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Vietnam War Dictionary

SOG

The Studies and Observations Group was a U.S. task force formed on January 24th 1964 to carry out OPLAN 34A, a program of covert actions designed to convince the North Vietnamese leadership to desist from supporting and directing the war in the Republic of Vietnam (RVN)1. In doing so, SOG was to advise its South Vietnamese counterpart organization, the Special Exploitation Service (SES).

Initially SOG was divided into four sections2:
  • Psychological - The PSYOPS division attempted to encourage and exploit discontent amongst the North Vietnamese population. In addition to producing propaganda materials, SOG / SES endeavoured to convince Hanoi that a resistance movement existed within its borders by creating the Sacred Sword of the Patriot League. From their base on Paradise Island, which purported to be in the North’s waters but was actually off the coast of Da Nang, SES personnel indoctrinated captured North Vietnamese fisherman in the precepts of the SSPL before sending them home to spread the word. Radio broadcasts were also used to enhance the movement’s credibility.
  • Airborne / Agent Teams - Based at Long Thanh, the Airborne Operations section in conjunction with the SES, supervised the recruitment, training and infiltration of Vietnamese agents into North Vietnam to conduct intelligence and sabotage activities.
  • Air - From its base at Nha Trang, AIROPS operated a variety of unmarked fixed and rotary wing aircraft that were used to transport and supply agent teams and to drop psyops leaflets and radios over North Vietnam etc.
  • Maritime (MAROPS) - The Naval Advisory Detachment (NAD) based at Da Nang trained South Vietnam’s Coastal Security Service (CSS) to interdict North Vietnamese craft, gather intelligence and attack coastal targets.

SOG also became responsible for covert cross-border operations, firstly into Laos (code name: Shinning Brass) in March 1965 , and secondly into Cambodia (code name: Daniel Boone) in May 19673. These cross-border operations were run by three Command & Control detachments:
  • Command and Control North – Located at Da Nang, CCN (the first C&C facility) controlled the operations of reconnaissance teams in Laos
  • Command and Control South – Located at Ban Me Thout and opened subsequent to the initiation of the Daniel Boone mission, CCS controlled the operations of recon teams in Cambodia
  • Command and Control Central – Located at Kontum in the Central Highlands, CCC was the third C&C facility to be formed and oversaw reconnaissance operations in the tri-border region of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam

Reconnaissance (or Spike) teams typically consisted of three American Special Forces NCOs and nine indigenous personnel, all of whom wore and carried unmarked clothing and equipment, in order to maintain plausible deniability 4. Though their primary task was to gather intelligence on enemy movements, they also captured prisoners, conducted bomb damage assessments, planted Igloo White sensors and placed booby-trapped Communist ammunition on the Ho Chi Minh trail. Operations in Cambodia were restricted to ground reconnaissance only, however in Laos, air and ground exploitation forces were authorized to attack and destroy targets identified by the recon teams.

The vast majority of SOGs 34A program (now code named Footboy) against North Vietnam came to an end on November 1st 1968, in conjunction with President Johnson's decision to halt the Rolling Thunder bombing campaign 5. Only radio broadcasts and letter delivery operations continued. US participation in cross-border operations in Cambodia continued until July 1st 1970, and in Laos until February 8th 1971. Subsequently, all cross border operations were conducted by ARVN and/or indigenous personnel, however, US led cross-border rescue missions (code name: Bright Light) were authorized on a case-by-case basis.

SOG was officially deactivated on April 30th 1972 and was immediately replaced by a small group that was to advise South Vietnam’s Strategic Technical Directorate (STD) 6. Though STDAT-158 (Strategic Technical Directorate Assistance Team 158) was an advisory agency, its US led Special Mission Force (SMF) was tasked with conducting both in-country and cross-border crash site inspections and personnel recovery missions.

After the signing of the peace treaty on January 27th 1973, STDAT-158 continued to provide limited advisory support until it was deactivated on March 12th 1973.

See: CISO, SOG photos, Thomas Norris


  1. When activated SOG was originally named the Special Operations Group, however, for cover purposes it was renamed the Studies and Observations Group in late 1964.
  2. On February 3rd 1967 OPLAN 34A was given the code word Footboy and the programs within 34A were designated as follows:
    • PysOps - Humidor
    • Airborne / Agent Ops - Timberwork
    • AirOps - Coachdog / Midriff / Shredder
    • MarOps - Plowman / Parboil
  3. The Shinning Brass code word was later changed to Prairie Fire and finally to Phu Dung. The Daniel Boone code name was later changed to Salem House and finally to Thot Not
  4. The three American Special Forces personnel were typically: team leader(1-0), radio operator and an operations/intelligence NCO
  5. After November 1st 1968, MAROPS assets were used in-country and AirOps resources were used to support both in-country activities and the cross-border reconnaissance operations
  6. The Vietnamese Special Exploitation Service was renamed Strategic Technical Service (STS) in January 1965. The name was changed again to Strategic Technical Directorate (STD) on November 1st 1967