Subscribe to Blog

First Indochina War & the Battle of Hanoi

Often when people think of the Cold War, they see it as a great battle of superpowers - the United States vs. the Soviet Union. However, the Cold War was much more nuanced than that.  It included smaller conflicts around ideologies and imperialism, with some of those conflicts resulting from the treaties and areas of influence created at the end of World War II. 

One of these smaller conflicts was the First Indochina War. On December 19, 1946, the First Indochina War began in French Indochina, which was a group of French colonies that included Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam. 

At the Potsdam Conference in July 1945, French Indochina was split by the attending world leaders. The area south of latitude 16° north was administered as part of the Southeast Asia Command under British Admiral Louis Francis Albert Victor Nicholas Mountbatten, a member of the British royal family. The area to the north of latitude 16° north was controlled by the Chinese, who recognized Ho Chi Minh as the leader of Vietnam’s territorial government which was known as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV). The British leaders in Saigon did not recognize Ho Chi Minh.

French forces fought to keep their previous territorial holdings and eventually overthrew the local territorial government in Saigon on September 23, 1945, creating instability and a rise in insurgency in the rural areas. At first, Ho Chi Minh tried to negotiate with French leaders in Europe however the talks held in France were not productive. 

On December 19, 1946, the first battle of the First Indochina War occurred - the Battle of Hanoi.  The French forces pushed the Viet-Minh out with the use of superior firepower, eventually bringing an end to the battle on February 18, 1947, as the Viet-Minh withdrew into the mountains north of Hanoi. 

Initially, the United States government sent American lawyer, politician, and diplomat Abbot Low Moffat to try to negotiate a referendum. However, American leaders abandoned the concept of negotiations upon the realization that the Viet-Minh would not accept a compromise and that there was a reluctance to become formally involved in mediating between the French and Viet-Minh.

To learn more about the First Indochina War, please consider checking out these books:

Guyader, Raymond. The French Foreign Legion: In Indochina, 1946-1956. Atglen, PA: Schiffer Publishing, 2014.

Lawrence, Mark Atwood, and Fredrik Logevall, editors. The First Vietnam War: Colonial Conflict and Cold War Crisis. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007.

Shrader, Charles R. A War of Logistics: Parachutes and Porters in Indochina, 1945-1954. Foreign Military Studies. Lexington, Kentucky: University Press of Kentucky, 2015.

Waddell, William M. In the Year of the Tiger: The War for Cochinchina, 1945-1951. Campaigns and Commanders Series, Volume 62. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2018.

Add new comment