group (Airborne)—Detachment B-13 and Detachments A-131 to A-136—was brought to strength and sent to Lopburi for training. Unlike the previous two groups 3 Group had few experienced Khmer Krom members. On 23 April 1973 the Group graduated and returned to Cambodia. It was given responsibility for operations around the capital, along the lower Mekong, and the coast; 1 Group was posted to Battambang and 2 Group was stationed in Phnom Penh.

Though highly capable, the SF were too small to make a strategic difference in the war. Furthermore, some personnel were siphoned off to protect Phnom Penh from the threat of internal coups d’état, while two more ‘A’ Detachments were used for VIP security when President Lon Nol visited his villa on the coast.

The SF were augmented in late 1974 when they assumed operational control over the Para-Commando Battalion, a unit which had its origins in a 60-man contingent sent for nine months of Indonesian Special Forces training in March 1972. Upon their return 36 members were assigned to a ceremonial unit in Phnom Penh. Late in 1974, however, they were used as a cadre for a new Para-Commando Battalion and, under assignment to the Khmer SF, were sent to man the defensive perimeter north-west of the capital.

Organization of a Khmer Special Forces ‘A’ Detachment.

By March 1975 with all land and river routes to Phnom Penh cut, the Khmer Rouge began their final assault on the capital. Aside from three ‘A’ Detachments in Battambang and two in Siem Reap, the bulk of the Khmer SF were withdrawn to Phnom Penh. Two teams defended the national stadium, where seven escape helicopters were being kept to evacuate key members of the government. Only a handful of SF personnel