Monday, March 13, 2006
Indochina History Break
Today marks the 52nd anniversary of the Viet Minh attack on the French garrison at Dienbienphu — a remote valley in northern Vietnam near the border with Laos. The Viet Minh were an umbrella group of Vietnamese nationalists under the leadership of communist Ho Chi Minh. They had been fighting the colonial French, and other Vietnamese nationalist groups, since 1946.
The French viewed their position in a flat valley surrounded by hills as an offensive base. From there they would venture out and cut the Viet Minh supply lines, preempting an attack on Laos. As a result of this outlook, the garrison never outposted the hills. They'd be attacking and, besides, it was impossible for the Vietnamese to haul any significantt artillery up there.
Unaware of French opinion, the Vietnameses went ahead and hauled heavy artillery up onto the hills along with daunting amounts of anti-aircraft guns. On March 13, they let loose a barrage, followed by a human wave attack that engulfed a French strongpoint manned by crack Foreign Legionnaires. The fight was on.
For the next several months, while peace talks droned on in Geneva, the Vietnamese strangled the French. All French supplies had to come by parachute. The planes—many flown by American contract pilots— braved intense flak dropping their cargo. As the garrison was compressed, the drop zone grew smaller. Food and ammunition ran short. Meanwhile, generous supplies from nearby communist China—including American ordinance captured in Korea— enabled the Viet Minh to bombard their opponents at will.
Despite horrendous casualties, the Viet Minh seized one French strongpoint after another. Finally, on May 7, 1954, it ended. The French surrendered. Over 10,000 men marched into captivity, many of whom died in Viet Minh prison camps. French colonial rule in Vietnam and Laos ended. In 1955, Vietnam was partitioned into a communist north and a non-communist south along the 17th parallel.
Now back to running and writing stuff.