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April 30, 2009

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Fellow Traveller

On another occasion, they fought side by side:

"Gracey on arrival (13 September) immediately realized the seriousness of the situation. Anarchy, rioting and murder were widespread, Saigon’s administrative services had collapsed and a loosely-controlled Communist-led revolutionary group had seized power. In addition, being that the Japanese were still fully armed, the Allies feared the they were capable of undermining the Allied position. Furthermore, he could barely communicate with his higher headquarters in Burma, for his America signal detachment was abruptly withdrawn by the U.S. government due to political reasons; it was a loss that could not be rectified for several weeks.

Gracey wrote, that unless something was done quickly the state of anarchy would worsen. This situation was increased by the Viet Minh’s lack of strong control over some of their allied groups. Because of this the French were able to persuade Gracey (in a move which exceeded the authority of his orders from Mountbatten) to rearm local colonial infantry regiments, who were being held as prisoners of war. Gracey also allowed about 1000 French former prisoners of war to be rearmed. They, with the arrival of the newly formed 5th Colonial Infantry Regiment (RIC) commandos, would then be able to evict the Viet Minh from what hold they had on the Saigon administration. Gracey saw this as the quickest way to allow the French to reassert their authority in Indochina, while letting him get on with the job of disarming and repatriating the Japanese.

Gracey faced another problem; in relation to Mountbatten, for it was never easy. One example of this occurred on Gracey arrival in September, he drew up a proclamation that declared marital law and stated that he was responsible for law and order throughout Indochina south of the 16th parallel. Mountbatten in turn made an issue of this, claiming that Gracey was responsible for public security in key areas only. The proclamation was published on 21 September and, although the Supreme Commander Lord Mountbatten disagreed with its wording, the Chiefs of Staff and the Foreign Office supported Gracey.

During the following days Gracey gradually eased the Viet Minh grip on Saigon, replacing their guards in vital points with his own troops, which were then give to French troops. The reason why it happened this way was because the Viet Minh would have never relinquished their positions directly to the hated French. By 23 September, Saigon was back in French hands and less than half a dozen vital positions were in Viet Minh hands. The French regained control of Saigon on that day when the former French prisoners of war, which were reinstated into the army and troops from the 5th RIC ejected the Viet Minh in a noisy but relatively bloodless coup in which two French soldiers were killed and no Vietnamese casualties.

On the night of the 24/25 the Vietnamese reacted, hen a howling mob(not under Viet Minh control) abducted and butchered a large number of French and French-Vietnamese men, women and children. On the 25th the Viet Minh attacked and set fire to the city’s central market area, while other group attacked Tan Son Nhut Airfield. The airfield attack was repelled by the Gurkhas, where one British soldier was killed along with half a dozen Viet Minh. The British now had a war on their hands, something which Mountbatten had sought to avoid.

For the next few day parties of armed Viet Minh clashed against British/Indian patrols, the Viet Minh suffering mounting losses with each encounter. The British soldiers were highly professional and experienced troops had had just recently finished battling against the Japanese; many officers and soldiers had also experienced internal security and guerrilla warfare in India and the North West Frontier. On the other hand, the Viet Minh, even though they were courageous they were still learning how to fight a war.

In early October, Gracey held talks with the Viet Minh and a truce was agreed upon. On the 5th, General Philippe Leclerc, the senior French commander, arrived in Saigon where he and his troops were placed under Gracey’s command. However, on 10 October the state of semi-peace with the Viet Minh was broken by an unprovoked attack on a small British engineering party which was inspecting the water lines near Tam Son Nhut Airfield. Most of the party members were killed or wounded. Gracey accepted the fact that the level of insurrection was such that he would first have to pacify key areas before he could repatriate the Japanese. It was at this time that his small force had been strengthened by the arrival of his second infantry brigade, the 32nd, under Brigadier E.C.V. Woodford. Gracey deployed the 32nd Brigade into Saigon’s troublesome northern suburbs of Go Vap and Gia Dinh. Once in this area the Viet Minh fell back before this force, which included armoured car support from the Indian 16th Light Cavalry.

Sorties of Spitfire reconnaissance revealed that the roads approaching into Saigon were blocked: the Viet Minh were attempting to strangle the city. On October 13th Tan Son Nhut came under attack again by the Viet Minh, their commandos and sappers were able this time to come within 275m of the control tower. They were also at the doors of the radio station before the attack was blunted by Indian and Japanese soldiers. As the Viet Minh fell back from the airfield, the Japanese were ordered to pursue them until nightfall, when contact was broken.

By mid-October 307 Viet Minh had been killed by British/Indian troops and 225 were killed by Japanese troops, including the new body count of 80 more Viet Minh at Dalat. On one occasion, the Japanese repulsed an attack on the their headquarters at Phu Lam, killing 100 Viet Minh. British, French, and Japanese casualties were small by comparison. On the 17th the third brigade, the 100th commanded by Brigadier C.H.B. Rodham arrived in Indochina.

