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Vietnamese National Army (VNA)
Quân đội Quốc gia Việt Nam
Flag of the Vietnamese National Army
Flag of the Vietnamese National Army
Active 1949–1955
Country State of Vietnam
Allegiance Chief of State of Vietnam
Type Army
Role Maintain order and internal security within the State of Vietnam
Fight communist troops
Defend the borders of the French Union.[1]
Size As of July 1954
-167,700 men[1]
-37,800 auxiliaries[1]
(total: 205,500)[1]
Engagements First Indochina War (1949-1954)
Battle of Saigon (1955)
Nguyễn văn Hinh,
Trung tướng Army-FRA-OF-07.svg
Tham mưu trưởng

On March 8, 1949, after the Elysee accords, the State of Vietnam was recognized by France as an independent country ruled by Vietnamese Emperor Bảo Đại. The Vietnamese National Army or Vietnam National Army (Vietnamese language: Quân đội Quốc gia Việt Nam , "National Army of Vietnam", French language: Armée Nationale Vietnamienne, "Vietnamese National Army") was the State of Vietnam's military force created shortly after that. It was commanded by Vietnamese General Hinh and was loyal to Bảo Đại. The VNA fought in joint operations with the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps against the communist Viet Minh forces led by Ho Chi Minh. Different units within the VNA fought in a wide range of campaigns including but not limited to the Battle of Na San (1952), Operation Hautes Alpes (1953), Operation Atlas (1953) and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu (1954).

With the departure of the French Far East Expeditionary Corps (CEFEO) from Indochina in 1956, following a French-American secret war in South Vietnam,[2] and subsequent end of France's influence in the area replaced by the United States (Ngo Dinh Diem and the Republic of Vietnam replaced Bảo Đại and the State of Vietnam), the VNA was reorganized to an Americanized version; which included the creation of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam.

Operations (1949–1955)

While loyalist to the Chief of State of Vietnam Emperor Bảo Đại, the VNA fought along the French Union forces against the communist Viet Minh led by Ho Chi Minh during the First Indochina War until 1954 and the partition of Vietnam.

In 1955, the State of Vietnam was dissolved and replaced by Ho Chi Minh's Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and Ngo Dinh Diem's Republic of Vietnam in the south. In early May, civil war ensued in the capital of South Vietnam when the VNA fought General Le van "Bay" Vien's Binh Xuyen forces in the latter's controlled areas of Saigon.[3]

By 1956 all French Union troops withdrew from Vietnam and most of the VNA officers remained in service in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. After the fall of Saigon breaking in 1975, some joined the French Foreign Legion and others exiled to France or the United States.

Military schools

National Military Academy

Benefiting with French cadres assistance and United States material support the VNA quickly became a modern army modeled after the CEFEO Expeditionary Corps.[4] Officers and Non-commissioned officers were trained in local schools of cadres known in French as Ecoles des Cadres, or at the elite National Military Academy of Dalat (EETD).[5]

The Preparatory Military School (école militaire préparatoire, EMP) of Dalat was directed by Lieutenant Savani, a metropolitan French who was educated in the Autun EMP. It was created in 1936 after the Autun EMP as the Dalat School of the Eurasian Children of Troops (Ecole des Enfants de Troupe Eurasiens de Dalat, EETED). Once dissolved during the Japanese occupation in 1944, General de Lattre reformed the EETED as the EETD Dalat School of the Children of Troops (Ecole des Enfants de Troupe de Dalat) in 1950.

