Dien Bien

Dien Bien Province in one of the most remote part of Vietnam. The town is 34km from the Lao Border in the flat, heart -shaped Muong Thanh Valley surrounded by steep and heavily forested hills

Dien Bien

Dien Bien Overview

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This was the scene of the siege in 1954 that finally broke the back of the French war effort in Vietnam . In an attempt to halt Viet Minh (Vietnam Independence Association) incursions into Laos , the French commander, Navarre , decided to establish a “super garrison” at the top end of a valley called Dien Bien. This was to police the strategic cross-roads between Laos to the West, Son La to the South and Lai Chau to the North (Dien Bien). He believed that with this base firmly established in the Far Northwest, he would be able to launch sorties against the Viet Minh, and greatly reduce their strength in the area. He was to be proved terribly wrong (Dien Bien). The Viet Minh commander, Vo Nguyen Giap, finally saw an opportunity for an open confrontation with the French and started working towards it. By mid 1953, the base was completed and regarded in French circles as virtually impregnable. With twelve battalions of French, Morrocan and Algerian soldiers, two airstrips, a heavily mined perimeter and surrounded by a number of smaller defensive positions, named Dominique, Elaine, Claudine and Huguette.

Dien Bien

Dien Bien war

 

The fighting was fierce, with the Viet Minh often following up hours of shelling with human wave tactics, incurring shocking casualties. At times the fighting was hand to hand and always chaotic, with the French utterly frustrated by their inability to hit Giap’s well-concealed guns. Within five days, both the airfields had been completely destroyed and the garrison could only be re-supplied by airdrops, an increasingly perilous pastime, proven by the wrecked planes on the ground (Dien Bien). As the Viet Minh edged closer and closer in trenches, the airdrops increasingly fell into Vietnamese hands. The position was becoming truly desperate (Dien Bien). At the start of April there was a lull in the fighting during which Navarre parachuted in some of his crack troops adding to his garrison now totalling about 16,000 (Dien Bien). Giap also brought in his reserves, edging his forces up towards the 50,000 mark.

Dien Bien

Dien Bien market

 

The French were desperate and they appealed to the US for assistance, preferring bomber strikes from their bases in the Philippines . By this stage the US was funding 78% of the French war effort, so they hardly had unstained hands. They came back with a proposal for limited tactical nuclear strikes on the Vietnamese positions along with a series of strikes on China , fearing ‘another Korea ’, all of which would be performed on French behalf. Thankfully this insanity was avoided by the British giving the idea a big no and congress getting cold feet (Dien Bien). In the end there was nothing forthcoming from the US . For the French, the end was near. On 4 May following a series of attacks, the Viet Minh attacked with a force previously unwitnessed and by 8 May the garrison finally surrended. By this stage the conditions within were unimaginable, with maggots in the wounds of the injured and an incredibly demoralized fighting force (Dien Bien). It was estimated that during the battle 7,000 French and close to 20,000 Vietnamese had lost their lives. This loss finally caused the French to withdraw from Vietnam .

What to do? Almost historical sites of this battle lying to the east of Muong Thanh Field have been preserved intact. Following are a list of recommended places to visit in Dien Bien:

Dien Bien Phu Museum in Dien Bien

It is an exhibition of documents and objects relating to the 55-day arduous battle of the Vietnamese troops and people, which results in the victory of Dien Bien Phu in the spring of 1954.

Dien Bien

Dien Bien Phu Museum

The cemeteries in A1 Hill (644 tombs) and Doc Lap Hill (2432 tombs), A1 Hill, where bitter fighting took place.
The Command Bunker in Dien Bien of De Castries: lies at the heart of the entrenched camp of Dien Bien Phu in the middle of the Muong Thanh Field.
The old Muong Thanh Bridge in Dien Bien is Some 35km from the center of Dien Bien City, in Muong Phang Commune lies the Command Post of General Vo Nguyen Giap.

When to go to Dien Bien?

All year round, best from September to April of next year

Travel Tips

The overland trip to Dien Bien Phu can be more intriguing than the actual battlefield sites for which the town is so famous. Of course, you miss out on this if you fly. You could go to Dien Bien by bus from Hanoi. Or you also could catch night train to Lao Cai, then catch bus from Lao Cai to Dien Bien

Dien Bien

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