View Full Version : The British in French Indo-China 1945-1946

05-19-2011, 10:09 PM
Post 8 explains why this thread appears:

Some will be familiar this short campaign, with the 20th Indian Infantry Division providing the "muscle", with some RAF support, has been an interest of mine. So I have created this new thread.

Alas the Search facility failed again, so I will copy the relevant posts in this thread to here. They nearly all came from this thread:http://council.smallwarsjournal.com/showthread.php?13335-End-of-Empires-who-and-what-was-responsible-(post-WW2)

All this was prompted by discovering a short, eighteen page article by Daniel Marston: 'The 20th Indian Division in French Indo-China, 1945-1946: Combined Operations and the 'fog of war'. Note the irony the paper was given to a Japanese military audience.(Ends).

I've read a couple of books on the First Indo-China War and found it startling that the French were able to return a small military force to Saigon, in October 1945, after the Japanese had surrendered to a British Indian division, under General Gracey, in September 1945. This altered the facts on the ground between the non-French civil administration (nationalist & communist Viet Minh) and the French who sought a return as a colonial power.

That is a very short summary and my point is not what happened in Saigon, but the ability of the French to move a military force from Europe by sea there. This was a France dependent on Allied assistance, mainly from the USA; involved shipping - not in available in great abundance from France herself I suspect and money somewhere.

What an opportunity missed?

The British would have left and who knows who in place as government. Aside, in fact the division then went to Java, part of the Netherlands East Indies, to a similar situation and the most intense, bloody fighting of its war.

Not to overlook that what became North Vietnam after the Japanese surrender was occupied by the Nationalist Chinese (which was hated by the locals) and they left to be replaced by the French.

05-20-2011, 02:39 AM
Here is the version from Louis Allen, The End of the War in Asia (http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/star/images/241/2410307010.pdf). London: Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, 1976. Book One, "The Japanese Surrender in South-East Asia," Chapter 4, "French Indo-China," pp. 96-129, placed online in the Virtual Vietnam Archive of the Vietnam Project, at Texas Tech University.

De Gaulle planned on a 3 division corps for Indochina, but that was not to be - at least not at once (p.7 pdf):

But demobilization after the defeat of Germany so reduced the ranks of these divisions that they had to be combined. Besides, there seemed to be no way of transporting them to the Far East. French shipping was under the control of the Allied Shipping Pool and could not be released. The only unit actually present in Mountbatten's command was the 5th Colonial Infantry Regiment, itself only a battalion strong, under Colonel Huard. A Senegalese brigade was awaiting orders in Madagascar.

Unfortunately for French military plans, the natives were growing restless in Madgascar and their later 1947 Malagasy Uprising (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malagasy_Uprising) tied up many more French troops (primarily North African units) that otherwise could have been used in 1947-1948 Indochina.

That is getting well ahead of the story. The BLUF is that the US left Thailand and South Indochina to the British (Mountbatten) (p.18 pdf):

... headquarters was set up in Saigon under Major-General Douglas Gracey, GOC, 20th Indian Division. A brigade of this division had begun its fly-in on 15 September, and along with it Mountbatten established an Air Headquarters, with two RAF tactical squadrons, and a Naval Port Party.

Following Petri's Appendix I (p.455), 12 Sep 1945 saw the Saigon fly-in of the initial advance elements of the 20th Indian Div.; and also initial advance elements of the Huard Bn of the 5th Colonial Infantry Regiment (Troupes de Marine). The main body of the 5th RIC did not debark in Saigon until 3 Oct 1945 (Petri, p.455).

The latter weeks of September saw more chaos (p.21 pdf)

Meanwhile, events had gone much further than a mere proclamation. Gracey had permitted the French forces in Saigon to carry out their own coup d'etat. His troops took over the Saigon gaol and freed French paratroops who had been imprisoned by the Vietnamese. At Cedile's request, he allowed the men of the 11th Colonial Infantry Division, who had been under [Japanese] guard in their barracks since 9 March, to be rearmed and to leave the barracks. These French troops, about fifteen hundred of them, were spoiling for a fight, and went out into the streets to throw their weight about against the Annamite population. ... He [Gracey] ordered the 11th Colonial Infantry Division to return to their barracks and be disarmed. The Japanese command was given full responsibility for maintaining order.

The Japanese were indifferent to that task (pp.21, 22):

Order was the first casualty of the next phase in Saigon. The electricity generating station was attacked by Vietnamese on 24 September, and dozens of Frenchmen were kidnapped or killed in the port area. The next day, there was a massacre in the Tan Dinh suburb: three hundred French men, women, and children were abducted, of whom half were killed in atrocious circumstances. This happened in the space of two hours, while Japanese sentries stood by, idle and indifferent.

