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Strategic direction of the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh: The deciding factor in the victory of Northwest Campaign in 1952

In 1952, the Northwest Offensive Campaign of our military and people destroyed an important part of enemy strength, expanded the strategic area, connected the Northwest with Viet Bac base and upper Laos, and defeated the French colonialists’ scheme to occupy and establish the Thai Autonomous Region. Victory of the Campaign demonstrated sound strategic direction of the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh.

After their defeat in Hoa Binh, the French colonialists mobilised a large number of troops to step up raids in the main Northern theatre of war with a view to releasing pressure on the areas of flat land, annihilating our strength, and achieving political, military goals. As for the Northwest, besides realising the plan to occupy and establish the Thai Autonomous Region, the French colonialists expected to use this as a springboard for seizing initiative again in the theatre of war. Accordingly, they divided this region into four subregions, including Lai Chau, Song Da, Nghia Lo, and Son La and three independent sectors, including Thuan Chau, Phu Yen, and Tuan Giao. Additionally, they deployed many troops and vehicles in approximately 140 fortifications. Nearly 40 fortifications out of these were occupied by two companies.

On the basis of analysing and correctly assessing situations in the Northern theatre of war and identifying the jungle and mountainous terrain as a strategic offensive direction advantageous to our side while realising the guideline of avoiding the enemy strengths and attacking the enemy weaknesses, we decided to launch an offensive campaign in the Northwest at the end of 1952. Under the leadership and direction of the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh, directly the General Military Commission and the General Command, the military and people in the Northwest accomplished the two missions of the Campaign. After nearly two months’ fierce fighting, we annihilated a large number of enemy troops, liberated a vast area in the strategic region, connected the Northwest with Viet Bac base and upper Laos, upheld the initiative, and defeated the French colonialists’ plot to occupy and set up the Thai Autonomous Region. Victory of the Campaign is attributed to many factors, most notably the strategic direction of the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh, which is shown through the following aspects:

First, correct identification of the Campaign direction of attack. Correct selection of direction of attack is a matter of utmost importance in operational art and Viet Nam’s military art because it not only brings into play our strengths but also correctly strikes at the enemy severe weaknesses, achieving the campaign targets. In contrast, incorrect selection of direction of attack will lead to great loss of life and failure. This was proved by huge success of the Border Campaign in 1950 when we chose the main direction of attack in the jungle and mountainous areas, and limitations when we fought in the flat land (Tran Hung Dao Campaign, Hoang Hoa Tham Campaign, and Quang Trung Campaign).

After victory of Hoa Binh Campaign, the Party Central Committee directed the General Military Commission and General Command to quickly develop and improve the Autumn-Winter operational plan in 1952 in order to prepare for new waves of activities. At the 3rd plenum held in April 1952, the Party Central Committee seriously reviewed itself, drew lessons learnt, and deeply grasped guideline of the resistant war as well as strategic guideline and missions in 1952. After the meeting, regular units in the entire military reorganised and strengthened the Party and the ranks with the aim to raise soldiers’ revolutionary enlightenment and combat resolution.

Delegates at the recent conference on Northwest Victory

To complete strategic missions in 1952, on the basis of analysing and correctly appraising situations in the Northern theatre of war, the Party Central Committee realised that the Northwest was a large theatre, characterised by jungle and mountainous terrain, difficult lines of communication, and thinly-populated areas of the majority of people from ethnic minorities. Moreover, the Party bases and political bases had not been developed and the resistant war administration was still weak. Nevertheless, this region had strategic positions. The enemy was scattered over a vast area, had many weaknesses and faced difficulties in supporting each other. When coming under attack, the enemy would have to send their reinforcements from other places. This is the condition for us to annihilate the enemy outside fortifications and liberate the areas. Accordingly, the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh ordered the General Military Commission and the General Command to mount an offensive campaign in the Northwest. The decision proves sound leadership of the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh. The reality of this Campaign is a striking demonstration because after two waves of attack, our military and people shattered the enemy’s line of defence from the right bank of River Thao to the left bank of River Da, from Van Yen to Quynh Nhai, liberating most of the strategic area of the Northwest except for Lai Chau province and Na San complex of entrenched fortifications. We also defeated the enemy’s operation to Phu Tho, which aimed to lure our forces out of the Northwest.

