Captured Records: Vietnam

There is a file of captured records for the Vietnam War. The Viet Cong, having political officers and a command structure, actually did keep records. The North Vietnamese Army also kept records. During the course of the war, some of these records were captured and are in a file at the National Archives. I don’t know of anyone who has used them. I did glance at the file, and there was no finders guide and nothing was translated. There did not appear to be much order to the file. I would have needed someone fluent in Vietnamese to help me (which is actually easy to find in Northern Virginia…for example General Nguyen Ngoc Loan ended up owning a Pizza restaurant in Springfield, VA).

** EDS NOTE: GRAPHIC CONTENT ** South Vietnamese Gen. Nguyen Ngoc Loan, chief of the national police, fires his pistol, shoots, executes into the head of suspected Viet Cong officer Nguyen Van Lem (also known as Bay Lop) on a Saigon street Feb. 1, 1968, early in the Tet Offensive. (AP Photo/Eddie Adams)

In the mid-1990s I did meet with Americans who had worked with the Vietnamese in trying to locate missing U.S. servicemen. They stated that the Vietnamese were very open and interested in researching and discussing the war. They felt that they would be receptive to a joint research project on Vietnam and would be willing to open their archives for us. As we had had access to the Soviet military archives since 1993, this looked like a fairly attractive next adventure for us. Unfortunately, we could not get anyone interested in funding research on insurgencies at that time. It was not something that U.S. had researched or analyzed since 1973.

Needless to say, after we got involved in insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq, I again floated the idea to the Army of doing a joint research project on Vietnam. They listened to me a little longer, but in the end, there was really no interest in analyzing the insurgency in Vietnam. I am not sure why. It has the virtue of being one of the few insurgencies where the insurgents kept good records. This would allow us to do analysis based upon two-sided data. There was certainly something that could be learned from this.

Of course, one of the problems with studying Vietnam is that U.S. Army record keeping at that time was grossly substandard. It was the poorest quality records from the U.S. Army that I had ever observed. The files from most of the units were very scant. Sometimes it was difficult to even determine the units strength and losses. Some divisions were missing almost all of their files (like the 82nd Airborne). For the 1st Brigade, 5th Mechanized Division on the DMZ, we could not determine the tank strength of the unit. There was no periodic strength and loss reports for armor. For the assault helicopter battalion my father commanded, there was only a battalion newspaper and few other files. You could not tell what aircraft the unit had, nor their status or strength. It was embarrassing.

We did actually flag this problem to the active duty army of the time and they ended up giving us a contract to examine the state of current U.S, army record keeping, which is  discussed in this post:

U.S. Army Record Keeping

Anyhow, this is an extended discussion of captured records originally inspired by this post:

The Sad Story Of The Captured Iraqi DESERT STORM Documents


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Christopher A. Lawrence
Christopher A. Lawrence

Christopher A. Lawrence is a professional historian and military analyst. He is the Executive Director and President of The Dupuy Institute, an organization dedicated to scholarly research and objective analysis of historical data related to armed conflict and the resolution of armed conflict. The Dupuy Institute provides independent, historically-based analyses of lessons learned from modern military experience.
Mr. Lawrence was the program manager for the Ardennes Campaign Simulation Data Base, the Kursk Data Base, the Modern Insurgency Spread Sheets and for a number of other smaller combat data bases. He has participated in casualty estimation studies (including estimates for Bosnia and Iraq) and studies of air campaign modeling, enemy prisoner of war capture rates, medium weight armor, urban warfare, situational awareness, counterinsurgency and other subjects for the U.S. Army, the Defense Department, the Joint Staff and the U.S. Air Force. He has also directed a number of studies related to the military impact of banning antipersonnel mines for the Joint Staff, Los Alamos National Laboratories and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation.
His published works include papers and monographs for the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment and the Vietnam Veterans of American Foundation, in addition to over 40 articles written for limited-distribution newsletters and over 60 analytical reports prepared for the Defense Department. He is the author of Kursk: The Battle of Prokhorovka (Aberdeen Books, Sheridan, CO., 2015), America’s Modern Wars: Understanding Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam (Casemate Publishers, Philadelphia & Oxford, 2015), War by Numbers: Understanding Conventional Combat (Potomac Books, Lincoln, NE., 2017) , The Battle of Prokhorovka (Stackpole Books, Guilford, CT., 2019), The Battle for Kyiv (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2023), Aces at Kursk (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024), Hunting Falcon: The Story of WWI German Ace Hans-Joachim Buddecke (Air World, Yorkshire, UK, 2024) and The Siege of Mariupol (Frontline Books, Yorkshire, UK, 2024).
Mr. Lawrence lives in northern Virginia, near Washington, D.C., with his wife and son.

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