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General Võ Nguyên Giáp (born circa 1912[1]) Vietnamese general and statesman. Principal wars: First Indochina War (1946-1954) and Second Indochina War (1960-1975). Principle battles: Lang Son (1950); Hoa Binh (1951-1952); Dien Bien Phu (1954); Tet Offensive (1968); the Nguyen Hue Offensive (known in the West as the Easter Offensive) (1972); and the final Ho Chi Minh Campaign (1975). Giap was also a journalist; served as Interior Minister of in President Hồ Chí Minh's Viet Minh government; was military commander of the Viet Minh; commander of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN); Defense Minister; and Politburo member of the Lao Dong Party.

The Making of A RevolutionaryEdit

Võ Nguyên Giáp was born in the village of An Xa, Quảng Bình province. His father and mother, Vo Quang Nghiem and Nguyen Thi Kien, worked the land, rented some to neighbors, and lived a relatively comfortable lifestyle. At 14, Giáp became a messenger for the Haiphong Power Company and shortly thereafter joined the Tân Việt Cách Mạng Đảng, a romantically-styled revolutionary youth group. Two years later he entered Quốc Học, a French-run lycée in Huế, from which two years later, according to his own account, he was expelled for organizing a student strike. In 1933, at the age of twenty-one, Giáp enrolled in Hà Nội University.

Giáp was educated at the University of Hanoi where he gained a bachelor's degree in political economy and a law degree. After graduation, he taught history for one year at the Thang Long School in Hanoi. During most of 1930s, Giáp remained a schoolteacher and journalist, writing articles for Tien Dang while actively participating in various revolutionary movements. He joined the Communist Party in 1931 and took part in several demonstrations against French rule in Indochina as well as assisting in founding the Democratic Front in 1933. All the while, Giap was a dedicated reader of military history and philosophy, revering Napoleon I and Sun Tzu.


Võ Nguyên Giáp was arrested in 1930 and served 13 months of a two-year sentence at Lao Bao Prison. During the Popular Front years ins France He founded Hon Tre Tap Moi, an underground socialist newspaper. He also founded the French language paper Le Travail (on which Pham Van Dong also worked). He married Nguyen Thi Quang Thi, another socialist in 1939. When France outlawed communism during the same year, Giáp fled to China together with Phạm Văn Đồng where he joined up with Hồ Chí Minh, the leader of the Vietnam Independence League (Việt Minh). While he was in exile, his wife, sister, father & sister-in-law were captured and executed.

He returned to Vietnam in 1944 and between then and 1945 he helped organize resistance to the Japanese occupation forces. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, The Japanese decided to allow nationalist groups to take over public buildings while keeping the French in prison as a way of causing additional trouble to the Allies in the postwar period. The Việt Minh and other groups took over various towns and formed a provisional government in which Giap was named Minister of the Interior.

In September, 1945, Hồ Chí Minh announced the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Unknown to the Việt Minh, President Harry S. Truman, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Premier Joseph Stalin had already decided the future of post-war Vietnam at a summit meeting at Potsdam. They agreed that the country would be occupied temporarily to get the Japanese out, the northern half would be under the control of the Nationalist Chinese and the southern half under the British.

After the Second World War, France attempted to re-establish control over Vietnam. In January 1946, Great Britain agreed to remove her troops and later that year, the Chinese left Vietnam in exchange for a promise from France that she would give up her rights to territory in China.

The First Indochina War Edit

Template:Main The Việt Minh at first negotiated with the French and played them off against the Chinese, preferring the return of the French to Chinese control of the country, as Vietnam had a long history of Chinese occupation. Fighting eventually broke out between the Việt Minh and French troops on 19 December 1946. At first, the Việt Minh under General Giáp had great difficulty in coping with the better trained and equipped French forces. The Việt Minh fled deep into the rural areas of the mountainous north in order to survive. The situation improved in 1949 after Mao Zedong and his communist army defeated Chiang Kai-Shek in China. The Việt Minh now had a safe base to which they could take their wounded and train new soldiers. More importantly, the Việt Minh now had access to almost unlimited quantities of weapons and other military supplies.

