70 years ago, under the leadership of the Party Central Committee, the Vietnamese army and people organised the historic Dien Bien Phu Campaign and won a resounding victory that surprised the whole world.

The historic Dien Bien Phu Victory was an immortal epic originating from the glorious tradition of the nation, from the consistent leadership of the Communist Party of Vietnam and great President Ho Chi Minh, and from the strength of the great unity bloc and the determination of our army and people to fight for the independence and freedom of the country.

Seven decades on, the stature, significance, and lessons learned from this important historical event are still valid and have become a great source of encouragement for all people during the cause of national construction and defence.

Dien Bien Phu
The Battle for Peace

On March 13, 1954, Vietnamese soldiers opened fire to attack the Him Lam Base (called Béatrice by the French), officially opening the historic Dien Bien Phu Campaign. During the 50 continuous days and nights, Vietnamese troops fought heroically and creatively to overcome all difficulties and hardships.

The final victory came on May 7, 1954, when the Vietnamese army destroyed the entire Dien Bien Phu stronghold, capturing General de Castries and thousands of French soldiers.

  The Politburo convened a meeting in late 1953 and decided to launch the Dien Bien Phu Campaign. (Photo: VNA)

That remarkable epic was the result of 9 years of arduous resistance since Uncle Ho’s call for nationwide resistance after the French colonialists returned to invade Vietnam in 1946.

From 1947 to 1950, Vietnamese troops defeated the military plans of the French colonialists one after another, achieving resounding victories to create a fundamental shift for the resistance war to enter the stage when Vietnam took the initiative in the northern battlefield.

By mid-1953, Vietnamese people’s resistance war had won important victories, pushing the French colonialists deeper into a passive position.

Faced with the risk of failure, with the help from the US, the French colonialists proposed the Navarre Plan with an attempt to reverse the situation. In November 1953, France launched a campaign to strengthen forces and means to turn Dien Bien Phu into an “invincible fortress”.

  A flag was raised high by the shock soldiers on the roof of the enemy's command bunker after Vietnamese soldiers completely destroyed this position on March 14, 1954. (Source: VNA)

Determining that the French army’s sending of troops to occupy Dien Bien Phu was beneficial to Vietnam, the Politburo held a meeting on December 6, 1953, to approve the battle plan and decide on the opening of the Dien Bien Phu Campaign.

The campaign was intended to begin in January 1954 under the motto of “quick attack, quick settlement”. However, due to changes in the relationship between the enemy and Vietnamese forces, the Campaign Command then decided to amend the plan, switching to the motto of “firm attack, firm advance”.

On the afternoon of March 13, 1954, the Dien Bien Phu Campaign began.

In the first attack from March 13-17, Vietnamese troops destroyed Him Lam and Doc Lap Bases, forced Ban Keo Base to surrender, and broke the northern gateway of the Dien Bien Phu Base Group. More than 2,000 enemy soldiers were destroyed and captured. Piroth, the French artillery commander at Dien Bien Phu, used a grenade to commit suicide because he was powerless against Vietnamese artillery.

The second phase of the campaign took place from March 30 to April 30, 1954. Within a month, Vietnamese troops simultaneously attacked the eastern bases of the central division to tighten the siege and control of Muong Thanh Airport, towards limiting the enemy’s reinforcements to the base group.

This was the longest and most fierce attack. After the second attack, the central area of Dien Bien Phu was within range of Vietnamese guns, and the enemy fell into a passivity and high morale.

  President Ho Chi Minh, General Vo Nguyen Giap and Party and State leaders discussed plans for the Dien Bien Phu Campaign. (Photo: VNA)

In the third (also final) attack from May 1-7, our troops captured the eastern bases and launched a general attack to destroy the entire Dien Bien Phu Base Group.

At 5:30pm on May 7, Vietnamese troops occupied the enemy's Command Headquarters, so General de Castries and the entire General Staff and soldiers of the Dien Bien Phu Base Group were forced to surrender.

Vietnamese army’s ‘determination to fight, determination to win’ flag fluttered on the roof of the enemy’s command bunker.

That night, Vietnamese troops continued to attack the southern division and forced the enemy to flee to Upper Laos. By mid-night of the same day, all enemy troops were imprisoned.

At the end of the campaign, Vietnamese troops destroyed more than 16,000 enemy soldiers, smashed the base group that was considered by the West to be an “invincible fortress”. This was also the first time in history that such a large expeditionary force of a Western empire was destroyed in a colonial country.

  A letter from President Ho Chi Minh to officers and soldiers at Dien Bien Phu.

During the campaign, President Ho Chi Minh attended and chaired many meetings of the Politburo to assess the situation on the front as well as closely directed the Dien Bien Phu battlefield and other battles nationwide to create the Dien Bien Phu miracle that “resounded throughout the five continents and was world-shaking”.

President Ho Chi Minh promptly encouraged the soldiers participating in the battle at Dien Bien Phu to overcome countless difficulties and complete their missions. He closely followed the situation in Dien Bien Phu every day and every hour, and his letters were a source of great spiritual strength for the soldiers in Dien Bien. They endured hardships to contribute to the final victory, aiming to celebrate the great leader’s birthday.

In his letter, President Ho Chi Minh advised: “You are about to go to the front. Your mission this time is very important, difficult, but very glorious. You have just received political and military training and have gained a lot of ideological, tactical, and technical victories. Many units have won on many fronts. I am confident that you will uphold the recent victories and be determined to overcome all difficulties and hardships to fulfil your upcoming mission. I am your achievement reports to reward the best units and individuals. I wish you will gain big wins. I kiss you”.