The Viet Minh next assaulted Saigon’s vital points. They were the power plant, docks, the airfield for the third time, and even the city’s artesian wells. Periodically, Saigon was blacked out at night, due to the racket of smallarms, grenades, mines mortars, and artillery, which became familiar throughout the city. Unable to overwhelm Saigon’s defences, the Viet Minh intensified their siege tactics. During this time, newly arrived French troops were given the task to help break the siege while aggressive British patrolling kept the Viet Minh off-balanced.

On 25 October, the only known evidence of direct Soviet involvement in the area came about, when a Japanese patrol captured a Russian adviser near Thu Dau Mot. He was handed over to Lieutenant-Colonel Cyril Jarvis, commander of the 1/1 Gurkhas Rifles at Thu Dau Mot. Jarvis tried several attempts at interrogation, but it was fruitless, so the intruder was handed over to the Surete, the French criminal investigation department (equivalent to the CID), from there he disappeared from the annals of history.

On 29 October the British formed a strong task force with the objective of pushing the Viet Minh further away from Saigon. This force was called ‘Gateforce’ after its commander, Lt.-Col. Gates of 14/13 Frontier Force Rifles. Gateforce consisted of Indian infantry, artillery, and armoured cars and a Japanese infantry battalion. During their operations they killed around 190 enemy; during one operation around Xuan Loc, east of Saigon, the Japanese killed 50 Viet Minh in a when they surprised a Viet Minh group in training.

On 18 November a Gurkha unit set out for Long Kien, south of Saigon, to rescue French hostages held there. While en route, the force was forced to turn back because it was not strong enough to overcome the Viet Minh they encountered. A few days later a stronger force was despatched. According to the Gurkhas, they had seen Japanese deserters leading some Viet Minh war parties. During this operation the only kukri (Nepalese knife) charge in the whole campaign occurred. According to a Gurkha platoon leader, at one point during the operation they were held up by determined Viet Minh defenders occupying an old French fort. The Gurkhas brought up bazooka and blew in the doors, then without hesitation drew out their kukris and charged into the fort, putting the defenders to the knife. Long Kien was finally reached on that same day, but no hostages were recovered, but about 80 Viet Minh had been killed during this operation."

-- Britain's Vietnam War

red

Isn't imperialism lovely?

And in so many ways...

Fellow Traveller

Particularly lovely that the British enlisted their former enemy, the Japanese, to put down the Viet Minh and so restore rightful French dominion over Indochina. This happened all over the Far East in the post war period - in Indonesia as well for example.

Graves, an officer and a gentleman, a man of impeccable honour no doubt, persuaded the Viet Minh to stand to and be relieved of their positions in Saigon by the British, who, I would imagine, convinced them that, as an honest broker and a neutral party, they would not allow the old colonial regime's restoration, only to replace them with French colonial soldiers within 48 hours of the deal.

And yes, the Gurkhas did the British Empire proud.

Chris Williams

By the way, does anyone have anything on the British Empire police mission to South Vietnam in the 1960s?

ajay

Do you mean the British advisory mission? Robert Thompson and that lot? If so, yes, lots.

Chris Williams

Malaya SB?

ajay

Well, they were involved, yes.

Chris Williams

Have you got a ref, or failing that a thirst?

Jane

The Gurkhas were killing British troops in this savage manner, with Kukri knives, before they decided to pledge loyalty to the British Empire. They would kill Brits again if the money was good. How wonderful to think that the entire population of Nepal may now have an excuse, through relatives settling legally in the UK, to immigrate here and spread their culture. The Gurkhas used to respect the Brits as superiors and masters - as shocking as that must seem to all the nice egalitarians. But now we lie down like their subservients. Advantage will be taken of what can only appear to them as weakness.

Britain's loss of homogeneity is a tragedy.

Chris Williams

"Britain's loss of homogeneity is a tragedy."

There are rather a lot of questions being begged here, from Upwell to Hackney as well as from Nefyn to Dumfries.

This post, though, has to be the best existence proof so far today of Flying Rodent's perspective, expressed so eloquently here:

http://flyingrodent.blogspot.com/2008/10/so-many-and-so-few-lamp-posts.html

Richard J

I'm really not sure if Jane's taking the piss or not.

Chris Williams

No, I think that here we've got a classic example of "the seductively counterfactual gormlessness of ideology" [K Macleod].

jamie

Don't you understand???It's 356 AD and you are the Emperor Valentinian at Adrianople!!!! Goths are all very weel as mercenaries, but show them kindness and they'll slit our throats while we sleep.

Richard J

I personally waiting for dsquared to offer the Welsh view on this.

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