Colonial Wafare pt, 16
Duking it out with the commies
The end of colonial rule in Vietnam would be a protracted war and woulkd sow the seeds for the death knell of the French Empire and almost French Democracy.
Another War in Indochina
From 1947 onward, France was at war with Vietnam, then known as French Indochina. After World War II, France had sought to retain its colonial hold on the country. All of Southeast Asia was a rich prize in minerals, oil, and other materials essential to an industrialized world. Many of the Vietnamese people had tired of being ruled by one country and then another. They yearned for autonomy, even to the point of giving their lives for it. This, of course, meant the throwing off of the yoke of bondage the French government sought to impose upon them.
One of the strongest factions in the bid for internal control was the communist party of Indochina. Under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh (“he who enlightens”), the members became active combatants and formed an army of resistance, known as the Viet Minh. Using the strategies of Mao Tse Tung of China, the Communists maintained guerilla style warfare. It was a sinister game of hit and run. The elusiveness of the Viet Minh was frustrating to the French. It was like trying to pin down a slick watermelon seed. Every time the French thought they had them, they would slip away.
As the years passed, the Viet Minh were developing into an army of consequence. With the Communist triumph in China in 1949, the comrade forces in Indochina began receiving copious amounts of weapons and supplies. This included all types of artillery, giving them a new and more powerful force.
Giap became emboldened by the sudden strengthening of his guerrilla forces and went to direct confrontation with French. He would greatly regret it. His troops were not quite ready for that phase of the overthrow and were soundly beaten. This meant a return to the old hit and run tactics as before. The French people, however, were tiring of a war some 8,000 miles from the homeland. It seemed distant and unimportant. Increased pressure was placed upon the French government, especially by communist sympathizers in France to end the war.
By the end of 1953, the Viet Minh had rebuilt their forces and were even stronger than before. They could now field six infantry divisions, and a heavy artillery division (the 351st). Many of The cannoneers had been trained in China, and almost all the infantry were fighting veterans. In fact, large numbers of Chinese and Russian instructors were within Vietnam preparing Ho’s soldiers for war. They were now better armed, better trained and highly motivated. Their stoic, Spartan lifestyle could not be successfully imitated by the French troops.
The French government failed to grasp the seriousness of the developing situation. The military and the politicians continually underestimated the Viet Minh, and took the task of defeating them half-heartedly. Unrest in Algeria and political upheaval in France itself caused the struggle in Indochina to take a lesser place of importance in the list of commitments.
A Battle is Sought
In 1953, new leadership entered the arena of battle. It was now realized that some drastic, decisive action was necessary or an enemy that refused to quit was slowly but surely bleeding them to death. General Henri Navarre, now in his 55th year, took the reins of the fighting in Indochina. He served in the intelligence arm of the resistance and later took command of a Spahi Regiment chasing Germany out of France. He also participated in the invasion of Germany and gained fame with his triumph in the fighting at Karlsruhe.
Navarre envisioned a special type of confrontation to force the Viet Minh into the open. A new concept was evolving. It was that of an air-land base, or airhead. It consisted of strongly defended and interconnecting hedgehog positions in an area directly in the middle of enemy territory.
Once established, usually by parachuting troops and engineers, it would be maintained by airdrop. All supplies and reinforcements would be either be flown in or dropped into the airhead. Its purpose would be that of constant threat to the enemy's supply lines and rear areas. Furthermore, if the enemy sought to dislodge them, the strong fortress like defenses would be impenetrable, and the enemy would expend its assets in trying to destroy it.
It was tried in October 1952 in Na Son. There native soldiers and French legionnaires withstood weeks of siege and human wave assaults. The Viet Minh were defeated, and the French themselves finally removed the airhead, because it was located in an area that would no longer effectively hinder the enemy. General Navarre, recently appointed the new commander in Chief in Indochina, was aware of these events and immediately sought an area that would be more advantageous for this enterprise.
