General Giap’s career began in 1944 commanding a ragtag band of 34 Vietnamese citizen soldiers in December 1944 vowing to fight to the death for a Vietnam independent of foreign rule. Their original armament is said to have included flintlock rifles. Gen. Giap molded this force into what was to become Vietnam People’s Army, an underrated force that would defeat the French and American armies over thirty years of warfare, ending in 1975.
General Giap routinely led his troops into battle against better equipped, better supplied forces. His military strategy and tactics dealt the French colonial army under General Henri Navarre a humiliating defeat in 1954 after a 55 day battle at Dien Bien Phu. I have studied that battle at length and stood at the site pondering it in 2010. It’s one of the most fascinating stories in history and can best (and only) e appreciated by reading Bernard Fall’s “Hell in a very small place” (1967). The epic analysis from the undisputed master.
Giap went on to command other historically significant battles including the iDrang Valley offensive (1965), Tết Offensive (1968); the Easter Offensive (1972); and the final Hồ Chí Minh Campaign (1975) that eventually ended American occupation of Vietnam.
Of particular interest was the Vietnamese offensive at iDrang in November of 1965. A turning point in the American war; the battle that convinced Ho Chi Minh he could win and convinced Lyndon Johnson (or his advisors) that more troops were necessary to hold on.
The battle and it’s aftermath was expertly and lyrically recounted by then Lt. Col, (now General, ret) Hal Moore in “We were soldiers once, and young” (1992). Gen Moore wrote a second volume recounting his followup visit in 2010 in which he interviewed General Giap. “We are soldiers still”, both highly recommended general education reading.
General Giap is considered to be one of the most brilliant military strategists of all time, comfortably sitting at the same table as Napoleon Bonaparte, Stonewall Jackson and Erwin Rommel.
“But we still fought because, for Vietnam, nothing is more precious than independence and freedom,” he said, repeating a famous quote by Ho Chi Minh.