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Guerrilas to Conquerors

The Development of the Viet Minh Military Machine

Related Pages:

  • Chu Luc - Notes on Viet Minh Main Force Units 
  • War is the highest form of struggle for resolving contradictions, when they have developed to a certain stage, between classes, nations, states, or political groups, and it has existed ever since the emergence of private property and of classes.
    Mao; "Problems of Strategy in China's Revolutionary War" (December 1936).
    By 1954, the Viet Minh had developed into a formidable military organisation, capable of taking on the CEFEO in field actions and defeating their foe. Yet, only some fifteen years earlier there had been hardly any VM military to speak of. While Uncle Ho was the architect of the VM as a political body, and harnessed the previously unfocussed nationalist and socialist elements in Vietnamese society, the main figure in the military development was Vo Nguyen Giap. A former history teacher and early member of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), he developed a close working relationship with the intellectual Ho Chi Minh. With the German defeat of France in 1940, and increasing Japanese pressure, the French began to clamp down on any nationalist groups. (After all, if Indochina was quiet then the Japanese had no particular reason to interfere with the internal running of the colony). In one of these roundups of troublemakers, Giap escaped and fled to China (where Ho and the Party were based) - but his wife was not so lucky, later dying in a French prison. Implacable and having great abilities as an organiser, Giap was the ideal choice for a military commander. 

    The Viet Minh Pre-WW2

    In the late 1920s, the non-communist Viet Nam Quoc Dan Dang (VNQDD) nationalists were assassinating French officials, planning armed uprisings, and generally behaving in the manner that the radical communists believed the communists should. Nguyen Phong Sac, from Nghe An province, organised a network of industrial worker cells (chiefly from railway workers) and started a campaign of direct action (beatings, murders, assassinations, and other forms of terrorism, chiefly against other Vietnamese). The VNQDD was also active at that time in widespread anti-French activity in certain provinces of Central Vietnam. The result was a breakdown of order in those provinces, discrediting the traditional village authority and weakening French control. That led, in 1930-31, to replacement of village rule with communes or soviets - sixteen in all in the Nghe An / Ha Tinh region - intended to be the revolutionary base from which the fire of revolt would spread to all of Indochina. However, French reaction was swift and effective - the Nghe-Tinh soviets were destroyed, and the net effect of this exercise in futility was to leave a lingering prejudice amongst the communists against direct action.

    The ICP amalgamated from a loose group of organisations and activists into a formal party in 1930, but for the first ten years or so there was little which could be described as a military force. The general feeling was that the dau tranh (struggle) had to be carried out in two forms: armed dau tranh and political dau tranh. While far from pacifistic, the ICP leaders felt that armed dau tranh was premature in the 1930s.

    At the Party's First Congress in Macao in March 1935, the formation and purpose of a military wing was discussed. It would be called a Military Self-Defence Group and was to have four basic tasks: to protect the revolutionary organisation, to support individual dau tranh actions, to train and educate Party members in proletarian military strategy and tactics, and generally to support the cause against the exploiters. The Macao resolution also set forth basic principles of the armed force as it was to evolve during the next seven decades; it must always be kept under close Party leadership, it must eventually develop capability for armed dau tranh, it should maintain close association with the population and "observe broad democracy," it must maintain strict discipline, and it should develop in such a way as to become the nucleus of the future revolutionary army.

    The early ICP thought on military matters was a mixture of traditional Vietnamese philosophy and Marxist-Leninism. The Vietnamese had always felt themselves (rightly or wrongly) to be a people perpetually under threat of invasion, but prepared to defend themselves by mass, popular risings. In fact, this was probably a stronger influence on their actions than socialism. One Marxist influence was, however, the use of confusing terminology to cover real developments. Therefore, the military were not to be described as army, or even guerrilla, units, but as self-defence (tu ve) units. This was less worrying to the French, and sounded reassuring to the peasantry - armies are associated with rape, pillage and destruction, while self-defence units sound like ordinary folk banding together for their own safety.

    This military force would employ a tertiary structure (i.e. a "three-by-three" system); that is, the lowest unit was the squad (of five to nine persons), three of which formed a platoon, three platoons a company, three companies eventually would compose a battalion, and so on up through regiment, division, and corps.

    Armed Dau Tranh

    The outbreak of World War II, and the subsequent Fall of France in 1940, presented a momentous opportunity for Ho Chi Minh and the Party. Many believed that the thoi co, or proper moment, had come for all-out action, for the Party to raise a full-scale army and begin warfare.

    This was particularly true in the south. and at the Sixth Party Plenum in Gia Dinh province (outside of Saigon) in early November 1939, Nguyen Van Cu called for the immediate formation of a united front and a united front army to wrest Indochina from the weakened French and, if necessary, fend off the threatening Japanese army.

    This movement was in fact an over-enthusiastic reaction to events, but did reflect sentiments in the South where the Plenum decision was quickly translated into action. Within months, self-defence units were established in seventeen southern provinces. This burst of activity was greeted with misgivings by Party leaders in the North and by Ho Chi Minh in particular, whose judgement was that it represented rash adventurism. They seem to have been proved correct, for the Party in the South did pay a high price with the subsequent bloody suppression by the French of the November 1940 peasant uprisings, urban riots, and other public disorders that came to be called the Nam Bo Uprising. Nevertheless, Party historians now record that period-late 1940 and early 1941 - as the historic moment when the cause passed from political dau tranh to armed dau tranh.

    The first military action in Indochina by a forerunner of the PAVN (People's Army of Vietnam) that could be called more than a reaction to local grievance came with the battle of Lang Son, followed by the Bac Son Uprising (27 August 1940). Today Hanoi historians take full credit for Bac Son in the name of the Party. Their version is that the Party had dispatched Tran Dang Ninh to the region early in 1940, where he and local Party officials recruited and formed the Bac Son Guerrilla Unit (Du Kich Bac Son - numbering about 200 combattants), which was in the centre of the uprising. The unit was, the history continues, virtually destroyed by the French in the course of the uprising. Whatever the reality of these two incidents, both have become major events in the history of PAVN.

    France had collapsed in the summer of 1940, and the Japanese had availed themselves of the opportunity by invading Indochina from China in late September. The only opposition came at Lang Son (a post manned by the 5e REI). Most of the Legionnaires eventually surrendered, but part of the French garrison attempted to break out to China (in opposition to their orders), and for a week its retreat was harried by fairly well organised Thô Montagnard guerrilla bands, some of them Party-led, including one by the legendary Tran Dang Ninh. In the course of this action, some French troops turned their weapons over to the guerrillas for use against the advancing Japanese. This development frightened both the arriving Japanese and the French command in Hanoi, and a loose collaboration against this native insurgency was quickly arranged. The newly fielded guerrilla force was crushed, but at Bac Son the Party's military effort was started in earnest.

    By the time Party leaders gathered in Dinh Bang village, Bac Ninh province (outside Hanoi), for the Party's Seventh Plenum in November 1940, pressure had increased sharply for an all-out army-building effort. (Ho Chi Minh, who was not present, apparently did not approve). The Seventh Plenum approved the introduction of armed dau tranh into the agenda of the Indochina revolution...

    The change was pushed through by a faction led by Tran Dang Ninh, fresh from the Bac Son failure (he brushed it aside as an aberration), that included Phung Chi Kien, Luong Huu Chi, and Hoang Van Thu -all important early figures. A directive was issued creating a united front armed force to be called the National Salvation Army. An army in spirit only, perhaps, it consisted of three guerrilla units numbering about 125 persons each, mostly Montagnards. The first of these, formed in February 1941, was called the First National Salvation Platoon, commanded by Chu Van Tan, a Nung described as "a local bandit," who apparently was not a party member at the time but a key figure since he could deliver Montagnard manpower and provide a Highland enclave as a haven for the fledgling force. Tan went on to become one of PAVN's senior generals.

    The National Salvation Army was a true revolutionary force. It was broad in concept and purpose, dedicated not only to ridding Indochina of foreign control but to establishing some form of self-government. Exactly how much influence the Party exerted initially is not clear. The army's many Montagnard members were xenophobic but without clear political alliegance. Further, Ho and other top Party officials, still reluctant to commit their cause to full dau tranh, avoided too close an association between the ICP and the new formation, fearful that if the National Salvation Army failed it could take the Party down with it. The association did move the Party from self-defence to army in official designation. Probably the best that can be said is that the National Salvation Army initially involved Party participation, and only moderate Party support.

    Ho Chi Minh finally returned to the region - the first time he had set foot in Vietnam since 1912 - on 28 February 1941, apparently with plans well worked out in his mind for the creation of an armed force to launch armed dau tranh. Those plans were unveiled at the Party's Eighth Plenum in Kwangsi, China, in May 1941, which officially determined that armed dau tranh would be conducted through a united front, by a united front army. The front was called the Viet Nam Doc Lap Dong Minh Hoi (League for Independence of Vietnam) - or the Viet Minh, as it became known colloquially.

