Tran Van Tra

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Tran Van Tra (1918-1996) was a general in the People's Army of Viet Nam, who rose from Viet Minh recruit to senior leadership.[1]


During the Indochinese revolution, he first commanded the Saigon-Cholon area. Returning to the north in 1954, he became deputy chief of staff to Vo Nguyen Giap, then commanded the 330th PAVN division in 1958.

Of Southern origin, he referred to the 1954-1959 period as "the time of unilateral war, in which we acted in accordance with the request of President Ho Chi wage only political and peaceful struggle...not armed struggle..." Tra said only the Diem forces used force, until there were spontaneous uprisings by the locals, against the province chiefs. McNamara believes this restraint was deliberate on the part of the North, avoiding provoking the U.S. until the Communist forces were strong enough to wipe out the Diem regime without giving the U.S. time to intervene. [2]. Clearly, 1959 ended this period, when the 559th Transportation Group was created at Politburo orders.

During Joint warfare in South Vietnam 1964-1968

See also: Joint warfare in South Vietnam 1964-1968

A member of the Party Central Committee in 1960,he returned to the south in 1964 as overall commander, after the death of Nguyen Chi Thanh, although taking command of individual operations. Commanding the B-2 Front in the Saigon area in 1964, he said "Our objectives were limited. We wanted to defeat the most well-trained Saigon regime battalions and defend the liberated zones. We had no expectation of collapse [of the government of South Vietnam]." He was aware that William Westmoreland and Maxwell Taylor were concerned about the collapse of the RVN, but not of their June request for U.S. ground forces. [3]

He described a series of battles, which, while differing in detail with U.S. records, suggests a feeling of confidence. In August 1966, he fought what the PAVN called the Battle of Van Tuong, in Quang Ngai province, which appears to correspond to the U.S. Operation STARLIGHT.

Tra described the initiative in the 1965-1966 winter offensive, from the PAVN standpoint, beginning with what he called Battle of Nui Thanh in Quang Nam province [possibly the October 28-29, 1965, attack on the Marine Corps Marble Hill helicopter facility on the Tiensha Peninsula, Quang Nam province].

Later, in November, he spoke of a platoon, Ben Cat, defeating 173rd Airborne Brigade troops at the Hill 65 engagement in in Operation Hump. On the 12th, he described destroying a U.S. force with two regiments of the NVA 9th division. U.S. records reflect killing 200 enemy for a loss of 200, and withstanding B-52 strikes. Tra said it was the first use of B-52s, but that actually first came in June, and were prominent in the Battle of the Ia Drang.

Later, he commanded the attacks on Saigon during the Tet Offensive

During South Vietnam's ground war, 1972-1975

See also: South Vietnam's ground war, 1972-1975

He was part of a high-level review in 1973, planning further strategy, then returned to a Southern command post near Locninh, preparing a victory plan for 1976, which he presented his proposal. [4] Le Duc Tho and Van Tien Dung, #2 in the PAVN, disagreed, and he appealed to Le Duan. Tra opbtained the compromise of starting a limited attack against Phuoc Binh, in Phuoc Long Province, where he commanded the B-2 Front, including about 75% of the Vietnam-Cambodia border and including:

  • Military Region 6 (the southernmost part of Trung Bo [Central Vietnam]
  • Military Region 7 (eastern Nam Bo), Military Region 8 (central Nam Bo)
  • Military Region 9 (western Nam Bo and Saigon-Gia Dinh).*

Before the fall

See also: Fall of South Vietnam

Tra became a deputy to Van Tien Dung, the military commander of the final 1975 invasion, under the overall command of Le Duc Tho with Pham Hung as chief political officer.

Postwar historian

In 1982, he wrote a critical history of North Vietnamese strategy.

  • Part 1: From the Geneva Agreements in 1954 to the simultaneous uprising movement in 1960.
  • Part 2: From 1961 to 1965, the period of effective resistance to the special war.
  • Part 3: From 1965 to 1968—the defeat of the U.S. limited war.
  • Part 4: From 1969 to 1973, opposing the Vietnamization of the war and chasing the U.S. troops from Vietnam.
  • Part 5: From the Paris Agreement of 1973 to the complete victory (1973-1975).

Only Volume 5 is available in public English-language translation.[5] that put him into political disfavor. "During Tet of 1968, we did not correctly evaluate the specific balance of forces between us and the enemy, did not fully realize the enemy still had considerable capabilities and that our capabilities were limited...we were not only unable to retain the gains we had made but had to overcome a myriad of deficiencies in 1969 and 1970 so that the revolution could stand firm in the storm.[6]


  1. Bolt, Ernest, People's War and Tran Van Tra: Study Module for Online Course, Fall 1999, University of Richmond
  2. McNamara, Robert S.; James G. Blight & Robert K. Brigham et al. (2000), Argument Without End: : In Search of Answers to the Vietnam Tragedy, Public Affairs, pp. 180-181
  3. Carland, John M. (Decenber 2002), "Interview with NVA General Tran Van Tra", Vietnam Magazine
  4. Karnow, Stanley (1983), Vietnam, a History, Viking Press, pp. 660-664
  5. Tran Van Tra (2 February 1983), History of the Bulwark B2 Theater, Volume 5, Concluding the 30-years War, Combat Studies Institute, U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Southeast Asia Report No 1247
  6. Karnow, p. 544