First the French side. The results were evident. Four of the eight strongpoints were from one to three miles away from the center of the position. By the time the battle started in earnest on March 13, 1954, the garrison already had suffered 1,037 casualties without any tangible result. Well, do as best you can, leaving it to your [static: subordinate units?] The net effect of Dien Bien Phu on France’s military posture in Indochina could not be measured in losses alone. Dien Bien Phu was also to be the test for a new theory of Navarre’s. There was no clear prospect of victory for either side, no long-term vision and fewer and fewer military objectives. 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. 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. Over 55,000 soldiers were sent into battle, and 260,000 labourers and 27,400 tons of rice were put on standby. 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.’. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Vietnam Magazine today! While their commander, Brig. 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. 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. 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. 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. Historically, Dien Bien Phu was, as one French senior officer masterfully understated, never more than an unfortunate accident. 08/May/2020. The outlying posts, which protected the key airfield, were captured within the first few days of the battle. 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. The artillery duel became the great tragedy of the battle. 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. No, I’m not going to shoot anymore, said the colonel. About 2,000 lay dead all over the battlefield in graves left unmarked to this day. 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. The key Red River Delta was more or less held by the French — at least during the daytime, for at night the enemy was everywhere — and the rice-rich Mekong Delta in South Vietnam, where anti-Communist Buddhist sects were fighting on the French side, was held more solidly by Western forces in 1953-54 than in 1963-64. 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. 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. World. 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 … Bernard B. 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. 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. Like Stalingrad, Dien Bien Phu slowly starved on its airlift tonnage. 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. Don’t spoil it by hoisting the white flag. I am responsible, he was heard to murmur as he went about his duties. On Christmas Day 1953, Indochina, for the first time in the eight-year war, was literally cut in two. Fall will be remembered by history as one of the foremost authorities on the Vietnam War. The offensive stabs for which Dien Bien Phu had been specifically planned became little else but desperate sorties against an invisible enemy. A few minutes later, de Castries’ radio operator methodically smashed his set with the butt of his Colt .45 pistol. Independence, given too grudgingly to the Vietnamese nationalist regime, remained the catchword of the adversary. HistoryNet.com is brought to you by Historynet LLC, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. 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. Lessons, it seems, that were not heeded by the Americans as they embarked on their own futile fight in Vietnam later in the decade. But what you have done until now surely is magnificent. The easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula, Vietnam has, since the 1500s, been passed from foreign hand to foreign hand. 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. Following World War II, Fall worked as a research analyst at the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal. In just a short time, thousands of kilometres of … 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. He first came to the United States in 1951 as a Fulbright Scholar, receiving his Master of Arts and Ph.D. in political science at Syracuse University. It ended with victory to the Viet Minh, the surrender of French colonial forces and … After many years of foreign subjugation and a burning desire for independence, the Việt Minh started a guerrilla war against the French in 1946. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was fought from March 13th to May 8th 1954 near the Laotian Border. For all practical purposes the Indochina War was lost then and there. 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. 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. 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. They were in a proper fight. This also proved to be an illusion. Even de Castries’ new general’s stars, dropped to him by General Cogny with a bottle of champagne, landed in enemy territory. Fall was born in 1926 and grew up in France. 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. Dien Bien Phu was situated in a valley in Northern Vietnam, surrounded by mountains. ‘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. 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. 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. 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 were not old-style anti-colonial rebels, but a nationalist army equipped with modern weaponry. Strongpoint Isabelle never had a chance. Still, as the French themselves demonstrated in Algeria, where they never again let themselves be maneuvered into such desperate military straits, revolutionary wars are fought for political objectives, and big showdown battles are necessary neither for victory nor for defeat in that case. In 1954, French forces in French Indochina sought to cut the Viet Minh's supply lines to Laos. They ended up simply defending their positions and reacting to Việt Minh attacks when they occurred. In 1953, in order to engage in field research for his doctoral dissertation, he traveled to war-torn Indochina. It stank with the smell of death but also rotting flesh with all the wounded French soldiers lying there.’. A unit joins the battle to gain control of the Muong Thanh Bridge. 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. Victory in Battle of Dien Bien Phu. 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. All right, mon gÃ©nÃ©ral, I only wanted to preserve the wounded. Simultaneously, Navarre had been searching for a way to stop the Viet Minh threat to Laos. 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. 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. One may only hope that the lesson has been learned in time. 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. Communist anti-aircraft artillery played havoc among the lumbering transport planes as they slowly disgorged their loads. Tens of thousands of young people volunteered to work with the army to open a road to the battlefield despite enemy shelling. 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. He spent the 1961-62 academic year in Cambodia on a Rockefeller Foundation grant. Dien Bien Phu was the decisive battle of the First Indochina War. When the siege began, it had about eight days’ worth of supplies on hand but required 200 tons a day to maintain minimum levels. That was the rationale for the creation of a garrison at Dien Bien Phu and for the battle that took place there. 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. Dien Bien Phu was to be the lock on the back door leading into Laos. From Phu Bai the group moved along the area the French had named La Rue Sans Joie, or Street Without Joy. 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. But ultimately, it would not end the fighting immediately or in the long term, with decades of war in Vietnam yet to come There are the French. 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. Fall is an account of one of the most significant battles to take place in Vietnam. 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. 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. Dien Bien Phu was ‘the only pitched battle to be lost by a European army in the history of decolonisation. 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. 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. 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. One cannot understand the full significance of the battle of Dien Bien Phu without situating it in its Franco-Vietnamese, international, and military dimensions. 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. 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. The massive crater they made remains visible to this day. 4. Militarily, disaster had temporarily been averted. The combat is confused and goes on all about. On May 7, 1954, however, the struggle for Indochina was almost over for 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. 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. 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. 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. What you have done is too magnificent to do such a thing. There were other considerations also. On the 13th March the Việt Minh assault began. 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. 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.