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A Night at the Opera

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  • A Night at the Opera

    Found this article by Peter Hunt (HKSW), and posted here with his permission.

    Just down from the Metropole is the Hanoi Opera House. When news of the Japanese collapse reached Ho in 1945, he made a beeline for Hanoi and on August 19, announced the end of French rule, the defeat of the Japanese and the triumph of the proletariat from the Opera House.
    It was also here, on March 30, 1954, that General Cogny, the theater commander of North Vietnam, was enjoying a concert, when he should have been in his office arranging reinforcements for Dien Bien Phu, as the Viet Minh launched their second offensive, "The Battle of the Five Hills".
    The initial Viet attacks drove the French off the key hills of D2 and E1. Both hills were recaptured the next day but could not be held because of lack of troops. The importance of D2 comes home when you see it in the "flesh" and realize how it dominates the whole position.
    The Viet Minh had suffered badly in the attack and counter attack, so if French reinforcements were available, the hills might have held, a case of "A stitch in time, saving nine".
    The reinforcements were available in Hanoi and could have done the job if Cogny had given the order instead of spending a night at the Opera.
    During and after the war, there was an acrimonious dispute between Cogny and Navarre, the Commander in Chief of all Vietnam, about who was to "blame" for the loss of Dien Bien Phu. My personal take on this is that Navarre put Dien Bien Phu in a position where it could be lost, but by not doing his job on that spring night, Cogny almost made certain that it would be lost.

    Would it have made any difference, probably not, but then.....

    P.S. General Rene Cogny is still my favourite personality of the war.

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