99. Memorandum From the Deputy Director, Plans, Central Intelligence Agency (Wisner) to the Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs (Robertson)1


  • Reply by General Collins to Your Cable of 1 April

The following message from General Collins was received … on 5 April 1955. It is in reply to the message … to General Collins on 1 April 1955.2

The Vietnamese National Army (VNA) now has six battalions in Saigon–Cholon and seven more at the Quang Tre Training Center four kilometers northeast of the city. The latter force includes three battalions of Nung troops whose movement to this area was vigorously protested by the French. Many French officers and non-commissioned officers are in active command positions in Nung battalions. The Nungs are more Chinese than Vietnamese and their use against the sects would be a tragic blunder. We have reports that the Government is planning to bring down three additional National Army battalions from Nha Trang area. Our estimate is that the Government has ample troops now in the Saigon–Cholon area to destroy the Binh Xuyen Headquarters and capture Sûreté Headquarters. To wipe out the Binh Xuyen if the latter then went underground would be a vastly difficult task, however, and would probably lead to civil war.
There are estimated to be two Binh Xuyen battalions in Saigon, one at the National Sûreté Headquarters, Rue Catinat, and one dispersed throughout Cholon following the engagement of 30 March. An additional five battalions are just outside the city limits, across the Arroyo Chinois, a narrow creek. On the night of 1 April the “United Front” radio announced that four Hoa Hao battalions had been brought from the western provinces to the outskirts of the city and placed under Bay Vien’s command. VNA sources say that a few Hoa Hao have been brought in by sampan, but it seems unlikely that the Hoa Hao would venture to send substantial forces. The Hoa Hao are capable of considerable harassment of ferry and road communications in the western provinces.
With respect to the reliability of the VNA, General Vy (believed to be strongly influenced by the French), General Ty, and some other high ranking officers are strongly opposed to initiating a [Page 204] major armed showdown at this time. American military officers most familiar with the units in and near the city, however, believe that they are loyal to the Government and would be reliable in combat. The battalion involved in fire-fighting on morning of 30 March was ably commanded and conducted itself effectively.
The National Army has superior forces, and with artillery available, which the Binh Xuyen cannot match, could drive the Binh Xuyen from the city. In this event, the Binh Xuyen, after some resistance, would be likely to withdraw into the Delta area and then go south, but would have the capability of effecting considerable destruction in the city during the process as a result not only of fighting and demolitions, but also guerrilla-type actions in Cholon.
Bay Vien is highly unpredictable and Diem, as I have reported during the past few days, appears determined to take over the National Sûreté and the few other police installations in the city now occupied by the Binh Xuyen. The French are deeply concerned over the possibility of fighting in the city. A serious outbreak would generate strong pressures for French intervention with troops, which Ely wishes to avoid. On 30 March, French and VNA agreed on sectors of responsibility for security, under which French now guard some utilities, all bridges (except one of the two important bridges leading south from the city which is now controlled by the Binh Xuyen), and the European section of Saigon. This increases chances of French involvement if hostilities break out.
As reported in Embtel 4292,3 para. 6, French cancelled some gasoline tickets issued to VNA for March. However, Ely told me categorically that tickets were cancelled because VNA officers sold them to Binh Xuyen and that Vietnamese General Staff had received all gasoline requested. New tickets for April have now been issued and VNA General Staff told O’Daniel on 3 April that they were satisfied with arrangements for gasoline supply.
As to ammunition, I believe it likely that supply by French to VNA has also been limited, and since the fighting on 30 March, the VNA battalions in this area have only one day’s supply. Within last day or two, further supplies of ammunition have been requested but not yet furnished although they are expected on 4 April. French and VNA sources agree French have offered to turn over ammunition dumps to Vietnamese effective 15 April. VNA is now considering whether it can make available the force, estimated at one battalion, to guard the dumps. One possibility under consideration is use of Hungs [Nungs?] for this purpose.
I think it likely that VNA will continue to encounter some delays in getting matériel and supplies from French, especially if [Page 205] latter anticipate their use in an attack on Binh Xuyen forces in the city.
Neither … nor our military attachés have given me any information as to Viet Minh infiltration into the Binh Xuyen or Viet Minh influence in enlarging the present crisis. It may safely be assumed that they will take any possible advantage of the current situation, particularly if fighting breaks out again. Binh Xuyen were allied with Viet Minh before rallying to National Government several years ago. As mercenary troops, they can be expected to have few scruples about a deal with Viet Minh if they feel it is to their advantage.
Cao Dai troops are, in my judgment, likely to stand aside from any hostilities in Saigon–Cholon unless accidentally involved. The firmness of their rallying to Diem has not been clearly established and their leaders have signed agreements and made statements in support of both sides. Gambiez is sure Cao Dai integration is meaningless. (See Embtel 4292, para. 2.) On the other hand, Lansdale is convinced that Cao Dai troops are firmly on Diem’s side. I think it is at present unwise to assume that Cao Dai forces will respond to government orders and will support Diem in a showdown.
Binh Xuyen and Hoa Hao, within their areas of influence in the Baria–Nhabe and western Cochin China regions respectively, will retain, at least for a considerable time, the capability to seriously harass communications and commerce and to prevent the extension of National Government authority.
For the Deputy Director, Plans:
George E. Aurell4
  1. Source: Department of State, FE/SEA Files: Lot 58 D 266, Collins Mission, Miscellaneous. Secret.
  2. See the attachment to Document 89.
  3. Document 91
  4. Printed from a copy which bears this typed signature.