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French Amphibious Infantry Squadrons in Indochina

Military Organization > France > French Mounted Squadron on LVT (1953-55)

During the latter half of the First Indochina War in the early 1950s, the French employed 2 Amphibious Groups (Groupements amphibies) to cope with Vietnam's particularly inundated terrain. These brigade-sized formations were articulated in Amphibious Squadron Groups (Groupes d'escadrons amphibies) which consisted of 2 company-sized squadrons. These were either equipped with the American M29 Weasel, known as the "Crabes" in French, or the LVT-4 which will be the focus of this article. These were essentially French Foreign Legion-led, (mostly) Vietnamese manned, and LVT-mounted amphibious infantry.


This article will cover the organization and equipment of the Mounted Squadron on LVT (Escadron porte sur L.V.T.) based on 1954 tables of organization originally scanned by Risaldar Singh. This would have been roughly how squadrons were organized from mid-1953 when a reorganization occurred to 1955 when they were dissolved.


↓ Organization

Allocation: 1 per Amphibious Squadrons Group (Groupe d'escadrons amphibies) of the Amphibious Group (Groupement amphibie)

Type: Amphibious Infantry

Time Frame: 1954-55

Personnel: 3 Officers, 23 NCOs, 48 Enlisted (French Legionnaires); 8 NCOs, 171 Enlisted (Indigenous)

 

1× Squadron Commander (Legionnaire), Captain, armed with a pistol

1× Driver (Indigenous Troop), armed with a submachine gun


Vehicles:

1× Jeep, SCR-510 radio on-board.


Command & Services Platoon / Hors-Rang (47 OR)

1× Platoon Leader (Legionnaire), NCO, armed with a submachine gun

Command Group

6× Observer-Radio Operators (1 Legionnaire NCO, 1 Indigenous NCO, 2 Legionnaires, 2 Indigenous Troops) - Armed with 2 Submachine Guns, 2 Carbines and 2 Rifles

2× Medics (1 Legionnaire, 1 Indigenous Troop) - Armed with 2 Rifles

4× LVT-4A4 (75) Crewmen (2 Legionnaires, 2 Indigenous Troops) - Armed with 3 Pistols and 1 Submachine Gun


Vehicles:

2× Motorcycles

1× LVT-4A4 75mm amphibious assault gun: Armed with 1× 75mm Howitzer and 3× .30 cal machine guns. SCR-508 radio on-board.


Services Group

3× Legionnaire NCOs

5× Legionnaires

5× Indigenous Troops


Weapons:

• 1× Pistol

• 2× Submachine Guns

• 10× Rifles


Auto Group

1× Group Leader (Legionnaire NCO)

2× Legionnaire NCOs

5× Legionnaires

13× Indigenous Troops


Weapons:

• 2× Pistols

• 5× Submachine Guns

• 14× Rifles


Vehicles:

1× LVT-4 Recovery Vehicle: Armed with 1× .30 cal machine gun. SCR-508 radio on-board.

1× Jeep and 1-ton trailer (for Group Leader): Armed with 1× .30 cal machine gun

1× 1-ton Infantry Truck

1× 1-2-ton Truck

4× 2-4-ton Trucks

• 1× 1-ton trailer

• 2× 1-2-ton trailers

• 1× pack field kitchen

• 1× water tank trailer

 

3× Combat Platoons (1 OF, 54 OR in 1 platoon / 55 OR in 2 platoons)

1× Platoon Leader (Legionnaire), Lieutenant (in 1 platoon) or Adjutant / Adjutant-Chef (in 2 platoons), armed with a pistol


Command Group (Deputy / Radio Operators / Gunners)

1× Deputy Platoon Leader (Legionnaire), NCO

2× Legionnaires

2× Indigenous Troops


Weapons / Equipment:

• 2× Pistols (presumably for M20 gunners)

• 2× Submachine Guns

• 1× Carbine

• 1× M20 75mm Recoilless Rifle

• 1× SCR-625 mine detector


⁍ 2× Fusilier-Voltigeur Groups, each:

1× Group Leader (Legionnaire NCO)

1× Indigenous NCO

17× Indigenous Troops


Weapons:

• 1× Pistol (presumably for Automatic Rifle operator)

• 5× Submachine Guns

• 5× Carbines

• 5× Rifles

• 3× Rifles with Rifle Grenade Launchers

• 1× Automatic Rifle


⁍ 2× LVT Crews, each:

3× Legionnaires

3× Indigenous Troops


Vehicles:

1× LVT-4 amphibious carrier: Armed with 2× .50 cals and 2× .30 cals. 1 SCR-528 and 2 SCR-536 radios on-board


Weapons:

• 1× Pistol

• 2× Submachine Guns

• 3× Rifles

 

Support Platoon (1 OF, 35 OR)


