South Vietnam refers to a
state which governed southern Vietnam until
It received international recognition in 1950 as the
“State of Vietnam
” (1949-55) and
later as the “Republic of Vietnam” (1955-75). Its capital was Saigon.
terms “South Vietnam” and “North
” became common usage in 1954 at the time of the
and non-communist zones at the
Vietnam’s origins can be traced to the French colony of Cochinchina, a
subdivision of French Indochina,
which consisted of the southern third of Vietnam.
World War II, the Việt Minh, led by Hồ Chí Minh, proclaimed Vietnamese
independence in Hanoi.
1949, non-communist Vietnamese
formed a rival
government in Saigon led by former emperor Bảo Đại
. Bảo Đại was deposed
by Prime Minister Ngô Đình Diệm
who proclaimed himself president
. After Diệm was deposed in a military coup
in 1963, there was a series of
short-lived military governments. General Nguyễn Văn Thiệu
the country from 1967 until 1975. The Vietnam War
began in 1959 with an uprising by
forces supplied by North
Vietnam. Fighting climaxed during the Tết
of 1968, when there were over 1.5 million South
Vietnamese soldiers and 500,000 U.S. soldiers in South Vietnam.
Despite a peace treaty
in January 1973, fighting continued until the North Vietnamese army
overran Saigon on April 30, 1975.
- 1946-47 Autonomous Republic of
Cochinchina (Chính phủ Cộng hoà Nam Kỳ tự trị).
Republic declared by France to evade promise to recognize Vietnam
- *Nguyễn Văn Thinh
- 1947-48 Republic of South
Vietnam (Chánh phủ lâm thời Nam phần Việt Nam).
Vietnamese name no longer implies that Cochinchina is independent
- *Nguyễn Văn
- *Nguyễn Văn
- 1949-55 State of Vietnam (Quốc gia Việt
Nam). Internationally recognized in 1950. Partitioned at the
17th parallel in 1954.
- * Bảo Đại
(1949-1955). Abdicated as emperor in 1945.
- 1955-75 Republic of Vietnam (Việt Nam Cộng
Hòa). Fought Vietnam War against
North and Việt cộng (1959-1975).
- * Ngô Đình
Diệm (1955–1963). Once highly lauded by America, he was ousted
and assassinated in a U.S.-backed coup.
- * In 1963-65, there were numerous coups and short-lived
governments, several of which were headed by Dương Văn Minh or Nguyễn Khánh.
- * Nguyễn Văn
Thiệu (1965–1975). Prime Minister Nguyễn Cao Kỳ was top leader
- * Trần Văn
- * Dương Văn Minh
(2nd time) (1975). Surrendered to Communists when others abandoned
- * Huỳnh Tấn Phát
Founding: The Nation of Vietnam
Before World War II, the southern third of Vietnam was the colony
, which was administered
as part of French Indochina
governor in Hanoi. The northern two-thirds of Vietnam was the
, which had a puppet
Vietnamese emperor as well as parallel
French and Vietnamese systems of administration. Cochinchina had
been annexed by France in 1862 and even elected a deputy to the
French National Assembly
It was more “evolved”
, and French
interests were stronger than in other parts of Indochina
, notably in the form of French-owned
. During World War II,
Indochina was administered by Vichy
France and occupied by Japan.
the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Emperor Bảo Đại
abdicated, and Việt Minh
proclaimed the Democratic Republic of
(DRV) in Hanoi. French administration was restored in
the South in September 1945. In June 1946, France declared
Cochinchina a republic within French
. Furious Vietnamese negotiators broke off talks with
France in response, thus giving France an opening to evade an
earlier promise to recognize Vietnam as independent. Hồ purged
non-communist politicians from the DRV. The French Indochina War
began in December
1945, with the French regaining control of Hanoi and other northern
The State of Vietnam
through co-operation between anti-communist
Vietnamese and the French
government on June 14, 1949. Former emperor Bảo Đại
accepted the position
of chief of state (quoc truong
). This was known as the
“Bảo Đại Solution.” The colonial struggle in Vietnam became part of
the global Cold War
in October 1949 when a
victorious Chinese communist army arrived on Vietnam’s northern
border. In 1950, China, Russia and other communist nations
recognized the DRV while the U.S. and other non-communist states
recognized the Bảo Đại government.
