World War II until the 1954 Geneva Accords

June 22, 1940             French General Huntziger surrenders to German Field Marshall Keitel; subsequently the French (‘Vichy’government) cooperate with the Japanese occupation of Vietnam.

September 22, 1940 Japanese troops enter Vietnam en masse.

May 19, 1941             Hồ Chí Minh and others found the Việt Minh nationalist front at Pác Bó, Cao Bằng Province.

December 7, 1941     Japan attacks Pearl Harbor; U.S. enters World War II.

1941-45                       Việt Minh and U.S. are allied in fight against Japan. Việt Minh and the Office of Strategic Services (0SS) forces rescue American pilots.


Hồ Chí Minh declares Vietnamese independence in the vacuum left by the defeat of the Japanese.


March 9         Japanese declaring French rule at an end, take over political administration of French Indochina; and Emperor Bao Dai proclaims “independence”.***

August 6 & 9 United States drops atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

August 15      Japanese Emperor Hirohito announces Japanese surrender.

August 16      Việt Minh meeting at Tân Trào decides on the General Uprising;                              the August Revolution begins.

August 19      Việt Minh enter Hà Nội.

August 23     Việt Minh secure power in Huế, the imperial capital.

August 25     Việt Minh secure power in Saigon (Sài Gòn); Hồ Chí Minh enters Hanoi (Hà Nội) for the first time.

August 30     Emperor Bảo Đại formally abdicates to the Việt Minh, ending a thousand years of Vietnamese monarchy.

September 2 Hồ Chí Minh delivers Việt Nam’s Declaration of Independence in Hà Nội; Japanese officers sign formal surrender documents aboard the USS Missouri.***

Mid-September British general Douglas Gracey lands, rearms Japanese and French colonial forces.

September 22 French troops return to Vietnam, transported in U.S. merchant ships, and sporadically clash with Communist and Nationalist forces. They are met by uniformed and armed Japanese soldiers, who saluted them on the docks. The sailors manning the flotilla of American troopships are profoundly shocked and outraged. Every single enlisted crewman on these ships sign petitions to Congress and the president condemning the US government for participating in “imperialist policies” designed “to subjugate the native population of Vietnam.” [cited in H. Bruce Franklin, “America’s Memory of the Vietnam War in the Epoch of the Forever War” in Los Angeles Review of Books, July 16, 2014 from Michel Gillen, unpublished dissertation, “Roots of Opposition: The Critical Response to U.S. Indochina Policy, 1945-1954” (New York University, 1991).]


1945 – 1946  

Intensive negotiations with French representative Jean Sainteny, but full-scale war in what becomes known as the First Indochina War.



February 28   Hồ Chí Minh appeals to President Truman for support for the

Vietnamese struggle for Independence. ***

.March 6       France (represented by Sainteny) recognizes the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV) as a free state within the Indochinese Federation and French Union. While seeing this as a means to dislodge Chinese forces, the Việt Minh reject this as a phony independence.

November     Using U.S. vessels the French bombard the port of Haiphong, killing

6,000 civilians, then occupy the port and the city of Hanoi (Hà Nội).

December 19 Việt Minh attack French forces and the First Indochina war is on.



March 12       The Truman Doctrine is issued, promising U.S. support for armed opposition to Communists across the globe.***


Undated, 1947 At a large 1947 meeting of the Viet Nam American Friendship

Association, the chairman prophetically proclaims that “the founding of the newest Republic in the world — the Democratic Republic of Viet Nam” is “an event which history may well record as sounding the death knell of the colonial system.” Six-time Socialist Party presidential candidate Norman Thomas explains, “It is only by direct and indirect aid [. . .] from the United States that colonial imperialism can be maintained in the modern world.” [cited in H. Bruce Franklin, “America’s Memory of the Vietnam War in the Epoch of the Forever War” in Los Angeles Review of Books, July 16, 2014 from Transcript of the Proceedings at the Meeting in Celebration of the Second Anniversary of the Independence of the Republic of Viet-Nam, 1947,” Typescript, Cornell University Library.]




June 25           The Cold War with the Soviet Union opens dramatically with the Berlin Airlift ordered by President Truman. The Communist government of East Germany, with the direction and backing of the

Soviet             Union, had blockaded access to West Berlin to remove the joint

British, French, and American zone of control in the city.




March 8         France negotiates the “independence” of Vietnam as an “associated state” within the French union, short of full independence (not fully ratified until following February).

June 13           Former Emperor Bảo Đại is installed by the French as “head of state”.

July 19            Laos is also given status as “an associated state” within the French Union.

October 1       Having defeated Chiang Kai-Shek’s Nationalists (Kuomintang), Mao

Zedong proclaims the Peoples Republic of China.***

October 6       U.S. Congress passes the Mutual Defense Assistance Act through which arms,      military equipment and training assistance might be provided worldwide for collective defense



China and the USSR recognize the Democratic Republis of Vietnam (DRV) and the Korean War breaks out.


January 18     The Peoples Republic of China led by Mao Zedong recognizes the Democratic Republic of Vietnam led by Hồ Chí Minh.

January 29     The Soviet Union recognizes the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

February       President Hồ Chí Minh meets Chairman Mao Zedong and Party Secretary Joseph Stalin in Moscow; secures military assistance

February 3     The United States recognizes Bảo Đại as the head of the Associated State of Vietnam.

