France created the colony of Indochina between 1858 and 1909 in a series of conquests and annexations that encompassed Vietnam, Cambodia and a disparate group of tributary states in the Thai cultural world that were bundled together as Laos. Vietnam itself was divided into three zones: Cochinchina, including the commercial capital, Saigon, was a directly ruled colony, while Annam and Tonkin were nominally … (click below to continue reading Cribb and Li’s Prelude)
9 August. As rumours mount of a Japanese surrender, Sukarno, Mohammad Hatta and Dr Radjiman Wediodiningrat fly to Saigon and on to Dalat in the Vietnamese highlands. Here, Field Marshal Terauchi Hisaichi, commander of Japanese forces in Southeast Asia, personally assures them that independence will be granted on 24 August. Sukarno is appointed chairman of the PPKI, whose first meeting is planned for the 18th.
13 August. An all-country conference of the Indochinese Communist Party begins in Tan Trao, centre of a liberated zone north-west of Hanoi, the first such conference held in five years. Reflecting the dramatic news of an imminent Japanese surrender and fears of both a French return and Chinese intervention, delegates resolve that both the Soviet Union and the United States be won over to the Vietnamese cause. In addition, a five-man ‘Uprising Committee’ is established and orders go out that lead to some attacks on Japanese forces. However, by the time the conference ends on the 16th, delegates agree on a policy of caution in the uncertain strategic situation.
10 August. Uncertainty about who will do what, and when, characterizes the entire region in mid-August. While the Philippines, for example, is beginning to rebuild after years of war and Japanese occupation, the country seethes with preparations for the invasion of Japan. U.S. military supplies pour in. Hospitals and other facilities are established in anticipation of the invasion efforts. Elements of the Philippine Army are also involved. Early but unconfirmed news of Japan’s surrender on the 10th results in premature celebrations in Manila, including the firing of weapons. Similar early celebrations erupt four days later when the U.S. Office of War Information newspaper Free Philippines prematurely announces the end of the war.
12 August. After Dai Viet demonstrations in Hanoi the day before, other nationalists rally in the city in support of the royal government and call for unity among the people. Although next day another Dai Viet demonstration calls on the people to ‘consolidate Vietnam’s independence’, a new meeting of Dai Viet cadres held on the 16th again fails to agree on concrete steps to thwart a Viet Minh takeover. By now, some Dai Viet troops have left their nearby rural redoubt and begun marching on Hanoi. Delayed by flooding, they reach the city only on the 17th and even then fail to receive orders to seize power.
14 August. Upon receiving long-awaited formal Japanese agreement, Emperor Bao Dai proclaims abrogation of the treaties signed with France in 1862 and 1874, thus formally making Cochinchina a part of Imperial Vietnam. Nguyen Van Sam receives credentials as Southern Region Imperial Delegate, locates sufficient fuel for his automobile and begins the potentially perilous drive south. The same day in Saigon, Japanese officers are present at both the formation of a National United Front of groups opposed to the French return and an impressive ceremony of 50,000 Vanguard Youth dedicating their lives to the nation. On the 16th, the Japanese authorities begin handing over offices to the United Front. However, when Vanguard Youth then hijack a huge arms convoy, on his arrival in Saigon Nguyen Van Sam urges the Japanese to arm other groups less influenced by communists.
15 August. The operational boundaries of the British-led South East Asia Command (SEAC), based in Kandy and headed by Lord Louis Mountbatten, are extended to include southern Indochina and Thailand. Java, Borneo and Eastern Indonesia are also transferred from the American-led South-West Pacific Area, Australia made responsible for the latter two. With the war ended, SEAC’s primary tasks are to accept the Japanese surrender, disarm and repatriate Japanese troops, rescue and repatriate Allied POWs and internees, and eventually hand over the administration to civilian authorities. Except for Thailand, the restoration of colonial rule is assumed.
5 August. Premier Tran Trong Kim returns from Hanoi after negotiating with the Japanese Governor-General for reversion of Cochinchina to Vietnamese imperial rule. In Hue, however, he faces a cabinet revolt over his handling of the matter and concerns that the country faces more pressing issues, like popular unrest and the threat of resumed famine. Within two days, all ministers have resigned. When Premier Kim proves unable to form a new cabinet, this technically leaves the old one in caretaker mode. Although the machinery of government continues to function, imperial leadership is disrupted at a critical moment.
11 August. The transfer of local government to Vietnamese imperial control in many cities in Tonkin and Annam, celebrated earlier in August with destruction of French colonial statues and renaming of streets, fails to quieten the growing unrest. Despite stern Japanese warnings against illegal political activities the previous day, fears of the imminent return of French colonial rule bring Dai Viet nationalists out onto the streets of Hanoi to oppose ‘imperialist invasion plots’. That evening, hearing news of a possible Japanese surrender and looking to pre-empt a Viet Minh takeover, their leaders hold an emergency meeting to discuss the seizure of power from imperial authorities in Hanoi with tacit Japanese support. Opinions are sharply divided; some want to take action immediately, others fear being seen by the Allies as Japanese collaborators. No decision is reached at the meeting.
15 August. Just four hours after Emperor Hirohito’s broadcast ending the war, Japanese Ambassador Yamamoto Kuma’ichi explains and reassures Thai Prime Minister Khuang Aphaiwong about the surrender. He also raises no objections to news that Thailand’s Regent is planning to renounce the Thai–Japanese alliance.