Summary Report on the Bombing of the Civil Population of the North

All four of the Commissions of Inquiry sent by the International War Crimes Tribunal investigated the subject of bombing; but the second team in particular concentrated on this problem. The general method of working was as follows: comparison of, on the {156} one hand, documents from the United States press mentioning objectives in North Vietnam actually destroyed, such as railroad yards, ports, large factories, hydro-electric dams, etc., etc., and, on the other hand, documents from the DRV Commission for Investigation of War Crimes, which has meticulously listed attacks and destruction of civilian targets. The findings of this DRV Commission are judicially valid according to the International Military Tribunal, Nuremberg, Article 21, which reads:
The Tribunal will not require proof of facts which are common knowledge, but will take them for granted. It will also consider as valid proof official documents and reports of United Nations governments, including those drawn up by the Commissions established in the various allied countries to investigate war crimes, as well as the minutes of hearings and the decisions of military or other courts of any United Nations country.
The Tribunal's Commissions of Inquiry have verified data on the spot and gathered testimony which confirms a number of the bombings documented by the DRV Commission. In general, comparisons between the destruction reports of the United States and what the Tribunal's Inquiry Commissions actually saw on the spot do not correspond.
     For example, on 31 December 1966, on the US aircraft carrier Enterprise, Commodore Barry, who had just bombed the city of Nam Dinh, stated that `he had scored a direct hit on his target, an important railroad junction, and there was not a single victim'. But, on that same 31 December, Roger Pic, of our Inquiry Commission, who was in the same city reported: `Not a single bomb hit the railroad junction; in fact, they all struck the dam which protects the city from floods of the Black River, and a score of straw huts.' Other examples of this type are numerous. It was one of the tasks of the Commission to establish, province by province, city by city, the comparison of results announced by the American forces with our own on-the-spot observations.
     A second comparison is also made in the course of this investigation. It is the verification of the reports of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam Commission for Investigation of War Crimes by means of actual observations made by the various {157} Commissions of the International War Crimes Tribunal. Each of our Commissions has itself been subject to bombing attacks and can therefore testify to their reality. We [Dr Behar's teams] personally witnessed the bombing of the city of Thanh Hoa, on 20 January 1967, and in this particular case we personally contributed testimony. While we were in Thanh Hoa, a group of five to eight aeroplanes attacked at noon. From our shelters we watched the bombing which lasted about ten minutes, then we saw a second smaller wave of planes return five to ten minutes later and bomb for about the same length of time. We were able to reach the spot only a few hours later - this time lapse being due to security measures - and were therefore able to ascertain the real nature of the target. This bombing was aimed solely against a district of Thanh Hoa located about five miles from the Ham Rong bridge, the only possible strategic target in this area. We saw the entire area in flames and completely destroyed; and we also saw the little district hospital demolished by incendiary bombs. On the very spot we saw the craters made by missiles and rockets. By questioning the witnesses we learned the function of the second wave of planes: this second wave machine-gunned the rescue teams and the wounded who were being evacuated from the burning hospital.
     Testimony of this type - of which this is only one example - can be provided by every Inquiry Commission. Such testimony and others make it possible to state that from 1965 to the present, in the various regions of North Vietnam, there have been and still are daily bombings of civilian targets.
     The Fourth Inquiry Commission contributed direct testimony confirming the following:
     1. It witnessed the bombing of Vinh, on 5 April 1967, at 11.30 A.M. On the spot, at 3 P.M., it observed that fifteen 500 lb. bombs had been dropped in the centre of a residential area 300 yards from the cathedral. It recorded the characteristics and US ordnance markings on an unexploded bomb.
     2. On 9 April 1967, the village of Hai Nham, in Thanh Hoa province, was subjected to naval shelling from 9.40 to 10 A.M. About fifteen rounds were fired; the closest fell less than 200 yards from the Commission team, which reached the spot immediately. The rounds had been fired into the village, amidst the straw huts, {158} and into the surrounding ricefields. There was no military target in sight. A six-year-old girl was killed.