The area selected was a valley located over 300 miles from French headquarters and near the Laotian border. The village of Dien Bien Phu was the junction of three highways, and by establishing an airhead there, the Viet Minh would be deprived of a prime resupply and reinforcement route from Laos. Such an airhead could provide not only a threat to the supply lines, but could also serve as a jumping off spot for offensive action against the enemy.
Though discussed, no clear-cut decision was ever made by France either for or against this venture. Once again, vacillation on the part of the French leadership would prove decisive to actions in Indochina. Navarre strongly believed in the concept and was determined to see it accomplished.
Operation Castor Begins
On Nov.20th, 1953, a lone C-47 lazily circled the Dien Bien Phu valley. Within its body the plane carried some of the top military of the French Indochina Army. The most important to the event was Brig. Gen. Jean Gilles, commander of airborne forces, Indochina. The aircraft also contained pathfinders for a large force of paratroopers standing by some 300 miles to the southeast, in Hanoi.
Below Vietminh troops of the 920th Battalion watched the airplane as it circled. They had little time to gaze, as they were undergoing field training and their officers barked orders tersely to them. The officers also looked up, viewed the plane, recognized the silhouette and paid no further attention. It was not an attack craft and therefore no reason for concern.
The fog was clearing and the sun began burning off the haze. General Gilles sent an immediate dispatch to Hanoi. “Fog dissipating.” Within an hour, the first C-47s of an air armada of sixty-five rolled down the runways of Bach-Mai and Gia-Lam airfields and headed towards Dien Bien Phu. The attack was on!
Even as the landings were taking place, certain leaders, such as General Cogny, questioned the feasibility of the operation. General Cogny warned that even such a formidable force as the one being formed in the valley could conceivably be imprisoned there, and have little chance for escape or survival. Such observations were ignored, however, by General Navarre, who was convinced of the efficiency of the operation. He listened, but felt strongly committed to the effort and would not call it off.Once on the ground and having taken control of the valley, the French immediately began work on the landing field near the village. It was the first priority. As soon as it was opened, supplies for the construction of defensive positions poured in by the ton.
A Battle is Found
Toward the end of 1953, intelligence became aware of mass movements on the part of the Viet Minh toward Dien Bien Phu. Instead of alarming General Navarre, he delighted in the news, feeling that just such a confrontation was desired. No longer would he be chasing a shadowy figure, but a gunfight in the street was pending. He believed he had both the firepower and manpower to win a decisive victory and cripple the Viet Minh severely.
Navarre did not warn the troops in the valley of this information, because he did not see the need to alarm them. Because of this ignorance, progress at Dien Bien Phu moved at a snail's pace. After all, what was the hurry? Except for occasional sniping, the enemy was conspicuously absent.
To further bolster the defenses, ten disassembled M-24 Tanks were flown in and put together at the fortress. They were organized into 3 platoons. The "Bisons", as they came to be known, were to become some of the most effective weapons in the defense of the garrison. Early Recon in Force operations proved to be extremely hazardous and costly, and were quickly curtailed to preserve manpower and supplies.
To the North, another airhead was disbanded and some 20 Tai light infantry companies were ordered to march overland to various other bases, including Dien Bien Phu. They were attacked enroute, and a rescue column from Dien Bien Phu was sent out to meet with them. After fighting to the designated meeting point, rescuers found that the Tai infantry had been massacred. The return proved also to be costly in casualties.
The Siege Begins
On January 31st, shelling of Dien Bien Phu began by communist artillerymen. The Viet Minh had accomplished what no one thought possible. They had transported over 200 artillery pieces of above 57mm Caliber into the hills surrounding the French, including numerous batteries of the Katyusha rocket launchers. Due to a shortage of personnel, the French had contented themselves with securing the valley floor, and not patrolling the deeply forested hills around them. The tragedy was to be that the French would lose more men to artillery attacks than to infantry weapons.
