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Indochina War (1946-54)

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A French Foreign Legion unit patrols in a communist controlled area.

The First Indochina War (also known as the French Indochina War, the Franco-Vietnamese War, the Franco-Vietminh War, the Indochina War and the Dirty War in France and in contemporary Vietnam, as the French War) was fought in French Indochina from December 19, 1946 until August 1, 1954, between the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps, led by France and supported by Bao Dai's Vietnamese National Army against the Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. Ho Chi Minh saw the war as an independence struggle against colonialism, and expected the free world to support him. Instead, support came from Communist China. Most of the fighting took place in Tonkin, in Northern Vietnam, although the conflict engulfed the entire country and also extended into the neighboring French Indochina protectorates of Laos and Cambodia. The Viet Minh launched a rebellion against the French authority governing the colonies of French Indochina. The first few years of the war involved a low-level rural insurgency against French authority. However, after the Chinese communists reached the Northern border of Vietnam in 1949, the conflict became a conventional war between two armies equipped with modern weapons supplied by the two superpowers.

French Union forces included colonial troops from the whole former empire (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, African, Laotian, Cambodian, Vietnamese, and Vietnamese ethnic minorities) and professional troops (European of the French Foreign Legion). The use of metropolitan recruits was forbidden by the governments to prevent the war from becoming even more unpopular at home. It was called the "dirty war" (la sale guerre) by the French communists and leftist intellectuals (including Sartre) during the Henri Martin affair in 1950 because it aimed to perpetuate French imperialism. While the strategy of pushing the Viet Minh to attack a well defended base in a remote part of the country at the end of their logistical trail (a strategy that worked well at the Battle of Na San) was sound, the lack of building materials (especially concrete), tanks (because of lack of road access), and air cover precluded an effective defense. The French were defeated with significant losses among their most mobile troops.1

After the war, the Geneva Conference on July 21, 1954, made a provisional division of Vietnam at the 17th parallel, with control of the north given to the Viet Minh as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh, and the south becoming the State of Vietnam under Emperor Bảo Đại. A year later, Bảo Đại would be deposed by his prime minister, Ngô Đình Diệm, creating the Republic of Vietnam. Diem's refusal to enter into negotiations with North Vietnam about holding nationwide elections in 1956, as had been stipulated by the Geneva Conference, would eventually lead to war breaking out again in South Vietnam in 1959-the Second Indochina War.

Background

1858-1944

Vietnam, absorbed into French Indochina in stages between 1858 and 1883, with Western influence and education, nationalism grew until World War II provided a break in French control.

In 1905, Vietnamese resistance centered on the intellectual Phan Boi Chau. Chau looked to Japan, which had modernized and was one of the few Asian nations to resist colonization, (Thailand being another). With Prince Cuong De, Châu started two organizations in Japan, the Duy Tân Hội (Modernistic Association) and Vietnam Cong Hien Hoi. Due to French pressure, Japan deported Phan Bội Châu to China. Witnessing Sun Yat-Sen's 1911 nationalist revolution, Chau was inspired to commence the Việt Nam Quang Phục Hội movement in Guangzhou. From 1914 to 1917, he was imprisoned by Yuan Shi Kai's counterrevolutionary government. In 1925, he was captured by French agents in Shanghai and spirited to Vietnam. Due to his popularity, Châu was spared from execution and placed under house arrest, until his death in 1940.

In 1940, shortly after Phan Bội Châu's death, Japan invaded Indochina, coinciding with their ally Germany's invasion of France. Keeping the French colonial administration, the Japanese ruled from behind the scenes in a parallel of Vichy France. As far as Vietnamese nationalists were concerned, this was a double-puppet government. Emperor Bảo Đại collaborated with the Japanese, just as he had with the French, ensuring his lifestyle could continue.

1945 events

Due to a combination of Japanese exploitation and poor weather, a famine broke out killing approximately 2 million. The Viet Minh arranged a relief effort and won over some people in the north. When the Japanese surrendered in Vietnam in August 1945, they allowed the Viet Minh and other nationalist groups to take over public buildings without resistance and started the August Revolution. In order to further help the nationalists, the Japanese kept Vichy French officials and military officers imprisoned for a month after the surrender.

