In the struggle for national independence before 1945, Viet Minh abbreviated from Mat tran Viet Nam Doc lap Dong minh, in English "League for the Independence of Vietnam" that was established on May 19, 1941 was an innovative of Ho Chi Minh.
It was a political alliance organization (including the Communist Party of Indochina was also part of the Vietminh - part for core leadership) in order to unite all the strata, the political parties, the patriotic people and community, as well as to expel the Japanese - French colonist, to seek independence for Vietnam, to establish the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In March 1951, the Viet Minh was merged with the National Union of Vietnam, named Lien Viet Front but still known as the Viet Minh.
Through the memoirs of General Vo Nguyen Giap, the Viet Minh leaders and a number of witnesses, and through the historical documents, photographs, newspapers published during this period, the author wishes to sketch something about the image and life of Vietminh soldiers during 1944-1954 in Viet Bac war zone, in Central and Southern bases and in the key battlegrounds.
So, the Viet minh soldiers, who were they? They were the farmers, workers; and intellectuals voluntarily joined the self-defense team, militias, guerrillas and the armed forces of the People's Army of Vietnam in Viet Minh Fatherland Front to fight for their independence of the nation. They were incredibly brave fight, willing to sacrifice, living with ideals, goals, enduring, overcoming all hardships and difficulties to win over enemies.
At the end of the 1940s, the Vietnamese people's resistance against French colonialism solely took place, besieged by colonialists; there was no resource support from international. In the living conditions of durative combat, self-reliant, not only fighting but also building the country, in the need of food, clothing, accommodation and weapons.
Lack of weapons, however, with the creation, the Viet Minh soldier had produced and manufactured a variety of weapons, even those were simple but no less effective. Through 60 days of fierce fighting to protect Hanoi at the end of 1946, the “cam tu quan” (suicide soldiers) embraced “bom ba cang” (tripod bombs) and rushed into the French tanks. This is a bomb in cone shape, with concave bottom; there are three legs, made of cast iron sealing, containing explosive powder, and equipped detonators outside. In early 1947, the bazooka gun was studied and fabricated in Viet Bac war zone and in Sac forest (Ba Ria - Vung Tau). Concave guns, which heat up to 3.000oC, easily penetrated the tank shells, armored vehicles, and fighting vessels.
Tripod bomb innovated by Viet Minh
Bazooka gun made by Viet Minh – a weapon in 1947 campaign
The propaganda soldiers also had many initiatives. They made up “Tia Sang” newspaper (1946-1950) - the first newspaper of the Viet Minh in French, making the radio show, organizing the conversations at French POW camps, talking about Vietnamese culture, the feeling of the soldier away from home, and the peaceful dreams of the French soldiers of Expeditionary army. At the “Bien Gioi” battle in 1950, Vietnamese soldiers, including cooking soldiers found the losing French soldiers hiding in the forests by waving a bamboo stick attached with the rice to the top to call them for yield instead of speaking French. French invalids and prisoners were moved to the meals that Vietnamese soldiers gave to them while just some hours ago, they still fought each other.
After the battle ending, to ensure food, the Viet Minh soldier was eager to grow cassava, maize. Their meals were served with just some potatoes, cassava, corn, bamboo with salt, rice, sesame or some dry cakes (from Chinese aid during 1950s). "At midnight, marching along the road, a few sit as well as chewing fried rice to fill stomach", or drinking elderberry packed in tubes.
Hoang Cam stove, becomes a subject in army education nowadays
In 1949, the stipend of the soldier was just enough to buy 7-8 kg of rice. At the end of 1952, due to hard storms, in the Duong Minh Chau war zone (South), rice quantity supplied for the soldier was at only 2.5 kg/month, thus, they had to eat porridge. There was not even enough rice to cook porridge for invalids. In the North West campaign, the soldier's life went more difficult when the rice supplied for dân công (people do something voluntary in war) took 92% of rice shipped to the front. The cooking serving for the battle often had to be done at night and many times it was discovered by the enemy that leading to the loss of blood. A Viet Minh soldier named Hoang Cam (of the 308 group) had an initiative by digging out a drainage connecting with the stove, above covered with twigs and a thin layer of soil always keeping moisture. Smoke from the stove through the drainage was quickly dissolved to steam right upon leaving the ground. As a result, he was able to cook in the daytime; the soldier then could eat the warm meals in the winter. The Dien Bien Phu Campaign started in 1954, soya sprouts were brought instead of fresh vegetables by the soldiers while marching.
