MACV-SOG: Secret Operations in Vietnam

The Military Assistance Command Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was an elite US Special Force to conduct clandestine operations in Vietnam.

In 1964, owing to the US’ increasing number of military activities within Vietnam, US military structure underwent a marked change. Thus, the Military Assistance Command, Vietnam, Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was established in January 1964. Sometimes simply referred to as the ‘SOG’, the inconspicuously named unit was responsible for all manner of reconnaissance, special operations, and psyops in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

The group was comprised of Navy SEALs, Marine Recons, Air Force Special Operations soldiers, and Army Green Berets [source]. The force was above top secret – operatives swore to secrecy for over 20 years. This sadly meant that families of MACV-SOG members were not informed if their loved ones were killed in action [source].

1. Operational Structure

1.1. Command Control

MACV-SOG fell under the control of the US Military Assistance Command Vietnam, the US military command offering military assistance to South Vietnam. The Military Assistance Command was a subsidiary of the US Indo-Pacific Command. The first commander of MACV-SOG was Colonel Clyde Russell.

MACV-SOG had headquarters in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City), with its subordinate units having multiple operational bases throughout Vietnam and surrounding territories [source].

However, MACV-SOG had direct instruction from the Pentagon on specific missions. Specifically, from the Special Assistant for Counterinsurgency and Special Activities (SACSA) and his staff at the Pentagon [source].

1.2. Subsidiary Units

In the early years of MACV-SOG, the unit operated in smaller units under a singular command. This created a complex command structure that was difficult to maintain due to the highly varied demands of each region.

(Img; MACV-SOG Command Structure; via WikiCommons)

As the unit matured and the Vietnam war progressed, MACV-SOG split into regional commands:

  • Command and Control North (based in Da Nang) – operated in Southern Laos and Northern Cambodia
  • Command and Control Central (Based in Kontum) – conducted similar operations as Command and Control North, by operating in Southern Laos and Northern Cambodia
  • Command and Control South (Based in Ban Me Thout) – operated exclusively in Southern Cambodia.

2. Equipment

The equipment carried by MACV-SOG was significantly different to that of the mainstream army forces, owing to the unconventional warfare they undertook. The unit primarily carried variants of the XM-177, an experimental carbine variant of the M16 rifle used by conventional forces [source].

MACV-SOG loadout laid out on a cloth.
MACV-SOG kit: XM-177 E1, M79, M79 cut down, 40mm grenades, Claymore mine, det cord, M57 firing device, Browning Hi-Power, and V22 grenade. (Credit: SgtBlitz on Twitter)

2.1 XM-177

In many ways the XM-177 was the precursor to the M4. Colt would eventually take many of the features of the XM-177 and implement them into their iterative carbine designs. There were two official XM-117s, the XM-177 E1 and XM-177 E2. The nomenclature of “XM” denotes that it is an experimental design that is yet to be formally adopted. The E denotes an “enhancement”.

2.1.1. Stats

  • Manufacturer: Colt Defense
  • Barrel Length:  25.4 cm (10 in) (E1) /  29.2 cm (11.5 in) (E2)
  • Overall Length: 72 cm (28.3 in) (E1, stock retracted) / 76 cm (29.8 in) (E2, stock retracted)
  • Operating System: direct gas impingement, box magazine fed
  • Calibre: 5.56x45mm NATO
  • Weight: ~ 2.43 kg (5.35 lb)
  • Max effective range: 400 m
Soldiers training with GAU-5 carbines.
Airmen using an Air Force variant of the XM-177 E1 during Desert Shield. (Source)

2.1.2. The Barrel

The XM-177 E-1 featured a 25.4 cm (10 in) barrel. This is half the length of the M16 from which the XM-177 is derived. However, the XM-177 had an additional muzzle device known as a moderator. The moderator added an additional 10.6 cm (4.2 in) to the barrel, reducing much of the compactness of the XM-177. The exact purpose of the moderator is widely debated. Due to having internal baffles like a suppressor, some claimed that it reduced the decibels enough to make it sound like an AK-47 when firing. 

