Political Background French: –Lost “Indochine” colony to Japanese in WWII. Wanted to re-establish colonial power against Vietnam nationalist wishes. –Fighting for about 7 years at start of this operation. Received American support, but no troops. Viet Minh: –Since the ’40s, the Viet Minh were fighting the French, the Japanese, and then the French for independence.
Military Background Objective: –Strategically: French govt. wanted to minimize casualties while seeking an honorable way out of war. –Operationally: Airbase at Dien Bien Phu will: Cover Laos, Establish guerilla re-supply point, Trap Viet Minh in set-piece battle. Recent Events: –French fight Viet Minh in airbases at end of LOC. Interpret enemy withdrawal as success.
Military Background Objectives: –Strategically: Force French to negotiate to Ho Chi Minh’s terms with a spectacular victory. –Operationally: Defeat French garrison at Dien Bien Phu. Recent Events: –Learned lessons to defeat French airbase concept.
French Combatants Commanders: –All French forces in Indochine: GEN Henri Navarre –DBP forces: COL Christian de Castries Total forces at beginning of siege: 10,814 Airborne reinforcements: 4,291 Ethnicity:
Viet Minh Combatants Commander-in-Chief: GEN Vo Nguyen Giap Forces: –4 Infantry Divisions, 1 Heavy Division, plus misc –Estimated 55,000 troops –Estimated losses: 7,900 KIA, 15,000 WIA –Compare to French losses of around 8,200 soldiers, and 6,500 captured
The Beginning of The End Operation Castor – Dec 6, 1953 - Campaign begins with air drop into valley.
Build-up of Forces 6 Dec 53 – 13 Mar 54 The French build strongpoints to defend garrison. The Viet Minh surround the garrison.
The Siege Begins 1700 13 Mar 54 – Viet Minh artillery barrage followed by human-wave assaults. “Beatrice”, falls, two days later, “Gabrielle” overrun, and three days later, “Anne-Marie”.
Tightening the Noose 4 Apr – 1 May: Giap switches tactics, encroaching with trenches.
The Last Charge 2 May: Giap assaults on all fronts. In the next three days, he takes three more strongpoints, leaving the central area open. 6 May: Artillery barrages continue on remaining French troops, while Viet Minh mass. 7 May: At 1730, Viet Minh enter French command bunker and De Castris surrenders.
Summary French errors: –French intelligence discount Viet Minh capabilities to mass personnel and artillery. –French commander at Dien Bien Phu cannot construct adequate fighting positions and conduct adequate patrols as spoiling attacks. French desire to retain Indochine dies with loss. Viet Minh & French split Vietnam in Geneva Accords at 17 th Parallel, setting stage for Vietnam War.