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Battle of Dien Bien Phu

Battle of Dien Bien Phu

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By ousting a colonial power from within its borders, the communist forces of Ho Chi Minh returned some of the country’s pride, as well as some of its land, to the Vietnamese people. The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was the final, defining conflict of the First Indochinese War, and led to the Geneva Accords, which divided Vietnam at the 17th parallel into communist North Vietnam and pro-west South Vietnam.Nearly 7,000 French soldiers eventually lost their lives in a "sitting target" battle between November 20, 1953, and May 7, 1954, with the final, decisive siege beginning on March 13.BackgroundThe French presence in Indochina began when Roman Catholic missionaries arrived in the early- to mid-1800s. After Emperor Napoleon III heard that some of the missionaries had been killed, he sent an expedition to avenge the murders.Through a series of treaties beginning in the mid- to late 1800s, France began a colonization of Vietnam. As the French presence in Indochina increased, they set up protectorates in Cochin China (southern Vietnam), Annam (central Vietnam), and Tonkin (northern Vietnam).By 1893, France had set up protectorates, first in Cambodia (1863) and then in Laos (1893).When France surrendered to Germany in 1940, the Japanese arrived in an attempt to sway Vietnamese leadership toward sympathizing with Japan.At the end of World War II, British forces eliminated the remaining Japanese influence in the southern portion of the country. Forces directed by Ho Chi Minh, the Viet Minh, rooted out the Japanese from the northern territory.The French persuaded leaders from Laos and Cambodia to declare themselves as self-governing and joined the French Union.At the same time, another independent government, the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV), led by Ho Chi Minh, was organized.Despite trying to work out their differences, France and the Viet Minh failed to reach an agreement, and war between the two factions broke out in December 1946.France and the communists clashed during frequent, guerrilla-style skirmishes, which the French had difficulty defending or retaliating against, until 1953.Prelude to the endOn March 13th, 1954, as both sides ostensibly readied for peace talks, the French selected Dien Bien Phu, a village in northwestern Vietnam, near the Chinese and Laotion borders, as the place for a showdown with the Viet Minh.The French built a large airstrip with fortifications, called firebases, on eight hills named after French General Henri Navarre's former mistresses. Troops numbered between 13,000 and 16,000.During the buildup, in a maneuver that astounded the French leaders, the Viet Minh had managed to transport scores of anti-aircraft guns and mortars through heavily-forested terrain previously dismissed by the French as “impassable.”The endFrom March 13, Viet Minh General Vo Nguyen Giap conducted a “tactic of combined nibbling and full-scale attack,” gaining ground in the 10-mile-long, six-mile-wide river valley. Firebases were overrun, and a constant shelling of the French ensued.Viet Minh forces destroyed the airstrip and forced resupply planes to a higher altitude, affecting the accuracy of the resupply effort to such an extent that food, ammunition, and vital intelligence information often landed in areas controlled by the Viet Minh.Compounding the difficulties for the French were the monsoon rains pelting the area. As the casualties overflowed the garrison’s hospital, conditions became intolerable and forced a surrender.

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu

Dien Bien Phu was the decisive battle of the First Indochina War. It ended with victory to the Viet Minh, the surrender of French colonial forces and eventually, the withdrawal of the French from Vietnam.

The war at a stalemate

By mid-1953, the First Indochina War was in its seventh year and there was no obvious prospect of victory for either side. French generals had tried a variety of tactics to eradicate the Viet Minh but to no avail. Exhausted and devoid of ideas, the CEFEO had no long term vision or military objectives. Its officers simply defended their positions and reacted to Viet Minh attacks when they occurred.

In France itself, the war had become very unpopular. The French war effort was being propped up by American aid. By the start of 1954, the war had cost $US3 billion, of which the United States had contributed more than a third.

France’s unstable domestic politics also undermined the war effort. During the seven years of war, there were 16 changes of government and 13 changes of prime minister – but none offered any satisfactory strategy or long term objectives for Indochina, or indeed took any responsibility for military failures there.

The government’s handling of the war copped stinging criticism in the French press and from left wing politicians. There was also a string of scandals involving military incompetence, corruption, currency deals and arms trading. The Indochina conflict became widely known in France as la sale guerre (‘the dirty war’).

Seeking an exit

By 1953, Paris was desperately seeking an honourable exit from what seemed an unwinnable war.

Unable to corner or destroy the Viet Minh, French commanders planned a series of fortified positions across Tonkin (northern Vietnam). The CEFEO could not hope to compete with the Viet Minh in the jungles or the mountains – but a string of bases could be heavily defended and used as staging points for mobile operations. French strategists did not think the Viet Minh or its leaders would risk attacking bases protected by high terrain, artillery and air cover. Even if they did, it would play into French hands.

The CEFEO also hoped to prevent the transit of enemy forces between Vietnam and Laos, where the Viet Minh was resting and resupplying. To halt this flow, French commanders decided to garrison and fortify an old Japanese airstrip at Dien Bien Phu, 10 kilometres from the Laotian border and 300 kilometres west of Hanoi.

In November 1953, almost 2,000 French paratroopers were dropped into the area. They set to work extending and improving the airstrip, to allow more men and supplies to be flown in. Within a few weeks, Dien Bien Phu had been transformed into a major military base.

The base at Dien Bien Phu

The Dien Bien Phu base covered five square kilometres and contained nine separate camps. According to legend, French commander Colonel Christian de Castries named the camps after his nine mistresses. It also contained a makeshift brothel, which flew in prostitutes from Hanoi to service 15,000 French troops stationed there.

Dien Bien Phu’s location offered tactical advantages and disadvantages. The base sat on the floor of a large valley, surrounded by steep mountains and cliffs, some up to a mile high. Apart from one narrow track leading to the local village, there were no roads or paths into the base.

Any enemy offensive against Dien Bien Phu would require a long and arduous trek through the mountainous jungle. The high mountains and inaccessible forest around the base seemed to negate any chance of an artillery assault.

French officers thought the location and surrounding terrain made Dien Bien Phu unassailable. But Dien Bien Phu’s isolation, while a defensive advantage, meant that it could only be resupplied and reinforced from the air. The region was also subject to low lying cloud and dense monsoonal rainfall, which hampered visibility and flights in and out of the base.

The Viet Minh ponders an attack

Viet Minh leaders were well aware of the French build-up at Dien Bien Phu. They were also aware of the difficulties of mounting an attack in that area.

General Vo Nguyen Giap, the Viet Minh’s military chief, understood the strategic importance of Dien Bien Phu – but he was aware that the French garrison was vulnerable, hundreds of kilometres from Hanoi and surrounded by elevated positions. If an attack could be launched from the mountains around the base, the French could be besieged and starved to surrender.

It would take a monumental effort for the Viet Minh to even reach the mountaintops around Dien Bien Phu, let alone position heavy artillery there. By the start of 1954, Giap had organised around 50,000 Viet Minh troops, almost one-third of his entire army, and marched them to the hilltops around Dien Bien Phu.

These Viet Minh soldiers were supported by thousands of local peasants, including many women, who provided labour, building roads, clearing jungle and hauling equipment. Among the cargo were several dozen heavy artillery guns, obtained by Giap from the Chinese, as well as Soviet-supplied trucks and tons of small arms, munitions and supplies. All were hauled up steep mountain gradients by hand. Artillery pieces were pulled apart at the foot of mountains and reassembled at the top.

The assault begins

By March 1954, Giap felt secure enough to launch his main offensive. On March 13th, his artillery began pounding ‘Camp Beatrice’ in the base’s northern quadrant. Within 12 hours, the camp was destroyed, more than 400 French soldiers were dead and the airstrip was unusable.

Under the cover of darkness, Giap’s men moved from the mountains down into the valley. For 20 days the French and CEFEO forces withstood ferocious attacks from the Viet Minh, with both sides incurring heavy losses.

Giap ordered trenches to be dug at strategic points around the valley and the French followed suit. Days of heavy rain flooded the valley floor and filled trenches with mud and water the battlefield at Dien Bien Phu began to resemble something from the Somme or Passchendaele. With planes unable to land because of the weather and ongoing battle, the French had to be supplied with parachute drops – but the low cloud and poor visibility saw many fall into the hands of the Viet Minh.

By mid-April, the Viet Minh had lost around 10,000 men, the French and CEFEO about half that number.

Siege and surrender

The rest of the world, deep in the grip of the Cold War, was focused on this struggle between a European power and an Asian communist insurgency.

There were repeated calls for military intervention from the United States, in order to save the French at Dien Bien Phu. For a time this was strongly considered in Washington.

American military commanders quickly devised a strategy to save the French base. Codenamed ‘Operation Vulture’, it involved intensive low-level bombing runs over the valley and even, if necessary, the use of tactical nuclear weapons against Viet Minh strongholds. President Eisenhower, however, refused to approve this operation without the support and participation of the British. When London refused, the operation was shelved.

By early May, the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu was perilously short of men, munitions, food and medical supplies. On May 7th – the day before the Geneva Conference opened in Switzerland – Giap ordered one final assault. More than 20,000 Viet Minh soldiers swarmed against positions held by around 3,000 able-bodied French troops.

By nightfall, the French defences had been overrun, prompting their officers to formally surrender.

Giap found himself with more than 11,000 prisoners, including 7,000 Frenchmen more than a third of them were injured or seriously ill. These prisoners were forced to march more than 300 kilometres to Viet Minh bases in the north-east. Fatigued, brutalised and malnourished along the way, only half reached their destination alive. Of the 11,000 French soldiers stationed at Dien Bien Phu at the start of 1954, fewer than 3,500 would survive.

A historian’s view:
“The huge importance of Dien Bien Phu for France and its army was almost incalculable… the great significance of [these] events was the way in which, imperceptibly at first and then with increasing inevitability, Vietnam changed from a French colonial battle-field to one on which the United States chose to make its stand against what General Matthew B. Ridgway called the ‘dead existence of a godless world’.”
David J. A. Stone

1. By 1953 the war in Vietnam was going poorly for France, costing both lives and money. Paris began seeking some form of political solution that would allow an honourable withdrawal.

2. In 1953 the French began fortifying an old Japanese airstrip, around 10 kilometres from the Laos border, an attempt to restrict the movement and supply of Viet Minh soldiers.

3. The French considered the base at Dien Bien Phu to be easily defendable. It was isolated, sounded by high mountains and seemingly impregnable to artillery.

4. Viet Minh military chief Vo Nguyen Giap orchestrated an attack on Dien Bien Phu. His forces cleared jungle and hauled artillery up mountains then laid siege to the base in March 1954.

5. After almost two months of battle and siege, the French base at Dien Bien Phu was overrun and some 11,000 CEFEO soldiers were captured. The Viet Minh had won the largest battle of the First Indochina War.

Building the Base

In June 1953, Major General René Cogny first proposed the idea of creating a "mooring point" at Dien Bien Phu in northwest Vietnam. While Cogny had envisioned a lightly defended airbase, Navarre seized on the location for trying the hedgehog approach. Though his subordinates protested, pointing out that unlike Na San they would not hold the high ground around the camp, Navarre persisted and planning moved forward. On November 20, 1953, Operation Castor commenced and 9,000 French troops were dropped into the Dien Bien Phu area over the next three days.

With Colonel Christian de Castries in command, they quickly overcame local Viet Minh opposition and began building a series of eight fortified strong points. Given female names, de Castrie's headquarters was located in the center of four fortifications known as Huguette, Dominique, Claudine, and Eliane. To the north, northwest, and northeast were works dubbed Gabrielle, Anne-Marie, and Beatrice, while four miles to the south, Isabelle guarded the base's reserve airstrip. Over the coming weeks, de Castries' garrison increased to 10,800 men supported by artillery and ten M24 Chaffee light tanks.

