During the first seven years of the war, France had 16 changes of government and 13 prime ministers and not one took any kind of responsibility for strategy, military objective or the colossal failures that ensued. But as the position shrank every day (it finally was the size of a ballpark), the bulk of the supplies fell into Communist hands. 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. A unit joins the battle to gain control of the Muong Thanh Bridge. 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. Historically, Dien Bien Phu was, as one French senior officer masterfully understated, never more than an unfortunate accident. In 1953, in order to engage in field research for his doctoral dissertation, he traveled to war-torn Indochina. This battle, of which the Viet-minh was victorious, marked the end of the Indochina War (1946-1954), but also that of French hegemony in this region. Dien Bien Phu was the decisive battle of the First Indochina War. 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. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was fought from March 13th to May 8th 1954 near the Laotian Border. This was the first time that an Asian force had defeated a European force in pitched battle. Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the decisive engagement in the First Indochina War (1946–54). Fall was widely considered the greatest civilian expert on the war in Vietnam. But with the existence of a Red Chinese sanctuary for the Viet Minh forces, that became militarily impossible. Rather than defend immobile lines, he wanted to create throughout Indochina land-air bases from which highly mobile units would sally forth and decimate the enemy in his own rear areas, just as the Viet Minh guerrillas were doing in French rear areas. In one last push, the Việt Minh laid charges directly in front of the last of the French positions. 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. The outlying posts, which protected the key airfield, were captured within the first few days of the battle. Battalion commander Nguyen Dung Chi recalled the events of the final hours of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu: ‘The assault ended in hand-to-hand fighting ... We couldn't see anything any longer, we didn't try to take aim, we just moved forward, jumping from trench to trench, stepping on bodies.’, ‘Silence had fallen on Dien Bien Phu. He wrote this article in 1964, prior to the publication of Hell in a Very Small Place. One may only hope that the lesson has been learned in time. Their original aim was to spread the word of Christianity and as the 19th century came around, Vietnam’s independence had been gradually eroded until by 1884, the entire country – known then as French Indochina – had come under the rule of France. It stank with the smell of death but also rotting flesh with all the wounded French soldiers lying there.’. Gen. Christian de la Croix de Castries, reported the situation over the radiotelephone to General RenÃ© 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. World. A French newspaper from 1954, with the headline ‘Dien Bien Phu is a tomb’. I feel the end is approaching, but we will fight to the finish. 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. The offensive stabs for which Dien Bien Phu had been specifically planned became little else but desperate sorties against an invisible enemy. Dien Bien Phu, 1954, was the final battle of the first Indo-China war. It proved little else but that an encircled force, no matter how valiant, will succumb if its support system fails.’. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. On Christmas Day 1953, Indochina, for the first time in the eight-year war, was literally cut in two. On June 05, 1974, Ambassador Martin retransmitted to the Secretary of State a cablegram dated June 04, 1974 that he received from Richard Peters, the American Consul General of Bien Hoa, who sent to him a report on the situation of the fighting at An Dien hamlet on June 04, after he had talked on the phone with Major General Hieu, III Corps Deputy Commander. Fall is an account of one of the most significant battles to take place in Vietnam. This also proved to be an illusion. Dien Bien Phu was ‘the only pitched battle to be lost by a European army in the history of decolonisation. 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. The results were evident. Over 55,000 soldiers were sent into battle, and 260,000 labourers and 27,400 tons of rice were put on standby. Following World War II, Fall worked as a research analyst at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. 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. Even the fact, which the unfortunate Navarre invoked later, that the attack on Dien Bien Phu cost the enemy close to 25,000 casualties and delayed its attack on the vital Red River Delta by four months, held little water in the face of the wave of defeatism that swept not only French public opinion at home but also that of her allies. Dien Bien Phu was situated in a valley in Northern Vietnam, surrounded by mountains. 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. Essentially, the battle of Dien Bien Phu degenerated into a brutal artillery duel, which the enemy would have won sooner or later. Communist forces, in human-wave attacks, were swarming over the last remaining defenses. Strongpoint Isabelle never had a chance. 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. While their commander, Brig. 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. 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. All right, mon gÃ©nÃ©ral, I only wanted to preserve the wounded. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu, which took place in northern Vietnam in 1954, marked a major turning point in both the First Indochina War between France and the Viet Minh independence movement and the general position of European colonial powers in South-East Asia. Then de Castries said his final words: Bien, mon gÃ©nÃ©ral. Four of the eight strongpoints were from one to three miles away from the center of the position. HistoryNet.com is brought to you by Historynet LLC, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. On this day in 1954, victory at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu When the Viet Minh forces captured the fortified French base at Dien Bien Phu on 07 May 1954, it was a spectacular victory. Bernard B. Tens of thousands of young people volunteered to work with the army to open a road to the battlefield despite enemy shelling. Inside the fortress, the charming tribal village by the Nam Yum River had soon disappeared along with all the bushes and trees in the valley, to be used either as firewood or as construction materials for the bunkers. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu is seen as the decisive battle of the First Indochina War between French troops and the Viet Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam), a nationalist, pro-Soviet Union movement of Ho Chi Minh. It is a heart-shaped ‘cuvette’, or basin, ringed by jungle-covered hills. 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. The Vietnamese targeted Béatrice in the northern quadrant which fell in hours. An Dien Battle. 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. One cannot understand the full significance of the battle of Dien Bien Phu without situating it in its Franco-Vietnamese, international, and military dimensions. 4. At the same time Việt Minh commander Võ Nguyên Giáp, widely regarded as one of the 20th century’s finest military strategists, blocked all roads in and out of the town so it became only accessible by air. 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…. This article by the late Bernard B. Conrad Adenauer, first chancellor of post-World War II West Germany. VNA/VNS File Photo By early March 1954, enemy troops numbering more than 16,000 had gathered in Điện Biên Phủ, including the most elite military units in Indochina. French Socialist Prime Minister Pierre Mendès signed the Geneva Accord and France relinquished control of the territory. Walter Mondale, 42nd Vice President of the United States, Democratic presidential nominee who lost to Ronald Reagan in 1984, and Ambassador to Japan. The airdrops were a harrowing experience in that narrow valley, which permitted only straight approaches. They became known as the ‘Rats of Nam Yum.’. Viet Minh soldiers assault French positions at Muong Thanh airport during the battle of Dien Bien Phu in April 1954. Like Stalingrad, Dien Bien Phu slowly starved on its airlift tonnage. In that case, I’ll fortify the command post, the signal center, and the X-ray room in the hospital; and let’s hope that the Viet has no artillery. On the 13th March the Việt Minh assault began. 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. said the Việt Minh soldier in perfect French. Anyway, the idea was to cut off enemy lines through the mountains into Laos and draw the Việt Minh out into open battle. Independence, given too grudgingly to the Vietnamese nationalist regime, remained the catchword of the adversary. Dien Bien Phu was to be the lock on the back door leading into Laos. They can’t get out. 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. 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. 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. We’re blowing up everything around here. 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. When the siege began, it had about eight days’ worth of supplies on hand but required 200 tons a day to maintain minimum levels. Written by firstname.lastname@example.org Plot Summary | Add Synopsis I am responsible. The U.S.A were about to take on the struggle to control Vietnam. The French army would establish a fortified airhead by air-lifting soldiers adjacent to a key Vie… This Battle Analysis is written to illustrate the importance of logistics to complement tactical decisions with the war fighter on the battleground. The great battle in the valley of Dien Bien Phu was over. The French had lost 75,000 men (with another 65,000 injured and 40,000 taken prisoner) and the Việt Minh lost close to 200,000. As it turned out, the Viet Minh had more than 200 artillery pieces, reinforced during the last week of the siege by Russian Katyusha multiple rocket launchers. It was during that time that he succeeded in visiting Communist North Vietnam and interviewing Ho Chi Minh. This article was originally published in the April 2004 issue of Vietnam Magazine. Fall will be remembered by history as one of the foremost authorities on the Vietnam War. What changed the aspect of the war for a time was the influx of American aid, which began with the onset of the Korean War. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Vietnam Magazine today! It was becoming increasingly obvious that this war was unwinnable. The French had nothing – and virtually no-one – left. As a former French soldier he was allowed to accompany French forces on combat operations in all sectors of the country. Immediately after the battle ended, the Việt Minh counted 11,721 prisoners which included 4,436 wounded. During the night of March 14-15, he committed suicide by blowing himself up with a hand grenade, since he could not charge his pistol with one hand. 