|Part of First Indochina War|
|Commanders and leaders|
Vo Nguyen Giap |
Hoang Van Thai
|Casualties and losses|
6,000 killed and wounded|
(Viet Minh Claim)
9,000 killed and wounded|
Operation Léa was French Union military operation between 7 October and 8 November 1947 during the First Indochina War. It was an attempt by the French General Valluy to crush the Viet Minh. An airborne force would capture the Viet Minh leadership and three French columns would strike into the Viet Minh heartland.
The operation was soon called off and the French forces withdrew to the lowlands. It was a tactical success, inflicting severe casualties on the Viet Minh, but strategically indecisive, because it failed to capture the Viet Minh leadership or seriously cripple its military forces.
After the outbreak hostilities on 19 December 1946, the French Union forces had made significant progress by capturing the major cities Haiphong, Hanoi, Lang Son, Cao Bang as well as nearly the complete western and southern region of Tonkin, which was the stronghold of the Viet Minh movement. The reasons for the fast advance were the superior firepower, naval and air support of the French forces. The major forces of the Viet Minh were nearly surrounded by the French in the eastern part of Tonkin. There remained only a greater gap between the towns Cao Bang in the north and Yên Bái in the south. During April 1947 Ho Chi Minh made a last attempt to achieve a ceasefire and to continue the negotiations with the French government about Vietnamese independence from 1946. But the French only demanded his surrender, because the position of the Vietnamese forces seemed to be desperate. But on 26 April, he refused the French, offering: "In the French Union is no place for cowards. I would be one, if I would accept." During the rest of the spring and the summer, the French made assaults to the bases of the Viet Minh troops in Tonkin but could not force them to a conventional battle. Instead the Viet Minh returned when the French moved on.
The French supreme command in Indochina under General Jean-Étienne Valluy realized that the recent tactics of minor assaults to locate the headquarters of the Viet Minh would not lead to an end of the war. From their intelligence department, they received some information that the location of the headquarters of the Viet Minh was in the city Bac Kan. They planned to capture Ho Chi Minh and the staff of the Viet Minh and to gain a complete victory over the Vietnamese independence movement.
The operation started on 7 October with the airborne landing of 1,100 paratroopers at the city of Bac Kan. The paratroopers took over the control of the city swiftly, but could not capture Ho Chi Minh or any other of the Vietnamese leaders.
At the same time, ten battalions of French troops (strength est. 15,000 men) started moving from the city of Lang Son to Cao Bang in the north and then down through Nguyen Binh to Bac Kan. The primary target of this action was to cut off the Viet Minh from any supplies which could reach them from China. The second objective was to surround the Vietnamese forces completely and destroy them during a battle. Delayed by bad roads, mines and ambushes it took the French column until 13 October to reach the vicinity of Bac Kan where the Viet Minh put up a strong resistance. The French finally broke through on 16 October to relieve the beleaguered paratroops. Meanwhile, a four battalion riverine force that was supposed to assault up the Clear and Gam Rivers was so delayed by sandbars and other obstructions that they played no useful part in the battle. The French were unable to destroy the Viet Minh forces with most of the 40,000 guerrillas escaping through gaps in the French lines. Among them were the leader Ho Chi Minh and his staff with General Vo Nguyen Giap. On 8 November, it was called off. At the end of the operation, French claimed the Vietnamese forces had suffered a loss of 9,000 men.
After the failure of Operation Léa and the later Operation Ceinture, the French supreme command changed tactics again. For financial and economic reasons, France was not able to send more troops to Indochina. The French began to establish outposts on the major roads (Route Coloniale 4 and Route Coloniale 3) in an attempt to restrict Viet Minh movement in northeast Tonkin, but the Viet Minh could easily slip through these lines and reinforce themselves from across the Chinese border. This would take the war from the now established stalemate into the first Viet Minh victories in 1949/1950.
- Harry G. Summers, jr, Historical Atlas of the Vietnam War. p. 48
- Herring, George C.; Fall, Bernard B. (2005). Street Without Joy: The French Debacle In Indochina (Stackpole Military History Series). Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. pp. 28–31. ISBN 0-8117-3236-3.
- Logevall, Fredrik (2012). Embers of War: The Fall of an Empire and the making of America's Vietnam. Random House. p. 203. ISBN 978-0-375-75647-4.
- Summer Jr., Harry. Historical atlas of the Vietnam war. Houghton Mifflin Co. ISBN 0-395-72223-3.
- Herring, George C.; Fall, Bernard B. (2005). Street Without Joy: The French Debacle In Indochina (Stackpole Military History Series). Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books. ISBN 0-8117-3236-3.