Dien Bien Phu 1954

55 Days of Hell The Battle that changed Vietnam's History

Background to the Conflict

After World War II, France was able to reinstall its colonial government in what was then known as Indochina. By 1946 a Vietnamese independence movement, led by communist Ho Chi Minh, was fighting French troops for control of northern Vietnam. The Viet Minh, as the insurgents were called, used guerrilla tactics that the French found difficult to counter.

as both sides prepared for peace talks in the Indochina War. about 10 miles long. the French began to build up their garrison at Dien Bien Phu. Hoping to draw Ho Chi Minh's guerrillas into a classic battle. as the place to pick a fight with the Viet Minh.Preparations for War     In late 1953. French military commanders picked Dien Bien Phu as a place for a final push to remove the Vietminh A village in northwestern Vietnam near the Laotian and Chinese borders. The stronghold was located at the bottom of a bowl-shaped river valley. .

    Most French troops and supplies entered Dien Bien Phu from the air -. Christian de Castries.strongpoints on nearby hills that could bring down fire on an attacker. . The French assumed any assaults on their heavily fortified positions would fail or be broken up by their artillery. supposedly after the mistresses of the French commander. Dien Bien Phu's main garrison also would be supported by a series of firebases -.either landing at the fort's airstrip or dropping in via parachute.Preparations cont. The strong points were given women's names. Gen.

French Attitudes     In 1953 French commander in Vietnam Henri Navarre decided it was time to draw the Peoples Army out and engage them It was clear that the French were constantly on the defensive and waited for Ho to make the first move Navarre decided that this had to change if they had any chance of succeeding Navarre said it “was time to find the tigers lair and destroy him” .

near the Laos border to zero in on the Peoples Army Dien Bien Phu was located in a 16km river valley in a remote corner of NW Vietnam Navarre chose Colonel Christian de Castries to lead the operation His mission was to. • Create a new French outpost • Redevelop the old airstrip • Launch attacks on the People’s Army .The Base     Navarre chose the hamlet of Dien Bien Phu.

The Base By April. 1200km away  . 1954 16.000 French troops were based there  The base was divided into nine camps named after de Castries mistresses eg Claudine. Beatrice etc  The French saw Dien Bien Phu as impregnable  They had not tried very hard to hide that it was a massive military base  Its lifeline was its airstrip which was able to bring supplies from Hanoi.

Weaknesses      Reliant on the airstrip for supplies So isolated and inaccessible that before the airstrip was repaired the first troops had to parachute in The entire base was surrounded by limestone cliffs that climbed to 1600m in places Vulnerable from artillery attacks from the cliffs French dismissed this as an impossibility as the cliffs were too steep and had no roads .

Giap’s plan       General Vo Nguyen Giap. Commander of the People’s Army debated what to do with Dien Bien Phu He did not want to lose access to Laos The Dien Bien Phu region was a major opium area People’s Army used sale of opium on the black market to fund their war Giap decided that to take on the French he would need artillery Mao sent 200 howitzers .


000 troops towards Dien Bien Phu Also got 20. 1953 Giap began moving 60.Mobilisation        In December. 1954 Giap had his army concealed in the jungles surrounding Dien Bien Phu .000 Peasants to start building roads and bridges The problem Giap faced was Dien Bien Phu’s isolation There were no roads leading to it and needed them to get his artillery within range Roads were built and Russia provided 200 trucks for the task of shipping supplies Troops also carried supplies on bicycles By March.

let alone an enormous army Giap then sent a message to all Vietnamese who lived near the base to evacuate .The Siege        Giap’s major problem was how to get the howitzers up to the cliffs above Dien Bien Phu To have the higher ground would give him a massive advantage Giap solved the problem by having his men disassemble the guns and carry them to the top piece by piece At the top they were simply reassembled By 12 March all the artillery and soldiers were in place above Dien Bien Phu The French had no idea anybody was there.


