Military

An Analysis Of The French Defeat At Dien Bien Phu
AUTHOR Major Harry D. Bloomer, USA
CSC 1991
SUBJECT AREA - General
     AN ANALYSIS OF THE FRENCH DEFEAT AT DIEN BIEN PHU
                        Outline
Thesis Statement: At Dien Bien Phu the French violated
nearly all of the principles of war at every level of
war--strategic, operational, and tactical.  These violations
contributed significantly to the French defeat.
I.      Introduction
        A.      Background of Dien Bien Phu's significance to
                the west
        B.      FM 100-5 (Operations) as analysis framework
II.     Principle of objective
        A.      Definition
        B.      French objectives
        C.      Viet Minh objectives
III.    Principle of offensive
        A.      Definition
        B.      French offensive actions
        C.      Viet Minh offensive actions
IV.     Principles of mass and economy of force
        A.      Definition
        B.      French employment of mass and economy of force
        C.      Viet Minh employment of mass and economy of
                force
V.      Principle of maneuver
        A.      Definition
        B.      French maneuver
        C.      Viet Minh maneuver
VI.     Principle of unity of command
        A.      Definition
        B.      French command structure
        C.      Viet Minh command structure
VII.    Principles of security and surprise
        A.      Definition
        B.      French employment of security and surprise
        C.      Viet Minh employment of security and surprise
VIII.   Principle of simplicity
        A.      Definition
        B.      French use of simplicity
        C.      Viet Minh use of simplicity
IX.     Conclusion
     AN ANALYSIS OF THE FRENCH DEFEAT AT DIEN BIEN PHU
     On 7 May 1954 the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu
fell, culminating an operation which lasted 209 days.  The
last 54 days the garrison was actually under constant
attack.  For the French, Dien Bien Phu was the straw that
broke the camel's back.  Two months later, on 20 July 1954,
a formal cease-fire between the French and Viet Minh was
negotiated at Geneva.  This agreement ended an eight year
war which produced over 75,000 killed for France's
Expeditionary Force. (1:367)  This cease-fire was never
advanced beyond a military truce, and the lack of a
political settlement left the door open for the next
Indochina war.  In fact, the Viet Minh left Geneva convinced
that they had been double-crossed.  They believed the
Chinese forced them to accept a partition of Vietnam rather
than a unified Vietnam under their control. (5:204)  The
victory on the battlefield was lost at Geneva as far as the
Viet Minh were concerned; however, they did not give up on
their goal of unifying Vietnam.
     The Viet Minh defeated the French at Dien Bien Phu in a
set-piece battle which, in essence, amounted to beating the
French at their own game.  The shock of this defeat
reverberated throughout the western world.  As Colonel
William F. Long stated twelve years after the defeat, "Dien
Bien Phu or DBP has become an acronym or shorthand symbol
for defeat of the West by the East, for the triumph of
primitive.... Dien Bien Phu resulted in severe political
consequences."(6:35)  The French defeat was indeed an utter
disaster for both France and America who, by 1954, was
underwriting 80% of French expenditures in Indochina.
(5:170)  Given the unfavorable developments resulting from
this defeat, the causes of the French loss warrant further
examination.  The keystone Army Warfighting Manual FM 100-5
states, "Success in battle may not alone assure the
achievement of national security goals, but defeat will
guarantee failure." (8:1)  This manual also emphasizes the
importance of nine principles of war which are fundamental
to current Army doctrine.  Dien Bien Phu can be analyzed
through the use of the principles of war.  These principles
are not sacrosanct; however, they should not be violated
without thought.  At Dien Bien Phu the French violated
nearly all of the principles of war at every level of war--
strategic, operational, and tactical.  These violations
contributed significantly to the French defeat.
     The first and perhaps central principle of war is the
objective.  FM 100-5 describes the objective, "Direct every
military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and
attainable objective."(8:Appendix A)  The objective is
translated into the commander's intent which governs the
conduct of an operation.  The French objective at Dien Bien
Phu was neither clearly defined nor attainable.
     Strategically, the guidance issued to French Indonesian
forces commander General Henri Navarre was, "above
everything else, to insure the safety of our Expeditionary
Corps."  General Navarre's instructions prior to the
airborne landing at Dien Bien Phu (Operation Castor) were to
adjust his operations to his means.  French authorities in
France did not learn of the launching of Operation Castor
until six hours after it started.  In short, operations at
Dien Bien Phu were executed with very little strategic
involvement. (1:309)  Strategic guidance was issued to
General Navarre, but Operation Castor certainly was not
designed to fulfill that guidance.
