THE BRAVE DEATH SOLDIER AND THE STORY OF 60 DAYS AND NIGHTS OF “DETERMINED TO BRAVE DEATH FOR THE SURVIVAL OF THE FATHERLAND
The tiny house of Colonel Nguyen Trong Ham, former Deputy Chief of Staff of the Capital Military Region (now Hanoi Capital Command), is located deep in a small alley on Hong Ha Street, Long Bien District. Even at 97, he is still very lucid, with grey hair, rosy skin, and a cheerful voice. He passionately told us about Hanoi's "determined to brave death for the survival of the fatherland" days in the winter of 1946.
Colonel Nguyen Trong Ham was born and raised in Hang Thiec Street, Hanoi. He participated in revolutionary activities in 1944 and was tasked with propagating and distributing anti-French leaflets in the heart of Hanoi. When the national resistance broke out, he was the Commander of Hang Thiec Street Self-Defence Company, Dong Thanh Self-Defence Zone, 1st Interregion (later the Commander of Platoon 2, Battalion 102, Capital Regiment). Platoon 2, consisting of 36 cadres and soldiers, was responsible for retaining the enemy for a long time, protecting the headquarters of the Party and the State, and serving the long-term resistance of the nation.
Colonel Nguyen Trong Ham and his recollection of Hanoi 60 days and nights “Determined to Brave Death for the Survival of the Fatherland”
Colonel Ham said the Hanoi war zone (War Zone XI) was divided into three zones, Interregion I, Interregion II, and Interregion III, to form a continuous battle. Interregion I was the central front, consisting of 7 neighbourhoods and one commune in the middle of the Red River: Truc Bach, Dong Xuan, Dong Thanh, Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc, Hoan Kiem, Long Bien, and Phuc Xa Commune. Interregion I, located adjacent to the headquarters of the French Army Command in Hanoi, consisted of 3 regular infantry battalions (D101, D102, and D103). Battalion 102 was known as Dong Thanh Area, Battalion 101 was named Dong Xuan Area, and Battalion 103 was named Dong Kinh Nghia Thuc Area.
The French colonialists reneged on the 6/3/1946 Preliminary Agreement and the 19/4/1946 Agreement. After illegally landing in Da Nang and Do Son, they captured Hai Phong and Lang Son and invaded many places in Hanoi. The slogan "Life and death for the Capital" of the Hanoi armed forces and people hung throughout the streets, conveying the determination to maintain independence. To protect the revolutionary achievements, the Party, the Government, and President Ho Chi Minh successively adopted appropriate policies to deal with internal and external enemies, especially the French. However, the French colonialists' plot to invade our country became increasingly apparent. The risk of a war with France was unavoidable. To proactively deal with the enemy, the General Command developed a nationwide battle plan, in which the Hanoi Front was considered the main battlefield. Hanoi's task was to hold off the enemy for as long as possible to facilitate the country's transition to war. On the morning of 19/12/1946, the meeting to receive instructions from the City Self-Defence Officer became the swearing-in ceremony for protecting the Capital of the National Guard Division. At 20.03 on 19/12, the lights of the entire city were turned off. Our army's cannons from Lang fortress simultaneously fired at the enemy to start a long and heroic resistance. Workers demolished Yen Phu Power Plant and turned off the lights. Armed and self-defence forces attacked enemy positions. Our forces erected fortifications, obstacles, and barricades in preparation for combat on the streets where the enemy was determined to pass by. On both sides of the road, tree trunks were drilled to lay mines, ready to explode when the enemy arrived. Power poles were also used to lay out gun emplacements. The walls of the houses along the streets were broken down to connect.
Colonel Nguyen Trong Ham said: "The walls were perforated to facilitate communication. Houses were connected to create bagua diagrams. When entering, knowing how to proceed or withdraw was very difficult. It was not an off-the-ground fight but a guerrilla struggle in the city. Guerrillas used small, odd forces to fight against large, strong enemies".
