de Lattre’s Line #4: GM1 Saves Ninh Binh
Mes amis des jeux de guerre,
Despite Dinassaut 3 reinforcing Ninh Binh, and the armored squadron in the intervention force, Ninh Binh was almost taken completely by the Viet Minh. This highlights the weaknesses, of the de Lattre Line defenses, particularly in the region where Catholic Militia were widely used. Fortunately Groupement Mobile No. 1 arrived on 30 May 1951, and stabilized the situation.
The Catholic Militias in the Phat Diem and Bu Chu were called “Unites Mobiles de Defense des Chretientes.” These were under the control of Bishop Le Huu Tu, who was an influential priest that allegedly opposed both Communism and French colonialism.The militia numbered about 6000 in 1951, and some of these troops were trained by French Army instructors at Thu-Duc paramilitary school near Saigon. They were supposedly fighting for the French, and defended various outposts.
Bishop Le Huu Tu and Ho Chi Minh visit troops in Hadong, February 1952
Unfortunately, Catholic Militia were not reliable troops, being poorly led because Le Huu Tu was not committed to French agendas. He eventually agreed to work with the emerging Vietnamese state led by the former emperor, Bao Dai. However, Catholic hostility to French colonialism remained.
The high crag overlooking Ninh Binh was defended by Catholic Militia. During the attack, they were reinforced by an armored squadron of 1er Regiment Chasseurs de Cheval (1RCC). But, this position was lost on 29 May. Fortunately for the French, it was retaken by GM1 on 30 May.
Catholic Militia Insignia
French Misjudge Viet Minh Intentions and Will
Reliance on Catholic Militia was a symptom of larger French miscalculations and obliviousness to Viet Minh intentions and will. General de Lattre came closer than others to a good strategy, but his command was short lived, as he got sick with cancer, and left Indochina in late 1951.
Ho Chi Minh was an indoctrinated and trained Communist. He studied socialism in France, but he obtained his greatest inspiration from Lenin, and then Stalin. Remember, first and foremost, Communists believe the end justifies the means. And, human empathy means nothing to a Communist.
After all, the French should have known what the Bolsheviks did in Russia. First, they (Lenin, Stalin, Bukharin, Trotsky, and Dzerzhinsky) killed all the rich people, and seized their property. When there were no more rich people to be robbed and murdered, or to be put into GULAG labor camps, they began to exterminate their class enemies. These writers, doctors, engineers, and schoolteachers were not rich people, but were educated. If they had property and money, they had worked for it for many years. But, millions who dared disagree with the Communists were killed or put into prisons. When there were no more class enemies, Stalin turned upon his own comrades in 1936, all old Communists, such as Bukharin. He killed hundreds of his own army officers, and perhaps hundreds of thousands of purged party members.
Ho Chi Minh and the Lao Dong Communist party had exactly the same ruthless plans once they got control. Had the French truly realized this, and understood its tragic reality, would they have had the fortitudinous will, coupled with shrewd strategic cunning, required to overcome Communist treachery? No, the French failed.
Groupement Mobile No. 1
This was the formation designed for fast response to attacks along the de Lattre Line. It was stationed in Nam Dinh, and deployment controlled by the Nam Dinh Sector Commander, Colonel Fernand Gambiez. All the infantry were from North Africa, and in late 1950 it was known as “Groupement Mobile Nord-Africain,” or GMNA. The designation was changed to Groupement Mobile No 1 in early 1951, with Colonel Edon commanded this group of three infantry battlions. At the time of the Day River Campaign, these were:
2/1er RTA, or “2e Bataillon, “1er Regiment Tirailleurs Algeriens”
4/7e RTA, or “4e Batailllon, “7e Regiment Tirailleurs Algeriens”
2/6e RTM, or 2e Bataillon, “6e Regiment Tirailleurs Marocains”
In this context, the noun “tirailleur,” which translates as “skirmisher”, was a designation given by the French Army to indigenous infantry recruited in various colonies.
The “64e Regiment d’Artillerie d’Afrique” was also assigned to GM1.
The 2/6e RTM was sent north to Dong Luong, so only the 2/1er RTA and 4/7e RTA battalions fought around Ninh Binh and points south along the de Lattre Line.
Supporting GM1 in many engagements, the 1er Régiment de Chasseurs a Cheval created its 8e Escadron in May 1951, and stationed it in Nam Dinh. Lieutenant Bernard de Lattre was put in charge, with the assignment to train Vietnamese in armored vehicles and warfare. The unit was furnished with M29C “Crabe” amphibious personnel carriers, and had an armored infantry platoon, and a heavy weapons section.