Hospitals and medical establishments

Our method here is to give a general statement and evidence concerning attacks against hospitals, dispensaries, sanatoria and similar health establishments based on figures supplied by the Commission of Inquiry of the DRV and then we will give comparative statistics between institutions declared destroyed by the North Vietnamese Commission and our own findings on the same institutions.
     The general destruction of health institutions up until February 1967 affected ninety-five, with nearly all the technical equipment also damaged or destroyed. There were eighty-seven administrators, nurses and doctors killed and thirty-five wounded. Of the patients, 262 were killed, 246 wounded, and sixty-five civilians in the near vicinity were also killed.
     We can give the details of these attacks and we can cite certain characteristic examples, for instance, that of the leprosorium of Quynh Lap, the largest centre for the research and treatment of leprosy in the DRV; its construction was begun in July 1956, and was completed in 1959. This leprosorium was situated far from all inhabited areas. This is easily understandable on medical grounds, since one must gather those suffering from leprosy, including the contagious patients, in an area far from any town inhabited by non-infected persons. The leprosorium of Quynh Lap was for this reason in an isolated coastal area in the district of Quynh Lap in the province of Nghe An. It consisted of 160 buildings and could care for up to 2,600 patients. In the last five years, more than 5,000 lepers had been cared for, and more than 1,000 of them had been sent home as cured.
     The first attack was 12 June 1965, at 8 P.M. Numerous American planes flew over and dropped hundreds of bombs and rockets on the leprosorium; they came back several times to drop more bombs. In these raids, 139 patients were killed, 9 doctors and members of the staff were killed and 100 other persons were wounded.
     As far back as 14 July 1965, the DRV Ministry of Public Health {159} had made a public statement drawing attention to this destruction, and to the nature of Quynh Lap as a place set aside for the treatment of leprosy and for research into this illness. In spite of this notice the air raids have continued and even intensified. On 6 May 1966, planes attacked new buildings of the leprosorium of Quynh Lap which had been relocated to a place close to the commune of Quynh Lap. This raid resulted in thirty-four dead and thirty wounded, ten of them seriously.
     The Ministry of Public Health published on 16 May 1966, another statement pointing out that these buildings constituted a leprosorium. Between 1965 and 1966, the leprosorium of Quynh Lap has undergone thirty-nine attacks. We are emphatic that this leprosorium is situated in a completely isolated area, far from strategic routes, town, industrial centre, or military or so-called military targets. The Quynh Lap leprosorium, we must also point out to the Tribunal, is internationally known among the medical fraternity who practise in tropical diseases, and it was well and prominently marked with the sign of the Red Cross.
     Other examples can be given of the destruction of provincial hospitals, notably the main hospital of Thanh Hoa whose condition we have ascertained for ourselves. This hospital has been attacked several times. It is almost completely demolished. Even so, on 20 January 1967, bombs were again dropped on what was left of the buildings. All the main hospitals of the province have been bombed and we can cite those of: Vinh Linh, Quang Binh, Ha Dinh, Nghe An, Son La, Yen Bay, Nam Ha, Fu Li, Bac Thai, Fu Tho, Hoa Binh. We will later give the list of hospitals actually visited by the Tribunal's Commissions of Inquiry confirming the destruction of these centres.
     We state furthermore that the attacks on health institutions are not due to target errors or to imprecision on the part of the American planes. Rather, it seems to the contrary, that the hospitals themselves have been the principal objects of attacks. Let us cite, for example, the hospital of Bac Thai attacked on 22 June 1966. Located in a hill-country province, it was completely destroyed by bombs and rockets. Nine patients were killed, one a woman in confinement. This hospital is outside the town, relatively isolated, and its civilian nature could not be doubted.
     We will now state, province by province, the provincial and {160} district hospitals destroyed, from a list supplied by the Commission of Inquiry of the DRV. We will then see that the findings of different Commissions of Inquiry of the Tribunal corroborate and confirm these data.
     Of the ninety-five health institutions indicated `destroyed' by the Vietnamese Commission, thirty-four have been personally checked by the Commissions of Inquiry of the Tribunal. This is to say about thirty-six per cent. The random samples were widely scattered; the thirty-four hospitals checked correspond to eight provinces out of twelve exposed to air raids. This sampling seems to us statistically significant because of the scattered nature of the population and because of the proportion examined.