Ho Chi Minh was able to persuade Emperor Bao Dai to abdicate on August 25, 1945. Bao Dai was appointed "supreme adviser" to the new Vietminh led government in Hanoi, which asserted independence on September 2. Deliberately borrowing from the declaration of independence, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed on September 2nd: "We hold the truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."2

With the fall of the short lived Japanese colony of the Empire of Vietnam, the Provisional Government of the French Republic wanted to restore its colonial rule in French Indochina as the final step of the Liberation of France. An armistice was signed between Japan and the United States on August 20. France signed the armistice with Japan onboard the USS Missouri on behalf of CEFEO Expeditionary Corps header General Leclerc, on September 2.

On September 13, a Franco-British Task Force landed in Java, capital of Sukarno's Dutch Indonesia, and Saigon, capital of Cochinchina (southern part of French Indochina) both being occupied by the Japanese and ruled by Field Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi, Commander-in-Chief of Japan's Southern Expeditionary Army Group based in Saigon. Ally troops in Saigon were an airborne detachment, two British companies of the 20th Hindi Division and the French 5th Colonial Infantry Regiment, with British General Sir Douglas Gracey as supreme commander. The latter proclaimed Martial Law on September 21. The following night the Franco-British troops took control of Saigon.

Almost immediately afterward, the Chinese Government, as agreed to at the Potsdam Conference, occupied French Indochina as far south as the 16th parallel in order to supervise the disarming and repatriation of the Japanese Army. This effectively ended Ho Chi Minh's nominal government in Hanoi.

General Leclerc arrived in Saigon in October 9, with him was French Colonel Massu's March Group (Groupement de marche). Leclerc's primary objectives were to restore public order in south Vietnam and to militarize Tonkin (north Vietnam). Secondary objectives were to wait for French backup in view to take back Chinese occupied Hanoi, then to negotiate with the Viet Minh officials.

1946

The Indochinese conflict broke out in Haiphong after a conflict of interest in import duty at Haiphong port between Viet Minh government and the French. On November 23, the French fleet began a naval bombardment of the city that killed over 6,000 Vietnamese civilians in an afternoon according to one source. The Viet Minh quickly agreed to a cease-fire and left the cities. There was no intention among the Vietnamese to give up though, and General Vo Nguyen Giap soon brought up 30,000 men to attack the city. Although the French were outnumbered, their better weaponry and naval support made any Việt Minh's attack impossible. In December, hostilities broke out in Hanoi between the Viet Minh and the French and Ho Chi Minh was forced to evacuate the capital in favor of remote mountain areas. Guerrilla warfare ensued with the French in control of almost everything except very remote areas.

1947

General Võ Nguyên Giáp moved his command to Tân Trào. The French sent assault teams after his bases, but Giáp refused to meet them in battle. Wherever the French troops went, the Việt Minh disappeared. Late in the year the French launched Operation Lea to take out the Việt Minh communications center at Bac Kan. They failed to capture Hồ Chí Minh and his key lieutenants as they had hoped, but they killed 9,000 Việt Minh soldiers during the campaign which was a major defeat for the Việt Minh insurgency.

1948

France began to look for some way to oppose the Việt Minh politically, with an alternative government in Saigon. They began negotiations with the former Vietnamese emperor Bảo Ðại to lead an "autonomous" government within the French Union of nations, the State of Vietnam. Two years before, the French had refused Hồ's proposal of a similar status (albeit with some restrictions on French power and the latter's eventual withdrawal from Vietnam), however they were willing to give it to Bảo Ðại as he had always cooperated with French rule of Vietnam in the past and was in no position to seriously negotiate any conditions (Bảo Ðại had no military of his own, but soon he would have one).

1949

France officially recognized the "independence" of the State of Vietnam within the French Union under Bảo Ðại. However, France still controlled all defense issues and all foreign relations as Vietnam was only an independent state within the French Union . The Việt Minh quickly denounced the government and stated that they wanted "real independence, not Bảo Ðại independence." Later on, as a concession to this new government and a way to increase their numbers, France agreed to the formation of the Vietnamese National Army to be commanded by Vietnamese officers. These troops were used mostly to garrison quiet sectors so French forces would be available for combat. Private Cao Dai, Hoa Hao and the Binh Xuyen gangster armies were used in the same way. The Vietnamese Communists also got help in 1949 when Chairman Mao Zedong succeeded in taking control of China and defeating the Kuomintang, thus gaining a major ally and supply area just across the border. In the same year, the French also recognized the independence (within the framework of the French Union) of the other two nations in Indochina, the Kingdoms of Laos and Cambodia.