     The French government by this point in the long war was
interested in stabilizing the situation in Vietnam so that
peace talks could begin.  A military victory was no longer
the objective as the French sought an honorable way out of
the war through negotiation. (7:31)  General Navarre was
aware of this; nevertheless, he undertook Operation Castor
despite the lack of a clear mandate for this sort of
operation.  Dien Bien Phu from the start lacked strategic
intent which left the focus at the operational level.
     If there was little strategic reason to occupy a valley
floor deep in enemy territory, then there had to be a good
operational reason.  An operational objective cited by
General Navarre was the defense of Laos from Viet Minh
attack.  Dien Bien Phu is located about 8 miles from the
Laotian border, and Laos was then a member of the French
Union. (5:190)  The Viet Minh had attacked Laos in the past.
The problem with this objective is that the Viet Minh could
easily attack Laos without passing through Dien Bien Phu!
Additionally, General Navarre was under no specific
instructions to cover Laos.
     Another objective purported for Operation Castor was
the intended establishment of a resupply point for tribal
guerrilla units.  These guerrillas would operate in
cooperation with the French against Viet Minh rear
areas. (2:32)  There are two problems with this objective.
First of all, these guerrilla units were not yet
operational.  Secondly, the presence of Viet Minh combat
units at Dien Bien Phi obviously would preclude the
establishment of a French resupply point.  This objective
amounted to military wishful thinking.
     The French, like the Americans who followed later, had
some difficulty engaging the enemy in set-piece battles.
Dien Bien Phu could be used to tempt the Viet Minh into such
a battle, and the French could then crush them.  General
Navarre was looking for an opportunity to inflict heavy
casualties and a stunning defeat on the Viet Minh. (3:37)
Smaller scale but similar operations had been executed in
the months leading up to Operation Castor, and the French
General viewed them as successful.
     However, these earlier successes were misread by
General Navarre.  The Viet Minh did attack and suffered
heavy losses, but the French were often pinned down and
forced to withdraw hastily or to fight their way out of
untenable spots.  These operations were never conducted at
the limits of friendly lines of communication, and
invariably the French ended up withdrawing.  Moreover the
Viet Minh commander, General Vo Nguyen Giap, learned vital
lessons from these smaller battles while the French learned
nothing.  So, at Dien Bien Phu, when the French presented
Giap with yet another lucrative target of unprecedented
proportion, Giap quickly rushed to meet the French with a
few surprises up his sleeve.  The French got their set-piece
batt1e.
     General Navarre visualized Dien Bien Phu as many
things, but no where is there any indication that he viewed
it as a jungle fortress designed to withstand a regular
siege.  Dien Bien Phi quickly became just that.(2:32)  At
the tactical level the objective just as quickly became
survival as the garrison fought for its very existence.
     In summary, French operational objectives for Operation
Castor included covering Laos, establishing a supply point
for friendly guerrilla operations, and defeating the Viet
Minh in a set-piece battle.  There was no clear strategic
objective for Operation Castor.  The only possible
attainable objective was the set-piece battle, and the
French did not properly prepare for this eventuality.
     The Viet Minh objectives, in contrast to the French,
were clear, consistent, and certainly attainable.  Giap's
objective was to destroy the French garrison at Dien Bien
Phu. (7:54)  Furthermore, the Central Committee, to whom Giap
reported, fully supported Giap's plans.  At the strategic
level the Viet Minh were anxious to gain a spectacular
military victory which would make the French negotiate on
Ho Chi Minh's terms. (5:188)  At the operational level Giap
realized that the French depended completely on aerial
resupply and aerial fire support.  Giap had identified the
French's critical vulnerability.  Therefore, his first
priority was the early destruction or neutralization of
French air power. (7:104)  The Viet Minh were also looking
for a set-piece battle, and they were determined not to let
the French slip away this time.
     The second principle of war is the offensive which FM
100-5 defines as siezing, retaining, and exploiting the
initiative. (9:Appendix A)  Operation Castor started on 20
November 1953 with five French battalions parachuting into
Dien Bien Phu.  At this point the French had seized the
initiative.  However, any hopes of remaining on the
offensive ended quickly.  By early December French troops
found it tough going beyond the valley floor.  Offensively,
actions were soon limited to air support, patrols, and local
counterattacks.
