Dien Bien Phu Falls - Historie

Dien Bien Phu Falls - Historie

Franske styrker under kommando af general Navarra besluttede at holde Dien Bien Phu, en dalpost i det vestlige Vietnam, var et vigtigt strategisk mål. Franskmændene befæstede stillingen med over 30.000 soldater. Den 15. marts begyndte Viet Minh deres angreb. Den 7. maj faldt DienBenPhu og dermed også franske håb om sejr i Vietnam.

Første Indokina -krig: Slaget ved Dien Bien Phu

Slaget ved Dien Bien Phu blev udkæmpet fra 13. marts til 7. maj 1954 og var det afgørende engagement i den første Indokina-krig (1946-1954), forløberen til Vietnamkrigen. I 1954 forsøgte franske styrker i Fransk Indokina at skære Viet Minhs forsyningslinjer til Laos. For at opnå dette blev en stor befæstet base bygget ved Dien Bien Phu i det nordvestlige Vietnam. Det var håbet, at tilstedeværelsen af ​​basen ville trække Viet Minh ind i et slag, hvor overlegen fransk ildkraft kunne ødelægge dens hær.

Basen var dårligt placeret i dalens lave grund og blev snart belejret af Viet Minh-styrker, som brugte artilleri og infanteriangreb til at slibe fjenden ned, mens de også indsatte et stort antal luftværnskanoner for at forhindre franskmændene i at levere eller evakuere. I næsten to måneders kamp blev hele den franske garnison enten dræbt eller taget til fange. Sejren afsluttede faktisk den første Indokina -krig og førte til Geneve -aftalerne fra 1954, der delte landet i Nord- og Sydvietnam.


Optakt til kamp

Det østligste land på Indokina -halvøen, Vietnam er siden 1500'erne blevet overført fra fremmed hånd til fremmed hånd. I det sekstende og det tidlige syttende århundrede havde portugiserne og hollænderne malet rundt, men begge blev fordrevet af lokalbefolkningen, og derefter i 1615 ankom franskmændene.

Deres oprindelige mål var at udbrede kristendommens ord, og da 1800 -tallet skete, var Vietnams uafhængighed gradvist blevet eroderet, indtil i 1884 var hele landet - dengang kendt som fransk Indokina - kommet under Frankrigs styre.

Under Anden Verdenskrig tillod Japans aggression dem at tage kontrol, men Việt Minh, en national uafhængighedskoalition anført af Hồ Chí Minh, kæmpede mod japanerne og havde ved krigens afslutning drevet dem ud - kun for franskmændene at vende tilbage og bekræfte deres regel. Efter mange års udenlandsk underkastelse og et brændende ønske om uafhængighed startede Việt Minh en guerillakrig mod franskmændene i 1946. De blev i første omgang betragtet af den franske kolonialadministration som ikke andet end et bondeoprør, de var sikre på en hurtig og afgørende sejr men det viste sig at være alt andet end. De var i en ordentlig kamp.

Efter otte års kamp og med de franske strateger støttet af amerikanske penge forsøgte de taktik efter mislykket taktik, men til sidst løb der tør for ideer. Der var ingen klare udsigter til sejr for begge sider, ingen langsigtet vision og færre og færre militære mål. De endte med bare at forsvare deres positioner og reagere på Việt Minh -angreb, da de opstod. Lektioner, som det ser ud til, blev ikke fulgt af amerikanerne, da de indledte deres egen forgæves kamp i Vietnam senere i årtiet.

I løbet af de første syv år af krigen havde Frankrig 16 regeringsskift og 13 statsministre, og ikke én tog noget ansvar for strategi, militære mål eller de kolossale fiaskoer, der fulgte. I begyndelsen af ​​1954 havde det kostet franskmændene og amerikanerne 3 milliarder dollars - næppe lommeskift så hurtigt efter Anden Verdenskrig - og blev omtalt som la sale guerre eller 'den beskidte krig'. Desuden anklager om militær inkompetence, korruption, valutahandler og våbenhandel ødelagde krigsindsatsen.

Det blev stadig mere indlysende, at denne krig ikke kunne vindes. Franskmændene havde mistet 75.000 mænd (med yderligere 65.000 sårede og 40.000 taget til fange), og Việt Minh mistede tæt på 200.000.

I et forsøg på at bringe krigen til ende, kastede begge sider alt i en sidste og i sidste ende afgørende kamp - Slaget ved Dien Bien Phu.


Udforskning af Dien Bien Phu -kampagnen

Dien Bien Phu er den største risedal i det nordvestlige Vietnam. Ved foden af ​​bakkerne strækker rismarkerne sig så langt øjet rækker. Det er en sand fornøjelse at slentre gennem dette smukke landskab, hvor de ligger i landsbyerne Thai etnisk gruppe, flertallet i denne region. Den thailandske befolkning bor i meget smukke traditionelle træhuse på stylter, og kvinderne bærer stolt deres bolle og deres traditionelle kostumer.

Mens du søger på landet, kan du opdage andre rester af slaget ved Dien Bien Phu, f.eks kommandopost for general Vo Nguyen Giap, stor strateg for dette slag, faldt visse positioner i Vietminh -artilleriet og mindesmærker, der hyldede de vietnamesiske soldater inden for æresfeltet.

Bedste sæson:

Vi anbefaler, at du gå til Dien Bien Phu fra april til slutningen af ​​november. I maj kan du deltage i erindringerne om sejren for Dien Bien Phu.


30. november 1953 Dien Bien Phu

ICYMI – Under kommando af oberst Christian de Castries byggede franske styrker syv befæstede positioner for at forsvare basen, der angiveligt hver blev opkaldt efter en af ​​hans elskerinder. 10.800 franske tropper blev begået, med yderligere 16.000 i reserve.

Hvis du taler om Frankrig, tænker de fleste af os på det femsidige land mellem Spanien og Tyskland. Det ville til dels være korrekt, men “la Métropole ” eller “Metropolitan France ” tegner sig i dag kun for 82,2% af landmassen og 95,9% af befolkningen i la République Française. De oversøiske departementer og territorier, der udgør “la France d ’outre-mer ”, “Overseas France ”, tegner sig for resten.

Denne oversøiske procentdel ville have været højere i midten af ​​det 20. århundrede, med mange tidligere koloniale territorier tilføjet i, blandt andet Laos, Cambodja og Vietnam.

