The making of a legend

Prior to WW2 a posting to Indochina was considered a reward. Even the poorest private soldier could afford to engage the services of a servant and the relaxed lifestyle made a change from hard fighting in France's colonial outposts. With the surrender of France in 1940 and the entry of Japan into the war life would never be the same in Indochina. When Japan occupied Indochina the Vichy government was coerced into making its forces work with the Japanese. There was a nationalist resistance movement (supported by the US and led by a certain Ho Chi Minh) who whilst they would fight the Japanese were also stock piling weapons, ammunition and supplies for what they saw as the real fight to come - the expulsion of France from Indochina.

One day, without warning, the Japanese garrison in Indochina rounded on the French troops. Many were killed, many more were imprisoned and some managed to evade towards Nationalist Chinese refuges. With Japans surrender in 1945 the resistance movement (the Viet Minh) took their chance and declared a government in the north of the country. France was in no state to send any troops and so elements of the British 2nd Division (who had been fighting in Burma) were used to seize and secure Saigon. The French hero General LeClerc was despatched to restore order. The number of troops he was given was wholly inadequate for the job, and it became obvious that the flexibilty that airborne operations provided was going to play an important part in the coming battles to regain control of the north and secure the rest of the country.

The first parachute troops into Indochina as part of the reconquest were the soldiers and marines of Commando Ponchardier. They were soon followed by many others. The French parachute troops won a remarkable reputation in Indochina (though not without cost and controversy). They carried out many operational drops, the most famous being the drop to secure the floor of the valley at Dien Bien Phu in 1953.

Click the categories on the left to see the uniforms and equipment of the parachute units in Indochina.