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North Vietnam Mobilizes for War: The Ho Chi Minh Trail & The Viet Cong

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  • 0:01 Restructuring Forces
  • 2:03 On the Eve of War
  • 3:09 Early War Years, 1959-1962
  • 6:11 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

Following the First Indochina War, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam began rebuilding for a prolonged struggle against the United States. Learn about the DRV's mobilization for war from 1955 to 1962 in this video lesson.

Restructuring Forces

Following the division of Vietnam, formerly known as Indochina, at the 17th parallel, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, also known as the DRV or North Vietnam, began to reassess and restructure its military forces and operational command. The brunt of the war against France during the First Indochina War was fought largely by Viet Minh insurgents. However, a new Vietnamese military group formed during the final years of the war.

This group was known as the People's Army of Vietnam, also known as PAVN or the North Vietnamese Army. PAVN grew out of the Vietnamese National Defense Army following the Second World War. It expanded to six divisions by 1954 and assisted the Viet Minh insurgency in important engagements, such as the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Following the Geneva Conference of 1954, PAVN continued to expand while supporting the North Vietnamese insurgency in the Republic of Vietnam, also known as the RVN or South Vietnam.

During the rest of the 1950s, PAVN remained relatively dormant in regard to military operations, but active in logistical efforts. This group became an active military force against American and South Vietnamese forces in the northern sections of the RVN during the early-to-mid 1960s, eventually taking total control of the North Vietnamese war effort in 1968.

As PAVN was being cultured, Ho Chi Minh, leader of the DRV, restructured his political cabinet. Important figures to remember include Pham Van Dong (Prime Minister of the DRV); Le Duc Tho (advisor); Le Duan (General Secretary of the Vietnam Worker's Party); and General Vo Nguyen Giap (Commander of the Viet Minh/PAVN forces). Simultaneously, Ho also sought aid to fund his unification campaign in Vietnam.

In 1955, Ho accepted money and war material from the Soviet Union. Ho now had the ability to increase the North Vietnamese insurgency and fund his burgeoning armed forces. This was important to the North Vietnamese, because the United States had formally allied itself with Ngo Dinh Diem, president of the RVN, in a combined effort to battle communism.

On the Eve of War

Now, 1956 was an incredibly important year. It began with Diem brutally eliminating North Vietnamese insurgents in the countryside of the RVN. Several months later, Diem refused to participate in the reunification elections that were outlined in the Geneva Agreements in 1954. This meant that Vietnam remained split into two states, and Ho's goal of a unified Vietnam was postponed. Aggrieved, Ho expanded insurgent operations in the RVN.

In August 1957, North Vietnamese insurgents launched a successful attack on the Minh Thanh village in the RVN. This was followed by a large-scale guerrilla operation in October. Insurgents engaged in anti-Diem propaganda, bombings and political assassinations.

In 1958, the insurgents reached the Southern-most point of the RVN. Formal operations began in the Mekong River Delta, which was a strategic inlet to the RVN by way of the South China Sea. After early successes by the North Vietnamese insurgents in South Vietnam, and a structured military force erected, Ho commenced a formal war against the United States and the RVN at the onset of 1959.

Early War Years, 1959-1962

The beginning of the formal war in Vietnam was not as glamorous as one might have imagined. Instead of a major invasion of the RVN, Ho opted to continue to build his forces and improve his logistics network during the early years of the war. In May 1959, Ho authorized the creation of the 559th Transport Group, which reconstructed and operated the Ho Chi Minh Trail; the trail had been in place since the Second World War.

This massive transportation channel traveled from the DRV through nations such as Laos and Cambodia. The DRV infiltrated personnel and war materials into various areas of South Vietnam, including important cities such as Saigon, the capital of the RVN. The trail proved to be a serious challenge to the United States and South Vietnam during the duration of the war because of the thick vegetation and the incredible number of pathways.

With a new transport network in place, Ho sent thousands of insurgents into the RVN. South Vietnamese military forces, known as the Army of the Republic of Vietnam, or ARVN, and American advisors attempted to stem the tide against the North Vietnamese insurgency. In July, the United States faced its first combat losses when two advisors were killed in the Bien Hoa province of the RVN.

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