They were in a proper fight. On Christmas Day 1953, Indochina, for the first time in the eight-year war, was literally cut in two. By normal military engineering standards, the materials necessary to protect a battalion against the fire of the 105mm howitzers the Viet Minh now possessed amounted to 2,550 tons, plus 500 tons of barbed wire. The breakout had been detected. said the Viet Minh in French. Among his most important works are Street Without Joy, which became essential military reading about the war with no front lines, and Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu. The history of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu is utterly fascinating, as are the historic sites associated with it and you can read all about the most famous historic sites in Vietnam on TripHistoric. They were so successful that, at the ensuing Geneva cease-fire conference, Cambodia did not have to surrender a province as a regroupment area for Communist forces. There never was, as press maps of the time erroneously showed, a continuous battle line covering the whole valley. Eight thousand miles away, in Geneva, the Vietnamese and Red Chinese delegations attending the nine-power conference that was supposed to settle both the Korean and the Indochinese conflicts toasted the event with pink Chinese champagne. Mr and Mrs Christmas: A short history of a very festive surname, Strictly plague dancing: The dancing mania of 1518, Curse of Oak Island recap and what’s coming up in season 8, Lesser known facts about The Battle of the Somme. Four of the eight strongpoints were from one to three miles away from the center of the position. All right, mon général, I only wanted to preserve the wounded. It proved little else but that an encircled force, no matter how valiant, will succumb if its support system fails.’. And to destroy those divisions and prevent their invasions into Laos, one had to, in American military parlance, find ’em and fix ’em. The interlocking fire of their artillery and mortars, supplemented by a squadron of 10 tanks (flown in piecemeal and reassembled on the spot), was to prevent them from being picked off one by one. Soon after French forces arrived at Dien Bien Phu on November 20, 1953, two of General Vo Nguyen Giap’s regular 10,000-man divisions blocked the Dien Bien Phu garrison, while a third bypassed Dien Bien Phu and smashed deep into Laos. Y… It is out of the question to run up the white flag after your heroic resistance. And all around them, as on some gruesome Judgment Day, soldiers, French and enemy alike, began to crawl out of their trenches and stand erect for the first time in 54 days, as firing ceased everywhere. You will fight to the end. The artillery duel became the great tragedy of the battle. In an effort to bring the war to an end, both sides threw everything into one final and ultimately decisive fight – the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Until Red China’s victorious forces arrived on Vietnam’s borders in December 1949, there had been at least a small hope that the French-supported Vietnamese nationalist government, headed by ex-emperor Bao Dai, could wean away from the Communist-led Viet Minh the allegiance of much of Vietnam’s population. Following World War II, Fall worked as a research analyst at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. Thus the last word to come out of the main fortress, as it was being overrun, came at 5:50 p.m. from the radio operator of the 31st Combat Engineer Battalion, using his code name: This is Yankee Metro. Dien Bien Phu: the battle that split Vietnam Save 50% on a BBC History Magazine or BBC History Revealed subscription France’s catastrophic defeat at Dien Bien Phu in northwest Vietnam in May 1954 ended its hopes of maintaining any influence in Indochina and set … They can be lost just as conclusively through a series of very small engagements, such as those now fought in South Vietnam, if the local government and its population lose confidence in the eventual outcome of the contest — and that was the case both for the French and for their Vietnamese allies after Dien Bien Phu. On May 7, 1954, the end of the battle for the jungle fortress of Dien Bien Phu marked the end of French military influence in Asia, just as the sieges of Port Arthur, Corregidor and Singapore had, to a certain extent, broken the spell of Russian, American and British hegemony in Asia. The siege occurred while the 1954 Geneva Conference was ironing out agreements between the major powers, including the future of Indochina. Fall was widely considered the greatest civilian expert on the war in Vietnam. After eight years of fighting and with the French strategists propped up by American money, they tried tactic after unsuccessful tactic but eventually ran out of