The Vietnam War
Seeds of Conflict
1945 - 1960
Communist activist Ho Chi Minh secretly returnsto Vietnam after 30 years in exile and organizes a nationalist organizationknown as the Viet Minh (Vietnam Independence League). After Japanese troopsoccupy Vietnam during World War II, the U.S. military intelligence agencyOffice of Strategic Services (OSS) allies with Ho Chi Minh and his VietMinh guerrillas to harass Japanese troops in the jungles and to help rescuedowned American pilots.
March 9, 1945 - Amidrumors of a possible American invasion, Japanese oust the French colonialgovernment which had been operating independently and seize control ofVietnam, installing Bao Dai as their puppet ruler.
Summer - Severe faminestrikes Hanoi and surrounding areas eventually resulting in two milliondeaths from starvation out of a population of ten million. The famine generatespolitical unrest and peasant revolts against the Japanese and remnantsof French colonial society. Ho Chi Minh capitalizes on the turmoil by successfullyspreading his Viet Minh movement.
July 1945 - Following the defeat of NaziGermany, World War IIAllies including the U.S., Britain, and SovietUnion, hold the Potsdam Conference in Germany to plan the post-war world.Vietnam is considered a minor item on the agenda.
In order to disarm the Japanese in Vietnam, the Allies divide the countryin half at the 16th parallel. Chinese Nationalists will move in and disarmthe Japanese north of the parallel while the British will move in and dothe same in the south.
During the conference, representatives from France request the returnof all French pre-war colonies in Southeast Asia (Indochina). Their requestis granted. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia will once again become French coloniesfollowing the removal of the Japanese.
August 1945 - Japanese surrender unconditionally.Vietnam's puppet emperor, Bao Dai, abdicates. Ho Chi Minh's guerrillasoccupy Hanoi and proclaim a provisional government.
September 2, 1945 - Japanese sign the surrenderagreement in Tokyo Bay formally ending World War II in the Pacific. Onthis same day, Ho Chi Minh proclaims the independence of Vietnam by quotingfrom the text of the American Declaration of Independence which had beensupplied to him by the OSS -- "We hold the truth that all men arecreated equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienablerights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This immortalstatement is extracted from the Declaration of Independence of the UnitedStates of America in 1776. These are undeniable truths."
Ho declares himself president of the DemocraticRepublic of Vietnam and pursues American recognition but is repeatedlyignored by President Harry Truman.
September 13, 1945 - British forces arrivein Saigon, South Vietnam.
In North Vietnam, 150,000 Chinese Nationalist soldiers, consisting mainlyof poor peasants, arrive in Hanoi after looting Vietnamese villages duringtheir entire march down from China. They then proceed to loot Hanoi.
September 22, 1945 - In South Vietnam,1400 French soldiers released by the British from former Japanese internmentcamps enter Saigon and go on a deadly rampage, attacking Viet Minh andkilling innocent civilians including children, aided by French civilianswho joined the rampage. An estimated 20,000 French civilians live in Saigon.
September 24, 1945 - In Saigon, Viet Minhsuccessfully organize a general strike shutting down all commerce alongwith electricity and water supplies. In a suburb of Saigon, members ofBinh Xuyen, a Vietnamese criminal organization, massacre 150 French andEurasian civilians, including children.
September 26, 1945 - The first Americandeath in Vietnam occurs, during the unrest in Saigon, as OSS officer Lt.Col. A. Peter Dewey is killed by Viet Minh guerrillas who mistook him fora French officer. Before his death, Dewey had filed a report on the deepeningcrisis in Vietnam, stating his opinion that the U.S. "ought to clearout of Southeast Asia."
October 1945 - 35,000 French soldiers underthe command of World War II General Jacques Philippe Leclerc arrive inSouth Vietnam to restore French rule. Viet Minh immediately begin a guerrillacampaign to harass them. The French then succeed in expelling the VietMinh from Saigon.
February 1946 - TheChinese under Chiang Kai-shek agree to withdraw from North Vietnam andallow the French to return in exchange for French concessions in Shanghaiand other Chinese ports.
March 1946 - Ho ChiMinh agrees to permit French troops to return to Hanoi temporarily in exchangefor French recognition of his Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Chinese troopsthen depart.
May-September - Ho Chi Minh spends fourmonths in France attempting to negotiate full independence and unity forVietnam, but fails to obtain any guarantee from the French.
June 1946 - In a major affront to Ho ChiMinh, the French high commissioner for Indochina proclaims a separatistFrench-controlled government for South Vietnam (Republic of Chochinchina).
November 1946 - After a series of violentclashes with Viet Minh, French forces bombard Haiphong harbor and occupyHanoi, forcing Ho Chi Minh and his Viet Minh forces to retreat into thejungle.
December 19, 1946 - In Hanoi, 30,000 VietMinh launch their first large-scale attack against the French. Thus beginsan eight year struggle known as the First Indochina War. "The resistancewill be long and arduous, but our cause is just and we will surely triumph,"declares Viet Minh military commander Vo Nguyen Giap. "If these [people]want a fight, they'll get it," French military commander Gen. EtrienneValluy states.
October 7- December 22 - The French conductOperation Lea, a series of attacks on Viet Minh guerrilla positions inNorth Vietnam near the Chinese border. Although the Viet Minh suffer over9000 causalities, most of the 40,000 strong Viet Minh force slips awaythrough gaps in the French lines.
March 8, 1949 - The French install BaoDai as puppet head of state in South Vietnam.
July 1949 - The French establish the (South)VietnameseNational Army.
October 1949 - Mao Zedong's Communist forcesdefeat Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Army in the Chinese civil war. Mao'svictory ignites American anti-Communist sentiment regarding Southeast Asiaand will result in a White House foreign policy goal of "containment"of Communist expansion in the region.
January 1950 - The People's Republic ofChina and the Soviet Union recognize Ho Chi Minh's Democratic Republicof Vietnam.
China then begins sending military advisors and modern weapons to theViet Minh including automatic weapons, mortars, howitzers, and trucks.Much of the equipment is American-made and had belonged to the ChineseNationalists before their defeat by Mao. With the influx of new equipmentand Chinese advisors, General Giap transforms his guerrilla fighters intoconventional army units including five light infantry divisions and oneheavy division.
February 1950 - The United States and Britainrecognize Bao Dai's French-controlled South Vietnam government.
February 1950 - Viet Minh begin an offensiveagainst French outposts in North Vietnam near the Chinese border.
February 7, 1950 - In America, the eraof 'McCarthyism' erupts as Senator Joseph R. McCarthy of Wisconsin givesa speech claiming the U.S. State Department harbors Communists. As a consequenceof McCarthyism, no U.S. politician is willing to appear to be 'soft' onCommunism.
June 30, 1950 - President Harry S. Trumanorders U.S. ground troops into Korea following Communist North Korea'sinvasion of the South. In his message to the American people, Truman describesthe invasion as a Moscow-backed attack by "monolithic world Communism."
July 26, 1950 - United States militaryinvolvement in Vietnam begins as President Harry Truman authorizes $15million in military aid to the French.
American military advisors will accompany the flow of U.S. tanks, planes,artillery and other supplies to Vietnam. Over the next four years, theU.S. will spend $3 Billion on the French war and by 1954 will provide 80percent of all war supplies used by the French.
September 16, 1950 - General Giap beginshis main attack against French outposts near the Chinese border. As theoutposts fall, the French lose 6000 men and large stores of military equipmentto the Viet Minh.
September 27, 1950 - The U.S. establishesa Military Assistance Advisory Group (MAAG) in Saigon to aid the FrenchArmy.
January 13, 1951 - 20,000 Viet Minh underGen. Giap begin a series of attacks on fortified French positions in theRed River Delta (extending from Hanoi to the Gulf of Tonkin). The openareas of the Delta, in contrast to the jungle, allow French troops underthe new command of Gen. Jean de Lattre to strike back with devastatingresults from the 'De Lattre Line' which encircles the region. 6000 VietMinh die while assaulting the town of Vinh Yen near Hanoi in the firstattack, causing Giap to withdraw.
March 23-28 - In the second attack, Giaptargets the Mao Khe outpost near Haiphong. But Giap withdraws after beingpounded by French naval gunfire and air strikes. 3000 Viet Minh are killed.
May 29-June 18 - Giap makes yet anotherattempt to break through the De Lattre Line, this time in the Day Riverarea southeast of Hanoi. French reinforcements, combined with air strikesand armed boat attacks result in another defeat for Giap with 10,000 killedand wounded. Among the French causalities is Bernard de Lattre, the onlyson of General De Lattre.
June 9, 1951 - Giap begins a general withdrawalof Viet Minh troops from the Red River Delta.
September 1951 - Gen. De Lattre travelsto Washington seeking more aid from the Pentagon.
November 16, 1951 - French forces linkup at Hoa Binh southwest of Hanoi as Gen. De Lattre attempts to seize themomentum and lure Giap into a major battle.
November 20, 1951 - Stricken by cancer,ailing Gen. De Lattre is replaced by Gen. Raoul Salan. De Lattre returnshome and dies in Paris two months later, just after being raised to therank of Marshal.
December 9, 1951 - Giap begins a carefulcounter-offensive by attacking the French outpost at Tu Vu on the BlackRiver. Giap now avoids conventional warfare and instead wages hit and runattacks followed by a retreat into the dense jungles. His goal is to cutFrench supply lines.
By year's end, French causalities in Vietnam surpass 90,000.
January 12, 1952 - French supply linesto Hoa Binh along the Black River are cut. The road along Route Coloniale6 is also cut.
February 22-26 - The French withdraw fromHoa Binh back to the De Lattre Line aided by a 30,000 round artillery barrage.Casualties for each side surpassed 5000 during the Black River skirmishes.
October 11, 1952 - Giap now attempts todraw the French out from the De Lattre Line by attacking along the FanSi Pan mountain range between the Red and Black Rivers.
October 29, 1952 - The French counter Giap'smove by launching Operation Lorraine targeting major Viet Minh supply basesin the Viet Bac region. But Giap outsmarts the French by ignoring theirmaneuvers and maintains his position along the Black River.
November 14-17 - The French cancel OperationLoraine and withdraw back toward the De Lattre Line but must first fightoff a Viet Minh ambush at Chan Muong.
January 20, 1953- Dwight D. Eisenhower, former five-star Army general and Allied commanderin Europe during World War II, is inaugurated as the 34th U.S. President.
During his term, Eisenhower will greatly increaseU.S. military aid to the French in Vietnamto prevent a Communist victory. U.S. military advisors will continue toaccompany American supplies sent to Vietnam. To justify America'sfinancial commitment, Eisenhower will cite a 'DominoTheory' in which a Communist victory in Vietnam would result in surroundingcountries falling one after another like a "falling row of dominoes."The Domino Theory will be used by a succession of Presidents and theiradvisors to justify ever-deepening U.S. involvement in Vietnam.
March 5, 1953 - Soviet leader Josef Stalindies. The outspoken Nikita Khrushchev succeeds him.
July 27, 1953 - The Korean War ends asan armistice is signed dividing the country at the 38th parallel into CommunistNorth and Democratic South. The armistice is seen by many in the internationalcommunity as a potential model for resolving the ongoing conflict in Vietnam.
November 20, 1953 -The French under their new commander Gen. Henri Navarre begin OperationCastor, the construction of a series of entrenched outposts protectinga small air base in the isolated jungle valley at Dien Bien Phu in northwestVietnam.
Gen. Giap immediately begins massing Viet Minh troops and artilleryin the area, sensing the potential for a decisive blow against the French.Giap's troops manually drag 200 heavy howitzers up rugged mountain sidesto target the French air base. The French, aware of Giap's intentions,mass their own troops and artillery, preparing for a showdown, but havegrossly underestimated Giap's strength.
March 13, 1954 - Outnumbering the Frenchnearly five-to-one, 50,000 Viet Minh under Gen. Giap begin their assaultagainst the fortified hills protecting the Dien Bien Phu air base.
Giap's artillery pounds the French and shuts down the only runway, thusforcing the French to rely on risky parachute drops for re-supply. Giap'stroops then take out their shovels and begin construction of a maze oftunnels and trenches, slowly inching their way toward the main French positionand surrounding it.
March 30-May 1 - The siege at Dien BienPhu occurs as nearly 10,000 French soldiers are trapped by 45,000 VietMinh. French troops soon run out of fresh water and medical supplies.
The French urgently appeal to Washington for help. The U.S. Joint Chiefsof Staff now consider three possible military options: sending Americancombat troops to the rescue; a massive conventional air strike by B-29bombers; the use of tactical atomic weapons.
President Eisenhower dismisses the conventional air raid and the nuclearoption after getting a strong negative response to such actions from America'schief ally, Britain. Eisenhower also decides against sending U.S. groundtroops to rescue the French, citing the likelihood of high casualty ratesin the jungles around Dien Bien Phu. No action is taken.
May 7, 1954 - At 5:30 p.m., 10,000 Frenchsoldiers surrender at Dien Bien Phu. By now, an estimated 8000 Viet Minhand 1500 French have died. The French survivors are marched for up to 60days to prison camps 500 hundred miles away. Nearly half die during themarch or in captivity.
France proceeds to withdraw completely from Vietnam, ending a bittereight year struggle against the Viet Minh in which 400,000 soldiers andcivilians from all sides had perished.
May 8, 1954 - The GenevaConference on Indochina begins, attended by the U.S., Britain, China, theSoviet Union, France, Vietnam (Viet Minh and representatives of Bao Dai),Cambodia and Laos, all meeting to negotiate a solution for Southeast Asia.
July 21, 1954 - The Geneva Accords divideVietnam in half at the 17th parallel, with Ho Chi Minh's Communists cededthe North, while Bao Dai's regime is granted the South. The accords alsoprovide for elections to be held in all of Vietnam within two years toreunify the country. The U.S. opposes the unifying elections, fearing alikely victory by Ho Chi Minh.
October 1954 - Following the French departurefrom Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh returns after spending eight years hiding in thejungle and formally takes control of North Vietnam.
In the South, Bao Dai has installed Ngo Dinh Diem as his prime minister.The U.S. now pins its hopes on anti-Communist Diem for a democratic SouthVietnam. It is Diem, however, who predicts "another more deadly war"will erupt over the future of Vietnam.
Diem, a Roman Catholic in an overwhelmingly Buddhistcountry, encourages Vietnamese Catholics living in Communist North Vietnamto flee south. Nearly one million leave. At the same time, some 90,000Communists in the south go north, although nearly 10,000 Viet Minh fightersare instructed by Hanoi to quietly remain behind.
January 1955 - The first direct shipmentof U.S. military aid to Saigon arrives. The U.S. also offers to train thefledgling South Vietnam Army.
May 1955 - Prime Minister Diem wages aviolent crackdown against the Binh Xuyen organized crime group based inSaigon which operates casinos, brothels and opium dens.
July 1955 - Ho Chi Minh visits Moscow andagrees to accept Soviet aid.
October 23, 1955 - Bao Dai is ousted frompower, defeated by Prime Minister Diem in a U.S.-backed plebiscite whichwas rigged. Diem is advised on consolidating power by U.S. Air Force Col.Edward G. Lansdale, who is attached to the Central Intelligence Agency(CIA).
October 26, 1955 - The Republic of SouthVietnam is proclaimed with Diem as its first president. In America, PresidentEisenhower pledges his support for the new government and offers militaryaid.
Diem assigns most high level government positions to close friends andfamily members including his younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu who will be hischief advisor. Diem's style of leadership, aloof and autocratic, will createfuture political problems for him despite the best efforts of his Americanadvisors to popularize him via American-style political rallies and toursof the countryside.
December 1955 - In North Vietnam, radicalland reforms by Communists result in land owners being hauled before "people'stribunals." Thousands are executed or sent to forced labor camps duringthis period of ideological cleansing by Ho Chi Minh.
In South Vietnam, President Diem rewards his Catholicsupporters by giving them land seized from Buddhist peasants, arousingtheir anger and eroding his support among them. Diem also allows big landowners to retain their holdings, disappointing peasants hoping for landreform.
January 1956 - Diemlaunches a brutal crackdown against Viet Minh suspects in the countryside.Those arrested are denied counsel and hauled before "security committees"with many suspects tortured or executed under the guise of 'shot whileattempting escape.'
April 28, 1956 - The last French soldierleaves South Vietnam. The French High Command for Indochina is then dissolved.
July 1956 - The deadline passes for theunifying elections set by the Geneva Conference. Diem, backed by the U.S.,had refused to participate.
November 1956 - Peasant unrest in NorthVietnam resulting from oppressive land reforms is put down by Communistforce with more than 6000 killed or deported.
January 1957 - The Soviet Union proposespermanent division of Vietnam into North and South, with the two nationsadmitted separately to the United Nations. The U.S. rejects the proposal,unwilling to recognize Communist North Vietnam.
May 8-18 - Diem pays a state visit to Washingtonwhere President Eisenhower labels him the "miracle man" of Asiaand reaffirms U.S. commitment. "The cost of defending freedom, ofdefending America, must be paid in many forms and in many places...militaryas well as economic help is currently needed in Vietnam," Eisenhowerstates.
Diem's government, however, with its main focus on security, spendslittle on schools, medical care or other badly needed social services inthe countryside. Communist guerrillas and propagandists in the countrysidecapitalize on this by making simple promises of land reform and a betterstandard of living to gain popular support among peasants.
October 1957 - Viet Minh guerrillas begina widespread campaign of terror in South Vietnam including bombings andassassinations. By year's end, over 400 South Vietnamese officials arekilled.
June 1958 - A coordinated command structureis formed by Communists in the Mekong Delta where 37 armed companies arebeing organized.
March 1959 - The armed revolution beginsas Ho Chi Minh declares a People's War to unite all of Vietnam under hisleadership. His Politburo now orders a changeover to an all-out militarystruggle. Thus begins the Second Indochina War.
May 1959 - North Vietnamese establish theCentral Office of South Vietnam (COSVN) to oversee the coming war in theSouth. Construction of the Ho Chi Minh trail now begins.
The trail will eventually expand into a 1500 mile-longnetwork of jungle and mountain passes extending from North Vietnam's coastalong Vietnam's western border through Laos, parts of Cambodia, funnelinga constant stream of soldiers and supplies into the highlands of SouthVietnam. In 1959, it takes six months to make the journey, by 1968 it willtake only six weeks due to road improvements by North Vietnamese laborers,many of whom are women. In the 1970s a parallel fuel pipeline will be added.
July 1959 - 4000 Viet Minh guerrillas,originally born in the South, are sent from North Vietnam to infiltrateSouth Vietnam.
July 8, 1959 - Two U.S. military advisors,Maj. Dale Buis and Sgt. Chester Ovnand, are killed by Viet Minh guerrillasat Bien Hoa, South Vietnam. They are the first American deaths in the SecondIndochina War which Americans will come to know simply as The Vietnam War.
April 1960 - Universalmilitary conscription is imposed in North Vietnam. Tour of duty is indefinite.
April 1960 - Eighteendistinguished nationalists in South Vietnam send a petition to PresidentDiem advocating that he reform his rigid, family-run, and increasinglycorrupt, government. Diem ignores their advice and instead closes severalopposition newspapers and arrests journalists and intellectuals.
November 1960 - A failed coup against PresidentDiem by disgruntled South Vietnamese Army officers brings a harsh crackdownagainst all perceived 'enemies of the state.' Over 50,000 are arrestedby police controlled by Diem's brother Nhu with many innocent civilianstortured then executed. This results in further erosion of popular supportfor Diem.
Thousands who fear arrest flee to North Vietnam. Ho Chi Minh will latersend many back to infiltrate South Vietnam as part of his People's LiberationArmed Forces. Called Viet Cong by Diem, meaning Communist Vietnamese, Ho'sguerrillas blend into the countryside, indistinguishable from South Vietnamese,while working to undermine Diem's government.
December 20, 1960 - The National LiberationFront is established by Hanoi as its Communist political organization forViet Cong guerrillas in South Vietnam.
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