Dien Bien Phu victory echoes, 70 years on

By VNA   April 18, 2024 | 09:07 pm PT
Dien Bien Phu victory echoes, 70 years on
President Ho Chi Minh participates in a meeting for the battle of Dien Bien Phu, December 1953. Archive photo
Vietnam won the Dien Bien Phu battle 70 years ago, forcing the French government to sign the Geneva Agreement in July 1954 and marking the end of the French military presence in the Indochina.

The historic victory echoes vividly these days as the nation is celebrating 70 years of the heroic fighting which was chalked up by patriotism, thirst for independence, great leadership, and international support.

Unforgettable memories

On March 13, 1954, the tranquility of the remote northwestern valley was broken by the Viet Minh (the League for the Independence of Vietnam)'s artillery fired on Him Lam, the outermost post, marking the beginning of the Dien Bien Phu campaign.

After 56 days and nights of fierce fighting, the Vietnamese army crumbled the Dien Bien Phu stronghold, killing and capturing 16,200 enemy soldiers, shooting down 62 aircraft, and seizing all military supplies of the French enemy.

At 5:30 p.m. on May 7, 1954, the Vietnamese army's red and yeallow flag rose atop the bunker of French commander, General De Castries. By the midnight on the same day, all the French-led troops were taken prisoners.

To win the victory and bring an end to the war, the Viet Minh soldiers had to fight with their blood mixed with mud days and nights.

The battle left Vietnam with 4,020 dead soldiers, 10,130 injured and 792 missing, with up to 3,976 fallen soldiers now resting at three cemeteries near Doc Lap (Independence), Him Lam and A1 hills where they once fought, but only four of them have been identified so far.

Ferocious battle

Today, Dien Bien Phu remains a glorious memory for many war veterans who wear the victory as a badge of honor but cannot forget the tragic death toll. In a recent interview with the Vietnam News Agency, Dien Bien Phu veteran Luong Van Huong, 98, from Le Loi Commune, Gia Loc District, Hai Duong Province, recalled how he had to witness his comrades' deaths all around him, their bodies completely shattered by bombings. There were some platoons and squads wiped out entirely in a single day.

For 88-year-old war veteran Nguyen Duc Noi, also from Hai Duong, pains from old bloody battles have never faded away.

"Seeing dead soldiers lying all over the battlefield, I kept crying at night as I was just a 16-year-old boy at that time. I knew I had to confront two things, one was the enemy, the other, death," he said.

National solidarity

Throughout the campaign, President Ho Chi Minh called for national solidarity and fighting efforts of soldiers, all for victory, freedom and independence of Vietnam.

In his letter sent to soldiers on March 11, 1954, he said the Dien Bien Phu battle was very difficult but also very glorious, expressed his belief that the soldiers would bring into play all their accumulated strength to win the fighting.

Right in the first lunge of the campaign on March 13, Vietnamese troops wiped out the Him Lam perimeter defense fortification, the strongest, and later other two resistance centers, Doc Lap on March 15, and Ban Keo, two days later, thus paralyzing the northern gateway of the Dien Bien Phu base.

The president’s appeal had a powerful impact, giving timely encouragement to soldiers to overcome all quandaries and hardships, advancing to completely annihilate Dien Bien Phu - the supposedly impregnable French stronghold.

During the Dien Bien Phu campaign, tens of thousands of people engaged in transporting supplies to the frontline for soldiers, including ammunition and heavy duty artillery.

Localities nationwide had sent thousands of people to the frontline to help with logistics work and contributed more than 25,000 tonnes of rice, together with thousands tonnes of other food to serve the campaign.

Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales (Canberra), told the Vietnam News Agency that the Dien Bien Phu campaign proved "the efficacy of the people’s war through mobilization of the whole population to oppose foreign aggression."

General Vo Nguyen Giap also said: "The strength of our military lies in the fighting spirit and boundless support of our people, supplemented by military artistry."

But his own role in crafting the historic victory and driving the French invaders out of Vietnam is no less vital, no less decisive.

At the beginning of the Dien Bien Phu campaign, General Giap initially planned to open a lightning-speed offensive with an aim to win the battle quickly and his order was already passed out to the entire army accordingly. However, after analyzing the power balance of both sides, General Giap switched the campaign’s tactics to "prudent fight, firm advance". In his memoir titled "Dien Bien Phu Rendezvous with History," the general recalled "it was the most difficult decision I had to make in my entire life!"

Asked about General Giap and Dien Bien Phu, Pierre Asselin, professor of history at Hawaii Pacific University, said: "The best quality that General Giap had at Dien Bien Phu was flexibility. He was very flexible."

Restoring peace in Indochina

The Dien Bien Phu victory marked an important turning point for Vietnam’s revolution, directly leading to the signing of the Geneva Accords on ending the war and restoring peace in Indochina.

General De Castries, the commander of the French troops at Dien Bien Phu, admitted after the defeat: "One can defeat an army, but not a nation."

Dien Bien Phu Victory has inspired people of many African countries rising up to overthrow colonialism and gain independence for themselves a few years afterwards.

"Seven decades have passed but the stature, meaning and lessons learnt from the great victory of Dien Bien Phu remains a source of great inspiration for the entire nation in the national construction and development," Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnam People’s Army and Deputy Minister of National Defense Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Tan Cuong said in an interview with the Vietnam News Agency on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Dien Bien Phu victory.

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