PANO – During the resistance war against the French colonists (1945-1954), the victory in the Viet Bac campaign in autumn-winter season of 1947 had a historic strategic-level meaning and well benefited the Vietnamese revolutionary side. But the campaign meant a big loss to the French colonists in both political and military terms, and it also pointed to an inevitable breakdown of the enemy’s strategy “Fight fast, win fast.”

The plan to attack the revolutionary general headquarters in the northern mountainous zone of Viet Bac was drawn up by General R. Salan, Chief of the French High Command in northern Indo-China peninsular, was passed by the Indo-China Defence Council on June 9, 1947, and ratified by the French Government in July 1947.

 General Vo Nguyen Giap briefed President Ho Chi Minh and members of Governmental Council on the developments of the campaign.

With the campaign, the French colonists hoped to end the second invasion with the strategy “Fight fast, win fast” as General Salan boasted: “It would take only 3 weeks to break down Viet Minh’s (the Vietnamese revolutionary force) nerve center.”

Under the plan, the enemy was about to conduct offensive operations in the northern provinces of Thai Nguyen, Bac Giang, Vinh Phuc, Tuyen Quang, Bac Kan, Cao Bang and Lang Son, where Viet Minh’s serve center, key agencies and elite force were located.

On the morning of October 7, 1947, the French side mobilizing the most powerful forces of all military services and arms kick-started a large-scale campaign against Viet Minh in its controlled area of Viet Bac.

On Viet Minh’s side, on October 8, 1947, President Ho Chi Minh circulated a letter to soldiers, militiamen and people, calling on all Vietnamese people to unite forces under the leadership of Viet Minh to fight against the French troops and their followers. On October 15, 1947, the Party Central Standing Committee’s Permanent Commission issued an instruction: Break down the French winter offensive.

Our participating forces included two regular regiments 147 and 165; regiments 72, 74,121 of the military zone 1; regiments 11, 36, 59, 98 of military zone 12; an artillery battalion and Song Lo regiment of military zone 10; 5 battalions under the Defence Ministry, military zone 1 and zone 12; several other units of various military arms; and local militiamen.

On December 9, 1947, a 12.7mm artillery battery of company 675, regiment 74 in Cao Bang shot down one enemy transport aircraft Ju5; 12 staff officers, including Colonel Lambert, Deputy Chief of Staff of the campaign, on board were killed, and our forces captured the French force’s combat plan on the campaign.

In the Chiem Hoa – Lo River front, enemy forces landed on Binh Ca wharf. Our forces sank an artillery boat, annihilated a platoon, achieving the first victory on the Lo River.

In the Road 4 front, self-contained companies and partisans of Cao Bang and Lang Son ambushed and sniped enemy troops on march, and then attacked them in Dong Khe, That Khe. Our force in Lang Son, exploiting the terrain, launched an excellent surprise attack on the enemy, destroying 33 vehicles, annihilating nearly 300 troops in Bong Lau and capturing a large number of weapons and ammunitions. Road 4 was dyed red with French troops’ blood.

In the Road 3 front, guards of military weapon factories in collaboration of partisans of local ethnic minorities ambushed small enemy groups. Meanwhile, self-contained battalions raided and mounted an attack with explosive charges, killing hundreds of French troops in trenches, cutting off the enemy’s reinforcement line between Cao Bang and Bac Kan.

Large French military units that moved deep into Viet Minh’s central base in Viet Bac region were separated into small groups and their force, strength and spirit was greatly reduced by our forces’ surprise attacks. As of December 19, 1947, most of the French units left Viet Bac and the operation sustained a big defeat.

General Vo Nguyen Giap noted: The French Army’s strategic offensive on our central base of Viet Bac was “its most ambitious operation during its war of aggression against Indo-China, and its scale could be compared to the later Navarre Plan that aimed to end the war in honour.”

 Troops of Song Lo regiment in the campaign.

Although the French army had mobilized a large number of efforts and assets, their military strength and ambition could not win over Vietnamese spirit and brainpower. With the resounding victory in the autumn-winter season of 1947, Vietnamese army and people defeated all of the French four objectives having set by the French before marching into Viet Bac and put an end to their strategy “Fight fast, win fast,” turning the French Army to a passive position and forcing them to be fully stretched to respond to our forces in numerous fronts for a long time.

The Vietnamese revolutionary army saw big developments in tactics and force organization after the campaign. Our forces learnt a good deal of tactical experience and lessons from battles, such as guerrilla warfare, maneuver warfare, operations of self-contained companies and concentrated battalions. The campaign also marked the first time, the Vietnam People’s Army successfully applied the operational art “Attacking the enemy from the counter-attack position in the mountainous and forest terrain.” Finally, the victory turned our resistance war into a new phase.

During 75 days (from October 7 to December 19, 1947) of the Viet Bac Campaign in the autumn-winter season of 1947, our forces put over 7,200 enemies out of action, shot down and damaged 18 aircraft, sank 16 warships and 38 military canoes, destroyed 255 vehicles, and seized 2 105mm cannons, 7 75mm cannons, 16 20mm cannons, 337 machine guns, 1,660 rifles and dozens of tons of military goods and equipment.


Written by Le Van Phong

Translated by Thu Nguyen