Campaign Series Vietnam | de Lattre's Line

Mes amis des jeux de guerre,

A French “Special Forces” was organized by General de Lattre in 1951. It was named “COMMANDOS NORD-VIETNAM.” This article provides more insight, and its relationship to the larger GCMA or Groupe Commandos Mixte Aeroporte, commanded by Colonel Roger Trinquier.


General de Lattre realized that a commando force was needed. He saw the need for unconventional forces, and wanted to improve equipment, weaponry, and living conditions for the indigeneous Vietnamese troops. Based on experience with Japanese resistance, and also that of the Marine and Dinassaut units, he wanted light units made up mainly of auxiliaries supervised by a few Europeans,  determined volunteers, specially trained in night and jungle combat, to strike at the Viet Minh, using their same methods. This was seen as a way to regain confidence of the Vietnamese people, of the “rice fields or the mountains,” to encourage them to return to French loyalty.

So, on 2 July, 1951, eight auxiliary commandos were created in North Vietnam. This was signed under “Decision N° 1546 / EMIFT / 1. (EMIFT =  État-Major Interarmées et des Forces Terrestres.) On 10 July,1951, this was increased to thirty, and later forty-five on 19 November, 1951.

(Decision N° 802 / EMIFT / 3 / SC)

Colonel Louis Fourcade was assigned as commander of the entire COMMANDOS NORD-VIETNAM. He was known as the “le grande Patron.” (Big Boss) Previously, Fourcade had in 1945 led Commando Conus, fighting in Cochinchina, Cambodia, and then in Laos. This unit was in liaison with Colonel de la Bollardière’s 1st SAS parachute brigade. Upon his return to Metropole in 1946, he commanded the GITCM Commando School in Frejus, France.

The GCMA airborne commandos (Groupe Commando Mixte Aéroporté,) were Vietnamese ethnic minorities or Laotian montagnard partisans led by paratrooper officers of the SDECE French intelligence agency. Colonel Roger Trinquier was the legendary leader of this rather large organization. Some of them would be used as cadres in COMMANDO NORD-VIETNAM. But, these were still two separate organizations. COMMANDO NORD-VIETNAM operated in the Tonkin Delta areas, and perhaps a little beyond. GCMA operated all over Indochina.



Organization Structure

Each “Commando” was a company sized unit, and numbered and named, for example, like Commando 24. Some of these were alternatively referred to by the commander name such as Commando “Rusconi.” Some commandos had nicknames, such as “Tigres Noirs,” or “Black Tigers.”

Leadership usually consisted of nine French soldiers, mostly from the “Parachutistes Coloniaux.” The commander was an officer or or Adjudant Chef or Adjudant  (warrant officer). Four NCOs would lead the sections, with one acting as the executive officer. Two junior ranks were radiomen, and two others were medics.

The remainder were indigenous troops, numbering up to 120 men per Commando. These troops were volunteers that come from companies of existing auxiliaries, or from militias in villages, or from young Vietnamese civilians. The auxiliaries or Légères de Supplétifs Militaires, (CLSM) were companies that formed the basis for many Commandos. These CLSM had typically served as garrison troops on the de Lattre line, but with additional training.

There were also former PIMs (Prisonniers et internés militaires) arrested as suspects during operations, preferring to fight rather than hang out as “coolies” in labor camps. Some commando leaders recruited former Viet Minh soldiers. These were often experienced guerilla fighters, but their loyalty was not always certain.

Mission Types

Commando units were organized, equipped, and trained for one of three mission types: Shock (Choc,)  Marine, and Guerilla.

‘Shock Commandos’ were reserves that carried out deep raids, with a view to destroying enemy bases, and the Viet Minh territorial organization. They disrupted logistics and reinforcements. They acted alone or in cooperation with mobile groups in large-scale operations (ARTOIS, GERFAUT, etc.)

The group of “Landing Commandos” or “Marines”, were called upon to work frequently in liaison with Navy formations for landing missions on the coasts or along the rivers and arroyos of the delta. (OPERATIONS GRASSE, ROCHEFORT, etc.)

.Finally, the group of so-called Zone Commandos, were oriented towards the search for intelligence, and the actions of “guerrilla – counter-guerrilla” warfare, mainly in their areas. They provided assistance for the Zone or Sector Commanders, helping with clean-up or sweeping operations.

Uniforms and Weapons

Combat uniforms were often French M47 uniforms or “black pajama uniforms,” with French army leather army boots, jungle boots called “pataugas,” or the civilian trainers called “baskets”. Head gear was black beret, (red beret was tolerated for paratroopers,) the French bush hat, (Le Chapeau de Brousse,) as well as Viet Minh helmets (sun hats) were often worn on operations.

The Commandos were lightly armed with Thompson, MAT 49, MAS 36, M1 carbine, and FM24/29 with sometimes a few 50 or 60mm Mortars. Radios were one SCR690, three to four SCR300, and  four to five SCR536 per Commando company.

Commando 9, Bac Ninh, North Vietnam

Commando 9, Bac Ninh, North Vietnam


Given the diversity of recruitment, Col. Fourcade planned to involve “Commandos” in a training and cohesion course. Ecole de Vat Chay was set up for this purpose in 1951, with Capitaine Michel Legrand commanding. Operational requirements did not allow everyone to participate. New recruits were trained by their officers.

Marksmanship Training at Ecole Vat Chay

Marksmanship Training at Ecole Vat Chay

Commando 24 “Vandenberghe”

This was one of the more well-known Commandos and was one of the original eight formed in July 1951. Roger Vandenberghe, I’adjudant‐chef, (Chief Warrant Officer) organized this unit from the 11e CLSM. A precursor to this unit participated in the Day River Campaign at Ninh Binh.

Vandenberghe was born in Paris on October 27, 1927 in an extremely modest environment. His father suffered from turberculosis, and his mother, a Spanish Jew, struggled to support the family. With his brother, Vandenberghe was placed in a public boarding school, where he sometimes defied the authorities. In 1939, his father died, and in 1943, his mother was arrested by the Nazis.

Roger joined the Resistance, and was in a surveillance unit on the Franco-Spanish border. When WWII ended, he joined the French Army.  In January 1947, he embarked with the 49th Infantry Regiment, headed to Indochina. He was later assigned to the 10th Company, 6th Colonial Infantry Regiment. He rose to the rank of Sergeant and commanded a section of Vietnamese “suppletifs.”

In 1949, Vandenberghe was hit in the chest with a bullet, and repatriated to France. He survived and recovered. His actions earned the Knight of the Legion of Honour, at age 21. Returning to Indochina a few months later, he continued as section leader. Then in 1951, he was in the 5th Company of the 6th Colonial Regiment, stationed around Nam Dinh

Roger Vandenberghe, I'adjudant‐chef

Roger Vandenberghe, I’adjudant‐chef

Vandenberghe at Ninh Binh

At the time of the Viet Minh attack on Ninh Binh on 29 May 1951, the French were scrambling to get reinforcments into the battle. On 30 May, Vandenberghe’s reconnaissance group scouted for Groupe Mobile No 1, that retook the high crag south of Ninh Binh. This was when the body of Bernard de Lattre was found. He was the son of General de Lattre, and had commanded the 8th armored squadron of the 1er Regiment Chasseurs de Cheval.

Formation of Commando 24

Subsequent to the Day River Campaign, the 11e CLSM was reorganized by Vandenberghe, as Commando 24. Modeled on the “guerilla” type of units, they were trained and equipped for reconnaissance and covert operations. Their uniforms were similar to Viet Minh, so they could confuse the enemy.

Commando 24 on Patrol - Note similarity to Viet Minh Uniforms

Commando 24 on Patrol – Note similarity to Viet Minh Uniforms

In one mission into a deep enemy zone, Vandenberghe himself pretended to be a prisoner, and was led by his troops, disguised as Viet Minh, to openly march to a VM Commissar. The Viet Minh were too gullible, and at the right moment Commando 24 soldiers emerged and opened fire. They retrieved weapons and documents, including communications of an impending VM attack. This type of operation earned Commando 24 the name of “Tigres Noirs” or “Black Tigers.”

Commando 24 took part in the Hoa Binh Campaign in late 1951. They operated with Groupe Mobile No. 2, under Colonel Christian de Castries. (Later, the Dien Bien Phu Commander)

But, tragedy struck on the night of 5 January, 1952. Since former Viet Minh regulars were recruited as part of the Commando, occasional betrayal happened. At age 24, Roger Vandenberghe was murdered in his sleep by Nguien Tinh Khoi, former assault unit commander in the Viet Minh 36th Regiment.  Vandenberghe was posthumorously awarded yet another Croix de Guerre with palms.

Commando 24 Insignia Motto: "Tha Chet Hon La Chiu Nhuc" (Plutôt la mort que la honte) (Death before dishonor)

Commando 24 Insignia

Motto: “Tha Chet Hon La Chiu Nhuc”

(Plutôt la mort que la honte)

(Death before dishonor)

Commando 25 “Romary”

This unit was formed from the 170e CLSM, and initially commanded by Lt. Michel Romary. Organized as a Marine Commando, it participated in the Day River Campaign.