The positions in Eliane saw some of the most intense combat of the entire battle .The central French positions at Dien Bien Phu as of late March 1954.

56 Day Siege        On 13 March 1954 the People’s Army pounded Dien Bien Phu with artillery The base had been severely damaged with 500 French killed Critically the airfield had craters in it making it impossible for aircraft to land The next night thousands of Viet Minh pored into the valley French fought hard and were holding out against the Viet Minh Giaps plan was simple “don’t let the French sleep” Heavy artillery rained down at night on the base and then in the morning Viet Minh soldiers would mount ground assaults .

    Dien Bien Phu could only be supplied by parachute drop and in the Monsoon conditions 50% of supplies missed their mark and were captured by the Viet Minh Giap then ordered his soldiers to dig a trench surrounding the entire base In 3 weeks Giap had lost thousands of men Hundreds of French were wounded and living in appalling conditions .

World Wide coverage    The events at Dien Bien Phu attracted media coverage It was seen as a probable communist victory USA and France even proposed Operation Vulture .

. James McGovern and Wallace Buford. The supply planes were forced to fly higher.as pilots attempting to fly over the region found themselves facing a barrage from anti-aircraft guns. French attempts to resupply and reinforce the garrison via parachute were frustrated -.Happenings     The heavy Viet Minh bombardment also closed Dien Bien Phu's airstrip. and their parachute drops became less accurate. It was during the resupply effort that two civilian pilots. became the first Americans killed in Vietnam combat.

Viet Minh Strike!   Much of what was intended for the French forces -. essential intelligence information -.landed instead in Viet Minh territory. in one case. conditions inside Dien Bien Phu became inhuman.including food. and flooded by monsoon rains. The Viet Minh steadily reduced the French-held area Closed off from the outside world. Casualties piled up inside the garrison's hospital . under constant fire. ammunition and.

Operation Vulture .

Operation Vulture    USA to repaint one of their bombers in French colours Then drop an Atomic bomb on Dien Bien Phu Plan dismissed as too risky and potentially provoke USSR .

Final Conflict    On 1 May 1954 Giap ordered his troops to attack the base Hand to hand combat was common On 6 May the French surrendered .

200 11000 prisoners were marched to camps 300km away During the march 3000 died .Outcome     The People’s Army had lost 8.000 soldiers The French had lost 2.

with thousands more taken prisoner.000 killed. A small Asian nation had defeated a colonial power. convincingly." .Outcome of the Conflict     Dien Bien Phu fell to the Viet Minh on May 7. At least 2. Of the 50.000 casualties -including an estimated 8. "It was a source of great pride in the developing world. The fall of Dien Bien Phu shocked France and brought an end to French Indochina.200 members of the French forces died during the siege -. A World Bank official from India. there were about 23.000 or so Vietnamese who besieged the garrison. It changed history. said in a recent interview.

French Soldiers in the middle of a war zone Soldiers in the small. cramp trenches around Dien Bien Phu French casualties get urgent care .

Victorious Vietnamese Soldiers Celebrations in South Vietnam Ho Chi Minh dressed in Vietnamese Soldier uniform .


The conference issued the Geneva Accords. The Geneva Accords stipulated that the divide was temporary and that Vietnam was to be reunified under free elections to be held in 1956 Promised free Vietnam-wide elections for 1956 (although these elections never occurred). . which divided Vietnam officially into North Vietnam and South Vietnam along the 17th parallel as a temporary measure The Geneva Accords of 1954 declared a cease-fire and divided Vietnam officially into North Vietnam (under Ho and his Communist forces) and South Vietnam (under a Frenchbacked emperor).Geneva Conference What actually did happen at the Geneva Conference      A 1954 peace conference at the end of the First Indochina War. prompted by the stunning French defeat at Dien Bien Phu.

Geneva Conference Delegates from all affected nations discuss the future of Vietnam .

With the French gone a new power was to emerge .