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The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam Paperback – February 10, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In this masterful account of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu of 1953-54, Windrow dissects retrospective criticism of the French strategy. For reasons that emerge within his comprehensive, meticulous analysis, the ideas behind the French strategy at Dien Bien Phu were taken from a prior victorious battle. Generals believed that establishing a ground base deep in Communist-controlled territory and supplying it by air would regain them the initiative against the Viet Minh insurgency. The heart of Windrow's narrative, and implicitly his sympathies, lies with the officers and men who carried out the strategy--and bore its cost as its assumptions were progressively stifled by the Viet Minh commander, the storied Vo Nguyen Giap. As the mobile battle envisaged by French planners degenerates into a wallow of World War I-style attrition, Windrow describes with brutal realism the carnage of the combat, which snuffed out tens of thousands of lives. Many works address Dien Bien Phu's history-altering significance in the Indochina conflict, but for learning about what actually happened there, Windrow's will be difficult to surpass. Gilbert Taylor
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"The Last Valley is a brilliant work of military history." -- John Keegan

"By far the best account ever produced in English of the 1954 French disaster in Indochina." -- New York Sun 12/31/04

"Certain folks in certain government offices would do well to read The Last Valley." -- San Diego Union-Tribune 2/27/05

"It is hard to praise too highly Martin Windrow's account...[He] is master of every detail." -- New York Sun 1/12/05

"Powerful and sharply detailed...The "Last Valley" stands on its own as a brilliant piece of military history." -- Boston Globe 1/4/05

"This extraordinary story of heroism, passion, and tragedy should long stand as the definitive study of Dein Bien Phu." -- Library Journal 2/15/05

"Vivid and well-written...a tribute to [Martin Windrow's] abilities both as a historian and as a writer." -- The Economist

"[A] masterful account of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu...[it] will be difficult to surpass." -- Booklist 1/1/05

"[A] meticulous and masterly narrative...The Last Valley succeeds marvelously in recreating the heat of battle." --Wall Street Journal 1/12/05

'This is an epic book about an epic battle. It is not often that the story of a struggle as dramatic as Dien Bien Phu is told with a flair that matches the courage of the adversaries and the sheer scale of the event. Martin Windrow's book is nothing less than a landmark in military history.' (Professor Richard Holmes ) 'This is an outstanding work of military history. It tells the story of the ghastly French experience in Indo-China in a way that has never been done before in English. The account of Dien Bien Phu is a masterpiece of meticulous historical narrative' (Max Hastings ) 'Success in battle, according to one military maxim, may not, on its own assure the achievement of national security goals, but defeat will guarantee failure. Mr Windrow's vivid and well-written account confirms that this was certainly not the case at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. His book is a tribute to his abilities both as a historian and a writer.' (THE ECONOMIST ) 'It is hard to praise to highly Martin Windrow's account, the first work of a historian who obviously possesses great gifts. It is surprising how many writers who describe battles lack any understanding of tactics and technology. Windrow is master of every detail... His book makes gripping reading. I hope he writes a lot more.' (Max Hastings THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH ) 'This anniversary reconstruction of France's most traumatic post-war battlefield defeat is highly opportune... Martin Windrow has pulled off a remarkable feat.' (SUNDAY TIMES ) 'Enthralling...Windrow gives a clear and cogent analysis of the general politico-military position, one that makes the fateful decision to invite a Viet Minh attack on Dien Bien Phu understandable... Anyone who found Stalingrad absorbing will find this book equally so. Like Beevor, Windrow gives one the very essence of battle... His character sketches of individuals from commanding officers down, are deft and accurate... This book is a wonderful account of a terrible battle...' (Alan Massie LITERARY REVIEW ) 'Martin Windrow's The Last Valley is the vividly told story of a miniature Stalingrad in which 10,000 French troops were besieged by a large army of Viet Minh for fifty-seven days, fifty years ago.' (HISTORY TODAY ) '...Dien Bien Phu, as Martin Windrow's moving and judicious account of the battle and of the two armies that fought it shows, was not at all a straightforward clash between the French and Vietnamese... Windrow tells it with great lucidity and humanity, with vivid portraits of the leading French officers, and... a very fair assessment of the internal dramas of Dien Bien Phu... he also offers asides on weaponry, battlefield medicine, morale... which are among the best elements of this good book.' (Martin Woollacott THE GUARDIAN ) 'Windrow has achieved a remarkable feat... The account is full of nice touches... A master of every detail, Windrow captures both the "prodigious human exertions" of the barefoot Viet Minh troops and the "courage and fighting skills" of the French legionnaires.' (THE WEEK ) --Professor Richard Holmes