By the beginning of the second week of March, the Vietminh had dug over 100 kilometers of trenches around the northern strongpoints of Gabrielle, Beatrice and Anne Marie. As Giap's men dug, the French artillery and mortars pounded them. An occasional flat report of a French sniper rifle signaled the untimely demise of some “Boi Doi” who inadvertently raised his head above the edge of the parapet. Even so, shovels of dirt constantly flew out of the diggings. The Viet Minh would not be stopped.
At this point the French had about 13,000 troops in Dien Bien Phu, 6,500 of them being front line soldiers. Four Communist divisions surrounded them. They numbered nearly 50,000 men. The French were now outnumbered 5 to 1. Military strategists estimate that the attacker needs a 3 to 1 superiority in order to take its objective. In addition, Giap had mustered 288 larger guns to the 88 guns of Dien Bien Phu.
Giap’s initial strikes would fall on the northern most French positions. They were Him Lan or “Beatrice”; Doc Lap, or “Gabrielle”; and Ban Keo, “Anne-Marie.” The communist force facing the Legionnaires, Algerians, and Tais vastly outnumbered them. With growing concern, Major Pegot, commander of Beatrice watched the enemy growing nearer. He and his troops could see the enemy battalions forming for the attack in the nearby hills.
Now the human wave assaults began. The Boi Doi leaped from the trenches and ran toward the Legionnaire emplacements. The “volunteers of death” preceded them. These were sappers, armed with homemade bangalore torpedoes, lengths of bamboo pole filled with explosives, designed to rip away barbed wire in the path of the onrushing troops. Others carried explosive charges to plant next to bunkers or to hurl into defending trenches. The shock effect of their charge was startling, but the defenders recovered quickly.
The next victim was Gabrielle. This time, instead of human wave assaults that were used on Beatrice, the Viet Minh sought to overcome the defenders with massive artillery fire and infiltration. When machines guns from the northern bunkers stopped the attackers cold, one People's Army gunner dragged a 75mm wheeled bazooka to within 150 yards of the emplacement, scored three hits on it, and left it demolished, smoking and eerily silent. That and a direct hit on the command post, wiping out the leaders, sealed the fate of Gabrielle. Over 2,000 Viet Minh were killed in these assaults, and brought a pause in the battle.
The French had also suffered heavily. Losing one tank, over 500 crack Algerians, an entire heavy mortar company, the defenders were stunned with the ferocity of the attacks, and numbed by the incessant shelling. General Piroth, shaken by the inability of his beloved artillery to counter the Viet-Minh fire, committed suicide, and Col. Keller, Chief of Staff for the fortress had a nervous breakdown and had to be relieved. Over 500 Vietnamese troops proved to be absolutely worthless in battle and were stripped of all rank and authority, and made coolies. Further, an entire Tai rifle company quietly deserted into the hills.
Keeping Hope Alive
The arrival of a crack battalion, the 6th BPC and others by parachute into Dien Bien Phu was a real lift to their morale. By now anything coming into the fortress was by airdrop, and that was becoming increasingly difficult, since more AA guns ringed the valley.
The French became so desperate that private pilots and crews from the American-operated Civil Air Transport Company were paid to make the supply drops. Many stated that the intensity of the anti-aircraft fire was greater than anything seen in World War II or Korea, and would remain unequalled until Vietnam.
A feeble offensive effort was made by De Castries to relieve some of the pressure of the anti- aircraft guns. Following a short, intensive, rolling artillery barrage, tanks and a few battalions moved into the hills around Claudine and effectively destroyed five 20mm guns, various machine guns and over 300 of the enemy troops.
Now from the West, Huguette was the next lady to be assaulted. One attack after another against the French created huge amounts of casualties for them. The medical station was completely overwhelmed. Over 1,000 casualties were consigned to hastily constructed trenches, with little shelter, light, water or food. There was none to be had. The stench of the medical facility wafted over the compound, and not surprisingly, many walking wounded preferred to return to their units, than endure such conditions.
Deserters in our Midst
During the siege, a strange phenomenon occurred. Over 2,000 Tai, Algerian, Moroccan, and Vietnamese deserted, but since there was no escape, they moved into the very center of the stronghold near the river, and became known as "The Rats of Nam Yum."
Even a bordello was set up there for non-European troops, and their presence was a constant drain on resources and morale. The leaders, however, could do nothing about it, as they lacked the manpower to round them up and police them.
The communist General Giap was forced now to bring in reinforcements from all over Indochina. His attackers had been so depleted from French resistance that he had to scrounge from every corner of the country. Many spoke disparagingly of Giap, saying that he was "a non-commissioned officer learning to lead regiments." what he lacked in skill he made up for in determination.
It is ironic to note that if the French had pulled out of Dien Bien Phu in late December, they would have left most of the People's Army lodged in a distant and isolated valley in an obscure comer of Vietnam. Now the very best of France's army was being slowly annihilated. The southernmost outposts of Isabelle and Wieme were completely cut off from the other strongpoints. Savage artillery attacks and repeated attacks upon them left no alternative but to try to hold on. No help would come from there.
Looking for a Way Out
At the end of April, the fortress of Dien Bien Phu had been reduced dramatically. Now the French held parts of Huguette, Dominique and a couple of highpoints in Eliane. Active combatant troops numbered about 2,000, many of whom were wounded. Most suffered from various illnesses and malnutrition.
Haggard, worn, and exhausted from lack of rest due to incessant shelling, they were a pitiful remnant of some of France's best soldiers. A few artillery pieces were still operational, and only one tank was in running order.
At Isabelle, the southern and isolated strongpoint, about 1,000 men were crowded into an area of about one-fourth of a square mile. The only discipline remaining for the allied units was that of survival, and that light shone dimly for them. By now, the AA guns had been moved into the valley in positions previously occupied by the French, and resupply was literally impossible. General De Castries still believed that the arrival of a relief column, or a cease-fire might set them free. All that was needed, he stated was 12 hours of relative quiet. That was not to be.
The Stroke of Death
By May 7th, De Castries saw that it was now utterly hopeless. He ordered all firing stopped at 1730, and informed Communist General Giap of his decision. Around the headquarters, the soldiers carried out the orders of their commander, and destroyed what weapons and ammunition that remained.
By the next morning, units from the 308th "Iron Division" occupied De Castries' command bunker. A few hundred troops from Isabelle managed to escape the night before. All remaining allied troops were now prisoners of the Viet Minh.
Though not badly treated at first, the survivors were ordered to prisoner of war camps some 300 hundred miles away. They were interspersed among the Viet-Minh columns to prevent the French from bombing them. Only 2,000 of the nearly 7,000 French soldiers were to survive the ordeal of the march and the prison camps. The rest joined the 3,000 French soldiers and airmen who had given their lives in the defense of Dien Bien Phu. The battle reinforced some basic truths in warfare. Static defenses, no matter how well constructed, are a "sitting target."
Any encircled force, no matter how brave, is doomed if it cannot be effectively resupplied and reinforced. It was a victory of sorts for General Giap, but Communist propaganda made it one of the great triumphs of all time. The valiant heroes of Dien Bien Phu have indeed left their mark on history. It is that fact which stands out above all others.
Part of the French difficulties were the use of North African and local troops.
The French holdings in North Africa provided one of the main sources of manpower for the CEFEO. In July 1953, there were 30,000 North Africans serving in Indochina, as static garrisons, parts of the Groupes Mobile (GMs) or other mobile duties. The Tirailleurs (riflemen), Goumiers (Moroccan irregular infantry) and spahis (cavalry) from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, served throughout the war in many roles. T
Each Régiment de Tirailleurs Algériens (RTA - Algerian Rifle Regiment) was required, in early 1947, to form a March Battalion for service in Indochina, as part of the 1re Demi-Brigade de Marche de Tirailleurs Algériens (1re DBMTA - 1st March Demi-Brigade of Algerian Rifles). These were to return to their original units after a two-year tour. From 1950, the battalions stayed in place in Indochina, and were relieved by detachments from Algeria or Germany, to replace the time-expired personnel.