Japansk besættelse af Sydøstasien fik europæerne til at forlade Fransk Indokina under anden verdenskrig. Inden for et år efter genbesættelse stod franskmændene mod hård modstand fra nationalistisk-kommunistiske Viet Minh, ledet af Ho Chi Minh og Vo Nguyen Giap. Deres var på et lavt niveau, landlige oprør i begyndelsen, senere blev det en fuldskala moderne krig, da kinesiske kommunister trådte ind i kampen i 1949.

Hvad historikere kalder den første Indokina -krig, kaldte mange samtidige “la sale guerre ”, eller “dirty war ”. Regeringen forbød brugen af ​​storbyrekrutter af frygt for, at det ville gøre krigen mere upopulær end den allerede var. I stedet blev franske professionelle soldater og enheder i den franske fremmedlegion udvidet med kolonitropper, herunder marokkanske, algeriske, tunesiske, laotiske, cambodjanske og vietnamesiske etniske minoriteter.

Krigen gik dårligt for franskmændene. I 1952 ledte de efter en vej ud. Premier René Mayer udnævnte Henri Navarre til at tage kommandoen over de franske unionsstyrker i maj samme år med en enkelt ordre. Navarre skulle skabe militære forhold, som ville føre til en “ ærlig politisk løsning ”.

I november og december det foregående år havde den franske hær luftet soldater ind i en befæstet position ved Na San, der støder op til en vigtig Viet Minh -forsyningslinje til Laos. Overlegen fransk ildkraft, rustning og luftressourcer havde drevet Vo Nguyen Giaps styrker tilbage med store tab, i hvad franske planlæggere kaldte strategien “hérisson ” eller “hedgehog ”.

I juni foreslog generalmajor René Cogny et “ fortøjningspunkt ” ved Dien Bien Phu, hvilket skabte et let forsvaret punkt, hvorfra man kunne starte razziaer. Navarre ville gentage Na San -strategien og beordrede, at Dien Bien Phu skulle tages og konverteres til en stærkt befæstet base.

“Operation Castor ” begyndte den 20. november, hvor tre faldskærmsinfanteribataljoner faldt ind i Dien Bien Phu. Operationen blev afsluttet med minimale franske tab den 30. november, da de fortsatte med at lande forsyninger, tropper og teknikudstyr i den isolerede base.

Under kommando af oberst Christian de Castries byggede franske styrker syv befæstede stillinger for at forsvare basen, der angiveligt hver blev opkaldt efter en af ​​hans elskerinder. 10.800 franske tropper blev begået, med yderligere 16.000 i reserve.

Vo følte, at han havde begået en alvorlig fejl ved Na San og hastet sine tropper i stykker mod fransk forsvar. Denne gang forberedte han omhyggeligt sine positioner og flyttede 50.000 mand på position rundt om dalen, lagde omhyggeligt ammunition og placerede sit luftværn og tunge artilleri, som han var godt udstyret med.

Det franske personale lavede deres kampplan, baseret på den antagelse, at det var umuligt for Viet Minh at placere nok artilleri på den omgivende høje grund på grund af det barske terræn. Kommunisterne besad ikke nok artilleri til at gøre alvorlig skade alligevel, eller sådan troede de.

Franske officerer fandt hurtigt ud af, hvor fejltagne de havde været. Den første sporadiske artilleriild begyndte den 31. januar, omkring det tidspunkt, hvor patruljer opdagede fjendens tilstedeværelse i alle retninger. Tungt artilleri ringede stort set til dalen, hvor de befandt sig, og luftstøtte blev hurtigt ophævet af fjendens velplacerede luftfartsskydning.

Viet Minh -angrebet begyndte for alvor den 13. marts, da flere forposter kom under rasende artilleri. Luftstøtte blev næsten umulig, og modbatteribrand var ved siden af ​​ubrugelig mod Giap ’s befæstninger.

Oberstløjtnant Charles Piroth befalede det franske artilleri ved Dien Bien Phu. Han var en professionel soldat og ingen letvægter, efter at have fået sin arm amputeret i 1946 uden bedøvelse. Da det blev klart, hvor forkert hans antagelser havde været, cirkulerede Piroth rundt i lejren og undskyldte sine betjente, vendte tilbage til sit telt og dræbte sig selv med en håndgranat.

Sidste øjeblikke af slaget ved Dien Bien Phu, 1954, som afbildet af den nordvietnamesiske kunstner Huy Toan

“Beatrice ” var den første brandbase, der faldt, derefter “Gabrielle ” og “Anne-Marie ”. Viet Minh kontrollerede 90% af flyvepladsen inden den 22. april, hvilket gjorde selv faldskærmfald næsten umuligt. Den 7. maj beordrede Vo et totalt angreb på 25.000 tropper mod de 3.000, der var tilbage i garnisonen. Ved natmorgen var det slut. De sidste ord fra den sidste radiomand var “ Fjenden har overskredet os. Vi sprænger alt. Vive la France! ”

Militærhistorikeren Martin Windrow skrev, at Dien Bien Phu var “ første gang, at en ikke-europæisk kolonial uafhængighedsbevægelse havde udviklet sig gennem alle faser fra guerillaband til en konventionelt organiseret og udstyret hær, der var i stand til at besejre en moderne vestlig besætter i kampkamp &# 8221.

Genève -konferencen åbnede dagen efter, hvilket resulterede i, at et Vietnam blev delt i to dele. I nord blev “Demokratiske Republik Vietnam ” administreret af kommunisterne og staten Vietnam i syd under kejser Bao Dai og premierminister Ngo Dinh Diem. Norden blev støttet af både Folkerepublikken Kina og Sovjetunionen og fortsatte med at terrorisere patrioter i både nord og syd.

USA's støtte til syd steg, da franskmændene trak deres tilbage. I slutningen af ​​50'erne sendte USA teknisk og økonomisk bistand i forventning om social reform og jordreform. I 1960 havde National Front for Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF, eller “Viet Cong ”) taget til at myrde Diem-støttede landsbyledere. Præsident John F. Kennedy reagerede i 1961 og sendte 1.364 amerikanske rådgivere til Sydvietnam.


Faldet af Dien Bien Phu og stigningen i USA's engagement i Vietnam

Dien Bien Phu var et stort slag i den første Indokina -krig, hvor franskmændene kæmpede mod Viet Minh -kommunisterne. Det franske mål havde været at støtte soldaterne ved Dien Bien Phu, dybt i bakkerne i det nordvestlige Vietnam for at afbryde Viet Minh forsyningslinjer til nabolandet Laos. Viet Minh var imidlertid i stand til at trække tungt artilleri gennem junglen og placere dem med udsigt over den franske lejr. Da Dien Bien Phu faldt til Viet Minh den 7. maj 1954 efter næsten to måneders bitre kampe, markerede det første gang, en ikke-europæisk kolonial uafhængighedsbevægelse, der havde udviklet sig fra guerillabånd til en konventionel hær, havde været i stand til at besejre en moderne vestlig besætter.