In 1954, France and the Việt Minh agreed at the Geneva Conference
that the State of Vietnam
would rule the territory
south of the 17th
, pending unification on the basis of supervised
elections in 1956. At the time of the conference, it was expected
that the South would continue to be a French dependency. However,
South Vietnamese Premier [Ngô Đình Diệm]], who preferred American
sponsorship to French, rejected the agreement. When Vietnam was
divided, 800,000 to 1 million North Vietnamese, mainly (but not
exclusively) Roman Catholics
south as part of (Operation
Passage to Freedom
) due to a fear of religious persecution in
In July 1955, Diệm announced in a broadcast that South Vietnam
would not participate in the elections specified in the Geneva
accords. As Saigon's delegation did not sign the Geneva accords, it
was not bound by it, Diệm said. He also claimed the communist
government in the North created conditions that made a fair
election impossible in that region.
Diệm held a referendum in October 1955 to determine the future of
the country. He asked voters to approve a republic, thus removing
as head of
state. The poll was supervised and rigged by his younger brother,
Ngô Ðình Nhu
. Diệm's “republic” was
said to have been approved by 98 percent of voters. In many
districts, there were more votes to remove Bảo Ðại than there were
registered voters. In Saigon, 133 percent of the registered
population reportedly voted to remove Bảo Ðại. On 26 October, 1955,
Diệm declared himself as the president of the newly proclaimed
Republic of Vietnam. The French, who needed troops to fight in
, completely withdrew from
Vietnam by April 1956.
Diệm attempted to consolidate his rule on Vietnam by eliminating
rival groups. He launched an Anti-communist denunciation campaign
(To Cong) against remnants of the communist Vietminh
. He also crushed rival factions by
launching military campaigns against the three main sects; the
, Hoa Hao
the Binh Xuyen
organised crime syndicate
whose military strength combined amounted to approximately 350,000
soldiers. Throughout this period the level of U.S. aid and
political support increased.
Busy Saigon Street 1966
The Continental Palace Hotel
See Vietnam War
for military history of
the Republic of Vietnam in this period.
In accordance with the Paris Peace
signed with North Vietnam
on 27 January 1973, U.S. military
withdrew from South Vietnam. North Vietnam was allowed to continue
supplying communist troops in the South, but only to the extent of
replacing materials that were consumed.
The communist leaders had expected that the ceasefire terms would
favor their side. But as Saigon began to roll back the Vietcong,
they found it necessary to adopt a new strategy, hammered out at a
series of meetings in Hanoi in March 1973, according to the memoirs
of Trần Văn Trà
. As the Vietcong's top
commander, Trà participated in several of these meetings. A plan to
improve logistics was prepared so that the North Vietnamese army
would be able to launch a massive invasion of the South, projected
for 1976, before Saigon's army could be fully trained. A gas
pipeline would be built from North Vietnam to Vietcong headquarters
in Loc Ninh, about north of Saigon.
On 15 March 1973, U.S. President Richard
implied that the U.S. would intervene militarily if the
communist side violated the ceasefire. Public reaction was
unfavorable and on 4 June 1973 the U.S. Senate passed the Case-Church Amendment
to prohibit such
intervention. The oil price shock of October 1973 caused
significant damage to the South Vietnamese economy. The Vietcong
resumed offensive operations and by January 1974 it had recaptured
the territory that it had lost earlier. After two clashes that left
55 South Vietnamese soldiers dead, President Thieu announced on 4
January that the war had restarted and that the Paris Peace Accord
was no longer in effect. There were over 25,000 South Vietnamese
casualties during the ceasefire period.
In August 1974, Nixon was forced to resign as a result of the
and the U.S.
