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The First Indochina War: Tiger and the Elephant Essay

In the first Indochina war the French and Indochina armies used substantially different military tactics. Ho Chi Minh used the metaphor of ‘the elephant and the tiger’ to illustrate their distinct differences. The French are referred to as the elephant, because much like an elephant they were big, slow and stood out in the jungle. The French used conventional warfare tactics. This included the use of large armored vehicles, tanks and setting up base camps and waiting for the enemy.

There 50 000 French soldiers who all wore olive green uniforms and steel pot helmets, clearly marking them as soldiers and also making them easy to spot in the jungle. Their tanks were unnatural to the terrain and were constantly slowing down the army as they got entangled in the jungle. The Viet Minh did not use conventional warfare as they were no match for the French in this area, they used guerrilla warfare tactics. Like a tiger they were fast, sneaky, hidden and smart. The Viet Minh were the ‘tiger’ because they would only attack when the enemy was least expecting it.

They disguised themselves with leaves and grass among the bushes and wore villager’s clothes such as cotton shirts and pants when in the villages. They would slowly weaken the French using surprise attacks and ambush tactics. Source A shows Ho Chi Minh’s smart reasoning to use guerrilla warfare. He knew that if the Viet Minh were to use conventional warfare they would have been crushed by the French. Ho Minh states that taking down the French could take 3 years or it may take ten. Either way he strongly believed that with his guerrilla warfare tactics the tiger would beat the elephant.


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