Operation Camargue

Operation Camargue
Part of the First Indochina War
LocationVietnamThuaThien-Hue.png
Thừa Thiên-Huế Province
Date28 July – 10 August 1953
LocationFrench Indochina
ResultIndecisive
Belligerents

France French Union

North Vietnam Viet Minh
Commanders and leaders
LeblancTrần Quý Hai[1]
Strength
~10,000[2]One weak infantry regiment[3]
Casualties and losses
17 dead,
100 wounded[4][5]
French est: 600 killed or wounded, 900 captured
Bernard Fall records: 182 casualties and 387 prisoners
The Times est: 200 killed, 1350 wounded or captured[2][4][5]

Operation Camargue was one of the largest operations by the French Far East Expeditionary Corps and Vietnamese National Army in the First Indochina War. It took place from 28 July until 10 August 1953. French armored platoons, airborne units and troops delivered by landing craft to the coast of central Annam, modern-day Vietnam, attempted to sweep forces of the communist Viet Minh from the critical Route One.

The first landings took place in the early morning on 28 July, and reached the first objectives, an inland canal, without major incident. A secondary phase of mopping-up operations began in a "labyrinth of tiny villages" where French armored forces suffered a series of ambushes.[6] Reinforced by paratroopers, the French and their Vietnamese allies tightened a net around the defending Viet Minh, but delays in the movement of French forces left gaps through which most of the Viet Minh guerillas, and many of the arms caches the operation was expected to seize, escaped. For the French, this validated the claim that it was impossible to operate tight ensnaring operations in Vietnam's jungle, due to the slow movement of their troops, and a foreknowledge by the enemy, which was difficult to prevent. From then on, the French focused on creating strong fortified positions, against which Viet Minh General Giáp could pit his forces, culminating in Operation Castor and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.[7]

With the French forces withdrawn from the operation by the late summer of 1953, Viet Minh Regiment 95 re-infiltrated Route One and resumed ambushes of French convoys, retrieving weapons caches missed by the French forces. Regiment 95 occupied the area for the remainder of the First Indochina War and were still operating there as late as 1962 against the South Vietnamese Army during the Second Indochina, or Vietnam War.[8]

Background

The First Indochina War had raged, as guerrilla warfare, since 19 December 1946. From 1949, it evolved into conventional warfare, due largely to aid from the communists of the People's Republic of China ("PRC") to the north.[9] Subsequently, the French strategy of occupying small, poorly defended outposts throughout Indochina, particularly along the Vietnamese-Chinese border, started failing.[10] Thanks to the terrain, popular support for August Revolution and support for decolonization from bordering China and the U.S.S.R., the Viet Minh had succeeded in turning a "clandestine guerrilla movement into a powerful conventional army",[11] following asymmetric warfare theory laid by Mao Tse Tung, something which previously had never been encountered by the western colonial powers.[12][13] In October 1952, fighting around the Red River Delta spread into the Thai Highlands, resulting in the Battle of Nà Sản, at which the Viet Minh were defeated. The French used the lessons learned at Nà Sản – strong ground bases, versatile air support, and a model based on the British Burma Campaign – as the basis for their new strategy. The Viet Minh, however, remained unbeatable in the highland regions of Vietnam,[14] and the French "could not offset the fundamental disadvantages of a roadbound army facing a hill and forest army in a country which had few roads but a great many hills and forests".[15]

In May 1953, General Henri Navarre arrived to take command of the French forces, replacing General Raoul Salan. Navarre spoke of a new offensive spirit in Indochina – based on strong, fast-moving forces[10] – and the media quickly took Operation Camargue to be the "practical realization" of that.[2]

Chinese and American backing

Following the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the Viet Minh established close ties with China.[9] It enabled the Chinese to expand their area of influence into Indochina and the Viet Minh to receive much-needed Chinese equipment and strategic planning support.[9] From mid-1950, PRC military advisers were seconded to the Viet Minh at battalion, regimental and divisional levels.[16] The common border meant that "China became a 'sanctuary' where the Viet Minh could be trained and refitted".[12] When the Korean War broke out, Indochina became "an important pawn in Cold War strategy".[12] In December 1950, the United States, concerned about growing Chinese Communist influence, started providing military aid to the French, with a first payment of US$15 million.[17]

In the spring of 1953, the Viet Minh launched campaigns in Laos and succeeded in linking up Laotian territorial gains with their bases in north-western Vietnam.[18] Meanwhile, the winding down of the Korean War meant that China was able "to give much more attention to its southern neighbour".[18] Similarly, the US "released from its heavy burden in the Korean conflict ... dramatically increased its military and financial support" to the French.[16] By June 1953, the US "had sent: 1,224 tanks and combat vehicles; 120,792 rifles and machine guns; more than 200 million rifle and machine gun cartridges; more than five million artillery projectiles; 302 boats and 304 aircraft"[17] (by end of the war, total US aid amounted to nearly four billion dollars).[17]

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