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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The beginning of the end
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...
Published on 22 Feb 2005 by Thomas Koetzsch

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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Valley of Souls, The Tragedy At Dien Bien Phu
Dien Bien Phu, the words evoke a stark dread into the hearts and minds of anyone who remembers, or has a good knowledge of what took place there in the Spring/Summer of 1954. My Father was in the Army at the time and has told me many times of the avoidable mistakes the French Forces made in the run up to the battle. It in effect became Indochina the forgotten war, we see...
Published on 21 Jun 2010 by A. Tomlinson


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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The beginning of the end, 22 Feb 2005
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This review is from: The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
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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15 of 15 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.
Martin Windrow shows the core of this Vietnamese strength, and identifies piece by piece the comparative weaknesses and mistakes of the French which eventually caused them to surrender.
The implications of the book suggests that if France had planned for and managed better air supply, bombing and ground support operations from the start (possibly with better planned support from the USA), the outcome in this single battle might possibly have being different, but Windrow also shows that whether this would have made any difference to Vietnam in the long term is very doubtful. He shows that the Vietnamese were always prepared for a very long war, and by 1954 the French public were already sick of the military losses and the expense of fighting the war.
The French Army were also convinced that simple lack of political will lost them both the battle and the war. As later in Algeria, the cry went up: "We were betrayed".
An excellent piece of historical research and analysis. Well worth buying.
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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
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This review is from: The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
"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?s courage in the face of horrendous conditions.
In closing this is what Max Hastings had to say about this book: "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."
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, 13 April 2005
By 
J. A. Hoogenboezem (Maastricht, Netherlands) - See all my reviews
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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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32 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What happened - AND HOW, 23 April 2004
By 
Jane Scott (Gatwick, England) - See all my reviews
What attracted me to this book was Max Hastings' review in the SundayTelegraph, where he outlined what he called 'the shocking story' that ledto French defeat and the Americans getting involved in what would beVietnam. While it is an epic story that's not nearly enough for theaverage punter like me. What I liked was Hastings' bit about: 'It is hardto praise too highly Martin Windrow's account, the first work of ahistorian who obviously posesses great gifts. It is surprising how manywriters who describe battles lack any understanding of tactics andtechnology. Windrow is master of every detail.'
That's what got me intothe book and once you're into the hills and jungle it's hard to get out.What could be either a dry narrative or else a confusing jumble of eventsand people all instead fall into the great sweep of the story which isheart-rending and heart-stopping by turn.
I liked Stalingrad and Berlin and reckon Beevor is a good historian, butthis moves the whole game further on, with someone - who is he anyway? -who can recount a gripping tale while never losing his grip on thecountless units, battles, individual feats of heroism and all the rest ofthis monstrous read.
Martin Windrow is a damn good writer for ahistorian and a good historian for a writer. You'll learn everything aboutthe battle and history in this book, but you'll learn just as much abouthumanity and the human condition.
This is one of those books that deserves to cross over into the mainstreamand sell in the sort of numbers of a more populist genre - militaryhistory, it's the new cookery!
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An amazing book, 19 Aug 2008
By 
Mrs. TK Ellis "Bookworm" (High Wycombe, Bucks) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
This book is truly amazing. As someone who is very interested in history, but not very knowledgeable about French Indo-China I can heartily recommend this book.

The book started slowly, I found, and was very descriptive of the political situation before and after WW2. My advice is - stick with it. The knowledge Martin Windrow imparts in the first part of the book is invaluable for understanding attitudes later on. As the fortifications and then the battle commence in the book you find yourself swept away with the passion the author obviously has for the subject. The book is well written, well informed and immensely readable.

Before I read this book I had little knowledge of the French involvement and no overriding desire to find out, but this book changed everything for me. It is a rare book indeed that can make you catch breath with the almost palatable fear and tension that the soldiers must have been feeling. I have now read more widely on the subject and have started including the Vietnam War, but this book still remains my favourite on the subject of Dien Bien Phu - the Stalingrad of the jungle.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Tough going, but ultimately worthwhile, 10 Jan 2011
By 
Teemacs (Switzerland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
"Gripping..." says the comment by Sir Max Hastings on the cover of this book. Is it? Well, no, at least not to those of us who aren't professional military historians. I guess he found it gripping the way an accountant finds a good balance sheet gripping. Personally, for most of us, I suspect that it's a bit like eating your greens, which you do not because you particularly like them, but because they're good for you and they nourish you the way a solid diet of your favourite ice cream wouldn't.

Thus I found it with this book. Be warned, it is very large, so it takes a serious effort to read it. In addition, probably realising (correctly in my case) that most of us know little or nothing about French Indo-China and the forces who fought in it, the author lays the groundwork carefully, filling in the knowledge needed to comprehend what will come later in the book. It is highly detailed, (lots of maps), and the build-up will severely tax the patience of those who want to get to the action (which, once it gets rolling, is very interesting). However, although I found myself champing at the bit occasionally, in the end I came to appreciate what the author had done and how he had gone about it.

