THE UNDETECTED ENEMY:
FRENCH AND AMERICAN MISCALCULATIONS
AT DIEN BIEN PHU, 1953

John R. Nordell, Jr.

          On November 20, 1953 Gen. Henri Navarre, the Commander in Chief of French forces in Indo-China, launched Operation Castor in order to seize the strategic valley of Dien Bien Phu, located in northwestern Viet-Nam. Dien Bien Phu became the site for the decisive battle of the Indo-China War of 1946-1954. On May 7, 1954 the French garrison was overrun by communist-led Viet-Minh forces in what is remembered today as one of the classic sieges of the twentieth century. Indeed, the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu set the stage for America's own military involvement in Viet-Nam a decade later.

         By early December 1953, less than three weeks after Operation Castor, important Viet-Minh forces were already closing in on Dien Bien Phu. Why didn't the French evacuate their position while there was still time to do so? And why didn't the United States, which was underwriting most of the French war effort, more quickly perceive the vulnerability of the French garrison? These questions are the subject of John Nordell's book, The Undetected Enemy: French and American Miscalculations at Dien Bien Phu, 1953.

          With the aid of a wide array of declassified U.S. documents on Indo-China, both French and American memoirs, contemporaneous press coverage, important secondary sources, and numerous photographs and maps, Dr. Nordell weaves a compelling narrative of rapidly unfolding developments in Dien Bien Phu, Hanoi, Saigon, and Washington, D.C. For military enthusiasts and historians, this story, written from the perspective of the participants themselves, answers the decades-old question, "Pourquoi Dien Bien Phu?"


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