We used different fighting methods with little ammunition but effective, with negligible casualties. Mr. Ham recalled, "In those days, weapons were lacking and rudimentary. To protest the French, self-defence soldiers invented a variety of weapons, including the formation of "enemy hunting sniper" group by taking advantage of enemy bullet shells that did not explode, drilling a hole on the body to place detonators and slow-burning wires, and then burning to attack enemy holding points". To save our ammunition and drain the enemy's, we threw firecrackers instead of grenades or burned them in iron barrels that faked the sound of gunfire. We also moved Japanese helmets in moats to attract enemy ammunition, secretly destroyed enemy positions, or used primitive weapons to kill them. Regarding the lunge mine - a conical-shaped weapon - to destroy tanks, although the rear jet would kill people, there were always many volunteers. When he talked about the lunge mine, his eyes flashed. "At the platoon meeting, we were taught how to attack tanks with lunge mine bombs. The self-made bomb had a conical shape. A bomber would hug the bomb to rush into the enemy's tank. When the bomb exploded, the jet pushed backwards, causing the bomber to die. When each squad was allocated a bomb, everyone enthusiastically volunteered to take on the task without yielding to each other. Eventually, we had to meet to select the healthiest and most agile person to deliver the bomb. I was the commander and wounded my leg, so I was not selected. Before a person took the bomb to fight, we were all nervous. We were not afraid of death but of the tanks not being burned".
Hanoi’s suicide soldiers used the lunge mine to attack French tanks in the early days of national resistance in Hanoi, 12/1946 (photo - VNA)
Sharing about the Battle of Hang Thiec, Colonel Nguyen Trong Ham's voice became lively. After the battle to capture the Xova house and Ke School but failing miserably, the enemy still did not give up the plot to cut Interregion I in half from East to West. After reinforcements, on February 8, 1947, from Cua Dong, the enemy divided into two directions with tanks in the lead; one hit Hang Hat Street, and the other hit Hang But Street. Earlier, the enemy sent aircraft to "clear the way" for their infantry to enter this area. Under the command of Battalion 102, Hang Thiec Street Platoon thoroughly took advantage of the fortifications and houses for flexible manoeuvres and tenacious combat to break enemy advances. At 2 p.m. on February 8, the enemy captured several even-numbered row houses on Hang Thiec Street. Meanwhile, we kept the odd numbers. The French burned the houses with gasoline. In the evening, the enemy withdrew toward Duong Thanh and Hang Da. In the following days, they continued to attack. After their attacks, we still retained odd-numbered houses. Since the enemy could not grow deep into our battlefield, during the day, they fired mortars and used gasoline and flamethrowers to burn the battle docks. We broke into the even-numbered range in the evening and threw grenades to destroy them. After three days of fighting, we killed over 100 enemies and shot down one aircraft. The French withdrew. Hang Thiec Line was held until the night of the final retreat on February 17, 1947, forcing them to divert their attack to the north of Interregion I. "At that time, at the light pole at Hang Bo - Hang Thiec intersection, there was a gun emplacement facing up towards the train bridge in Phung Hung Street. That day, I went to check Hang Thiec's point. As I turned to borrow the binoculars from my comrade, the French fired a barrage of bullets close to my shoulder. It turned out that our mound had no roof, and when the light reflected on the binoculars, I was spotted," Ham said.
On the morning of February 14, 1947, the French launched a major attack on the Dong Xuan subdistrict of Interregion I. They gathered more than 400 troops and dozens of motor vehicles surrounding Dong Xuan market to hit the command centre of Interregion I. On February 11, 12, and 13, 1947, they sent bombers successively into Dong Xuan Market and Hang Cot, Hang Com, Hang Tang, Hang Bac, Ma May, and Hang Mắm streets. In the early morning of February 14, enemy aircraft continued to bomb, and artillery and mortars were fired repeatedly at Dong Xuan Market and surrounding streets. As their tanks entered the market, we, hiding in the stalls, waited for the enemy tanks to pass by, and the enemy infantry that had just arrived rushed out to fight. The Battle of Dong Xuan Market was one of our fiercest battles in the first two months of resistance in the Capital and the last battle of the Capital Regiment in fighting to protect the Capital, Hanoi Interregion I.
When we mentioned the "miracle" retreat on the night of February 17, 1947, Colonel Nguyen Trong Ham recalled: "The war was at a drastic stage; on February 16, 1947, overseas Chinese asked us to help them with food; at the same time proposed a ceasefire on February 18, 1947, so that they could withdraw from Hanoi. Realizing this is a conspiracy, the enemy's tricks want to probe us to see if there is still food to fight for a long time. Faced with that situation, the amount of food left for the Regiment was only enough for a few days. The superiors ordered the Regiment to withdraw from Hanoi to preserve the force and ensure long-term resistance service. When receiving the order, everyone wondered: As Uncle Ho assigned the task of death, we had to hold Hanoi to the last breath. Why withdraw? We had to explain that Uncle tasked us with holding back the enemy rather than entrenching ourselves. We had to preserve the forces forged in combat for long-term resistance. It was then that everyone understood. On the night of February 17, 1947, thanks to the support of the Hong Ha Guerrilla Team, the entire Regiment crossed the enemy's encirclement across the Red River to get out of the centre of the Capital safely, without missing a man or a gun. It was called the "miracle" retreat in the history of fighting against the French".
Hanoi Museum staff discuss with Senior Colonel Nguyen Trong Ham
On the morning of the following day, February 18, 1947, French soldiers spotted and chased us, but we crossed the Red River to Thuong Hoi village in Dan Phuong district, Ha Tay. The Hong Ha Self-Defence Team, working outside the Red River, fought for 60 days and nights, protecting and connecting the supply route for the Interregion I army and people suffering casualties. These were Comrade Nguyen Ngoc Nai, Platoon Leader, and seven other comrades. They stood firm in the middle field, fighting fiercely with the French to attract fire towards them, securing the strategic retreat of the Capital Regiment and the Hanoi army and people. The French retaliated against in Tu Dong commune, which used boats to take the Regiment across the Red River, burning nearly 30 rooftops, killing 27 young men, and puncturing about 40 boats.
After the Capital Regiment retreated, General Vo Nguyen Giap sent a letter of praise: "The soldiers fought for two months to maintain the Vietnamese flag in the middle of Hanoi. The soldiers upheld the fierce spirit of the Vietnamese people and the brilliant reputation of the Vietnamese national army. The soldiers again opened the path of blood through the dense encirclement of the enemy to carry out the preservation directive. The soldiers will continue to fight for the Fatherland of Vietnam. We will fight for ten years or longer, if necessary, until the Fatherland is reunified, and Hanoi capital is made the Capital of a unified, independent country. We swear the Capital will win over the enemy!". After 60 days and nights of fighting, the Hanoi army and people defeated the enemy's plot to fight quickly and win promptly to contribute to creating favourable conditions for neighbouring localities to have time to mobilize forces to deal with the French colonial schemes and encourage the people of the whole country to go into a long-term resistance. In those 60 days and nights, we killed 2,000 enemies and destroyed dozens of motor vehicles. Through combat, the Capital's armed forces were not only preserved but also developed. From the 5 National Guard battalions at the beginning of the shooting, after more than two months, we built into three regiments. Hanoi's army and people completed the task assigned to hold the enemy back for two months (from 19/12/1946 to 17/2/1947) in the city, twice the time the Central Government assigned to the Capital. That victory created favourable conditions for the country to enter the long-term resistance.
Despite his old age, Colonel Nguyen Trong Ham still actively participates in the activities of unions and society and is currently the Chief of communication of the Heroic Interregion I. He always thinks that he has to devote himself to the last breath for the country with the desire to help today's young people better understand a generation of his fathers in the past who were "Determined to Brave Death for the Survival of the Fatherland". These are the memories of what he wants to convey through his stories and what the staff at the Hanoi Museum work to preserve and promote to serve the public to remember the values of cultural heritage, are how to describe the story of 60 Days and Nights of "Determined to Brave Death for the Survival of the Fatherland".
Department of Display and Education