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Talk:Battle of Dien Bien Phu

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 Definition Site in northern Vietnam of a 1954 decisive battle that soon forced France to relinquish control of colonial Indochina. [d] [e]
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 Workgroup categories History and Military [Categories OK]
 Subgroup category:  Wars of Vietnam
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Fall, etc.

Since I don't read French, did you mean to make Navarre vNavarre?

Fall wrote extensively. Yes, Street without Joy is probably his best known, but Hell in a Very Small Place is explicitly about Dien Bien Phu. As you may know, Fall died in combat, while doing field research with U.S. units during the war. He also published a number of papers; while some were for the U.S. government, he did regard many of the senior U.S. politicians and planners as idiots, and, in a reasonably polite way, told them so.

I'm actively writing this article; by my side are Giap's book that does have its propaganda aspect, but also Moore & Galloway's 2008 book in which they met with Vo Nguyen Giap (still alive, AFAIK), and then walked the battlefield. There are a variety of other sources online but with such things as translations of North Vietnamese works.

The Viet Minh side is actually fairly well documented in the literature of unconventional warfare, growing amounts of which are available online in primary form. In many ways, it is considered a textbook example of how not to fight a battle, at least from the French standpoint. Even so, Giap told Galloway and Moore that he had violated Party orders in a number of ways that I'll be including. Howard C. Berkowitz 04:37, 25 November 2008 (UTC)

Sounds interesting. I'll keep looking in. the vNavarre is a typo -- when I was first editing, the text ran about a million miles to the right in a single line for some reason. It was v. difficult to edit.... Finally I Previewed it and the text reformatted itself. Computers are *weird*.... Hayford Peirce 05:17, 25 November 2008 (UTC)
If it runs to the right like that, it's almost always due to having one or more leading spaces at the start of the line, which turns off automatic line breaking in the rendering. That effect — which also puts things into monospace — can be very useful when pasting in text tables, but a real pain otherwise.
Not in this case -- I just made another edit and the same damn thing happens until I Preview the edit. There's no lefthand margin space at all. Hayford Peirce 15:47, 25 November 2008 (UTC)

Parlance, argot, discussions, etc.

While Dien Bien Phu is indeed a common case in the military professional literature, some of the terms used to discuss it won't pass CZ family-friendliness policy. (phonetic) Charlie Foxtrot is one term, the Charlie standing for "cluster".

Of course, there are many, many versions of Murphy's Laws of Combat, at the strategic through tactical level; is one example. I'm trying to find my updated Iraq set. One Law that's been around for a while is "When the pin is pulled, Mr. Grenade is no longer our friend."

While I'm not sure where to put it, perhaps here or perhaps in another of the Vietnam War articles, one quote really must be preserved. Bernard Fall records [French] Colonel Wainwright, one of the more competent and colorful French officers:
There is a difference between us French and Don Quixote. Don Quixote rode against windmills thinking they were giants, but we ride against windmills knowing they are windmills but doing it all the same because we think there ought to be someone in this materialistic world that rides against windmills — Fall, Street without Joy, p. 259
Howard C. Berkowitz 16:02, 25 November 2008 (UTC)
More - this:"Dien Bien Phu" has also become a synonym for an extremely unwise decision - do you mean in military, or ordinary parlance? Aleta Curry 05:06, 16 September 2010 (UTC)
Military, and it's still being learned. Howard C. Berkowitz 05:59, 16 September 2010 (UTC)

Jean Larteguy and the Tambours de Bronze (Bronze Drums)

Did you ever read any French novels by this guy, who had served the French forces at some point, then became a novelist and journalist? He wrote at least three bestsellers about soldiers (mostly officers) in Vietnam and then Algeria, The Centurions, The Pretorians, and The Mercenaries. I thought they were terrific when I was about 20 or so. He also wrote one, about 1960, called Les Tambours de Bronze, also about Vietnam, in which he said that the Viet Minh had feinted towards Laos in order to suck the French into their trap. And that now, several years later, they were doing the same thing (remember Kennedy and Laos), in order to sucker the Americans. If I can dig up some info on Larteguy, I'll do next month's Write-About-A-Sucker-Thon on him. At the very worst, I'll just translate the French WP article about him.... Hayford Peirce 16:19, 26 November 2008 (UTC)

