|Regular French Army|
While this order of battle is for the final battle at Dien Bien Phu, it represents the composition of all French forces in Indochina. The Viet Minh approach to the colonial troops is of special interest.
These troops were from French colonies -- Senegal, Algeria, and Morocco. In each of these colonies, following WW II, resistance movements emerged in opposition to continued French rule. In Algeria the situation was such that the Algerian war for independence broke out within a few months after the 1954 Geneva Convention that secured French withdrawal from Indochina. The Viet Minh approached the colonial troops as brothers suffering under the oppression of French occupation. They directed propaganda at the colonial troops, asking them why they continued to serve under the French master and the colonial troops were encouraged to defect.
When colonial troops were captured, they were treated better than other members of the French Expeditionary Forces and they were encouraged to return to their homes. Almost all captured colonial troops were returned to their homes from Vietnam through China and Russia, into Eastern Europe then home. The French protested this practice because there was no way they could account for their people but the Viet Minh ignored the protest and continued repatriating colonial troops and Legionnaires directly to their home countries.
This practice by the Viet Minh of returning people through China and Russia is the source of a report that is commonly misrepresented by the MIA "activists." In the early 1950's, while US forces were fighting in Korea, the US Defense Liaison Office in Hong Kong interviewed an individual -- he may have been Polish -- who reported his observations from the Sino-Soviet border.
If you consult a map of northeast China, you will see the main railroad line from China crossing into Russia at a town named Manchouli. The railroad goes from China across the border and continues to where it joins the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Chinese and Russian rail lines are different gauge -- that is, the wheels are set closer together in one country than in the other. Thus, at Manchouli, trains stop and one of two things happens. (1) Passengers disembark, walk across the border, and board another train, or, (2) passengers disembark and the undercarriages of the cars are changed. Either way, passengers mill around at the Manchouli border crossing point.
The individual who reported to US officials at Hong Kong stated that he had crossed the border at Manchouli and, while he was waiting for the undercarriage of his train to be changed, he observed a "large number" of foreigners who were transiting from China into Russia. He described some of them as wearing partial military uniforms and he commented on the large proportion of "black men" in the groups that he saw.
The MIA "activists" claim that this was a sighting of US captives from Korea being taken into the Soviet Union. Not true. This report describes French colonial troops (and possibly Legionnaires) being transported into Russia, thence to Eastern Europe, then returned home -- a movement that was documented in Anita Lauve's study. The source's comment that a large proportion of the troops were "black men" suggests that these were colonial troops -- Senegalese, Algerians, and Moroccans are dark-complexioned and there were black Africans among the French troops.
One final matter is the recurring claim by the MIA "activists" that in the late 1980's the French paid millions of dollars in "ransom" for the return of "thousands" of French POWs. Not true.
Over 25,000 French troops were buried in French military cemeteries in Vietnam. Following the 1954 agreements, the French paid the Vietnamese to maintain the cemeteries. From time to time, French veterans groups would return to Indochina for remembrance ceremonies at these cemeteries. In 1986, the Vietnamese approached the French, stating that they needed the land that was occupied by these cemeteries. Negotiations went on for a while and, in 1989, the French exhumed all remains from their military cemeteries in Vietnam and returned them to France.
News reports of the return of these French dead pointed out that in the years since 1954, the French had paid a total of several million dollars for maintenance of the cemeteries. Also, the French paid for the exhumation operation, another few million dollars. The MIA "activist" cult misrepresents and distorts the facts of this matter by claiming that the French paid millions of dollars for the return of thousands of French POWs from Vietnam years after the end of the French Indochina War.
And that, folks, is the story. The facts of the French experience are this:
|All French POWs who were alive in captivity at the end of the French Indochina War were released under the terms of the 1954 Geneva Conventions.|
|French Legionnaires and colonial troops were, in the main, returned home through China and Russia, thereby making it impossible for the French to account for all their troops.|
|The Manchouli border crossing sighing refers, not to US POWs from Korea, but to French Expeditionary Force troops being repatriated.|
|In 1962, 40 French soldiers who had deserted during the war were returned to France -- they were not POWs.|
|The "thousands" of French soldiers who were returned to France in the late 1980's were actually the remains of over 25,000 Frenchman who had died in the French Indochina War and were buried in French military cemeteries in Vietnam.|
|There were French soldiers, Legionnaires, and colonial troops who got out of the service in Indochina and continued to live there, even through the years of the US Indochina War.|