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PAVN's progenitor was a collection of guerrilla bands, many of them composed of ethnic minority highlanders, assembled in Indochina during World War II and armed and encouraged by the Allied Forces as opposition to the Japanese army, which had occupied much of Southeast Asia. A few of these guerrilla bands were organized by the Indochinese Communist Party (ICP), as the VCP was known at the time (see Development of the Vietnamese Communist Party , ch. 4).

Near the end of the war, the ICP began to experiment with a new kind of military force, called Armed Propaganda units. The first of these units was created in the mountains of northern Vietnam near the China border. The armed propaganda team was the brainchild of Ho Chi Minh (known then as Nguyen Ai Quoc) and a thirty-two-year-old Hanoi history teacher named Vo Nguyen Giap. It was designed both to engage in combat and to do organizational and mobilization work in the villages. Armed propaganda teams shaped the character of the subsequently formed PAVN. On September 2, 1945, when Ho Chi Minh officially proclaimed the independence of the nation and announced the formation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), a Ministry of National Defense was created and the ministerial portfolio was given to a noncommunist, a measure that reflected the apparently broadly nationalistic composition of the new government. Giap, at the time the second most powerful communist figure, became minister of the interior. A year later the National Defense Council (NDC) was created, and Giap was made chairman, giving him more direct control of the Viet Minh armed force (see Glossary), the precursor to PAVN. When the French returned to Indochina, the newly formed Viet Minh--consisting of approximately 1,000 men in 13 infantry companies--was driven into the hills behind Hanoi.

The Viet Minh's military force, which fought the French for eight years, was a united-front army, meaning it was communistinfluenced but was not entirely communist. For much of the First Indochina War, it was essentially an irregular force, growing to about 60,000 at the end of the first year of the war and to about 380,000 in 1954. Only about a third of these were considered regulars; the remainder were "regional" or "local" forces. This system was the forerunner of the three-elements concept of the armed forces--regulars, regionals (or territorials), and locals-- which has been retained in PAVN. The regular force was organized into about 30 infantry battalions of 600 men each and 8 heavy-weapons battalions. Many of the early units were organized along ethnic lines. A preponderance of the day-to-day battles in the First Indochina War were fought by PAVN regional forces and local militia units. Regulars were used sparingly and were committed only to battles of strategic importance, such as the 1950 campaign to push French forces back from the China border region, the attempted capture of Hanoi in 1951, and the battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

In 1954, at the end of the First Indochina War, PAVN was still a united-front military force. It remained for the party to "regularize" it. Control mechanisms were introduced gradually and perfected, reorganization was undertaken, military elements were enlarged, support units were added, and formal regulations on military service were developed. A tight system of party controls was introduced, military schools were opened and military assistance was solicited from abroad, chiefly from China. A directive of the Twelfth Plenum of the Central Committee (Second National Party Congress), issued in March 1957, established universal military conscription. By 1965 PAVN numbered 400,000; by 1975, 650,000. Of the approximately 2.9 million in uniform in 1987, about 1.1 million served in the PAVN Regular Force and 1.8 million served in the Paramilitary Force.

In 1959 the VCP (known at the time as the Vietnam Workers' Party--VWP, or Dang Lao Dong Viet Nam) decided to launch an armed struggle in the South in the name of unification of the fatherland. Part of the effort involved creation of a unitedfront organization, the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (or Viet Cong, see Glossary) and a united-front armed force, initially called the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and later renamed the People's Liberation Armed Force (PLAF). The mission of the PLAF was to liberate the South in order to permit its unification with North Vietnam, and Hanoi began supplying this force with doctrinal know-how and key personnel. In keeping with a principle of people's war that called on combatants to be self-sustaining, North Vietnamese leaders also admonished the PLAF to be self-supporting and self-contained and not to rely on, or make requests of, Hanoi. Then and later, however, authorities always stood ready to meet any critical need of their southern brethren.

Until 1965 the war in the South was on the shoulders of the PLAF. Its rapid escalation in 1965, however, introduced PAVN troops to the South in ever-increasing numbers, and the burden of the war shifted to them. In 1972 in the so-called Easter offensive, about 90 percent of the combat was carried out by northern regulars. The final campaign in April 1975 was fought almost entirely by PAVN troops. At the time, almost all PAVN infantry divisions were outside North Vietnam in Laos, in Cambodia, or, overwhelmingly, in South Vietnam. After the war, the remnant PLAF force was disbanded, and its members were either demobilized or transferred to PAVN units.

Throughout its developmental period, from the earliest proto-military organizations of the 1930s until the late 1970s, PAVN was heavily influenced by China and by Chinese military thought and doctrine. The original party-led armed force, the Viet Minh army, was created by the Chinese Nationalist Party (Kuomintang) and fielded from China. Later, it was nurtured and funded largely by the Chinese Communist Party. Military manuals were of Chinese origin, first Nationalist then Communist, and in the early years nearly all imported logistic assistance came either directly from China or--if from the Soviet Union--through China and with Chinese cooperation. During the Second Indochina War, Chinese antiaircraft troops and Chinese railroad and warehousing personnel served in Vietnam.

Data as of December 1987

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