ideas. An Dien Battle. During his last trip to Vietnam in February 1967, Fall chose to accompany a platoon of the 1st Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, on Operation Chinook II, a search-and-destroy mission. Not long after, a white flag was hoisted high from a rifle over Colonel Christian de Castries’ bunker, not 20 metres from a flat-helmeted Việt Minh soldier. He gained firsthand guerrilla warfare experience while fighting in the French Underground from 1942 to 1944. At 9:40 p.m., a French surveillance aircraft reported to Hanoi that it saw the strongpoint’s depots blowing up and that heavy artillery fire was visible close by. Some of the American civilian pilots who flew the run said that Viet Minh flak was as dense as anything encountered during World War II over the Ruhr River. Fall will be remembered by history as one of the foremost authorities on the Vietnam War. I am responsible, he was heard to murmur as he went about his duties. As a French colonel surveyed the battlefield from a slit trench near his command post, a small white flag, probably a handkerchief, appeared on top of a rifle hardly 50 feet away from him, followed by the flat-helmeted head of a Viet Minh soldier. When Viet Minh forces overran Dien Bien Phu on May 7, 1954, it was, according to Fall, the end of French military influence in Asia. Independence, given too grudgingly to the Vietnamese nationalist regime, remained the catchword of the adversary. For all practical purposes the Indochina War was lost then and there. is brought to you by Historynet LLC, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. I am responsible. Awarded a grant from the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) for field study of Communist infiltration in Southeast Asia, Fall witnessed the outbreak of Communist hostilities in Laos. They ended up simply defending their positions and reacting to Việt Minh attacks when they occurred. The victory the French were so sure of was turning into a humiliating defeat. General Vo Nguyen Giap decided to take Dien Bien Phu by an extremely efficient mixture of 19th-century siege techniques (sinking TNT-laden mineshafts under French bunkers, for example) and modern artillery patterns plus human-wave attacks. One may only hope that the lesson has been learned in time. A few figures tell how murderous the air war around Dien Bien Phu was: Of the 420 aircraft available in all of Indochina then, 62 were lost in connection with Dien Bien Phu and 167 sustained hits. French losses proved so great that the reinforcements parachuted in after the airfield was destroyed for good on March 27 never sufficed to mount the counterattacks necessary to reconquer the outposts. Their century of colonial rule in Indochina – now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – was over. By October 1950, 23 regular Viet Minh battalions, equipped with excellent American artillery coming from Chinese Nationalist stocks left on the mainland, smashed the French defense lines along the Chinese border and inflicted on France its biggest colonial defeat since Montcalm died before Quebec in 1759. With communism now a menace at both ends of the Far Eastern arc, the Indochina War changed from a colonial war into a crusade — but a crusade without a real cause. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu signaled the end of a French presence in Vietnam. The Red Cross took about 850 of the most badly wounded and of the 8,000 or so who walked, less than half survived the journey through a mixture of disease, starvation and then the horrific prison conditions when they finally arrived. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Vietnam Magazine today! The French gun crews and artillery pieces, working entirely in the open so as to allow the pieces all-around fields of fire, were destroyed one by one; replaced, they were destroyed once more, and at last fell silent. Bernard Fall wrote that in comparison with other world battles, Dien Bien Phu could hardly qualify as a major battle, let alone a decisive one. That was the rationale for the creation of a garrison at Dien Bien Phu and for the battle that took place there. Bernard Fall wrote that in comparison with other world battles, Dien Bien Phu could hardly qualify as a major battle, let alone a decisive one. But what you have done until now surely is magnificent. When the battle ended, the 82,926 parachutes expended in supplying the fortress covered the battlefield like freshly fallen snow — or like a burial shroud. All of that rode on Dien Bien Phu: the freedom of Laos, a senior commander’s reputation, the survival of some of France’s best troops and — above all — a last chance to come out of that frustrating eight-year-long jungle war with something other than a total defeat. In