le meilleur/the best
Battle of Dien Bien Phu diary
My thanks to Patrick Hervier for the translation

The truth about the Battle of the Rails in 1948 Indo China
Basic Training
1 - Some Pages from a French Magazine
2 - A article from a former recruiting officer about joining
3 - Changing your identity in the Legion
4 - 3 ways to become an officer
5 - A reply by Charles to a question about running shoes for the cooper test
6 - some anecdotes about the Algerian war during my service
8 - account by "Broken_Wings" about his experience during selection
7 - Women in the Legion article. Courtesy of the On Line Amicale de la Legion
9 - account by "James" about his experience and subsequent leaving the Legion after 5 months

Here are some pages from an Article in a french magazine about the FFL. (It's all in french)

Article Cover

Article Page 1

Article Page 2

Article Page 3

English Version of Article



In Algeria, The Legion Defends its Birthplace

Weapons and Equipment of the Legion
Weapons and Equipment: Past and Present

The primary infantry weapon used during my time in the Legion was the MAS-36 carbine. It was operated by bolt action and carried a five round magazine of 7.5 x 57mm cartridges. The MAT-49 submachinegun was in wide use by the Legion as well, but I only carried it while on guard duty. Later on in my service, we were being issued the MAS-49 semi automatic rifle.

The MAS-36 which was carried by me during operations.

The MAT-49 SMG had a collapsable wire stock as well as a
foldable magazine for compactness.

The later issued MAS-49

Legionnaire from the 2REI is carrying the FAMAS

Since 1978, the primary infantry weapon of the French Army has been the FAMAS, which replaced the MAS-49
Click here for a detailed list of the FAMAS components.

Light Machineguns

The Legion used the FM 24/29 light machinegun, but it was being phased out of service about the time I joined. It was replaced by the AA 52 machinegun which is still in use by the Legion today in an updated variation.

An older AA 52 which utilized the French 7.55mm round

A legionnaire from the 1er REP fires the FM 24/29

The newer version fires the 7.62 NATO round


In the 1er REC we used the Dodge 6x6 as a personel carrier and the GMC truck. The 2em REC also used light armored vehicles M8, and were equiped with a machinegun and 36mm cannon. The main fighting vehicle in the 1er REC was the Panhard EBR which primary weapon was the FL-11 90mm cannon and up to four 7.5mm machineguns for defense. The EBR held a crew of four and had a top speed of 100km/hr.

The four crew Panhard EBR was the vehicle used
in the REC while I was serving.

Currently, the vehicle in use by the REC is the AMX-10RC

Photo by Former Legionnaire Glenn Ferguson

Translation of propaganda leaflet from the Algerian Liberation army.

Merry Christmas and a happy new Year Legionnaire!

This is the wish of the combatants from the Algerian National Liberation army.
Our wishes are sincere and our hopes are the same!
We wish that you celebrate Christmas among those who are dear to you, under the German Christmas tree.
We wish that the new Year will bring you freedom and a return home to civilian life.
Your freedom is also ours.
1962 must be for you like for us, the year of return to your loved ones!
Say goodbye to the French, our common oppressors! We will receive you as a friend.
All necessary means to repatriate you are in place.
The winter is a favorable time to escape.
When on operation near the border, the jump to freedom is easy. Your escape would be the best Christmas present for your Mother.
1962 is the end of French dictatorship in Algeria.
By your escape, the New year will be for you the same, a beginning of a happy and honorable life.

ANL: Service for the repratiation of Foreign legionnaires.

Articles by former recruiting officer of the Legion (chief ajudant Charles Stoeng)

Once you come to Aubagne, the first test is of course the medical test,(if you are going to live among us we must be sure that you are in the medical condition needed to live in community). The doctor who sees you will decide if you are ok or not. Be fit, clean and without problems!! No eyes problems, no heart problems, no knee problems. No fucking problems at all. After all, it is the doctor who will decide, so dont complicate the work for him. If he is in a bad mood he might send you home because he doesen't like your face. And he has the right to do what ever he likes. He is the doctor and nobody argues with him,(this is not democratic at all!! it is the legion). We got plenty of candidates, so be fit and without problems. You must convince the doctor that you are in fighting condition and we do not have to spend thousands of dollars to fix you before starting you. If you have an medical problem, you are wasting everybody's time, yours and ours. Stay home.

Considering that you have passed the medical test, next stop is the running test. The final GO from the doctor might take up to one week (blood tests and x-rays must come back from the hospital before the final decision is made) meanwhile you will do different un-interesting/boring tasks inside the camp. No sports, because we have no medical clearance, so if you have a heart attack and die we are in deep shit. Finally one morning it will be the running test. This is the standard cooper test, you will run around an 400m track for twelve minutes. The score will be between 0 and 20 points which is the maximum possible score reached after 3200m. Once again do not create any fucking problems. Be ready, and do your best. No shoe problems, no leg problems,no cold or any fancy diseases early in the morning. These points ARE obtainable, so you want to make sure you can do this with no problem as it is an easy way to get 20 points. (prepare yourself for this before joining).

