Timeline of the Vietnam War

Historical Timeline of the War: 1941 - 1949

Ho Chi Minh returns to Vietnam and organizes the Viet Minh (Vietnam Independence League). U.S. military intelligence’s Office of Strategic Services (OSS) allies with Ho to work against Japanese who occupied Vietnam during the Second World War and to assist in the rescue of American pilots downed in combat during the war.

Ho Chi Minh

March 9, 1945

Summer 1945

July 1945

August 1945

Provisional Government is created by the Japanese. Emperor Bao Dai abdicates.

Severe famine hits Vietnam with 2 million deaths due to starvation.

After the end of the Second World War in Europe, Vietnam is divided at the 16th parallel. The intention is for the Chinese Nationalists to disarm the Japanese north of the parallel and for the British to do the same in the south. The French request and receive the return of all French pre-war colonies in Southeast Asia (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia). 

Japanese surrender, ending the Second World War in the Pacific. Treaty signed with Japan.

Emperor Boa Dai

September 2, 1945

September 13, 1945

September 22, 1945

September 26, 1945

Ho Chi Minh declares Vietnam’s independence, sets up a provisional government in Hanoi by quoting from the text of the American Declaration of Independence (“We hold the truth that all men are created equal…”). Ho requests recognition by U.S. but is ignored by President Truman.

British land in Saigon and return Vietnam’s authority to the French.

14,000 French soldiers held in Japanese internment camps released by the British and go on a rampage as they enter Saigon. Innocent civilians are killed.

Lt. Col. A. Peter Dewey mistakenly killed by Viet Minh troop who thought he was French. Before his death Dewey filed a report recommending U.S. get out of Southeast Asia.


Harry S. Truman
October 1945

February 1946

March 1946

35,000 French troops arrive in Vietnam to restore French rule.

The Chinese under Chiang Kai-shek agree to leave North Vietnam in return for concessions in Shanghai and Chinese ports.

France accepts Vietnam as a “free state” within the French Union. French replace Chinese troops in the north of the country.

Chiang Kai-shek
May through September 1946

Ho Chi Minh in France to negotiate for full independence and unification of Vietnam. Negotiations come to an end between France and Vietnam.


June 1946
French declare a separatist government in South Vietnam.

November 1946

December 19, 1946

October 7 through December 22, 1947


French bomb Haiphong harbor and take Hanoi. Ho Chi Minh’s forces escape into the jungle.

The Democratic Republic of Vietnam attacks the French with 30,000 troops. The First Indochina War begins.

French continue to attack the Viet Minh in the north in a series of battles known as Operation Lea. More than 9,000 Viet Minh die. The Viet Minh move north of Hanoi. The French under General Etienne Valluy fail to stop the Viet Minh.

Bao Dai of Vietnam and Vincent Auriol of France sign the Elysee Agreement in which the French agree to assist in the building of a national anti-Communist army.


  Vincent Auriol
October 1949

Mao’s troops defeat Chiang Kai-shek’s army in the Chinese Civil War. Anti-communist sentiment builds in Washington. U.S. declares a policy of “containment” of communism in Southeast Asia.

Mao Zedong