In addition, four of the Bataillons de Pionniers Nord-Africains (BPNA) - formed in 1945-46 to guard depots of US military surplus material - were renamed (using the designations of previous tirailleur battalions, dissolved in 1940) and sent to Indochina.
Also, the 7e RTA was sent in 1953 from garrison duty in Germany to serve in Indochina.
The uniform and personal equipment of the Algerian Tirailleurs was generally a mixture of pre-WW2 French, WW2 US or British, and some post-WW2 French patterns. The bush-hat was popular in the field, though the US pattern steel helmet is also often seen on photographs, with the chèche (worn as a turban) mainly reserved for parades. Armament was typical for all CEFEO units (mixture of MAS 36 and M1 Garand rifles, plus FM 24/29 and 60mm or 81mm mortars as support). Tirailleurs used the standard CEFEO battalion organisation of HQ company and 4 rifle companies (often reduced to 3 companies in practice).
The 2e and 3e Régiments de Spahis Algériens (RSA) each provided a squadron for the RSMEO (see under Moroccan Spahis).
The 8e Groupe d'Escadrons de Spahis Algériens (GESA), together with 2 squadrons (dismounted) from the 6e and 9e GESAs, arrived in Tonkin on the 18/04/49 as the 8e Groupe de Spahis Algériens à Pied. They initially operated on RC5 and in the sub-sector of Dap Cau. Operated from 05-06/50 around Hué, then returned to Tonkin for service in the Delta, notably with GM 3. In 02/51, they became the 8e Groupe d'Escadrons Algériens Portés, forming (with 2 squadrons of M-24 Chaffees of the 1er Chasseurs) 2 armoured groups. Their 4th Squadron was composed of Muong (tribal) personnel. The unit was renamed the 8e RSA on 01/01/53, and continued to operate with the 1er Chasseurs. Reorganised in 10/53, they then comprised a tank squadron, a squadron carried in M3 half-tracks, and 3 squadrons mounted in GMC trucks. They operated in the south of the Red River Delta and on RC5 before being moved to Cochinchina in 11/54, before embarkation for Algeria in 07/55.
In all, there were 21 battalions of Moroccan tirailleurs employed in Indochina between 1947 and 1956. Their main service was in Tonkin (17 battalions), but they also served in Cochinchina (8 bns), Annam (5 bns) and Laos (7 bns). There was only intermittent duty in Cambodia.
Initially, as for the other tirailleurs, march battalions were sent from Morocco for two-year tours, and then returned. But, from 1950, the units remained in place and were relieved by periodic detachments from Morocco. The battalions followed the normal CEFEO pattern, with the usual mix of French (pre- and post-WW2), US and British uniforms and equipment. The bush-hat, steel helmet or chèche (as turban, or worn under the helmet) seem to be the most common headgear. Weapons as per other CEFEO troops.
These irregular units were formed of volunteer tribesmen from the Atlas Mountains, who now had to adapt to a new style of combat, and a climate very different to their homeland. The Moroccan goumiers were formed into Tabors (battalions) of three Goums (companies) plus a Goum de commandement, d'accompagnement et de transmissions (GCAT - i.e. HQ company). Their uniform was basically that worn during the campaigns of 1943-45 in Italy, with the khaki cotton uniform being most often worn in Indochina without the djellaba (a loose gown, with a hood, worn over the uniform and belted) - though the djellaba was worn in the Tonkin highlands, especially during winter. The gandourah (loose, light khaki cotton "arabic" overshirt) was also fairly common. On their departure for Indochina, the goumiers were issued with colonial sun-helmets, but these were little worn, as were steel helmets. The favoured headgear was a turban formed from the chèche (in light khaki) or a bush-hat. French officers wore either a sky-blue kepi, or side-cap (light blue over sky blue).
In August 1948, the 10e Tabor arrived in Indochina, followed by the 8e (December 1948) and 3e (June 1949). From June 1949, there were always three Tabors present in Indochina, forming the Groupement de Tabors Marocains d'Extrême Orient (GTMEO). Each Tabor was relieved after a two-year tour.
Operating principally in Tonkin (in the Red River Delta, the mountains of the Thai hill tribes, and the north-eastern border with China). In October 1950, they suffered heavy losses in the fighting along RC4, where the 8e Tabor was virtually annihilated. During 1952-3, the 9e Tabor was based on the highland of Central Annam, while others operated in Laos in 1953-4 (5e, then 10e and 8e Tabors). In total, nine Tabors served in Indochina, with two (the 8e and 10e) serving for a second tour. Their losses during the Indochina War were 16 officers, 41 NCOs and 730 goumiers killed.
The use of Vietnamese troops weren't much of a help to the French efforts.
One of the main problems for the French military in Indochina was an acute manpower shortage. Especially as they were forbidden to use French conscripts by successive French home governments, this difficulty became more grave as time went on. The Foreign Legion was the most important source of Europeans, and the African colonies provided significant numbers of men, but it was never enough. As time went on and casualties mounted, increasing numbers of Indochinese troops were brought into the TFEO, or organised into "national" units, but for various reasons this large reserve was never tapped efficiently. However, the aim here is to describe the Indochinese men and units which did serve to support the French administration - as can be seen, not all these peoples were anti-French!
There had been Indochinese troops in French service since 1859, and after the Japanese interlude, many of the previous tirailleurs returned to French service. The French initially used the Indochinese personnel mainly as coolies and other workers, and in the militia/guard units used to man static positions along the main roads, rivers and other communication routes. Some formed partisan units either acting alone (as in Touby Li Foung's Hmong guerrillas in Laos) or attached to regular units as scouts (which was particularly the case with the Legion and Paras). As time passed,however, Indochinese personnel were brought into nominally European or African units to replace losses. Some supposedly "white" units were 50% Indochinese by the middle years of the war.
Pre-WW2, the French had recruited mainly from the "Annamese" population of the Vietnamese provinces (Tonkin, Annam and Cochinchine). The Khmer and Lao were supposedly pacifistic buddhists, and so not thought to be suitable for military service, though their later activity seems hardly pacifistic! Hill tribes (the famous montagnards) such as the Thô and Meo of Tonkin or the Hmong of Laos had been used as auxiliaries (trackers/scouts or militias) in the pre-WW2 period, and continued to be used in this rôle during the Indochina War.
After the Japanese takeover of 9th March 1945, the old French colonial military structure was demolished. The French troops were interned, executed, or in China, while the Indochinese personnel either served under the Japanese or went home. Many joined the ranks of the Viet Minh.
When the Indochina War started in 1946, the French forces consisted almost entirely of French and North African troops, with Indochinese present as coolies, service personnel or fighting auxilliaries. As the war escalated, the Indochinese proportion increased dramatically. General Leclerc realised the need to recruit Vietnamese partisans, and General Salan got this in motion. In a memo to all battalions of 14th November 1947, he asked for the maximum use of Indochinese personnel to fill the gaps in French units. While many Indochinese were recruited, there was no real system to this.
In Tonkin, the auxilliaries came from the following sources:
* Vietnamese who had suffered at the hands of the VM
* Vietnamese christians
* Ethnic minorities (Thai, Nung, Meo, Hmong, Thô, Man, etc.) who were generally hostile to the Viet majority.
* Pro-French Vietnamese
* Some of the captive VM (prisonniers et internés militaires - PIM) who, having worked as coolies for the CEFEO, decided to join the French side and fight against their previous comrades.