     In reality General Navarre conceded the offensive to
the Viet Minh in his estimate of the situation issued on 3
December 1953.  In that estimate he correctly forecasted the
impending enemy attack. (2:44)  General Navarre then
appointed a cavalryman, Colonel de Castries, to command the
forces at Dien Bien Phu.  So, while anticipating a defensive
struggle in the valley, General Navarre appointed an expert
in offensive mobile operations to command the defense!
Colonel de Castries took the offense seriously as evidenced
by his biting words to his artillery commander on 5 January
1954, "Shut up!  I don't want to hear the name of Na San
spoken here.  Na San was an entrenched camp.  We are an
offensive base."(7:106)
     General Navarre started exploring withdraw plans in
January 1954, but a breakout was evaluated as suicidal.
(7:112)  No significant attempt to break out of Dien Bien
Phu was ever made.  General Navarre even speculated that the
loss of Dien Bien Phu was strategically acceptable as it was
not the main effort in the theater.  However, he did not
take into account the effect of the loss on the morale of
the French Army, and he failed to consider the resulting
erosion of political support at home for the war. (2:49)  By
13 March 1954 the attack on Dien Bein Phu had begun, and the
offensive was forever lost to the Viet Minh
     Giap, on the other hand, was able to dictate the time
and place of engagements virtually throughout the
operation.  This time Giap did not rush in with human wave
attacks as the French had hoped.  He took time to mass his
forces, bring in fire support, secure his own lines of
communication, and lay formal siege to the French garrison.
The first major assault by the Viet Minh came a full three
months into the operation.  The French had given Giap the
offensive, and he gladly accepted it and used it to his
advantage.
     The next two principles of war are reciprocal.  Mass
and economy of force will be discussed together.  Mass is
defined as concentrating combat power at the decisive place
and time, and economy of force is defined as allocating
minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts.
(9:Appendix A)
     Strategically, the forces squaring off at Dien Bien Phu
approached mass from two completely different perspectives.
The French simply were not willing to pay the price to field
a large force in Indochina.  As early as 1950, the French
Parliament passed a law restricting the use of draftees to
French homeland territories which precluded their use in
Indochina.  This law alone severely limited the number of
troops which could be made available for Indochina duty.
Forced to rely on their regular forces, the French gutted
their army of regulars and sent them to Indochina where they
were augmented with locally recruited troops. (2:ix)  The
average size of the French Expeditionary Corps in Indochina
hovered around 150,000 troops which was insufficient to
achieve strategic mass.  In contrast, the Viet Minh
practiced what amounted to a levee en mass.  All men and
women were expected to do their part for the war against the
French.  All available resources were mobilized to support
the Viet Minh armed forces.  By 1954 the Viet Minh had
organized, trained and eguipped six regular divisions in
addition to their territorial irregulars.
     At the operational level the French garrison at Dien
Bien Phu numbered about 13,000, or less than 10% of French
forces in Indochina. (3:20)  These troops were part of 13
battalions.  The perimeter of the valley floor at Dien Bien
Phu measured approximately 50 miles, and to properly secure
that area would reguire about 50 battalions. (2:39)  The
French intended to use superior firepower and technology to
defeat the numerically superior Viet Minh. (3:19)  To
compound the problem of insufficient forces General Navarre
issued Instruction No. 964 on 12 December 1953 in which he
detailed Operation Atlante.  Operation Atlante was set for
south central Vietnam, over 400 miles from Dien Bien Phu.
This operation involved twice as many French forces as were
being used at Dien Bien Phu.  Operation Atlante was executed
concurrently with Dien Bien Phu resulting in limited theater
reserves for Dien Bien Phu.  In fact, General Navarre saw
Operation Atlante as his main effort and Dien Bien Phu as an
economy of force operation.  General Navarre did not believe
that Dien Bien Phu would be a decisive operation despite
solid intelligence confirming that the Viet Minh were
massing there. (2:45)
     The Viet Minh massed four divisions, totalling more
than 50,000 men, at Dien Bien Phu.  At the same time Giap
tied up French forces and prevented them from responding in
strength at Dien Bien Phu by staging diversionary actions
around the country. (5:196)  Giap was able to successfully
concentrate his forces at the decisive time and place while
he skillfully employed supporting operations aimed at
deceiving the French.  French intelligence saw through this
plan; however, General Navarre took no action.