I've only heard the name, but haven't read any of his work. The Viet Minh did, in fact, move toward a couple of places in Laos, in their overall campaign to force the French to defend and lose initiative. While I'm still working on this article, I hope it comes across that Dien Bien Phu, from the French standpoint, was to control access to Laos. Too many nonspecialist Westerners tend to think purely in terms of Vietnam, even though French Indochina included Laos and Cambodia, and North Vietnamese infiltration during the Vietnam War came through those countries. Indeed, Kennedy and Eisenhower first had secret boots on the ground in Laos, not Vietnam.
Yes, I knew that. I remember that for a while the worry among us undergrads was that we would be caught in a war in Laos.... Hayford Peirce 16:48, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
Have you read WEB Griffin's Brotherhood of War series? I'd be curious how you react to some of his descriptions of French military culture, especially in Indochina and to a lesser extent Algeria. In my article on air assault, I hope I've given France adequate credit for being the real pioneer in helicopter-based combat; the US enlarged and refined it but the first recognizable airmobile operations were in Algeria.
Don't know that. Knew that the Faranis had used helicopters, but didn't know they were the true developers. Hayford Peirce 16:48, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
Oh, the U.S. may have been doing studies on it earlier, but the French actually put something together and made it work. The 20th century French military acquired a somewhat undeserved bad reputation; they often were very good at the tactical level, and even when there was good top leadership. Unfortunately, there's some French interaction with the Peter Principle and the rank of "general". Even given the mess in post-WWII Indochina, de Lattre de Tassigny did a reasonable job with the situation. Salan and Navarre, however, did not jeopardize the status of Napoleon. Howard C. Berkowitz 18:47, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
Salan certainly tried to jeopardize the status of Charlie de Gaulle later on.... Hayford Peirce 19:00, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
True enough. Still, de Gaulle had his own style. I wonder if he ever met MacArthur? If so, it must have been out of doors. Maybe the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center could have held their egos, but I have my doubts. Howard C. Berkowitz 19:07, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
I'd take Le Grand Charles over Dugout Doug anyday! See if you can get to this NYT book review site -- it has a very favorable review of the Bronze Drums -- along with the explanation of what they mean. Hayford Peirce 19:16, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
I must say that doing some detailed reading here reminds me of some of the Indochina subtleties. As you presumably know, I've been reorganizing Vietnam War as well as adding content. One of my major goals was to get it to be less US-centric, although parts clearly do need to focus on US operations. "Vietnam War", however, still annoys me as a title. "Wars of Vietnam" might be a lot closer; most Americans don't even know about pre-Gulf of Tonkin US involvement, much less two centuries of Vietnamese wars. Particularly with respect to China and Vietnam in the world, these are critical areas of knowledge. Howard C. Berkowitz 16:33, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
Yeah, I know you've been doing a lot of reorganizing. I think that WP is calling the French-Viet conflict the First Vietnamese War or some such. And so forth. Hayford Peirce 16:48, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
I can live with First and Second Vietnamese War, although those are compromises that I'd hate to have to explain to the Trung Sisters. While I tried working on even earlier material, I rapidly lost track of who was a dragon, who hatched from dragon's eggs, etc. That very interesting history really needs someone that reads Vietnamese.
As far as the reorganization, I'm still trying to get it into a coherent form, and there are some interim articles. Still, I hope this can be a prototype for how to make a maintainable article on a complex war; I made some brief attempts at WWII, but backed away. There actually some good (as well as bad) material, but when the better details about the Battle of Leyte Gulf are in the WWII Pacific article, not the Leyte Gulf article, and not the specific sub-battles... In like manner, I've been chipping at the air war part, mostly taking out technical sections and writing them objectively and with technical correctness. Sometimes, that meant writing a technical article first, such as radar. I still need to work out strategic air warfare, not just WWII, so there aren't isolated snippets. Howard C. Berkowitz 18:47, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
Not literary, but you might find the Roger Trinquier article interesting as an original French military thinker.
I'll take a look. Hayford Peirce 16:48, 26 November 2008 (UTC)
Sounds like he might have been the inspiration for some of the characters in the Lartéguy (with an accent, if I can be bothered to put it in) novels. Hayford Peirce 16:51, 26 November 2008 (UTC)

Suggestions for Approval

I think that the following items need to be addressed:

  • The quotes "strike swiftly and win swiftly, or strike surely and attack surely" and "our troops lacked experience in attacking fortified entrenched camps" need references.
  • Lessons Learned: there are no lessons learned listed in this article. The first paragraph makes a comparison between Dien Bien Phu and Khe Sanh in order to illustrate that Khe Sanh was not like Dien Bien Phu. The second paragraph talks about how Giap thought that the Americans should have studied Dien Bien Phu but doesn't explain what exactly the lesson was that the Americans should have learned, that defending freedom against communism was a losing proposition? I'm not sure that a "Lessons Learned" section is even necessary for this article. These paragraphs have been removed.
  • POWs: There is no information about what happened to the French POWs. Are they still there? This article does not tell us.
  • The Table of French Artillery and the image of French Artillery Positions need to be re-worked so that they don't interrupt the flow of text.
  • There is no explanation of the relationship between this battle and the Geneva Conference.
  • There needs to be a bibliography.

