Dien Bien Phu: Last Nail in the French Coffin

What was the Battle of Dien Bien Phu?

The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was one of many military confrontations between the French and the Viet Minh forces during the First Indochina War.

Why is the battle called Dien Bien Phu?

The battle is named after the place where it happened. Today, Dien Bien Phu is a city in the northwestern part of Vietnam. However, at that time, it was a cluster of hamlets. The French had created a fortified air-land base in this area and the Viet Minh forces besieged this base.

Location of Dien Bien Phu
Location of Dien Bien Phu; Photo Credit: Mark Pellegrini

When did this battle start and end?

It started on 13 March 1954 and ended on 7 May 1954.

What happened during this battle?

In this battle, the Viet Minh forces besieged the French base and after almost 2 months of fighting, the French forces surrendered.

What is the significance of this battle?

It was a decisive battle. Although, there had been several armed confrontations between the French and the Viet Minh during the First Indochina War, this one brought an end to the First Indochina War and exited France from Indochina once and for all.

Who was leading the Viet Minh forces in this battle?

Viet Minh chief general Vo Nguyen Giap was leading the Viet Minh forces in this battle.

Who was leading the French forces in this battle?

Christian de Castries was the commander of the French base of Dien Bien Phu.

Why did the French set up a base at Dien Bien Phu?

There were three main reasons:

  1. Set-piece battle: Being unable to defeat the Viet Minh in a guerrilla war, the French wanted to draw the Viet Minh out into a direct conventional set-piece battle. The French knew that they would be able to outgun the Viet Minh in a direct confrontation owing to their superior firepower.
  2. Protect Laos: During 1952-1953, Viet Minh had conducted raids into neighboring Laos, which was a French protectorate. Viet Minh were able to conduct these raids without much difficulty. The French wanted to protect Laos, block Viet Minh supply lines, and increase their own influence in the border areas. The French base was only 10 miles away from the Laotian border.
  3. Deprive Viet Minh of rice and opium: By dominating this area, the French wanted to deprive the Viet Minh of rich rice-growing areas and take control of the Opium trade. Depriving the Viet Minh of these two resources would considerably weaken the Viet Minh.    

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First Indochina War

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