Khmer National Army
|Khmer National Army
Armée Nationale Khmère
Khmer National Army Service Banner (1970–75)
|Active||9 October 1970 – 17 April 1975|
|Size||150,000 men (at height)|
|Nickname(s)||Cambodian Army (ANK in French)|
August 15 – Armed Forces Day
|Engagements||First Indochina War
Cambodian Civil War
Laotian Civil War
The Khmer National Army (French: Armée Nationale Khmère – ANK) commonly known as the ’Cambodian Army’, was the ground forces’ branch of the Khmer National Armed Forces (FANK), the official military of the Khmer Republic during the Cambodian Civil War between 1970 and 1975.
- 1 History
- 2 Elite Forces
- 3 Combat history
- 4 Cambodian Army uniforms and insignia
- 5 See also
- 6 Notes
- 7 References
The oldest and largest branch of the Cambodian armed forces in terms of personnel and matériel, the Royal Khmer Army (French: Armée Royale Khmère – ARK) was officially created on November 20, 1946, after the signing of a French-Khmer military agreement. Three days later, the first entirely Cambodian regular military unit, the 1st Khmer Rifle Battalion (French: 1ér Battaillon de Chasseurs Khmères – 1st BCK), was raised in Phnom Penh, formed by elements transferred from both the Khmer National Guard or 'Indigenous Guard' (French: Garde Indigène) and the Cambodian Rifle Regiment (French: Régiment de Chasseurs Cambodgiens – RCC) of the colonial French Union Army. A second rifle battalion (French: 2éme Battaillon de Chasseurs Khmères – 2nd BCK), created out from locally-recruited Khmer irregular auxiliaries (French: Supplétifs) was raised in Kratie in December that year. Led by a cadre of French officers and senior NCOs, and intended to be used on internal security operations to bolster French Far East Expeditionary Corps (CEFEO) regular troops, the new Khmer battalions saw their first combat in 1947 against Vietminh guerrilla forces in north-eastern Cambodia. Small-scale counter-insurgency operations, this time against the Cambodian nationalist Khmer Issarak rebel movement, continued over the next three years, during which the Khmer battalions gradually assumed responsibility for the defence of Battambang and Kampong Thom Provinces.
The ARK in the First Indochina War
This period saw a rapid expansion of ARK units – a third Rifle Battalion (3rd BCK) was raised in August 1948 at Takéo, followed in January 1951 by other two rifle battalions (5th BCK and 6th BCK) at the French-run Pursat Infantry Training Center (French: Centre d’Entrainement de Infanterie – CEI). Specialized formations were also raised. Two armoured car squadrons were formed, the 1st Reconnaissance Squadron (French: 1ér Esquadron de Reconnaissance Blindée – 1st ERB) in August 1950 and the 2nd Reconnaissance Squadron (French: 2éme Esquadron de Reconnaissance Blindée – 2nd ERB) in July 1951 at Phnom Penh, and a Khmer Parachute Battalion (French: 1ér Battaillon Parachutiste Khmèr – 1st BPK) was officially created in December 1952. Two additional infantry battalions were raised in April 1953 – 7th BCK in Siem Reap and 8th BCK at Ta Khmao, Kandal Province.
Although French-trained Khmer junior officers and NCOs slowly began to take a leading role over time, the ARK was still kept firmly under the control of French colonial authorities. By mid-1953, however, Khmer military personnel began not only to participate in anti-French nationalistic demonstrations calling for complete Cambodian independence, but they also deserted French-led units by the hundreds. In October that year, the French High Command finally agreed to transfer responsibility for Cambodian national security to the ARK; for that purpose, two new light infantry battalions were added in November, the 9th BCK raised in Svay Rieng and the 10th BCK at Prey Veng. On November 20, 1953, the Kingdom of Cambodia was granted full independence, though France maintained the right to station CEFEO units in north-eastern Cambodia to guard its communications links with Tonkin.