I have always wondered about Dien Bien Phu. To me, it seemed slightly crazy to build a fortified base in the middle of nowhere, to be supplied only by air, and to lure the enemy into a battle there. It seemed to be a continuation of the Maginot Line mentality, which hadn't worked very well 10 years earlier. It cost many lives and lost France its Indo-Chinese possessions, and it helped set the scene for the later US involvement in Vietnam, which was to scar both nations deeply.

However, as this book makes clear, this strategy had already proved successful. The problem of the inability to use modern infantry and armour tactics in the jungles and mountains of Indo-China was proposed to be overcome by establishing a fire base right in the middle of the enemy with paratroops, supplying by air, mounting raids against the Viet Minh, luring them into attacking the base and then pounding the living daylights out of them with artillery and aircraft. It worked once, why not again on a bigger scale? Because General Giap had learned from his previous mistakes, brought in lots of artillery and anti-aircraft guns, digging them in to protect them from counter-battery fire and aerial assault. And it worked. The airfield was rendered useless, the airborne artillery was never numerous enough to do the job, and the ever-shrinking base perimeter made sure that increasing amounts of parachuted supplies ended up in Viet Minh hands. The garrison, many of them non-French (Vietnamese, Africans, Algerians, Moroccans) as well as légionnaires, fought heroically, but were eventually overwhelmed. Many of them were to die in captivity.

The result was the virtual capitulation of the Mendès-France government, which wanted out as soon as possible, at any price, the dividing of the country, the unifying elections which never happened, and the eventual arrival of the Americans (whose position gradually changed from anti-colonialism to anti-Communism and dominoes). It gave France a highly politicised army, which was to have repercussions in the tragedy of Algeria 10 years later, when 1REP (1st Foreign Legion Parachute Regiment), having been wiped out twice over in Indo-China for nothing and seeing Charles de Gaulle about to, as they saw it, betray them again, mutinied and supported the attempted putsch. 1REP was disbanded in disgrace and its members went to disbandment singing Edith Piaf's "Je ne regrette rien". One can only hope that politicians the world over will learn to regret and not squander young lives for no good reason. Judging by A Certain President's latest book, we have a long way to go.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Top-to-Bottom insight into a pivotal 20th century battle, 5 Jun 2008
By 
Withnail67 (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam (Cassell Military Paperbacks) (Paperback)
Martin Windrow's book is too modest - he describes his book as drawing on primarily on secondary sources, but this is to severely understate a masterly example of historical synthesis.

The battle of Dien Bien Phu was the death knell for French involvement in Indochina, and also hearalded the bitter involvement of the United States in South East Asia. Politically, the battle is of singular importance. Militarily, deployment and tactics of the french defenders, and the fighting qualities of the French paratroops and Foreign Legionnaires drive the narrative forward.

Windrow is sensitive to the more unfamiliar elements of the saga. The role of Vietnamese troops fighting for the French is highlighted, as are the contradictions of Senegalese and Algerian troops fighting for a French Empire which treated them equivocally. The American conflict to come haunts the book, as does the 'savage war of peace' in Algeria which followed hard on its heels.

I feel the Communist Vietnamese perspective was credited as fully as possible, given the very different type of historical record availiable from their side. Giap's strengths and weaknesses as a general are objectively assessed, free of the hagiographic perspectives of some accounts.

The book has excellent maps and notes (you will need three bookmarks!) and Windrow's own experiences of the military form a wry thread of commentary through the notes.

If you enjoy Max Hastings and Richard Holmes's work, you will enjoy this book's gruelling depiction of a major 20th century clash of arms.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Last Valley, 13 Sep 2004
By 
Dr JN Symons (Reading, Oxon United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
This book combines scholarly research with gripping human interest. I would have preferred more user-friendly maps (but so would the French Army at the time). At first glance the detail may seem overwhelming but it is a useful resevoir to the drama which the author unfolds with page-turning fever. DBP was a turning point in French history, although now much subsumed by Algeria in the French psyche. It gave a message to the Colonial and neo colonialist powers that the nature of war was changing (for those who hadn't spotted the lessons of Korea and were prepared to hear). Committed but untrained nationalists could defeat the industrial and military might of the West. This hubristic point is poignantly made with the suicide of the French artillery commander following his failure to supress the enemy battery fire around DBP. Neither the French, nor later the Americans, believed that the Viet Minh had the logistic capability or the fighting capability to take-on a Western power on their own terms and win. Had this been a British defeat it would possibly be as celebrated in the same way as another glorious but failed airborne battle - the Battle of Arnhem. And there are many similarities ranging from the failures of intelligence to the courage and tenacity of the fighting soldiers. Whilst this excellent book has stimulated me to further reading I would have liked a postscript that told us something of the fate of the principal characters who survived - after all it is told as a very human story.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent history, 22 Jan 2009
By 
T. Walton (Barcelona, Spain) - See all my reviews
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A truly excellent piece of writing, both for the student of military history and for the general reader.

Another reviewer compares Windrow to Anthony Beevor; the latter is one of the shoddiest historian I've ever read -- his books either never got read by an editor or else the editor never did his job (obvious errors, repetitions...).

Windrow, on the other hand, clearly researched his subject extremely carefully, and provides a gripping, lucid account.
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