The Viet Minh were a Communist guerrilla force founded in 1941 to fight against the joint Japanese and Vichy French occupation of Vietnam during World War II. Its full name was Việt Nam Ðộc Lập Ðồng Minh Hội, which literally translates as the "League for Viet Nam's Independence."
The Viet Minh were an effective opposition to Japan's rule in Vietnam, although they were never able to dislodge the Japanese. As a result, the Viet Minh received aid and support from a variety of other powers, including the Soviet Union, Nationalist China (the KMT), and the United States. When Japan surrendered at the end of the war in 1945, Viet Minh leader Ho Chi Minh declared Vietnam's independence.
Unfortunately for the Viet Minh, however, the Nationalist Chinese actually accepted Japan's surrender in northern Vietnam, while the British took the surrender in southern Vietnam. The Vietnamese themselves did not control any of their own territory. When the newly-free French demanded that its allies in China and the U.K. hand back control of French Indochina, they agreed to do so.
As a result, the Viet Minh had to launch another anti-colonial war, this time against France, the traditional imperial power in Indochina. Between 1946 and 1954, the Viet Minh used guerrilla tactics to wear down French troops in Vietnam. Finally, in May of 1954, the Viet Minh scored a decisive victory at Dien Bien Phu, and France agreed to withdraw from the region.
Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Minh leader, was very popular and would have become the president of all of Vietnam in free and fair elections. However, in negotiations at the Geneva Conference in the summer of 1954, the Americans and other powers decided that Vietnam should be temporarily divided between north and south; the Viet Minh leader would be empowered only in the north.
As an organization, the Viet Minh were beset by internal purges, plummeting popularity due to a coercive land reform program, and a lack of organization. As the 1950s progressed, the Viet Minh party disintegrated.
When the next war against the Americans, variously called the Vietnam War, the American War, or the Second Indochina War, broke out into open fighting in 1960, a new guerrilla force from southern Vietnam dominated the Communist coalition. This time, it would be the National Liberation Front, nicknamed the Viet Cong or "Vietnamese Commies" by anti-communist Vietnamese in the south.