Vietnam War

US Leadership

Franklin D. Roosevelt

March 4, 1933 - April 12, 1945

Harry S. Truman

April 12, 1945 - January 20, 1953

Dwight D. Eisenhower

January 20, 1953 - January 20, 1961

John F. Kennedy

January 20, 1961 - November 22, 1963

Lyndon B. Johnson

November 22, 1963 - January 20, 1969

Richard Nixon

January 20, 1969 - August 9, 1974

Vietnamese Leadership

Bao Dai

January 8, 1926 - August 25, 1945

Ho Chi Minh

September 2, 1945 - September 2, 1969


Viet Minh formed by Ho Chi Minh

May 19, 1941

Japan ousts French from Vietnam

March 9, 1945

Amid rumors of a possible American invasion, Japanese oust the French colonial government which had been operating independently and seize control of Vietnam, installing Bao Dai as their puppet ruler.

Famine in Hanoi

June 1945

Severe famine strikes Hanoi and surrounding areas eventually resulting in two million deaths from starvation out of a population of ten million. The famine generates political unrest and peasant revolts against the Japanese and remnants of French colonial society. Ho Chi Minh capitalizes on the turmoil by successfully spreading his Viet Minh movement.

Potsdam Conference

July 17, 1945 - August 2, 1945

Following the defeat of Nazi Germany, World War II Allies including the U.S., Britain, and Soviet Union, hold the Potsdam Conference in Germany to plan the post-war world. Vietnam is considered a minor item on the agenda.

In order to disarm the Japanese in Vietnam, the Allies divide the country in half at the 16th parallel. Chinese Nationalists will move in and disarm the Japanese north of the parallel while the British will move in and do the same in the south.

During the conference, representatives from France request the return of all French pre-war colonies in Southeast Asia (Indochina). Their request is granted. Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia will once again become French colonies following the removal of the Japanese.

Abdication of Bao Dai

August 25, 1945

Japanese surrender unconditionally. Vietnam's puppet emperor, Bao Dai, abdicates. Ho Chi Minh's guerrillas occupy Hanoi and proclaim a provisional government.

Ho Chi Minh declares independence for Vietnam

September 2, 1945

Japanese sign the surrender agreement in Tokyo Bay formally ending World War II in the Pacific. On this same day, Ho Chi Minh proclaims the independence of Vietnam by quoting from the text of the American Declaration of Independence which had been supplied to him by the OSS -- "We hold the truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This immortal statement is extracted from the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America in 1776. These are undeniable truths."

British forces arrive in Vietnam

September 13, 1945

British forces arrive in Saigon, South Vietnam.

In North Vietnam, 150,000 Chinese Nationalist soldiers, consisting mainly of poor peasants, arrive in Hanoi after looting Vietnamese villages during their entire march down from China. They then proceed to loot Hanoi.

Massacre of Viet Minh by the French in Saigon

September 22, 1945

In South Vietnam, 1400 French soldiers released by the British from former Japanese internment camps enter Saigon and go on a deadly rampage, attacking Viet Minh and killing innocent civilians including children, aided by French civilians who joined the rampage. An estimated 20,000 French civilians live in Saigon.

Workers' Strike in Saigon

September 24, 1945

In Saigon, Viet Minh successfully organize a general strike shutting down all commerce along with electricity and water supplies. In a suburb of Saigon, members of Binh Xuyen, a Vietnamese criminal organization, massacre 150 French and Eurasian civilians, including children.

First American death in Vietnam

September 26, 1945

The first American death in Vietnam occurs, during the unrest in Saigon, as OSS officer Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey is killed by Viet Minh guerrillas who mistook him for a French officer. Before his death, Dewey had filed a report on the deepening crisis in Vietnam, stating his opinion that the U.S. "ought to clear out of Southeast Asia."

French Forces Arrive in Vietnam

October 1945

35,000 French soldiers under the command of World War II General Jacques Philippe Leclerc arrive in South Vietnam to restore French rule. Viet Minh immediately begin a guerrilla campaign to harass them. The French then succeed in expelling the Viet Minh from Saigon.

Chinese agree to withdraw from North Vietnam

February 1946

The Chinese under Chiang Kai-shek agree to withdraw from North Vietnam and allow the French to return in exchange for French concessions in Shanghai and other Chinese ports.

Ho Chi Minh allows French to return to Hanoi

March 1946

Ho Chi Minh agrees to permit French troops to return to Hanoi temporarily in exchange for French recognition of his Democratic Republic of Vietnam. Chinese troops then depart.