The fall of Dien Bien Phu marked the unofficial end of French Indo-China. The French Far East Expeditionary Corps was comprehensively defeated by the Viet Minh communist-nationalist revolutionaries – the first time that a colonial occupier had been so defeated. The causes of the defeat are many, but the two most prominent are the evolution of the Viet Minh from a loose group of disorganised guerilla bands into a force equivalent to standing national army, and a series of poor decisions made by the French defenders.
The Vietnamese victory came only after 55 days of battle, with large losses on both sides: as many as 2000 French dead and over 4000 Vietnamese. The fighting was close and deadly, often resembling the trench warfare of World War One as the siege progressed. In the final victory, almost 12,000 French prisoners were taken, and many died in captivity from wounds received in the fighting, or as a result of beatings, disease and starvation while imprisoned.
The official end of the first Indo-China War came later that year, although it would cast a long shadow, inspiring other rebellions in the French colonies of Madagascar and Algeria, two separate coups d’état in France itself, and of course, the Second Indo-China War – better known today as the Vietnam War.
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel