Historical Dictionary



Refers to those people who switched their allegiance or loyalty from one group to another during the Indochina War. Oftentimes the crossovers were deserters from the French Union forces or those of the Associated States of Indochina. Just as often they came from the ranks of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), described as ralliés or transfuges by the French at the time.

At the outset, the DRV welcomed crossovers into its ranks, especially those with expertise which they could transmit to the emerging Vietnamese army and state. In exchange for their services, the DRV accorded them Vietnamese nationality, referring to them as Viet Nam Moi or “New Vietnamese”. The DRV employed hundreds of Japanese officers and soldiers to teach military science in newly created military academies, train troops, and even command combat units against the French. Japanese instructors also helped develop and run the DRV’s nascent intelligence services, while others worked in the medical and banking services. One Japanese crossover, Ishii Takuo, worked directly with General Nguyen Son, while French speaking European crossovers such as Erwin Börchers, Ernst Frey, and Rudy Schröder joined Vo Nguyen Giap to help him take on the French following the outbreak of war on 19 December 1946. European crossovers, however, were soon moved into propaganda roles in prisoner camps as the war intensified and the number of Europeans captured multiplied. The DRV also used crossovers to penetrate behind French lines. In 1948, for example, Ha Van Lau and Tran Quy Hai used two German deserters to attack a French post in Thua Thien. As Europeans, they were able to fool the enemy into thinking that they were on the French side, thereby allowing them to penetrate the post and wipe it out in a surprise attack. On another occasion, a commando unit led by an Austrian Foreign Legion deserter known in Vietnamese as “Kemen” (Carmen?) was sent into Hue to assassinate a close advisor to Bao Dai, Phan Van Giao. However, he mistakenly identified his target and ended up killing the uncle of Ha Van Lau.

However, crossovers did not simply move in one direction, towards the DRV. From the start, many non-communist nationalists and religious leaders left the DRV, most notably the leaders of the Binh Xuyen and the Cao Dai, Le Van Vien and Pham Cong Tac. Although many nationalists supported the independence cause of the DRV in the early years of war, thousands left the same state in the early 1950s, as the communist core at its helm asserted its power and began communizing the DRV, allying it with the communist bloc, and defining revolutionary identity along class lines instead of national ones. Land reform, rectification, and obligatory indoctrination courses only reinforced this exodus. Famous non-communist nationalists like Hoang Van Chi and Pham Duy left the DRV in the early 1950s, upset with the shift in the DRV’s priorities from a united front to the implementation of a communist-guided social revolution. Even sympathetic intellectuals like Nguyen Manh Ha and Hoang Xuan Han refused to cross over to the DRV upon the DRV’s return to Hanoi in late 1954. Meanwhile, thousands of DRV soldiers, civil servants, and even cadres crossed over to the French Union forces and the Associated State of Vietnam. See also COLLABORATION; DESERTION, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF VIETNAM; DESERTION, FRENCH UNION FORCES; DESERTION, JAPANESE; GEORGES BOUDAREL.