Bruno’s Bunker #5 – De Lattre Strategy to the Navarre Plan

Campaign Series Vietnam | Bruno's Bunker

David Galster’s Bruno’s Bunker series of articles explain the evolution of the struggle in Indochina from a French and Viet-Minh perspective. Find out what happened prior the US involvement in Vietnam and how you can experience it while playing a range of upcoming CS Vietnam scenarios.

Mes compagnons d’armes,

Which battle gave the French the most confidence about the Navarre Plan? It was the “hedgehog” tactic at Na San that caused large Viet Minh losses. It encouraged Navarre to repeat this, and “seek a major battle.” This article explains the battles, leaders, and strategies characterizing the second phase of the French Indochina War. But first, there is a little political matter to get “out ot the way.”

The Bao Dai Plan

French leaders were concerned about Viet Minh popularity, and wanted to inaugurate a regime with popular Vietnamese support. They thought a government led by Emperor Bao Dai would have strong appeal, and help politically against the Viet Minh.

Bao Dai had been Emperor since 1925. He abdicated in 1945 when the Viet Minh assumed power in Hanoi.  A number of Vietnamese nationalists were willing to work with Bao Dai to create a new central government. The nationalist groups VNQDD, Dong Minh Hoi, Cao Dai, and the Hoa Hao were interested. Their hope for success was that Vietnam would become unified and independent.

High Commissioner Emile Bollaert sought the return of Bao Dai, and planned offers to the Viet Minh for a cease fire, and French recognition of Vietnamese independence within the French Union. But, in mid-1947 he was quickly recalled to Paris, and the Cabinet voiced their opposition to anything profiting Ho Chi Minh. Especially, they opposed the word “independence.”

Bollaert then offered these essential (paraphrased) terms: Indochinese people agree to remain in French Union. French allow qualified government to take over, with French control over certain functions as foreign relations and French Union military coordination. Collaboration on customs, currency, and immigration was required.

Predictably, Ho Chi Minh rejected these terms. And, the tentative agreement did not measure up to the expectation of Bao Dai’s supporters in Hong Kong and Vietnam. They wanted assurances of independence and unity. The French still wanted Bao Dai to come back, and head the Vietnamese government, but in the interim, they appointed General Nguyen Van Xuan, Provisional Cochinchina President to form a government.

After further negotiations, Bollaert and Bao Dai came to a compromise agreement, known as the “D’Along Bay Agreement.” It was ratified by the French National Assembly in August 1948, but “only in principle.” Georges Bidault, Minister of Foreign Affairs, said that the concessions granted by M. Bollaert were “very dangerous” in view of probable repercussions in French North Africa. He rejected the word “independence.”

Finally, in March 1949 Bao Dai and President Auriol reached a compromise agreement at Elysee Palace in Paris. The “Elysee Agreement” recognized Vietnamese independence within the French Union. Foreign relations had to meet French Union approval. A national army would be created, and French forces in peacetime confined to designated locations. The French would provide advisors. Certain guarantees of property, free enterprise, and education were agreed to.

 The French people were not supportive, as expressed by Ex-Premier Ramadier in March 1949: “We will hold on everywhere, in Indochina as in Madagascar. Our empire will not be taken away from us, because we represent might and also right.”

Bao Dai assumed the position of Chief of State in Saigon on 14 Jun, 1949. Under the agreements, he appointed a Consultative National Council as an interim legislature. The plan was to later replace this with an elected Constituent Assembly. The Council did not meet until September 1952, and the elected Assembly never convened.

As a result, the Bao Dai government was perceived as authoritarian, and was considered as a French “puppet” government. Delays in making agreements further undermined confidence. The Bao Dai plan did not accomplish the political goals of France in Indochina.

Viet Minh Offensives, 1951

With the fall of border forts and Cao Bang in late 1950, the French had lost control of Tonkin north of the Red River, and by 1 January, 1951 they desperately dug in to hold the Red River delta. The Viet Minh were encouraged to go on the offensive.

General Giap was aware of the situation of French morale at home, and American hesitation to commit troops in a colonial war. Giap wanted to liquidate the French military threat before massive American material aid arrived. Infantry divisions were being formed, including a heavy “Russian style” one, Artillery-Engineer Division 351, with two artillery regiments, and engineer regiment, and air defense battalion.

The Viet Minh tried to keep units ethnically homogeneous. The 308th Division, “Capital Division” recruited mainly in Hanoi, while the 316th was largely of Tho tribal origin, and the 335th consisted of Thai.

The Viet Minh army had evolved into three mission echelons: Main force (chu-luc,) regional units (dia-phong quan,) and local militia (du-kich.) The only truly mobile force was the chu-luc, likely to appear almost anywhere, from the Chinese border to Cambodia. Troops could cover vast distances on foot, carrying full battle gear. Exceeding French estimates of speed, some chu-luc units went 40 km per day, through jungle. The local militia were used for reconnaissance, sabotage, and covering main force withdrawals.

The Viet Minh made three major attacks in 1951: Battles Vinh-Yen, Mao-Khe, and Day River. The typical pattern of these battles began with two or more Viet Minh divisions surprising a lightly-defended outpost. But, the French would quickly deploy one or more Groupe Mobiles to restore the position. Once the Viet Minh troops were stalled in engagement, French artillery, airstrikes, and napalm would decimate them. These battles were less than conclusive victories for the French. And, they gave General Giap an opportunity to find Viet Minh limitations and French weaknesses.

Every effort by General Giap to break the De Lattre Line failed. Each time, Viet Minh attacks were answered by French counter-attacks that destroyed his forces. Viet Minh casualties rose alarmingly during this period, leading some to question the leadership of the Communist government, even within the party. However, any benefit this may have been for France was negated by increasing domestic French opposition to the war.

Map of Indochina - Tonkin 1951

The De Lattre Line

The De Lattre Line, named after General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, was a line of concrete fortifications, obstacles, and weapons installations constructed by the French around the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam. This came as a response to the successful Viet Minh Border Campaign. The fortifications guarded essential communication between Hanoi and Haiphong,  and to provide security for densely populated and economically important Delta areas.

1200 separate concrete blockhouses, able to withstand 155mm artillery, were grouped in clusters of 3-6 blockhouses for mutual fire support. The line spanned 378 km. Each blockhouse (or bunker,) could hold a minimum of 10 men. In addition, a defensive redoubt was constructed around a 35 km radius from the port of Haiphong, ensuring safety from artillery.  Defensive lines were connected by roads capable of bearing 30-ton tanks. Construction commenced in late 1950 and completed by the end of 1951.

With General de Lattre’s reforms, the French had 228 positional pieces, and 240 field pieces in Indochina. Except for a single battery of 155-mm guns in Tonkin, these were mostly 105 mm howitzers. The positional artillery was spread, usually in two-weapon batteries, along the de Lattre Line, and at similar posts in the other commands. Typically, they were spread so they would be mutually supporting.

Blockhouse on De Lattre Line

Blockhouse on de Lattre Line

General de Lattre provided inspired leadership, and managed to defeat ambitious Viet Minh attempts to attack the Tonkin Delta. He regrouped his forces along the de Lattre Line, organized mobile groups of regimental size, and employed artillery and air support to defeat exposed Viet Minh. Indigenous personnel, were put to use. By the end of the 1951 campaign season, the French could realistically consider the prospect of future offensive actions.

