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Battle of Dien Bien Phu

battle of dien bien phu, battle of dien bien phu vietnam
Decisive Viet Minh victory

  • Termination of French involvement in Indochina
  • Signing of Geneva Conference 1954
changes Vietnam is temporarily divided at the 17th Parallel Belligerents

French Union

  • France
  • State of Vietnam


 United States
Lao Hmong partisans

Viet Minh

Weapons and advisors:
 Soviet Union
 East Germany2 Commanders and leaders Christian de Castries  
Pierre Langlais  Võ Nguyên Giáp
Hoàng Văn Thái
Lê Liêm
Đặng Kim Giang
Lê Trọng Tấn
Vuong Thua Vu
Hoang Minh Thao
Le Quang Ba Strength As of March 13:
20,000 overall
10 tanks
~400 aircraft
37 pilots4 As of March 13:
49,500 combat personnel
15,000 logistical support personnel5
64,500 overall Casualties and losses

1,5716–2,293 dead
5,195–6,6507 wounded
1,729 missing8
11,721 captured of which 4,436 wounded9
62 aircraft10 and 10 tanks lost
167 aircraft damaged11

2 dead James B McGovern and Wallace A Buford declassified in 20044
Vietnamese figures:
4,020 dead
9,118 wounded
792 missing12
French estimate: 8,000 dead and 15,000 wounded13

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu French: Bataille de Diên Biên Phu; Vietnamese: Chiến dịch Điện Biên Phủ, IPA: ɗîəˀn ɓīən fû was the climactic confrontation of the First Indochina War between the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps and Viet Minh communist-nationalist revolutionaries It was, from the French view before the event, a set piece battle to draw out the Vietnamese and destroy them with superior firepower The battle occurred between March and May 1954 and culminated in a comprehensive French defeat that influenced negotiations underway at Geneva among several nations over the future of Indochina

As a result of blunders in French decision-making, the French began an operation to insert, then support the soldiers at Điện Biên Phủ, deep in the hills of northwestern Vietnam Its purpose was to cut off Viet Minh supply lines into the neighboring Kingdom of Laos, a French ally, and tactically draw the Viet Minh into a major confrontation in order to cripple them The plan was to resupply the French position by air, and was based on the belief that the Viet Minh had no anti-aircraft capability The Viet Minh, however, under General Võ Nguyên Giáp, surrounded and besieged the French The Viet Minh brought in vast amounts of heavy artillery including antiaircraft guns They moved these weapons through difficult terrain up the rear slopes of the mountains surrounding the French positions, dug tunnels through the mountain, and placed the artillery pieces overlooking the French encampment This positioning of the artillery made it nearly impervious to French counter-battery fire

The Viet Minh opened fire with a massive artillery bombardment in March After several days the French artillery commander, Charles Piroth, unable to respond with any effective counterbattery fire, committed suicide The Viet Minh occupied the highlands around Điện Biên Phủ and bombarded the French positions Tenacious fighting on the ground ensued, reminiscent of the trench warfare of World War I The French repeatedly repulsed Viet Minh assaults on their positions Supplies and reinforcements were delivered by air, though as the key French positions were overrun, the French perimeter contracted and the air resupply on which the French had placed their hopes became impossible As the Viet Minh antiaircraft fire took its toll, fewer and fewer of those supplies reached the French The garrison was overrun in May after a two-month siege, and most of the French forces surrendered A few of them escaped to Laos The French government then resigned, and the new Prime Minister, the left-of-centre Pierre Mendès France, supported French withdrawal from Indochina

The war ended shortly after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and the signing of the 1954 Geneva Accords France agreed to withdraw its forces from all its colonies in French Indochina, while stipulating that Vietnam would be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel, with control of the north given to the Viet Minh as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh, and the south becoming the State of Vietnam, nominally under Emperor Bảo Đại, preventing Ho Chi Minh from gaining control of the entire country14 The refusal of Ngô Đình Diệm the US-supported President of the first Republic of Vietnam RVN to allow elections in 1956, as had been stipulated by the Geneva Conference, eventually led to the first phase of the Second Indochina War This is better known as the Vietnam War, which was waged largely by the United States after 1963 see War in Vietnam 1959–63


  • 1 Background
    • 11 Military situation
    • 12 Nà Sản and the hedgehog concept
  • 2 Prelude
    • 21 Lead up to Castor
    • 22 Establishment of air operations
  • 3 Battle
    • 31 Beatrice
    • 32 Gabrielle
    • 33 Anne-Marie
    • 34 Lull
    • 35 30 March – 5 April assaults
    • 36 Trench warfare
    • 37 Isabelle
    • 38 Final attacks
  • 4 Aftermath
    • 41 Prisoners
    • 42 Political ramifications
    • 43 American participation
    • 44 Khe Sanh
  • 5 Women at Điện Biên Phủ
  • 6 In popular culture
  • 7 Notes
  • 8 References
  • 9 External links
    • 91 Media links


Military situationedit

By 1953, the First Indochina War was not going well for France A succession of commanders — Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque, Jean Étienne Valluy, Roger Blaizot, Marcel Carpentier, Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, and Raoul Salan — had proven incapable of suppressing the Viet Minh insurrection They were fighting for independence During their 1952–53 campaign, the Viet Minh had overrun vast swathes of Laos, a French ally and Vietnam's western neighbor, advancing as far as Luang Prabang and the Plain of Jars The French were unable to slow the Viet Minh advance, who fell back only after outrunning their always-tenuous supply lines In 1953, the French had begun to strengthen their defenses in the Hanoi delta region to prepare for a series of offensives against Viet Minh staging areas in northwest Vietnam They set up fortified towns and outposts in the area, including Lai Châu near the Chinese border to the north,15 Nà Sản to the west of Hanoi,16 and the Plain of Jars in northern Laos17

In May 1953, French Premier René Mayer appointed Henri Navarre, a trusted colleague, to take command of French Union Forces in Indochina Mayer had given Navarre a single order—to create military conditions that would lead to an "honorable political solution"18 According to military scholar Phillip Davidson,

On arrival, Navarre was shocked by what he found There had been no long-range plan since de Lattre's departure Everything was conducted on a day-to-day, reactive basis Combat operations were undertaken only in response to enemy moves or threats There was no comprehensive plan to develop the organization and build up the equipment of the Expeditionary force Finally, Navarre, the intellectual, the cold and professional soldier, was shocked by the "school's out" attitude of Salan and his senior commanders and staff officers They were going home, not as victors or heroes, but then, not as clear losers either To them the important thing was that they were getting out of Indochina with their reputations frayed, but intact They gave little thought to, or concern for, the problems of their successors18

Nà Sản and the hedgehog conceptedit

For more details on this topic, see Battle of Nà Sản

Simultaneously, Navarre had been searching for a way to stop the Viet Minh threat to Laos Colonel Louis Berteil, commander of Mobile Group 7 and Navarre's main planner,19 formulated the hérisson "hedgehog" concept The French army would establish a fortified airhead by airlifting soldiers adjacent to a key Viet Minh supply line to Laos20 They would cut off Viet Minh soldiers fighting in Laos and force them to withdraw "It was an attempt to interdict the enemy's rear area, to stop the flow of supplies and reinforcements, to establish a redoubt in the enemy's rear and disrupt his lines"21

The hedgehog concept was based on French experiences at the Battle of Nà Sản In late November and early December 1952, Giáp attacked the French outpost at Nà Sản, which was essentially an "air-land base", a fortified camp supplied only by air22 The French beat back Giáp's forces repeatedly, causing them to suffer very heavy losses The French hoped that by repeating the strategy on a much larger scale, they would be able to lure Giáp into committing the bulk of his forces in a massed assault This would enable superior French artillery, armor, and air support to decimate the exposed Viet Minh forces The experience at Nà Sản convinced Navarre of the viability of the fortified airhead concept

French staff officers disastrously failed to treat seriously several crucial differences between Điện Biên Phủ and Nà Sản: First, at Nà Sản, the French commanded most of the high ground with overwhelming artillery support23 At Điện Biên Phủ, however, the Viet Minh controlled much of the high ground around the valley, their artillery far exceeded French expectations, and they outnumbered the French troops four to one3 Giáp compared Điện Biên Phủ to a "rice bowl," where his troops occupied the edge and the French the bottom Second, Giáp made a mistake in Nà Sản by committing his forces to reckless frontal attacks before being fully prepared He learned his lesson: at Điện Biên Phủ, Giáp spent months meticulously stockpiling ammunition and emplacing heavy artillery and antiaircraft guns before making his move Teams of Viet Minh volunteers were sent into the French camp to scout the disposition of the French artillery Wooden artillery pieces were built as decoys and the real guns were rotated every few salvos to confuse French counterbattery fire As a result, when the battle finally began, the Viet Minh knew exactly where the French artillery pieces were, while the French did not even know how many guns Giáp possessed Third, the aerial resupply lines at Nà Sản were never severed, despite Viet Minh antiaircraft fire At Điện Biên Phủ, Giáp amassed antiaircraft batteries that quickly shut down the runway, and made it extremely difficult and costly for the French to bring in reinforcements


Lead up to Castoredit

In June, Major General René Cogny, the commander of the Tonkin Delta, proposed Điện Biên Phủ, which had an old airstrip built by the Japanese during World War II, as a "mooring point"24 In another misunderstanding, Cogny envisioned a lightly defended point from which to launch raids; however, Navarre believed that he intended a heavily fortified base capable of withstanding a siege Navarre selected Điện Biên Phủ for the location of Berteil's "hedgehog" operation When presented with the plan, every major subordinate officer protested: Colonel Jean-Louis Nicot commander of the French Air transport fleet, Cogny, and generals Jean Gilles and Jean Dechaux the ground and air commanders for Operation Castor, the initial airborne assault on Điện Biên Phủ Cogny pointed out, presciently, that "we are running the risk of a new Nà Sản under worse conditions"25 Navarre rejected the criticisms of his proposal and concluded a November 17 conference by declaring that the operation would begin three days later, on 20 November 19532627

Navarre decided to go ahead with the operation, despite operational difficulties These later became painfully obvious but at the time may have been less apparent28 He had been repeatedly assured by his intelligence officers that the operation had very little risk of involvement by a strong enemy force29 Navarre had previously considered three other ways to defend Laos: mobile warfare, which was impossible given the terrain in Vietnam; a static defense line stretching to Laos, which was not feasible given the number of troops at Navarre's disposal; or placing troops in the Laotian provincial capitals and supplying them by air, which was unworkable due to the distance from Hanoi to Luang Prabang and Vientiane30 Navarre believed that he was left only with the hedgehog option, which he characterized as "a mediocre solution"31 The French National Defense Committee ultimately agreed that Navarre's responsibility did not include defending Laos However, its decision which was drawn up on 13 November was not delivered to him until 4 December, two weeks after the Điện Biên Phủ operation began32

Establishment of air operationsedit

For more details on Dien Bien Phu order of battle, see Operation Castor Col Christian de Castries, French commander at Điện Biên Phủ

Operations at Điện Biên Phủ began at 10:35 on the morning of 20 November 1953 In Operation Castor, the French dropped or flew 9,000 troops into the area over three days, including a bulldozer to prepare the airstrip They were landed at three drop zones: "Natasha" northwest, "Octavie" southwest, and "Simone" southeast of Điện Biên Phủ33 The Viet Minh elite 148th Independent Infantry Regiment, headquartered at Điện Biên Phủ, reacted "instantly and effectively" Three of its four battalions, however, were absent that day34 Initial operations proceeded well for the French By the end of November, six parachute battalions had been landed, and the French Army was consolidating its positions

