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A Fatal Gamble

Dien Bien Phu – A Fatal Gamble

By Wild Bill Wilder

Related Pages:

  • Dien Bien Phu: Une Saison en Enfer - Cyberboard gamebox

  • "Dien Bien Phu 1954" (TOAW, Vol. I scenario)

  • Dien Bien Phu photo page
  • (This article first appeared on The Gamer's Net and is reproduced with Bill Wilder's permission)

    Another War in Indochina

    From 1947 onward, France was at war with Vietnam, then known as French Indochina. After World War II, France had sought to retain its colonial hold on the country. All of Southeast Asia was a rich prize in minerals, oil, and other materials essential to an industrialized world. Many of the Vietnamese people had tired of being ruled by one country and then another. They yearned for autonomy, even to the point of giving their lives for it. This, of course, meant the throwing off of the yoke of bondage the French government sought to impose upon them.

    One of the strongest factions in the bid for internal control was the communist party of Indochina. Under the leadership of Ho Chi Minh (“he who enlightens”), the members became active combatants and formed an army of resistance, known as the Viet Minh. Using the strategies of Mao Tse Tung of China, the Communists maintained guerilla style warfare. It was a sinister game of hit and run. The elusiveness of the Viet Minh was frustrating to the French. It was like trying to pin down a slick watermelon seed. Every time the French thought they had them, they would slip away.

    As the years passed, the Viet Minh were developing into an army of consequence. With the Communist triumph in China in 1949, the comrade forces in Indochina began receiving copious amounts of weapons and supplies. This included all types of artillery, giving them a new and more powerful force.

    Giap became emboldened by the sudden strengthening of his guerrilla forces and went to direct confrontation with French. He would greatly regret it. His troops were not quite ready for that phase of the overthrow and were soundly beaten. This meant a return to the old hit and run tactics as before. The French people, however, were tiring of a war some 8,000 miles from the homeland. It seemed distant and unimportant. Increased pressure was placed upon the French government, especially by communist sympathizers in France to end the war.

    By the end of 1953, the Viet Minh had rebuilt their forces and were even stronger than before. They could now field six infantry divisions, and a heavy artillery division (the 351st). Many of The cannoneers had been trained in China, and almost all the infantry were fighting veterans. In fact, large numbers of Chinese and Russian instructors were within Vietnam preparing Ho’s soldiers for war. They were now better armed, better trained and highly motivated. Their stoic, Spartan lifestyle could not be successfully imitated by the French troops.

    The French government failed to grasp the seriousness of the developing situation. The military and the politicians continually underestimated the Viet Minh, and took the task of defeating them half-heartedly. Unrest in Algeria and political upheaval in France itself caused the struggle in Indochina to take a lesser place of importance in the list of commitments.

    A Battle is Sought

    In 1953, new leadership entered the arena of battle. It was now realized that some drastic, decisive action was necessary or an enemy that refused to quit was slowly but surely bleeding them to death. General Henri Navarre, now in his 55th year, took the reins of the fighting in Indochina. He served in the intelligence arm of the resistance and later took command of a Spahi Regiment chasing Germany out of France. He also participated in the invasion of Germany and gained fame with his triumph in the fighting at Karlsruhe.

    Navarre would be flanked by experienced commanders. They included Major General Rene Cogny, his deputy commander, and his “golden boy” Colonel Christian Marie Ferdinand de la Croix de Castries. It would later be de Castries' mission to head up the forces at Dien Bien Phu.

    Other commanders with varying degrees of combat capabilities also came to the light. One was Maurice “Bruno” Bigeard. He never had visions of military service, but was a deadly foe as a saboteur against the Germans. He accepted a commission and later was involved in the training of Montagnards and commanding paratroopers. To the men, he was the “l’esprit para.” He enjoyed a special charisma with his men, and almost never carried a weapon, relying upon those who served under him to do their job.

    Other spectacular French commanders included Pierre Langlais, a daredevil of a fighter and in his third tour in Vietnam. Finally, one-armed Brigadier General Charles Piroth, who had lost his limb in fighting in World War II, was purported to be the best artillery commander in the French army. He would command the guns at Dien Bien Phu.

    Navarre envisioned a special type of confrontation to force the Viet Minh into the open. A new concept was evolving. It was that of an air-land base, or airhead. It consisted of strongly defended and interconnecting hedgehog positions in an area directly in the middle of enemy territory.

