Like many other parts of Asia and Africa, Indochina also fell under the control of a European power in the 1800s. By the year 1893, France had established its power over all of Indochina. Over the next century, French imperialists abused the principles of “freedom, equality and fraternity”, violated the integrity of land and oppressed the people of Indochina. During this century of French oppression and corruption, Vietnamese nationalism against the French surged and became more intense. The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 provided a real opportunity to end French Control of Indochina.
From 1940 onwards, Nazi Germany forces controlled northern France and influenced the nominally neutral Vichy Government that ruled southern France. The Vichy Government lacked the strength to retain control of all of France’s overseas colonies. With the fall of France to Germany in 1940, Japanese forces invaded Vietnam, occupying until 1945. Ho Chi Minh, a Vietnamese socialist activist saw the Japanese invasion as an opportunity to construct a new nationalist force, one that appealed to all of Vietnamese society. Therefore, in May 1941, he founded the Viet Minh (League for the independence of Vietnam).
The Viet Minh (VM) was a national independence movement that was initially formed to seek liberation from the French empire as well as to defeat imperialist Japan. The VM was heavily influenced by nationalists groups across Indochina, especially the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), which was also founded by Ho Chi Minh. While Ho was the founder and architect of the Viet Minh, the main figure of the military development was Vo Nguyen Giap. Implacable and having great abilities as an organiser, Giap was the ideal choice for a military General.
He completely understood the works and writings of Mao, Trotsky, Sun Tzu and Napoleon- and was able to create his own methods and war tactics. General Giap alongside the Viet Minh became very successful and achieved many goals. The outstanding successes of the Viet Minh included: overthrowing Japanese control in Vietnam during World War II, the defeat of France in the First Indochinese War, winning the hearts and minds of the people in Vietnam and gaining Independence of Vietnam. During World War II, Japan had occupied French Indochina in 1940.
As well as fighting the French colonists in Vietnam, the VM had started to move against the Japanese. Due to their opposition to the Japanese, the VM received secretly supplied funding and weapons from the United States of America and the Republic of China. Japan eventually surrendered to the war in August 1945. With this, the Japanese handed over control of some public buildings and weapons that had been demanded from the French army to the VM. The VM also recruited more than 600 of the Japanese soldiers, who fought in the war against France until 1954. General Vo Nguyen Giap had an important role in the success of this war.
He fought against the Japanese after Ho convinced him to fight using guerrilla warfare and to adopt guerrilla tactics. After Japan’s surrender, the VM successfully took control over Hanoi and Cochin China in 1945. For their victory and success against the Japanese, and hence the French, Ho Chi Minh Proclaimed the independence of Vietnam on the 2nd of September 1945. “The French Fled, the Japanese surrendered. Emperor Bao Dai abdicated, our … and finally our Viet Nam an Independent Country… “. However, the French did not accept the declaration of independence and, in October 1945, they returned to re-establish their control of Indochina. n response to this, Ho Chi Minh travelled to France to try to negotiate a compromise with the French representatives in an attempt to prevent the outbreak of war. However, by 1946, it became noticeable that that there would be no compromise Negotiations between the French and VM broke down quickly. What followed was nearly ten years of war between the Vietnamese and the French. This was became known as the ‘first Indochinese war’ and started in 1946 when the VM attacked the French military. In response, the French attacked the port of Haiphong killing over 6000 Vietnamese.
The VM, who were short on modern military knowledge, created a military school in Tinh Quang Ngai on June 1946. More than 400 Vietnamese were trained by Japanese soldiers in this school. The soldiers that were trained here were considered to be the students of the Japanese and were feared by the French. However; General Giap was the actual mastermind behind the VM’s military effort. He developed the strategy that would eventually defeat the French. Giap based his strategies and tactics on Maoist doctrine. As Ho Chi Minh said of the struggle for Vietnamese independence “It is the fight between tiger and elephant.
If the tiger stands his ground, the elephant will crush him with its mass. But, if he conserves his mobility, he will finally vanquish the elephant, which bleeds from a multitude of cuts” (metaphorically speaking about guerrilla warfare where the elephant symbolises the French army and the tiger symbolises the VM) According to Robert o’ Neill (1969), Giap divided the protracted war into 3 distinct phases which were similar to Mao Zeolding’s. The First Phase was “the movement must establish a strong basis in country where the enemy cannot attack easily”.
The first phase basically meant that the VM must have a strong headquarter where most, if not all, of the important functions of the VM are coordinated. Here, soldiers should be trained and political strength must be built amongst the surrounding villages. To accomplish the first phase, the VM began building their bases (also known as ‘Chien Khu’-base area). The Viet Minh had made their base in Tonkin. They gradually developed similar base areas (Chien Khu) in the region north-east of Lang Son, the mountain region of Yen Bai, Thai N’Guyen (the “traditional” stronghold of the ICP), Quang N’Gai, Pac Bo, Ninh Binh and DongTrieu.
These areas were all extremely difficult environments, hardly any of the French made bases here. In these Chien Khu or base areas, the Viet Minh began to set up an infrastructure parallel to the French administration. The Viet Minh initially started working with the locals and national groups in villages surrounding their bases. Documents of the Communist Party of Vietnam revealed that, “To achieve solidarity with the people and unity of views between the army and the people, the former should realise that the people are like water and the army a fish.
So the army should establish a good relationship with the people and rely on the people to fight and defeat the enemy… ”. The VM followed these documents and began co-operating with the villagers. They established themselves with hard-pressed peasantry. Beatings and assassinations of money-lenders and landlords (the traditional foes of the peasant), education campaigns (the literacy programme was particularly popular), help with farming tasks, and other positive benefits won many over to the VM cause. In return of their support and help, the Viet Minh required taxes and ration intelligence (i. e. n CEFEO troop movements). Village self defence militia were formed and full compliance with this system was gradually enforced. General Giap believed that winning the ‘Hearts and Minds’ of people is the only way to victory in war. Successfully, the VM’s numbers were gradually increasing as more and more members became involved, most of which worked as civil servants. However, this was not solely due to the encouragement and support for the VM, rather, some villagers were forced to support the VM as there were heavy consequences and penalties for those who supported or even communicated with the enemy.
With these bases established, and peasant support increasing, the Viet Minh moved onto Phase Two. The second phase in Giap’s strategy was ‘a period of guerrilla doings and political campaigning’ In this phase, guerrillas will make pinprick attacks in the enemy rear, forcing him to scatter his forces and making his troops’ morale drop. The less control which the enemy is seen to have over the country, the more that the people will look to the VM for support and guidance. The Vietnamese had a tradition of “guerrilla” warfare stretching back over 2000 years.
This is because their country is suitable for such warfare, there are mixtures of rocky mountains, opaque jungles and swamps criss-crossed with rivers, communications were always difficult. The tactics used by the VM in this phase can be mainly grouped into Sabotage, Traps, Terrorism, Camouflage and Ambushes. The main type of sabotage that was made against the French was Road Cutting. The classic touches de piano (piano keys) and pothole patterns of road sabotage were unique makings of the Viet Minh activity during the Indochina War.
The piano key pattern was a series of trenches spaced to make it impossible to “zig-zag” a vehicle between them. Going though these road cuttings with a vehicle would definitely damage the vehicle and it would most likely need repairs. At this point the enemy (French) can be ambushed by the VM. The VM made wide use of booby-traps to slow or stop French movement. There were various types of traps in use, including: “homemade” mines and bombs: The Vietnamese guerrillas made use of useless shells and captured weapons to make unplanned explosive charges, mines, bombs, etc.
These could be fixed to trip-wires across paths, or attached to roadblocks. Grenade Traps: Particularly in villages (in doorways, rice-caches, etc) there were grenades poised with the pin removed, and the lever wedged down. If this was disturbed, the grenade exploded. Cross bow traps and other jungle devices: Traps originally designed for hunting animals were successfully used against the French. Tree branches would be pulled back under tension and held in place, with spikes attached, with a release mechanism triggered by a trip-wire.
The branch would then snap back into place, impaling a soldier on the spikes. Camouflaging was also a very important tactic that was used by the VM. Like the Soviet principle of maskhirova (military deception), the VM took great pains to hide their troop concentrations, movements and positions. French troops were constantly surprised by the number of Viet Minh troops who could appear from individual holes or tunnel systems. The VM developed great strategic use of tunnels – either as shelters for troops or for storage of arms and other equipment.
The French were only loosely aware of the existence of these systems. The Viet Minh had also developed great skills at placing and carrying out ambushes on French road and river convoys. The French, because of their reliance upon the road system, were very vulnerable to these ambushes – particularly in rough country where switchback roads and close terrain could mean that a convoy could hardly defend itself. In a typical ambush on a road line, the Viet Minh would mine and/or block a road as it passed through a wooded valley.