It was at this time that Giáp began his countermoves He had expected an attack, but could not foresee when or where it would occur Giáp realized that, if pressed, the French would abandon Lai Châu Province and fight a pitched battle at Điện Biên Phủ35 On 24 November, Giáp ordered the 148th Infantry Regiment and the 316th Division to attack Lai Chau, while the 308th, 312th, and 351st divisions assault Điện Biên Phủ from Việt Bắc35

Starting in December, the French, under the command of Colonel Christian de Castries, began transforming their anchoring point into a fortress by setting up seven satellite positions Each was said to be named after a former mistress of de Castries, although the allegation is probably unfounded, as the eight names begin with letters from the first nine of the alphabet, excluding F The fortified headquarters was centrally located, with positions "Huguette" to the west, "Claudine" to the south, and "Dominique" to the northeast36 The other positions were "Anne-Marie" to the northwest, "Beatrice" to the northeast, "Gabrielle" to the north, and "Isabelle" 6 km 37 mi to the south, covering the reserve airstrip

The choice of de Castries as the local commander at Điện Biên Phủ was, in retrospect, a bad one Navarre had picked de Castries, a cavalryman in the 18th-century tradition,37 because Navarre envisioned Điện Biên Phủ as a mobile battle Điện Biên Phủ required someone adept at World War I-style trench warfare, something for which de Castries was not suited36

The arrival of the 316th Viet Minh Division prompted Cogny to order the evacuation of the Lai Chau garrison to Điện Biên Phủ, exactly as Giáp had anticipated En route, they were virtually annihilated by the Viet Minh "Of the 2,100 men who left Lai Chau on 9 December, only 185 made it to Điện Biên Phủ on 22 December The rest had been killed, captured, or deserted"38 The Viet Minh troops converged on Điện Biên Phủ

The French deployed several US made M24 Chaffee light tanks

The French had committed 10,800 troops, with more reinforcements totaling nearly 16,000 men, to the defense of a monsoon-affected valley surrounded by heavily wooded hills that had not been secured Artillery as well as ten M24 Chaffee light tanks and numerous aircraft were committed to the garrison The garrison included French regular troops notably elite paratroop units plus artillery, Foreign Legionnaires, Algerian and Moroccan tirailleurs, and locally recruited Indochinese infantry All told, the Viet Minh had moved 50,000 regular troops into the hills surrounding the valley, totaling five divisions including the 351st Heavy Division, which was made up entirely of heavy artillery5 Artillery and antiaircraft guns, which outnumbered the French artillery by about four to one,5 were moved into positions overlooking the valley The French came under direct and sporadic Viet Minh artillery fire for the first time on 31 January 1954, and patrols encountered the Viet Minh in all directions The French were surrounded39



The French disposition at Điện Biên Phủ, as of March 1954 The French took up positions on a series of fortified hills The southmost one, Isabelle, was dangerously isolated The Viet Minh positioned their five divisions the 304th, 308th, 312th, 316th, and 351st in the surrounding areas to the north and east From these areas, the Viet Minh had a clear line of sight on the French fortifications and were able to accurately rain down artillery on the French positions

The Viet Minh assault began in earnest on 13 March 1954 with an attack on outpost "Beatrice" Viet Minh artillery opened a fierce bombardment of the fortification and French command was disrupted at 18:15 when a shell hit the French command post, killing the Legionnaire commander Major Paul Pegot and his entire staff A few minutes later, Colonel Jules Gaucher, commander of the entire northern sector, was killed by Viet Minh artillery The Viet Minh 312th Division then launched a massive infantry assault, using sappers to defeat French obstacles French resistance at Beatrice collapsed shortly after midnight following a fierce battle Roughly 500 French legionnaires were killed The French estimated that Viet Minh losses totalled 600 dead and 1,200 wounded40 The French launched a counterattack against "Beatrice" on the following morning, but it was quickly beaten back by Viet Minh artillery The victory at "Beatrice" "galvanized the morale" of the Viet Minh troops40

Much to French disbelief, the Viet Minh had employed direct artillery fire, in which each gun crew does its own artillery spotting as opposed to indirect fire, in which guns are massed further away from the target, out of direct line of sight, and rely on a forward artillery spotter Indirect artillery, generally held as being far superior to direct fire, requires experienced, well-trained crews and good communications, which the Viet Minh lacked41 Navarre wrote that, "Under the influence of Chinese advisers, the Viet Minh commanders had used processes quite different from the classic methods The artillery had been dug in by single piecesThey were installed in shellproof dugouts, and fire point-blank from portholesThis way of using artillery and AA guns was possible only with the expansive ant holes at the disposal of the Vietminh and was to make shambles of all the estimates of our own artillerymen" 42 Two days later, the French artillery commander, Colonel Charles Piroth, distraught at his inability to bring counterfire on the well-camouflaged Viet Minh batteries, went into his dugout and committed suicide with a hand grenade43 He was buried there in secret to prevent loss of morale among the French troops44


Following a five-hour cease fire on the morning of 14 March, Viet Minh artillery resumed pounding French positions The air strip, already closed since 16:00 the day before due to a light bombardment, was now put permanently out of commission45 Any further French supplies would have to be delivered by parachute46 That night, the Viet Minh launched an attack on "Gabrielle", held by an elite Algerian battalion The attack began with a concentrated artillery barrage at 17:00 This was very effective and stunned the defenders Two regiments from the crack 308th Division attacked starting at 20:00 At 04:00 the following morning, an artillery shell hit the battalion headquarters, severely wounding the battalion commander and most of his staff46

