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Vietnam War Timeline: 1955

January
7th French propose a reworded draft of the Collins-Ely memorandum (of Dec 13th 1954)
20th General Collins, U.S. Special Representative in Vietnam, reports to the National Security Council (NSC) that Diem is the best available Prime Minister to lead Vietnam in the struggle against Communism and that his government has a reasonable chance of success if it has firm U.S. support and guidance and active French cooperation
24th Collins tells the NSC that if the recommendations of his report were carried through, there was at least a 50% chance of saving South Vietnam from the Communists
February
1st Acting Secretary of State, Herbert Hoover Jr, informs the French Embassy that U.S. will accept the French revision to the Collins-Ely memorandum provided that:
  • General Ely sends a letter to General Collins stating that the assignment of U.S. and French personnel to the Vietnamese Armed Forces will be under the direct of Chief MAAG acting under authority of the Commander-in-Chief. As the efficiency of the Vietnamese Armed Forces increases, the number of U.S. and French advisors and trainers will be decreased.
  • General Ely sends a letter to Diem which includes the phrase that "The Armed Forces of Viet-Nam will be completely autonomous by July 1, 1955; specifically that all units of these armed forces will be staffed and commanded by Vietnamese officers."
8th Vietnamese Government payments to Hoa Hao and Cao Dai sects / confessional forces are overdue
11th The three documents designed to replace the original Collins-Ely memorandum are signed and delivered
12th Training Relations and Instruction Mission (TRIM) – a special section within MAAG - assumes responsibility for training Vietnamese forces
22nd Representatives of the Cao Dai, Hoa Hao, Dan Xa, Lien Minh and Binh Xuyen confessional forces (sects) meet at Tay Ninh and agree to form a "United Front" against Prime Minister Diem
March
21st The United Front issues a 5-day declaration calling on Diem to form a government of national union
26th The United Front's ultimatum deadline passes
29th Defense Minister Ho Thong Minh resigns in protest against Diem's refusal to consult the cabinet over his plans to fire Lai Van Sang as Chief of National Police and replace him with Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Le.
30th Binh Xuyen forces attack the Saigon-Cholon police HQ, the FAVN Cholon HQ and fire Mortar shells into the grounds of the Prime Minister's Palace
31st General Gambiez, Chief of Staff to the Commander-in-Chief of French Forces in Indochina, mediates a truce between the Binh Xuyen forces and Diem's government
After multiple resignations from the cabinet General Collins informs the State Department that Diem is practically operating a one-man government that is unlikely to last long. He suggests that Tran Van Do and Dr. Quat be considered as alternatives to Diem.
April
1st Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, tells General Collins "…we do not think that a switch (from Diem) would be desirable or practicable at this time."
7th General Collins and General Ely, Commander of French Forces in Indochina, agree that Diem is incapable of inspiring unity and must be replaced.
13th Diem tells Collins he is considering forming an interim government pending general elections for a constituent assembly in two months time
16th John Foster Dulles informs General Collins that he must travel to Washington for consultations for it to be practical to give any U.S. commitment to a program replacing Diem
18th MAAG Chief O'Daniel recommends to General Collins a reduction in the Vietnamese Armed Forces from 196,000 men to 150,000 by the end of 1955. These forces would be divided into 4 field divisions and 6 light divisions.
(On December 13th 1954 Collins and Ely had recommended that the VNAF be reduced to 90,000 men)
26th Diem fires Lai Van Sang as Direct General of National Police and Surete and replaces him with Colonel Nguyen Ngoc Le. Sang declares that he will remain in his post as he can only be removed by Bao Dai.
27th After meeting with Collins, Dulles informs the Paris and Saigon embassy's:
"The U.S. will have to maintain a position of full support for Diem until and unless Vietnamese leaders develop alternate proposals which Bao Dai would support."
28th Edward Lansdale, head of the Saigon Military Mission, sends a telegram to Washington arguing that the Diem government represents a better chance for success than any other it will be possible to form in South Vietnam.
Fighting erupts between the Binh Xuyen forces and the Vietnamese National Army (VNA) in the Saigon-Cholon area. The VNA drive the Binh Xuyen forces out of Cholon.
Bao Dai issues a decree naming General Nguyen Can Vy as Supreme Commander of the VNA and empowers him to take all necessary measures to avoid armed conflict between the national army, the police forces and sects.
29th The Cabinet unanimously counsels Diem not to transfer military command to General Vy
30th A gathering of 200 people in Saigon Town Hall calling themselves the "General Assembly of the democratic and revolutionary forces of the nation" demand:
  • Bao Dai's abdication
  • A new government under Diem
  • The withdrawal of the French Expeditionary Corps (FEC)
  • Elections for a national assembly
The General Assembly elects a "Revolutionary Committee" of 33 members (dominated by Cao Dai Generals Trinh Minh The and Nguyen Thanh Phuong and by Hoa Hao General Ngo), which submits their demands to Diem.
May
1st Following Diem’s victory over the Binh Xuyen and the rise in his political standing, Secretary John Foster Dulles tells General Collins that the U.S. is supporting the Diem Government
The General Assembly of Democratic Revolutionary Forces circulates resolutions charging the French with instigating the Binh Xuyen "rebellion" and calling for the withdrawal of the FEC
4th Diem admits to General Collins that some members of the Revolutionary Committee had once been in the Viet Minh, but that they were no longer affiliated
8th Tripartite (U.S., U.K and France) talks on Vietnam begin in Paris
11th After lengthy discussion John Foster Dulles manages to get French Prime Minster Faure to accept that Diem must be supported. They also agree that from now on U.S. and French policies no longer have any formal engagements to each other.
15th General Lawton Collins leaves Vietnam
June
2nd General Paul Ely, French High Commissioner and Commander-in-Chief, leaves Veitnam
11th Saigon embassy informs the State Department that the latest MAAG recommendation of reducing VNAF to 170,000 by July 1956 and to 150,000 by end of 1956 will cost $336 million. The embassy / United States Operations Mission (USOM) recommends a reduction to 100,000 men by the end of 1955 at a cost of $180 million.
July
14th U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam notifies the State Department that the embassy now concurs with O’Daniel’s position that the VNAF should be reduced to only 150,000 by July 1st 1956 and for the rest of the year. This 150,000 force strength would provide four field divisions of 8500 each, six light divisions of 5500 each and 13 light infantry regiments.
16th Diem makes a radio address stating that South Vietnam was not a signatory of, and therefore not bound by, the Geneva Accords and that the necessary conditions for free elections did not exist in the North
19th Pham Van Dong, DRV Minister of Foreign Affairs, sends a latter to Diem and Bao Dai proposing joint consultations "as provided for by the Geneva Agreements, at a place agreeable to both sides, on the Vietnamese territory, in order to discuss the problem of reunification of our country by means of free general elections all over Viet Nam."
20th It is estimated that approximately 900,000 civilians have migrated from North to South Vietnam since the signing of the Geneva Agreement, in addition to the departure of 190,000 troops from the French Expeditionary Corps. 130,000 members of the Viet Minh are estimated to have moved North across the 17th Parallel.
August
9th Republic of Vietnam broadcasts a reply to Dong’s letter reiterating previous statements that South Vietnam was not bound by the Geneva Accords and that conditions for free elections do not exist in the North
12th Walter Robertson, Asst. Secretary for Far East Affairs, sends a telegram to General White, Director of the Office of Military Assistance Programs, stating:
"In order to avoid inevitable accusations of purposefully trying to sabotage the Geneva Settlement, it is believed United States policy with regard to MAAG personnel should be such that the number of military personnel actually present in Indochina at any given time should not exceed 342 persons, the number called for in the table of organization at the time the Geneva Accord was signed.

