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The Battle of Dien Bien Phu

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  Quote Kevin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: The Battle of Dien Bien Phu
    Posted: 18-Oct-2007 at 20:21

Lets have a discussion of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu which occured in 1954 between French forces and the Communist leaning Vietnamese Nationalist Viet Minh and at a time when France's colonial empire was collapsing all around it's self.

 
It could also be argued that Dien Bien Phu was not only the end for the French empire in Indochina but elsewhere for example Algeria. 


Edited by Kevin - 21-Oct-2007 at 20:54
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  Quote deadkenny Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Oct-2007 at 15:36
Well, regarding the course of the battle the French repeated a classic mistake, similar to that at Sedan in the Franco-Prussian war, of allowing themselves to become 'trapped' in the 'low ground' and ceding the surrounding high ground to the enemy.  Admittedly they were depending on the difficult terrain preventing the Viet Minh from bringing their heavy artillery up.  However I believe it was Napoleon himself who stated, as a 'military principle' that one cannot depend on undefended terrain itself to hold off an enemy indefinitely.  Unopposed, determined troops will 'find a way', as the Viet Minh in fact did.  I remember hearing a story about how, while the Viet Minh were hauling an artillery piece up a steep slope by hand, a rope slipped and the gun started to slide back down the slope.  One of the Viet Minh soldiers threw himself under the wheels of the gun carriage to prevent it from going all the way back down the slope.  He was mortally injured as a result.  That story seems to illustrate the determination that the French were up against, which they badly underestimated.  In any case, once the Viet Minh had established themselves up in the surrounding mountains, the French were pretty much dead - it was just a matter of time and how many casualties they could inflict.  The loss of this battle pretty much spelt the end of the French position in Indochina. 

As for what impact it may have had on 'the rest' of their empire, for example Algeria, I'm not so sure it made a lot of difference.  The French were no longer strong enough to hold it together, and had lost much of their 'reputation' having been defeated and occupied by Germany in WWII.  The US and the USSR were the established superpowers and unless the US stepped in, as they did in Vietnam, the French weren't really capable of sustaining their 'imperial holdings'.  If anything, the loss in Vietnam caused them to want to hold onto Algeria even more.  I suppose the rebels in Algeria may have gain confidence that France could be defeated.  However, the loss of the remaining French 'empire' was probably inevitable in the wake of WWII.
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 28-Oct-2007 at 16:15
The French were looking for a desicive battle. They got it. A fortress defense was the last thing that was required.
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  Quote Sikander Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 29-Nov-2007 at 00:29

However the Vietminh almost collapsed in one of the assaults, as the casualties were appaling. Giap strongly considered a retreat but it was his determination, and his army's, that gave him the extra "lan" to fight the battle to the very end.

The French did comit a stupid mistake, against the opinion of most the field commanders. The Air Force experts spoke against it as supplying ground forces from the air was very difficult, especially under the expected AA fire; ground commanders also distrusted a plan in which they would stay sorrounded by mountains, prefering instead to continue raiding operations like they had been doing for years. 

But when graduates from a Military Academy think that a war in the jungle is like a war in Western Europe, what can we expect?
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  Quote deadkenny Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01-Dec-2007 at 15:47
Originally posted by Sikander

However the Vietminh almost collapsed in one of the assaults, as the casualties were appaling. Giap strongly considered a retreat but it was his determination, and his army's, that gave him the extra "lan" to fight the battle to the very end....


That's a good point.  However, it comes back to the 'determination' of the Vietnamese - they simply weren't going to 'surrender' no matter how heavy their losses.  The French weren't strong enough to attack out and clear the Vietminh from the surrounding high ground, so even when their attacks failed they could fall back and regroup for another attempt later.  The French had allowed themselves to be put in a 'no win' situation, where the best they could hope for was to stave off defeat for as long as possible.
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  Quote Kevin Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 19-Jan-2008 at 16:46
Originally posted by Sikander

However the Vietminh almost collapsed in one of the assaults, as the casualties were appaling. Giap strongly considered a retreat but it was his determination, and his army's, that gave him the extra "lan" to fight the battle to the very end.

The French did comit a stupid mistake, against the opinion of most the field commanders. The Air Force experts spoke against it as supplying ground forces from the air was very difficult, especially under the expected AA fire; ground commanders also distrusted a plan in which they would stay sorrounded by mountains, prefering instead to continue raiding operations like they had been doing for years. 

But when graduates from a Military Academy think that a war in the jungle is like a war in Western Europe, what can we expect?


However the form of fighting war the French practiced at Dien Bien Phu was quite common during the war. Also many commanders on the ground thought it gave them the high ground.
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  Quote cavalry4ever Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-Mar-2008 at 22:31
Originally posted by Kevin


Originally posted by Sikander

However the Vietminh almost collapsed in one of the assaults, as the casualties were appaling. Giap strongly considered a retreat but it was his determination, and his army's, that gave him the extra "�lan" to fight the battle to the very end.


The French did comit a stupid mistake, against the opinion of most the field commanders. The Air Force experts spoke against it as supplying ground forces from the air was very difficult, especially under the expected AA fire; ground commanders also distrusted a plan in which they would stay sorrounded by mountains, prefering instead to continue raiding operations like they had been doing for years.�


But when graduates from�a Military Academy�think that a war in the jungle is like a war in Western Europe, what can we expect?
However the form of fighting war the French practiced at Dien Bien Phu was quite common during the war. Also many commanders on the ground thought it gave them the high ground.

Actually jungle warfare is not much different. A good general can adjust to different field conditions. The incompetence of generals what plays here, not the climate. Just think about idiots coming up with the impassability of Ardennes (twice, in the same war). We admire great generals because they are rare. Giap was certainly a head and shoulders above his French counterparts. Contrary to popular belief, western army under competent command, can operate successfully in the jungle (Merill's Marauders).

Edited by cavalry4ever - 20-May-2008 at 23:19
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  Quote Sergeant113 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-May-2008 at 07:54
Strategically, Vietminh army had the high-ground advantage because Dien Bien Phu is surrounded by mountains, making the entire battle grounds look like a big bowl with Vietminh army on the edge of the bowl and French army in the center. However, tactically, due to the many hills in the valley, the French actually received high-ground advantage when defending their positions. Thanks to the French army's heavy defences and experienced troops, Giap's first strategy ( something like blitzkrieg  :a 3-day fast and decisive assault to end the war) failed , almost made him decide to retreat. So, you may say that Vietminh didn't have many advantages compare to the French(Vietminh had ill-equipped, inexperienced soldiers, logistics issues, was constantly bormbarded by airplanes, and heavy rainfall made their conditions miserable ), and the French commander wasn't bad at all. Still ,  Giap was the better commanderLOL. Believe it or not, he was a history teacher when he was asked to command Vietminh army in Dien Bien Phu!Shocked


