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Military Doctrine of Vietnamese Leader Giap

Excerpt from The Future of Warfare, by Bevin Alexander, pages 163-66

[Vietnamese Communist military commander Vo Nguyen] Giap summarized his theory of indirect war as follows: "Is the enemy strong? One avoids him. Is he weak? One attacks him. To his modern equipment, one opposes a boundless heroism to vanquish either by harassing or by combining military operations with political and economic action; there is no fixed line of demarcation, the front being wherever the enemy is found." Giap called for concentrating troops to achieve overwhelming superiority at a point where the enemy is exposed, with the aim of destruction of the enemy force. Although his forces might be inferior overall, they could achieve absolute superiority "in a given place, and at a given time." Giap urged his men to exhaust the enemy by small victories. The main objective, he insisted, is to destroy enemy manpower. To achieve this, he stressed the tactical principles of "initiative, flexibility, rapidity, surprise, suddenness in attack and retreat."

Giap's method rested on accurate, up-to-date intelligence of French actions and intentions, detailed planning of each operation, and his tactical principles, the most important of which were speed of movement and surprise. [He later applied these same rules against the Americans.]

The Vietminh emphasized speed in all phases of combat. Giap trained his soldiers to concentrate quickly, take battle positions at once, and not linger in one area, where they might be spotted and attacked. The usual pattern was to form up a Vietminh force some distance from the objective, to march secretly two or three nights, and to attack, getting maximum surprise. In case of retreat, speed also was vital. Giap emphasized that a Vietminh force should never be caught without a way to retreat. This might be a specific route from the battle area or a plan for soldiers to "melt" into the population and "disappear."

Surprise, combined with speed, secrecy, and deception, was essential to Vietminh success. The usual technique was to arouse French suspicions at one or more false attack points, but to strike at a wholly unexpected place. To delude the French, the Vietminh leaked misleading information to double agents, and marched forces in the direction of a pretended target to give the impression of large troop movements, then moved stealthily at night in the real direction of attack, avoiding villages and inhabited areas to reduce chances of being detected. As a general rule, the Vietminh struck only if they had many more troops than the enemy guarding an objective. But they believed that, with the right combination of surprise and deception, a small Vietminh unit could often overwhelm a larger.

The Vietminh depended almost entirely upon small infantry units. Some were organized as guerrilla detachments, others as regular military forces. Although these regulars were formed into battalions, regiments, and ultimately divisions, the emphasis was on operations by company-sized or smaller units (under 200 men). Occasionally small detachments would combine for a larger operation, but frequently they struck at objectives on their own. This meant that almost any French or puppet installation anywhere in Vietnam might be attacked at any time, forcing the French to disperse their forces and creating a deep sense of insecurity.

The Vietminh relied primarily on infantry weapons, some of which were old or obsolescent. Later, they got modern weapons from China and the Soviet Union, but they possessed no aircraft and no armored vehicles and used artillery in significant amounts only in the last months of the war. Instead, they employed rifles, machine guns, recoilless rifles, mortars, hand grenades, and satchel charges of explosives. These weapons could be carried on the backs of soldiers or by bearers and freed the Vietminh from reliance on heavy service units or a protected supply line. This was the reverse of the French, who followed Western military doctrine in emphasizing heavy weapons, tanks, and combat aircraft. This equipment required immense amounts of fuel and ammunition and forced the French to rely on a huge logistics train, trucks, and highways, and obligated them to defend their bases in order to stay alive.

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