By January 1970, the Royal Khmer Army stood at about 35,000 Officers and enlisted men and women, organized according to the French Army model into 53 regiments (actually, battalions) and 13–15 regional independent companies; slightly over half were designated infantry battalions (French: Battaillons d’Infanterie), and the remainder light infantry battalions (French: Battaillons de Chasseurs) and border commando battalions (French: Battaillons Commando). Elite troops and some support units, including the Khmer Royal Guard (French: Garde Royale Khmère), Phnom Penh garrison, Airborne troops (French: Parachutistes), Signals (French: Transmissions), Engineers (French: Génie), Artillery (French: Artillerie), Anti-Aircraft (French: Defense Antiaérienne), and Transport (French: Train) were organized into six larger formations termed Half-Brigades (French: Demi-Brigades). Other technical branch services such as Medical (French: Service de Santé), Ordnance (French: Service de Matériel), Quartermaster (French: Service de Intendance), and the Military Police (French: Prevôtée Militaire) were placed under the responsibility of the Service Directorates subordinated to the Ministry of National Defense.
Most ARK units were concentrated in the northeast at Ratanakiri Province and on the Phnom Penh area; the latter was the headquarters of the six main Half-Brigades and supporting services whereas infantry formations were deployed throughout the country. The small armoured corps was also organized into an Armoured Half-Brigade (French: Demi-Brigade Blindée Khmère). consisting of two independent tank battalions – one stationed at Phnom Penh and the other at Kampong Cham – and an armoured reconnaissance regiment, 1st ARR (French: 1re Régiment de Reconnaissance Blindée) at Sre Khlong.
Although a sizeable reserve cadre of trained Officers and NCOs did existed, there was a persistent lack of reserve units. Some units were posted to the General reserve forces, which consisted merely of the Phnom Penh garrison troops – a half-brigade made of two light infantry battalions – and the combat support units (signals, engineers, armoured, and artillery half-brigades).
Weapons and equipment
With the exception of a few specialized units, most of these formations actually fell below strength, were poorly trained and equipped in a haphazard way with an array of French, American, British, Belgian, West German, Czechoslovakian, Chinese, and Soviet weapon systems.
The armoured corps inventory consisted of thirty-six M24 Chaffee light tanks, forty AMX-13 light tanks, and some M8 HMC 75mm self-propelled Howitzers; reconnaissance squadrons were provided with five M8 Greyhound light armoured cars, fifteen M20 Armoured Utility Cars, fifteen Panhard AML-60 and AML-90 armoured cars. Mechanized infantry battalions were issued with M3 Half-Tracks, M3 Scout Cars, BTR-40 and thirty BTR-152 armoured personnel carriers (APC).
The artillery corps fielded M2 4.2 inch mortars and M101A1 105mm towed field howitzers, twelve Soviet M-30 122 mm howitzers, twenty Soviet BM-13 132mm and ten BM-14 140mm MBRLs. Air Defense units were equipped with British-made Bofors 40mm anti-aircraft guns, twenty-seven Soviet S-60 57mm anti-aircraft guns and Chinese Type 55/65 37mm anti-aircraft guns.
Logistics were the responsibility of the transport corps, equipped with a variety of liaison and transportation vehicles. The motor pool consisted in a mixed inventory totalling 150 vehicles, including WWII-vintage US Willys 1/4 ton, (4x4) Jeeps, Land Rover (4x4) Series I-II, Soviet GAZ-69A (4x4) light trucks and GAZ-63 (4x4) 2-ton trucks. Heavy transport vehicles ranged from ex-French Army WWII-vintage US GMC CCKW 2½ ton (6x6) and Chevrolet G506 1½ ton (4x4) trucks to Chinese Yuejin NJ-130 2.5 ton (4x2) trucks and Jiefang CA-30 general purpose 2.5 ton (6x6) trucks.
Following the March 1970 coup, the new Head of State Marshal Lon Nol issued a general mobilization order and, after securing American, Thai, and South Vietnamese military support, promptly set up ambitious plans to expand the Khmer armed forces. By June 1970, the rechristened Khmer National Army (French: Armée Nationale Khmère – ANK), had rapidly expanded to 110,000 men and women, though most of them were untrained raw recruits organized into a confusing array of French- and American-modelled combat formations, staffed by elderly NCOs and unexperienced officers.