     On the battlefield the French once again were suspect
in their concentration of forces.  The French spread their
forces at Dien Bien Phu in a series of strong points.  Over
one-third of French forces in the valley were positioned at
Isabelle, the southernmost stong point in the valley.  This
position was seven kilometers from the nearest friendly
strong point and could not provide mutual support to the
rest of the garrison. (5:195)  Because of this wide dispersal
of French forces, the Viet Minh were able to concentrate
forces to achieve absolute superiority at any one French
strong point. (3:65)  In addition, the French also lacked a
dedicated reserve at Dien Bien Phu. (1:314)  This poor
situation was further exacerbated by the fact that no full
dress rehearsal for a counterattack was ever conducted.
     At every level of war the French seem to have violated
the principle of mass while the Viet Minh did just the
opposite.  If Dien Bien Phu is viewed as an economy of force
action for the French, then what became of the main effort?
Operation Atlante, after some initial success, quickly
bogged down into a series of Viet Minh ambushes on French
convoys.  The French eventually terminated Operation Atlante
with no tangible gains while Dien Bien Phu was lost.
     The principle of maneuver is defined as placing the
enemy in a position of disadvantage through the flexible
application of combat power. (9:Appendix A)  Dien Bien Phu is
not a good example of this principle of war.  Strategically,
the French government maintained loose control of operations
in Indochina leaving much to the discretion of the on-scene
commander.  As already discussed the government had taken
steps which limited their flexibility.  Once it became clear
that Dien Bien Phu was going to be lost without some sort of
action, the French did not possess the strategic mobility
necessary to influence the outcome.  France then turned to
America, a country who did possess the flexibility to change
the course of events at Dien Bien Phu.  America declined to
help after some interesting political activities, and the
fate of Dien Bien Phu was sealed.
     The Viet Minh displayed strategic flexibility in their
response to the French assault on Dien Bien Phu.  Plans to
deal with the assault were quickly developed by Giap and
approved by Ho's Central Committee.  At the operational
level the Viet Minh, much to the surprise of French
commanders, achieved mobility unprecedented in their past
operations.  The Viet Minh were able to concentrate their
forces in a position which put the French at great
disadvantage.  First, the Viet Minh surrounded Dien Bien Phu
within a month of the original French assault.  From then on
the Viet Minh were able to dictate the pace of the
operation.  Viet Minh tactical maneuvers were slow and
methodical.  Once they initiated the attack on Dien Bien
Phu, 54 days passed before the French surrendered.
     France's operational mobility depended on air assets.
The French employed their air to attack Viet Minh lines of
communication leading to Dien Bien Phu.  Air was to prevent
any significant enemy buildup in the area thereby securing
the French forces at Dien Bien Phu.  French air was
completely unsuccessful in preventing an enemy buildup of
supplies, heavy artillery, and combat forces.  General
Navarre could have introduced additional forces into Dien
Bien Phu via airborne assault; however, he did not.  As a
result, France gained no advantage from her superior
operational mobility assets.
     Tactically the French were reduced to counterattacks
and airstrikes to achieve mobility.  On the ground in the
last days of the operation both sides fought from trench
positions, but the French were almost totally reduced to
staying underground in order to survive.  France had hoped
to use air and artillery in combination with mobile ground
units to crush any Viet Minh attack in the valley.  Once the
Viet Minh neutralized the French air mobility advantage, the
principle of maneuver was forfeited to the Viet Minh, just
as they had done with the offensive.
     Unity of command is the sixth principle of war.  It is
defined as ensuring unity of effort for every objective
under one responsible commander. (9:Appendix A)  Major
General Rene Cogny, the commander of French forces in North
Vietnam, asserted that Dien Bien Phu had become the key
battle for all of northern Indochina and thus should have
been under a single overall commander. (2:38)  From this
assertion we can see that the French obviously had problems
in this area as with other areas already discussed.  In fact
the command picture from the battlefield to Paris was very
shakey.
     From the strategic angle, as already mentioned, the
government tended to let the generals run the war without
providing much assistance in resources or guidance.  The
government was aware of Navarre's plan to initiate action at
Dien Bien Phu.  France no longer wanted a military solution
to the Indochina problem, and Navarre was not expected to
risk his forces unnecessarily.  The government dispatched
Admiral Cabanies from the Committee of National Defense to
personally inform Navarre of the government's  opposition to
the Dien Bien Phu operation.  Admiral Cabanies arrived on 20
November 1953 to inform Navarre of the committee's opinion.
As the generals talked the first 5,000 French soldiers were
parachuting into Dien Bien Phu. (7:42)  General Navarre
pressed forward with no clear mandate to do so from his
superiors.