Assuming command on 17 December 1950, he undertook several measures which none of his predecessors dared: He mobilized the French civilians living in Indochina for additional guard duties, and reassigned garrison troops for active field combat. He sent back ships to France that were designated to evacuate French women and children. As he said, “As long as the women and children are here, the men won’t dare to let go.”

The Groupe Mobile, a regimental combat team organized to operate independently, existed both as a mobile infantry unit, (GM) armored unit, (GB) and even as airborne (GAP) versions. However, the appearance  of Viet Minh divisions compelled the French to operate in larger GM formations later in 1953-54, and light divisions when the war ended.

In November 1951, the French went on the offensive to extend their perimeter. With a parachute drop, they seized Hoa Bình, 40 km west of the De Lattre Line. This operation bogged down with a series of Viet Minh counterattacks, and became a “meatgrinder.” This engagement continued into 1952. The beloved General de Lattre contracted cancer, returned to France, and died 11 January 1952.

French Counterinsurgency

Acknowledging the skill the Viet Minh had in fighting behind the lines, de Lattre decided to turn these tactics against them. Anti-Communist guerrillas were implanted deep in Viet Minh territory.

Major Roger Trinquier was selected to lead this brand-new service, because he had led the 1st Colonial Parachute Battalion in combat on the Plain of Reeds. Additionally, Trinquier had previously commanded an outpost at Chi Ma in a remote Chinese-Tonkin border region, fighting Chinese pirates and opium smugglers. He quickly learned how to rely on native help, and learned mountain dialects.

The new unit was called “Groupements de Commandos  Mixte Aeroportes.” (GCMA) This organization recruited, deployed, and coordinated behind-the-lines commando teams all over Indochina. By 1953, 20000 men were under Trinquier’s command, which is a very large command for a Major. Trinquier developed counterinsurgency theory, and wrote a book, “Modern Warfare.”

American Support for CEFEO

The beginning of the  Korean War in June 1950 came as a surprise to American leaders, and heralded a new aggressiveness of the Communist bloc. The war in Indochina was clearly part of a broader Cold War struggle. When he sent ground troops to South Korea, President Truman also ordered an acceleration of the aid program for the French in Indochina.

This program was the Mutual Defense Assistance Program. (MDAP) Aid for Indochina for 1950 was $31million. On 30 June eight C-47s loaded with spare parts arrived in Saigon. A French aircraft carrier was scheduled to take on forty F6F aircraft in California in September, while another French ship was expected to depart the United States with eighteen LCVPs (landing craft, vehicle, personnel), six LSSLs (support landing ship, large) and other mixed cargo.

This was only a start. In 1951 MDAP provided $133 million, and in 1952, $171.1 million. Approximately 21,300 tons/month of military supplies were shipped, not counting aircraft and vessels delivered on their own power. In fiscal year 1953, American expenditures were $400 million in support of the Navarre Plan.

The French embassy requested a loan of an aircraft carrier in the same CVL class as the Lafayette, and Arromanches. In September, the USS Belleau Wood was transferred to French authorities in San Francisco. In addition, the US loaned six C-119 transport aircraft, called “Flying Boxcars,” with spare parts and maintenance crews. They were flown initially by civilian contract pilots. French airmen replaced them after training.

Na San and Operation Lorraine

When the “meat grinder” at Hoa Bình was over, the action settled down. Raids, skirmishes and guerrilla attacks, but through most of 1952, both sides withdrew, particularly in the rainy season, preparing for larger operations.

The November 1952 Battle of Na San was the first use of French “hedgehog” tactics. General Raoul Salan thought that well-defended outposts, resupplied by air would invite Viet Minh attack, forcing them into conventional attacks. Could the “base aero-terrestre” be sustained, far from the Red River delta? Na San was the test.

In early October, Salan began fortifying the Na San outpost and airstrip. It was supplied via C-47 Dakotas flying from Hanoi, and a garrison placed there. But, General Giap avoided Na San, instead launching attacks along the Black River valley, and Nghia Lo.

The Viet Minh controlled most of Tonkin beyond the de Lattre line. The situation was critical for the French, and Salan chose an “indirect approach,” and embarked on Operation Lorraine, to attack Viet Minh supply depots at Phu Yen. On 29 October, 30000 French troops moved from the De Lattre line. Phu Thọ fell 5 November, and Phu Doan 9 November, by parachute drop, and finally Phu Yen on 13 November.

At first, Giap did not react. He wanted to wait until their supply lines were overextended, and then cut them off. Salan correctly guessed Viet Minh intentions, and cancelled the operation on 14 November. The only major fighting came during the withdrawal, when Viet Minh ambushed the French column at Chan Muong.

French losses were 1200 men during the operation, most during the Chan Muong ambush. Operation Lorraine was partially successful, proving that the French could strike out at targets outside the De Lattre Line. However, it failed to divert the Viet Minh offensive, or damage their supply system.

In late November, General Giap reversed his previous avoidance of Na San, and planned an attack using the 308th Division and the independent 88th Regiment. The attack began on 23 November. With ten dug-in French infantry battalions, plus artillery and close air support, Colonel Gilles’ forces shattered two regiments of the 308th Division. After 7000 casualties, General Giap withdrew on 2 December.

Map of Operation Lorraine

The Navarre Plan

Lieutenant-General Henri Navarre took command in May 1953 with great promise. As a self-reliant individualist, his cold and aloof manner harmonized with his military career. He had served in WWI, but spent much of his career in staff assignments, particularly in intelligence work. In WWII, he signed on with the Vichy Army, but used the position to aid the Allies, including reporting German sea movements to the British. His only large command was the 5th French Armored Division in occupied Germany.

Navarre’s instructions were to defend Laos if possible, but to safeguard the CEFEO at all costs. He intended to continue de Lattre’s tactics, but to intensify them with infusion of new spirit, mobility, and aggressiveness in French forces. The Navarre Plan provided for freeing CEFEO entirely from static defense missions, replacing them with Vietnamese. He envisioned 21 “land-air bases” setup in Viet Minh territory. Those troops were to execute offensive operations from them to compel the enemy to assign troops for rear-area defense. Full implementation was to come by 1955.

Because of the Na San success, General Navarre was seemingly impressed by, but not completely enamored with, the fortified base concept. The tactic seemed to work, but it was not the exact technique Navarre wanted. He sought to merge a more offensive attitude with the base aero-terrestre tactic. Navarre called hedgehogs “a mediocre solution, but one which, on examination, appeared to be the only one possible.”

The Navarre Plan for 1953-54 had the following goals: 1) Divide Indochina into separate theatres, one north, the other south. 2) Assume defensive in north. 3) Increase forces. (12 infantry battalions)  4) Create a pacification program in the Tonkin Delta. 5) Launch offensives in the south. 6) Create and train a Vietnamese National Army. 7) Form several mobile divisions by fall 1954. And, 8) Seek a major decisive battle.

The last goal, “seek a major decisive battle” became a very important, as the people of France were losing patience, and wanted the war in Indochina resolved.


I imagine that Bruno was satisfied with the  “base aero-terrestre” tactic. After all, aren’t paratroopers trained to fight, surrounded by the enemy?

Campaign Series Vietnam | Bruno's Bunker

General Marcel Bigeard – “Bruno”

Bruno’s Bunker #4 – French Far East Expeditionary Corps, CEFEO

Campaign Series Vietnam | Bruno's Bunker

David Galster’s Bruno’s Bunker series of articles explain the evolution of the struggle in Indochina from a French and Viet-Minh perspective. Find out what happened prior the US involvement in Vietnam and how you can experience it while playing a range of upcoming CS Vietnam scenarios.

