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During the Vietnam war and in its legacy, perhaps no group of men has created more interest or exhibited more heroism than the Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen of the Studies and Observation Group. Operating in secrecy and far away from the support of the vast military machine, they were the eyes, ears and the tip of the sword.
MACV-SOG was the joint service high command unconventional-warfare task force engaged in highly classified clandestine operations throughout Southeast Asia. It was given the title “Studies & Observation Group” as a cover. The joint staff was allegedly performing an analysis of the lessons learned to that point in the Vietnam War, but it was actually a special operations group with distinct command decision authority.
In 1958 the South Vietnamese government created a secret special service directly under their president, which was re-designated the Vietnamese Special Forces Command in 1963. Special operations were conducted by this branch. The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) supported and financed the operations. In April 1964 the government of South Vietnam created the Special Exploitation Service to take over these operations, whereupon MACV-SOG was established to assume the CIA’s job of assisting, advising and supporting the new organization in the conduct of highly classified sabotage and psychological and special operations in North and South Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and southern China. MACV-SOG and the Special Exploitation Service (SES) were activated simultaneously. In September 1967 the South Vietnamese renamed the SES the Strategic Technical Directorate. With the draw down in U.S. personnel and operations, MACV-SOG was deactivated on 30 April 1972 and the Strategic Technical Directorate Assistance Team 158 was activated 1 May 1972 to take its place. This team was subsequently deactivated on 12 March 1973, and no other U.S. headquarters took its place.
Originally headquartered in Cholon, it moved to Saigon in ‘1966. However, its air assets (Air Studies Group) were based at Nha Trang and its navy assets (Maritime Studies Group) were based at DaNang with its original Forward Operations Base (FOB 1). The Ground Studies Group launch sites were initially located at Hue-Phu Bai, Khe Sanh, Kham Duc and near Kontum. The MACV-SOG training center and airborne operations group were at Long Thanh. A Psychological Studies Group was located in Saigon with antenna stations at Hue and Tay Ninh.
MACV-SOG was assigned about 2,000 Americans, mostly U.S. Special Forces, and over 8,009 highly trained indigenous troops. It had its own air force (90th Special Operations Wing) comprised of a squadron of U.S. Air Force UH-IF “Green Hornet” helicopters, a squadron of U.S. Air Force C-130 aircraft, a covert C-123 aircraft squadron piloted and manned by Nationalist Chinese, as well as the South Vietnamese 219th “Kingbees” H-34 helicopter squadron. The U.S. Navy resources included SEAL’s, Vietnamese Underwater Demolition Teams (UDT) and fast patrol boats. Ground forces included army military intelligence, psychological operations and some 76 ground RT mobile-launch teams, later MACV-SOG reorganized its ground strike elements into three field commands; Command and Control South, Central and North (CCS, CCC and CCN).
MACV-SOG had five primary responsibilities and the capability to undertake additional special missions as required. Primary responsibilities included: (1) Cross-border operations regularly conducted to disrupt the VC, Khmer Rouge, Pathet Lao and NVA in their own territories; (2) Keeping track of all imprisoned and missing Americans and conducting raids to assist and free them as part of the Escape and Evasion (E & E) mission for all captured U.S. personnel and downed airmen; (3) Training and dispatching agents into North Vietnam to run resistance movement operations; (4) “Black” psychological operations, such as establishing false (notional} NVA broadcasting stations inside North Vietnam; (4) “Gray” psychological operations as typified by the Hue- Phu Bai propaganda transmitter. MACV-SOG was also entrusted with specific tasks such as kidnapping, assassination, insertion of rigged mortar rounds into the enemy ammunition supply system (which were set to explode and destroy their crews upon use) and retrieval of sensitive documents and equipment if lost or captured through enemy action. MACV-SOG was often able to use the intelligence it gathered for its own internal purposes as well as for high command special activities.
Command and Control North (CCN) was formed by MACV-SOG in late 1967 as an expansion of its Da Nang Forward Operations Base (FOB) which included launch sites established as early as 1964 at Hue-Phu Bai, Khe Sanh and Kham Duc, CCN, always the largest of the three MACV-SOG field commands, was commanded by a lieutenant colonel. It was assigned conduct of classified special unconventional warfare missions into Laos and North Vietnam.
CCN was organized along the lines of CCC and was composed of Spike recon teams (RT), Hatchet forces and lettered SLAM companies. Missions into North Vietnam were initiated as early 1 February 1964 under OPLAN 34A. Operations into Laos commenced in September 1965 as part of Operation SHINING BRASS, renamed PRAIRIE FIRE in 1968. By this time MACV-SOG had at its disposal two battalions of American-led Nung tribesmen as reaction forces capable of performing large combat missions.