I have not gone through the heading (that I added for lack of a better term "Background"). The weakness of this article is that it takes a while to get to the actual battle (which is what this article is about). The strength of this article is that it describes well the battle. I threw in a lot of transitions to move the story from one event to the next. Please check to make sure that I haven't changed in the process the facts of the story.

(I moved the three paragraphs dealing with the nuclear option of Operation VULTURE to a separate page as this was just peripheral information about a side option to a proposed plan that was a remote possibility. It was a major detour in the article and detracted from the flow.)

Keep it up. Russell D. Jones 02:59, 27 December 2008 (UTC)

I haven't read your edits yet, but will do so now. Operation VULTURE came up first on my watchlist, so I added some things there. Actually, I can lay my hands on quite a bit more, but I don't see it as necessary. While I think I can find a sourced citation, the best possible outcome for the French, with all possible U.S. support, would have been protecting their retreat. There was absolutely no way the base could be held, nor did it make any real sense to do so.
Ouch. The quotes were from Giap's book, People's War People's Army, which I had on interlibrary loan so isn't on hand to give you page references. If you can live without pages, I certainly can cite the book. The words may be in some secondary sources on hand, but I'm certain of the book.
With caveats, I can live without lessons learned. On the Vietnamese side, they are actually spread through a variety of articles. On the French side...I don't know whether to laugh or cry. My major caveat might better belong in Battle of Khe Sanh which I did not originally create, General Offensive-General Uprising, or some articles on DRV strategic thinking that I'm still writing. At the time of Khe Sanh (don't know if you personally remember the news at the time), frequent comparisons were made to Dien Bien Phu, but, beyond the superficial, there was no comparison; the U.S. forces at Khe Sanh had more air support in a day than the French had during the entire battle, their airstrip was never cut off, etc. LBJ, however, still considered nuclear weapons at Khe Sanh.
POWs were a very ugly story. It's well covered in Fall's Street without Joy, which is next to me, and I believe I have some additional material, including some Vietnamese sources.
I may need help on positioning the artillery table; I need someone who knows more about table formatting than I do, since some of the cells ideally should combine. Given that I had to play with it a lot to get it where it is, there may be a lot of monitor dependency. One possibility is that I could create a single graphic that includes both the table and the map, so they are in a fixed relationship, but I don't know if a necessarily large graphic will fit any better or be more readable.
Is their truly a direct relationship to the Geneva Conference, as opposed to the overall French situation? The fighting didn't stop with Dien Bien Phu; the destruction of the Groupe Mobile 100 came a little afterwards. When COL Piroth committed suicide, he was effectively representing the French negotiating position at that point. Howard C. Berkowitz 03:18, 27 December 2008 (UTC)
OK. Let me know if you prefer answers inline.
Google Books did have the quotes, although the section shown didn't have the endnotes; he's probably quoting from Giap.
The challenge of a bibliography is more to limit its scope, remembering this is a battle or campaign (depends how you define things -- I will call this a battle, while Ia Drang is properly a campaign). It also tempts me to have a section entitled "things the French high command should have read."
POW's: looking at Fall right now. This is Street without Joy; I don't have a copy here of Hell in a Very Small Place. There was an overall exchange after the Geneva signing, but a very few lucky wounded were allowed to be air evacuated from Dien Bien Phu. Speaking of all POWs who returned, "most of those who returned were walking skeletons in no way different than those who survived Dachau and Buchenwald." He then goes on to say, "It is still not clear what prompted the [PAVN] high command to single out the defenders of Dien Bien Phu for especially harsh treatment...the [Death March] caused more losses than any single battle of the whole Indochina war." For DBP specifically, approx. 7,000 prisoners, of whom 1000 were seriously wounded and 3-4000 dead left behind. He doesn't break out the survival rate for this group. I've never seen anything suggesting that any were involuntarily held after the exchange; there were some deserters. Is that adequate detail?
I don't think it's within the scope of this article, but, as I remember from sources I would have to dig up, one of the unwritten agreements from Geneva was that the GCMA guerillas were abandoned. Again from memory, the last message from one unit was not to send them food, but at least give them enough ammunition to die like men.
To address your question "The second paragraph talks about how Giap thought that the Americans should have studied Dien Bien Phu but doesn't explain what exactly the lesson was that the Americans should have learned, that defending freedom against communism was a losing proposition?" No, I don't think he either suggested that or it was true. I believe the lessons of Dien Bien Phu itself, on the French side, was the cost of overconfidence of multiple sorts. There were extensive lessons the U.S. could have learned from the overall Indochina war, but I am hard-pressed to think of a modern American situation that's comparable on the battlefield level. Khe Sanh is not it.
If anything, the French must have studied under an American: George Armstrong Custer. Ironically enough, Custer's old unit, 1/7 Cavalry, was in a desperate situation at LZ X-Ray of the Battle of the Ia Drang, but it did better than 2/7 Cavalry. Actually, now that I think about it, Hal Moore, who was commanding 1/7 Cavalry, specifically mentions that he used a lesson from DBP: he took a calculated risk and made a 3-sided stand, because the Viet Minh persisted in frontal assault at DBP. He met with Giap and discussed it at length, and if there was a general lesson, it was that the Vietnamese were not to be underestimated, and took a very long view.

