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Belligerents VNQDĐ

France France

Commanders and leaders Nguyễn Thái Học[1] FranceFrance France

Commanders and leaders Nguyễn Thái Học[1] France Resident Massimi
FranceVietnamese: Tổng khởi-nghĩa Yên-bái, "Yên Bái general uprising") was an uprising of Vietnamese soldiers in the French colonial army on 10 February 1930 in collaboration with civilian supporters who were members of the Việt Nam Quốc Dân Đảng (VNQDĐ, the Vietnamese Nationalist Party).[2][3]

The aim of the revolt was to inspire a wider uprising among the general populace in an attempt to overthrow the colonial regime and establish independence. The VNQDĐ had previously attempted to engage in clandestine activities to undermine French rule, but increasing French scrutiny on their activities led to their leadership group taking the risk of staging a large scale military attack in the Red River Delta in northern Vietnam.

Shortly after midnight on 10 February, about 50 Vietnamese soldiers (Tirailleurs indochinois) of the 4th Regiment of Tonkinese Rifles within the Yên Bái garrison turned on their French officers with assistance from about 60 civilian VNQDĐ members who invaded the camp from the outside. The mutiny failed within 24 hours when the majority of the Vietnamese soldiers in the garrison refused to participate and remained loyal to the colonial army. Further sporadic attacks occurred across the Delta region, with little impact. French retribution to the attack was swift and decisive. The main leaders of the VNQDĐ were arrested, tried and put to death, effectively ending the military threat of what was previously the leading Vietnamese nationalist revolutionary organisation.

The FHRL also raised the issue of the punitive house-burning in Son Duong, corresponding with the Ministry of Colonies regarding the legality of the property damage. The FHRL claimed that the burning of dwellings was punishable by death under both Vietnamese and French law. I

The FHRL also raised the issue of the punitive house-burning in Son Duong, corresponding with the Ministry of Colonies regarding the legality of the property damage. The FHRL claimed that the burning of dwellings was punishable by death under both Vietnamese and French law. In 1932, the Ministry of Colonies responded and said that the burnings were done with the approval of village elders. The response followed a similar line of deterrence reasoning to the justification for the airstrikes on Co Am. It said "Any other method would have been considered a sign of weakness ... it would have led us not to the destruction of a few thatch houses, but to the use of arms and the sacrifice of a much larger number of people under our protection who might have been drawn into that movement".[59]

There were

There were also penalties enacted against the French officers whose neglectful behaviour had contributed to the mutiny at Yen Bay. Resident Superior Robin released Resident Massimi from his duties immediately after the mutiny. No punishment was handed down to Commandant Le Tacon, the main person responsible for the security at Yen Bay which had failed to stop the mutiny. Neither Robin nor General Aubert, who were ultimately accountable for the failures of their subordinates, were punished. The former remained in Indochina as Governor General until retiring in 1936. Aubert returned to France when his three-year term ended in the autumn of 1930.[60]

General Commandant Superior Aubert, who had been so lenient towards Le Tacon, organised an internal army purge in parallel with the trials of the Criminal Commissions. Its objectives were to reassert control over the native armed forces in Tonkin by identifying, penalising, isolating, and re-educating disloyal troops, thereby setting an example to the others. According to Patrice Morlat, "545 tirailleurs and warrant officers were the object of sanctions: 164 were transferred into disciplinary companies in Tonkin, 94 to Africa..., 57 were handed over to the civilian jurisdiction, and 160 were reduced to the ranks and put on leave without pay." Such remedial actions demonstrated the level of infiltration of the army, and clearly showed that the predominant culpability for the mutiny was seen to be placed squarely on the Vietnamese. In contrast with the first phase of suppression of the VNQDD in 1929, when 121 soldiers suspected of having VNQDĐ membership were punished and 40 put under investigation by the Sûreté, the measures taken after Yen Bay were far more extensive and harsh. More than 500 out of Tonkin's 12,000 indigenous soldiers, a percentage of 4.5%, were punished by the military, demonstrating the extent to which Vietnamese soldiers in the north were seen to be involved in activities contrary to their military duty.[60]

At a more general social level, French authorities took a more stringent line towards any activities that could be considered pro-independence. The writing of pro-VNQDD songs were met with detention orders, and many village-level associations were banned due to fears they could be used for political organising.[61]

Many villages heavily affected by the mutiny and the subsequent crackdown saw a sudden increase in conversions to Catholicism, as many hoped that French priests would lobby the authorities for the sentences imposed on their friends and relatives to be reduced. Over the following decade, the proportion of Catholics in Phu Tho Province rose to 14%.[61]