In 1953, the cadres formation raised with 54 new battalion created and hundreds of new officers formed by early March.[6] By November the Vietnamese National Army was entirely enlisted of Vietnamese recruits from the Privates to Generals.[7]

On the other hand, until 1954 some Vietnamese were trained four months in an Infantry Instruction Centers (Centre d'Instruction de l'Infanterie, CII) based in southern Vietnam. Once licensed these recruits would not be part of the VNA but the French CEFEO. Other officer and NCO alumni were coming from all French Union including Cambodia, Overseas (Martinique, Reunion, French Guiana), metropolitan French and "French citizens" of French West Africa and India.[8][9]

Hoang Dieu promotion

On April 20, 1952, the Dalat academy celebrated its first promotion (Hoàng Diệu) with a "baptism" which is the Saint Cyr -French West Point- fashion. Celebrating officials included Chief of State Bảo Đại, Prime Minister Tran Van Huu, General Governor of French Indochina Gautier and French General Salan, commander of the CEFEO.[10]

His majesty Bảo Đại awarded the Hoang Dieu promotion Major and Second with a Saint-Cyr offered saber.[11] As a symbol of autodefense of the whole Vietnam by the VNA, the Major shot four arrows in each direction.[12]

Military Institute for Reserve Officers

Non-Commissioned Officers School of Quang Yen


Alumni of the Vatchay Light Infantry Commando school located in the Halong Bay, were trained to anti-guerrilla warfare including bayonet fighting, close quarters combat, jujutsu art, river crossing, basic rope bridge (known as "monkey bridge") crossing, enhanced camouflage, minefield crossing, barbed wire field crossing and trench warfare.[6]

Military ranks

Military ranks were organized after the French army's hierarchy. Shoulder patch insignia would have three, two or one bar or star.[13] Generals would have three stars while NCO officers with a straight bar (Sous-Lieutenant for "1st Lieutenant") were called Ong Mot ("Mister One") and those with two straight bars (Lieutenant for "2nd Lieutenant") were unofficially named Ong Hai ("Mister Two"). Since anyone working for the government was called Quan the rank Lieutenant soon replaced it, Quan Mot became Sous-Lieutenant, Quan Hai became Lieutenant and so forth.[14]

After the founding of the Republic of Vietnam in 1955, the VNA was renamed the Army of the Republic of Vietnam. Its military ranks and hierarchy were reformed.[14]


Ground force

TDND 6 emblem.

Organized as a modern army the Ground Force included artillery, infantry, transmission and armoured cavalry units.[13]

Airborne regiments including paratrooper "TDND" (Tieu Doan Nhay Du, "Commando Battalion"), the so-called 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th BAWOUAN, were later created. These elite units were referred as the "BPVN" (Bataillon de Parachutistes Viêt-Namiens, "Vietnamese Paratroopers Battalions") by their French allies. Some of these paratroopers were attached to the GCMA special forces.

Air force

The VNA air force first took part in the First Indochina War during the joint Operation Atlas in April 1953.[15] The aviation consisted of Morane Saulnier MS-500 reconnaissance planes and Douglas DC-3 and DC-4 transport aircraft useful in airborne operations.[4]


The navy included amphibious vehicles such as Landing Craft Infantry, Landing Craft Mechanized, small craft and materiel.[4]

Marine troops

The Marine Troops corps was modelled after the French Troupes de Marine. Their particular Navy blue uniform with white gaiters is still used by the French Fusiliers Marins.

Special forces

Special forces consisted of Vietnamese commandos trained by French officers in local schools. They used a whole different personnel, uniform, equipment, training and warfare compared with the regular airborne or infantry troops.

The GCMA airborne commandos (Groupe Commando Mixte Aéroporté, "Airborne Mixed Commando Group") were Vietnamese ethnic minorities or Laotian montagnard partisans led by paratrooper officers of the SDECE French intelligence agency. Some of them would be used as cadres in the North Vietnam Commandos (Commandos Nord Viêt-nam).

In 1951, French General de Lattre commander of the CEFEO ordered for the creation of the North Vietnam Commandos to Louis Fourcade. These remained operational until 1954 with Fourcade as the "Big Boss" (le Grand Patron) until June 21, 1953.

Their mission was to collect intelligence, perform hit-and-run ambushes and bring confusion in Viet Minh controlled areas (northern Vietnam) wearing enemy uniforms and using unconventional warfare such as guerrilla techniques.[16] These were based on both, GCMA director and famous counter-insurgency theorician Roger Trinquier's experience as French Jedburgh in World War II, and on Viet Minh POWs collaboration.

