Điện Biên Phủ Campaign: victory belief in a Lieutenant General's indelible memory

April 13, 2024 - 06:59
Lieutenant General Đặng Quân Thụy said the confidence in victory stemmed from the summer of 1953, when the General Staff established a research team of 24 people in the dense forests of Định Hóa base (in the northern mountainous province of Thái Nguyên) to 'prepare theories for attacking enemy strongholds.'
Đặng Quân Thụy (first, right) accompanies General Võ Nguyên Giáp, the Commander-in-Chief of the Vietnamese People's Army and Commander of the Điện Biên Phủ Campaign in 1954. — Photos baochinhphu.vn

HÀ NỘI —The Điện Biên Phủ Campaign holds a particularly vivid and indelible place in the memories of Lieutenant General Đặng Quân Thụy, despite his participation in numerous campaigns and battles throughout the resistance against French colonialism, the war against the United States, and border defence wars in the southwest and north of the country.

Thụy, former Vice Chairman of the National Assembly, former Chairman of the Veterans Association of Việt Nam, a member of the Frontline Combat Operations Committee during the Điện Biên Phủ Campaign, outlined eight main tasks he undertook during the particular campaign in his photo book summarising his life on the battlefield.

He was present from the early days until the end of the Điện Biên Phủ Campaign.

In January 1954, he was assigned the task of establishing an enemy observation team, climbing a high mountain with reconnaissance, artillery and engineering troops.

The path was arduous, and they had to rely on the local people's help to reach the mountaintop.

"At that time, I truly could not imagine the scale of the future battle. But I knew I would be participating in a major battle and I believed our troops would win," Thụy told the Government News.

On the top of the mountain, through artillery binoculars that were clear up to 10km, the team saw in the Điện Biên basin, French troops parachuting in to reinforce their forces, cleaning up trees, occupying local people's houses, and digging trenches to prepare for battle.

After many days observing the enemy, the team recorded specific and detailed information about each important enemy position, providing a basis for the reconnaissance teams to report to the command and build combat plans.

Thụy said that the confidence in victory stemmed from the summer of 1953, when the General Staff established a research team of 24 people in the dense forests of Định Hóa base (in the northern mountainous province of Thái Nguyên) to 'prepare theories for attacking enemy strongholds'.

The enemy was predicted to defend in a stronghold model, with multiple strongholds both inside and outside, interconnected, and with artillery and air support.

The significant point was that when one stronghold was attacked, others would support rapidly.

Thụy said drawing lessons from the unsuccessful Nà Sản stronghold battle in the previous year, with numerous sketches and maps developed, the research team concluded a combat plan that “We had to attack in a coordinated manner to break through successive defences, meaning we had to apply all three styles of encircling, penetrating, and counterattacking repeatedly, while also restraining the enemy's artillery.”

When attacking one stronghold, they had to contain the support from adjacent strongholds.

Once the strategy for attacking the enemy stronghold was devised, the General Staff immediately began training officers and conducting field exercises.

Units were divided into opposing forces, simulating crucial combat situations for attacking enemy strongholds. Then, all units were familiarised with the style of attack.

"The campaign heated up with each carefully-calculated move of our army amidst the freezing winter that year," he recalled.

At that time, the French colonialists concentrated forces to form the Điện Biên Phủ stronghold with a large number of troops, strong firepower, and solid defences. French and American generals affirmed it as 'a formidable stronghold', and 'an impregnable fortress' in the northwest of our country, challenging the main forces of the Việt Minh to attack.

Thụy recalled that facing with the difficult situation, the Political Bureau, led by late President Hồ Chí Minh, advocated dispersing the enemy forces for battle.

President Hồ stretched out his hand to make us understand dispersing the enemy, he said.

"In the Winter-Spring Offensive (1953-54) under the campaign, we established five attack directions, with Điện Biên Phủ as the focal point, but the important directions were the Red River Delta, followed by the Central Highlands, followed by Central Laos, Lower Laos, and finally the Southern Region.

"So, the enemy wanted to concentrate, however, we opened up five directions, forcing them to disperse to deal with those five directions. That was also the basis for creating conditions for our victory,” he added.

Faced with the reality of the enemy's reinforcement of troops, weapons, and the construction of solid defences, General Võ Nguyên Giáp, the front commander, timely changed the combat approach from "strike quickly, win quickly" to "strike firmly, advance steadily".

“This was a difficult decision but a correct, appropriate, realistic decision aimed at preserving our forces and better preparing for victory,” he said.

Turning the tide

Lieutenant General Đặng Quân Thụy.

"The victory did not come easily for us," Thụy said.

