When he was told that he was allocated a total of about 3,300 tons of airlifted materials, Sudrat simply shrugged his shoulders. No, I’m not going to shoot anymore, said the colonel. Yes, I know. There had been suggestions that an orderly surrender be arranged, to save the wounded the added anguish of falling into enemy hands as isolated individuals. The Viet Minh victory in this battle effectively ended the eight-year-old war. 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. An Dien Battle. Walter Mondale, 42nd Vice President of the United States, Democratic presidential nominee who lost to Ronald Reagan in 1984, and Ambassador to Japan. 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. In November 1953 General Henri Navarre, commander of French forces in Indochina, ordered the French Expeditionary Force’s parachute battalions to garrison and fortify an old Japanese airstrip – known as Operation Castor – and within weeks it was transformed into a major military base with nine separate camps. Then the rains came, and don’t think April showers on a spring day. Dien Bien Phu, 1954, was the final battle of the first Indo-China war. World. 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. Only Cambodia, then as now, was almost at peace: Prince Sihanouk (then king) had received independence from France in 1953 and galvanized his people into fighting against the guerrillas. The battle of Dien Bien Phu (DBP) was a decisive engagement during the Indochina War (1946-54). Close to 10,000 captured troops were to begin the grim death march to the Viet Minh prison camps 300 miles to the east. 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. At 1:50 a.m. on May 8, 1954, came the last message from the doomed garrison, relayed by the watchdog aircraft to Hanoi: Sortie failed — Stop — Can no longer communicate with you — Stop and end. 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. Bernard B. Their century of colonial rule in Indochina – now Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia – was over. They were in a proper fight. On May 7, 1954, however, the struggle for Indochina was almost over for France. THE END OF FRENCH OCCUPATION Dien Bien Phu was the battle that finally ended the French occupation of Vietnam. 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. First the French side. By 3 p.m., however, it had become obvious that the fortress would not last until nightfall. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Vietnam Magazine today! A Web site about Bernard Fall is at www.geocities.com/bernardbfall. 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. 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 siege occurred while the 1954 Geneva Conference was ironing out agreements between the major powers, including the future of Indochina. Not long after, the Americans rocked up but that’s for another time. Initially viewed by the French colonial administration as nothing more than a peasant uprising, they were confident of a quick and decisive victory but it proved to be anything but. 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. 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. said the Việt Minh soldier in perfect French. 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. Historically, Dien Bien Phu was, as one French senior officer masterfully understated, never more than an unfortunate accident. Dien Bien Phu was situated in a valley in Northern Vietnam, surrounded by mountains. Dien Bien Phu was ‘the only pitched battle to be lost by a European army in the history of decolonisation. 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. Fall is an account of one of the most significant battles to take place in Vietnam. This article by the late Bernard B. Following World War II, Fall worked as a research analyst at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. In 1965 Fall again spent the summer with American and Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. Communist forces, in human-wave attacks, were swarming over the last remaining defenses. 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. 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 … Use of this site constitutes acceptance of the Terms and Conditions, Toussaint Louverture and the birth of Haiti. 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 a silence. 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. 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. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Four of the eight strongpoints were from one to three miles away from the center of the position. Rabindra Hazari. to act for themselves. 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. 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. 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. 4. The mighty monsoons transformed the camps from dry dustbowls into memories of the Somme or Passchendaele – a flooded valley floor and trenches filled with water, mud, disease and increasing despair. For all practical purposes the Indochina War was lost then and there. The French had nothing – and virtually no-one – left. 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. On the 13th March the Việt Minh assault began. 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. 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. Few would survive. I’ll see you soon. Fall is an account of one of the most significant battles to take place in Vietnam. A few minutes later, de Castries’ radio operator methodically smashed his set with the butt of his Colt .45 pistol. 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. 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. Essentially, the battle of Dien Bien Phu degenerated into a brutal artillery duel, which the enemy would have won sooner or later. 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. Victory in Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Well, good-bye, mon vieux, said Cogny. Strongpoint Isabelle never had a chance. You understand, mon vieux. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was fought from March 13th to May 8th 1954 near the Laotian Border. 