Independent Armies within the VNA (1949-1955)

In 1949, after becoming the Head-of-State, Bảo Đại made the most controversial decision concerning the armed forces of the new State of Vietnam: recognizing all non-communist military forces in the country as independent armies within the VNA. These forces included: Viet Binh Doan, Bao Chinh Doan, Binh Xuyen (approximately 40,000 strong), Hoa Hao (30,000 men under different leaders) and Cao Dai (25,000 men). Doing so, Bảo Đại solved the problem of having to spread the army too thin in the war against the Vietminh. Furthermore, the independent forces did not need money from the central government since they either were self-financed through clandestine activities or they were armed and financed by Savani's 2e Bureau in Vietnam. The Binh Xuyen was an organized crime military force in Saigon that provided part of Bảo Đại's luxury life.

In 1955, with Lansdale's support, Prime Minister Diem ordered all forces to surrender their weapons and to be part of one army. Some groups joined willingly while others were attacked by the regular VNA. By late 1955, all these forces ceased to exist. Many of their ranks joined the NVA or the Vietminh, while others returned to a civilian life.[17]

Weaponry & equipment

Just like in the CEFEO, most of the VNA's military equipment was World War II vintage. Firearms were mixed U.S. and French. Helmets were mostly U.S. M1 Helmet (and airborne version) with some French copy "Model 51" (modèle 51, M51) and certain units wearing the World War II U.S. or Australian Imperial similar Slouch hat (chapeau de brousse nicknamed "broussard"). Uniforms were mixed U.S., French and British (SAS airborne).

Heavier equipment of the armoured cavalry was made of World War II vintage U.S. light tanks as they had the ability to be drop stripped and assembled by specialized engineering companies on location.

Viet Minh captured arms like German Karabiner 98k with bayonet, U.S. Browning MGs or Japanese "knee mortars" were sometimes used.[18] These arms would often be supplied to the guerrillas by China as captured material from the Chinese Civil War (the NRA had been supplied by both Nazi Germany and the USA) or left behind by the Japanese Southern Expeditionary Army Group after the Pacific War.




Infantry / Airborne


  • United States SCR 300 Walkie-Talkie (with earphones)
  • United States SCR 536 Handie-Talkie

Planned participation in Europe

With the 1954 cease-fire, pro-French and optimistic General Nguyen Van Hinh stated that as early as 1955 "a Vietnamese division will be sent to France as compensation for sacrifices in Indochina by the latter. This great unit will participate in the defense of Europe as part of the opposition between the western and eastern blocks[1]

However the European Defence Community project was rejected by France and Nguyen Van Hinh's French counter-intelligence SDECE/GCMA-backed planned coup (scheduled for end October 1954) against pro-USA and CIA-backed (Edward Lansdale) Ngo Dinh Diem failed. The Vietnamese general was eventually dismissed, leaving South Vietnam in November 1954, following French general Raoul Salan's departure and return to France in October.[19][20] The French-American secret war and influence struggle in Vietnam engaging the SDECE against the CIA continued until 1956[2] when the CEFEO Expeditionary Corps was dissoluted and returned to France.

Collins-Ely memorandum

On December 13, 1954, the 1954-55 French High Commissioner in Indochina (CEFEO Expeditionary Corps Commander), General Paul Ély, and the newly appointed ambassador, U.S. Special Representative in Vietnam General J. Lawton Collins, sign the following agreements:

  • Personnel reduction from 167,000 to 90,000 (pro-French officers purge)
  • Organization and training transferred from France to the United States Military Assistance Advisory Group on January 1, 1955 (under "virtual" overall authority of the French CEFEO Commander)
  • Progressive reduction of French and U.S. advisors and trainers
  • Full autonomy granted on July 1, 1955

Both generals acknowledge the size of the new force would be insufficient to protect South Viet Nam against an external aggression, hence ultimate reliance is placed on the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (Cold War era Asian equivalent to NATO) which France and the United States are members.



TDND 5 (aka "5e BAWOUAN") emblem. This elite airborne unit fought several battles including Dien Bien Phu.