De Castries ordered a counterattack to relieve "Gabrielle" However, Colonel Pierre Langlais, in forming the counterattack, chose to rely on the 5th Vietnamese Parachute Battalion, which had jumped in the day before and was exhausted47 Although some elements of the counterattack reached "Gabrielle", most were paralyzed by Viet Minh artillery and took heavy losses At 08:00 the next day, the Algerian battalion fell back, abandoning "Gabrielle" to the Viet Minh The French lost around 1,000 men defending Gabrielle, and the Viet Minh between 1,000 and 2,000 attacking the strongpoint47 The loss of the outpost "Beatrice" and now "Gabrielle", allowed almost pinpoint artillery to be rained down for the rest of the battle and cut off any air resupply using the airstrip, and this dictated the resulting eventscitation needed


"Anne-Marie" was defended by Tai troops, members of a Vietnamese ethnic minority loyal to the French For weeks, Giáp had distributed subversive propaganda leaflets, telling the Tais that this was not their fight The fall of "Beatrice" and "Gabrielle" had severely demoralized them On the morning of 17 March, under the cover of fog, the bulk of the Tais left or defected The French and the few remaining Tais on "Anne-Marie" were then forced to withdraw48


17 March through 30 March saw a lull in fighting The Viet Minh further tightened the noose around the French central area formed by the strongpoints "Huguette", "Dominique", "Claudine", and "Eliane", effectively cutting off Isabelle and its 1,809 personnel49 During this lull, the French suffered from a serious crisis of command "It had become painfully evident to the senior officers within the encircled garrison — and even to Cogny at Hanoi — that de Castries was incompetent to conduct the defense of Dien Bien Phu Even more critical, after the fall of the northern outposts, he isolated himself in his bunker so that he had, in effect, relinquished his command authority"50 On 17 March, Cogny attempted to fly into Điện Biên Phủ to take command, but his plane was driven off by antiaircraft fire Cogny considered parachuting into the encircled garrison, but his staff talked him out of it50

De Castries' seclusion in his bunker, combined with his superiors' inability to replace him, created a leadership vacuum within the French command On 24 March, an event took place which later became a matter of historical debate The historian Bernard Fall records, based on Langlais' memoirs, that Colonel Langlais and his fellow paratroop commanders, all fully armed, confronted de Castries in his bunker on 24 March They told him he would retain the appearance of command, but that Langlais would exercise it51 De Castries is said by Fall to have accepted the arrangement without protest, although he did exercise some command functions thereafter Phillip Davidson stated that the "truth would seem to be that Langlais did take over effective command of Dien Bien Phu, and that Castries became 'commander emeritus' who transmitted messages to Hanoi and offered advice about matters in Dien Bien Phu"52 Jules Roy, however, makes no mention of this event, and Martin Windrow argues that the "paratrooper putsch" is unlikely to have ever happened Both historians record that Langlais and Marcel Bigeard were known to be on good terms with their commanding officer53

The French aerial resupply took heavy losses from Viet Minh machine guns near the landing strip On 27 March, the Hanoi air transport commander, Nicot, ordered that all supply deliveries be made from 2,000 m 6,600 ft or higher; losses were expected to remain heavy54 De Castries ordered an attack against the Viet Minh machine guns 3 km 19 mi west of Điện Biên Phủ Remarkably, the attack was a complete success, with 350 Viet Minh soldiers killed and seventeen AA machine guns destroyed French estimate, while the French lost 20 killed and 97 wounded55

30 March – 5 April assaultsedit

Further information: Operation Condor 1954 The central French positions at Điện Biên Phủ in late March 1954 The positions in Eliane saw some of the most intense combat of the entire battle

The next phase of the battle saw more massed Viet Minh assaults against French positions in the central Điện Biên Phủ — at "Eliane" and "Dominique" in particular Those two areas were held by five understrength battalions, composed of Frenchmen, Legionnaires, Vietnamese, North Africans, and Tais56 Giáp planned to use the tactics from the "Beatrice" and "Gabrielle" skirmishes

At 19:00 on 30 March, the Viet Minh 312th Division captured "Dominique 1 and 2", making "Dominique 3" the final outpost between the Viet Minh and the French general headquarters, as well as outflanking all positions east of the river57 At this point, the French 4th Colonial Artillery Regiment entered the fight, setting its 105 mm howitzers to zero elevation and firing directly on the Viet Minh attackers, blasting huge holes in their ranks Another group of French soldiers, near the airfield, opened fire on the Viet Minh with antiaircraft machine guns, forcing the Viet Minh to retreat57

The Viet Minh were more successful in their simultaneous attacks elsewhere The 316th Division captured "Eliane 1" from its Moroccan defenders, and half of "Eliane 2" by midnight58 On the other side of Điện Biên Phủ, the 308th attacked "Huguette 7", and nearly succeeded in breaking through, but a French sergeant took charge of the defenders and sealed the breach58

Just after midnight on 31 March, the French launched a counterattack against "Eliane 2", and recaptured half of it Langlais ordered another counterattack the following afternoon against "Dominique 2" and "Eliane 1", using virtually "everybody left in the garrison who could be trusted to fight"58 The counterattacks allowed the French to retake "Dominique 2" and Eliane 1, but the Viet Minh launched their own renewed assault The French, who were exhausted and without reserves, fell back from both positions late in the afternoon59 Reinforcements were sent north from "Isabelle", but were attacked en route and fell back to "Isabelle"

The French deployed a small number of M24 Chaffee light tanks during the battle that proved critical in repelling the enemy attacks

Shortly after dark on 31 March, Langlais told Major Marcel Bigeard, who was leading the defense at "Eliane", to fall back across the river Bigeard refused, saying "As long as I have one man alive I won't let go of 'Eliane 4' Otherwise, Dien Bien Phu is done for"60 The night of the 31st, the 316th Division attacked "Eliane 2" Just as it appeared the French were about to be overrun, a few French tanks arrived, and helped push the Viet Minh back Smaller attacks on "Eliane 4" were also pushed back The Viet Minh briefly captured "Huguette 7", only to be pushed back by a French counterattack at dawn on 1 April61

