November, 1953, it was very quiet in the valley of Dien
Bien Phu. In the centrally located village, the
inhabitants led their ordinary, impoverished lives in
spite of the presnece of two Viet Battalions occupying
Its D-Day for Operation
General Gilles on the drop zone
At the head of his parachute battalions is General Gilles, a tough man of about fifty years of age who earned his parachute badge at the age of 44. He commands all the paratroops in Indo-china, is a senior officer in the Legion of Honor and has been cited eleven times.
He jumps with his men after having prepared a combined operation involving the Army and the Air Force.
is the tale of the exploit he and his men accomplished,
told from a soldiers point of view, modest and to
the point. (1)
0815. - take off
in the first wave jump on two drop zones with B-26
support and strafing immediately before and during the
jump. It was important to avoid hitting the
villages so as not to kill civilians, especially since
the local Tai and Meos were sympathetic to the
North slope of Dominique
On the northern drop zone, D.Z. Natasha, the 6th battalion is immediately involved in combat, clearing the drop zone of two companies of enemy troops who had been carrying out field exercises on it. Air support is provided at once but regrouping on the ground is difficult. Finally, the 6th Battalion attacks and takes the village in street fighting, often hand to hand. Accurate air support is extremely difficult.
On the second drop zone, Simone, which coincided approximately with what would later become the fortified camps secondary air strip, the drop was made too far to the south so that reorganization was hindered by the difficult terrain. It took two hours to straighten out command and control problems on the ground. During that time, command and control was provided by the air-borne command post.
The artillery pathfinders set to work without losing a minute and the artillery pieces and munitions were dropped on the future battery positions themselves so that the men would not have to manhandle 75 mm. recoilless cannons, 120 mm. mortars and especially the munitions.
The days balance sheet showed 17 dead and about 30 wounded. These were evacuated by helicopter to Lai Chau. 200 enemy bodies were left on the battlefield.
In the following days came an avalanche of paratroops and materiel.
On the ground the work goes on without any let up. Defensive positions had to be prepared but more importantly, the landing strip had to be repaired.
There were some 1,200 holes to fill in. Everybody bent to the task and the work went on day and right without interruption.
first Morane observation plane lands on November 22, the
first Beaver on the 23rd. It brought in bicycles
and evacuated wounded.
The isolated phase is over. The air-borne operation has been completed.
The order is given to evacuate Lai Chau. The garrison, some leaving by the Pavie trail, some by airplane, pulled back to try to link up with paratroop commandos who were probing to the north and north-west of Dien Bien Phu. Finally, the parachute units are gradually relieved by airborne battalions and are available for other airborne operations.
(1) Extract from an article
which appeared in Le Figaro, May 6, 1954.
given to the Dien Bien Phu site webmaster, Maximilien, by Corporal Henri Mauchamps to complete the site dedicated to the memory of the combattants of this tragic battle.
"There is a story behind these photos" he writes, "They come from a series of 20 slides because at the time I took a lot of pictures but only slides because color photos were too expensive. So for me, slides were the only choice and even then I had to watch my other expenses. But, it was my passion. So, these photos were taken as slides originally but since I worked as a professional in civilian life, I made negatives so that I could transfer the color photos to paper. You have to realize that the quality from that time period is not up to todays standards and you mustnt forget that the originals were taken in 1953 and the climate in Indo-china did not do that type of documentation any good."
Here is the story...
- On November 20, 1953 the 1st Colonial Commando Parachute Battalion (CCPB) commanded by Souquet jumped into Dien Bien Phu around 1430 with no problem.
After regrouping it crossed the Nam Yum and occupied a hillock which was later to be called Dominique 2.
In the days that followed, everybody was involved in the fortification of the site.
The first contact with Viet Minh troops took place on December 4 at Ban Him Lan. That is where corporal Mauchamps was wounded. He was evacuated to Hanoi that very evening.
The 1st CCPB remained at Dien Bien Phu until the 14th or 15th of December.