The First Indochina War (also known as the French Indochina War, Anti-French War, Franco-Vietnamese War, Franco-Vietminh War, Indochina War, Dirty War in France, and Anti-French Resistance War in contemporary Vietnam) was fought in French Indochina from December 19, 1946, until August 1, 1954, between the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps, led by France and supported by Emperor Bảo Đại's Vietnamese National Army against the Việt Minh, led by Hồ Chí Minh and Võ Nguyên Giáp, supported by the Kuomintang of Republic of China. Most of the fighting took place in Tonkin in Northern Vietnam, although the conflict engulfed the entire country and also extended into the neighboring French Indochina protectorates of Laos and Cambodia.
In August 1945, when the military forces of Japan surrendered in Vietnam, they allowed the Việt Minh and other nationalist groups to take over public buildings and weapons without resistance, which began the August Revolution. After the defeat of the war, Japanese Army gave weapons to the Vietnamese. In order to further help the nationalists, the Japanese kept Vichy French officials and military officers imprisoned for a month after the surrender. The Việt Minh had recruited more than 600 Japanese soldiers and given them roles to train or command Vietnamese soldiers.
Hồ Chí Minh was able to persuade Emperor Bảo Đại to abdicate on August 25, 1945. Bảo Đại was appointed "supreme adviser" to the new Vietminh-led government in Hanoi, which asserted independence on September 2, 1945. Deliberately borrowing from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America, Ho Chi Minh proclaimed on that day: "We hold the truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
On September 13, 1945 a Franco-British task force landed in Java, capital of Sukarno's Dutch East Indies, and Saigon, capital of Cochinchina (southern part of French Indochina), both being occupied by the Japanese and ruled by Field Marshal Hisaichi Terauchi, Commander-in-Chief of Japan's Southern Expeditionary Army Group based in Saigon. Allied troops in Saigon were an airborne detachment, two British companies of the 20th Hindi Division and the French 5th Colonial Infantry Regiment, with British General Sir Douglas Gracey as supreme commander. The latter proclaimed martial law on September 21. The following night the Franco-British troops took control of Saigon.
Almost immediately afterward, the Chinese Government, as agreed to at the Potsdam Conference, occupied French Indochina as far south as the 16th parallel in order to supervise the disarming and repatriation of the Japanese Army. This effectively ended Hồ Chí Minh's nominal government in Hanoi.
General Leclerc arrived in Saigon in October 9, with him was French Colonel Massu's March Group (Groupement de marche). Leclerc's primary objectives were to restore public order in south Vietnam and to militarize Tonkin (north Vietnam). Secondary objectives were to wait for French backup in view to take back Chinese occupied Hanoi, then to negotiate with the Viet Minh officials.
What Leclerc and the French did not know was that Ho Chi Minh had negotiated with the Kuomintang and Chiang Kai-shek, a set of negotiations that would quickly bring France and the Republic of China to their own Cold War.
See next article, Second Indochina War.