Paul and Ray arriving at Black Sea in 2012

Paul and Ray arriving at Black Sea in 2012
Paul and Ray at end of 1,600km ride from Budapest to Black Sea in 2012

Friday, March 3, 2017

Dien Bien Phu Vietnam-rest day

This post is from March 4, 2017.

Today was a rest day here in Dien Bien Phu. We engaged an English speaking tour guide to show us around the battlefield sites. I did not understand this before today but the city itself did not exist until after the battle was over: it was just a big valley empty of people that the French army decided to occupy in a strategic military move. After the decisive victory of the North Vietnamese forces over the French in May 1954 the Vietnamese then decided to build the city on the spot thus the tour of the battlefield sites actually means going to different parks throughout the city which is where the concentrated fighting was. Between these sites is just normal busy thriving city. I will attach some photos below of what we saw during our tour this morning. Note that I was two months old when this battle began in March 1954.

These shots were from inside the museum. This was a bicycle used by the North Vietnamese (Viet Minh)  to carry up to 337 kg of war materiel:

These are shots of General Castries' bunker, which was captured intact and preserved  since then. The general was also captured and was a prisoner from May until August 1954 when he was freed as a result of the Geneva peace talks of 1954 which resulted in the French withdrawal  from IndoChina:

This is a still remaining French military bridge now are used only for motorbike traffic to the market behind it:

This picture is of the place where a French Colonel Piroth,  commander of the French artillery committed suicide early in the battle:

This is a memorial to the French soldiers who died in this battle:

These are shots of Hill A1 where some of the most intense fighting happened. This was one of the highly defensible French strong points that were considered to be impregnable by the French. Looking at these positions today it is easy to understand why they would believe this. They were very defensible sites filled with barbed wire trenches and bunkers looking down upon the attacking enemy. 

These are shots are of a single bunker on  hill where 67 French lost their wives defending and 1800 Vietnamese troops lost their lives taking the bunker:

The decisive moment in this battle came on May 6 when after 15 days of fighting the North Vietnamese placed a 1000 kg bomb inside the hillside and detonated it. They had believed that they had reached underneath a key French bunker but in fact they had not and it just blew a big hole in the hillside. Despite this miscalculation this won  the battle for them because the intensity of the explosion was such that it created severe concussions for the French defenders who came out of the bunkers with their hands up with their ears and noses bleeding. That was the end of the  many-week long defense of hill A1. You can see the giant crater from this blast in this photo:

We have not seen many Westerners here in the city. In all of the walking through the battlefield sites this morning almost all the tourists were Vietnamese. On hill A1 though there was an elderly French couple about four years older than me who was walking around.  We spoke for a time in French and I learned that they were visiting the site because this woman's father had actually fought in this battle. It turns out that he survived and was not taken prisoner because before the end of the fighting many French were actually evacuated. The defenders that were taken prisoner were part of a core fighting force that the French left behind thinking if they could indefinitely hold the strong defensible positions. So the number of French actually taken prisoner was much smaller than it would have been, according to our our guide.

Today's comical tidbit involves me getting my first ever sign-language-only haircut. I do like to keep my head pretty closely shaven and I now had over 2 1/2 weeks of growth and those of you who know me well know that long hair starts to block my vision :-).   In any event I managed to find a barber today and explain to him my needs by taking off my hat and rubbing my head while making buzzing sounds. He understood and did a nice job for about two dollars. Strangely Ray's  use of a similar technique to obtain shaving cream never bore any fruit. Ray would rub his chin making shaving gestures and then squirting sounds indicating he wanted the cream. He tried this about three times and each time the person brought out a razor. When he clarified that he did not want the razor but the cream they all shook their head. I guess we have to assume that shaving cream it's not a common product here in Vietnam.

1 comment:

  1. Fascinating!
    Thank you for posting all the information.