Battle of Dien Bien Phu

  • Conflict: First Indochina War (1946-1954)
  • Dates: March 13-May 7, 1954
  • Armies and Commanders:
  • French
  • Brigadier General Christian de Castries
  • Colonel Pierre Langlais
  • Major General Rene Cogny
  • 10,800 men (March 13)
  • Viet Minh
  • 48,000 men (March 13)
  • Casualties:
  • French: 2,293 killed, 5,195 wounded, and 10,998 captured
  • Viet Minh: approx. 23,000


Statistics on Điện Biên Phủ's population vary depending on definitions—figures are generally between 70,000 and 125,000. The city is growing quickly, and is projected to have a population of 150,000 by 2020. [2]

According to statistics from the government, as of 2019, the city had a population of 80,366 people, [1] covering an area of 308.18 km 2 .

National Route 12 connects Điện Biên to Lai Châu. Điện Biên Phủ Airport serves the city with air route to Hanoi.

The 8th century Thai locality of Muang Then is believed to have been centered here. [ citation needed ]

Nineteenth and early twentieth century Edit

Điện Biên Phủ was rather politically removed from central Vietnamese control until 1841. In this year, under the Nguyễn dynasty, Điện Biên Phủ was directly incorporated into the Vietnamese political system when they established the town as an administrative district. This was partly done for more direct control of the region and to stop bandits who were exploiting the opium trade. [3]

In 1887, Điện Biên Phủ became a French protectorate. To ensure that the French would control the local opium trade, they appointed a sole administrator to supervise the trade and control the town. Other than a Hmong rebellion in 1918, the town was under French control until the Japanese occupied it during World War II. By early May 1945, the Japanese occupied Điện Biên Phủ and planned to convert it into a large military base. However, with an airstrip barely being enlarged, Chinese nationalist troops took the town in August of the same year. Subsequently, the nationalist forces then gave way to returning French troops. [3]

Operation Castor (1953) Edit

In the 1950s, the town was known for its famous opium traffic, generating 500,000,000 French francs annually. It was also an extensive source of rice for the Việt Minh. [4]

The region was fortified in November 1953 by the French Union force in the biggest airborne operation of the 1946–1954 First Indochina War, Operation Castor, to block Việt Minh transport routes and to set the stage to draw out Việt Minh forces.

Siege of Điện Biên Phủ (1954) Edit

The following year, the important Battle of Điện Biên Phủ was fought between the Việt Minh (led by General Võ Nguyên Giáp), and the French Union (led by General Henri Navarre, successor to General Raoul Salan). The siege of the French garrison lasted fifty-seven days, from 17:30, 13 March to 17:30, 7 May 1954. The southern outpost or fire base of "Camp Isabelle" did not follow the cease-fire order and fought until 01:00 the following day. The long-scheduled Geneva Meeting's Indochina conference involving the United States, the UK, the French Union and the USSR had already begun on 26 April 1954. [5] [6]

The battle was significant beyond the valleys of Điện Biên Phủ. Giáp's victory ended major French involvement in Indochina and led to the Geneva accords which partitioned Vietnam into North and South.

Dien Bien Phu & the Fall of French Indochina, 1954

In the late 1940s, the French struggled to control its colonies in Indochina - Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Despite financial assistance from the United States, nationalist uprisings against French colonial rule began to take their toll. On May 7, 1954, the French-held garrison at Dien Bien Phu in Vietnam fell after a four month siege led by Vietnamese nationalist Ho Chi Minh . After the fall of Dien Bien Phu, the French pulled out of the region. Concerned about regional instability, the United States became increasingly committed to countering communist nationalists in Indochina. The United States would not pull out of Vietnam for another twenty years.

Southeast Asia, with Indochina at the center, had long been a region of interest to outside powers. Most of the region fell under European colonial control after the mid-19th century. During World War Two, Japan also sought the resources the area had to offer. After Japanese defeat, many of the countries of Southeast Asia occupied by Japan protested their return to colonial status, resulting in a surge of nationalism. American officials involved in the U.S. occupation of Japan also developed a strong interest in the region, which they viewed as a potential market for Japanese goods and a source of raw materials (like tin, oil, rubber, and rice) to supply Japanese manufacturing.

Like the other colonial powers, France attempted to reestablish its position in Indochina after 1945, but found that it was difficult. Laos gained its independence in 1949, and Cambodia became independent in 1953. France promised Vietnam its autonomy by 1949, but only offered limited independence, with France continuing to oversee defense and foreign policy. To counter the influence of popular nationalist Ho Chi Minh, the French attempted to reinstate former emperor Bao Dai, but he was never as popular as Ho Chi Minh, and Vietnam’s independence movement continued to grow. Bao Dai eventually abdicated a second time and lived out his life in exile in France.

Although Ho Chi Minh would become famous for leading the North Vietnamese forces against the United States in the 1960s, despite his communist leanings, he was not at the outset anti-American. He had been disappointed by the lack of support given native peoples struggling for independence from colonial rule at the Versailles Conference that ended World War I. In the 1940s, he made repeated requests for American aid and campaigned for independence. Following unsuccessful discussions with the French in 1946, general war broke out between Ho Chi Minh’s Viet Minh forces and French troops in the northern part of Vietnam.

U.S. interests in the late 1940s and early 1950s did not, however, include supporting Vietnam’s effort to gain independence under a nationalist with communist leanings. Active communist rebellions in Malaya and the Philippines, and the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, caused U.S. officials great concern. President Eisenhower explained the link between Vietnam’s status and that of the rest of Southeast Asia through the metaphor of falling dominoes: if one country fell to communism, the rest of them would follow. The United States also required French assistance developing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and rebuilding West Germany, and, as such, supported the failing French regime in Indochina. By the time of the Korean War armistice in 1953, the United States was already irrevocably committed to defending the French against the increasingly aggressive Viet Minh forces.

In early 1954, the French Army was encamped at Dien Bien Phu, a heavily fortified base located deep in a valley and near communications links on the Laotian border. By mid-March, it was clear that the French were struggling under a Viet Minh seige and that only outside intervention in the form of fresh troops or airstrikes could save them. Though President Eisenhower was determined to prevent a communist victory in Vietnam, the U.S. Congress and officials in the Administration were equally determined not to intervene unless they could do so as a part of a larger coalition. Britain and other members of NATO declined to participate in rescuing what they thought was a lost cause. Dien Bien Phu fell in May, and the French retreated from Vietnam.

In the wake of the French defeat, the French and Vietnamese, along with representatives from the United States and China, met in Geneva in mid-1954 to discuss the future of Indochina. They reached two agreements. First, the French and the Viet Minh agreed to a cease-fire and a temporary division of the country along the 17th parallel. French forces would remain in the South, and Ho Chi Minh’s forces would control the North. The second agreement promised that neither the North nor the South would join alliances with outside parties, and called for general elections in 1956. Laos and Cambodia were to remain neutral.

The United States did not sign the second agreement, establishing instead its own government in South Vietnam. As the French pulled out, the United States appointed Ngo Dinh Diem to lead South Vietnam. Like Bao Dai, Diem was an unpopular choice in Vietnam as he had waited out the nationalist struggle against France abroad. Diem had also collaborated with the Japanese occupation, but his Catholicism appealed to the Western powers. The United States also supported the formation of the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, designed to respond if there was an armed attack on any nation in the region.

1954: The Bloody Battle of Dien Bien Phu – The Worst Defeat of the French in Vietnam

Although the Vietnam War is today remembered as a conflict between the Americans and the Vietnamese, it had previously been the French who fought against the local communist rebels. Namely, the French were the colonial rulers of Vietnam since the 19th century (until the mentioned year, 1954). After that it was the Americans who took over the war effort.

The battle presented a severe defeat for France, so that even the French government in Paris resigned. Indeed, soon afterward France decided to withdraw from Indochina, leaving the Americans to fight against the local communist forces.

The French military forces in Vietnam at the time of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu belonged to the so-called French Far East Expeditionary Corps (French: Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Extrême-Orient – CEFEO). Their commander-in-chief was General Henri Navarre, and the Corps included many soldiers from North Africa as well as a number of legionnaires.

The French underestimated the Vietnamese forces. Namely, it turned out that communist forces possessed heavy artillery and anti-aircraft guns. Dien Bien Phu is a city located in northern Vietnam, near where the border with Laos is located today. The French found themselves surrounded in a valley surrounded by mountains. A hard-fought battle followed, part of which was even fought in trenches reminiscent of those from World War I. Many French soldiers were eventually forced to surrender, so that the Vietnamese managed to capture around 11,700 of them.

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu is seen as the decisive battle of the First Indochina War between French troops and the Viet Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam), a nationalist, pro-Soviet Union movement of Ho Chi Minh. This major confrontation occurred at Dien Bien Phu, a large heart-shaped valley located in northwestern part of Vietnam, near the border with Laos. The valley had to serve as a French forward operating base to conduct operations in the region. The main purposes were to cut off Viet Minh supply lines into Laos, a former member of French Indochina and an ally of France, and to successfully defeat the enemy. Nevertheless, the French garrison attracted the Viet Minh.

Despite their plans, the French were attacked and suffered a defeat. The leadership of the garrison absolutely failed, as well as the French leadership in Vietnam and France. The units stationed in the valley had to fight on its own. Some 6,000 reliable French troops (many African troops or Vietnamese auxiliaries preferred desertion to fighting) against more than 55,000 Viet Minh soldiers. The battle started on March 13, 1954 and was over 56 days later, on May 7. One of the Legion units had to fight until May 8. The result of the battle culminated in the French withdrawal from Southeast Asia, after almost 100 years.

Dien Bien Phu: November 1953 – March 1954

1945 – 1946:
First Indochina War started
– French Indochina refers to French colonial territories in Southeast Asia
– today’s Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos
– in Indochina in the 1940’s, a conflict started between France and Ho Chi Minh
– Ho Chi Minh led the Viet Minh (League for the Independence of Vietnam)
– Viet Minh was an independence movement
– in September 1945, Ho Chi Minh declared independence from France for Vietnam
– clashes between French forces and the Viet Minh started
– in 1946, first Foreign Legion units landed in Indochina
– in December 1946, the Viet Minh attacked Hanoi, Vietnam
– the war officially started

November 12, 1953:
Decision to seize Dien Bien Phu
– a French decision to seize Dien Bien Phu
– a large valley in northwestern Vietnam
– named after a small town situated there
– today, the place is called Muong Thanh Valley
– 12,5 miles (20 km) long and 3,5 miles (6 km) wide
– located close to the border with Laos
– Laos – a former member of French Indochina
– independent from October 1953, a French ally
– right after its independence, attacked by the Viet Minh

– northwestern Vietnam is a wild, mountainous region
– then most important and strategic place for the Viet Minh
– the remote region served as the rear base for the movement
– used for attacking Laos
– also bordering with China, the sponsor of the Viet Minh
– numerous Viet Minh transit & supply roads crossed the region
– many Viet Minh training camps were based in the region too

– the French considered the valley as the best strategic place
– to conduct mobile operations along the border with Laos
– carried out by so-called Mobile Groups
– regiment-seized composite task forces
– the valley had to serve as their forward operating base
– the main task was to cut off the China-Laos supply lines
– thereafter, to defeat the Viet Minh

Dien Bien Phu lies in northwestern Vietnam, Southeast Asia. A remote region bordering with Laos and China. The valley of Dien Bien Phu lies in a wild, mountainous region of northwestern Vietnam, alongside the border with Laos. As we can see, the valley is an exceptionally strategic place. Being surrounded by tens of miles of wild jungle-covered mountains, it is the only place in that far remote area where one can build and use an airstrip. The valley of Dien Bien Phu from air. It is perfectly parallel to the North-South axis. The valley is 12,5 miles (20 km) long and 3,5 miles (6 km) wide. The town of Dien Bien Phu lies on the northeastern edge of the valley.

November 20 – 22, 1953:
Operation Castor
– the largest airborne operation of the First Indochina War
– also the largest airborne operation since WWII
– conducted to seize and secure the valley
– also to repair an old Japanese airstrip, to make it usable
– two French Airborne Group (GAP) jumped over Dien Bien Phu
– six French airborne battalions
– an artillery battery
– a heavy mortar company
– an engineer company

– between them, paratroopers from the Foreign Legion
1er BEP (Foreign Parachute Battalion, later 1er REP)
– led by Major Guiraud
1re CEPML (Heavy Mortar Foreign Parachute Company)
– led by Lieutenant Molinier
– both units jumped over Dien Bien Phu on November 21

– after the landing, clearing the sector
– clashes with the Viet Minh
– over 100 Viet Minh rebels were killed

November 23 – December 15, 1953:
Operation Pollux
– an operation to re-group French units
– also to clear the sector of the Viet Minh elements
– 28 legionnaires were killed or missed

Operation Castor. French paratroopers jumping over the valley of Dien Bien Phu, November 20-22, 1953. Between them, the Foreign Legion’s 1er BEP and 1re CEPML. Operation Castor. A 120 mm mortar operating by paratroopers identified as the 1re CEPML. A very rare image of the same crew. In the center, their Lieutenant. Operation Pollux. 1er BEP legionnaires patrolling around the valley, late 1953.

December 8 – 20, 1953:
new reinforcements
– other French units landed at Dien Bien Phu

– between them, units from the Foreign Legion
– 1st Battalion, 13e DBLE (Foreign Legion Half-Brigade), led by Major Brinon
– HQ of the 13e DBLE (Lieutenant Colonel Gaucher)
– 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE, led by Major Pégot

– a platoon of the 2e CREBLE, led by Lieutenant Bugeat
– Foreign Legion Armored Vehicle Repair Company
– the platoon would assemble ten M24 Chaffee light tanks
– tanks of a squadron of the 1er RCC (French cavalry regiment)
– the 2e CREBLE platoon would leave Dien Bien Phu in mid-January 1954

– 2nd Platoon, 5e CMRLE, led by Lieutenant Jourdonneau
– Foreign Legion Medium Repair Company
– the platoon would maintain the vehicles and tanks used in the valley
– later, the platoon would become an armored mobile platoon
– using trucks equipped with machine guns during military operations

– a 3e RTA battalion (Algerian infantrymen)
– a Tai battalion (BT2)
– two Tai auxiliary companies

  • Tai units were formed by local volunteers-partisans
  • mainly White Tai (Tai Don) and Black Tai (Tai Dam) people
  • members of the Tai Federation
  • an autonomous confederation of Tai people in northwestern Vietnam
  • one of the 54 (fifty-four) ethnic groups living in Vietnam
  • as anticommunist elements, a number of them emigrated to Laos in late 1954
  • they were resettled to Iowa, USA in 1975

December 21 – 28, 1953:
Operation Regates
– 1er BEP legionnaires + a French airborne battalion were involved in
– reconnaissance between Dien Bien Phu and Laos

December 29, 1953 – January 10, 1954:
new reinforcements
– other French troops and auxiliaries landed at Dien Bien Phu

– between them, units from the Foreign Legion
– 1st Battalion, 2e REI (Foreign Infantry), led by Major Clémencon
– 3rd Battalion, 3e REI, led by Major Grand d’Esnon
– HQ of the 3e REI (Lieutenant Colonel Lalande)
2e CMMLE (Legion Mortar Mixed Company), led by Lieutenant Fetter

December 31, 1953:
Dien Bien Phu encircled by the Viet Minh
– 3 infantry divisions of the Viet Minh + an artillery division
– some 45,000 men
– also thousands of logistics personnel
– the divisions were placed on the hills surrounding the valley
– led by General Vo Nguyen Giap

Viet Minh artillery ready for the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.

January – February 1954:
Construction of defensive positions
– the sector of Dien Bien Phu was transformed into a fortress
– it was devided into three parts
– northern sector + central sector + southern sector

– several independent defensive positions were set up in these sectors
– they obtained French female names in alphabetical order
– the defensive positions were composed of smaller, fortified strongpoints

– the majority of the original French paratroopers had left the valley
– only three units remained at Dien Bien Phu in January 1954
1er BEP, 1re CEPML and 8e BPC

January 12, 1954:
– heavy clashes with the Viet Minh
– legionnaires from 1er BEP got involved in
– that day, 5 legionnaires were killed + 33 wounded

February 1954:
Viet Minh artillery began with shelling
– French positions at Dien Bien Phu were shelled at regular intervals

February 11-15, 1954:
Clashes with the Viet Minh near Isabelle
– heavy clashes with the Viet Minh near Isabelle
– the southernmost French defensive position in the valley
– legionnaires from 3e REI + 13e DBLE got involved in
– Lieutenant Michel + 12 legionnaires were killed
– over 70 legionnaires were wounded

February 19, 1954:
French Minister of Defence at Dien Bien Phu
– Minister of Defence Pleven visited the French troops in the valley
– he decorated several men and units
– betwen them, the 1er BEP

French Minister of Defence awarded the 1er BEP
– for their actions in French Indochina, the 1er BEP was awarded
– the unit obtained the Fourragère of Military Medal in yellow-green colors

The fanion of 1er BEP awarded with the Fourragere by then French Minister of Defence René Pleven, Dien Bien Phu, February 19, 1954.

March 9, 1954:
– another Foreign Legion unit landed at Dien Bien Phu
1re CMMLE, a mortar mixed company
– led by Lieutenant Poirier

March 12, 1954:
Dien Bien Phu organization
– France had roughly 6,500 infantry troops at Dien Bien Phu
– 2x airborne infantry + 10x infantry battalions
– between them, about 2,750 legionnaires (5 btns)

– in fact, then French battalions had some 450-650 men
– often, not more than 550 men (lack of volunteers)
– sometimes, attempts to use theoretical numbers (ca. 850 men)

– in addition to that, several hundreds of artillery personnel
– between them, about 350 Legion artillerymen (3 coys)
– also several hundreds of logistics personnel
– moreover, tens of armored cavalry elements (10 tanks)

North-Western Operational Group (GONO)
– a title for the French units based at Dien Bien Phu
Colonel Christian de Castries took command of GONO
– a French cavalry officer
– his leadership would be seen as very poor

– GONO was devided into three sectors:

Northern Sector
– composed of two defensive positions
Anne-Marie + Gabrielle
– the sector was commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Trancart

Central Sector
– composed of five defensive positions
Béatrice + Claudine + Dominique + Eliane + Huguette
– commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Gaucher (13e DBLE)

Southern Sector
– composed of one defensive position
– an isolated outpost, completely independent a few weeks later
– commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Lalande (3e REI)

Airborne Group
– composed of all airborne units (excl. artillery)
– commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Langlais
– paratroopers became the leading element of the French garrison
– Langlais became the unofficial commander of Dien Bien Phu
– in the field, it was Major Bigeard (6e BPC) who led the paratroopers

– composed of all artillery units (including 1re CEPML)
– commanded by Colonel Piroth (later Lieutenant Colonel Robin)

French strogholds at Dien Bien Phu in March 1954:

  • Anne-Marie (held by auxiliaries from a Tai battalion BT3 + a platoon of legionnaires from 2e CMMLE)
  • Beatrice (held by legionnaires from 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE)
  • Claudine + Epervier (HQ + 1er BEP + 1st Battalion, 13e DBLE + 1re CMMLE + 8e BPC + artillery + a field hospital)
  • Dominique (held by an Algerian battalion from 3e RTA + Tai battalion BT2 + legionnaires from 1re CEPML)
  • Eliane (held by a Moroccan battalion from 4e RTM)
  • Francoise (held by a platoon of Tai auxiliaries from BT2)
  • Gabrielle (held by an Algerian battalion from 7e RTA + a platoon of legionnaires from 2e CMMLE)
  • Huguette (held by legionnaires from 1st Battalion, 2e REI)
  • Isabelle (held by legionnaires from 3rd Battalion, 3e REI + an Algerian battalion from 1er RTA + two artillery batteries + a light tank platoon)

Battle of Dien Bien Phu: First Offensive

March 13, 1954:
Battle of Dien Bien Phu started
– in the afternoon, the Viet Minh launched their first offensive
– conducted from north-east and north
– in the north-east, an attack on Beatrice
– in the north, shelling aimed at Gabrielle (a false attack)
– the battle of Dien Bien Phu would begin at 05.30 PM (17:30)

– Viet Minh troops were led by General Vo Nguyen Giap
– at least 45,000 men on the hills around the valley
– also, thousands of logistics personnel

Attack on Beatrice
– the Viet Minh’s offensive started by an attack on Beatrice
– the easternmost French defensive position, built on two hills
– composed of three smaller strongpoints (1, 2, 3)
– held by legionnaires from 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE
– the attack started with heavy shelling of Beatrice
– the shelling took two hours
– then the Viet Minh launched a massive infantry assault

– a platoon of 2e CMMLE supported the 13e DBLE by mortar fire

– also a platoon of 1re CEPML supported the 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE
– the platoon (Ltn Bergot) suffered 12 men killed

Lieutenant Colonel Jules Gaucher killed
– that evening, Lt Colonel Jules Gaucher was killed
– the 13e DBLE’s commander and the central sector’s commander
– the incident occurred when commanding his men by radio
– a Viet Minh mortar shell penetrated into his bunker
– Lieutenant Colonel Jules Gaucher was badly wounded
– he died of his injuries a few hours later

  • Jules Gaucher had served in the Legion since 1934
  • he commanded a 3e REI platoon in Marocco
  • in 1938, then Captain Gaucher was sent to Indochina
  • in Indochina, he joined the 5e REI, based there since 1930
  • in early 1941, his battalion participated in the Franco-Thai War
  • in March-May 1945, during their retreat from Vietnam to China, Major Gaucher and his 5e REI legionnaires fought against the Japanese
  • they had to march about 800 miles (1,250 km) in 93 days
  • in 1945-47, Major Gaucher led the BM5 (Provisional Battalion)
  • consisting of the 5e REI survivors
  • he and his men returned back to North Africa in January 1947
  • two years later, Major Jules Gaucher redeployed to Indochina
  • he was serving with the 13e DBLE (1949-50)
  • in 1952, he returned to Indochina for the last time
  • Lieutenant Colonel Gaucher became the commanding officer of 13e DBLE
  • at Dien Bien Phu, he took command of the central sector

– he was the second commander of the 13e DBLE killed in Indochina
– after Lt Col Gabriel Brunet de Sairigné, killed in March 1948

– the place of his death is mentioned as Gabrielle
– that evening, the northernmost defensive position was also shelled

Fall of Beatrice
– in the early morning, Beatrice was lost
– its HQ and strongpoints were destroyed
Beatrice was seized by the Viet Minh

– 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE suffered heavy casualties
– Major Pégot was killed (battalion commander)
– his deputy, Captain Pardi, was also killed
– about 300 officers and legionnaires of the battalion were killed or imprisoned
– less than 200 officers and legionnaires survived the attack
– they were evacuated from the sector to the HQ of Dien Bien Phu
– later, these men would reinforce Huguette
– this defensive position was held by the 1st Battalion, 13e DBLE
– legionnaires from 1st Battalion, 2e REI were also stationed there

Beatrice. The easternmost French defensive position, composed of three smaller strongpoints (1, 2, 3). Built on two hills, it became the very first defensive position attacked and overrun during the initial Viet Minh offensive. It lies 1,5 miles (2,5 km) away from the French HQ. Beatrice. The defensive position of the 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE in late December 1953. Below a “Christmas tree”, a banner with “Merry Christmas” in French, German and Italian. Legionnaires at Beatrice. Legionnaires of the 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE during Christmas, late December 1953. They are wearing khaki berets, a traditional head gear of the 13e DBLE taken from the 1940 Norwegian Campaign of WWII. HQ of Beatrice. French officials visiting Beatrice and its HQ bunker, a home to Major Pégot, then commander of the 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE. He was killed during the attack. Jules Gaucher, an interesting figure of the Foreign Legion, killed the first day of the battle. Serving as the commander of the 13e DBLE and the Central Sector of the French camp (including Beatrice), his unexpected death would affect the destiny of the defensive position and, probably, the destiny of the entire battle at Dien Bien Phu. Paul Pégot. The commander of the 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE at Beatrice. Killed the same evening as Lt Col Gaucher, during the first Viet Minh offensive.

