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Indochina War:see Vietnam WarVietnam War,
conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. The war began soon after the Geneva Conference provisionally divided (1954) Vietnam at 17° N lat.
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(in Russian, Vietnamese People’s War of Resistance [1945-54]), the Vietnamese people’s war of liberation waged against the French interventionists. After the victory of the August Revolution of 1945 in Vietnam, the Vietnamese people formed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), proclaimed on Sept. 2, 1945. Not wanting to reconcile themselves to the loss of the colony, the French imperialists decided to destroy the republic with the support of the USA and Great Britain. On Sept. 23, 1945, the French colonialists seized Saigon and began aggressive military actions in South Vietnam. By early 1946 all the large cities and major roads in South Vietnam and the southern part of central Vietnam had gradually passed into the hands of the invaders. In the fall of 1946 the French imperialists unleashed military actions against the DRV throughout the country. In November 1946 French troops occupied Haiphong and Lang Son in North Vietnam, and on Dec. 19, 1946, they began military actions aimed at the capture of Hanoi, the capital of the DRV. In response to the aggression of the French imperialists the Vietnamese people rose up in a general War of Resistance at the summons of the Party and the popular government. The call for a general War of Resistance came from the president of the DRV, Ho Chi Minh, on Dec. 20, 1946.
To counterbalance the French strategic plan for a blitzkrieg the government and command of the DRV’s People’s Army (commander in chief, Vo Nguyen Giap) advanced their own plan for protracted partisan warfare, which would subsequently be turned into modern mobile warfare. The French side consisted of units of the Expeditionary Corps, to which troops of the puppet Bao Dai government were added in the course of the war. The Expeditionary Corps consisted of units of the regular army of the French Republic, colonial troops, and Foreign Legion units. The corps included infantry, tank and paratrooper units, and air and naval forces.
At the outset of the war the French Expeditionary Corps numbered 90,000 men and toward the end, 250,000. By the end of the war the puppet troops numbered about 215,000 men. At the beginning of the war the DRV had virtually no regular armed forces apart from the Tu Ve units (self-defense detachments). In the course of the war regular and local (people’s volunteers) forces were created, and the number of partisan detachments was increased substantially. Essentially, light arms were their only weapons. The People’s Army did not have tanks, planes, or warships until the end of the war.
During the first stage of the war (December 1946-December 1947) the fighting was marked by a great French preponderance over the DRV in both numbers and weapons. At this stage the DRV troops abandoned the main cities, including Hanoi (Feb. 17, 1947), and the fighting shifted to the countryside, mountains, and forests.
From the beginning of the national War of Resistance the mobilization of the major strata of Vietnamese society for active resistance to the invaders grew ever more intense. At the same time the National Front, which united the working class, peasantry, progressive intelligentsia, petite and middle bourgeoisie, and patriotic-minded small landowners, was strengthened. Training of the rank and file, as well as of commanders of the People’s Army, was intensified. A network of military schools for the study of tactics and fighting techniques was set up deep in the rear. The working class actively participated in the creation of a war industry. In the fall of 1947 the French Expeditionary Corps, after receiving large reinforcements, undertook an offensive against Viet Bac—a major economic and political region in North Vietnam on the Vietnamese-Chinese border. The French command intended to begin a simultaneous two-pronged offensive on Viet Bac. One force, commanded by Beaufre, was to strike from the east, from Lang Son, and move along the northern border of Viet Bac to Cao Bang, from which it was to turn southwest toward Bac Can and the Song Tram River. A second force, commanded by Communal, was to attack from the south. Beaufre’s force was to complete the encirclement of Viet Bac from the east, covering a distance of 420 km. Communal’s force was to move 250 km from the south, along the Hong Ha (Red) River, up the Lo River, through the city of Tuyen Quang, and up the Song Tram River in order to complete the encirclement of Viet Bac from the west.
The operation to capture Viet Bac began on Oct. 7, 1947, with the bombing of peaceful villages, followed by a landing of more than 1,200 paratroopers. The Viet Bac offensive was planned as the decisive operation in the military actions against the DRV. Actively supported by the entire nation the Vietnamese Army and partisan units wrecked the offensive prepared by the enemy. The French forces suffered a defeat in mid-October 1947: the military forces of Beaufre and Communal attempting to carry out the operation to encircle Viet Bac were completely routed. Surrounded and attacked on all sides, the French fell back, losing 7,500 soldiers and officers.
The unsuccessful offensive on Viet Bac and the great losses incurred forced the French command to change its strategy. In the second stage of the general War of Resistance (1948-53), the French command refused to engage in large offensive operations and shifted to the strategic defense of French-occupied areas of the DRV, political maneuvering, and blackmail. The French established a puppet government in the occupied territory of Vietnam in May 1948 and formed an army, which served the imperialists as an instrument for inflaming the fratricidal civil war in Vietnam.