1950

The United States recognized the South Vietnamese state, but many nations, even in the west, viewed it as simply a French puppet regime and would not deal with it at all. The United States began to give military aid to France in the form of weaponry and military observers. By then with almost unlimited Chinese military supplies entering Vietnam, General Giáp re-organized his local irregular forces into five full conventional infantry divisions, the 304th, 308th, 312th, 316th, and the 320th.

The war began to intensify when Giáp went on the offensive, attacking isolated French bases along the Chinese border. In February 1950, Giáp seized the vulnerable 150-strong French garrison at Lai Khe in Tonkin just south of the border with China.

Then, on May 25, he attacked the garrison of Cao Bang manned by 4,000 French-controlled Vietnamese troops, but his forces were repulsed. Giáp launched his second offense again against Cao Bang again as well as Dong Khe on September 15. Dong Khe fell on September 18, and Cao Bang finally fell on October 3.

Lang Son, with its 4,000-strong French Foreign Legion garrison, was attacked immediately after. The retreating French on Route 4 were attacked all the way by ambushing Việt Minh forces, together with the relief force coming from That Khe. The French dropped a paratroop battalion south of Dong Khe to act as a diversion only to see it surrounded and destroyed. On October 17, Lang Son, after a week of attacks, finally fell.

By the time the remains of the garrisons reached the safety of the Red River Delta, 4,800 French troops had been killed, captured or missing in action and 2,000 wounded out of a total garrison force of over 10,000. Also lost were 13 artillery pieces, 125 mortars, 450 trucks, 940 machine guns, 1,200 submachine guns and 8,000 rifles destroyed or captured during the fighting.

China and the Soviet Union recognized Hồ Chí Minh as the legitimate ruler of Vietnam and sent him more and more supplies and material aid. 1950 also marked the first time that napalm was ever used in Vietnam (this type of weapon was supplied by the U.S. for the use of the French Aeronovale at the time).

1951

General Trinh Minh The.

The military situation began to improve for France when their new commander, General Jean Marie de Lattre de Tassigny, built a fortified line from Hanoi to the Gulf of Tonkin, across the Red River Delta, to hold the Viet Minh in place and use his troops to smash them against this barricade, which became known as the "De Lattre Line." This led to a period of success for the French.

On January 13, 1951, Giap moved the 308th and 312th Divisions, made up of over 20,000 men, to attack Vinh Yen, 20 miles northwest of Hanoi which was manned by the 6,000 strong 9th Foreign Legion Brigade. The Viet Minh entered a trap. Caught for the first time in the open, they were mowed down by concentrated French artillery and machine gun fire. By January 16, Giap was forced to withdraw having lost over 6,000 killed, 8,000 wounded, and 500 captured. The Battle of Vĩnh Yên had been a catastrophe.

On March 23, Giap tried again, launching an attack against Mao Khe, 20 miles north of Haiphong. The 316th Division, composed of 11,000 men, with the partly rebuilt 308th and 312th Divisions in reserve, went forward and were repulsed in bitter hand-to-hand fighting, backed up by French aircraft using napalm and rockets as well as gunfire from navy ships off the coast. Giap, having lost over 3,000 dead and wounded by March 28, withdrew.

Giap launched yet another attack on May 29 with the 304th Division at Phu Ly, the 308th Division at Ninh Binh, and the main attack delivered by the 320th Division at Phat Diem south of Hanoi. The attacks fared no better and the three divisions lost heavily.

Taking advantage of this, de Lattre mounted his counter offensive against the demoralized Việt Minh, driving them back into the jungle and eliminating the enemy pockets in the Red River Delta by June 18 costing the Viet Minh over 10,000 killed. On July 31, French General Chanson was assassinated during a kamikaze attentat at Sadec that was blamed on the Viet Minh, and it was argued that Cao Dai nationalist Trinh Minh The could have been involved in its planning.

Every effort by Vo Nguyen Giap to break the line failed and every attack he made was answered by a French counter-attack that destroyed his forces. Viet Minh casualties rose alarmingly during this period, leading some to question the leadership of the Communist government, even within the party. However, any benefit this may have reaped for France was negated by the increasing opposition to the war in France. Although all of their forces in Indochina were volunteers, their officers were being killed faster than they could train new ones.

1952

French foreign airborne 1st BEP firing with a FM 24/29 during an ambush (1952).