At the same time, there were several changes regarding field organization. Regular infantry battalions were at first amalgamated into autonomous regiments (French: Régiments d’Infanterie Autonomes – RIA), soon abolished in favour of a brigade grouping several battalions. By early May 1970, eighteen new Infantry Brigades (French: Brigades d’Infanterie – BI) had been created, but only twelve – the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, and 14th Inf. Bdes – were properly manned, the other six – 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th Inf. Bdes – were never brought to strength or remained on paper.
From mid-1970, Infantry units began to be formed into larger 15 Brigade Groups (French: Groupments Brigades d’Infanterie – GBI), each comprising two brigades and roughly the size of a Division, but lacking support units. Of these, only three were military effective by January 1972, other three were still undergoing training, and the remaining nine were only marginally reliable.
The Artillery, Signals, Engineer, and Armoured Half-Brigades were also brought to brigade strength, with the latter becoming the 1st Khmer Armoured Brigade (1st Arm. Bde, 1re Brigade Blindée Khmère in French).
To streamline the mass of ground forces’ combat formations, a major reshuffle was implemented between July and December 1972 under American lines. The old colonial organizational structure inherited from the French was abandoned in favour of a modern conventional organization based on the US Army model. By January 1973, all brigade group headquarters (HQs), 17 regimental HQs, 16 brigade HQs, and 13 battalions had been dissolved, replaced by newly created 32 Infantry Brigades, 202 Infantry Battalions, and 465 Territorial Infantry Companies. Out of these totals, 128 battalions formed the maneuver elements for the 32 brigades, of which 20 would remain independent and 12 were to be distributed among new four Mechanized Infantry Divisions (French: Divisions d’Infanterie) – 1st Inf. Div., 2nd Inf. Div., 3rd Inf. Div., and 7th Inf. Div. – whilst a fifth, the understrength 9th Guards Division was later raised in April 1974.
The Armour, Artillery, Signals, and Engineer arms were left untouched by this reorganization and retained their separate brigade structure under their own commands. The General Reserve was also reorganized by Marshal Lon Nol in April 1972 by sub-dividing it into three groups: the Forces A, attached to a MR for combat operations; Forces B, the General Staff reserve comprising five brigades; and Forces C, two airborne battalions under the personal command of Lon Nol.
Weapons and equipment 1970–75
Cambodian army strength stood at 220,000–230,000 troops on paper by mid-1972, but is estimated that the actual number was no less than 150,000, armed by the United States with an $US 1.18 billion-worth of weaponry and equipment. Its inventory included 241,630 rifles, 7,079 machine guns, 2,726 mortars, 20,481 grenade launchers, 304 recoilless rifles, 289 howitzers, 202 M113 APCs (including 17 M106 mortar carriers equipped with a 107mm heavy mortar), and 4,316 trucks.
In October 1970, the Cambodian Army command sought to expand its armoured corps but, despite repeated requests for more modern M41 Walker Bulldog light tanks and Cadillac Gage V-100 Commando armoured cars, Washington refused to deliver them. Thus Cambodian armoured units continued to rely on its ageing fleet of US M-24 and French AMX-13 light tanks, and M8, M20 and AML armoured cars until 1974, when mounting combat losses and shortages of spare parts forced the withdrawal of most of these vehicles (in particular the French ones, after France placed a spare parts embargo) from frontline service, being gradually replaced by M-113s.
Besides armoured personnel carriers, the Cambodian Army also received after 1970 a new influx of much-needed softskin transport and liaison vehicles. Early in the War, the Army Command was confronted with a serious logistical problem – the small number of outdated US, Soviet, and Chinese military trucks available from its transport corps soon proved insufficient to carry the increasing number of troops mobilized, let alone resupplying them over long distances. To remedy the inequaties of its transportation system during the first year of the War, Army field commanders resorted to commandeering civilian buses and other commercial vehicles to get their troops to the front. In 1971–72, the transport corps was re-organized and expanded with the help of the US and Australia, who provided 350 M151 1/4 ton (4x4) 'Mutt' Jeeps (a number of which were converted into makeshift armoured cars for security and convoy escort duties), Dodge M37 – 3/4 ton 1953 (4x4) utility trucks, and M35A2 2½ ton (6x6) cargo trucks, followed by 300 American militarized commercial trucks assembled in Australian plants.