Famous units of the VNA are:

  • The 5th Vietnamese Artillery Group (5e Groupe d'Artillerie Viêt-namienne, GAVN) and the 55th Vietnamese Battalion (55e Bataillon Vietnamien) which fought at the battle of Na San in 1952.
  • The 301st Vietnamese Infantry Battalion (301e Bataillon Viêt-namien, BVN) and the 5th Vietnamese Airborne Battalion (TDND 5 or 5e BAWOUAN) both fought at the 1954 battle of Dien Bien Phu.


Notes: "ARVN" stands for Army of the Republic of Vietnam, "FFL" stands for French Foreign Legion, "USA" stands for United States Army, "VNA" stands for Vietnamese National Army.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 LES ANCIENNES FORCES ANNAMITES, Colonel Maurice Rives based on the scholar thesis Nguyen Van Phai's "L'Armée Vietnamienne", Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier, 1980 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "thesis" defined multiple times with different content
  2. 2.0 2.1 "It was the first-and last time that two Western intelligence -agencies entered open combat."", Kris Millegan, Sat, 10 Jul 2004, from Warlords of Crime by Gerald Posner, 1988, Penguin Books, ISBN 0-14-012340-7
  3. Indochina: Saigon after the combats (rushes) French news archives, ORTF, May 10, 1955
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 A Brief Overview of the Vietnam National Army and the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces(1952-1975), Stephen Sherman and Bill Laurie
  5. Revival of Vietnamese culture - the Nguyen Dynasty seminar (Office of The Imperial Nguyễn Dynasty of Vietnam)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Future Vietnamese cadres (Vietnamese National Army footage), French newsreel archives (Les Actualités Françaises) March 5, 1953
  7. The young army of Vietnam (Vietnamese National Army footage), French newsreel archives (Les Actualités Françaises) November 26, 1953
  8. French Defense Ministry archives ECPAD, Raoul Coutard reportage (text), June 1954
  9. French Defense Ministry archives ECPAD, Raoul Coutard reportage (picture), June 1954
  10. First promotion of the Vietnamese Army (Vietnamese National Army footages), French newsreel archives (Les Actualités Françaises) May 1, 1952
  11. French Defense Ministry archives ECPAD, Raymond Varoqui reportage, April 20, 1952
  12. French Defense Ministry archives ECPAD, Raymond Varoqui reportage, February 15–28, 1952
  13. 13.0 13.1 The young army of Vietnam (Vietnamese National Army footages), French newsreel archives (Les Actualités Françaises) November 26, 1953
  14. 14.0 14.1 Toan Nguyen in Vietnamese Military Mail Terms and Markin
  15. French Defense Ministry archives ECPAD, Fernand Jentile reportage, April 1953
  16. Pissardy, Jean-Pierre (1999). "Commandos Nord-Vietnam: 1951-1954" (in French). Indo Editions. Retrieved 2007-06-27. 
  17. Military History volume 4
  18. Vietnamese National Army gallery (May 1951-June 1954), French Defense Ministry archives ECPAD
  19. Rendez-vous With X: 1954, The Secret Franco-American War In Indochina (1954, LA GUERRE SECRETE FRANCO-AMERICAINE EN INDOCHINE), Patrick Pesnot, France Inter, March 12, 2005
  20. Rendez-vous With X: 1954, The Secret Franco-American War In Indochina (archived podcast pt.1)


  • Pissardy, Jean-Pierre. "Commandos Nord-Vietnam: 1951-1954", Indo Editions, 1999.
  • Simpson, Howard R. (August 1992). Tiger in the Barbed Wire: An American in Vietnam, 1952-1991. Brassey's Inc. ISBN 0-7881-5148-7. 
  • AFRVN Military History Section, J-5, Strategic Planning and Policy (in Vietnamese). Quân Sử 4: Quân lực Việt Nam Cộng Hòa trong giai-đoạn hình-thành: 1946-1955 (reprinted from the 1972 edition in Taiwan, DaiNam Publishing, 1977) [Military History volume 4: AFRVN, the formation period, 1946-1955]. 

See also

Archive newsreel

External links

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