In February 1965, Bằng Lâm enlisted in the People’s Army of Vietnam (PAVN). Lâm joined the 7th Battalion, Hanoi Capital (102) Regiment, 308 Division. Lâm sketched as well as actively fought in battles as a soldier near Khe Sanh and along Route 9. He quickly took the position as squad leader and then deputy platoon leader. His new positions required Lâm to set an example to junior soldiers by often leading marches into enemy territory. He later travelled to Hạ Long Bay.
Before he joined the Naval Training Bureau in 1972, Lâm documented various North Vietnamese military installations. He used these sketches and quick paintings as references for larger paintings in the future.
Workshop 148, Hạ Long Bay
In September 1965, war artist Văn Đa documented the militia stationed on Cát Bà Island, charged with defending the region. Đa recorded a group of militia manning earthen defences in a crude dugout on the island. Due to the female-orientated history of Cát Bà Island, he quickly saw the relevance of a a high proportion of female militia soldiers stationed there in 1965. He called one of his sketches “Woman’s island militia.”
In October 1970, Lâm visited Hạ Long Bay. North Vietnam used the bay as a natural harbour. The karst islands provided shelter and anonymity1. Anti-aircraft installations in Hải Phòng heavily guarded the area from US bombing attacks.
As a secure harbour, the bay provided a base for naval workshops and ship-building yards. In one instance, Lâm painted a scene of workshop 148. In his watercolour, Lâm depicts workers cutting wooden planks. The Vietnam People’s Navy used the planks as a protective layer for ship hulls.