Duong Van Duc

Duong Van Duc
Dương Văn Đức
Allegiance Vietnamese National Army, Army of the Republic of Vietnam
Years of service ??–1965
Rank Major General
Commands held Airborne Brigade (1956)
IV Corps (February 1964 – September 1964)
Battles/wars 1964 South Vietnamese coup, September 1964 South Vietnamese coup attempt
Other work Ambassador to South Korea

Major General Dương Văn Đức was an officer in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. He is best known for leading a coup attempt against General Nguyễn Khánh on September 14, 1964.[1] He was a supporter of the Đại Việt Quốc Dân Dảng (DVQDD, Nationalist Party of Greater Vietnam), a Roman Catholic political movement.[1]

Duc joined the French-backed Vietnamese National Army which became the ARVN after the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam) was established. After becoming a brigadier general in 1956 and commanding the Airborne Brigade, Duc served for a year as Ambassador to South Korea. Later, he had problems with President Ngo Dinh Diem and went into exile in France, before returning after the arrest and assassination of Diem after a November 1963 coup.

Duc was an assistant to Le Van Kim, one of generals in the ruling junta, but was recruited into a coup plot by Generals Khanh, Tran Thien Khiem and Do Mau. At the time, France was advocating for South Vietnam to become neutral, and the withdrawal of the US, and Duc used his experience of France to draft fake documents purporting to show the junta of Duong Van Minh wanting to go along with the French proposal. These were then presented to the Americans to ensure support, and Khanh toppled Minh in January 1964 without a fight.

Duc was rewarded with command of IV Corps, which oversaw the Mekong Delta region, before being relieved in September, along with the commander of III Corps and Interior Minister Lam Van Phat. This prompted the pair to launch a coup against Khanh on September 13. They initially took over the capital without a fight, but Khanh escaped, and after receiving endorsements from the US, defeated them. At the military trial that followed, charges were dropped.


Early military career

Duc was a member of the Vietnamese National Army of the French-backed State of Vietnam, which fought against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, which was run by the communist Vietminh of Ho Chi Minh. In 1955, during the transition period after the partition of Vietnam, Duc was a VNA colonel and fought in operations against the Hoa Hao warlord Ba Cut, who was trying to wrest power from Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. After Ba Cut was driven from the Mekong Delta, he fled to the That Son mountains near the border with Cambodia. There, Duc commanded an operation that attempt to capture Ba Cut in 1955, and although he told the media he would capture Ba Cut within ten days,[2] he was unable to do so. Ba Cut was finally captured in April 1956 and executed a few months later.

By the end of the year, Diem had proclaimed himself the president of the newly formed Republic of Vietnam,[3] and the VNA became the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Duc was promoted to brigadier general in 1956 and served as an officer in the Airborne Brigade.[4] He was sent abroad to act as the ambassador to South Korea from 1956 to 1957.[4] Duc was regarded as an effective but idiosyncratic officer.[5]

During the later years of Diem's rule, Duc was in exile in France. The arrest and assassination of Diem after a November 1963 coup allowed Duc a chance to return to Vietnam.[6]

1964 coup with Nguyen Khanh

He returned from exile in Paris, where he had been working as a waiter,[6] and became an assistant to General Le Van Kim, the chief of the junta's general staff. At the time, there was a coup plot against the ruling junta of General Duong Van Minh, and Duc was recruited by a group including Generals Nguyen Khanh, Do Mau and Tran Thien Khiem.[7]

At the time, the French President Charles de Gaulle wanted Vietnam to become a neutralist country, with the Americans out of the region. This was controversial among the anti-communist South Vietnamese and the plotters wanted to milk the furore by implicating their junta enemies. Duc had years of experience in France, which had given him a good feel of what the French might be up to and what their relations with Francophile members of the ARVN were. He used this to concoct some plausible sounding and incriminating documents for Mau. They purported to show that three prominent members of the junta: Generals Minh, Kim and Tran Van Don had been bought by French agents and were on the brink of declaring South Vietnam's neutrality and sign a peace deal to end the war with the North. Some of the documents were leaked to some senior American officials.[8]

On the night of January 29, 1964, Mau and Khiem alerted their troops to assume their positions around Saigon. At 03:00 the next day, Khanh took over the Joint General Staff Headquarters at Tan Son Nhut Air Base and seized power in a bloodless coup, having caught the junta off guard.[9]

Khanh rewarded Duc by giving him an important command. Duc served as the commander of IV Corps,[10] which oversaw the Mekong Delta region of the country, from 4 March until 15 September 1964, when he was replaced by Major General Nguyen Van Thieu.[10]

Attempted September 1964 coup against Nguyen Khanh

The removal was due to Buddhist lobbying, who accused Khanh of accommodating too many Catholics regarded as Diem supporters in leadership positions.[11] This had come after Khanh had made an attempt to augment his power in August by ordering a state of emergency and introducing a new constitution, which resulted in mass unrest and calls for civilian rule, forcing Khanh to make concessions in an attempt to dampen discontent.[12] Meanwhile, General Lam Van Phat was dismissed as Interior Minister.[6] Disgruntled, the pair launched a coup attempt before dawn on September 13, using ten army battalions that they had recruited,[13] as well as tanks.[14] The coup was supported by Catholic and Dai Viet Quoc Dan Dang elements.[5] Another member of the conspiracy was Colonel Pham Ngoc Thao, who while a Catholic, was a communist spy trying to maximize infighting at every possible opportunity.[15][16] General Khiem, a member of the ruling triumvirate along with Khanh and Minh, but a rival of the dominant Khanh, was also believed to have supported the plot.[15]

They hoped to overthrow Khanh before their scheduled removal from command took effect. Four battalions of rebel troops moved before dawn from the Mekong Delta towards Saigon, with armored personnel carriers and jeeps carrying machine guns. After cowing several police checkpoints on the edge of the capital with threats of machine-gun and artillery fire,[17] the plotters put rebel sentries in their place to seal off the capital from incoming or outgoing traffic. They then captured communication facilities in the capital including the post office to prevent messages from being sent in or out.[18][19] Appearing on national radio, and claiming to represent "The Council for the Liberation of the Nation", Phat proclaimed the deposal of Khanh's junta, and accused Khanh of promoting conflict within the nation's military and political leadership. He further promised to capture Khanh and pursue a policy of increased anti-communism,[17] stronger government and military.[20] Phat said that he would use the ideology and legacy of Diem to lay the foundation for his new junta.[11] There was little reaction from most of the military commanders.[11] According to the historian George McTurnan Kahin, Phat's broadcast was "triumphant" and may have prompted senior officers who were neither part of the original conspiracy nor fully loyal to Khanh to conclude that Phat and Duc would not embrace them if they rallied to their side.[21] Duc claimed that the coup attempt was prompted by "the transfer to the capital of some neutralist elements, and by some pro-communists in the government.[5]

However, Phat and Duc could not apprehend Khanh, who had escaped the capital and flew to the central highlands resort town of Da Lat. American officials flew after Khanh to encourage him to return to Saigon and reassert his control. The general refused to do so unless the Americans publicly announced their support for him to the nation. They then asked Khanh about his plans for the future, but felt that he was directionless. After talking to Phat and Duc, they concluded the same, so they decided to back the incumbent and publicly released a statement through the embassy to endorse Khanh.[11] Khanh also received support from Nguyen Cao Ky, the head of the Vietnam Air Force, who flew over the city and threatened to bomb the rebels, while Brigadier General Nguyen Chanh Thi of the 1st Division also supported Khanh.[14] The announcement helped to deter ARVN officers from joining Lam and Duc, who decided to give up. General William Westmoreland, the commander of American forces in Vietnam, had spoken to Duc and reported to Washington that he "in no uncertain terms...informed him [Duc] that MACV, the U.S. Mission, and the U.S. Government did not support in any way his move, [and] advised that he get his troops moved out of town [Saigon] immediately. He said that he understood and thanked me. He seemed to be a shaky and insecure young man."[15] Duc mistakenly thought that Ky and his subordinates would be joining the coup, but he later realized that he was mistaken.[22] When he found out that he had been tricked into thinking that the plotters had great strength, he soon defected.[22] According to an anonymous source, Duc was alarmed by Phat's strong statements during his broadcast over the radio, which made him reconsider his participation in the coup.[1] After a further meeting between Phat and Duc and Ky, the rebels withdrew as Ky put on another show of force.[1][18][19]

Staged media conference and claims of harmony

As the coup collapsed, Ky and Duc appeared with other senior officers at a news conference where they proclaimed that the South Vietnamese military was united, and announced a resolution by the armed forces, signed by them and seven others claiming a united front against corruption.[23] The officers contended that the events in the capital were misinterpreted by observers, as "there was no coup".[19] Ky claimed that Khanh was in complete control and that the senior officers involved in the stand-off, including Duc, "have agreed to rejoin their units to fight the Communists".[19]

Duc claimed that the leading officers had agreed:[19]

  1. To put an end to attempts of the Vietcong to seize power in South Vietnam
  2. To purge all Vietcong elements and their "puppets" out of Government agencies and the ranks of the administration
  3. To build a unified nation without distinction based on religion
  4. To have the Government treat its citizens impartially

Duc further commented that fair treatment of citizens was the only way to defeat the communists.[19] When asked if he now supported Khanh, Duc, "looking ill with weariness, if nothing else",[20] simply nodded in agreement.[20] Ky also claimed that no further action would be taken against those who were involved with Duc and Phat's activities.[23]

However, on September 16, Khanh had Duc and his fellow plotters arrested and committed trial.[23] He then removed three of the four corps commanders and six of the nine division commanders for failing to move against Lam and Duc.[24]


