Defeat of the Communists by the French in Hai Phong in 1946

SR 2056
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422, Take 1
Interview with Chairman (Mayor) of Hai Phong in 1946.
Vu Quoc Uy:
In October 1946, I was the Chairman of Hai Phong. Because there was a lot of tension in the relationship with the French in the city, I went to see General Vo Nguyen Giap, who was the Minister for Internal Affairs at the time, to ask for his instructions as to what one should do with regards to the French in Hai Phong. Mr. Vo Nguyen Giap told me that although we knew that the French had plans to attack and occupy Vietnam, we had signed an agreement with the French.
The policy of Vietnam, he said, was always to respect agreements and to try her best to maintain peace. Therefore, he said, we should be vigilant and, when incidents occurred, we should try to contain these incidents and to minimize them so that they would not blow up into a big thing all over the city. But when I was returning to Hai Phong from Hanoi, I encountered an extremely tense situation. They had blown up our administrative headquarters with explosives, kidnapped and murdered city inhabitants, attacked the customs office and the police headquarters, and provocations continued unabated.
On October 28 a customs incident occurred. At that time Vietnam was a sovereign country and the right to collect customs taxes should belong to Vietnam. But the French demanded that they should have the right to collect customs taxes. This was the bone of contention. Up to that time, we had collected taxes on boats which brought goods to foreign countries for sale. On that date we collected tax on a cargo boat which was shipping goods abroad.
The French military took this occasion to seize that cargo boat and towed it away. We intervened and said that it would not do. So the French fired on us and killed three of our soldiers and wounded two self defense troops. Immediately after that, there was also another shooting spree at the Cho Sat area, the metal market, which was a very populated area.
When we heard about this, we dispatched the joint delegation to the area to solve the situation. In the area jointly occupied by the Vietnamese and the French, there was a delegation called the Joint Vietnamese French Delegation which, when fighting incidents occurred, would be dispatched to the area in order to solve and contain the problem, not allowing it to blow up into a bigger thing. When this delegation arrived at the scene to help iron things out, there were good results.
The French troops who had invaded our military camp and had been captured were returned. But after that, around 10:00, Colonel Dèbes, the commander of the French troops garrisoned in Hai Phong, ordered that we had to withdraw all our self defense forces from the city. Our self defense units were quartered in many areas in the city.
Naturally we could not go along with this order. We did not place our regular forces inside the city. But the self defense units belonged to the people. And they had the right to arm themselves to defend their offices. We, naturally, could not accept this outrageous order.
So, a little after 10:00, the French sent their tanks out to destroy the barricades which we had put up. At that time we built barricades around the areas where we had our administrative offices or around populated areas where the French were not allowed to come and had no need to come. We did not build barricades in the middle of big roads.
After they had sent their tanks to destroy our barricades, they sent in the infantry to attack us. It was an all out and coordinated attack on many areas of the city. They attacked, first of all, the northern area of the city where many of our important offices were located. They also attacked the amphitheater.
We did not have any regular soldier or any self defense forces guarding the amphitheater. There were only a few professional singers and dancers who also had a few old rifles with them to defend themselves. It was these people who defended the amphitheater and who fought valiantly, turning back waves after waves of French attacks. When the French ordered them to surrender or die, they said that Vietnamese never knew how to surrender.
423, Take 1
Vu Quoc Uy:
By this time a joint delegation, led by Mr. Hoang Huu Nam and Mr. [incomprehensible], was sent from Hanoi to meet with Vietnamese political and military leaders and Colonel Dèbes and a cease fire was agreed upon. But as soon as Mr. Hoang Huu Nam left, Colonel Dèbes sent us an ultimatum, stating that all armed units of the city had to be withdrawn from the city of Hai Phong and that there should not be any weapon left in the city.
And two hours after this ultimatum was delivered to us, artillery shells came from the French boats. And then the infantry, preceded by tanks, attacked us in continuous waves. The battle lasted for more than two days. During this time, we did mount some counterattacks. For example, we reoccupied the amphitheater which was an important area in the city. But we were able to take back only certain parts of the city.
The French forces were very strong. And our people had to fight them block by block, house by house. Old folks and young ones alike participated in the battle. But the battle was really one-sided because the French were much more powerful. So on October 25th we were forced to withdraw from the city.
During this whole period while the battle was going on, the French directed artillery shells against our positions and against the city inhabitants. So we thought that if the situation continued in that way, thousands of people would be killed and injured. As the city inhabitants evacuated the city, the French sent their airplanes to strafe the columns of people who were walking on the roads to the nearby city. On the 25th we evacuated the city and began a new form of resistance.

The fighting spirit of the Hai Phong inhabitants

424, Take 1
Vu Quoc Uy:
During the time the battle was raging I had the opportunity to visit the different areas which were resisting the French takeover. I witnessed a very heroic scene with people fighting very courageously. Those people who were not engaged in the actual fighting calmly evacuated from the city. I saw a lot of people wounded and killed, many houses destroyed and burnt and, in our own estimate, the number of people killed was somewhere between 500 and 1,000.
425, Take 1
Vu Quoc Uy:
While the battle was raging on, I had the opportunity to visit the sections of the city where the fighting were taking place, as well as areas where there was no battle going on. I witnessed many heartrending scenes. There were houses burnt down, people injured and killed.
But at the same time I witnessed scenes of city inhabitants fighting on very confidently and courageously. Young men were firing their guns. For many of them, that was perhaps the first time they ever held a gun. The young women were rescuing the wounded and providing the logistics. And the young kids were acting as couriers. Many times the children were quite creative.
For example, when they had to cross a street where there was a machine gun firing diagonally in this way, the children would wait until a whole clip had been fired before they would roll themselves across the street in order to pass on information. And the young women who were caring for the wounded had taken short courses of only fifteen to twenty days, but they were very calm while they bandaged up the soldiers and showed no fear at all when they transported the wounded from the fighting areas.
The government employees were also moving money and documents urgently out of the fighting areas. And although this was the first time the city inhabitants fought at close combat with a very fierce enemy, I realized that they were courageous. This was a resistance by the entire population to protect their precious freedom and independence. When we withdrew from the city we estimated that between 500 to 1,000 persons were killed. This was a great crime committed against our people by the French colonizers.
When we left the city we had a kind of mixed feeling. We were both outraged and hopeful, hopeful that one day we will be able to come back to the city. We were certain that Hai Phong would not remain for long another French city as it had been. Sooner or later we would come to our beloved city.