Mes compagnons d’armes,


Were you aware that French Forces returning to Indochina were not prepared to fight a guerrilla war? Indeed, the Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Extrême-Orient, (CEFEO) was designed to fight conventional Japanese forces in Indochina, or possibly to help the US in an invasion of Japan. This article describes the CEFEO, and how they adapted to the guerrilla struggle, and later how they reversed  course to deal with conventional Viet Minh divisions.

WWII Military Status

During WWII, General Gilbert Sabattier commanded the Indochina French Forces, (Forces Françaises d’Indochine,) from a headquarters in Saigon. (Under Vichy Government supervision.) The corps-sized force had territorial divisions in Cochinchina, Annam, and Tonkin. With a total of fifty infantry battalions, the troops included  Foreign Legion, Colonial Infantry, and Tonkinese. There were few European (Metropolitan) personnel, and only a few Tonkin battalions were trained to French Army standards. Their missions were riot control, defense against China, bandits, and Thailand.

The Japanese also had a corps in Indochina, used to maintain a base of operations. They co-existed with the French forces, but in March 1945, the Japanese did not have much trouble disarming the French. Generals Gabriel Sabattier and Marcel Alessandri led 5000 troops 1300 km, from Tong Sontay to the China border.

General Leclerc Arrives

General Leclerc marched into Saigon on October 5, 1945, with the Light Intervention Corps, later renamed the 5th Colonial Infantry Regiment. This was the advance guard of the CEFEO. These units were raised in North Africa, and then staged in India, before Indochina deployment. It consisted of two parachute companies, two light commandos, and a Special Air Service Battalion.

The CEFEO that followed was a conventional force consisting of the 3d and 9th Colonial Infantry Divisions with mostly European soldiers, the 2d Armored Division, the Far East Brigade composed of colonial troops in Madagascar, and the Far East Marine Brigade.

They were a mixed collection of units, organized with British and American influence. Indeed,  African Free French forces had been equipped and organized along the lines of US Army tables of organization. The CEFEO deployed as fast as limited transport allowed, but found itself immediately engaged, while gradually growing in size. It absorbed naval landing parties, released prisoners from French garrisons, and added newly deployed units. It almost immediately standardized into formal French structures.

From an original force of twenty-six battalions, the infantry grew to fifty by the end of 1946. Initially, the CEFEO faced lightly-armed Viet Minh. Since the French had ample artillery, naval gunfire, airstrikes, and armor when needed, infantry battalions relied less on organic heavy weapons. Later, they officially reorganized by eliminating the battalion heavy weapons company, and replaced it with a fourth rifle company. The company weapons platoons were reduced in strength. Thus, these battalions trended toward light infantry.

The motorized and mechanized forces were inappropriate for much of the jungle terrain, and were used sparingly in delta regions close to major cities. The remaining motorized and mechanized units were dispersed for patrolling along lines of communication. However, mobile forces were critical for reestablishment of French rule over the large cities. This was accomplished with flying columns of infantry supported by motorized, foot, airborne, or riverine mobility.

The original CEFEO also had three division headquarters, which became the basis for re-establishing Cochinchina, Tonkin, and Annam territorial headquarters. The division and corps organizations were disbanded to form territorial headquarters, similar to what existed previously. The command was then able to merely swap sub units, typically battalions, between territorial HQs to meet needs for security or offensive operations.

Infantry Battalions

The “Far East” Pattern Infantry battalion became the most common. They were orgainized  as follows:

HQ and Service Company

4 Rifle Companies, each with CHQ, Support Platoon, and 3 Rifle Platoons (3 Squads, each.)

A motor transport element (providing partial motorisation).

The HQ&S Company was allocated four 81mm mortars, and later four 57mm recoilless rifles. Rifle companies were often re-organised into four platoons in early-war operations. However, this reduced combat strength, and was a later-war weakness.

The company support platoons had a machine-gun squad and a 60mm mortar squad on paper, but this was often reduced to a single MG and 60mm mortar with large stocks of ammunition. (Due to personnel shortages.)

A partial list of light infantry battalions, with abbreviations, follows:

1er Bataillon d’Infanterie Coloniale – (1erBIC)

1er Bataillon de Marche – (1erBM)

24e Bataillon de Marche de Tirailleurs Senegalais – (24eBMTS)

21e Bataillon de Tirailleurs Algeriens – (21eBTA)

1er Bataillon Etrangere de Parachutistes – (1erBEP)

4e Bataillon de Tirailluers Tunisiens – 4eBTT

1er bataillon de parachutistes Coloniaux – (1erBPC)

21e Bataillon de Tirailleurs Marocains – (21eBTM)

“Bataillon de Marche” is like a task force. It is a battalion made up of companies from different units. These were generally temporary.

“Tirailleurs” was a French Army designation for infantry recruited in colonial territories.

Administrative Commands

Under the CEFEO, subordinate administrative commands directed operations, logistics, and training. The colonial organization continued with headquarters in Cochinchina, Annam and Tonkin, but with different titles. For example, the Tonkin command became Forces Terrestres du Nord Vietnam. (FTNV) This would represent a territorial command. These in turn were subdivided into Zones, and these divided into Sectors and Subsectors. The Subsector corresponded to battalion sized organizations.

In addition, there were administrative commands based on the function of the force. For example the Forces Maritimes en Extrême-Orient (FMEO) directed all naval, riverine, and amphibious forces. The Administrative Commands table lists some of the more important commands, and key commanders.

Administrative Commands Table

Forces Maritimes en Extrême-Orient

When General Leclerc arrived with the Light Intervention Corps, a company of Naval Infantry under LV Merlet, was the precursor to the “Brigade Marine d’Extrême-Orient” (BMEO – Far Eastern Naval Brigade) under CV Kilian. This force landed at Saigon and quickly re-established French control of the city.

The FMEO covered Naval, amphibious, and rivierine forces. The most significant of these fighting the Viet Minh were the riverine, which were somewhat ad-hoc units that evolved into the “Divisions navales d’assaut” – usually abbreviated to “Dinassaut.” The areas with navigable rivers were in Tonkin, with the Red River and its tributaries and delta, and Cochinchina with the Mekong and its delta as prominent waterways. Against the Viet Minh, Dinassauts were organised riverine units of ex-US landing craft (shallow draft boats, ideal for such waterways.)

These Dinassaut  units developed through Army and Navy efforts for a variety of purposes – transport, supply, escort and combat. They used different types of vessels and organization depending on the mission. The types of boats were landing craft, LCM and LCVP  or Higgins boats, as landing craft mechanized and landing craft personnel. These boats were 23m long and 6.4 m wide. The LCVP had a capacity of 36 troops or 8,100 pounds of cargo; the LCM carried 30 tons for carrying tanks or artillery. In addition, LVTs or landing vehicle tracked were used.

Variants and modifications of the landing craft included the LCM Monitor. These craft had the bow ramp removed, and turrets from Coventry armoured cars were fitted, with a mortar in a central tub. It provided heavy firepower for assault missions. The French also had other amphibious and riverine craft such as LSSL, Landing Ship Support, Large, and the armored barge, to the Vedette, a sort of swift gunboat.