In the middle of October, Duc and Phat were among 20 put on trial in a military court.[25] Duc told the assembled media that he thought the trial was unfair, stating that "I believe in the supreme court of conscience".[25] He then pointed to his subordinate officers and called them "national heroes".[25] He denied media speculation that he had backed down during the coup to avoid being bombed by Ky,[25] claiming "I wanted to avoid bloodshed...I am very proud of my decision".[25] Phat's lawyers started by asking for the charges against the conspirators to be dismissed, claiming that the rebels were not captured "red-handed", a request that was dismissed.[25] The accused officers claimed that they only intended to make a show of force, rather than overthrow Khanh.[25] Duc claimed that the objective of his actions was to "emphasize my ideas" and said that his actions did not constitute a coup attempt.[25] Duc said that if he was intending to overthrow the government, he would have arrested public servants or military officials and denied that he had done so. However, he also admitted to being concerned by Khanh's policies.[25] Duc said that he had decided to end what he regarded as a military protest demonstration when Khanh promised to consider his concerns, and then returned to the IV Corps headquarters in the Mekong Delta. Duc claimed responsibility for the actions of his subordinate and co-accused, Colonel Huynh Van Ton, who led the 7th Division of IV Corps into Saigon in support of the action. Ton agreed that Duc had ordered him to move his troops into the capital. During questioning, Duc did not refer to Phat.[25]

One week later, the charges were dropped.[26] Khanh then gave Duc and Phat two months of detention for indiscipline; their subordinates were given shorter periods of detention.[26] According to Kahin, Khanh rigged the military trial so that Duc and Phat were acquitted so that they would be used as a Catholic counterweight to the Young Turks faction of Ky and Thi, who in Khanh's eyes had become increasingly strong and ominous.[21]

After this, Duc left the military. In January 1966, he was arrested along with an estimated 10–50 officers, mostly junior officers of the rank of captain. They were suspected of making plans to overthrow the junta of Ky. Most observers thought the suspicions against the arrested men were not credible, and Duc was released after 24 hours and given an informal warning to avoid political activities. Ky made a speech denouncing the alleged coup plot without naming individuals the military was placed on a higher level of alert.[27]


  1. ^ a b c d Grose, Peter (1964-09-15). "Khanh, Back at the Helm, Lauds Younger Officers". The New York Times: p. 1. 
  2. ^ "Vietnam starts mop-up of rebels". The New York Times: p. 2. 1955-07-02. 
  3. ^ Jacobs, pp. 85–92.
  4. ^ a b Tucker, p. 110.
  5. ^ a b c Shaplen, p. 288.
  6. ^ a b c Moyar, pp. 326–327.
  7. ^ Shaplen, pp. 231–232.
  8. ^ Shaplen, p. 232.
  9. ^ Shaplen, p. 233.
  10. ^ a b Tucker, pp. 526–533.
  11. ^ a b c d Moyar, p. 327.
  12. ^ Moyar, pp. 315–320.
  13. ^ Moyar, p. 326.
  14. ^ a b Shaplen, p. 287.
  15. ^ a b c Kahin, p. 231.
  16. ^ Tucker, p. 325.
  17. ^ a b "Key posts taken". The New York Times. 1964-09-13. p. 1. 
  18. ^ a b "South Viet Nam: Continued Progress". Time. 1964-09-18. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f "Coup collapses in Saigon; Khanh forces in power; U.S. pledges full support". The New York Times. 1964-09-14. p. 1. 
  20. ^ a b c Grose, Peter (1964-09-14). "Coup Lasted 24 Hours". The New York Times: p. 14. 
  21. ^ a b Kahin, p. 232.
  22. ^ a b "South Viet Nam: Remaking a Revolution". Time. 1964-09-25. 
  23. ^ a b c "Khanh arrests 5 in coup attempt". The New York Times: p. 10. 1964-09-17. 
  24. ^ Karnow, p. 396.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Langguth, Jack (1964-10-16). "Trial of officers starts in Saigon". The New York Times: p. 4. 
  26. ^ a b Grose, Peter (1964-10-25). "Vietnam council chooses civilian as chief of state". The New York Times: p. 2. 
  27. ^ Mohr, Charles (1966-01-20). "Saigon arrests officers in plot". The New York Times: p. 1. 


  • Jacobs, Seth (2006). Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America's War in Vietnam, 1950–1963. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 0-7425-4447-8. 
  • Kahin, George McT. (1979). "Political Polarization in South Vietnam: U.S. Policy in the Post-Diem Period". Pacific Affairs (Vancouver, British Columbia) 52 (4): 647–673. 
  • Kahin, George McT. (1986). Intervention : how America became involved in Vietnam. New York City, New York: Knopf. ISBN 039454367X. 
  • Karnow, Stanley (1997). Vietnam: A history. New York City, New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-670-84218-4. 
  • Moyar, Mark (2006). Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954–1965. New York City, New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521869110. 
  • Shaplen, Robert (1966). The Lost Revolution: Vietnam 1945–1965. London: Andre Deutsch. 
  • Tucker, Spencer C. (2000). Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social and Military History. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1-57607-040-9. 

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