Japanese invasion of French Indochina

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The Japanese invasion of French Indochina (仏印進駐, Futsu-in shinchū) was a short undeclared military confrontation between the Empire of Japan and Vichy France in northern Indochina. Fighting lasted from 22 to 26 September 1940, simultaneous with the Battle of South Guangxi in the Sino-Japanese War.

The main objective of the Japanese was to prevent the Republic of China from importing arms and fuel through French Indochina along the Kunming–Hai Phong Railway, from the port of Indochinese port of Haiphong, through the capital of Hanoi to the Chinese city of Kunming in Yunnan.[1]

Although an agreement had been reached between the French and Japanese governments prior to the outbreak of fighting, authorities were unable to control events on the ground for several days before the troops stood down. Per the prior agreement, Japan was allowed to occupy Tonkin in northern Indochina and effectively the blockade China.


In early 1940, troops of the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) moved to seize southern Guangxi and Longzhou County, where the eastern branch of the Kunming–Hai Phong Railway reached the border at the Friendship Pass in Pingxiang. They also tried to move west to cut the rail line to Kunming. The railway from Indochina was the Chinese government's last secure overland link to the outside world.

In May 1940, Germany invaded France. On 22 June, France signed an armistice with Germany (in effect from 25 June). On 10 July, the French parliament voted full powers to Marshal Philippe Pétain, effectively abrogating the Third Republic. Although much of metropolitan France came under German occupation, the French colonies remained under the direction of Pétain's government at Vichy. Resistance to Pétain and the armistice began even before it was signed, with Charles de Gaulle's appeal of 18 June. As a result, a de facto government-in-exile in opposition to Pétain, called Free France, was formed in London.

Franco-Japanese negotiations

On 19 June, Japan took advantage of the defeat of France and the impending armistice to present the Governor-General of Indochina, Georges Catroux, with a request, in fact an ultimatum, demanding the closure of all supply routes to China and the admission of a 40-man Japanese inspection team under General Issaku Nishihara. The Free French and the Americans became aware of the true nature of the Japanese "request" through intelligence intercepts, since the Japanese had informed their German allies. Catroux initially responded by warning the Japanese that their unspecified "other measures" would be a breach of sovereignty. He was reluctant to acquiesce to the Japanese, but with his intelligence reporting that Japanese army and navy units were moving into threatening positions, the French government was not.[2] Therefore, Catroux complied with the Japanese ultimatum on 20 June.[3] Before the end of June the last train carrying munitions crossed the border bound for Kunming.[2]

Following this humiliation, Catroux was immediately replaced as governor-general by Admiral Jean Decoux. Although Catroux could have tried to remain in his post and rally the colony to de Gaulle's movement, he chose to step aside. He did not return to France, however, but to London.[3][4]

On 22 June, while Catroux still remained in his post, the Japanese issued a second demand: naval basing rights at Guangzhouwan and the total closure of the Chinese border by 7 July. Issaku Nishihara, who was to lead the "inspection team", the true purpose of which was unknown, even to the Japanese, arrived in Hanoir on 29 June. On 3 July, he issued a third demand: air bases and the right to transit combat troops through Indochina. These new demands were referred to France.[2][5]

The incoming governor, Decoux, who arrived in Indochina in July, urged the government to reject the demands. Although he believed that Indochina could not defend itself against a Japanese invasion, Decoux believed it was strong enough to dissuade Japan from invading. In Vichy, General Jules-Antoine Bührer, chief of the Colonial General Staff, counselled resistance. The United States had already been contracted to provide aircraft, and there were 4,000 Tirailleurs sénégalais in Djibouti that could be shipped to Indochina in case of need.[5] In Indochina, Decoux had under his command 32,000 regulars, plus 17,000 auxiliaries, although they were all ill-equipped.[3]

On 30 August 1940, the Japanese foreign minister, Yōsuke Matsuoka, approved a draft proposal submitted by his French colleague, Paul Baudouin,[a] whereby Japanese forces could be stationed in and transit through Indochina only for the duration of the Sino-Japanese War. Both governments then "instructed their military representatives in Indochina to work out the details [although] they would have been better advised to stick to Tokyo–Vichy channels a bit longer". Negotiations between the supreme commander of Indochinese troops, Maurice Martin, and General Nishihara began at Hanoi on 3 September.[6]

On 5 September, the South China Front Army of the IJA organised the amphibious Indochina Expeditionary Army to move into Indochina. Led by Major-General Takuma Nishimura, it was supported by a flotilla of ships, and planes from aircraft carriers and air bases on Hainan Island. Faced with this invasion threat, Vichy France yielded. On 22 September, Japan and Vichy Indochina signed an accord which granted Japan the rights to station troops in Indochina, and to move troops and supplies through Indochina. The accord allowed up to 6,000 Japanese troops to be stationed in Indochina, with no more than 25,000 troops stationed or in transit at any given time. In addition, all Japanese land, air, and naval forces were barred from Indochinese territory except as authorised in the accord.


