Henri Navarre was the next-to-last commander of French military forces in colonial Indochina, which was to become North Vietnam and South Vietnam. The Dien Bien Phu operation was at his orders, given to his subordinates Rene Cogny and Jean Gilles. After Dien Bien Phu, he was replaced by Paul Ely, who had been French Army chief of staff and, during the Dien Bien Phu battle, was in the U.S. seeking support.
Navarre and Cogny, regional commander for the northern theater that included Dien Bien Phu, grew to despise one another. The French commissions of inquiry found blame for both, but more for Navarre, if only as the final decisionmaker. After the war, Cogny wrote a book about the war, and Navarre sued him over it.
As the Second World War approached, he had become an intelligence specialist, responsible for France's knowledge of the German military.
After the fall of France, he joined General Maxime Weygand, the commander of French forces in North Africa. Germany forced Weygand to return to metropolitan France, where he retired but was subsequently imprisoned by the Germans. After the war, however, Weygand was convicted of collaborating with the Nazis.
Operations in the Second World War
Navarre, by 1943, was inside France, directing intelligence for the resistance. After the Allied invasion of Southern France, he joined the regular forces, and commanded a cavalry regiment under Jean de Lattre de Tassigny, who would be the French commander in Indochina when major combat with the Viet Minh began. He then commanded an armored division and became deputy commander of the French occupation forces in Germany.