The First Vietnam War 1946-1954
In every battle, there is always the victor and the vanquished. One party will emerge as the winner, while the other party will be the defeated. There are reasons behind the outcome of every war. It is the advantages and disadvantages of each party which prove to be the deciding factor on which party wins and which party loses. In 1946, Vietnam was involved in its first war against France. This war was also referred to as the First Indochina War (Duiker, 2008; Moïse, 1998). France fought hard, but Vietnam eventually won. The forces of both countries had their share of strengths and weaknesses which strongly influenced how the war ended. This research paper aims to discuss the strengths and weakness of the French military forces and the Viet Minh military forces between 1946 and 1954.
Initially, France had remarkable advantage in the war against Vietnam. The French military was stronger than the Viet Minh forces (Duiker, 2008). This strength was based on two things: artillery and number of soldiers at their disposal. The French had sufficient firepower against the Vietnamese (Duiker, 2008). They had advanced weapons which were no match for the Viet Minh forces (Moïse, 1998). The artillery advantage was not only in terms of quality, but of quantity as well. The French military even had air support. In addition, the manpower resources of France were also advantageous. There were many soldiers which fought against the Viet Minh during the war. Those who fought for the French cause in Vietnam included French volunteers, soldiers from the French foreign legion, troops from French colonies in Africa and even Vietnamese individuals who sided with the France (Duiker, 2008). It was the strong military backing and sophisticated weaponry that proved to be the strength of the French army.
Another strength of the French army was the support of the United States in their cause (Duiker, 2008; Moïse, 1998). In 1949, the Communist Party dominated China (Moïse, 1998). Soon, the Chinese Communist government was helping the Viet Minh. This development alarmed United States, as it was terrified of the threat of Communism (Duiker, 2008). As a result, the United States provided military aide to France (Duiker, 2008; Moïse, 1998). This support was crucial to the French battle.
The French military forces had two distinct weaknesses which had caused them their defeat. These weaknesses were the inaccessibility of the soldiers and the lack of an effective strategy. While there were indeed many individuals who were willing to fight with the French army, these people were situated in remote locations (Moïse, 1998). Additional troops had to be sent in from France or even Africa to help fight in the war, which was not only impractical but also expensive. In the areas captured by the Viet Minh, the French could have easily fought with the Vietnamese if they had access to their soldiers (Moïse, 1998). The distance had proved to be a liability for the French army. Another weakness of the French troops was the lack of an effective strategy. There were some territories in Vietnam that remained under French control. In these areas, the French army stayed in their respective stations (Moïse, 1998). Their strategy was to wait for their opponents to attack (Moïse, 1998). Had they followed a better strategy, they would have won the war.
Vietnam won the war, and the reason behind this was because the strengths of the Viet Minh forces outweighed their weaknesses. The Viet Minh had two weaknesses: insufficient firepower and lack of military capabilities (Duiker, 2008). The strengths of the French army were the weaknesses of the Viet Minh. Consequently, the weakness of the French military forces is one of the strengths of the Viet Minh. Unlike the French forces which suffered from the inaccessibility of soldiers, the Viet Minh had no problem gathering their troops (Moïse, 1998). The French army had to bring in their reinforcements from various places, while the Viet Minh need not look far to get theirs. One of the strengths of the Viet Minh was their ability to expand their army at a local level (Moïse, 1998).
The primary reason behind the capability of the Viet Minh to easily recruit its forces was the general disapproval of the Vietnamese people against the French (Moïse, 1998). The discontent of the people towards French domination worked to the advantage of the Viet Minh forces. Though there are those who disapprove of the Viet Minh itself, there are more Vietnamese people who oppose French domination. For example, the Viet Minh had guerillas fighting on their side. The French could not easily fight against these guerillas because the latter sought refuge in villages and jungles. Also, there was an added difficulty for the French troops as the guerilla appears like an average peasant. Due to their opposition to the French, the peasants help the Viet Minh forces by informing them about the activities of the French. Through the help of the peasants, the Viet Minh forces were able to secretly attack the French forces, rendering them helpless (Moïse, 1998).
Another strength of the Viet Minh was their effective strategy. Because the French were superior in terms of military capacity, the Viet Minh forces cannot confront them directly (Duiker, 2008). Rather, they planned their attacks from the countryside to the unsuspecting French stations (Moïse, 1998). The Viet Minh divided themselves into small groups and had establishments throughout the villages without being noticed by the French forces stationed there. Given their limited number and lack of weaponry, the countryside strategy proved to be effective enough for the Viet Minh to win the war. The French forces underestimated this strategy; they thought that the Viet Minh cannot stage an attack from the mountains because the terrain would pose difficulties in the movement of supplies or weapons (Moïse, 1998). The French were mistaken, and they lost as a result.
The other strength of the Viet Minh forces was the support of China. The newly-installed Communist government in China provided great help to the Viet Minh forces (Moïse, 1998). Prior to the assistance from China, the Viet Minh forces had to either make their own weapons in the jungle or retrieve the weapons left by the opponents in battle. When Communist China provided the Viet Minh with weapons, the French were bound to lose (Moïse, 1998).
The first Vietnam War which occurred from 1946 to 1954 was a fierce battle between the French troops and the Viet Minh military forces. The French troops had an early advantage in the war, as they were well equipped with weapons and had several sources for manpower. They were also supported by the United States. Nonetheless, the inaccessibility of reinforcements, the opposition of the Vietnamese public and the lack of an effective strategy caused the French to lose the war. Meanwhile, the Viet Minh had to struggle from the beginning as they did not have the artillery and the military capabilities that the French had. However, their local reinforcements, the support of the people, their effective strategy and the support of China finally won them the war. It is these strengths and weaknesses which determined the victor and the vanquished in the war.
Duiker, William. First Indochina War. In Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 13, 2008, from http://encarta.msn.com/encyclopedia_1741500898/First_Indochina_War.html
Moïse, E. (1998). The First Indochina War. Clemson University Web Site. Retrieved October 13, 2008, from http://www.clemson.edu/caah/history/FacultyPages/EdMoise/viet3.html