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Indochina: Priests of a Dead God
The French vs. the Viet Minh, 1st Indochina War
407 pages; 24 chapters and 9 appendixes
In the 1950s a small French army and air force fought the communist Viet
Minh in the 1st or French Indochina War. The professional French
soldiers were excellent troops, but their leadership was insufficient for the
task. French Army generals incompetently allowed too many excellent
opportunities to defeat Ho Chi Minh’s army to escape them. In the meantime,
heroic units like the 1st Foreign Legion Paratroop Battalion we wiped out
several times in succession. Never did the French, for example,
strike at the exposed supply lines of the Viet Minh, the harbinger
of the NVA. During the French Indochina War they ignored such
war-winning maneuvers in favor of the direct approach of fighting in
killing grounds set up by the enemy. The numerous lessons offered by the
French Indochina warfighting experience are not ignored in this book.
Learn why the US military and intelligence communities did ignore the French
experiences, and the effect of that ignorance. The decade-long influence of
the distorted reporting of Bernard B. Fall, before the Second Indochina War
really began, is also examined; along with clear examinations of such topics
as: the Viet Minh Army; Viet Minh Bases; and communist logistics of
the French Indochina War.
“The French Army’s DeLattre Line perimeter around the Hanoi-Haiphong enclave and the delta Red River was about
300 miles long. There was an approximate average of four fortified positions, encompassing three larger forts and forty
Frenchmen, per mile. Naturally open areas and riverbanks that could be commanded by long-range fires, were less
densely defended. Defensive troops were also deployed in depth with about 1,000 pillboxes in the second line. Of course
the French also patrolled the DeLattre Line of the delta Red River.
The number of French troops defending the DeLattre Line continued to mount as the war progressed. "By January
1954, 82,470 troops were immobilized behind the wire of 920 posts in the Tonkin delta (Red River) alone, to control
Viet Minh forces estimated at 37,000 (and kept out of the delta seven divisions of another 100,000 screaming Viet
Minh). The same thing occurred in Cochinchina near Saigon (on a much smaller scale)."
When French manpower density along the DeLattre Line reached 275 men per mile in 1954, the French were
overdoing it. They could have easily defended the DeLattre Line with one company, 100 men per mile for a total of
30,000 men if they doubled the number of machine guns and automatic rifles in each defensive battalion. That would
leave 50,000 more Frenchmen available for offensive operations. Thus seventy-seven more French Union battalions (8
division equivalents) would have been made available for offensive combat.”
Excerpt from Indochina: Priests of a Dead God
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