Chapter I
The Việt Minh 1954 Campaign
in the Highlands

A Strategic Position

For most people, the sudden increase of Viet Minh activities in the Central Highlands in 1954 was due to the following reasons:

1) A significant amount of French units was withdrawn to reinforce Dien Bien Phu, thus leaving the area insufficiently defended with mobile forces which by that time only consisted of French Task Force #100 (Groupement Mobile numéro 100), some Montagnard Battalions and VN Task Force #11.

2) The "Atlante" operations schemed by the French to occupy the central coastal region were known beforehand by the Viet Minh who thus thrust into the Highlands in order to be first in the field, to compel the French to disperse their forces.

3) By stepping up their activities in the thus far relatively quiet fronts, the Viet Minh hoped to continue to keep the upper hand and to retain the initiative over Lieutenant General Navarre's plan aiming at the creation of strong mobile forces.

But all the above reasons could not explain why the Viet Minh had tenaciously pursued their efforts until the 1954 Geneva Agreement and toward territorial control. According to Dr Bernard B. Fall(1), when the cease-fire was proclaimed, the French authority encompassed only the provinces of Darlac and Dalat.

It is therefore a big mistake to consider the Viet Minh increased tempo of activities in the Highlands in 1954 merely as a coordination within a vast campaign or as a counter-thrust to the French expansion. Because we should always keep in mind that in both the French and Viet Minh views, the battlefield of the Highlands is considered as a part of the war on the whole Indochinese peninsula, including not only Viet Nam but also Laos and Cambodia.

In a Viet Minh document entitled "Success in Lower Laos" (page 3), the enemy has explicitly stated:

"For the French, Lower Laos, Eastern Cambodia and the Western Highlands form a strategic triangle from where Southern Vietnam, Lower Central Vietnam, Cambodia as well as Middle and Lower Laos could be conquered".

On the other side, French Major General Delange, then Commander of the 4th Military Region (Hqs at Banmethuot), also wrote in "Campaign of Interzone V from 1 January to 31 July 1954" (pages 9-10) the following:

"In the concept of the Viet Minh High Command, the area stretching East-West from Quang Ngai to the Plateaus of Bolovens and North-South from Quang Nam to Pleiku is a "strategic compass" which could be used as a spring-board for expansion in almost all directions:

- Southward to the southern Plateaus and to Southern Viet Nam,

- Eastward to the coast,

-Westward to Lower Laos and Cambodia.

"Furthermore, with Middle Laos (to be liberated by Interzone IV), that area will constitute a large base in the very middle of the Indochinese peninsula. The control of that territory by the enemy will enable them to better coordinate their activities and regulate their forces between North and South and thus prepare for a "general counter-offensive". The positions and the terrain in this area formed by "the Northern Plateaus and the Bolovens" are considered well-fitting with the Viet Minh intentions and must be liberated in accordance with their plans".

Further on, General Delange also wrote:

"The Viet Minh attacks in the Western Highlands in 1954 differed very much from those in previous years. This time, the "liberated zone" shall be defended and extended southward in order to secure their base more effectively and be able to exert later on their pressure more directly over Cambodia and Southern Vietnam".

Kontum and Highway 19

To carry out their plan, in December 1953 and January 1954, the Viet Minh trust into Middle and Lower Laos seized Thakkhet, destroyed the whole string of French posts along Highways 12 and 9, threatened the base of Seno and surrounded Voeune Sai (Eastern Cambodia).

Toward the end of January 1954, on the 27th, they simultaneously attacked Mang Buk, Plateau Gi (present district town of Chuong Nghia) and Konbrai. Then they shifted all their efforts to North Kontum and cut it off from Pleiku. On 2 February, all the posts in North West Kontum, Dakto included, were overrun and on 5 February, all bridges North Kontum destroyed. The French Expeditionary Forces were compelled to leave Kontum on 7 February and to withdraw to Pleiku. Task Force #100 which just set their feet upon the Highlands less than two months ago - on 17 December 1953 - and from then in continuous movements was so thrown again into a second withdrawal! (The first one on 28 January 1954, from Tuy Hoa to Kontum).

Ten days after, on 17 February, the Viet Minh resumed pushing east and southward: they seized Dakdoa, harassed Pleibon and attacked La Pit (10km North Pleiku, on Highway 14) as if to compel the French to leave also Pleiku.

But on 15 January, the Atlante Task Forces landed at Song Cau and Tuy Hoa. The Viet Minh then quickly adjusted their objectives after 15 March into:

1) Destroying the strong point of An Khe or at least interdicting Highway 19 in order to isolate Pleiku and to deny all contacts between An Khe and Qui Nhon for the French troops.

2) Opening other fronts in the Highlands and along the coast in order to dissipate the French forces.

On 29 March, they began their activities on Highway 19 with an ambush and an attack against the post at Deo Mang. During the following month, they again ambushed and attacked four times in the area extending from An Khe to Pleiku, inflicting heavy losses to elements of Task Force #100.

At the same time enemy efforts were increased on Highway 14 and Inter-provincial route 7, in the direction of Cheo Reo. Attacks were launched without interruption against Plei Ptao, Lei Ring, B. Hioan Cham, Le Bac.

Besides the above main fronts - An Khe and Front Song Ba - conducted by regular units belonging to Interzone V, two other secondary fronts were organized by regional units to harass the rear of the French forces, one in Phu Yen and Darlac, the other in Khanh Hoa, Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan and Djiring provinces.

In May 1954, to support their bargain at the Geneva Conference, the Viet Minh deployed all-out efforts all over the area. From then until the armistice, they incessantly attacked French positions and convoys on all Highways 19, 21, 14 and 1. French posts in Tuy Hoa were continuously under siege and harassment. It was in this period that the French Expeditionary Forces were reduced to abandon An Khe (29 June 1954) and in their withdrawal to Pleiku, Task Force #100 was decimated by enemy ambushes. After another entrapment by the Viet Minh at Chu Drek Pass on Highway 14, the 2nd Korea Battalion (French) ceased to exist!

The tenacity of the Viet Minh in carrying out their plan and their uninterrupted activities have shown the degree of importance they have conferred to the Highlands. Faced with failure, General Delange meditatively put down the following conclusion, before leaving Viet Nam:

" Whatever the future may be, due to their strategic position, their rough terrain and the scarcity of their population, the Highlands still provide the best natural infiltration routes for the enemy, as long as they do not give up their dream of aggression of South Viet Nam. Through these "corridors", all liaisons between the two regions would be carried out harmoniously and with the utmost secrecy".

(1) Street Without Joy, The Stackpole Company, Chapter 9̣, page 169.

Major General Vinh Loc
Colonel Hieu, ghostwriter
(Why Pleime - April 1966)