Fighting continued in this manner over the next several nights The Viet Minh repeatedly attacked "Eliane 2", only to be beaten back Repeated attempts to reinforce the French garrison by parachute drops were made, but had to be carried out by lone planes at irregular times to avoid excessive casualties from Viet Minh antiaircraft fire Some reinforcements did arrive, but not enough to replace French casualties61

Trench warfareedit

French troops seeking cover in trenches

On 5 April, after a long night of battle, French fighter-bombers and artillery inflicted particularly devastating losses on one Viet Minh regiment, which was caught on open ground At that point, Giáp decided to change tactics Although Giáp still had the same objective — to overrun French defenses east of the river — he decided to employ entrenchment and sapping to try to achieve it62

On 10 April, the French attempted to retake "Eliane 1", which had been lost eleven days earlier The loss posed a significant threat to "Eliane 4", and the French wanted to eliminate that threat The dawn attack, which Bigeard devised, was preceded by a short, massive artillery barrage, followed by small unit infiltration attacks, followed by mopping-up operations "Eliane 1" changed hands several times that day, but by the next morning the French had control of the strongpoint The Viet Minh attempted to retake it on the evening of 12 April, but were pushed back63

At this point, the morale of the Viet Minh soldiers was greatly lowered due to the massive casualties they had received During a period of stalemate from 15 April to 1 May, the French intercepted enemy radio messages which told of whole units refusing orders to attack, and communist prisoners said that they were told to advance or be shot by the officers and noncommissioned officers behind them64 Worse still, the Viet Minh lacked advanced medical care, with one stating that "Nothing strikes at combat morale like the knowledge that if wounded, the soldier will go uncared for"65 To avert the crisis of mutiny, Giáp called in fresh reinforcements from Laoscitation needed

During the fighting at "Eliane 1", on the other side of camp, the Viet Minh entrenchments had almost entirely surrounded "Huguette 1 and 6" On 11 April, the garrison of "Huguette 1" attacked, and was joined by artillery from the garrison of "Claudine" The goal was to resupply "Huguette 6" with water and ammunition The attacks were repeated on the nights of the 14–15 and 16–17 April While they did succeed in getting some supplies through, the French suffered heavy casualties, which convinced Langlais to abandon "Huguette 6" Following a failed attempt to link up, on 18 April, the defenders at "Huguette 6" made a daring break out, but only a few managed to make it to French lines6667 The Viet Minh repeated the isolation and probing attacks against Huguette 1, and overran the fort on the morning of 22 April With the fall of "Huguette 1", the Viet Minh took control of more than 90 percent of the airfield, making accurate parachute drops impossible68 This caused the landing zone to become perilously small, and effectively choked off much needed supplies69 A French attack against "Huguette 1" later that day was repulsedcitation needed


"Isabelle" saw only light action until 30 March, when the Viet Minh isolated it and beat back the attempt to send reinforcements north Following a massive artillery barrage on 30 March, the Viet Minh began employing the same trench warfare tactics that they were using against the central camp By the end of April, "Isabelle" had exhausted its water supply and was nearly out of ammunition70

Final attacksedit

Viet Minh troops plant their flag over the captured French headquarters

The Viet Minh launched a massed assault against the exhausted defenders on the night of 1 May, overrunning "Eliane 1", "Dominique 3", and "Huguette 5", although the French managed to beat back attacks on "Eliane 2" On 6 May, the Viet Minh launched another massed attack against "Eliane 2" The attack included, for the first time, Katyusha rockets40 The French artillery fired a "TOT" Time On Target attack, so artillery rounds fired from different positions would strike on target at the same time71 This barrage defeated the first assault wave A few hours later that night, the Viet Minh detonated a mine shaft, blowing "Eliane 2" up The Viet Minh attacked again, and within a few hours then had overrun the defenders72

On 7 May, Giáp ordered an all-out attack against the remaining French units with over 25,000 Viet Minh against fewer than 3,000 garrison troops At 17:00, de Castries radioed French headquarters in Hanoi and talked with Cogny

De Castries: "The Viets are everywhere The situation is very grave The combat is confused and goes on all about I feel the end is approaching, but we will fight to the finish"
Cogny: "Of course you will fight to the end It is out of the question to run up the white flag after your heroic resistance"37

By nightfall, all French central positions had been captured The last radio transmission from the French headquarters reported that enemy troops were directly outside the headquarters bunker and that all the positions had been overrun The radio operator in his last words stated: "The enemy has overrun us We are blowing up everything Vive la France!" That night the garrison made a breakout attempt, in the Camarón tradition While some of the main body managed to break out, none succeeded in escaping from the valley However at "Isabelle", a similar attempt later the same night saw about 70 troops, out of 1,700 men in the garrison, escape to Laos73



On 8 May, the Viet Minh counted 11,721 prisoners, of whom 4,436 were wounded74 This was the greatest number the Viet Minh had ever captured: one-third of the total captured during the entire war The prisoners were divided into groups Able-bodied soldiers were force-marched over 600 km 370 mi to prison camps to the north and east,75 where they were intermingled with Viet Minh soldiers to discourage French bombing runs76 Hundreds died of disease along the way The wounded were given basic first aid until the Red Cross arrived, removed 858, and provided better aid to the remainder Those wounded who were not evacuated by the Red Cross were sent into detention77

One of their jailers was Georges Boudarel, a French academic and Communist militant He was accused of torturing French prisoners for the Viet Minh during the First Indochina War

