Vo Nguyen Giap By Darcy Roche

Vo Nguyen Giap was considered one of the greatest military strategists of the 20th century. Responsible for countless military manoeuvres and tactical actions, Giap was renowned for his intelligence in battle and the artistry of guerrilla warfare. Equipped with no prior military training and only a vision for his country, Giap was regarded as a revolutionary military leader, leading Vietnam to victory over the French colonial powers and American side in the Vietnam War.

Early life

Born on the 25th of August, 1911 in Quang Binh, Giap began life in a country ruled by colonial powers. The son of an ardent anticolonialist scholar, Giap soon fashioned a subtle hatred of French rule that would later be the strength behind his fight for his country's independence and determine the change of his nation.

Educated at Quoc Hoc, Giap attended the same school as Ho Chi Minh who he later worked very closely with in his future endeavors. Raised in a middle class family of high educational attainment, Giap also went on to study at the University of Hanoi. In 1938, he graduated with a degree in law. In 1939, he married Nguyen Thi Quang Thai.

Giap and his wife Nguyen Thi Quang Thai, (married 1939-1944)
military career before vietnam war

A dedicated young citizen, Giap committed to abolishing French rule from his country and began so at the very young age of 14. While still a student in 1926, Giap joined the revolutionary party of young Vietnam, Tan Viet Cach Menh Dang. This party was one of the first Communist movements formed in the midst of Vietnam's early independence movement. Giap was described as a motivated member of the party who dedicated everything to their cause. Giap continued his activities as a member of Vietnam's revolution for the next four years until he was arrested during a student protest by the colonial powers; the French Surete. He was sentenced to three years in jail, however Giap was released on parole after only a few months.

After his release, Giap worked closely with the Indochinese Communist Party with his wife in 1938, until it was prohibited in 1939. During this time, Giap fled to China, (consequently combining forces with Ho Chi Minh who would later form the Viet Minh independence movement party.) Although Giap escaped French powers, his family wasn't nearly as lucky. Giap's wife was sent to jail where she passed away three years later and his sister was guillotined by the French police. As a result, Giap became more dedicated than ever to his goal of Vietnamese independence in order to avenge his relative's deaths. He had the courage to pursue his goals even after these tragedies.

Vo Nguyen Giap, (left) and Ho Chi Minh, (right) the dynamic duo who would be the masterminds behind the Vietnamese revolution.

By 1939, Vietnam's fight for independence was dampened due to the Second World War, (where Japanese forces occupied the country.) Giap spent these years formulating and perfecting his and Ho Chi Minh's plans for a Democratic Republic following the end of the Second World War. He never gave up hope that one day his country could stand alone and prosper; one of the many reasons Giap was so integral in Vietnam's independence. In 1941, Giap formed an important alliance with Vietnamese tribal leader Chu Vu Tan, integrating their forces into a stronger, more effective movement. In the same year, Ho Chi Minh formed the Viet Minh, a liberation front that became Vietnam's hope for freedom.

A French poster critical of Japanese imperialism in Vietnam during World War 2.

Following the end of WW2, (1945) the Japanese granted Ho Chi Minh the ability to form a provisional government. He declare Vietnam a Democratic Republic with General Vo Nguyen Giap as interior minister. This Government was short lived however, as French rule returned with an ignorance for Vietnam's new found patriotism. Unwilling to recognise the country's new government, fighting soon broke out between the French and the Viet Minh.

Viet Minh guerilla unit
First indochina war (1946-54)

During the post World War period, Giap sanctioned execution of many non-communist nationalists and censored newspapers to conform with Communist Party directives. Giap was a dedicated member of the fight for freedom and committed himself to any action that need be taken. When fighting between the French and Giap's forces broke out, Giap realised his forces couldn't withstand the attacks of the French and withdrew the Viet Minh to the countryside. In 1953, the French occupied the valley of Dien Bien Phu, a stronghold that became a decisive piece in the puzzle to end Vietnamese colonialism. Giap saw his opportunity and placed heavy artillery in caves surrounding the French stronghold and amassed Viet Minh and Chinese troops.