A glance of life of Vietnamese soldiers in Thua Thien Base 2 in 1948
Soldiers in Quang Ngai trained in the war
The first days of war, "the soldiers had to use the majority of clothes brought from home. Many units established for a long time but still did not have enough clothes for the soldiers ". In 1946 - 1947, a soldier wore calo cap (sticked a square badge, on red background with yellow star) "the calo cap with gold star of National Defense Army" . Baggage of the soldier only were “rubber sandals, drugs quinine and Stovarsol, tube shaped to treat dysentery" . "The soldiers had to equip themselves rubber sandals, bamboo hat and bi-đông (water bottle), bamboo bowls, backpack, and rattan - bamboo grenade baskets." . At the end of 1947, in the winter, they had “áo trấn thủ” (a cotton- padded waistcoat). “Áo trấn thủ” is very simple, short waist, round neck, no sleeves. It consists of two pieces: front piece and back one, connected together in side and one part of shoulder. Side and on the other shoulder is buttoned. Each piece of fabric has two layers, in the middle stuffed with cotton, blanching rhombus shaped. It is neat, good to keeping warm. In the years of arduous war, due to the cotton was rare, they had to use the dry rind of “sui tree” or duck feathers. Buttons were also missing, so they had to use fabric wire or pressed paper buttons instead. The soldiers used the bamboo woven hats or palm leaf but with fabric edge, and covered with a mesh fixed scattered pieces of shredded canvas in disguise. In some cases, the caps were merely covered with floral fabric. They wore black rubber sandals (from the 4th Zone known as the Binh Tri Thien sandals). Firstly appeared in 1947, rubber sandals have been a valuable creative object in history, it served for soldier and people walking during the war against French, and even after that. Soldiers cut it from tire, measuring feet size to cut into a sole, then making eight holes on it for wearing the black rubber straps: two straps crossed to the top, two horizontal straps to the behind. The width between the straps was about 1cm.
The cotton- padded waistcoat worn by Hero Cu Chinh Lan in Hoa Binh campaign, 1951
Sandals made by rubber
Curiously, the straps and the sole were fixed to each other stably not by any kind of glue but by the expansion of the rubber. The rubber sandals are very simple, durable, and convenient to use, easy to make, easy for maintenance and clean, adaptive to all-terrain, climate, and weather conditions in the mountains. Images of the hat, “ao tran thu” and especially the rubber sandals cut from old car tires made Uncle Ho's soldiers against the French war casual, friendly and loving. Until Northwest campaign in 1952, to combat the cold of the mountains, the soldiers were allocated the cotton long-sleeved jackets. In addition, thanks to securing more booties, each soldier could own a big parachute fabric, which they could use in hiring while marching, or as a scarf in cold weather, as a blanket at night. In 1953, the soldier began equipped the military uniforms.
The Dien Bien Phu Campaign started in 1954, "the soldiers wore new long-sleeved cotton jacket, guns, backpack, bag of rice, quick marching row by row to the battlefield. The curtain poles, clothing hanging wires prepared to have a decent place to sleep. Before going to bed, each group of 3 people dug a small hole, put nylon into it and then poured hot water mixed with salt to warm up the foot together ".Promoting excellence on the jungle battlefield, night and near attack, when marching in darkness, the soldier usually used decaying leaves or a piece of bamboo set on his hat or back to make the signal for the followers by the phosphor blip. Time of marching became hours for learning, the following soldier could learn the Viet characters on the small board carried on back of the front. Each soldier carried 30kg of rice, firearms, ammunition, explosives on his shoulders. If it rained on a high and steep mountain, the soldier had to stand outside for hours, as he was unable to find a place to hide or put his backpack just for a while. Wearing wet clothes then dry, dry then wet.
After Operation Border Zone, the shovel was one of equipments for the soldiers. It was used to dig holes avoiding cannons, dig shelters systems (for keeping artillery, vehicle hidden, living and handicapped ...). Each shelter kept 3 soldiers, 2 beds made of soil, and decorated with parachute fabric. Cooking in basement with stockpiles of food, with pure water wells, the soldier used wooden ammo box for ceiling, wall, bed, table and chair. At the break time, he could read, play cards, or use cartouche to make fuel lamps for shining. During the Dien Bien campaign, with such small shovels, they dug the trench axis system (1.7m deep, 1.2m wide) and infantry trench (0.5m wide) that expanded longer day by day to block the enemies. Each soldier after taking a snap in the morning, they spent time in collecting wood, leaves for construction of the trench in the afternoon, then digging by night. Near garrison of enemy, the soldier switched to dig the tunnel, underground, day and night.
Shovels used by sappers in Dien Bien Phu campaign
Vietnamese soldiers advanced to a regular army in Dien Bien Phu campaign
Overcoming hardships, in mountainous area of Viet Bac, the soldiers in cultural field worked timelessly to make newspapers, printing, and publishing a variety of newspapers regularly. Especially, the Quan doi nhan dan Newspaper (People's Army newspaper) was printed and delivered to the soldiers at Dien Bien Phu battlefield. The soldiers could see exhibitions in the forest, enjoying the music show, imbued with the spirit of optimistic and love life, believe in victory, independent country.
Reading newspapers in the peaceful moment at Dien Bien Phu battlefield
In those years, many soldiers became poets. Many poems that the author was a soldier as: “Tay Tien” of Quang Dung, portraying heroic and tragic beauty, the happiness and sadness of the combatants in "soldiers without hair" because of malaria, with pale skin and hair loss. They moved to northwest mountains, toward Laos in 1948. “Dong chi” of Chinh Huu, praising comradeship, allies in the battle between those who have the "fever shaking with the sweaty forehead”, and "as rags, I have several patches on pants", "barefoot" ... Not only poets – or named combatants, there are countless unknown lyrics that were created through the Northwest to Dien Bien campaign.
In the head and soul of Viet Minh soldier, it always contains a firm spirit, qualities and a magical power built up through the revolutionary heroism, which is more accurately called national identity, it is a call from the heart, from Vietnamese blood. The National Defense Army soldiers - Uncle Ho's soldiers in the resistance war against French - the ordinary people but very brave and heroic are beautiful icons, last forever with the country.
Nguyen Thi Tuong Khanh
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The biographer of the leaders of the Party and State
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