March 14, 1954:
new reinforcements
– a pro-French Vietnamese parachute battalion dropped over Dien Bien Phu
– 5e BPVN, composed of local anti-communist auxiliaries
– led by Captain Botella
– it would reinforce French troops

Attack on Gabrielle
– in the afternoon, Gabrielle was attacked by the Viet Minh
– the northernmost defensive position of Dien Bien Phu
– 2,5 miles (4 km) distant from the French HQ
– held by an Algerian battalion
– also a platoon of the 2e CMMLE (Ltn Clerget)
– the fighting took all the night

– 1st Platoon, 1re CEPML supported Gabrielle
– led by Lieutenant Paul Turcy
– placed at Claudine (a defensive position near the French HQ)
– the platoon was under Viet Minh shelling
– Lieutenant Turcy would be killed

March 15, 1954:
Fall of Gabrielle
– in the early morning, a counter-attack
– 5e BPVN was sent to help to defend Gabrielle
– accompanied by two companies of the 1er BEP
– they would launch a counter-attack, supported by M24 tanks
– however, the counter-attack wasn’t successful
– the northernmost defensive position was lost
Gabrielle was seized by the Viet Minh

– only a few Algerians and legionnaires from 2e CMMLE survived
– the rest of them were killed or imprisoned (just as Ltn Clerget)
– the 2e CMMLE survivors would join their company at Anne-Marie
– 1er BEP withdrew with 9 men killed + 46 men wounded

– during the attacks on Beatrice and Gabrielle, the Viet Minh lost many men
– at least 2,500 of them have been estimated to be killed
– around 7,000 Viet Minh men have been estimated to be wounded
– in other words, two French battalions were attacked by two Viet Minh divisions

Lt Colonel Charles Piroth committed suicide
– also that day, Lt Colonel Piroth killed himself
– the commander of French artillery at Dien Bien Phu
– he saw the fall of defensive positions as a fault of his artillery
– he assumed personal responsibility and committed suicide
– in 1946, as Major, he was badly wounded near Saigon
– back then, he allowed his arm to be amputated without anesthesia

March 15 is seen as the day the French lost the battle

Gabrielle. The northernmost French defensive position, located 2,5 miles (4 km) north of the French HQ. A large fortified strongpoint, built on a long hill (some 500 yards, 450 m). Gabrielle was attacked and overrun as the second defensive position during the initial Viet Minh offensive. The loss of Beatrice and Gabrielle is seen as a crucial moment, resulting in the French loss of Dien Bien Phu. Gabrielle. The defensive position built by French airborne engineers. Held by a battalion of Algerians with support of a platoon of 2e CMMLE artillery legionnaires.

March 16, 1954:
Loss of Anne-Marie
– after the fall of Beatrice and Gabrielle, the most threatened defensive position
– composed of four strongpoints
– occupied by a Tai battalion (BT3) + 2e CMMLE legionnaires
– during the night, the Tai auxiliaries deserted from their positions
– scared by a possible Viet Minh attack, they disappeared in the jungle
– 2e CMMLE left alone on Anne-Marie
– the legionnaires were sent to Claudine (near the French HQ)
– the Anne-Marie defensive position was abolished
– its two less outlying former strongpoints (3 + 4) were renamed
– they became Huguette 6 + Huguette 7

new reinforcements
– in the afternoon, a new reinforcement
– the same day as the fall of Gabrielle
– a French colonial parachute battalion jumped over Dien Bien Phu
– 6e BCP, led by Major Bigeard

Anne-Marie. After the fall of Gabrielle, the northernmost French defensive position. Composed of four strongpoints, two of them built on a hill. The defensive position saw a mass desertion and had to be reorganized. The men identified as legionnaires of the 2e CMMLE. The mortar company lost a platoon at Gabrielle, and had to withdraw from Anne-Marie, after a desertion of Tai partisans. 2e CMMLE men would support French troops until the end of the battle.

March 19-20, 1954:
– evacuation of wounded soldiers from Dien Bien Phu by air

Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Lemeunier
– a new commanding officer of the 13e DBLE
– a French officer, in the Legion since 1934
– he voluntarily jumped over Dien Bien Phu on March 19
– he would take command of the Central Sector

Lt Colonel Maurice Lemeunier. The new commanding officer of the 13e DBLE and a new commander of the Central Sector of Dien Bien Phu. The image is taken during a Change of command ceremony at the regiment’s rear base, March 17, 1954. He would jump over Dien Bien Phu two days later. Maurice Lemeunier served with the Legion as a French officer between 1934-59. He would command the 4e REI in 1957-59.

March 20-22, 1954:
Clashes near Isabelle
– during two days of patrolling near Isabelle, clashes with the Viet Minh
– legionnaires from 12th Company, 3e REI got involved in
– 7 legionnaires were killed
– 13 legionnaires were wounded or missed

– at the same time, 1er BEP legionnaires were sent to Isabelle
– they had to keep an open way between the camp and the defensive position
– supported by M24 Chaffee tanks
– on the road to Isabelle, a fierce battle with the Viet Minh
– 1er BEP suffered losses
– Lieutenant Lecocq + Lieutenant Bertrand + Lieutenant Raynaud were killed
– 6 legionnaires were also killed + 20 legionnaires wounded

March 26, 1954:
– an attack on Viet Minh positions near Huguette 6
– a strongpoint of the Huguette defensive position
– ex-Anne-Marie 3, placed at the end of the airstrip
– the attack was conducted by 1er BEP legionnaires
– Viet Minh suffered 20 men killed
– 2 legionnaires were also killed
– Lieutenant Desmaizières + 20 legionnaires were wounded

March 27, 1954:
the last evacuation of wounded soldiers from Dien Bien Phu
– French aircrafts were repeatedly coming under fire
– the main airstrip was targeted by the Viet Minh artillery
– because of that, the aircrafts stopped to use it
– wounded men would have to suffer at the camp

Evacuation from Dien Bien Phu. A rare example of an evacuation carried out by a helicopter.

March 28, 1954:
Battle on the West
– one of the few French victories at Dien Bien Phu
– an operation aimed at Viet Minh anti-aircraft artillery
– conducted by a French composite task force
– consisting of four battalions + artillery + M24 tank platoon
– legionnaires from 1er BEP + 1st Battalion, 2e REI participated in
– a Viet Minh battalion was annihilated
– about 350 Viet Minh men were killed
– the French suffered 20 men killed + 72 men wounded

March 29, 1954:
Eliane 4
– a new strongpoint of the Eliane defensive position
Eliane 4, located between Eliane 1 and Eliane 2
– built by French paratroopers to reinforce Eliane 1
– the course of events would confirm it as a good decision

Eliane 4. A new strongpoint built behind Eliane 1. The course of events would confirm it as a good decision. Nevertheless, three important hills had already been lost.

Battle of Dien Bien Phu: Second Offensive

March 30, 1954:
Viet Minh’s Second Offensive
– in the evening, the Viet Minh launched their second offensive
– conducted from two directions
– east + north-west
– in the east, an attack on five hills
– in the north-west, an attack on two Huguettes
– each attack was carried out by a Viet Minh division

Battle of Five Hills
– a large attack on the eastern part of the camp
– aimed at five important hills with strongpoints
Dominique 1 + Dominique 2 + Eliane 1 + Eliane 2 + Mont Fictif
Mont Fictif (Phoney Hill) was bordering Eliane 2

– the strongpoints of Dominique were occupied by an Algerian battalion
– a company of 5e BPVN (Vietnamese paratroopers) supported them
– a platoon of the 1re CMMLE was stationed at Dominique 1
– led by Lieutenant Colcy
– the 1re CMMLE mortar platoon fought to the last man
– Lieutenant Colcy was killed, his platoon was annihilated
Dominique 2 was quickly seized by the Viet Minh
Dominique 1 was seized a few hours later

– the attacked Eliane strongpoints were occupied by a Moroccan battalion
Eliane 1 + Eliane 2 (Eliane 4 wasn’t affected eventually)
Eliane 1 was quickly abandoned by Moroccans
Eliane 1 was seized by the Viet Minh

Eliane 2 was heavily attacked
– also held by Moroccans
– 1st Company, 1er BEP (Lieutenant Luciani) supported them
– the 1er BEP legionnaires fought fiercely
– having faced an entire regiment, they managed to defend the strongpoint
– nevertheless, they suffered heavy casualties
– at midnight, a counter-attack by two 6e BPC companies
– supported by another 1er BEP company, led by Lieutenant Fournier
– the strongpoint was cleared of any enemy
Eliane 2 managed to fight off the attack

– that night, 16 men from the 1er BEP were killed or missed
– tens of 1er BEP legionnaires were wounded

– on Eliane (defensive position), also a platoon of the 1re CEPML
– led by Lieutenant Bergot and placed between Eliane 2 and Eliane 4
– the platoon’s artillery fire supported the defenders

Attack on Huguette
– a severe assault carried out by a Viet Minh division
– launched at the same time as the Battle of Five Hills
– conducted from the north-west direction
– aimed at the outlying strongpoints of Huguette
Huguette 6 + Huguette 7
– both were ex-Anne-Marie strongpoints (3 + 4)
Huguette 6 was held by 2e REI legionnaires
Huguette 7 was held by a 5e BPVN (Vietnamese paratroopers) company
– the fierce battle took all the night
– in the morning, the enemy was fought off
Huguette managed to fight off the attack

– however, the Viet Minh would continue in attacking them

Battle of Five Hills. The five hills attacked by the Viet Minh on March 30, 1954, during their second offensive. The fifth attacked hill was Mont Fictif (Phoney Hill), bordering Eliane 2. Huguette. The defensive position attacked at the same time as the five hills. Viet Minh assaults were aimed at Huguette 6 + Huguette 7 (former Anne-Marie 3 + Anne-Marie 4).

