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.









de Lattre’s Line #4: GM1 Saves Ninh Binh

Campaign Series Vietnam | de Lattre's Line

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.

Catholic Militia

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

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

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.

GM1 Insignia

GM1 Insignia

Armored Squadron

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

Insignia 1er Regiment de Chasseurs a Cheval

M29C “Crabe”

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

Armour: none

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"

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 Elements of 2/1 RTA attacking the crag and capturing fortifications






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

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

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

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

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 #3: Dinassaut 3 on Day River

Campaign Series Vietnam | de Lattre's Line

Mes amis des jeux de guerre,

The French successfully developed river naval assault divisions, abbreviated as “Dinassauts.” This article provides background on these, and Dinassaut 3’s  participation in the Day River Campaign.


Small fleets of French inland water forces dominated the Mekong, Red, Black and Clear river ways with their maneuvrability and firepower. These “brown water” or riverine units were developed by the French, and every nation involved in similar combat has duplicated the Dinassaut concept. The operational patrols, fire support, and marine infantry transport were very effective.


The Naval amphibious forces evolved from 1945 during the CEFEO deployment. In 1947, the forces were reorganized into the “Force Amphibie de la Marine en Indochine.” (FAMIC) There was  a northern group for the Tonkin Delta, and a southern group in the Mekong Delta. The various squadrons were reorganized into “Divisions Navales d’Assaut”, or Dinassauts.

The typical Dinassaut Organization consisted of

Command and support craft  LCI or LSIL

Transport and support LCT or LCM, usually 2 craft.

Patrol and support with 4 LCVP craft (or sometimes LCAs), later used for mine sweeping

Other support craft, such as LSSL, and tenders

Infantry support company, usually Marine Commandos

The infantry were from different organizations on an ad hoc basis. Marine Commando companies, with about 85 soldiers each, were routinely attached to the Dinassauts. There were six of these, named for officers killed in action: Commando Francois, Ponchardier, Treppel, Montfort, Jaubert, and Hubert de Penfentayo.

Riverine Craft Types

LCA = Landing Craft, Assault (small, British craft)

LCM = Landing Craft, Mechanised (British or US craft – the most common)

LCVP = Landing Craft, Vehicle Personnel (US small craft)

LCI = Landing Craft, Infantry (large, US craft used as command vessel)

LSIL = Landing Ship, Infantry (Large) (large infantry carrier ship – used as command vessels)

LSSL = Landing Ship, Support (Large) (ex-US craft used for command and fire support duties)



Dinassaut 3

This unt was formed in Tonkin, August 1947, under LV Garnier and then CC Acloque. Nam Dinh was the base of operations. Some of the operations Dinassaut 3 were involved with were:

“Léa”, Oct. 1947, “Ondine”, Nov. ’48 (Vietri region), “Anthracite”, Oct. ’49 (Phat Diem region), “Tonneau”, Feb. ’50 (Thai Binh sector) and May-June 1951 (Ninh Binh and Phat Diem region)

Dinassaut 3 was sent to Ninh Binh in late May, 1951 and fought in the Day River Campaign from 29th May to 3rd June, 1951. The composition was 1 LCI, 1 LST, 6 LCMs , and 1 CLA. Commando Francois was attached, with Lt. Labbens commanding.

Subsequently in Day River operations, Dinassaut 3 was relieved by a group known as “Dinassaut A”, under LV Schloesing, consisting of LSSL-6 “Rapier,” with LCMs 30, 32, 34 and 59.

Dinassaut 3 Insignia

Dinassaut 3 Insignia

Commandos Land at Ninh Binh

Here is a translated excerpt from the book, Les Commandos, by Georges Fleury. It describes the approach of LST 1147 as it landed at Ninh Binh on 27 May 1951:

“The war has been raging for six years now, and the proud key to the last rice fields in the north is nothing more than a confused pile of ruins and piers. The lush vegetation has taken its toll on the sumptuous pleasure gardens, and flamboyant linings. The metal bridge spanning the Day, and  supporting the only railway line rising from the countries of the south, is now broken, only piles of trusses, eaten by rust, remain.  As southeast monsoons begin to envelope, and as colors change with time, a flat-bottomed barge, armed with two 20 mm guns and machine guns, glides through the calm waters of the Day River. On board, green beret-clad riflemen of Commando “Francois,” long accustomed to this kind of race, follow the parade of river banks, with a professional eye.”

Members of Commando Francois

Members of Commando Francois

The landing craft of Dinassaut 3 remained at Ninh Binh, and in the morning of 28 May 1951, Commando Francois set up defensive positions at an abandoned Catholic church, l’Iglise de Ninh Binh. Patrols investigated areas west of Ninh Binh, and the village of Phuc Am, on the other side of the rach Song Van. After finding it mostly deserted, the scouts return to the church surroundings, which had taken on the appearance of a well-organized encampment.

