Muong Thanh Valley - Battle of Dien Bien Phu

Battle of Dien Bien Phu

The First Indochina War began on December 19, 1946 as a battle between the French trying to regain their colonial claims in Vietnam and the Viet Minh attempting to gain control of the area. In the early 1950s Viet Minh forces were making steady advancements on French-controlled parts of Northern Vietnam. By late 1952 much of the Red River Delta was under Viet Minh control. Due to its proximity to supply routes from China, the Muong Thanh Valley region was vital to the survival and support of the Viet Minh. The French forces in Vietnam under General Henri Navarre sought to occupy Dien Bien Phu. This would allow them to cut off an important supply route to the Viet Minh and also help them to fight against a Viet Minh offensive in Laos.

Thus, in November 1953, French forces occupied the town of Dien Bien Phu and used their nearby military post at Lai Chau for reinforcement. Also during November 1953 the Northern Vietnamese Government indicated that it would examine diplomatic settlement proposals from the French. If the Vietnamese army could successfully attack a French-held zone leading up to the talks that were scheduled for April and May 1954, they felt that they would have enough leverage to broker an acceptable peace agreement. Because of Dien Bien Phu's strategic importance, it was chosen as the stage for this attack.

The siege of Dien Bien Phu began on March 13, 1954. By this date the Viet Minh had approximately 50,000 regular troops, 55,000 support troops in the area. They also had around 100,000 transport workers in the Muong Thanh Valley area bringing in Chinese aid. The French garrison at Dien Bien Phu relied on air supply and on March 27 the Viet Minh had destroyed the French airfield. This left the French effectively cut off from the outside world. The Viet Minh had artillery posts and troops set up throughout the valley and were able to continuously assault the French.

The French garrison in Dien Bien Phu surrendered on May 7 after the less-than-two-month assault had cost the lives of around 25,000 Vietnamese and 1,500 French.

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