Dien Bien Phu
W.J. Rayment / -- Perhaps the most crucial battle in the Vietnam war occurred before the United States ever entered the fray. Vietnam had been a French colony and in the post World War II era the French were attempting to reassert their control over it. The native population with the support of Soviet arms and advisors fought this move by the French.A long and grueling campaign inevitably wore down French public opinion, and the war culminated in a place called Dien Bien Phu. The communist Vietminh under the command of General Giap surrounded the "Big Frontier Administrative Center" (which is what "Dien Bien Phu actually means). It was a tremendous feat of arms for the communists. They had dragged artillery and supplies over rugged terrain and amassed overwhelming force.
The French comprised only about 20 percent of the garrison. The rest were colonial soldiers largely from Africa as well as Germans who had enlisted in the famed French Foreign Legion. The French commander begged for reinforcements and supplies, but difficulties in the command structure slowed help for the beleaguered command to a trickle.
In The Last Valley, by Martin Windrow, all this and more is detailed in colorful prose. The blow by blow action from the preliminary actions down to the unit to unit conflict is made vivid and understandable. We learn that the French asked the U.S. Air Force to carpet bomb the Vietminh positions, but were turned down by President Eisenhower because he felt that the chances of French were dim in any case.
The defeat and surrender of the French forces was largely due to the effective use of Vietminh artillery and wave after wave of foot soldiers attacking French positions. Eventually about 9000 men surrendered to the Vietminh, of whom only about half would return to France. The French public had had enough of Vietnam. It was agreed that North and South Vietnam would be divided, much like Korea. The French pull-out was swift and inglorious. Many troops were left behind to fend for themselves. It is reported that even two years after the conflict ended there were still French units along the frontier trying to extricate themselves from the morass, with little and no help from French authorities.
The U.S. finally became involved durring the 1960s.
More Book Reviews