|DEPARTMENT OF THE ARMY
US ARMY SUPPORT COMMAND,
APO SAN FRANCISCO 96349
DaNang Support Command was established in 1968 to provide logistical support for Army tactical units in I Corps, roughly the northern quarter of South Vietnam. As a Command publication called it, this was a “tough, dirty, frustrating, and often thankless job.” 1 SupCom troops were sometimes derided as REMFs, as “the guys in the rear with the gear.” And yet in Vietnam, there was no “rear,” in the traditional sense. Truck convoys were ambushed, boats capsized along the coast, ammo dumps were attacked, and stray enemy rockets could fall anywhere.
SupCom was part of 1st Logistical Command (the largest ouftit in Vietnam with over 50,000 troops) until mid-1970, when it was absorbed directly into USARV. The Command took pride “in the fact that throughout its history no combat operation…has been cancelled or delayed by lack of a responsive support effort.” 2 This happened in spite of the fact that the work needed to be accomplished in logistical islands scattered along the coast, often staffed by a crazy quilt-like patchwork of small units with expertise required in a wide variety of skills.
LOCATIONS: Click on the image above to see a larger version of a map of I Corps, with major support centers shown. Note: Even after the official name changed to “Military Region I” in mid-1970, we all still spoke of “Eye Core.” Logistical centers and their primary clients in 1970 were:
- Central: DaNang, with its depots, ammo dumps, deep water piers, shallow-draft boat ramps, air base, highway trailer transfer points, and railhead
- North of the Hai Van Pass: Phu Bai, Hue, and the related Tan My ramp and POL sites, serving the 101st Airborne Division at Camp Eagle, Camp Evans and more distant fire support bases
- Further north, near the DMZ: Quang Tri and the related Dong Ha and Cua Viet River sites, serving the 1/5th Mech. Inf. Bde.
- To the south: Chu Lai and its subordinate site at Sa Huynh, serving the Americal Division
MISSION: The scope of the Army support mission in I Corps expanded and contracted over the years, as the tactical situation demanded. Different eras were as follows:
Marine Corps Era, March 1965 – January 1968: The III Marine Amphibious Force was the U.S. tactical headquarters in I Corps in the early years of our involvement there. As BG James Gunn, an early SupCom CG, wrote: “Prior to January 1968, the only major Army units in the I Corps Tactical Zone were the Americal Division at Chu Lai and the 108th Artillery Group spread to the south of the Demilitarized Zone. Logistical support was provided by the 80th General Support Group which had personnel located at Dong Ha, Da Nang, Chu Lai, and Duc Pho [near Sa Huynh]. Total Army strength in the Corps was about 28,000 and logistical support was the responsibility of the Qui Nhon Support Command.” 3 After transferring from Cam Ranh Bay to Chu Lai in May 1967, the 80th GS Group established the Da Nang Sub Area Command in November 1967.