On November 14, 1951, the French seized Hòa Binh, 25 miles west of the De Lattre line, by a parachute drop and expanded their perimeter. But Việt Minh launched attacks on Hòa Binh forcing the French to withdraw back to their main positions on the De Lattre line by February 22, 1952. Each side lost nearly 5,000 men in this campaign and it showed that the war was far from over. In January, General de Lattre fell ill from cancer and had to return to France for treatment; he died there shortly thereafter and was replaced by General Raoul Salan as the overall commander of French forces in Indochina.

Within that year, throughout the war theater, the Việt Minh cut French supply lines and began to seriously wear down the resolve of the French forces. There were continued raids, skirmishes and guerrilla attacks, but through most of the rest of the year each side withdrew to prepare itself for larger operations.

On October 17, 1952, Giáp launched attacks against the French garrisons along Nghia Lo, northwest of Hanoi, breaking them off when a French parachute battalion intervened. Giáp by now had control over most of Tonkin beyond the De Lattre line. Raoul Salan, seeing the situation as critical, launched Operation Lorraine along the Clear river to force Giáp to relieve pressure from the Nghia Lo outposts.

On October 29, 1952, in the largest operation in Indochina to date, 30,000 French Union soldiers moved out from the De Lattre line to attack the Viet Minh supply dumps at Phu Yen. Salan took Phu Tho on 5 November, and Phu Doan on 9 November by a parachute drop, and finally Phu Yen on November 13. Giap at first did not react to the French offensive. He planned to wait until their supply lines were over extended and then cut them off from the Red River Delta.

Salan correctly guessed what the Viet Minh were up to and cancelled the operation on 14 November, beginning to withdraw to the de Lattre line. The only major fighting during the operation came during the withdrawal, when the Viet Minh ambushed the French column at Chan Muong on November 17. The road was cleared after a bayonet charge by the Indochinese March Battalion and the withdrawal could continue.

Though the operation was partially successful, it proved that although the French could strike out at any target outside the De Lattre line, it failed to divert the Viet Minh offensive or serious damage its logistical network.

1953

A Bearcat of the Aéronavale drops napalm on Viet Minh Division 320th's artillery during Operation Mouette. (11.1953)

. On April 9, Giáp after having failed repeatedly in direct attacks on the French changed strategy and began to pressure the French by invading Laos. The only real change came in May when General Navarre replaced General Salan as supreme commander in Indochina. He reports to the government "… that there was no possibility of winning the war in Indo-China" saying that the best the French could hope for was a stalemate. Navarre, in response to the Việt Minh attacking Laos, concluded that "hedgehog" centers of defense were the best plan. Looking at a map of the area, Navarre chose the small town of Ðiện Biên Phủ, located about 10 miles north of the Lao border and 175 miles west of Hanoi as a target to block the Việt Minh from invading Laos.

Ðiện Biên Phủ had a number of advantages; it was on a Việt Minh supply route into Laos on the Nam Yum River, it had an old Japanese airstrip built in the late 1930s for supply and it was situated in the T'ai hills where the T'ai tribesmen, still loyal to the French, operated. Operation Castor was launched on November 20 1953 with 1,800 men of the French 1st and 2nd Airborne Battalions dropping into the valley of Ðiện Biên Phủ and sweeping aside the local Việt Minh garrison.

The paratroopers managed control of a heart-shaped valley 12 miles long and eight miles wide surrounded by heavily wooded hills. Encountering little opposition, the French and T'ai units operating from Lai Châu to the north patrolled the hills. The operation was a tactical success for the French.

However Giáp, seeing the weakness of the French position, started moving most of his forces from the De Lattre line to Ðiện Biên Phủ. By mid-December, most of the French and T'ai patrols in the hills around the town were wiped out by Việt Minh ambushes. The fight for control of this position would be the longest and hardest battle for the French Far East Expeditionary Corps and would be remembered by the veterans as "57 Days of Hell."

1954

Franco-Vietnamese medicals treating a wounded Viet Minh POW at Hung Yen (1954).

By 1954, despite official propaganda presenting the war as a "crusade against communism," the war in Indochina was still growing unpopular with the French public. The political stagnation of the Fourth Republic meant that France was unable to extract itself from the conflict. The United States initially sought to remain neutral, viewing the conflict as chiefly a decolonization war.

