13 September. Preceded by small advance parties a week earlier, Major-General Douglas Gracey lands at Saigon’s Tan Son Nhut airport and immediately orders the Administrative Committee ejected from the former governor-general’s palace. A contingent of Indian and Gurkha troops accompany Gracey, while the main body of 20th British Indian Division troops under his command follow by sea. They are tasked to oversee the Japanese surrender below the 16th Parallel, locate and evacuate Allied POWs, and maintain law and order. It is unclear whether the latter remit includes the restoration of French control, especially as Gracey’s brief is limited to a few areas outside of Saigon and Phnom Penh. Next day, Gracey talks at length with French commissioner Jean Cédile but refuses to meet V i e t n a m e s e of any political persuasion. Viet Minh plans based on a special relationship with the Allies are suddenly in doubt.
21 September. Although Cambodia has recognized the newly established Democratic Republic of Vietnam since its inception and allowed it to open a mission in Phnom Penh, a more formal anti-French agreement is now mooted between the two countries. However, talks between Cambodian premier Son Ngoc Thanh and representatives from Saigon’s Southern Provisional Administrative Committee quickly break down. The reason is Thanh’s unexpected demand that the Cochinchinese provinces of Tra Vinh and Soc Trang, which have high concentrations of Khmer, be ceded to Cambodia. (Thanh himself is a Khmer Krom from the region.) Demands for annexation or at least greater autonomy have also been aired across the lower Mekong delta in recent weeks by local Khmer. Tension is high and sometimes flares into violence between Khmer and Vietnamese communities in both Cochinchina and Cambodia.
23 September. His control slipping in both the city and countryside, General Gracey surreptitiously re-arms French POWs, urged on by French commissioner Jean Cédile. In the evening, with British agreement, these troops stage what effectively is a coup, seizing the Town Hall, where they raise the tricolour, and unseating the Viet Minh from many other buildings. The head of the Administrative Committee and several of his soldiers are taken prisoner. When the French run amok, violently assaulting Vietnamese civilians, Gracey tries to rein them in, but their actions have already irretrievably inflamed tensions in the south.
16 September. Addressing a lack of funds and the need to pay off the Chinese occupation forces, the Viet Minh launches a nationwide fundraising campaign, during which tables are set up in public venues to receive donations of jewellery, gold leaf and other precious items from patriotic citizens. Gold week actually lasts two weeks, with Supreme Advisor Vinh Thuy (Bao Dai) presiding over the closing ceremony. At the Hanoi inauguration ceremony, Ho Chi Minh pledges to give to the highest donor a gold medal he has received from overseas Vietnamese admirers. To the crowd he also presents Brig.-Gen. Philip Gallagher, head of the U.S. Military Advisory and Assistance Group attached to Gen. Lu Han’s command, and the next day’s papers feature Gallagher’s participation. Gallagher has just arrived in Hanoi, one of his principal responsibilities being to coordinate the loading of tens of thousands of Chinese troops on U.S. ships bound for Manchuria or Taiwan.
23 September. Soon after they enter Luang Prabang (and within days also Thakhek, Savannakhet and Vientiane), Chinese forces disarm the French in the royal capital but leave Prince Phetsarath as head of government. This tilts the balance of power back in the viceroy’s favour. As in northern Vietnam, the Chinese are regarded as a pest but their forces do hinder a French return above the 16th Parallel.
24 September. Apparently retaliating against the French coup the day before, during the night an unknown group of Vietnamese attacks the cité Hérault, a mixed quarter in Saigon home to many Eurasian families but its population swollen with an influx of French families. About 300 people including women and children are taken hostage. Perhaps 100 are killed and many more are injured, raped or tortured. Eurasians are key victims. The Viet Minh are blamed for the attack though more likely candidates are Binh Xuyen gangsters or Cao Dai followers. Gracey is also sharply critical of the failure of Japanese troops to intervene. In response, British and French forces, aided by the Japanese, clamp down hard on the city. The situation is exacerbated by severe water and power shortages due to the general strike. By early October, the core of Saigon is a ghost town. The incoming French high commissioner, Admiral Thierry d’Argenlieu, later dates the beginning of the Indochinese War to this day.
26 September. The ongoing presence of an OSS team in Saigon angers the head of the British occupation forces, General Gracey, but there are personal differences between Gracey and OSS mission head Peter Dewey as well. One of Gracey’s first actions after arriving in Saigon is to demand that Dewey end all contacts with Viet Minh adherents. When Dewey evades the ban by having his subordinates continue the contacts, he is declared persona non grata and ordered to leave the country. On his way to the airport, possibly mistaken for a Frenchman, Dewey is shot dead in a Viet Minh ambush. His body is never recovered. In a letter to President Truman, Ho Chi Minh makes it clear he disapproves of the killing and expresses his condolences and friendship with the American people.
30 September. A large delegation from the anti-communist Revolutionary League meets with General Xiao Wen to discuss suppression of the communists and removal of the DRV provisional government. Xiao Wen may be sympathetic but he cannot act contrary to the wishes of General Lu Han, who two weeks earlier reached an understanding with Ho Chi Minh.
14 September. Widely condemned for being too friendly to the British and stung by Gracey’s attitude, the Viet Minh leadership in Saigon moves against their most vocal critics, the Trotskyists. Police forces surround a high-level meeting of the Internation al Communist League, whose attendees surrender without violence despite being well-armed. Some are subsequently executed, with many more hunted down in the following weeks. Within a year the Viet Minh will have eradicated the country’s once thriving Trotskyist movement. These are not the first killings of Trotskyists. A few weeks earlier, Vietnam’s most gifted Trotskyist writer and orator, Ta Thu Thau, was seized and executed by a local Viet Minh group when returning home to Saigon from Hanoi.
19 September. Having already ordered the occupation of key positions in Saigon, including the governor-general’s palace from which the Southern Provisional Administrative Committee is expelled, General Gracey now declares martial law and forbids the printing of all newspapers. He is strengthened in this move after a meeting with Field Marshal Terauchi days earlier secured a Japanese commitment not to take sides but to obey British orders instead. As well as generally sidelining the Viet Minh, the British free all French internees and permit French ‘instigators’ to stage a show of strength. Unable to respond militarily, the Administrative Committee escalates its earlier anti-French sanctions into a general strike, calling on everyone to refuse to collaborate with the French in any way, whether militarily, administratively or economically.
23 September. Catholics join non-Catholics in northern and central Vietnam in demonstrations protesting British actions in Saigon. A message in the name of all four Vietnamese bishops is sent to Pope Pius XII, requesting his benediction and prayers for Vietnam’s independence.