~ 720th Military Police Battalion Vietnam History Project ~
NVA Flag
North Vietnamese Army History
This Page Last Updated ~ 13 November 2017
Return To Vietnam Era Index

Email Link

1944 ~ 1970's

     Formally the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN) known to Americans as the North Vietnamese Army (NVA), were regular forces, distinctively uniformed, equipped, trained in North Vietnam and sent south down the Ho Chi Minh Trail to fight larger scale actions.

     They were conventional military forces structured much the same as the Unites States Armed Forces. They had the latest weapons to include armor and artillery. However, during the height of the war (with a few exceptions) they tried to avoid direct large scale confrontations with the U.S. and Allied Forces due to our capabilities of combined massive firepower and air support.

     The history of Peoples Army of Vietnam [PAVN] can be described as singular, peculiar, improbable. It was created in the last days of World War II in a mountain hideout near the Vietnam-China border when a 32-year- old Hanoi history teacher named Vo Nguyen Giap and 33 other middle class Vietnamese banded together into what they called an Armed Propaganda Team.

     In its first decade of life, the 1930's, the Indochina Communist Party, had no army, only an internal security element. World War II became the great moment of opportunity for army building by the Vietnamese Communists. They formed a united front organization called the Viet Minh and helped organize a collection of guerrilla bands which eventually became the Viet Minh Army.

    During WWII these guerrilla bands, many led by Vietnamese communist cadres, harassed the Japanese occupying Indochina, spied for the Allies, rescued downed American airmen, and generally served the Allied cause.

    Also during World War II, the Vietnamese communists developed their own separate parallel military establishment.

     In 1941 Giap formed an alliance with Chu Van Tan, guerrilla leader of the Tho, a minority tribal group of northeastern Vietnam. Giap hoped to build an army under a Nationalist Banner that would drive out the French and support the goals of the Viet Minh, Ho Chi Minh's Vietnamese independence movement. With Ho Chi Minh, Giap marched his forces into Hanoi in August 1945, and in September Ho announced the independence of Vietnam.

Giap - Minh

     General Giap and a handful of cadres worked out the structure for a new type of military unit: from 1942 to 1944. They perfected, tested, and finally revealed their new military institution, the Armed Propaganda Team. Date of its formation, December 22, 1944, which PAVN now observes as its formal birth date. The armed propaganda team served the Vietnamese Communist Party cause well in the Viet Minh war. It was the initial institutional weapon in South Vietnam much later with the formation of the People's Liberation Armed Force (PLAF) of the National Liberation Front, or Viet Cong.

     When the Viet Minh War ended, PAVN was still a united front military force. For instance, Catholic battalions were operating in the South under the Viet Minh banner of Nationalism. But the basic structure of PAVN as a national armed force for North Vietnam had been established and, gradually over the next few years, it became less and less of a united front army and more of a Communist Party- controlled army.

     With the Vietnam Communist Party's 1959 decision to begin armed struggle in South Vietnam, the National Liberation Front was created along with its People Liberation Army (PLA), later the People's Liberation Armed Force (PLAF). It was at this time he began the purge of loyal troops and cadre that supported the Nationalist Movement.

     In the early years of the Vietnam War, the burden of combat was on the Viet Cong, not on PAVN. Because of attrition, buildup of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN), and arriving American and other Allied troops, the balance of forces swung away from the VC, at which point Hanoi began to dispatch PAVN units south along the Ho Chi Minh Trail, first as "filler packets" into the VC units, then as small PAVN units, finally whole divisions.

     During the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the distinction between the two (VC/NVA) began disappearing as the VC units were re-equipped, and the massive NVA losses in men were replaced with local and main force VC fillers. The Communist Tet New Years Offensive of 1968 resulted in the decimation of the Viet Cong's Nationalist infrastructure in South Vietnam. Some historians believe it was part of an overall political plan by the PAVN to eliminate the grass roots control of the VC in the south who followed the Nationalism ideology rather than Minh's Communist ideology, others disagree. As the anti war political pressure grew at home, the Hanoi government continued to increase the men and conventional military (artillery and armor) supplies coming down the trail. The sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia grew in size and political pressure kept away any possibility of a serious Allied action to destroy them.

     After the withdrawal of the final U.S. and Allied forces from South Vietnam and the open refusal of the liberal members of the U.S. House and Senate to deliver their promised material support, the NVA divisions came out of their sanctuaries in Laos and Cambodia and waged a conventional ground war against the South Vietnamese Military.

Return To Top Of Page
Use Your Browser Button To Return