Howard C. Berkowitz 04:53, 27 December 2008 (UTC)


How about a pronunciation guide here? --Larry Sanger 22:03, 2 January 2009 (UTC)

Go ahead if you like; I haven't the faintest idea how to create one. I've listened to enough Vietnamese speakers such that I probably say it correctly, but I have absolutely no idea about how to create linguistic notation for such things. Howard C. Berkowitz 23:06, 2 January 2009 (UTC)
I'd prefer that you create one that isn't in IPA format anyway, something like /BYOO-tee-full/ I'm not sure enough of how it's pronounced. --Larry Sanger 03:28, 3 January 2009 (UTC)
Yeah, that IPA is meaningless to me, and, I would say, 99.99999999% of the people who read sites like this. As a start, isn't "Nyguen" pronounced "wen" or maybe "when"? And "Ng" = "In", or "ing"? Hayford Peirce 03:51, 3 January 2009 (UTC)
You've got me muttering various names and listening to myself; I'm not sure some of the sounds are in English, just like the thing we write "ch" in Yiddish is more something you feel in your throat than pronounce. "Nnnyen", as one syllable, is close. If it's any consolation, "doom on you" is fairly close to "du mhan yhu", which is an invitation to perform an anatomically impossible reproductive act.
The place under discussion, as I remember it being pronounced by native Vietnamese, is something like "d'yen b'yen phoo". "Pho", however, will get you a very nice bowl of Hanoi-style beef noodle soup. Howard C. Berkowitz 04:24, 3 January 2009 (UTC)


First Paragraph:

The French had two objectives in seizing Dien Bien Phu: protecting access to Laos and luring the North Vietnamese Army to attack the fortified Dien Bien Phu defenses.
Too much going on here. How about:
"The French had two objectives in seizing Dien Bien Phu. First, the French wanted to interdict supplies and communications between North Vietnam and Laos as the village was on the main highway between Hanoi and the Plain of Jars. Controlling DBP would contain the anti-colonial war to North Vietnam and stem the spread of communism throughout French Indo-China. Second, once the French garrisoned and fortified the village, they expected to draw the North Vietnamese army into a climatic pitched battle ending the war."
"The first objective required mobile forces to operate from the base the French would establish at Dien Bien Phu. For this reason, the French high command gave operational command to Brigadier General <First Name Needed> de Castries, who was a specialist in armored operations. The high command expected to air transport tanks into Dien Bien Phu."
The next sentence need reworking or deletion as it confuses plans with what happened. This part of the article is just dealing with French plans and expectations.
The opportunity never developed, as the tanks quickly failed. The second objective would have repeated French success at the Battle of Na San, which may have encouraged the French to believe the enemy would again smash themselves against a fixed position taken by airborne troops."
I need you to verify the accuracy of what I've rewritten.