Congress voted to reduce assistance to South Vietnam from $1
billion a year to $700 million. By this time, Ho Chi Minh Trail
, once an arduous
mountain trek, had been upgraded into a drivable highway with gas
In 1975, the communists of North Vietnam launched an offensive in
the South, which became known as the Ho Chi Minh Campaign
. The Army of the Republic of
unsuccessfully attempted a defense and a counterattack.
It had few remaining operational tanks and artillery pieces, as
well as a shortage of spare parts, and ammunition. The NVA had a
vastly greater supply of new equipment and ammunition. As a
consequence, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu
was forced to withdraw key
army units from the Central
, which exacerbated an already-perilous military
situation and undercut the confidence of the ARVN soldiers in their
The retreat became a rout. The cities of Huế, Da Nang and Da Lat in central
Vietnam quickly fell, and the North Vietnamese advanced
As the military situation deteriorated, ARVN
troops started deserting.
Thieu requested aid from U.S. President Gerald Ford
, but the U.S. Senate
release extra money to provide aid to South Vietnam, and had
already passed laws to prevent further involvement in Vietnam. In
desperation, Thieu called back Nguyen Cao
from retirement as a military commander, but resisted calls
to name his old rival prime minister.
Fall of Saigon, April 1975
Nguyen Van Thieu resigned on 21 April 1975,
and fled to Taiwan.
nominated his Vice President Tran Van
as his successor. A last-ditch defense was made by the ARVN 18th Division at the
Battle of Xuan
Loc led by Major General Lê Minh Đảo.
one week in office, Tran Van Huong handed over the presidency to
General Duong Van Minh
. Minh was seen
as a more conciliatory figure toward the North, and it was hoped he
might be able to negotiate a more favorable settlement to end the
war. The North was not interested in negotiations, however, and its
tanks rolled into Saigon largely unopposed which led to the
fall of Saigon
. Acting President Minh
the capital city of Saigon and the rest of South Vietnam to
on April 30, 1975.
During the hours leading up to the surrender, the United States
undertook a massive evacuation of its embassy in Saigon, Operation Frequent Wind
evacuees included U.S. government personnel as well as high-ranking
members of the ARVN and other South Vietnamese who had aided the
U.S.-backed administration and were seen as potential targets for
persecution by the Communists. Many of the evacuees were taken
directly by helicopter to multiple aircraft carriers waiting off
the coast. An iconic image of the evacuation is the widely-seen
footage of empty Huey
being jettisoned over the side of the carriers, to provide more
room on the ship's deck for more evacuees to land. The evacuation
was forced to stop by the U.S. Navy. All the marines and diplomats
were evacuated, but thousands of South Vietnamese waited vainly
atop the U.S. Embassy for helicopters that never came.
Relationship with the U.S.
The history of the relationship with the United States is
controversial. Some historians
founding of South Vietnam was based on the United States's desire
to create an "anti-communist" base in Southeast Asia
. Opponents argue that it was
based on popular support of the South Vietnamese people. However,
the U.S. and the Diem government agreed that elections mandated by
the Geneva Conference
should not occur, claiming that the communists could not be trusted
to conduct a fair election in the North. Moreover, most
contemporary observers, including U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower
, estimated that if an
election were held in the 1954–55 period (when South Vietnam was
under Bảo Đại's rule), around 80% of the Vietnamese population
would vote for Ho Chi Minh. The dominant political rationale for
supporting the South Vietnamese government was America's containment
policy, which was designed to hold
back the spread of communism
The failure to unify the country in 1956, along with Diem's
persecution of communists, led in 1959 to the foundation of the
Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam
(abbreviated NLF but
also known as the Việt Cộng), which initiated an organised and
widespread guerrilla insurgency against the South Vietnamese
government. Although initially cautious, Hanoi backed the
insurgency, which grew in support and intensity. The United States,
Eisenhower, initially sent military advisers to train the South
Vietnamese army. President John F.