Map of Vietnam, Dien Bien Phu highlighted

After various waves of assaults and attacks over approximately 3 weeks, the French perimeter was finally reduced, resistance ceased. Due to Giap's extensive military intelligence and tactics, along with his unwavering need to succeed, the French were forced to surrender. The Battle for Dien Bien Phu was a key decider in the fate of Vietnam. This battle proved to the Vietnamese people that they could achieve freedom and a better life. Giap was a major role player in this achievement and was hailed as a military hero.

Viet Minh soldiers holding General Giap above them, celebrating their victory at Dien Bien Phu
role in the vietnam war

With the Geneva Accords now in play in Vietnam, it was finally perceived that once the elections took place, (that Ho Chi Minh would undoubtedly win,) Vietnam would be free to move forward. However these elections never happened and a new leader of South Vietnam emerged to challenge Ho Chi Minh and his Northern territory. During 1959, Giap and his forces began preparing to take the South and reunify the country. This included the construction and use of the infamous Ho Chi Minh Trail.

Traffic along the Ho Chi Minh Trail

Once America entered the war, Giap decided that his guerrilla tactics would best challenge them as his strategies against the French had previously worked so well. This guerrilla strategy included complex camouflage, suprise attack, intricate planning; a practice where Giap's army was "everywhere and nowhere."

After a failed battle in Ia Drang (November 1965,) where major losses were sustained, Giap still continued with his guerrilla tactics even though they had previously let him down.

Battle of Ia Drang valley

Giap used his strategies to meticulously plan the Tet Offensive of 1968. The Tet Offensive consisted of attacks of some 85000 troops, raiding five major South Vietnamese cities over the course of 8 months. Being one of the largest military offensives of the Vietnam War, the success of the offensive was to determine the course of the war over the next few years.

Giap was also responsible for the planning of the Easter Offensive which took place between March and October of 1972. Neither of these offensives were seen as a success or failure, however in the eyes of Giap's army they were unsuccessful meaning General Giap was removed as head of the army.

General Giap planning one of his many campaigns
post war contributions & later life

Following the Fall of Saigon, (and end of Vietnam War,) Giap still continued to contribute to his country. General Giap became the Deputy Prime Minister of the new Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In 1980, he resigned from the defence ministry before finally leaving the Politburo in 1982. Giap worked hard for his country and remained Deputy Prime Minister until 1991, aged 80.

Giap visiting a French trench at the battle site of Dien Bien Phu

General Vo Nguyen Giap peacefully passed away in Hanoi on October 4th, 2013. He lived until the remarkable age of 102.


"every day i live, i live for my nation."

-Vo Nguyen Giap

In the French Indochina War, Vo Nguyen Giap's military brilliance and valour led to his winning of the decisive battle of Dien Bien Phu that ended French colonialism. Not only was this a major victory for Giap, it created a sense of hope for the Vietnamese nation. Giap had the ability to inspire his fellow citizens and assist in their rise to freedom; which is sometimes all they needed to persevere.

Through my research and investigation into General Giap, I have uncovered a complex character; inspiring to some and despised of by others. General Giap had immense courage and a determined mind that lead to his victory over his opponents and reunification of his country. Giap is an inspiration; his willingness to do anything for his nation even in times where he had no other reason other than a patriotic motive to push him through. He was solemnly dedicated to a war that robbed him of his wife and sister, Giap persisted in the face of adversity and in times of largely variant views.

Even long after the Vietnam war was resolved, Giap continued to influence his country, being an active government member for many years. With a military career lasting for 64 years, Giap certainly contributed a large amount to the prosperity of Vietnam.

In a country that had so much potential, but so little to give, Giap fortified a hope for his people to get them through times of adversity. He threw everything he had into the war effort and inspired so many others to do the same. He built a promise for the Vietnamese people that sometimes became the only reason they had to continue in the fight for their freedom.

For these reasons, it is clear to see why Giap was such a successful person in the Vietnam conflict. Giap was fearless in his endeavors and inspirited people who thought they had nothing including basic freedoms.


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