The Viet Minh captured 8,000 French and marched them on 500 miles on foot to prison camps; less than half survived the march78 Of 10,863 prisoners including Vietnamese fighting for the French, only 3,290 were officially repatriated four months later;79 however, the losses figure may include the 3,013 prisoners of Vietnamese origin whose eventual fate is unknown80

Political ramificationsedit

The garrison constituted roughly a tenth of the total French Union manpower in Indochina81 The defeat seriously weakened the position and prestige of the French as previously planned negotiations over the future of Indochina began

The Geneva Conference opened on 8 May 1954,82 the day after the surrender of the garrison Ho Chi Minh entered the conference on the opening day with the news of his troops' victory in the headlines The resulting agreement temporarily partitioned Vietnam into two zones: the North was administered by the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam while the South was administered by the French-supported State of Vietnam The last units of the French Union forces withdrew from Indochina in 1956 This partition was supposed to be temporary, and the two zones were meant to be reunited through national elections in 1956 After the French withdrawal, the United States supported the southern government, under Emperor Bao Dai and Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem, which opposed the Geneva agreement, and which claimed that Ho Chi Minh's forces from the North had been killing Northern loyalists and terrorizing people both north and south The North was supported by both the People's Republic of China PRC and the Soviet Union USSR This arrangement proved tenuous and escalated into the Vietnam War Second Indochina War, eventually bringing 500,000 American troops into South Vietnamcitation needed

France's defeat in Indochina, coupled with the German destruction of her armies just 14 years earlier, seriously damaged its prestige elsewhere in its colonial empire, as well as with its NATO allies, most importantly, the United States Within its empire, the defeat in Indochina served to spur independence movements in other colonies, notably the North African territories from which many of the troops who fought at Điện Biên Phủ had been recruitedcitation needed

In 1954, six months after the battle at Điện Biên Phủ ended, the Algerian War started, and by 1956, both the Moroccan and Tunisian protectorates had gained independence A French board of inquiry, the Catroux Commission, later investigated the defeatcitation needed

American participationedit

Further information: Operation Vulture

According to the Mutual Defense Assistance Act, the United States provided the French with material aid during the battle  – aircraft supplied by the USS Saipan, weapons, mechanics, 24 CIA/CAT pilots, and US Air Force maintenance crews83 The United States, however, intentionally avoided overt direct intervention In February 1954, following the French occupation of Điện Biên Phủ but before the battle, Democratic senator Michael Mansfield asked the United States Defense Secretary, Charles Erwin Wilson, whether the United States would send naval or air units if the French were subjected to greater pressure there, but Wilson replied that "for the moment there is no justification for raising United States aid above its present level" President Dwight D Eisenhower also stated, "Nobody is more opposed to intervention than I am"83 On 31 March, following the fall of "Beatrice", "Gabrielle", and "Anne-Marie", a panel of US Senators and House Representatives questioned the American Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Arthur W Radford, about the possibility of American involvement Radford concluded it was too late for the US Air Force to save the French garrison A proposal for direct intervention was unanimously voted down by the committee, which "concluded that intervention was a positive act of war"84

The United States did covertly participate in the battle Following a request for help from Henri Navarre, Radford provided two squadrons of B-26 Invader bomber aircraft to support the French Following this, 37 American transport pilots flew 682 sorties over the course of the battle85 Earlier, in order to succeed the pre-Điện Biên Phủ Operation Castor of November 1953, General Chester McCarty made available 12 additional C-119 Flying Boxcars flown by French crews85

Two of the American pilots, James McGovern, Jr, and Wallace Buford, were killed in action during the siege of Điện Biên Phủ86 On 25 February 2005, the seven still living American pilots were awarded the French Legion of Honor by Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador to the United States85 The role that the American pilots played in this battle had remained little known until 2004 The American historian Erik Kirsinger researched the case for more than a year to establish the facts8788

The French author Jules Roy suggests that Admiral Radford discussed with the French the possibility of using nuclear weapons in support of the French garrison89 Moreover, John Foster Dulles reportedly mentioned the possibility of lending atomic bombs to the French for use at Điện Biên Phủ,90 and a similar source claims that the British Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden was aware of the possibility of the use of nuclear weapons in that region91

Khe Sanhedit

Main article: Battle of Khe Sanh

In January 1968, during the Vietnam War, the North Vietnamese Army still under Giáp's command initiated a siege and artillery bombardment on the US Marine Corps base at Khe Sanh, South Vietnam Historians are divided on whether this was a genuine attempt to repeat their success at Điện Biên Phủ by forcing the surrender of the Marine base, or else a diversion from the rest of the Tết Offensive, or an example of the North Vietnamese Army keeping its options open At Khe Sanh, a number of factors were significantly different from Điện Biên Phủ Khe Sanh was much closer to an American supply base 45 km or 28 mi compared to a French one at Điện Biên Phủ 200 km or 120 mi92

At Khe Sanh, the US Marines held the high ground, and their artillery forced the North Vietnamese to use their own artillery from a much greater distance By contrast, at Điện Biên Phủ, the French artillery six 105 mm batteries and one battery of four 155 mm howitzers and mortars93 was only sporadically effective;94Furthermore, by 1968, the American military presence in Vietnam dwarfed that of the French, and included numerous technological advances such as effective helicopters

Khe Sanh received 18,000 tons of aerial resupplies during the 77-day battle, whereas during the 167 days that the French forces at Điện Biên Phủ held out, they received only 4,000 tons94 Also, the US Air Force dropped 114,810 tons of bombs upon the Vietnamese at Khe Sanh – roughly as many as on Japan during 1945 during World War II95

Women at Điện Biên Phủedit

Many of the flights operated by the French Air force to evacuate casualties had female flight nurses on board A total of 15 women served on flights to Điện Biên Phủ One, Geneviève de Galard, was stranded there when her plane was destroyed by shellfire while being repaired on the airfield She remained on the ground providing medical services in the field hospital until the surrender She was referred to as the "Angel of Điện Biên Phủ"Historians disagree regarding this moniker, with Martin Windrow maintaining that de Galard was referred to by this name by the garrison itself, but Michael Kenney and Bernard Fall maintaining it was added by outside press agencies96