    Once established, usually by parachuting troops and engineers, it would be maintained by airdrop. All supplies and reinforcements would be either be flown in or dropped into the airhead. Its purpose would be that of constant threat to the enemy's supply lines and rear areas. Furthermore, if the enemy sought to dislodge them, the strong fortress like defenses would be impenetrable, and the enemy would expend its assets in trying to destroy it.

    It was tried in October 1952 in Na Son. There native soldiers and French legionnaires withstood weeks of siege and human wave assaults. The Viet Minh were defeated, and the French themselves finally removed the airhead, because it was located in an area that would no longer effectively hinder the enemy. General Navarre, recently appointed the new commander in Chief in Indochina, was aware of these events and immediately sought an area that would be more advantageous for this enterprise.

    The area selected was a valley located over 300 miles from French headquarters and near the Laotian border. The village of Dien Bien Phu was the junction of three highways, and by establishing an airhead there, the Viet Minh would be deprived of a prime resupply and reinforcement route from Laos. Such an airhead could provide not only a threat to the supply lines, but could also serve as a jumping off spot for offensive action against the enemy.

    Though discussed, no clear-cut decision was ever made by France either for or against this venture. Once again, vacillation on the part of the French leadership would prove decisive to actions in Indochina. Navarre strongly believed in the concept and was determined to see it accomplished.

    Operation Castor Begins

    On Nov.20th, 1953, a lone C-47 lazily circled the Dien Bien Phu valley. Within its body the plane carried some of the top military of the French Indochina Army. The most important to the event was Brig. Gen. Jean Gilles, commander of airborne forces, Indochina. The aircraft also contained pathfinders for a large force of paratroopers standing by some 300 miles to the southeast, in Hanoi.

    Below Vietminh troops of the 920th Battalion watched the airplane as it circled. They had little time to gaze, as they were undergoing field training and their officers barked orders tersely to them. The officers also looked up, viewed the plane, recognized the silhouette and paid no further attention. It was not an attack craft and therefore no reason for concern.

    The fog was clearing and the sun began burning off the haze. General Gilles sent an immediate dispatch to Hanoi. “Fog dissipating.” Within an hour, the first C-47s of an air armada of sixty-five rolled down the runways of Bach-Mai and Gia-Lam airfields and headed towards Dien Bien Phu. The attack was on!

    The flights of C-47s flew in formations of three, rolling gently up and down in the morning winds. By 10:30 they were over the landing site, codenamed “Natasha.” The paratroopers were standing now, chin straps tightly drawn, and immediately complied with the order to “hook up.” A strong chilly wind whipped through the open cargo door as the jumpmasters moved into position. Though a routine often executed by many of these paratroopers, it never lost its moment of panic and thrill.

    Suddenly the loud buzzing of the jump signal cut through the roar of the wind and the engines. “Go!” The first para leaped from the yawning door into space. “Go! Go! Go!” cried the jumpmasters and the paras fell from the aircraft as if tied together, one after the other. Chutes blossomed and the Vietminh troops below stood dumbfounded as the sky literally filled with enemy soldiers.

    It only lasted a moment, however, cut sharply by fearful angry cries of the officers. Soon ragged rifle and machine gun fire attempted to zero in on the descending French troopers. There were some killed and wounded in the air, but it was too little and too late. In a sharp firefight, the French succeeded in chasing off the frightened Vietminh, killing dozens of them and establishing themselves as the new owners of the valley

    The first units into the valley were the 6th Colonial Parachute Battalion, the best French troops in Indochina. 2nd Battalion, 1st Regiment of Parachute Light Infantry, quickly followed them. These were followed by airborne artillerymen and engineers. The original officer appointed to command the fortress was replaced by Colonel Christian Marie Ferdinand de la Croix de Castries. He was a cavalryman and seemed to personify the spirit of mobility desired for the new airhead.

    Even as the landings were taking place, certain leaders, such as General Cogny, questioned the feasibility of the operation. General Cogny warned that even such a formidable force as the one being formed in the valley could conceivably be imprisoned there, and have little chance for escape or survival. Such observations were ignored, however, by General Navarre, who was convinced of the efficiency of the operation. He listened, but felt strongly committed to the effort and would not call it off.Once on the ground and having taken control of the valley, the French immediately began work on the landing field near the village. It was the first priority. As soon as it was opened, supplies for the construction of defensive positions poured in by the ton.

    A Battle is Found

    Toward the end of 1953, intelligence became aware of mass movements on the part of the Viet Minh toward Dien Bien Phu. Instead of alarming General Navarre, he delighted in the news, feeling that just such a confrontation was desired. No longer would he be chasing a shadowy figure, but a gunfight in the street was pending. He believed he had both the firepower and manpower to win a decisive victory and cripple the Viet Minh severely.

    Navarre did not warn the troops in the valley of this information, because he did not see the need to alarm them. Because of this ignorance, progress at Dien Bien Phu moved at a snail's pace. After all, what was the hurry? Except for occasional sniping, the enemy was conspicuously absent.

    The 5,000 men in Dien Bien Phu at that point were given two competing missions. First, one half of its strength was to mount offensive operations with the purpose of inflicting casualties and interdicting any proposed encirclement of the fortress. The second was to strengthen the defenses around the larger airfield so as to allow it's free use.

    It would mean a defensive perimeter of five miles around the airfield. This translates to a circular area of about 31 miles. An effective defense would include 36 battalions, but only six battalions were located in the valley. Thus, they were given impossible tasks from the beginning.

    Vegetation was cleared from around the strongpoints, and bunkers were begun. A strong defense would require 36,000 tons of materials, but only a little over 2,000 tons were available. It would be impossible to airlift almost 34,000 tons of building supplies into the area in time to do any good. The brass finally decided that permanent fortifications were not necessary, since the primary purpose of the bastion was offensive, not defensive.

    The original plan for installation of 10 battalions was also scrapped, due to urgent manpower needs in other areas of Indochina. A great deal was accomplished, however, including the building of roads, bridges, aircraft revetments, bunkers, and the installation of various minefields. The valley's defensive positions were divided into North, Central, and South.

    Strong Points and Weak Points

    The center included Huguette, Francoise, Claudine, Dominique, and Eliane. Finally some 10 kilometers to the South, the small fortresses of Isabelle and Wieme were constructed. Thus 10 strongpoints, all with the names of supposed ex-girl friends of some high ranking officer were established and prepared for battle.

    Anticipating the strong attacks from the Viet Minh, France's artillery arsenal was almost drained to strengthen Dien Bien Phu. In addition to the big guns (six batteries of 105mm Guns, and one battery of 155mm howitzers), three heavy mortar companies were inserted to provide plunging fire against enemy entrenchments.

    Four quad-fifties were also set up at strategic points of fire. They had gained fame in neutralizing the Chinese human wave attacks in Korea. All artillery was the charge of Colonel Piroth, the deputy commander of Dien Bien Phu. When offered even more artillery, he arrogantly stated that he already had more artillery than he needed!

    To further bolster the defenses, ten disassembled M-24 Tanks were flown in and put together at the fortress. They were organized into 3 platoons. The "Bisons", as they came to be known, were to become some of the most effective weapons in the defense of the garrison. Early Recon in Force operations proved to be extremely hazardous and costly, and were quickly curtailed to preserve manpower and supplies.

    To the North, another airhead was disbanded and some 20 Tai light infantry companies were ordered to march overland to various other bases, including Dien Bien Phu. They were attacked enroute, and a rescue column from Dien Bien Phu was sent out to meet with them. After fighting to the designated meeting point, rescuers found that the Tai infantry had been massacred. The return proved also to be costly in casualties.

    The Siege Begins

    On January 31st, shelling of Dien Bien Phu began by communist artillerymen. The Viet Minh had accomplished what no one thought possible. They had transported over 200 artillery pieces of above 57mm Caliber into the hills surrounding the French, including numerous batteries of the Katyusha rocket launchers. Due to a shortage of personnel, the French had contented themselves with securing the valley floor, and not patrolling the deeply forested hills around them. The tragedy was to be that the French would lose more men to artillery attacks than to infantry weapons.

    By the beginning of the second week of March, the Vietminh had dug over 100 kilometers of trenches around the northern strongpoints of Gabrielle, Beatrice and Anne Marie. As Giap's men dug, the French artillery and mortars pounded them. An occasional flat report of a French sniper rifle signaled the untimely demise of some “Boi Doi” who inadvertently raised his head above the edge of the parapet. Even so, shovels of dirt constantly flew out of the diggings. The Viet Minh would not be stopped.

    At this point the French had about 13,000 troops in Dien Bien Phu, 6,500 of them being front line soldiers. Four Communist divisions surrounded them. They numbered nearly 50,000 men. The French were now outnumbered 5 to 1. Military strategists estimate that the attacker needs a 3 to 1 superiority in order to take its objective. In addition, Giap had mustered 288 larger guns to the 88 guns of Dien Bien Phu.

    Giap’s initial strikes would fall on the northern most French positions. They were Him Lan or “Beatrice”; Doc Lap, or “Gabrielle”; and Ban Keo, “Anne-Marie.” The communist force facing the Legionnaires, Algerians, and Tais vastly outnumbered them. With growing concern, Major Pegot, commander of Beatrice watched the enemy growing nearer. He and his troops could see the enemy battalions forming for the attack in the nearby hills.

    He still had confidence in the interlocking protection of the northern arm of the French stronghold. The three positions protected one another with great fields of interlocking fire. With its well-built bunkers, ideally placed machine guns positions, strategically placed land mines and thousands of yards of barbed wire, plus the artillery support and air power on standby, Beatrice seemed impregnable.

    On March 13th, the sound of what might have been thunder rumbled across the surrounding hills. It almost made one anticipate one of those early wet monsoons as it breaks upon the valley. It was, however, not torrents of water that fell, but tons of enemy shells that began hungrily devouring the carefully constructed French defenses.

    In seconds, Beatrice was buried under an avalanche of enemy artillery and mortar fire. Giap’s guns issued a tremendous volley on the Legion positions. The entire strongpoint seemed to disappear in the smoke and flame that engulfed it. A massive barrage blanketed the central and northern fortresses, destroying aircraft and buildings. Large and small chunks of structures, bunkers and other materials, occasionally accompanied by ripped-off body parts hurtled in the air in all directions.

    Major Pegot and most of the staff of the 13th Demi-Brigade were killed when the command post was utterly destroyed by a direct hit. All radio communication from Beatrice ceased. The Legionnaires were suddenly isolated from the rest of the garrison by a wall of steel.

    Barrages also rained down on “DBP Airport.” By 4:00PM the airfield was closed, thus sealing off Dien Bien Phu from the outside world. It would be on this day that General Navarre began consulting with his aides as to the viability of a withdrawal from Dien Bien Phu. By then, however, it was far too late.

    Meanwhile the defenders at Beatrice hung on for dear life as the shells rained upon them. The acrid smell of cordite, and the sickening stench of bowels torn from dismembered bodies (a smell rarely mentioned in combat narratives) thickened the dust-filled air even more. It was the smell of death, either there or on the way.

    Now the human wave assaults began. The Boi Doi leaped from the trenches and ran toward the Legionnaire emplacements. The “volunteers of death” preceded them. These were sappers, armed with homemade bangalore torpedoes, lengths of bamboo pole filled with explosives, designed to rip away barbed wire in the path of the onrushing troops. Others carried explosive charges to plant next to bunkers or to hurl into defending trenches. The shock effect of their charge was startling, but the defenders recovered quickly.

    General Tran Do of the 312th VM division recalled the first soldier out of the trenches. He was Nguyen Huu Oanh. When two signal flares went up to begin the assault, Oanh was ready. He carried a VM flag on his back. He leaped from his position and charged through the wire into an enemy communication trench.

    He then tossed a grenade into the trench to clear it. From there he machine- gunned a loophole in a bunker silencing it. Twisting and dodging, he managed to get atop the blockhouse and hoist the flag. A ragged cheer ensued from the troops following. The flag was a good omen to them, and their charge gather momentum.

    The fighting went on for two hours, then a lull ensued. A truce of sorts allowed both sides to recover the dead and wounded and to prepare for the next deadly round. After an hour and a half of some quiet, the Viet Minh initiated a new charge.

    Though hit hard, the Legionnaires rallied to the moment. A well-placed .50 caliber machine gun cut a huge swath in the charging enemy ranks. It caused enormous casualties. The Vietminh reacted swiftly and brought up a recoilless rifle team, which took it out with one shot. By now the fighting was hand to hand, vicious and bloody.

    By now it was night, but the fighting continued unabated. With all that they had suffered by now, a lesser unit would have broken and fled. But this was the Legion. This was the same unit historically that had fought Rommel to a standstill at Bir Hacheim during the struggle around Gazala. They would continue the legend.