Efter det franske nederlag underskrev Frankrig Geneve -aftalerne fra 1954, hvilket førte til tilbagetrækning fra fransk Indokina og adskillelsen af ​​Vietnam ved den 17. parallel til Nord og Syd. Imidlertid ville en anden Indokina -krig begynde i 1956, som ville omfatte amerikanske styrker og til sidst ville eskalere ind i Vietnamkrigen. Howard R. Simpson var en krigskorrespondent i denne periode og sendte afsendelser fra Dien Bien Phu, han blev interviewet af Charles Stuart Kennedy fra januar 1994. Ted M.G. Tanen var offentligt ansvarlig i denne tid i Laos og taler om, hvordan amerikansk engagement steg efter Dien Bien Phu, han blev også interviewet af Kennedy fra september 2000.

“Du ved, det bliver en rigtig kamp”

SIMPSON: Jeg var på Dien Bien Phu selv: i begyndelsen, da den blev taget og i et par uger derefter. Og det at være privilegiet at være en såkaldt krigskorrespondent er, at man kan bevæge sig, når man vil. Og der var ingen hemmelighed, det var på tide at komme ud….

Hele planen på Dien Bien Phu var baseret på den falske forudsætning om, at Viet Minh ville angribe over åben grund, og det franske luftvåben og artilleri ville hugge dem op, og dette ville være et stort nederlag og sandsynligvis krigens vendepunkt osv. osv. Og der havde været en kamp året før i Nassan, der på en måde indikerede, at dette kunne ske, de tog nogle store tab der. Men helt fra begyndelsen begyndte amerikanske observatører at bekymre sig om denne situation, fordi Koreakrigen var slut, og en af ​​de store sætninger i Koreakrigen var at "tage højden." Mens de var på Dien Bien Phu, selvom franskmændene havde argumenteret for, at de var på forhøjet grund, var de stadig domineret af de omkringliggende bjerge, kan du se. Så i virkeligheden var de stadig i kammergryden, som man siger. Og amerikanske militærfolk, der skulle dertil, ville tale om pladder om - "Er dette ikke pæne og stærke befæstninger" og alt det der. Men de var ret bekymrede.

En af deres bekymringer var, at her er nogle af de bedste bataljoner, som franskmændene har i Indokina, og de sidder her urørlige, mens alt Viet Minh skal gøre er at gå rundt om dem og ikke bekymre sig om det. Og også, amerikanerne — et uheldigt træk, der stadig foregår, jeg tror — vi overvurderer betydningen af ​​luftstrøm. Og vi tænkte, du ved, at luftstrøm kommer til at gøre dette og gøre det. Nå, det gjorde det ikke. Og det har den aldrig gjort. Det vil aldrig, hvad mig angår. Anyway, dette var endnu en stor fejltagelse, og alligevel, da kampen først var slået sammen der, gjorde vi alt, hvad vi kunne, for så vidt som at sende ting ind.

Franskmændene bad om forskellige ting. En del af problemet var, at de i begyndelsen var så sikre på, at de ikke forudså problemet. Det enkle spørgsmål om at forsyne denne base med fly var en fantastisk belastning. Og de skulle have haft dobbelt så mange fly til det, de ville gøre, men det gjorde de ikke.

På et tidspunkt, som du ved, var der et spørgsmål om, at [formand for de fælles stabschefer] admiral [Arthur W.] Radford opstiller beredskabsplaner for et luftangreb. Og der blev talt meget om beredskabsplaner om at bruge atomvåben, hvilket for mig ville have været en stor katastrofe, da du sandsynligvis ville have udslettet franskmændene sammen med vietnameserne. Og politisk så langt som Fjernøsten rækker, ville det være anden brug af et atomvåben, af amerikanere mod asiater.

Men Dien Bien Phu var den type sted, hvor det er let at sige nu, men du behøvede ikke at være et militært geni for at se skriften på væggen. Og mange af tropperne, de gode erfarne betjente, der var der, sagde: "Du ved, det bliver en rigtig kamp." Du kunne se, at de ikke var sikre på, at det ville komme rigtigt frem. De endte, du ved, at alt skulle leveres med faldskærm, og det fungerer ikke særlig godt.…

Jeg vendte tilbage, jeg tror, ​​det var juli, og det var en stor forskel, der var en stor forskel i atmosfære. Der var øget spænding mellem franskmændene og amerikanerne. De havde mistet, at de forsøgte at omstille sig til denne nye situation. De vidste, at de havde mistet Indokina. Mange af dem skyldte det på os. At vi kunne have indbragt flere forsyninger eller gjort noget hovedsageligt, leverede et luftangreb.

Og der var stor forvirring blandt vietnameserne, og der var en pludselig svingning af mange blandt indflydelsesrige vietnamesere, der havde været sammen med franskmændene, som kunne fortælle, hvad der foregik. Mod amerikanerne, der var de nye drenge på blokken. Og det var derfor meget svært for ambassaden at håndtere, og det var selvfølgelig en periode, hvor vi satte Ngo Dinh Diem [den første præsident i Sydvietnam, senere myrdet i 1963] ind i statsministerens kontor. Ed Lansdale, du ved, CIA -teamet, [de] var der for at få ham på plads, og jeg arbejdede for dem, og arbejdede som presserådgiver for Diem i en kort periode.

Og det var en underlig periode, denne kongevirksomhed. Du ved, amerikanerne er ikke særlig vant til det.

Au Revoir, Frankrig. Hej Yanks

TANEN: Lad mig prøve at sætte scenen. Kort efter at jeg kom dertil i 1953, var der os trods alt to, og jeg blev bedt om at lave politisk rapportering, og Voice of America havde også brug for noget foder. Det, jeg pludselig fandt på at gøre, og jeg må indrømme, var fantastisk. Du tog din jeep fra Vientiane, og du kørte til Kadoona, 10 eller 15 kilometer nede ad vejen. Der blev du mødt af en pirog, en lille udgravet kano. Jeg er i øvrigt alene… .De ville ro mig over floden, og så ville jeg blive mødt af en thailandsk hær -jeep. Den thailandske hærs jeep kørte mig yderligere 10 eller 15 kilometer inde i landet til et sted kaldet Udorn. Der var det amerikanske luftvåben i al sin herlighed. Nu er dette 1953. Jeg ville så gå op. De havde [DC-3] Dakotas, det er alt, hvad de havde.