the spring of 1954, eight long and arduous years into the First Indochina War, the French suffered a defeat that was so shameful and shambolic, it remains barely spoken of. De Castries ticked off a long list of 800-man battalions, which had been reduced to companies of 80 men, and of companies that were reduced to the size of weak platoons. It was during that time that he succeeded in visiting Communist North Vietnam and interviewing Ho Chi Minh. When the siege began, it had about eight days’ worth of supplies on hand but required 200 tons a day to maintain minimum levels. The U.S.A were about to take on the struggle to control Vietnam. But Cogny was adamant on that point: Mon vieux, of course you have to finish the whole thing now. As it turned out, the Viet Minh artillery was so superbly camouflaged that to this day it is doubtful whether French counterbattery fire silenced more than a handful of the enemy’s fieldpieces. There was no clear prospect of victory for either side, no long-term vision and fewer and fewer military objectives. It is a heart-shaped ‘cuvette’, or basin, ringed by jungle-covered hills. The battle of Dien Bien Phu opposed in 1954 the French army and the Vietnamese communist forces of Viêt-minh in the deep plain of Diên Biên Phu, located in the north-west of Vietnam, near the border with Laos. By 3 p.m., however, it had become obvious that the fortress would not last until nightfall. Trip Historic is a community-based historic destinations site run by history enthusiasts who are passionate about the web. Communist forces, in human-wave attacks, were swarming over the last remaining defenses. Victory in Battle of Dien Bien Phu. This totally stalemated situation required the French to create a military situation that would permit cease-fire negotiations on a basis of equality with the enemy. THE END OF FRENCH OCCUPATION Dien Bien Phu was the battle that finally ended the French occupation of Vietnam. But as other revolutionary wars — from Algeria to the British defeats in Cyprus and Palestine — have conclusively shown, it does not take pitched, set-piece battles to lose such wars. Notwithstanding the embarrassment of such a shambolic defeat littered from start to finish with basic strategic errors, the political fallout was equally as shameful. 08/May/2020. He wrote this article in 1964, prior to the publication of Hell in a Very Small Place. Dien Bien Phu was situated in a valley in Northern Vietnam, surrounded by mountains. A conflict between Communist Viet Minh forces and a French-established garrison, it occurred in a town called ‘Seat of the Border County Prefecture or, in Vietnamese, Dien Bien Phu. As a former French soldier he was allowed to accompany French forces on combat operations in all sectors of the country. Walter Mondale, 42nd Vice President of the United States, Democratic presidential nominee who lost to Ronald Reagan in 1984, and Ambassador to Japan. Describing the scene to journalist Wilfred Burchett, Hồ Chí Minh took off his helmet, turned it upside down and said ‘Down here is the valley of Dien Bien Phu. A few minutes later, de Castries’ radio operator methodically smashed his set with the butt of his Colt .45 pistol. What you have done is too magnificent to do such a thing. The battle was the culmination of Operation Castor, a larger plan by the French commander, General Navarre, to lure General Giap and his Peoples Army of Vietnam into a conventional battle to finally destroy their combat power and break the military resistance against French colonial rule. French artillery and mortars had been progressively silenced by murderously accurate Communist Viet Minh artillery fire, and the monsoon rains had slowed down supply drops to a trickle and transformed the French trenches and dugouts into bottomless quagmires. They then turned their attention to Anne-Marie and Gabrielle which took a couple of days but they too were overrun and with them, the use of the airfields. This article was originally published in the April 2004 issue of Vietnam Magazine. And as deputy to General de Castries, he felt he had contributed to the air of overconfidence that had prevailed in the valley prior to the attack. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Au revoir. Dien Bien Phu was the decisive battle of the First Indochina War. What had happened at Dien Bien Phu was simply that a momentous gamble had been attempted by the French high command and had backfired badly. All Rights Reserved. Few would survive. In 1953, in order to engage in field research for his doctoral dissertation, he traveled to war-torn Indochina. Communist anti-aircraft artillery played havoc among the lumbering transport planes as they slowly disgorged their loads. Bernard B. Since the Viet Minh relied largely on human porters for their frontline units, they could easily bypass such bottlenecks as Dien Bien Phu or the Plain of Jars while bottling up the forces contained in those strongholds. The Viet Minh victory in this battle effectively ended the eight-year-old war. It was here, in the area that he had written about with much emotion, that Bernard Fall was killed by the explosion of a land mine, along with Gunnery Sergeant Byron Highland, a Marine combat photographer. The combat is confused and goes on all about. 