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Historical Dictionary

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DESERTION, FRENCH UNION FORCES

According to official French statistics released in early 1955, the total number of desertions within the ranks of the French Union forces during the Indochina War totalled 71,443, with the majority of the defections occurring within the ranks of the Associated State of Vietnam and this occurring in the latter stages of the war. In the rubric “French Forces” – the Army, Air Force, Navy, North Africans, Africans, Foreign Legion and Indigenous Regular troops – 16,550 desertions are on record. Of this number, the biggest defections occurred during the first six months of 1954 among the “indigenous”, mainly Vietnamese regulars in the French Expeditionary Corps. The number of desertions for this group jumped from 1,156 in 1953 to 11,705 during the first half of 1954. Foreign Legion desertions increased from 128 to 363 for the same period, while that of African troops increased from 5 to 21 in 1954 and even less for North Africans and metropolitan French soldiers. However, the armies of the Associated States of Indochina registered high levels of desertion, reaching a total of 38,717 by the end of the war, jumping from 2,187 desertions in 1953 to 32,336 during the first six months of 1954. Such high rates of desertion suggest that morale was low. Other reasons for desertion, especially among the Foreign Legion and the Expeditionary Corps, were due to crimes, drunkenness, fights, mistreatment or perceptions of mistreatment by commanding officers. Anti-colonialism only accounted for a very small minority of desertions. The Viet Minh welcomed hundreds of crossovers into its ranks, especially European and African ones, in order to use them for propaganda and, in some cases, military purposes. See also ARMY, ASSOCIATED STATE OF VIETNAM; COLLABORATION; DESERTION, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM; DESERTION, JAPANESE; INDOCTRINATION.