The Battle Of Dienbienphu

by Roy, Jules

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On Dec 30, 2020, eucalyption said

If you want a dry factual account of the battle of Dienbienphu, this is not the book to read. If you want a heart-felt paean to both the French and Vietminh soldier, on the stupidity and wastefulness of the whole French effort in Indochina, this book is a must-read. The Battle of Dienbienphu is a very French book about a very French military catastrophe. It is a story of pride, hatred, and incompetence on the French side, and of determination and ruthlessness on the side of the Vietminh.

Jules Roy was a former member of the French Air Force, who had resigned his commission in response to French policy in Indochina. His initial idea was to write a book about the battle and the heroism of the French troops, but as he researched more he realised that that the true story of Dienbienphu was one of the generals and government, the pettiness of the former and the cynicism of the latter, who didn't want to remain in Vietnam, but couldn't bear to loss of face a withdrawal would require.

It pays, as a reader, to have a basic idea of the course of the battle before you come to this book. Written about ten years after the battle, by a Frenchman in France, there is an assumption that some knowledge of events will be brought to the book by the reader. Written in a diary format, Roy begins his book with the appointment of Navarre as commander in Vietnam, and with his idea to provoke Giap by investing Dienbienphu to cut the Vietminh off from Laos and to draw them into pitched battle, while also providing a base from which to patrol and attack. This was a lot to accomplish, but Navarre was very sure of himself despite his inexperience in Indochinese warfare and refused to listen to the doubts his juniors cast on his scheme when they voiced them, which they perhaps didn't do aggressively enough.

That they didn't push their doubts may have been partly down to the contempt in which most French officers held the Vietminh troops. There was little doubt from the French that they could not only hold Dienbienphu, but also destroy any attack the Vietminh might like to launch. Navarre envisaged that Dienbienphu would draw the Vietminh in and allow him, while the bulk of the enemy were fighting there, to clear the Delta of enemy combatants.

This underestimation was fatal for the French. Not only could Giap get an army to Dienbienphu, he could also feed them and keep them in ammunition. More importantly, and to the complete surprise of the French, he could get heavy artillery into the hills surrounding the French base and dig them in well enough to survive any bombardment.

The geographical position of Dienbienphu was an appalling one in which to survive a siege: the bottom of a basin ("the Chamber Pot"), surrounded by jungle-covered hills, far from air support (fighters could only spend ten minutes over the base before they had to return), it was impossible for the French to effectively deny the hills to the Vietminh, and thus protect themselves.

The ambivalence of the French Government - unwilling to expand their commitment to Indochina - led to the French forces being short of the equipment they needed. Most of the Air Force consisted of war surplus US equipment, and Navarre stinted on ramping up Dienbienphu, insisting that it was the decoy for his larger Delta campaign long after it was obvious that Dienbienphu was in fact becoming the decisive battle for control of Vietnam.

Roy is quite naturally angry about this aspect of the debacle: men were being sent to die in the weeks before the final surrender in the full knowledge that it was pointless, with the Generals knowing that Dienbienphu was lost. This makes the many heroic actions of the troops on the ground poignant and tragic.

Roy does not ignore the Vietminh story, with respectful (too respectful?) interludes describing the herculean efforts of the Viets to undertake the logistical effort as well as the fighting to win a historic victory.

The diary-like structure that Roy has chosen does much to add to the drama of his telling of this story: each day brings the inevitable end closer, and the horrors suffered by the French are well conveyed. Roy pulls no punches in his views of the French leadership - Navarre the cynic, Cogny the schemer, Castries, hopelessly out of his depth, Langlais keeping it all together on the ground, Bigeard the hero. Roy builds his story around these personalities, and others such as Grauwin the chief medic.

Roy's conclusion is that Dienbienphu didn't have to happen, or that it could have turned out differently. But, the particular combination of both military and civilian leaders that were on the spot at the time led to the inevitability of the final disaster.

Dienbienphu was not the end in Vietnam: there was another twenty years of warfare ahead of it. One outcome of the French defeat was that the United States was drawn in to the quagmire, only in the end to fail just as the French did.

For a powerful, if partisan and opinionated, description of Dienbienphu, I recommend this book

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The Battle Of Dienbienphu
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The Battle Of Dienbienphu

by Jules Roy

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1965
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THE BATTLE OF DIENBIENPHU.

by ROY, Jules.

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Faber & Faber, London, 1965. 8vo, 344p, black and white illustrations. A good hardback copy in edgeworn dust jacket with foxing to rear. Gift inscription. .
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by Roy, Jules

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THE BATTLE OF DIENBIENPHU

by Roy, Jules

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1966
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New York: Pyramid Books, 1966. First Printing, First Edition Thus. . Mass Market Paperback. Very Good/No Jacket. Vintage Paperback, Pyramid N1497. The classic day-by-day reconstruction of the 1954 battle that resulted in a catastrophic defeat for France, ended 80 years of colonial rule of North Vietnam, and set the stage for American involvement two years later in the… Read more about this item
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The Battle of Dienbienphu

The Battle of Dienbienphu

by Roy, Jules

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London: Faber & Faber. 1965. Large octavo size [16x24cm approx].Very Good condition in Very Good Dustjacket. DJ protected in our purpose-made plastic sleeve. Previous owner's details to front free end paper. Illustrated with Black and White Photographs and maps. Robust, professional packaging and tracking provided for all parcels. 344 pages. The story of the defeat of… Read more about this item
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by Roy, Jules

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The Battle of Dienbienphu

by Roy, Jules; translated by Robert Baldick; introduction by Neil Sheehan

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New York: Harper & Row, 1963. 1st. Hardcover. Book fine, Dust jacket fine.. Bound in publisher's original blue cloth with the front cover and spine stamped in gilt. The dust jacket has minor chips and closed tears to the extremities. Previous owner's bookplate on the front pastedown endpaper.
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The Battle of Dienbienphu

The Battle of Dienbienphu

by Jules Roy

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Faber & Faber, 1965. Hardcover. Acceptable. 1965. First Edition. 344 pages. No dust jacket. Blue cloth. Contains black and white plates throughout. Pages remain bright and clear with minimal tanning and foxing. Thumb-marking present. Embossing to front free endpaper. Visible creasing to gutter. Binding remains firm. Boards have moderate edge-wear with bumping to corners and rubbing to surfaces.… Read more about this item
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by Roy, Jules

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by Roy, Jules

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New York: Harper & Row, 1963. 344pp/illus/map An account of the Battle at Dienbienphu, in French Indo China, the elite French Foreign Legion, and French Paratroopers, versus the Communist Vietminh. Illustrated with photographs, a dramatis personae of the Battle Of Dienbienphu, and a bibliography. Text clean. First Edition. Cloth. Very Good+/Very Good. 8vo - over 7¾" - 9¾" tall.… Read more about this item
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by Jules Roy

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Faber and Faber, 1965. Hardcover. Good. 1965. Second Impression. 344 pages. No dust jacket. Green cloth with gilt lettering. Contains black and white photographic plates. Pages remain clear with minimal tanning and foxing. Some occasional mild cracking to gutters throughout, leaving binding shaky. Boards have moderate edge-wear with bumping to corners and rubbing to surfaces. Cloth has minor… Read more about this item
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New York: Harper & Brothers, 1965. 344pp/illus. / maps. Translated by Robert Baldick. In spring of 1954 the French Command in Vietnam massed troops into the hollow punch bowl of Dienbienphu. Later the Vietminh forces annihilated them, bringing an end to European power in the Far East. The author gives day by day details, motives, and reasoningsof the… Read more about this item
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by ROY, Jules.

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THE BATTLE OF DIENBIENPHU

THE BATTLE OF DIENBIENPHU

by Jules Roy

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The Battle of Dienbienphu

by Jules Roy

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New York: Carroll & Graf, 1984. Book. Good. Trade Paperback. Reprint Edition. 8vo - over 7¾ - 9¾" tall. G/none, used, color illustrated stiff paper wraps, xi-xx, map, 344pp plus ads to rear. Interior clean, no marks, binding tight. Shelf rubbing to wraps, no chips or tears, paper rubbed at corners and at the head and tail of the spine,… Read more about this item
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The Battle of Dienbienphu

The Battle of Dienbienphu

by Roy, Jules

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The Battle Of Dienbienphu

by Roy, Jules

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New York: Harper & Row, 1963. 344pp/map. An account of the Battle at Dienbienphu, in French Indo China, the elite French Foreign Legion, and French Paratroopers, versus the Communist Vietminh. Illustrated with photographs, a dramatis personae of the Battle Of Dienbienphu, and a bibliography. Light edgewear to dj. Priceclipped. Text clean. First Edition. Cloth. Very Good+/Very Good+. 8vo -… Read more about this item
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The Battle of Dienbienphu

by Roy, Jules

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1965
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New York: Harper & Row, 1965. 344 pages/map. An account of the Battle at Dienbienphu, in French Indo China, the elite French Foreign Legion, and French Paratroopers, versus the Communist Vietminh. Illustrated with photographs, a dramatis personae of the Battle Of Dienbienphu, and a bibliography. Price clipped. Text clean. First Edition. Cloth. Near Fine/Very Good. 8vo - over 7¾" -… Read more about this item
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The Battle of Dienbienphu

by Roy, Jules

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1984
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NewHaven CT: Carroll & Graf Publ, 1984. 1st PB edition. Trade paperback in glossy black illus wraps.. VeryGood unmarked. Dramatic interpretive history of bloody French defeat that then involved the US. Bright tight clean PB copy. 5-1/4 x 8-1/2, 344 pp, index, bibliography, personae, b/w glossy photos section.
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