In 1936, the leftist Popular Front came to power, resulting in a wave of sentence reductions, albeit with parole conditions that forced them to stay in their villages and periodically report to local authorities. There was also an increase in attempts to deter nationalist activists by attempting to give them low-level jobs in the administration, but this policy was not very successful.[62]

The impact of the mutiny on French rule was minimal, in the short and long term. The military casualties inflicted on the French army in the attack were in single figures and the attack did not generate widespread awareness among the populace, as the intended popular uprising did not occur. Instead, the attack backfired and saw a large number of VNQDĐ members killed, captured or executed. The subsequent French military and civilian crackdown saw military security increase and the VNQDĐ's ability to threaten French authority in Vietnam was extinguished. The vast majority of the leadership were killed or sentenced to death, and the remnants of the VNQDĐ fled to China, where several factions emerged under disparate leadership.[63] In the long run, Yên Bái allowed the Indochinese Communist Party of Ho Chi Minh to inherit the VNQDĐ's status as the leading anti-colonial revolutionary movement. After the Second World War, an opportunity to fight for Vietnamese independence arose, and this allowed the communists in the Viet Minh to dictate the platform of the independence movement. As a result, the communists were able to position themselves to become the dominant force in Vietnam post-independence.[64]

Military reforms precipitated by the mutiny

The demand for Indochinese soldiers, auxiliaries first, and then regular troops, had been present since the beginning of French conquest. French troops were never numerically sufficient to assert control of the populace and

The demand for Indochinese soldiers, auxiliaries first, and then regular troops, had been present since the beginning of French conquest. French troops were never numerically sufficient to assert control of the populace and then maintain Pax Gallica in the colony, thus requiring local reinforcements. French troops were too expensive compared to the substantially cheaper native troops. A lack of manpower back in Europe caused by other imperial programs and heavy casualties in World War I on the Western Front further caused a need for the recruitment of Indochinese troops. Because French Indochina was a domination and exploitation colony rather than a settler colony, there were insufficient local Frenchmen to build a settler-army.[39] Native troops generally knew local conditions better, and could be used in terrain on which foreign troops were disadvantaged. Particularly after 1915, French Indochina was expected to financially contribute to the defence of the colony and even to send native troops to France.[65]

The indigenous soldiers fulfilled a number of different purposes. Initially they were collaborators in the conquest of Indochina, helping to defeat the forces of the Nguyễn Dynasty and then in its pacification. After the pacification campaign was officially completed in 1897, the two main functions of the colonial army were the maintenance of internal peace and external se

The indigenous soldiers fulfilled a number of different purposes. Initially they were collaborators in the conquest of Indochina, helping to defeat the forces of the Nguyễn Dynasty and then in its pacification. After the pacification campaign was officially completed in 1897, the two main functions of the colonial army were the maintenance of internal peace and external security. Both these tasks were fulfilled in conjunction with other armed institutions, such as the Garde indigène (later indochinoise), the gendarmerie, the police, and the irregular partisans in the border regions. The Garde indigène, a paramilitary force, was primarily responsible for dealing with disturbances of the peace and thus played an important role in the repression of public demonstrations and popular unrest.[65]

The participation of native soldiers in the colonial forces was used as political symbolism, proof that the Union's five territories were rightfully under French tutelage. This was the "blood toll" to be paid for the Pax Gallica. In their position as colonisers and colonial subjects, the native colonial troops were also buffers between the French and the unarmed populace. Their presence demonstrated French control and power to the ordinary population, deterring those who intended to violently overthrow French rule.[66] The dilemma was that the French needed local soldiers to maintain their authority, but could not rely on them too deeply because of an innate fear that they would rebel or desert. This concern was deeply institutionalized in the army in the form of "safe" ratios of "white" and "yellow" soldiers, the segregation of the army, and barriers excluding Vietnamese from becoming officers until 1929. The mutiny triggered the long existing fears about the loyalty of native soldiers, as well as many traditional French responses.[66]

In addition to the individual military punishments, the army took further internal measures to lower the risk of another insurrection. According to Maurice Rives, 10,000 Vietnamese troops were given transfers to different zones. This meant that more than 80% of Tonkin's approximately 12,000 Tirailleurs Tonkinois were moved,[60] a transfer of enormous proportions, indicating the extent of insecurity among French commanders towards Vietnamese troops, and the extent to which they were willing to go to make future Yên Báis impossible. One possible rationale for this measure was to break up any undiscovered VNQDĐ cells and to sever personal ties, within units and between soldiers and civilians in their local district. The mass transfer of soldiers also had the effect of creating a state of constant mobilisation, denying troops the time and opportunity for anti-colonial organisation.[67]