Attacks against educational establishments

Attacks began on 5 August 1964, with the bombing of the primary school of Suag Giang, in the province of Ha Tinh. In the afternoon a second air raid was directed against the secondary school of Hon Gai situated on a hill top. It is important to be aware that these air raids which began on the above date have taken place in a country where since 1954 the effort to stamp out illiteracy and build schools has been remarkable. In the ten years between 1954 and 1964, ninety-five per cent of North Vietnam's population has become literate. The number of students in schools of general studies reached 3,000,000, with 60,000 in secondary school where the lower- and middle-grade professional workers are educated. On the university level, the number of students rose from 500 in 1954 to 50,000 now, in 1967.
     In North Vietnam, the school system is organized in the following way: first, nurseries and kindergartens; then schools of the first degree, corresponding to our [French] primary schools; schools of the second degree, corresponding to the first part of our secondary school; schools of the third degree which correspond to the last part of our secondary school up to the university entrance level, and the university itself.
     According to the Commission of Inquiry of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam there have been a total of 391 schools destroyed in North Vietnam. The schools attacked and bombed are {161} to be found in nearly every part and province of North Vietnam. They are to be found especially in the former Fourth Zone, along the route from Vinh Linh to Thanh Hoa. Vietnamese sources show that practically every weapon of destruction has been used against students and school buildings; including fragmentation bombs, rockets, missiles, incendiary bombs, phosphorus bombs and napalm.
     Let us cite a few examples. Two day-nurseries inspected by the Fourth Inquiry Commission, the first at Vinh, had been razed to the ground and only the steps remained. As it had been evacuated, there were no victims. The nursery of the cooperative of Hong Lac, commune of Vinh An, district of Vinh Loe, in the province of Thanh Hoa, had been bombed to the ground on 29 January 1967. Nine of the ten children who were living there and three of the staff were killed.
     Other examples must be emphasized; in particular, the bombing of the secondary school at Hong Phue in the province of Ha Tinh on 9 February 1966, at precisely 4.30 P.M. The children rushed to get to the slit trenches but the bombs fell directly on them, hollowed out large craters and caused a heavy death toll: thirty-three children perished as a result of this attack.
     The DRV War Crimes Commission has pointed out that a certain number of air raids have taken place during school hours. For example, the secondary school of Van Son in the province of Thanh Hoa was attacked at 8 P.M. at the end of December 1965. This was during the sixth class in which there were forty-two pupils, girls from 12-14 years old. The children hastily tried to get to the shelters through the communicating trench; but others rushed out towards the rice fields because the trenches became blocked by the bombings. Mud from the flooded fields filled in nearly all the trenches, suffocating nine of the children. Three children from the first class from seven to eight years old were buried alive on the school path, they were found only the next day.
     We also have examples of attacks on children coming out of school - such as the 11 A.M. strike on seventeen pupils of a class in the commune of Hop Thuanh, also in the province of Thanh Hoa. For reasons of safety, they had divided themselves up into small groups - the `normal' practice among the Vietnamese. When they reached the road, they were attacked by rockets from American {162} planes. Some of the children threw themselves on to the ground beside the road, but six others ran for the ditch shelters. The planes released nine bombs killing six of these children, while another was very severely wounded.
     The various Commissions of Inquiry of the Tribunal have all documented destruction of schools in the different provinces. We have ourselves in each town visited, sometimes even in each village, found examples of such destruction. In a number of cases the school was only a part of a more widespread destruction. But there are more cases which make me think that there have been specific attacks against schools. It is important to realize that in villages made of bamboo or straw the school is one of the few modern buildings, and therefore perfectly visible from the air. Testimony given by the First Commission of Inquiry that we have since verified on the spot, helps one to understand why we believe schools are specifically targeted. On 20 January 1967, while we were in North Vietnam, the school of Tan Thanh in the province of Ninh Binh was attacked from the air at 12.45 P.M. A single plane flying in from the sea released an `air-to-ground' missile. This missile came right into the classroom killing the teacher while he was actually writing on the blackboard. Another teacher and five children who were on a bench near the school and twelve students six to eight years old were killed and seven others were wounded. The Second Commission of Inquiry verified the destruction of this school and found torn books, blood stains, demolished school benches. The manner of this school attack - hit under such circumstances - makes one think that the objective which this plane was aiming for was specifically that school. Often establishments of higher and secondary education are large visible buildings standing apart from the others and clearly distinguishable from the surrounding buildings. Such is the case in the town of Thanh Hoa and in the town of Nam Dinh. In Hanoi, on 13 December 1966, the college for trade union administrators (a very large building) was destroyed in a more systematic fashion than the surrounding houses.
     The First Commission of Inquiry saw a whole range of schools attacked in the provinces around Nam Dinh and Nam Ha. The Second Commission of Inquiry has also seen numerous schools destroyed in the provinces of Ninh Binh and Thanh Hoa. {163}
     Part of the Second Commission of Inquiry saw a number of demolished schools in the villages of Viet Tri and Thai Nguyen. Finally, Dr Krivine who went down to the 17th parallel and crossed several provinces also saw numerous school establishments destroyed. He specifically pointed out the overall nature of the damage in Nghe An province: ninety-two schools damaged, first, second and third degree colleges, fourteen professional schools and twenty-five general schools were completely destroyed - notably at Nam Dan, Vinh and Thang Giang. In the province of Ha Tinh, thirty-four schools were attacked - nine of the second degree, five of the third degree, and the second degree school of the commune of Hong Phuc.
     In the accompanying dossiers, clarification will be given to the Tribunal on the schools actually inspected by the Commissions of Inquiry. Upon consideration of the Vietnamese documents and of the findings of the Commissions of Inquiry (especially since the recent bombings) one can conclude that educational establishments in the heart of the civilian areas have been a chosen objective of the air attacks.