The northern sector that the enemy occupied was quickly eliminated in the first phase of the campaign. However, when the second attack phase on the eastern hills of the central sector occurred, none of our units achieved the expected victory.

After losing the northern sector, the enemy completely maintained a defensive posture.

Counterattacks aimed only to prevent our trench warfare from getting closer.

The enemy's hope was to exploit the advantage of terrain, military force and concentrated weapons to defeat our offensive, as they had done in the previous battle at Nà Sản stronghold.

After an initial victory, Battalion 98 encountered strong counterattacks from the enemy in assaulting Hill C1.

Battalion 174 suffered from unexpected incidents when assaulting Hill A1 due to a communication line being cut, resulting in a fierce enemy counterattack.

“Our forces suffered significant losses,” he said.

“Both sides were locked in a stalemate for months,” he added.

During that time, the Party Committee of the Front Command had a method to turn the difficult situation around when it noticed some soldiers wavering in their thoughts and fearing the risk of not being able to carry out the Điện Biên Phủ Campaign.

The committee promptly decided to organise an evaluation meeting. General Võ Nguyên Giáp, the Commander-in-chief of the Vietnamese People’s Army and Commander of the Điện Biên Phủ Campaign summarised and evaluated the strengths while sharply criticising thoughts of reduced determination as well as fear of difficulties and hardship.

He considered these thoughts as obstacles to the campaign's victory and he wanted to remove the thoughts and strengthened the determination of gaining victory for the soldiers.

Thụy said "It was a very correct policy.”

After the meeting, each battalion organised its own evaluations, reviewing what they had not done, what shortcomings existed, and finding out how to improve the determination for the soldiers.

The meetings had reinforced and further elevated the fighting spirit, overcoming all difficulties for both commanders and soldiers.

Thụy said he and his teammates were delighted to read the "Appeal to the Điện Biên Phủ soldiers to intensify the competition to destroy the enemy forces" by General Võ Nguyên Giáp.

Thụy recalled a passage in the letter: "To make the enemy increasingly exhausted, mentally weakened, suffering casualties, making the enemy always fearful and tense, unable to eat well, unable to sleep peacefully, always at risk of being shot dead, to create conditions for our army to achieve even greater victories, aiming to annihilate the entire enemy force at Điện Biên Phủ. I call on all soldiers with rifles, machine guns and artillery to exert their utmost positive spirit to destroy the enemy, striving to intensify the competition to defeat the enemy at Điện Biên Phủ. One bullet, one enemy!"

In the third attack phase, Thụy was appointed as a combat liaison officer to monitor the operation of the Battalion 174 (Regimen 316).

That time, he noticed the battalion planning to attack the enemy from multiple directions, with increased firepower, along with a plan to use a large tonnage bomb to destroy enemy defences.

He reported to the General Staff with confidence that the Battalion 174 had the capability to complete the mission.

He remembered that to coordinate and support the offensive of the Battalion 174 on Hill A1, the command assigned Regimen 316 to secretly use engineering troops to dig a tunnel deep into the heart of Hill A1 and set up a quantity of explosives of about 1,000 kg to detonate at the correct time, aiming to collapse the underground defences of the enemy on Hill A1 and some bunkers on the western and southwestern slopes of that position.

The action also provided favourable conditions for the infantry battalion to quickly capture the remaining targets in the central defensive position of the enemy on Hill A1.

As predicted, the Battalion 174 quickly occupied the entire Hill A1 - the most fortified position in the entire campaign.

After this battle, Thụy continued to monitor Battalion 36 (Regimen 308), which was assigned to destroy stronghold 206 to cut off the enemy's supply routes.

After the victorious day, capturing General De Castries and the entire French general staff at Điện Biên Phủ (May 7, 1954), Thụy was sent to attend the campaign's final summary conference.

Upon hearing General Võ Nguyên Giáp’s summary and late President Hồ Chí Minh’s assessment of the tremendous significance of the Điện Biên Phủ Victory, Thụy felt there was immense joy in having contributed a small part to the victory of the entire nation.

He said the Điện Biên Phủ Campaign was a strategic, decisive battle, directly leading to the signing of the Geneva Accords to end the war and restore peace in Indochina, laying the foundation and conditions for our people to continue to achieve great victories in the national defence and construction of the homeland in the future.

On March 13, 1954, the Vietnamese revolutionary army launched the first attack against the French colonialists’ heavily fortified base of Điện Biên Phủ, starting a 56-day historic campaign whose victory directly led to the signing of the Geneva Accords on ending the war and restoring peace in Indochina. — VNS