If you pass the cooper test the next stop will be the IQ test. (I almost forgot, the running test! If you are doing it with 20 russian ex officers and they all do 3600m. You with your 3200m and 20 points wont get very far, and you will be going home before the end of the day) So as you can see there is an certain luck needed to pass. Therfore it is very important to choose the right moment to join. Personnally I suggest to join in december (few candidates, so little competition).

The IQ test. Do not worry. I know plenty of idiots who have passed. It starts off easy and gets worse and worse until it gets impossible. Do not panic, and you will get the score that you deserve. There is no miracle solution juste use common sense and do your best. As always be awake and try to understand what is going on , do not fuck up and look like an idiot before the test has started.

So finally you have a GO from the doctor and 3200m on the running test, with an normal IQ. You are ready for the security test. Basically this test has 3 differents meanings: First of all, create your security file that will follow you through your career. Second we want to know your whole life from day one to yesterday. And finally the NCO will have to decide if he thinks that you are an interesting candidate to the legion and if he believes that you will adapt to our system and way of life.

The most important thing to know about the legion's way of recruiting is that we do not work like the rest of the world. We do not give a fuck about the candidates, there are plenty. You have no rights (you are free to leave whenever you like). The word why?? is forbidden(it is not your fucking business) just do it. We dont care how fit or good you are, but when we ask you to do something, be ready, do it, and do it good. How to be ready? that is your fucking problem. Just be ready and do not complicate things or create problems.

If you are ready to adapt our way of life, way of thinking, way of working, and ready to forget the past. With an complete devotion. You might be the right man.


Basic training

Basic training, a post from de Cervens forum by Charles Stoeng 2005

________________________________________ There seems to be small confusions and misunderstood expectations regarding the contents and final goals of the French Foreign Legion Basic Training.

Due to the particular recruitment (people from all over the world, speaking different languages and having different cultures), the Legion obviously have a few fundamental problems to attend to before starting any complicated “commando” training.

The main goal of the basic training is therefore quite simple and logic: To change anybody (any race speaking any language, from any culture) in to a basic soldier that is able to operate in normal Legion day to day life.
In other words; giving everybody the same (very basic) language (French), teach everybody (and make sure that everybody understand) that there is one only way of doing things, THE LEGION WAY.
No “personal” opinions, no other language, no Americans pretending to be better than the Russians, no Russians pretending to be better than the Indians, just a bunch of completely equal kids that have very well understood that they finally know nothing.

Most of the ridiculous young “Rambos” on this board that wants to be elite soldiers haven’t got the slightest clue about how the day to day Legion life is, it is maybe unfortunate but they will have to learn. They will have to learn how a platoon, a company, and a battalion are organized and how it works on a day to day basis, before learning how it operates in combat.

They will have to learn all the boring rules of community life (cleaning, behaviors, military regulations, uniforms, administrative processes, and simply to shut up). All this in a very basic French is finally not an easy task.

It looks soooooo cool on youtube when the Legion is “fighting” its way thru the jungle with the FAMAS in hand. However in basic training you horrible miserable little “Mongols” will first learn to carry it (without doing anything with it), strip and re-assemble it without destroying it.
THEN!!! How to take a very simple aim at a target with a reasonable chance for hitting it, and that only is an art in itself.

You will learn how to operate safely on a shooting range (in French). Considering that most of you have only seen a weapon on TV, it will be a big and difficult operation.
You might be a small arms “specialist” in a previous life, but since you don’t understand anything in French you are a public danger.
Anyway, until the whole group understands how to operate safely on the shooting range any individual “expertise” is completely pointless.

You will have to learn what to put (and NOT) put in your back pack during outdoor operations, how to sleep outside in good conditions, how to make a fire, how to leave nothing behind you, how to make food with nothing, how to cope with the kit you have and not with the kit you will like to have.

You will have to learn about general duties: Guard duties, intervention duties, Rules of self defence… Do you know what a ZMS is ???? well until you know, forget about the videos form youtube. Until you knows perfectly well the compete definition of a ZMS (outlines, limitations, and engagement rules) you are a useless soldier for guard duties. BUT !!! you think that you are ready for jungle training… My ass…
Most of you guys don’t even know how to clean a toilet!!! Some because it was always their mothers that did it, but some because they have never had and hardly seen a WC, but don’t worry you will all learn the secrets of this noble art.
Most of you guys don’t know how to iron a shirt, same reasons… mother did it or they where restricted to t-shirts. Some of you have never owned a tooth brush in your life. However all these delights of life in community will be perfectly mastered?

After 4 months we will maybe have a young man that knows a bit French, knows the very basics of Legion community and military life. He knows how to hit a target 200m away in almost safe (for his surroundings) conditions; he knows how to launch a rifle grenade without looking like Rocky after a boxing match.
Basically we have a young Legionnaire that knows what will happen next in his day, and why it will happen within this little community.

Now the Legion can start the long and complicated job of making an elite soldier.
__________________ LEGIO PATRIA NOSTRA

Changing your identity in the Legion

When somebody joins the Legion he has the possibility to change his identity, but it is not always obligatory. The candidate can ask for it or the Legion can impose it for different reasons.