    The Legionnaires would fight to the death. And they did. One by one, the radios on Beatrice went dead. The last message from the strongpoint was by a radio operator of the Ninth Company. He called in artillery fire from the French batteries on the command bunker and himself. Then there was total silence. Beatrice had fallen. The first of De Castries’ ladies had been slain.

    A few of the legionnaires survived retreated to other strongpoints. By now, Viet Minh artillery fire had destroyed the F-8F Bearcat fighters at Dien Bien Phu, so no local air support was available. At this point, all supplies were being airdropped to the units in the valley. About 12 tons were being brought in daily, which was one-fifth of what was needed for the troops to survive. Deadly anti-aircraft fire continued to decimate incoming flights. By the battle's end, the French lost 62 aircraft, and had 167 damaged.

    The next victim was Gabrielle. This time, instead of human wave assaults that were used on Beatrice, the Viet Minh sought to overcome the defenders with massive artillery fire and infiltration. When machines guns from the northern bunkers stopped the attackers cold, one People's Army gunner dragged a 75mm wheeled bazooka to within 150 yards of the emplacement, scored three hits on it, and left it demolished, smoking and eerily silent. That and a direct hit on the command post, wiping out the leaders, sealed the fate of Gabrielle. Over 2,000 Viet Minh were killed in these assaults, and brought a pause in the battle.

    The French had also suffered heavily. Losing one tank, over 500 crack Algerians, an entire heavy mortar company, the defenders were stunned with the ferocity of the attacks, and numbed by the incessant shelling. General Piroth, shaken by the inability of his beloved artillery to counter the Viet-Minh fire, committed suicide, and Col. Keller, Chief of Staff for the fortress had a nervous breakdown and had to be relieved. Over 500 Vietnamese troops proved to be absolutely worthless in battle and were stripped of all rank and authority, and made coolies. Further, an entire Tai rifle company quietly deserted into the hills.

    Keeping Hope Alive

    The arrival of a crack battalion, the 6th BPC and others by parachute into Dien Bien Phu was a real lift to their morale. By now anything coming into the fortress was by airdrop, and that was becoming increasingly difficult, since more AA guns ringed the valley.

    The French became so desperate that private pilots and crews from the American-operated Civil Air Transport Company were paid to make the supply drops. Many stated that the intensity of the anti-aircraft fire was greater than anything seen in World War II or Korea, and would remain unequalled until Vietnam.

    A feeble offensive effort was made by De Castries to relieve some of the pressure of the anti- aircraft guns. Following a short, intensive, rolling artillery barrage, tanks and a few battalions moved into the hills around Claudine and effectively destroyed five 20mm guns, various machine guns and over 300 of the enemy troops.

    The French were unable, however, to capitalize on their victory, because they had to abandon the positions. Within a few weeks, those weapons and men had been replaced and the AA fire intensified in the area again.

    The steady digging of approaching trenchworks marked the assault on Dominique and Eliane. Suddenly on March 30, another torrential outburst of artillery against the two French strongpoints was followed by wave after wave of screaming infantry. The 4th Colonial gunners depressed the barrels of their weapons and fired point-blank into the massed Do-Boi. This, with a rain of bullets from the quad fifties caused the Viet Minh to retreat blindly into a recently laid minefield.

    An entire division, however, overran Eliane. Though efforts to regain these important positions were attempted with combined infantry-armor assaults, they proved largely fruitless, as the French no longer possessed the manpower to hold them.

    Now from the West, Huguette was the next lady to be assaulted. One attack after another against the French created huge amounts of casualties for them. The medical station was completely overwhelmed. Over 1,000 casualties were consigned to hastily constructed trenches, with little shelter, light, water or food. There was none to be had. The stench of the medical facility wafted over the compound, and not surprisingly, many walking wounded preferred to return to their units, than endure such conditions.

    Deserters in our Midst

    During the siege, a strange phenomenon occurred. Over 2,000 Tai, Algerian, Moroccan, and Vietnamese deserted, but since there was no escape, they moved into the very center of the stronghold near the river, and became known as "The Rats of Nam Yum."

    Even a bordello was set up there for non-European troops, and their presence was a constant drain on resources and morale. The leaders, however, could do nothing about it, as they lacked the manpower to round them up and police them.

    The communist General Giap was forced now to bring in reinforcements from all over Indochina. His attackers had been so depleted from French resistance that he had to scrounge from every corner of the country. Many spoke disparagingly of Giap, saying that he was "a non-commissioned officer learning to lead regiments." what he lacked in skill he made up for in determination.