The Artillery Corps was also re-estructured under US lines in 1972–73, receiving additional twenty-five M101A1 105mm towed field howitzers, ten M114A1 155mm towed field howitzers and eight tracked M109 155mm self-propelled guns, meant to replace the Soviet artillery pieces gradually withdrawn from service due to a lack of spare parts and ammunition.
Final operations 1974–75
On April 17, 1975 the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh, bringing the Cambodian Civil War to an end. Long Boret, Lon Non and other FANK senior staff officers and top officials of the Khmer Republic Government were summarly executed without trial at the Cércle Sportif complex, while Army troops in the city were disarmed, being subsequently taken to the Olympic Stadium and executed as well.
The same fate befell on the remaining Cambodian Army units and garrisons still holding on to the provincial capitals and some key towns. Throughout the country, thousands of demoralized Cambodian men and women who had the misfortune of being captured wearing the Army uniform – ranging from officers to NCOs, and even ordinary soldiers, regardless if they had committed any war crimes or not – were rounded up by Khmer Rouge guerrilla units and massacred. In Phnom Penh and elsewhere, some officers and enlisted men narrowly avoided capture by quickly changing to civilian clothes and went underground. While scores of surrendering Cambodian soldiers were simply shot by firing squad and had their bodies dumped into shallow graves dug in forest areas, a considerable number of them were sent to be 're-educated' in the new labor camps (best known as the "Killing Fields") promptly set up by the Khmer Rouge shortly after their victory, where they were forced to endure the camps' terrible living and working conditions until the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia in 1978. Only a few Army personnel in April–May 1975 did managed to escape by foot or by vehicle across the border into Thailand, where in the late 1970s they would provide the founding cadre for the anti-Vietnamese ANS and KPNLF guerrilla forces.
Cambodian Army uniforms and insignia
The Cambodian Army owed its origin and traditions to the Khmer colonial ARK troops on French service of the First Indochina War and even after the United States took the role as the main foreign sponsor for the Khmer National Armed Forces at the beginning of the 1970s, French military influence was still perceptible in their uniforms and insignia.
Service dress and field uniforms
The basic Royal Cambodian Army (ARK) work uniform for all-ranks was a local copy of the French Army's tropical working dress (French: Tenue de toile kaki clair Mle 1945), consisting of a light khaki cotton shirt and pants modelled after the WWII US Army tropical 'Chino' khaki working dress. The M1945 shirt had a six-buttoned front, two patch breast pockets closed by clip-cornered straight flaps and shoulder straps (French: Epaulettes) whilst the M1945 ‘Chino’ pants featured two pleats at the front hips. In alternative, the short-sleeved M1946 shirt (French: Chemisette kaki clair Mle 1946), featuring two pleated breast pockets closed by pointed flaps could be worn; a long-sleeved version also existed, based on the French M1948 shirt (French: Chemise kaki clair Mle 1948). Short-sleeved shirts and shorts (French: Culotte courte kaki clair Mle 1946) were also issued and worn according to weather conditions. In the field, Cambodian officers and enlisted men wore a combination of Olive Green (OG) US M-1943 HBT and French all-arms M1947 drab green fatigues (French: Treillis de combat Mle 1947). After March 1970, as part of the US-sponsored MAP re-equipment program, the Cambodian Army (ANK) was supplied with new American olive green tropical uniforms, the US Army OG-107 utilities and the M1967 Jungle Utility Uniform which quickly replaced the older fatigue clothing.