Places of worship destroyed by American bombing

Since 1965, according to Vietnamese sources, there have been more than eighty churches and thirty pagodas attacked and destroyed from the air. Priests and monks were killed in these attacks. The majority of attacks against places of worship, especially churches, have taken place in the two main Catholic provinces of North Vietnam, Ninh Binh and Thanh Hoa. The Second Commission of Inquiry visited several of these places of worship, about ten churches in all.
     A specific example: the church of Kien Trung, situated near Phat Diem, was attacked on 14 April 1966 at 6.20 P.M., precisely at the time of Sunday Vespers. The church was full of worshippers and the result was catastrophic: seventy-two dead, thirty-six males and thirty-six females of whom thirty-four were children. There were forty-six wounded.
     Near the church, the school and a dispensary were also destroyed. We collected direct evidence from eye-witnesses and we examined the wounded at this site. In particular, we saw the family {164} of Mr Trong whose father and four children were killed. We saw the family of Mr Loi, of which two parents and four children were killed and there remains only a daughter, who at the time of the attack was in the market place. We saw a child who was wounded on the way to the church: she has had both legs amputated as a result. We saw a Mr Tunc, of whose large family ten were killed and two were wounded. Only the father is still alive. The family of Mr Phong now consists of only one child of eight years old; two parents and two children were killed. Finally we saw young Thang, who now has only one arm: he is five years old and his mother died in the attack on the church.
     We also examined the destruction of pagodas in Hanoi itself in raids on 11 and 13 December 1966. The main pagoda of Thanh Hoa was destroyed and re-bombed again in several raids at the beginning of this year [1967].
     A convent of nuns at the town of Thanh Hoa was attacked at the beginning of this year and the main building was destroyed by heavy bombing. Another example is the seminary of Bo Lang. This seminary, situated in the district of Tinh Gia on the edge of the Gulf of Tonkin, is a very large building several storeys high, completely isolated on the coast with numerous crosses which enable it to be easily identified. Since 1964 the seminary has been attacked from the air nineteen times. In the area we found numerous craters caused by heavy bombs of more than a ton. These craters measure up to thirty metres in diameter. The buildings are almost completely destroyed. There is only one wall left standing which continues to be hit periodically by batteries of the 7th Fleet which constantly patrols the adjoining waters. This seminary is completely isolated and very far from even a village. There is no objective near the seminary which could be remotely considered military. In this particular case, the recurrence of the raids seems to prove that the objective of the planes was the seminary itself.
     The numerous churches which we have visited had been usually built in Western style, perfectly visible, with the bell towers very high, standing out clearly from the neighbouring houses which are low and built of bamboo. The frequent attacks on these buildings also seem to indicate that the objective was the place of worship itself. Our opinion is that there is no doubt that the objectives of these bombing attacks were civilian. {165}

The fourth and last Commission visited religious buildings destroyed at Vinh: the church of the hamlet Quan Hoa (eight dead); the Buddhist pagoda three kilometres from the town and 500 to 1,000 metres from the sanatorium, also razed to the ground. Thanh Hoa: as well as the main pagoda already mentioned, the pagoda of the Two Elephants was destroyed in a raid 4 February 1967 (after the visit of the First Commission of Inquiry); Thina Son (village district of Do Lung): the place of worship has been demolished.

