[This subject has fascinated me ever since I read reports that the
Japanese genius and war criminal Colonel
Tsuji Masanobu had spent his last years in Vietnam, helping
defeat the Americans. At last someone has done serious research
into the subject. As a French scholar, using French archives,
Christopher Goscha concentrated on the years 1945-1950, and there
is of course no proof that any of the individuals he mentions
were still serving with the North Vietnamese or Viet Cong during
the "American War." What follows is condensed, with Prof.
Goscha's permission, from his article "Belated Asian Allies,"
which appears in A
Companion to the Vietnam War, edited by Young & Buzzanco and
published by Blackwell in 2002. -- Dan Ford]
Belated Asian Allies
Goscha estimates that perhaps 5,000 Japanese stayed behind in
Vietnam in the fall of 1945. (The translator renders their status
as "deserters," but I don't think that's honest. How can you
desert from an army that has surrendered?) Famously able to
subordinate the means to the end, the Communists naturally put
them to use in their war against the French. As Goscha points
out, the Viet Minh had very little experience in warfare or
government, as opposed to guerilla resistance of the sort they
had used against the occupying Japanese. They would have been
glad of the expertise available in the left-behind Japanese
population, both military and civilian.
Vietnam was divided at the 16th parallel by the victorious
Allies, with the Chinese occupying the north and the British
occupying the south. The Chinese gave the Viet Minh considerable
freedom of action, while the British brought in French troops to
relieve them of the burden of occupation; the French of course
moved quickly to put down any independence movement.
The first Japanese aid came in the form of arms: in the north,
Vo Nguyen Giap equipped his troops with French weapons that the
Japanese had issued to its puppet Indochinese Guard. Japanese
weapons made their way into the black market soon after the
surrender. It wasn't long before Japanese soldiers and officers
also became available: there was no immediate way home for these
men, even if they wanted to go. They hadn't been defeated in the
field; they couldn't understand why the Emperor had ended the
war; they had nothing to greet them at home but shame and
desolation. Many had Vietnamese wives or girlfriends. When the
war ended, they thought of themselves in the tradition of the
ronin or leaderless samurai warriors. Like the
ronin, they simply gravitated toward whatever employer was
willing to hire them.
And the Viet Minh wanted them, the officers and NCOs
particularly, as training cadres. In September 1945, there were
about 50,000 Japanese soldiers and civilians in northern Vietnam;
by December 1946, about 32,000 had been repatriated and 3,000
escaped to the island of Hainan, leaving 15,000 still in the
country. Perhaps a third of these, Goscha believes, may have
joined the Viet Minh as cadre, combat troops, or civilian
experts. In the British-occupied south, with the French returning
and pressing the Viet Minh hard, a much larger proportion of the
Japanese garrison was repatriated; Goscha estimates that only a
few thousand remained in the summer of 1946, and that perhaps
only a few hundred actually joined the Communist forces.
(Apparently a larger number simply melted into the population as
farmers and shop-keepers.)
In Thai Nguyen province, the Japanese apparently ran an arms
factory. In Hanoi, a western-educated Japanese scholar named
Kiyoshi Komatsu directed the Viet Minh's "International Committee
for the Aid and Support of the Government of the DRV." In Quang
Ngai, a Viet Minh officers' school had six Japanese officers on
the faculty; in southern Trung Bo province, 36 out of 50 military
instructors were Japanese. Major Ishii Takuo, a young officer of
the 55th Division in Burma, deserted in Cambodia in December 1945
with several comrades and made his way to Vietnam, where
he became a colonel in the Viet Minh, provisional head of
the Quang Ngai military academy, and later "chief advisor" to
Communist guerrillas in the south. Some specialists, including doctors
and ordnance experts, were forced to work for the Viet Minh
against their will. The French identified eleven Japanese nurses
and two doctors working for the Viet Minh in northern Vietnam
"One of the results of the Japanese presence in the Viet
Minh army was an increase in French losses at the beginning
of the war," Goscha writes. During the first battles in the
north, Japanese soldiers served in the front lines. In Hue
in 1947, the French reported battling a Japanese assault
force of 150 men. Also in 1947, Colonel Ishii helped set
up an ambush that killed upwards of 70 French soldiers.
Koshiro Iwai led Vietnamese units into battle and led
commando raids behind French lines; by 1949 he was a Viet
Minh battalion deputy commander. Later he became a planner
for the 174th Regiment, helping the Viet Minh to employ their
newly acquired Chinese cannon.
In 1951, the Viet Minh began to repatriate their Japanese
(and European) helpers via China and Eastern Europe. After
the Geneva Accords of 1954, which divided Vietnam into two
halves, 71 Japanese left the Viet Minh and went home, and
others returned over the years. "A handful would remain in
Vietnam well into the 1970s," Goscha writes. "Others would never
return." This doesn't necessarily mean they helped in the
war against the Americans; more likely, these stay-behinds
had simply gone native.