In Cochinchina, the main sources of auxilliaries were the christian militias, the sects, and the Binh Xuyen (see Sects,Drugs and Warrior Monks). Many of these had initially been part of the Viet Minh front, but were either dissillusioned by the communists, or wooed away by the French.
Thus there was a progressive jaunissement ("yellowing") of the French forces, but it was under the joint military-political rule of General de Lattre (17 December 1950 to 19th November 1951) that the formation of a Vietnamese National Army was started in earnest.
Formation of the Armée Nationale Vietnamienne
Initially, the Armée Nationale Vietnamienne (Vietnamese National Army - ANV) was formed by transferring Indochinese units from the TFEO to the new force. This included the Vietnamese battalions from Colonial regiments,Vietnamese battalions and companies which had been attached to Legion units, and the bawouans - the Indochinese paratroop battalions. These hardened units tended to be the élite around which the rest of the ANV was formed.
On the 15th July 1951, General de Lattre convinced the fledgling Vietnamese Government to order a general mobilisation of the new ANV - i.e. conscription in Vietnam. Unfortunately this did not quite work as planned. Large numbers of the conscripts did not turn up, and many of those who did proved to be unfit for service. However, the ANV did increase from 65,000 men in January 1951, to 128,000 by December of that year. (In the same period the Cambodian troops went from 5,000 to 10,500, and the Laos forces from 4,000 to 9,500).
To provide the Vietnamese officers required by this new army, de Lattre set up the École Militaire Inter-armes (Combined Military Academy) at Dalat (the "St Cyr of Indochina"), together with Regional Military Academies. During 1951, some 800 Vietnamese officers joined the ANV. The quality of the ANV units varied enormously. Some officers and NCOs - particularly in the ex-Legion, ex-Colonial or para units, were efficient and effective, but many were political appointées with no real interest in the army. Units ranged from tough and resiliant formations the equal of anything in the CEFEO, to ineffective ones which deserted en masse. There were also significant numbers of VM agents in the ranks of the ANV...
Costs of Forming the ANV: during 1951, the Vietnamese Government voted 13.5 billion piastres (40% of their income)for the ANV, while France provided 28 billion. For 1952, the Vietnamese contribution remained at 40% of their total,with the French Government voting 48.8 billion for the three Indochinese National Armies together.
To command this fledgling national army, obviously a Vietnamese officer was required. The choice made was Nguyen Van Hinh, who had served with distinction in the Free French Airforce during WW2 in Italy, France and Germany, achieving the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was ambitious and opportunistic, and also the son of Nguyen Van Tam (President of the new Vietnamese Government under Bao Dai). Made Brigadier-General in the ANV, General Hinh took command in 1952.
He immediately set about re-organising the army, which he felt was "too heavy", being based on French patterns. His answer was to form more numerous, lighter battalions - the Tieu Doan Kinh Quan (TDKQ - Vietnamese Commando Battalions).
The idea of this system was to provide a well-motivated force, capable of taking on the mobile VM formations on their own terms and defeating them. However, partly as a result of their training being rushed, partly due to over "hype" of their potential, and largely due to the VM recognising that a Vietnamese-led, well-motivated anti-communist force was a huge potential threat, these units were mauled in their early operations. The VM targeted them for destruction, and their prestige waned, being refered to as "neither commandos nor battalions".
The ANV in the spring of 1954 numbered 145 battalions, of which 45 were TDKQ. It was not, however, the independent force which it had been publicised as. Logistics were heavily dependent on the French, and there was a heavy presence of French officers, particularly in staff positions. The ANV was in any case under overall command of the CEFEO, and it is not surprising that the VM refered to them as fantoches (puppets) - the Vietnamese population as a whole probably held similar opinions.
The ANV was given control of certain regions, notably Bui Chu, but proved generally ineffective. The idea was sound, but should have been carried out several years before. It was too little, too late, and did nothing to help France in her fight with the VM.
The use of North African troops and the subsequent treatment by the Vietnamese would lead to total disaster by the end of 1954.
posted by Steve @ 2:34:00 AM