The first Dinassaut was organized in 1947. It had a command and support LCI, and 2 LCMs for transport, 4 LCVPs for patrol, and a patrol boat. This listing of vessels for Dinassaut 1 (from website,) illustrates the riverine fighting unit concept:

Dinassaut 1 – Formed in Tonkin, August 1947. Commanded by CC Landrot, then CC de Brossard from July 1950. Initially based in Haiphong, then moved in August 1949 to Sept Pagodes.


Oct. ’49: 1 LCI, 1 LCT, 4 LCVPs/LCAs

Late ’50: 1 LCI, 6 LCMs or LCVPs, 1 CLA

Jul. ’52: 1 LCI, 4 LCMs, 2 EAs, 1 CLA

1 Jan. ’54: 1 LCI, 2 LCM monitors, 3 LCMs, 2 EAs, 1 platoon of STCAN/FOM boats

The infantry attachment varied through the existence of Dinassaut 1. “Compagnie Jaubert” was attached during the autumn campaigns of 1947, followed by a company of BM/7e RTM, then a native auxiliary unit with radio call-sign “Matou”, and later “Commando 64.”

French Armor – Groupement “Massou”

The core of CEFEO armored units belonged to the famous 2nd Armored Division. These assorted units were called “Groupement Massou” after the commander, but the official title was Groupement de Marche de la 2e Division Blindée. The reconaissance company came from 1er Régiment de Marche de Spahis Marocains, which used M8 Greyhound armored cars, jeeps, and an M3 halftrack. The task force also had a M5A1 Stuart company, and some M3A1 Scout Cars.

Later, French cavalry units were equipped with Universal Carriers, Humber Scout Cars and good, but quite heavy Coventry Mk.I armored cars. Armored car units consisted of four escadrons, each with 13 Humber and 19 Coventry cars, and split into 6 platoons. These patrolled and provided convoy protection.

Mk.I Armored Car

Coventry Mk.I armored car from 5 Régiment de Cuirassiers “Royal Pologne”

General Lattre de Tassigny changed the structure of the armored forces in 1950 to make them more effective and easier to use in the local environment. The reforms also included new shipments of American weapons, the best of which were the M24 Chaffee light tanks, that replaced the obsolete Stuarts – they had good firepower while keeping the low weight. These were used at Dien Bien Phu in the 3e Escadron de marche du 1er Régiment de Chasseurs à Cheval. (3/1 RCC) This was led by Capitaine Yves Hervouët, and equipped with ten M24 Chaffees.

After the 1949 Communist takeover in China, concerns arose that T-34 and IS tanks would join the Viet Minh forces. At the end of 1950, a new tank regiment was formed – the Far East Armored Colonial Regiment. (Régiment Blindé Colonial d’Extreme-Orient) It was armed with M4 Sherman medium tanks and M36B2 Jackson tank destroyers. Fortunately, this threat never materialized, and so these vehicles were used for infantry support. In 1954, France had 452 tanks and tank destroyers in Indochina, and 1985 other armored vehicles.

Forces Aériennes en Extrême-Orient

French ground forces depended heavily on air support from the FAEO. Fighter squadrons provided close air support. Transport squadrons dropped the paratroops, and brought supplies. Light aircraft served as artillery observers. Bombers attacked the Viet Minh conventional forces in the late war period. These were all fixed-wing, propeller driven aircraft. Many of the aircraft had been designed and employed in WWII.

The FAEO was divided into three Aerial Tactical Groups, GATAC. They were: GATAC Nord in Hanoi, GATAC Sud in Saigon, and GATAC  Centre in Hue. Beyond that, the various wings (Escadre or Groupe) and squadrons (Escadrille) were assiged to airfields in the areas under the GATAC commands. Some of the larger airfields were Ton Son Nhut in Saigon, Tourane in Da Nang, Gia Lam in Hanoi, and Nha Thang, in Annam or central Vietnam.

The fighter planes and fighter-bombers were mostly WWII vintage. Spitfires, Grumman F6F Hellcats , and Curtiss SB2C Dive Bombers are examples. Transport planes were predominantly C-47 Dakotas, but in the late war, C-119 “Flying Boxcars” were deployed. The Douglas B-26B Invader was a heavier bomber. Finally the  Morane- Saulnier MS500 “Cricket” was used as a forward air observer or controller for artillery.

F6F "Hellcat"

Grumman F6F Hellcat

Table FAEO provides a partial listing of some of the squadrons, and airfields or aircraft carriers where they were assigned, and the type of aircraft employed.

Table FAEO

Abbreviation Notes

TSN – Ton Son Nhut Airfield, Saigon

NT – Nha Trang Airfield

GL – Gia Lam Airfield, Hanoi

TN – Tourane Airfield, Da Nang

GAOA – Groupe Aérien d’Observation d’Artillerie

The USS Belleau Wood and French Arromanches were aircraft carriers.

CEFEO Commanders

Several generals served as commanders of the CEFEO as follows:

Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque (1945–46)

Jean Etienne Valluy (1946–48)

Roger Blaizot (1948–49)

Marcel Carpentier (1949–50)

Jean de Lattre de Tassigny (1950–51)

Raoul Salan (1952–53)

Henri Navarre (1953–54)

Paul Ély (1954–55)

Pierre Jacquot (1955–56)


The CEFEO was a highly professional organization, with advanced technology, and dedicated staff. They bravely faced many problems, and at times were close to defeating the Viet Minh. They did the best they could with limited resources, and dwindling support from home, in the later years.


“Au Rapport” – CEFEO Unit Organisation notes

Dinassaut – French Riverine Forces

“French Ground Force Organizational Development for Counterrevolutionary Warfare Between 1945 And 1962,” Peter Drake Jackson

Campaign Series Vietnam | Bruno's Bunker

General Marcel Bigeard – “Bruno”

Bruno’s Bunker #3 – Birth of the Viet Minh

Campaign Series Vietnam | Bruno's Bunker

David Galster’s Bruno’s Bunker series of articles explain the evolution of the struggle in Indochina from a French and Viet-Minh perspective. Find out what happened prior the US involvement in Vietnam and how you can experience it while playing a range of upcoming CS Vietnam scenarios.

Mes compagnons d’armes,

The most daunting French adversary in Indochina was the Viet Minh. But, how did they come into existence? How did the Viet Minh exploit the situation in WWII to gain a foothold? This article will examine these questions, and offer more insight into the Vietnamese Communist revolutionary movement.

The Quia Dao Road Tragedy

Quia Dao was a canyon on the Vietnam-Lao border. A road along the canyon was being built through jungle where few men had ever gone, to connect Laos to Nghe-an Province. French colonial authorities required all men 18 to 50 to do forced labour. Conditions were unbearable: marshy jungle, wild animals, snakes, poison insects, and malodorous air. The labourers were half-starved. They slept on the damp soil in the jungle, and, were mercilessly beaten by the overseers. Many died. And, those who did return, were haggard and starved, suffering from tropical fever or rheumatism.

In young Thanh’s impressionable mind, the days the villagers left for the Quia Dao Road project were associated with funerals. Women wept. The entire village came to see off the departing. Thanh stood on the roadside with the other village boys, and watched the bedraggled procession. Why was life so unjust? Thanh thought. The ten year old boy, Nguyen Tat Thanh, eventually became the leader we now know as Ho Chi Minh. (Ho the Enlightened.)

