The Battle of Dien Bien Phu - Vietnam 1954

The battle of Dien Bien Phu from March to May 1954 was not just a tactical defeat for the French colonial forces in Vietnam, but the scene of greater strategic objectives on the world stage in an era of anti-colonialism post-WWII. This lecture will examine the tactics and objectives of the Viet Minh and French forces, as well as comparing the two opposing commanders. We will also examine the strategic objectives of other major state players such as China and the USA and see how this particular battle was a catalyst for the Vietnam War of the 1960s and 70s.


  • Online


  • Boylan, Kevin; Olivier, Luc (2018). Valley of the Shadow: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu. Oxford: Osprey Press, 2018.
  • Davidson, Phillip (1988). Vietnam at War: The History, 1946–1975. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Fall, Bernard B. (1967). Hell in a Very Small Place. The Siege of Dien Bien Phu. New York: J.B. Lippincott Company.
  • Morgan, Ted (2010). Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu that led America into the Vietnam War. New York: Random House.
  • Windrow, Martin (2013). The French Indochina War 1946–54. Osprey.


  • Analysis of strategic objectives in colonial SE Asia post-WWII
  • Comparison of Vietnamese and French commanders
  • Comparison of Vietnamese and French forces on the ground
  • Involvement of third country “advisor teams”.
  • Tactics used by both sides at Dien Bien Phu
  • Analysis of good and bad command decisions by both sides
  • Casualties and Aftermath
  • Dien Bien Phu battlefield today


By the end of this course, students should be able to:

  1. Understand the post-WW2 anti-colonial movements in South East Asia.
  2. Appreciate the strategic objectives of major powers in SE Asia from 1946 - 1954
  3. Understand the structure, tactics and objectives of French forces in Vietnam in the early 1950s.
  4. Understand the structure, tactics and objectives of Vietnamese forces in the early 1950s.
  5. Appreciate the huge numbers of casualties caused by faulty tactics.
  6. Understand how this battle led to US involvement in the later Vietnam War.
  7. Appreciate the historical significance of the Dien Bien Phu battlefield today.

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