Aside from measures in Vietnam, 2,000 Indochinese soldiers returning from service in France were sent on indefinite leave and were not replaced with new recruits from Vietnam. The reason is put down by historians to be due to the fact that military discipline in France was less regimented than in Indochina and other colonial garrisons. In colonial units, the colonial military and social order with Frenchmen above their colonised troops was more easily reproduced. Metropolitan officers also treated their Vietnamese subordinates on a more equitable basis, making the Vietnamese less likely to accept the discrimination upon return to Vietnam.[67] Overseas Vietnamese soldiers could become so alienated with their experiences that they became soft targets for communist propaganda. Upon returning home, they attempted to indoctrinate other troops with their Marxist doctrine. Thi

Aside from measures in Vietnam, 2,000 Indochinese soldiers returning from service in France were sent on indefinite leave and were not replaced with new recruits from Vietnam. The reason is put down by historians to be due to the fact that military discipline in France was less regimented than in Indochina and other colonial garrisons. In colonial units, the colonial military and social order with Frenchmen above their colonised troops was more easily reproduced. Metropolitan officers also treated their Vietnamese subordinates on a more equitable basis, making the Vietnamese less likely to accept the discrimination upon return to Vietnam.[67] Overseas Vietnamese soldiers could become so alienated with their experiences that they became soft targets for communist propaganda. Upon returning home, they attempted to indoctrinate other troops with their Marxist doctrine. This train of thought further reinforced French perception that subversive ideas came from the outside rather than domestically: of the 57 soldiers involved in the mutiny, 17 had served abroad. On the other hand, according to the Thiry report, the proportion of soldiers with foreign service at Yên Bái did not exceed that in other garrisons, so this was not abnormal.[68]

In addition to punishing soldiers, tightening dismissal regulations and reducing the number of Vietnamese servicemen in France, the French decided to improve the military intelligence service. This was to be achieved by strengthening military intelligence through closer coordination with the Sûreté, and by raising internal standards.[69] An inquiry into the mutiny at showed that cooperation between Resident Massimi and Commandant Le Tacon did not exist despite multiple requests, and that it was partly responsible for the uprising. The relationship between the civilian and military authorities were traditionally poor, but Yên Bái stood out in the total lack of military-civilian cooperation. Further VNQDĐ conspiracies to foment mutinies in other garrisons, such as Kiến An, were detected and scotched at late notice. It was decided that the teamwork with the Sûreté had to be raised to greater heights to prevent future Yên Bái style rebellions. The rebellion allowed the civilian authorities an opportunity to involve themselves in military matters.[70]

The Sûreté's indirect penetration of military affairs involved linking the military intelligence service (SRM) to the Sûreté and the information provided by it, thereby making itself dependent on the political information and even political judgement and agenda of the civilian authorities. The central SRM then relayed this information to its local branches as part of i

The Sûreté's indirect penetration of military affairs involved linking the military intelligence service (SRM) to the Sûreté and the information provided by it, thereby making itself dependent on the political information and even political judgement and agenda of the civilian authorities. The central SRM then relayed this information to its local branches as part of its SRM Bulletin. As a result of the uprising, the SRM became more closely linked to the Sûreté and its methodology and philosophy in of analysing Vietnamese anti-colonial activity. It was further resolved to have all officers involved in studying revolutionary parties. The focus widened from observing only internal army activities to include developments among Vietnamese anti-colonial organisations at large.[71] General Aubert cited complacency and laziness as a factor in the ineffectiveness of the officers in implement French intelligence strategy. He further asserted that the flow of intelligence between French officers and Vietnamese warrant officers was not as smooth as desired. He felt that his men were often not tactful and discreet enough; citing a lack of language skills or interest in talking to their Vietnamese colleagues in an attempt to extricate information. Aubert also believed that the Vietnamese troops were effective in hiding their anti-colonial sentiments from their French colleagues.[72]

In addition to the measures intended to help identify, isolate or eliminate soldiers of suspect loyalty, the regulations for dismissal were liberalised. A decree of 8 April 1930 permitted the General Commandant Superior "to discharge those soldiers who had been the object of convictions in excess of three months imprisonment by a military tribunal, or who would have rendered themselves guilty of activities contrary to military duty".[73]

Aubert's notice stressed the importance of close contact between French officers and their Vietnamese warrant officers in order to improve the quality of intelligence, but did not discuss whether this also required French officers to improve their Vietnamese language skills. The annual report of 1930 considered the language barrier was a problem. The report mentioned creating a Vietnamese studies centre in France to increase the proportion of Vietnamese-speaking French officers to enhance direct communication with their Vietnamese subordinates. However, the report principally had in mind the use of language skills as a tool of command to reinforce hierarchical relationships.[74]