Raids on heavily populated areas

There remains the question of raids taking place on towns, villages and cooperatives; these are very widespread and do not correspond with any military objective.
     We visited the towns of Nim Dinh, Phat Diem, Thanh Hoa, Tinh Gia. The other part of the Commission visited the towns of Viet Tri and Thai Nguyen. The First Commission had visited Haiphong and Nam Dinh. Dr Krivine visited a number of towns in the South, of which the town of Vinh in particular is very important. The town of Thanh Hoa has suffered nearly seventy attacks so far and this town is situated eight kilometres, as the crow flies, as we said at the start of this report, from the only military objective in the region which is the bridge at Ham Rong. Furthermore, this town has been bombed and bombed again. Also, the town of Nam Dinh has been bombed several times in succession without it being clear what military objective could possibly be there.
     Concerning the attacks on these towns, and certainly the most recent attacks which date from 16 January, several considerations must be borne in mind, because the sorts of weapons used pose special problems. For the town of Thai Nguyen in particular, in the course of the last attack on 15 and 18 January, there were dropped eight high-explosive bombs of 250 and 450 kilos, and ten `mother' fragmentation bombs.
     In the town of Viet Tri, on 15 January, at 3.05 P.M., twenty-eight high-explosive bombs and eight `mother' fragmentation bombs were dropped; and on Thursday, 18 January, at 7.05 A.M., eighteen high-explosive bombs and six `mother' fragmentation bombs were dropped. Now, if it is a question of bombing `concrete and steel', {166} that is to say, the industrial complex, one does not understand the use of fragmentation bombs whose only effect is against human beings and [which are] not at all effective against walls of concrete and steel. Neither does one understand why such a large proportion of fragmentation bombs have been dropped on these two towns.
     Other examples can also be given of attacks on cooperatives. The Second Commission of Inquiry has seen an example completely characteristic of attacks on the isolated cooperatives far from the road and far from any military objective. For example, the cooperative of Dong Xuan, which is in the province of Thanh Hoa, is situated in the middle of a region completely remote from all roads and from any objective which could be considered military. This agricultural cooperative was attacked on 23 April 1966, by several planes which dropped numerous bombs. There were many wounded and killed in this cooperative and I would like to report to the Tribunal one particularly moving incident. It is that of Madame Le Thi Tanh who, in the course of the bombing, saw her two children burnt in their house and was not able to go to their aid because three other air raids prevented all assistance by the machine-gunning of the town. The Vietnamese wardens urged the poor woman to remain in the shelter with her two smaller children. She is plagued with the memory of the cries of her two children burning in their own house. For me, telling of this shocking affair is as difficult as anything in the course of the whole inquiry.
     A short time after they had been attacked, the Fourth Commission visited the following zones: the village of Thinh Som (a district of Do Lung in the heart of the province of Nghe An), absolutely isolated in the middle of rice fields and meadows, which was hit on 24 March 1967 at 3 P.M. by twenty-four aerial bombs. There were ten deaths and sixteen wounded. The hamlet of Phong Sinh (commune of Hung Zung, province of Nghe An) near Vinh was bombarded on 4 March 1967 by US Marine artillery. One hundred and eighty-five 203 mm. shells fell on an area of two kilometres: there were seven deaths. The commune of Dinh Tan (district of Yen Dinh, in the province of Thanh Hoa) was bombarded on 29 January 1967, at 4.15 P.M. by fifty bombs. There were fifty-one deaths and fifty-three seriously wounded. {167}
     In these last three examples, the Fourth Commission has duly verified the extreme isolation of these areas and the absence of any objective which could be characterized as strategic or military: it has heard witnesses and examined written evidence. There are thus in Vietnam a number of towns, villages and cooperatives which seem to have been bombed contrary to all logic and against all determinations of a military character. I would like to quote as an example the small fishing village of Hai Thanh in the district of Tinh Gia, which has suffered (this is a little fishing hamlet of about 10,000 inhabitants whose activity is partly agricultural but mainly concerned with fishing) since the beginning of the aerial bombardments on Vietnam some 152 attacks, of which twenty-one were specifically directed against the fishing boats.
     This fishing village has endured 1,620 bombs, 650 rockets, twelve missiles, and forty-one machine-gun attacks. There have been 162 homes burnt and 644 bombed out, eighteen junks completely destroyed and seventy-six damaged. There have been ninety inhabitants killed, of whom seven were burnt, and fourteen villagers have disappeared at sea. There have been eleven children younger than ten years old killed and five new-born babies killed.
     Now, this little hamlet with a Catholic majority is situated on the coast of the Gulf of Tonkin, completely off the main road, far from any objective which could be considered military. The Second Commission of Inquiry visiting this village saw the beach where the fishing boats are tied up. It could not in any case be considered a proper port, but only a simple beach where several junks were pulled up on the sand. It would be difficult to believe that this little fishing village could be confused with a proper port which could have any military activity. All along the coast of the Gulf of Tonkin we saw many small fishing villages that had suffered the same kind of attacks. {168}

Back to Table of Contents

Scanning & HTML Rae West. Zipfile 98-01-31