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu occurred in 1954 between Viet Minh forces under Vo Nguyen Giap supported by China and the Soviet Union and the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps supported by Indochinese allies and the United States. The battle was fought near the village of Dien Bien Phu in northern Vietnam and became the last major battle between the French and the Vietnamese in the First Indochina War.

The battle began on March 13 when the Việt Minh attacked preemptively surprising the French with heavy artillery. Their supply lines interrupted, the French position became untenable, particularly when the advent of the monsoon season made dropping supplies and reinforcements by parachute difficult.

With defeat imminent, the French sought to hold on till the opening of the Geneva peace meeting on April 26. The last French offensive took place on May 4, but it was ineffective. The Viet Minh then began to hammer the outpost with newly supplied Katyusha rockets. The final fall took two days, May 6 and 7, during which the French fought on but were eventually overrun by a huge frontal assault. General Cogny based in Hanoi ordered General de Castries, who was commanding the outpost to cease fire at 5:30PM and to destroy all material (weapons, transmissions, and so on) to deny their use to the enemy. A formal order was given to not use the white flag so that it would not be considered to be a surrender but a ceasefire.

Much of the fighting ended on May 7, however a ceasefire was not respected on Isabelle, the isolated southern position, and the battle lasted until May 8, 1:00 a.m. At least 2,200 members of the 20,000-strong French forces died during the battle. Of the 100,000 or so Vietnamese involved, there were an estimated 8,000 killed and another 15,000 wounded.

The prisoners taken at Dien Bien Phu were the greatest number the Viet Minh had ever captured: one-third of the total captured during the entire war. One month after Dien Bien Phu, the composite Groupe Mobile 100 (GM100) of the French Union forces evacuated the An Khe outpost and was ambushed by a larger Viet Minh force at the Battle of Mang Yang Pass from June 24 to July 17.

The Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu led to the 1954 Geneva accords on July 21.

In August began Operation Passage to Freedom consisting of the evacuation of catholic and loyalist Vietnamese civilians from communist North Vietnamese prosecution.

Geneva Conference and Partition

Geneva Conference.

Negotiations between France and the Viet-minh started in Geneva in April 1954 at the Geneva Conference. During this time the French Union and the Viet Minh were fighting the most epic battle of the war at Dien Bien Phu. In France, Pierre Mendès France, opponent of the war since 1950, had been invested on June 17, 1954, on a promise to put an end to the war, reaching a ceasefire in four months.3

The Geneva Conference on July 21, 1954, recognized the 17th parallel as a "provisional military demarcation line" temporarily dividing the country into two zones, Communist North Vietnam and pro-Western South Vietnam.

Students demonstration in Saigon, July 1964, observing the tenth anniversary of the July 1954 Geneva Agreements.

The Geneva Accords promised elections in 1956 to determine a national government for a united Vietnam. However, the United States and the State of Vietnam refused to sign the document. From his home in France Emperor Bảo Ðại appointed Ngô Ðình Diệm as Prime Minister of South Vietnam. With American support, in 1955 Diệm used a referendum to remove the former Emperor and declare himself the president of the Republic of Vietnam.

When the elections were prevented from happening by the Americans and the South, Việt Minh cadres who stayed behind in South Vietnam were activated and started to fight the government. North Vietnam also invaded and occupied portions of Laos to assist in supplying the guerilla fighting National Liberation Front in South Vietnam. The war gradually escalated into the Second Indochina War, more commonly known as the Vietnam War in the West and the American War in Vietnam.

Ho Chi Minh

Nguyen Ai Quoc and the French Communist Party

Interestingly, the U.S. Communist Party was outlawed in 1954, the very same year Wallace Buford and James McGovern Jr. became the first American casualties in Vietnam. Their C-119 transport aircraft was shot down by Viet Minh artillery while on mission to drop supplies to the garrison of Dien Bien Phu. The war ended that year, but its sequel started in French Algeria, where the French Communist Party played an even stronger role by supplying the National Liberation Front (FLN) rebels with intelligence documents and financial aids. They were called "the suitcase carriers" (les porteurs de valises).

Ho Chi Minh and China and the Soviet Union

308th Division parading onboard Soviet-built GAZ-51 trucks in Hanoi (10.1954).

In 1923, Ho Chi Minh moved to Guangzhou, China. From 1925-26 he organized the "Youth Education Classes" and occasionally gave lectures at the Whampoa Military Academy on the revolutionary movement in Indochina. He stayed there in Hong Kong as a representative of the Communist International.

