First Indochina War Begins with French Landings in Indochina
The First Indochina War (also known as the French Indochina War, the The Anti-French War, the Franco-Vietnamese War, the Franco-Vietminh War, the Indochina War, the Dirty War in France and as the French War in contemporary Vietnam) was fought in French Indochina from December 19, 1946, until August 1, 1954, between the French Union’s French Far East Expeditionary Corps, led by France and supported by Bảo Đại’s Vietnamese National Army against the Việt Minh, led by Hồ Chí Minh and Võ Nguyên Giáp. Most of the fighting took place in Tonkin in Northern Vietnam, although the conflict engulfed the entire country and also extended into the neighboring French Indochina protectorates of Laos and Cambodia.
Following the reoccupation of Indochina by the French following the end of World War II, the area having fallen to the Japanese, the Viet Minh launched a rebellion against the French authority governing the colonies of French Indochina. The first few years of the war involved a low-level rural insurgency against French authority. However, after the Chinese communists reached the Northern border of Vietnam in 1949, the conflict became a conventional war between two armies equipped with modern weapons supplied by the United States and the Soviet Union.
French Union forces included colonial troops from the whole former empire (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Laotian, Cambodian and Vietnamese ethnic minorities), French professional troops and units of the French Foreign Legion. The use of metropolitan recruits was forbidden by the governments to prevent the war from becoming even more unpopular at home. It was called the “dirty war” (la sale guerre) by supporters of the Left in France and intellectuals (including Sartre) during the Henri Martin Affair in 1950.
While the strategy of pushing the Viet Minh to attack a well defended base in a remote part of the country at the end of their logistical trail was validated at the Battle of Na San, the lack of building materials (especially concrete), tanks (because of lack of road access and difficulty in the jungle terrain), and air cover precluded an effective defense.
After the war, the Geneva Conference on July 21, 1954, made a provisional division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel, with control of the north given to the Viet Minh as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh, and the south becoming the State of Vietnam under Emperor Bảo Đại, in order to prevent Ho Chi Minh from gaining control of the entire country. A year later, Bảo Đại would be deposed by his prime minister, Ngô Đình Diệm, creating the Republic of Vietnam. Diem's refusal to enter into negotiations with North Vietnam about holding nationwide elections in 1956, as had been stipulated by the Geneva Conference, would eventually lead to war breaking out again in South Vietnam in 1959 - the Second Indochina War.
Ho's efforts during this period were directed primarily at conciliating both the French themselves and the militantly antiFrench members of the ICP leadership. The growing frequency of clashes between French and Vietnamese forces in Haiphong led to a French naval bombardment of that port city in November 1946. Estimates of Vietnamese casualties from the action range from 6,000 to 20,000. This incident and the arrival of 1,000 troops of the French Foreign Legion in central and northern Vietnam in early December convinced the communists, including Ho, that they should prepare for war. On December 19, the French demanded that the Vietnamese forces in the Hanoi area disarm and transfer responsibility for law and order to French authority. That evening, the Viet Minh responded by attacking the city's electric plant and other French installations around the area. Forewarned, the French seized Gia Lam airfield and took control of the central part of Hanoi, as full-scale war broke out. By late January, the French had retaken most of the provincial capitals in northern and central Vietnam. Hue fell in early February, after a six-week siege. The Viet Minh, which avoided using its main force units against the French at that time, continued to control most of the countryside, where it concentrated on building up its military strength and setting up guerrilla training programs in liberated areas. Seizing the initiative, however, the French marched north to the Chinese border in the autumn of 1947, inflicting heavy casualties on the Viet Minh and retaking much of the Viet Bac region.
During the era of conquest in East Asia, France focused on the fortune withheld in Indochina. The French had been in the area for centuries, yet policies changed when other Western European nations began to colonize and claim their own pieces of Asia. The French corrupted the Vietnamese sovereignty by colonizing and dividing the nation. It became known as a French “protectorate” from 1883-1939 and remained a colonial empire or “possession” until about 1945. The Vietnamese people strongly resented the tyrannical rule and political and social implementations of the French. Thus, a guerrilla-type revolutionary organization, the Viet Minh, formed to drive out the French. They were led by Ho Chi Minh, the recently elected leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (currently known as North Vietnam). The First Indochina War was virtually a stalemate between the French and the Viet Minh from 1946 – 1950; then towards the end in 1954, the Viet Minh gained significant advances in driving out the French.