Part I: http://ftr.wot-news.com/2014/06/26/f...ochina-part-i/ Continued from part 1… The wheel suspension did limit the French vehicles in their movement around Indochina a lot. After several incidents and minor clashes between the French and Viet Minh, the real fighting started on 23.11.1946 by heavy French shelling of the Haiphong port. After several days of fighting, on 19.12.1946, Viet Minh was pushed out of Hanoi. The Vietnamese retreated to the Viet Bac mountains, where they regrouped and from where they sporadically attacked French strongpoints. The French tried to crush the enemy forces by series of combined arms operations with the main forces consisting of elite airmobile units, the armored units providing cover from behind. Biggest such operation was called Lea – it was performed between 7.9. and 19.9.1947 at Bac Khan, where Ho Chi Minh’s HQ was allegedly located. “Uncle Ho” himself escaped only by sheer luck, the paratroopers almost captured him in his tent. The paratroopers were also given aid by two land columns and one unit was transported by river. These columns consisted of no less than 16 batallions, three of them armored. One armored column was advancing from Lang Son over Cao Bang – it made almost 200 kilometers before it was stopped on 13.9. 15km north from Bac Khan. In the end, due to their firepower advantage, the French forces managed to break through, but the escalation of the conflict first to the entire region of Vietnam and later to the entire peninsula posed a challenge for the French command. The French forces were too weak to control the entire Indochina. The French managed to capture and hold main cities and roads, but most of their transport capacities were simple trucks with a limited operational radius. The lack of armored transports led to the situation where the French welded additional armor plates on the trucks (Dodge WC62 and GMC) to provide additional protection. The French also started building small strongpoints/fortresses, each with a company of infantry, two guns and several armored cars. The main, heavily armored and mechanized units were located on main bases and provided the core of reserve forces, that were to be sent to help the flashpoints. Viet Minh reacted on this by feigning an attack on one of the small strongpoints, which drew the armored column out and this column then became the main target of the attack. Vietnamese partisans lacked anti-armor weapons and were forced to improvise when attacking the French columns. The ambushes took place in heavily forested areas, where the Vietnamese used molotov cocktails and hand explosives to take out the French armor. The roads were also often blocked by obstacles to prevent the French vehicles from passing. Mines were also used more and more throughout the conflict. Tonkin became the main battlefield of the conflict, but there was fighting at other places as well. One of the most difficult battlefields was a large bog plain south of Saigon, where the 1st Foreign Cavalry Regiment (1er Régiment Etrangers de Cavalerie) was used. Its units, 1st and 2nd Escadrons, were the first to recieve the American M-29C Weasel amphibeans in 1947 (the French referred to them as “Crabe”). The vehicles were equipped either with French Chaterrault M1924/29 or American Browning M1919 machineguns and with 57mm recoilless guns. At first, their deployment was unsuccessful, they were crewed by untrained men, they used wrong tactics and were deployed without infantry support. Their losses were heavy and the way the French command reported, “their burnt-out husks covered the entire plain”. In the end however, the legionnaires managed to use and master them after several months of fighting, but the real deployment of forces in the bog was possible only when the French recieved the American heavy amphibeans – LVT-4 Alligator and LVT(A)-4 with a 75mm howitzer in 1950. Through them, it was possible to move stronger infantry units around. In September 1951, first mixed unit (1er Groupement Autonome) was estabilished, consisting of two escadrons of Weasels (33 each), three escadrons of LVT-4 (11 each) and one fire support platoon of 6 LVT(A)-4 75mm self-propelled howitzers. Even the Weasels were heavily armed – in one platoon, five had machineguns, two were equipped with 57mm M18A1 recoilless guns and one had a 60mm mortar. Each Alligator carried four machineguns – two .50cals and two .30cals. Some even had improvised mounts for recoilless guns. Later on, second such group was created in Tonkin – this one had several LVT-4, rebuilt in the navy repair yards in Haiphong to carry a 40mm Bofors gun and two machineguns. Both these groups also participated in Mekong and Red River delta operations and in landing operations on Vietnam shores. Alligators – one LVT(A)-4 with 75mm howitzers, two LVT-4 with recoilless guns LVT-4 with 40mm Bofors One of the largest amphibious operations was called Camargue and it happened between July and August of 1953. Its aim was to crush the 95th Viet Minh regiment, operating from large bogs between the city of Hue and Quang Tri. The operation was so large that it resembled the great battles of World War Two – the forces present were ten infantry regiments, two paratrooper batallions, three armor regiments and numerous artillery units. The creation of People’s Republic of China and the outcome of the Korean War changed the nature of the warfare in Vietnam as well – what was earlier seen as a colonial war became a fight to stop the advance of communism. On the other hand, Viet Minh, thanks to the influx of new arms, could actually now muster units the size of a regiment or even division – these units were ready by the end of 1950, proving their quality during the skirmishes near Chinese borders at Cao Bang. Very high losses in this area shocked the French command and changes were made – luckily for the French, Lattre de Tassigny was appointed as the new commander of the area. He immediately changed the structure of the armored forces to make them more practical and easier to use in the local environment. The reforms also included new shipments of American weapons, the best of which were the M24 Chaffee light tanks, that replaced the obsolete Stuarts – they had good firepower while keeping the low weight. M24 Chaffee from the 1er Régiment de Chasseurs á Cheval unit in Tonkin There was also some fear that the French would have to actually fight the T-34 and IS tanks from China – to counter that, by the end of 1950, a new tank regiment was founded – the Far East Armored Colonial Regiment (Régiment Blindé Colonial d’Extreme-Orient), armed with the M4 Sherman medium tanks and M36B2 Jackson Continue reading →

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