Colonel Peter Dewey of the OSS was driving to the Saigon airfield on 26 September when his jeep was attacked. He realized the Vietnamese had taken him for a Frenchman, and cried out 'Je suis Americain', but it was too late. His body was removed by the Vietnamese before Allied troops could rescue it.
It was in this atmosphere that France's two highest officials in Asia came on the scene. Leclerc landed in Saigon on 5 October, and the High Commissioner, Thierry d' Argenlieu, arrived on 30 October.
Leclerc had remained in Kandy until sufficient French forces were available for him to act effectively in Saigon. With the arrival of elements of the 2nd Armoured Division, and the presence in Saigon River of the chastened Richelieu, Leclerc began to take over from Gracey the responsibility for government and for disarming the Japanese. The 20th Indian Division packed its bags in January 1946, and on 1 March, with the approval of the combined chiefs of staff, IndoChina was withdrawn from South-East Asia Command.

The battleship Richelieu and its escort vessels had been operating under US command in the PTO.



05-20-2011, 05:58 AM
From Patti (I typed "Petri" in the post above :o), p.298, the 12 Sep 1945 fly-in was from Rangoon to Ton Son Nhut (Saigon) and involved Gurhkas, a Bn of the 15th Cav. Regt., 20th Indian Div.; and one company of the 5th RIC (Regiment d'Infanterie Colonial).

Patti devotes a chapter (Chap 32, "South of the 16th Parallel", pp.307-325) to the events of later September and early October 1945 in Saigon. One correction to Allen's book is that the barracks housing French prisoners was that of the 11th RIC (regiment, not a division), and that most of the prisoners were Legionaires and not Colonial Infantry (Patti p.316-317). The main body of the 5th RIC (roughly a 1000 men) arrived on 3 Oct 1945 on the French warship Triomphant (Patti, p.325). The Triomphant on 3 Oct 1945 was captained by Andre Jubelin (http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andr%C3%A9_Jubelin).

The battleship Richelieu (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_battleship_Richelieu) was under British fleet command in 1944-1945 (pre-VJ Day), and was not under US fleet command (as stated by Fall in his Two Viet Nams, p.67). From the Wiki:

After V-J Day, during the last four months of 1945, Richelieu took part in the return of French forces to Indochina, particuliarly at Nha Trang, with her Fusiliers Marins landing party, and delivering gun support. When Richelieu left for France, the crew received congratulations from General Leclerc, the French Commanding General in Indochina.

Besides the French warships Triomphant and Richelieu, the Dutch-British troop transports, Queen Emma (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Queen_Emma#Indian_Ocean) and Princess Beatrix (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Princess_Beatrix#Indian_Ocean), hauled French troops into Saigon in October 1945.

Indian Ocean

Queen Emma was decommissioned to be adapted for service in tropical waters at Harland & Wolff at Belfast. The works were completed on 29 March 1945, and on 5 May Queen Emma sailed with Convoy KMF-44 for India, arriving at Bombay on the 26th. Queen Emma remained in India until the Japanese surrender in August. She then took part in Operation Jurist - the reoccupation of Penang by British Marines.[2]

She then embarked French troops, and escorted by the French battleship Richelieu, sailed to Saigon. On the return trip, Queen Emma was damaged by an acoustic mine. Her main engines were knocked out and the ship had to be towed. However, emergency repairs were made and she reached Singapore under her own power.[2]

After this Queen Emma transported Dutch women and children from Japanese concentration camps, and took British troops to Batavia, Semarang and Soerabaja.[2]


Indian Ocean

Princess Beatrix operated for a time between the Clyde, Avonmouth and Liverpool before she was decommissioned to be adapted for service in tropical waters at D & W Henderson Ltd., Glasgow. She then sailed to the Indian Ocean, arriving at Trincomalee on 15 July 1945. A few days after the Japanese surrender she then took part in "Operation Jurist" - the reoccupation of Penang by British Marines.[2]

Princess Beatrix then acted as troop transport, sailing to Colombo, and taking French troops to Saigon. On 29 September [JMM: this date doesn't jibe] the ship entered the port of Tanjung Priok to take Dutch women and children from Japanese concentration camps. In early January 1946 she was ordered to return home, arriving at Portsmouth on 15 February.[2]

The Wiki source is the Service History M/v Prinses Beatrix and Koningin Emma 1939 - 1968 (http://sites.google.com/site/hmsprincessbeatrix/scratch-built-model-of-hms-princess-beatrix/service-history-m-v-prinses-beatrix-and-koningin-emma-1939---1968). Each ship could carry up to 2000 troops - although the service history does not tell us the number of French troops carried to Saigon:

Via Gibraltar, Port Said, Suez and Aden, the port of Bombay was reached on May 26. First a few trips were made to Trincomalee and a few days after the Japanese had capitulated Emma and her sister ship Beatrix, just arrived, were made part of the operation Jurist the occupation of Penang by the British Marines. Here the British flag was raised and order restored. It had been a long time since the two Dutch ships had worked together. After this sail was set for Trincomalee, where French troops had to [be] embarked, under escort of the mighty French Battleship Richelieu, to Saigon.

