Welcome to 
"FRENCH INDOCHINA"
this part of the Gia Vuc Tribute website 
will endeavour to retrace 
the French history of Gia Vuc region, 
the Hre and the GCMA 
in the Central Highlands of Vietnam.
 

French Indochina
consisted of a federation of four protectorates: 
Tonkin
(North Vietnam), 
Annam (North and Central section of South Vietnam),
Laos, Cambodia
and one directly-ruled colony 
Cochinchine (South section of South Vietnam). 

They were all acquired in the mid to late 1800 
and
the capital of French Indochina was Hanoi.
 


In September 1940, the French Vichy government granted Japan's demands for military access to Tonkin for their war against China. The Japanese occupied French Indochina with superior forces and left the French military, bureaucracy and leadership in place to run  Indochina. After Pearl Harbor, the Japanese coerced the Vichy government to sign an agreement to pass on  the administration of Indochina to the Japanese, in all but in name. Once the allied landed in Normandy and France was liberated, the Japanese realised that they could no longer rely on the Vichy French collaboration in Indochina and decided on the 9th of March 1945 to eliminate French Indochina colonial structure and military forces and executed or interned all French troops as well as many civilians. The Japanese declared Vietnam independent and gave power to the emperor Bao Dai.  

 15th August 1945, Japanese forces surrendered and where disarmed to the North of the 16th parallel by the Chinese and to the south by the British.  
Ho Chi Minh, an anti Japanese OSS backed communist fighter in the mean time had organized a movement for Vietnamese independence, known as the Viet Minh with which he seized Hanoi on 2 September 1945 and declared the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.  A campaign of terror against the French and all its sympathiser was launched and at Saigon the situation deteriorate with the French civilians been assembled in a central ghetto, starved and murdered. The few French troop still imprisoned were powerless.

 

On the 12 of September 1945, 
a company of the French 5th RIC and British troops were airlifted from Rangoon (Burma) to try to stabilise the situation and rescue civilians. A cease fire did not occur until the 2nd of October after the arrival of more troops from the "Corps Expeditionnaire Francais d ‘Extreme-Orient" (CEFEO) led by General Leclerc.  Leclerc had asked for 500 000 troops, but only 75 000 men were allocated to the CEFEO.  Re-exerting of French authority was gradual and slow with most forces pushing North of Saigon.  The 5th RIC  liberated Ban Me Thuot after fierce fighting on the 2nd of December 1945.  

By February 1946 French troops re-entered northern Vietnam and  by the end of 1946 most major towns were under French control, but with most of the country side still under Viet Minh rules.

The CEFEO, Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Extrême-Orient, CEFEO  
was created in 1945 to rescue the overwhelmed "Indochina French Forces"  fighting the Japanese. General Leclerc 
was nominated commander of the CEFEO in June 1945 and
by August 15 received command of the Far East French Forces. 

The CEFEO was made of  troops from WWII free French army and from the French Union colonial territories and the French Foreign LegionThe entire Chief of Staff were from the metropole as well were volunteers from the colonial airborne units (BCP, BCCP).


By 1948 the French started to employ their newly arrived Elite paratroopers
and by the end of 1948  over 40 combat jumps had been done.

By Mid 1949 the French Union troops reach 150 000 men  with most of them tied up to static defensive positions. Most of the French offensive operations were carried by the French Para reaching around 5700 men by 1950.  

By 1949 the war started to been seen as an "anti communist expansion war" and US financial help started filtering through.  From 1950 onwards, the French war effort was greatly financially sustained  by the US, but with the condition of the French working  towards a Vietnamese independence and towards the creation of a Vietnamese National Army. The creation of the Vietnamese Army was not a problem as General De Lattre had started his "jaunissement programe"  (Yellowing process);
A) to raise much needed troops that was no longer available from France and her Colonies
B) to involve more the Vietnamese into doing their own fighting against the Viet Minh..

Indochina was reorganized in 1950, in three monarchies  Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam  which were granted the status of independence within the French Union. French influence was very dominant and French Unions troops carry on fighting Communist invasions.

Also by 1950 the war had turned into a slightly more conventional war against a Communist  invasion coming down from the north (with massive help from China).  Back  in France, the Indochina war was still not supported by the population or its ever changing governments! It was still seen seen as a "Dirty Colonial war" and was referred by the French communist as " la sale guerre".  In 1950 Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh were re-cognized by China as the true Government of Vietnam and Chinese help started pouring in.  