DaNang Support Command Established, February 1968 – May 1970: Again per BG Gunn, “In January and February 1968, during the Tet offensive, Army strength in I Corps jumped to almost 100,000 as additional tactical units were deployed into the zone. As support requirements grew, the number of logistical troops was increased to over 8,000 personnel. Due to the large number of logistical troops required and the wide geographical area over which they would be required to operate, it was deemed necessary to establish another support command. The Da Nang Support Command, youngest of the four support commands, was formally established on 25 February 1968.” 4 Major subordinate units in this era included:
- 80th General Support Group, based in DaNang and responsible for the area south from there to the II Corps border
- 26th General Support Group, based in Phu Bai and responsible for the area north of DaNang
- 34th Supply & Service Battalion, operating the DaNang Army Field Depot
- 528th Ammunition Battalion, operating ammunition supply points throughout I Corps
Marines & Navy Redeploy, June 1970 – December 1970: With major redeployment of the Marines and deactivation of Naval Support Activity DaNang, the Support Command experienced explosive growth in mid-1970. NSAD had grown to be “the Navy’s largest overseas shore command,” 5 operating the largest single port in South Vietnam along with several smaller coastal operations and “one of the world’s largest warehouse facilities.” 6 In addition, it was “operating 80 to 100 cargo trucks each 12-hour shift and providing taxi and bus services for 100,000 passengers a week.” 7 Support Command absorbed these activities and moved its headquarters from the compound it shared with 80th General Support Group into former Navy facilities at China Beach (next door to the famous R & R Center), adding the following major subordinate units:
- 5th Transportation Command (Terminal), to operate the port, local shallow-draft ramps, and 2 boat companies
- U.S. Army Depot DaNang, combining both the NSAD facilities and the former Army Field Depot
Operations Dewey Canyon II and Lam Son 719, January – March 1971: Per BG Arthur Sweeney, SupCom CG at the time, “The height of the support mission occurred during LAM SON 719 when the command had two General Support Groups, a Transportation Group, a major Terminal Command and a Depot operating at maximum effort.” 8 And as summarized in a Command publication, “In late January, 1971, the United States Army Support Command, Da Nang, began moving men, equipment, and supplies north in support of Operation Dewey Canyon II. Great quantities of food, fuel, and ammunition were transported to various staging areas near the Laotian border for American forces establishing a strong defensive position in northwestern MR I and for the Army of Vietnam’s incursion into Laos to interdict Communist aggression and block North Vietnamese supply routes along the Ho Chi Minh Trail.” 9 Establishing Forward Support Activities 1 and 2 at Vandegrift (west of Dong Ha) and Khe Sanh, respectively, SupCom added additional truck companies, along with its last major subordinate unit:
- 8th Transportation Group, transferred from Qui Nhon
Retrograde and Redeployment, April 1971 – April 1972: Again per BG Sweeney, “From the end of LAM SON forward the retrograde and redeployment mission began to compete with increasing vigor for available resources. Between January 1971 and April 1972, the strength of the command dropped from about 12,000 to under 3,000 with most of those remaining being directly involved with the redeployment program.” 8 DaNang Support Command departed Vietnam 15 April 1972.
HEADQUARTERS: When the author was assigned to SupCom headquarters in 1970-71, it appeared to be an amazing bureaucracy. There seemed to be more field grade officers than junior ones and more officers in total than enlisted men. In retrospect, however, the need for so many different experts probably dictated the command structure there. For example, as shown below on the “simplified” (?) HQ organization chart as of 27 July 1970, there was a CO, a deputy CO, a chief of staff, 9 assistant chiefs of staff, and 8 other special staff officers. 10
UNITS: Organization charts of major subordinate units at different points in time can be found in the resources section below. Change was the only constant here, though, so these varied a good bit from year to year. The only so-called “pure” battalions were usually the 39th Trans Bn, generally based at Phu Bai with 4 truck companies nearby, and the 528th Ammo Bn, with 3 ordnance companies scattered throughout I Corps. Virtually all other outfits had their own mini-SupCom structures and needed a wide variety of skill sets on a daily basis. For example, basic sketches of typical units at primary support centers in mid-1970, from north to south, are as follows: 11
- Quang Tri: The 63rd Maint Bn has a main support company, a maintenance company, a supply & service company, a truck company, and a POL platoon.
- Tan My: The 863rd Trans Cmd has a terminal transfer company, a security company, a POL platoon, and a boat platoon.
- Phu Bai/Camp Eagle: The 2nd Maint Bn has a main support company, a maintenance company, a light equipment maintenance company, a supply & service company, and a POL company.
- Port of DaNang: The 5th Trans Cmd has 2 terminal service companies and 2 boat companies (with a truck company added later that summer)
- DaNang: The aptly-named 92nd Composite Service Bn has a truck company, a light equipment maintenance company, a supply & service company, a heavy equipment maintenance company, a collection, classification, and salvage company, and a property disposal company.
- Chu Lai: The 57th Trans Bn has a truck company, a supply & service company, a light maintenance company, a boat company, and both POL and terminal transfer platoons.