The French forces came to Điện Biên Phủ accompanied by two bordels mobiles de campagne, "mobile field brothels", served by Algerian and Vietnamese women97 When the siege ended, the Viet Minh sent the surviving Vietnamese women for "re-education"98

In popular cultureedit

This battle was depicted in at least two films:

  • Jump into Hell 1955 was an American film directed by David Butler that was shot in the US and released by Warner Bros
  • Dien Bien Phu, was a 1992 docudrama film  — with several autobiographical parts  — in conjunction with the Vietnamese army by Điện Biên Phủ veteran and French director Pierre Schoendoerffer
  • Memory of Dien Bien, was a 2004 war drama film directed by Đỗ Minh Tuấn, about a Vietnamese and a French war veteran mention back about the battle

Dien Bien Phu Falls is mentioned in the 1989 song "We Didn't Start the Fire" by Billy Joel


  1. ^ Anthony James Joes 2010 Victorious Insurgencies: Four Rebellions that Shaped Our World University Press of Kentucky pp 121– ISBN 0-8131-2614-2 
  2. ^ http://gebuni-giessende/geb/volltexte/2013/9311/pdf/DaoDucThuan_2013_02_05pdf
  3. ^ a b Davidson, 224
  4. ^ a b French Ambassy in the United States: News from France 0502 March 2, possition2005, US pilots honored for Indochina Service, Seven American Pilots were awarded the Legion of Honor
  5. ^ a b c Davidson, p 223
  6. ^ Lam Quang Thi, Andrew Wiest Hell in An Loc: The 1972 Easter Invasion, University of North Texas Press 2009, p 14
  7. ^ Lam Quang Thi, p 14
  8. ^ Tragic Mountains: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret Wars for Laos, trang 62, Indiana University Press
  9. ^ French Defense Ministry's archives, ECPADdead link
  10. ^ "French Air Force in Vietnam text" 
  11. ^ "Battle of Dien Bien Phu" HistoryNet 
  12. ^ Ban tổng kết-biên soạn lịch sử, BTTM 1991 Lịch sử Bộ Tổng tham mưu trong kháng chiến chống Pháp 1945-1954 Ha Noi: Nhà xuất bản Quân Đội Nhân Dân p 799  History Study Board of The General Staff 1991 History of the General Staff in the Resistance War against the French 1945–1954 in Vietnamese Ha Noi: People's Army Publishing House p 799 
  13. ^ Stone, p 109
  14. ^ Nash, Gary B, Julie Roy Jeffrey, John R Howe, Peter J Frederick, Allen F Davis, Allan M Winkler, Charlene Mires, and Carla Gardina Pestana The American People, Concise Edition Creating a Nation and a Society, Combined Volume 6th Edition New York: Longman, 2007
  15. ^ Bernard Fall, p 23
  16. ^ Fall, 9
  17. ^ Fall, p 48
  18. ^ a b Davidson, p 165
  19. ^ Fall, p 44
  20. ^ Davidson, p 173
  21. ^ Kennedy, Bruce "1954 battle changed Vietnam's history", CNN special Archived December 19, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  22. ^ Fall, 24
  23. ^ Davidson, 147
  24. ^ Davidson, p 182
  25. ^ Roy, p 21
  26. ^ Roy, p 33
  27. ^ Davidson, p 184
  28. ^ Windrow, pp 211, 212, 228, 275
  29. ^ Davidson, p 189
  30. ^ Davidson, p 186
  31. ^ Davidson, 187
  32. ^ Davidson, p 176
  33. ^ Davidson, 194
  34. ^ Davidson, p 193
  35. ^ a b Davidson, p 196
  36. ^ a b Davidson, p 199
  37. ^ a b "INDO-CHINA: The Fall of Dienbienphu sic" Time 1954-05-17 
  38. ^ Davidson, p 203
  39. ^ Davidson, p 220
  40. ^ a b c Davidson, p 236
  41. ^ Davidson, p 227
  42. ^ Navarre, p 225
  43. ^ Windrow, p 412
  44. ^ Windrow, p 412
  45. ^ Simpson, Howard R, "Dien Bien Phu: the epic battle America forgot"
  46. ^ a b Davidson, p 237
  47. ^ a b Davidson, p 238
  48. ^ Davidson, p 239
  49. ^ Fall, p 279
  50. ^ a b Davidson, pp 240–241
  51. ^ Fall, 177
  52. ^ Davidson, p 243
  53. ^ Windrow, pp 441–44
  54. ^ Davidson, p 244
  55. ^ Davidson, pp 244–45
  56. ^ Davidson, p 245
  57. ^ a b Davidson, p 246
  58. ^ a b c Davidson, p 247
  59. ^ Davidson, p 248
  60. ^ Roy, p 210
  61. ^ a b Davidson, p 253
  62. ^ Davidson, pp 254–55
  63. ^ Davidson, p 265
  64. ^ Davidson, p 256
  65. ^ Davidson, p 257
  66. ^ Davidson, p 258
  67. ^ Fall, p 260
  68. ^ Fall, p 270
  69. ^ Davidson, p 259
  70. ^ Davidson, p 260
  71. ^ Davidson, p 261
  72. ^ Davidson, p 262
  73. ^ Davidson, p 269
  74. ^ "Breakdown of losses suffered at Dien Bien Phu" dienbienphuorg Retrieved 24 August 2006 
  75. ^ "The Long March" dienbienphuorg Retrieved 24 August 2006 
  76. ^ Fall, p 429
  77. ^ "The Long March" Dienbienphuorg, Retrieved 12 January 2009
  78. ^ "French fall to Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu - May 07, 1954 - HISTORYcom" HISTORYcom Retrieved 2017-02-19 
  79. ^ "Battle of Dien Bien Phu | Chemins de Mémoire - Ministère de la Défense - Ministère de la Défense" wwwcheminsdememoiregouvfr Retrieved 2017-02-19 
  80. ^ Jean-Jacques Arzalier, Les Pertes Humaines, 1954–2004: La Bataille de Dien Bien Phu, entre Histoire et Mémoire, Société française d'histoire d'outre-mer, 2004
  81. ^ "The French Far East Expeditionary Corps numbered 175,000 soldiers" – Davidson, p 163
  82. ^ The Geneva conference actually opened on 26 April 1954, discussed Korea, and reached the second agenda item, Indo-China, on 8 May
  83. ^ a b Roy, p 140
  84. ^ Roy, 211
  85. ^ a b c Embassy of France in the USA, Feb 25, 2005, US Pilots Honored For Indochina Service
  86. ^ "The Shootdown of "Earthquake McGoon"" Check-Sixcom Retrieved 2012-06-28 
  87. ^ "France honors US pilots for Dien Bien Phu role" Agence France Presse 25 February 2005
  88. ^ Burns, Robert "Covert US aviators will get French award for heroism in epic Asian battle" Associated Press Worldstream 16 February 2005
  89. ^ Roy, p 198
  90. ^ Fall, p 306
  91. ^ Fall, p 307
  92. ^ Rottman, p 8
  93. ^ Fall, p 480
  94. ^ a b Rottman, p 9
  95. ^ Rottman, 10
  96. ^ Fall, p 190
  97. ^ Windrow, p 673, Note 53
  98. ^ Pringle, James 1 April 2004 "Au revoir, Dien Bien Phu" International Herald Tribune Archived from the original on 8 February 2008 Retrieved 23 February 2008 