increased the size of the advisory force fourfold and
allowed the advisers to participate in combat operations, and later
acquiesced in the removal of President Diem in a military
. After promising not
to do so during the 1964 election campaign, in 1965 President
Lyndon B. Johnson
decided to send in much larger
numbers of combat troops, and conflict steadily escalated to become
what is commonly known as the Vietnam
. In 1968, the NLF ceased to be an effective fighting
organization after the Tet Offensive
and the war was largely taken over by regular army units of North
Vietnam. Following American withdrawal from the war in 1973, the
South Vietnamese government continued fighting the North
Vietnamese, until, overwhelmed by a conventional invasion by the
North, it finally unconditionally surrendered
April 1975, the day of the surrender of
. North Vietnam controlled South Vietnam under military
, while the
Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Republic of South
, which had been proclaimed in June 1969 by the NLF,
became the nominal government. The North Vietnamese quickly moved
to marginalise non-communist members of the PRG and integrate South
Vietnam into the communist north. The unified Socialist
Republic of Vietnam was inaugurated on 2 July 1976.
South Vietnam went through many political changes during its short
life. Initially, the nation was a constitutional monarchy
as Head of State
Vietnamese monarchy was unpopular however, largely because
monarchical leaders were considered collaborators during French
In 1955 a
, which was a sham poll
ended with a 98% vote in favour of abolishing the monarchy.
Saigon, Diem received 133% of the vote.
abolished the monarchy and made Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem
the country's first president
. Despite successes in politics,
economics, and social change in the first 5 years, Diem quickly
became a dictatorial leader. With the acquiescence of the United
States government, ARVN officers led by General Duong Van Minh
staged a coup and killed him
in 1963. The military held a brief interim government until General
Nguyen Khanh deposed Minh
in a January 1964
coup. Until late 1965, multiple coups and changes of government
occurred, with some civilians being allowed to give a semblance of
civil rule overseen by a military junta.
In 1965 the feuding civilian government voluntarily resigned and
handed power back to the nation's military, in the hope this would
bring stability and unity to the nation. An elected constituent
assembly including presentatives of all the branches of the
military decided to switch the nation's system of government to a
system with a strong
President. There was a bicameral National Assembly
consisting of a Senate
and a House of Representatives
came into being in 1967. Military rule initially failed to provide
much stability however, as internal conflicts and political
inexperience caused various factions of the army to launch coups
and counter-coups against one another, making leadership very
tumultuous. The situation stabilized in mid-1965 when the Vietnam Air Force
chief Nguyen Cao Ky
became Prime Minister, with
General Nguyen Van Thieu
figurehead chief of state.
In 1967 South Vietnam held its first elections under the new
system. Following the elections, however, it switched back to a
presidential system. The military nominated Nguyen Van Thieu
as their candidate, and he
was elected with a plurality
the popular vote. Thieu quickly consolidated power much to the
dismay of those who hoped for an era of more political openness. He
was re-elected unopposed in 1971, receiving a suspiciously high 94%
of the vote on an 87% turn-out. Thieu ruled until the final days of
the war, resigning in 1975. Duong Van
was the nation's last president and unconditionally
surrendered to the Communist forces a few days after assuming
Vietnam was formerly a member of ACCT,
Asian Development Bank (ADB),
World Bank (IBRD), International Development
Association (IDA), International Finance Corporation (IFC),
Telecommunications Satellite Organization (Intelsat), Interpol, IOC, ITU, League of Red Cross and Red Crescent
UNESCO and Universal Postal Union (UPU).
Provisional Revolutionary Government
Following the surrender of Saigon to North Vietnamese forces on 30
April 1975, the Vietcong
, or Provisional Revolutionary
, established itself in Saigon as the government of
South Vietnam. However, it lacked real autonomy and was largely
under the control of the North Vietnamese. PRG was dissolved in
July 1976 when it merged with the Democratic Republic of
Vietnam (North Vietnam) to become the Socialist
Republic of Vietnam.