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. Umberto Eco, Italian novelist (The Name of the Rose). The artillery duel became the great tragedy of the battle. Battle music: Vietnamese soldiers pull a heavy cannon over a slope to the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Even the residence of the French governor was dismantled in order to make use of the bricks, for engineering materials were desperately short from the beginning. Both his parents were killed by the Nazis in World War II. When, on March 13, 1954, at 5:10 p.m., Communist artillery smothered strongpoint Beatrice without noticeable damage from French counterbattery fire, Piroth knew the fortress was doomed. At the same time, Vietnam was divided at the 17th Parallel into the Communist-controlled North Vietnam and the democratic South Vietnam and a particularly uneasy peace persisted for a little over a year until the Americans arrived. to act for themselves. 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. 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. By the time the battle started in earnest on March 13, 1954, the garrison already had suffered 1,037 casualties without any tangible result. What you have done is too magnificent to do such a thing. 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. When he was told that he was allocated a total of about 3,300 tons of airlifted materials, Sudrat simply shrugged his shoulders. These words were said to Billy Joel by a friend of John Lennon’s son Sean, so the 40-year old New Yorker decided to write a song to prove him wrong. 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. Au revoir. Use of this site constitutes acceptance of the Terms and Conditions, Toussaint Louverture and the birth of Haiti. Well, good-bye, mon vieux, said Cogny. 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. You will fight to the end. Few would survive. The Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu signaled the end of French colonial influence in Indochina and cleared the way for the division of Vietnam along the … But what you have done until now surely is magnificent. Originally, the fortress had been designed to protect its main airstrip against marauding Viet Minh units, not to withstand the onslaught of four Communist divisions. This article by the late Bernard B. About 2,000 lay dead all over the battlefield in graves left unmarked to this day. 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. Fall was born in 1926 and grew up in France. 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. THE END OF FRENCH OCCUPATION Dien Bien Phu was the battle that finally ended the French occupation of Vietnam. All Rights Reserved. In 1954, French forces in French Indochina sought to cut the Viet Minh's supply lines to Laos. (Had not de Castries, in the manner of his ducal forebears, sent a written challenge to enemy commander Giap?). The combat is confused and goes on all about. Belligerents: France & The State of Vietnam vs Viet Minh, ‘You were a kid in the fifties and everybody knows that nothing happened in the fifties.’. 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 Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Stephen Decatur, American naval hero during actions against the Barbay pirates and the War of 1812. 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. And to destroy those divisions and prevent their invasions into Laos, one had to, in American military parlance, find ’em and fix ’em. It consisted of a struggle between French and Viet Minh (Vietnamese Communist and nationalist) forces for control of a small mountain outpost on the Vietnamese border near Laos. 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. 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. The decision was made then to fight on to the end, as long as the ammunition lasted, and let individual units be overrun after destruction of their heavy weapons. During World War II, Japan’s aggression allowed them to take control but the Việt Minh, a national independence coalition led by Hồ Chí Minh, fought the Japanese and by the end of the war had driven them out - only for the French to return and reassert their rule. 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. Ferocious fighting ensued and while the French must have known they were done for, they continued to fight to the last man. 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. Only 73 made good their escape from the various shattered strongpoints to be rescued by the pro-French guerrilla units awaiting them in the Laotian jungle. At his untimely death in 1967, Bernard B. It is out of the question to run up the white flag after your heroic resistance. I’ll see you soon. The situation is very grave. 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. From Phu Bai the group moved along the area the French had named La Rue Sans Joie, or Street Without Joy. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was fought from March 13 to May 7, 1954, and was the decisive engagement of the First Indochina War (1946-1954), the precursor to the Vietnam War. Dien Bien Phu was also to be the test for a new theory of Navarre’s. A few minutes later, de Castries’ radio operator methodically smashed his set with the butt of his Colt .45 pistol. While the main defenses of Dien Bien Phu were being mopped up, strong Viet Minh forces already had tightened their grip around the 1,000 Legionnaires, Algerians and Frenchmen preparing their breakout. 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. There was no clear prospect of victory for either side, no long-term vision and fewer and fewer military objectives.
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