And since his youth, Ho Chi Minh dreamed of a revolution to overthrow French rule. After getting a French education in Hue, he got a kitchen job on the steamer Admirale de Latouche-Tréville. Spending years abroad in France, he became interested in the Communist party as a means of revolution.

In Paris, he used the pseudonym, Nguyen Ai Quoc (Nguyen the Patriot,) to write articles advocating Vietnamese Independence. He had an enlightenment after studying Nikolai Lenin’s thesis: National and Colonial Questions. Lenin stated: “The struggle of agricultural toilers against landlord exploitation is the basis upon which you can build an organization of toilers, even in backward countries.” After this, Ho Chi Minh became committed to Communism, as the ideology that could overthrow colonialism.

Indochinese Communist Patry

In 1925, Ho Chi Minh was sent by the Comintern to Canton. Ho managed to convert a small group of émigré intellectuals called Tam Tam Xa (Heart-to-Heart Association) to

revolutionary socialism. This was organized as the Vietnamese Revolutionary Youth Association. (Thanh Nien). They published pamphlets and newspapers, including a guidebook of revolutionary theory, and practical techniques called The Road to Revolution. (Duong Kach Menh) Secret “cells” were trained in Canton, and returned to Vietnam to operate.

In 1927, Ho Chi Minh left for Moscow to evade Chiang Kai-shek’s anti-communist purge. With his absence, some movement radicals began to follow the “Communist Party of France,” and a split occurred. During this period, the membership was largely urban intellectuals, rather than the working class and poor peasantry.

The split was between those who emphasized independence from colonialism, and others who sought social revolution. In May 1929, Nguyen Cong Vien chaired a conclave in which the differences reached a climax, and several representatives walked out. And, a third faction led by Phan Bội Châu sought representation.

Finally in February 1930, Ho Chi Minh returned to Hong Kong, where agreement was reached at the Kowloon conference. The new party would be the “Communist Party of Vietnam,” and they agreed to a manifesto. However, the Comintern was critical of this because it was too “nationalistic” and did not include Laos and Cambodia. Finally in October 1930, the organization was renamed the “Indochinese Communist Party.” (ICP)

The 1930s and WWII

In 1932, Ho Chi Minh was arrested in Hong Kong by the British, but later released. He returned to Moscow where he spent several years teaching at the Lenin Institute. He returned to China in 1938 to advise the Chinese Communist Army.

ICP General Secretaries during the 1930s were: Tran Phu, Le Hong Phong, Ha Huy Tap, Nguyen Van Cu, and Truong Chinh. Another notable leader was Nguyen Thi Minh Khai.

In 1941, Ho Chi Minh met Vo Nguyen Giap, who had co-authored a book, The Peasant Question. The 1939 book asserted that communist revolution could be peasant-based as well as proletarian-based.

The Chingsi (China) Conference in May 1941 was when the Viet Minh was formed. Ho Chi Minh returned to Vietnam to lead the movement. The Japanese occupation of Indochina created an opportunity for the Communists. The so-called “men in black” were a 10000 member guerrilla force operating with the Viet Minh. The conducted many successful military actions against the Vichy French, and Japanese  in World War II, supported clandestinely by the United States Office of Strategic Services. (OSS)

Vo Nguyen Giap also returned to Vietnam, in the Tonkin mountains, to organize intelligence work among the Montagnards. Giap spent World War II running a network of agents,with help from a local bandit named Chu Van Tan. The information collected, mostly about the Japanese, went to the Chinese Nationalists in exchange for military and financial assistance.

On December 22, 1944, Giap fielded the first armed propaganda teams, the forerunner of the People’s Army of Vietnam. (PAVN.) By mid-1945, he had 10000 troops.

During these early years, Giap led efforts at organization busting which, with the connivance of the French, emasculated competing non-communist nationalist organizations, and killing hundreds of  individuals. One of the liquidation techniques tied victims together in batches, like cordwood, and tossed them into the Red River, causing drowning while floating out to sea. They called this “crab fishing.”

In March 1945, the Viet Minh declared their opposition to the Japanese, and aligned with the Allies. A guerrilla war began to undermine the Japanese rule, which ended in August 1945 anyway. Following the Japanese surrender, Ho Chi Minh asserted his  Chairmanship  of the Provisional Government (Democratic Republic of Vietnam, DRV,) and made a speech, “The Vietnamese Declaration of Independence.”  The text included phrases from the US “Declaration of Independence,” and the 1791 French “Rights of Man and the Citizen.”  He convinced Emperor Bao Dai to abdicate, and offered him a position in Hanoi as an advisor. The DRV was not recognized by any country.

After the Viet Minh came to power, they arrested and imprisoned, (many killed,) all non-Communist Viet Minh members, and allies who fought alongside them against the French.They also killed members of rival groups, such as Trotskyists, the Constitutional Party leader, the head of the Party for Independence, and Ngo Dinh Diem’s brother, Ngo Dinh Khoi. These purges and killings were to monopolize Communist power in Hanoi.

Ho Chi Minh and General Giap

Late 1945 Revolution

After assuming power in Tonkin, the Viet Minh abolished any “undemocratic councils” and announced elections. They abolished the poll tax and outlawed the salt, alcohol, and opium monopolies. Use of opium, prostitution, alcohol, and gambling were forbidden. They confiscated French-owned and un-tilled land, and gave to the peasants for cultivation. Eight-hour workdays were instituted. Public utilities were nationalized.

The Nationalist Chinese occupied Tonkin with about 50000 troops, under General Lu Han. Chinese forces prevented French forces from crossing the 16th parallel into the north. The Chinese were in Tonkin for six months. Viet Minh committees were replaced by Chinese allies, including groups such as VNQDD, Dong Minh Hoi, and the Dai Viet. But, these groups were not supported by the people, and the Chinese did not want to fight the Viet Minh.

Elections and Aftermath in 1946

The situation in North Vietnam became confused. The ICP went into hiding for a period, and Ho Chi Minh agreed to inclusion of the other nationalist groups. In January 1946, Ho Chi Minh won the elections, and Vo Nguyen Giap won in the Nghe An province.

An agreement between the French and Chinese resulted in Chinese withdrawal in March, and French entry into Hanoi. At first the Viet Minh tried to negotiate with the French General Leclerc. But, they could not get what they really wanted, control of the government, and so went underground. General Giap built up the Liberation Army to 60000. The Viet Minh eliminated many political adversaries, and murdered  several thousand moderate nationals.

In November 1946, the Viet Minh fired on a French patrol boat in Haiphong. This resulted in a week of fighting. In December, the French demanded the Viet Minh Self Defense Forces disarm. The Tu Ve militia made terrorists attacks in Hanoi, resulting in general fighting. The French declared martial law, and this is considered the beginning of the First Indochina War.

“People’s War”

The Viet Minh attacked Hanoi’s municipal power station, and Giap made a radio broadcast, calling for resistance in a war of national liberation. Ho Chi Minh urged sacrifices, and determination to fight to the end. The DRV government fled to the mountains of northern Bac Bo, (Viet Bac region,) while Giap and Ho were already in caves near Hadong, several kilometers north of Hanoi.