Edited by Sergeant113 - 14-May-2008 at 07:57
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  Quote Guests Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 14-May-2008 at 19:29
The Viet-Minh's advantage from the mountains came not from their ability to launch assaults 'downhill,' being that, as you have said, tactically the French did have high-ground advantage during many ground-assaults; but it came from the fact that they placed their artillery above the French base, and were able to shell them with impunity throughout the duration of the battle. Counter-battery fire is especially difficult when the enemy is above you. A shell must be fired with an incredible degree to accuracy to hit a target on a slope above it, whereas a shell from above need only be fired in the general direction of he counter-battery batteries.
The French artillery was highly concentrated within the perimeters of their base, the Viet-Minh's widely dispersed in the encircling hills. Thus, the French had to disperse their concentrated fire to hit multiple isolated targets, while the Viet-Minh were able to concentrate their multiple isolated batteries to hit one concentrated target. I am aware that seems a redundancy, but it was highly strategically important. Vietamese artillery was constantly cross-firing French troops and batteries in the valley below them. It was the artillery alone which made the French position an untenable one.
In terms of assault and counter-assault, the French lost very few troops in relation to the Viet-Minh. Their casualties because of artillery were quite high.
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  Quote Sergeant113 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-May-2008 at 04:33
I agree, and there were as much as over 7000 French prisoners were either killed or missing afterward. Vietminh released only about 3000 prisoners, which means 70% of the prisoners weren't released. Ironically, here in Vietnam, i keep hearing propagandas about how righteous and merciful we were, in opposition to the French force. Well, communist!!!!! LOL.
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  Quote Jonathan4290 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-May-2008 at 20:55
I love Giap as my posts on the 100 top generals debate explain. I'm actually starting to look into his conventional campaigns and he seems fairly skilled in those as well. What battle between 1950-1953 would you rate as his best? I'm thinking about animating a battle of his for my site.
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  Quote deadkenny Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 16-May-2008 at 21:19
If you want to show a 'conventional' battle during that period that makes Giap look good, then you're pretty much going to have to go with with Dien Bien Phu (even though it's not quite in the time period specified).  The Vietnamese successes were based on the 'indirect approach', exploiting the fact that the French couldn't be 'everywhere' in strength.  However, Giap consistently came out on the short end of the stick when meeting the French with strength vs. strength.  At least until the French stuck their heads out a little too far at Dien Bien Phu.  That's is part of the reason why I can't quite understand your 'infatuation' with Giap.  Frankly his career looks to me like an amateur trying to 'figure it out' rather than a great military commander.  I give him credit for his determination, and his ability to 'sink his teeth in' when his opponents made a mistake.  However, his own forces paid the price for his mistakes a little too often for me to 'rank' him very highly.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana
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  Quote Jonathan4290 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-May-2008 at 02:41
My infatuation is probably a result of my reading selections. I tend to read many more books on unconventional warfare as opposed to conventional warfare (If it gives you an idea, my favourite military treatise is Strategy by BH Liddell Hart). Although the conventional campaigns are much more exciting and interesting, I'm a young historian in search of knowledge that will be the most relevant to my hopeful military career. Respectively, your points against Giap are no less valid.
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  Quote cavalry4ever Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 20-May-2008 at 23:26
Originally posted by Jonathan4290

I love Giap as my posts on the 100 top generals debate explain. I'm actually starting to look into his conventional campaigns and he seems fairly skilled in those as well. What battle between 1950-1953 would you rate as his best? I'm thinking about animating a battle of his for my site.


As long as he was sticking to guerilla warfare he did well. His biggest mistake was Tet offensive in which he almost destroyed Vietcong. It was also because of Tet that he lost his prominence among Vietnamese generals. If US public did not realize it was senseless war in the first place, who knows how it would turn out.
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  Quote Sergeant113 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21-May-2008 at 04:17
  Mark in mind that Tet offensive happened during the Khe Sanh campaign. Giap was wise to assault Khe Sanh, luring the US generals into thinking that he was trying to repeat his greatest success in Dien Bien Phu (khe sanh was also a valley-like battlefield, and an important border defensive position of the Southern Army that negated the Viet Cong supply lines in Ho Chi Minh trails). Khe Sanh was as valuable to the US as Dien Bien Phu to the French. Losing it meant losing the Central Vietnam, and increase VC influence in the South.
  What i am trying to say is that knowing its importance, Giap made a feign attack on Khe Sanh to diverse US and Southern Army forces, allowing the Tet offensive to be possible. Moreover, the Tet offensive was a psychological blow to the US. Though they suffered badly and gravely, they was able to declared : VC were everywhere in the country, there was no way to wipe them all out, and that the US was fighting a losing war. The result was pres Lyndon Jonhson did not leave the White House to campaign. Robert Greene in "33 strategies of war" lists the Tet offensive in the section "Lose The Battles But Win The War: Grand Strategy".
  One more thing, cavalry4ever says "because of Tet that he lost his prominence among Vietnamese generals". He did lose it, i agree, but it was for a political reason between the factions in the Vietnamese government at that time.


