Hoàng Văn Thái

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In this Vietnamese name, the family name is Hoàng, but is often simplified to Hoang in English-language text. According to Vietnamese custom, this person should properly be referred to by the given name Thái.
Hoàng Văn Thái
Hoàng Văn Xiêm
Đại tướng Hoàng Văn Thái.jpg
Portrait of General Hoàng Văn Thái (1986)
Nickname(s) Quốc Bình (1941-1944 in China)
Mười Khang (1965-1973 as Vietcong commander)
Born 1 May 1915
Tây An, Tiền Hải, Thái Bình Province, French Indochina
Died 2 July 1986(1986-07-02) (aged 71)
Hanoi, Vietnam
Buried at Mai Dịch Cemetery
Allegiance Flag of North Vietnam (1945-1955).svg Viet Minh
Service/branch Flag of the People's Army of Vietnam.svg Vietnam People's Army
FNL Flag.svg Viet Cong
Years of service 1941–1986
Rank Vietnam People's Army General.jpgGeneral
Commands held Việt Minh
Vietnam People's Army
People's Liberation Armed Forces
Battles/wars First Indochina War
Battle of Điện Biên Phủ
Vietnam War
Tết Offensive
Awards Gold Star Order (Vietnam)Ho Chi Minh OrderMilitary Exploit OrderMilitary Exploit Order
Resolution for Victory Order
Other work Chief of General Staff of Vietnam People's Army
Political Commissar cum Military Region V of Viet Nam
Deputy Ministry of Defense of Viet Nam
Chairman of the Committee for Physical Training and Sports of the Government Viet Nam. and more …

Hoàng Văn Thái (1 May 1915 – 2 July 1986), born Hoàng Văn Xiêm, was a Vietnamese communist military and political figure. His hometown was Tây An, Tiền Hải District, Thái Bình Province.[1] During the Tết Offensive, he was the highest senior North Vietnamese officer in South Vietnam.[2] He was the first chief of staff of the Vietnam People's Army, and the key military force in North Vietnam[3] He was Chief of Staff in the Battle of Điện Biên Phủ

Early life[edit]

Hoang Van Thai was born Hoang Van Xiem, on May 1, 1915, in the village of An Khang (now Tay An, Tien Hai District, Thai Binh Province). His father, Hoang Van Thuat, was a Han Nom teacher.

Hoang Van Xiem was dedicated to studying. Graduated in a French-Vietnamese colonial elementary school, however, he dropped out of school at the age of 13 because of financial difficulties; Xiem had to work as a barber. Age 15, He was influenced by a Communist movement.

Age 18, Hoang Van Xiem worked in a mine in Hong Gai, Quang Ninh Province, he attended movements against the unfairness of the mine owners and returned to his hometown in 1936.

He opened a music class to organize young men to participate in rebellious activities. After few months, students were numbered to 170 members with himself as a secretary. Through experiences gained from secret activities, he spread leaflets on the sly in order to encourage people to get involved against high taxes, struggling for democratic freedom. Due to his achievements, Xiem became a member of Indochinese Communist Party in March 1938.

Early service in military[edit]

In 1941, Viet Minh was founded, he became a commander of the squad National Salvation Army Bắc Sơn (Lạng Sơn). Under the name of Quoc Binh, meaning "peaceful country", several comrades and he left for military training in Liuzhou, China.

In late 1943, he met with Ho Chi Minh, then released by Chiang Kai-shek government. After military school he returned to Vietnam with a new assumed name Hoang Van Thai (Thai stem from his hometown Thai Binh, also meaning "peaceful"), joined the resistance against Japan and then joined the August Revolution against France in 1945. He also was one of 34 soldiers led by Võ Nguyên Giáp that met on 22 December 1944 to found the Armed Propaganda Unit for National Liberation that later became the Vietnam People's Army. Thai was assigned to be in charge of propaganda and agitation of the newly organization.

The PAVN's establishment in 1944. Hoàng Văn Thái wearing a pith helmet and holding the flag.

