Vietnamese Rangers

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Vietnamese Rangers
Vietnamese Rangers SSI.svg
Shoulder sleeve insignia
Country South Vietnam
Branch Army of the Republic of Vietnam
TypeLight infantry
RoleSearch and destroy
Size54 battalions (1975)
  • 22 Ranger Battalions
  • 32 Border Battalions
Garrison/HQDa Nang
Nha Trang
Khánh Hòa
Song Mao
Bình Thuận
Nickname(s)Cọp Rằn (Striped Tigers)
Motto(s)Vì dân quyết chiến (For The People Chose To Fight)
EngagementsVietnam War
Unit flagVietnamese Rangers Flag.svg
Vietnamese Rangers in action in Saigon during the Tet Offensive in 1968

The Vietnamese Rangers, properly known in Vietnamese as the Biệt Động Quân and commonly known as the ARVN Rangers, were the light infantry of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Trained and assisted by American Special Forces and Ranger advisers, the Vietnamese Rangers infiltrated beyond enemy lines in daring search and destroy missions. Initially trained as a counter-insurgency light infantry force by removing the fourth company each of the existing infantry battalions, they later expanded into a swing force capable of conventional as well as counter-insurgency operations, and were relied on to retake captured regions. Later during Vietnamization the Civilian Irregular Defense Group program was transferred from MACV and integrated as Border Battalions responsible for manning remote outposts in the Central Highlands.[1]

Rangers were often regarded as among the most effective units in the war,[2] the most well-led ARVN unit and formed part of the highly-mobile response units operating in key areas.[3] Part of this was due to the specialized role of these units, given that they had their origins in French-raised Commando Units, the GCMA which were drawn from Viet Minh defectors and Tai-Kadai groups, operating in interdiction and counter-intelligence roles,[4] and were trained specifically for counter-insurgency and rough-terrain warfare in the region.[5] Ranger Units often had a US Military Adviser attached to these units although operated independently.[6] The foremost counterinsurgency expert Sir Robert Thompson remarked in 1974 that the ARVN as a whole were the third-best trained army in the free-world[7] and second only to the Israelis in counter-insurgency, with the Rangers, ARVN Airborne and Marine Division forming the vanguard.[8] With improvements in the ARVN from 1969 onward and the growing prestige of the Airborne and Marine Division, depredation had caused the Central Highlands-based Rangers to become manned by deserters, released convicts and Montagnards[9] nevertheless the unit continued to perform critical roles in the Easter Offensive and frontier skirmishes in 1973 and 1974.

A total of 11 U.S Presidential Unit Citation (United States) were issued to the 22 original Ranger Battalions, including one unit whom earned three total citations from two different presidents. See List of Non-US Presidential Unit Citations in Vietnam.


Vietnamese Ranger and an HMM-263 CH-46D near An Hoa, 1969

The French established a commando school in Nha Trang in 1951. After the American Military Assistance Advisory Group took over the military advisory role, the school was converted to a Ranger school in 1956. In 1960, when the Vietnam War began in earnest, the Vietnamese Rangers were formed.[10] Rangers (Biet Dong Quan [BDQ]) initially organized into separate companies with U.S. Army Rangers were assigned as advisers, initially as members of the Mobile Training Teams (MTTs), at Ranger Training Centers (RTC), and later at the unit level as members of the Military Advisory Command Vietnam (MACV). A small number of Vietnamese Ranger officers were selected to attend the U.S. Army Ranger School at Ft. Benning.

In 1962, BDQ companies were initially formed into counter-insurgency Special Battalions but by 1963 Ranger units were organized into battalions and their mission evolved from counter-insurgency to light infantry operations. During 1966, the battalions were formed into task forces, and five Ranger Group headquarters were created at corps level to provide command and control for tactical operations. The Ranger Group structure was maintained until 1970 as U.S. force reduction commenced. The Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) situated along the Laotian and Cambodian borders, formerly under control of 5th U.S. Special Forces Group, was integrated into the Ranger command. Thus, the Rangers assumed an expanded role of border defense. The conversion of CIDG camps to 37 combat battalions with 14,534 men, more than doubled the Ranger force size.[11] Within the early 1970s before the fall of Saigon, the rangers lost its appeal. Although many wanted to join the ranks of the Rangers, the popularity of the Airborne and Marine divisions grew at a faster rate. Many Rangers Battalions were decimated during Operation Lam Son 719 although rebuilt afterwards.[12] Part of the reason for this was orders by Nguyễn Văn Thiệu to halt advances into Laos, just as these units inserted by helicopter had captured the objective, allowing for the newly-armoured 308th Division to move in and surround the outposts.[13] Several Ranger Groups would face well-camouflaged armoured and artillery attacks during the Battle of Kontum and Battle of An Lộc as well as other engagements in the Easter Offensive.

