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All the Lessons of Dien Bien Phu, in a Large Nutshell
on March 16, 2010
This is probably the most detailed book available to the general public concerning Dien Bien Phu. Dien Bien Phu was not fought as jungle warfare. For the most part, it was a classic artillery duel, though the surrounding jungle complicated French logistics. The battle need never have been fought. The French chose the ground, and in so doing, ceded the strategic, tactical, and most importantly, the logistical advantage to the Vietnamese. Choosing to fight from a fixed position, at the bottom of a geophysical bowl, was just the first, and most deadly French mistake. General Giap, the Vietnamese commander, must have been astonished that the French chose to fight where they did, on ground that could be continually assaulted by artillery and mortar fire, from positions that the French could not locate with sufficient accuracy to offer counter battery. In any event, the French were unable to effectively resupply the garrison, just as they were unable to disrupt the Vietnamese supply lines. General Giap never wanted for artillery shells, which he rained down upon his enemy's airfield (destroying all French recon aircraft, and making resupply by air impossible), infantry and artillery positions, command posts, and even casualty collection and battle dressing stations. For the French, there was seldom a reprieve, and never any relief of significance. Finally, the Vietnamese gunnery was very good. Fall describes all this to a level of detail that will be of interest to the serious military analyst, but that may be a bit dense for the more casual reader. His coverage of the many poor command decisions by the French is excellent, as well as the great bravery of French soldiers and junior officers, whose heroic actions multiplied as the enemy made the ring about them tighter. He also covers the heroic, but foolish gestures by senior French commanders as the end neared.
This book, when read with Fall's other Indochina book, "Street Without Joy," and Neil Sheehan's "A Bright Shining Lie," gives the reader an excellent understanding of western involvement in Indochina during the post World War II era.