Battle of Dien Bien Phu
The Battle of Dien Bien Phu (French: Bataille de Diên Biên Phu pronounced [bataj də djɛn bjɛn fy]; Vietnamese: Chiến dịch Điện Biên Phủ, IPA: [ɗîəˀn ɓīən fû]) was the climactic confrontation of the First Indochina War between the French Union's French Far East Expeditionary Corps and Viet Minh communist-nationalist revolutionaries. It was, from the French view before the event, a set piece battle to draw out the Vietnamese and destroy them with superior firepower. The battle occurred between March and May 1954 and culminated in a comprehensive French defeat that influenced negotiations underway at Geneva among several nations over the future of Indochina.
As a result of blunders in French decision-making, the French began an operation to insert, then support, the soldiers at Điện Biên Phủ, deep in the hills of northwestern Vietnam. Its purpose was to cut off Viet Minh supply lines into the neighboring Kingdom of Laos, a French ally, and tactically draw the Viet Minh into a major confrontation in order to cripple them. The plan was to resupply the French position by air, and was based on the belief that the Viet Minh had no anti-aircraft capability. The Viet Minh, however, under General Võ Nguyên Giáp, surrounded and besieged the French. The Viet Minh brought in vast amounts of heavy artillery (including antiaircraft guns). They moved these weapons through difficult terrain up the rear slopes of the mountains surrounding the French positions, dug tunnels through the mountain, and placed the artillery pieces overlooking the French encampment. This positioning of the artillery made it nearly impervious to French counter-battery fire.
The Viet Minh opened fire with a massive artillery bombardment in March. After several days the French artillery commander, Charles Piroth, unable to respond with any effective counterbattery fire, committed suicide. The Viet Minh occupied the highlands around Điện Biên Phủ and bombarded the French positions. Tenacious fighting on the ground ensued, reminiscent of the trench warfare of World War I. The French repeatedly repulsed Viet Minh assaults on their positions. Supplies and reinforcements were delivered by air, though as the key French positions were overrun, the French perimeter contracted and the air resupply on which the French had placed their hopes became impossible. As the Viet Minh antiaircraft fire took its toll, fewer and fewer of those supplies reached the French. The garrison was overrun in May after a two-month siege, and most of the French forces surrendered. A few of them escaped to Laos. The French government in Paris then resigned, and the new Prime Minister, the left-of-centre Pierre Mendès France, supported French withdrawal from Indochina.
The war ended shortly after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu and the signing of the 1954 Geneva Accords. France agreed to withdraw its forces from all its colonies in French Indochina, while stipulating that Vietnam would be temporarily divided at the 17th parallel, with control of the north given to the Viet Minh as the Democratic Republic of Vietnam under Ho Chi Minh, and the south becoming the State of Vietnam, nominally under Emperor Bảo Đại, preventing Ho Chi Minh from gaining control of the entire country. The refusal of Ngô Đình Diệm (the US-supported president of the first Republic of Vietnam [RVN]) to allow elections in 1956, as had been stipulated by the Geneva Conference, eventually led to the Vietnam War.