Interest in this colonial war seems to be enjoying something of a boom lately, no doubt spurred by the release of several excellent figure ranges over the last few years such as Red Star Miniatures' outstanding 28mm range, Eureka Miniatures' 15mm offerings and Pendraken Miniatures' lovely 10mm range.
Several years ago (more than I care to mention), I was lucky enough to spend quite a bit of time in the archives of the French Army's Historical Branch (SHAT) at Vincennes. There I was able to photocopy quite a few primary documents, mostly covering TO&Es and tactical doctrine both French and Viet Minh, which I will be making available here as and when I find the time to scan them. Sadly they will be of use mostly to French speakers as I don't have the time to provide a translation.
I hope this proves useful to those of you with an interest in this conflict. The documents certainly paint a very different picture to what is portrayed in secondary sources: the Viet Minh was far more tactically sophisticated and French unit organisation, while very diverse because they were tailored for different theaters and unit roles, were a far cry from the "anything goes" that is often described.
Note: Where the document contains only odd or even pages, it is because it was originally produced as a bilingual French and Vietnamese document and only the pages in French were copied (at the outrageous price charged by SHAT for photocopies).
Viet Minh TO&Es
- Organisation militaire Viet Minh (Etat-Major Général, 2e Bureau - September 1953): This large study of Viet Minh military organisation was produced by the Military Intelligence branch of the Indochina General Staff. Amongst other things this contains TO&Es from page 65 (from rifle group to division) and a glossary of Vietminh military terms and designations from page 106.
Viet Minh Tactics and Doctrine
- Tactiques et procédés de combat Viet Minh (Etat-Major Général, 2e Bureau - April 1953): A French Military Intelligence report on Viet Minh tactics including fives annexes with after action reports on typical engagements.
- Tableaux d'effectifs et de dotation des troupes aéroportées en Indochine (1950): 1950 parachute battalion TO&E.
- Tableaux d'effectifs et de dotation des troupes aéroportées en Indochine (1951): 1951 parachute battalion TO&E.
- Tableaux d'effectifs et de dotation des troupes aéroportées en Indochine (1952): 1952 parachute battalion TO&E.
- Tableaux d'effectifs et de dotation des troupes aéroportées en Indochine (1954): 1954 parachute battalion TO&E.
- Tableaux d'effectifs et de dotation des unités de l'arme blindée des FTEO (1950): 1950 armoured units TO&E.
- Tableaux d'effectifs et de dotation des unités de l'arme blindée des FTEO (1952): 1952 armoured units TO&E.
- Tableaux d'effectifs et de dotation des unités de l'arme blindée des FTEO (1953): 1953 armoured units TO&E.
- Tableaux d'effectifs et de dotation du Groupement Amphibie (1954): 1954 amphibious group TO&E.
- The Lessons of the War in Indochina Vol.II (1967): In case you are not familiar with this Vietnam-era Rand Corporation translation of the official "lessons learnt" report originally published in 1955, this is probably the best one-stop reference in English for the Indochina War.
- The Lessons of the War in Indochina Vol.III: Over at DTIC, which is a treasure trove of historical documents, lay hidden Volume III of the Indochina "lessons learnt" report and several technical annexes from Vol.II which were not included in the RAND translation. I have not been able to find items 1 and 5 but the rest can be downloaded below:
- AD804373 - Item 2. Guerrilla No. 7 - Issued by the Geographic Section of the FTE. This is a collection of articles on Viet Minh Tactics, Stratagems, Sabotage, Traps & Mines.
- AD804379 - Item 3. Notes on Combat in Indo-China, dated March 30, 1954
- AD804372 - Item 4. Air Reconnaissance in Indo-China. This is a collection of procedures pertaining to air reconnaissance and intelligence.
- AD804375 - Item 6. Lessons to be Drawn from the War in Indo-China. Covers logisitics, vehicles and armament with an assessment of their qualities and drawbacks. Probably the most interesting of the lot.
- AD804376 - Item 7. Lessons From the Indo-China War, Vol.II. This is the same as Vol.II above except that it is not the RAND edition.
- AD804377 - Item 8. Lessons from the Indo-China War, Vol.III. This is an overview of Viet Minh tactics followed by an appraisal of the various branches of the French army.
- AD804374 - Item 9. Instruction Relative to the Use of the Intervention Artillery in Indo-China. This is a collection of papers on the use of mobile artillery (as opposed to static guns deployed in outposts), forward observers and observation aircraft.
- AD804378 - Item 10. Manual Of Mines And Booby Traps Of The Far East. What it says on the tin: this is an illustrated catalogue of Viet Minh mines and booby traps.
- Inventaire des archives de l’Indochine, sous-série 10 H, 1867 à 1956, by Jean-Claude DEVOS, Jean NICOT and Philippe SCHILLINGER, Vincennes : 1987-1990, 2 vol. Volume 1 and Volume 2 can be downloaded from the SHD website. I wish something like this had been available online back when I trawled through the archives it would have made my visits far more efficient.
Here are some scan of articles, published in a short-lived magazine, detailing the various craft used by the Dinassauts, including scale plans: