Battle of Route Coloniale 4

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The Battle of Route Coloniale 4 was a battle of the First Indochina War. The battle lasted from 30 September to 18 October 1950. The French won the first battle of the RC4 on 9 October 1947.[1]

Route Coloniale 4 (RC4, also known as Highway 4) is a road in Vietnam, bordering the Chinese border from Hanoi to Cao Bang. It is famous for a French military disaster in 1950 in which several units of the French army, including some battalions of the Foreign Legion, were decimated by the Viet Minh and essentially ceased to exist as fighting units.


RC4 in the First Indochina War

During the French Indochina War (1945–1954), French forces attempted to re-establish colonial control of Vietnam, while nationalist forces led by Ho Chi Minh fought for independence. Initially, the Vietnamese guerrilla forces, the Viet Minh, were unsuccessful in dealing with the better -trained and -equipped French forces. Their situation improved in 1949 after the Chinese Communist army of Mao Zedong defeated the Nationalist army led by Chiang Kai-Shek. This gave the communist Viet Minh a safe haven for organization and training, as well as an initially sympathetic ally to provide them with arms and logistical support.

Vo Nguyen Giap, the military leader of the Viet Minh, launched an offensive against the French in early 1950. From February to April, his operation Le Hong Phong I raged through the Red River Valley, largely giving the Viet Minh control of northwestern Tonkin, near the Chinese border. The area became a Viet Minh stronghold, except for the RC4 highway.

On 25 May, 2,500 Viet Minh troops overwhelmed the French fortress at Dong Khé, which lay at the strategic center of RC4, thus cutting the supply line between the French positions at Cao Bang and Lang Son. French parachutists retook Dong Khé on the evening of 27 May and a company of Legionnaires took charge of the fort.

Meanwhile, the Viet Minh regular army, the Chu Luc, was becoming larger and better trained. By the beginning of September, it comprised roughly 100,000 combatants in 70 battalions, with another 33 battalions of regional forces (40,000 men) as well as some 60,000 local support personnel. Giap then began harassing French positions along RC4 in northern Vietnam with mines and ambushes. The French responded by dismantling their small posts along the road and concentrating area forces in the fortified positions at Dong Khé and Cao Bang. Giap planned to launch another assault on French positions in operation Le Hong Phong II.

On 16 September, five Viet Minh infantry and one heavy weapons battalions attacked Dong Khé. It was then garrisoned by some 300 French troops comprising the 5th and 6th companies of the 2nd battalion of the 3rd Regiment of the French Foreign Legion (3rd REI). On 18 September, the fort was overrun after bitter fighting, and only 12 survivors escaped to the nearby post at That Khé. 140 Legionnaires had been taken prisoner, the remainder being killed or missing in action.

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