"Military personnel, including mobile training teams assigned on temporary duty mentioned in your memorandum of April 25, 1955, would appear to fall within the overall numerical limitation. Military personnel not actually present in Viet-Nam, whether carried on Saigon rolls or not, need not be charged against the 342 maximum. Replacement overlaps which result in personnel excess over the ceiling should not be encouraged. However, overlaps when considered essential to the effectiveness of MAAG operations and if held to the shortest possible duration might be justified.

"While there may develop some flexibility in the interpretation of the Geneva Accord with respect to United States military personnel, since such personnel is not specifically covered by the Agreement and the United States is not a signatory, it is believed desirable that we pursue at this time a policy which accommodates the spirit of the Geneva Settlement."
30th John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, publicly supports Diem's view that conditions in the North are not ripe for free elections
September
27th The State Department approves O'Daniel's plan for a VNAF force strength of 150,000
28th Saigon embassy reports that the Vietnamese Government plans two national referenda.
The first, to be held on October 23, to decide whether Bao Dai should be deposed and Diem designated Chief of State. The second, to be held on November 27, to decide on a constitution prepared by Diem's government for establishing a strong presidential system. The two referenda are to be followed by direct elections for a National Assembly.
October
23rd Voting begins in the Diem-Bao Dai referendum
24th Lt. General Samuel T. Williams ("Hanging Sam") replaces Major General John O'Daniel as Chief of MAAG-Indochina
26th Biu Van Thinh, the Minister of Interior, announces that with 98% of the 6-million votes, Diem becomes President of the new Republic of Vietnam and that Bao Dai is dethroned.
November
1st MAAG-Indochina renamed MAAG-Vietnam
December
9st The Joint Chiefs of Staff inform the Secretary of Defense "…The progressive withdrawal by the French of their military personnel without replacement and the inability of the United States to augment the MAAG personnel has created a critical situation both in carrying out redistribution of MDAP equipment and in the training of Vietnamese forces."

Diem terminates existing economic and financial agreements with France and calls upon France to denounce the Geneva agreements and break relations with Hanoi. Soon thereafter, he withdraws South Vietnamese representatives from the French Union Assembly.

1954    1956-1957