If the candidate asks for it he will have to justify why he has this request. Start a new life, cut whit the past, just for the heck of it are the normal and most frequent reasons given. Normally the Legion will change the identity on the candidates request. If they don't, they will probably just send him home.

The Legion will in certain situations impose the candidate to change his identity. Criminal background, Married, Divorced, Children, Debts, coming from a country that do not accept service in the legion, More than 2 years service in the French army, and any reason that's makes the Legion think that somebody will be asking for the candidate.

If the Legion imposes the change of identity. The candidate will not be allowed to receive mail or to communicate with his family or former environment. He will be cut of from the outside world.

If the candidate has selected himself to change identity he can live under normal conditions like any legionnaire.

After 3 years of service the legionnaire can make a demand to get back his real identity. If the Legion accepts (security reasons) he will have to prove his real identity by getting birth certificates from his homeland. After an administrative process (about 4 months) he will get back his real identity.

But he can stay all the time in the Legion using his fake identity until the day he leaves. Some legionnaires have stayed 30 years using a fake identity. But the day he returns to the civilian life, he takes back his real identity. Under NO circumstances he can leave using the fake legion name.

A request for French nationality is always done using the real identity. But if he has a name difficult to use in France the French administration can accept to "frenchify his name". If his name is HAPPITILIUYS it can be changed to HAMON. But under NO circumstances the fake legion name will be used.

written by Charles Stoeng


3 ways to become an officer

For a legionnaire there are 3 ways to become an officer.

1 If you are sergeant and under 28 years old, having a university degree. You can pass the selection test for the officers course in the french army. You will be competing with the young Frenchmen who just came out of the university (very hard).

2 If you are staff sergeant under 35 years old and have a platoon commander certificate you can compete in tests for the french army. If you pass you will do only one year in the branch officers school. (infantry or cavalry).

3 If you are Sergeant major and under 40 the general of the legion can commission you to officer rank (very rare)

But for many reasons it is very seldom that a Legion NCO will have interests in becoming an officer. And most important your regimental commander has to propose it to you it is not your choice.

A reply by Charles about running shoes

Name: Charles Stöeng Nobody cares if you find the shoes uncomfortable or not. JUST RUN. If you have a concern about the shoe type, you are already in trouble. Be prepare to run barefooted if needed.

STOP F.....G around. JUST RUN. Shoes, no shoes, rain, snow, big homosexual bear running behind you, makeup, blisters, bleeding nose, cold, no breakfast. Nobody gives a F... JUST RUN.

This is not a US NAVY SEALS test, not a UNIVERSITY entrance test. There is no PT instructor in a fancy track suit. There will probably be an old, fat, alcoholic Caporal/chef who is 6 months away from retirement. Ho doesn't give a F... about you and your worries. But he has seen things in life that you haven't dreamed about, so do not underestimate him. There are few rules and many assholes. So RUN RUN RUN.

Do not misunderstand my words. Nothing personal. I joined at the age of 19, strait from my Norwegian village knowing F...all about life or the Legion. I had a hard time. So it is better to get things clear before joining.

Good luck!

Replying to:

Several guys have recommended in letters on the message board that it is adviceable to take your own running shoes and that you get to keep those.

Replying to:

Can I use my own shoes in the cooper test or do I have to run with the ones that the Legion gives me.(I've heard they're quite uncomfortable and will make your feet ache for the next two months ) Thanks!

some anecdotes about the Algerian war during my service

Algeria, 1954-1962

Background Orders of Battle Equipment Scenarios Bibliography


A nationalist movement began to develop in France's Algerian colony (Algerie) after the First World War. In 1954, a War of Independence broke out, pitting France versus the National Liberation Front (FLN).

In 1958, during a political crisis in France caused by the Algerian civil war, Charles De Gaulle came out of retirement to become Premier, with the power to rule by decree. Many of the French colonists (les colons) in Algeria felt betrayed when, rather than leading France to victory in Algeria, De Gaulle negotiated Algerian independence.

A special role in the fighting was taken by the French Foreign Legion. Created in 1831 to pacify Algeria, the Legion was linked by pride and history to the French colony. The Legion is a volunteer armed force chiefly composed in its enlisted ranks to foreigners. At this time period, the Foreign Legion included many former German soldiers (even S.S. veterans), as well as many Spaniards and Italians.

The war lasted for seven bitter years, during which at least 100,000 Muslim and 10,000 French soldiers died. Algeria gained its independence on 3 July 1962.


In 1960, the French Foreign Legion comprised 30,000 men: 4 infantry regiments in northern Algeria, 4 regiments in the Sahara, plus one regiment apiece in Madagascar, Djibouti, and Tahiti. There are also 2 parachute regimennts and 2 cavalry regiments.

A parachute regiment has eight companies and fields 1000 men, of whom 800 are operational. There are 4 combat companies, one transport, one shock, the compagnie d'appui (light artillery), and the base company.

The base company remains at the settlement where the unit is permanently based, while the rest of the unit is at the field camp. Typically, four companies are on operations, with a fifth on reserve at field camp.


