Battle of Mạo Khê

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Battle of Mạo Khê
Part of the First Indochina War
Date March 23–28, 1951
Location Mạo Khê, Vietnam
Result French Union victory
France French Union North Vietnam Việt Minh
Commanders and leaders
France Jean de Lattre de Tassigny North Vietnam Võ Nguyên Giáp
400 troops
reinforced by 6e BPC
3 destroyers
2 landing craft
in all about 11,000 troops
Casualties and losses
40 killed,
150 wounded
Vietminh figures: 134 killed,
426 wounded,
14 missing
French claim: 3,000 killed, wounded or captured

The Battle of Mạo Khê (Vietnamese: Mạo Khê), occurring from March 23 to March 28, 1951, was a significant engagement in the First Indochina War between the French Union and the Việt Minh. The French Union forces, led by World War II hero Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, inflicted a defeat on Việt Minh forces, which were commanded by General Võ Nguyên Giáp. The French Union victory, however, was not decisive and the Việt Minh would attack again shortly afterwards.


After suffering a heavy setback at the Battle of Vĩnh Yên, Giáp decided to attack the port of Hải Phòng, the centerpiece of French logistics. Giáp planned to breach the French defenses at Mạo Khê, which was about 20 miles north of the port. He hoped that the fresh 316th Division, supported by diversionary attacks from the 304th and 320th divisions, would be enough to break the French.

Mạo Khê was poorly defended. It was encircled by a series of outposts, with the town itself held by an armored car platoon of the Moroccan Colonial Infantry. The Mạo Khê coal mine was located 1,000 meters (3,300 feet) to the north of the town and was garrisoned by a company of partisans commanded by a Vietnamese lieutenant and three French NCOs. To the east of the town, a company from the 30th Senegalese Composite Battalion guarded a fortified Roman Catholic church. In total, the French had about 400 troops.


After diversionary thrusts on 23 March, the Việt Minh began to assail Mạo Khê’s outposts later in the night. They had carried all major positions by 26 March and prepared for the main attack on the city. At this point, the anticipated communist attack stalled under heavy pressure from French naval forces, which had managed to approach Mạo Khê via a deep channel in the nearby Đà Bắc River. The Việt Minh’s losses were about 30 KIAs and 80 WIAs.[1][2]

De Lattre was uncertain of Giáp’s intentions, but he did send the 6th Colonial Parachute Battalion (6e BPC) and some artillery batteries to relieve the beleaguered forces at Mạo Khê. Early in the morning of 27 March, the Việt Minh 209th Regiment of the 312nd Division launched a massive attack against the coal mine, whose defenders resisted until French B-26s and Hellcats alleviated the pressure. After exhausting their ammunition, the partisans beat a skillful retreat to Mạo Khê. The Việt Minh’s losses were 46 KIAs, 209 WIAs, and 14 MIAs.[1]

At 02:00 on 28 March, the Việt Minh opened up a torrent of artillery and mortar fire against the town. The 36th Regiment of the 308th Division launched a number of mass infantry assaults which were repulsed by well-placed French artillery. The Việt Minh eventually entered the town and a bloody hand-to-hand confrontation began, although the momentum of the attack had petered out. The Vietnamese withdrew later in the morning with 58 KIAs and 137 WIAs.[2]


Casualties had been light for the French and, at around 3,000, heavy for the Việt Minh by French estimates. Vietnamese figures are about 150 KIAs and 426 WIAs. Although the French had been victorious, Giáp’s losses were not nearly as bad as at Vĩnh Yên two months previously. Giáp would make another unsuccessful attempt to breach the French lines in late May.


Setting the Stage in Vietnam

  1. 1.0 1.1 History of the 312nd
  2. 2.0 2.1 1st Corps High Command: Battles ...


  • Võ Nguyên Giáp, Tổng tập hồi ký, NXB QĐND, Hà Nội, 2006 (Vo Nguyen Giap, Memoirs Collection, People's Army Publishing House, Hanoi, 2006)
  • Lịch sử Sư đoàn bộ binh 312, NXB Quân đội nhân dân, Hà Nội, 2001 (History of the 312nd Infantry Division, People's Army Publishing House, Hanoi, 2001)
  • Bộ Tư lệnh Quân đoàn 1: Một số trận đánh trong kháng chiến chống Pháp và chống Mỹ - tập 7, NXB Quân đội nhân dân, 1998 (1st Corps High Command: Battles in the Resistance War against France and America - Volume 7, People's Army Publishing House, 1998)
  • Bộ Tư lệnh Quân đoàn 1: Một số trận đánh trong kháng chiến chống Pháp và chống Mỹ - tập 9, NXB Quân đội nhân dân, 1999 (1st Corps High Command: Battles in the Resistance War against France and America - Volume 9, People's Army Publishing House, 1999)