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The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam Hardcover – December 14, 2004
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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
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"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
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Top Customer Reviews
To say that the French situation in Indochina was precarious would be an understatement. I had the typical European view of the war; why the hell didn't the French professional army destroy this ragtag band of untrained guerillas? The issue was more complex than I even knew, and that's why I love reading about history. You find things that open your eyes to why events unfolded like they did. The French were fighting a war that nobody cared much about back home in France or its other colonies (sound familiar, America), and the army was treated as if they were outcasts and murderers more so than French Soldiers. The politicians didn't support the war because they felt it would alienate voters, and by the time the U.S. started sending the French much needed supplies, the Vietminh were already becoming a first-rate army themselves. This book does justice to General Giap as well. It shows his military genius, and it made me think of Civil War General T.J. Jackson, and how he could look at a piece of ground and decide how to best use it to his advantage. Finally it shows the tragedy that was the French High Command. All this rolled up to make the CEFEO a lost cause from the beginning.
This book is a must read for anyone with an interest in the French-Indochina War of 1946-1954. I recently got into the war and have enjoyed reading about the different battles and tactics, but man, it's sad to think that two well equipped and well trained armies in the U.S. and France were defeated by a largely conscript army. I take nothing away from the Vietnamese, these men let their victories do the talking for sure. I merely meant that it is almost astonishing to comprehend.