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The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam Paperback – December 27, 2005
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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
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A meticulous and masterly narrative." -- Wall Street Journal
"An excellent tome...Well researched and written...Historians and students of military history will find this an enlightening volume." -- Gun Week, 01/02/06
"Extremely sophisticated, unbiased, and well researched." -- Choice 10/2005
Top customer reviews
Windrow also has the ability to write about small unit tactics and battlefield mechanics in a way that is engaging and compelling. Really can't recall another author with that skill.
These include Chinese, Russian and American involvement in Korea and the West vs East of communism vs democracy. It is tragic reading about French mistakes that the US repeated in the following years. I recommend this book to history buffs and US Viet Nam veterans.
I knew very little about the battle of Dien Bien Phu other than the bare fact that the French lost. After reading this I felt I knew what it was really like for the men involved. The author takes you both to the grunts in the mud fighting and dying and the generals making their plans and the politicians back home.
The part that I got most emotional about was the treachery of French leftists openly backing the Viets and then the suffering of these brave men in captivity at the hands of the communists. This is an epic book about an epic battle and should be read by everyone with an interest in history.
Another aspect of the book that is particularly useful is Windrow's description of mundane military tasks to put them in context for readers who lack background knowledge about military matters. One example deals with the plight of the gunners serving the French artillery. Windrow describes how crewmen had to open a cardboard tube, extract the 90 odd pound round, remove the warhead from the propellant case, discard a number of the charge bags, re-insert the war head, select, set and screw in a fuse all before the round could be inserted into the breach and fired. Windrow's point is the sheer physical exertion involved in a banal phrase such as "the French artillery fired an average of 500 rounds per gun that night". Windrow intersperses descriptions such as this, on a number of topics throughout the book, which makes it extraordinarily accessible for readers without a military background.
There are two caveats potential readers should be aware of. First, while Windrow has accessed all the existing French archives, accounts and military journals, he's done little or no research (at least none was listed in the bibliography) from the Viet Minh perspective. Second, the book doesn't cover the political aspects of the battle, essentially all the political matters are condensed into one chapter at the end. Readers could remedy the lack of political content by reading Morgan's Valley of Death.
Allowing for those two issues, I recommend the book very highly to pretty much anyone interested in Dien Bien Phu.