    Viet Minh membership was more non-communist (or anti-communist) than communist, and Party participation, while fully known within the Viet Minh, was not advertised externally and thus not generally known by most Vietnamese, nor by many foreigners. Its chairman was Ho Ngoc Lam, a non-communist. Ho Chi Minh, as the eminence gris behind the Viet Minh, granted great latitude to non-Party elements so as to encourage their support and allay their fears, and also because the Viet Minh was based in China and thus heavily dependent on the suspicious Chinese Nationalists (who particularly did not trust Ho, and in fact had him arrested for a period). The Viet Minh was, however, kept under Party guidance, then gradually taken over entirely.

    During World War II, the Viet Minh operated from its bases in China and, aided and equipped by the Allies (mainly via the OSS - forerunner of the CIA), recruited guerrillas (a large percentage of them Montagnards), organised them into bands, trained them, and fielded them in Vietnam, where they harassed the Japanese, spied for the Allies, rescued downed American airmen, and generally served the Allied cause. That the Viet Minh contribution to Allied victory was only marginal was chiefly a reflection of the fact that Indochina was among the least important of Allied theatres of operation.

    While deeply involved in Viet Minh military activity, at that time the Party also began to organise a separate military organisation. Shortly before the Party's Seventh Plenum (November 1940) the Chinese Nationalists sponsored a military conference, which was in effect an introductory seminar on guerrilla war, at Kweilin, China, for Party cadres and others in the Viet Minh. The discussions continued on into the Seventh Plenum. Attending those sessions were refugee Party cadres from the Saigon region who had fled to China after their initial failure in armed dau tranh. Those southerners were questioned closely by Giap about their experiences, and many of them became his first military cadres and the nucleus of the PAVN officer corps.

    Giap dispatched Vu Anh into the Pac Bo region of Cao Bang province after the Seventh Plenum with instructions to scout a secure headquarters site inside Vietnam. He located an area about ten miles square between the villages of Hoang Hoa Tham and Tran Hung Dao, which is almost due north of Hanoi just inside the border with China. The choice showed Giap's early understanding of the importance of sanctuary in guerrilla war.

    The caves of Cao Bang became the initial military headquarters for the Party, the training ground for Giap's new military force, and, at times, home for Ho Chi Minh. The site consciously or otherwise emulated the mystic experience of Mao Tse-tung and the Chinese communists in the caves at Yennan. The Cao Bang site is now a national shrine.

    There in the mountains, Giap, some 40 Vietnamese cadres, and 500 Montagnard guerrillas threw themselves into the task of learning how to build an armed force. Giap wrote, thought, planned and schemed. He had Chinese Nationalist advisors, his notes and other materials collected during a two-year stay in China, as well as knowledge obtained earlier from his study of history. For two years the effort proceeded apace, revolving around Giap more than around Ho, as the small band of cadres sought to ground itself in the complex business of making war - learning strategy and tactics, testing the techniques of recruitment and training, and mastering the difficulties of logistics and materiel procurement. Giap honed what was his natural genius: not strategic brilliance, but military-management ability.

    Guerrilla bands were formed, and they conducted experimental raids and other military operations. Forays were launched into nearby villages, where meetings were staged. Cadres gained experience, learning ways to raise the revolutionary consciousness of the villagers. Teams of intelligence agents went into action, as did "jungle telegraph" communication systems. Giap learned those early lessons well. He became extremely well skilled in the art of gaining access to the enemy's sources of supply and in knowing how to make do when such war materiel was unavailable. He learned how to move men and supplies rapidly around a battlefield. He and his cadres also learned the importance of advertising the guerrilla's cause and of creating the proper image. Finally, they learned how best to work with villagers without being betrayed by them.

    Between mid-1942 and mid-1944 Giap and his cadres created the theoretical base for a new kind of warfare conducted by a new kind of revolutionary force. It was, in effect, a two-year self-taught course in the practice of armed dau tranh during which theory was translated into the reality of day-to-day military actions.

    During this period, some limited French support was given to the VM in an Anti-Japanese Accord of March 1944. 165 Remington rifles and 40 carbines were provided on the 23rd March, and Colonel Reul probably provided a second supply on 28th March. At that time, Giap's force seems to have had only two Colt pistols and a Thompson SMG (both provided by OSS) by way of modern weaponry.