In June 1931, he was arrested and incarcerated by British police until his release in 1933. He then made his way back to the Soviet Union, where he spent several years recovering from tuberculosis.

In 1938, he returned to China and served as an adviser with the Chinese Communist armed forces.

Ho Chi Minh and the Viet Minh

Vo Nguyen Giap and Ho Chi Minh (1942).

In 1941, Ho Chi Minh, a nationalist who saw communist revolution as the path to freedom, returned to Vietnam and formed the Việt Nam Độc Lập Đồng Minh Hội (Allied Association of Independent Vietnam), also called the Việt Minh. He spent many years in Moscow and participated in the International Comintern. At the direction of Moscow, he combined the various Vietnamese communist groups into the Indochinese Communist Party in Hong Kong in 1930. Ho Chi Minh created the Viet Minh as an umbrella organization for all the nationalist resistance movements, de-emphasizing his communist social revolutionary background. Late in the war, the Japanese created a nominally independent government of Vietnam under the overall leadership of Bảo Đại. Around the same time, the Japanese arrested and imprisoned most of the French officials and military officers left in the country.

After the French army and other officials were freed from Japanese prisons in Vietnam, they began reasserting their authority over parts of the country. At the same time, the French government began negotiations with both the Viet Minh and the Chinese for a return of the French army to Vietnam north of the 16th parallel. The Viet Minh were willing to accept French rule to end Chinese occupation. Ho Chi Minh and others had fears of the Chinese, based on China's historic domination and occupation of Vietnam. The French negotiated a deal with the Chinese where pre-war French concessions in Chinese ports such as Shanghai were traded for Chinese cooperation in Vietnam. The French landed a military force at Haiphong in early 1946. Negotiations then took place about the future for Vietnam as a state within the French Union. These talks eventually failed and the Việt Minh fled into the countryside to wage guerrilla war.

In 1946, Vietnam gained its first constitution.

Telegram from Hồ Chí Minh to U.S. President Harry S. Truman requesting support for independence (Hanoi, Feb.28 1946).

The British had supported the French in fighting the Viet Minh, the armed religious Cao Dai and Hoa Hao sects, and the Binh Xuyen organized crime groups which were all individually seeking power in the country. In 1948, seeking a post-colonial solution, the French re-installed Bảo Ðại as head of state of Vietnam under the French Union.

The Viet Minh were ineffective in the first few years of the war and could do little more than harass the French in remote areas of Indochina. In 1949, the war changed with the triumph of the communists in China on Vietnam's northern border. China was able to give almost unlimited amounts of weapons and supplies to the Việt Minh which transformed itself into a conventional army.

After World War II, the United States and the USSR entered into the Cold War. The Korean War broke out in 1950 between communist North Korea (DPRK) supported by China and the Soviet Union, and South Korea (ROK) supported by the United States and its allies in the United Nations. The Cold War was now turning "hot" in East Asia, and American government's fears of communist domination of the entire region would have deep implications for the American involvement in Vietnam.

The U.S. became strongly opposed to the government of Hồ Chí Minh, in part, because it was supported and supplied by China. Hồ's government gained recognition from China and the Soviet Union by January 1950 in response to Western support for the State of Vietnam that the French had proposed as an associate state within the French Union. In the French-controlled areas of Vietnam, in the same year, the government of Bảo Đại gained recognition by the United States and the United Kingdom.

French domestic situation

Unstable politics

The 1946 Constitution creating the Fourth Republic (1946-1958) made France a Parliamentary republic. Because of the political context, it could find stability only by an alliance between the three dominant parties: The Christian Democratic Popular Republican Movement (MRP), the French Communist Party (PCF) (founded by Ho Chi Minh himself) and the socialist French Section of the Workers' International (SFIO). Known as tripartisme, this alliance lasted from 1947 until the May 1947 crisis, with the expulsion from Paul Ramadier's SFIO government of the PCF ministers, marking the official start of the Cold War in France. However, this had the effect of weakening the regime, with the two most important movements of this period, Communism and Gaullism, in opposition.

Unlikely alliances had to be made between left and right-wing parties in order to have a government invested by the National Assembly, resulting in strong parliamentary unstability. Hence, France had fourteen prime ministers in succession between the creation of the Fourth Republic in 1947 and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954. The turnover of governments (there were

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