Second Paragraph:

"Navarre, in turn, believed his government had set a policy that he must follow: defend northern Laos."
Okay, what I don't understand here is this: Did Navarre believe that the French Government placed greater importance on defending Laos than in the Armored Operations, and he so abandoned that part of his orders? Or what? Just how did Navarre interpret the French strategy as explained in the first paragraph of the Background section?
"It cannot be strongly enough emphasized that the Dien Bien Phu operations were a broader part of Indochinese, not Vietnamese, campaigns, and that it is critical to understand the relationship of the base to the geography of Laos, not just Tonkin and the Red River Delta."
Okay, I think I get this. This sentence means to say that the French were engaged in their own act of containment, trying to keep NV communism from spreading into other areas of French Indo China. How about this:
"The Dien Bien Phu operations were a part of a broader French Indochinese colonial policy aimed at containing the spread of North Vietnamese communism and the ideas of national liberation. Dien Bien Phu was on the main road between North Vietnam and Laos; control of this town was vital to controlling the lines of supply and communication between North Vietnam and Laos."
My understanding of Indo-Chinese geography is not that extensive; but this is what I believe about the strategic significance of DBP. I propose this as part of the second paragraph of the background.

Russell D. Jones 22:33, 2 February 2009 (UTC)

Ambiguous subject (Which Dien Bien Phu?)

This article seems unclear whether it is talking about the town Dien Bien Phu or the battle that took place there. The article seems to introduce itself as the town, and then switch to being about the battle. I think these two topics should be clearly separated. Alex Wiegand 20:02, 30 August 2009 (UTC)

A valid observation, to which I can only say that in military writing, it's one of those things where no one ever seems to write "Battle of Dien Bien Phu". Since the article is quite extensively linked, I'm considering the way to clear the issue that will cause the least disruption.
My initial thought -- and this will take a little testing -- is to create Dien Bien Phu (disambiguation), and then Dien Bien Phu City (Town?), with the unqualified DBP being the battle. Eventually, I'll create a Battle of Dien Bien Phu and move the existing article to it. Howard C. Berkowitz 21:22, 30 August 2009 (UTC)


Dien Bien Phu (Điện Biên Phủ, pronounced Dee-yen Bee-enn Foo) is a valley and small town in North Vietnam, 260 miles northwest of Hanoi and the place of the decisive 1954 battle that forced France to relinquish control of colonial Indochina. <Transition Needed> "Dien Bien Phu" has also become a synonym for an extremely unwise decision: the attempt to hold a seemingly strong defensive position, against which the enemy, cooperating with the defender's plans, will then destroy himself against the impregnable fortifications.

Today, Dien Bien Phu City is renamed the capital of the Lai Chau Province of Vietnam, and is even developing a tourism economy based on visitors to the battlefield. There is now a commercial airfield for commuter jets. The province has borders with China and Laos.
  1. The lede needs a transition between the first two sentences. The article has yet to explain the DBP was a disaster, so introducing a colloquial understanding of "DBP" in the second sentence is putting the cart before the horse. I'll let someone tackle a rewrite.
  2. I don't like references in ledes generally, but if this colloquialism is not discussed in the body of the article, I'll want to see a link to a usage dictionary or phrase book or sumtim.
  3. Okay, so DRVN "renamed" DBP to DBP City. That's hardly a rename and bringing it up in the lede confused me. What's wrong with "Today, Dien Bien Phu City is the capital of the Lai Chau Province of Vietnam ..."?

Your point 3 is fine. As far as the colloquialism, I doubt I could find an explicit dictionary -- simply the usage in a great many military and historical works. I don't have Masterman's Dereliction of Duty at hand, but I recall LBJ using it as a question to the Joint Chiefs, along the lines of "Ginruls, tell mah again why this Kay Son thing won't be another Deeen Beeen Phooo?" Howard C. Berkowitz 21:07, 20 August 2010 (UTC)
Yes, but LBJ is talking about the same conflict. What we need to verify is the use of the phrase in something like cooking, or network administration, or business management, something that shows that the phrase now has legs and means something outside the history of warfare. Have you tried the OED?
Not yet. I will agree it comes up most often in warfare -- a recent example was the debacle at Firebase Keating in Afghanistan. I should be able to source that; I'm fairly certain there were usages in op-eds after the Wikileaks disclosure. (Double aside here--without reference to the appropriateness of Wikileaks' action, the documents can be chilling if one knows the specialized language. Neither Wikileaks nor the NYT flagged "Bone Winchester" as having any meaning -- except that was a response to ground troops, meaning a B-1 bomber was completely out of ammunition.) Howard C. Berkowitz 21:32, 20 August 2010 (UTC)