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Võ Nguyên Giáp
August 25 1911 (age 98)
Vo Nguyen Giap 2008.jpg

Võ Nguyên Giáp in 2008
Place of birth Quảng Bình Province, French Indochina
Allegiance Flag of Vietnam.svg Vietnam
Service/branch Flag of Vietnam.svg Vietnam People's Army
Years of service 1944–1991
Rank Senior General
Commands held Viet Minh
Vietnam People's Army
Battles/wars First Indochina War
Vietnam War (Second Indochina War or American War)
Awards Gold Star[1]
Ho Chi Minh Order (twice)
Resolution for Victory Order
In this Vietnamese name, the family name is , but is often simplified to Vo in English-language text. According to Vietnamese custom, this person should properly be referred to by the given name Giáp.

General Vo Nguyen Giap (Vietnamese: Võ Nguyên Giáp) (born August 25, 1911) is a retired Vietnamese officer in the Vietnam People's Army and a politician. He was a principal commander in two wars: First Indochina War (1946-1954) and Vietnam War (1960-1975). He participated in the following historically significant battles: Lang Son (1950); Hoa Binh (1951-1952); Dien Bien Phu (1954); the Tet Offensive (1968); the Nguyen Hue Offensive (known in the West as the Easter Offensive) (1972); and the final Ho Chi Minh Campaign (1975). He was also a journalist, an interior minister in President Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh government, the military commander of the Viet Minh, the commander of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), and defense minister. He also served as Politburo member of the Lao Dong Party.

He was the most prominent military commander besides Ho Chi Minh during the war and was responsible for major operations and leadership until the war ended.

He is also notable for having outlived all US Presidents and most prominent generals and higher officials that participated in the Vietnam War on both sides.


Early life

Võ Nguyên Giáp was born in the village of An Xa, Quảng Bình province. His father and mother, Vo Quang Nghiem and Nguyen Thi Kien, worked the land, rented some to neighbors, and lived a relatively comfortable lifestyle. At 14, Giáp became a messenger for the Haiphong Power Company and shortly thereafter joined the Tân Việt Cách Mạng Đảng, a romantically styled revolutionary youth group. Two years later he entered Quốc Học (also known in English as the National Academy), a French-run lycée in Huế, from which two years later, according to his own account, he was expelled for organizing a student strike. Although he has been denying the fact, Giáp is said to have also spent a few years in the prestigious Hanoian lycée Albert Sarraut where the local elite was educated to serve the colonial regime. He visited the same class as Phạm Văn Đồng, future Prime Minister, who also had been denying to have studied at Albert Sarraut, and Bao Dai, the last emperor of Annam. In 1933, at the age of 22, Giáp enrolled in Hanoi University.

Giáp was educated at the University of Hanoi where he gained a bachelor's degree in political economy and a law degree. After graduation, he taught history for one year at the Thang Long School in Hanoi. During most of 1930s, Giáp remained a schoolteacher and journalist, writing articles for Tien Dang while actively participating in various revolutionary movements. He joined the Communist Party in 1931 and took part in several demonstrations against French rule in Indochina as well as assisting in founding the Democratic Front in 1933. All the while, Giap was a dedicated reader of military history and philosophy, revering Napoleon I and Sun Tzu. Võ Nguyên Giáp was arrested in 1930 and served 13 months of a two-year sentence at Lao Bao Prison. During the Popular Front years in France, he founded Hon Tre Tap Moi, an underground socialist newspaper. He also founded the French language paper Le Travail (on which Pham Van Dong also worked). In 1939 he married Nguyen Thi Quang Thai, another socialist. When France outlawed communism during the same year, Giáp fled to China together with Phạm Văn Đồng where he joined up with Hồ Chí Minh, the leader of the Vietnam Independence League (Việt Minh). While he was in exile, his wife, sister, father and sister-in-law were arrested, tortured and later executed by the French colonial authorities.

He returned to Vietnam in 1944, and between then and 1945 he helped organize resistance to the Japanese occupation forces. When the Japanese surrendered to the Allies in August 1945, the Japanese decided to allow nationalist groups to take over public buildings while keeping the French in prison as a way of causing additional trouble to the Allies in the postwar period. The Việt Minh and other groups took over various towns and formed a provisional government in which Giap was named Minister of the Interior.

In September 1945, Hồ Chí Minh announced the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Unknown to the Việt Minh, President Harry S. Truman, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Premier Joseph Stalin had already decided the future of postwar Vietnam at a summit meeting at Potsdam. They agreed that the country would be occupied temporarily to get the Japanese out; the northern half would be under the control of the Nationalist Chinese and the southern half under the British.