March 1945, he commanded a group of 100 members to advance to Cho Don District to form a foundation in the area. In the meantime, the Japanese led a coup d'état against the French authority. French units dispersed and fled to China later on. Viet Minh cadres with the help of the PAVN quickly form a new authority and established training. Thai, subsequently, took order from Vo Nguyen Giap to hand over the area to the local Viet Minh cadres and continued to lead members down to Cho Chu, Tuyen Quang, supporting as well as training self-defence units and political cadre groups.

April 1945, the Northern Military Meeting determined the merging of several groups, including the Vietnam People's Army, into the Vietnam Liberation Army (Việt Nam Giải Phóng Quân). Vietnam Liberation Army was considered as the main force of Viet Minh. At the same time, the Political-Military Japanese Resistance school (Trường Quân chính kháng Nhật) was established in Tan Trao. Thai was assigned as the principal in charge of educating army staffs for the Vietnam Liberation Army.

The First Indochina War[edit]

On September 7, 1945, The president of the provisional government of Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh mandated the foundation of a General Staff and appointed Thai as the Chief of General Staff. Under this mandate, Thai was assigned as the first Chief of General Staff of the Vietnam People's Army. (1945–1953), by President Ho Chi Minh of the Provisional Government at the age of 30.

On May 22, 1946, the National Guard was renamed as Vietnamese National Army, officially becoming a regular army placed under the control of the General Staff. In the meantime, although Ho–Sainteny agreement and Provisional September 14 agreement were signed and being active, but the French put pressure by force on the newly government to reattain French Indochina. As the Chief of General Staff of the Vietnamese National Army, Thai organized the army personnel and established armed forces as well as paramilitaries in countrysides and defense forces in cities. By the end of 1946, approximately 1 million militias were organized and trained in preparation for war while every diplomatic means failed.

When French troops provoked in Hai Phong, Thai directly commanded the front in Hai Phong from the 20th to 27th in November 1947. Vietnamese Nationwide Resistance broke out in Hanoi, Thai and Vo Nguyen Giap were the ones that approved operational plans of the Hanoi front leader Vuong Thua Vu. The plans proposed a firm deployment restraining the French from moving forward as well as decreasing the number of French troops in the city within 2 months.

After baffling the French attempt, on August 26, 1947, a major Division regarded as Independence Division was created. Chief of General Staff Hoang Van Thai was assigned as a commander. However, on October 7, the French launched the Operation Lea attacking Viet Bac base. Units that had been organized to form Division previously had to disperse into small fronts. Thai was assigned to play a role as the commander of the Route Coloniale 3 front. Eventually, the Operation Lea resulted in French limited success and Vietnamese strategic victory.

January 1948, he was promoted to one of the first generals of Vietnam, along with: General Võ Nguyên Giáp, Lieutenant General Nguyễn Bình, and Major Generals: Nguyen Son, Chu Văn Tấn, Hoang Sam, Trần Đại Nghĩa, Le Hien Mai, Văn Tiến Dũng, Trần Tử Bình, Le Thiet Hung, Duong Van Duong (died in 1946).

In 1950, he was Chief of Staff of Borders campaign and the Commanding Officer in the Battle of Đông Khê, which opened the campaign.

Campaign in First Indochina War[edit]

Campaigns that Thai participated in as the Chief of General Staff (with Vo Nguyen Giap playing the role of a commander) in the First Indochina War:

  1. Operation Lea, autumn-winter 1947.
  2. Battle of Route Coloniale 4, September–October 1950.
  3. Battle of Vinh Yen, December 1950.
  4. Battle of Hoang Hoa Tham, 1951.
  5. Battle of Ha Nam Ninh, May 1951.
  6. Battle of Hoa Binh, December 1951.
  7. Battle of Northwest, September 1952.
  8. Battle of Upper Laos, April 1953.
  9. Battle of Dien Bien Phu, March to May 1954.

Battle of Dien Bien Phu[edit]

In 1953, Major General Van Tien Dung, then commander of 320th Division, was recalled to Viet Bac to assume the Chief of General Staff position. Thai was assigned as Deputy Chief of General Staff. In fact, he was appointed as Special Campaign Chief of Staff Điện Biên Phủ, Assistant to the Commander in Chief Võ Nguyên Giáp. On November 26, 1953, he led a group of General Staff cadres to Tay Bac.

