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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.
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on August 1, 2017
Anyone who wants to understand the Indochina Wars should read the books by Bernard Fall, "Hell in a Very
Small Place" and "Street Without Joy". His books were textbooks for many of us who spent time in Vietnam during the
Vietnam War in the 1960's. He had an incredible understanding of the Vietnamese people and the colonial period and the ability to convey it in his writings.
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on February 14, 2015
I wish I could give this book ten stars. It is, quite simply, my favorite military history book of all time.

I can add little to the many positive reviews here, so I will just note that, in addition to being the (in quotation marks) definitive history of the battle of Dien Bien Phu itself, and providing all of the details that a true military history buff could ever wish for (logistics, commanders' personalities, unit identifications), it sometimes reads like a very intense and gritty novel.

My favorite example is this line, describing the French tactical situation as the fortress approached the final night, in regard to the defense of the hill line on the east side of the river. Fall describes what would happen if the hills were lost:

"All that would be left of the French fortress at Dien Bien Phu would be a series of half-flooded mud flats filled with wounded and dying and the wreckage of what once were artillery pieces and tanks. If Dien Bien Phu was to survive to see another day, let alone live long enough to be saved by a cease-fire, the Upper Elianes would have to be held literally to the last ditch, the last cartridge, and the last man."
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on April 29, 2013
A detailed military appraisal of the French fiasco that brought the United States into Vietnam a decade later. Written a half century ago before most secret documents were in the public record and before most memoirs were published, it still stands the test of time. Bernard Fall was an insightful military analyst and leading critic of American policy in Vietnam. It is a shame more military and political leaders of the time did not heed his prophesies. This book remains the single-most important source about the Frecnh debacle in the "Valley of Death." It is a good comapnion to Ted Morgans VALLEY POF DEATH and Martin Windrow's THE LAST VALLEY.
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on October 9, 2012
So if you'd like to know what really happened at the siege from painstaking research and interviews, then you've got the right book. Historically accurate and objectively written, Bernie Fall does a great job. Amazing historical detail. I often wondered while reading this, how on earth Bernie collected, organized, and arranged his superabundant details. I learned so much from this book and so will you. By the way, in some reviews the adjective "ponderous" has been bandied about, implying to what I assume as wordiness. This is far from the case and don't let that opine sway you from a good HISTORY book. Perhaps the aforementioned reviewer had previously read some Dr. Seuss books, compared to which I guess he could lay that claim. For comparison, I'd consider ponderous to be a book like Cervantes's, "Don Quixote." (in Spanish, I might add.)
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on February 6, 2015
This is the original classic study on the battle of Dien Bien Phu. At times it is overly detailed, but it's well done. Mr. Fall did intensive research, and his writing is always excellent. It's a terrific place to start if you want to know how the French lost Vietnam and how we took the first steps to enter that part of the world later on. He died young in 1967 on a patrol with the Marines. He was a great scholar and left a fine legacy of several books. I wish he was alive today to see how Asia has changed since the 1960s.
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on October 8, 2004
French colonialism in Indochina has a long and entangled past.

Having first arrived as Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century, and rising as colonial powers in the mid-19th century, the French were established on the Indochinese peninsula for nearly three-hundred years when the Second World War brought forth Japanese expansion into South East Asia. With Europe attempting to stem the blitzkrieg, and France soon to fall to Nazi Germany, the French colonies in Indochina were quickly consumed by the Japanese war machine.

Following the Japanese defeat in WW II, a power-vacuum emerged in South East Asia. In order to fill the vacuum, the nationalist Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh, attempted to create a sovereign nation. France, attempting to regain control of its lost colonies quickly sent troops to re-establish control. Thus began the First Indochina war.

Rather than concentrating on the entire conflict, Dr. Fall discusses in depth, perhaps the most defining moment of the war, the siege and fall of Dien Bien Phu.

Based upon countless interviews with active participants and careful analysis of innumerable government documents, Dr. Fall pieces together an amazing history of the battle in nearly minute by minute description. Not only does he discuss the actual battle but also the subsequent political implications that made Dien Bien Phu one of the most decisive events of mid-20th century, comparable to the Cuban Missle Crisis or the end of the Korean War.

Dr. Fall's account is highly readable, dividing the work between strategical analysis and an extensive description of the myriad and strikingly unique men participating in the battle, from the Commander-In-Chief of French forces, to the individual strong point commanders.

Indeed, Fall has produced a seminal work of a watershed event that will remain for sometime the peerless account of Dien Bien Phu and the resulting end to French colonialism in Indochina.
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on May 10, 2017
Exactly what I wanted!
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on October 30, 2016
Vivid testimony to the futility of colonial ambitions in post WW II Asia. Over-inflated egos and failed General leadership put French forces in jeopardy from the outset. The courage and bravery of the combatants is amazing. If only the leadership in the USA had read Fall's book before its engagement in Vietnam.
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on March 2, 2017
I couldn't put the book down , a great historical story of the confusion of combat.
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