WI: Vietnam War Run By The Navy & Marine Corps

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What if, from the outset the Vietnam War was a predominately Marine operation, commanded by a USMC General using Marine tactics and operational strategy? As a POD, JFK decides to appoint a USMC General as commander of ground forces, with a Navy Admiral in overall command of US forces in Vietnam; he does so because:

a) the Corps has done counterinsurgency in Latin America during the Banana Wars; they're better suited to thinking about fighting and fighting the Viet Cong
b) by letting the Marines rather than the Army run the show, there's less chance of the Army pushing for a massive escalation in terms of troop strength
c) the terrain of Vietnam is significantly coastal, jungle, and riverine operations-areas that the Corps has a wealth of knowledge in from WWII
d) JFK believes the Army should stay focused on the main Soviet threat in Europe and Korea; Vietnam is a 'sideshow' better delegated to the Marines

When Kennedy dies, LBJ is now dealing with Marine General X instead of William Westmoreland (that alone might be a quantum leap forward for relative US success in Vietnam). How does this change the conduct of the Vietnam War?
 
Only 190,000 Marines in 1965.

Not enough men, going to need a lot of USAF and USN airpower while the Marines try to make something useful from the ARVN and RF/PF
 
Only 190,000 Marines in 1965.

Not enough men, going to need a lot of USAF and USN airpower while the Marines try to make something useful from the ARVN and RF/PF
A totally different approach to the war would be needed, yes.

Search and Destroy, with its emphasis on body counts and kill ratio's, was arguably letting tactics drive strategy. A stand-up fight with the VC or NVA was expected to result in disproportionate attrition of the communist force. So that is what the old artilleryman Westmoreland went for, along with never letting his forces move out of range of artillery from Fire Support Bases, these and airpower providing the killing power difference.

Attrition is not a strategy, it is the absence of a strategy.

Again OTL arguably the ARVN was sidelined and reform of its officer corps etc de-emphasized until Vietnamization. That would have to be at the heart of whatever strategy is decided upon.
 

GI Jim

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I think a purely naval and marine corps strategy has the propensity to work better than what happened in the real world of the 60s, but essentially the same problems will re-surface. Without a complete clean up of the ARVN, with infiltration rooted out and a streamlined officer corps the US was destined to come up against trouble as casualties mount towards the late 60s. Sure by 1970 you may have had 20,000 US lives lost rather than 35 to 40, but the public pressure wasnt really around the figure, more the principle.

Without incursions into Cambodia and sustained pressure on that region, any US policy is doomed to fail.
 
As it happens MACV came under CINCPAC, whose head is/was a USN Admiral, and was a posting for 2-4 years rather than a combat tour of duty of 1 year. I think it would be strange that the commander of a joint but land-heavy force under CINCPAC wouldn't be an Army officer. If command of MACV went to a Department of the Navy officer (USN Admiral/Marine General) what would the 2 and 3 star Army Generals assigned to CINCPAC do?
 
Army, send the 1st Cav, or keep it the 11th Air Assault Division. (That interesting U.S. Army trick of transferring units by changing the names of all the units.)

Reraise the 5th Marine Division. You'll have two divisions on hand in theater and can call up a third if you need it.

This will be a Special Forces extravaganza. 7th SF Group, SEAL Team 1, probably Australian SAS.

MACV is going to be big, advisors. Not ground troops.

A big problem is going to be the nature of the government. Under the Ngo brothers, it's the Catholic minority ruling the Buddhist majority. (The oldest brother, Ngo Dinh Thuc, was Archbishop of Hue. When the coup went down, he was at Vatican Two and didn't think he should go home again.) Add to that corruption, indifference, penetration of the South Vietnamese government by the Communists, and the tradition of always keeping a channel open to the other side, and you've got a government that desperately needs cleaning up.
 

longsword14

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Under the Ngo brothers, it's the Catholic minority ruling the Buddhist majority
This is not true. Recent scholarship has convincingly shown that Diem was not opposed to Buddhists but to sects that he considered a challenge to authority.
See Chapman's Cauldron of Resistance.
 
Army, send the 1st Cav, or keep it the 11th Air Assault Division. (That interesting U.S. Army trick of transferring units by changing the names of all the units.)

Reraise the 5th Marine Division. You'll have two divisions on hand in theater and can call up a third if you need it.

This will be a Special Forces extravaganza. 7th SF Group, SEAL Team 1, probably Australian SAS.

MACV is going to be big, advisors. Not ground troops.

A big problem is going to be the nature of the government. Under the Ngo brothers, it's the Catholic minority ruling the Buddhist majority. (The oldest brother, Ngo Dinh Thuc, was Archbishop of Hue. When the coup went down, he was at Vatican Two and didn't think he should go home again.) Add to that corruption, indifference, penetration of the South Vietnamese government by the Communists, and the tradition of always keeping a channel open to the other side, and you've got a government that desperately needs cleaning up.
Wasn't the 7th SF focused on Latin America? Or did that come after the war?
 
Corruption, land reform, a more competent ARVN just a few of the top issues that need to be solved for this to have any chance of success. At the end of the day, the war was the Vietnamese's to win or lose. Given how badly the US strategy worked, something different has a good shot at doing better - the question is is better enough.
 
The marines had the most successful anti gurillea movement the combined action platoons. They used Australian style hearts and minds methods.
 
A big problem is going to be the nature of the government. Under the Ngo brothers, it's the Catholic minority ruling the Buddhist majority. (The oldest brother, Ngo Dinh Thuc, was Archbishop of Hue. When the coup went down, he was at Vatican Two and didn't think he should go home again.) Add to that corruption, indifference, penetration of the South Vietnamese government by the Communists, and the tradition of always keeping a channel open to the other side, and you've got a government that desperately needs cleaning up.
This is not true. Recent scholarship has convincingly shown that Diem was not opposed to Buddhists but to sects that he considered a challenge to authority.
See Chapman's Cauldron of Resistance.
Maybe so, but I still remember those Buddhist monks incinerating themselves.