The report also considered using specialised Vietnamese language skills as a means of gathering intelligence and to control the minds of Vietnamese troops, but discarded it, citing that infiltration and clandestine anti-colonial techniques were rendering them irrelevant. The report thus concluded that deeper specialisation would not improve intelligence, and that a degree of expertise – to improve command skills – wa

The report also considered using specialised Vietnamese language skills as a means of gathering intelligence and to control the minds of Vietnamese troops, but discarded it, citing that infiltration and clandestine anti-colonial techniques were rendering them irrelevant. The report thus concluded that deeper specialisation would not improve intelligence, and that a degree of expertise – to improve command skills – was all that one would need.[75]

The report further argued that excessive specialization would be counterproductive and thus detrimental because it required long tours in Indochina, which was deemed to be detrimental to the health of the specialist. It also aired suspicions that specialists became too trusting towards their Vietnamese subordinates, to the extent of becoming indigenophiles. Finally, specialisation was said to be detrimental because it would not only make Vietnamese troops more secretive, but would very likely improve their organisational abilities, since they would need to "take even more precautions".[75]

The French reaction to the mutiny included military punishments, new regulations, SRM institutional reform, reductions in the numbers of Vietnamese serving or working in France and increased specialisation amongst the units making up the garrison of Indochina. While these were wide-ranging changes, the military and civilian authorities did not judge them sufficient for the reassertion of control over their colonial troops. A further four decisions were implemented, aimed at establishing a stable racial balance amongst the troops in French Indochina. The number of ethnic Vietnamese soldiers was perceived as being too great. A change in recruitment and retention numbers was introduced, aimed at altering the overall ratios of troops in Indochina to a roughly equivalent proportion of one ethnic Vietnamese to each European regular or indigenous ethnic minority (Montagnards) soldier.[76]

The first of the four measures aimed at increasing the dependability of Vietnamese soldiers was intended to revise the ethnic proportions of the troops making up each garrison. The lack of European troops at Yên Bái had been cited as a factor in the mutiny (although it had been suppressed by Vietnamese tirailleurs who remained loyal to their French officers).[76] The decision reversed a major reorganisation of the army that had been initiated by General Aubert in 1928.[77]

The most sweeping proposal was that made by Resident Superior Robin who wanted to "completely and radically abolish all regiments of Tirailleurs tonkinois (Vietnamese infantry) serving in the delta and the middle regions" and replace them with "white [Foreign] Legion or even North African battalions". This proposal was rejected by General Aubert, and eventually Governor General Pasquier adopted a compromise arrangement, which saw the disbandment of one regiment of Tirailleurs Tonkinois.[78] Policy strategists calculated that this reduction in Vietnamese troops could be made up by a concomitant increase in the number of European and ethnic minority troops.[79]

The third decision involved the "[r]einforcement of the occupation corps by three white battalions: one Foreign Legion battalion, [and] two Colonial Infantry battalions". Since it was decided that the overall number of troops in Indochina could not be reduced for external defence reasons, this necessitated the replacement of at least the two disbanded Vietnamese battalions.[80]

Prior to the mutiny, the Department of War in Paris had clearly indicated that it would not be able "to provide for one more European battalion in Indochina under the 1931 Budget" due to fiscal constraints, manpower shortages and organisational problems. The unrest generated by the Yên Bái mutiny motivated the political will to send more European (French and Foreign Legion) troops to French Indochina. Asi

The third decision involved the "[r]einforcement of the occupation corps by three white battalions: one Foreign Legion battalion, [and] two Colonial Infantry battalions". Since it was decided that the overall number of troops in Indochina could not be reduced for external defence reasons, this necessitated the replacement of at least the two disbanded Vietnamese battalions.[80]

Prior to the mutiny, the Department of War in Paris had clearly indicated that it would not be able "to provide for one more European battalion in Indochina under the 1931 Budget" due to fiscal constraints, manpower shortages and organisational problems. The unrest generated by the Yên Bái mutiny motivated the political will to send more European (French and Foreign Legion) troops to French Indochina. Aside from replacing two Vietnamese battalions with three European battalions, the French authorities also increased the number of ethnic minority soldiers serving in the locally recruited colonial regiments. As such, the "[i]ntensification of recruitment of non-Annamite indigenous people: Thos, Laotians, Mois, Cambodians was decided." The aim was to increase the non-Vietnamese percentage to 50% of the total of locally recruited troops.[81]