Republic of Viet-Nam Airborne Mail
In 1951, the French organized the 1st Vietnamese Parachute Battalion (BPVN).By May 1955, the Airborne Group comprising the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 6th Battalions, was organized under the Airborne Command Center in Saigon. The 7th Battalion was deactivated earlier that year. From 1955 to 1965, the 2nd and 8th Airborne Infantry and 1st Airborne Artillery Battalions were added.
1 December 1965 saw the formation of the ARVN Airborne Division with three brigades and three new battalions: the 9th and 11th Infantry and the 2nd Artillery Battalions. An Airborne Reconnaisance Company was also activated at this time. The 7th Division was later reactivated sometime after this date.
The Airborne Division was the strategic Reserve of the Joint General Staff (JGS) as part of the Army of the Republic of Viet-Nam( ARVN). Airborne units were deployed throughout South Vietnam to reinforce troops in the field, to act as "offensive shock units", and to hold strategic areas.
Vietnamese Airborne covers are difficult to locate. This site documents the covers of which I am aware. If you have other examples of Airborne military mail to share, including material from the French period, please contact me at .
Known Airborne Covers
The key to identifying most Vietnamese Airborne covers is the term "Nhay Du," which is frequently abbreviated "ND." Figure 2 showns a terrific cover from KBC 3058. "Tieu Doan Vuong Mong Hong" in the return address refers to a battlion that's training at a base or to an instructor providing unit training. Although there isn't a specific reference to an Airborne unit on the cover, the silhouette of a leaping soldier in front of a series of concentric circles might be seen as a paratrooper. More definitively, the enclosed letter references "Su Doan Nhay Du" at the top.
The insignia is that of the Quang Trung Training Center insignia. The cover is backstamped 14 Dec 1967 Saigon.
Figure 2. Airborne Quang Trung Training Center Cover
The Airborne cover shown in Figure 3 was included in Joe Cartafalsa's Vietnamese military mail exhibit (1999-2000). This cover, addressed to a member of the 9th Airborne Battalion, Company 94 (Tieu Doan 9 Nhay Du Dai Doi 94) at KBC 4804 was written up by Joe in the Indo-china Philatelist and in the article, "An Introduction to the Military Mail of South Viet-Nam" in the 2000 Congress Book. The cancel is illegible, but since the stamps were issued in 1963 and the 9th Airborne Battalion was formed in December 1965, the cover was probably mailed around 1966. The faint KBC cachet might read 4178.
Figure 3. 9th Airborne Battalion Cover
I've come across several covers sent by Nguyen Van Chau at KBC 4919. The first of these covers that I've been able to positively identify as being an Airborne cover, was sent by Chau to Miss Vo Thi Thu Hong on 17 Jul 1973. The manuscript marking "Thu Hanh Quan," in red ink indicates the cover was sent from "in the field".
Figure 4. Cover from Company 70, KBC 4919. 17 July 1973, 9d paid.
There's an enclosure inside dated 10 Aug 1973. While this is later than the date on the cancel, it might still belong with this cover. When troops were in the field, they sometimes post-dated their letters. At any rate, the enclosed letter is definitely part of the correspondence between Chau and Hong and probably from the same operation as the cover.
The word "airborne" doesn't appear on either the cover or contents, however the letter is headed by the phrase "DOAN QUAN MU DO" in bright pink capital letters. "Mu Do" refers to the red berets worn by the Vietnamese paratroopers, and "Doan Quan" means military group or regiment. From this reference, I deduce that Chau was a member of an Airborne unit by the summer of 1973.
Figure 4. Airborne cover from 7th Airborne Battalion, Company 71, KBC 4919
The cover in Figure 4 was sent on 24 September 1973 by Chau to Huynh Van Si in Sadec. Notice the abbreviation "TD7ND" in the third line of the return address. This means "Tieu Doan 7 Nhay Du", or 7th Airborne Battalion. "HQ" after the KBC number means "in the field" and the second line indicates Company 71.
A 3-dong stamp was used to mail this cover through the military postal service. The military-to-civilian rate during this period was seemingly in a state of flux. Covers from the latter half of 1973 may be found with stamps paying a mixture of rates from 3d to 10d without much apparent rhyme or reason. At 3-dong, this cover is on the low end of the spectrum and was probably short-paid, although it wasn't assessed postage due.
Figure 5. Airborne cover from 7th Airborne Battalion, Company 70, KBC 4919
Here's another cover from Nguyen Van Chau to Vo Thi Thu Hong in Gia Dinh. It was sent on 14 August 1974 and is franked with a 10d stamp. Rates during this period seemed to be either 10d or 25d. Probably, the official rate was raised to 25d, but not everyone was told right away.
At this point, Chau is still with the 7th Airborne Battalion, now with Company 70. In the enclosed letter, Chau writes that he wishes he could come visit Hong to celebrate her recent passing on an exam. Unfortunately, he cannot easily take leave because his unit is in the field and may be called into battle at any time. To make up for his absence, he lets her know that "with Mr. Khoa and Thuan, I just celebrated your victory with a small party with a case of beer." Click here to view the entire letter.
I've come across several more covers from KBC 4919 that are probably Airborne covers, although they don't bear any definitive Airborne markings. Click here to view these covers >
Fantasy Airborne Covers
Warning! Covers like this one are being produced in quantity in Viet-Nam to defraud collectors. Based on eyewitness information, these should be considered fantasy creations (fakes). The covers have yellow and red bands in the upper right corner and bear an Airborne (Nhay Du) insignia depicting a winged parachute and star.
Figure 6. Fake Airborne Cover
The fantasy covers I've seen are not franked with postage stamps and have a red unit handstamp from either KBC 4563, KBC 4709 or KBC 3058, although other numbers may exist. Covers have been seen with Quan Buu cancels dated between 1966 and 1972. This type of cover started appearing on the Western market in 1999 or 2000.
Angels in Red Hats: Paratroopers of the Second Indochina War by CSM Michael Martin, Harmony House Publishers, 1995. This book is available from Brooks Militaria.
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