It could be worse, you could have the Cao Dai launching a series of insurgencies that takes over first all Southeast Asia, then Africa, and finally all Europe, and we'll end up drafting sharks to fight.
 
A totally different approach to the war would be needed, yes.

Search and Destroy, with its emphasis on body counts and kill ratio's, was arguably letting tactics drive strategy. A stand-up fight with the VC or NVA was expected to result in disproportionate attrition of the communist force. So that is what the old artilleryman Westmoreland went for, along with never letting his forces move out of range of artillery from Fire Support Bases, these and airpower providing the killing power difference.

Attrition is not a strategy, it is the absence of a strategy.

Again OTL arguably the ARVN was sidelined and reform of its officer corps etc de-emphasized until Vietnamization. That would have to be at the heart of whatever strategy is decided upon.
Oz did a good job in Phuoc Tuy, with 7k or so troops against 4k or so VC.

But that was just one province, there were what, 40 more in the Republic? and many of them were far more dangerous than Phuoc Tuy or Bien Hoa where Oz normally operated, than say, Binh Duong Province where they made a brief joint appearance with US Troops.

That force level of around 7k across all the RVN is still near 300,000 men.

No matter what tactics that are used, you're going to need at least that many in country
 
This is not true. Recent scholarship has convincingly shown that Diem was not opposed to Buddhists but to sects that he considered a challenge to authority.
See Chapman's Cauldron of Resistance.
Great. Then why did the Buddhist majority think he was opposed to Buddhists? Maybe it has to do with some of the following (This whole section from Wikipedia with sources):

President Ngô Đình Diệm's pro-Catholic policies antagonized many Buddhists. A member of the Catholic minority, his government was biased towards Catholics in public service and military promotions, as well as in the allocation of land, business favors and tax concessions.
Tucker, Spencer C. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social and Military History. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-040-9. Pg 291

Diem once told a high-ranking officer, forgetting that he was a Buddhist, "Put your Catholic officers in sensitive places. They can be trusted."
Many officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) converted to Catholicism in the belief that their career prospects depended on it, and many were refused promotion if they did not do so.

Gettleman, Marvin E. (1966). Vietnam: History, documents and opinions on a major world crisis. Harmondsworth, Middlesex: Penguin Books p280-282

Additionally, the distribution of firearms to village self-defense militias intended to repel Viet Cong guerrillas was done so that weapons were only given to Catholics.

"South Vietnam: Whose funeral pyre?". The New Republic. June 29, 1963. p. 9.

Some Catholic priests ran private armies

Warner, Denis (1963). The Last Confucian. New York City: Macmillan. p210

In some areas forced conversions, looting, shelling and demolition of pagodas occurred.

Fall, Bernard B. (1963). The Two Viet-Nams. London: Praeger. p 199
Some Buddhist villages converted en masse to receive aid or avoid being forcibly resettled by Diem's regime
Buttinger, Joseph (1967). Vietnam: A Dragon Embattled. New York City: Praeger. p993
in January 1956, Diệm enacted Order 46 which permitted "Individuals considered dangerous to the national defense and common security may be confined by executive order, to a concentration camp."[17]This order was used against dissenting Buddhists.
Manhattan, Avro (1987). Vietnam: Why Did We Go?. Chick Publications. pp. 78–79

And in May 1963 Decree Number 10 (banning religious flags) was used to ban the showing of the Buddhist flag even though a week earlier the vatican flag was shown, and people were encouraged to display the vatican flag at a government sponsored celebration.

Hammer, Ellen J. (1987). A Death in November: America in Vietnam, 1963. New York City: E. P. Dutton. ISBN 0-525-24210-4. p-103-105

So, maybe Diem didn't dislike buddhists, but he sure did a damn good impression of someone who did.

 
It doesn't meet the OPs question, but instead of being deployed on the DMZ the MAG could/should have been deployed in the south in conjunction with the USN riverine forces. This would likely be more suitable for USMC skills in amphibious and small scale warfare than the conventional war on the DMZ.

Edit. On closer inspection there was only 1 US division in IV Corps zone, from late 1967 so having a whole MEF might be overkill.
 
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longsword14

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Great. Then why did the Buddhist majority think he was opposed to Buddhists? Maybe it has to do with some of the following (This whole section from Wikipedia with sources):
And, as you should note, all of your sources are from the 60s. They simply label all sects as "Buddhists", disregarding the matter of loyalty among the expelled, and many Buddhist sects being much more than religious organisations.
Scholars have pointed out to Diem's behaviour as brutish, and having no intention of cooperating with any grassroots movement, but the charge of Catholics yay, Buddhists nay does not hold when you remember that many "Catholics" in fact did support enemies of the Diem regime.
 
Oz did a good job in Phuoc Tuy, with 7k or so troops against 4k or so VC.

But that was just one province, there were what, 40 more in the Republic? and many of them were far more dangerous than Phuoc Tuy or Bien Hoa where Oz normally operated, than say, Binh Duong Province where they made a brief joint appearance with US Troops.

That force level of around 7k across all the RVN is still near 300,000 men.

No matter what tactics that are used, you're going to need at least that many in country
The PLAF deliberately disengaged from Australian forces as a strategic decision. Their primary opponent was always RVN governance and secondarily the ARVN.

They will not be able to generally disengage but we’re mostly talking MACV, not US units.
 
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