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Indochina War Timeline: 1954

January
12th Bao Dai appoints Prince Buu Loc as Prime Minister of Viet Nam. Buu Loc had previously served as Vietnamese High Commissioner in Paris.
29th U.S. intelligence reports that in the event of a major Viet Minh attack on Dien Bien Phu French 105 and 155mm ammunition would last only 4 – 6 days
President Eisenhower announces:
  • The delivery of 10 additional B-26 aircraft to Indo China, bringing the two French B-26 squadrons up to 25 planes each
  • The temporary assignment of 200 U.S. Air Force mechanics to MAAG to assist the French Air Force personnel in the maintenance of the C-47 and B-26 aircraft
February
18th Foreign Ministers of United States, United Kingdom, France and Soviet Union meet in Berlin (January 25th – February 18th) and agree to discuss the Indochina problem at the Geneva Conference on Korea scheduled for April 26th
March
4th A Viet Minh unit sabotages 11 aircraft at Gia Lam airfield
12th Viet Minh Regiment 42 attacks civil and military traffic on the highway between Hanoi and Haiphong in broad daylight
13th Viet Minh forces under the command of General Vo Nguyen Giap attack the southern (Isabelle) and three northern outposts (Anne Marie, Gabrielle and Beatrice) of Dien Bien Phu. After an all night attack they succeed in occupying the north-eastern outpost (Beatrice).
14th French Command parachutes in an additional battalion in an attempt to retake Beatrice
15th Dien Bien Phu’s northern outpost, Gabrielle, is overrun by Viet Minh troops. The French also lose the use of both airstrips, forcing them to rely on airdrops for all reinforcements.
16th Following Viet Minh attacks on three airfields General Navarre orders the evacuation of villages in the immediate vicinity of the airfields at Gia Lam, Cat Bi and Do Son
18th After almost continual Viet Minh bombardment Dien Bien Phu’s northern-western outpost, Anne Marie, is abandoned
April
4th The French government informs U.S Ambassador to France, Douglas Dillon, that "..immediate armed intervention of US carrier aircraft at Dien Bien Phu is now necessary to save the situation."
6th British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden tells Winthrop Aldrich, U.S. Ambassador to the U.K, "French cannot lose the war between now and the coming of the rainy season however badly they may conduct it."
11th Secretary of State Foster Dulles meets with Anthony Eden and explains U.S apprehensions regarding French weakening at Geneva and discusses joint action in South East Asia. Eden states that he is against implementing any coalition prior to Geneva.
12th Major General John W. O'Daniel (aka "Iron Mike") arrives in Saigon to replace General Trapnell as Chief of MAAG-Indochina
26th The Geneva Conference begins, chaired by the United Kingdom and the U.S.S.R
27th British Prime Minister Winston Churchill tells the House of Commons that the British Government was "not prepared to give any undertakings about United Kingdom military action in Indochina in advance of the results of Geneva."
May
7th The central redoubt of Dien Bien Phu falls to the Viet Minh at 17:30
8th The first full session on Indochina begins at the Geneva Conference
14th Bao Dai summons Ngo Dinh Diem to Paris from an abbey in Bruges
24th U.S Ambassador to France, Douglas Dillon, reports to the State Department after meeting Diem that:
"On balance we were favorably impressed (with Diem) but only in the realization that we are prepared to accept the seemingly ridiculous prospect that this Yogi-like mystic could assume the charge he is apparently about to undertake only because the standard set by his predecessors is so low."
June
3rd General Paul Ely is appointed Commissioner General and Commander in Chief in Indochina. General Raoul Salan is named as his military deputy.
4th French Prime Minister Joseph Laniel and Viet Nam Prime Minister Buu Loc initial treaties of independence
14th Buu Loc resigns as Prime Minister of Viet Nam
16th Emperor Bao Dai announces the appointment of Ngo Dinh Diem as Prime Minister
25th Ngo Dinh Diem arrives in Saigon
28th Group Mobile 100 is almost decimated following several ambushes during 5-days of fierce fighting on Road-19 between Pleiku and Ankhe
July
7th Ngo Dinh Diem takes office as Prime Minister
17th The 1st Korea Battalion is destroyed in a Viet Minh ambush in the Chu-Dreh pass on Road 14 between Pleiku and Ban Me Thout
20th Agreements on the cessation of hostilities in Cambodia and Laos signed in Geneva
The major points of the 47 articles in the a cease-fire agreement signed by the Commanders-in-Chief of the French Union Forces and People's Army of Vietnam provide for the following:
  • A military demarcation line at the 17th Parallel, on either side of which the forces of the two parties shall be regrouped after their withdrawal
  • A demilitarised zone to be established on either side of the demarcation line (not more than 5km wide), to act as a buffer zone against any incidents which might result in the resumption of hostilities
  • Each party is given 300 days to regroup its forces to their side of the demarcation line
  • The introduction of any troops reinforcements, additional military personnel or reinforcements of other war material into Vietnam is prohibited. War materiel destroyed, damaged, worn our or used up after the cessation of hostilities may be replaced on a piece for piece basis of the same type / characteristics. Suck replacements are not permitted for French Union troops stationed north of the demarcation line during the withdrawal period.
  • The establishment of new military bases is prohibited throughout Vietnam territory. No military base under the control of a foreign state may be established in the regrouping zone of either party
  • The liberation and repatriation of all prisoners of war and civilian internees detained by each of the two parties
  • Responsibility for the execution of the agreement on the cessation of hostilities shall rest with the parties
  • A Joint Commission, composed of an equal number of representative of the commanders of the two parties, shall be set up in order to facilitate the execution of provisions concerning joint actions by the two parties
  • An International Commission shall be set up for the control and supervision over the application of the agreement. It shall be presided over by the representative of India and shall be composed of representatives of Canada, India and Poland
  • Pending general elections, which will bring about the unification of Vietnam, the conduct of civil administration in each regrouping zone in the hands of the part regrouped there
Ngo Dinh Diem's Government of Vietnam (GVN) did not sign the agreement
21st An unsigned Final Declaration of the Geneva Conference is issued that states:
In order to insure that sufficient progress in the restoration of peace has been made, and that all the necessary conditions obtain for free expression of the national will, general elections shall be held in July 1956, under the supervision of the International Committee.
27th Guy La Chambre (Minister for the Associated States) tells U.S. Ambassador to France, Douglas Dillon, that he does not think that Diem is suitable to continue as Prime Minister
August
26th Donald Heath, U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, informs the State Department that conspirators, including Army Chief of Staff General Nguyen Van Hinh, may be close to staging a coup d’état
31st Donald Heath warns General Hinh of "..the serious effect on American and other free world opinion of any movement to oust Diem by force or force his resignation at this juncture."
September
8th In Manila representatives of Australia, France, New Zealand, Pakistan, Philippines, Thailand, U.K. and U.S. sign the Southeast Asia Collective Defense Treaty (SEATO). Under the terms of the Manila pact, each party agrees, in the event of aggression against anther party, to act or meet the common danger. The parties to the treaty also agree to guarantee the territories of Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam against aggression.
9th Diem informs Ambassador Heath that his agents have uncovered a plot by General Hinh and officers of the National Army to overthrow the government
10th Diem relieves General Hinh of his position as Chief of Staff of the Vietnamese National Army and orders him to leave by September 12th for a 6-month "study" mission to France. General Vy replaces Hinh.
11th Diem relieves General Vy of his duties and places him on inactive service after he refuses to replace General Hinh as Army Chief of Staff. Diem appoints Chan as the new Chief of Staff.
23rd Bao Dai sends a telegram inviting Diem to resign the office of Prime Minister. Diem refuses, announcing that he is reorganizing his government with participation of the religious sects (Hoa Hao and Cao Dai).
24th Minister of Defense General Xuan announces his resignation and repudiates Diem, saying the time has come for his dismissal.
Diem announces a new broader based cabinet.
October
10th The Viet Minh enter Hanoi as French forces withdraw from the city
13th Diem signs a Presidential Decree providing for the creation of the Vietnamese Marine Corps (VNMC)
24th U.S. President Eisenhower addresses a letter to Diem in which he promises economic aid and assistance to Viet Nam
November
8th General J. Lawton Collins arrives in Saigon to coordinate and direct U.S. activities in Vietnam
10th Bao Dai summons General Hinh to France
19th General Hinh finally departs Saigon for France
December
13th General Lawton Collins (USA) and General Paul Ely (France) sign the following Minute of understanding:
  • A reduction in the strength of the Vietnam armed forces to 90,000 men, through selective discharge of the least effective personnel1
  • France will grant full autonomy to the armed forces of the State of Viet Nam by 1st July 1955
  • Full responsibility for assisting the Government of Viet Nam (GVN) in the organization and training of its armed forces will be assumed by the chief of the United Sates Military Assistance Advisory group (MAAG) on 1st January 1955, under the overall authority of the Commander-in-Chief in Indochina (General Ely)
  • U.S. and French personnel will be assigned as advisors and trainers of the Vietnamese armed forces. As the efficiency of the Vietnamese armed forces increase, the number of U.S. and French advisors will be reduced.
  • Ely and Collins agreed that the size of such forces is the maximum that can be effectively maintained and trained within the limits imposed by US funds likely to be made available.
    They recognized that the forces of the size envisaged would be clearly insufficient in themselves to guarantee Viet Nam against external aggression. However, they acknowledged the necessity of accepting the military risk inherent in the proposed levels of forces. They further recognized that under these conditions ultimate reliance must be placed on the Manila pact as a deterrent to a resumption of Viet Minh aggression