Plenty of books have been written on Dien Bien Phu, but I think Martin Windrow's account of the battle is the best account of it yet. The French defeat in Vietnam is a classic example on how not to conduct a war. The French objective was to hang onto Indochina. But there never was any sufficient commitment to convincingly support this objective. The Vietnamese on the other hand had a very clear objective - getting rid of the invader - and whilst their tactics were not terribly sophisticated, they eventually carried that objective all the way to victory. Martin Windrow has written a meticulously researched book on the subject. He brings the human element to the foreground rather than getting lost in recounting logistics and detail of individual units. What particularly yelled out to me when I read the book was the suffering endured by both the French and the Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu. If you are interested in the Vietnamese War then this is a must-read. --By Thomas Koetzsch --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 752 pages
  • Publisher: Cassell military (February 10, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0304366927
  • ISBN-13: 978-0304366927
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,483,147 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

81 of 82 people found the following review helpful By Aussie Reader on July 14, 2004
Format: Hardcover
"The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam" by Martin Windrow is destined to be the definite account of this tragic battle. I knew as soon as I saw this title in the bookshop that I had to have it and it was one of the best purchases I have made so far this year!
This is an excellent and detailed account of the fighting in the Valley of Dien Bien Phu between the professional French forces, including Legionnaire and elite Parachute Units, and the Vietnamese Bo Doi (Viet Minh) led by General Giap.
The author takes the time to explain the military and political settings of the war in Indo China, offers detailed accounts of the opposing forces and commanders and provides a well researched narrative of the events leading up to this battle. The story of the battle itself for Dien Bien Phu is a classic military narrative that really pulls the reader into the story and gives us a rare insight into the hardships of the French soldier and his enemy.
One quote in the book that was used for a chapter heading by Colonel de Castries says a lot about this battle and the terrible fighting involved; "It's a bit like Verdun, but Verdun without the depth of defence, and, above all, without the Sacred Way". This is an excellent account of a shocking battle and I am sure that anyone who enjoys reading or studying military history will find this book an excellent addition to his or her library.
In over 657 pages of text, along with 22 maps of varying size and detail the author offers the reader a well researched and well presented account of this famous battle. At no time did I find the story boring or bogged down in detail. The narrative is fast paced, exciting and filled with human tragedy and numerous stories of soldier?
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55 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Dr Neil MacNeill on July 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The Last Valley by Martin Windrow

What an excellent book! For readers interested in the precursor to our own involvement in Vietnam, Martin Windrow's book provides a great read in the tradition of Bernard Fall.

Writing history is not easy and the author has managed to flesh the events and characters in a way that engages the readers. I was impressed with Windrow?s description of the battles and the horrors that continue to haunt the survivors of such meat-grinding battles. Old-soldiers will relate to the smell of decaying flesh, the description of mangled bodies- the smell of death, which arose from the carefully crafted text. Moreover, they will relate to incredible tiredness of troops who stay in battle for extended periods.

I served in SVN in 1967-1968, and my early reading had me believing that Dien Bien Phu was a French military disaster. In a strategic sense, it was, but it was close run. Australian troops are often called diggers but the Vietminh sappers would certainly challenge us for that title. I could not put down the book without mentally honouring the brave soldiers (on both sides) who fought without respite in trench warfare reminiscent of WWI.

For those who are interested in the development of tactics used in the Vietnam War (1963-1975) it was interesting to note the rudimentary use of helicopters and close air support by the French, and the development of the bases aero-terrestre, (air-land bases) which later became the ubiquitous fire-support bases (FSB). It was also interesting to see that the American interests became more partisan after Korea and in the final days of Dien Bien Phu, more support was extended to the French, and then eventually led to our involvement. Hal Moore's book- We Were Soldiers Once ...
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28 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Eye Book on October 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
An excellent piece of research and writing. The noise, sights and smells of the battle jump from the pages. Beautifully paced, Windrow is fair and even-handed to all participants. He clearly states where there are conflicting accounts and carfully explains the sources and logic of his own views.

While the losses on the French side (of which many were non French legionnaires and locally recruited native troops) were appalling to the modern reader, the losses of Vietnamese troops were very much worse. Windrow makes clear that crude WW1 "human wave" tactics used by the Vietnamese units under General Giap almost won, or, at least, extended the battle for the French. Even with Chinese support, General Giap was expending soldiers, equipment and ammunition at a rate the Vietnamese recruitment, training and logistics could barely match. General Giap may have won the battle, but it was at a huge and painful cost to the fledgling Vietnamese army.

The implications of the book suggest that if France had planned for and managed better air supply, bombing and ground support operations from the start (possibly with better planned support from the USA), the outcome might have being different. Whether this would have made any difference to Vietnam in the long term is another debate. The Vietnamese were always prepared for a very long war, and by 1954 the French public were already sick of the military losses and the expense of fighting the war. The French Army were convinced that simple lack of political will lost them both the battle and the war. As later in Algeria, the cry went up: "We were betrayed".

Well worth buying.
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