February 16   Fearing Communists Chinese military assistance to Hanoi (Hà Nội), France requests U.S. aid in fighting the Việt Minh

February 27   National Security Council report focuses attention on “Indochina” (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia.***

May 1             U.S. President Harry S. Truman approves $10 million in military aid to the French in Indochina.

May 8             U.S Secretary of State Dean Acheson announces aid for “the Associated States of Indochina and to France in order to assist them in restoring stability and permitting these states to pursue their peaceful and democratic development”.

May 24           U.S. formally announces its intent to establish an economic aid mission to the three associated states of Indochina.

June 25           War breaks out in Korea after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Army crosses the 38th parallel and invades South Korea.***

June 27           President Truman announces that he has “directed acceleration in the furnishing of military assistance to the forces of France and the Associated States in Indochina and the dispatch of a military mission to provide working relations with those forces.” ***

August           The Laotian Pathet Lao (Lao Nation or Homeland) Communist party and guerrilla group is formed in alliance with the Việt Minh to oppose the French.***

August 3        The first members of U.S. MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) arrive in Sài Gòn.

September 1950 Đông Khê Battle, Việt Nam’s first major battle against France opens the border to China and the Soviet Union and a source of foreign weapons.

September 17 MAAG-Indochina (Military Assistance Advisory Group) is established.

October 1       Võ Nguyên Giáp’s Việt Minh forces start an attack on the string of French forts along the Chinese border.

October 10     Brigadier General Francis G. Brink assumes his role as the first head of MAAG (Military Assistance Advisory Group) Indochina.

October 17     All French garrisons along the Chinese border are destroyed.

A State of Emergency is announced in Tonkin (the northern part of Vietnam).

December 23 Representatives of U.S., France, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia in Sài Gòn sign an agreement for mutual defense assistance in Indochina.



March            Communists from Thailand, Laos, and North Vietnam meet and forge an agreement whereby the Vietminh are allowed to use areas in Laos along the border with Vietnam for the staging of equipment and men in their war against the French. During the later American war this will become part of the “Hồ Chí Minh” Trail.



400 U.S. advisers and supply personnel are serving in Vietnam. Toward the end of the year the French casualties approach 90,000. General Võ Nguyên Giáp develops a strategy to draw the French out to the Laotian border through a show of strength with a march into Laos to the outskirts of Luang Prabang, the royal capitol.



The U.S. is providing increasing support for the French effort in Indochina, supplying 80% of the dollar cost.

November 9  Prince Norodom Sihanouk gains independence for Cambodia from


December      A Việt Minh offensive divides Vietnam near the 17th parallel.



The French are defeated at Điện Biên Phủ and the Geneva Conference is convened to resolve the consequent situation in Southeast Asia.

January 29     U.S. intelligence reports that in the event of a major Việt Minh attack on Điện Biên Phủ French 105 and 155mm ammunition would last only 4 – 6 days. President Eisenhower decides to pick up the slack. ***

March 13       Beginning of the siege of French army at the garrison in Điện Biên Phủ (located in the rugged mountains of Northwestern Vietnam near the Laotian border) by Vietnamese forces led by General Võ Nguyên Giáp.***

April 16          Vice President Richard Nixon declares that the United States may soon have to “face up to the situation and dispatch forces” because “the Vietnamese lack the ability to conduct a war or govern themselves.” Reaction was swift, impassioned, and came from across the entire political spectrum.   [[vii] Senator Ernest Gruening and Herbert Wilton Beaser, Vietnam Folly (Washington, DC: National Press, 1968), pp. 100-105. Thousands of letters and telegrams opposing US intervention deluged the White House. An American Legion division with 78,000 members demanded that “the United States should refrain from dispatching any of its Armed Forces to participate as combatants in the fighting in Indochina or in southeast Asia”[Gruening and Beaser, p. 105]. There were public outcries against “colonialism” and “imperialism.” Senators from both parties rose to denounce even the contemplation of sending US soldiers to Indochina. The Monday after Nixon’s Saturday speech, for example, Senator Ed Johnson of Colorado declared on the Senate floor: “I am against sending American GI’s into the mud and muck of Indochina on a blood-letting spree to perpetuate colonialism and white man’s exploitation in Asia.”[Gillen, 379-383, 402. As Gillen notes, some sources incorrectly attribute this speech to Lyndon Johnson.] This public outcry, perhaps explains why the US then pursued its Southeast Asian policies in secret.

May 7             The remnants of the French army surrenders at Điện Biên Phủ, one of the most significant triumphs of the world anti-colonial struggle..***

May 8-July 21 The first session of the Geneva conference on Indochina commences.

June 25           U.S. President Eisenhower sends Ngô Đình Diệm from the United States to serve as Prime Minister of the Republic of Việt Nam (commonly referred to as South Vietnam) before the Geneva Accords are signed.***

July 20-21      All parties except the U.S. and South Vietnam sign the Geneva Accords. Though Washington and Sài Gòn refuse to sign, they agree to observe the terms.***

September 7 The establishment of the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization (SEATO), an alliance between the US and SE Asian nations. ***

October 10     The Việt Minh enter Hanoi (Hà Nội) as French forces withdraw from the city.

October 24     U.S. President Eisenhower addresses a letter to Prime Minister Diệm in which he promises economic aid and assistance to Viet Nam. ***

December 13 General Lawton Collins (USA) and General Paul Ely (France) reach an understanding (Minute) on the role of the US.***

Previous Next