15th Diem promotes Deputy Defense Minister Minh to full ministerial rank, rather than appointing the American choice of Dr. Phan Huy Quat
(Quat had a history of hostility to the religious sects and his appointment would have prompted several resignations from the government. U.S. officials also suspected that Diem was reluctant to hand over the army to a strong man and potential successor)
16th U.S. Departments of State and Defense approve the Collins-Ely Minute
Following the failure of Diem to include Dr. Phan Huy Quat in his cabinet as Defense Minister, General Collins recommends to the State Department that:
  • That the US continue to support Diem for a short while, but without committing to specific aid programs
  • If Diem's government fails to make progress, and if the return of Bao Dai is acceptable to the U.S. government, to support his return
  • If the return of Bao Dai is unacceptable and the Diem government continues to demonstrate an inability to unite free Vietnam, then the U.S. should withdraw from Vietnam
18th Tripartite (U.K., U.S. France) discussions on Indochina take place in Paris. French Prime Minister Pierre Mendes recommends that Collins and Ely study alternatives to Diem, including Bao Dai. U.S. Secretary of State Dulles makes it clear that any investigation of an alternate solution must be conducted very carefully so as not to undermine the present Diem government.
31st French inform the U.S. that they do not wish to present a signed Franco-American agreement (Collins-Ely Minute) to the Vietnamese Government that they would have to carry out. French propose a redraft in the form a Franco-American recommendation for consideration by the GVN.

1953    1955