On November 30, the group arrived in Na San, he ordered the group to halt to investigate entrenched fortifications that the French had left earlier in August. The group began making operational plans in a bit later on. January 12, Vo Nguyen Giap's group arrived.

Following the victory of Viet Minh in Dien Bien Phu, Geneva Conference was signed, ending the presence of the French in Vietnam for over 80 years.

In Vietnam War[edit]

On 31 August in 1959, he was one of four people to be proposed for Colonel General rank, but he refused. He eventually was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant General.

In 1960 to 1965, he held the position of chairman of the Committee for Physical Training and Sports of the Government, which was involved in military training. [4]

Thai as the highest Viet Cong leader during the time the U.S army took part in the Vietnam War from 1967 to 1973, also Tet Offensive main leader. From 1973 to 1975, he returned to the North in charge of making plans leading to the fall of Saigon in 1975.

March 1965, the first US troops were sent to Danang, marked the official appearance of the American in South Vietnam. North Vietnam decided to send one of its most important seniors to the south, trying to balance the difficulty. Thai was assigned as Commander, Political Commissar cum Military Region V in 1966.

From 1967 to 1973, he was assigned to the South, made Commander of the People's Liberation Armed Forces and Deputy Secretary of COSVN. The US army called him as a "3 legged tiger", the highest Northern commander in the South during the war years under the name of Muoi Khang.[5]

During the time, he was the leader of First Battle of Loc Ninh Commanding Officer (October 27, 1967 – December 10, 1967). Also on 30 January 1968, he was the main commander of events during the Tet offensive throughout South of Viet Nam under instructions from the North.

After the war[edit]

In 1974, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel General and was appointed Deputy Minister of Defense, and First Deputy Chief of the General Staff, Standing Member of the Central Military Committee.

January 1980, he was promoted to full General.

He was a member of III, IV, and V Central Committee of the Communist Party of Vietnam, and a member of the VII Congress.

On 2 July in 1986, he died suddenly of a heart attack at the Army Medical Institute 108 before he would have been promoted as the minister of defense, the first chairman of the Vietnam National Security Council (responsible for national security, home affair, and foreign policy matters. however, the position was rejected and has never been in active since his dealth), some considered this event as an assassination as well as general Le Trong Tan's death in the same year of 1986.[6][7]

Awards and honours[edit]

  • Vietnam State: Gold Star Medal (the most prestigious medal in Vietnam, awarded posthumously in 2007), Order of Ho Chi Minh City, 2 Military Medal class, Victory Medal class, Order of Resistance first class and many decorations and medals others.
  • Street titled Hoang Van Thai in Thanh Xuan District, Hanoi and District 7, Ho Chi Minh City,...


  • General Thai's widow is Dam Thi Loan, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the People's Army of Vietnam. She was one of three female soldiers in the original Vietnam Armed Propaganda Unit for National Liberation and was in the honor guard hoisting the flag of the new independent country in the Independence ceremony held at Ba Dinh Square on September 2, 1945.[6]


  1. ^ Ronald B. Frankum Jr. Historical Dictionary of the War in Vietnam, 2011 p.207. "Hoàng Văn Thái"
  2. ^ Ford 1995, p. 87
  3. ^ AP (July 5, 1986). "Hoang Van Thai, 71; A Vietnamese General". The Newyork Times. 
  4. ^ Ronald B. Frankum Jr. Historical Dictionary of the War in Vietnam. p. 206.
  5. ^ The Vietnam War, edited by Peter Lowe 1998, p.70
  6. ^ a b Tran Kien Quoc (15 December 2009). "General Hoang Van Thai coast with a national flag". Life Science News Online. Retrieved 4 February 2011. 
  7. ^ Col: Bui Dinh Nguyen (7 September 2010). "Senior General Hoang Van Thai: The first Chief of General Staff of the army". News Electronic Law and Society. Retrieved 4 February 2011. 
Preceded by
Chief of General Staff of Vietnam People's Army
1945 - 1953
Succeeded by
Major General Văn Tiến Dũng
Preceded by
Major General Văn Tiến Dũng
Chief of General Staff of Vietnam People's Army
Succeeded by
Major General Văn Tiến Dũng