Edited by Sergeant113 - 21-May-2008 at 04:20
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  Quote cavalry4ever Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 22-May-2008 at 22:43
Originally posted by Sergeant113

  Mark in mind that Tet offensive happened during the Khe Sanh campaign. Giap was wise to assault Khe Sanh, luring the US generals into thinking that he was trying to repeat his greatest success in Dien Bien Phu (khe sanh was also a valley-like battlefield, and an important border defensive position of the Southern Army that negated the Viet Cong supply lines in Ho Chi Minh trails). Khe Sanh was as valuable to the US as Dien Bien Phu to the French. Losing it meant losing the Central Vietnam, and increase VC influence in the South.  What i am trying to say is that knowing its importance, Giap made a feign attack on Khe Sanh to diverse US and Southern Army forces, allowing the Tet offensive to be possible. Moreover, the Tet offensive was a psychological blow to the US. Though they suffered badly and gravely, they was able to declared : VC were everywhere in the country, there was no way to wipe them all out, and that the US was fighting a losing war. The result was pres Lyndon Jonhson did not leave the White House to campaign. Robert Greene in "33 strategies of war" lists the Tet offensive in the section "Lose The Battles But Win The War: Grand Strategy".   One more thing, cavalry4ever says "because of Tet that he lost his prominence among Vietnamese generals". He did lose it, i agree, but it was for a political reason between the factions in the Vietnamese government at that time.


Yes this is old story. New story is that Tet offensive was a disaster for VC. It is true that it was a PR coup and made public opinion turn even more against the war, but this was not certain at the time. Also US generals did not know how much casualties they inflicted on VC. I still maintain that he lost his position because of Tet. No one touches a winning general, however in the mind of Vietnamese leadership he was a loser. I am talking in pure military terms. He almost destroyed VC at that time. I don't know if anyone could predict PR side of Tet but it took some time to rebuild Vietcong. I don't remember my sources, but I am sure someone can back mi up on this.
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  Quote Jonathan4290 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-May-2008 at 00:59
No one can argue that Giap's strategy in the Tet Offensive all along was to hit US public opinion. However, the offensive lasted quite a few months and about half way through Giap changed his strategy. It wasn't his original intent, but once he began to realize how much of a public relations victory it was becoming, the VC started to attack media targets such as embassies, news stations etc.
 
I wouldn't doubt the Tet Offensive hurt Giap's standing in the North, especially conventionally. I mean, he never commanded during another such offensive again. Even now, we know Giap's decision was premature in the context of the three phase insurgency model but he made the model more flexible so it didn't matter as much if the offensive wasn't a complete success because it would have some positive impact.
 
On purely military terms, the Tet Offensive was a disaster for the VC, losing some ridiculous percentage of troops involved. The US didn't know how many they'd killed, mostly because they didn't even know Giap had that many troops. This was a huge demoralizing wake up call for the US; they thought they were making progress and then suddenly the enemy launches a general offensive and reassessment of the war is required. The VC was most certainly not "almost destoryed" by the offensive's failure though. It only meant that the war was not in Phase III (final offensive) and that a shift to Phase II (guerrilla attacks), or even Phase I (political campaigning) in some places, was necessary to continue the war. The VC don't really rebuild because any time they spend hiding in the jungle just prolongs the war and demoralizes the US further. To back you up, it did take 4 years though to again return to what the VC thought was Phase III when they launched the 1972 Easter Offensive.
 
Sergeant: Wasn't Robert Greene's book amazing???LOL
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  Quote Sergeant113 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23-May-2008 at 13:51
Originally posted by Jonathan4290

 
Sergeant: Wasn't Robert Greene's book amazing???LOL


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  Quote cavalry4ever Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24-May-2008 at 17:15
Jonathan4290 - this was very good post. My question would be: Did Vietnamese knew at that time Tet would be a PR victory, or they were lucky?
I need to rewrite this, as my previous wording was poor.
Because leaders of that war achieved iconic stature in Vietnam, we have to be skeptical of Vietnamese sources.


Edited by cavalry4ever - 24-May-2008 at 17:30
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  Quote Jonathan4290 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-May-2008 at 03:21
The North believed that Tet was the final offensive that was going to obliterate the South and end the war. I think they were completely surprised by the effect it was having on the PR side; they went as far as to change the target of the whole offensive halfway through to take advantage of this.
 
I'm not sure what to think of Vietnamese sources but I know historians believe they have a good grasp on what happened based on the American assessments. Apparently, Ho Chi Minh's writings are well regarded probably because he talked about how he would defeat the Americans before the war even started.
 
Sergeant: what can you tell us about the leaders' legacy in Vietnam? I would think that no single leader would recieve the iconic stature because there were so many wars in that time period.
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