4. The easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula, Vietnam has, since the 1500s, been passed from foreign hand to foreign hand. Written by Plot Summary | Add Synopsis Reduced to airdrops, without the ability to evacuate their injured and with the location at the absolute limit of French air range, the morale within the camps wasn’t great. By the start of 1954, it had cost the French and Americans $3 billion – hardly pocket change so soon after World War II – and was referred to as la sale guerre, or ‘the dirty war.’ In addition, accusations of military incompetence, corruption, currency deals and arms trading blighted the war effort. The battle of Dien Bien Phu began in 1953, when General Navarre fortified the valley of Dien Bien Phu, which lay in an isolated corner of northwestern Vietnam. De Castries polled the surviving unit commanders within reach, and the consensus was that a breakout would only lead to a senseless piecemeal massacre in the jungle. The garrison’s only hope lay in the breakthrough of a relief column from Laos or Hanoi (a hopeless concept in view of the terrain and distances involved) or in the destruction of the siege force through massive aerial bombardment. Viet Minh soldiers assault French positions at Muong Thanh airport during the battle of Dien Bien Phu in April 1954. About 2,000 lay dead all over the battlefield in graves left unmarked to this day. Fall is an account of one of the most significant battles to take place in Vietnam. But with the existence of a Red Chinese sanctuary for the Viet Minh forces, that became militarily impossible. Within weeks, the French position in northern Vietnam had shrunk to a fortified perimeter around the Red River Delta, a continuous belt of Communist-held territory from the Chinese border to within 100 miles of Saigon. You’re not going to shoot anymore? The victory of the Vietnamese precipitated the collapse of French colonial rule in Indochina and forever redefined the perception of what nonconventional armies could accomplish. While their commander, Brig. Conrad Adenauer, first chancellor of post-World War II West Germany. Militarily, disaster had temporarily been averted. An American reporter finds himself in the middle of the 57-day battle of Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam between the French army and the Vietminh, which finally resulted in the defeat and surrender of the French forces and France's eventual withdrawal from Vietnam. Immediately after the battle ended, the Việt Minh counted 11,721 prisoners which included 4,436 wounded. In fact, the Battle of Dien Bien Phu is one of the most significant, not just of the 1950s where supposedly nothing much happened, but of the entire 20th century. Dien Bien Phu, 1954, was the final battle of the first Indo-China war. Trip Historic was designed to give users a smooth and simple experience that will allow them to find the historic places they’re looking for, from the most well-known sites in the world to incredible historical locations that can’t be found in the guide books. They became known as the ‘Rats of Nam Yum.’. Historian Jean-Pierre Rioux said that Dien Bien Phu was ‘the only pitched battle to be lost by a European army in the history of decolonisation’ and it cost the French their Empire. After Gabrielle fell, the one-armed French artillery commander Colonel Charles Piroth declared himself ‘completely dishonoured’, took the pin out of a hand grenade and lay on top of it. In the latter epic, Fall describes in extraordinary detail not only the failures but also the heroism that took place in what he calls one of the most decisive battles of the 20th century. ©2020 AETN UK. Battle music: Vietnamese soldiers pull a heavy cannon over a slope to the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Close to 10,000 captured troops were to begin the grim death march to the Viet Minh prison camps 300 miles to the east. This Battle Analysis is written to illustrate the importance of logistics to complement tactical decisions with the war fighter on the battleground. Legend has it that Navarre’s deputy, Colonel Christian de Castries who was supposedly irresistible to women and described by author Grahame Greene as having the ‘nervy histrionic features of an old-time actor’ named the camps after his