Jeg ville flyve med dem. De droppede forsyninger til et sted kaldet Sanyo, der var sydøst, nordvest, som var et stort vietnamesisk-laotisk hærdepot, faktisk fransk. Du bar forsyninger til dem, fordi de altid kæmpede. Den slags forsyninger, der blev transporteret, var hovedsageligt pigtråd, men også en masse medicinske ting, mad, andre ting. De ville smide det ud af flyene og vende sig om og gå tilbage. Dette var politisk rapportering. Så jeg rapporterede via Mike til ambassaden om, hvordan det gik, og var der krusninger, var der problemer.

Derefter startede Dien Bien Phu -forretningen. Så det var ikke kun at flyve ud af Udorn og smide ting til franskmændene i forskellige dele, vi smed derefter pigtråd og så videre ud af døren på Dien Bien Phu. Jeg tror ikke, at nogen af ​​os på det bestemte tidspunkt forventede, at dette ville være vendepunktet i krigen. Den fornemmelse fik jeg i hvert fald bestemt ikke.

Men med faldet af Dien Bien Phu blev jeg pludselig bedt om at tage til Luang Prabang og lave en førstehånds rapport om evakueringen af ​​de første sårede, der kom ud af Luang Prabang. Så jeg fløj derop, og Luang Prabang var Laos 'kongelige hovedstad. Jeg så dem helikoptere de sårede ud af Dien Bien Phu, laste dem på Dakotas og flyve dem til Frankrig, eller hvor de end flyvede. Jeg mødte også de fleste af de oberster, der endte i Algeriet [i krigen der] senere ...

Det, du havde, var en ejendommelig situation, hvor det ikke længere ville være en lille gruppe i Laos, der rapporterede til Donald Heath. Du fandt pludselig ud af, at du var en uafhængig legation, og inden for meget kort tid. Du havde [udenrigsminister] John Foster Dulles flyvende ind, og historien lyder - og det var tilfældigt - at han ikke kunne lande sit fly på landingsbanen i Vientiane på grund af vandbøffel ... Derefter havde du tilstrømningen af AID [Agency for International Development], som du aldrig har set i dit liv. Lederen af ​​AID fik sin Cadillac fløjet ind.…

Jeg kan huske, at jeg satte mig ved frokostbordet sammen med Charles Yost og countryholdet [centrale ambassadepersonale] og Dulles og lyttede til Dulles om, hvad fanden det hele betyder, og domino -teorien. Mens jeg sad der, var det første gang, jeg begyndte at tænke: ”Det her er Laos, jeg ved ikke, hvad du taler om. Dette er ikke et stort, magtfuldt land. ”

Som public officer var mit job at indføre historier i Voice of America, arbejde med skolebørn der og få materialer ud til dem, arbejde i kultursfæren og faktisk oprette et center der, hvilket vi gjorde. Pludselig befandt jeg mig i den position, hvor jeg ikke havde noget budget. Jeg fik besked på at tage til Bangkok og købe hvad jeg ville: lastbiler, jeeps, værkerne. De sagde: "Uanset hvad det koster, brug pengene og få dem sendt." Pludselig endte jeg med en informationsofficer, en kulturbetjent, dette og det andet. Pludselig var jeg bemandet med fire -fem personer. Det var hovedsageligt at vise film, og det var hovedsageligt backup for AID. …

Q: På tidspunktet for Dien Bien Phu og overgivelsen der, følte du, fra din franske kontakt, harme over, at vi ikke var gået ind?

TANEN: Ja, enorm vrede. Vi endte med at sende dem jagerfly fra vores base i Vientiane [Laos]. Åh, måske jagerfly, der blev overgivet til franskmændene, men det var allerede nede i helvede der. At vi kunne have gjort mere for at have hjulpet dem på den måde, der var en enorm harme fra franskmændenes side.

Sp .: Følte du et skift, hvor laotianerne så på dette og sagde: "Franskmændenes dag er forbi, og nu er amerikanernes dag kommet ind?"

TANEN: Ja, penge taler, og AID gjorde det. Pludselig var der biler, og pludselig var der asfalterede veje, pludselig blev skolelæreren fra en lille by gjort til general for hæren, pludselig endte han med at stikke af med midler og tage til Bangkok. Pludselig fik du oplært alle former for laotiske tropper. De blev uddannet, og der var amerikanske rådgivere og ting af den art. Jeg mødte tilfældigt den franske efterretningstjeneste, fordi der var to unge fyre, der drev det, de kalder det britisk -amerikanske tobaksfirmas kontor, uden for Vientiane. Fordi de alle var bachelorer, lærte jeg disse fyre ret godt at kende. Men det var din sensor for fransk intelligens på det sted.


DIEN BIEN PHU: EN FODNOTE TIL DET FALDER

Den amerikanske hær udarbejdede planer for et atomangreb på de vietnamesiske styrker, der belejrede franskmændene ved Dien Bien Phu i 1954, ifølge en officiel hærhistorie.

Da denne idé blev afvist, sagde undersøgelsen, hæren udarbejdede en plan for en konventionel kamp mod Vietminh -oprørerne, der involverede syv amerikanske divisioner.

Planerne blev afsløret i første bind af en 17-bind officiel historie om Vietnamkrigen af ​​Army 's Historical Office. Bogen, ' ' Råd og support: De tidlige år, ' ' blev skrevet af Dr. Ronald H. Spector, der tjente som felthistoriker i Vietnam i 1968 og 1969.

Nogle af Dr. Spector 's -kontoen er baseret på for nylig afklassificerede forsvars- og udenrigsministerier.

Den franske krig for at besejre Vietminh gik dårligt tidligt i 1954. Garnisonen ved Dien Bien Phu var under vedholdende og kraftigt vietnamesisk angreb, og den franske regering, der søgte amerikansk hjælp, sendte general Paul Ely, chefen for de væbnede styrker, til Washington for at søge hjælp. Søgte reduceret våbenforbrug

Eisenhower Administration 's forsvarspolitik forsøgte at reducere de samlede militære udgifter ved at stole mere på strategiske atomluftstyrker og mindre på store land- og flådestyrker. Et nationalt sikkerhedsråds direktiv fastslog, at i tilfælde af sovjetisk eller kinesisk aggression vil USA betragte atomvåben som lige så tilgængelige som andre ammunition. ' '

Den 25. marts, efter at general Ely 's havde opfordret til hjælp til præsidenten og de fælles stabschefer, konkluderede hærens G-3-planlægningsafdeling, at atomvåben kunne bruges på forskellige måder til at aflaste franskmændene i Dien Bien Phu. Disse omfattede bombning af Vietminh -styrkerne og deres baser.

