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Author Topic: DIEN BIEN PHU: THE END FOR FRANCE IN INDOCHINA: 1954  (Read 17 times)
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« on: March 13, 2018, 09:35:17 am »

The French strategy was simple. air drop troops [mostly Foreign Legionnaires], into a remote valley, fortify it, build an air strip to resupply it, and let your elusive enemy come to you. What they forgot was the old saw, "Be careful what you wish for".

By 1954, the French had been engaged in assymetrical warfare with the Viet Mihn [the nationalist movement for independence in Vietnam, led by a suspicious number of communists] for almost a decade. And the French, while having success against mainline units in set battles, especially in the North, and especially when the Viet Minh moved prematurely, were not doing well in the overall scheme of things. The insurgents largely controlled the countryside. Their attacks were growing larger, and more sophisticated [they wiped out a French armored column on Bernard Fall's "Street Without Joy"]. And there seemed no end in sight.

So the new commander, Gen. Henry Navarre decided that if he couldn't get to the enemy, he'd bring the enemy to him. So in early 1954, he selected the valley of Dien Bien Phu, near the Laotian border to do just that.

Navarre reasoned that by using his air supremacy, and airborne troops, he could create a situation where the Viet Minh, when they reached him, would find an entrenched French force, reinforced and resupplied by air, in  a superior position, with superior firepower, and better troops [a large number of the Legionnaires were former Waffen SS, recruited from French POW camps]. The Viet Minh's problems would be exacerbated by being forced to attack far from their own supply depots, in an area with no roads.

But Viet Minh commander, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, saw an opportunity, because if his forces were in the middle of nowhere, so would be the French. And if he could neutralize the French air power, and firepower, he'd have them in a sack.

And Navarre handed Giap one crucial advantage. The French position, in a valley, was largely surrounded by tall hills and mountains - and were unoccupied by the French. and however held the high ground, dominated the French fortifications [akin to dorchester Heights being the key to boston in 1775].

And if Navarre handed Giap one advantage, MaoTze Tung handed Giap another, large numbers of American 105mm cannons, seized from the Nationalists when they were driven out of china, as well as ammo, AAA guns, and other equipment.

Giap prepared his battlefield before there was any actual fighting. Using the large number of porters avaialable to him, giap carved roads through the jungle, and up the mountains. Human muscle power moved the aertillery up the mountains, and into positions overlooking the valley. AAA guns were emplaced where they could cover the airfield, and its approach routes. It was at that point, that Giap brought in some 40,000  Viet Minh troops to surround Bien Bien Phu. And THEN he attacked.

The battle lasted until May, and pretty much proceeded as Giap had foreseen. The French almost immediately lost the use of the airfield. Anything coming in would now be by air drop only [and more paratroopers were dropped in]. The 105s blasted the French non-stop. And the Viet Minh infantry began overrunning the French 'forts' and outposts, which had been sited without consideration of mutual support.

By early May, it was over. Some 15,000 French troops were killed or captured. The debacle so impacted French morale at home, that France , in a manner of speaking, quit fighting, and agreed to Vietnamese independence at Geneva the same year as the battle [ after President Eisenhower's refusal to commit U.S. air assets, forces, and  nuclear weapons to the struggle.

Dien Bien Phu is one of the pivotal battles of the 20th century. It ended French colonial rule in southeast Asia, and paved the way for eventual U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and an almost 20 year war. It eventually led to a united, Communist Vietnam, and 'wars of national liberation' in Africa, South America,the Middle East, and southwest Asia. We are still feeling its' affects today. 

You can get more with a smile, a handshake and a gun than you can with a smile and a handshake - Al Capone
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