However, the most likely reason for the moderator was to improve reliability. At this time Colt had been struggling to get their short barrel carbines to cycle reliably. This is primarily due to the lack of dwell time, the distance between the gas port inside the barrel and the muzzle. On a 25.4 cm (10 in) barrel the gas port and the muzzle are very close to each other, reducing the amount of time for the gas behind the bullet to travel through the gas port and cycle the action before the bullet exits and the pressure drops. 

The baffles inside the moderate slow the gas down, which does reduce the decibel levels when firing. However, they also significantly increase the back pressure even after the bullet exits the muzzle. As a result, there is more gas pressure inside the system, allowing it to run more reliably.

2.1.3. The Stock

The other major change between the XM-177 and the M16 was the stock. Earlier Colt prototypes tried to convert the fixed stock into a collapsible one. However, they were fragile and as a result Colt went back to the drawing board. The XM-177 featured the basic collapsing stock design that has carried onto the M4 and all its derivatives. The XM-177’s stock had two positions: all the way extended and all the way collapsed. The subsequent carbine designs would improve upon this by increasing the positions from two to four and then to six. Allowing the user to adjust the stock for their comfort based on their size and body armor. 

The sliding stock itself was originally made of aluminium with a protective coating. Subsequent iterations copied the basic design but swapped the aluminium with plastic. This provided both a lighter rifle while also reducing production costs.

2.1.4. The Second Enhancement

The next iteration of the XM-177 was the E2. The E2 retained the bulk of the features from the E1, with only one major change. The barrel length was increased to 29.2 cm (11.5 in). This had a minor reductive effect on the flash and sound of the carbine when fired. It also increased the dwell time and therefore the reliability. However, the E2 retained the moderator but included a grenade ring mounted behind it. The increased length of the E2 combined with the grenade ring allowed the user to mount an under-barrel grenade launcher.

2.1.5. Beyond

As previously stated, the XM-177 was the precursor to many modern military carbines. Its influence can be seen in Colt’s various iterative carbines and eventually the M4. Recognizing that the moderator increased the overall length of the barrel to 36 cm (14.2 in), Colt standardized on a barrel length of 36.8 cm (14.5 in). The extended barrel provided the user with a more effective weapon in the same sized package. By replacing the 10.6 cm (4.2 in) of the moderator with more barrel, they were able to increase reliability and lethality. The longer barrel allows the bullet to reach higher velocities which gives it better terminal ballistics as a result.

The military would eventually revisit the 25.4 cm (10 in) barrel design with the Mk 18. However, this time the Navy’s Crane Division was able to increase the gas port diameter and the length to 26.2 cm (10.3 in). As a result, much of the reliability issues were solved and the Mk 18 would see wide use by US special operations forces.

In addition, depending on mission requirements, MACV-SOG operatives also carried:

2.2. AK Variants

Members of MACV-SOG would oftentimes utilize the enemies weapons for a multitude of reasons. Enemy forces carried a multitude of weapons including old bolt action rifles. However, if SOG riflemen were going to use an enemy weapon, it was going to be an AK variant. During the Vietnam war this could mean anything from a Soviet produced AKM to a Chinese Type 56. The Type 56 is an amalgamation of various Soviet weapon designs. The receiver is milled like an original AK-47 and the stock/pistol grip mount accordingly. However, the handguard is similar to that of an AKM and it features a vented gas tube. Additionally, it has an integrated folding bayonet like a post-WW2 SKS.

Type 56 AK on a white background.
Chinese Type 56. (Source)

2.2.1. Stats

  • Manufacturer: Multiple Manufactures
  • Barrel Length:  41.4 cm (16.3 in)
  • Overall Length: 88.2 cm (34.7 in)
  • Operating System: Long stroke gas piston, box magazine fed
  • Calibre: 7.62x39mm
  • Weight: ~ 3.7 kg (8.16 lb)
  • Max effective range: 400 m

2.3. RPD

The RPD is another Soviet design favored by MACV-SOG operators. The closest parallel the US military had at the time was the M60 machine gun. However, the M60 was bulky, heavy, and fired a heavy 7.62x51mm NATO cartridge. The M60 was not suitable for SOG’s purposes. However, they still needed a support weapon, so operators began modifying captured enemy RPDs.