After the Second World War, France attempted to reestablish control over Vietnam. In January 1946, Great Britain agreed to remove her troops, and, later that year, the Chinese left Vietnam in exchange for a promise from France that she would give up her rights to territory in China.

The First Indochina War

The Việt Minh at first negotiated with the French and played them off against the Chinese, preferring the return of the French to Chinese control of the country, as Vietnam had a long history of Chinese occupation. Sporadic fighting, which had begun in some areas late in 1945, became a general war between the Việt Minh and the French on December 19, 1946. The well armed and professionally trained French forces inflicted heavy defeats on the Việt Minh, but they did not have the manpower to spread out over all of Vietnam, or even all of the densely populated lowlands of Vietnam. General Giáp was able to regroup, and rebuild shattered units, in the highlands and in those sections of the lowlands (the most important being in Thanh Hoa, south of the Red River Delta) that remained under Việt Minh control. A period of stalemate followed.

This stalemate was broken after Mao Zedong and his communist army defeated Chiang Kai-shek in China. When Mao's army reached the Vietnamese border early in 1950, the Việt Minh began to receive substantial quantities of weapons and other military supplies. Also, Việt Minh troops got military training at bases in China, and some Chinese advisers arrived in Vietnam to work with Giáp's forces. The Việt Minh acquired a conventional warfare capability.

The newly strengthened Việt Minh forces defeated the French at Lang Son and Cao Bang late in 1950, clearing French forces from the area along the Chinese border and thus making the flow of aid across the border from China much easier. Following this Giáp launched over-optimistic attacks on the French perimeter around the Red River Delta. These attacks were expensive failures. But over the next several years, the Việt Minh gained strength and skill at conventional warfare, while also making very effective use of guerrilla tactics. Giáp, having failed to take the Red River Delta by large conventional attacks in the first half of 1951, was able to take much of it a village at a time over the next three years.

When it became clear that France was becoming involved in a long drawn-out and so far not very successful war, the French government tried to negotiate an agreement with the Việt Minh. They offered to help set up a national government and promised that they would eventually grant Vietnam its independence. Hồ Chí Minh and the other leaders of the Việt Minh did not trust the word of the French and continued the war.

Vo Nguyen Giap (left) and Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, October 1945

French public opinion continued to move against the war. There were five main reasons for this:

  1. Between 1946 and 1952 many French troops had been killed, wounded, or captured.
  2. France was attempting to build up her economy after the devastation of the Second World War. The cost of the war had so far been twice what they had received from the United States under the Marshall Plan.
  3. The war had lasted seven years and there was still no sign of an outright French victory
  4. A growing number of people in France had reached the conclusion that their country did not have any moral justification for being in Vietnam.
  5. Parts of the French left supported the goals of the Việt Minh to form a socialist state.

While growing stronger in Vietnam, the Việt Minh also expanded the war and forced the French into battles on unfavorable terms by attacking remote areas such as Laos. General Henri Navarre, the French commander in Indochina, was forced to redeploy large numbers of forces from their safe zones in order to protect Laos. In December 1953, Navarre set up a defensive complex at Ðiện Biên Phủ, which attempted to block the route of the Việt Minh forces trying to attack neighboring Laos. He surmised that in an attempt to reestablish the route to Laos, Giáp would be forced to organize a mass attack on the French forces at Ðiện Biên Phủ, where they would be crushed in a conventional battle.

Navarre's plan worked and Giáp took up the French challenge. While the French dug in at their outpost, the Viet Minh were also preparing the battlefield. Giáp brought up members of the troops from all over Vietnam. By the time the battle was ready to begin, Giáp had 70,000 troops surrounding the French positions, five times the number of French troops enclosed within.

In preparation for this decisive battle, Giáp first ordered his men to deploy his artillery on surrounding hilltops but in a last moment change of plan,(which was probably when he realized that the artillery were exposed to French aircraft) reordered his men to secretly pull by hand, 24 105mm howitzers to hollows on the inner hill sides of Dien Bien Phu for providing them cover from French aircraft and counter-attacks from French artillery. This decision is considered by experts, to be a major one that probably averted a disaster for the Viet Minh in the ensuing battle, which was dominated by heavy artillery strikes by the latter.

With antiaircraft guns from China, Giáp was able to severely restrict the ability of the French to supply their forces. The antiaircraft and artillery fire neutralized the French artillery, denied them the use of the airstrip, and forced them to inaccurately drop supplies from high altitude to the besieged troops. Instead of launching a frontal assault on the French, Giap chose to surround the outpost and ordered his men to dig a trench system that encircled the French. From the outer trench, other trenches and tunnels were dug inward towards the center. The Viet Minh were now able to move in close to the French troops defending Ðiện Biên Phủ.