As with the ARVN, the Cambodians soon produced their own interesting variety of versions of these jungle utilities or had tailors to modify them to suit their tastes and needs, with mix-and-match combinations being far from uncommon. It was not infrequent to see Cambodian male and female soldiers wearing an OG-107 shirt accompanied by a pair of M1967 Jungle Utility trousers or vice versa. The OG-107 trousers were often converted by the addition of cargo pouches; shirts and jackets had their sleeves cut at elbow level, shoulder straps were added, single-buttoned pocket flaps could be replaced by two-button versions (with either clip or round corners) or concealed ones, and – a common practice for officers – the addition of a shoulder pocket on the upper left sleeve for ballpoint pens, which were the symbol of authority in Indo-Chinese armed forces. Sometimes fatigue shirts were converted into light bush jackets by adding two-buttoned patch pockets on the lower skirt.
Reflecting the increasing American influence, ANK senior officers adopted in 1970–71 a new dress uniform, which consisted of an Olive Green tunic and slacks worn with a white shirt and black tie. The cut of the four-buttoned tunic was a hybrid design resembling both the US Army M-1954 "Class A" green dress and the French Army M1946/56 khaki dress (French: Vareuse d’officier Mle 1946/56) uniforms; it had two pleated breast pockets closed by pointed flaps and two unpleated at the side closed by straight ones whilst the sleeves had turnbacks. The front fly and pocket flaps were secured by gilt buttons bearing the combined service emblem of the FANK General Headquarters. The earlier ARK khaki working uniform was retained however, now being worn as a service dress by officers on informal occasions and for walking-out by the rank-and-file.
French “Lizard” (French: Ténue Leopard) camouflage M1947/53-54 TAP jump-smocks and M1947/52 TTA vests with matching trousers were issued to ARK airborne troops since the 1950s, though later shortages in the early 1970s limited its use to officers and NCOs only. Enlisted-rank paratroopers received a locally-produced spotted camouflage uniform (known as “Spot pattern”) during the 1960s, which consisted of olive green and russet blotches on a pale green background. After 1970, Tigerstripe and "Highland" (ERDL 1948 Leaf pattern or "Woodland") patterns of US, Thailand (Thai Tadpole), and South Vietnamese (Tadpole Sparse) origin were also provided to the ANK.
The most common headgear for ARK/ANK all-ranks was a lightweight beret made of light khaki cotton cloth surnamed the "gourka", adopted by the French Army as the M1946 (French: Bérét de toile kaki clair Mle 1946) during the First Indochina War, who copied it from a tropical beret pattern previously worn by British troops in the Far East during WWII. Berets were worn pulled to the left in French fashion, with the colour sequence as follows: General Service – light khaki, Infantry – light Olive Drab, Armoured Corps – black, Paratroopers and Para-Commandos – cherry-red (maroon), Special Forces – forest green, Military Police and Regional Gendarmerie – dark blue; berets made of “Tigerstripe” and “Highland” camouflage cloth were also issued to elite units. With the exception of the light khaki and camouflage versions – which were manufactured in three pieces –, all other corps’ berets were made of wool in a single piece attached to a black (or tan) leather rim provided with two black tightening straps at the back, following the French M1946 (French: Bérét Mle 1946) or M1953/59 models (French: Bérét Mle 1953/59).
ARK officers received a light khaki service peaked cap based on the French M1927 pattern (French: Casquette d’officier Mle 1927) to wear with the khaki service dress, whilst a white summer top version was worn with the FARK full dress uniform. After March 1970 these caps were replaced by an Olive Green version – incidentally, the change of colour made it to resemble more the US M1954 Visor Cap – for wear with the new Americanized dress uniform adopted by the ANK.
In the field, ARK officers and enlisted men wore a mixture of light khaki tropical berets, US M-1951 cotton field caps, and French bush hats (French: Chapeau de brousse Mle 1949) in Khaki or OG cotton cloth. Later, a khaki patrol cap resembling a simplified baseball cap version was adopted as the standard ANK fatigue headgear for all-ranks, though the South Vietnamese ARVN fatigue cap in OG cotton cloth, whose shape recalled the US Marines utility cap, was sometimes seen. In addition, a wide range of OG or camouflage jungle hats and baseball caps also found their way into the ANK from the US, South Vietnam and Thailand though they never displaced entirely the earlier headgear. Period photos do show that the old French bush hat remained popular with the troops, who also wore Cambodian- or South Vietnamese-made versions in camouflage cloth.
