The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam by Martin WindrowIn December 1953 French paratroopers, who had been searching for the elusive Vietnamese army, were quickly isolated by them and forced to retreat into their out-gunned and desolate jungle base-a small place called Dien Bien Phu. The Vietnamese besieged the French base for five long and desperate months. Eventually, the demoralized and weakened French were utterly depleted and withdrew in defeat. The siege at Dien Bien Phu was a landmark battle of the last century-the first defeat of modern western forces by an Asian guerilla army.The Last Valley is the first new account of the battle since the 1970s. The author has incorporated much new material from French and Vietnamese sources, including veteran interviews, making this the most complete account to-date. And Martin Windrow has received widespread praise from top historians such as John Keegan and Max Hastings (below), as well as reviewers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Battle of Dien Bien Phu
French Union. It was, from the French view before the event, a set piece battle to draw out the Vietnamese and destroy them with superior firepower. The operation's purpose was to cut off Viet Minh supply lines into the neighboring Kingdom of Laos a French ally , and draw the Viet Minh into a major confrontation in order to cripple them. The plan was to resupply the French position by air, and was based on the belief that the Viet Minh had no anti-aircraft capability. They brought in vast amounts of heavy artillery including anti-aircraft guns and managed to move these bulky weapons through difficult terrain up the rear slopes of the mountains. The Viet Minh were then able to dig tunnels through the mountain, and emplaced the artillery pieces overlooking the French encampment. In March a massive artillery bombardment by the Viet Minh ensued.
The Viet Minh victory at Dien Bien Phu signaled the end of French colonial influence in Indochina and cleared the way for the division of Vietnam along the 17th parallel at the conference of Geneva. On September 2, , hours after the Japanese signed their unconditional surrender in World War II , communist leader Ho Chi Minh proclaimed the independent Democratic Republic of Vietnam, hoping to prevent the French from reclaiming their former colonial possession. In , he hesitantly accepted a French proposal that allowed Vietnam to exist as an autonomous state within the French Union, but fighting broke out when the French tried to reestablish colonial rule. Beginning in , the Viet Minh fought an increasingly effective guerrilla war against France with military and economic assistance from newly Communist China. France received military aid from the United States. In November , the French, weary of jungle warfare, occupied Dien Bien Phu, a small mountain outpost on the Vietnamese border near Laos.
Logan William S. Descending into Dien Bien Phu, a minute flight from the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, is like, I imagine, coming across the mythical Shangrila1. Ahead, along the jagged crest of an even higher range of moun- tains, is the Lao border. Officially Vietnam has 54 ethnie groups, of which 21 live in Dien Bien Phu and the surrounding province, the Thai and Hmong being the most numerous. Dien Bien Phu is one of the most significant cultural landscapes in Vietnam. According to local myths, the Muong Then the 'Land of Heaven' was formed at the time earth and heaven were created 2. Surrounded as it is by high mountains, the valley is like the earth's navel.
It consisted of a struggle between French and Viet Minh Vietnamese Communist and nationalist forces for control of a small mountain outpost on the Vietnamese border near Laos. The Viet Minh victory in this battle effectively ended the eight-year-old war. The battle was joined in late when French forces, who had been rapidly losing ground to the popularly supported Viet Minh, occupied the town of Dien Bien Phu in an attempt to cut the nationalist supply lines into Laos and to maintain a base for forays against enemy forces. Although the Vietnamese quickly cut all the roads into Dien Bien Phu, making it suppliable only by air, the French were confident of their position. They were thus taken by surprise when the Viet Minh Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap surrounded the base with 40, men and used heavy artillery to break the French lines. Despite heavy U.