On 26 October 1956, the military was reorganized by the
administration of President Ngo Dinh
who established the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN,
pronounced "arvin"). Early on, the focus of the army was combating
fighters of the
, or National Liberation Front, an
insurgent movement supplied by North Vietnam. The United States,
under President John F. Kennedy
advisors and a great deal of financial support to aid ARVN in
combating the Vietcong. ARVN and President Diem began to be
criticized by the foreign press when the troops were used to crush
southern religious groups like the Cao Dai
and Hoa Hao
as well as to raid Buddhist
temples, which Diem claimed were harboring Communist
In 1963 Ngo Dinh Diem
was killed in a
coup d'état carried out by ARVN officers led by Duong Van Minh
('Big Minh'). In the confusion
that followed Big Minh took power, but was only the first in a
succession of ARVN generals to assume the presidency of South
Vietnam in a period of intense political instability. During these
years, the United States began taking full control of the war
against the NLF and the role of the ARVN became less and less
significant. They were also plagued by continuing problems of
severe corruption among the officer corps. Although the U.S. was
highly critical of them, the ARVN continued to be entirely U.S.
armed and funded.
The value of the ARVN was highly questionable in this period.
at the Battle of Ap
Bac some 1,400 ARVN troops were defeated by only 350
Vietcong guerrillas. The battle of Dong Xoai in 1965 was another humiliating ARVN defeat.
Although they always outnumbered their nationalist enemies, most
were inexperienced, poorly trained, and not motivated to fight hard
for the generals and politicians behind them. Generals tended to be
political appointees and corruption was rampant. Their relations
with the civilian population were never good and relations with the
U.S. military were often very cold.
Starting in 1969, President Richard
started the process of
"Vietnamization," pulling out American forces and leaving the ARVN
to fight the war against the North Vietnamese. Slowly, ARVN began
to expand from its counter-insurgency
role to become the
primary ground defense against the Vietcong
and North Vietnamese
1969–1971 there were about 22,000 ARVN combat deaths per year.
Starting in 1968, South Vietnam began calling up every available
man for service in the ARVN, reaching a strength of a million
soldiers by 1972. In 1970 they performed well in Cambodia and were executing 3 times as many operations as
they had during the American war period.
officer corps was still the biggest problem. Leaders were often
poorly trained, inept and the equipment continued to sub-standard
as the U.S. tried to upgrade ARVN technology.
Relations with the public also remained poor as their only counter
to Vietcong organizing was to resurrect the Strategic Hamlet Program
many peasants resented. Disapproving Americans called this
"barbed wire diplomacy
However, forced to carry the burden left by the Americans, the
South Vietnamese army actually started to perform rather well, and
in 1970 was winning the war against the Communists, though with
continued American air support. The exhaustion of the North was
becoming evident, and the Paris talks gave some hope of a
negotiated peace, if not a victory.
The most crucial moment of truth for the ARVN came with General
Vo Nguyen Giap
's 1972 Easter Offensive
, the first all-out
invasion of South Vietnam by the communists. It was code-named
after the Vietnamese emperor
who defeated the Chinese in 1789. The assault combined infantry
wave assaults, artillery and the first massive use of tanks by the
North Vietnamese. ARVN took heavy losses, but to the surprise of
many, managed to hold their ground.
U.S. President Richard Nixon
dispatched more bombers to provide air support for ARVN when it
seemed that South Vietnam was about to be overrun. In desperation,
President Nguyen Van Thieu
the incompetent General Hoàng Xuân Lãm and replaced him with ARVN's
best commander, General Ngo Quang
. He gave the order that all deserters would be executed
and pulled enough forces together so that the North Vietnamese army
failed to take Hue
. Finally, largely as a result
of U.S. air and naval support
as well as some surprising determination by the ARVN soldiers, the
Easter Offensive was halted.
After the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973 all U.S.
military forces withdrew from South Vietnam and the war officially
ended, however clashes between ARVN and Vietcong forces
In 1975 the North Vietnamese again invaded the South. Lacking U.S.
air support the ARVN could not hold them back. City after city fell
to the Communists with ARVN soldiers joining the civilians trying
to flee south. The North called this the "Hồ Chí Minh Campaign."
