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Royal Lao Navy

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Royal Lao Navy

Royal Navy of Laos
Marine Royale Laotiènne
Royal Lao Navy jack (1955-75)
Active 28 January 1955 - 2 December 1975
Country Kingdom of Laos
Allegiance Royal Lao Government
Branch Naval Force
Size 500 men, 36 boats and other vessels (1974)
Garrison/HQ Vientiane
Nickname RLN (MRL in French)
Anniversaries 28 January
Engagements Laotian Civil War
Vietnam War

The Royal Lao Navy (French: Marine Royale Laotiénne – MRL) was the naval branch of the Royal Lao Armed Forces (FAR), the official military of the Royal Lao Government and the Kingdom of Laos during the Laotian Civil War between 1960 and 1975.


The Laotian Navy (French: Marine Laotiénne) was first formed in January 28, 1955 as a ‘naval’ component for the Lao National Army (ANL), being originally trained and staffed by French officers and senior NCOs. A predominantly riverine force since Laos is a land-locked country, the new Laotian Navy was allegedly provided at the time with a small number of ex-French Navy STCAN armoured river patrol crafts (aka “stay-can”) and FOM escort crafts, which had seen service during the First Indochina War.


The MRL, along with the Royal Lao Air Force and the Royal Lao Army, was placed under the control of the Ministry of Defence in Vientiane; its administrative headquarters was allocated at Vientiane’s military harbour, whose facilities also housed the Fleet Command and the Independent Directorate of Laotian River Transports (French: Régie Autonome des Transports Fluviaux du Laos – RATFL), which handled military logistics and monotorized commercial shipping along the Mekong river.

Fleet organization

By April 1975 Royal Lao Navy strength peaked at 500 Ratings and enlisted men who manned a single river flotilla totalling 36 light vessels, divided since the mid-1950s into a patrol squadron (French: Escadrille Fluviale du Haut Mekong – EFHM) and a squadron-sized transport section (French: Séction de Transports Fluviaux du Laos – STFL). Throughout its existence, the MRL received technical and training assistance mainly from France, Thailand and the United States, with the latter country providing twenty PBR Mk 1 and 2 “Bibber” patrol boats and sixteen LCM (8) Landing Craft to equip their patrol and transport squadrons respectively. Most of the Laotian Navy river assets were stationed permanently at Vientiane Naval Base, with secondary riverine stations set along the Mekong at Luang Prabang, Pak Lay, Thakhek, Savannakhet, Paksé and Khong Island. Besides its tiny surface fleet, the MRL was also unique in its genre for not maintaining a permanent Naval Infantry branch or even specialist combat diver/marine ‘Commando’ units.

MRL uniforms and insignia

The Laotian Navy owed its origin and traditions to the French naval forces of the First Indochina War and even after the United States took the role as the main foreign sponsor for the Royal Laotian Armed Forces at the beginning of the 1960s, French military influence was still perceptible in their uniforms and insignia.

Service dress and field uniforms

Upon its formation at the mid-1950s, most Laotian Navy personnel received the standard French Navy’s tropical working and service dress, consisting of a light khaki cotton shirt and pants. The French Navy’s M1948 shirt (French: Chemise kaki clair Mle 1948) featured a six-buttoned front and two pleated breast pockets closed by pointed flaps, was provided with shoulder straps (French: Epaulettes) and had long sleeves with buttoned cuffs. It was worn with matching khaki M1945/52 slacks (French: Pantalon kaki clair Mle 1945/52), which featured two pleats at the front hips, side slashed pockets and an internal pocket at the back, on the right side. The French Army’s tropical light khaki cotton shirt and pants (French: Tenue de toile kaki clair Mle 1945), modelled after the WWII US Army tropical ‘Chino’ working dress was also issued. While the cut of the matching khaki trousers was virtually identical to the Navy pattern, the shirt had two patch breast pockets closed by clip-cornered straight flaps and shoulder straps. In alternative, the short-sleeved M1946 khaki shirt (French: Chemisette kaki clair Mle 1946) – whose cut was almost identical to the M1948 variant – could be worn with the matching M1946 khaki shorts (French: Culotte courte kaki clair Mle 1946) in hot weather.

On active service, Laotian Navy sailors and Ratings initially wore French all-arms M1947 olive green (OG) jungle fatigues (French: Treillis de combat Mle 1947) but in the 1960s and early 1970s, MRL personnel began to wear US-supplied OG 107 jungle fatigues. Thai and South Vietnamese versions, as well as Laotian-made copies were also worn. All these variants of the OG-107 fatigues often featured modifications to the original design such as shirts with shoulder straps and pockets closed by dual-buttoned straight flaps or pen pockets added on the left sleeve above the elbow, an affection common to all Laotian, South Vietnamese and Cambodian military officers, and additional side ‘cargo’ pockets on the trousers.

For formal occasions, Laotian Navy officers wore the early Laotian National Army (ANL) white summer cotton full dress, which consisted of a French-style eight-buttoned tunic with a standing collar and two built-in side pockets closed by straight flaps, worn with matching white slacks. The tunic’s front fly was secured by gilt metal buttons initially bearing the ANL Airavata crest, replaced after 1959-60 by a Royal Lao Armed Forces (FAR) wreathed “Vishnu” trident motif.[1]


Laotian Navy officers and Petty officers initially received a service peaked cap copied after the French M1927 pattern (French: Casquette d’officier Mle 1927) in both light khaki and white summer top versions with a black lacquered leather peak, to wear with the khaki working dress and the white high-collared full dress uniforms, respectively. The peaked caps were worn with the standard gilt metal ANL cap device, a wreathed Airavata crest bearing the Laotian Royal Arms – a three-headed white elephant standing on a pedestal and surmounted by a pointed parasol – set on a black teardrop-shaped background patch. After September 1961, the MRL replaced the old ANL crest with the standard gilt metal FAR wreathed “Vishnu” trident cap badge.

Laotian Navy personnel frequently wore in the field a mixture of French M1946 light khaki tropical berets (French: Bérét de toile kaki clair Mle 1946), baseball cap-style khaki cotton field caps, and French bush hats (French: Chapeau de brousse Mle 1949) in Khaki or OG cotton cloth. During the 1960s and early 1970s, a wide range of OG “Boonie hats” and baseball caps from the US, South Vietnam and Thailand were adopted by MRL officers and enlisted men.

The steel helmet models worn by Laotian Navy vessel crews in the mid-1950s were the WWII-vintage US M-1 or the newer French M1951 (French: casque Mle 1951 OTAN) models, standard issue in the ANL. In the later 1960s, the MRL standardized on the M-1 1964 model provided with the US Army Mitchell ‘Clouds’ camouflage pattern cover (usually removed on the field), though many boat crewmen retained the older US and French steel helmets throughout the war.


Brown low laced leather shoes were prescribed to wear with the Laotian Navy khaki service/work uniform for all-ranks and white ones with the earlier ANL white cotton full dress for formal occasions, whilst black shoes were worn with the MRL blue overseas service uniform. On the field, Laotian seamen initially wore brown leather US M-1943 Combat Service Boots and French M1917 brown leather hobnailed boots (French: Brodequins modéle 1917), or French canvas-and-rubber ‘Pataugas’ tropical boots, and sandals while in garrison; after 1960, the MRL adopted as regulation footwear black leather combat boots – the early US Army M-1962 ‘McNamara’ model and the later M-1967, together with limited quantities of US Jungle boots, and local copies of the South Vietnamese tropical Bata boot.[2]

Navy ranks

Initially, the Laotian Navy wore the same rank insignia as their French and ANL counterparts, whose sequence followed closely the French Navy pattern defined by the 1956 regulations.[3] Junior officers (French: Officiers supérieurs et officiers subalternes) and petty officers’ (French: Officiers mariniers) ranks were worn on black removable shoulder boards (French: pattes d’épaule) or shoulder strap slides (French: passants d’épaule) similar to the Army pattern, with the addition of a fouled anchor on the inner end. NCOs and enlisted men (French: Quartier-maîtres et matelots) wore metal or cloth chevrons on both upper sleeves or pinned to the chest.

In 1959 however, the Royal Lao Army adopted a new distinctively Laotian-designed system of military ranks, which became in September 1961 the standard rank chart for all branches of service of the newly created Royal Lao Armed Forces. Under the new regulations, MRL officers were now entitled to wear on their service or dress uniforms stiffened red shoulder boards edged with gold braid identical to the standard RLA pattern. Junior officers added an appropriate number of five-pointed gold stars to their boards whilst petty officers’ wore chevrons on the upper sleeve or diagonal bars on the lower sleeve. Enlisted men wore no insignia.

In the field, Laotian naval officers had their shoulder boards initially replaced by either shoulder strap slides or a single chest tab (French: patte de poitrine) buttoned to the shirt’s front fly following French Army practice.[4] By the late 1960s, The MRL adopted the same American-style system as their RLA counterparts, in which metal pin-on or embroidered cloth rank insignia – either in yellow-on-green full-colour or black-on-green subdued form – were worn on the right collar.

Branch and unit insignia

There were no arm-of-service designations as such in the Royal Lao Navy, although when wearing Khaki service dress or US OG jungle fatigues, naval personnel skills and trades were identified by collar badges, in either metal pin-on or cloth embroidered versions. These were worn on the left collar only by ratings and on both collars by enlisted ranks as per in the RLA.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Conboy and McCouaig, The War in Laos 1960-75 (1989), p. 40, Plate B3.
  2. ^ Conboy and McCouaig, The War in Laos 1960-75 (1989), p. 19.
  3. ^ Gaujac, Le TTA 148, la nouvelle tenue de l’armée du terre (2011), pp. 38-45.
  4. ^ Lassus, Les marques de grade de l’armée française, 1945-1990 (1er partie-introduction) (1998), pp. 12-15.
  5. ^ Conboy and McCouaig, The War in Laos 1960-75 (1989), p. 14.


  • Kenneth Conboy and Don Greer, War in Laos, 1954-1975, Squadron/Signal Publications, 1994. ISBN 0897473159, 9780897473156.
  • Kenneth Conboy and Simon McCouaig, The War in Laos 1960-75, Men-at-arms series 217, Osprey Publishing Ltd, London 1989. ISBN 9780850459388
  • Kenneth Conboy with James Morrison, Shadow War: The CIA's Secret War in Laos, Boulder CO: Paladin Press, 1995.
  • Timothy Castle, At War in the Shadow of Vietnam: United States Military Aid to the Royal Lao Government, 1955–1975, Columbia University Press, 1993. ISBN 978-0-231-07977-8

Secondary sources

  • Denis Lassus, Les marques de grade de l’armée française, 1945-1990 (1er partie-introduction), in Armes Militaria Magazine n.º 159, October 1998. (in French)
  • Denis Lassus, Les marques de grade de l’armée française, 1945-1990 (2e partie-les differents types de galons), in Armes Militaria Magazine n.º 161, December 1998. (in French)

External links

  • Laos Lao People’s Navy
  • Royal Lao Armed Forces and Police heraldy
  • SIPRI Arms Transfers Database
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