An Honorable Exit-
Most of us love stories. They entertain, amuse, impart information, tradition, and teach. Yet they can be quite serious, tell of victory or defeat, death and suffering, courage and cowardice. Not often, lessons are learned and mistakes avoided.
Operation Castor is a story about an exhausted country that could not bear the costs - political, financial, and military, of holding its colony - Indochina.
Prestige, national pride, emotional and financial investment, and hubris paved the way for an especially nasty nine year war - The First Indochina War that
began in 1945 when the French returned after World War II to reclaim their colony, and ended in May 1954 with the fall of a small town named Dien Bien Phu.
A gambit to get out of a costly war eight thousand miles from home is not easily come by, yet this was the French position in 1953. Facing mounting domestic opposition (not to mention the Viet Minh) against the war to retain the French Union of Colonies in Indochina, General Henri Navarre was sent with a directive that said in so many words: get us out with honor so we have a strong place at the peace table in Geneva. His solution was Operation Castor.
The Viet Minh, commanded politically by Ho Chi Minh, and militarily by Vo Nguyen Giap, wanted in some respects the same thing - the French gone,
but with a weak position at the peace table.
Operation Castor - the Battle of Dien Bien Phu set in motion events that would lead to the fall of Saigon in 1975. Of course on November 20,1953 when the first French paratroops jumped that was unseen - that's how history unfolds - unseen at the time, and as ripples in a pond.
A siege, miracles of supply, the jungle, desparate fighting - much of it hand to hand, For the French, overconfidence to resignation. For the Viet Minh, the overcoming of obstacles and a great victory. Giap's early doubts about command and control, supply, and his decision to dig were part of the Viet solution and never underestimating the French - as much as the French underestimated him.
A decisive battle - 59 years ago in what is now Vietnam...
Dien Bien Phu Strongpoint