1955 - 1959

Historical Timeline of the War: 1955 - 1959
January 1955

U.S. offers military aid to South Vietnam.

Ngo Dinh Diem
May 1955

Prime Minister Diem rejects Geneva Accords and participation in reunifying elections.

July 1955
Ho Chi Minh visits Moscow to get Soviet Aid. Soviets and China offer financial assistance.
October 1955

Bao Dai is taken from power in a U.S. backed plebiscite. Diem is installed as South Vietnam’s first president. U.S. pledges support. Diem is advised on consolidating power by U.S. Air Force Colonel Edward G. Lansdale who is attached to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

December 1955

Radical land reforms occur in North Vietnam. Thousands are executed or sent to forced labor camps.

January 1956

Diem begins brutal crackdown against Viet Minh. “Security Committees” established; many of those apprehended are tortured and executed.

April 28, 1956
French High Command for Indochina is dissolved.
July 1956

Diem refuses to participate in elections and is backed by the U.S.

November 1956

Peasant unrest in North Vietnam due to oppressive land reforms is stopped by Viet Minh. 6,000 killed or deported.

January 1957

Soviet Union proposes a permanent division of Vietnam with both countries being admitted into the United Nations. U.S. rejects the idea.

May 1957

Diem visits the U.S. Diem’s primary focus is military. Little money is spent on needed social services, schools or health care.

October 1957

Viet Minh guerrillas begin activity in South Vietnam. By the end of the year over 400 Vietnamese officials are dead.


37 armed Viet Minh companies are organized along the Mekong Delta. Terrorist bombings occur in Saigon.

March 1959

Ho Chi Minh declares a People’s War to unite Vietnam. The Second Indochina War (known as Vietnam War) begins.

May 1959

Viet Minh establishes the Central Office of South Vietnam (COSVN) to oversee the war. Construction begins on the Ho Chi Minh trail.

July 1959

Viet Minh guerrillas who were born in the south, return to infilitate. Two American advisors, Major Dale Buis and Sergeant Chester Ovnand are killed.

Vietnam War Overview

The Vietnamese were ruled by China for more than 1000 years. In 111 B.C.E., China’s Han dynasty conquered the people of the Red River Delta in what is now the northern section of Vietnam. It wasn’t until 939 C.E. when Vietnam achieved independence and established its own kingdom. Through the years the country gradually moved southward from what is now the Chinese border, and in 1471, conquered the Champa Kingdom in the central area of the country. During the 17th and 18th centuries powerful families, in the north and the south fought a series of civil wars which helped weaken the kingdom. In the mid-1850s, the French began moving in on the kingdom and by 1858 all of Vietnam was annexed as a French colony. During French rule, Vietnam’s emperors continued to reign, though they had no real power. As years progressed, more and more Vietnamese achieved education. By the early 20th  century a strong anti-colonial movement began to appear. During the Second World War, the Japanese army took control of Vietnam from the French. This occupation helped fuel many Vietnamese’s sense of nationalism and added a new thirst for freedom from any outside power.

Ho Chi Minh was a driving force behind building a coalition dedicated to opposing foreign rule in Vietnam. Ho, a former teacher who had lived abroad in England and France, was well acquainted with the political ideology of Marx, Engels and Lenin and had traveled to Russia and China to further his education on socialist theory. At the conclusion of the war in the Pacific, Vietnam was divided at the 16th parallel.  On September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh announced the independence of Vietnam.  The years that followed proved monumental and disastrous for Vietnam and the international community. The timeline that follows, along with the questions, research and activities that appear at the end of the historical events will give you an overview of Vietnam’s history from 1945, through the two wars that followed, up until the present day.


  1. Name the countries and their capitals of Vietnam’s closest neighbors.
  2. What countries in Southeast Asia originally belonged to the French empire?
  3. Research and draw a line between North and South Vietnam.
  4. What are the primary waterways in Southeast Asia?
  5. Research the Hmong people and locate where they lived in Southeast Asia?
  6. Investigate where the U.S. maintained major air bases in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.
  7. Research and locate on the map the largest cities in Southeast Asia.
  8. What was the former name of the country now known as Myanmar?
  9. Investigate ASEAN and name countries that are a part of the association. Speculate on why Vietnam was not part of the group when it was formed.
  10. Name the seasonal winds that carry moisture from the Indian Ocean to Southeast Asia.
  11. What are the port cities of Southeast Asia?
  12. Locate the Strait of Molacca. The Strait of Molacca separates the island of Sumatra from what peninsula?


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