Friday, December 08, 2006

The Constant Fight Against Accuracy

Hello everyone.

You can call me HoA little while ago I wrote a post on the Second World War where I stated that "During the war in the East the Japanese were driven out of Vietnam and the locals began running the place for themselves. Then the Allied army turned up and restored Vietnam to its rightful owners, the French, at the point of a bayonet."

Graeme McIver took me to task over the accuracy of this statement, as is his right, saying "Well, no. The Chinese (Kuomintang) occupied part of Vietnam after the war and the locals (Ho Chi Minh) wanted the French to come back and facilitated their return. They knew they stood a good chance of getting rid of the French eventually, they thought getting rid of the Chinese would be a lot harder (think Tibet). And the allied army didn't turn up, the transition was handled by Japanese troops under allied command. Because they hadn't been driven out, they just stopped fighting the Viet Minh after the end of the war."

As I often do I said that I'd go and read up to check the facts, and unusually for me I actually did. It's not easy to find facts about this period of history either. It's hidden from prying English speaking eyes, although if I spoke Vietnamese it may well have been an easier task to find sources.

Now before I begin, I have to say that one part of the confusion is my poor wording. I said the Japanese forces were driven out and I knew that wasn't correct, what I meant to say was they were defeated and a large number surrendered. By saying they were driven out I implied they had left - which is wrong - as I knew, for instance, that some Japanese POW's were freed to help suppress the local insurgents on behalf of the allies. My bad, although I hope people recognise that was a thoughtless slip of the keyboard rather than a deliberate attempt to distort history as it doesn't actually effect my point, just my credibility.

French soldiers on tank in VietnamNow over to Martin Gilbert's enormous and comprehensive tome "Second World War" on the subject (nb: the references to Indo-China refer to the area that was to become Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam):

"On August 19 [1945], four days after the surrender of Japan, the Vietnamese Communist Guerilla leader, Ho Chi-ming, seized power in northern Indo-China; three days later, British aircraft parachuted a Free French military team into southern Indo-China. A new conflict had begun." (pp. 720)

"As... Operation Masterdom began in Indo-China, the attempt by the French, with British and Indian troops, starting September 8 [1945], to forestall the local Communist guerrillas, and to restore the French colonial administration. In this first direct anti-Communist struggle of the post-war world, the French commander, Colonel Cedile, made use of 1,400 Japanese troops, former prisoners of war, who had just been released. The British commander, Major General D. D. Gracey, also enlisted large numbers of Japanese troops, who until three weeks earlier had been the occupying power.

Click map to enlarge"Two weeks after Operation Masterdom was launched, French troops overthrew the interim Vietnamese Government in Saigon [which is in the south]; Vietnamese retaliation was swift, with more than a hundred Westerners, including the commander of the wartime clandestine American forces, being killed. By the time British troops left Indo-China, in May 1946, a civil war was raging." (pp. 722-3)

So whilst I can find no mention of a Chinese invasion (although there were armed scuffles between allied forces and Chinese troops elsewhere) Graeme's point has been useful in (i) pointing to the fact that the Japanese surrendered as part of the wider collapse of the war effort, rather than, as I implied, being beaten in the region by the Vietnamese resistance (alone) (ii) it made me go and research the events so I'm much clearer on what happened - the general point I was making in the post is left undamaged by the new material - but I will now rephrase the para to read as follows;

"During the war in the East after the Japanese surrender the Vietnamese set up an interim government and began running the place for themselves. Then the Allied army turned up and restored Vietnam to its rightful owners, the French, at the point of a bayonet."

I hope this satisfies.

I note there is a book exclusively on this subject - Operation Masterdom: Britain's Secret War in Vietnam by George Rosie and Bradley Borum - which seems to be out of print but if Santa can lay his hands on a copy I would get very excited.


Dave Riley said...

That seems a better retelling -- BUT the key question is why did the VCP accept the occupation of the Brits and the consequences with the re-admission to Vietnam of the French (with the jingoistic support of the French CP)?

This is where it gets really complicated as forging the Viet Minh was already part of VCP strategic intentions. But the Spring Revolution was carefully used by the VCP leadership as an indicator of the massive potential the Vietnamese had to rule themselves and is always celebrated as a blooming of independence(as you know Ho read out the Viet version of the US declaration of independence). So tactics was the main consideration given the conjuncture at that time.

With a massive famine in the north(over a million had died) the VCP was in no position to engineer a major advance towards independence that involved a full on assault either against the Brits or the remaining Japanese forces (who the Brits put to good use to police Vietnam given the very limited Brit troop strength in Indochina at the time).The Jap forces were not incarcerated, by the way and that was the key aspect of the British presence -- it was in partnership with the Japanaese army --

Renegade Eye said...

Very interesting post, about something seemingly forgotten.

Jim Jay said...

Dave: Is accept the right word? After all it didn't take long for the country to be in the grip of a bloody conflict.

I certainly accept all you say about the terrible plight of the Vietnamese people, which put them in a very difficult position in terms of trying to turf people out of their country - but I still think it was not for the want of trying.

After all many of them were killed attempting to do just that, even as early as 1945.

RE: Absolutely - I think if the story of Vietnam demonstrated who great the allied forces were it would be in every school text book. But it doesn't - so it isn't.

Graeme McIver said...

I was originally writing from memory, but looking in "The Wars of French Decolonisation" by Anthony Clayton (and checking via Google on the internet) the French re-entered Southern Vietnam by force. In the North there were 150,000 Chinese Kuomintang soldiers - as agreed by the Allies at Potsdam. The French commander negotiated a peaceful return to the North with Ho Chi Minh, who (1) wanted the looting and pillaging Chinese out and (2) thought he could negotiate a peaceful independence for Vietnam within the French Union.
The overall point I should have made was look at the historical facts in each case.

Jim Jay said...

Thanks for this Graeme.

I think your over all point was absolutely right and, although I think the general point I was making was unaffected, it's very very useful to be accurate and therefore useful to be pulled up on things (even if, on other occasions, it can be irritating)

Otherwise how am I to learn?

Chris Frost said...

My father was in Operation Masterdom and was in the small party that flew into Saigon. The rest went by sea. I have tracked down his war diaries and even visited the two buildings in which he set up his headquarters. He was a British Intelligence Officer and had flown into Saigin from Burma, where he had been fighting against the Japanese. Must have been very odd to end up having Japenese soldiers under his command. One of his sergeants was killed - apparentlky because he was just too god at his job. At this time he was commanding officer of 604 Field Security and was attached to HQ 20 (Indian Division).

On my website there are some pictures of his 604 FS in Saigon - sitting in a jeep. The jeep has the word MASTERDOM stencilled on the front bumper.

Jim Jay said...

Thanks for this Chris - your father's diaries sound like a really thrilling read... how extensive are they?