Historical Dictionary



Since the end of the Indochina War, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), nor its successor since 1976, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, have ever revealed publicly the total casualies suffered by their armed forces between 1945 and 1954. The French have advanced the rough figure of 500,000 Vietnamese killed during the Indochina War, apparently including civilians.[1] More methodically sound estimations put the number at 300,000.[2] No reliable figures exist for the number of wounded, missing in action, or deserters on the DRV side. Nor do we have statistics on gender, age, or the social origins of those killed.[3] More reliable statistics exist for French Union forces during the Indochina War. Casualty figures were first published in the French Fourth Republic’s Journal officiel of 12 January 1955 and have been revised by specialists since then. According to the official statistics published in 1955, some 20,700 French nationals (“of all origins”, including the “Metropolitan colonial army”) died and 22,000 were wounded; African troops (coming from French “North Africa” and “Black Africa”) accounted for 15,200 deaths and 13,900 wounded; the Foreign Legion suffered 11,600 deaths and 7,200 wounded; the “regular indigenous” (autochtones réguliers mainly ethnic Vietnamese) lost 27,700 men and 21,200 wounded; and the indigenous auxiliary troops (supplétifs) and the armies of the Associated States of Indochina together accounted for 17,600 deaths and 12,100 wounded. In all, according to these 1955 official statistics, the armed forces of the French Union lost 92,800 individuals and 76,400 wounded. According to French military historian Michel Bodin, of the soldiers fighting in the French Union forces who died because of combat and non-combat related reasons, as well as the missing in action, 18,015 were French soldiers coming from the metropole (troupes métropolitaines); 10,320 were North Africans (coming mainly from Algeria and Morocco); 2,753 Africans (from French colonial Africa); 9,235 Legionnaires; 29,228 indigenous regulars (mainly ethnic Vietnamese); and 42,481 were indigenous auxilaries (supplétifs) and soldiers in the armies of the Associated States of Indochina. In all, according to Bodin, the forces of the French Union lost 112,032 individuals. There are problems with all statistics and these are no exception. (Bodin proposes a higher death toll because he counts deaths occurring in enemy camps before and after July 1954, whereas the endpoint for the January 1955 statistics stopped at the armistices signed in mid-1954.) Nonetheless, these numbers provide a broadly accurate account of the casualties inflicted by nine years of war on the French Union forces. From these statistics, for example, one can see that French losses in the war only accounted for 17.5 percent of the total (using Bodin’s figures). This lower number can be explained by the French government’s refusal to institute the draft combined with the concomitant, ever increasing need to find troops elsewhere – in the Foreign Legion (a 8.2 percent mortality rate); from colonial North Africa (9.2 percent); from colonial “Black” Africa (2.5 percent); from “indigenous” (mainly Vietnamese) regular troops (26 percent); and indigenous auxiliary and troops of the Associated States of Indochina (mainly Vietnamese, 38 percent). Combined, the Vietnamese and non-French troops endured the highest death rates during the war and the ground forces suffered by far the greatest losses, well over 90 percent, followed by the navy and the air force. In all, the Indochina War took some 400,000 lives.

[1]. It would appear that the original source for this widely cited number of 500,000 is Ngo Van Chieu’s memoirs, Journal d’un combatant viet minh, Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1955, p. 106. How Ngo Van Chieu, an officer in the DRV’s army, reached this number is never explained.


[2]. See Bethany Lacina and Nils Petter Gleditsch, ‘Monitoring Trends in Global Combat: A New Dataset of Battle Deaths’, European Journal of Population 21, no. 2 (2005), 145–166. Michael Clodfelter puts the number of killed at an estimated 175,000 and estimates that 300,000 Vietnamese were wounded during the war. He also suggests that the numbers of civilian ìlossesî numbered in the ìhundreds of thousandsî. Michael Clodfelter, Warfare and Armed Conflicts: A Statistical Reference to Casualty and Other Figures, 1618–1991, vol. II (1900–1991), Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc., 1992, p. 1122.


[3]. The Vietnamese government has confirmed that it lost 842,405 individuals (apparently including ìmissing in actionî) in its armed forces during the Vietnam War and that 484,324 were wounded.