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  • Dien Bien Phu/Operation Vulture

    I know 'serious' historians dislike 'what if' scenarios, but I find them fascinating, hence this post.

    The French fortress of Dien Bien Phu, April 1954. The garrison has been pounded day and night since March 13th, the defenders pushed into a shrinking perimeter having to defend themselves and their wounded comrades who are trapped with them in the valley, thanks to the closure of the runway earlier in the battle. Lacking reinforcements and having to scramble for their share of the largely mis dropped supplies with the internal deserters, their situation is desperate. Meanwhile in Washington a French delegation is doing its best to get the Americans to commit themselves to a massive air strike using B-29's and carrier aircraft in a last ditch attempt to save the garrison and prevent the communist Viet Minh from claiming victory.

    Would such a series of air strikes have made a difference? How many would have been required and what weapons would have been dropped? Would the U.S. pilots have been able to accurately deliver their ordnance or would the 'friendly fire' casualties have been too great? Would such action have brought the Chinese into the conflict in a more covert fashion? What would have been the fate of any downed American airmen? Would the fortress had of been saved and what would the longer term results have been for the region as a whole? An awful lot of questions but the 'might have beens' are, to me at least, fascinating - does anybody else think so?
    HONNEUR ET FIDÉLITÉ

    "Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won." - Duke of Wellington at Waterloo.

  • #2
    I dont really know how well prepared the Viet Minh were for that possibility. I'd think they had considered it. The next question is what happens after the viet Minh are suppressed & hunkerd down in the hills and trenches? The French garrison were too weak to take offensive action. Were any of the relief columns anywhere near sucess?

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    • #3
      I dont know if the Viet Minh had realistically considered the possibility, but your question is a good one, what next? Even Vultures most ardent supporters (Nixon and Admiral Radford of the Joint Chiefs) were willing to concede that ground forces (quite probably U.S. ground forces) might have been required to relieve the garrison. I dont think the American public would have been willing to shoulder that burden at that stage though. Another alternative would have been for the U.S. to provide troops to man fixed positions in the Tonkin Delta to allow the French to redeploy the released assets to DBP. Again, I dont think that would have happened, especially (and most ironically, given his future involvement in the region) as LBJ and others managed to spook President Eisenhower with some 'what ifs?' of his own. Nevertheless, Vulture did undergo some quite advanced planning with Generals Partridge and Caldara visiting the French in Hanoi and General Caldara actually flying a number of reconaisance missions over the valley in a B-17 and French C-47. Maybe Vulture or something like it would have happened had Eisenhower gotten at least partial backing from other allies, most notably the British, then led by Churchill, but he wasnt having any of it.
      The French did try and mount an over land relief effort in the shape of operation Condor, but as was usualy the case in these matters, shortage of transport aircraft and available men saw this operation, when eventually launched, turn into nothing short of a face saving exercise. Advance elements did get to the edge of the valley near strong point Isaballe but by then it was to late as the fortress was about to fall.
      Maybe, and it is a BIG maybe, some sort of outside relief effort would have been mounted if the garrison itself had been in better shape, had it not been manned by the T'ai batallions which deserted internally when strongpoints Beatrice and Gabrielle fell in the first two days of the battle requiring other units to take up the slack, had the parachuted reinforcements been able to be delivered into the valley as a whole instead of in penny packets.....so many if's. So much bravery shown by so many in a cause ultimately doomed from the start. The more one looks at the conduct of the war as a whole the more one questions what the French were thinking of, and as for the 'leadership' provided by the politicians back home, well, the less said the better. Small wonder elements of the French army mutinied a few years later following another about face by their political masters after all they had been through in Indochina and Algeria.
      HONNEUR ET FIDÉLITÉ

      "Believe me, nothing except a battle lost can be half so melancholy as a battle won." - Duke of Wellington at Waterloo.

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