COORDINATION: With such a varied mission spread over 225 miles from II Corps to the DMZ, coordination was a major SupCom HQ responsibility. A good example of how we did that was the Movement Control Center, where the author served in 1970-71. As described in a Command publication — in a paragraph probably written by the author for inclusion there in 1970, but with the finished product not seen until found online in 2008 — “The Movement Control Center (MCC) is the point of contact for USARV agencies and activities in Military Region I regarding movement of personnel and cargo. The MCC, with offices in Quang Tri, Phu Bai, and Chu Lai as well as Da Nang, has the authority to task vehicles assigned to the 39th Transportation Battalion and the 57th, 63rd, and 363rd Transportation Companies in support of this mission. The MCC also organizes land cargo transportation from the Chu Lai and Tan My ramps and coordinates air support for convoys southbound from Da Nang.” 12
In additon, of course, we also monitored Marine support for convoys northbound from Da Nang, along with the progress of ammunition and other supply movement by boat up and down the coast. There was even sporadic shipment of lumber and PX supplies by the local Vietnamese railway and occasional need to arrange emergency air shipment of items with a similar USAF office at the Air Base. All in all, we got at least a glimpse of everything we’d ever seen at the Army’s Transportation School at Fort Eustis, VA.
NARRATIVES: A variety of “war stories” or first-person narratives are scattered about the internet that relate to DaNang Support Command. Some of the more intriguing ones are:
- 5th Trans Cmd (Terminal): End of Army Cargo Ops at Da Nang Port
- 5th Trans Cmd (Terminal): Unit history
- 39th Trans Bn (Truck): Dollies in Vietnam
- 329th Trans Co (Boat): The Mysterious Sinking of LCU-63
- 572nd Trans Co (Truck): Gypsy Bandits Move to Quang Tri, 1971
- DaNang Support Command Area Guntrucks
PHOTOS: See the photos section of the DaNang Project page for general photos of the DaNang area. See more specific SupCom photos at the links below or as part of the narratives in the previous section.
- 178th Maint Co, Dong Ha, 1970
- Brownwater Navy in Danang and I Corps Area
- “Eve of Destruction” gun truck, on display at Fort Eustis, VA
- “The Protector” gun truck, 1971
BOOKS: From time to time, Amazon.com* has books available which include information about DaNang Support Command. The Nolan book about Dewey Canyon II, in particular, has some excellent material about convoy operations.
- “Into Laos: The Story of Dewey Canyon II/Lam Son 719, Vietnam 1971” by Keith Nolan
- “Hard Ride – Vietnam Gun Trucks (Volume 1)” by James Lyles
- “Hard Ride – Vietnam Gun Trucks (Volume 2)” by James Lyles
OTHER RESOURCES: Some excellent reference materials about the DaNang Support Command have become available online in recent years. For a more detailed review of the Command and the era, see:
- “The Northern Log ’71” (PDF)
- Senior Officer Debriefing Reports:
- Quarterly Operational Reports:
Movement Control Center DaNang
- “The Northern Log ’71”, page 1
- ibid, at preface
- Senior Officer Debriefing Report: BG James W. Gunn, October 1968 – October 1969, page 2
- “The Navy in Vietnam”, 1968, page 22
- ibid, page 24
- Senior Officer Debriefing Report: BG Arthur H. Sweeney, November 1970 – April 1972, abstract
- “The Northern Log ’71”, page 4
- Senior Officer Debriefing Report: Col. H. D. Smith, October 1969 – July 1970, page A-15
- ibid, pages A-6 to A-20
- “The Northern Log ’71”, page 7
- The DaNang Project
- DaNang Support Command
- Fiction of the Vietnam War
- Non-Fiction of the Vietnam War
- Movies of the Vietnam War
- How to Buy Maps of Vietnam
- Vietnam Map Links Page
- Map of DaNang, 1970
- Map of I Corps
* Note: As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.