INDOCHINA WAR (1945-1956)


Extract coming from "Histoire succincte de l'Aéronautique Navale (1910-1998)" written by VA Roger Vercken (ARDHAN)

With this page, I want to pay homage to the men who fought and were killed or injured during that horrible war. If you took part in this war, engaged in any branch (Army/ Navy/ Air Force), you can share your experience, writting-me your "story".

Some days after the Victory (May 8th 1945) of the Allies against Germany, an expeditionary unit was sent to Indochina in order to restore French sovereignty in that part of Asia.

In October 1945, four PBY-5A Catalinas of the 8F squadron based at Agadir (Morocco), landed on Saïgon Tan-Son-Nhut airfield. Height other aircraft landed some time later. For five years, they had flown over Indochina, carrying on various missions such as reconnaissance, Close Air Support (CAS) and transport. They used to land at the mouth of the Mekong , on Tonlé Sap lake or close to islands at sea. They took part in landing of French troops at Haïphong in March 1946. On of them provided, transport of the Viêt-Minh leader, Ho Chi Minh between Hanoï and Along bay where Admiral Thierry d'Argenlieu was waiting for him aboard the cruiser Emile Bertin.

In December 1945, the 8S squadron was created at Cat-Laï, an ex-Naval Air Station built in 1930 and situated "on one of the arm of the Saïgon". Twelve seaplanes were based there : ten Aïchi E13A1 Jakes (Japanese seaplanes), one Loire 130 and one Nakajima A6M2-N Rufe. Those aircraft were not often used by French crews because of technical problems. They were replaced by British Sea-Otter which were equipped with guns and bombs. The new aircraft took part in many missions as a support for the French Army and French Marine Corps.

At the same time, because of the extension of the operations in the Tonkin, the headquarter of the French Navy decided to send a carrier to Indochina. On January 28th 1947, the CVE Dixmude cast off from NS Toulon with nine SBD Dauntlesses of the 3F squadron led by LV Pomier-Layrargues. In March, the aircraft struck targets on Annam coast. Then, the carrier came in the Tonkin gulf, where the 3F, supported ground forces in the north of Indochina. Because of catapult problems, the Dixmude had to come back to France in April.

 The ship cast off again in September 1947, with the 4F squadron equipped with nine SBD Dauntlesses led by LV Mellet. She also carried containers for the French Air Force contained JU-52s and Spitfires.

The 4F did not operate from the CVE Dixmude, but from Saïgon first and then from Hanoï. They struck targets in Tonkin and supported ground troops. At the end of the year, the squadron came back to Tan-Son-Nhut and led its missions over Camau and plaine of the Joncs. It came back to the carrier which came back to NS Toulon. in May. In 1948, the secretary of defense decided to send the CV Arromanches to Indochina. The carrier accommodated the 4F squadron equipped with ten SBD Dauntlesses and two Seafires. The operation remained three months including only six "war weeks".

The squadron struck the Cochinchine, in the center of Annam and in Tonkin, most of the time from airfields. The carrier came back to France on January 5th 1949. During this operation the squadron carried on 152 missions and 255 flight hours.

Because of lack of aircraft (Seafire and Dauntlesses were out of service ; and F6F-5 Hellcats and SB2C Helldivers just began to replace them), no carrier has been sent to Indochina for two years (1949 and 1950). The situation became a disaster. In November, Catalinas of the 8F squadron were replaced by some PB4Y-2 Privateers normally based at Tan-Son-Nhut. In December, General De Lattre de Tassigny became commanding officer in Indochina. The "guerilla" looked more and more like war.

The CV Arromanches led by Capitaine de Vaisseau Granger-Veyron, cast off in August 1951 with two squadrons. The 1F squadron equipped with some F6F Hellcats (led by LV Varela de Casa) and the 3F squadron (led by LV Waquet) equipped with some SB2C Helldivers. And she stayed there until May 17th 1952. The main missions of the squadrons are : strikes of the roads, bridges, railroad tracks and CAS. During one of those missions LV Gautriaud and SM Jacq of the 3F squadron ; LV Lenglet flight deck officer flying his Hellcat of the 1F ; SM Geoffroy of the 1F squadron were killed.

In February 1952, the 8S squadron at Cat-Laï was equipped with Grumman Goose seaplanes which operated over Cochinchine and over South-Annam.