March 31 – April 4, 1954:
Battle of Eliane 2
– another phase of the Viet Minh’s second offensive
– for the French, a successful defensive action
– a series of severe Viet Minh attacks on Eliane 2
– accompanied by persistent heavy shelling
– the battle lasted 107 hours without interruption
– 1er BEP legionnaires and 6e BPC paratroopers got involved it
– volunteers from other units were supporting them
– no more than 300 men together against two Viet Minh regiments
– however, they were successful
Eliane 2 managed to fight off the attacks

– during the battle, some 1,200 Viet Minh men were killed
– thousands of Viet Minh troops were wounded or missed
– these heavy losses significantly demoralized the Viet Minh
– the division attacking in the east of the camp became paralyzed
– it had to stop its assaults for the next four weeks

– many French soldiers were also killed
– between them, at least 29 men from the 1er BEP
– about 50 legionnaires were wounded

March 31, 1954:
Isolation of Isabelle
– that day near Isabelle, clashes with the Viet Minh
– part of a French offensive against the Viet Minh
– legionnaires from 3rd Battalion, 3e REI got involved in
– supported by M24 tanks
– they wanted to maintain an open way with the French HQ
– 3,5 miles (6 km) north of their defensive position
– however, the Viet Minh had already cut off the road
– also, large trenches were built by the Viet Minh
– a fierce battle between legionnaires and the Viet Minh took place
– in the battle, 3e REI suffered heavy casualties
– 15 men were killed or missed
– about 50 men were wounded, including Captain Picard
– since that day, Isabelle became an isolated defensive position

April 1, 1954:
a new reinforcement
– a French parachute battalion jumped over Dien Bien Phu
– 2nd Battalion, 1er RCP
– led by Major Bréchignac

Loss of Francoise
– the smallest defensive position at Dien Bien Phu
– occupied by Tai partisans
– that day, Tai auxiliaries left their strongpoint
– scared by a possible Viet Minh attack, they refused to fight
– they were disarmed and imprisoned as deserters inside the camp
– the Francoise defensive position was abolished

Francoise. Another defensive position lost due to a desertion. Abandoned on April 1, 1954.

April 1-2, 1954:
Battle of Huguette 7
– a series of severe Viet Minh attacks on Huguette 7
– a strongpoint occupied by a Legion company
– 2e REI legionnaires (about 100 men) led by Lieutenant Spozio
– they faced an entire Viet Minh regiment
– the severe battle took 36 hours without interruption
– at the end of the battle, only 12 combat-ready legionnaires
– ran out of ammunition, the last survivors were called off
– these legionnaires would reinforce Huguette 2
Huguette 7 was seized by the Viet Minh

April 4-5, 1954:
Attack on Huguette 6
– in the evening, a severe Viet Minh attack
– conducted by two regiments, aimed at Huguette 6
– ex-Anne-Marie 3 strongpoint
– after the loss of Huguette 7, the most outlying position
– an important strongpoint, protecting the airstrip
– occupied by Legion units
– less than 250 men, led by Lieutenant Rastouil

  • volunteers from 1st Battalion, 2e REI (Ltn Francois)
  • NCO-Candidate corporals from 13e DBLE (Ltn Philippe)
  • legionnaires-survivors from 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE

– at midnight, a 8e BPC company was sent to support the legionnaires
– also, three M24 Chaffee tanks
– the Viet Minh was surprised and withdrew

– April 5, in the early morning, a new Viet Minh attack
– two French companies were sent to support the strongpoint
– French paratroopers from 8e BPC and 1er RCP
– both companies forced the Viet Minh to withdraw
Huguette 6 managed to fight off the attack

– in two days, some 800 Viet Minh attackers were killed
– the French lost around 200 soldiers, including many legionnaires
– a 1er RCP company reinforced the legionnaires on Huguette 6
– two days later, the company would be replaced by a 5e BPVN company

Huguette 6. Ex-Anne-Marie 3, the defensive position had been attacked since late March, defended by legionnaires and paratroopers. Huguette 7. At the bottom, right, a triangular, star-shaped strongpoint, Huguette 7 (a former Anne-Marie 4). It was overrun by the Viet Minh on April 2.

April 6-18, 1954:
Siege of Huguette 6
– occupied by legionnaires from 2e REI
– around 100 men, led by Lieutenant Rastouil
– reinforced by a 5e BPVN company (80 men, Captain Bizard)
– the Viet Minh would isolate the strongpoint from support
– to supply the strogpoint, it’s necessary to fight fiercely
– it was surrounded by a web of Viet Minh trenches
– April 14, Lieutenant Rastouil was killed
– April 17, a decision to evacuate the strongpoint

April 6, 1954:
Liliane (Lily)
– a new defensive position created, Liliane (also Lily)
– a small, auxiliary position, consisting of two strongpoints
Liliane 1 (ex-Claudine 1) + Liliane 2
– they would be occupied by a 4e RTM Moroccan company
– later, also a small Liliane 3

Liliane/Lily. A small, auxiliary defensive position composed of two strongpoints. Liliane 1 (ex-Claudine 1) + Liliane 2.

April 9-10, 1954:
2e BEP jumped over Dien Bien Phu
– another Legion battalion would reinforce the besieged camp
– 2nd Foreign Parachute Battalion (2e BEP, future 2e REP)
– led by Major Liesenfelt
– 2e BEP legionnaires jumped over the valley in two waves
– during the nights of April 9-10 and April 10-11
– at the camp, they would reinforce several strongpoints
– April 9-11, 2e BEP suffered 12 men killed (including Captain Delafond)
– another 14 of his men were wounded

April 10, 1954:
Recapture of Eliane 1
– another French successful action in the east
– a French offensive to recapture Eliane 1
– the strongpoint located right opposite Eliane 4
– it was lost on March 30, during the Battle of Five Hills
– the Viet Minh set up a sniper outpost there to threat the French
– Major Bigeard (6e BPC) decided to retake the strongpoint
– his men had been occupying the Eliane defensive position

– first, the hill was shelled by French artillery
– also by dropping bombs from an aircraft
– thereafter, two 6e BPC companies launched an assault
– although suffering heavy casualties, they seized Eliane 1
– the already demoralized Viet Minh couldn’t defend it
– their combat-ready battalions launched several unsuccessful counter-attacks
– some 100 1er BEP legionnaires supported the two French companies
– finally, the Viet Minh had to withdraw
Eliane 1 was successfully recaptured by the French

– to maintain the strongpoint, other units were replacing their comrades
– a 1er RCP company + a 1er BEP company (Lieutenant Martin)
– thereafter, a 2e BEP company (Captain Delafond, killed)
– in next days, a company from 1st Battalion, 13e DBLE or a 5e BPVN company
– the strongpoint would remain under French control until May 6

– this action confirmed then low morale of the eastern Viet Minh division
– it also confirms that even the Viet Minh had their limits
– third, it confirmed the high level of combat readiness of French paratroopers

Eliane 1. One of the hills lost on March 30. It was successfully recaptured by French paratroopers on April 10. The small hillock north of Eliane 1 is Dominique 5, abandoned after the Battle of Five Hills. Eliane 1, viewed from Eliane 4. Major Bigeard (6e BPC) decided to retake the hill after one of his officers was fatally shot by a Viet Minh sniper from there.

April 11, 1954:
– close to Huguette 1, an operation to push the approaching Viet Minh
Lieutenant Bourges and his 4th Company, 2e REI
– supported by M24 tanks
– a fierce battle occurred and the Viet Minh had to withdraw
– however, a Legion platoon was lost

April 12-17, 1954:
Strongpoint Opéra
Opéra was created
– a new, small, auxiliary strongpoint
– east of the airstrip
– between Huguette and Dominique defensive positions
– occupied by a 5e BPVN company
– also 13e DBLE elements (led by Captain Philippe)

Opéra. An auxiliary strongpoint to protect the airstrip. Lieutenant Guy Bourges. The commander of the 4th Company, 2e REI at Dien Bien Phu. His legionnaires saw many actions on different strongpoints. On April 11, they got involved in heavy fighting near Huguette 1. In Vietnam a year earlier, Lieutenant Bourges and his company took part in a battle, in which 170 Viet Minh rebels were killed.

April 18, 1954:
Evacuation of Huguette 6
– an order to evacuate the strongpoint
– occupied by 2e REI legionnaires, led by Lieutenant Francois
– reinforced by a 5e BPVN company
– since early April, the Viet Minh had cut off the strongpoint
– to supply the besieged French troops, it’s necessary to fight fiercely
– it resulted in a serious lack of drinking water
– also, not enough troops to reinforce it sufficiently
– because of that, a decision to abandon Huguette 6
Huguette 6 was seized by the Viet Minh

– during the evacuation, Lieutenant Francois was killed
– over 100 men had been killed at Huguette 6 since early April
– the survivors would be stationed at Opéra

– a day earlier, a failed attempt to help to evacuate Huguette 6
– two 1er BEP companies + two 8e BPC companies took part in
– they should cover their comrades during the evacuation
– however, the companies were stopped by the Viet Minh
– 17 men were killed + 78 men wounded
– between the wounded, Lieutenant Martin from 1er BEP

Huguette 6. Ex-Anne-Marie 3. The strongpoint had been besieged by the Viet Minh since early April. It should be abandoned because of the supply roads being cut off.

April 19-22, 1954:
Battle of Huguette 1
– at the time, the most outlying strongpoint (excl. Isabelle)
– located north of the center, near the airstrip
– occupied by a 2e REI company (Lieutenant Spozio)
– veterans of the Battle of Huguette 7 (early April)
– they held Huguette 1 for several days
– repulsing the repeated Viet Minh attacks
– April 19, replaced by a 13e DBLE company (Captain Chevallier)
– the 13e DBLE company saw big troubles to reach the strogpoint
– its men spent all the night to make some 330 yards (300 m)
– from original 120 men, only 80 combat-ready men reached Huguette 1
– the rest were killed or wounded during the night and the morning

– the 2e REI legionnaires left Huguette 1 to join Huguette 3
– a strongpoint on the other side of the airstrip, close to the HQ
– during their return, many of them were killed or wounded too

Huguette 1 was attacked by a Viet Minh regiment
– Captain Chevallier and his 80 legionnaires fought bravely
– the Viet Minh isolated the strongpoint from support
– it was surrounded by a web of Viet Minh trenches
– Captain Chevallier was informed about his situation
– he and his men decided to “make Camerone
– they would fight to the last man, until the finish
– April 20, about 3,000 hand grenades were used to stop the Viet Minh
– April 21, only 50 legionnaires remained to defend Huguette 1
– the Viet Minh was everywhere
– Captain Chevallier asked artillery to shell directly his strongpoint
– April 22, his radio went silent
– Captain Chevallier and his men were killed
Huguette 1 was seized by the Viet Minh

Huguette 1. At the time, the northernmost strongpoint. Between April 19-22, the strongpoint saw fierce fighting and a “Camerone” of its defenders, some 80 men of the 1st Battalion, 13e DBLE, led by Captain Chevallier. Captain Jacques Chevallier. Killed at Dien Bien Phu, when he led the 4th Company, 13e DBLE. Besieged at Huguette 1, he and his men decided to “make Camerone” – to fight to the last man. None of them would be captured.