1× Platoon Leader (Legionnaire), Lieutenant (in 1 platoon) or Adjutant / Adjutant-Chef (in 2 platoons), armed with a pistol


Command Group (Deputy / Radio Operators / Observers)

1× Deputy Platoon Leader (Legionnaire NCO)

2× Legionnaires

2× Indigenous Troops


Weapons / Equipment:

• 4× Submachine Guns

• 1× Carbine

• 2× AN/VRC-3 vehicle-mounted radios

• 1× SCR-508 radio

• 1× SCR-625 mine detector


Vehicle Group:

1× Legionnaire (NCO)

3× Legionnaires

1× Indigenous NCO

11× Indigenous Troops


Vehicles:

1× LVT-4 amphibious carrier: Armed with 2× .50 cal and 2× .30 cal machine guns. 1 SCR-528 and 2 SCR-536 radios on-board


Weapons:

• 4× Pistols

• 8× Submachine Guns

• 4× Carbines

• 2× 60mm Mortars

• 2× M18 57mm Recoilless Rifles

Cannon Group:

2× Legionnaire (NCO)

4× Legionnaires

8× Indigenous Troops


Vehicles:

2× LVT-4/40 amphibious fighting vehicles: Each armed with 1× 40mm Bofors and 2× .50 cal machine guns


Weapons:

• 2× Pistols

• 10× Submachine Guns

• 2× Carbines

• 1× AN/VRC-3 vehicle-mounted radio

• 1× SCR-508 radio

• 1× SCR-528 radio


 

↓ Discussion

The Mounted Squadron on LVT (Escadron porte sur LVT) was a component of France’s 2 Amphibious Groups (1er GA and 2e GA). These groups consisted of 2 or 3 Amphibious Squadron Groups (or Amphibious Sub-Groups / Sous-groupements Amphibies before 1953) that briefly existed in Indochina from 1951 to 1955. These were cavalry formations, almost entirely led by the French Foreign Legion.


Amphibious formations were intended to solve the problem of Vietnam’s particularly difficult “rice paddy” terrain. French units, including the 13th Foreign Legion Demi-Brigade (13e DBLE) and 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment (1er REC) had started to receive M-29 Weasels (called “Crabe” by the French) from American stocks in Manila in the late 1940s. These were later complemented by the LVT-4, which started to be integrated into French cavalry in 1950-1951. Amphibious Sub-Groups, based on 1 Crabe squadron, 1 platoon of 6 LVT-4s, and a company of infantry were formed in September 1951. This was a sort of “trinome” of Crabe cavalry (recon/security), LVT-4 firepower, and infantry (Nicholas). Around Tonkin in North Vietnam, the Crabes would often be used to cordon off fortified villages while the LVTs dropped off the infantry to assault (Aïcardi, 2013).

In 1953, the infantry companies and LVT platoons were consolidated, forming single squadrons. Additionally, the Amphibious Sub-Groups were renamed Amphibious Squadron Groups (Mathey), which signaled their formalization. While the 1er REC’s experiments in Saigon had an infantry company from the 13th Foreign Legion Demi-Brigade or 13e DBLE (who also originally tested the M29 Crabe in the mid-40s), these were supplanted by locally recruited Vietnamese soldiers. In September-October 1951, three companies of auxiliaries (compagnies de supplétifs militaires) were formed by the regiment to furnish the new Amphibious Groups (Aïcardi, 2013). The rationale was indigenous troops would know the terrain better and be better received to the local population (Pelissier, 2021, p. 9). The injection of manpower was also significant, as unlike in Algeria (which was legally considered part of France) conscripts could not serve in Indochina.


The 2 Amphibious Groups in Vietnam were mainly manned by the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment (1er REC). The 1st Amphibious Group (1e GA), initially at Saigon and later Tourane (Da Nang), had three sub-groups/squadron groups from 1er REC (de Bressy). The 2nd Amphibious Group (2e GA), formed in Tonkin, had 2 Squadron Groups, one under 1er REC and the other under the 1st Mounted Chasseurs (1er RCC) that was later replaced by a 1er REC squadrons group in June1953 (Aïcardi, 2013).

  • 1st Amphibious Group (1er GA) as of June 1953:

    • 2nd Squadrons Group, 1st Foreign Cavalry

    • 3rd Squadrons Group, 1st Foreign Cavalry

    • 7th Squadrons Group, 1st Foreign Cavalry (Replaced 1st Squadrons Group, 1st Foreign Cavalry in June 1953)

  • 2nd Amphibious Group (2e GA) as of June 1953:

    • 4th Squadrons Group, 1st Foreign Cavalry

    • 1st Squadrons Group, 1st Foreign Cavalry (Replaced 6th Squadrons Group, 1st Chasseurs in June 1953

By the end of the war, 1er REC had 3 headquarters squadrons, 14 combat squadrons and over 3,000 men, articulated as an Armored Regiment (with M8 Greyhounds, Half-Tracks, M5 Tanks, M24 Chaffees) and 2 Amphibious Groups (Aïcardi, 2013).