Ordered to defend every inch by Nguyễn Văn Thiệu, the Ranger Group and regular units were deployed widely across the 1300km border.[14] This had left the region vulnerable to well-coordinated piercing attacks from Trần Văn Trà and the B2 Front. A series of contradictory orders from Thieu, a strategy known as "Light at the Top, Heavy at the Bottom" in which President Thieu neither consulted with his staff nor advisers had sealed the end of the Rangers.[14] The Central Highlands were to be abandoned, then held, then orders to recapture major cities, followed by another order to retreat had created disarray which the armored, heavy artillery and mobile infantry of the PAVN seized upon.[14] In the closing days of the war in 1975 most Ranger units were totally destroyed. Many fought back independently, refusing to surrender. In Saigon, Rangers fought until the morning of 30 April when they were ordered to lay down their arms, as their nation-The Republic of Vietnam capitulated to the communist force. Most of the Ranger officers were considered too dangerous by the communist government and sentenced to long periods of incarceration in the "re-education" camps.


Corps Ranger Liaisons[edit]

There were Ranger liaison platoons of 45 to 52 men assigned to each ARVN Corps/CTZ headquarters. They were supposed to insure the "proper use" of the Rangers.


At their height in 1975 there were 54 Ranger battalions in 20 Groups. However, only 22 of these battalions, formed in 10 Groups, were actual Rangers while the rest were Border Rangers who were converted over during the Vietnamization from previous CIDG and MIKE Forces.

The following Ranger (Biêt Dông Quân) formations existed:

  • 1st Ranger Group – Da Nang (I Corps/CTZ)
  • 2nd Ranger Group – Pleiku (II Corps/CTZ)
  • 3rd Ranger Group – Biên Hòa (III Corps/CTZ)
  • 4th Ranger Group – Chi Long (initially in the 44 Tactical Zone and later the IV Corps)
  • 5th Ranger Group – Biên Hòa (III Corps/CTZ)
  • 6th Ranger Group – Biên Hòa (III Corps/CTZ)
  • 7th Ranger Group – Saigon, attached to Airborne Division
  • 8th Ranger Group – Formed in 1974–75
  • 9th Ranger Group – Formed in 1974–75
  • 81st Ranger Group (Airborne) – Biên Hòa[15]

Additionally, during the Vietnamization of the CIDG and MIKE Forces, former CIDG units were namely given Ranger status and organized into groups mostly of 3 battalions each, but they were largely local forces without any special forces capabilities.

  • 21st Ranger Group
  • 22nd Ranger Group
  • 23rd Ranger Group
  • 24th Ranger Group
  • 25th Ranger Group
  • 31st Ranger Group
  • 32nd Ranger Group
  • 33rd Ranger Group
  • 41st Ranger Border Defense Group – Chi Long HQ
  • 42nd Ranger Border Defense Group – Chi Long HQ

The 3rd, 5th, and 6th Ranger Groups, all operational in the III Corps area, were grouped together into the Third Ranger Command through which the ARVN attempted to form another division, but the lack of enough heavy weapons prevented this from happening.

Border Rangers[edit]

A further 33 Ranger Border Defense Battalions also existed in 1973. These were the former CIDG units formed by the Americans and totaled 14,365 men. Border Ranger Battalions were smaller than their Ranger counterparts with 465 men versus the 575 to 650 of regular Rangers.