During the pre-dawn hours of 29 May, Viet Minh attacked Ninh Binh, and particularly the strongpoint of the church. Commando Francois was decimated during this battle, and later disbanded in 1953.

Commando Francois Insignia

Commando Francois Insignia

l'Iglise de Ninh Binh

l’Iglise de Ninh Binh

CVSN Scenario – Day Bataille 1 – Ninh Binh Attaqué

The events of the Viet Minh attack on Ninh Binh in the early morning of 29 May 1951 is recreated in a CVSN scenario. The 12-turn night to sunrise battle features Dinassaut 3 with Commando Francois,

the Suppletif infantry defending the de Lattre line, and the Viet Minh 79th Battalion.

Here is a screenshot at the start of the scenario:

Turn 1 Screenshot of scenario: Day Bataille 1 - Ninh Binh Attaqué

Turn 1 Screenshot of scenario: Day Bataille 1 – Ninh Binh Attaqué

River Operations at Yen Cu Ha

The Viet Minh moved their attacks south, and after failure to take and hold Ninh Binh, moved down to Yen Cu Ha, and attacked on 5 June. That outpost was reinforced with the 13th Company, 7th Colonial Parachute battalion. They were transported by riverine craft of Dinassaut “A”.

Dinassaut “A” had the large LSSL-6, the “Rapier,” which effectively fired and drove back Viet Minh attackers at Yen Cu Ha. The paratroopers were transported by LCMs 30, 32, 34 and 59.

Supplies being loaded on LCM at Ninh Binh for trip to Yen Cu Ha

Supplies being loaded on LCM at Ninh Binh for trip to Yen Cu Ha


“Le Commandos,” by Georges Fleury

Indo 1945- 1954 website

Marine Commando Francois – French Indochina “The Dirty War” – part 1

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 #2: Henan Ninh Campaign

Campaign Series Vietnam | de Lattre's Line

Mes amis des jeux de guerre,

This is the second article in the Day River series of 1951. The topic “Henan Ninh Campaign” is what the Viet Minh named their operation. Their forces, weapons, and plans are covered with the goal of giving players some background on how the Communist forces developed in the early 1950s, and applied their capabilities to operations.

Henan Ninh Campaign and Location

The Viet Minh called the Day River battles the “Henan Ninh Campaign.” This is from a combination of province names where the battles were fought. These were the Ha Nam Province (sometimes listed as Nam Ha on maps,) which is to the north where Phy Ly was; Ninh Binh Province and the city of Ninh Binh, and Nam Dinh province on the east side of the Day River, with the major city of Nam Dinh.

Operation “Ha Nam Ninh” is similarly a combination of parts of these province names. Another operation name used was “Quang Trung,” which is the name of a Vietnamese emperor who reigned from 1788- 1792 in the Tay Son Dynasty. He was known for his outstanding military leadership, and is one of the fourteen traditional heroes of Vietnam.

General Giap’s goal was to take over the Phat Diem delta area, where Catholicism dominated. Attacks on Phy Ly and Ninh Binh were diversions, to tie down French reserves.

Viet Minh Divisions and Lower Organizations

The three divisions involved with the campaign were 304, 308, and 320. These part of the original six and were known as the “Steel and Iron” divisions and were formed over the years 1947-1951. This was after the Chinese Revolution overthrew Chiang Kai-shek, and the Communists confiscated weapons from the Nationalist Chinese.

Many of the Viet Minh armaments were from China in the late 1940s period, and quite a bit were US weapons that had been supplied to Chiang Kai Chek’s Army. Some Japanese equipment, rifles, machine guns, infantry guns, and mountain howitzers were also taken by the Viet Minh when the Japanese left in 1945.


The 9th Regiment of the 304th Division operated around Phu Ly in the north. The 308th Division fielded most of the combat units. It was headquartered at Truong Yen. The first action was from the 79th Battalion, 102nd Regiment that attacked Ninh Binh on the night of 28-29 May 1951. On 30 May, the 29th Battalion, 88th Regiment reinforced these units in Ninh Binh, but were forced to retreat by the French Groupe Mobile No. 1. These were in the Phase 1 part of the operation.

On 3 June, 1951, the 36th Regiment 308th Division attacked south along Route 10, but met strong resistance at Yen Phuc, where there was a concrete blockhouse. (pillbox)

Finally, the 88th Regiment, 308th Division attacked Yen Cu Ha along the Day River between Ninh Binh and Phat Diem. This attack was on 5 June, and it failed. As a result, the campaign ended.

