Vietnam War timeline – 1946 to 1954

This Vietnam War timeline has been compiled by Alpha History authors. It spans the period from post-World War II to the end of the First Indochina War. If you would like to suggest an event or date or this timeline, please contact Alpha History.

February: China and France reach an agreement, allowing the return of French troops into northern Vietnam.
March 6th: Ho Chi Minh agrees to the return of French troops, provided they recognise North Vietnamese autonomy.
March: Chinese troops depart Hanoi and Vietnam.
May: Ho Chi Minh travels to France in an attempt to negotiate full independence for Vietnam. This mission ultimately fails
June: French governor d’Argenlieu proclaims Cochin-china (southern Vietnam) an autonomous republic.
August 27th: French president Charles de Gaulle asserts that France should keep its colonies and overseas territories.
October 15th: French forces move against Viet Minh supply lines in and around Haiphong.
November 20th: Fighting breaks out being the Viet Minh and French forces at Haiphong. This marks the start of the First Indochina War.
November 23rd: Between 2,000 and 6,000 Vietnamese civilians killed after French ships shell Haiphong.
December 19th: 30,000 Viet Minh soldiers attack French positions at Haiphong, sparking the First Indochina War.

January: Viet Minh forces, led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap, relocated to jungles of north-west Vietnam.
February 4th: French opinion poll suggests 36 percent of people favour force in Vietnam, 42 per cent favour negotiation
October 7th: CEFEO launch Operation Lea against Viet Minh positions; 9,000 Viet Minh killed but most escape.

March 8th: The French recognise an ‘independent’ State of Vietnam, with emperor Bao Dai as head of government.
July: Vietnamese National Army (VNA) established, formed from a confederation of all non-communist forces.
October 1st: Chinese communists under Mao Zedong proclaim victory and declare the People’s Republic of China.

January: The People’s Republic of China and Soviet Union recognise Ho Chi Minh’s Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam).
January: China begins supplying the Viet Minh with military advisors, artillery, weapons and equipment.
February: United States and Britain recognize Bao Dai‘s pro-French government based in Saigon.
February: Viet Minh begins an offensive against French positions in northern Vietnam, close to the Chinese border.
May 8th: US announces military and financial aid to the pro-French governments in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.
July 26th: US provides $15 million to French forces in Vietnam. This aid increases rapidly as the war progresses.
September: Giap launches a counter-offensive in the far north; 6,000 French troops are killed or captured.
December 22nd: The first use of napalm, an incendiary gel, against Viet Minh forces.

January: 20,000 Viet Minh troops launch a series of offensives against French positions in northern Vietnam.
November: Communist Party of Vietnam is re-formed as Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam.
November: US senator John F. Kennedy visits Vietnam and questions America’s support for French colonialism.
December: French casualties in Vietnam exceed 90,000.

April: Viet Minh forces invade Laos with only minimal resistance.
May: General Navarre appointed the commander of French forces and declares there is “no possibility of winning the war”.
July 27th: An armistice ends the Korean War. The division of Korea is seen as a potential model for Vietnam.
November 20th: French forces parachute into remote Dien Bien Phu to establish a fortified base and airstrip.
December: Viet Minh forces begin massing in the area, moving heavy artillery up rugged mountain slopes.

March 13th: 50,000 Viet Minh soldiers begin their attack on Dien Bien Phu, destroying the airstrip with artillery.
May 1st: With the seige at Dien Bien Phu a month old, Paris appeals to the US for military intervention, which is refused.
May 7th: The siege ends with the surrender of 10,000 French soldiers. 8,000 Viet Minh and 1,500 French have died.
May-June: French prisoners are marched to camps 700 kilometres away. Almost half will die in transit or in the camps.
May 8th: Geneva Conference begins; attendees include the US, Britain, France, Viet Minh and Bao Dai’s government.
July 20th: The Geneva Accords divide Vietnam at the 17th parallel. US and South Vietnam both refuse to sign.
October: The French depart Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh returns from eight years of exile to take control of North Vietnam.
October: Bao Dai appoints Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic anti-communist, as his prime minister in South Vietnam.
October-November: Mass migration of Vietnamese between north and south. Almost one million flee the North.
November: Ho Chi Minh is profiled in TIME magazine, which describes him as a “ruthless” and dedicated communist.

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