  • Davidson, Phillip 1988 Vietnam at War: The History, 1946–1975 New York: Oxford University Press ISBN 0-19-506792-4 
  • "Ðiên Biên Phú – The "official and historical site" of the battle" Archived from the original on 5 December 2006 Retrieved 2006-12-08 
  • Fall, Bernard B 1967 Hell in a Very Small Place The Siege of Dien Bien Phu New York: JB Lippincott Company ISBN 0-306-80231-7 
  • Forbes, Andrew, and Henley, David: Vietnam Past and Present: The North Chiang Mai Cognoscenti Books, 2012 ASIN: B006DCCM9Q
  • Grauwin, Paul-Henri Doctor at Dien-Bien-Phu Hutchinson & Co Publ, London, 1955
  • "INDO-CHINA: The Fall of Dienbienphu" Time 1954-05-17 
  • Morgan, Ted 2010 Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America Into the Vietnam War Random House: New York
  • Navarre, Henri 1958 Agonie de l'Indochine in French Paris: Plon OCLC 23431451 
  • Rottman, Gordon L 2005 Khe Sanh 1967–1968 – Marines battle for Vietnam's vital hilltop base Oxford: Osprey Publishing UK ISBN 1-84176-863-4 
  • Roy, Jules; Baldick, Robert The Battle of Dienbienphu New York: Harper & Row ISBN 0-88184-034-3 OCLC 263986 
  • Roy, Jules 2002 The Battle of Dienbienphu New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers ISBN 0-7867-0958-8 
  • Stone, David 2004 Dien Bien Phu London: Brassey's UK ISBN 1-85753-372-0 
  • Windrow, Martin 2004 The Last Valley New York: Da Capo Press ISBN 0-306-81386-6 
  • Windrow, Martin The French Indochina War 1946–54 Osprey Publishing, 2013

External linksedit

  • Vietnam portal
  • War portal
  • Dien Bien Phu, official dedicated website
  • Memorial-Indochineorg in English
  • An Analysis of the French Defeat at Dien Bien Phu
  • Airlift's Role at Dien Bien Phu and Khe Sanh
  • An interview with Võ Nguyên Giáp
  • Battle of Dien Bien Phu at the Wayback Machine archived December 16, 2007, an article by Bernard B Fall
  • "Dien Bien Phu: A Battle Assessment" by David Pennington
  • "Peace" in a Very Small Place: Dien Bien Phu 50 Years Later, an article by Bob Seals
  • ANAPI's official website National Association of Former POWs in Indochina
  • Vietnam War Bibliography: The End: Dien Bien Phu and the Geneva Conference Last revised November 10, 2015; archive 2004-09-12
  • Field Guide to Dien Bien Phu for Historians, Wargamers and the More Discerning Type of Tourist by Peter Hunt 2002
  • The short film Victory at Dien Bien Phu 1964 is available for free download at the Internet Archive

Media linksedit

Newsreels video
  • in English The News Magazine of the Screen May 1954
  • in English US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles on the fall of Dien Bien Phu May 7th, 1954
  • in English Dien Bien Phu Episode From Ten Thousand Day War Documentary on YouTube
Retrospectives video
  • in English English subtitled Closed Captions scene from the "Dien Bien Phu" docudrama by Schoendoerffer 1992
  • in English Archive footages of Colonel Sassi and his 2,000 strong Hmong partisans en route to Dien Bien Phu for a rescue mission in April 1954 2000 on YouTube
  • in French Archive radio calls between General Cogny & Colonel de Castries 1954 + 2 commented scenes from Schoendoerffer's docudrama 1992
  • in French Testimonial of General Giáp, 50 years after the battle May 7th, 2004
  • in French Testimonial of General Bigeard, 50 years after the battle May 3rd, 2004
  • in French Testimonial of Corporal Schoendoerffer, 50 years after the battle May 5th, 2004
War reports Picture galleries and captions
  • in French The battle of Dien Bien Phu

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