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Combat art development in Hoa Binh Campaign

In the late of 1951 and early 1952, under the leadership and direction of the Party, directly the General Military Commission, our people and military gained great victory in the Hoa Binh Campaign. This victory was of strategic meaning in terms of military and politics with the art of offensive operation being the notable feature.

By the end of 1951, commander of French troops in Indochina decided to gather a huge troop to attack Hoa Binh with the aim to block the strategic road linking Viet Bac and southern areas; protect southwestern region of the Northern plain, reestablishing the “Autonomous Muong region” to expand its policy of “using the  Vietnamese to fight against the  Vietnamese" and gain political affect on the American and English administrations and their puppets. According to their plan, French troops would occupy Hoa Binh and establish two sub-regions, namely: Hoa Binh – No.6 Road and Da River – Ba Vi. Facing the situation, the Standing Board of the Party Central Committee and the General Military Commission decided to launch a campaign attacking Hoa Binh and defeating their plan of occupation. With combat method of “critical assault, reinforcement annihilation”, we directed our front forces to coordinate closely with those in the rear in the Northern plain, killing a large number of the enemy troops and moving on to surround and isolate the enemy troop in Hoa Binh town, forcing them to withdraw in chaos and yielding our strategic advantage. Especially, after the campaign, we defeated the enemy’s plot of occupying the free zone as well as their will of gaining strategic advantage in the Northern theatre. In addition, we also linked communications between Viet Bac and Inter-region No.3 and Inter-region No.4, paving the way for later victories. The campaign marked a development in combat art at operational level.

French tanks destroyed in Tu Vu battle (File photo)

1. Combining closely the front combat with that in the rear of the enemy

After occupying Hoa Binh, French troops caused us some military, political and economic difficulties. However, they were also faced with severe challenges when their troops were limited in number and dispersed. In that case, if we launched a series of attacks in different fronts, the enemy would be passive when they had to deal in different directions at the same time. Basing on this appreciation, the Campaign High Command actively studied to find the unattended positions of the enemy to attack in Hoa Binh battlefield and strengthened combat operations in the enemy’s rear. This made the enemy’s front and rear separated and then defeated. This is a sound and creative decision both showing our strategic guideline of offensive and promoting our combat style in the people’s war posture. Implementing the guideline, at the front battlefield, we attacked Tu Vu and Che Mountain entrenched fortifications – the enemy’s key bases occupying the critical water line on Da River and conducted other operations in various directions.  For fear of losing control of these fortifications, the enemy was forced to reinforce their rear troops, creating a chance for us to destroy their reinforcement. Grasping this chance, our force in the enemy’s rear launched their operations in Phat Diem, Ha Nam and some other localities of the Northern plain, destroying large number of enemy troops, liberating an wide area of land, and together with local troops developing revolutionary movement, etc. Our smooth coordination of combat operations in the two battlefields forced the enemy disperse their forces in passively, making them unable to promote the effectiveness of their weapon, suffer from huge damage and a “double defeat” in both theatres. This is a development in combat art of the campaign.

2. Actively changing combat posture flexibly; closely coordinating the operations of three types of forces, isolating and defeating the enemy

From the beginning, in their plot to attack Hoa Binh, the enemy decided to occupy the two critical transportation lines, namely the Da river and No.6 Road. However, when their key bases in the Da River – Ba Vi sub-region were destroyed, leading to the blockage of the Da river transportation line, the No.6 Road became their last “pharynx”. In that situation, if we strengthened pressure on the enemy, they would deploy their troops to Hoa Binh and focus on sweeping to protect the No.6 Road. Basing on this assumption, the Campaign High Command decided to adjust combat posture and swift the operations to the south with Hoa Binh and No.6 Road being the main direction. Accordingly, we both focused on attacking into Hoa Binh and separating No.6 Road and strengthened our operations in the enemy’s rear to prevent them from sweeping. This was a flexible and timely change of combat posture which was relevant to the fast changes of the situation, putting pressure on the enemy from various directions, forcing them to withdraw while we didn’t have to carry out large scale assaults. Implementing that guideline, along with the operations surround Hoa Binh town, the campaign focused on annihilating the enemy on the No.6 Road, damaging the transportation line, causing them heavy losses. The 304 Division alone, in 17 days, carried out 10 battles on the No.6 Road, destroying 07 elite companies, 26 vehicles, 05 cannons, and controlling many segmentations of the road. Consequently, the enemy had to use airlift making them passive, panic and chaotic.

Besides, the Party Committee of the Campaign decided to deploy part of our main force to advance into the enemy’s rear, coordinate with local forces and guerilla and militia forces to destroy the enemy, widen our bases and promote the huge and widespread strength of the people to destroy the puppet authority and puppet troops. So, with the flexible and opportune change of combat posture and the close coordination of the three types of forces, the French troops in Hoa Binh were fallen into critical situation, and forced to withdraw and were defeated. This was also a development in combat art of the campaign.

3. Creatively applying the method of “critical assault, reinforcement annihilation” suitably with the realistic circumstance and the set out goal

On thoroughly grasping the situation of the enemy, our troops and the area of operation, the Campaign High Command decided that critical fighting must be conducted early and in one night only; reinforcement annihilation must be carried out on both land and water routes for both the enemy’s motorized forces and paratroops; battles should not be prolonged for more than one night. Furthermore, we should carry out careful and all round preparation and be ready to engage the enemy by day until our goals are achieved. Thoroughly that guideline, battle of critical assault and reinforcement annihilation were closely directed and supervised, hence gaining high efficacy. Notably, in the assault into Tu Vu entrenched fortification, in just one night (10 December 1951) the 88 Regiment (308 Division) destroyed completely the enemy’s Legion company reinforced with tanks, supported with cannons, and annihilated their reinforcement on 11 December 1951. This was a development in the art of “critical assault, reinforcement annihilation” of the campaign.

Moreover, the guideline of “critical assault, reinforcement annihilation” in the campaign was also carried out in a way that we conducted small critical assaults and small reinforcement annihilation and continuously engaged the enemy. Under the sound and sensitive leadership of the Campaign High Command, we continuously carried out small battles (both critical assaults and reinforcement annihilation) into the enemy’s bases around Hoa Binh town to destroy a large number of the enemy forces. In addition, coordination was also facilitated among forces to block transportation lines, completely control the Da River and No.6 lines. Transportation being blocked, small bases being continuously attacked, forces being gradually destroyed, the enemy was extremely dispirited and had no other choice than withdrawing, giving up their plot of occupying Hoa Binh.

In general, Hoa Binh Campaign was an  offensive operation. This is also a basic operational combat of our Military in the previous liberation wars as well as in the war to safeguard the Fatherland (if war is to occur) . Therefore, the campaign should be further studied for the creative and effective application in the new circumstance.

Colonel Le Thanh Bai, MA.

Captain Nguyen Quoc Hung, MA.

Vietnam Military History Institute

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