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Posted on Sep 14, 2005 in Books and Movies

The Last Valley – Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam – Book Review

By Mark Christian

The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam
Martin Windrow
Da Capo Press, 2004

Dien Bien Phu is one of the best examples of a western power being beaten by a "national liberation movement" in a conventional form of battle. Without using guerilla warfare, the Viet Minh accomplished what had yet to be seen in history. In December 1953, a well-equipped French force of 15,000 of some of that country’s best troops placed themselves across communist supply routes on the Laos-Vietnam border. This was essentially a ‘dare’ for the Viet Minh to attack them. Led by General Vo Nguyen Giap, the Viet Minh took the challenge and ended up laying siege to the French garrison. Under almost constant artillery fire, Giap’s men used trenches to infiltrate the camp and hamper French counterattacks. By spring the French were battered into submission, but had pushed the enemy to their limits as well. There is also a brief discussion of how United States nuclear weapons might break the siege, although it was never a serious proposition.


This meticulous account by Windrow is an outstanding piece of ‘little-heard’ military history. I would consider this book an ‘A’ on my list of military history reviews. With some of the best details and maps of the conflict available, it should not be missed by military enthusiasts. Several pages of photos are included, and the appendixes are a great extra.

Mr. Windrow appears to have a great knowledge of the period and the tactics used by both the French and the Viet Minh. He brings, in my opinion, more detail of all actions to the table than most authors I have read.
From his writing style, you can put yourself into that timeline with little difficulty. The sights and sounds of the battle seem to come alive around you. I was engrossed with the book and his writing style from the first chapter.

The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam is highly recommended.