On 30 May, Commando 25 landed at Yen Cu Ha to reinforce the garrison there. This poste had been defended by Catholic Militia and Hung Yen partisans. On 5 June, the Viet Minh 88th Regiment attacked. Viet Minh gunners bludgeoned the position for two hours with “SKZ” (Sung Khong Zat: Chinese guns without recoil,) and mortars. This was also the first time they used WP, white phosphorus shells. Suicide sappers, called “death volunteers” undermined the walls with hollow loads,  and the general assault overwhelmed the position, but it changed hands four times.

As the handful of fighters, led by Lt. Romary (injured by two bullets and multiple shrapnel,) realized their desperate situation, LSSL No. 6 of Dinassaut “A” appears on the River Day, firing machine guns. This pushes the enemy back, and allows room for the reinforcements from 7BPC and 4/7RTA to land. The wounded Lt. Romary was later awarded the  Légion d’Honneur.

Lt. Romary awarded Legion of Honor by Gen. de Lattre

Lt. Romary awarded Legion of Honor by Gen. de Lattre

Lt. Besnard succeeded Lt. Romary as chef of Commando 25. This unit continued operations in the Tonkin delta region.

Lt. Besnard with Commando 25

Lt. Besnard with Commando 25

Commando 25 Insignia

Commando 25 Insignia


Commandos Nord Vietnam, A. Lebreton

COMMANDOS NORD-VIETNAM 1951-1954,  Jean-Pierre Pissardy, Casemate Publishers, 2003 (hardcopy only)

French Indochina Website

Héros de la guerre d’Indochine

Les Partisans et Supplétifs Website

Campaign Series Vietnam | de Lattre's Line

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.


de Lattre’s Line #5: L’Opération Aéroportée

Campaign Series Vietnam | de Lattre's Line

Mes amis des jeux de guerre,

French paratroopers played a role in many of the operations in the First Indochina War, and the Day River Campaign was no exception. Both the French Army and the Foreign Legion had parachute battalions by the late 1940s. In particular, the CEFEO had colonial units, that developed along the lines of S.A.S units of WWII.

Bataillons parachutistes de Choc, type S.A.S.

The post WWII paratroops evolved from Free French organizations during WWII. These were patterned from the British SAS. (Special Air Services) The very first French paratrooper unit was the 1ére Compagnie D’Infanterie DE L’Air (1er C.I.A) It was involved in joint operations with the British SAS under British Lt.-Col. Sterling. Combat operations included Crete and Cyrenaque in 1942.

Later, Commander Bouvier O’Cottere formed the 3rd Air battalion in  Algeria. Similarly, a 4th Air Battalion was formed in England. These units ultimately were enlarged to form the 2nd and 3rd French S.A.S Regiments. They participated in the D-Day Normandy Invasion, parachuting into Bretagne. They later fought in the Rhineland operations in Holland, assisting the 1st Canadian Army.

In November 1945, the French Army formed a group of Choc Paratrooper Battalions, such as S.A.S. These battalions were in paratrooper regiments of the 25th Airborne Division, stationed in Metropolis, in the southwest: 1st Parachute Fighter Regiment (1 H.C.P.), 2 Parachute Fighter Regiment (2 R.C.P.), Shock Infantry Regiment (R.I.C.A.P.)

As the Indochina war arose, some of these battalions were sent to the Far East and with volunteers, eventually formed the 1ère Demi-Brigade de Parachutistes S.A.S. (1DBP-SAS) The commander was Colonel de Bollardiere. The motto was: “Qui ose gagne” which is French for “who dares, wins.”

In 1947, problems of succession and differences in opinion arose, and  a meeting at the 3rd Army Staff Office, in which Col. de Bollardiere participated, a decision was reached to create a parachute commando corps, C.C.P, with a demi-brigade to start.

1ère Demi-Brigade de Parachutistes S.A.S. (1DBP-SAS)

1ère Demi-Brigade de Parachutistes S.A.S. (1DBP-SAS)

1ère Demi-Brigade Coloniale de Commandos Parachutistes

The 1DBP-SAS  was renamed 1ère Demi-Brigade Coloniale de Commandos Parachutistes, (1BCCP) and reorganized in August 1947. It included a staff and command battalion, plus the 5BPIC and two other battalions trained in 1948 from paratroopers returning from Indochina. The headquarters of what was called the “Metropole” location were in the city of Vannes, in Bretagne (Brittany) France. The battalions were rotated between this location, North Africa, and Indochina. A typical Indochina deployment was two years, but this varied.