CCN often operated in conjunction with CIA trained Meo tribesmen of Gen. Vang Pao. In 1971 the Laotian operations were given the code name PHU DUNG, and in March of that year MACV-SOG created Task Force I Advisory Element to replace its three field commands. This task force was located at DaNang.
Command and Control North (CCN) was formed by MACV-SOG in late 1967 as an expansion of its Da Nang Forward Operations Base (FOB) which included launch sites established as early as 1964 at Hue – Phu Bai, Khe Sanh and Kham Due. CCN, always the largest of the three MACV-SOG field commands, was command- ed by a lieutenant colonel. It was assigned conduct of classified special unconventional warfare missions into Laos and North Vietnam. CCN was organized along the lines of CCC and was composed of Spike recon teams (RT), Hatchet forces and lettered SLAM companies. Missions into North Vietnam were initiated as early as I February 1964 under Operation Plan 34A. Operations into Laos commenced in September 1965 as part of Operation SHINING BRASS, renamed PRAIRIE FIRE in 1968. By this time MACV-SOG had at its disposal two battalions of American-led Nung tribesmen as reaction forces capable of performing large combat missions. CCN often operated in conjunction with the CIA-trained Meo tribesmen of Gen. Vang Pao. In 1971 the Laotian operations were given the code name PHU DUNG, and in March of that year MACV-SOG created Task Force I Advisory Element to replace its three field commands. This task force was located at Da Nang.
Command and Control Central (CCC) was formed by MACV-SOG in late 1967 as an expansion of its Kontum Forward Operations Base (FOB) under the command of a lieutenant colonel. CCC had responsibility for classified unconventional warfare operations throughout the tri-border regions of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. CCC was organized the same way as other MACV-SOC field commands, and its flexible composition permitted fluctuation in the number of subordinate elements depending on mission requirements. It had around 30 Spike Recon Teams (RT). Hatchet Forces, and four Search-Location-and-Annihilation Mission Companies (SLAM Companies A, B, C and D). RTs were composed of three U.S. Special Forces and nine indigenous personnel per team, the latter drawn from ethnic minority groups and selected for their intense loyalty and excellent jungle-fighting qualities. RTs were capable of diverse special assignments ranging from ambush and calling in air strikes to cache destruction and reconnoiter-and-attack, and were often shifted between MACV-SOC field commands as mission requirements demanded. Originally named after states, RTs later adopted names of Asian poisonous snakes and assorted designations once all state names had been exhausted. Hatchet Forces were composed of five U.S. special forces and thirty indigenous personnel and could perform larger missions as well as reinforce RTs. The four SLAM companies were assigned to exploit promising situations. Their platoons were also capable of independent action as needed. CCC folded in March 1971 when MACV-SOG’s Task Force I Advisory Element was established at Da Nang.
Command and Control South (CCS) was a new field command created by MACV-SOG when permission was granted to conduct cross-border missions into Cambodia. Commanded by a Major, and later a LtCol., CCS was the smallest of the MACV-SOG field commands and was engaged in classified special unconventional warfare missions inside VC-dominated South Vietnam and throughout Cambodia. Its organization was similar to that of CCC. It contained Spike recon teams (RT), Hatchet forces, and four SLAM companies. Cross-border operations had been conducted into northeastern Cambodia since May 1967 under Project DANIEL BOONE, later known as SALEM HOUSE. In 1971 the name was changed to THOT NOT. CCS folded in March 1971 when MACV-SOG created Task Force I Advisory Element at Da Nang.
The Military Assistance Command, Vietnam – Studies and Observations Group (MACV-SOG) was a highly classified, multi-service United States special operations unit which conducted covert unconventional warfare operations prior to and during the Vietnam War. Established on 24 January 1964, the unit conducted strategic reconnaissance missions in Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam), Laos, and Cambodia; carried out the capture of enemy prisoners, rescued downed pilots, and conducted rescue operations to retrieve allied prisoners of war throughout Southeast Asia; and conducted clandestine agent team activities and psychological operations.
The unit participated in most of the significant campaigns of the Vietnam War, including the Tonkin Gulf Incident which precipitated American involvement, Operation Steel Tiger, Operation Tiger Hound, the Tet Offensive, Operation Commando Hunt, the Cambodian Campaign, Operation Lam Son 719, and the Easter Offensive. The unit was formally disbanded and replaced by the Strategic Technical Directorate Assistance Team 158 on 1 May, 1972.