Here the vehicles had no chance to move off-road, and once they became stopped by the obstacles, the VM troops would begin to fire small arms at the soft vehicles and personnel. However,the ambushes did not always succeed, and on occasion the French managed to free themselves and even inflict heavy losses on the ambushers. The third phase in Giap’s strategy was, “when the enemy is weakened and the people are behind the Viet Minh, it is time to engage in open warfare”. Phase three basically refers to the major ‘open’ battles.
Giap, in 1950, tried Phase 3 and conducted a conversional warfare against the French in the Red Valley, near Hanoi. Unfortunately, the French decisively defeated the Viet Minh in this battle. After this battle,Giap returned to phase one and two due to the heavy casualties that they endured. After the loss in the Red Valley, Giap was able to convince his troops that they might have to fight and sustain heavy casualties for two or more decades to achieve victory. For the next three years the French attempted to lure Giap into another major battle, similar to that of the Red Valley.
In November 1953, they finally presented a target that even Giap could not refuse when they established a series of stations in the Dien Bien Phu Valley, two hundred miles from Hanoi. Believing that the surrounding mountains protected their remote defensive bases- so isolated the only way to resupply was by air- the French hoped to tempt Giap into massing his forces for a showdown on the valley floor. In mid March 1954, the VM began their artillery fire on the French below (in the valley) , imposing severe damage to the airstrip that provided the only link with the French supply base at Hanoi.
VM troops began digging tunnels to bring them closer to the French forces. The bombardment continued for a few weeks reducing the area under French control. The fog and muddied ground made it even more difficult for the French to coordinate their artilleries. On the 1st of May, 1954, the VM opened a massive attack on all areas still under French control. By the 7th of May, the VM had gained control of Dien Bien Phu and France eventually surrendered. The French got their battle, but not the way they planned it. Both the VM and French army had suffered large amounts of casualties in this horrific battle.
However, the VM had gained considerable bargaining power at the Geneva Conference, which was due to address the issue of the future of Indochina. The defeat of Dien Bien Phu had humiliated the French. From the 26th of April 1954, representatives of France, USSR and the United States met in Geneva, Switzerland to solve the problem that had risen from the war between North and South Vietnam. At the conference, it was decided that Vietnam would officially be split at the 17th parallel, into Communist-controlled North Vietnam (under Ho and the Viet Minh) and South Vietnam (under Bao Dai).
It was also agreed in the conference that France must withdraw from North Vietnam and the Viet Minh withdraw from North Vietnam. Finally, in 1954, the countries in Indochina had gained independence from France. The VM played an important role in the history of Vietnam. Throughout the years, the VM have strived and succeeded in fighting for the independence of their country from French colonialism and Japanese imperialism. They have succeeded in captivating the minds and hearts of the people of Vietnam.
With strong nationalism and support, the Viet minh was able to break the chains of oppression and hardship that they had endured for over a century. ——————————————– [ 2 ]. Speech: declaration of Independence of the democratic Republic of Vietnam by Ho Chi Minh, 2 September 1945 [ 3 ]. Maureen Anderson, Anne Low, Ian Keese, Retrospective year 11 modern History (pg 92) [ 4 ]. http://www. sparknotes. com/history/american/vietnamwar/summary. html [ 5 ]. http://members. multimania. co. uk/indochine/vm/tiger. html [ 6 ].
Speech: Declaration of Independence of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam by Ho chi Minh, 2 September [ 7 ]. Maureen Anderson, Anne Low, Ian Keese, Retrospective year 11 modern History (pg 95) [ 8 ]. http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Viet_Minh [ 9 ]. http://members. multimania. co. uk/tndochine/vm/tiger. html [ 10 ]. http://www. militaryhistoryonline. com/20thcentury/articles/maotsetunggiap. aspx [ 11 ]. http://members. multimania. co. uk/tndochine/vm/tiger. html [ 12 ]. Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Archives of the Communist Party of Vietnam, Hanoi. Documents of the People’s Army [ 13 ]. ttp://www. militaryhistoryonline. com/20thcentury/articles/maotsetunggiap. aspx [ 14 ]. http://members. multimania. co. uk/tndochine/vm/tiger. html [ 15 ]. http:J/members. multimania. co. uk/Indochine/vm/tiger. html [ 16 ]. http:J/members. multimania. co. uk/Indochine/vm/tiger. html [ 17 ]. http:J/members. multimania. co. uk/Indochine/vm/tiger. html [ 18 ]. http:J/members. multimania. co. uk/Indochine/vm/tiger. html [ 19 ]. http:J/members. multimania. co. uk/Indochine/vm/tiger. html [ 20 ]. Maureen Anderson, Anne Low, Ian Keese, Retrospective year 11 modern History (pg 99)