Japanese invasion of French Indochina

Japanese troops entering Saigon

Japanese troops entering Saigon

Summary: In 1940, Japan had complete control of China’s coastal ports and cut off supplies by sea transport of the Chinese government. To further cut China’s arms supply lines and forced the Chinese out of the war, Japan invaded French Indochina in order to cut off supply routes from there to China. While France, owing to its defeat in the European theater, was unable to compete against Japan. Ultimately the Japanese troops successfully occupied the Indochina region and cut off China’s transportation routes through there. However, the United Kingdom, after the situation in Europe became stable, reopened the Burma Road that was threatened by Japan and therefore closed, making the blockade measures fail to receive great results.

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The Japanese invasion of Indochina, one year before the outbreak of the Pacific War, resulted in the occupation of part of French Indochina by the Empire of Japan during World War 2.

Japan had been in war against China since 1937, but had not yet managed to stop the resistance armies of Chiang Kai-shek. These included supplies transported by Yunnan Railway, which passed through Haiphong. However, the French government on the eve of the war in Europe, was committed not to allow the transit of military equipment to the Republic of China, but the Japanese were not satisfied.

The Japanese government took advantage of the French defeat in Europe in June 1940 to send an ultimatum to the French. Three divisions of the Kwantung Army were pressing the Tonkin border: the threat seemed obvious enough for the governor Catroux to order on June 16 the prohibition of gas traffic to Kunming.

Dissatisfied with the initiative of Catroux, the Vichy government sacked and replaced Catroux by Admiral Decoux, who was close to Admiral Darlan. The handover took place on July 22 (Catroux benefited from the stopover in Singapore to join Free France). But in the meantime, Catroux had been engaged in discussions with Japanese military mission arrived in Hanoi about the rights of the Imperial Japanese Army on the Indochinese territory. On August 30, Vichy signed an agreement with the Japanese, recognizing the special position and interests of Japan in the Far East, enlarging encroachment on French sovereignty.


A military convention must then regulate the procedures for implementation of the agreement. Admiral Decoux tried to gain time, but on September 19th, Japan issued an ultimatum, demanding the signing of the agreement and threatening to come into force at midnight in Indochina if its demand was not met. In extremis, an agreement was reached, providing three airfields to the Japanese and allowed a maximum of six thousand soldiers of the Imperial Army to pass through Tonkin, north Red River. But despite the signing of the agreement (General Martin represented France and General Nishiara of Japan), the command of the Kwantung Army committed hostilities. Twenty-five thousand men – which was a figure much higher than that of the agreement – the division of the Japanese army swept into seventy kilometers from the Chinese border.

For four days, the fighting took place around Lang Son (forty kilometers from the Chinese border), and turned to the disadvantage of the French. A bombing took place on the south of Haiphong. The Second Bureau transmitted false information, describing the Japanese soldiers as demoralized and exhausted, resulting that the French were caught unawares. On September 26, while Lang Son had just fallen, Japanese troops landed on the beach and walked on Dong Tac, south of Haiphong. Hostilities ceased on the same day while the Imperial General Headquarters ordered cease fire. Decoux was forced to accept the situation. Japanese troops took possession of the Gia Lam Airport, and the path near the border of Guangxi iron. Japanese soldiers stationed especially in Hanoi and Haiphong. The important thing for them now was to fight against the forces of Chiang Kai-shek in China.

Despite their hold in fact, the Japanese nevertheless undertook to respect the sovereignty in French Indochina. On October 5, the French prisoners were released. The Japanese also allowed the French to take over the administration of the province of Lang Son. On October 25 at the ceremony site, French General Government General Nakamura read a message from the Emperor Hirohito. In this way, a little-known and active Franco-Japanese collaboration was taking place in Indochina.

Over time, the Japanese no longer maintained a light force in Indochina. And in 1942-1943, there were only eight thousand soldiers across the country. In fact, the French government remained in place and for the entire population, no fundamental change had occurred.


Recognition by Japan of French sovereignty

A month later, Thailand, noting the easy victory of Japan against France, triggered the Franco-Thai War, annexing several provinces. Japan was eager to ally with Thailand and played a mediator to reach a cease fire. To remedy this dangerous situation for the French colonial maintenance, the Vichy government Decoux encouraged applying as soon as possible the National Revolution in Indochina in order to strengthen the link between the cities and its Asian colonies. Thus, the authorities allowed Indochinese identity nationalism under French control to oppose the Japanese and Thai influences.