The war degenerated into a stalemate. While the Việt Minh could not be defeated in the remote countyside (eg. Lang Son and Cao Bang), every attempt they made to attack the more densely populated areas of French-occupied Vietnam was a disastrous failure (eg. Hoa Binh). By 1953, the Việt Minh controlled several remote areas of northern Vietnam, and through these they were able to receive large amounts of aid from the newly-founded People's Republic of China. The French, however, had a firm hold on the Red River Valley in the north and most of the south. When it became clear that France was becoming involved in a long-drawn-out war, the French government tried to negotiate an agreement with the Việt Minh. They offered to help set up a national government and promised that they would eventually grant Vietnam its independence. Hồ Chí Minh and the other leaders of the Việt Minh did not trust the word of the French and continued the war.


French public opinion continued to move against the war. There were five main reasons for this: (1) Between 1946 and 1952 many French troops had been killed, wounded or captured; (2) France was attempting to build up her economy after the devastation of the Second World War. The cost of the war had so far been twice what they had received from the United States under the Marshall Plan; (3) The war had lasted seven years and there was still no sign of an outright French victory; (4) A growing number of people in France had reached the conclusion that their country did not have any moral justification for being in Vietnam; (5) Parts of the French left supported the goals of the Việt Minh to form a socialist state.

While the Việt Minh constantly failed in their attempts to capture the main areas of Vietnam, they expanded the war and forced the French into battles on unfavorable terms by attacking remote areas such as Laos. General Henri Navarre, the French commander in Indochina, was forced to redeploy large numbers of forces from their safe zones in order to protect Laos. In December, 1953, Navarre set up a defensive complex at Ðiện Biên Phủ, which attempted to block the route of the Việt Minh forces trying to attack neighbouring Laos. He surmised that in an attempt to reestablish the route to Laos, Giáp would be forced to organise a mass attack on the French forces at Ðiện Biên Phủ, whwere they would be crushed in a conventional battle.

Navarre's plan worked and Giáp took up the French challenge. While the French dug in at their outpost, the Viet Minh were also preparing the battlefield. Giáp brought up members of the troops from all over Vietnam. By the time the battle was ready to begin, Giáp had 70,000 troops surrounding the French positions, five times the number of French troops enclosed within.

Employing recently obtained anti-aircraft guns and 105mm howitzers from China, Giáp was able to restrict severely the ability of the French to supply their forces. The anti-aircraft and artillery fire neutralised the French artillery, denied them the use of the airstrip and forced them to inaccurately drop supplies from high altitude to the besieged troops. Instead of launching a frontal assault on the French, Giap chose to surround the outpost and ordered his men to dig a trench system that encircled the French. From the outer trench, other trenches and tunnels were dug inwards towards the centre. The Viet Minh were now able to move in close to the French troops defending Ðiện Biên Phủ.

When Navarre realised that he was trapped, he appealed for help. The United States was approached and some advisers suggested the use of tactical nuclear weapons against the Việt Minh but this was never seriously considered. Another suggestion was that conventional air-raids would be enough to scatter Giáp's troops. U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, refused to intervene unless the British and other Western allies agreed. Churchill declined, claiming that he wanted to wait for the outcome of the peace negotiations taking place in Geneva, Switzerland before becoming involved in escalating the war.

On 13 March 1954, Giáp launched his offensive. For fifty-six days the Việt Minh seized position after position, pushing the French until they only occupied a small area of Ðiện Biên Phủ. Colonel Piroth, the artillery commander, blamed himself for the destruction of French artillery superiority. He told his fellow officers that he had been "completely dishonoured" and committed suicide with a hand grenade. The French surrendered on 7 May. Their casualties totalled over 7,000 men and a further 11,000 were taken prisoner. The following day the French government announced that it intended to withdraw from Vietnam.

The Second Indochina War Edit

Template:Main Giáp remained commander-in-chief of the People's Army of Vietnam throughout the Second Indochina War. During the conflict he oversaw the expansion of PAVN from a small self-defense force into a large conventional army, equipped by its communist allies with the latest in sophisticated weaponry. Giap was mainly responsible for the massive casualties incurred by NLF and PAVN troops during the Tet Offensive of 1968. Although this attempt to spark a "General Uprising" against the southern government was a costly military failure, it turned into a significant political victory by convincing the American politicians and public that their commitment to South Vietnam could no longer be open ended.

Peace talks between representatives from the U.S., the Republic of Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and the NLF began in Paris in January, 1969. President Richard M. Nixon, like President Lyndon B. Johnson before him, was convinced that a U.S. withdrawal was necessary, but five years would pass before the last American troops left South Vietnam.


In October 1972, the negotiators came close to agreeing to a formula to end the conflict. The plan was that the last U.S. troops would withdraw from Vietnam in exchange for a cease-fire and the return of American prisoners held by Hànội. It was also agreed that the governments in North and South Vietnam would remain in power until new elections could be arranged to unite the whole country. Although the Nguyen Hue Offensive during the spring of 1972 was another costly failure, PAVN was able to gain a foothold in territorial South Vietnam from which to launch future offensives.

Although U.S. troops would leave the country, PAVN troops could remain in their positions in the south. In an effort to put pressure on both North and South Vietnam during the negotiations, President Nixon ordered a new series of air-raids on Hà Nội and Hải Phòng. The DRV accepted the terms of the agreement and, on 27 January 1973, Nixon agreed to sign the Paris Peace Accords that had been proposed in October.

Victory in Vietnam Edit

Template:Main The last U.S. combat troops left in March, 1973. It was an uneasy peace. Due to the forthcoming unification elections, both sides began to grab territory that would have either benefitted themselves or deny areas to the enemy. By 1974, serious fighting had broken out between PAVN occupation forces in South Vietnam and the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN). The ARVN held its own successfully during this stage of the fighting.

South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu appealed to Nixon for continued financial aid. Nixon was sympathetic but the U.S. Congress was not, and the move was blocked. At its peak, U.S. aid to South Vietnam had reached $30 billion a year. By 1974 it had fallen to $1 billion. Starved of funds, Thiệu's government had difficulty even paying the wages of its army and desertions became a problem. On the other side, PAVN received billions of dollars in new equipment from the Soviet Union.

The spring of 1975 saw the launching of a series of limited PAVN offensives under the command of General Van Tien Dung]]. The success of these drives (launched on a limited scale to test whether the U.S. would once again come to the aid of the Thieu regime) prompted Hanoi to attempt to seize all of South Vietnam before the onset of the monsoon season. The Ho Chi Minh Campaign was a massive conventional operation which utilized armour and heavy artillery. After important areas such as Da Nang and Hue were lost in March, panic swept through the ARVN and its high command. President Thieu attempted to abandon the northern half of the nation while pulling his troops back to defensive positions in the south. It did not work.

PAVN forces captured the capital of Saigon on 30 April 1975. Soon afterwards the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was established. In the new government Giáp maintained his position as Defense Minister and was made Deputy Prime Minister in July 1976. He was removed from this post at the Defense Ministry in 1980 and was also removed from his position in the Politburo in 1982.

General Giáp has also written extensively on military theory and strategy. His works include Big Victory, Great Task, Peoples Army, Peoples War, "Ðiện Biên Phủ, and We Will Win.


"Any forces that would impose their will on other nations will most certainly face defeat."


  1. There is debate as to what his birthdate is. Most Vietnamese sources give his birthdate as August 22, 1911. However, this is disputed. Most western sources give circa 1912.

References Edit

  • Currey, Cecil B., Senior General Vo Nguyen Giap Remembers, in Journal of Third World Studies, Fall 2003 (see link below).
  • Currey, Cecil B., Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam's Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap.
  • Dupuy, Trevor N., Curt Johnson, and David L. Bongard, The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography. New York: Castle Books, 1995.
  • Giap, Vo Nguyen, The Military Art of People's War. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1970.
  • Military History Institute of Vietnam, Victory in Vietnam: A History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975. Trans. by Merle Pribbenow. Lawrence KS: University of Kansas Press, 2002.

External linksEdit

ca:Vo Nguyen Giap de:Võ Nguyên Giáp es:Vo Nguyen Giap fa:وو نوین جیاپ fr:Võ Nguyên Giáp it:Vo Nguyen Giap nl:Vo Nguyen Giap ja:ヴォー・グエン・ザップ pl:Vo Nguyen Giap pt:Vo Nguyen Giap sv:Vo Nguyen Giap vi:Võ Nguyên Giáp zh:武元甲