The RPD is a light, belt fed machine gun, chambered in 7.62x39mm. It was manufactured in the Soviet Union, China, and a multitude of other countries. Typically SOG operators would cut down the barrel, which meant losing the weapon’s front sight. However, the machine gunners would compensate by point firing or hip firing in the close quarters of the thick Vietnamese jungles.

MACV-SOG operator sporting a shortened RPD.

2.3.1. Stats (non-cut down version)

  • Manufacturer: Multiple Manufactures
  • Barrel Length:  52 cm (20.5 in)
  • Overall Length: 103.7 cm (40.8 in)
  • Operating System: Long stroke gas piston, belt fed
  • Calibre: 7.62x39mm
  • Weight: ~7.4 kg (16.31 lb)
  • Max effective range: ~600m

2.4. M79 Grenade Launcher

The M79 was one of the first standalone grenade launchers. The M79 fires self contained 40mm grenades, as opposed to the rifle grenades it replaced. Rifle grenades required a special muzzle device, high pressure blank cartridges, and a gas system shut off in order to properly fire. There were huge margins for error if the soldier forgot a step, especially if they forgot to switch live ammo for the blanks. These developments allowed the grenadier to provide much greater firepower at a faster rate. The primary downside was that the grenadier no longer had a fighting rifle. Consequently, they were reliant on their pistol and/or fellow riflemen to engage close targets. Oftentimes, SOG operators would cut off the stock and the barrel of the M79 in order to have a lighter and more compact package.

M79 grenade launcher on a white background.
M79 Grenade Launcher. (Source)

2.4.1. Stats

  • Manufacturer: Springfield Armory and others.
  • Barrel Length: 36.83 cm (14.5 in)
  • Overall Length: 73 cm (28.8 in)
  • Operating System: Single shot, break action
  • Calibre: 40mm Shells
  • Weight: ~ 2.7 kg (6 lb)
  • Max effective range: 400 m

2.5. Explosives

SOG operators loved fragmentation grenades. They work wonders for clearing out enemy fighting positions such as bunkers and for breaking contact. A typical SOG loadout included about 10-12 grenades. Additionally, SOG operators would sometimes pack Claymore mines as initiators for ambushes. Operators would lie in wait for the enemy to walk into their field of fire, then they would detonate the mine to kill as many enemies as possible and stun those who weren’t killed. They would then open fire with their weapons to finish off the ambush

  • V-22 Mini-grenades
  • M-26 Fragmentation grenades
  • M-33 Fragmentation grenades
  • Claymore Mines

2.6. Deniability

During the early years of the Vietnam war, the US denied it had any troops operating outside of South Vietnam. As a result, SOG operators wore sterilised uniforms and carried weaponry without serial numbers to provide a semblance of deniability if the soldiers, and the US by extension, was caught operating in areas they weren’t supposed to be in. [source]. This is also a contributing reason for MACV-SOG operators to also use captured AKs and RPDs. Typically the point man would carry an AK or RPD due to the distinctive sound of the 7.62x39mm round firing. The weapon’s report is easily distinguishable from that of an M16/XM-177. Having the point man utilize an enemy’s weapon means that if he needs to fire a short burst at a lone enemy, then the unit is less likely to be compromised. Other enemies in the area won’t be able to readily identify them as American forces by sound.

2.7. Other Weapons

2.7.1. Highly Modified M1 Carbine

The M1 Carbine was first adopted by the US during WW2. It saw service well into the Vietnam War, primarily by rear echelon and special operations troops. Much like today’s special operations forces, soldiers in MACV-SOG would modify their gear to suit their needs. The image shows an M1 Carbine that has had its stock cut off, converted from .30 Carbine to 9x19mm. It also was modified with the additions of a magnified optic, a forward grip, and a suppressor.

2.7.2. Suppressed Beretta 951

Today 9x19mm handguns are used by almost every military and police force in the western hemisphere, but in the late 60s and early 70s they were pretty rare. This was the beginning of the Wonder Nine era, a colloquialism for the sudden surge of increased capacity 9mm handguns flooding the market. Prior to this soldiers and police were limited to 6 round revolvers and 7-8 round autoloading pistols. However, the Beretta 951 was the precursor to the well known Beretta 92 or M9. The one pictured is outfitted with a suppressor, likely used as a sentry stopper, a quiet weapon used to take out an individual enemy without alerting surrounding forces. MACV-SOG operators also used the Browning Hi-Power, another wonder nine designed by the same man who designed the M1911.

2.7.3. Welrod

The Welrod was designed from the ground up to be a sentry stopper by the British SOE during WW2. It has no automatic reciprocating parts, ports drilled into the barrel and a large suppressor. The lack of reciprocating parts means that when it is fired there is nothing moving which can produce sound. The holes drilled into the barrel reduce the pressure behind the 9mm bullet, meaning it never reaches supersonic speeds and therefore there is no supersonic boom when it is fired. Lastly, the suppressor slows down the gasses produced from firing the bullet. The culmination of these three factors is that when the Welrod is fired, the loudest noise comes from the bullet impacting its target.

Welrod pistol on a white background.
Welrod Mk 1. (Source)

2.7.4. Sten Gun and Swedish K

World War 2 saw a rise in the use of submachine guns by almost every country on the planet. They’re lightweight and compact but not very good outside of close quarters combat. However, the dense foliage of Vietnamese jungles saw the occasional use of submachine guns due to the relatively short lines of sight. It’s worth noting that neither of these weapons are American made. This is not because the US lacked any submachine guns in war stock. Rather, it was an additional factor of deniability for MACV-SOG.

2.7.5. Suppressed High Standard

The High Standard is another example of a sentry stopper. The pistol was chambered in .22 long-rifle (.22 LR), a caliber with a misnomer of a name. The .22 LR is one of the smallest common commercial calibers on the market and is very common in marksmanship competitions. The High Standard pistol pictured is a competition target pistol modified to have a suppressor. Due to the small size of the .22 it is very easy to suppress and subsonic loads are coincidentally common.

The .22 LR round is fast enough to break the sound barrier but it will usually slip back below the sound barrier before it hits its target. Slipping between super and subsonic has a detrimental effect on accuracy. As a result, most competition loads of .22 LR use a heavier bullet so that it never breaks the sound barrier in the first place. This provided competition shooters with a more accurate .22 LR cartridge and MACV-SOG with an easily procured subsonic cartridge to use as a sentry stopper.

2.7.6. The Gyrojet

MACV-SOG also dabbled in experimental weaponry. The “Gyrojet” pistol was a firearm that fired miniature rockets, dubbed “Microjets”, instead of bullets that gyroscopically kept the bullet in balance. It was surprisingly light and transportable and in turn was known to be used by the unit. [source]  Although as one might imagine they were incredibly inaccurate and unreliable, explaining why the concept has never been revisited in the past 80 years.

2.8. Kit

Soldiers in MACV-SOG often utilized highly modified kit to suit their needs on their irregular mission. During the Vietnam War soldiers were highly limited to the kit they could use, there was far less of an aftermarket for gear than there is now. As a result, soldiers often had to get creative. SOG operators typically carried as much ammunition as possible, sometimes up to 34, 20 round magazines. [source] In comparison, a standard fighting load carried by infantrymen today is 7, 30 round magazines.

Note the linked ammo for the RPD peeking out of the canteen pouch.

One widely used technique to carry the massive loadout was to utilize canteen pouches to hold additional magazines. The canteen pouches were capable of holding five 20 round magazines with one at the ready in the pouches opening. Additionally, MACV-SOG would utilize kit from WW2 such as magazine belts for Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) gunners.

Towards the end of the war 30 round magazines for the M16/XM-177 became more prevalent. Enemy forces often utilized Chinese type 56 chest rigs to hold their 30 round AK magazines.