En anden undersøgelse af 8. april, bogen siger, foreslog brug af en til seks 31-kiloton bomber, der skulle tabes af luftfartøjsbaserede fly. Hver bombe havde en eksplosiv kraft omtrent tre gange størrelsen af ​​bomben, der blev kastet på Hiroshima.

Forfatterne til de to undersøgelser konkluderede, at brugen af ​​atomvåben var ' ' teknisk og militært gennemførlig, ' ' ifølge bogen. De hævdede også, at deres anvendelse ville vende den militære situation i Frankrigs fordel, og#x27 ' vende hele hændelsesforløbet i Indokina til fordel for USA og den frie verden. ' ' 'Risk for alle -Out War '

Selv om planerne blev godkendt af chefen for planafdelingen i G-3, fremkaldte de straks bitter modstand ledet af general Matthew B. Ridgeway, hærchefen.

Efterretninger hævdede, at terrænets natur omkring Dien Bien Phu og spredningen af ​​oprørerne og#x27 artilleripositioner ville begrænse effektiviteten af ​​atombomber eller mætningsangreb med konventionelle bomber. Luftvåbnet havde samme opfattelse og tilføjede advarslen om, at brugen af ​​strategiske våben ' ' kan indebære den alvorlige risiko for at indlede en total krig. ' '

General Ridgeway og general James M. Gavin, G-3-chefen, fulgte disse linjer, og førstnævnte beordrede sit personale til at studere konsekvenserne af intervention.

Denne gang konkluderede planlæggerne, at militær aktion fra USA i Vietnam med luft- og sømagt ville føre til tilsagn fra landstyrker, kunne foranledige gengældelse fra kinesernes side med luft- eller jordstyrker og stadig ikke ville give tilstrækkelig magt til at besejre Vietminh . Joint Chiefs ' Head Assails Plan

Adm. Arthur W. Radford, formanden for de fælles stabschefer, argumenterede med succes, at enhver gevinst ved ' ' effektiv indgriben i Dien Bien Phu -operationen var totalt uforholdsmæssig i forhold til det ansvar, det ville pådrage sig. ' '

Militære kilder, der er bekendt med Joint Chiefs ' -beslutningen, hævder, at dette er et markant eksempel på militærets tilbageholdenhed i reaktionen på en krise i udlandet. Nogle sammenligner det med de nuværende Joint Chiefs ' tilbageholdenhed med at fortsætte indsættelsen af ​​amerikanske marinesoldater på jorden i Libanon.

Men interventionsspørgsmålet var stadig i live. I løbet af april 1954, siger bogen, fortsatte forsvarsministeriet og de fælles ledere med at studere militær aktion i Vietnam enten uafhængigt eller i samarbejde med de franske styrker der.

En plan opfordrede til en#x27 ɺ koordineret angreb på det nordlige område af Vietnam fra Tonkin -deltaet med det primære formål at ødelægge Vietminh -styrkerne i området. ' '

En luftbåren og fire infanteridivisioner skulle angribe kommunikationscentrene i Yen Bai, Tuyen Quang og Thai Nguyen, afskære Vietminh -kommunikation og muligvis fange tre divisioner. I anden fase af operationen skulle en infanteridivision tage og holde en Vietminh -base i Hoa Binh -området, mens en anden division skulle montere et amfibisk angreb nær Than Hoa. Ringe opmærksomhed på fejl

Planen, siger Dr. Spector, lagde ringe opmærksomhed på franske fejl. Skærende kommunikationslinjer havde ringe effekt på Vietminhs evne til at flytte og montere angreb. Hærplanlæggere blev også foruroliget over flådens insistering på, at øen Hainan, en del af Kina, skulle angribes for at neutralisere kinesiske flybaser der. Dette, troede de, ville trække Peking ind i krigen.

General Ridgeway fortsatte sin kamp mod intervention og sagde, at amerikanske interventionsplaner, ' ' udover eventuelle lokale succeser, de kunne opnå, udgør en farlig strategisk afledning af begrænsede amerikanske militære kapaciteter og ville forpligte vores væbnede styrker i et ikke -beslutsom teater til opnåelse af ikke -afgørende lokale mål. ' '

Næstformand Nixon var en af ​​de politiske ledere, der opfordrede til intervention, og argumenterede offentligt for, at USA, ' ' som leder af den frie verden, ikke har råd til yderligere tilbagetrækning i Asien. ' ' Hvis franskmændene trak sig tilbage, sagde han , skal USA muligvis risikere ' ' at sætte vores drenge i. ' '

Den franske stilling hos Dien Bien Phu forværredes dagligt. Den 8. maj overgav fæstningen.


Slaget ved Dien Bien Phu

Denne artikel af afdøde Bernard B. Fall er en beretning om en af ​​de mest betydningsfulde kampe, der skal finde sted i Vietnam. En konflikt mellem kommunistiske Viet Minh-styrker og en fransk-etableret garnison, den fandt sted i en by kaldet ‘Seat of the Border County Prefecture eller, på vietnamesisk, Dien Bien Phu. Bernard Fall skrev, at i sammenligning med andre verdenskampe kunne Dien Bien Phu næppe kvalificere sig som et større slag, endsige et afgørende. Alligevel sagde han, at det var præcis, hvad det var. Belejringen fandt sted, mens Genèvekonferencen i 1954 udryddede aftaler mellem stormagterne, herunder fremtiden for Indokina. Da Viet Minh -styrker overskred Dien Bien Phu den 7. maj 1954, var det ifølge Fall enden på den franske militære indflydelse i Asien.

Fall blev født i 1926 og voksede op i Frankrig. Begge hans forældre blev dræbt af nazisterne i anden verdenskrig. Han fik førstehånds erfaring med guerilla -krigsførelse, mens han kæmpede i den franske undergrund fra 1942 til 1944. Med den allieredes invasion af Europa sluttede Fall sig til den franske hær og tjente i infanteri og pakke artilleri i den 4. marokkanske bjergdivision.