Second, correct identification of objectives of the Campaign. This factor is key to any victory in the operational level of war. Objectives suitable to practical conditions will bring about great outcomes. Conversely, inappropriate objectives will yield poor returns, or lead to failure. In fact, when Hoa Binh Campaign was still going on, the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh intended to launch attacks in the jungle and mountainous terrain of the Northwest and upper Laos to destroy the enemy strength, including their reinforcements from the flat land, and liberate the areas. After finishing all preparations, on the basis of correct evaluation of situations, the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh ordered the General Military Commission and the General Command to mount an offensive campaign in the Northwest to annihilate the enemy troops, gain the support of the Northwestern people, and liberate part of the Northwest, in which the destruction of the enemy troops (both the reinforcements and the garrison) was the primary objective. The three objectives were interlocked. If the enemy troops were annihilated, our people would not have to live in the enemy’s grip, the French colonialists would not be able to establish the Thai Autonomous Region and the Northwestern Independent Interregional Organisation as a result of lacking the mainstay. Regarding the destruction of enemy troops, in the Northwestern theatre of war, we were well placed to engage and annihilate more enemy troops than on the flat land. People in the Northwestern were suffering the enemy’s oppression. If we were able to gain people’s support, the enemy’s plot to sow divisions within the great national unit and use Vietnamese people to fight Vietnamese people would end in failure. Liberating the land, expanding the strategic rear, defending and consolidating Viet Bac revolutionary base were missions of strategic importance. Fulfilling these objectives would enable us to use the Northwest as a springboard for launching operations in the flat land and force maneuver; establish more lines of communication with the world and provide help for Lao revolution. The identification of the three primary objectives of the Northwestern Campaign demonstrates the strategic vision, creative thinking, and sound leadership of the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh.

Third, careful, swift preparation for the Campaign in every aspect. The Northwestern Campaign was of special importance in military and political aspects in the war of resistance against the French colonialists, thus since April 1952, the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh requested forces to make every preparation for the Campaign, especially the development of the operational plans and logistic support. On complying with directives of the Party Central Committee, on the basis of the operational objectives and situations in the theatre of war, the General Military Commission and General Command laid out the Campaign’s guiding motto of “long-time, persistent attack; steady fight, steady advance but being ready to take windows of opportunity to advance quickly; attacking positions, annihilating reinforcements, and destroying the positions”. At the same time, the General Military Commission and General Command ordered the General Staff to quickly work out the operational plans and assigned senior military officers to Campaign Party Committee and Command. Accordingly, the Northwest campaign consisted of three phases. The first phase was to destroy Nghia Lo Subregion and Phu Yen Sector. At the same time, part of the regular force infiltrated into Quynh Nhai to coordinate with the local force to suppress the enemy. We attacked Son La, cut off communications on the 41st Road, and carried out some military activities behind the enemy to isolate Son La in the second phase. The third phase was launched to attack Son La.

Besides directing the development of the operational plans, preparation of underground agents and soldiers, etc., the Party Central Committee adopted many solutions to provide logistical support for the Campaign, including developing logistical plans, directing localities in Viet Bac, the Northwest, the 3rd and 4th Regions, commissions and branches concerned to quickly repair bridges and roads and build new routes, prepare food, and so forth. More importantly, President Ho Chi Minh himself attended and deliver his speech at the first Military Supply Meeting held in June 1952 by the General Military Commission. Additionally, the Politburo issued the Resolution on policy to mobilise people from the ethnic minorities. The Government promulgated the “Provisional regulation on mobilisation and use of manpower”. President Ho Chi Minh directly drafted the “Eight orders of the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam”. Thanks to close direction of the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh, our military and people overcame all difficulties and hardships and well conducted supply work. The Campaign, therefore, succeeded beyond all our expectations.

The Northwest Campaign in 1952 dealt a heavy blow to the enemy in military terms, which created a turning point in the main Northern theatre of war and contributed to bring our military’s and people’s war of resistance against the French colonialists to a new development step of decisive importance. Victory of the Campaign leaves many invaluable lessons, especially those about the strategic direction of the Party and Uncle Ho. The lessons need to be studied and applied to the cause of safeguarding the Fatherland today.

Senior Colonel, Master PHAM DUC TRUONG, Institute for Military History, Ministry of National Defence

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