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Abstract This article analyses Vietnam’s 1944-5 great famine, which, even beyond its sheer scale of a million deaths, is historically important as instrumental in the August 1945 Viet Minh and communist revolution. It is argued that typhoons which struck coastal areas resulted in a shortfall of available food and were the proximate cause of famine. The Japanese in occupation of Vietnam, the American government directing attacks on the transport system, or the country’s French colonial administration could have acted to limit, or even reverse, the famine. However, under the pressure of war, no government or institution opted for an effective famine alleviation strategy. That was also true of Asia’s other great Second World War famines in Bengal, Henan, and Java, which paralleled Vietnam’s both in causation and in feasible avoidance strategies. In Vietnam, differences in endowments and entitlements largely explain who died in the famine.