On 16 May 1941, an agreement with Vichy recognized Japanese clause of the most favored nation, as well as significant benefits, including mining concessions and rice shipments. On 29 July, the Franco-Japanese protocol was signed (or the agreement Darlan-Kato), which was negotiated by Jacques Benoist-Méchin, recognizing the French sovereignty as a common military defense, while allowing Japanese troops to station in the rest of Indochina. Indochina remained under the authority of the Vichy regime until the liberation of France. The Vichy government was still in place in March 1945, even though the regime of Marshal Petain had already ceased to exist in Europe.

Services pro-Allied Information

From the beginning of the entry of Japanese Forces into Tonkin in 1940, French intelligence networks were set up to transmit Singapore English information on the movements of Japanese troops. Then throughout the Japanese occupation, which extended south of Indochina in June 1941, the French military intelligence and civilian informed the Allies and received airdrops of weapons.

The Pacific War started in December 1941. Indochina remained aloof. It was governed by agreements in September 1940 and July 1941 before the entry of Japan into the war against the Allies. It also remained loyalty to the last Vichy French colony, while the rest of the French colonial empires had fallen into the camp of resistance in mid-1943.

During the standstill period, the French military intelligence and the French resistance informed members of the Free French settled in China, as well as the services of the OSS and the Chinese and British services, the Japanese fleet and units stationed in Indochina. American pilots killed were recovered by the French and smuggled into China.

U.S. attacks: Japan gave independence to Indochina

From July 1944, Indochina began to be bombed by aircraft of the U.S. Air Force operating from southern China and the Philippines. In January 1945, the Task Force 38 made two devastating naval raids on the coast of Indochina and run an important part of the Japanese merchant fleet and Vietnamese junks supply. It also bombed Saigon, Phnom Penh and other cities. The French fleet stationed in Indochina, the old cruiser La Motte-Picquet, was bombed and sunk by the U.S. navy and air force. In early 1945, as a result of the U.S. bombing of the stations, railroad tracks, and fleets Vietnamese junks supply North-South Indochina, a terrible famine broke out in the northern and central Vietnam.

The Japanese were still uncertain about the government shifts from the free in metropolitan France (still at war against Japan from Pearl Harbor) and facing a likely Allied landing on the coast of Indochina. Within the Japanese staff, opinions were divided between advocates of a hard line who wanted Japan to arise and those with far more pragmatic maintained the status with Vichy France, despite some excesses of the army, as in Lang Son in 1940. It finally got the first victory because of the defeats of the Axis before the advance of the Allies in Europe and Asia. In late 1944, the Japanese military and political authorities were in agreement to put an abrupt end to the French in Indochina parenthesis (only European colonial powers maintained since 1940) by the operation Meigo Sakusen (“action flash moon”) organized on March 9, 1945, called by the French.

The Japanese ambassador expressed an ultimatum to the French forces in Indochina to go the authority of the Mikado, which the French admiral refused. At the same time the French authorities were invited to the evening meal organized throughout Indochina. Japan then captured the French officials and attacked unexpectedly and the French troops in Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos in the units of the Indochinese Guard). While some French and Indochinese units courageously resisted the coup rapidly in one night and the French colonial authority disappeared. It was then that the United States decided to later replace the French in Indochina.

The French colonial administration was essentially destroyed. The Indochinese countries received their Japanese independence and tried to build their new nations. Based on the ruins of French colonialism, but also the National Revolution of Vichy, the new puppet of Japan country (plus the kingdom of Siam, an ally of Japan) tried to manage an economic, political and social explosive situation. Bao Dai was appointed emperor of Vietnam (he was previously king of Annam, according to the French). He abdicated on 25 August.

If Japan lost interest quickly in these areas due to a conflict, it could no longer control. Indochina fell on it in a revolutionary cycle and warrior. The Viet Minh from the Japanese surrender, seized the north Vietnamese territory in August 1945 and Cambodia experienced a coup and the French prepared their return, which, however, took place in October 1945.

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