The Indochina war, an offshoot of
the Second World War, remains one of the most obscure pages
of our history.
Within a context of decolonization, against a backdrop of the
Cold War, the Indochina War took place between Vietminh troops,
backed by China and the USSR, and the Vietnamese army, then
an integral part of the French expeditionary force.
France assigned General de Lattre de Tassigny to handle the
situation and make the Vietnamese stand up to the challenge.
He went to the United States to solicit American assistance,
while, at the same time, the Korean War was raging on. He obtained
all the equipment necessary for the building up of a Vietnamese
army, which had to subsequently relieve the French expeditory.
« My son hasn't
died for France, but for Vietnam »
There was general indifference in France towards this
overseas conflict, which provoked the indignation of a
section of the public, who neither understood its rationale
nor had an idea about how bloody and tragic it was.
My son hasn't died for France, but for Vietnam » declared
General de Lattre, soon after his son, a twenty-four-year
old section commander, was killed on the battle ground.
Despite all the literature and films on the Indochina War,
much is yet to be told. School texts in which it has been
treated are riddled with errors and omissions…
of the War
The Indochina war, 1946 - 1954, took
place on the Indochinese peninsular, conquered by France between
1859 (the capture of Saignon) and 1887 (the creation of the
Indochinese Union: Annam, Tonkin, Cambodia, Cochinchina and
Between 1940 and 1945, French troops went through a real tough
time. In 1940, during the Second World War, they were defeated
in France itself, later on in Indochina, when Japanese troops
partially invaded Tonkin, then in Cambodia, during the Thai
invasion and finally, during the Japanese military strike of
An eight-year difficult
This series of events, and the soiled French military
image, came to be, amongst other factors, particularly
the rift between the totalitarian powers and the free world,
the origin of the creation of Viet-minh (the Vietnam Independence
Front) and the remote causes of a difficult war, which
lasted for eight long years.
Entrée de Cân Tho
Crédit photo: Général Guy SIMON
of the war
When they came back in October
1945, after the surrender of Japan, French forces led by
Leclerc effortlessly regained possession of the southern
part of the Indochinese peninsular. As for the area north
16th parallel, negotiations with Viet-minh and China proved
to be difficult, as France refused to accept Hô Chi
Minh claims over the control of Tonkin, Annam and Cochin
French troops entered Hanoi, where they relieved the Chinese
Viet-minh, which had seized power in August 1945, was forced
to pull back into the jungle.
The war began by the end of 1946, with the bombing of the
Haiphong port and a Viet-minh military strike in Hanoi.
In 1950, French troops were defeated in Cao Bang by a coalition
of Viet-minh and Chinese forces.
In 1951, thanks to General
de Lattre de Tassigny’s
action, French troops registered some victories, but they
On May 7, 1954, French volunteers who had taken up positions
in Dien Bien Phu were overpowered by a highly numerically
superior opponent despite their brave resistance.
of the same year, the Geneva accord was signed: France
withdrew, and a border line was drawn along the 17th parallel
to mark the boundary between the two emergent States: the
Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north, and the Republic
in the south.
This ideological rift, a few years later,
sparked off new clashes on Indochinese territory between
the two east/west
Communism versus the free world.
In the next few lines, Colonel
Gagniard, former president of the FNCV, a living witness and actor of this
period of our history, seeks to paint an objective picture
of what it was like, fighting an elusive enemy on a often
frontless battle ground, when as a French sergeant on guard,
or a young French lieutenant commanding a whole company,
you had no one but yourself to count on. Usually, when a
soldier has no liaison with a neighbouring unit or his/her
superior, he/she cannot feel safe. Lieutenants, with shining
newly stitched stripes, were dying in hundreds, an entire
batch from Saint-Cyrper a year, may be.
Wait for your turn; I consume one officer per month ! »
To Second Lieutenant Gagniard, a volunteer reserve officer,
anxious upon arrival in Indochina to go to the battle field,
the Colonel, commanding the 1st Chasseurs, symbolic amoured
regiment of Tonkin, said: « Wait for your turn; I consume
one officer per month! ».
Eight days later, the young officer became commander of an