The French armed forces made use of these weapons in this period:

1936 bolt-action repeater 1949 bolt-action repeater (has a device on the barrel to enable grenades to be fired) 1956 semi-automatic (7.5mm, lightweight, said to be a "killer" at 200 yards) pistolet mitraillete '49 (9mm submachinegun similar to the Sten) light machinegun '52 (fires from bands or magazines, very accurate when handled well, but weighing 26 lbs.)

The Algerian forces (fellagha, also known as "the Fell" by the French) are said to be equipped with sawed-off shotguns (most likely) and Enfield rifles for the most part, and a sprinkling of more sophisticated weaponry (i.e. British Sten guns). The abundance of British weapons in Arab hands may be the result of weapons lost at Suez.


Section Scale February 1961: Mountain Ambush January 1962: Encounter in the Mist Company Scale November 1960: Searching for the Enemy December 1960: Mountain Patrol March 1961: The Gorge April 1961: Easter Sunday Firefight Regiment Scale November 1961: The Tunisian Frontier


February 1961: Mountain Ambush

The circle of French troops is growing ever tighter around this valley (at times, operations involve as many as 30,000 French troops attempting to encircle and capture their Arab enemies). Meanwhile, several small sections of men are hiding in the hills, waiting to ambush the fellagha as they attempt to escape from this trap. The nights are cold and damp, and the ambushers have been hiding and waiting for 4 days.

One man waits near the intersection of two mountain paths (pistes), which climb the steep, brushy slopes. His job is to let the enemy get past him, then to shoot them from behind.

On the fifth night, the listener hears movement, and readies his submachinegun. He cannot see the enemy. Then the chef du guard arrives (armed with only a pistol). They wait until (by sound) they think the Arabs are 10 yards away, then attack with grenades. The chief has taken the SMG, and coming out from behind the rock, opens fire on the fleeing enemy. He then charges up the trail after them.

Confused fighting breaks out, with the French unit (a section? a company? source doesn't say) pursuing the Arabs up the hill. Three Arabs are eventually found dead. Nobody knows how many got away.

Source: Legionnaire, pgs. 121-124.

January 1962: Encounter in the Mist

A company of legionnaires has been trucked to the bottom of a gorge (using a road built by the Legion in years gone past), and now the soldiers following a zigzag path toward the summit.

At the top of the ridge, a unit of Arab fellagha are sheltering in a mechta (Arab farm house). It is raining, and clouds form bands of mist on the hilltops.

The Arab sentry is dozing, and their camp is caught by surprise when the legionnaires arrive. The legionnaires are likewise surprised. After a hasty firefight, the fellagha retreat into the mist, and the French are unable to maintain contact. The mechta is burned.

Source: Legionnaire, pg. 176.


November 1960: Searching for the Enemy

in the night, parachutists of the Foreign Legion board trucks for a three-hour drive, arriving at daybreak at the foot of the hills. For the next three hours they climb, at a pace just short of a run, to a ridgeline at 3500 feet.

As the parachutists rest, spread out in a long line at the crest, artillery and two dive bombers attack the "enormous wooded valley" below. At the same time, helicopters deposit a company of parachutists on the opposite side of the valley.

Eventually, the original parachutists (perhaps in company strength, though the original source does not say) receive the order to descend into the valley and "drive" the enemy toward the other parachute unit (which remains in its positions). As for the Muslims, their goal is to escape the trap or, if they cannot, to make a stand and take as many legionnaires with them as they can.

Source: Legionnaire, pg.87-89.

December 1960: Mountain Patrol

During the afternoon, two companies (2nd and 3rd) of Legion parachutists scale neighboring hills. The right-hand company comes under fire (20 men out of action in the first barrage), and the left company is ordered to quickly reach its peak and pour fire (rifles, LMG, mortar) down upon the Arabs on the first hilltop. The fellagha are in well-dug-in and camouflaged trenches, which are nearly impossible to see from the other hilltop. Mortar fire appears to have little effect on the Arabs in their positions.

An attempt is made to bring in another parachutist company (1st) by helicopter for a landing on the summit of the Arab-held hill, but the helicopters are driven off by machinegun fire. (One parachutist finds himself left behind on the hill, but manages to survive.)

Fighting continues throughout the afternoon. Intensive machinegun fire from fast-moving Alouette helicopters seems to wear down Arab resistance.

Around 4 p.m., the 1st and 4th companies (reinforcements) advance from the base of the hill and in one line attack. 2nd Company has been pulled out. 3rd Company continues to pour in supporting fire (and to receive counter-fire). Reaching the top of the hill, the attackers move from bunker to bunker, firing submachinegun bursts and throwing grenades.

No prisoners are taken. The dead include 53 Arabs, armed with 20 SMG's, 6 LMG's (Brens and German '42s), and "several" rifles.

Helicopters sight movement in the steep-sided gorge beyond the hill, and the 3rd Company is ordered to investigate. The 13th Demi-Brigade moves a company into position to block the end of the far valley. The valley is a mile and a half long, with tall fir trees and thick undergrowth on the floor. Visibility restricted to "a few yards."