Efter Anden Verdenskrig arbejdede Fall som forskningsanalytiker ved Nürnberg War Crimes Tribunal. Han kom først til USA i 1951 som Fulbright Scholar og modtog sin Master of Arts og Ph.D. i statskundskab ved Syracuse University. I 1953 rejste han for at deltage i feltforskning til sin doktorafhandling til krigshærgede Indokina. Som tidligere fransk soldat fik han lov til at ledsage franske styrker til kampoperationer i alle sektorer af landet. I 1957 sluttede Fall sig til fakultetet ved Howard University som professor i internationale forbindelser, og han tilbragte sommeren samme år i Sydvietnam. Efter tildeling af et tilskud fra Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) til feltstudier af kommunistisk infiltration i Sydøstasien, oplevede Fall udbruddet af kommunistiske fjendtligheder i Laos. Han tilbragte studieåret 1961-62 i Cambodja på et Rockefeller Foundation-tilskud. Det var i løbet af den tid, at det lykkedes ham at besøge det kommunistiske Nordvietnam og interviewe Ho Chi Minh. I 1965 tilbragte Fall igen sommeren med amerikanske og vietnamesiske styrker i Sydvietnam.

Blandt hans vigtigste værker er Gade uden glæde, som blev vigtig militær læsning om krigen uden frontlinjer, og Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu. In the latter epic, Fall describes in extraordinary detail not only the failures but also the heroism that took place in what he calls one of the most decisive battles of the 20th century.

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. From Phu Bai the group moved along the area the French had named La Rue Sans Joie, or Street Without Joy. 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.

Bernard B. Fall will be remembered by history as one of the foremost authorities on the Vietnam War. He wrote this article in 1964, prior to the publication of Hell in a Very Small Place.

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.

The Asians, after centuries of subjugation, had beaten the white man at his own game. 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.

On that day in May 1954 it had become apparent by 10 a.m. that Dien Bien Phu’s position was hopeless. 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. 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.

While their commander, Brig. Gen. Christian de la Croix de Castries, reported the situation over the radiotelephone to General René 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. 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. All he could hope for was to hold out until nightfall in order to give the surviving members of his command a chance to break out into the jungle under the cover of darkness, while he himself would stay with the more than 5,000 severely wounded (out of a total of 15,094 men inside the valley) and face the enemy.

By 3 p.m., however, it had become obvious that the fortress would not last until nightfall. Communist forces, in human-wave attacks, were swarming over the last remaining defenses. 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. But Cogny was adamant on that point: Mon vieux, of course you have to finish the whole thing now. But what you have done until now surely is magnificent. Don’t spoil it by hoisting the white flag. You are going to be submerged [by the enemy], but no surrender, no white flag.

All right, mon général, I only wanted to preserve the wounded.

Yes, I know. Well, do as best you can, leaving it to your [static: subordinate units?] to act for themselves. What you have done is too magnificent to do such a thing. You understand, mon vieux.

There was a silence. Then de Castries said his final words: Bien, mon général.

Well, good-bye, mon vieux, said Cogny. I’ll see you soon.

A few minutes later, de Castries’ radio operator methodically smashed his set with the butt of his Colt .45 pistol. 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. Au revoir.

Strongpoint Isabelle never had a chance. 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. 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. The breakout had been detected. 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 great battle in the valley of Dien Bien Phu was over. Close to 10,000 captured troops were to begin the grim death march to the Viet Minh prison camps 300 miles to the east. Few would survive. About 2,000 lay dead all over the battlefield in graves left unmarked to this day. 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. 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.

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. 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.

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. But with the existence of a Red Chinese sanctuary for the Viet Minh forces, that became militarily impossible. 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. 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. For all practical purposes the Indochina War was lost then and there.

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. 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. Independence, given too grudgingly to the Vietnamese nationalist regime, remained the catchword of the adversary.

Militarily, disaster had temporarily been averted. 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.

In Laos the situation was just as grim then as it is now: The Laotian and French forces held the Mekong valley and the airfields of the Plain of Jars, and the enemy held the rest. 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. 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.

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 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. And to destroy those divisions and prevent their invasions into Laos, one had to, in American military parlance, find ’em and fix ’em.

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. That was the rationale for the creation of a garrison at Dien Bien Phu and for the battle that took place there.

There were other considerations also. Laos had signed a treaty with France in which the latter promised to defend it. Dien Bien Phu was to be the lock on the back door leading into Laos. Dien Bien Phu was also to be the test for a new theory of Navarre’s. 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. 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.

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. 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 results were evident. 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. On Christmas Day 1953, Indochina, for the first time in the eight-year war, was literally cut in two. The offensive stabs for which Dien Bien Phu had been specifically planned became little else but desperate sorties against an invisible enemy. By the time the battle started in earnest on March 13, 1954, the garrison already had suffered 1,037 casualties without any tangible result.

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. 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.

Major André Sudrat, the chief engineer at Dien Bien Phu, was faced with a problem that he knew to be mathematically unsolvable. 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. He estimated that to protect the 12 battalions there initially (five others were parachuted in during the battle), he would need 36,000 tons of engineering materials — which would mean using all available transport aircraft for a period of five months. When he was told that he was allocated a total of about 3,300 tons of airlifted materials, Sudrat simply shrugged his shoulders. 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.

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. Soon the combination of monsoon rains, which set in around mid-April, and Viet Minh artillery fire smashed to rubble the neatly arranged dugouts and trenches shown to eminent visitors and journalists during the early days of the siege. Essentially, the battle of Dien Bien Phu degenerated into a brutal artillery duel, which the enemy would have won sooner or later. 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.

The artillery duel became the great tragedy of the battle. 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. 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.

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. 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. (Had not de Castries, in the manner of his ducal forebears, sent a written challenge to enemy commander Giap?)

I am responsible. I am responsible, he was heard to murmur as he went about his duties. 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.

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. There never was, as press maps of the time erroneously showed, a continuous battle line covering the whole valley. Four of the eight strongpoints were from one to three miles away from the center of the position. 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.

This also proved to be an illusion. 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 outlying posts, which protected the key airfield, were captured within the first few days of the battle. 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.

From then onward the struggle for Dien Bien Phu became a battle of attrition. 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. 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.

Like Stalingrad, Dien Bien Phu slowly starved on its airlift tonnage. When the siege began, it had about eight days’ worth of supplies on hand but required 200 tons a day to maintain minimum levels. 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.

But as the position shrank every day (it finally was the size of a ballpark), the bulk of the supplies fell into Communist hands. Even de Castries’ new general’s stars, dropped to him by General Cogny with a bottle of champagne, landed in enemy territory.

The airdrops were a harrowing experience in that narrow valley, which permitted only straight approaches. Communist anti-aircraft artillery played havoc among the lumbering transport planes as they slowly disgorged their loads. 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. 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. 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 net effect of Dien Bien Phu on France’s military posture in Indochina could not be measured in losses alone. 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. 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.