All resistance crumbled. Faced with few viable options, the South
tried to form a coalition government that would be palatable to the
Communists, one that favored negotiated peace and neutrality. The
new coalition government was headed by General Duong Van Minh (Big
Minh), one of the organizers of the coup in November 1963, with the
full support of the CIA and President Kennedy, that killed
President Ngo Dinh Diem. General Cao Van Vien, then Colonel and
Commander of the Airborne Brigade, had been captured and held by
the Big Minh faction and threatened with execution unless he
ordered his troops to join the coup. He refused and was held
captive until the end of the coup and was released only because of
his close friendship with one of the coup leaders.
Because the new coalition government would be headed by Big Minh,
General Vien immediately submitted his resignation to then
President of South Vietnam Tran Van Huong, who succeeded President
Thieu as President. President Huong, knowing the 1963 coup history,
granted General Vien's resignation request (Vien had submitted his
resignation to President Thieu many times and had always been
turned down).General Vien then escaped to the US as a civilian once
his resignation was effective and formalized.
The situation in South Vietnam deteriorated.
tried to defend Xuan
Loc, their last line before Saigon.
fought very well, but it was not enough. They were greatly
outnumbered and overwhelmed by the entire army of North Vietnam.
Xuan Loc was taken and on 30 April 1975, initiated the
Fall of Saigon.
Vietnamese army captured the city, placing the Vietcong flag over
the Independence Palace even though the Vietcong had accomplished
almost nothing during the battles and had almost no authority
within the country. General Duong Van
, recently appointed president by Tran Van Huong
, unconditionally surrendered
and government bringing the Republic of Vietnam and also the Army
of the Republic of Vietnam to a final end.
Vietnam's capital was Saigon which was renamed Hồ Chí Minh
City on 1 May 1975 after unconditionally surrendering to the
Map of South Vietnam
Before surrendering, the South was divided into forty-four
provinces (tỉnh, singular and plural).
The South was divided into coastal lowlands, the mountainous
Central highlands (Cao-nguyen Trung-phan), and the Mekong River
South Vietnam maintained a free-market economy
and ties to the
west. It established an airline under Head of State Bảo Đại named
. The economy was greatly
assisted by American aid and the presence of large numbers of
Americans in the country betwBảo Đạieen 1961 and 1973. Electrical
production increased fourteen-fold between 1954 and 1973 while
industrial output increase by an average of 6.9 percent annually.
During the same period, rice output increased by 203 percent and
the number of students in university increased from 2,000 to
90,000. U.S. aid peaked at $2.3 billion in 1973, but dropped to
$1.1 billion in 1974. Inflation rose to 200 percent as the country
suffered economic shock due the decrease of American aid as well as
the oil price shock of October 1973. The unification of Vietnam in
1976 led to the imposition of North Vietnam's centrally planned economy
South. The country made no significant economic progress for the
next twenty years. After the fall of the Soviet Union and the end
of Soviet aid, the leadership of Vietnam accepted the need for
change. Their occupation armies were withdrawn from Laos and
Cambodia. Afterward, the country introduced economic reforms that
created a market economy in the mid 1990s. The government remains a
collective dictatorship under the close control of the communist
About 90% of population was Kinh
, and 10% was
and others. (1970)
Principal religions were Buddhism
, Roman Catholic
, Hoa Hao
Cultural life was strongly influenced by China until French
domination in the 19th century. At that time, the traditional
culture began to acquire an overlay of western characteristics.
Many families have three generations living under one roof.
- " French Cochinchina Sept. 1945 - 1949"
- Cheng Guan Ang, Vietnamese Communists' Relations with
China and the Second Indochina War (1956-62) p. 11.
- The History Place - Vietnam War 1945-1960
- This Day in History 1974: Thieu announces war has
"Fall of Saigon, 1975 Year in Review"
- Brigham, Guerrulla Diplomacy, p. 6; Marcus Raskin
& Bernard Fall, The Viet-Nam Reader, p. 89; William
Duiker, U.S. Containment Policy and the Conflict in
Indochina, p. 212
- Kim, Youngmin, " The
South Vietnamese Economy During the Vietnam War,
- Wiest, Andrew A., The Vietnam War, 1956-1975, p.