France vs. Indochina and the Battle of Dien Bien Phu

About the Battle of Dien Bien Phu between France and Indochina fought in 1954 over parts of Vietnam.


For 80 years France was involved in the governing of Indochina. During that period, the Vietnamese peasantry had lived out their lives despite foreign intervention.

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu climaxed 9 years of fighting without decisive efforts or results. The French Government was too preoccupied with other problems to be overly concerned with a war in a small Asian country far from home. French soldiers in Indochina were tired, battle weary, and had long since forgotten what they were fighting for. But the Vietminh had no such feelings or doubts. They were fighting for their homes, rice paddies, and the right to live their lives without foreign interference.

Gen. Henri Navarre, French commander in Indochina, was appointed to his command in 1953 for the sole purpose of finding a way for France to get out of an embarrassing and costly situation. Up to his takeover, French losses had exceeded 50,000 lives and $10 billion.

Because Navarre had been weaned on the logic of the Western military, he, of course, sought a purely military solution. He chose to establish a garrison in the valley of Dien Bien Phu. It would serve as a baited trap to entice the forces under Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap out into the open where they could, Navarre thought, be destroyed by the superior fighting ability of the French.

The strategy was doomed to failure. French intelligence estimates of Vietminh logistics were either misinterpreted, disbelieved, or ignored. The French concentration proved to be an easy, visible target for Vietminh mortars, whereas the garrison artillery found itself shooting blindly at invisible targets in the surrounding terrain. On May 7, the garrison fell after bloody hand-to-hand combat, and the survivors were taken prisoner.

Though the battle was relatively minor, fought with no more than 15,000 French Army regulars, mercenaries, Foreign Legionnaires, and 75 Air Force and Navy planes, it was nonetheless decisive. It heralded France's ultimate loss of her colonial empire in Asia.

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