Dien Bien Phu
As the First Indochina War (1946 – 1954) wore on, France’s grip on her Southeast Asian colonies was loosened by the increasingly assertive Viet Minh nationalist forces. While the French had a decided edge in firepower, they were unable to bring the lightly armed Viet Minh to offer the type of stand-up pitched battle in which superior firepower could prove decisive. At wit’s end, a plan was hatched to entice the guerrillas into massing for a pitched battle by offering them an irresistible lure. That lure would be French paratroopers airdropped into an isolated base, Dien Bien Phu. The Viet Minh, unable to resist the opportunity to destroy the isolated French, would flock to the area. The garrison kept supplied by air, would resist, and draw in more and more Viet Minh into a battle of attrition in which they would be wrecked by superior French firepower.
The paratroopers were dropped into Dien Bien Phu, whose main feature was an airstrip in a valley encircled by hills. Things quickly turned sour, as many French assumptions were proven mistaken. The French had assumed the guerrillas lacked anti-aircraft capabilities, but the surrounding hills were soon studded by flak guns, forming a deadly gauntlet through which aircraft had to fly when taking off or landing from the airstrip. So many planes were shot down that the French were soon forced to rely on airdrops for supply, many of which missed their targets and landed within enemy lines, instead.
The French had also assumed the Viet Minh would have no artillery. Their commander, general Giap, organized tens of thousands of porters into a supply line that hauled disassembled howitzers over rough terrain to the hills overlooking the French, ingenuously dug them in to render them immune from counter-battery fire, and kept them adequately supplied with shells.
The besieged French were bombarded nonstop, and began to run low and supplies and munitions. Relentless attacks reduced fortified positions one after another, and the defensive perimeter shrank steadily. Within two months, the French were forced to surrender. After losing 4000 dead and missing, and nearly 7000 wounded, the survivors, numbering nearly 12,000, were herded into Viet Minh captivity.