From 1887 to the mid-1900s, French Indochina was the collective name for the French colonial regions of Southeast Asia composed of Cochin-China, Annam, Cambodia, Tonkin, Kwangchowan and Laos.
The First Indochina War occurred from 1945 -1954. The conflict pitted the French Far East Expeditionary Corps, supported by Vietnamese National Army of Bảo Đại, against the Việt Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam) led by Hồ Chí Minh and the People’s Army of Vietnam led by General Võ Nguyên Giáp.
Although most of the fighting took place in the northern Tonkin region of Vietnam, the conflict engulfed the entire country and extended into the neighboring French Indochina protectorates of Laos and Cambodia.
After several years of low-level rural insurgency against the French, in 1949 the conflict turned into a conventional war between armies equipped with modern weapons supplied by the United States, China and the Soviet Union.
French Union forces included troops from France’s former empire (Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Laotian, Cambodian, and Vietnamese ethnic minorities), French professional troops and units of the French Foreign Legion.
French efforts were hindered by the limited usefulness of armored tanks in a jungle environment, lack of strong air support and the use of foreign recruits.
Incorporating a Chinese guerrilla warfare doctrine and the use of simple and reliable war material provided by the Soviet Union, General Giáp recruited a sizable regular army with wide popular support. Giáp’s forces deployed novel tactics including: direct fire artillery, convoy ambushes and massive use of anti-aircraft guns to impede land and air supply deliveries.
In 1951 French aims in Indochina included the development of Vietnam as an independent state within the French Union and the establishment of a viable Vietnamese national army. Following a string of defensive victories in early 1951, French colonial forces in Indochina sought to go back on the offensive against the Việt Minh in the Battle of Hòa Bình.
The battle of Hòa Bình continued from November 1951 to February 1952. Initially, French forces attempted to draw General Giáp’s forces out into the open; but heavy Việt Minh pressure on their positions soon forced the French to go on the defensive.
Although suffering heavier casualties than the French, the Việt Minh nevertheless were ultimately victorious in the battle.