The 3rd company advances with one section in front, and two sections to either side. A cave entrance is found, straw indicates that it has been inhabited, and the helicopters confirm this is where the movement was seen. A volunteer is sent in, but the search is interrupted when the helicopter spotted reports movement 100 yards further down the valley.

In the resulting firefight, 3 young Arabs are killed, equipped with two Enfield rifles and a Sten gun.

After the battle, a patrol of 3 legionnaires is sent out to recover the Arab bodies, cut off the heads, and return with the heads for inspection by an officer of the Deuxi\eme Bureau. (Four days ago, "loyal" Arab soldiers rebelled and killed their French officers, and the authorities want to know if those killed in the operation were these men.) The patrol fortunately does not encounter any Arabs "passed over" earlier.

Source: Legionnaire, pgs. 96-102.

March 1961: The Gorge

This fight takes place in the "country of the dead" -- barren red-brown mountains, topped with snow, dusty and covered with wispy scrub, lots of boulders and rocks.

Trucks transport the parachutists of the Legion to the top of the Gorge of Rhoufi, which runs through the plains like a knife gash. The sides are sheer and rounded, leading down to a river which follows a crescent path. The legionnaires descend along a 3'-wide path to the river, where Arabs dwell in caves and square-shaped dwellings. Then the soldiers begin to climb the far side of the gorge.

At 4:30 p.m., 2nd Company comes under fire from fellagha who are entrenched in hills at the summit of one of the many hills. 3rd and 4th Companies advance on the flanks, pouring in fire by mortar and LMG, which allows 2nd Company to make the assault. The legionnaires companies are short-handed, due to stragglers during the long march.

Five Arabs surrender, and 15 are found dead. They were armed with two Thompsons, Brens, and machine pistols. Seven legionnaires are "lost."

Source: Legionnaire, pgs. 126-128.

April 1961: Easter Sunday Firefight

A company of French regular paratroopers (b/eret rouges) have been ambushed in a gorge, and Foreign Legion reinforcements are being rushed in by helicopter in the early afternoon.

The far side of the gorge is a vertical rock face marked with caves and fault lines. The fellagha are in the caves. At the bottom of the gorge are the beret rouges. The Legion 2nd Company (reinforcements) has taken positions on the opposite side of the gorge, and are engaging the Arabs in a fierce firefight. 3rd and 4th Companies are in reserve beyond the gorge, but are then moved to positions along the crest of a hill (but still in line of sight of the Arabs). 4th Company is caught moving over the top of a hill, and seven men are lost to Arab machinegun fire. The legionnaires entrench.

The firefight continues all afternoon and into the night. Two dive bombers provide support, firing napalm and rockets into the gorge, while helicopter gunships also pour fire on the fellagha positions (one chopper crashes in the gorge). Plane-dropped flares provide illumination as night falls. Meanwhile, the gorge has been completely surrounded by French troops, and helicopters resupply their men with ammunition.

By 3 a.m., Arab fire drops off. In the morning, they find 7 Arab dead, and 4 rifles. It appears the Arabs escaped during the night, along a narrow corniche invisible from the opposite side. The Legion has 17 dead, 46 wounded.

Source: Legionnaire, pgs. 130-133.


November 1961: The Tunisian Frontier

A Foreign Legion parachutist regiment is spread out along fifty miles of the frontier, each company operating independently. The frontier is mined and lined with barbed wire, with "no man's land" inbetween the wire (1 1/2 miles across). A line of hills runs along no man's land, preventing the opposing forces from seeing each other. The French regularly shell no man's land, patrol the wire during the day, and set ambushes in no man's land at night.

On the Tunisian side is Ben Bella and "a substantial armed force," waiting to lead the Algerian forces (in exile in Tunisia) to Algiers when independence is declared. The Arabs also attempt to break across the frontier (blasting the wire with explosives), to sneak forces back within Algeria.

The Arabs are known to have moved into no man's land, establishing a base on one of the hills (making it easier for them to smuggle men across the frontier). The French know their artillery cannot drive out entrenched men. Therefore, the legionnaires are sent in to drive the Arabs back.

The French begin with a day-long bombardment of the hill. During the night, an entire regiment of the Foreign Legion takes position at the base of the hill. At dawn, nine B26's drop their load on the hill crest, followed by two hours of artillery shelling.

At last, the legionnaires move forward. Immediately, the Arabs fire their mortars against the men in the open. The legionnaires are hard hit, but the fellagha mortars have revealed their positions, and are taken out by artillery fire. The Legion takes the hill, and pursues the Arabs beyond the frontier into Tunisia.

Source: Legionnaire, pgs. 164-166. Also a repeat operation in December to clear the same hill, pg. 167.


LEGIONNAIRE: My Five Years in the French Foreign Legion by Simon Murray ISBN 0-8129-0798-1 Published 1978 by Time Books (U.S.), Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Ltd. (Canada), and Sidgwick and Jackson, Ltd. (Great Britain).