April 22, 1954:
Airstrip cut in two
– that day, the main airstrip/runway was cut in two
– the Viet Minh made a trench there

April 23, 1954:
Counter-attack on Huguette 1
– an attempt to recapture Huguette 1
– 2e BEP was assigned to carry out the assault
– 380 men led by Major Liesenfelt
– a fresh, reserve unit
– first, a French airborne attack + heavy sheeling
– second, the ground assault should follow
– nevertheless, Major Liesenfelt delayed the attack
– the Viet Minh got a chance to recover and to be prepared

– then, two 2e BEP companies attacked Huguette 1 from Opéra
– they suffered heavy casualties (80% of their strength)
– when they asked for help, nobody would respond
– the radio of their Major was blocked and he didn’t check it out
– another two companies tried to attack
– they were stopped by an intense machine-gun fire
– just promoted Lt Colonel Bigeard (6e BPC) called off the assault
– this action ended the battles of the three Huguettes
Huguette 7 + Huguette 6 + Huguette 1 were lost

2e BEP would be dissolved because of heavy losses
– Major Liesenfelt would be removed from command

– Lieutenant Jean Garin, wounded at the airstrip, killed himself
– a platoon leader with the 8th Company, 2e BEP
– he got his legs seriously injured during the counter-attack
– two legionnaires had already died when trying to save their leader
– he didn’t want to see other legionnaires to risk their lives for him

April 24, 1954:
Provisional Foreign Parachute Battalion
Bataillon de Marche Étranger de Parachutistes (BMEP)
– that day, BMEP was established
– consisting of 1er BEP and 2e BEP survivors
– both units, significantly devastated, merged together
– the new unit was composed of four companies
– Lieutenant De Stabenrath + Captain Brandon (ex-1er BEP)
– Lieutenant Le Cour Grandmaison + Lieutenant Pétré (ex-2e BEP)
Major Maurice Giraud took command
– BMEP would be placed at the strongpoints Huguette 4 and Huguette 5

Evacuation of Opéra
– an order to evacuate Opéra
– a small strongpoint, freshly created
– occupied by a 5e BPVN company
– the evacuation was caused by the loss of Huguette 1
Opéra was seized by the Viet Minh the following day

April 24-30, 1954:
Relative Calm
– the Viet Minh stopped their assaults
– it suffered heavy casualties to seize the three Huguettes
– the Viet Minh lost over 6,000 men there
– the French lost some 700 men there

new reinforcements
– during that week, tens of volunteers jumped over Dien Bien Phu
– many of them were legionnaires from different units
– the majority of them just received a parachute to jump
– they didn’t pass any training
– they were true volunteers to support their comrades

– many volunteers jumped over Dien Bien Phu between March-May
– a number of them landed behind the enemy lines
– they would be killed or imprisoned without firing a shot

April 28, 1954:
Clashes near Huguette 4
– clashes with the Viet Minh near Huguette 4
– BMEP legionnaires (led by Captain Luciani) got involved in
– his men surprised approaching Viet Minh groups
– 20 Viet Minh men would be killed

April 30, 1954:
Camerone Day
– a day marking the 1863 Battle of Camerone
– a holiday for legionnaires
– in the valley, most of them would celebrate their last Camerone Day

Battle of Dien Bien Phu: Third (Final) Offensive

May 1, 1954:
Viet Minh’s Third Offensive
– in the evening, the Viet Minh launched their final offensive
– conducted from two directions, again
– east + north-west
– in the east, an attack on Elianes
– in the north-west, an attack on Huguette 5
– the attacks were carried out by three Viet Minh divisions

Attack on Eliane 1 + Eliane 2
– a large attack conducted by two Viet Minh divisions
– aimed at the strongpoints Eliane 1 + Eliane 2
– the attack began at 05.00 PM (17:00) with artillery shelling
– the intense Viet Minh shelling took several hours
– then a ground assault would follow
– Eliane 1, held by two 1er RCP companies
– Eliane 2, held by two (or three) 13e DBLE companies (Major Coutant)
– the heavy fighting took all the night
Eliane 1 + Eliane 2 managed to fight off the attack, however

Battle of Huguette 5
– a large offensive conducted by a Viet Minh division
– aimed at the western strongpoint Huguette 5
– Huguette 5, held by BMEP legionnaires (Lieutenant De Stabenrath)
– a single company, about 120 men
– the battle began at 05.00 PM (17:00) with artillery shelling
– then a Viet Minh ground assault would follow
– the severe battle took all the night
– attacks followed by counter-attacks
– the battle finished at 10.00 AM (10:00) in the morning
Huguette 5 managed to fight off the attacks
– however, the BMEP company lost 88 legionnaires
– including 12 men killed + 68 wounded

May 2, 1954:
Loss of Eliane 1
Eliane 1, held by two 1er RCP companies
– in the evening, the Viet Minh launched an assault
– the position was reinforced by a third company from 1er RCP
– all of the three companies were annihilated
– at 11.00 PM (23:00), the radio went silent
Eliane 1 was seized by the Viet Minh

Loss of Dominique 3
– the last strongpoint of Dominique
– it was composed of two small outposts
– held by Algerian companies
– supported by 6e BPC elements and BT2 elements
– in the evening, a direct Viet Minh assault
– the defenders faced two Viet Minh battalions
– they resisted the attackers for some time
– nevertheless, the strongpoint was overrun
Dominique 3 was seized by the Viet Minh

Loss of Huguette 5
Huguette 5, held by a BMEP company (Lieutenant De Stabenrath)
– considerably reduced by the previous battle
– three platoons of 10 men each
– Lieutenant Boisbouvier + Master Sergeant Zurell + Sergeant Novak
– they were facing hundreds of Viet Minhs
– in the evening, the severe battle started
– at 03.30 AM (03:30) in the morning of May 3, only 3 men left
– Sergeant Novak + 2 legionnaires
– the only combat-ready survivors, they were called off
Huguette 5 was seized by the Viet Minh

– Lieutenant Boisbouvier was killed
– Lieutenant De Stabenrath was badly wounded and died a week later

– Novak will be killed in Algeria in 1958
– at the time, he was a platoon leader with the 2nd Company, 2e REP

Huguette 5. The strongpoint, held by a BMEP company, saw severe battles between May 1-3. The heavily outnumbered legionnaires fought bravely. Only 3 men left. Dominique 3. An important strongpoint, held by Algerians, placed between the already lost Dominique 2 and the Nam Youm river. Within two hours, it was overrun. South-west of Dominique 3, the strongpoint Eliane 1. For the very first time overrun during the Battle of Five Hills in late March, thereafter successfully recaptured on April 10, Eliane 1 was definitively lost on May 2, the same day as Dominique 3. Huguette 5 would be overrun a few hours later.

May 3-4, 1954:
a new reinforcement
– during the night of May 2-3, a new reinforcement
– a French parachute company jumped over Dien Bien Phu
– 2nd Company, 1er BPC, led by Captain Edme
– the company was placed at Eliane 2
– there, they reinforced the 13e DBLE legionnaires

– during the night of May 3-4, a new reinforcement
– another French parachute company jumped over Dien Bien Phu
– 3rd Company, 1er BPC, led by Captain Pouget
– the company reinforced Eliane 2, to replace the 13e DBLE legionnaires
– Major Coutant and his 13e DBLE legionnaires withdrew
– they moved to Eliane 3
– used as a rear base of the Eliane defensive position

May 4, 1954:
Loss of Huguette 4
Huguette 4, held by BMEP legionnaires (Captain Luciani)
– also Moroccans (most likely from 4e RTM)
– no more than 220 men together
– they were facing an entire Viet Minh regiment
– at 12.30 PM (00:30), an intense battle started
– the Viet Minh launched one of the heaviest assault
– waves of the Viet Minh were attacking the strongpoint
– three hours later, the defenders were overrun
Huguette 4 was seized by the Viet Minh

Huguette 4. The strongpoint, held by a BMEP company and an Algerian company, saw one of the heaviest assault of the battle of Dien Bien Phu. 220 men were facing an entire Viet Minh regiment. After three hours of severe fighting, Huguette 4 was lost.

May 5-6, 1954:
last reinforcements
– during the night of May 4-5, a new reinforcement
– another 1er BPC company jumped over Dien Bien Phu
– led by Captain Tréhiou

– during the night of May 5-6, the last reinforcement
– some 90 paratroopers from 1er BPC jumped over Dien Bien Phu
– they were the last reinforcement for the French garrison

May 6-7, 1954:
Final Assault
– May 6, the entire camp was shelled
– at noon, the Viet Minh started to use Katyusha
– a Soviet Union multiple rocket launcher
– the new weapon was destroying the strongpoints

Attack on Eliane 2
– probably the most important strongpoint
– the attackers had been trying to seize it for over a month
– resisting since the Battle of Five Hills in late March
– at 06.45 PM (18:45), the Viet Minh launched an assault
– an entire regiment attacked the strongpoint Eliane 2
– held by the two 1er BPC companies, led by Captain Pouget
– they were the last reinforcement dropped into the valley
– the French paratroopers repulsed the attack
– over 200 attackers were immediately killed
– the Viet Minh stopped their assaults
– the strongpoint would be shelled again

– at around 10.00 PM (22:00), Eliane 2 was blown up
– the Viet Minh dug out a tunnel through the hill
– then, it filled up with 2,100 pounds of explosives
– after that, the French command bunker was blown up
– less than 40 paratroopers survived the massive explosion
– between the survivors, Captain Pouget
– he and his men would fight yet another five hours
– at around 03.00 AM (03:00), May 7, the strongpoint was overrun
Eliane 2 was seized by the Viet Minh

Attack on Claudine 5
– a strongpoint in the west of the French camp
– held by legionnaires from the 2nd Company, 2e REI (Captain Schmitz)
– in the evening, Claudine 5 came under attack
– an intense Viet Minh assault would take three hours
– the legionnaires were able to fight off the attackers, however
– supported by the survivors from the 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE
– nevertheless, the defenders wouldn’t survive the second assault
– at 02.00 AM (02:00), May 7, the strongpoint was overrun
Claudine 5 was seized by the Viet Minh

Claudine 5. Held by 2e REI legionnaires and the survivors of the 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE. Lost after fierce fighting. Eliane. Most likely the most important defensive position at Dien Bien Phu, after the loss of Beatrice and Gabrielle. For both sides of the conflict, it had a psychologically-strategic importance. An entire Viet Minh division was paralyzed and demoralized after its failed bloody attempts to overrun it in late March. Thousands of attackers were killed, wounded or missed. Many Viet Minh officers had to be replaced and the division got four weeks to recover. To support the success of the final offensive, the Viet Minh decided to blast Eliane 2 into the air. Look at it and note its long slope. It was nicknamed “Champs-Élysées” by French paratroopers, after the famous avenue in Paris. In the middle, there was a French command bunker. It was blown up by the Viet Minh and a large crater has remained since then. It buried many French defenders and resulted in the loss of this famous strongpoint. The crater would become a symbol for the Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu. Eliane 2 in 2017. The crater in the middle of “Champs-Élysées” (the French nickname for the long slope of the hill), made by the Viet Minh with 2,100 pounds of explosives. It blasted a French command bunker into the air and killed or buried many French paratroopers. Today, the crater is the best-known attraction for tourists at Dien Bien Phu.

Attack on Eliane 4 + Eliane 10
– at 10.00 PM (22:00), the Viet Minh launched an assault
– aimed at Eliane 4, the last French hill
– held by the 5e BPVN Vietnamese + paratroopers from 1er RCP
– later that night, it would be reinforced by 8e BPC paratroopers
– also two BMEP companies (some 150 men together)
– led by Lieutenant Brandon + Lieutenant Le Cour Grandmaison
– the defenders faced a Viet Minh regiment

– at the same time, an assault aimed at Eliane 10
– located between Eliane 4 and the Nam Youm river
– held by Moroccans + Tai auxiliaries from BT2 (Major Chenel)
– Major Chenel, a former Legion officer
– as Lt Col Gaucher, one of those 5e REI survivors from 1945
– nicknamed Zatopek, he would command the 2e REP in 1961-63

Eliane 10 was reinforced by 6e BPC paratroopers
– the heavy fighting took many hours
Eliane 4 + Eliane 10 were repulsing all attacks
– at 05.30 AM (05:30) in the morning, the Viet Minh suspended their actions
– an hour later, it launched new assaults
– the Viet Minh attacks would continue next three hours
– at 09.00-09.30 AM (09:00-09:30), both strongpoints were overrun
Eliane 4 + Eliane 10 were seized by the Viet Minh

Loss of Eliane 3 + Eliane 11 + Eliane 12
– strongpoints located alongside the Nam Youm river
Eliane 3 was an original strongpoint
– held by legionnaires from 1st Battalion, 13e DBLE + Moroccans (4e RTM)
– it protected a road to the French HQ, crossing the river
– it also protected the access to the two newer strongpoints
– also served as a rear base for the entire Eliane
Eliane 11 and Eliane 12
– held by several French troops
– 6e BPC + Algerians + Tai auxiliaries from BT2 of Major Chenel

Eliane 3 saw aproaching Viet Minh troops
– in the afternoon, the 13e DBLE legionnaires were called off
– they left the strongpoint to protect the HQ
– shortly afterwards, at 03.00 PM (15:00) of May 7, the Moroccans surrendered
Eliane 11 and Eliane 12 were exposed
– the two strongpoints would resist only an hour
– at 04.00 PM (16:00), they were overrun
Eliane 3 + Eliane 11 + Eliane 12 were seized by the Viet Minh

the loss of the defensive position Eliane ended the battle

Eliane. The defensive position resisting since the Battle of Five Hills in late March. New strongpoints (11, 12) were set up to defend the French HQ in case of the loss of the important hills Eliane 1 + Eliane 2 + Eliane 4. The defensive position Eliane would be definitively lost on May 7, 1954. Its loss resulted in the end of the battle.

