Vietnam; key historical events
Page last modified 24/3/2020
For events of World War Two in Pacific, S E Asia, see China-Japan-Korea
2007, Vietnam joined the World Trade Organisation.
1997, Tran Duc Luong was elected President; Phan Van Kai was elected Prime Minister.
11/7/1995. The USA resumed full diplomatic relations with Vietnam; Vietnam joined ASEAN. In 2000 Bill Clinton became the first US President to visit Vietnam since the Vietnam War.
1992, Vietnam began to allow foreign investment, but remained under Communist rule.
8/11/1991. Hong Kong began to repatriate its Vietnamese boat people.
29/12/1989, Riots in Hong Kong after forcible repatriation of Vietnamese boat people began.
13/12/1989 Hong Kong began to forcibly repatriate Vietnamese boat people by plane.
27/7/1989, More ‘boat people’ were arriving in Hong Kong, hoping to reach California.
26/6/1988. Vietnam said its troops would withdraw from Kampuchea, formerly Cambodia.
14/3/1988, Three days of conflict between China and Vietnam began over the disputed Spratly Islands.
1986, Death of Le Duan. The Doi Moi policy reforms began in Vietnam, instigated by Nguyen Van Linh.
26/7/1982. The West German rescue ship, Cape Anamur, entered its home port of Hamburg with 285 Vietnamese boat people who were fleeing the Communist regime which took over South Vietnam after the withdrawal of the USA. Boat people faced a perilous journey even before they tried to find asylum, facing dangers such as rape, robbery, murder, and abduction on the seas from pirates.
28/2/1981, In the first 8 weeks of 1981, 451 Vietnamese boat people arrived in Hong Kong, twice as many as in the same period in 1980. In nearby Macao, 240 Vietnamese refugees were arriving every day. Many were moving on from China, which had taken 250,000 Vietnamese since 1979. The Hong Kong government asked the Chinese to step up naval surveillance along the Chinese coast.
1979, Vietnam fought a brief nine-day war with China.
launched a major offensive against the Khmer Rouge of
31/12/1977, Cambodia broke off diplomatic relations with Vietnam, and suspended air services between them. Fighting between the two countries had erupted in the Parrot’s Beak area, where Cambodia juts out into (South) Vietnam. The Chinese-backed Cambodian regime accused Vietnam of not being sufficiently ‘revolutionary’. Troubles began when many Cambodians moved across the border into the Mekong Delta area, after Saigon fell and before North Vietnam had fully established control of the area.
2/7/1976. North and South Vietnam were reunited to form the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.
24/6/1976, At a government conference in Hanoi, the unification of North and South Vietnam was approved, as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, see 30/4/1975.
29/4/1975. A US helicopter evacuated Americans and a few lucky Vietnamese from the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon to a nearby US warship a day before Saigon fell to the Vietcong. The picture of the helicopter evacuation became an iconic symbol of US humiliation in Vietnam. In the US Embassy, some Vietnamese women quickly ‘married’ Americans in order to gain a place in the evacuation; the marriage ceremony was rather brief, “Do you? I do”. Conditions in the embassy corridors quickly deteriorated as the air conditioning broke down. In all, 1,373 Americans, 5,595 South Vietnamese and 85 other nationals were evacuated in the last days of the war.
25/4/1975, The Australian Embassy in Saigon, South Vietnam, shut as North Vietnamese forces closed in.
23/4/1975, US President Ford announced that US involvement in Vietnam was to end. US forces began the final evacuation of personnel from Saigon by aeroplane, see 28 and 29/4/1973.
21/4/1975, President Thieu of South Vietnam, aware that the North would never negotiate with him, resigned in a last ditch attempt to find an agreement by appointing a new leader in his place. Thieu escaped to Taipei with 3.5 tons of gold. General Duong Van Minh became leader in his place.
20/4/1975, South Vietnamese forces were now driven back to Long Binh and Bien Hoa airbases, just 12 miles from Saigon. Saigon was now surrounded by 15 divisions, and defended by just four.
6/4/1975, A plane carrying 99 Vietnamese orphans landed at Heathrow Airport, London.
4/4/1975, A Galaxy transport plane carrying 243 Vietnamese orphans from Saigon to the US crashed shortly after take-off, killing over 200 children and 44 adults.
30/3/1975. North Vietnamese forces captured the port of Da Nang. Ships attempted to rescue over 1 million refugees.
25/3/1975. In South Vietnam, Hue fell to the North.
20/3/1975, In Vietnam, Communist forces overran Da Nang,
19/3/1975, In South Vietnam, Quang Tri Province fell to the North, leaving the provincial capital of Hue exposed.
7/1/1975, North Vietnamese forces captured the southern province of Phuoc Long (see 29/3/1973) and were now just 75 miles from Saigon. There was no reaction from the US. On 10/3/1975 North Vietnam captured the strategic town of Ban Me Thuot in the Central Highlands. Within four days South Vietnam decided to abandon the entire Central Highlands to concentrate on the defence of Saigon. This strategic withdrawal became a rout, with hundreds of thousands of civilians, and fleeing soldiers, clogging the roads as the Communists advanced. By 1/4/1975 half of South Vietnam was occupied by the North and the South Vietnamese army was disintegrating. US Congress had no intention of further aid to the South; they did not even intend to organise an evacuation of US citizens and pro-US Vietnamese, instead hoping to persuade the North to stop short of total conquest and accept a coalition government in Saigon. President Thieu of South Vietnam resigned on 28/4/1975 and was replaced by the neutralist General Duong Van Minh. By then North Vietnamese forces were in the suburbs of Saigon. A few fortunate personnel were evacuated from the roof of the US Embassy by helicopter (see 29/4/1975). However in the last-minute chaos nobody thought to destroy the records of South Vietnamese who had supported the US. On 30/4/1975 a North Vietnamese tank crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon and a soldier raised the North Vietnamese flag. Then the event was repeated for the benefit of TV cameras who had missed the original. Meanwhile in Cambodia the Khmer Rouge had entered Phnom Penh and begub deporting hundreds of thousands of its population to the killing fields. The defeat of the US was total and complete.
For more events of Vietnam War see USA
22/12/1974, The North Vietnamese General Van Tra, to prove that the South Vietnamese Army was on the point of collapse, made a ferocious attack on Don Luan. The town fell within four days, enabling the North to push on southwards towards Phuoc Long province.
29/3/1973, US pulled its last troops out of South Vietnam. The quadrupling of oil prices by OPEC worsened the finances of the USA. Nixon was in trouble with Watergate and Congress reasserted its power over US foreign policy. The War Powers Resolution of November 1973 removed the President’s power to make war without prior Congressional approval, nullifying Nixon’s promise to send troops to support South Vietnam if the Communists threatened again. In 1974 Congress slashed the budget for the war in Vietnam. US influence also declined in Cambodia, where extensive bombing had disrupted society and promoted the growth of the Communist Khmer Rouge, backed by Prince Sihanouk. Many Cambodians regarded Sihanouk as their legitimate leader, and by 1974 Sihanouk’s US-backed replacement, General Lon Nol, controlled just one third of Cambodia. In Laos an extensive bombing campaign to destroy the Ho Chi Minh trail, a network of routes used to supply the Communist Vietcong, simply resulted in the strengthening of the Pathet Lao, the Laotian Communists. Throughout 1974 the North Vietnamese quietly built up strength in the border regions of South Vietnam, and on 7/1/1975 they captured the South Vietnamese province of Phuoc Long.
15/3/1973, The last American PoWs from the Vietnam War were released by the North Vietnamese.
27/1/1973. The war in Vietnam ended, as President Nixon signed the ceasefire agreement in Paris. One million combatants had been killed. The last US troops left Vietnam on 29/3/1972. However fighting later continued between North and South Vietnam, see 30/4/1975.
7/9/1972, South Korea withdrew the 37,000 troops it had in South Vietnam.
15/6/1972, Soviet President Podgorny began a 4-day visit to North Vietnam.
8/5/1972, President Nixon ordered a blockade and mining of North Vietnamese ports.
1/5/1972, Quang Tri fell to the North Vietnamese (retaken by South Vietnam, 15/9/1972).
30/3/1972, North Vietnam launched a major attack on the South. On 15/4/1972 the US made heavy bombing raids on North Vietnam. North Vietnam abandoned guerrilla tactics and launched a major conventional invasion, with tanks and heavy artillery. The South Vietnamese city of Quang Tri fell on 1/5/1972 and South Vietnam seemed to have lost the war. However the US responded with massive air power and smart bombs. North Vietnamese forces were driven back to the dividing line and Hanoi proposed peace talks in October 1972. Under domestic pressure to end US involvement in Vietnam, Nixon could not refuse this offer.
29/2/1972, South Korea withdrew 11,000 of its 48,000 troops from Vietnam.
26/1/1972, Henry Kissinger, attempting to mediate a peace deal in Vietnam, complained that the North Vietnamese were only pretending to negotiate whilst in fact holding out until the US tired of the War and allowed the North to take over South Vietnam by force. This was indeed the North’s strategy, and Kissinger’s complaint did not alter its effectiveness. US President Nixon was concerned about the image of the USA and its power should it fail in Vietnam.
12/11/1971, US President Nixon announced an end to America’s ‘offensive’ role in Vietnam, and the withdrawal of a further 45,000 troops. After this only 182,000 US troops would remain.
11/10/1971, Switzerland officially recognized North Vietnam.
3/10/1971, President Thieu of South Vietnam retained office after all other contenders withdrew in protest at rigged elections.
20/4/1970. President Nixon announced that a further 150,000 troops would be withdrawn from Vietnam.
1/4/1970, After a 6-month lull, the Vietcong launched major assaults across South Vietnam.
25/1/1970. Eleven arrests
were made as police clashed with anti
– Vietnam War protesters at the entrance to
15/11/1969. Huge anti Vietnam War demonstration in Washington.
3/9/1969. Ho Chi Minh, President of North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, died of a heart attack aged 79. He was succeeded by Le Duan.
5/1969, The US now had 543,000 troops in Vietnam.
10/1/1969, Sweden became the first European country to recognise North Vietnam.
8/1968, The US now had 541,000 troops in Vietnam.
20/6/1968, Total US war deaths in Vietnam now exceeded 25,000.
13/5/1968, US and North Vietnamese negotiators began peace talks in Paris.
11/5/1969, The Vietcong launched ground and rocket attacks throughout South Vietnam.
6/5/1968, The Vietnam War continued with house to
house fighting in
3/4/1968, The US and North Vietnam agreed to establish direct contact as a first step towards peace.
17/3/1968, Violent anti-Vietnam War demonstrations outside the US Embassy in London. 25,000 Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC) marchers fought with police. The VSC, which wanted a victory for North Vietnam, had been organised by the Trotskyist International Marxist Group, whose members included Pat Jordan, Tariq Ali and David Horowitz.
16/3/1968. The My Lai massacre; US soldiers massacred 700 Vietnamese civilians in a raid on hamlets in Son My district, where Communist Vietcong rebels were suspected to be hiding out. US forces believed that 250 Vietcong guerrillas were hiding in My Lai and that all civilians would have left for market. As the 30 US troops went in under the command of Lieutenant William Calley they threw grenades and deployed flamethrowers on the thatched roof huts; it was soon clear that only women, children and the elderly were present. There was no counter fire. However a ‘contagion of slaughter’ had set in and the rape and murder continued. Senior US army officials turned a blind eye to the event; only five people were ever court-martialled, with just one, Lieutenant Calley, found guilty. He was sentenced to life imprisonment but served 3 ½ years before release on parole. This event turned many civilians within the US against the Vietnam War.
30/1/1968. The Vietcong launched the great Tet Offensive against South Vietnam, named after the Tet holiday of January 31, when south Vietnamese soldiers would be off-guard. Militarily the Tet offensive was disastrous for the North; they held none of the towns they captured. The last town, Hue, was recaptured by US Marines three weeks after the Tet Offensive began. However the North won the propaganda war, with massive damage inflicted on the South during the Offensive, much of by US forces whilst evicting the Communists. Martial law was proclaimed in Vietnam. US casualties now amounted to 1,000 per day. Questions were asked why the US and South were suffering so many losses without obvious success in the war.
4/1/1968, The US now had 486,000 troops in Vietnam.
29/6/1967. The American child
Benjamin Spock led a march of nearly 5,000 people in
14/2/1967. 100 Labour MPs in
23/9/1966. USA planes dropped tons of herbicides on Vietnam turning the demilitarised zone between North and South Vietnam into a barren wasteland.
2/4/1966, Protests in Saigon as demonstrators demanded an end to military rule.
8/3/1966, Australia tripled its force in Vietnam to 4,500 troops.
18/2/1966, Dean Rusk stated that the USA had exhausted all possibilities for bringing peace to Vietnam.
8/1/1966. US launched biggest offensive to date in Vietnam.
For more events of Vietnam War see USA
29/12/1965. North Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh rejected US peace talks.
29/9/1965, The USSR admitted supplying weapons to North Vietnam.
12/8/1965, 19 days after the US learned that North Vietnam had bases around its capital from which to fire surface-to-air missiles, the North Vietnamese revealed that they had mobile missile units that could be taken to any location, shooting down a U.S. Navy A-4 Skyhawk attack jet flying 50 miles southwest of Hanoi. Lieutenant Donald H. Brown of the USS Coral Sea was killed in the crash, becoming the first U.S. Navy flier to be downed by a SAM missile.
24/6/1965, South Vietnam severed relations with France.
23/6/1965, The USSR rejected a Vietnam peace initiative proposed by Harold Wilson.
31/5/1965. Major US air strikes in Vietnam saved the South Vietnamese forces from annihilation, reported The Guardian.
19/11/1964. Major offensive by South Vietnam against the North began.
7/8/1964, In South Vietnam, General Nguyen Khanh proclaimed a State of Emergency and ousted President Duong Vanh Minh.
2/8/1964, North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the US destroyer Maddox. North Vietnamese torpedo boats attacked the US destroyer Maddox, which was patrolling 16 km off the North Vietnamese coast. One Vietnamese boat was sunk, another badly damaged; the Maddox was undamaged and continued her patrol. On the stormy night of 4-5/8/1964 the radar allegedly spotted five Vietnamese boats in ‘attack formation’; in fact these boats almost certainly did not exist. Either the radar image was misinterpreted, or were fabricated to justify further US actions in Vietnam. US President Johnson got the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed through Congress; authorising ‘any necessary measures’ to repel attacks on US forces or US allies, including South Vietnam. This resolution justified a large escalation in US activity in Vietnam from 1965 onwards.
2/11/1963, The first
President of Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem,
1/11/1963, In South Vietnam, a coup organised by General Duong Van Minh overthrew President Ngo Dinh Diem.
30/1/1964, Coup in South Vietnam; General Duong Van Minh was replaced by General Nguyen Kanh. However Minh remained as nominal head of state.
21/8/1963,Martial law was declared in South Vietnam.
21/1/1960, What became known as the Vietcong was formed in Vietnam. Communists in South Vietnam, opposed to the USA-backed rule of Ngo Dinh Diem, at first received little support from the Communist North Vietnamese government, but this changed after January 1960. The Southern Communistsk, in co-operation with the North, met outside Saigon to found the National Liberation Front (NLF). They called for the removal of Diem as a ‘colonial Western puppet’ and the removal of all foreign bases from South Vietnam. Diem and the USA labelled the NLF disparagingly as the ‘Vietcong’, a derogatory abbreviation of the Vietnamese words for Viuetnamese Communists. The name stuck, but lost its negative connotations.
22/10/1957. 13 US servicemen and 5 civilians were injured in Saigon, South Vietnam, by a bomb planted by Communist guerrillas. This was the worst incident since 1954 when the French admitted defeat in the fight against North Vietnam’s Viet Minh army and split Vietnam into North and South, two independent states.
23/10/1955. South Vietnam became a republic under Ngo Dinh Diem. Emperor Bao Dai was deposed.
7/12/1954, Bui Van Luong was replaced as the head of COMIGAL, Vietnam's government resettlement agency, by Pham Van Huyen.
10/10/1954, Ho Chi Minh returned to Hanoi as the French pulled out.
21/7/1954. An armistice divided Vietnam into North (Communist) and South (French). See 21/4/1954.
7/5/1954. Communist Vietminh forces under General Giap captured Dien Ben Phu in Vietnam, a key French garrison, after a siege. Almost all the 16,000 French soldiers were killed. The Americans had considered using three atomic bombs, but Eisenhower was reluctant to start a new war after Korea, and did not wish to support colonialism. This effectively marked the end of French rule in Indo-China. Dien Ben Phu was a village in Vietnam, 75 miles south of the Chinese border and commanding a valley into Laos, which lay 20 miles further west, so occupied a strategic position.
2/5/1954, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden made it clear at Geneva that Britain could not support the US in a war in Vietnam when the course and scope of the war was unknown.
21/4/1954. The US Air Force flew a French battalion to northern Vietnam to defend against the Vietminh at Dien Bien Phu. Dien Bien Phu fell to the Communists on 7/5/1954.
6/4/1954. France informed the US that French public opinion would not support the war in Vietnam anymore and that France’s aim was now a negotiated settlement. The US wanted to carry on the fight against the Communists. The UK too was wary, in case a Soviet nuclear strike on US bases in England was carried out.
13/3/1954, The Vietminh assault on Dien Ben Phu began; see 7/5/1954.
20/1/1954, The French military Commander in Chief, General Henri Navarre, launched an attack on Vietminh positions in Annam, the narrow ‘waist’ of the country between North and South. Annam had been abandoned by the French in the face of superior Vietminh numbers; the French hoped to control Annam as a buffer zone, ‘contain’ the North, and pacify the South. However the Vietminh fought back strongly and forced the French to withdraw into the major towns.
26/11/1953, French airborne troops captured the Vietnamese village of Dien Ben Phu from the Vietminh, thereby gaining control of the Hanoi to Laos road.
25/5/1950, French troops fought the Vietcong guerrillas in Vietnam.
7/2/1950, The Soviet Union officially recognised the Marxist regime of Ho Chi Minh in North Vietnam; the USA endorsed the French-backed regime of Emperor Bao Dai in South Vietnam. The two regimes had been at war since 1947.
30/12/1949. Vietnam gained sovereignty from France.
8/3/1949, Vietnam became independent within the French Union.
19/12/1946, An uneasy post-War period of tactical co-operation between the French and the Vietcong Communist forces ended. The French had wanted to regain their colony of Vietnam; the Vietcong also wanted Nationalist factions in the country eliminated. But on this day the Vietcong attacked French troops at Hanoi, starting the First Indo-China War. The Vietcong began a campaign of guerrilla warfare.
23/11/1946, French troops bombarded Haiphong in NE Vietnam. This was the start of the French Indo-China War, which lasted until 1954.
2/3/1946. In North Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh was elected President.
10/3/1945. Tran Kim
1941, Vietminh resistance to Japan founded in exile in China.
1940, Japan invaded Vietnam. For more details of World War Two in the Pacific, see Japan-China.
1930, Ho Chi Minh founded the Vietnamese Communist Party.
8/11/1927, Nguyen Khanh, Prime Minister of South Vietnam, was born.
6/11/1925, Khai Dinh, Emperor of Vietnam, died.
1920, Viertnam adopted the Roman script (Quoc Agu) in place of Chinese lettering.
19/5/1890, Birth of Ho Chi Minh, President of North Vietnam (died 1969).
25/2/1861, The French relieved a siege of Saigon by 20,000 Vietnamese, and consolidated their hold over Cochin China.
22/2/1860, In the face of Vietnamese attacks, French colonists evacuated Tourane.
31/8/1858, French forces under Admiral Rigault de Genouilly attacked the Vietnamese city of Tourane, to use it as a military base. The city fell to the French on 2/9/1858.
1847, The French began to interfere in the political affairs of Annam (Vietnam), on the pretext of protecting the |Christians there.
1820, Death of Nguyen Phuoc Anh (also known as Long Gia), emperor of Vietnam and founder of the Nguyen Dynasty. He fought to extend the influence of the Nguyen Clan, as the existing Tay Son order disintegrated. In 1802 he succeeded in unifying Vietnam for the first time, from the Chinese border down to the Mekong Delta.
17/2/1759, French forces took Saigon, Vietnam.
1516, A group of Portuguese explorers became the first Europeans to reach Vietnam.
1428, Annam (Vietnam) regained its independence from China.
1407, China regained control of Annam. See 1428.
1010, King Ly Thai To moved the capital of Vietnam from Ninh Binh to Hanoi, calling it Thang Long, meaning ‘soaring dragon’.
1009, The Ly Dynasty, the first independent dynasty in Vietnam, was proclaimed.
939, The Vietnamese expelled their Chinese rulers from Annam, meaning ‘pacified south’ in Chinese.
150 AD, The Champa State existed on the east coast of Vietnam. It was a threat to the power of the Khmer and Vietnamese States.
214 BC, Annam (now Vietnam) was conquered by China.
257 BCE,The State of Au Lac was established un the Red River area of Vietnam.