Women in the Legion article

Courtesy of the On Line Amicale de la Legion PARIS -- Could it be time for women to serve as soldiers in that longtime bastion of male derring-do, the French Foreign Legion? Apparently not. An announcement last month that women would be eligible for virtually every post in the French Army, including the legion, was quickly retracted. It was, said a spokesman for the legion, Lt. Col. Yann Peron, due to a "miscommunication." The changes would take place in the rest of the French Army, but not the legion. "When you have the choice - on the front line - who would you want next to you?" said the colonel. "To go to war, it is a man's business. And it is our tradition, and people do not like to change." The legion was given its charter by King Louis- Philippe 170 years ago, recruiting foreigners as a way to control France's African colonies without risking French blood. The attraction was the offer of a new identity and a chance to become a man of honor and eventually a French citizen. Criminals, misfits and castoffs disappeared into its ranks (swelled in the romantic novel and film "Beau Geste" with the broken- hearted, not to mention heart-breakingly handsome). The corps has served in many of the world's hot spots, from Mexico to Spain, the Sudan and Indochina. Most recently, legionnaires were dispatched to Bosnia and Kosovo. The legion's allure has hardly faded. Today, its 7,000 soldiers, who earn about $1,000 a month, come from more than 130 countries. (Many recent enlistees come from the economically depressed Eastern bloc.) Most of the officers are French, but it is possible to be promoted from the ranks. Identification papers are required, at least officially, before signing up, but almost everyone enlisting takes a new name. Legionnaires are issued Velcro nametags, which they do not have to wear. Applicants are tested for intelligence and strength, and the legion rejects those it knows to be murderers, drug addicts, mentally ill or homosexual. While the French Army has two candidates for every opening, the Foreign Legion has 18, Colonel Peron said, so the vast majority of applicants are refused. Women are not completely barred from this storied part of the French Army. The new orders do allow female officers if they transfer from French military schools. This allows them to avoid the grueling training - including survival exercises in mosquito-infested swamps - that new legionnaires go through. But with only about 20 new officers arriving in the corps each year, the number of female arrivals is not expected to be large. Will they face a hard time being accepted? Colonel Peron does not think so. In fact, the legion already has seven women in the lower officers' ranks. They got in through a sort of side door that allows "specialists" to transfer from the regular army if they are needed. One of the seven is the secretary to the legion's top general. Two work in human resources. And four work in parachute maintenance at the headquarters of the legion's elite paratroopers, based on Corsica. The men do the folding, said Colonel Peron, which '`gets a bit physical." The women do the "more delicate work." Yes, he does mean the sewing. "The legionnaires are all very gallant, so there is no problem with the women," said Colonel Peron. "And after all, they aren't spending a month out in the field together."

account by "Broken_Wings" about his experience during selection

As I promised you, some information about my time in Aubagne, here it is.

I arrived at Marseille airport 16:30 the 31 of mars. I walked out to get the bus to St Charles (the bus is called Navette Marseille), really easy to find. If you go out from the main gates it is 30 meters to the right. If you come from Paris, you go 30 meters to the left to find the bus. The cost is 8,50 euro. I arrived to St charles 30 minutes later and i took a train to Aubagne. You have to buy a ticket at the station because the ticket will be much more expensive if you buy it on the train. The train to Aubagne leaves every 10-15 minute. The cost 2,20 euro and the trip last about 15-20 minutes.

Once at Aubagne i took right for 100 meters and then left for maybe 800 meters. Then i saw the gates to the French foreign legion. I got to the gate and an caporal-chef met me. I said something like: I´ve come to join the legion. He asked for my passport and led me into a little room. I sat down on a chair and he offered me coffee. I sat there for about 20 minutes until another Caporal-chef told me to follow him. We went up to the "GESTAPO"-place where everybody who joins at Aubagne sleeps. Once in the building, the took me into a little room where all the common questions begun. Like, why do you want to join us, do you know what we are etc...After that i chose my own name, my parents name, where i was born. Then they show me into a room where i was supposed to sleep. I met 4 other men there. One Bulgarian ( a very nice man), one Arab and two from Africa. In this room was videos of the FFL and of course there was a vcr. Some old books in different language.

The next day we went down for breakfast(around 6:00). After that a minor medical exam, then another interview. Once this was done we were sent back to our room. Lunch (12:00). At 14:30 we went down to the "real" selection building. We were sent down to the basement were we were stripped of everything. The only things we were allowed to keep was, underwear, toilettes stuff, cigarettes and your dictionary. We were given new blue suites and a bag of toilettes stuff, towel, underwear. After that we were sent to the backyard. We did not do anything else that day but we ate Dinner at 18:00. When the siren (alarm) goes of, everybody runs to the front side of the building. And from there anything can happen. At 07:00 and 14:00 civil is sent home but also work can be given to you. You work almost everyday. If you make it to green, you will not work in the weekend which is really very boring The second day there you take the IQ-test and the test for sanity. It is a really easy test. The IQ-test was really easy, no problems. The sanity-test was also easy, but you had to be concentrated so you did not answered different to the same questions. Tell the truth and you’ll make it. Some of the questions i did not understand because i did all my test in english so i just answered something (yes or no questions). Some of the questions i just didn´t answered at all, because i did not understand them. It was ok, i think. You do all the tests in the morning, if you fail, you go home at 14:00. Ten people went home that day. Three were from my group.
If you where not sent home, work was done until 17:00. The work is always the same but at different places. Dishes, corvee, corvee, corvee i think you get the point.

