General Vo Nguyen Giap – a brief summary

It was announced today, 4 October 2013, that General Vo Nguyen Giap, a key figure in securing Vietnam’s independence and winning the Vietnam War, has died, aged 102.

Vo Nguyen GiapWith an academic background, and little formal military training, Vo Nguyen Giap rose to become not only North Vietnam’s pre-eminent strategist and military leader, but arguably one of the twentieth century’s best known commanders.

Before the outbreak of the First Indochina War, Giap was educated at the University of Hanoi, before becoming a history teacher. After joining the Indochina Worker’s Party in 1937, he, was responsible for founding the Vietminh with Ho in 1941. He subsequently led the resistance campaign against the Japanese in the north of Vietnam, with the assistance of US OSS agents.

After the war, he was appointed both Minister of the Interior and Commander in Chief in the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and proclaimed the outbreak of war against the French in November 1946. Regarded as the architect of the 3 stage Dau Tranh strategy, Giap deployed a joint political-military approach which was designed to win over the population, gradually undermine the enemy’s will to fight, before progressing to conventional big unit battles.

His greatest success against the French was undoubtedly the battle of Dienbienphu in the spring of 1954. Surprising the French with his ability to move both a large army and heavy artillery into positions surrounding the French base, Giap inflicted such a defeat on France that they were forced to leave South East Asia forever.

Giap turned his 3 stage strategy on the new South Vietnamese Republic and US forces after 1954, successfully undermining the credibility of the ARVN, and managing to control most of the country’s Strategic Hamlets during the programme’s  short-lived existence. Perhaps his biggest mistake was in believing that the time was right for a general offensive during Tet in January 1968. The failure of the offensive not only had a significant impact in terms of casualties, it virtually wiped out the VC in the countryside and prevented a further major campaign until Easter 1972.

After the US withdrawal, he was appointed Minister of Defense; a position he held until 1980.

Neil Smith, author of The Vietnam War: History In An Hour.