Sunday, June 20, 2010

First Indochina War (contd-2)

The newly appointed commander of French forces in Vietnam, Henry Navarre, decided soon after his arrival in Vietnam that it was essential to halt a Viet Minh offensive underway in neighbouring Laos. To do so , navarre believed that it was necessary for the French to capture  and hold the town of Dien Bien Phu, sixteen kms from the Laotian border. For the Viet Minh, control of Dien Bien Phu was an importanrt link in the supply route from China. In Nov 1953, the French occuppied the town with paratroop battalions and began reinforcing it with units from the French military post at nearby Lai Chau.
During that same month, Ho indicated that the DRV was willing to examine French proposals for a diplomatic settlement announced in the month before. In Feb 1954, a peace conference to settle the Korean and Indochinese conflicts was set for April in Geneva, and negotiations in Indochina were scheduled to begin on May 8. Viet Minh strategists, led by Giap, concluded that a successful attack on a French fortified camp, timed to coincide with the peace talks, would give Hanoi the necessary leverage for a successful conclusion of the negotiations.   

the stage of Dien Bien Phu began on March 13, by which  time the Viet Minh had concentrated nearly 50,000 regular troops , 55,000 support troops, and almost 1,00,000 transport workers in the area. Chinese aid, consisting mainly of ammunition, petroleum, and some large artillery pieces  carried a distance of 350 kms from the Chinese border, reached 1,500 tons per month by early 1954. The French garrison 15,000, which depended on supply by air, was cut off by March 27, when the Viet Minh artillery succeeded in making the airfield unusable. An elaborate system of tunnels dug in the mountain sides enabled the Viet Minh to protect its artillery pieces by continually moving them to prevent discovery . Several hundred kms of trenches permitted the attackers to move progressively closer to the French encampment . In the final battle , human wave assaults used to take the perimeter defenses, which yielded defensive guns that were then turned on the main encampment . The French garrison surrendered on May 7, ending the siege that had cost the lives of about 25,000 Vietnamese and more than 1,500 French troops .