In September 1950 Viet Minh forces lead by General Giap started to attack and over run all the French forts along the Chinese border,  four paratroops battalion were dropped to try to relieve/rescue French troops but were virtually wiped out by the shear number of VM ( despite outstanding fighting on the French side), the infamous RC4 road will be remembered for its slaughter.  By the 17 of December 1950, Marshal De Lattre de Tassigny, a famous French commander from WWII took over control of the troops and redressed the situation. 

In January 1951 General Giap forces received their first major defeat at Vinh Yen (leaving 6000 dead), followed by Mao Khe and Ninh Binh.  In November 1951, 2000 para jumped and capture Hao Binh, a major Viet  supply centre, French ground and riverine forces soon followed. The Viet Minh tried  to encircled and suffocate the French but the Black River and the Road Colonial No 6 were kept open at high cost  through out December. 1951 saw the birth of General De Lattre de Tassigny "jaunissement" program* which was aiming to  the creation of a National Vietnamese Army.  1951 also saw the creation of the GCMA (Groupement des Commando Mixtes Aeroportes), the equivalent of the US Special Forces in Vietnam with a similar mission running SOG type operations and similar program to the CIDG.  In Mai 1951, the first  C.I.P.L.E (Compagnie Indochinoise Parachutiste de la Legion Etrangere) was created, this in effect was a fourth (Vietnamese) company added to the BEP (Battalion Etranger Parachutiste). These companies fought very well showing that Vietnamese Soldiers if well trained  and  well lead could be as effective as French units (note that NCO and Officers were experienced Legionnaires) .  Late that year, De Lattre was evacuated back to France dying of cancer.  

By the 2nd week of January 1952, the situation deteriorated for the French in Hao Binh, as the Viet managed to close the Black River then  Road Colonial No 6. After 11 days of fighting along the road No 6 a rescue column reached the town  which then was evacuated successfully  with massive air support and at high human cost due to the  usual Viet Minh human wave attacks.

The rest of 1952 saw French troops being bogged down in defensive positions with their controlled territory shrinking.  The only significant French victory was on the Parfume River coast were 3000 VM were killed during an amphibious operation.  In October, Giap started is offensive in the T'ai hills, strategic ground for his "highway" to the south, ie the Mekong river. 

In  mid October the 6th BCP (Bigeard Battalion) was drop on Tu Le in front of the advancing VM army to slow them down and  to allows the evacuations of many threaten small forts in the region.  574 para  held up for a night against the 312th VM division (10 000 men) and then  accomplished a 72 hours/40 miles jungle fighting retreat with practically no air support due to the low clouds. By November most T'ai hills were under the control of the VM, but it should be noted that the GCMA guerrilla would be operating successfully  in that area for a long time. In late October to  relieve the pressure, a major French offensive "Operation Lorraine "was launch into VM controlled territory around the Red River with 30 000 French Union troops, they penetrated deeply into enemy territory but with no major success as the Viet Minh refused to engage and vanish. Due to the logistical problem of maintaining this spearhead supplied, a withdrawal started with the French forces falling into a well position ambush inflicting them heavy casualty.  

 

In November 1952, General Salan decide to create a huge fighting camp in the Na San valley south of the Black river to block the two main invasion routes to the T'ai highlands. This camp will be manned by 12 French battalions, with an air strip and artillery.  From the 2nd to the 4th of December, general Giap will through human waves after waves at the camp, (for example the PA 21 and PA 26 (point d'appuis) held by 707 Legionnaire will be assaulted by the TD 209 (3000 Bo Dois)  and will hold due to artillery and air support). After two bloody days for the Viet Minh, Giap gave up, and (unfortunately) the idea of massive fighting camp to  engage and defeat the enemy was born in the French High Command strategy.

In 1952 the French war budget was increased from 281 billions spent the previous year to 399 billions, with the US  providing  40% of it under various forms . 

1953  the Viet Minh started moving its forces into northern Laos, French forces already stretched to the maximum were unable to reinforce theirs troops in Laos and all French fort were told to hold as long as possible.  In July, in Central Annam, the "Operation  Camargue", a combined Amphibious/Airborne/Ground operation was launched to clear the VM from the "Street Without Joy", nicknamed given to Road Colonial No 1 in the costal area north of Hue. French forces once more were spread to thin and the operation missed its main objectify of  destroying the VM regiment 95 and only achieved the destruction of one of its company but the VM was flushed out and RC1  was reopen. 