The battalions of the 1er Demi-Brigade increased in number, and ultimately the following seven battalions were created:

1er Bataillon Colonial De Commandos Parachutistes – 1B.C.C.P

2e Bataillon Colonial De Commandos Parachutistes – 2B.C.C.P

3e Bataillon Colonial De Commandos Parachutistes – 3B.C.C.P

5e Bataillon Colonial De Commandos Parachutistes – 5B.C.C.P

6e Bataillon Colonial De Commandos Parachutistes – 6B.C.C.P

7e Bataillon Colonial De Commandos Parachutistes – 7B.C.C.P

8e Bataillon Colonial De Commandos Parachutistes – 8B.C.C.P

These battalion names were shortened to Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux in early 1951, and the abbreviation became BPC. (There was an interim period in 1950 when battalions were referred to as groups, and the abbreviation was G.C.C.P.)

The ordinal designator in French is formally “ère” for the “first,” and “ème” for the “second” and subsequent ordinals. Formally, these are abbreviated as 1ère or 2ème. (superscript form.)  This is because in French, the word “first” is “première,” and “second” is “deuxième.” All remaining ordinal numbers have the “ème” ending. This is generally further abbreviated in military contexts as 1er and 2e, 3e, 4e etc. So these battalions would ultimately be abbreviated as 1erBCP or even 1BPC.  Also 2eBPC could be shortened to 2BPC, etc.  Also, the abbreviation for company is “Cie.”

1ère Demi-Brigade Coloniale de Commandos Parachutistes

1ère Demi-Brigade Coloniale de Commandos Parachutistes

Other French Parachute Units

In addition to the 1BCCP, in Indochina, the French formed  2ème Regiment de Parachutistes Coloniaux, (2RCP) and some Foreign Legion parachute battalions. The following two Foreign Legion battalions were very active in Indochina: 1er Bataillon Etranger de Parachutistes (1BEP) and 2e Bataillon Etranger de Parachutistes. (2BEP)

7éme Bataillon Colonial de Commandos Parachutistes

This is the parachute battalion that fought around Ninh Binh and Yen Cu Ha in the Day River Campaign. It was formed in early 1950 under Battalion Chef Fritsch, in Bretagne. After a training period, it embarked on the SS Pasteur for Indochina on 15 July.

On 4 August, they arrived in Haiphong, transferred into Hanoi, and billeted at the Gia-Lam airfield.

The battalion had the 13th and 14th Companies (13e Cie and 14e Cie) with regular Metropolitan paratroopers, and had a Vietnamese company called the 7eC.I.P. The acronym C.I.P means Company, Indochinois, Parachutistes. Eventually, and especially under the de Lattre period, virtually all paratrooper battalions formed one Vietnamese company. For the 7BPC, this C.I.P was formed after they arrived in Indochina on 22 July 1950.

On 18 September, they parachuted into Con-Dung Near Co-Tiet in support of Operation Gregoire. In a few skirmishes, an adjutant was killed, and Lt. Thuchot was wounded. They returned to Hanoi on 27 September 1950.

During the fall 1950 there were two additional operations: Phoque, and Terrestre. These were in the Phu Ly Province. Chef Fritsch was hurt during the intial drop of Operation Phoque and was evacuated. Capitaine Moulie was put in charge of the battalion.

The Day River Campaign action occurred when 7BPC dropped on Yen Phuc on 30 May 1951. This was a village and outpost along Route 10, about 3 km southeast of Ninh Binh. It was part of the de Lattre Line. It was a reconnaissance operation, withuntered a superior enemy, but inflicted heavy losses, and thwarted, by a series of counter-attacks, an encirclement maneuver. The Vietnamese company of the battalion, 7eC.I.P. distinguished themselves in the encounter.

On 5 June, the 13e Cie was transported by Dinassaut “A” on the Day River to Yen Cu Ha, where they reinforced Commando 25, and defended the position against heavy attacks by the Viet Minh 88th Regiment.

The 7BPC remained in Indochina for another year, participating in Operations Mirabelle,Citron, Mandarine, Lotus, Delphine, and Hoa Binh, Micareme, Mabiance, Carrelet, Paquerrette, Lousqsor, Prosper, Kangarou, Antilope, and Sarrique. Finally, on 26 July 1952, the battalion departed Haiphong on the SS Pasteur and returned to Bretagne.

7éme Bataillon Colonial de Commandos Parachutistes

7éme Bataillon Colonial de Commandos Parachutistes

Campaign Series Vietnam Scenario – Day Bataille 4 – L’Opération Aéroportée

This is a scenario that recreates the 7BPC action at Yen Phuc. This is part of a series of Day River Campaign scenarios. Here is a screenshot of playtest action on Turn 9.

Turn 9 positions after French phase

Turn 9 positions after French phase


Historique de La Brigade de Parachutistes d’Outre-Mer

Campaign Series Vietnam | de Lattre's Line

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.