Story by Cam Anh

May 08, 2024



On May 7, 1954, France was in shock at the news that its army had been defeated at Dien Bien Phu by the Vietnamese army and people. 

The fall forced France to sign the 1954 Geneva Agreement, recognizing the independence of Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, restoring the peace and ending its colonial rule in Indochina.

“The Dien Bien Phu campaign will always remain one of the most important chapters in the history of not just Vietnam, but the world,” Pierre Asselin, Professor of History from San Diego State University, wrote in an email to The Hanoi Times.


Faced with the attacks of the Viet Minh soldiers, the French Army built a group of 49 bases in the Dien Bien Phu valley, according to the Henri Navarre Plan of 1953.

The plan focused on building Dien Bien Phu into the strongest group of French bases in Indochina.

At the time, French military commanders boasted of the Dien Bien Phu base group, saying they would destroy most of the Vietnamese army there within 18 months. They considered Dien Bien Phu to be an "impregnable fortress" and were confident that it "would "inflict a serious defeat on the Viet Minh”.

In discussing the victory at Dien Bien Phu, one can cite many reasons, but the tradition of unity and patriotism were decisive.


The key factor was the mobilization of the people to provide logistics support to the military, as stated by Professor Carl Thayer from the University of New South Wales.

In a letter to the officers and soldiers of Dien Bien dated March 11, 1954, President Ho Chi Minh emphasized the difficulty of fighting the French colonialists, but he believed that they would develop their will, strength, and determination to overcome all difficulties and hardships to fulfill the glorious task ahead.


Meanwhile, Pierre Asselin stressed the ability of Party and military leaders to mobilize tens of thousands of “people’s porters” (dan cong) to deliver supplies, including food and ammunition, to the frontlines.

According to statistics, the Dien Bien Phu Campaign witnessed the participation of up to tens of thousands of “people’s porters”.

These forces in Thanh Hoa Province alone took 9,000 tons of rice to the front line, while those in Lai Chau province contributed 2,666 tons of rice and 226 tons of meat to Dien Bien Phu, among other support in other provinces and cities nationwide.


It’s also believed that the leadership of General Vo Nguyen Giap was crucial to Vietnam’s victory.

Moreover, according to Nicholas Chapman of the International University of Japan (IUJ), the 1952 Battle of Na San provided crucial lessons for Vo Nguyen Giap and the Viet Minh forces.


It’s the "hedgehog" strategy, where clusters of largely impenetrable French troops gathered, had become the Viet Minh's undoing at Na San, but it would be different at Dien Bien Phu.

“Giap essentially allowed French forces to enter Dien Bien Phu unopposed while quietly mobilizing his forces”, he added.

During the preparation period, Giap's forces focused on boosting troop morale and training. Soldiers were trained in guerrilla tactics, siege warfare, and mountain warfare to be ready for the challenges they would face in the coming battle.

“They strategically surrounded the valley, cutting off all avenues of escape for the French. When the fighting broke out, the strategic placing of forces, along with effective guerrilla tactics, quickly overwhelmed the French”, the IUJ scholar explained.

“He (General Giap) had to change tactics and raise morale to ensure success”, Carl Thayer told The Hanoi Times.


On the other hand, the ability of the Viet Minh forces to take advantage of the rugged and steep terrain surrounding Dien Bien Phu to their advantage became another key to victory.

“They spread out through the hills, using natural features for cover and concealment while also creating numerous defensive positions”, Chapman explained.

This was a vital momentum that had produced increasing wins on the battlefield in the lead-up to Dien Bien Phu.


Today, anyone who looks up “Dien Bien Phu” in the Collins English Dictionary will find not only the definition of a place name but also the name of a battle.

Specifically, it’s “a major defeat of French forces by the Viet Minh (1954)”, according to the world-recognized dictionary.

As scholars have assessed, the echoes of the Dien Bien Phu victory have had a massive impact and influence as a shining example of the struggle for independence and freedom of Asian, African, and Latin American countries. 

The battle was one of the benchmarks for liberation movements of oppressed and colonized people around the world, according to Chapman.


“It demonstrated that a determined and well-organized resistance movement could defeat a colonial power”, the British expert explained.

The victory served as a symbol of hope for those fighting against imperialism and colonialism, showing that even against a technologically superior enemy, independence and liberation were achievable through perseverance, strategic planning, and unity, he added. 

Many countries found their way to revolution and freedom shortly after the Dien Bien Phu Victory.

Chapman said that Cuba, which led a successful revolution of its own in 1959, arguably drew inspiration from Vietnam.

Meanwhile, Professor Asselin, who has conducted research in the national archives of Algeria, affirmed that the Dien Bien Phu victory of the Viet Minh was a major and direct inspiration for the national liberation fighters in Algeria in 1954. 

“Looking back upon the history of decolonization, no victory over foreign colonialism/imperialism was more spectacular, more important, more decisive than the victory of the Viet Minh over their enemies at Dien Bien Phu”, the historian scholar wrote to The Hanoi Times in an email.


In the same vein, Chapman affirmed that the National Liberation Front in Algeria drew lessons from the Viet Minh’s tactics and strategies in its own struggle for independence.

The Algerian war for independence was kicked off the same year as Dien Bien Phu. “It also drew a lot of inspiration from Dien Bien Phu”, he said. 



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