Another important factor in late  1953 was the birth of the "Groupement mobile 100", which for one of  its main Battalions had 
the "French battalion de Corée" (which fought in Korea with the  2n US Inf Div). That year the GCMA was also renamed the GMI  (Groupement Mixtes D'intervention) and would be controlling 15 000 irregulars by the end of 1954. 

On 20th of November 1953, an airborne assault (4525 men) was launched to recapture the old Japanese air strip of Dien Bien Phu,  and establish an operational base to stop and engage the Viet Minh, the beginning of the end was about to unfold. See Dien Bien Phu page!

The fall of Dien Bien Phu in Mai 1954 was a very high blow to French moral but was not in military term a significant defeat. The French Expeditionary Corps and Associated States Armies lost 15 000 troops which equated to 3.3 % of their numerical strength against a lost of 25 000 VM troops.  But this did give the French government a firmer reason to seek a way out of the Indochina conflict during the Geneva Peace Talks.

June1954 saw the French evacuation of the Tonkin delta and a Viet Minh offensive in Central Annam. When An Ke got cut off from Pleiku, it was decided to evacuate the town in an operation called "Eglantine". Two French motorized groups  GM100 and GM42 would travel half way and meet in the middle to rejoin Pleiku. In a succession of Viet Minh road ambushes GM100 was virtually annihilated in late June. 

On the 21 July 1954 Prime Minister, Pierre Mendes-France informed the French Parliament that he had achieved "an honourable settlement" to end the war in Indochina which had cost over 300 000 lives.  What he conveniently forgot to tell, that he was abandoning Vietnamese and ethnic minority (which supported France) to a violent and dark future. The French withdrawal of Tonkin after the cease fire condemned the GMI partisan and their French officers/NCO serving in  Maquis in North Vietnam and Laos to a sure death.

The cease fire was implemented on the 27th. The terms agreed were shocking with the country divided on the 17th parallel into two. The French would withdraw from the North and Viet Minh from the South by the 9th of October. For 300 days, free movement of the population would be allowed and partition would last until July 1956 when countrywide election would take place to decide the political future of Vietnam.  Until that time the CEFEO would continue to protect South Vietnam. A vital  clause for the French was the release of 11 000 French POW between August to October 1954. When the French prisoners were released, receptions parties were chocked by their physical conditions. Many men had been in Viet Minh hands since May 1954 and bore resemblance to WWII prisoners of Buchenwald or Changi jail.  The French authorities did not protest in fear of compromising future prisoners release.

* elections will be held in 1956 with the aim of creating a unified government

* prisoners of war will be released on both side (WELL MAINLY BY THE FRENCH, SEE THE FIGURES BELOW!)

* French forces will withdraw from the north and the Viet Minh from the south and
the Communists will recognise Laos and Cambodia as independent countries and agree to the withdrawal of their forces from both.




 

The Indochina tour of duty was two years and only the regular army was allowed to serve in Indochina (no conscript unless volunteers). It was not uncommon for many officers and NCO to extend their tours to three years and sometime four years and 
late in the war, most soldiers were on there second tour with some being on there third tour.   This meant that the returning few NCO and officers were very experienced and had  a very good understanding of the conflict. During most of the war, the under-manned/under equipped French army was only able to exercise effective French control in the low-lands and in populated areas of Cambodia, Laos, North and South Vietnam, the rest of the country side was dominated by the Viet Minh apart from Maquis controlled zone and very local area around French outposts and forts.

No conscripts were used in Indochina (unless volunteers) but as casualty increased and ex main land WWII troops were killed or repatriated,  the need for fresh troops rose and more French Union colonial troops were called on  from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Africa. These troops combativity varied from poor to excellent according to their leadership,  unfortunately due to sustained  high  casualty, NCO and junior officers were always to few, with their best one often going to the Para or the Legion.

The French Union Forces soldiers had fought courageously in Indochina but lack of equipment, air support, man power, the lack of support from their own government as well as the indecisiveness and some time over confidence of the High command doomed the French Forces to a defeat.  An other contributing factor in their defeat was the non continuity during the eight years of war, of French commanders in Chief (seven) and  political governors (six), the Viet Minh only had one political Leader Ho Chi Minh 
and one commander in chief Giap
 
and therefore stayed more focused. 