2.8.1. Additional Equipment

In addition to the full combat loadout of ammunition and grenades that SOG operators would carry, they also carried a multitude of other mission essential items. Such as [source]:

  • Pens
  • Notebooks
  • Pen flares
  • A plastic spoon
  • Signal mirror
  • Maps
  • Morphine syrettes
  • URC-10 emergency radio
  • PRC-25 radio
  • Luminescent watch
  • Compass
  • Gloves
  • Canteens (number dependent on water in the operational area)
  • Fixed blade knife
  • Swiss Army Knife
  • Machete
  • Smoke grenades
  • Bandages
  • Strobe lights
  • Rappelling D-ring
  • White-phosphorus grenade
  • Water purification tablets
  • M-17 gas mask
  • Dehydrated rations
  • Bug repellent
  • 3.6m (12 ft) line of rope
  • Rain jacket
  • Toilet Paper

2.8.2. McGuire Rig and STABO Harness

Fighting in the thick canopy jungles meant that SOG operators had to get creative with their exfiltration methods. Oftentimes operators needed a quick extraction but there was no opening in the trees big enough or flat enough to land a helicopter. As a result, they began to use McGuire rigs. Named after Sergeant Major Charles McGuire, the McGuire rig was essentially a long length of rope with a loop at the bottom big enough for one man to sit in. [source]

Three men sitting in the McGuire rig as its being hoisted.
(Img; McGuire rig in use; via SOGsite)

The McGuire rig worked well enough, however it had some serious flaws. It was extremely uncomfortable to sit in during long flights. Additionally, operators would sometimes fall out of the rig if they were a casualty or if the helicopter encountered severe weather. As a result, SOG created the STABO harness, short for STAbolized BOdy extraction harness. The STABO rig closely resembled a parachute harness, however its primary purpose was to secure the user directly to the helicopter’s extraction line. Operators began to hang their kit directly off the STABO harness rather than wearing it over the standard ALICE load bearing equipment that was standard issue. [source]

2.9. Uniforms

MACV-SOG operators are best known for their Tiger Stripe camouflage fatigues. However, according to one of the most well-known MACV-SOG vets, John Styker Myer, they were rarely utilized. The tiger stripe camo uniforms were more of a status symbol when not on missions, distinguishing the elite operators while on an operating base. However, while on missions MACV-SOG operators would utilize the standard issue green fatigues because they dried quicker in the hot and humid jungle.

Two Green Berets in tiger stripe camo with bandanas give directions to sitting soldiers.
Green Berets from 5th SFG utilizing tiger stripe uniforms in 2019. (Iman Broady-Chin/U.S. Army) (Source)

Despite not being particularly effective, the camo pattern has persisted in various forms. Central Intelligence Agency Global Response Staff and paramilitary operations officers have utilized a desert variant while operating in Iraq and Afghanistan. Additionally, members from 5th Special Forces Group utilized the old jungle tiger stripe during a training exercise as a homage to their Vietnam-era Green Beret/MACV-SOG heritage.

3. Tactics. Techniques, and Procedures

As previously stated, MACV SOG had a multitude of mission sets that they conducted in the theatre, ranging from reconnaissance to psychological operations. SOG operators often worked with indigenous partner forces to complete these missions. Together these teams of American, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Hmong, and Montagnard soldiers essentially rewrote the doctrine for reconnaissance missions.

3.1. Isolation

Prior to long-range patrols, MACV SOG operators would go into a period of isolation. While patrolling deep behind enemy lines for multiple days the littlest thing could compromise the operators. The smell of their sweat lingering in the air and their bodily waste could be the difference between life and death. SOG operators were so effective and had become such an issue for the Vietnamese that they had established counter MACV SOG tracking teams to hunt them in the jungle. A professional Vietnamese tracker could tell the difference in the smell of bodily waste of someone eating an American diet vs a local diet. As a result, teams conducting long-range reconnaissance patrols (LRRPs) would often go into isolation. They would consume only local food, drink local beverages, and smoke Vietnamese cigarettes. All in an attempt to mask their foreign odour while patrolling in the Jungle. [source]

3.2. Partner Forces

MACV SOG’s primary stomping ground during the war was the Ho Chi Minh Trail. While the name might conjure images of a short single path through the jungle, in reality, it was much more complex. The trail was comprised of over 3,000 km (1864 mi) of roads, foot trails and tunnels. It stretched across Vietnam’s eastern border into Laos and Cambodia. During the war the US wasn’t allowed to officially acknowledge any cross-border operations, they could only operate within Vietnam. However, a large chunk of the trail is outside of the country. As a result, the Vietcong and North Vietnamese Army utilized the trail as a logistical pipeline to supply their forces. That’s where MACV SOG and their partner forces come in.

MACV SOG stood up primarily to act as a covert force that could conduct deniable missions in Laos and Cambodia. The SOG operatives themselves were recruited primarily from the Army Special Forces, primarily due to the unit’s mission of training and fighting alongside indigenous partner forces. MACV SOG recruited partner forces who were ideologically aligned with the US’s mission in Vietnam. The local warriors spoke the local dialects, knew the terrain, and aided in deniability if their mission was compromised. Together these teams became extremely close.

John Mullins standing in the jungle in tiger stripe camo.
MACV SOG operator John Mullins with a Yard bracelet. (Image retrieved via Jack Murphy on Twitter)

3.2.1. Yard Bracelets

Montagnard forces would often bestow upon their American brethren, Yard bracelets. These bracelets were made of brass casings that were hammered out, polished, and etched with designs. Being given a bracelet was considered a great honour and signified a lifelong friendship and commitment between the giver and the recipient. [source] In turn Americans who had developed close ties with their Montagnard counterparts often sponsored them to come to the US after America’s failure in Vietnam. As a result, there are Montagnard enclaves in unusual places across the US.

3.3. Hatchets and Spikes

The two primary missions of MACV-SOG were direct action and reconnaissance. Hatchet teams were MACV SOG’s primary raid force. They would conduct direct action missions and ambushes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Additionally, they could act as a quick reaction force for reconnaissance teams who were compromised. A typical hatchet team was composed of 5 Americans and 30 indigenous soldiers. For larger operations, multiple hatchet teams would be combined to make a havoc team in order to target enemy strongholds and conduct larger operations.

Reconnaissance teams were known as spike teams. They would typically name themselves after US states with the typical name being something like the ST Missouri. However, the use of the term spike teams fell out of favour and they began calling themselves recon teams or RTs. They kept the tradition of naming the RTs after states with the occasional odd name like RT Bushmaster. Together these forces made up SLAM companies. SLAM stood for Search, Locate, Annihilate, and Monitor. (Source)

4. Notable Operations

Although much of the details of MACV-SOG operations remain classified, MACV-SOG undertook numerous reconnaissance missions across borders. Many of these missions were the most dangerous and sensitive of any covert action undertaken during the time.

For example, OP-35, the ‘Ground Studies’ group of MACV-SOG, undertook hundreds of cross-border operations between 1966 and 1972 [source]. It is believed that OP-35 had a force of up to 2,500 US personnel and 8,000 indigenous troops [source], segmented into smaller teams as small as 10 men. These tended to include a mixture of US Green Berets, specialised in unconventional warfare, as well as local warfighters. These indigenous troops, colloquially known as “little people”, came from multiple regional countries such as China, Cambodia, and South Vietnam [source]. Indigenous people were key to the SOG’s success. This is because they brought a wealth of intelligence surrounding local geography, language, and culture.

OP-35 Personnel, SubUnit of MACV-SOG
(Img; OP-35 Personnel, SubUnit of MACV-SOG; via

4.1. Operation 34A

Operation 34A began in 1961. This highly classified CIA operation was a string of largely unsuccessful covert attacks in North Vietnam. These failed missions, comprised of both air and naval infiltration, led to the loss of life for personnel entering via parachute and boat.

To increase the chances of success, Operation 34A was transferred to MACV-SOG in July 1964. MACV-SOG was tasked with covert missions against Northern Vietnam. The unit was supported by an increase of 130 SIGINT personnel to support their monitoring and infiltration operations [source]. This led to a significant increase in the number of operations being undertaken by MACV-SOG: evidence suggests that offensive operations were being launched almost daily.

On the night of the 30th of July 1964, MACV-SOG launched a midnight naval assault on the Vietnamese islands of Hon Me and Hon Nieu. In the early hours of the 31st of July, MACV-SOG personnel began their assault on the Vietnamese islands.