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. 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. There was no clear prospect of victory for either side, no long-term vision and fewer and fewer military objectives. 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. HistoryNet.com contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines. Stephen Decatur, American naval hero during actions against the Barbay pirates and the War of 1812. Today, 10 years after Dien Bien Phu, Viet Cong guerrillas in South Vietnam again challenge the West’s ability to withstand a potent combination of political and military pressure in a totally alien environment. 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. 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. 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. Colonel Louis Berteil, commander of Mobile Group 7 and Navarre's main planner, formulated the hérisson ("hedgehog") concept. Major AndrÃ© Sudrat, the chief engineer at Dien Bien Phu, was faced with a problem that he knew to be mathematically unsolvable. 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. He wrote this article in 1964, prior to the publication of Hell in a Very Small Place. The French army would establish a fortified airhead by air-lifting soldiers adjacent to a key Vie… By the time the battle started in earnest on March 13, 1954, the garrison already had suffered 1,037 casualties without any tangible result. Don’t spoil it by hoisting the white flag. 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 was originally published in the April 2004 issue of Vietnam Magazine. Like Stalingrad, Dien Bien Phu slowly starved on its airlift tonnage. Fall was born in 1926 and grew up in France. General Navarre felt that the way to achieve this was by offering the Communists a target sufficiently tempting for their regular divisions to pounce at, but sufficiently strong to resist the onslaught once it came. Trip Historic is a community-based historic destinations site run by history enthusiasts who are passionate about the web. 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. Written by email@example.com Plot Summary | Add Synopsis 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. Laos had signed a treaty with France in which the latter promised to defend it. Militarily, disaster had temporarily been averted. You’re not going to shoot anymore? I feel the end is approaching, but we will fight to the finish. The easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula, Vietnam has, since the 1500s, been passed from foreign hand to foreign hand. 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. But as the position shrank every day (it finally was the size of a ballpark), the bulk of the supplies fell into Communist hands. 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. All Rights Reserved. ‘Unstoppable waves’ of 25,000 machine gun-toting Việt Minh infantry engaged the last 3,000 able-bodied French garrison soldiers in brutal hand-to-hand combat. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was fought from March 13th to May 8th 1954 near the Laotian Border. At 5pm, de Castries radioed the French forward HQ based in Hanoi and spoke to Major General René Cogny: de Castries: The Viets are everywhere. 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. To compound matters, almost 6,000 soldiers fighting for France (made up of French, Foreign Legion and Africans of French descent) deserted to caves along the banks of the Nam Yum River, occasionally popping their heads up to steal supplies dropped for the men who stood and fought. But Navarre, an armor officer formed on the European battlefields, apparently (this was the judgment of the French government committee that later investigated the disaster) had failed to realize that there are no blocking positions in [a] country lacking European-type roads. Battle of Dien Bien Phu, the decisive engagement in the First Indochina War (1946–54). Ferocious fighting ensued and while the French must have known they were done for, they continued to fight to the last man. 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. What you have done is too magnificent to do such a thing. There were other considerations also. 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. 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. Photo: Vietnam People's Army museum/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA. Fall will be remembered by history as one of the foremost authorities on the Vietnam War. You’re not going to shoot anymore? Colonel Charles Piroth, the jovial one-armed commander of the French artillery inside the fortress, had guaranteed that his 24 105mm light howitzers could match anything the Communists had, and that his battery of four 155mm medium field howitzers would definitely muzzle whatever would not be destroyed by the lighter pieces and the fighter-bombers. Writing in 1954 and widely considered to be the greatest civilian expert on the war in Vietnam, Bernard B Fall said that ‘Historically, Dien Bien Phu was, as one French senior officer masterfully understated, never more than an unfortunate accident. 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. You will fight to the end. To achieve this, the French commander in chief, General Henri Navarre, had to win a victory over the hard core of Communist regular divisions, whose continued existence posed a constant threat of invasion to the Laotian kingdom and to the vital Red River Delta with its capital city of Hanoi and the thriving port of Haiphong. 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. Yet, he said, that is exactly what it was. 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. Battle music: Vietnamese soldiers pull a heavy cannon over a slope to the battle of Dien Bien Phu. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu (French: Bataille de Diên Biên Phu pronounced [bataj də djɛn bjɛn fy]; Vietnamese: Chiến dịch Điện Biên Phủ, IPA: [ɗîəˀn ɓīən fû]) was a climactic confrontation of the First Indochina War that took place between 13 March and 7 May 1954.
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