It is interesting to know that at the beginning of the Indochinese conflict, the US was quite hostile to the French and favored Vietnam as an independent democratic country. They regarded the war as a purely French colonial war but their attitude changed after the victory of Mao Tse Tung in China and their involvement in the Korean war. 
By 1954 the US was covering about 80% of the financial cost of the Indochina war. 
 



The main provisions of the Geneva Accord were


*
Vietnam will be divided between north and south along the 17th parallel

*
a Communist government under Viet Minh leader Ho Chi Minh will control the north and a nationalist one in the south under Emperor Bao Dai and prime minister Ngo Dinh Diem

*
the capitals will be Hanoi in the north and Saigon in the south



........................................................


 

"Jaunissement"
or
"yellowing process"

 
was the French program to increase  fighting forces numbers and strength by creating a National Vietnamese army and as well as integrating some Vietnamese forces within French forces .
Each French Foreign Legion regiment formed a composite battalion and each French Legion battalion 
added a mixte company.

In 1950
30 000 Vietnamese regulars and
35 000 auxiliaries 
where fighting with the French, 
by 1952 this increased to 
54 000 regulars 
58 000 auxiliaries 
with a further 15 000 in training.

Auxiliaries unfortunately were often placed with a couple of French soldiers in isolated outposts 
which did not achieved much when not supported by the local population. 
These outposts were also very vulnerable to sustained Viet Minh attacks and were a good source 
of weapons and ammo for the Viet Minh..


 

FEW FOB BADGES OUT OF MY COLLECTION


Groupement de Marche de la 2e Division Blindée
V
ery Famous WWII French Armoured division commanded by General Leclerc, 
this was one of the main unit in the 1946 CEFEO. 
(Corps Expeditionnaire Francais d ‘Extreme-Orient)


323e Compagnie Supplétive Militaire

These were under strength  paramilitary company commanded by an officer and couple of  NCO,
 they were similar to the  Vietnam Popular Forces/Regional Forces. 
These CSM were usually based at small isolated outpost all over Indochina. 

 

7e Bataillon Montagnard
Created in February  1951 in the Dalat region, it was part of the 4th Montagnard Division,
 this battalion was later on attached to the Group Mobile 42, GM42. 

 


V.B.S.C.  (Ve Binh Son-Cuo)

2e Compagnie, Regiment de la  Garde Montagnarde des Plateaux du Sud Indochine

This regiment had 4 companies based in the Central Highlands of South Vietnam, 
its officers and NCO were issued from the
"3ème Légion de Marche de Garde Républicaine".
 1st company was based at Haut Donnai;
2nd company was based at Ban Me Thuot;
3rd
company was based at Pleiku;
4th
company was based at Kontum.

 

The enemy

the Viet Minh
was the armed forces of the Vietnam Nationalist/Communist party 
"Việt Nam Ðộc Lập Ðồng Minh Hội", led by Ho Chi Minh. 
It is quite ironic to know that the Viet Minh received their first military training/weapons from the US OSS during WWII, they were at the time the only coherent force able to fight our common enemy, the Japanese.  After the surrender of Japan the Vietnamese communist with the help of the Japanese army took advantage of the power vacuum left in Indochina and seized Hanoi  and proclaimed the Democratic Republic of Vietnam on the 2nd of September 1945.  Japan supplied ten of thousands of weapons as well as 2000 deserters to the Viet Minh to form the back bone of the new Viet Minh army.  It is to be noted that during the war the V-M main strength was its penetration of the French Colonial Infrastructure as well as its Intelligence gathering network (relying on the Vietnamese population; support often gained by it V-M terror)  After the return of the French, the V-M would at first limit themselves into harassing French forces and would only engaged battle if greatly outnumbering the French Troops.  In late 1949, after the Communist victory in China, a ready source of weapons started flowing towards North Vietnam  where the bulk of the V-M forces were.  By 1952 help from China  was in full flow, with trails made into roads leading into the northern  area of Tonkin (North Vietnam).  Full load of war material was driven by Chinese drivers, in Chinese trucks into V-M controlled area over the border (from July 51 to July 52, 6.280 tons of military hardware was supplied to the V-M). Doted along the trails/roads were petrol dumps as well as Chinese anti aircraft guns. In camps in China, Chinese soldiers  were training V-M to guerrilla and blitzkrieg warfare and were forming sappers, radio operators, artillery men, officers and political commissars.,  By 1952 the V-M has become a formidable regular army well trained and politically indoctrinated by Chinese communist. The V-M army was able to field light and heavy infantry divisions including conventional artillery and anti aircraft artillery and with an estimated 6000 Eastern Block adviso
rs.
General Giap managed to assemble around Dien Bien Phu 4 infantry Divisions and one Heavy Division, 49 500 fighting men supported by 200 guns (75mm and 105mm) and one AA Chinese trained regiment.