     The situation did not improve for the French at the
operational level.  There were many officers who expressed
opposition to Operation Castor before it even started.  The
commander of all air transport for the Expeditionary Corps,
Colonel Nicot, stated orally and in writing that he could
not maintain a permanent flow of supplies to Dien Bien
Phu. (7:27)  Other officers expressed misgivings to General
Navarre, and he listened to all the arguments against the
operation including hard intelligence depicting a
significant enemy threat.  However, General Navarre listened
to no one but himself; Operation Castor proceeded as
planned. (7:l79)  His unwillingness to listen is remarkable
considering this was a command he had held less than six
months and a command he had not actively sought (his
previous assignment was with NATO).  This command was his
first tour in Indochina!
     During the course of the Dien Bien Phu operation,
General Navarre and General Cogny became embroiled in a
vicious personality conflict.  Navarre came to believe that
Cogny was out to cause his downfall.  Navarre's wife in
France even got into the act spreading dirt on Cogny.  The
whole thing exploded on 2 April 1954 when Cogny lashed out
at Navarre, "If you weren't a four-star general, I'd slap
you across the face."(7:2l5)  The impact of this feud upon
Dien Bien Phu operations is impossible to tell; however, it
certainly did not help the situation.
     With the government backing off and the generals
snapping and brooding, the command picture at the tactical
level was bound to be better.  Brigadier General Jean Gilles
jumped into Dien Bien Phu on day two of the operation, and
he became the commander on the ground.  General Gilles was
an experienced soldier in this type of operation.  He was
quick to state to General Cogny during Cogny's first visit
to the valley, "I'd be pretty happy when you have found a
successor for me here.  At Na San I spent six months of my
life like a rat.  Make use of me somewhere where I am going
to be in fresh air." (2:19)  Cogny and Navarre then agreed to
replace Gilles even though Gilles was best suited for the
warfare which was to follow.  Colonel de Castries was
selected to command the garrison at Dien Bien Phu.  Even de
Castries warned Navarre, "If it's a second Na San that you
want, pick somebody else.  I don't feel cut out for
that." (7:278)  Navarre convinced de Castries to accept
command under the conception of mobile attacks on the Viet
Minh ranging out of Dien Bien Phu.
     Colonel de Castries proved to be totally unsuited for
events as they unfolded at Dien Bien Phu.  On 14 March 1954,
the second day of the Viet Minh attack, de Castries went
into a shell.  He could not make decisions and basically
ceased to function as the garrison commander.  There were
rumors of de Castries' impending relief, but he was instead
promoted to Brigadier General.!(7.196)  Once de Castries
lapsed into a state of despair, Lieutenant Colonel Pierre
Langlais became the de facto commander of the garrison at
Dien Bien Phu.  Langlais was an Indochina veteran and a
member of the paratroop mafia.  He immediately set out
reorganizing and simplifying the chain of command at Dien
Bien Phu.  He installed many of his paratroop cronies to
command vital subsectors of the valley.  Later, in defending
this action, Langlais stated, "Any of the brass hats in
Hanoi or Saigon could have flown up and parachuted in if
they were unhappy with his pre-emption of de Castries, or if
they had a better idea themselves."(3:67)
     While the French struggled with Navarre in Saigon and
Cogny in Hanoi and a lieutenant colonel on the ground at
Dien Bien Phu, Giap moved his headquarters to Dien Bien Phu
so that he could  personally oversee the operation.  Ho
joined him there.  The Viet Minh did not experience problems
with unity of command at Dien Bien Phu.
     The principles of security and surprise compliment each
other just as do mass and economy of force.  Security is
defined as never permitting the enemy to acquire an
unexpected advantage, and surprise is defined as striking
the enemy at a time or place, or in a manner, for which he
is unprepared. (9:Appendix A)  The French were lacking in
both of these areas at Dien Bien Phu.  Only three days after
the start of Operation Castor French newpapers ran headlines
of the parachute assault, quoting General Cogny as saying,
"This is not a raid as at Long Son, but the beginning of an
offensive."(7:55)  The Viet Minh never publicized their
operations (especially while they were ongoing).
     Some of the biggest blunders made by the French at Dien
Bien Phu can be traced to surprise.  Strategically, there
was little involvement with this principle with the possible
exception of the French government being caught off guard by
their own general's actions.  Operationally, the French were
repeatedly surprised.  The capital error at Dien Bien Phu
was the underestimation of the enemy's capabilities.(1:318)
General Navarre refused to believe many things about his
enemy.  Navarre rejected the notion that the Viet Minh could
dominate his men with artillery deployed on the hills above
Dien Bien Phu.  He failed to anticipate that Giap's
howitzers would close the air strip at Dien Bien Phu making
resupply difficult and evacuation of the wounded and
withdrawal of troops impossible.  Navarre's map
reconnaissance did not reveal a valley floor with thick
underbrush and deep mud during the spring monsoons which
would negate armored sweeps. (5:194)
     There were other surprises in store for the French.
