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The Battle That Split Vietnam

France’s catastrophic defeat at Dien Bie in northwest Vietnam in May 1954 ended its hopes of maintaining any influence in Indochina and set the stage for the monumental Vietnam War. Julian Humphrys explains...
Joining the battle from the skies, paratroopers swell the French ranks at Dien Bien Phu. The Viet Minh, though, would soon take the upper hand

IN A NUTSHELL

French Indochina refers to an amalgamation of colonial territories in southeast Asia ruled by France from 1887 onwards. During World War II, the colony was occupied by Japan, who ousted the French. Following the Japanese surrender at the war’s end, Vietnamese independence was declared by the Viet Minh, a communist coalition led by Hô Chi Minh. However, France quickly resumed control, causing the outbreak of a war of independence in 1946 – the First Indochina War. The battle of Dien Bien Phu extinguished French influence in the region.

BATTLE CONTEXT

WHEN

20 November 1953 to 7 May 1954

WHERE

Dien Bien Phu, northwest Vietnam

WHO

Viet Minh (General Võ Nguyên Giáp) 50,000 troops, 15,000 support troops, 250,000 civilians

French Republic

(Colonel Christian de Castries) 2,800 French, 2,900 Foreign Legion, 2,900 Africans, 5,500 Indochinese

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About History Revealed

“Don’t let every little feeling be read in your face and seen in your manner.” Queen Victoria certainly took her own advice. But her personal feelings have since been revealed through her diaries and letters, and this issue we ask the celebrated historian Lucy Worsley how these private words have shed light on Victoria’s life and deeds. Plus: the tale of how modest Oxford don JRR Tolkien was inspired to create Middle Earth, an ancient Athenian whodunnit, our A-Z of executions, the most brilliant beards in history, and more.