In the early stages of the war, specially in the South, the Viet Minh conducted a terror campaign and did systematically torture, mutilate and kill any captured French or Vietnamese military prisoner as well Vietnamese civilian working for the French, later on, French prisoners were send to prisoner/re-education camps  were life expectancy was very short.   It is to be noted that during the war, the Viet Minh army did only engage when outnumbering the French and often achieve their victory by throwing human wave attacks against any positions encountered with no respect for the numbers of their own casualty.

The Viet Minh army comprises of three main forces:

1) The "VE-QUOC" regular army was made of divisions comprising of three regiments with three battalions each

2) The paramilitary army was divided in three main groups.
    a) The "TU-VE" was regional defense units (offensive groups of 100 to 200 men each).
    b) Anti paratroopers units made of an observation, a security and an assault group.
    c) The suicide groups made of 10 men teams and indoctrinated by the political commissars.

3) Political units which mission was surveillance and assassinations.

Viet Minh forces were estimated to be over 500 000 by 1953

 ************************************


Troops

C.E.F.E.O 1951 1952 1953   Viet Minh 1947 1951 1952
French 51 175 50 737

59 526

         
North African 11 000 22 892 36 628          
African 2 000 13 281 19 342          
French Foreign Legion 11 131 

16 664

16 586          
Indochinese  35 000 86 000 60 000          
Total: 110 306

190 592

194 263   Regular Army 50 000

110 000

180 000
                 
National Vietnamese Army 70 000 135 000 200 000   Regional/Popular forces   50 000 240 000 224 400
National Laotian Army 4 000 10 000 15 000          
National Cambodian Army

5 500

11 000 11 000          
Total: 79 500 156 000 226 00          
                 
Combined forces total 189 806 346 592 420 263   Total 100 000 350 000 404 400

Note: The C.E.F.E.O. carried the brunt of the fighting and while viewing the above troop figures, 
you need to  visualize the size of the territory that they had to control, see map at top of page.

Casualties

  KIA/MIA WIA POW taken POW returned
C.E.F.E.O 75 867 65 125 14 500 (known) 8 516
French Indochinese 31 716 N/A 13 359 (known) 1 039
         
Viet Minh 200 000 (est) 300 000 (est) 200 000 (est) N/A
         
Dien Bien Phu French 2 748 4 436 11 721 3 290
Dien Bien Phu
Viet Minh
7 900 (est) 15 000 (est) N/A N/A

20 000 of the French KIA/MIA were from main land France
with a very high proportion of NCO and Officers including 800 St Cyr graduates.

A few scary figures 
(From the latest study from Martin Windrow, The last Valley)

Total POW  from 1946-1954:    36 979

Of which

21 220    were non Vietnamese
15 759    were Vietnamese
 
Total Released:    10 754      (29% of all POW)
Total unaccounted for:    26 225      (71% of all POW)
Of POW unaccounted for:
11 901      (56% of non VN-POW's)    were non-Vietnamese
14 324      (91% of VN-POW's)    were Vietnamese

 

This page has been written by J-L Delauve (Gia Vuc webmaster) after reading the following books, 
this is a work in progress and the webpage can and will be updated if new information come to light.

Reference Materials:
Uniforms of the Indo-China War and Vietnam War,Leroy  Tomphson; Les 170 Jours de Dien Bien Phu,  Erwan Bergot; 
French Foreign Legion Paratroops and The French Indochina War 1946-54  Martin Windrow; 
Une Guerre sans Fin, Indochine  1945-54, Pierre Ferrari et Jaques M.Vernet; 
The Last Valley, Martin windrow; Commando et Forces Speciales en Indochine, Raymond Muelle; 
Services Speciaux, GCMA-Iindochine, Raymond Muelle - Eric Deroo; 
Jungle Mission, R Riesen; Le Silence du Ciel, R Riesen; Les Heros Oublies, Erwan Bergo.

Any information and photographs on this site should not be used without prior agreement from the owners.
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