Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam (1954 AD)
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu was the penultimate engagement of the Indochina War in which Vietnam, and ultimately Laos and Cambodia, gained their independence from the Frence. One of the largest post-colonial battles anywhere in the world, it ranks with the Battle of Vertieres in Haiti in terms of a disastrous loss of a former colony for France. Military historians consider Dien Bien Phu to be the first time in history that a guerrilla fight successfully escalated into a conventional war in which a non-European force defeated a modern European army.
In the late 19th century, France seized the region known as Indochina (including modern-day Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos) after failing to secure any other sizeable colonies in Asia. Control of the highly strategic coastal area between India and China became incredibly important to French economic and military interests in the region. Except for a few years of Japanese occupation during World War II, France maintained the colony for nearly seven decades.
However, during the war, local Vietnamese forces which had fought against the Japanese decided to pursue full independence from foreign powers and turned against the French. Led bu Ho Chi Minh, a low-level guerilla campaign wa launched against the French. Despite all French military, political and economic efforts, they were unable to quash the rebellion.
Things came to a head in 1954 as each side sought a definitive victory. The French, in an effort to stop the flow of support and arms coming to their enemies through Laos, established a poorly located stronghold in a valley near the town of Dien Bien Phu on the Laotian border. The Vietnamese commander, Vo Nguyen Giap, meticulously planned his assault. Amassing a much larger force than the French had available, the Vietnamese set up their positions above the valley, with powerful, well-concealed artillery pieces provided by the Chinese and Russians.
The result was a military disaster for the French. The fighting broke out on March 13, 1954. The French were quickly cut off from support or escape, and before long came to realize how disastrous their position was. Nevertheless they held out for nearly two months, and inflicted significant casualties on the enemy as well. On May 7, the French surrendered. This led to the immediate withdrawal of France from the region, the division of Vietnam into north and south, and encouraged independence movements in French colonies around the world.
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu raged all around the city for several months, and there are numerous markers around the city noting sites related to the battle. The two most popular sites are both monuments. The first is an obelisk and wall commemorating those who died fighting at the battle. The other is the Dien Bien Phu victory statue, a giant work in bronze of civilians celebrating the triumph over France.
The Dien Bien Battlefield sites are scattered around the modern-day town of Dien Bien Phu, approximately 180 miles west of Hanoi. As of this writing no visitor information was available. Web: www.vietnamtourism.com (official tourism website of Vietnam).
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