Historically, Dien Bien Phu was, as one French senior officer masterfully understated, never more than an unfortunate accident. It proved little else but that an encircled force, no matter how valiant, will succumb if its support system fails. 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. 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.

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. 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…. One may only hope that the lesson has been learned in time.

On May 7, 1954, however, the struggle for Indochina was almost over for France. 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.

You’re not going to shoot anymore? said the Viet Minh in French.

No, I’m not going to shoot anymore, said the colonel.

C’est fini? said the Viet Minh.

Oui, c’est fini, said the colonel.

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 sudden silence was deafening.

At his untimely death in 1967, Bernard B. Fall was widely considered the greatest civilian expert on the war in Vietnam. Hans Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu og Street Without Joy are still on the short list of the most essential books about the French phase of the war, and are indispensable to understanding the American phase. A Web site about Bernard Fall is at www.geocities.com/bernardbfall.

This article was originally published in the April 2004 issue of Vietnam Magazine.

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The Battle of Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu was the decisive battle of the First Indochina War. It ended with victory to the Viet Minh, the surrender of French colonial forces and eventually, the withdrawal of the French from Vietnam.

The war at a stalemate

By mid-1953, the First Indochina War was in its seventh year and there was no obvious prospect of victory for either side. French generals had tried a variety of tactics to eradicate the Viet Minh but to no avail. Exhausted and devoid of ideas, the CEFEO had no long term vision or military objectives. Its officers simply defended their positions and reacted to Viet Minh attacks when they occurred.

In France itself, the war had become very unpopular. The French war effort was being propped up by American aid. By the start of 1954, the war had cost $US3 billion, of which the United States had contributed more than a third.

France’s unstable domestic politics also undermined the war effort. During the seven years of war, there were 16 changes of government and 13 changes of prime minister – but none offered any satisfactory strategy or long term objectives for Indochina, or indeed took any responsibility for military failures there.

The government’s handling of the war copped stinging criticism in the French press and from left wing politicians. There was also a string of scandals involving military incompetence, corruption, currency deals and arms trading. The Indochina conflict became widely known in France as la sale guerre (‘the dirty war’).

Seeking an exit

By 1953, Paris was desperately seeking an honourable exit from what seemed an unwinnable war.

Unable to corner or destroy the Viet Minh, French commanders planned a series of fortified positions across Tonkin (northern Vietnam). The CEFEO could not hope to compete with the Viet Minh in the jungles or the mountains – but a string of bases could be heavily defended and used as staging points for mobile operations. French strategists did not think the Viet Minh or its leaders would risk attacking bases protected by high terrain, artillery and air cover. Even if they did, it would play into French hands.

The CEFEO also hoped to prevent the transit of enemy forces between Vietnam and Laos, where the Viet Minh was resting and resupplying. To halt this flow, French commanders decided to garrison and fortify an old Japanese airstrip at Dien Bien Phu, 10 kilometres from the Laotian border and 300 kilometres west of Hanoi.

In November 1953, almost 2,000 French paratroopers were dropped into the area. They set to work extending and improving the airstrip, to allow more men and supplies to be flown in. Within a few weeks, Dien Bien Phu had been transformed into a major military base.

The base at Dien Bien Phu

The Dien Bien Phu base covered five square kilometres and contained nine separate camps. According to legend, French commander Colonel Christian de Castries named the camps after his nine mistresses. It also contained a makeshift brothel, which flew in prostitutes from Hanoi to service 15,000 French troops stationed there.

Dien Bien Phu’s location offered tactical advantages and disadvantages. The base sat on the floor of a large valley, surrounded by steep mountains and cliffs, some up to a mile high. Apart from one narrow track leading to the local village, there were no roads or paths into the base.

Any enemy offensive against Dien Bien Phu would require a long and arduous trek through the mountainous jungle. The high mountains and inaccessible forest around the base seemed to negate any chance of an artillery assault.

French officers thought the location and surrounding terrain made Dien Bien Phu unassailable. But Dien Bien Phu’s isolation, while a defensive advantage, meant that it could only be resupplied and reinforced from the air. The region was also subject to low lying cloud and dense monsoonal rainfall, which hampered visibility and flights in and out of the base.

The Viet Minh ponders an attack

Viet Minh leaders were well aware of the French build-up at Dien Bien Phu. They were also aware of the difficulties of mounting an attack in that area.

General Vo Nguyen Giap, the Viet Minh’s military chief, understood the strategic importance of Dien Bien Phu – but he was aware that the French garrison was vulnerable, hundreds of kilometres from Hanoi and surrounded by elevated positions. If an attack could be launched from the mountains around the base, the French could be besieged and starved to surrender.

It would take a monumental effort for the Viet Minh to even reach the mountaintops around Dien Bien Phu, let alone position heavy artillery there. By the start of 1954, Giap had organised around 50,000 Viet Minh troops, almost one-third of his entire army, and marched them to the hilltops around Dien Bien Phu.

These Viet Minh soldiers were supported by thousands of local peasants, including many women, who provided labour, building roads, clearing jungle and hauling equipment. Among the cargo were several dozen heavy artillery guns, obtained by Giap from the Chinese, as well as Soviet-supplied trucks and tons of small arms, munitions and supplies. All were hauled up steep mountain gradients by hand. Artillery pieces were pulled apart at the foot of mountains and reassembled at the top.

The assault begins

By March 1954, Giap felt secure enough to launch his main offensive. On March 13th, his artillery began pounding ‘Camp Beatrice’ in the base’s northern quadrant. Within 12 hours, the camp was destroyed, more than 400 French soldiers were dead and the airstrip was unusable.

Under the cover of darkness, Giap’s men moved from the mountains down into the valley. For 20 days the French and CEFEO forces withstood ferocious attacks from the Viet Minh, with both sides incurring heavy losses.

Giap ordered trenches to be dug at strategic points around the valley and the French followed suit. Days of heavy rain flooded the valley floor and filled trenches with mud and water the battlefield at Dien Bien Phu began to resemble something from the Somme or Passchendaele. With planes unable to land because of the weather and ongoing battle, the French had to be supplied with parachute drops – but the low cloud and poor visibility saw many fall into the hands of the Viet Minh.

By mid-April, the Viet Minh had lost around 10,000 men, the French and CEFEO about half that number.

Siege and surrender

The rest of the world, deep in the grip of the Cold War, was focused on this struggle between a European power and an Asian communist insurgency.

There were repeated calls for military intervention from the United States, in order to save the French at Dien Bien Phu. For a time this was strongly considered in Washington.