The 1st Amphibious Group was ultimately dissolved in 1955 with the French pull-out of Vietnam. However, the 2nd Amphibious Group left for Morocco and was integrated into the 2nd Foreign Cavalry Regiment in November 1955 as the Mounted Squadrons Group (Groupe d'Escadrons Portés, GEP). It included the 1st, 8th, and 11th Squadrons of 1er REC, which became the GEP staff, 4th Squadron (M8 Greyhound) and 5th Squadron (Scout Car) of 2e REC. This was in addition to the squadron’s pre-existing Command Service Squadron (ECS), 1st Reconnaissance Squadron (M8 Greyhound), and 2nd and 3rd Tank Squadrons (AMX-13, which replaced the M3A3 light tank in 1954). However, the staff and 4th Squadrons were dissolved in April-May 1956 after Morocco’s independence and the regiment’s resettlement in Algeria. The 5th Squadron becoming the new 4th Squadron, 2e REC (foreignlegion.info; Détachement de Légion étrangère de Mayotte).

 

The LVT-4 was a suitable vehicle for the flooded and riverine terrain that characterized much of Vietnam. They complemented the M-29 “Crabe” originally bought from the Americans in 1945. However, those were only semi-amphibious, and in a tough spot could require crews to pull their vehicles through certain terrain (or even abandon and destroy them). The LVT by contrast was fully amphibious. Additionally, while the Crabe was used mainly for reconnaissance, raids and cordoning, and thus didn’t have a huge dismount capacity, the LVT-4 squadrons were more in the French tradition of mounted pseudo-infantry cavalrymen that rode jeeps, half-tracks, and Dodge 1.5-ton trucks alongside light armor in other types of squadrons. This provided a large dismount element for search and destroy missions and close combat. LVT units also had heavier weaponry, with self-propelled 75mm assault howitzers, 40mm Bofors, vehicle-mounted .50 cals, and additional light weapons.

Table of organization originally scanned by Risaldar Singh.

The Mounted Squadron (LVT) consisted of a 1 Command & Services Platoon (Peloton hors-rang), 3 Combat Platoons (Pelotons de combat), and 1 Support Platoon (Peloton d’appui). There were a total of 7 LVT-4s (standard carrier), 2 LVT-4/40s (with 40mm Bofors), 1 LVT-4A4 (with a 75mm howitzer), and 1 LVT-4 recovery vehicle per squadron, plus 253 men and other vehicles. Of these, 179 or 71% of the men were indigenous Vietnamese while the rest were a Foreign Legion cadre. This compared to Crabe squadrons, where about half of personnel were Vietnamese.


The Command and Services Platoon (Peloton hors-rang, PHR) included a Command Group, Services Group, and Auto Group. The Squadron Commander, administratively separate from the platoon, had his own jeep with a driver, but also an 75mm howitzer-armed LVT in the Command Group (Pelissier, 2021, p. 9). The Command Group also included the squadron’s recovery vehicle. The balance of the squadron’s trucks and field kitchen were kept in the Auto Group. This constituted the bulk of the trains in the whole Amphibious Group organization, as neither the Amphibious Squadrons Group headquarters nor the Amphibious Group had significant organic sustainment.

The 3 Combat Platoons meanwhile consisted of a Command Group (with the Deputy, Radio Operators and 75mm recoilless rifle gunners), 2 Fusilier-Voltigeur Groups (rather larger infantry components), and 2 LVT-4s to mechanize them. The FV Groups had about equal splits of submachine guns, carbines, and rifles, as well as 1 automatic rifle (FM 24/29 type). The LVT-4s are each manned by 6 troops (6 listed in the TO&E) and armed with 2 heavy machine guns (M2 .50 cal) and 2 “light” machine guns (M1919A4). According to Pelissier, the crew included a commander (chef de voiture), driver (pilote), assistant driver, radio operator, and four gunners (2 more than the TO&E lists). Although de Bressy (2014) referenced a 6-man crew consistent with the TO&E. The LVT-4 could carry 25 troops operationally or 40 administratively (Pelissier, 2021, p. 9).


Lastly, the Support Platoon included the Platoon Leader and his Command Group, the Vehicle/Equipment(?) Group (Groupe engins) and Cannon Group. Groupe engins was mounted in an LVT-4 and equipped with 2 60mm mortars and 2 57mm recoilless rifles. The Cannon Group meanwhile had 2 LVT-4/40s armed with 40mm Bofors autocannons. However, these may have been 75mm howitzer-armed LVTs at some point, as referenced by de Bressy, and Pelissier states that the 40mm-armed LVTs may not have existed in all Mounted Squadrons.


↓ Sources

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