70 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Account of this Battle so Far
"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...
Published on July 14, 2004 by Aussie Reader
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars not so fast!
Dr. Bernard Fall's ''Hell In A Very Small Place'' is one of the finest Military History books available in the English language. It is detailed, well written, exciting, and most importantly, captures the drama and heroism of the troops fighting to win [especially the paratroopers] at Dien Bien Phu. The incredible power of this series of historical events is conveyed to...
Published 11 months ago by Robert S. Staub
Most Helpful First | Newest First
70 of 71 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Account of this Battle so Far,
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?s courage in the face of horrendous conditions.
In closing this is what Max Hastings had to say about this book: "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."
49 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Soldiers' views of Dien Bien Phu,
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 ... shows the development of air-mobility that changed the face of ground warfare in Vietnam.
This story is a gritty tale that is told from soldiers' points of view. The degree of realism is palpable. Congratulations to Martin Windrow on a truly great book.
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Valley,
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.
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Death Valley,
Windrow often illuminates little-known realities, e.g., that Vietnamese soldiers comprised over half the French force and that the death rate among the captured defenders greatly exceeded that of WWII prisoners of the Japanese, despite their much shorter imprisonment. Also, one can only stand in awe of the volunteers who parachuted that valley when it was clear to all that the defeat of the garrison was inevitable.
Windrow lets a good bit of air out of the reputation of the legendary Viet Minh commander, General Vo Nguyen Giap. While Giap undoubtedly showed both imagination and great determination in assembling a large force equipped with artillery up to 105mm caliber, he tended to squander his people. His forte was dogged determination. In US Civil War terms, Windrow shows us that Giap was more a Grant than a Lee. Looking at Giap's performance in the Second Indochina War in the 1960's, one wonders if he had learned all that much from the first round, or whether he had simply decided to stick to what he knew, since, after all, he had contributed so much to defeating the French. Remember that between early 1968 and spring 1969, Giap launched four large-scale offensives in South Viet Nam, each of which was decisively defeated by US units with increasing help from rapidly improving South Vietnamese forces. After that string of military defeats (which some in the US helped turn into political victories for the North), the Politburo removed Giap from active command.
One of the most striking features of the book is Windrow's explanation of specific aspects of late 20th century warfare, including the effects of artillery fire on its human targets and the grim business of combat surgery. While other authors could have written similar descriptions in their books on almost any modern land battle, by focusing on these aspects of Dien Bien Phu Windrow highlights the sacrifice and fortitude of the French, Vietnamese and African defenders.
Martin Windrow has given us a landmark book on a key battle of the 20th century. Until the Hanoi regime allows full access to Viet Minh archives, his account of the battle of Dien Bien Phu will stand as the best and most comprehensive.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshingly impartial,
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
The book is well balanced and very readable. It gives a well presented account of the battle and how it unfolded and also shows how, although the French were defeated, at some stages of the fighting, victory could have gone either way with the staggering battle casualties suffered by the Viet Minh.
He also deals with the communist purges in the north after the French had been defeated and the division of the country into North and South Vietnam.
This fine book would not be out of place on the bookshelf of anyone interested in the military campaigns of Vietnam.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic,
Of the book's many strengths, the one which sticks out most strongly for me was Windrow's crystal clear account of the battle. Where Fall sometimes gets bogged down in hagiographic portraits of the French forces and their commanding officers, Windrow's focus is firmly on the facts: what happened, and why it happened. In doing so he successfully weaves expert analysis of the battle into a first rate account of the events. And what's more, he writes really well, and presents the results of his painstaking research in an extremely readable package in which every aspect of the battle is given exactly the right emphasis.
In short, I think that this is one of the best history books I've ever read and would recommend it to anyone with an interest in military history.
14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not Since Bernard Fall Has an Author Done Such A Job,
Amazon Verified Purchase(What's this?)
Not only does Windrow provide new and enlightening information regarding the battle itself, but he provides a through and helpfull description of both Vietnam and France prior to the First Indochina War, thus providing the reader with the necessary materials to better grasp greater understanding of the conflict than did Fall's Hell in a Very Small Place.
Furthermore, Windrow provided even more maps and diagrams than the late Dr. Fall and as such allows the reader to nearly reenact the decisive battle, not only through the excellent written descriptions, but by actually seeing troop movements, the location of stragtegic points, enemy emplacements, ad infiitium.
In short, Windrow's The Last Valley is a wonderful and much needed addition to the Dien Bien Phy cannon and will surely become a classic in the study of the First Indochina war.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Maginificant Account of an Epic Battle,
This review is from: The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (Paperback)A gripping account of how, in 1953-54, the Vietminh laid seige to the French forces in the valley of Dien Bien Phu. The book is mesmerising in its honest detail, and confident in its vision and truth. Over 20 detailed maps bring vividly to life every stage of the battle; the reader gets an excellent sense of the topography and tactics of the antagonists.
Windrow explains everything: how many packets of rice a Vietminh soldier carried; the complicated science of gunnery; the difficulties of air-borne aid operations; life in the trenches; the trajectory of bullets inside the body; the chilling variety of ways soldiers can die from artillery and mortar fire. This - together with his deft character sketches - creates an epic drama of an epic battle. The French forces had the advantage of aircraft and entrenched positions, but once these were neutralised by General Giap's AA guns and overwhelming numbers, the French became the underdogs. That they were able to hold out as long as they did is truly remarkable, and they are rightly honoured in French military history.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Raw Courage,
Most Helpful First | Newest First
The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam by Martin Windrow (Paperback - December 27, 2005)