I recently came across a report that the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) prepared during World War II on “Selected Industrial Sites in Indo-China.” In seeing this title, I assumed that this document must have identified potential bombing targets.

I therefore also assumed that it would be about places like oil refineries, fuel storage tanks, etc., but much to my surprise, the main “industrial sites” mentioned were distilleries.

At first I couldn’t understand why bombing distilleries would be so important. Can eliminating an enemy’s alcohol supplies really lead to a military victory?

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As I read the report, however, I quickly came to see the connection, as during the war the Japanese had converted distilleries in French Indochina so that they could produce fuel.

Actually, the French had started to produce alcohol as a substitute for motor fuel in the 1930s, but had still relied heavily on imported fuel. After the Japanese occupied French Indochina, those imports were cut off, and the Japanese and Vichy French officials then expanded the capacity of distilleries produce alcohol for fuel purposes.

Further, by the middle of the war there were some distilleries that were producing butanol for aviation fuel.

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The biggest distilleries were clustered in two areas: the Nam Định-Hà Nội-Hải Dương area and the Sài Gòn-Phnom Penh area. Of these two areas, the OSS deemed the distilleries in the Sài Gòn-Phnom Penh area to be the more important to bomb as that is where butanol was being produced.

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David Marr’s Vietnam 1945: The Quest for Power has information about which industrial sites were bombed when. He obtained this information from OSS reports that are held in the US National Archives. What that information shows is that these distilleries were indeed bombed.