When Navarre realized that he was trapped, he appealed for help. The United States was approached and some advisers suggested the use of tactical nuclear weapons against the Việt Minh, but this was never seriously considered. Another suggestion was that conventional air raids would be enough to scatter Giáp's troops. U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, however, refused to intervene unless the British and other Western allies agreed. Churchill declined, claiming that he wanted to wait for the outcome of the peace negotiations taking place in Geneva, Switzerland, before becoming involved in escalating the war.

On 13 March 1954, Giáp launched his offensive. For 54 days the Việt Minh seized position after position, pushing the French until they occupied only a small area of Ðiện Biên Phủ. Colonel Piroth, the artillery commander, blamed himself for the destruction of French artillery superiority. He told his fellow officers that he had been "completely dishonoured" and committed suicide with a hand grenade. General De Castries, French Commander in Dien Bien Phu was captured alive in his bunker. The French surrendered on May 7. Their casualties totaled over 2,000 men, 5,600 wounded and 6,500 taken prisoner. The following day the French government announced that it intended to withdraw from Vietnam.

Giap's victory over the French crushed the legend of Western invincibility and thus opened a new era in the struggles for national independence against colonialism. With this victory, the name of Vo Nguyen Giap has become identified throughout Africa and Latin America with the defeat of colonialism.

Vietnam War

Vo Nguyen Giap

Giap remained commander in chief of the People's Army of Vietnam throughout the war against the United States. During the conflict he oversaw the expansion of the PAVN from a small self-defense force into a large conventional army, equipped by its communist allies with considerable amounts of relatively sophisticated weaponry, although this did not in general match the weaponry of the Americans. Giap has often been assumed to have been the planner of the Tet Offensive of 1968, but this appears not to have been the case. The best evidence indicates that he disliked the plan, and when it became apparent that Lê Duẩn and Văn Tiến Dũng were going to push it through despite his doubts, he left Vietnam for medical treatment in Hungary, and did not return until after the offensive had begun. [2] Although this attempt to spark a general uprising against the southern government failed militarily, it turned into a significant political victory by convincing the American politicians and public that their commitment to South Vietnam could no longer be open-ended.

Peace talks between representatives from the United States, the Republic of Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, and the NLF began in Paris in January 1969. President Richard M. Nixon, like President Lyndon B. Johnson before him, was convinced that a U.S. withdrawal was necessary, but five years would pass before the last American troops left South Vietnam. In October 1972, the negotiators came close to agreeing to a formula to end the conflict. The plan was that the last U.S. troops would withdraw from Vietnam in exchange for a cease-fire and the return of American prisoners held by Hànội. It was also agreed that the governments in North and South Vietnam would remain in power until new elections could be arranged to unite the whole country. Although the Nguyen Hue Offensive during the spring of 1972 was another costly failure, PAVN was able to gain a foothold in territorial South Vietnam from which to launch future offensives.

Although U.S. troops would leave the country, PAVN troops could remain in their positions in the south. In an effort to put pressure on both North and South Vietnam during the negotiations, President Nixon ordered a new series of air raids on Hà Nội and Hải Phòng. The DRV accepted the terms of the agreement and, on 27 January 1973, Nixon agreed to sign the Paris Peace Accords that had been proposed in October.

End of the Vietnam war

The last U.S. combat troops left in March 1973. Despite the treaty, there was no letup in fighting. South Vietnamese advances against the Vietcong inspired the communists to change their strategy. In March, communist leaders met in Hanoi for a series of meetings to hammer out plans for a massive offensive against the South. In June 1973, the U.S. Congress passed the Case-Church Amendment to prohibit further U.S. military involvement, so the communists were able to prepare logistically without fear of U.S. bombing.

South Vietnamese President Nguyễn Văn Thiệu appealed to Nixon for continued financial aid. Nixon was sympathetic but the U.S. Congress was not, and the move was blocked. At its peak, U.S. aid to South Vietnam had reached $30 billion a year. By 1974 it had fallen to $1 billion. Starved of funds, Thiệu's government had difficulty even paying the wages of its army, and desertions became a problem. On the other side, the PAVN received billions of dollars in new equipment from the Soviet Union.

Some sources claim that right after the war, Giap was made into an outcast. The Politburo was suspicious of Giap's intentions, and feared his influence, because Giap had a high reputation after war. Sometime before 1968 Lê Duẩn, the future general secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party, accused Giap of being a Soviet mole. Despite these accusations, Giap played a critical role in all military decisions at the end of the war. Some VC Politburo's ex-members even said: "None of his proposals were refused by the Politburo throughout the war".

In spring of 1975, Giap sent four star General Van Tien Dung to launch the deadliest attack on Buon Ma Thuot. This town sat at the intersection of the important routes of Central Highland and it was a weak point for the enemy forces. The sudden strike frightened the southern leaders and generals, worsened the ARVN morale, and shook the ARVN defence system.

Giap sent General Le Trong Tan to lauch series of attacks against Da Nang, where nearly 100,000 well-equipped troops of the best southern divisions were camped. In three days, Da Nang was seized. Giap appointed General Van Tien Dung as 1st Commander and General Le Trong Tan as 2nd Commander of the "Ho Chi Minh Campaign", a massive conventional operation that utilized armor and heavy artillery. The goal of the operation was to take over Saigon from two directions, Central Highland and coastal no.1 highway. These attacks were done in coordination with General Le Duc Anh and General Tran Van Tra. After important areas such as Buon Ma Thuot, Da Nang and Hue were lost in March, panic swept through the ARVN and its high command. President Thieu attempted to abandon the northern half of the nation while pulling his troops back to defensive positions in the south.

Under guidelines from Giap, General Le Trong Tan's force was first to enter Saigon and Tan captured Duong Van Minh alive. Minh was the last president of the Vietnamese Republic in the capital of Saigon on 30 April 1975. Soon afterward the Socialist Republic of Vietnam was established. In the new government Giáp maintained his position as Minister of National Defense and he was made Deputy Prime Minister in July 1976. He was removed from this post at the Defense Ministry in 1980 and was also removed from his position in the Politburo in 1982. He remained on the Central Committee and Deputy Prime Minister until 1991.

Giáp has also written extensively on military theory and strategy. His works include Big Victory, Great Task; People's Army, People's War; "Ðiện Biên Phủ; and We Will Win. The historian Stanley Karnow described him as ranking with "Wellington, Grant, Lee, Rommel, and MacArthur in the pantheon of great military leaders," though according to General Westmoreland—his American counterpart—when commenting on Giap's costly tactics, "such a disregard for human life [i.e. Giap's own men] may make a formidable adversary, but it does not make a military genius."

In 1995, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara met Giáp to ask what happened on 4 August, 1964 in the second Gulf of Tonkin Incident. "Absolutely nothing," Giáp replied.[3] The incident, that served President Johnson as a pretext to step up U.S. involvement in the conflict, had been imaginary,[4] although it had not started as a deliberate fabrication.


  1. ^ NVA and/or VC Awards
  2. ^ Merle Pribbenow, "General Vo Nguyen Giap and the Mysterious Evolution of the Plan for the 1968 Tet Offensive," Journal of Vietnamese Studies 3:2 (Summer 2008), pp. 1-33.
  3. ^ McNamara asks Giap: What happened in Tonkin Gulf?], Associated Press, 1995
  4. ^ The final evidence that there had not been any Vietnamese attack against U.S. ships on the night of 4 August 1964 was provided by the release of a slightly sanitized version of a classified analysis by a National Security Agency historian, Robert J. Hanyok, "Skunks, Bogies, Silent Hounds, and the Flying Fish: The Gulf of Tonkin Mystery, 2-4 August 1964," Cryptologic Quarterly, Winter 2000/Spring 2001 Edition (Vol. 19, No. 4 / Vol. 20, No. 1), pp. 1-55.


  • Currey, Cecil B., Senior General Vo Nguyen Giap Remembers, in Journal of Third World Studies, Fall 2003.
  • Currey, Cecil B. (2000). Victory at Any Cost: The Genius of Viet Nam's Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap. Washington, DC: Brassey's Inc.. ISBN 1574881949. 
  • Dupuy, Trevor N.; Curt Johnson, and David L. Bongard (1995). The Harper Encyclopedia of Military Biography. New York: Castle Books. ISBN 0785804374. 
  • Giap, Vo Nguyen (1970). Military Art of People's War: Selected Writings. New York: Monthly Review Press. ISBN 9780853451938. 
  • Karnow, Stanley (1997). Vietnam: A History. New York: Penguin. ISBN 0140265473. 
  • Pribbenow, Merle (Translator) (2002). Victory in Vietnam: A History of the People's Army of Vietnam, 1954-1975. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas. ISBN 978-0-7006-1175-1. 
  • Secrets of War: Vietnam Special Operations. Documedia Group. 1998. 

External links



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