    It is ironic to note that if the French had pulled out of Dien Bien Phu in late December, they would have left most of the People's Army lodged in a distant and isolated valley in an obscure comer of Vietnam. Now the very best of France's army was being slowly annihilated. The southernmost outposts of Isabelle and Wieme were completely cut off from the other strongpoints. Savage artillery attacks and repeated attacks upon them left no alternative but to try to hold on. No help would come from there.

    Looking for a Way Out

    All types of schemes to resolve the situation were tried. For example, the C- 119 "Flying Boxcars" transports dropped six-ton loads of napalm on enemy trenches around Dien Bien Phu. If it had not been the rainy season, the hills would have become raging infernos, but the watersoaked forests would not ignite, and the Viet Minh remained largely unaffected. The French pleaded for U.S. aid, and President Eisenhower contemplated a plan called "Vulture", which included the use of nuclear and conventional bombs with B-29s based in the Philippines.

    Since no other outside country was willing to become involved, the US decided not to follow through. Operation "Condor" was a planned massive effort to break through to the besieged defenders. Finally peacemakers in Geneva were striving for a cease-fire.

    A growing surge of rebellion in the communist ranks prevented Giap from pursuing his assaults. Ammunition was low, casualties were high, and medical supplies for the many wounded were inadequate. Reinforcement and resupply were the top priorities for the Communist forces in April, although sporadic attacks and firing continued throughout the month.

    At the end of April, the fortress of Dien Bien Phu had been reduced dramatically. Now the French held parts of Huguette, Dominique and a couple of highpoints in Eliane. Active combatant troops numbered about 2,000, many of whom were wounded. Most suffered from various illnesses and malnutrition.

    Haggard, worn, and exhausted from lack of rest due to incessant shelling, they were a pitiful remnant of some of France's best soldiers. A few artillery pieces were still operational, and only one tank was in running order.

    At Isabelle, the southern and isolated strongpoint, about 1,000 men were crowded into an area of about one-fourth of a square mile. The only discipline remaining for the allied units was that of survival, and that light shone dimly for them. By now, the AA guns had been moved into the valley in positions previously occupied by the French, and resupply was literally impossible. General De Castries still believed that the arrival of a relief column, or a cease-fire might set them free. All that was needed, he stated was 12 hours of relative quiet. That was not to be.

    The Stroke of Death

    May 1st, Labor Day, and an important Communist holiday, was the beginning of the final push by the Viet Minh. The roar of attacking guns, and the swooshing, smashing sounds of the Katyusha rockets deafened the defenders. Close behind the artillery, swarms of Communist soldiers ran against French bunkers and strongholds. Wave after wave was beaten back, often in the heat of close combat.

    Men used their hands as weapons, striking, clawing, and cursing. Couples lay together in an embrace of death. The smoke was insufferable. And still they came. There was no end to them. One assault was beaten back, and then another leaped over the dead bodies to attack again. Frantically the French considered Operation "Albatross", a plan to break out of the fortress and head away. The East was untenable, and radio communications informed them that dozens of new trenches had appeared in the West. The defenders had neither the strength nor the numbers to effect an escape. The attacks continued day and night.

    By May 7th, De Castries saw that it was now utterly hopeless. He ordered all firing stopped at 1730, and informed Communist General Giap of his decision. Around the headquarters, the soldiers carried out the orders of their commander, and destroyed what weapons and ammunition that remained.

    The Aftermath

    By the next morning, units from the 308th "Iron Division" occupied De Castries' command bunker. A few hundred troops from Isabelle managed to escape the night before. All remaining allied troops were now prisoners of the Viet Minh.

    Though not badly treated at first, the survivors were ordered to prisoner of war camps some 300 hundred miles away. They were interspersed among the Viet-Minh columns to prevent the French from bombing them. Only 2,000 of the nearly 7,000 French soldiers were to survive the ordeal of the march and the prison camps. The rest joined the 3,000 French soldiers and airmen who had given their lives in the defense of Dien Bien Phu. The battle reinforced some basic truths in warfare. Static defenses, no matter how well constructed, are a "sitting target."

    Any encircled force, no matter how brave, is doomed if it cannot be effectively resupplied and reinforced. It was a victory of sorts for General Giap, but Communist propaganda made it one of the great triumphs of all time. The valiant heroes of Dien Bien Phu have indeed left their mark on history. It is that fact which stands out above all others.

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