Did any British Forces Serve In Vietnam?

As I type, I have beside me my copy of Rogue Warrior (1992) by Richard Marcinko. It's a combination autobiography and history of the SEAL teams. He writes extensively about his multiple tours in Vietnam and never once, not ever, mentions working with a Royal Marine. In fact, there are no references to the RM anywhere in the book.

I'm not saying he's a liar exaggerator or anything....
He does mention his XO having served a secondment to the SBS, and suggesting that experience had been invaluable.
It occurs to me that if we expand the terms of reference a little then lots of British and Indian troops served in Vietnam. All of the 20th Indian Division for a start, from Wikiwallies:-

In August 1945, the Japanese surrendered after two atomic weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Allied South East Asia Command (SEAC) area of responsibility, was expanded to embrace several countries including French Indochina.

While Chinese troops occupied the northern part of the country, Gracey's division occupied the southern part in Operation Masterdom [4]. The division was to release former Allied prisoners of war and disarm and repatriate Japanese units. Later, the division was instructed to hand over to the returning French regime, before returning to India. There were several battles with Viet Minh, who were intent on achieving independence. Major Richard Holbrook McGregor, on Gracey's Intelligence Section Staff, learned of an impending Viet Minh terrorist invasion of Saigon. The warnings issued of the impending invasion, undoubtedly prevented the slaughter of French civilians. Gracey, never one to mince his words, criticised the French for their dismissive attitude towards his Indian and Gurkha units.

There is a chapter 'The 20th Indian Division in French Indo-China, 1945-46: Combined/joint Operations and the‘fog of war’ by Daniel Marston available [5] More details can be found in Marston's book 'The Indian Army and the End of the Raj' [6]

There are two books on the intervention: 'The First Vietnam War' by Peter Dunn (published 1985) and reviewed in part [7] The second book is The British In Vietnam – How the twenty-five year war began, by George Rosie, (published by Panther Books 1970) and reviewed [8]

The division was disbanded in India in 1946.
See #954 5 March 2016


He does mention his XO having served a secondment to the SBS, and suggesting that experience had been invaluable.
I went back and looked. Marcinko wrote, and this was in October 1973 when he assumed command of Seal Team 2, that "This [the SBS] was the seagoing version of the SAS, and their exercises were tougher than anything we'd ever done at SEALs."

The team had exchange officers from the SBS and the Germans.

I guess I should have looked in the index under SBS and not just RM and British.

I certainly didn't know any of this.

With the security situation deteriorating rapidly, the British brought in reinforcements: The 32nd Infantry Brigade and an Indian light armour regiment joined the mission. And as long as the Viet Minh attacks were preventing the British from the orderly repatriation of the remnants of the Japanese army, Gracey continued to rely on them for assistance.

As it would turn out, he’d need all the help he could get.
On Oct. 13, the insurgents unleashed a fresh series of raids on targets in an around Saigon. Again, they were repelled by British, Indian, French colonial and even Japanese troops. An estimated 500 Viet Minh were killed in this newest round of attacks.

The Allies, recognizing the need to regain the initiative, went on the offensive. By the end of October, Gracey organized an operation to clear a ring of insurgents from around the city. The mission to lift the siege would include Indian infantry, artillery and armour, as well as a battalion of Japanese troops. The combined operation killed more than 200 insurgents. Allied losses were minimal.

Sporadic clashes would continue throughout November and December in the central highlands north of Saigon.
The largest encounter of the Anglo Indian foray in Vietnam occurred on Jan. 3, 1946, 40 kilometers north east of Saigon at Bien Hoa. Nearly 1,000 communist guerrillas launched an assault on a British and Indian stronghold there, but were repulsed in a firefight that lasted the entire night. Nearly 100 insurgents were mowed down by machine gun fire without the loss of a single Allied soldier.

As the winter wore on, British forces were gradually withdrawn and the French military took over security. The Japanese soldiers were also disarmed and sent home. By May, the last of the Indian and British combat troops had departed bringing Operation Masterdom to a close.

From that point on and until 1954, the war in Vietnam would be an exclusively French colonial conflict.
For their part, the British lost 40 troops. Japanese and French casualties were roughly equal to that. The Viet Minh had suffered more than 2,500 dead.
1962 General Service Medal with clasp 'South Vietnam' - have a gander here General Service Medal (1962) - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Note: the clasp was only ever authorised for issue to the Australian Army and the RAAF. Given that the clasps to RAAF were later withdrawn (on the establishment of the Australian Vietnam Medal Vietnam Medal - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia , that leaves 68 'South Vietnam' clasps issued (some sources give a figure of 64) and NONE of which went to the British Army. Or the RAF. Or the RN.

Got it?

Apropos a thread on another site, the vexed subject of bar room loiterers and 'well, 'cos I served in Vietnam, got the medal but had to keep it quiet . . . ' and associated shite:



It currently sits in the RLC Museum somewhere: a named GSM 62-07 with clasp 'SOUTH VIETNAM'.

And it's wrong.

It was erroneously issued to a RASC/RCT Driver who should have received the clasp 'SOUTH ARABIA'. I repeat-it was issued incorrectly and, to date, is the only one that I and a few others have seen which escaped into the wild.

(For the medal anoraks): In the Southern hemisphere, there is a similar error in a GSM and RAN LSGC pair which were issued to a RAN Petty Officer. The Oz medal office of the time incorrectly issued the clasp under the mistaken belief that ship on which he was serving (though in South China seas) qualified for the award of the clasp. It didn't, however he was still issued the clasp.

I was at Chelsea pensioners 2 years ago to visit a relative and met a very interesting chap whose name I have sadly forgotten. He had served in the British Army in the India / Burma towards the end of WW2 and after as a regular. then met and married a yank, moved to the states and joined the US Army. Saw service in Korea. 10 years or so later served in Vietnam. He is (hopefully still with us) still a US citizen although mostly resident at Chelsea he travels freely to his relatives in the US at their taxpayers expense.
He was not what we would call modern in his views on our Japanese friends or how he dealt with them, but a lovely chap to talk to.
Can't be many who saw service in those 3 wars, in 2 armies and lived to tell the tale?
I don't doubt for a moment that it mattered to the Laotians or Cambodians but US military policy is not, or at least should not be, determined by the fate of little-known, inconsequential nations thousands of miles away.

Laos and Cambodia fell to Communism, and horrific though it was for them, especially the Cambodians, from a geo-strategic point of view their fall was irrelevant because Communism had already been contained (Thailand didn't fall after the fall of Saigon, did it?). The Reds got three utterly unimportant little countries in Indo-China, the West got Indonesia. The West won, and they won the Cold War in SE Asia in 1965 in Indonesia without having to put a boot on the ground.

They won, sadly for the 50,000 young Americans who died in a pointless war in Vietnam they didn't realise it.
I think quite a lot of living veterans do (or have that perception). Multiple veterans have told me they rarely came off worse in contacts with the enemy. Obviously some unlucky ones might have a different perception.


Kit Reviewer
I think quite a lot of living veterans do (or have that perception). Multiple veterans have told me they rarely came off worse in contacts with the enemy. Obviously some unlucky ones might have a different perception.
Unless the brass organise a coup, the forces are always going to do what the politicos say.
That those slimy bastards are only thinking of their own pocket goes without saying, the troep does his job, the job's dictated by cnuts.

There were probably some during the fifth great conflagration, someone will hopefully inform me as I can't remember, but from what I've read the last time there were many truly honourable men in Westminster was between 1914 and 1919. Several gave up their seats for a place on the front line.

Latest Threads