On the afternoon of May 7, 1954, the “determination to fight, determination to win” flag flew on the roof of the enemy’s command headquarters. On May 8, 1954, he sent a letter praising the soldiers, frontline workers, youth volunteers and people in the Northwest for their glorious victory at Dien Bien Phu and decided to award the order of “Dien Bien Phu soldiers” to those who participated in this campaign.

In his letter, President Ho Chi Minh emphasised: “Our troops have liberated Dien Bien Phu. I and the Government cordially congratulate the officers, soldiers, frontline workers, youth volunteers, and local people who fulfilled their duties gloriously.”

President Ho Chi Minh also said along with Bach Dang, Chi Lang and Dong Da, Vietnam had another new historic milestone: Dien Bien Phu — A golden milestone.

The significance of Dien Bien Phu Victory

The Dien Bien Phu Victory was not only meaningful to Vietnam but also to colonial countries around the world. It was a symbol of heroism and strength of the era.

First of all, the Dien Bien Phu Victory was the pinnacle of the resistance war against the French colonialists as it created the basic and decisive basis for the signing of the Geneva Agreement on the cessation of hostilities in Vietnam.

After the defeat at Dien Bien Phu, the French Government had to sit for the negotiation, and more than two months later, the Geneva Agreement was signed on July 21, 1954, marking a great victory for Vietnamese diplomacy.

  The Geneva Conference on Indochina. (Photo: VNA)

Secondly, the Dien Bien Phu Victory opened a new revolutionary period as bringing the North to the transitional period towards socialism, serving as a solid rear for the struggle to completely liberate the South and reunify the country.

The achievements in building socialism as well as the contributions from the Northern rear to the great Southern front line have strengthened the confidence of the people from both regions in the final victory of the resistance war.

Upholding the spirit of the Dien Bien Phu Victory, Vietnamese troops won many great victories, defeating the war strategies of American imperialism, liberating the South, reunifying the country, and bringing the whole country to socialism.

Thirdly, the Dien Bien Phu Victory affirmed the Party's correct and creative resistance policy as well as the growth and maturity of the Vietnam People's Army.

The Dien Bien Phu Victory proved the truth that a small country with a slow economic development will defeat all enemies with stronger economic and military potential if it has the right political and military policies, promotes the strength of the entire nation, and is supported by people around the world.

The historic Dien Bien Phu Victory also showed the outstanding maturity of the Vietnam People's Army. From 34 soldiers with rudimentary weapons in 1944, the Vietnam People's Army had continuously grown. This was the basis for the whole Party, people, and army to later decide to fight and defeat the American enemy, completely liberate the South, and reunify the country.

  General Vo Nguyen Giap instructed the units participating in the Dien Bien Phu Campaign right at the front. (Photo: VNA)

Finally, the Dien Bien Phu Victory ended the domination of French colonialism in the three Indochina countries, beginning the collapse of the old colonialism worldwide.

The victory of the Vietnamese people awakened and encouraged oppressed peoples around the world to rise up and fight for independence and freedom; forced the French Government to end its colonial rule policy and return independence to many countries in Asia and Africa.

French historian Jules Roy commented that the fall at Dien Bien Phu caused terrible horror. It was one of the West's greatest failures, heralding the collapse of colonial empires. The thunder of Dien Bien Phu still echoes.

Glory comes with losses

After nearly two months of resilient and courageous fighting, the Vietnamese army and people defeated the last effort of the French colonialists, successfully ending the resistance war against the French colonial invaders, marking a great turning point in the history of the Vietnamese people's national construction and defence.

However, to achieve that historic victory, our army and people also suffered enormous losses. According to Vietnam's military medical records, Vietnam People’s Army recorded 4,020 deaths, 9,691 injuries, and 792 missing people.

In addition, houses, fields, and basic infrastructure such as bridges and roads were wiped out by artillery and bombardment.

Today, three national martyrs' cemeteries of A1, Him Lam and Doc Lap are the resting places of thousands of heroes and martyrs who sacrificed their lives during the Dien Bien Phu Campaign.

  General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong offers incense at the A1 Martyrs Cemetery in Dien Bien Phu. (Photo: VNA)

  People and veterans pay tribute to fallen soldiers at the A1 Martyrs Cemetery in Dien Bien Phu. (Photo: NDO/Thanh Dat)

At the A1 Martyrs Cemetery built in 1958, which is located a few hundred metres south of the historical site of A1 Hill, there are 644 graves, most of which are anonymous. There are only four tombs engraved with names: those of heroes To Vinh Dien, Be Van Dan, Phan Dinh Giot, and Tran Can.

Doc Lap Cemetery is the resting place of 2,432 fallen soldiers, while Him Lam Cemetery consists of total 869 graves.

During annual holidays, especially the anniversaries of the Dien Bien Phu Victory and War Invalids and Martyrs' Day, many relatives, comrades, children, and grandchildren of fallen soldiers return here to offer incense to pay tribute to the heroes and fallen soldiers.

Commemorating the heroes and martyrs who sacrificed their lives on the Dien Bien Phu battlefield, everyone is moved to look back at the glorious history that previous generations had sacrificed their lives for the independence and freedom today.

Chairman of Dien Bien Phu City People’s Committee Nguyen Quang Hung said: “Wherever you go in Dien Bien, you must tread lightly, because wherever you touch, you will see the bones and blood of our ancestors. Like on Hill A1, we will see many bones of soldiers who sacrificed for the fatherland as we just dig a little.”