Dien Bien Phu


Courtesy of glogster.com
Courtesy of glogster.com



The French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 signalled the end of French influence in Indochina. The battle fought around Dien Bien Phu was the last major campaign by a European state in the region; by the end of the decade the United States was to become the prominent foreign power in Vietnam and the influence of France dwindled to barely nothing. Such was the impact of their defeat at the hands of General Giap’s forces. Dien Bien Phu was a town in northwest Vietnam with an isolated air base built and used by the Japanese in World War Two. It was near the Vietnam/Laos border. The government of Laos was very much under the influence of the French though the Viet Minh had successfully infiltrated much of Laos, thus undermining the authority of both the Laotian government and, therefore, the French. By establishing a major force at Dien Bien Phu, the French hoped to cut the supply lines used by Giap’s men into Laos. It also placed a large and well-trained force in the heartland of the Viet Minh. This alone, the French hoped, would be enough to deter Viet Minh activity. In May 1953, the French premier, Rene Mayer, appointed Henri Navarre commander of the French Union Forces in Indochina. Navarre believed that one of his orders had been to defend North Laos; though members of Mayer’s government denied that this had been the case in later years. Navarre's plan worked and General Giap took up the French challenge. However, instead of making a massive frontal assault, Giap choose to surround Dien Bien Phu and ordered his men to dig a trench that encircled the French troops. From the outer trench, other trenches and tunnels were dug inwards towards the centre. The Vietminh were now able to move in close on the French troops defending Dien Bien Phu. While these preparations were going on, Giap brought up members of the Vietminh from all over Vietnam. By the time the battle was ready to start, Giap had 70,000 soldiers surrounding Dien Bien Phu, five times the number of French troops enclosed within. Employing recently obtained anti-aircraft guns and howitzers from China, Giap was able to restrict severely the ability of the French to supply their forces in Dien Bien Phu. When Navarre realised that he was trapped, he appealed for help. The United States was approached and some advisers suggested the use of tactical nuclear weapons against the Vietminh. Another suggestion was that conventional air-raids would be enough to scatter Giap's troops. The United States President, Dwight Eisenhower, however, refused to intervene unless he could persuade Britain and his other western allies to participate. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, declined claiming that he wanted to wait for the outcome of the peace negotiations taking place in Geneva before becoming involved in escalating the war. On March 13, 1954, Vo Nguyen Giap launched his offensive. For fifty-six days the Vietminh pushed the French forces back until they only occupied a small area of Dien Bien Phu. Colonel Piroth, the artillery commander, blamed himself for the tactics that had been employed and after telling his fellow officers that he had been "completely dishonoured" committed suicide by pulling the safety pin out of a grenade. The French surrendered on May 7th. French casualties totalled over 7,000 and a further 11,000 soldiers were taken prisoner. The following day the French government announced that it intended to withdraw from Vietnam.

Courtesy of politicalaffairs.net
Courtesy of politicalaffairs.net