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 … 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. 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. There never was, as press maps of the time erroneously showed, a continuous battle line covering the whole valley. It ended with victory to the Viet Minh, the surrender of French colonial forces and … But ultimately, it would not end the fighting immediately or in the long term, with decades of war in Vietnam yet to come 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 town of Dien Bien Phu sits in Vietnam’s north-western corner on the border with Laos. 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. While their commander, Brig. After many years of foreign subjugation and a burning desire for independence, the Việt Minh started a guerrilla war against the French in 1946. He gained firsthand guerrilla warfare experience while fighting in the French Underground from 1942 to 1944. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was fought from March 13th to May 8th 1954 near the Laotian Border. 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. This article by the late Bernard B. 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. Immediately after the battle ended, the Việt Minh counted 11,721 prisoners which included 4,436 wounded. 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. 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. 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. 4. 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. With the Allied invasion of Europe, Fall joined the French army, serving in the infantry and pack artillery of the 4th Moroccan Mountain Division. We’re blowing up everything around here. 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. HistoryNet.com is brought to you by Historynet LLC, the world's largest publisher of history magazines. 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. 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. 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 … 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. 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. Composer Hoang Van, who wrote the song Ho Keo Phao (The Song of Cannon Pulling), will join a pilgimage to the historic site. They can’t get out. Au revoir. From then onward the struggle for Dien Bien Phu became a battle of attrition. I’ll see you soon. A Web site about Bernard Fall is at www.geocities.com/bernardbfall. Fall is an account of one of the most significant battles to take place in Vietnam. 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. Lasting 55 days, the battle had French troops attempt to hold an armed camp against the Viet Minh, who greatly out-numbered them. 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. 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. 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.’. 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. 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…. The outlying posts, which protected the key airfield, were captured within the first few days of the battle. The surviving officers and men, many of whom had lived for 54 days on a steady diet of instant coffee and cigarettes, were in a catatonic state of exhaustion. Stephen Decatur, American naval hero during actions against the Barbay pirates and the War of 1812. Militarily, disaster had temporarily been averted. Rabindra Hazari. 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. 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. 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. 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. Written by email@example.com Plot Summary | Add Synopsis 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. There was a silence. 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. 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. Like Stalingrad, Dien Bien Phu slowly starved on its airlift tonnage. said the Việt Minh soldier in perfect French. 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. Colonel Louis Berteil, commander of Mobile Group 7 and Navarre's main planner, formulated the hérisson ("hedgehog") concept. In 1965 Fall again spent the summer with American and Vietnamese forces in South Vietnam. This article by the late Bernard B. 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. 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. 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. 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 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. You’re not going to shoot anymore? 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. 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. Then de Castries said his final words: Bien, mon gÃ©nÃ©ral. 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. By 3 p.m., however, it had become obvious that the fortress would not last until nightfall. 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. I feel the end is approaching, but we will fight to the finish. THE END OF FRENCH OCCUPATION Dien Bien Phu was the battle that finally ended the French occupation of 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. Not long after, the Americans rocked up but that’s for another time. 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. Walter Mondale, 42nd Vice President of the United States, Democratic presidential nominee who lost to Ronald Reagan in 1984, and Ambassador to Japan. 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. In just a short time, thousands of kilometres of … Communist forces, in human-wave attacks, were swarming over the last remaining defenses. 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. He spent the 1961-62 academic year in Cambodia on a Rockefeller Foundation grant. In one last push, the Việt Minh laid charges directly in front of the last of the French positions. 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. 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. This also proved to be an illusion. 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 net effect of Dien Bien Phu on France’s military posture in Indochina could not be measured in losses alone. You will fight to the end. Tens of thousands of young people volunteered to work with the army to open a road to the battlefield despite enemy shelling. As the final assault began on May 1st and, one by one the French positions were falling, Giap established trenches in the valley until there was only Elaine left and on May 6th Giap unleashed the full might of his infantry force upon it and the French within it. 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. It is a heart-shaped ‘cuvette’, or basin, ringed by jungle-covered hills. 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. All Rights Reserved. By the time the battle started in earnest on March 13, 1954, the garrison already had suffered 1,037 casualties without any tangible result. 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 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. 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. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was fought from March 13th to May 8th 1954 near the Laotian Border. He also positioned 30 battalions – around 40,000 battle troops – in a ring of steel around the camps, ably supported by a further quarter of a million porters, road gangs and auxiliary soldiers who carried the food, supplies and equipment up the steep slopes. An Dien Battle. 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. Dien Bien Phu was the decisive battle of the First Indochina War. Lessons, it seems, that were not heeded by the Americans as they embarked on their own futile fight in Vietnam later in the decade. Dien Bien Phu was to be the lock on the back door leading into Laos. For more great articles be sure to subscribe to Vietnam Magazine today! That was the rationale for the creation of a garrison at Dien Bien Phu and for the battle that took place there. 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. Essentially, the battle of Dien Bien Phu degenerated into a brutal artillery duel, which the enemy would have won sooner or later. History. 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. Both his parents were killed by the Nazis in World War II. The offensive stabs for which Dien Bien Phu had been specifically planned became little else but desperate sorties against an invisible enemy. 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. Don’t spoil it by hoisting the white flag. The Battle of 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. to act for themselves. said the Viet Minh in French. There was no clear prospect of victory for either side, no long-term vision and fewer and fewer military objectives. But as the position shrank every day (it finally was the size of a ballpark), the bulk of the supplies fell into Communist hands. 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. 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.
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