    By September 1944 Giap and his cadres were ready, and Ho and the Party deemed that thoi co had arrived. A Party military conference, the first ever, was staged; a draft directive on military organisation was circulated and explained (and later issued at the Party Plenum in December 1944). It announced the basic concept of the future Party-run PAVN as it had been determined on the basis of experimentation by Giap in the caves of Cao Bang.

    Central to the concept was the new military institution labelled the Armed Propaganda Team, which even today it is not appreciated outside of Vietnam. The first of three Armed Propaganda Teams was formed that autumn in the Dinh Ca Valley of Cao Bang - thirty-four persons with Giap in command. It was armed, Giap wrote later, with two revolvers and thirty-one rifles, of which fourteen were flintlocks that had seen action in the Russo-Japanese War. The date was 22nd December 1944, now observed as the birth date of PAVN.

    Since only the few initiates from the Cao Bang caves knew what the term Armed Propaganda Team meant, the first unit was also dubbed the Tran Hung Dao Platoon, named after a popular early Vietnamese hero. On the 24th and 25th of December 1944 the First Armed Propaganda Platoon attacked two French mud-fort outposts at Phai Khat and Na Ngan, respectively. The two French lieutenants were killed, while the Vietnamese troops in the two garrisons (30 at Phai Khat, 16 at Na Ngan) surrendered without loss, and there were no casualties among the attackers. The neatness of the outcome is suspicious enough to suggest it had been prearranged among all on both sides, except for the two unfortunate French officers. The attack served to introduce the Armed Propaganda Team to Vietnam.

    The VM military activity had stepped up a gear, and while they were unable to take the post at Dong Mu at the end of December 1944, they did manage to capture five rifles there. On the 10th April 1945, the Japanese garrison at Dinh Ca (80 men) was surrounded and destroyed by the VM, and their arms captured. Various other Japanese and Indochinese Guard posts were similarly captured or surrendered to the VM, including the Indochinese garrison (500 men) at Quang Yen (near Haiphong) on 10th July. With the mass surrender of many Indochinese garrisons (including that of the Palace of Representatives in Hanoi, who yielded 200 carbines and a large supply of grenades), together with the donation of equipment by the retreating Japanese forces (including a windfall for the VM when a stock of weaponry - intended for China, but which had been held at Haiphong by the French in 1940 - was handed over by the Japanese. This included numbers of AA guns, AT guns, and Russian 7.62mm rifles with AT rounds), by the end of 1945 estimates of weaponry in VM hands included:

    • 35,000 small-arms (rifles, carbines, pistols, etc) 
    • 1,350 SMGs 
    • 200 mortars 
    • 54 artillery pieces (of various types)

    Armed Propaganda Teams

    The concept of the Armed Propaganda Team is well-named providing the term propaganda is accepted in its proper Leninist meaning (i.e. of correct advertisment of the cause to the people) and not with the usual Western definition. The teams were "armed" but only for defensive purposes or for occasional spectacular military gestures to advertise the cause. The teams were never to use weapons to intimidate the villagers, for that was self-defeating. Teams went into the villages of Vietnam to energise and motivate, to raise the villagers' revolutionary consciousness, not by threat or use of force, only by means of communication and persuasion. Changed villager outlook, however, could not become permanent unless the villager was enmeshed in a Party-guided organisational net. Hence, although the team's purpose was mobilisation, most day-to-day activity was organisational. The villagers, of course, were parochial, suspicious, often hidebound traditionalists. It was no easy task to break the communicational ice, and only gifted cadres seemed to be able to do it well.

    Establishing operational revolutionary organisations in the villages was even more difficult. The standard approach was to find a few villagers, usually young and attracted to the cause, recruit them as organisers, and build a village structure around them. Then the team would depart for the next village, to return in a few months for further developmental work or, if necessary, to begin all over again. Sometimes the teams were betrayed, but they pressed the campaign. Soon the seeds of organisation began to grow, and in some, but not all, of the villages a firm foundation was rooted.

