Bernard Fall wrote a somber yet compelling book Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu. An amazingly detailed account of the French disaster at Dien Bien Phu. Fall was a respected journalist who predicted the failure of French efforts to re-colonize IndoChina after World War II. Fall gives a first hand account as he was on the ground with French troops beginning in 1953. He returned multiple times to IndoChina yet was killed in a 1967 ambush with US troops during Operation Chinook II.
He revealed on more than one occasion in the opening chapters how the French considered permanently passing on Dien Bien Phu. Here is the Google Satellite Map of the valley Dien Bien Phu.
Truly this was a Greek Tragedy. At the earliest stages of the French occupation General Henri Navarre and Lt. General Rene Cogny would spare over the definition of the Dien Bien Phu defensive parameter with tragic consequences.
Cogny defined Dien Bien Phu as a guerilla camp or mooring point defense, Navarre interpreted a heghog or airhead defense be established. Regardless their defense was never implemented to withstand the onslaught that came.
Hell in a Very Small Place reveals during this early confusion French intelligence intercepted multiple radio messages revealing strong evidence of the enemy’s shift of two established divisions heading towards Dien Bien Phu. Yet this intelligence was only debated as Navarre and Cogny never acted on this report which led to increased disagreements between them at the cost of their men.
Yet what no French military leader could forecast was the coming cease fire in the Korean War. This allowed Communist China to shift much needed weapons from Soviet Russia and material into Dien Bien Phu in mid 1953. It is discouraging to read Fall’s account of the Allied losses around Dien Bien Phu beginning in November 1953, three months before the Viet Minh would launch their initial attack at Dien Bien Phu. The cold war shifted tides from Korea to IndoChina.
Fall’s other recognized book Street without Joy reveals how 400 French Union troops were confronted by nearly 1,000 Viet Minh in hand to hand combat. They “simply fixed bayonet and walked into death.”Hell in a Very Small Place extends this horrific sacrifice.