Growing military and financial difficulties forced the French government to turn to the USA for aid. This move, in turn, created favorable conditions for American imperialist intervention into the internal affairs of Vietnam.
The change in the French strategy caused the DRV’s military command to adopt a policy of expanded partisan warfare. In the fall and winter of 1948-49, partisan warfare intensified deep in the rear of the French forces, where partisan bases and entire partisan regions were set up. Partisan detachments acted suddenly, seeking to achieve the rapid conclusion of battle operations. During this period the French command endeavored to suppress the DRV through hunger, conducting terror from the air—the so-called rice expeditions. The government of the DRV took the necessary steps to create armed forces (in August 1949, the 1st Infantry Division of the People’s Army was formed). The DRV government also established a war industry and expanded agricultural production, thereby meeting the needs of the DRV’s armed forces in terms of equipment, arms, and food. The establishment of diplomatic relations between the DRV and the USSR and other socialist countries in 1950 beneficially influenced the development of the Vietnamese people’s liberation struggle, since it considerably strengthened the international position of the DRV.
By the end of 1950 it was becoming apparent that the war had reached a turning point. By this time the People’s Army had liberated a vast area of North Vietnam bordering on the People’s Republic of China (the towns of Cao Bang, Lang Son, Thah The, Na Sam, Hoa Binh, Lao Cai, Dong Khe, and Loc Binh).
At the end of 1950 the French forces received reinforcements from North Africa and metropolitan France as well as a large quantity of American arms and military equipment (amphibious tanks, planes, river gunboats, and armored cars) and napalm and thermite bombs. The permanent military mission of the USA arrived. The undisguised intervention of the American militarists created additional difficulties for the DRV.
In the course of 1951-52 the People’s Army conducted active military operations against units of the Expeditionary Corps. In the fall of 1952 the towns of Nghia Lo and Son La in northern Vietnam—the main French bases on the right bank of the Da (Black) River—were liberated.
Beginning in the fall of 1953 the People’s Army of the DRV developed broad offensive operations on all fronts. The war entered its concluding stage (fall 1953-summer 1954). In the winter of 1953 all of northwest Vietnam with the exception of the Dien Bien Phu region was liberated. The situation of the French Expeditionary Corps in Vietnam was becoming ever more grave despite American aid, which amounted to 15 percent of the French occupiers’ total military expenditures in Vietnam in 1950 and 1951, 35 percent in 1952, 45 percent in 1953, and 80 percent in 1954. In early 1954 the Vietnamese People’s Army achieved the greatest victory in the history of the War of Resistance, completely defeating the French forces in Dien Bien Phu (March 13-May 7). Developing its offensive operations, the People’s Army liberated the towns of Nam Dinh, Ninh Binh, Thai Binh, and Phu Ly in early July 1954.
The swift offensive operations of the People’s Army in the Hong Ha River Delta created a direct threat to the main forces of the French Expeditionary Corps concentrated in Hanoi, Haiphong, and other cities. According to the data of the newspaper Nhan Dan, the French colonialists lost over 466,000 soldiers and officers in Indochina between Dec. 19, 1946, and July 21, 1954. France’s serious military defeats and the long struggle by the forces of peace and democracy headed by the Soviet Union for the termination of the colonial war in Vietnam forced the French government to enter into negotiations. On July 20-21, 1954, at the Geneva conference of foreign ministers agreements concerning the restoration of peace in Indochina were signed—agreements that were grossly violated by the USA’s aggression in Vietnam.
SOURCESCuoc Khang chien than thanh cua nhan dan Vietnam, vols. 1-2, 4. Hanoi, 1958-60.
REFERENCESHo Chi Minh. Izbr. stat’i i rechi. Moscow, 1959.
Vo Nguyen Giap. “Osvoboditel’naia voina v’etnamskogo naroda protiv frantsuzskikh imperialistov i amerikanskikh interventov (1945-1954 gg.)” Voprosy istorii, 1959, no. 4.
Truong Chinh. La Resistance vaincra. Hanoi, 1960.
Vo Nguyen Giap. People’s War, People’s Army. Hanoi, 1961.
Pridybailo, A. I. Narodnaia armiia V’etnama. Moscow, 1959.
Berdnikov, G. “Nekotorye voprosy voennogo iskusstva v voine Soprotivleniia v’etnamskogo naroda.” Voenno-istoricheskii zhurnal, 1961, no. 5.
Mkhitarian, S. A. Bor’ba v’etnamskogo naroda za natsional’nuiu nezavisimost’, demokratiiu i mir (1945-1955 gg.). Moscow, 1957.
Kadymov, G. G. “Porazhenie agressivnoi politiki Frantsii vo V’etname v khode vseobshchei voiny Soprotivleniia (1946-1954 gg.).” In Kolonializm—zleishii vrag narodov Vostoka. Moscow, 1962.
Istoriia V’etnama v noveishee vremia (1917-1965). Moscow, 1970.
S. A. MKHITARIAN