The third day you take the medical test. This test is also easy. You get a few papers were you fill in your past medical. The questions is like, do you have/or had acne, doing drugs, etc... After that they test your heartbeat, your hearing and your eyesight. You also do an interview with a sergeant-chef. If you pass all these tests, you will be given a vaccination. I do not know against what but everybody got sick. I f*cked up my eye test, so i had only 0,2 on my left eye and 0,4 on my right. I had dust and shit in my eyes and a cold. The more the Caporal-chef screamed at me, the less i saw.. I thought i was going to be sent home that day, but i was not. They just send me to the hospital at Marseille a week later and by that time my eyes were perfect again. So if you do have glasses, this is not a problem. I saw at least 6 people with glasses making rouge (red). Once again, people were sent home that day, i do not remember how many.

The third test was the running. Just run seven laps. They had three different places where they ran. Two 200meters and one 400meters. Just run 7 or 14 laps. I saw some people run really slow, but they made it to the next level, and even made rouge, do not ask me why. Nobody was sent home if they made 7/14 laps.. Once again, people were sent home.

After this some people talked to the "Gestapo". I was made green before i talked to them. During the next days (7 days maybe) i made one interview with a lieutnant(chef de centre) and one interview with the chef over the IQ-test and the sanity-test. They ask you the same questions like everybody else, why are you here, where do you want to be stationed, criminal record...etc. After these interviews i did my Gestapo-interview. Many did these interviews in different order. They say you can do it in your own language but i did mine in English. It was not easy to understand their English, but i made it. The interview was 3 hours long. They want you to tell them everything about your life. Your school, your work and your families work, school etc. They already know everything about you, so they ask your questions they already have the answer to. So the questions is different depending on your past. Just tell them the truth. If they find out you lie, you will go civil. A little tip is, do your story before you leave, make a little c.v./resume It will help you. I did not, and it is really hard to remember exact dates etc...

After this, you just work. Until Thursday. Thursday is the day you become green or rouge. If you make rouge, you will be given a commando suit, they will take blood test, dental test etc. A more complete medical exam.

And some other stuff: They climate amongst the EV´s was good, no fights etc... If you smoke, take alot with you, cigarettes is like gold at Aubagne. Everybody gets 28 euro on their arrival to Aubagne. The foyer is open maybe 4 days a week, you can buy cigarettes, nuts etc. No EV was beaten when i was there! Maybe a slap on upside the head. You can use the bar to do pull ups, and you can run at the volley ball court. They encourage you to train.

The 18 of April i was kicked out, the same day my friends made rouge. At first i had no idea why i was kicked out, but now i think i know. I told the Gestapo everything but on the other interviews i left out some information. So my biggest advice to you future EV is, tell the truth every time and not only to the Gestapo. Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. I wish you all the best!!! Bonne Chance.

Best regards Broken_Wings Ps. Hi Mr van Raamt. I forgot to tell you that if you are really good at computers, they will ask you in a seperat interview with the information-officers. I do not know who they were, but i had a meeting with them. They ask if you want to join them right after Castel.. Maybe this can be an important news to anyone.
Best regards,


Dien Bien Phu diary
My thanks to Patrick Hervier for the translation

A Ðien Biên Phu diary

In the summer and fall of 1953, Gen Henri Navarre, Commander in chief of the French expeditionary corps in the Far East, (Corps Expéditionnaire Français en Extrême-Orient — CEFEO).
He had taken over from Gen Raoul Salan in May of the same year and was facing a conundrum.
His mission, as defined by the French government, was to find an ‘acceptable’ way out of the Indochina war that was in its 7th year and was getting increasingly unpopular in the métropole.

He had two major concerns: the continuing pressure of the Viet Minh* army of Gen Võ Nguyên Giáp on the Red River delta, which was expected, like every year after the monsoon (the rainy season in South-East Asia), to resume their attacks on the French outposts scattered in the region and the necessity to protect a faithful ally of France in the region, the Kingdom of Laos, 500km away from the Red River delta, which was also under new threat by the Viet-Minh army.

To address the second issue, and based on the previous year success at Na San, it was decided to create a position behind the Viet Minh lines, to block their way to Laos, and use it as a rear base for offensive operations in the so-called Haute-Région.

On Nov 20, 1953, opération Castor was launched. Two battalions of paratroopers, commanded by Gen Jean Gilles, the 6e BPC (Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux) of Major Marcel Bigeard and II/1er RCP (Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes) of Major Jean Bréchignac spearheaded the attack and landed in a valley near the border between Vietnam and Laos, astride the Communist lines of communication.

After a one day fighting, the paras finally seized the place that was known to the local Thai populations as Muong Thanh, but would become world famous under its name, given by the colonial administration: Ðien Biên Phu.

On Mar 13, 1954, the Viet-Minh launched their attack on the camp. They progressively isolated the French force and besieged it in its jungle base.
The hunters became the hunted. What followed turned into a Stalingrad in the jungle, or – as a French general put it – a “Verdun sans la voie sacrée” (Verdun without the sacred way), a reference to the WWI battle of Verdun, the archetype of trench warfare and the supply road that the French army had managed to keep open during the 9 months of the battle.