Battle of Dien Bien Phu: Ceasefire

– May 7, a French decision to hold talks with General Giap
– a ceasefire was arranged
– at 04.30 PM (16:30), the strongpoints were informed about the ceasefire
– at 05.00 PM (17:00), an order to destroy heavy weapons
– at 05.40 PM (17:40), a Viet Minh red flag was raised over the camp
– the white flag wasn’t raised, however
– officially, the French didn’t surrender

– at the time of ceasefire, several defensive positions were still being held:

– held by 1st Battalion, 2e REI legionnaires
– supported by a platoon from 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE

– held by BMEP legionnaires

– held by 1st Battalion, 2e REI legionnaires

– one of the defensive positions based near the camp’s HQ
– set up to protect the HQ from the south
– held by 1st Battalion, 13e DBLE legionnaires

– at 06.30 PM (18:30), last legionnaires would lay down their rifles
– the 56-day battle was over

French strongpoints at the end of the battle. The strongpoints still held at the time of the ceasefire (or those not mentioned to be lost). The defensive position Claudine had almost all of its strongpoints (2, 3, 4) in French hands. Liliane/Lily wasn’t overrun (according to the Viet Minh). Two Huguettes should be still held by the French. Epervier (ex-Dominique 4), placed between the airstrip and the river. Junon, located between Claudine and the river. A few smaller strongpoints set up close to the HQ are not mentioned, since they didn’t participate in the battle.

Battle of Dien Bien Phu: End of Isabelle

End of Isabelle
– an isolated defensive position located 3,5 miles (6 km) from the HQ
– also the Southern Sector (led by Lt Colonel Lalande, 3e REI)
– composed of five fortified posts, close to Hong Cum
– four of them placed inside a natural meandr of the Nam Youm river
– the fifth was located across the river, near an airstrip
Isabelle was held by 3rd Battalion, 3e REI
– led by Major Grand d’Esnon
– also a Moroccan battalion + a French artillery battery + a tank platoon
– about 1,500 men + local auxiliaries (logistics personnel)

– on May 1, a fierce battle at the fifth outpost, near the airstrip
– occupied by a company of White Tai (Tai Don) auxiliaries
– they fought fircely, supported by mortar fire from Isabelle
– about 30 of them would be killed
– however, the Viet Minh had to withdraw

– on May 7, Isabelle didn’t surrender
– Lt Col Lalande would try to withdraw to the south
– their goal was to reach French troops in Laos
– he ordered the garrison to form two marching groups
– they would march several miles along the river
– 10th Company, 3e REI (Captain Marzeau) would cover them by fire
– at 01.30 AM (01:30) in the morning, the last message from Isabelle
– it informed the French officials that the strongpoint was attacked
Isabelle was seized by the Viet Minh

– in the meantime, the two groups were marching to the south
– the vast majority of them wouldn’t pass, however
– on their way to the edge of the valley, they met enemy units
– clashes between the legionnaires and the Viet Minh took place
– within May 8-9, two thirds of the groups would be killed or imprisoned
– also the 10th Company (covering the withdrawal) had only 30 survivors
– only a few of small groups or individuals would survive in the jungle

Isabelle. The southernmost French defensive position. It was 3,5 miles (6 km) distant from the camp’s HQ. The dotted line shows the original location of a small airstrip. Even today, we can see its borders. The small airstrip was used to supply Isabelle. Until March 22, 1954, it also served as an auxiliary airstrip for the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu. Isabelle, burying the dead. The 3e REI legionnaires are managing burying their dead comrades, carried out by so-called PIMs (working Viet Minh prisoners). Isabelle in 1992. Two abandoned M24 Chaffee tanks as a memento of the battle at the isolated defensive position, almost fourty years later.

Battle of Dien Bien Phu: Aftermath

French troops
– up to 14,000 French troops participated in the battle
– 3,200-3,800 of them belonged to the Foreign Legion

– up to 2,300 French troops are known to be killed
– between them, many legionnaires

– more than 11,700 French troops were missed or imprisoned
– between the imprisoned, 5,200 men wounded
– almost 860 of badly wounded men would be evacuated by the Red Cross
– the prisoners had to march some 380 miles (over 600 km) during 40 days
– including the not-evacuated wounded men
– many of them wouldn’t survive the punitive march
– the prisoners spent several months in the Viet Minh POW camps
only 3,290 men (including legionnaires) would survive the imprisonment

The Foreign Legion units lost during the battle:

  • 1st Foreign Parachute Battalion (1er BEP)
  • 2nd Foreign Parachute Battalion (2e BEP)
  • 1st Battalion, 13e DBLE
  • 3rd Battalion, 13e DBLE
  • 1st Battalion, 2e REI
  • 3rd Battalion, 3e REI
  • 1st Foreign Heavy Mortar Parachute Company (1re CEPML)
  • 1st Foreign Legion Mortar Mixed Company (1re CMMLE)
  • 2nd Foreign Legion Mortar Mixed Company (2e CMMLE)
  • 2nd Platoon, 5e CMRLE

– 1re CEPML + 1re CMMLE + 2e CMMLE would never be recreated

Viet Minh troops
– at least 55,000 Viet Minh troops participated in the battle
– according to both, French and Viet Minh sources
– over 20,000 Viet Minh troops are estimated to be lost
– according to the Viet Minh, 14,000 Viet Minh troops were lost

1954 Geneva Conference
– April 26 – July 20, 1954 in Geneva, Switzerland
– a conference to settle the conflict in Indochina
– France, Viet Minh, USSR, China, USA, United Kingdom
– the Viet Minh and their supporters capitalized on the battle
– it was useful as a strong argument during the conference
– the negotiations resulted in the end of the Indochina war
– the end of the war came into force in July-August 1954
– Vietnam would be cut in two at the 17th parallel
– the French would have to leave North Vietnam
– the Viet Minh officially took control of North Vietnam
– French Union forces would regroup to the south of the line
– in 1955-56, the French had to leave the rest of Vietnam
– they left Indochina after almost 100 years of their presence

Battle of Dien Bien Phu: Photos

– some additional photos to document the battle

1er BEP at Dien Bien Phu. Officers of the 1er BEP during a celebration at the camp, several weeks before the battle started. In the center, Major Maurice Guiraud, then battalion commander. He would become the last commander (1960-61) of the 1er REP, dissolved due to their participation in the 1961 Putsch of Algiers. In the top-left corner, bearing a beret, bearded Lieutenant André Lecocq, killed on March 22, 1954. In front of him, partially hidden, Lieutenant Louis “Loulou” Martin, a well-known 1er BEP/1er REP officer, distinguished during the battles at Eliane, several times wounded. As Captain, he would be honored to lead a 1er REP detachment during 1958 Bastille Day in Paris. Claudine. Members of the 1st Battalion, 13e DBLE taking a break at the southeastern defensive position of Dien Bien Phu, several weeks before the battle started. An airplane is leaving the airstrip, seen from a French position located near the HQ. The French garrison of Dien Bien Phu had to be resupllied with almost 200 tons of food and ammunition per day. After the airstrip became useless, the camp was supplied by airdropping. By the end of the battle, hundreds of parachutes were covering the valley. PIMs (working prisoners) building the trenches near the airstrip of Dien Bien Phu. French paratroopers (even the French officials do not know who exactly is on the image) during a counter-attack against the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in March 1954. Genevieve de Galard, nicknamed The Angel of Dien Bien Phu, after her arrival from the battle. A French military nurse, she was a volunteer for the war in Indochina to serve there as a flight attendant with aircrafts transporting wounded soldiers to hospitals. On March 28, when on mission at Dien Bien Phu, her aircraft was hit by Viet Minh artillery and she was forced to stay in the valley for next six weeks. She immediatelly occupied herself with the wounded in the underground field hospital, by providing them with water and food or by bandaging them. She was allowed to leave the valley in mid-May, alongside other military medical staff. Genevieve de Galard became a celebrity in France, which she disliked by stating that she only did her work. She returned to her profession as a flight attendant. In early 2019, a mother of three and the widow of a French officer, Genevieve de Galard lived in her flat in Paris, still in contact with the families of the wounded men. Patrice de Carfort (left, kneeling). One of the combat medics operating in the field. Although the excelent British writer Martin Windrow rates him among the 1er BEP legionnaires in his Foreign Legion Paratroops, in fact, he belonged to the 8e BPC. Field hospital at Dien Bien Phu. An underground French field hospital at Dien Bien Phu. No TV show, no comedy, only hard work in real conditions… Despite facing a number of difficulties, the French surgeons proved their perfect skills, having less than 5 percent of mortality rate. Staff Sergeant Berés of the 13e DBLE, bearing the fanion of the 4th Company of Captain Chevallier, besieged and annihilated at Huguette 1. The wounded NCO saved and sneaked the fanion out of the valley to not be seized by the Viet Minh. Three legionnaires of the 3rd Battalion, 3e REI at the hospital in Laos. They were between the few men who managed to escape through the Viet Minh lines during the night of May 7-8 and to reach French positions in Laos. Viet Minh logistics personnel during works around Dien Bien Phu. Tens of thousands of them had to build roads, bunkers, trenches or to carry heavy artillery guns up on the hills. Viet Minh attacking a French strongpoint at Dien Bien Phu, April or May 1954. A young Viet Minh soldier, captured at Dien Bien Phu. French troops imprisoned at Dien Bien Phu, including those wounded, were forced to march 380 miles (over 600 km) during 40 days, to reach Viet Minh POW camps on the border with China. Many soldiers wouldn’t survive the punitive march. French prisoners of the Viet Minh, captured at Dien Bien Phu, during their release in late 1954. Hundreds of French soldiers and legionnaires didn’t survive the harsh conditions of the Viet Minh POW camps.

Battle of Dien Bien Phu: French War Memorial

In the 1980s, a small French War Memorial was built in the Dien Bien Phu valley. In 1992, the memorial was found unkempt and in ruins by a former legionnaire, Rolf Rodel. Having joined the Legion in 1950, Staff Sergeant Rolf Rodel served as a commando leader with 10th Company, 3rd Battalion, 3e REI at Isabelle in 1954. Four times wounded during the decisive battle and imprisoned by the Viet Minh, this German legionnaire returned to the site to refresh his memories. He rebuilt the memorial on his own, in eight days.