The conclusion seems to be that the movement of French forces to Saigon in September and October 1945 was an example of British-French co-operation by air and sea (and two Dutch transports). An interesting little puzzle to solve (after a false start or two - Vietnam War I and II history is a bit of a minefield).



05-20-2011, 08:02 AM
The role played by the British in general and Gracey in particular in facilitating the re-establishment of French control in the south (particularly in the re-arming of French POWs), is often overlooked. The British clearly didn't want to see an precedent of independence being established, which suggests that they really weren't modelling their plans on the Atlantic Charter.

05-20-2011, 08:44 AM

Thank you for the details of transporting the French.

My main "bible' on the period is 'The First Vietnam War' by Peter M. Dunn (Pub. 1985:http://www.amazon.com/First-Vietnam-War-Peter-Dunn/dp/0312293143/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1305879757&sr=1-4 which has no review easily located.

05-21-2011, 10:24 AM
I am not an Imperial history expert nor have read in depth, but there is merit in Dayuhan's last post - blame anyone, especially a dead US President, for our own failures.

In 1945 Great Britain, France and the Netherlands were exhausted. Two had undergone the deep trauma of defeat and occupation.

I suspect part of the answer why people
believe what they will lies in psychology and politics. A contemporary illustration maybe found in this UK politicians comment:
Business Secretary Vince Cable says it has been a challenge for the government to explain to the public how bad a state the economy is in.

Change a few words and maybe it would fit 1945?

Incidentally I do not agree with his explanation, mainly as it appears to ignore the impact of political decisions for many years on the UK economy.


05-26-2011, 08:30 AM

In Post 93 you asked:
Are there any recorded instances of IJA forces actually fighting communist forces in China post-surrender? I don't know of any, but there might be some. In Indochina the Japanese were technically responsible for maintaining order but in fact exercised virtually no effort to contain the violence. These orders may have been given but I'm not at all sure they were carried out.

When I read the USMC history re the Corps in China there were references to railway guards etc. I do not recall a greater role,it was a quick read. See:http://www.ibiblio.org/hyperwar/USMC/V/USMC-V-V-3.html and the successive chapters.

In Indochina the IJA did respond to General Gracey's orders, as part of the agreements and surrender protocols, with defensive and offensive action. I rely on 'The First Vietnam War' by Peter M. Dunn (Pub. 1985) which makes numerous references to the IJA fighting, in particular two infantry battalions outside Saigon and the curious affection the IJA showed when the 20th Division left - replicated in China too.

Yes, some IJA did not obey, others deserted (especially in north Indochina) and others joined the Viet Minh. The vast bulk of the IJA, with masses of civilians in China, wanted to get home and only the Allies were going to get that done.

What happened in north Indochina is less clear and little is said in Dunn's book. The Chinese Nationalists occupied the area, although unclear if beyond Tonkin and Hanoi, say south to Hue (they also visited Laos, to get two opium crops harvested). How the IJA were evacuated is unknown to me.

09-10-2015, 08:16 PM
Vietnam appears often in the Historian arena. This is a short article on the very early years with a focus on Saigon in 1945:http://japanfocus.org/-Geoffrey-Gunn/3137/article.html

The summary:
Nearly thirty years have passed since the end of the “Vietnam War” or rather the “American War,” as it is known in Vietnam. But the American war in Vietnam originated in the French war to restore colonialism in the power vacuum following the Japanese surrender in August-September 1945. As the following article documents, early U.S. post-war planners seemed to have grasped the iniquitous nature of old-style colonialism only to have forgotten their ideals when confronted with an independent revolutionary movement in the early days of US-Soviet conflict. History has revealed the disastrous consequences of American escalation in Vietnam on the wrong side of history, just as the lessons of history appear seldom to have been learned as, one generation on, America plunges into no less disastrous military adventures in other theaters in pursuit of militant Islam tied to terror.

03-09-2019, 07:42 PM
Some will be familiar this short campaign, with the 20th Indian Infantry Division providing the "muscle", with some RAF support, has been an interest of mine. So I have created this new thread.

Alas the Search facility failed again, so I will copy the relevant posts in this thread to here:

All this was prompted by discovering a short, eighteen page article by Daniel Marston: 'The 20th Indian Division in French Indo-China, 1945-1946: Combined Operations and the 'fog of war'. Note the irony the paper was given to a Japanese military audience.

So after the copying of posts this article will drop down.:wry: