The Last Valley

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam, Martin Windrow has provided an authoritative military history of the end of French rule in Vietnam. As Windrow reminds readers, the Japanese move into Southeast Asia during World War II broke the hold of European colonialism over the region. With the end of the war, the French, seeking to recover from the defeat and occupation of their own country by Germany, attempted to re-establish themselves in Vietnam.

The French were initially successful. Under the political leadership of Ho Chi Minh, the fighters of the Viet Minh took to guerrilla warfare. This was especially effective in northern Vietnam, where the rugged terrain with scattered villages was almost impossible for the French to control. In response, the French began to develop fortified bases, supplied by air, in remote areas. Viet Minh General Vo Nguyen Giap began to transform his guerilla forces into a conventional army, capable of assaulting fixed positions, as well as carrying out guerilla warfare. French General Henri Navarre established a fortified base in the Valley of Dien Bien Phu hoping to draw Giap's army into a decisive battle. The French base was smashed by Giap's artillery. The stunning loss pushed the French to negotiate their withdrawal from the former colony.

This detailed account, with twenty-one detailed maps and nine pages of photographs, covers the political and psychological aspects of the events before and during the battle, as well as military tactics. At times the detail may be a little too intricate for some readers. Still, for all those interested in Vietnamese history or in the background to American involvement in Vietnam, this is essential reading.