Because of its charter membership in the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, Australia found herself drawn into the American sphere of influence in the Pacific. And it was a role she did not dislike. After the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, the Australians progressively warned the United States that the fall of South Vietnam would threaten democracies throughout Asia. Australian officials believed the domino theory.
Australia had sent thirty military advisers to work with the ARVN on jungle and guerrilla tactics as early as 1962. After the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, Australia increased its troop contingent in South Vietnam to 1,300 people, with a large combat battalion at Bien Hoa. Under pressure from Washington in 1965 and 1966, Australia increased that commitment, eventually to more than 8,000 troops at its peak in October 1967.
Australian Prime Minister Harold Holt constantly offered his support to Lyndon Johnson, politically as well as militarily, even to the point of using a conscription system to supply its troop commitment.
Next to the South Koreans, Australia provided the most military support to the United States in the conflict.
During the Vietnam War, the Republic of Korea sent more combat troops to South Vietnam than any other American ally. A South Korean liaison unit came to Vietnam in the summer of 1964, and between 1965 and late 1966 their Capital Division, Ninth Infantry Division, and Second Marine Brigade arrived.
South Koreans concentrated their combat efforts in II Corps. By 1969, there were almost 49,000 South Koreans fighting in South Vietnam. During the entire war, the South Koreans suffered 4,407 combat deaths. The Capital and Ninth divisions were withdrawn from South Vietnam in March 1973. South Korea’s loyalty to the American war effort in South Vietnam, even though most Korean officials did not think the war was politically winnable, was a direct function of the close relationship existing between the two countries since the Korean War (1950-53).
The Republic of Korea (ROK) sent combat forces to South Vietnam in response to President Johnson’s desire to have “more flags” supporting the war. The ROK units in Vietnam included the Capital “Tiger” Division, the 9th “White Horse” Division, a marine brigade, and a regimental combat team.
The “Tiger” Division was deployed to Vietnam in October 1965 for combat operations in II Corps, serving in country until March 1973. It consisted of one cavalry and two infantry regiments, three battalions of 105mm howitzers and one battalion of 155mm howitzers. The division participated in the Bong Son campaign early in 1966. For most of the war, the Tiger and White Horse divisions had responsibility for protecting the II Corps coastal area and keeping roads open, mainly from Phan Rang north over 150 miles to Qui Nhon.
ROK forces established themselves as well-trained, well-disciplined soldiers with high morale. They tolerated no opposition and were ruthless with both enemy forces and the civilian population. They usually dealt harshly with prisoners and with civilians who were suspected of sympathizing with the Vietcong or who violated the laws or regulations established by ROK commanders. Thieves, for example, were hung from meathooks.
Some Americans looked on ROK troops with respect, but critics viewed their severe methods not as truly pacifying an area, and surely not as “winning hearts and minds,” but as generating new supporters for the Vietcong.
A charter member of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, New Zealand was hesitant to become too deeply involved in the Vietnam War, basically on the grounds of limited resources and limited political support at home, and because the war was more than two thousand miles away. Nonetheless, New Zealand did make a troop commitment to the conflict.
Ultimately, New Zealand sent nearly a thousand soldiers and artillery support troops to South Vietnam because they wanted to prove their commitment to American collective security arrangements in the Pacific and because they genuinely did not want to see a Communist takeover of Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos.
With 198,115 square miles and a population of more than 52 million, Thailand is drained by the Menam River Valley, and has a southern arm stretching down the Malay Peninsula. Eastern Thailand is drained by the Mekong River, which is the boundary between much of Thailand and Laos. Initially, Thailand was a buffer state between British interests in Burma and French interests in Indochina. Although 94 percent of the Thais are Buddhist, including the four million ethnic Chinese, the Malay minority along the southern extension are Moslem.
More than 60 percent of Thailand is forested, particularly the northern and eastern regions. From these forests come such valuable woods as teak, ebony, boxwood, and rosewood. Traditional agricultural is handicapped by elevation, slope, soil leaching, and winter drought. The chief breadbasket of Thailand is along the Menam River Valley. The central alluvial plains of the Menam are capable of producing two crops a year of rice, tobacco, and peanuts. Rice cultivation is found on 90 percent of the farmland and is the major export. Unlike most Asian nations, Thailand produces a rice surplus each year. The Thais usually supplement their diet with fish. Located in the delta on the lower Chao Phraya, Bangkok has a population of 2.4 million and is the commercial, financial, and political center of the country.
During the war in Vietnam, Thailand was a close American ally. Although the Thais had customarily gotten along with the Vietnamese, they were dubious of Communist intentions, feared the fall of Cambodia and Laos to guerrillas, and wanted above all else to safeguard their independence.
By 1969, the Thais had a total of nearly 12,000 combat troops in Vietnam, including the elite Queen’s Cobras and the Black Panther Division of the Royal Thai Army Volunteer Force. The United States 46th Special Forces Company assisted Thai forces in resisting Communist guerrilla activity along the Laotian border and in the south on the Malay Peninsula. The last of the Thai troops left Vietnam in April 1972.
The United States also had a formidable military presence in Thailand, including the 8th, 355th, 366th, and 388th Tactical Fighter Wings and the 307th Strategic Wing. Strategic bombing operations over North and South Vietnam frequently originated in Thailand.