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KEVIN LYLES
VIETNAM: US UNIFORMS IN COLOUR PHOTOGRAPHS

1968

MP, 18TH MILITARY POLICE BRIGADE

The 716th Military Police Battalion of the 18th MP Brigade was the Army's first ground unit to deploy to South Vietnam in March 1965. Three years later the battalion would find itself at the forefront of the fighting in Saigon as the VC/NVA launched their 1968 'Tet Offensive'. On the night of 30 January 1968 the streets of Saigon were alive with people celebrating the Vietnamese lunar new year - 'Tet Nguyen Dan'. In the early hours of the 31st the VC initiated simultaneous rocket, mortar and ground attacks against major installations throughout the capital; by mixing with civilians the VC had achieved total surprise. The C-10 VC City Sapper Battalion was drawn from the ranks of Saigon taxi and cyclo drivers. Breaching the walls with satchel charges, members of this unit attacked the US Embassy compound until cornered and killed.

The 716th MP Battalion was the anti-terrorist security force for the Saigon area; its main duties included static guard posts, VIP escorts and traffic control. However, on the 31st the Battalion found itself on the front line as the war came to Saigon. The battle raged from street to street, with every supporting asset being brought to bear on the infiltrators. After weeks of fighting, in which the MPs were quickly reinforced by companies of US Infantry and ARVN Airborne and Ranger Battalions, Saigon and its surrounding area was secured and the war reverted to the jungles and paddy fields.

The MPs' distinctive gloss black helmet liner featured 2.25 inch high 'MP' letters on the front and a 1.25 inch band divided white above red. This division signified an Army level unit; other configurations were solid red for Divisional and Brigade units, and blue above red for Field Force and Corps units. On the left side of the liner is the unit's numerical designation, and on the right the insignia of the 18th MP Brigade to which the 716th were subordinate.

The tropical combat uniform is the third pattern in ripstop cotton-poplin, worn here with black leather combat boots (though tropical boots were also worn). The Military Police Brassard was worn with all duty uniforms, and bears the shoulder sleeve insignia of the 18th MP Brigade.

During the Saigon fighting MPs were hurriedly issued with body armour, either the earlier M1952 vest or, as here, the later Body Armor, Fragmentation Protective Vest with Three Quarter Collar, M69. This vest was an upgraded version of the M1952 which derived its protective capabilities from layers of ballistic nylon: twelve layers in the front and upper back, two in the lower back, with an additional two down the length of the spine. The M69 omitted the shoulder straps of the M1952, but incorporated a semi-stiff three-quarter collar with six layers of ballistic filling offering protection to the neck.

In normal duty situations MPs were authorized a set of black leather equipment including belt, cross-belt, nightstick carrier, and cases for handcuffs, first aid dressing and pistol ammunition. These leather items were also compatible with the standard web pistol belt and were often worn in an abbreviated manner, as here. A twin-cell pistol magazine pouch together with a nightstick carrier (minus the stick itself) are worn on the belt, as is a .45 auto pistol in its M1916 holster. An M7 Bayonet for the M16 rifle is also hung from the belt in its M8A1 scabbard.

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