Rolf Rodel returned to Vietnam two years later, in 1994. He bought a small piece of land and built from the very beginning a new War Memorial to commemorate with dignity the French soldiers fallen at Dien Bien Phu. After two months (February-April), the work was finished. It took another year until French officials considered to cover his expenses and to take care of the new Memorial. However, the monument was officially inaugurated as late as 1999, five years after its construction. Unfortunately, Rolf Rodel didn’t live to see it. He died on January 5, 1999.

Rolf Rodel with the help of locals is building a new French War Memorial at Dien Bien Phu, in 1994. The new memorial was to replace an abandoned memorial from the 1980s. The new French War Memorial at Dien Bien Phu, inagurated unofficially on May 7, 1994. Fourty years after the sad battle was over. Rolf Rodel. A German legionnaire participating in the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954, as a commando leader with 10th Company, 3e REI at Isabelle. Four times wounded during the battle, he was deprived of his Military Medal due to his active participation in the Generals’ Putsch in Algeria in 1961. In Vietnam, Rolf Rodel met with many of his former opponents from the Viet Minh serving as high-ranking officials. They helped him a lot and made his effort as easy as possible. He died five years later, in January 1999. The War Memorial visited by French Prime Minsiter Edouard Philippe in November 2018. He was only the second French high-ranking official to visit the site in twenty years. The memorial, once again in a very poor condition, was fully renovated before the ceremony.

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Main image sources:
ECPAD (Defense audiovisual communication and production unit)
French Ministry of Defense


By 20 April, despite counterassaults intended to prevent the basin's total destruction, the net area under French control was reduced by half, from an initial eight square kilometers to just four The fighting force itself was reduced to 9,940 men, including 1,670 lightly wounded who remained at their posts, and 800 heavily wounded who could not be evacuated, and who therefore had to be herded into muddy shelters, rain soaked by the slightest downpour. The fate of the wounded was atrocious, and weighed heavily on the morale of the entire garrison, which by 13 April had lost nearly 5,000 men, both wounded and dead, including almost 160 officers. The airlift of an additional four battalions of reinforcements composed of nine hundred paratroopers and a significant number of irregular troops, failed to stem the losses. The emotional and physical exhaustion was such that soldiers were reported to have died without even incurring a single wound. Despite the presence of a certain number of deserters who managed to hide inside the encampment, the battle raged on until 7 May based entirely on the heroics of the garrison itself, which by that date was holding on to little more than their HQ perimeter and a few final footholds situated to the south of the airfield: Dien Bien Phu was in this respect a true soldier's battle. The basin fell with no formal capitulation: the shooting simply stopped as a way of signifying to the enemy the cessation of combat.

Bloody Siege – the battle of Dien Bien Phu

French troops seeking cover in trenches

The First Indo-China war broke out shortly after the end of the Second World War and lasted until 1954. French soldiers were dispatched to deal with the growing tide of Communist activities in the colony and to prevent popular nationalist forces from wresting control of the colony. Pivotal in this bloody struggle was the battle of Dien Bien Phu.

Realising that his forces were losing ground to the hit and run guerilla tactics of the Viet Minh, the French commander, Henri Navarre, adopted a new military concept provided by his advisor, Colonel Louis Berteil, which he believed would counter the guerilla activities and effectively lead to a forced Viet Minh withdrawal. Berteil devised the idea of emplacing a fortified position behind enemy lines by airlifting troops and material to a strategic area.

Once the area was fortified to repulse attacks from a besieging enemy, French forces could sally out at irregular intervals and cut the supply life line to Viet Minh soldiers in forward positions. Additionally, Navarre believed that The Viet Minh military commander, General Giap, rather than simply abandon his forward positions, would attempt to launch a conventional massed assault upon the French position and thus open the way to the wholesale destruction of the Viet Minh through artillery barrages and air strikes. The place chosen for Navarre to launch this ambitious plan was Dien Bien Phu.

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

Despite intense criticism from French officers, Navarre began to fortify Dien Bien Phu, by launching Operation Castor, in which 9,000 French soldiers were airlifted into the region. Soon thereafter, Dien Bien Phu, evolved into a heavily fortified position with armour and a garrison of 16,000 comprising Foreign Legionaries, colonial forces consisting of Moroccans and Algerians, as well French regular soldiers. Opposed to this formidable fighting force was an enormous force of 50,000 Viet Minh which Giap had massed on the outskirts of Dien Bien Phu.

On the 13 th March, 1954, Giap launched his first assault preceded by a large scale artillery bombardment. The Viet Minh forces soon gained control of Outpost Beatrice and then withstood a fierce French counter attack. Emboldened by this initial success the Viet Minh artillery pounded the French base and destroyed the air strip, thus ensuring that all future supplies would have to be parachuted into Dien Bien Phu. On the 14 th March the Viet Minh assaulted Outpost Gabrielle. A desperate attempt to relieve the Algerian forces under attack was repulsed with terrible losses and ultimately led to the Algerians being forced to abandon Outpost Gabrielle. A noose of steel was being drawn ever tighter around the French garrison.

Victory in Battle of Dien Bien Phu

Faced by ever mounting losses, the base commander, De Castries resorted to isolating himself more and more in his bunker, thus leading to an ever escalating demoralization of the French soldiers and a lack of a comprehensive command structure. On the 30 th March, the Viet Minh gained further strategic ground by overrunning Outpost Dominique and Outpost Elaine but were repulsed by stiff resistance at Outpost Huguette. Despite the many successes of the Viet Minh, French forces too enjoyed a number of successful actions notably the destruction of an entire enemy regiment which was pulverized by fighter bombers and artillery. This particular action resulted in General Giap resorting to a type of trench warfare to complete the encirclement of Dien Bien Phu.

French resistance was, however, so resolute and effective that Viet Minh forces could be brought to the assault when faced with a direct choice to be shot by their own officers or to attack the enemy positions. Despite the determined French resistance and the corresponding loss in Communist personnel, Giap’s siege was to prove wholly successful. Cut off, undermanned and undersupplied, the surviving 3,000 French troops faced an overwhelming assault by 25,000 Communist soldiers on the 7 th May and by nightfall Dien Bien Phu had fallen.

The loss of Dien Bien Phu was a complete military disaster for the French and led directly to the opening of peace talks with the Viet Minh and the division of Vietnam along the 17 th parallel, thus effectively recognizing Communist control and authority over the whole of North Vietnam.

Account Of The Battle Of Dien Bien Phu History Essay

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was fought from March 13th to May 8th 1954 near the Laotian Border. The battle was the culmination of Operation Castor, a larger plan by the French commander, General Navarre, to lure General Giap and his Peoples Army of Vietnam into a conventional battle to finally destroy their combat power and break the military resistance against French colonial rule. Navarre’s plan would prove disastrous for the French and have the same effect on the French that he had hoped to have on the Viets. “What had happened at Dien Bien Phu was simply that a momentous gamble had been attempted by the French high command and had backfired badly.” (Fall, 1964) On 20 November 1953 Operation Castor began with the French parachuting five battalions onto Dien Bien Phu and the area around it to establish a base to strongpoint the border with Laos and to conduct patrols against the Viet Minh in the area. In response General Giap moved two 10,000 man divisions into the area to prepare for his assault on the recently arrived French troops. When the battle began on the 13th of March Giap had four divisions and had amassed over 200 pieces of artillery against the French, camouflaged in the mountains surrounding them. The French in contrast had only 24 pieces of light and medium artillery and a squadron of 10 tanks spread out over the valley floor in strong points around the town and its airstrips. (Dien Bien Phu: The Official and History of the Battle)

General Navarre was planning on relying on his airpower to be able to support the fortress by fire and to keep his forces resupplied. This proved to be a poor plan because of the weather in the target area and the Viet’s use of anti-aircraft artillery situated in the hills around Dien Bien Phu.

The battle began with a massive artillery barrage by the Viets on the night of March 13th, specifically targeting the northernmost strong points, and then followed by a successful ground attack, seizing them. The following night was a repeat of the previous one that isolated another of the strong points, Gabrielle, with similar results. On the 16th the first of a series of French reinforcements parachuted into the battle but it was only a battalion and had little effect. Over the subsequent days the Viets continued to bombard and attack the French positions wearing them away, on the 22nd part of a French airborne artillery regiment parachuted in.

The airstrips were continuously targeted by Giap’s artillery, and his anti-aircraft guns in the hills made life difficult for the French transport planes attempting to reinforce, resupply and evacuate the wounded. Daytime landings became too dangerous and shortly after that the French Air Force was not even able to get in at night, the only option for resupply becoming airdrops. Interestingly two American transport pilots were among those shot down and killed attempting to resupply the beleaguered French forces. (Karnow, 1983, 182) Giap knew Navarre had made a mistake in choosing Dien Bien Phu, because of its isolated location it could only be supported by air transport. Ground access to Dien Bien Phu from the secure areas on the coast was difficult at best because of the poor Vietnamese road networks and it was easily cut off because of the terrain surrounding the valley it was located in.

Giap’s forces took advantage of the artillery barrages keeping the French in their positions. They dug trenches that encroached on the French strong points using classic trench warfare techniques much like the ones Washington and the Continentals, along with their French allies, employed at Yorktown against the British. They would either mine the French positions by digging underneath them or get their trenches close enough to the French trenches to give them a covered assault position to overrun the defenders.

Giap’s forces also employed psychological operations against the French defenders.

“At the height of the battle for Dien Bien Phu, between assaults and in the fracas of exploding shell, the Viet minh, used loud speakers to exhort the French to desert…Leaflets were also thrown into the strong points. These activities had little effect.” (Dien Bien Phu: The Official and History of the Battle) This example shows just how organized and sophisticated Giap’s forces were, contrary to French opinion. Additionally Bloomer points out that the Viet Minh practiced better operational security than the French … (they) never publicized their operations (especially while they were ongoing). (Bloomer, 1991). French reporters in Hanoi were writing stories about Operation Castor for the newspapers back home.

As March closed the attacks continued and the Viet Minh continued to wear away at the French and take the strong points one by one. Navarre continued to parachute reinforcements in to aid the defense but to this effort continued to prove futile as the French position kept shrinking. Giap discontinued the frontal attacks on the 6th of April and but kept up small scale attacks, along with the artillery fire, to keep the French on the defensive throughout April. By the beginning of May Giap was ready to deliver his final blow on the French fortress, he intensified the artillery assault and prepared his troops for the ground attack to seize the last two French strong points. On the 6th of May the French finally have some good luck, the weather clears and allows for the airdrop of supplies and airstrikes but much of the supplies land outside of the French lines and the airstrikes have little effect against the Viet Minh’s camouflaged positions. On the 7th Giap begins the final assault on Elaine were the French command post is. The French commander of the defense, General de Castries, is told by his commander in Hanoi that he can not think of surrender, at 1700 hours the command post sends a message back to Hanoi, “We’re blowing everything up. Adieu.” (Dien Bien Phu: The Official and History of the Battle) In the early morning hours of the 8th Isabelle, the last remaining strongpoint falls and the battle is over.

By defeating a modern French force at Dien Bien Phu the Viet Minh proved their legitimacy to the world, this would prove to be an even greater victory than the battle itself in a strategic sense. The French people would no longer support its government waging a war thousands of miles from home to preserve colonial rule, it also undermined the legitimacy of the French government’s goal to keep its colonies first Vietnam then Algeria. While victory at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu may not have solved the Viet Minh’s ultimate goal of a unified Vietnam without French rule it did get the snowball rolling downhill toward that goal with the final victory of the Communist forces over the Republic of Vietnam in 1975.

Watch the video: Battle of Dien Bien Phu: CRATER at A1 HILL to End French Indochina War Dien Bien Phu, VIETNAM (July 2022).


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