At the end of August, the Arromanches came back to Indochina from NS Toulon under the command of Capitaine de Vaisseau Lahaye with the 12F squadron equipped with some F6F Hellcats (led by LV Vercken and the 9F armed with some SB2C Helldivers (led by LV Bourragué, and after by LV Hervio). Like previous operations, the squadrons struck communication routes between North Vietnam and China. But most of the missions are CAS to the troops fighting in the delta of the Tonkin.

Until October 1952, the "fire" has moved to the West (Thaï country). Because of problems with the catapult of the ship, the aircraft of the 12F squadron were transfered to Haïphong-Cat-Bi AFB. After the famous heroic retreat of Commandant Bigeard leading the 6th paratrooper battalion (6 ème BPC), every operations were carried on arround Na-San. Night strikes were done by Privateers of the 8F squadron. On December 19th, a SB2C of the 9F was lost, and LV1 Paunet and SM Lotodé were killed.

In January 1953, the squadrons struck targets in Center-Annam and at An-Khé ; and they provided CAS during amphibious operations at Qui-Nhon.

In February, the ship landed its squadrons and sent them to Cat-Bi AFB. They provided the same missions as before and they worked with the French Air Force. In April, the CVL La Fayette came to Along bay and loaded the squadrons aboard. The "fire" has moved to Laos in Xieng-Khouang region and in the plaine of the Jarres.

Every mission last three hours and weather conditions were often bad. At the beginning of June, the CVL La Fayette brought back to France the 12F and 9F squadrons.

The CV Arromanches, led by Capitaine de Vaisseau Patou left France on September 9th 1953 with the 11F (ex-1F) and the 3F squadrons armed with F6Fs and SB2Cs and commanded by LV Castelbajac and LV Marmier. Main missions are CAS and strikes over North Vietnam. On December 5th, EV Robin of the 11F was shot by guns in the North of Hanoï.

Since January 1954, the squadrons used to intervene over Dien Bien Phû. On March 13th, LV Doë de Maindreville of the 11F and his aircraft crashed in Along bay. The 11F landed and was based at Haïphong Cat-Bi. The 3F was now based at Hanoï-Bach-Maï. Until the end of April, the squadrons provided a great effort in order to erase the enemy. On March 15th LV Lespinas of the 11F was shot by guns over Dien Bien Phû and he was dead. On March 31th, LV Andrieux, commanding officer of the 3F crashed close to Méos. LV De Lestapis, replaced him until the arrival of LV Fatou. LV Laugier was shot and killed on April 9th. On 23rd, the Hellcat of LV Klotz (11F) was shot but the pilot managed to survive. SM Robert of the 11F was shot by guns on April 26th, and hold prisoner by Viêt-Minh and finally dead.

The 28F (ex-8F) squadron, commanded by CC Leclercq-Aubreton, also intervened over Dien Bien Phû by all weather with his Privateers based at Cat-Bi. On April 12th, EV Manfanovsky's plane was shot and all the crew members (nine) were killed.

The 14F squadron led by LV Ménettrier, coming from Tunisia and equipped with F-4AU1 Corsairs of the US Navy, carried on missions from Hanoï-Bach-Maï.

Furthermore, the Aéronautique Navale (French Naval Aviation) provided 10 air crews for the B-26s of the Armée de l'Air (French Air Force) also engaged over Dien Bien Phû.

On May 7th 1954, it was the famous French retreat of Dien Bien Phû.

Even, the French Navy was still carrying on operations over the area until July 21st signed at Geneva. On May 26th, the 3th crew officer Nicodémo and his Corsair belonged to the 14F were killed. SM Michon and his Hellcat of the 11F, on June 17th and finally SM Lestourgie and his Corsair of the 14F, on July 7th.

A Privateer belonged to the 28F, led by EV Monguillon was shot on May 8th, but three air crew members managed to survive ; two of them were hold prisoner and the latter were killed.

The 24F squadron, armed with Lancasters normally based at NAS Lann-Bihoué and managed by LV Keller was sent to Indochina. There, they received ten Privateers. The squadron came back to France in September.

The CV Arromanches was replaced in Indochina by the CVL Bois-Belleau which was armed with the 3F and 11F squadrons. In September, the squadrons were loaded aboard CVE Dixmude which brought them back to France in November. The CVL Bois-Belleau's air group is now composed by the 14F squadron equipped F4U-7 Corsairs. The squadron came back in May 1955 and was replaced by the 12F (armed with F4U-7 Corsairs) based aboard the CVL La Fayette.

The CVL Bois-Belleau brought back to France the 12F squadron in December 1955. The last mission was carried on from January to June 1956 by the CVL La Fayette armed with F4U-7 Corsairs belonged to the 15F squadron.