    The teams operated only on brief general instructions, set down originally - legend has it - by Ho Chi Minh in a message smuggled to Giap in a cigarette package. Specific instructions, dated December 1944 and signed by Ho Chi Minh, explained use of the term "armed propaganda" to mean:

    Politics is more important than military affairs. It is a propaganda unit. In order to operate effectively from a military standpoint, the primary principle is concentration of forces. Therefore, according to the new directive, cadres and determined, enthusiastic members will be selected from among the ranks of the Cao-Bac-Lang guerrilla units, which will be centralised into a large armed element. Because our resistance is one by all of the people, it is necessary to mobilise and arm all of the people. With regard to local armed units: train local cadres who can in turn go to the localities and pass on their experiences, maintain clear communications and co-ordinate operations. With regard to tactics: fully employ the guerrilla tactics of secrecy, speed, activeness, mobility, stealth, and flexible manoeuvre. The Armed Propaganda Unit is a permanent military unit and it is hoped there will quickly be more of them. Although small in scope at the beginning, they have made brilliant progress so far. They are the starting point of the Liberation Army that will travel from North to South Vietnam and throughout the country.

    Quan Doi Nhan Dan Viet Nam - The People's Army of Vietnam

    The development of the PAVN was a process of fusion between two separate but linked military developments, i.e. the ICP Armed Propaganda units, and the united front of the VM.

    The earliest self-defence groups were Party but little more than static guards. Then came the Armed Self-Defence groups, also Party, and the National Salvation Units, which were united front. The Bac Son guerrilla units were united front; the Armed Propaganda Teams were Party.

    From 15th to 20th April 1945 what was called the Tonkin Revolutionary Military Conference was held outside Hanoi and was attended by representatives of various armed elements from across Indochina - Self-Defence units, guerrilla bands, and Armed Propaganda Teams. It was the Party effort to unite all of these disparate forces into a single united front armed force with a single command. The result was the creation of the Vietnam Liberation Army, formally proclaimed in ceremonies at the Bien Thuong Buddhist temple in Cho Chu village, Thai Nguyen province, on 15th May 1945. It was presided over by Vo Nguyen Giap, who became commander in chief.

    In advance of the formation of the Vietnam Liberation Army, the ICP in late 1944 had created, under its Central Committee, the Revolutionary Military Committee, later to be called the Central Military Party Committee (CMPC).

    General Giap led the new armed force into its first battle on 16 August 1945 (the day after the Japanese surrender), an attack from Tan Trao, Tuyen Quang province, on Thai Nguyen town, on his way to Hanoi. During their march on the capital, the new army (acting in the name of the "National Insurrection Committee") were joined by tu ve units and peasant militias from the surrounding countryside. The Japanese garrison, together with the Civil Guards, backed down in the face of this mass movement and allowed them to enter unmolested. Public meetings were hijacked by VM activists and turned into communist rallies as the Party received a surge of popular support.

    On 2 September 1945 in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh officially proclaimed the independence of Vietnam (a proclamation also signed by Giap) and announced the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Soon after, the Vietnam Liberation Army was renamed the Vietnam National Defence Army. Gen. Hoang Van Thai later described events during the next year:

    Immediately after our people took political power throughout the country, President Ho posed the necessity of organising command and leadership organs for the armed forces. On September 7, 1945 only five days after the Declaration of Independence, President Ho decided to set up the General Staff.

    He said, "The General Staff is hereby established to command the army throughout the nation. The General Staff is a secret military organ of the mass organisation [Viet Minh organisation] and is the headquarters organ of the army. It has the mission of building a strong army, skilfully training troops, clearly understanding ourselves and the enemy, using clever stratagems, and organising a command that is unified, secret, responsive, accurate and prompt, so as to defeat all enemies.

    A year later the National Defence Council was created and Giap was made chairman, giving him more direct control of the new armed force. During this period, the French had returned to Indochina in force, opposed by the newly formed DRV with its army - about 1,000 men in thirteen infantry companies - until it was driven into the hills behind Hanoi. In the next few years the armed force went through several name changes until officially becoming the Quan Doi Nhan Dan Viet Nam, or People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN).

    The Viet Minh structure at that point consisted of a newborn (and hesitant) state, a united front mass political organisation, and a fledgling army. The DRV as government - or more correctly as administrative system - became rooted in the social fabric in such a way that it controlled much of the rural area despite the presence of a large French force. The structure clandestinely duplicated the Franco-Vietnamese district-village administration with parallel hierarchies. In those areas with little or nominal French military presence, administration of affairs was handled by a local Administrative Committee (Uy Ban Hanh Chinh Xa) guided by local or imported Party cadres. Above the village (xa) was the inter village group (lien xa) and over it the district committee, usually called the Resistance Administration Committee (Uy Ban Khang Chien Hang Chinh), which initially had various military and quasi-military tasks that later were split off and given to the PAVN. Above the district were the province (tinh), zone (khu), and interzone (lien khu)- the organisation was largely a military command structure, rather than a civil administration. It was responsible for mobilising popular support for the VM, together with raising supplies and recruits, and organising labour for major campaigns. The early DRV/VM organisation soft-pedalled the communist message and played more on Vietnamese xenophobia and nationalism (a strong native trait).

    Army building under careful Party guidance in those early years slowly picked up momentum. Lucien Bodard, in The Quicksand War, described it firsthand:

    So Giap's People's Army gathered in the almost impenetrable secrecy of the Communist world and the obscurity of the jungle. The French, who knew everything in general and nothing in particular, did their utmost to pierce this secrecy wherever they could and gain some scraps of strategic intelligence from it. Planes took aerial photographs, but the results showed only the uninterrupted sea of forest. Patrols went out on reconnaissance, but they did not push far enough, to the places that mattered, for that would mean destruction. If prisoners were taken during these raids, they never knew anything, even if they could be induced to talk, not even the names of their officers or the number of their unit. This was often a genuine ignorance, for nothing had a name in the Vietminh army; or if it did, then it was a false name, and often changed.

    The communists had carried out a supreme example of Leninist propaganda in the declaration (and formation) of the DRV. While unable to establish themselves in 1945-46 in the face of pressure from Nationalist China, France and Great Britain (the British disarmed the VM in the south, and the Chinese pillaged Tonkin), they had shown themselves as something more than another bandit group. The Vietnamese people now had a viable alternative to French rule. The VM army was pushed back into the Viet Bac country by the return of Leclerc and the CEFEO, but their status had been raised.

    The VM Organisation Solidifies

    Over the next few years, this early VM and PAVN organisation evolved into the "classic" pyramidal VM structure of local, regional and regular forces.

    The base of the pyramid were the Tu Ve, or self-defence units. These included both the Dan Quan and Dan Quan Du Kich units. The Dan Quan was an unarmed organisation including all of the population in "Party" areas, who would be called up as necessary for work as coolies, guides, messengers, etc. Young, old, women, children were all required to take part. The Dan Quan Du Kich were the local militias, with one section (about 15 guerrillas, men or women) raised per village, armed with usually 4 or 5 rifles, plus grenades, mines and hand-to-hand weaponry. Their leaders were elected.

    Villages were grouped into Lien Xa, or inter-villages, which would group their partisans into a platoon (which usually included 1 automatic weapon). Their leaders were also elected. In rare cases, the inter-village sections could be combined into local companies for major actions.

    The local militias were only raised as required, and otherwise carried on in their civilian duties. Their main military tasks were sabotage and harrassment in French-controlled areas, and security duties (guarding lines of supply, and hunting out counter-revolutionaries) in VM-controlled areas. They also acted as a recruitment pool for the regional units.

    The Bo Doi Dia Phuong, or regional units, were more formal units raised from the local militias. Organised much as the regular units, there is sometimes some confusion between the two types. The regional troops were creamed off from the local militias by the Party apparatus (typically the best 3 or 4 were chosen from each inter-village platoon, every few months). These were usually formed into companies at district level, with most provinces having a regional battalion. The battalion was typically composed of a headquarters unit, 3 rifle companies (each of about 135 combattants), and a support company (sometimes with an engineer platoon).

    The regional troops were charged with prosecuting the guerrilla war, supporting and training the local militias, providing reinforcements and supplies to the regulars, supporting the regular troops in field actions, and generally keeping up pressure on the French. They were, for most of the war, the main type of military force which the CEFEO came into contact with.

    At the top of the military pile were the Bo Doi Chu Luc, or regular troops. (See the Chu Luc page for more info on these). The reserve formations of the PAVN, these were well trained and motivated units (in the North, the manoeuvre unit became the Division - of some 10-15,000 soldiers - while in the South it was the Regiment). Only commited in "decisive" actions (i.e. the RC4 battles, Vinh Yen, etc.), these came as quite a shock to the CEFEO. Many had been trained in China, and were well equiped with Chinese, Soviet, Czech, US (much from ex-Chinese Nationalist armouries) and locally-produced weaponry, including artillery, AA guns, bazookas, recoilless rifles, machine guns and SMGs. Equal to the CEFEO units in courage and skill, these were the formations which defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu.

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