General Vo Nguyen Giap is perhaps the most important figure in the early history of communist Vietnam with the exception of Ho Chi Minh. General Giap’s skills and expertise of were an essential element of the French defeat in 1954. However General Giap cannot be held solely responsible, the political skills of Ho Chi Minh (the leader of the Viet Minh independence movement) cannot be underestimated. There were many reasons for the French defeat in Vietnam, abundant mistakes were made and the Viet Minh were lead by two of the greatest leaders of the 20th century.
Giap rchestrated the defeat of the French and was particularly important in the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Ho Chi Minh was an experienced revolutionary and passionate nationalist infatuated by a single goal: independence for his country. He was a central fgure in the movement to free Asia from the restraints of colonialism. Ho Chi Minh was ultimately working towards the liberation of Vietnam from French colonial rule and “unity of views between the army and the people”.
Ho Chi Minh was a founding member of the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP).
The goals of the ICP included the overthrow of the French; establishment of an independent Vietnam uled by a peoples’ government; “help people in production, anti-literacy, sanitation and disease prevention”. General Giap was the Commander and Defence Minister of North Vietnam from 1944-1980 and was an integral component in the unravelling of French control in Vietnam. Previously, on the outbreak of World War II, Giap fled to China to Join Vietnamese Communist leader Ho Chi Minh, which led to the formation of the Vietnamese Independence League, abbreviated to Viet Minh.
In 1945, armed propaganda teams under Giap’s command became the People’s Liberation Army. Subsequently in 1945, Giap served as interior minister in Ho Chi Minh’s revolutionary government created to defeat the French. Giap’s strength lay as a military commander and his scrupulous attention to organisation, which were vital elements in the French downfall. The Vietnamese opposition to the French began almost as soon as the French began to rule. The Vietnamese traditionally have resisted foreigners.
Their defeat of China previously gave them a reputation of being one of the most feared nations in South East Asia, meaning that it took the French an extended amount of time to gain overall control. Prior to the 20th century, resistance to the French was constant and violent. The resistance was traditional and localised, involving isolated attacks which were easily contained by the French. Furthermore, World War One gave impetus and momentum to the growth of nationalism, the strong wish for growth, freedom and independence of one’s country and patriotism for Vietnam.
Many Vietnamese men were forced to serve in France during WW1 and those who returned brought with them the revolutionary concept of nationalism and as a result the nature of the resistance changed to a more national approach rather than regionally focussed. Additionally, in 1905, Japan became the first Asian power in modern times to efeat a European power during a large naval battle. The Vietnamese determination and motivation were boosted, demonstrating that they could potentially defeat the French, one ot the most intluential European powers at the time.
Following the reoccupation of Indochina by the French at the end of World War Two, the Viet Minh rebelled against the French and this became known as the first Indochinese war. French lack of knowledge of Vietnamese geography made it difficult for them to defend themselves. “The army trained the people in… ” guerrilla tactics that were highly successful as they were unlike any approach in the Western world. The unpredictable nature of the guerrilla tactics also minimised the losses of the Viet Minh’s army, making it stronger.
The French army began to wear down, decreasing the men’s morale and eventually leading to an easier fght for the Viet Minh. Initially the French underestimated Vietnamese ability; unbeknown to the French they were numerically disadvantaged with 13000 Frenchmen fghting a 35000 strong Viet Minh People’s Army. Prior to the war it was acknowledged that Ho Chi Minh’s original name, Nguyen Tat Thanh, was widely known as many people had heard that he had been a ajor supporter of peasants and workers rights, who in turn supported him.
This meant that if he needed a place to hide, the local peasants happily helped, making the Viet Minh virtually untraceable. The widespread support of Ho Chi Minh also meant that people trusted the movement towards independence and nationalism; giving the Viet Minh the political edge over the French. Back in France, the French public were beginning to realise that the conflict in Vietnam was not worth the effort; therefore support for the conflict was lessening. In addition, the Vietnamese determination and strength could not be matched by the French; the Viet Minh had ne thing that the French did not, a goal.
The Viet Minh and Giap had learnt invaluable lessons from previous conflicts and mistakes, whereas the French had not. Dien Bien Phu was the longest confrontation and most furious battle of the French Expeditionary Corps. It was the final undoing of the French. In 1953, as both sides prepared for peace talks in the Indochina War, French military commanders selected Dien Bien Phu as the location for a fght with the Viet Minh. Viet Minh guerrillas and troops from the People’s Army of Vietnam surrounded Dien Bien Phu during the build up of the garrisons.
The Viet Minh concealed artillery and supplies in camouflaged caves on the mountain face. The Viet Minh’s initial assault on the French almost immediately proved the vulnerability and flawed defence of the French. The French supplies and weapons were flown in by plane; however, this usually led to the shelling of the aircraft. The Viet Minh used local peasants to bring in supplies and weaponry, through dense forests, an entry the French had written off as impassable. As source A suggests “The Army established a good relationship with the people and relied on the people to fight and defeat the enemy’.
Giap used the element of surprise by skilfully employing supporting operations which deceived the French. Giap easily identified the French’s critical vulnerability and used their mistakes to his own advantage. The work of a great strategist. One crucial decision that Giap made was when he moved his own headquarters to the Dien Bien Phu battle site. This allowed him to personally oversee the conflict, and clear up confusion or misunderstandings straight away. General Giap was able to carefully dictate time and place engagements throughout his meticulously planned operation. The heavy
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