Republic of Vietnam Navy

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Tổ quốc — Đại dương ("The Fatherland — The Ocean")
Flag of the Republic of Vietnam Navy

The Republic of Vietnam Navy (RVNN; Vietnamese: Hải quân Việt Nam Cộng hòa; HQVNCH) was the naval branch of the South Vietnamese military, the official armed forces of the former Republic of Vietnam (or South Vietnam) from 1955 to 1975. The early fleet consisted of boats from France. After 1955 and the transfer of the armed forces to Vietnamese control, the fleet was supplied from the United States. With American assistance, in 1972 the VNN became the largest Southeast Asian navy and the fouth largest navy in the world, just behind the Soviet Union, the USA and China, with 42,000 personnel, 672 amphibious ships and craft, 20 mine warfare vessels, 450 patrol craft, 56 service craft, and 242 junks. The Republic of Vietnam Navy was responsible for the protection of the country's national waters, islands, and interests of its maritime economy, as well as for the co-ordination of maritime police, customs service and the maritime border defence force.

The Republic of Vietnam Navy disbanded in 1975 with the collapse of South Vietnam, and North Vietnam's victory in the Vietnam War. Most of its fleet was captured in port, but a small fleet of vessels, led by Captain Đỗ Kiếm and Richard L. Armitage of the Defense Attaché Office, Saigon, escaped to Thailand and surrendered themselves to American naval forces there. Some of these RVNN vessels were scuttled upon reaching the open sea, while others continued their service with the Philippine Navy.

Naval ensign of the Republic of Vietnam
USS Bering Strait (AVP-34) in 1944; later served in the RVNN as RVNS Trần Quang Khải (HQ-02)
Vietnam Navy Gallantry Cross, Bronze Anchor
Tổ quốc — Đại dương  (motto)


  • While Kiem was imagining how he'd look in Vietnamese Navy dress whites, Viet Minh general Vo Nguyen Giap was busy massing tens of thousands of troops around the French-held valley town of Dien Bien Phu, near the Laotian border. Giap's forces choked off the French supply lines, ringing their noose tighter and tighter as the French got thinner and weaker and monsoon rains beat down on their equipment. The French appealed to U.S. president Eisenhower and British prime minister Churchill for help, but it was not forthcoming. On 12 March 1954 Giap's army of fifty thousand men attacked French general Navarre's eleven or twelve thousand with everything in its arsenal. In early May, as Kiem was preparing to take the written exam for the French Naval Academy in Hanoi, Giap's men overran the last of the weakened French forces- and the Viet Minh won the war. Kime was thrilled that his country had finally gained its independence, but he couldn't help worrying that the French defeat might ruin his future plans. Mr. Sach said not to fear: no matter what happened at the postwar negotiating conference, the French would still want to help shape a young navy just starting out. They were human, and that was human nature.
    • Kiem Do and Julie Kane, Counterpart: A South Vietnamese Naval Officer's War (1998), p. 63
  • But before the ships could be brought into the harbor, their guns had to be dismantled, their ammo unloaded, their names painted over, their Vietnamese flags lowered, and the American colors raised. The shame of it was almost unbearable: Kiem and his men were a bunch of losers. They had lost the long war. In all of the excitement and chaos of the past week, it was the first time the realization had fully hit them. But there was still one small thing Kiem could do to help his men save face. He could ask for a proper changing-of-colors ceremony: something to soften the blow of seeing their flag yanked down like a rag. Late that afternoon, on board every ship, an ex-VNN officer made a speech; then a U.S. Navy officer made a speech. As the ropes creaked and the gold flag with three red stripes began to descend, the refugees broke into their national anthem: "Nay cong dan oi..." (Oh citizen of the country...) Their voices soared over the turqoise waters of the Pacific Ocean. Slowly the US flags were hoisted into place. Then the ex-VNN officers walked to the ship's rail, ripped the insignia from their uniforms, and tossed the gold glitter into the sea with their caps. They were civilians, now, not military men. Stripped of their national identities, they could help bring another country's warships into the bay with no shame.
    • Kiem Do and Julie Kane, Counterpart: A South Vietnamese Naval Officer's War (1998), p. 216
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