Photos that make you think.

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"Do you know I'm a Marxist revolutionary"

"No, you hum it and I'll soon pick it up"
 
I find this photo atmospheric and suggestive of isolation (that was before I looked into what is shown).
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This is Tu Lê, which is in the Thai Highlands of North Vietnam. It's October 1952 and the battalion of colonial paratroopers, very recently dropped on Tu Lê, will shortly fight off an attack on the outpost by elements of two Viet Minh divisions, and then walk 110km, across hills, valleys and rivers, to the safety of a French base on the Black River. They will take 60% casualties in the process.
At the time the photo was taken, the French were about to lose the regional capital of Nghia Lo. That town, held by 1,000 men, fell after 16 hours of fighting. 700 defenders were killed or injured.
From 1945 onwards, the French presence in rural North Vietnam was outpost-based. These were, in the early 50s, generally sustained by para-dropped supplies as road access was too dangerous. These outposts were not generally the Fire Support Bases of the later US war but, for example, a former road station, comprising a barrack building, protected by log/earth/wire defences and perhaps armed with one medium mortar, three LMG, and one HMG. In the early 50s, these outposts were overrun or abandoned. In many cases, there were no survivors.
The French often dropped airborne forces on threatened outposts. In theory these would reinforce the outpost and enable a successful defence. Often, the paratroopers and defenders had to walk to safety while under attack. Losses during such withdrawals were heavy.

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I find this photo atmospheric and suggestive of isolation (that was before I looked into what is shown).
View attachment 399430

This is Tu Lê, which is in the Thai Highlands of North Vietnam. It's October 1952 and the battalion of colonial paratroopers, very recently dropped on Tu Lê, will shortly fight off an attack on the outpost by elements of two Viet Minh divisions, and then walk 110km, across hills, valleys and rivers, to the safety of a French base on the Black River. They will take 60% casualties in the process.
At the time the photo was taken, the French were about to lose the regional capital of Nghia Lo. That town, held by 1,000 men, fell after 16 hours of fighting. 700 defenders were killed or injured.
From 1945 onwards, the French presence in rural North Vietnam was outpost-based. These were, in the early 50s, generally sustained by para-dropped supplies as road access was too dangerous. These outposts were not generally the Fire Support Bases of the later US war but, for example, a former road station, comprising a barrack building, protected by log/earth/wire defences and perhaps armed with one medium mortar, three LMG, and one HMG. In the early 50s, these outposts were overrun or abandoned. In many cases, there were no survivors.
The French often dropped airborne forces on threatened outposts. In theory these would reinforce the outpost and enable a successful defence. Often, the paratroopers and defenders had to walk to safety while under attack. Losses during such withdrawals were heavy.

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I read a superb book on Dien Bien Phu a few years ago and it certainly shed a different light on the French campaign in IndoChina.

It is always presented in terms of plucky little guys in black pyjamas, wearing tyre-sole sandals fighting and defeating a mighty and sophisticated modern force.

It would appear that the exact opposite was almost the case. In Dien Bien Phu the French were a raggedy-ass force, poorly equipped, undermanned, demoralised, had poor leadership, little in the way of proper logistics, virtually non-existent medevac procedures and were hopelessly out of their depth. Whereas the Vietnamese had well-trained troops, superb equipment, excellent logistics and supply, well run and organised medical facilities, modern weaponry (all supplied by the Chinese and Russians), tactical advantages, fine leadership and extremely high morale. The well-organised, professional army was on the Vietnamese side, while the French were faffing about like a bunch of half-arsed amateurs.

I should stress that the book (the author of which escapes me) was not attempting any sort of revisionism, it's just that these were the unmistakable conclusions that were taken from the account.
 
I read a superb book on Dien Bien Phu a few years ago and it certainly shed a different light on the French campaign in IndoChina.

It is always presented in terms of plucky little guys in black pyjamas, wearing tyre-sole sandals fighting and defeating a mighty and sophisticated modern force.

It would appear that the exact opposite was almost the case. In Dien Bien Phu the French were a raggedy-ass force, poorly equipped, undermanned, demoralised, had poor leadership, little in the way of proper logistics, virtually non-existent medevac procedures and were hopelessly out of their depth. Whereas the Vietnamese had well-trained troops, superb equipment, excellent logistics and supply, well run and organised medical facilities, modern weaponry (all supplied by the Chinese and Russians), tactical advantages, fine leadership and extremely high morale. The well-organised, professional army was on the Vietnamese side, while the French were faffing about like a bunch of half-arsed amateurs.

I should stress that the book (the author of which escapes me) was not attempting any sort of revisionism, it's just that these were the unmistakable conclusions that were taken from the account.
That all makes sense. I think, added to that, there was an element of psychological surprise.

Before Dien Bien Phu, the French had defended an airstrip at Na San in Oct/Nov 52. This was the base to which the survivors of Tu Lê had retreated. The defenders of Na San inflicted heavy casualties on the Viet Minh. At Na San, the French airfields were near so supporting ground attack aircraft had decent loiter time over the base. The strong points on hills surrounding the airstrip were capable of mutual support, and there was not too much VM artillery.

At Dien Bien Phu, some strong points were too isolated for mutual support, air cover was provided from distant airfields, limiting loiter time, and was also limited by Dien Bien Phu's own airstrip often being under fire; low cloud over the hills around Dien Bien Phu also sometimes prevented aircraft from supporting the defenders. In addition, the French came under heavy artillery bombardment.

It was quickly apparent that the French could not inflict enough casualties to make the VM give up. Plus, there was no way out on foot, or by air* - the runway was under artillery fire - and no real prospect of relief. The French placed themselves in a trap although one can see why, after Na San, it might have seemed a good idea. Over confidence, as you say, meeting a determined opponent. Plus, there was no Plan B at Dien Bien Phu. The resource that might have enabled DBP to survive - airpower - was too weak.

*save for casualty evacuation flights
 
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I was working in Scotland on the morning of 21st October 1966 when someone came into my office with a very long face and said as I was from S. Wales I had better listen to the news as there had been a terrible disaster there.
THere had been, ABERFAN, 116 children & 28 adults killed in a horrific but avoidable disaster had the coal board listened to ealier concerns about the safety of the tip!






This shows how the tip had moved & swept away the school.





This shows the last child to be found alive




The site today..

Christ that's a mess. My old lady never forgot it, always remembered the anniversary. Were there many prosecutions of NCB ( ? ) head sheds? One thing about Health & Safety is that this wont happen again
 
I suspect the book was The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam by Martin Windrow as this was the most recent book written. Hell in a very Small Place, about DBP, and Street Without Joy by Bernard Fall are earlier books very much of their time. All compliment each other and show the madness that was post-war French Colonial policy.

Street without Joy is available as an excellent Audiobook.

I read a superb book on Dien Bien Phu a few years ago and it certainly shed a different light on the French campaign in IndoChina.

It is always presented in terms of plucky little guys in black pyjamas, wearing tyre-sole sandals fighting and defeating a mighty and sophisticated modern force.

It would appear that the exact opposite was almost the case. In Dien Bien Phu the French were a raggedy-ass force, poorly equipped, undermanned, demoralised, had poor leadership, little in the way of proper logistics, virtually non-existent medevac procedures and were hopelessly out of their depth. Whereas the Vietnamese had well-trained troops, superb equipment, excellent logistics and supply, well run and organised medical facilities, modern weaponry (all supplied by the Chinese and Russians), tactical advantages, fine leadership and extremely high morale. The well-organised, professional army was on the Vietnamese side, while the French were faffing about like a bunch of half-arsed amateurs.

I should stress that the book (the author of which escapes me) was not attempting any sort of revisionism, it's just that these were the unmistakable conclusions that were taken from the account.
 

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