Not only were they surprised to be outnumbered and outgunned
by the enemy artillery, but they were also shocked by their
inability to destroy enemy artillery. (3:50)  General Navarre
appears to have signed up for a number of the prevailing
myths about the Viet Minh which were doctrine to some French
soldiers.  Common knowledge things such as, the Viet Minh
never attacked when they found themselves equally matched or
faced with serious difficulty, and they had no artillery and
if they did, then they did not know how to use it, were
widely accepted as fact in the French Army. (7:104)  Navarre,
as the commander of all French forces, should have been the
last one to take the enemy so lightly.  In spite of his good
intelligence, General Navarre was taken completely by
surprise when the Viet Minh fielded four divisions with
heavy supporting artillery around the valley soon after the
French landed.
     The Viet Minh were not surprised beyond the initial
assault except perhaps by the French remaining in the
valley.  This was a pleasant surprise for the Viet Minh
because they were hoping that the French would do just that.
     Tactically, the French could not gain much from
security or surprise as the Viet Minh could readily observe
French moves along the valley floor.  The rugged terrain
surrounding Dien Bien Phu offered sanctuary to the Viet Minh
from observation and fires by the French.
     The last principle of war is simplicity which is
defined as preparing clear, uncomplicated plans and clear,
concise orders to ensure thorough understanding.
(9:Appendix A)  In no case is it desirable to introduce
confusion and misunderstanding into military plans and
orders.  By this point it should be clear that the French
could not possibly have developed a clear, concise order for
operations at Dien Bien Phu at any level of command.
Instead, complex and long directives were issued emphasizing
the offensive nature of the operation.  In the face of
intelligence reports on 3 December 1953 showing four enemy
divisions closing on Dien Bien Phu, General Navarre issued
instructions in which he stated that the French would accept
battle and that Dien Bien Phu must be held at all costs.
(7:66)  This stunned his staff and his government.  Up until
this point General Navarre had indicated no preference for a
decisive battle at Dien Bien Phu.  Navarre appears to have
been anything but clear and concise on his intention from
the outset of Operation Castor.
     On the ground the name of the game for the French
became survival.  Breakout plans were developed, but there
was no significant attempt to implement them.  There was
some speculation about launching a relief column from nearby
Laos, but that did not save the defenders either.  French
hopes for a massive American air strike to lift the siege
were dashed when America declined unilateral action to save
the French.  Lieutenant Colonel Langlais designed tactics to
maintain the integrity of the defensive perimeter and no
more.  To his credit the French held out for 54 days in the
face of overwhelming Viet Minh superiority.
     In contrast, the Viet Minh issued clear, short orders
aimed at wiping out the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu.
General Giap had the advantage of issuing orders and
carrying them out himself as he was on the scene.  Confusion
or misunderstanding could be cleared up immediately.
     There are many reasons for the French defeat at Dien
Bien Phu.  Beginning with the lack of a clearly defined
objective for the operation, the French heaped mistake upon
miscalculation to create a disaster.  The French conceded so
much to the enemy in terms of the initiative, the high
ground, and concentration of forces; yet, they still
expected to smash the enemy!  A fighter does not handicap
himself by tying one arm behind his back or allowing his foe
free swings.  The French were too ready to sacrifice sound
principles in order to entice the Viet Minh into a general
engagement.  The French chain of command was infested with
various problems; however, nothing was done to correct this
throughout the operation.  Finally, the French were caught
by complete surprise in several areas, and they could not
adjust and recover from any of these surprises.  Even with
all the obstacles faced by the French at Dien Bien Phu,
might the French have prevailed?  Only those who believe
that a massive American air strike would have turned the
tide against the Viet Minh support a French victory
scenario.  The French may have avoided defeat by recognizing
the folly of undertaking Operation Castor and calling the
whole thing off before they launched it.  Once they did
commit forces to this operation, the French effort was
highlighted by operational and strategic blundering which
staunch bravery by the fighting men could not overcome.
                            
                        BIBLIOGRAPHY
l.   Fall, Bernard B.  Street Without Joy.  3rd ed. Harrisburg:
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