General Giap, a formidable commander?

Let’s see to that in the various big military operations in the First Indochina War (Border Campaign 1950s and Dien Bien Phu 1954), the Second Indochina War (Plâyme Campaign 1965, Khe Sanh 1968, Tet Offensive 1968).

Border Campaign 1950. The actual commander was General Chen Geng.

The CMAG (Chinese Military Advisor Groupp) would provide planning guidance, among other things, for the upcoming Border Campaigns of 1950. This campaign would begin in September with garrison after garrison falling to the Viet Minh in the north with tremendous losses for the isolated French garrisons near the Sino-Vietnamese border. Outnumbered 8 to 1 by the Vietnamese, the French would lose immense amounts of men to include 6,000 of 10,000 men in the north, and supplies to include 13 artillery pieces, 125 mortars and 450 trucks, in what some have described as the greatest defeat in French colonial history since the French and Indian War in North America.

Within 48 hours after these successful assaults on those isolated French outposts in the north, Chinese General Chen would hold what we would call today an after action review. Chen would brief Giap and other high ranking officers for four hours on the shortcomings of the Vietnamese Army. These short comings according to Chen would include not following the order for battle and attacking late, commanders not leading assaults from the front, poor communications, and cadres making false reports to superiors. One wonders how such criticism was received but such reviews are vital for an army’s subsequent growth and improvement. To General Giap “The victory shows Mao’s military thought was very applicable to Vietnam.”

Dien Bien Phu 1954. The actual commander was General Wei Guoqing.

Specific support provided for the Dien Bien Phu campaign would include planning, logistics, engineering advisors, trucks, rocket and 75mm recoilless rifle battalions, and Soviet Katyusha Rocket Launchers or “Stalin Organs.” A combined headquarters was established as the Dien Bien Phu Campaign Command with General Giap as Commander in Chief with Chinese General Wei Guoqing as General Advisor.

Giap wrote years after the battle that “I felt there needed to be a meeting with the head of the team of friendly military experts who was also present. Generally speaking, relationships between us and friendly military experts ever since the Border Campaign had been excellent. Our friends had given us the benefit of their invaluable experience drawn from the revolutionary war in China and the anti-US war in Korea.” It is interesting that in his account of the battle Giap makes no mention of Chinese material support or advice and planning assistance provided throughout this decisive last battle of the First Vietnam War. The Chinese advisors, such as General Wei Guoqing, are not identified or given any credit by Giap. Perhaps this is understandable given that one of the Chinese advisors would write later that “The greatest shortcoming of the Vietnamese Communists was their fear of letting other people know their weaknesses. They lacked Bolshevist self-criticism.” The siege of Dien Bien Phu was to last 8 weeks with China providing 8,286 tons of supplies, including 4,620 tons of petroleum, 1,360 tons of ammunition, 46 tons of weapons and 1,700 tons of rice from supply depots 600 miles away.

Chinese advisors would be involved at all levels during the battle including digging in the all important Vietnamese artillery into shellproof dugouts, experience learned the hard way in the hills of Korea. In effect the battle of Dien Bien Phu would be planned and assisted by Chinese advisors and fought with Chinese trained, equipped, supplied, transported and fed PAVN troops in a military soup to nuts manner. This support is rarely mentioned as a contributing factor to the Vietnamese victory in 1954 but should be acknowledged in analyzing the battle.

(Bob Seals, Chinese Support for North Vietnam during the Vietnam War: The Decisive Edge )

Plâyme Campaign 1965. The three NVA Regiments, 32nd, 33rd and 66th, were entirely wiped out in the Pleime counteroffensive into Chupong-Iadrang Complex.

Khe sanh 1968. General Giap failed in his attempt to replicate Dien Bien Phu victory.

Tet Offensive 1968. A total flop.

Le Duc Tho derides General Giap in calling him "a general wearing a felt hat".

Le Duan did not consider General Giap as a formidable military commander at all either; he knew him as just a nobody and after 1975 humiliated him with a ridiculous assignment of Minister of Birth Control and Population Regulation. The common Vietnamese also saw General Giap’s true character and derided him with mockeries

- Ngày xưa Đại Tướng cầm quân,
Ngày nay Đại Tướng cầm quần chị em.

Before, our General lead troops, today he holds our sisters’ skirts.


- Ngày xưa Đại Tướng công đồn,
Ngày nay Đại Tướng xét lồn chị em.

Before, our General raid outposts, today he performs gynecoly examination on our sisters.

The image of General Giap, a formidable commander and General Giap lifting ladies' skirts do not jib at all...

Nguyen Van Tin
15 February 2012.

Updated on 12.09.2001