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Old 18 Feb 06, 12:51
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Battle Honors of the Marine Amphibian X. The French Indochina War (1946–1954)
by Col Victor J. Croizat, USMC(Ret)

France had ended World War II a devastated country, its infrastructure shattered and its economy drained by years of occupation and war. It was able, however, to reestablish control over southern Vietnam. Although the Expeditionary Corps that arrived in Saigon in September 1945 was austere, its personnel were imbued with an innovative, can-do/make-do attitude. This was particularly apparent in the Naval Brigade, which modified veteran landing craft to create naval assault divisions, the famed dinassauts, that were effectively used on the waterways of the Tonkin and Mekong deltas where most of the people live. To complement the dinassauts’ capabilities, the Foreign Legion formed amphibious combat commands to operate on the wetlands of the deltas.

Late in 1947, the Foreign Legion’s 1st Cavalry Regiment was given the mission of denying the enemy the use of the Plain of Reeds, a vast transit zone between Cambodia and South Vietnam. Anticipating its wheeled vehicles would be useless in swampy terrain, the Legion obtained several American M29C “weasels” for testing. When these light tracked vehicles were seen to travel the Plain easily, 30 “crabs,” as the French called them, were procured for each of the regiment’s two squadrons. Soon after, crabs were roaming the Plain pursuing insurgents. That game was short-lived, however, for the Viet Minh quickly noted the vulnerability of single crabs with two-man crews operating beyond infantry support range, and began destroying them in increasing numbers. The French responded by restricting operations to two or more crabs with mounted infantry escort. But the crabs were incapable of carrying enough infantry to discourage enemy attack and the problem remained unsolved until the amtrac appeared.

The first LVT(4)s arrived in Indochina in October 1950 and were assigned to the 1st Cavalry Regiment for operational testing. This resulted in several organizational changes, culminating with the 1st Amphibious Group formed in April 1953. This unit included a “reconnaissance and rapid maneuver element” of 2 squadrons, each with 3 platoons of 10 crabs, and a “shock element” of 3 squadrons, each with 8 LVT(4)s embarking a light rifle company, and 3 LVT(A)4s for direct support. A separate platoon of six LVT(A)4s under group headquarters was provided for general support. A second amphibious group was formed shortly after for service in the north.

These groups had substantial firepower: fifteen 75mm howitzers in the LVT(A)4s, two machineguns in each crab and amtrac, and six 57mm recoilless guns and three 60mm mortars per squadron. The group also had the personnel and communications to operate as two subgroups. This flexibility, and the practice of carrying 3 days of supplies, provided the autonomy and endurance needed for long range operations. Although the group was remarkably versatile, it had limitations. Both amtracs and crabs often had to be moved by tank transporters to assembly points near operational operational areas. Further, the crab’s tracks were easily damaged and the amtracs bogged down in thick, heavy mud. But, when operations were planned with due regard for these factors, the Legion’s amphibious groups yielded spectacular results. They remain among the more innovative amtrac organizations ever conceived.
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Last edited by craine; 18 Feb 06 at 12:55..
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