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Democratic/Socialist Republic Of Vietnam Cộng Hòa Xã Hội Chủ Nghĩa Việt Nam Dân Chủ Cộng Hòa 2nd September 1945 - 2nd July 1976 -

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Old 05-08-2004, 03:49 AM   #1
Christophe
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50th Anniversary of the battle of Điện Biên Phủ.

In Vietnam and France has been remembered yesterday the 50th anniversary of the defeat of Dien Bien Phu (7-8 May 1954).

For those interested, here are abstracts of an interesting article by Bruce Kennedy (CNN).

"1954 battle changed Vietnam's history

It is seen by many military scholars as one of the great battles of the 20th century -- and a defining moment in the history of Southeast Asia. And yet the Battle of Dien Bien Phu receives rarely more than a passing mention in most history texts.

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

In late 1953, as both sides prepared for peace talks in the Indochina War, French military commanders picked Dien Bien Phu, a village in northwestern Vietnam near the Laotian and Chinese borders, as the place to pick a fight with the Viet Minh. (...)

Hoping to draw Ho Chi Minh's guerrillas into a classic battle, the French began to build up their garrison at Dien Bien Phu. The stronghold was located at the bottom of a bowl-shaped river valley, about 10 miles long. Most French troops and supplies entered Dien Bien Phu from the air -- either landing at the fort's airstrip or dropping in via parachute.

Dien Bien Phu's main garrison also would be supported by a series of firebases -- strongpoints on nearby hills that could bring down fire on an attacker. The strongpoints were given women's names, supposedly after the mistresses of the French commander, Gen. Christian de Castries. The French assumed any assaults on their heavily fortified positions would fail or be broken up by their artillery.

The size of the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu swelled to somewhere between 13,000 and 16,000 troops by March 1954. About 70 percent of that force was made up of members of the French Foreign Legion, soldiers from French colonies in North Africa, and loyal Vietnamese.

Viet Minh guerrillas and troops from the People's Army of Vietnam surrounded Dien Bien Phu during the buildup within the French garrison. Their assault on March 13 proved almost immediately how vulnerable and flawed the French defenses were.

Dien Bien Phu's outlying firebases were overrun within days of the initial assault. And the main part of the garrison was amazed to find itself coming under heavy, withering artillery fire from the surrounding hills. In a major logistical feat, the Viet Minh had dragged scores of artillery pieces up steeply forested hillsides the French had written off as impassable.

The French artillery commander, distraught at his inability to bring counterfire on the well-defended and well-camouflaged Viet Minh batteries, went into his dugout and killed himself.

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

The supply planes were forced to fly higher, and their parachute drops became less accurate. Much of what was intended for the French forces -- including food, ammunition and, in one case, essential intelligence information -- landed instead in Viet Minh territory. Meanwhile, the Viet Minh steadily reduced the French-held area -- using what their commander, Gen. Vo Nguyen Giap, called "a tactic of combined nibbling and full-scale attack."

Closed off from the outside world, under constant fire, and flooded by monsoon rains, conditions inside Dien Bien Phu became inhuman. Casualties piled up inside the garrison's hospital.

Dien Bien Phu fell to the Viet Minh on May 7. At least 2,200 members of the French forces died during the siege -- with thousands more taken prisoner. Of the 50,000 or so Vietnamese who besieged the garrison, there were about 23,000 casualties -- including an estimated 8,000 killed.

The fall of Dien Bien Phu shocked France and brought an end to French Indochina. (...)

Following the French withdrawal, Vietnam was officially divided into a communist North and non-communist South -- setting the stage for U.S. involvement.

In 1963, as Washington was deepening its commitment in Vietnam, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev made a telling remark to a U.S. official.

"If you want to, go ahead and fight in the jungles of Vietnam," Khrushchev said. "The French fought there for seven years and still had to quit in the end. Perhaps the Americans will be able to stick it out for a little longer, but eventually they will have to quit, too."

Many good articles or web sites are available (not all only in french) for those interested in knowing more about this historic battle.

Here is a vietnamese veteran celebrating the end of the battle.
(Pic form AFP).

Ch.

And this is the site of the Dien Bien Phu monument. Around 3000 soldiers died in Dien Bien Phu.

Ch.
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Old 05-08-2004, 07:49 AM   #2
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Wall of rememberance.

The wall of rememberance at Fréjus, and the 419 plaques with the names those missing and killed in Indo-China.

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Old 05-08-2004, 01:49 PM   #3
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Two veterans of Dien Bien Phu

Picture from today's newspaper "Helsingin Sanomat" :
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Old 05-08-2004, 04:44 PM   #4
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A brilliant military tactician, Vo commanded the Viet Minh forces that liberated Vietnam from French colonial rule and as commander of the PAVN of North Vietnam fought the United States and the South Vietnamese, and reunified Vietnam.
After the reunification, Giap served as Vietnam's Minister of Defense and later as Deputy Prime Minister.
General Navarre, the French commander in Vietnam, realised that time was running out and that he needed to obtain a quick victory over the Viet minh. He was convinced that if he could manoeuvre Vo Nguyen Giap into engaging in a large scale battle, France was bound to win.
In December, 1953, General Navarre setup a defensive complex at Dien Bien Phu, which would block the route of the Viet minh forces trying to return to camps in neighbouring Laos.
Navarre surmised that in an attempt to reestablish the route to Laos, General Giap would be forced to organise a mass-attack on the French forces at Dien Bien Phu.

Giap proved his brilliance as a logistician when he had his troops disassemble artillery pieces and anti-aircraft weapons, mostly supplied by China and the Soviet Union, and packed them over the mountains onto the high ground overlooking the French garrison. Thousands of men with no more than bicycles for transportation delivered the tons of supplies and munitions necessary for a long siege.

Giap concentrated seventy thousand to eighty thousand soldiers, along with two hundred heavy guns, against the French garrison, which totaled fifteen thousand men. Since weather and Viet-minh gunners prevented all but a few deliveries of resupplies, the French retreated to the interior posts, while the Viet minh advanced through tunnels and trenches and under support of superior artillery.
On May 7, 1954, the French surrendered.
Of the original force, five thousand were dead. Of the ten thousand who surrendered, half were wounded. Estimates of Communist casualties exceeded twenty-five thousand, but Giap had won his Phase III battle. In leaving Indochina, the French negotiated a partition that separated the Communist North from the American-dominated South.

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Old 05-09-2004, 10:12 AM   #5
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CNN International showed portions of the celebrations in Vietnam, including a theatrical "reenactment" of the battle for the assembled masses, including those from France.
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