Steel helmets, in the form of the US M-1 and French M1951 OTAN were standard in the ARK, with paratroopers receiving either the US M-1C jump helmet and its respective French-modified versions (Casque USM1 TAP type Métropole and Casque USM1 TAP type EO) or the French M1951 TAP variant (French: Casque type TAP, modéle 1951). During the Republic, the ANK standardized on the M-1 1964 model provided with the US Army Mitchell 'Clouds' camouflage pattern cover, though some units retained the older US and French steel helmets throughout the war. ARK armoured crews received the French M1951 and M1958/65 dark olive green leather crash helmets (French: Sous-casque radio-char modéle 1951, Sous-casque radio-char modéle 1958 and Sous-casque radio-char modéle 1965); after 1970, Cambodian M-113 APC crewmen were issued the US Combat Vehicle Crew (CVC) fibreglass 'bone dome' helmet, though neither models offered any satisfactory protection against Shrapnel or small arms rounds.
White low laced leather shoes were worn with the FARK white cotton full dress, with brown shoes being prescribed to wear with the khaki working uniform, and later, black ones with the new ANK OG dress uniform. On the field, all Army personnel wore US brown leather M-1943 Combat Service Boots or French canvas-and-rubber 'Pataugas' tropical boots, and sandals; paratroopers received the calf-length French M1950 or M1950/53 TAP (French: Bottes de saut modéle 1950 et 1950/53) black leather jump-boot models. After 1970, the ANK standardized on the American black leather M-1967 model with ‘ripple’ pattern rubbler sole and Jungle boots, and South Vietnamese Bata boots, which replaced much of the older combat footwear.
In deep contrast to the South Vietnamese ARVN and Laotian FAR, who replaced the French-style military ranks previously worn during the colonial period with their own devised rank insignia after 1954, the standard FARK rank chart continued to follow closely the French pattern. The Cambodian Armed Forces' system of military ranks was almost identical to the sequence laid out by the French Army 1956 regulations and common to all branches of service, differing only on some details.
Removable stiffened shoulder boards (French: pattes d’épaule) were worn by officers on their dress uniforms as per in the French practice, except that Cambodian Generals’ (French: Officiers géneraux) wore their stars above gold laurel-like leaf embroidery on the outer edge, and a miniature royal coat-of-arms featuring a combined crown-and-crossed spears device was incorporated on the inner end of the shoulder boards for all-ranks. The colour sequence of the FARK shoulder boards also varied according to the arm of service: general service – very dark blue or black; airborne troops – light green; medical corps – maroon. On both the khaki working and olive green (OG) field uniforms, Generals’ and senior officers’ ranks (French: Officiers supérieures) were usually worn on shoulder strap slides (French: passants d’épaule) but, if the issued combat jacket or shirt was not provided with buttoned shoulder straps, a single chest tab (French: patte de poitrine) following French practice could be worn instead. As for senior (French: Officiers subalternes) and junior NCOs (French: Sous-officiers), they wore metal or cloth chevrons pinned to the chest; NCOs serving in combat units were intitled to wear their chevrons pointed upwards whereas their counterparts assigned to non-combatant, rear-echelon support formations had to wear their chevrons pointed downwards. Privates (French: Hommes de troupe) wore no insignia.
This basic system was maintained during the Republic, though standard black shoulder boards without the royal crest were adopted in 1970 for all services and from 1972 onwards some Cambodian officers began wearing metal pin-on collar rank insignia, obviously inspired by American practice. Although the system of military ranks remained unchanged, the rank of Field Marshal (French: Maréchal) was created in 1970 for the President of the Khmer Republic and FANK Commander-in-Chief Lon Nol.
- Cambodian Civil War
- Khmer Republic
- Khmer Rouge
- Khmer Serei
- Royal Cambodian Armed Forces
- Royal Gendarmerie of Cambodia
- Royal Lao Armed Forces
- Weapons of the Cambodian Civil War
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