In existence by March 1975 were also the following new formations in the Central Highlands, made up of mainly the former Ranger Border Defense Battalions being now consolidated into Ranger Groups of three battalion each:

  • 21st Ranger Group
  • 22nd Ranger Group
  • 23rd Ranger Group
  • 24th Ranger Group
  • 25th Ranger Group

The 81st Ranger Group[edit]

The 81st Ranger Group was a unique unit originally formed as part of the Project DELTA reaction force. Formed on 1 November 1964 as the 91st Airborne Ranger Battalion and consisted of three companies of Montagnards. A fourth company was added in 1965. It was reorganized in 1966 as the 81st Ranger Battalion by the "purging of non-Vietnamese" to make it more "effective". The 81st consisted of six all-Vietnamese companies. It was officially under Army of the Republic of Vietnam Special Forces (LLDB) command and not that of Ranger Command. It was actually under the direct control of Project DELTA although two companies were made available to the LLDB.


Ranger courses were established at three training sites in May 1960: Da Nang, Nha Trang, and Song Mao. The original Nha Trang Training course relocated to Dục Mỹ in 1961 and would become the central Ranger-Biêt Dông Quân-Company and Battalion sized unit training was later established at Trung Lap; to ensure a consistently high level of combat readiness, BDQ units regularly rotated through both RTC's. Graduates of the school earned the Ranger badge with its distinctive crossed swords.

Ranger Training Centers conducted tough realistic training that enabled graduates to accomplish the challenging missions assigned to Ranger units. Known as the "steel refinery" of the ARVN, the centers conducted training in both jungle and mountain warfare.

Uniforms and equipment[edit]

The Rangers wore all the uniforms that the ARVN wore, however they were known for their tightly tailored OG-107's and duck hunter camouflage uniforms. They wore a snarling black panther superimposed over a large yellow star painted in front of their helmets. Many wore a painted black and yellow striping pattern on their helmets. Many rangers also wore a red bandana.[16] The Rangers also wore brown/maroon berets worn pulled to the left in the French-style with a badge containing a winged arrow in a wreath was worn over the right ear. This beret was also worn by American and Australian Army advisers with the unit.[17]


  1. ^ Tucker, Spencer C. (2011-05-20). The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, and Military History, 2nd Edition [4 volumes]: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 9781851099610.
  2. ^ "Memories of Vietnam: Fighting alongside a well-led unit of Vietnamese Rangers". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  3. ^ "ARVN RANGERS– Biet Dong Quan". Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  4. ^ "ANAI - Site Officiel de l'Association Nationale des Anciens et Amis de l'Indochine et du Souvenir Indochinois". Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  5. ^ Pike, Douglas. The ARVN.
  6. ^ Tonsetic, Robert (2013-02-26). Forsaken Warriors: The Story of an American Advisor who Fought with the South Vietnamese Rangers and Airborne, 1970-71. Open Road Media. ISBN 9781480406469.
  7. ^ Joes, Anthony (2007-04-20). Urban Guerrilla Warfare. University Press of Kentucky. ISBN 0813172233.
  8. ^ Joes, Anthony James (2014-10-16). Why South Vietnam Fell. Lexington Books. ISBN 9781498503907.
  9. ^ Veith, George J. (27 July 2018). "Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-1975". Encounter Books – via Google Books.
  10. ^ Valentine, McDonald American Ranger Adviser history
  11. ^ John Kelly, Colonel Francis (1989) [1973]. U.S. Army Special Forces 1961–1971. CMH Pub 90-23.
  12. ^ "REASSESSING ARVN". Vietnam Veterans for Factual History Blog. 2017-03-22. Retrieved 2018-05-27.
  13. ^ "Grinding to a Halt - HistoryNet".
  14. ^ a b c Veith, George (17 September 2013). "Black April: The Fall of South Vietnam, 1973-75". Encounter Books – via Google Books.
  15. ^ Previously 81st Ranger Battalion (Airborne). Officially upgraded to Groups status, but actually just an overstrength single battalion with 6 rifle companies.
  16. ^ Army of the Republic of Vietnam, Osprey Publishing, Men-at-Arms 458, by Gordon L.Rothman, Copywrite 2010,
  17. ^ Army of the Republic of Vietnam, Osprey Publishing, Men-at-Arms 458, by Gordon L.Rothman, Copywrite 2010,

See also[edit]

External links[edit]