mistresses: Eliane, Béatrice, Anne-Marie, Gabrielle, Huguette, Claudine, Epervier, Dominique, Francoise and Isabelle. Both his parents were killed by the Nazis in World War II. A conflict between Communist Viet Minh forces and a French-established garrison, it occurred in a town called Seat of the Border County Prefecture or, in Vietnamese, Dien Bien Phu. The Vietnamese targeted Béatrice in the northern quadrant which fell in hours. For a time, a U.S. Air Force strike was considered, but the idea was dropped for about the same reasons that make a similar attack against North Vietnam today rather risky. Not long after, the Americans rocked up but that’s for another time. By the time the battle started in earnest on March 13, 1954, the garrison already had suffered 1,037 casualties without any tangible result. There was a silence. They were divided into groups dependent on their health and those who could were marched on foot 600 km (roughly the distance from London to Edinburgh) to prison camps in the north and east of the country – intermingled with Việt Minh soldiers to discourage the French from attempting bombing raids. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of the Terms and Conditions, Toussaint Louverture and the birth of Haiti. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was fought from March 13th to May 8th 1954 near the Laotian Border. French Socialist Prime Minister Pierre Mendès signed the Geneva Accord and France relinquished control of the territory. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the Portuguese and Dutch had been milling around but both were driven out by the locals and then in 1615, the French arrived. The Indochina War, which had broken out in December 1946 after Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh forces felt that France would not agree to Vietnam’s eventual independence, had bogged down into a hopeless seesaw. said the Việt Minh soldier in perfect French. World. This now seems finally to have been understood in the South Vietnam war as well, and U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara may well have thought of Dien Bien Phu when he stated in his major Vietnam policy speech of March 26, 1964, that we have learned that in Vietnam, political and economic progress are the sine qua non of military success…. In 1957 Fall joined the faculty of Howard University as professor of international relations, and he spent the summer of that year in South Vietnam. It was to little avail to say that France had lost only 5 percent of its battle force, that the equipment losses had already been more than made good by American supplies funneled in while the battle was raging and that even the manpower losses had been made up by reinforcements from France and new drafts of Vietnamese. Dien Bien Phu was ‘the only pitched battle to be lost by a European army in the history of decolonisation. In amongst all theperma-famous culture references was the line ‘Dien Bien Phu falls, Rock Around the Clock’ and it’s probably fair to say that this one may have got some people stumped. On May 7, 1954, however, the struggle for Indochina was almost over for France. Cogny’s last conversation with de Castries dealt with the problem of what to do with the wounded piled up under the incredible conditions in the various strongpoints and in the fortress’ central hospital — originally built to contain 42 wounded. Even de Castries’ new general’s stars, dropped to him by General Cogny with a bottle of champagne, landed in enemy territory. Soon the combination of monsoon rains, which set in around mid-April, and Viet Minh artillery fire smashed to rubble the neatly arranged dugouts and trenches shown to eminent visitors and journalists during the early days of the siege. The sheer magnitude of preparing that mass of supplies for parachuting was solved only by superhuman feats of the airborne supply units on the outside — efforts more than matched by the heroism of the soldiers inside the valley, who had to crawl into the open, under fire, to collect the containers. This was approved by the French senior commander in Hanoi at about 5 p.m., but with the proviso that the men in Isabelle, the southernmost strongpoint closest to the jungle, and to friendly forces in Laos, should be given a chance to make a break for it. The great battle in the valley of Dien Bien Phu was over. The airdrops were a harrowing experience in that narrow valley, which permitted only straight approaches. Well, do as best you can, leaving it to your [static: subordinate units?] Gen. Christian de la Croix de Castries, reported the situation over the radiotelephone to General René Cogny, his theater commander 220 miles away in Hanoi, in a high-pitched but curiously impersonal voice, the end obviously had come for the fortress.