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Summary Article: Dien Bien Phu, Battle of
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Decisive battle in the Indochina War at a French fortress in North Vietnam, near the Laotian border. French troops were besieged 13 March–7 May 1954 by the communist Vietminh, and the eventual fall of Dien Bien Phu resulted in the end of French control of Indochina.

French position After several years of indecisive guerrilla warfare with the Vietnamese, the French commander, General Henri Navarre, decided to draw the Vietminh out of the jungle into a pitched battle on ground chosen by the French. The French built up a series of interlocking strongpoints at Dien Bien Phu, which occupied a strategic position in a valley on the principal Vietnamese supply route from Laos. However, the French underestimated the military ability of the Vietminh and made no attempt to occupy and defend the hills surrounding the base.

Vietnamese position The Vietminh commander, General Vo Nguyen Giap, planned to isolate and destroy each strongpoint in turn, and brought up 72,000 troops and 200 guns and mortars November 1953. He occupied the heights which the French had neglected, giving him complete command of the area, and proceeded to demolish the strongpoints one by one.

French cut off The airstrip inside the base, which the French depended on for all their supplies and reinforcements as well as the evacuation of casualties, was soon rendered useless by constant artillery and mortar fire so that the French could only send in supplies by parachute drops and many of them fell into Vietminh hands. The French managed to regain some of the strongpoints around the valley, forcing Giap to suspend operations while he amassed more troops and ammunition and regrouped his forces.

Final battle The Vietminh then began a formal siege, with sappers digging trenches forward to the French perimeter. From these trenches, covered by artillery fire, he launched a massive attack 1 May 1954, and the French commander and 11,000 troops surrendered 7 May. This defeat signalled the end of French control of Indochina; peace terms were negotiated in July and the colony was divided into North and South Vietnam along the 17th parallel of latitude.

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