[Here's another discussion of the same question, by George Moore,
which appeared on the moderated Vietnam War newsgroup several years
ago. -- DF]
A number of years ago, there was some discussion [here] about the
Imperial Japanese soldiers who, in 1945 and 1946, volunteered to
serve with the Viet Minh in exchange for protection from World War
II era Allied war crime tribunals. Cecil B Currey's new book
Victory At Any Cost: The Genius of Vietnam's General Vo Nguyen
Giap reviews the subject. Below are some notes about it for any student
who wants to look into it. Most critically, it should be easy
these days to get a copy of the original American DIA report about
it. See below. With a copy of that report in hand, a most
interesting article could be written about a long forgotten
See page 125, where it is a question of Viet Minh repression of
opposition groups just after the Chinese Kuomintang armies pulled
out of Hanoi and northern Vietnam in June of 1946:
"In this activity, Giap had the help not only of his regular Viet
Minh cadres but of another special unit as well. In 1945, Giap had
enlisted 1,500 fanatically "antiwhite" Japanese military personnel
who offered their services to him following Japan's surrender to
the Allies. For them it was more attractive than the idea of
returning to a defeated and occupied homeland. These soldiers were
led by 230 noncommissioned officers and forty-seven gendarmes of
the once dreaded Japanese Kempetai, all of whom were wanted for
questioning by the Allies on charges of suspected war crimes. The
entire group was commanded by Colonel Mukayama from the general
staff of the 38th Imperial Army. Giap arranged for them all to
receive Vietnamese citizenship and false identification papers.
Mukayama became one of Giap's firm supporters and willingly served
him when called upon, as he was in this instance, to attack
opponents of the Viet Minh regime."
Unfortunately, the footnote to this text points only to the words
"DIA Document". It does not matter however, because there is the
name Colonel Mukayama. A search of old DIA documents for this name
will certainly yield the original DIA report on the subject. It
would have been written in 1945 or 1946.
On page 166 of this same book [Curry's book] is the note that
"Colonel Mukayama was killed in December of 1947 at Cho Chu during
a battle with French paratroopers."
A quick search of the index of the classic 1952 book from Philippe
Histoire du Vietnam de 1940 a 1952 yields the same
name Mukaiyama. Devillers has him listed as a Lieutenant Colonel.
See page 282. "Pendant tout le printemps et l'ete (1946), les preparatifs dans
les "chien khu" sont intensifies. Des technicians et des
specialistes japonais pretent leur concours au commandement
viet-minh comme conseillers techniques adjoints aux chefs ou comme
instructeurs. Parmi les officiers nippons fanatiquement
anti-blancs, venus apres la capitulation offrir leurs services au
gouvernement vietnamien, figurait par exemple le
lieutenant-colonel Mukaiyama, de l'Etat-Major de la 38e armee."
A quick translation of the above: "In the spring and summer (1946), preparations in the "chien khu"
intensified. Japanese technicians and specialists offered their
services to the Viet Minh as technical consultants and as
instructors. In this group of fanatically anti white Japanese
officers who offered their services to the Viet Minh government
after the capitulation in Tokyo, was, for example, Lieutenant
Colonel Mukaiyama, from the General Staff of the Imperial Japanese
38th Army." End translation.
Another angle on the subject is in a relatively new book by
Professor [Jacques] Valette:
La Guerre d'Indochine, 1945-1954. See page 27, where he reviews the role of the Japanese:
"Des deserteurs japonais se sont mis au service du Viet-minh,
beaucoup venant de la Kempetai. Les service francais ont eu
quelque tendance a en gonfler les effectifs: `armee de 10,00
hommes" pres de Hue, `7,000 Japonais' entre Nam Dinh et Quinhon,
au Tonkin, `7,000 repartis surtout dans les provinces de Backan,
Vietri et Lang-son'. Au printemps 1946, ils revisent leur
estimation: 2,000 Japonais dans les groupes armes du Viet-minh.
Quant aux Chinois, ils etaient indifferents au probleme; des
prisonniers furent embauches par eux, habilles en civil parce que
A quick translation of the above: "Japanese deserters put themselves at the service of the Viet Minh,
many of them coming from the Kempetai. The French services tended
to over estimate their numbers: `army of 10,000 Japanese' near
Hue, '7,000 Japanese' between Nam Dinh and Quinhon, in Tonkin,
`7,000 above all in the provinces of Backan, Vietri and Lang Son'.
In the spring of 1946, the French services revised their estimate:
2,000 Japanese were serving in armed Viet Minh groups. As for the
Chinese, they were indifferent to the problem; their Japanese
prisoners were hired and given civilian clothing because of their
technical capabilities." End translation.
Needless to say, Backan, usually spelled Bac Kan or Bac Can,
Vietri and Lang Son were Viet Minh controlled areas at the time.
It was the first Viet Minh "liberated" zone.
The footnote for this text reads: "Note about the situation in the
Hue region. Non dated and not signed - established for the
services of the DGER in 1946. Private archives."
What this means is that the note is now in the possession of
Professor Valette. As of 1994, he was a Professor at the
University of Poitiers in France and the President of the
Indochinese War Commission at the Institute of Contemporary
Conflicts. He is also the author of a book on Japanese French
relations in Vietnam between 1940 and 1945.
DGER is the acronym for one of the World War II era military
intelligence services, Direction des Etudes et de la Recherche,
which was later combined into the SDECE. Some explanation about it
the web page. Most of their old Indochina related documents are available to the
public at the main French Indochina archive in Aix-en-Provence in
southern France. This archive, long used by many students, now has a
Flying Tigers: the history
The Smithsonian Institution Press edition went through seven printings
from 1991 to 2001. Now Flying Tigers is available again, revised
and updated, from HarperCollins. Find it at Amazon websites in the
United States -
Or I'll send an autographed copy for list price plus shipping: