After the victory of the Dien Bien Phu campaign, the Northern Central Highlands witnessed the glorious Dak-po battle, carried out by the Regiment 96 of the Interregion 5.
Without the victory of Dak-po battle, the Geneva Conference would have made no progress and the Vietnamese people’s resistance war against the French colonialists would have not ended. This also meant that the Vietnamese people and soldiers would have to sacrifice more for the national salvation.
However, since then not much has been talked about this strategic significant Dak-po victory. Reporters of the People’s Army Newspaper have searched back into the history and found several witnesses, hoping to revitalise that glorious and significant victory, a part of the historic history of the Vietnam People’s Army at that time.
From a handbook and a canteen
I visited one of the witnesses, Mr. Truong Quang Quyen, 82, living in alley 186, Ngoc Ha, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, who used to be the deputy commissar of the Battalion 40, the Regiment 96 which greatly contributed to the victory of Dak-po in 1954.
Despite his old age, Mr. Quyen is still sound in mind and body. He cheerfully showed me a number of documents and souvenirs, he collected during the war and kept carefully for 56 years now. I was captured immediately by a handbook and a canteen left behind by French soldiers while retreating from the Dak-po battle.
Mr. Quyen had previously refused to handed over his collection to the Vietnam Museum of History hoping one day he could offer his collection to a local museum in Dak-po.
Recalling these brilliant feats of arms, veteran Quyen looked worried and sad. He said all the remaining veterans of the Regiment 96 had the same feeling and did not know why such a major victory at Dak-po, the biggest victory of the Central Highlands battlefield during the war against the French colonialists had fallen into oblivion. Anyway, he then recalled the Dak-po battle and its victory.
Operation in the Central Highlands
At that time, the situation in the Interregion 5 developed very fast in favour of the Vietnamese liberation soldiers thanks to the oft-repeated victories from other battles throughout the country. Many enemy-occupied areas in Ninh Thuan, Binh Thuan and KhanhHoaProvinces had been turned into guerrilla bases. Similarly, in the Central Highlands, bases of guerrilla and regular army of the Interregion 5 had also been extended.
In order to develop the revolution into a new period, the fourth conference of the Party Central Committee decided to intensify military and political activities there.
Hoping to save their passive position in the battle, the French colonialists had appointed General Henri Navarre, one of their best generals as the Commander-in-Chief of the expeditionary force in Indochina.
Immediately after setting foot in Vietnam, the French General launched the so-called “Navarre Plan”.
At the end of the 1953-1954 Winter-Summer Campaign, the French colonialists opened the Operation Atlante in the Interregion 5, mobilising a major force to occupy the whole free zone.
Operation Atlante was divided into three phases. At first, the French colonialists mobilised 25 battalions to attack Tuy Hoa provincial capital and the entire PhuYenProvince from three directions of from the sea, Khanh Hoa and Dak Lak. The second step was to occupy Quy Nhon and the whole of BinhDinhProvince. The last step, the decisive one, was to occupy Quang Ngai provincial capital, the existing major base of the revolutionary force in Interregion 5.
Veteran Truong Quang Quyen and his souvenirs of the war
The revolutionary force had discovered the enemy’s plot and worked out plans to intercept it in the early period. After several discussions at all levels, the Interregion 5’s army and people were determined to fight against the enemies, protecting the free zone.
However, how could the Vietnamese soldiers and people intercept the aggressors’ attacks with very rudimentary weapons and in a very difficult situation remains a question which another witness, Mr. Nguyen Tu, a former officer of the Battalion 40, the Regiment 96 will give the answer to.
Mr. Nguyen Tu recalled there had been so many plans initiated but after thorough considerations, the liberation army decided the most feasible one was with a combination of the local army and the regular army.
According to the plan, the local force was in charge of protecting the free zone while the regular force of the Interregion launched direct attacks on the Central Highlands- the enemy’s springboard. This might force the enemy to withdraw their troops back to protect this strategic area.
With this plan, the liberation soldiers could protect the free zone, expand of the guerilla and liberated zones while the enemies’ strength would be ground down.
The re-establishment of the 96th Regiment
To carry out the first step of the Operation Atlante, on January 20th, 1954, five French mobile corps including 25 battalions attacked Phu Yen Province. In this operation, the groupe mobile No.100 (GM 100) was the key force.
Regiment 108 of the Vietnam’s regular army in the Interregion 5 was assigned to attack Mang Den outpost, the backbone of the French defense line in the eastern part of Kon Tum Province. Mang Den outpost was so strong and well equipped that the French colonists had boasted it to be unbreakable.
On the evening of January 27th, 1954, the Liberation soldiers from all directions fired at the Mang Den post in face of strong counter attack from the enemy inside the bunker. Suddenly, Battalion 79 under the Regiment 108 launched a surprise attack at the enemy’s back, putting them in a predicament.
Being attacked from both the front and the rear, the enemy at Mang Den post had to surrender. Mang Den victory had created a domino effect and both local and regular forces in various areas took over several other forts, breaking the enemy’s defence line in northern Central Highlands, and putting their Operation Atlante into a quagmire.
It was reported that the GM 100, a very strong force under the command of Colonel Barrou had been mobilised to Vietnam from the Republic of Korea. Understanding the enemy’s ambition, the regular soldiers of the revolutionary army rushed to the strategic areas in the Central Highlands and entrusted the local armed forces to protect the liberated zone.
The situation in the battlefield developed rapidly. In order to meet the urgent demand, on May 1st, 1954, the Regiment 96, the main force of Interregion 5 was re-established with the merging of three battalions of No. 30, 40 and 79 and two elite companies.
Explaining the word “re-establishment”, veteran Nguyen Tu said actually the Regiment 96 was established in early days against the French colonialists in Danang City, under the Brigade 31. After many times of reorganising the army, the Regiment 96 no longer existed.
Comrade Nguyen Minh Chau was nominated as the head of the Regiment and comrade Nguyen Huu Thanh was a political commissar of the newly established regiment. After nearly two months of consolidation of strength, the Regiment was strong enough to counter such a big battle. After being merged into Regiment 96, Battalion N.30 was undertaking the task of preventing the enemy from entering Quy Nhon and the Battalions of No. 40 and 79 and the whole unit in conjunction with the Regiment 108 were marching to sever the Highway 19.
The tactic of “luring the tiger away from the mountain”, used by the liberation army proved to be very effective. As a result, the enemies in An Khe had to suffer a lot as they were isolated and had no supply from outside. The liberation army also worked out plans to confront the retreating enemy along Highway 19, preventing them from running back to Pleiku.
In mid June 1954, French troops in An Khe were in a disastrous situation. The Front High Command judged that the enemies would withdraw from An Khe. Therefore, the Regiment 96 was assigned the mission of wiping out them on the Highway 19.
(to be continued)
Reported by Kim Lan
Translated by Mai Huong