The 320th Division’s 48th Regiment operated in the Cho Chay area and pushed toward Yen Cu Ha. They made some progress, but encountered resistance along the way, and never accomplished the ultimate objective of Phat Diem.

Small Arms Weapons

Viet Minh had acquired bolt-action Arisaka rifles of various versions when the Japanese left in 1945. The most common were the Type 38,  chambered for 6.5×50mmSR cartridges, and Type 99 chambered for 7.7×58mm cartridges.

The Type 100 Japanese sub-machine guns were also likely used. After 1950, when Soviet and US small arms became available, Japanese small arms were used less.

The Communist Chinese had acquired a lot of US small arms after defeating the Nationalists in 1948. Many of these were provided to the Viet Minh. The M1 Garand semi-automatic rifle, and its M1 carbine version were available, as well as the Thompson sub-machine gun.

The Soviet Union also provided equipment such as bolt-action Mosin-Nagrant rifles, and PPSh-41 sub-machine guns.

Naturally, the Viet Minh captured many French arms. These would include the MAS Model 36 bolt-action rifle, and the MAT-49 submachine gun.

Crewed Weapons

Machine guns were likely the US M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle, (BAR), or the French FM 1924 M29. Also the Russian DShK, SG-43 Goryunov, or its Chinese variant, Type 53/57 were used.

One of the newer crewed weapons introduced for the Henan Campaign was the SKZ recoilless gun.

These were “homemade”  in shops commandeered by the Viet Minh. The designer was a Vietnamese engineer, Nguyen Trinh Tiep, head of General Headquarters’ Military Research Office.

The SKZ stands for “sung khong giat,” or “gun no shock.” These were produced in several calibers including 51mm, 81mm, 120mm, and 175mm. However, the SKZ-60 was the first and by far the most prolific. Used in action for the first time at the Battle of Pho Lu in February 1950, it was a tripod-mounted weapon 1.3 meters long, weighing weighed 26 kg. It could disassembled into three pieces for transport.

The standard 120mm shaped-charge warhead, attached to a 60mm rod fitting inside the barrel, carried a 2.2-kg explosive charge that could penetrate 600mm of concrete. But, it was a low-velocity smoothbore, accurate only at close range. Its muzzle velocity was just 75–80 m/s and its effective range, 60 meters.

In the Day River Campaign, the SKZ was used at Yen Cu Ha, and possibly other places where the Viet Minh were attacking fortified blockhouses.

Viet Cong loading a Chinese 75mm recoilless rifle. The photo was discovered by the 5th Royal Australian Regiment during a bunker search in 1967. The Viet Minh SKZ was a similar weapon.

Viet Cong loading a Chinese 75mm recoilless rifle. The photo was discovered by the 5th Royal Australian Regiment during a bunker search in 1967. The Viet Minh SKZ was a similar weapon.


The Viet Minh had leftover Japanese artillery, such as Type 94 75mm mountain guns, and Type 41 75mm regimental infantry guns. (“rentai ho”)

The Type 94 had been the  standard pack artillery piece of Japanese infantry divisions. The single-piece gun barrel with had a sliding breechblock based on German Krupp designs, and a long split-rail carriage with a hydro-pneumatic recoil mechanism based on French Schneider designs. The crew was partially protected by a shield.

The Type 41 was the standard regiment infantry gun, the designation “41” was the year of Emperor Meiji’s reign when it was introduced.

Type 41 Gun

A Type 41, “rentai ho,” at the Yasukuni Shrine

After the Communist takeover in China in 1948, the Viet Minh began receiving some US artillery, like the M1A1 75mm pack howitzers. This transfer only included 75mm guns and 120mm mortars. It was later, in 1952-53, that Viet Minh started getting 105mm howitzers from China.

The division artillery battalions primarily used 120mm mortars. These were typically the Soviet PM-43, or the Chinese copy Type 53, and later the Type 55 mortars. The PM-43 was a Russian design from WWII, introduced in 1943. The Chinese copied it, and their version was the Type 53.

The Viet Minh created the 351st Heavy Division in 1951. It was an artillery and engineering division, patterned after Soviet practice. It was one of the six original “Steel and Iron Divisions,”  with Chinese assistance. It originally had three regiments: 675th and 45th Artillery, plus the 151st Military Engineer Regiment. The Henan Campaign was one of the early operations of the “Heavy” Division.

Chinese 120mm Mortar

A Chinese 120mm Mortar captured in Korea


Henan Ninh Campaign – Wikipedia (Translated to English)

Type 41 75 mm mountain gun – Wikipedia

Type 94 75 mm mountain gun – Wikipedia

351st Artillery-Engineer Division (Vietnam) – Wikipedia

The 1980s story of Professor Tran Dai Nghia

Homemade Vietnamese Heavy Weapons of the 1st Indochinese War

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.