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The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French defeat in Vietnam (Cassell Military Paperbacks) [Paperback]

Martin Windrow
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
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Book Description

10 Feb 2005 Cassell Military Paperbacks
In winter 1953-54 the French army in Vietnam challenged its elusive enemy, General Giap's Viet Minh, to pitched battle. Ten thousand French paras and legionnaires, with artillery and tanks, were flown to the remote valley of Dien Bien Phu to build a fortress upon which Giap could smash his inexperienced regiments. The siege which followed became a Stalingrad in the jungle, and its outcome shocked the world. 'Enthralling...Windrow gives a clear and cogent analysis of the general politico-military position...Anyone who found Stalingrad absorbing will find this book equally so. Like Beevor, Windrow gives one the very essence of battle... His character sketches of individuals, from commanding officers down, are deft and acute...This book is a wonderful account of a terrible battle' Allan Massie, Literary Review

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The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French defeat in Vietnam (Cassell Military Paperbacks) + Street without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina + Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu
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Product details

  • Paperback: 736 pages
  • Publisher: Cassell; New Ed edition (10 Feb 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0304366927
  • ISBN-13: 978-0304366927
  • Product Dimensions: 13.9 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 22,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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'This is an epic book about an epic battle. It is not often that the story of a struggle as dramatic as Dien Bien Phu is told with a flair that matches the courage of the adversaries and the sheer scale of the event. Martin Windrow's book is nothing less than a landmark in military history.' (Professor Richard Holmes )

'This is an outstanding work of military history. It tells the story of the ghastly French experience in Indo-China in a way that has never been done before in English. The account of Dien Bien Phu is a masterpiece of meticulous historical narrative' (Max Hastings )

'Success in battle, according to one military maxim, may not, on its own assure the achievement of national security goals, but defeat will guarantee failure. Mr Windrow's vivid and well-written account confirms that this was certainly not the case at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. His book is a tribute to his abilities both as a historian and a writer.' (THE ECONOMIST )

'It is hard to praise to highly Martin Windrow's account, the first work of a historian who obviously possesses great gifts. It is surprising how many writers who describe battles lack any understanding of tactics and technology. Windrow is master of every detail... His book makes gripping reading. I hope he writes a lot more.' (Max Hastings THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH )

'This anniversary reconstruction of France's most traumatic post-war battlefield defeat is highly opportune... Martin Windrow has pulled off a remarkable feat.' (SUNDAY TIMES )

'Enthralling...Windrow gives a clear and cogent analysis of the general politico-military position, one that makes the fateful decision to invite a Viet Minh attack on Dien Bien Phu understandable... Anyone who found Stalingrad absorbing will find this book equally so. Like Beevor, Windrow gives one the very essence of battle... His character sketches of individuals from commanding officers down, are deft and accurate... This book is a wonderful account of a terrible battle...' (Alan Massie LITERARY REVIEW )

'Martin Windrow's The Last Valley is the vividly told story of a miniature Stalingrad in which 10,000 French troops were besieged by a large army of Viet Minh for fifty-seven days, fifty years ago.' (HISTORY TODAY )

'...Dien Bien Phu, as Martin Windrow's moving and judicious account of the battle and of the two armies that fought it shows, was not at all a straightforward clash between the French and Vietnamese... Windrow tells it with great lucidity and humanity, with vivid portraits of the leading French officers, and... a very fair assessment of the internal dramas of Dien Bien Phu... he also offers asides on weaponry, battlefield medicine, morale... which are among the best elements of this good book.' (Martin Woollacott THE GUARDIAN )

'Windrow has achieved a remarkable feat... The account is full of nice touches... A master of every detail, Windrow captures both the "prodigious human exertions" of the barefoot Viet Minh troops and the "courage and fighting skills" of the French legionnaires.' (THE WEEK ) --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Book Description

Stalingrad in the jungle: the battle that doomed the French Empire and led America into Vietnam. Published on the 50th anniversary. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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First Sentence
ON A CRISP, SUNNY WINTER'S day on a red earth hilltop in North Vietnam, a young Californian named Howard Simpson was reluctantly fishing around with borrowed chopsticks in a lunchtime bowl of pho soup, while trying to ignore the stench of torn-up corpses festooning the barbed wire a few yards away. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The beginning of the end 22 Feb 2005
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Plenty of books have been written on Dien Bien Phu, but I think Martin Windrow's account of the battle is the best account of it yet.

The French defeat in Vietnam is a classic example on how not to conduct a war. The French objective was to hang onto Indochina. But there never was any sufficient commitment to convincingly support this objective. The Vietnamese on the other hand had a very clear objective - getting rid of the invader - and whilst their tactics were not terribly sophisticated, they eventually carried that objective all the way to victory.

Martin Windrow has written a meticulously researched book on the subject. He brings the human element to the foreground rather than getting lost in recounting logistics and detail of individual units. What particularly yelled out to me when I read the book was the suffering endured by both the French and the Vietnamese at Dien Bien Phu.

If you are interested in the Vietnamese War then this is a must-read.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Valley 4 Nov 2004
The Last Valley: Martin Windrow, pub. Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2004
The noise, sights and smells of the battle jump from the pages. Beautifully paced, Martin Windrow is fair and even-handed to all participants. He clearly states where there are conflicting accounts and carefully explains the sources and logic of his own views.
While the losses on the French side (of which many were non French legionnaires and locally recruited Vietnamese and hill-tribe troops) were appalling to the modern reader, the losses of the Vietnamese communist troops were very much worse. Windrow makes clear that crude WW1 type "human wave" tactics used by the Vietnamese units under General Giap almost won, or, at least, extended the battle for the French. (To be fair to Giap, who was receiving Chinese advice, the Chinese had also used the same bloody tactics in Korea - but Giap did not have the huge numbers of replacement soldiers that the Chinese could rely upon). Even with Chinese support, General Giap was expending soldiers, equipment and ammunition at a rate the Vietnamese recruitment, training and logistics could barely match. General Giap may have won the battle, but it was at a huge and painful cost to the fledgling Vietnamese army.
Giap meanwhile learned many lessons and went on to hone his military skills against the might of the USA. The Americans also studied Dien Ben Phu, but erroneously concluded that it was only a matter of logistics and matériel that had lost the battle for the French. This fails to identify the importance of both the willingness of the army to fight, and the willingness of the battling nation to accept the financial costs and human losses. In the end the Vietnamese had a greater supply of these vital attributes than the French, and eventually the Americans.
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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Military Account 21 Mar 2005
"The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam" by Martin Windrow is destined to be the definite account of this tragic battle. I knew as soon as I saw this title in the bookshop that I had to have it and it was one of the best purchases I have made so far this year!
This is an excellent and detailed account of the fighting in the Valley of Dien Bien Phu between the professional French forces, including Legionnaire and elite Parachute Units, and the Vietnamese Bo Doi (Viet Minh) led by General Giap.
The author takes the time to explain the military and political settings of the war in Indo China, offers detailed accounts of the opposing forces and commanders and provides a well researched narrative of the events leading up to this battle. The story of the battle itself for Dien Bien Phu is a classic military narrative that really pulls the reader into the story and gives us a rare insight into the hardships of the French soldier and his enemy.
One quote in the book that was used for a chapter heading by Colonel de Castries says a lot about this battle and the terrible fighting involved; "It's a bit like Verdun, but Verdun without the depth of defence, and, above all, without the Sacred Way". This is an excellent account of a shocking battle and I am sure that anyone who enjoys reading or studying military history will find this book an excellent addition to his or her library.
In over 657 pages of text (HB version), along with 22 maps of varying size and detail the author offers the reader a well researched and well presented account of this famous battle. At no time did I find the story boring or bogged down in detail. The narrative is fast paced, exciting and filled with human tragedy and numerous stories of soldier?
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good 13 April 2005
This is a very good account of the battle and the events that led to the battle. What is especially noteworthy is that the author regularly explains how the battle must have looked and felt from the perspective of ordinary French and Vietnamese soldiers. Unfortunately the author does not say anything about the aftermath of the battle. He frequently cites from the French official investigation report, indicating that there WAS indeed an investigation, but he fails to tell the reader about the political fall-out, or the effect on the further careers and lives of the main characters. There is some reflection on the relation between political circles and the army, and a short attempt to place Dien Bien Phu in the wider perspective of French military history, linking the battle to Verdun, May 1940 and Algeria, but that could have been much more extensive. Other than that, it is a highly recommendable book.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars All you need to know
This book is very detailed and I think he author is very brave to go into such detail.
The description of combat in the valley is very interesting. Read more
Published 2 months ago by David Cotton
5.0 out of 5 stars Just the job...
Beautifully detailed description of events at Dien Bien Phu and, to me, more importantly, a brilliant portrayal of the events leading up to the battle itself. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Roger
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating
A fascinating read. For me, it opened up a whole new period of the long Vietnam conflict which I had not, in truth, considered before. Read more
Published 5 months ago by Eddie Smith
5.0 out of 5 stars In Memoriam General Giap
Three weeks ago a man died in Vietnam. He was over 100 years old. His name was Vo Nguyen Giap - one of the most influential soldiers of the 20th century. Read more
Published 5 months ago by gerardpeter
5.0 out of 5 stars Epic
We all know what happened in dien bien phu, this is told in intricate detail in a manner that makes it impossible to put down. Read more
Published 15 months ago by d m
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best on Dien Ben Phu
Its one of the most recent books on this topic as some more info becomes available, I rate it as a must read on the topic
Published 15 months ago by George J. King
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Story
Fantastic Story of a massive defeat of french forces at the hands of the viet min. Martin draws you into the valley as if you were actually their, the build up and final defeat. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Knowknox
3.0 out of 5 stars Thorough If Too Long.
This book is the best I've read on Dien Bien Phu.

It's well organised, has lots of details on the matériel, military units and methods of the opposing armies and... Read more
Published 15 months ago by TREX
5.0 out of 5 stars detailed and fascinating
A meticulously researched and very detailed book that provides an excellent background and then coverage of the battle of Dien Bien Phu. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Damian
5.0 out of 5 stars A monumental recounting of the epic struggle in French Indochina in...
Martin Windrow has produced a real gem here - a 750+ page summary of the French involvement in Indochina since before WW2, leading up to and culminating in the titanic struggle at... Read more
Published 17 months ago by AK
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