First Indochina War

First Indochina War
Part of the Indochina Wars, the Cold War, and the decolonisation of Asia
First Indochina War COLLAGE.jpg
Clockwise from top: After the fall of Dien Bien Phu supporting Laotian troops fall back across the Mekong River into Laos; French Marine commandos wade ashore off the Annam coast in July 1950; M24 Chaffee American light tank used by French in Vietnam; Geneva Conference on 21 July 1954; A Grumman F6F-5 Hellcat from Escadrille 1F prepares to land on the Aircraft carrier Arromanches (R95) operating in the Gulf of Tonkin.
DateDecember 19, 1946 (1946-12-19) – August 1, 1954 (1954-08-01)
(7 years, 7 months, 1 week and 6 days)

Việt Minh victory[10][11][12][13]

Provisional division of Vietnam

Việt Minh
Lao Issara (1945–1949)

Khmer Issarak[2]

Japanese volunteers

Supported by:[4]
 Soviet Union[5]
 China (1949–1954)[5]
 East Germany[6][7]


State of Vietnam
Kingdom of Cambodia
Kingdom of Laos

Supported by:
 United States[9]
Commanders and leaders
Hồ Chí Minh
Võ Nguyên Giáp
Phạm Văn Đồng
Trường Chinh
Son Ngoc Minh

French Expeditionary Corps

State of Vietnam

Việt Minh:
Regulars: 125,000
Regional: 75,000
Popular Forces/Irregulars: 250,000[14]
Former Imperial Japanese Army volunteers: ~5,000[15]
Total: ~450,000
Expeditionary Corps: 190,000
Local Auxiliary: 55,000
State of Vietnam:
Total: ~395,000
Casualties and losses
Việt Minh:
175,000–300,000 dead or missing (Western historian estimated)[17][18][19][20]
191,605 dead or missing (Vietnamese Government's figure)[21]
French Union:
75,581 dead (20,524 being French)[22][23]
64,127 wounded,
40,000 captured
State of Vietnam:
58,877 dead or missing[24]
Total: ~134,500 dead or missing
400,000–842,707 total killed[25][19][26]
125,000–400,000 civilians killed[19][27][28][29]

The First Indochina War (generally known as the Indochina War in France, and as the Anti-French Resistance War in Vietnam) began in French Indochina on December 19, 1946, and lasted until July 20, 1954. Fighting between French forces and their Việt Minh opponents in the south dated from September 1945. The conflict pitted a range of forces, including the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps, led by France and supported by Bảo Đại's Vietnamese National Army against the Việt Minh,[30] led by Hồ Chí Minh[31] and the People's Army of Vietnam led by Võ Nguyên Giáp.[32] Most of the fighting took place in Tonkin in northern Vietnam,[33] although the conflict engulfed the entire country and also extended into the neighboring French Indochina protectorates of Laos and Cambodia.

At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, the Combined Chiefs of Staff decided that Indochina south of latitude 16° north was to be included in the Southeast Asia Command under British Admiral Mountbatten. Japanese forces located south of that line surrendered to him and those to the north surrendered to Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek. In September 1945, Chinese forces entered Tonkin, and a small British task force landed at Saigon. The Chinese accepted the Vietnamese government under Hồ Chí Minh, then in power in Hanoi. The British refused to do likewise in Saigon, and deferred to the French there from the outset, against the ostensible support of the Việt Minh authorities by American OSS representatives. On V-J Day, September 2, Hồ Chí Minh had proclaimed in Hanoi the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). The DRV ruled as the only civil government in all of Vietnam for a period of about 20 days, after the abdication of Emperor Bảo Đại, who had governed under Japanese rule. On 23 September 1945, with the knowledge of the British commander in Saigon, French forces overthrew the local DRV government, and declared French authority restored in Cochinchina. Guerrilla warfare began around Saigon immediately,[34] but the French gradually retook control of the South and North of Indochina. Hồ Chí Minh agreed to negotiate the future status of Vietnam, but the talks, held in France, failed to produce a solution. After over one year of latent conflict, all-out war broke out in December 1946 between French and Việt Minh forces as Hồ Chí Minh and his government went underground. The French tried to stabilize Indochina by reorganizing it as a Federation of Associated States. In 1949, they put former Emperor Bảo Đại back in power, as the ruler of a newly established State of Vietnam.

The first few years of the war involved a low-level rural insurgency against the French. In 1949 the conflict turned into a conventional war between two armies equipped with modern weapons supplied by the United States, China and the Soviet Union.[35] French Union forces included colonial troops from the whole former empire (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Laotian, Cambodian, and Vietnamese ethnic minorities), French professional troops and units of the French Foreign Legion. The use of metropolitan recruits was forbidden by the government to prevent the war from becoming even more unpopular at home. It was called the "dirty war" (la sale guerre) by leftists in France.[36]

The strategy of pushing the Việt Minh into attacking well-defended bases in remote parts of the country at the end of their logistical trails was validated at the Battle of Nà Sản. However, this base was relatively weak because of a lack of concrete and steel. French efforts were made more difficult due to the limited usefulness of armored tanks in a jungle environment, lack of strong air forces for air cover and carpet bombing, and use of foreign recruits from other French colonies (mainly from Algeria, Morocco and even Vietnam). Võ Nguyên Giáp, however, used efficient and novel tactics of direct fire artillery, convoy ambushes and massed anti-aircraft guns to impede land and air supply deliveries together with a strategy based on recruiting a sizable regular army facilitated by wide popular support, a guerrilla warfare doctrine and instruction developed in China, and the use of simple and reliable war material provided by the Soviet Union. This combination proved fatal for the bases' defenses, culminating in a decisive French defeat at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.[37]

At the International Geneva Conference on July 21, 1954, the new socialist French government and the Việt Minh made an agreement which effectively gave the Việt Minh control of North Vietnam above the 17th parallel. The south continued under Bảo Đại. The agreement was denounced by the State of Vietnam and by the United States. A year later, Bảo Đại would be deposed by his prime minister, Ngô Đình Diệm, creating the Republic of Vietnam. Soon an insurgency, backed by the north, developed against Diệm's government. The conflict gradually escalated into the Vietnam War (1955-1975).


French Indochina (1913)

Vietnam was absorbed into French Indochina in stages between 1858 and 1887. Nationalism grew until World War II provided a break in French control. Early Vietnamese resistance centered on the intellectual Phan Bội Châu. Châu looked to Japan, which had modernized and was one of the few Asian nations to successfully resist European colonization. With Prince Cường Để, Châu started two organizations in Japan, the Duy Tân hội (Modernistic Association) and Vietnam Cong Hien Hoi.

Due to French pressure, Japan deported Phan Bội Châu to China. Witnessing Sun Yat-sen's Xinhai Revolution, Châu was inspired to commence the Viet Nam Quang Phục Hội movement in Guangzhou. From 1914 to 1917, he was imprisoned by Yuan Shikai's counterrevolutionary government. In 1925, he was captured by French agents in Shanghai and spirited to Vietnam. Due to his popularity, Châu was spared from execution and placed under house arrest until his death in 1940.

In September 1940, shortly after Phan Bội Châu's death, Japan launched its invasion of French Indochina, mirroring its ally Germany's conquest of metropolitan France. Keeping the French colonial administration, the Japanese ruled from behind the scenes in a parallel of Vichy France. As far as Vietnamese nationalists were concerned, this was a double-puppet government. Emperor Bảo Đại collaborated with the Japanese, just as he had with the French, ensuring his lifestyle could continue.

From October 1940 to May 1941, during the Franco-Thai War, the Vichy French in Indochina defended their colony in a border conflict in which the forces of Thailand invaded while the Japanese sat on the sidelines. Thai military successes were limited to the Cambodian border area, and in January 1941 Vichy France's modern naval forces soundly defeated the inferior Thai naval forces in the Battle of Ko Chang. The war ended in May, with the French agreeing to minor territorial revisions which restored formerly Thai areas to Thailand.

In 1941, Hồ Chí Minh, seeing communist revolution as the path to freedom, returned to Vietnam and formed the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (League for the Independence of Vietnam), better known as the Việt Minh. Ho created the Việt Minh as an umbrella organization for all the nationalist resistance movements, de-emphasizing his communist social revolutionary background.[citation needed]

During the Vietnamese Famine of 1945, Hồ Chí Minh blamed ruthless Japanese exploitation and poor weather for up to two million Vietnamese deaths. The Việt Minh arranged a relief effort in the north, winning wide support there as a result.[citation needed]

In March 1945, Japan launched the Second French Indochina Campaign to oust the Vichy French and formally installed Emperor Bảo Đại as head of the nominally independent Empire of Vietnam. The Japanese arrested and imprisoned most of the French officials and military officers remaining in the country.

American President Franklin D. Roosevelt and General Joseph Stilwell privately made it clear that France was not to reacquire French Indochina after the war was over. Roosevelt suggested that Chiang Kai-shek place Indochina under Chinese rule; Chiang Kai-shek supposedly replied: "Under no circumstances!"[38] Following Roosevelt's death in April 1945, U.S. resistance to French rule weakened.[39]

After the surrender of Japan

Commander of the C.L.I. (Corps Léger d'Intervention) in Indochina after the surrender of Japan

An armistice was signed between Japan and the United States on August 20, 1945. The Provisional Government of the French Republic wanted to restore its colonial rule in French Indochina as the final step of the Liberation of France.

On August 22, 1945, OSS agents Archimedes Patti and Carleton B. Swift Jr. arrived in Hanoi on a mercy mission to liberate Allied POWs, and were accompanied by French government official Jean Sainteny.[40] The Imperial Japanese Army, being the only force capable of maintaining law and order, remained in power while keeping French colonial troops and Sainteny detained.[41]

Japanese forces allowed the Việt Minh and other nationalist groups to take over public buildings and weapons without resistance, which began the August Revolution. On August 25, Hồ Chí Minh was able to persuade Emperor Bảo Đại to abdicate. Bảo Đại was appointed "supreme advisor" to the new Việt Minh-led government in Hanoi.

Japanese troops lay down their arms to British troops in a ceremony in Saigon (1945).

On September 2, aboard USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay, CEFEO Expeditionary Corps leader General Leclerc signed the armistice with Japan on behalf of France.[citation needed] The same day, Hồ Chí Minh declared Vietnam's independence from France. Deliberately borrowing from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, Hồ Chí Minh proclaimed:

We hold the truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.[42]

After their surrender, the Japanese Army gave weapons to the Việt Minh.[citation needed] In order to further help the nationalists, the Japanese kept Vichy French officials and military officers imprisoned for a month after the surrender. OSS officers met repeatedly with Hồ Chí Minh and other Việt Minh officers during this period.[43] The Việt Minh had recruited more than 600 Japanese soldiers and given them roles to train or command Vietnamese soldiers.[44][45]

On September 13, 1945, a Franco-British task force landed in Java, main island of the Dutch East Indies (for which independence was being sought by Sukarno), and Saigon, capital of Cochinchina (southern part of French Indochina), both being occupied by the Japanese and ruled by Field Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi, Commander-in-Chief of Japan's Southern Expeditionary Army Group based in Saigon.[46] Allied troops in Saigon were an airborne detachment, two British companies of the Indian 20th Infantry Division and the French 5th Colonial Infantry Regiment, with British General Sir Douglas Gracey as supreme commander. The latter proclaimed martial law on September 21. The following night the Franco-British troops took control of Saigon.[47]

Telegram from Hồ Chí Minh to U.S. President Harry S. Truman requesting support for independence (Hanoi, February 28, 1946)

Almost immediately afterward, as agreed to at the Potsdam Conference (and under Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers' "General Order no. One".[48][49]), 200,000 troops of the Chinese 1st Army occupied Indochina as far south as the 16th parallel. They had been sent by Chiang Kai-shek under General Lu Han to accept the surrender of Japanese forces occupying that area, then to supervise the disarming and repatriation of the Japanese Army. This effectively ended Hồ Chí Minh's nominal government in Hanoi.[citation needed] Initially, the Chinese kept the French Colonial soldiers interned, with the acquiescence of the Americans.[41] The Chinese used the VNQDĐ, the Vietnamese branch of the Chinese Kuomintang, to increase their influence in Indochina and put pressure on their opponents.[50]

On October 9, 1945, General Leclerc arrived in Saigon, accompanied by French Colonel Massu's March Group (Groupement de marche). Leclerc's primary objectives were to restore public order in south Vietnam and to militarize Tonkin (north Vietnam). Secondary objectives were to wait for French backup in view to take back Chinese-occupied Hanoi, then to negotiate with the Việt Minh officials.[47]

Chiang Kai-shek threatened the French with war in response to manoeuvering by the French and Hồ Chí Minh against each other, forcing them to come to a peace agreement. In February 1946, he also forced the French to surrender and renounce all of their concessions and ports in China, such as Shanghai, in exchange for withdrawing from northern Indochina and allowing French troops to reoccupy the region starting in March 1946.[51][52][53][54] Following this agreement, VNQDĐ forces became vulnerable due to the withdrawal of Chinese forces and were attacked by Việt Minh and French troops. The Việt Minh massacred thousands of VNQDĐ members and other nationalists in a large-scale purge.[55][56]

Other Languages
Bahasa Indonesia: Perang Indochina Pertama
Simple English: First Indochina War
srpskohrvatski / српскохрватски: Prvi indokineski rat
粵語: 法越戰爭