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Battle of Na San

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For more information, see: Indochinese revolution.

Fought in late 1952 during the Indochinese revolution, the Battle of Na San might have set French expectations as to what could be done positively with a forward bases, seized by paratroops and well defended. It may hae set unreasonable expectations for the subsequent Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Then-colonel Jean Gilles established a firebase in the Na San area, fortifying a three-mile ring of hills covered by artillery in the center. This installation bloodily repelled a numerically stronger Viet Minh force, even when it briefly held some of the outer positions.[1] It had been something of a success, but there were differences with Dien Bien Phu. Air supply was never disrupted, but, while Na San inflicted casualties on those that attacked it, it neither covered enough territory nor had enough mobile forces to seriously disrupt Viet Minh movement beyond its boundaries. The French Air Force strained its resources to keep the base supplied. Gilles, who was promoted to brigadier general and commanded the paratroopers that formed part of the Dien Bien Phu base, was concerned that one of his outer strongpoints was taken, and 12 hours of counterattacks were needed to take it back.[2] Giap also learned from Na San, issuing an order that a fortified camp supplied by air could not be taken unless "heavy artillery fire" could be maintained on the airstrip.

As opposed to Dien Bien Phu, the Na San operation, which took place in November and December 1952, was fought by Vietnamese without anti-aircraft artillery or long-range howitzers, while it appears that the French positions may have been sufficiently close as be able to give interlocking mutual support.

Two subsequent airborne raids, one in the Phu Doan area in November 1952, and then Operation Hirondelle in July 1953, were successful in wiping out a Viet Minh artillery bases. The ground followup force to Phu Doan, however, was ambushed when exfiltrated.[3] They confirmed paratroops were effective raider if they could be extracted, but ground linkup could be problematic. If there was a question of air evacuation, a secure airstrip would be needed.


  1. Windrow, Martin (2006), The French Indochina War 1946-1954, in Wiest, Andrew, Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land: the Vietnam War Revisited, Osprey Publishing, p. 43
  2. Simpson, Howard R. (2005), Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot, Brassey's, pp. 6-7
  3. Merglen, Albert (April 1953), "Two Airborne Raids in North Vietnam", Military Review, pp. 14-20