American military commanders quickly devised a strategy to save the French base. Codenamed ‘Operation Vulture’, it involved intensive low-level bombing runs over the valley and even, if necessary, the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Viet Minh strongholds. President Eisenhower, however, refused to approve this operation without the support and participation of the British. When London refused, the operation was shelved.

By early May, the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu was perilously short of men, munitions, food and medical supplies. On May 7th – the day before the Geneva Conference opened in Switzerland – Giap ordered one final assault. More than 20,000 Viet Minh soldiers swarmed against positions held by around 3,000 able-bodied French troops.

By nightfall, the French defences had been overrun, prompting their officers to formally surrender.

Giap found himself with more than 11,000 prisoners, including 7,000 Frenchmen more than a third of them were injured or seriously ill. These prisoners were forced to march more than 300 kilometres to Viet Minh bases in the north-east. Fatigued, brutalised and malnourished along the way, only half reached their destination alive. Of the 11,000 French soldiers stationed at Dien Bien Phu at the start of 1954, fewer than 3,500 would survive.

A historian’s view:
“The huge importance of Dien Bien Phu for France and its army was almost incalculable… the great significance of [these] events was the way in which, imperceptibly at first and then with increasing inevitability, Vietnam changed from a French colonial battle-field to one on which the United States chose to make its stand against what General Matthew B. Ridgway called the ‘dead existence of a godless world’.”
David J. A. Stone

1. By 1953 the war in Vietnam was going poorly for France, costing both lives and money. Paris began seeking some form of political solution that would allow an honourable withdrawal.

2. In 1953 the French began fortifying an old Japanese airstrip, around 10 kilometres from the Laos border, an attempt to restrict the movement and supply of Viet Minh soldiers.

3. The French considered the base at Dien Bien Phu to be easily defendable. It was isolated, sounded by high mountains and seemingly impregnable to artillery.

4. Viet Minh military chief Vo Nguyen Giap orchestrated an attack on Dien Bien Phu. His forces cleared jungle and hauled artillery up mountains then laid siege to the base in March 1954.

5. After almost two months of battle and siege, the French base at Dien Bien Phu was overrun and some 11,000 CEFEO soldiers were captured. The Viet Minh had won the largest battle of the First Indochina War.


What The French Lost At Dien Bien Phu

By late 1953, the French army had lost the initiative in its fight to retain the nation’s colony in Indochina. A Vietnamese insurgency controlled much of the countryside and was steadily increasing in strength. In some seven years of fighting, the Viet Minh had grown from a small, nimble guerrilla force into a disciplined army of a half-dozen divisions, supplied by the Chinese Communists, who had won their own war against Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces.

The French were facing defeat in Indochina, a defeat that would represent one more stain on the honor of an army once the envy of all Europe. France had suffered hideous casualties in World War I, the result of a strategy so inept and leadership so brutally insensitive that after one failed campaign about half the army had mutinied. In the mythic battle of that war, Verdun, the French had held on. But the repercussions of that battle, with its 400,000 French casualties, mired the nation and, indeed, the army in a defensive stance that bordered on defeatism and led to construction of the static Maginot Line in 1940 German armor had made short work of the French army that manned it.

Now, in Indochina, the French army was eager to reclaim la gloire, and it believed it had the necessary troops, particularly paratroopers and legionnaires. The government back in Paris was less sure.

The army needed a bold plan. What General Henri Navarre, commander of French forces in Indochina, conceived was audacious: The French would build a fortified airhead in a valley near the Laotian border, some 200 miles from Hanoi. This advance base would lie within striking distance of three main enemy supply routes and other targets. If the enemy should try to eliminate the threat by a direct attack, it would spark the set-piece battle on open terrain for which the French command longed. They had the aircraft, and given their superiority in artillery, the battle would have to go their way.

In November 1953, the first French troops arrived by parachute and chased off Viet Minh units training in the area. The French improved the existing airstrip, then began a buildup of troops and supplies, including a dozen tanks disassembled for air transport and then reassembled back on the ground. With a force of more than 15,000 troops, they also established a chain of strongpoints around the perimeter. It was rumored the French named the strongpoints—Anne-Marie, Beatrice, Claudine, et. al—after the commanding generals’ mistresses.

The strongpoints anchored a perimeter of some 40 miles —too much ground for just six battalions to hold. But the French were counting on superior firepower. Their artillery commander, Colonel Charles Piroth, who had lost an arm in prior combat in Indochina, had assured both himself and his superiors that enemy artillery was no threat. French counter-battery fire would suppress any Viet Minh artillery that made it through the jungle to the battlefield. The airfield would remain open, enabling resupply by American-made C-47 and C-119 transports.

On March 13, 1954—almost four months after the first paratroopers had jumped into Dien Bien Phu—Viet Minh artillery opened fire on Beatrice. Until then, the campaign had comprised inconclusive sorties that had cost the French more than 1,000 casualties. But they retained control of the valley, and the airfield remained open. The attack on Beatrice marked a shift to a different kind of warfare—a siege. Piroth’s guns were impotent against the Viet Minh artillery dug in on the heights. On March 15, he committed suicide with a hand grenade.

For two months, the Viet Minh dug toward French lines under the cover of artillery fire the French could not suppress—not with counter-battery fire and not with airstrikes. This mode of combat marked the furthest thing from modern mobile warfare. It was Verdun all over again. And again the French soldier fought furiously and desperately—this time to defeat.

French losses at Dien Bien Phu totaled 2,293 killed, 5,195 wounded and 10,998 captured. Viet Minh casualties exceeded 23,000. With the battle lost in early May, the French government agreed, at Geneva, to a peace that led to creation of an independent Vietnam, partitioned into North and South. Unification was forcibly accomplished 21 years later when an army commanded by Vo Nguyen Giap—the same general who led Viet Minh forces at Dien Bien Phu—rolled into Saigon.

Fifty-five years after the French defeat, Dien Bien Phu remains a popular destination for international visitors. Accessible by weekly flights from Hanoi, it has grown into a modern town with paved roads, a hotel and a small but impressive museum displaying equipment, weapons and uniforms of both sides. While rice paddies have reclaimed the westernmost outposts, Françoise and Huguette, visitors may tour Dominique, Elaine, Isabelle, the former command bunker and the cemetery containing the French dead. All the main battle positions are maintained in their immediate post-battle condition.

With its defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the French army—the army of Valmy, Austerlitz and, yes, Verdun—passed into history.

Originally published in the January 2010 issue of Military History. For at abonnere, klik her.


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