However, attacks on both of the islands were unsuccessful. On Hon Me, South Vietnamese operatives opened fire from shore, forcing US retreat. This rendered their plan to plant explosive charges completely unsuccessful. On Hon Neiu, the result was similar: US forces retreated within 45 minutes of beginning their offensive [source].

4.2. The Gulf of Tonkin Incident

As a result of Operation 34A, North Vietnamese forces became increasingly suspicious of US naval presence, building up their own presence around the islands of Hon Me and Hon Nieu. Their increased SIGINT capabilities meant increased monitoring of US vessels. Whilst US naval forces did indeed intercept Vietnamese messages indicating that they were imminently launching offensives on US vessels, these went largely ignored [source]. As a result, on August 2nd, the USS Maddox came under attack by 3 Vietnamese torpedo boats.

The Gulf of Tonkin Incident directly led to the US’ increased involvement in the Vietnam War. US Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on August 7th of 1964. This resolution allowed President Johnson the power to ‘retaliate and to promote the maintenance of international peace and security in Southeast Asia’ [source]. This effectively gave the US government a legal basis to become further involved in the Vietnam War.

Whilst the US initially blamed North Vietnam for the unforeseen bombardments, later declassified documentation showed MACV-SOG’s involvement in clandestine monitoring and attack operations prior to the Incident, highlighting the US’ culpability.

4.3. A Vietnamese Thanksgiving

On Thanksgiving day of 1968, MACV-SOG was tasked with arguably its most challenging mission yet. Army Intelligence had lost the position of multiple North Vietnamese army divisions. This meant that there were 30,000 Northern Vietnamese troops unaccounted for.

MACV-SOG was tasked with locating the enemy troops to update US Army Intelligence. This was assigned to one specific MACV-SOG team who was best placed in the area the troops were last located: ST Idaho. ST Idaho was comprised of only six men: four indigenous troops, and two Green Berets [source]. They were led by John Stryker Meyer, as pictured below.

John Stryker Meyer (Left) and Lynne Black Jr. (Right
(Img; John Stryker Meyer (Left) and Lynne Black Jr. (Right); via Sandboxx)

4.3.1. 6 Versus 30,000

The State Department had strict rules for engagement in Cambodia, meaning that air support was not an option whilst they were on this mission. Meyer and ST Idaho were completely on their own.

Meyer and his team began their search for the missing troops. Soon, they located an enemy camp that appeared to be empty. The team raided the camp for any clues about enemy’s whereabouts. However, after a short amount of time, one of the team’s indigenous personnel was alerted to an enemy approach. ST Idaho quickly began exfiltration, and just in time, hundreds of North Vietnamese soldiers began to flood the camp, opening fire at the MACV-SOG unit [source].

ST Idaho quickly made their way to their landing zone, lobbing grenades and firing at the North Vietnamese forces as they moved. US gunships manned by Green Hornets airlifted ST Idaho away from the landing zone, with the team barely escaping with their lives.

4.4. Other Operations

Other common missions included counterintelligence through the bugging of enemy communication systems, infiltrating enemy strongholds, and any other assignments that would allow US forces to gain more information on the number and location of Vietnamese troops throughout the continent [source]. As the group was comprised of highly trained troops from well-trained US forces, the group regularly undertook specialised operations such as high-altitude parachute jumps behind enemy lines and naval missions [source]. The MACV-SOG was also responsible for the recovery of wounded soldiers.

5. Disbandment and Recognition

MACV-SOG, whist instrumental to the war effort, has one of the highest casualty rates of any US force. The force’s casualty rate exceeded 100% – every single SOG member was wounded at least once, and over half of the force was killed in action [source].

MACV-SOG was ultimately deactivated on the 29th of March 1973 [source]. Subsequently, this became the US National Vietnam War Veterans Day in 2017. Owing to the secret nature of the work, much of the information surrounding the covert force is only just becoming available within the public domain.

In 2001, MACV-SOG received the Presidential Unit Citation for its efforts during the 60s and 70s [source].

6. Summary

The inconspicuously named “Military Assistance Command” was a large clandestine intelligence operating throughout Asia. Ultimately, the group’s operations were instrumental to the success of the US war effort in Vietnam.

This piece was contributed to by Jordan Smith

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