The Viet Minh had acquired a variety of military arms, from the Nationalist Chinese, Japanese, and the French.  As Japanese military units left, they allowed the Viet Minh to take them. These would have been  Arisaka Type 99 7.7mm rifles, Arisaka Type 38 6.5mm Rifles, and Type 99 7.7mm Light Machine Guns. The Japanese also left Russian 7.62 mm rifles. As for light artillery, Japanese weapons included the Year-11 Type 70mm Mortar, Type 89 50mm rifled grenade launchers, and Year-41-Type 75mm Infantry Guns, “Rentaiho.”

To a lesser extent, the Viet Minh obtained American weapons from Nationalist China.These included the M1 Garand rifles, and 0.30 cal Browning machine guns. M1A1 75 mm pack howtizers were also acquired.

From the French, weapons such as MAS 36 7.5mm rifles, Remington rifles, carbines, the MAS 38  7.65mm machine gun were obtained. By the end of 1945, the Viet Minh possessed an estimated 35000 small arms, 1300 machine guns, 200 mortars, and 50 artillery pieces.

The initial strategy was to avoid confrontation with stronger, high-technology French forces. Emphasis was on development of political organizations, and indoctrination of troops. There was no separation between military and political objectives. Political officers taught soldiers the history of people’s struggles against foreign invasions to boost their patriotism. They believed they were fighting for independence and freedom. Prior to any attack, they were very well prepared. Motivated with heroism, and examples of their brave comrades, troops  were told that surrender meant torture and brutal death.

Within the military, political commissars were prevalent. A Viet Minh battalion had a political commissar and deputy commissar at the headquarters. Each rifle company also had political commissars and deputies assigned.

In the north Tonkin area, the Viet Minh hid and waited. They developed their organizations, and planned small guerrilla attacks to annoy, and wear down the French.

Although the French had enough forces to control the major cities, they did not have enough to control the countryside. The Viet Minh worked hard to gain the loyalty of the peasants and workers there. The power of local authorities was strengthened for mobilising resistance.

Viet Minh Reaction to Operation Lea

The Viet Minh avoided confrontations with large French forces. And, the French believed that minor assaults to locate the Viet Minh headquarters could not lead to an end of the war. French intelligence identified the headquarters location in Bac Can.

French Operation Lea began on 7 October, when 1100 paratroopers landed at Bac Can. The paratroopers swiftly captured the city, but failed to capture Ho Chi Minh and other Vietnamese leaders. Losing the opportunity to neutralize the Viet Minh headship, French paratroopers found themselves fighting for survival, when Viet Minh counter-attacked, and surrounded them.

The French responded with ten battalions (15000 men,) moving from Lang Son to Cao Bang, and then down through Nguyen Binh to Bac Kan, to cut off enemy supplies from China. The second objective was to surround Vietnamese forces, and destroy them. Delayed by bad roads, mines and ambushes, it took the French column until 13 October to reach the vicinity of Bac Can, where the Viet Minh put up a strong resistance. The French broke through on 16 October, and relieved the paratroops. A riverine force was supposed to assault up the Clear and Gam rivers, but encountered so many delays, they were useless. The French were unable to destroy the Viet Minh forces. Most of the 40000 guerrillas escaped through gaps in the French lines. On 8 November, the operation was called off, the French claiming to have inflicted 9000 casualties.

Essentially, the Viet Minh would attack hit and run, guerrilla style, to inflict casualties on a French column, but would not stand and fight. Instead, after causing some losses, the Viet Minh would disappear into the jungle. This was the the early war strategy employed. The Viet Minh continued to “own” the countryside in the Viet Bac area.

Map of Operation Lea | Indochina 1947

Operation Lea

Border Campaign

After the 1949 Communist takeover in China, the Viet Minh began attacking French outposts on the Chinese border. Viet Minh fighting techniques were also changing, and starting to use regular organized combat units. By the close of 1949, the French fort at Dong Khe had to be provisioned entirely by air. French Union Forces abandoned a number of strong points, and concentrated on the Hanoi defense perimeter.

When the last French border fort fell in 1950, the Viet Minh had more reliable access to supplies and support from Communist China. The People’s Republic of China became the first nation granting recognition to the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. (DRV) In a secret visit to Moscow, Ho Chi Minh received a pledge of support from Joseph Stalin. This meant much more Chinese and Soviet weapons for the Viet Minh. (The Chinese also furnished more captured American weapons.)

Viet Minh Combat Divisions

The Viet Minh sent 20000 troops to China to be trained and armed. Total Viet Minh forces reached 160000. General Giap launched an offensive in September 1950, and forced the French to evacuate Cao Bang. The French lost 4,000 men and left behind more than 10000 tons of ammunition.

In 1950 and 1951, the Viet Minh began forming regular infantry divisions. The following six were formed: 304, 308, 312, 316, 320 and 325. This was the beginning of a new phase, in which the Viet Minh could commit to conventional warfare. This was a significant turning point in the First Indochina War.

Viet Minh Division TO&E


Ho Chi Minh and General Giap had a methodical and comprehensive plan to build the Viet Minh. Political organization and indoctrination was an essential ingredient. And, they exploited French weakness in WWII, and took advantage of the Chinese Communist take over in 1949. The result was a well organized army of committed soldiers, with leaders running a winning strategy.

I imagine that Bruno believed the French could beat the Viet Minh. But surely, he respected them as an adversary.


“People’s War People’s Army,” Vo Nguyen Giap

Campaign Series Vietnam | Bruno's Bunker

General Marcel Bigeard – “Bruno”

Bruno’s Bunker #2 – French Colonialism to Japanese Rule

Campaign Series Vietnam | Bruno's Bunker

David Galster’s Bruno’s Bunker series of articles explain the evolution of the struggle in Indochina from a French and Viet-Minh perspective. Find out what happened prior the US involvement in Vietnam and how you can experience it while playing a range of upcoming CS Vietnam scenarios.

Mes compagnons d’armes,

Apparently, the French Empire had a glorious history, and romantic appeal. But, what were the underlying concerns that colonialism created? This article explores colonialism, and the background leading to the First Indochina War.

Traditional Feudal Vietnam

Vietnam was ruled by the Nguyen Dynasty since 1801, with Gia Long as the first  Emperor of that line. The Chinese Emperor recognized him, but requested a small tribute. With Hue as the imperial capital, Gia Long oversaw the traditional six ministries of Public Offices, Finances, Education, Military, Justice, and Public Works. He appointed Van Thanh to govern Bac Ha in the north.

A large army and navy were established to eliminate Chinese renegades, quell revolts, and to establish control. In 1813, the Vietnamese army helped reinstate Ang Chan at Phnom Penh, the Cambodian capital.

Minh Mang succeeded his father in 1819. Not liking Europeans, he rebuffed three French attempts for a commercial treaty. He ruled autocratically, setting up a Royal Council in 1829 and a secret service in 1834. Minh Mang confined Christian missionaries at Hué to translate French books into Vietnamese, but in 1836 permitted the killing of missionaries, as Christian persecution became official policy.

At that time, the regime reinstated civil service examinations for the Mandarins, to be offered every three years. Mandarins, or scholar-officials, were organized into nine grades, and paid salaries in money and rice. The Vietnamese language was written using Chinese calligraphy.  Ming Mang was a devoted Confucian, and promoted scholarship of that philosophy.

Although, peasants could apply for examinations, passing was unlikely without an education. As a result, the scholar-officials became a self-perpetuating class of administrators, because their sons could afford years of academic preparation, whereas most commoners could not. Mandarin status could not be inherited.

Campaign Series Vietnam | Bruno's Bunker

French Conquest of Vietnam 1858 – ’85

Starting in 1858, the French invaded and took over forts at Danang. After a struggle, the French also took Saigon.Emperor Tu Duc agreed to a treaty with, giving France several provinces adjacent to Saigon. Later, dissident mandarins led a rebellion in Cochinchina, and Admiral Bonard needed months and reinforcements to suppress it. He issued a decree in 1863 blaming the mandarins, and giving all administrative and judicial powers to French inspectors. Admiral De La Grandiere inaugurated a justice system by decree in Cochinchina in 1864. The Gia-Dinh Bao newspaper began publishing in 1865 with the Romanized quoc-ngu letters, replacing Chinese calligraphy.

In 1868 Ngo Con led the plunder of Cao Bang, and Chinese bandit groups known as the White, Yellow, and Black Flags pillaged the mountains of Tonkin. They joined with Vietnamese peasants, as they were paid by Emperor Tu Duc. These conflicts with the French in Tonkin continued for more than 15 years. Finally in 1883, Prime Minister Jules Ferry sent a strong expeditionary force under General Bouet followed by a fleet commanded by Admiral Courbet to conquer Vietnam. Courbet’s fleet attacked the forts guarding the mouth of the Hué River captured them in three days. The new Emperor Hiep-Hoa agree to a treaty surrendering the forts and ships in the Hué area. Vietnam became a protectorate of France, and residents with garrisons were given jurisdiction over Vietnamese towns.

Vietnamese Resistance 1885 – 1902

After a coup involving the palace regents, Hiep-Hoa was arrested, and shortly after committed suicide. The regents appointed Ham Nghi Emperor. In 1885, Ham Nghi issued an Edict throughout Vietnam, declaring that they could not accept the conditions imposed by the French by force of arms. As the French seized the forts at Dong-Hoi and Vinh, resistance by the peasants quickly developed in Quang-Binh province. Regent Ton That Thuyet allowed the destruction of churches in the Gianh River valley, and the French retaliated by burning pagodas. The Vietnam Resistance began.

The insurgency was never well coordinated. The Red River rebellion was suppressed in 1892. Col. Fernand Bernard noted that a militia inspector executed 75 notables in two weeks but that the revolt continued. The French lost no men in Haidung but beheaded 64 people without a trial. French commanders brought together three thousand troops to defeat the insurgents led by Dr. Phan Dinh

Phung in 1896. A similar revolt in the Yen The area, known as the Can Vuong movment was put down. However, Casualties included 40,000 Vietnamese Catholic converts, 18 French missionaries, 40 Viet priests, and 9,000 churches. The Can Vuong movement had little chance of defeating the French, but the spirit of patriotic sacrifice reflected in their desperate resistance inspired later generations to struggle for Vietnamese independence.

Changes Imposed by French Rule

Generally, the French were arrogant. They justified imperialism as a ‘civilising mission’, a pledge to develop backward nations. They emphasized teaching the Vietnamese to speak French. The French language became primary in businesses, such as banking and mercantile trade. Buildings of French architecture and style were introduced.

In 1898 the French took over the collecting of all taxes in Annam, as they already had in Tonkin and Cochinchina. Provincial and county governors in Tonkin were replaced by French residents. French officials were relatively few in number, so were assisted by many Vietnamese collaborators.

Governor-General Paul Doumer wanted to raise tax revenue. This included income tax on wages, a poll tax on all adult males, stamp duties on a wide range of publications and documents, and imposts on the weighing and measuring of agricultural goods. Even more lucrative were the state monopolies on rice wine, opium, and salt.

Doumer planned two long railway lines. One went from Haiphong to Hanoi to the Chinese border at Laokay, and two years later to Yunnan-Fou. The other 1000-mile Trans-Indochinese line went from Hanoi to Saigon. Construction began in 1898. More than 25,000 Vietnamese and Chinese would die working on less than 300 miles of the Yunnan-Fou line. At that time, development of industries and mining was lacking, and the railways had little business. Economic viability did not come until after World War I. These railroads were not finished until 1911.

However, improvements in education were made when French missionaries, officials, and their families opened primary schools lessons in both French and Viet languages University of Hanoi was opened by colonists in 1902.

The peasants on plantations worked long hours in debilitating conditions, for wages that were pitifully small. Some were paid in rice rather than money. The working day could be as long as 15 hours, without breaks or adequate food and fresh water. Malnutrition, dysentery and malaria were common, especially on rubber plantations.

Nationalist Movements

In place of traditional scholarship, a new intellectual elite emerged that emphasized science, geography, and other modern subjects instead of the Confucian classics. The new Vietnamese intelligentsia were impressed by the 1905 naval victory at Tsushima of a modernized Japan over tsarist Russia. The last traditional Mandarin civil service examinations were held in 1919.

Phan Boi Chau was an organizer and propagandist, and educated in both Confucian and Western thought. He studied China’s efforts at self-strengthening, Japan’s Meiji Restoration, and Sun Yat-sen’s republican movement. Strongly anti-French, his Modernization Society advocated a constitutional monarchy. Later, inspired by China’s Revolution of 1911, he favored a Vietnamese republic. French agents seized him  in 1925. Although sentenced to death for sedition, he was paroled to house arrest in Hue. He died in obscurity in 1940. He was a friend of Ho Chi Minh’s father.

In 1927, urban intellectuals formed a Nationalist Party known as the Nam Quoc Dan Dang. (VNQDD). Modeled after the revolutionary Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) of China, its aim was a republican democratic government, free from foreign interference. They were very radical and terrorist. The revolt was crushed in 1930.

Religious movements were common in the south. The Cao Dai cult was centered along the Cambodian border, and the Hoa Hao were in the Mekong delta. Ngo Van Chieu  founded the Cao Dai in 1919 using Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Christianity, western philosophy, and belief in spirits. The Hoa Hao religion urged people to communicate directly with God, and so had no churches.

Ho Chi Minh returned to Vietnam in 1929, after years of traveling to France, Germany, the Soviet Union, and China. He had met with many Communist leaders, including Nikolai Lenin, and was thoroughly trained in Marxist ideology. In 1930, he formed the Indochina Communist Party, (ICP,) which sought to overthrow French imperialism and establish a government of workers and peasants.

WWII Japanese Rule

After Germany invaded France, the Japanese ordered Governor-General Catroux to close the supply route from Tonkin to China on June 19, 1940. On the fall of France, Admiral Darlan replaced Catroux with Vice Admiral Jean Decoux in July. Vichy France made a treaty with Japan on August 30, and Pétain instructed Decoux to negotiate with the Japanese. He met with General Nishihara in Hanoi on September 22, and Japan was allowed to station 6000 men north of the Red River and 25000 in Indochina.

In 1941, the Japanese took control of all Indochinese enterprises, and the Kempeitai police arrived in December. Matusita Mitsuhiro advocated support for Prince Cuong’s League for the Restoration of Cochinchina. When the French tried to arrest them, the Kempeitai intervened. Other leaders such as Ngo Dinh Diem were also protected by the Japanese.

Allied bombing prevented the Japanese from shipping goods to Indochina. Exporting from Indochina became more difficult. In 1943, General Iwane Matsui told Saigon journalists they had ended French sovereignty. Indochina showed that it could develop industry by producing 13,000 rubber tires in 1944 after putting out only 360 the previous year. With shipping and railroads destroyed, the Japanese ran out of gasoline and began distilling alcohol from rice.

Late in 1944, Viet Minh leaders urged the people to prepare for a general uprising. Giap formed the first Armed Propaganda Brigade for the Liberation of Vietnam on December 22, and this began the Vietnamese People’s Army. The Japanese were concerned that they would lose French cooperation, and they increased their troops in Indochina to 60,000.

In March 1945, Ambassador Matsumoto Shunichi ordered Governor-General Decoux to surrender. Most French units were disarmed, and interned the next day. Japanese forces took control. Only a few French garrisons resisted, and the Japanese slaughtered about 200 European and Vietnamese prisoners at Lang Son, and 53 at Dong Dang. Generals Gabriel Sabattier and Marcel Alessandri led 5,000 troops from Tong Sontay 800 miles to the China border.

The Japanese announced Vietnamese independence from France, but Emperor Bao Dai and his cabinet knew they had little power. Ngo Dinh Diem cooperated with the Japanese for a while, but the Japanese chose conservative professor Tran Trong Kim to lead the government.

Meanwhile, the Viet Minh announced support for the Allies, as they prepared for Japanese defeat. In May, a United States OSS team parachuted to Viet Minh headquarters, and supplies soon followed.

After Japan’s surrender, Tran Trong Kim resigned. One week later the Japanese accepted Allied terms and relinquished control over Cochinchina. The ICP met in Tonkin on August 13, and voted for a general insurrection. Viet Minh guerrillas entered Hanoi, and distributed thousands of leaflets. The Viet Minh military took over almost all the public buildings, except the Bank of Indochina, which was still guarded by the Japanese. The Viet Minh took over Hué, and Emperor Bao Dai asked them to form a new government. Only a few Japanese resisted.


French rule in Indochina was very autocratic, and at times cruel and unfair. This fostered much Vietnamese resentment, which ultimately led to the Viet Minh movement. WWII offered the best opportunity for revolution, since France was weakened after the war, and Japan defeated.

But, I imagine that Bruno, a paratrooper of the Free French Forces in WWII, remained sympathetic to French interests in Indochina.

Campaign Series Vietnam | Bruno's Bunker

General Marcel Bigeard – “Bruno”

Finnish Order of Battle in East Front III

I have just finished putting together a second iteration of the Finnish order of battle for Campaign Series: East Front III, a platoon-scale tactical wargame covering battles in WW2 Eastern Front in 1939-1941. This blog post supplements the previous German and Romanian OOB posts by Jason Petho, and Scott Cole, respectively.

Finnish Army in Campaign Series: East Front III

As those familiar with history know, Finland participated in the Second World War battling the Soviet Union at two occasions, and then once against Nazi Germany pushing them out from the country. In this regard, Finland was placed in the unusual situation of being for, then against, then for, the overall interests of the Allied powers.

Campaign Series East Front III | OOB

A lone guard on skis. Petsamo 1940.02.01 (

As East Front III 1.0 will cover the years 1939-1941, the relevant conflicts are the invasion of Finland by Soviet Union in 1939, known as Winter War, and the subsequent Finnish participation in Operation Barbarossa, dubbed Continuation War.

The war against Nazi Germany to liberate Finnish Lapland will be featured in an East Front III sequel covering the years 1944-45 and is not covered in this article.


Winter War Order of Battle

The Winter War began with a Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II, and ended three and a half months later with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940. This provides a relatively short period of time in regard of Order of Battle design, and will be implemented as a holistic, independent data set.

In addition to Finnish Army, the Swedish Volunteer Corps will be added as another independent formation to game’s data set under Finland nation ID 41.

Finnish Army

Finnish Army will be covered in detail from Army Corps to Platoons, as there were no Army level formations in Winter War. There will be generic formations available under the standard TO&E information, with each and every historical division also represented in the data:

Campaign Series East Front | Order of Battle

Being an artillery reservist myself, I took an additional effort to depict each and every historical artillery formation to the game as well, from Artillery Regiments to independent Batteries. As Winter War was a short but violent battle, each artillery formation will additionally be depicted as how they started the war, and how their strength was in February 1940, with one more month of war to go:

Campaign Series East Front | Order of Battle


Swedish Volunteer Corps

While most WW2 history geeks are aware that Sweden maintained their neutrality during the conflict, a less known fact perhaps is that during Winter War, Sweden simply declared themselves a “non co-belligerent” state instead. In other words, they did not maintain a strict neutrality as such.

Perhaps the concrete example of Sweden’s aid to Finland at this critical hour were the Swedish Volunteer Corps. Svenska frivillligkåren (in Swedish) were roughly a Brigade sized, well equipped formation, with some 9 650 Swedish volunteers choosing to join Winter War together with Finland. As part of the Corps, Sweden also sent approximately one third of their most moder airforce fleet (Gloster Gladiator fighters and Hawker Hart bombers) to Finland to accompany the volunteer pilots.

Campaign Series East Front | Order of Battle

“Finland’s Cause is Yours – Come join the Volunteer Corps!”

Swedish Volunteer Corps played an important part occupying a wide front in Finnish Lapland, with the brave young volunteers willingly having risked their life for the sake of their Nordic neighbor. To honor their commitment, the Swedish Volunteer Corps are deservedly a part of the Winter War order of battle as an independent and full organization:

Campaign Series East Front | Order of Battle


Continuation War Order of Battle

The Continuation War began some fifteen months after the end of the Winter War, with Finnish Army commencing their attack against Soviet Union in 10 July, 1941. The war would continue until September 1944, when Finland agreed to a cease-fire with USSR. For the purposes of East Front III 1.0, the initial Finnish Army formations will cover the year of 1941.

In addition to Finnish Army, no additional formations will be added to the data set, with Finnish Volunteer SS Battalion being a likely candidate for addition to a future East Front III sequel covering the years 1942-43. It is true parts of the Finnish volunteers fought already in 1941 in Waffen-SS division Wiking, but as they were integrated into the unit, instead of being an independent formation as the III/Nordland was (as of January 1942), they will not be depicted in the data sets for the first year of war.

Looking at the order of battle data, this time there will be a complete Finnish Army formation available from the Army level down to Platoons, again with generic TO&E based generic formations, and each and every division depicted in all their detail, too:

Campaign Series East Front | Order of Battle

As with Winter War, all historical artillery formations are covered as well. With the hodgepodge set of various makes and models of artillery pieces, this was my favourite part of the OOB design, and I do hope you enjoy the historical details included in the game!

As a little something to look forward, all this detail in order of battle design will make it possible to add a plethora of nice little detail to the game.

Here’s the Finnish 3D unit bases with nine different designs available at the time of writing this article!

Campaign Series East Front | Order of Battle

Finnish 3D unit bases (work in progress), from left to right:

  • Generic Finnish Army
  • Winter War Finnish Army
  • Winter War Swedish Volunteer Corps
  • Continuation War Finnish Army
  • Continuation War Armored
  • Finnish Volunteer SS Battalion (not included in 1.0)
  • Winter War Finnish Air Force
  • Winter War Swedish Volunteer Corps Air Force
  • Continuation War Finnish Air Force



As Jason pointed out in his German OOB blog, Order of Battle creation is a labour of love with many challenges part of the job.

I do concur with him that, with addition of Winter War and Continuation War Finns (and Swedes!) to the game database, we’re making every effort to ensure that you will have the most accurate organizations to build your East Front scenarios, once the game is out!