Within a few hours, columns from the IJA 5th Division under Lieutenant-General Akihito Nakamura moved over the border at three places and closed in on the railhead at Lang Son, near Longzhou. This action contravened the new agreement. In the Battle of Lang Son, a brigade of French Indochinese colonial troops and Foreign Legionaires opposed the IJA's advance until 25 September. The Japanese victory opened the way to Hanoi. Still, the Vichy French continued to fight on in the north and south of the colony, and fresh battalions were deployed on the route from Lang Son to Hanoi.

On 23 September, Vichy France protested the breach of the agreements by the IJA to the Japanese government.

On the morning of 24 September, Japanese aircraft from aircraft carriers in the Gulf of Tonkin attacked French positions on the coast. A Vichy envoy came to negotiate; in the meantime, shore defenses remained under orders to open fire on any attempted landing.

On 26 September, Japanese forces came ashore at Dong Tac, south of Haiphong, and moved on the port. A second landing put tanks ashore, and Japanese planes bombed Haiphong, causing some casualties. By early afternoon the Japanese force of some 4,500 troops and a dozen tanks were outside Haiphong.

By the evening of 26 September, fighting had died down. Japan took possession of Gia Lam Airbase outside Hanoi, the rail marshaling yard on the Yunnan border at Lao Cai, and Phu Lang Thuong on the railway from Hanoi to Lang Son, and stationed 900 troops in the port of Haiphong and 600 more in Hanoi.


The occupation of southern Indochina did not happen immediately. However, the Vichy government had agreed that some 40,000 troops could be stationed there. However, Japanese planners did not immediately move troops there, worried that such a move would be inflammatory to relations between Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Furthermore, within the Japanese high command there was a division about what to do about the Soviet threat to the north of their Manchurian territories. The tipping point came just after the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in late June 1941. With the Soviets tied down, the high command concluded that a "strike south" would solve Japan's problems with the United States, most notably increasing American concerns about Japan's moves in China and the possibility of a crippling oil embargo on Japan. To prepare for an invasion of the Dutch East Indies, some 140,000 Japanese troops invaded southern Indochina on 28 July 1941. French troops and the civil administration were allowed to remain, albeit under Japanese supervision. Vichy France collapsed in 1944, and Japan suspected that the French authorities in Indochina would seek to assist any Allied operations in the region. Therefore, a Japanese coup d'état in French Indochina deposed the French authorities in the spring of 1945.


  1. ^ Baudouin was a former general manager of the Bank of Indochina.


  1. ^ Jean-Philippe Liardet, L'Indochine française pendant la Seconde Guerre mondiale Archived 5 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b c Gunn (2014), pp. 38–40.
  3. ^ a b c Boissarie (2015), 233–34.
  4. ^ Marr (1995), p. 14.
  5. ^ a b Marr (1995), p. 15.
  6. ^ Marr (1995), p. 17.


  • Boissarie, Delphine. "Indochina during World War II: An Economy under Japanese Control", Economies under Occupation: The hegemony of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in World War II, ed. Marcel Boldorf and Tetsuji Okazaki (Routledge, 2015), pp. 232–44.
  • Dreifort, John E. "Japan's Advance into Indochina, 1940: The French Response", Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 13, 2 (1982), pp. 279–95.
  • Gunn, Geoffrey C. Rice Wars in Colonial Vietnam: The Great Famine and the Viet Minh Road to Power. Rowman and Littlefield, 2014.
  • Hata Ikuhiko. "The Army's Move into Northern Indochina", The Fateful Choice: Japan's Advance into Southeast Asia, 1939–1941, ed. James W. Morley (New York: 1980), 155–63.
  • Hsu Long-hsuen and Chang Ming-kai; trans. Wen Ha-hsiung. History of the Sino-Japanese War (1937–1945), 2nd ed. (Taipei:Chung Wu Publishing, 1971).
  • Murakami Sachiko. Japan's Thrust into French Indochina, 1940–1945. Ph.D. diss., New York University, 1981.
  • Marr, David G. Vietnam, 1945: The Quest for Power (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
  • Yoshizawa Minami. "The Nishihara Mission in Hanoi, July 1940", Indochina in the 1940s and 1950s, ed. Shiraishi Takeshi and Furuta Motoo (Ithaca, N.Y.: 1992), pp. 9–54.

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