Insignia 1er Regiment de Chasseurs a Cheval
Amphibious AFVs used in Indochina were of US origin. However, the M29 “Crabe” was not originally an AFV at all, but was modified as such for delta campaigns.
M29C “Crabe” (Weasel)
Weight: 2.5 tons
Crew: 2 (plus 2 passengers, or up to 45 kg of cargo)
Length: 4.88 m
Width: 1.71 m
Height: 1.35 m
Armament: 30-cal MG, 7.5mm FM 24/29 and 50-Cal MG (sometimes 2 MGs were carried).
Engine: 65 hp petrol
Top Speed: 50 kph on land, 3.5 knots afloat
Armored Patrol using M29C “Crabes”
Bernard de Lattre Killed at Ninh Binh
In the evening of 29 May, 1951 the Viet Minh continued fighting to gain control of Ninh Binh. The 8e Escadron was sent to reinforce French defenses. Bernard de Lattre was ordered to occupy the high crag (98.6 meters elevation) south of Ninh Binh. This appears as “Nui Ninh Binh” on maps.
The position had been defended by Catholic Militia, and was under attack. Lt. de Lattre led his armored infantry into defensive positions on the top. However, they received heavy mortar fire duing the night. At the dawn of the 30 May, a deluge of shells fell on his position. Lieutenant Bernard de Lattre de Tassigny was killed, his body pierced with eighty wounds.
One newspaper account read: “Young officer, who fell heroically in the middle of battle, setting an example of the finest military virtues at the dawn of an exceptionally brilliant career, opened in France in the Resistance at the age of 15.”
2/1er RTA Counters and Retakes Ninh Binh
The 2/1 RTA Battalion arrived after daylight on 30 May. Part of the battalion immediately began an attack to retake the high crag, or Nui Ninh Binh. And, after taking this position, they took the city of Ninh Binh.
Elements of 2/1 RTA attacking the crag and capturing fortifications
The Algerian riflemen attack the position, supported by light mortars. As the men progress to the rock, they are careful to protect each other when crossing barbed wire.
The rock is recaptured; a lieutenant, followed by his platoon arrives, at the place where he will discover the body of Lieutenant de Lattre. The last defenders surrender while the French flag is hoisted to the top of the rocky peak.
Insignia of 1 RTA
The French retake Ninh Binh from the Viet Minh and hold it during the remainder of the Day River Campaign. The body of Bernard de Lattre is discovered, and is terrible news for his father, General de Lattre. Bernard was his only son.
Following Bernard’s death, his father arranged a Catholic mass at the cathedral in Hanoi. Two days after the battle, Bernard de Lattre’s body was flown home to France, and buried with military honors. The graves of all three de Lattres are side-by-side in the cemetery in Mouilleron-en-Pareds, the birthplace of Jean de Lattre.
Bernard de Lattre gets his 2nd Croix de Guerre, 11 May, 1951
CSVN Scenarios with GM1 and 8e Escadron
There are two scenarios dealing with the battle in Ninh Binh with French reinforcements. The scenario Day Bataille 2 – Chaotic Night features the armored squadron and a “Force d’Intervention”
consisting mainly of Vietnamese infantry from Nam Dinh. This covers night fighting in the evening of 29 May. The filename of this scenario is IC_510530_DR2_Chaos.scn.
The scenario that covers the arrival of GM1 and the subsequent recapture of the crag, and the town
is Day Bataille 3 – GM1 Counter. At this point, the Viet Minh have taken the crag, and still occupy the church and most of Ninh Binh. The 2/1RTA arrives and counterattacks. It is a daylight scenario with filename: IC_510530_DR3_Counter.scn.
Turn 1 screenshot of scenario: Day Bataille 3 – GM1 Counter
Bishop Le Huu Tu (1897 – 1967)
Groupement Mobile No 1 and battalions (French language)
2/1 RTA Combat in Ninh Binh (French language)
AFVs of French Indochina War
Article in Parachutistes-Militaires about Bernard de Lattre (French language)
1er régiment de chasseurs (France), Wikipedia
General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny
De Lattre’s Line is new series of articles by David Galster that covers the Day River Campaign of 1951 in Indochina. The articles provide some interesting background information for the upcoming release of Campaign Series: Vietnam.