* Viet Minh (abbreviated from "Viet Nam Ðoc Lap Ðong Minh Ho", in English “League for the Independence of Vietnam”) was a communist national independence coalition formed at Pác Bó on May 19, 1941 whose emblematic leader was Ho Chí Minh. After WWII, the Viet Minh opposed the re-occupation of its former colonies in Indochina by France, during the eight year-long Indochina war, and later – as the ruling party in North Vietnam – opposed South Vietnam and the United States in the Vietnam war.

Friday Mar 12, 1954

“Messieurs, c’est pour demain…” (Gentlemen, it’s for tomorrow…).
By these words, Col Christian de Castries – commanding the French forces at DBP – informed his staff of the imminent attack in the evening of Mar 12.
As a matter of fact, the French Military Intelligence (2e Bureau) had learnt a couple of days before, through Viet Minh radio communications eavesdropping, that the battle was to start on March 13, and would first target stronghold Béatrice, in the North-East of the camp, on RP 41 (Route Provinciale n°41).
Originally planned for Jan 25, the date had been postponed by Gen Giap, who considered he still needed additional supply and troops to be in a better position and increase his chances of success, but that time there would be no further delay.

Everybody on the French side was a bit tense, but after such a long wait, this news almost came as a relief.
After fighting for many years a mostly elusive enemy, the officers were seeing the upcoming battle as a unique opportunity to eliminate a good part of the Viet Minh forces, in a ‘traditional’ battle: “enfin, on va pouvoir ‘casser du Viet’” (at last we’re going to be in a position to kill Viets) was the dominant feeling.
The ‘match’ was about to start and there was little doubt in the French camp that it would be a victory.

Saturday Mar 13, 1954

Béatrice position was held by III/13 DBLE (3e bataillon/13e Demi-brigade de Légion étrangère), commanded by Major Paul Pégot and comprised 4 companies : 9 Coy (Lt André Carrière), 10 Coy (Capt Nicolas), 11 Coy (Lt Turpin) and 12 Coy (Lt André Lemoine). 13 DBLE had an excellent reputation among the CEFEO, however, with about 450 men, and like many other units in Indochina, the battalion was clearly understaffed.

Companies were about 100-men strong and were commanded by a single officer. Platoon commanders were sergents or at best sergent-chefs.
The position was actually made of 3 small hills, with 10 and 12 Coys on one, along with the battalion HQ, 9 and 11 Coys on each of the two others.
In front of them, Viet Minh division 312 had three regiments (n°141, 209 and 165) totalling about 4’500 men. 1/10 was the defenders/attackers ratio that would become the norm throughout the battle.

At 17.15, after Giap decided to bring slightly forward the original 17.30 schedule, the attack began with heavy artillery shelling of the position, which struck everyone by its might and precision.

This was a major shock for the French HQ at DBP, who knew the Vietminh had gathered artillery around the camp but hadn't imagined it could have been so powerful and so well supplied in ammunitions.
Even in the worst case scenario, Col Charles Piroth, commanding the artillery at DBP, had firmly and repeatedly committed himself, in saying that any Viet Minh cannon would be easily suppressed by the battery of four 155 mm Howitzers M1 of IV/4 RAC (Régiment d’Artillerie Coloniale).
This proved totally wrong and 30 minutes after the beginning, of the attack on Béatrice, the surprise quickly turned into dismay when it became obvious that the French artillery was unable to effectively muzzle its Viet Minh opponent of the 351 Heavy Division.

In the early minutes of the bombing, Maj Pégot, his deputy, Capt Vincent Pardi and Lt Joseph Pungier were killed by a direct hit into their command post.
All long-range radio sets were destroyed and it was no longer possible for the defenders to keep contact with the central position of DBP.
Capt Nicolas took command of the battalion and tried to organize the defence of the position, with units put under heavy strain by the Vietminh artillery and without any possibility to get reinforcement or accurate artillery support.

Lt Lemoine and Lt Carrière were KIA in their turn and Lt Turpin seriously wounded. After 2 hours, when the Viets stopped their bombing to launch the infantry assault, there were only 2 valid officers left, Capt Nicolas and Lt Geroges Jego, XO of 12 Coy (who would also be KIA later in the night).

It was now time for the infantry to get ‘on stage’. Preceded by ‘death volunteers’ whose role was to blow themselves up to open a breach in the barbed wire surrounding the positions, the bo-doï of Division 312 launched their assault, using the ‘human wave’ tactic, recommended by their Chinese advisors who had employed it in Korea.
Defended by less than 300 legionnaires, without any reinforcement nor evacuation possible, Béatrice resisted until the early hours of Mar 14, to more than 4,000 Viet Minh soldiers constantly reinforced.
The three hills fell one after the other, after terrible and confused hand-to-hand fighting.
All the officers were KIA, except Capt Nicolas, taken prisoner and Lt Turpin who was captured wounded by the Vietminh released to the French and medevaced to Hanoï the day after.
Around 80 legionnaires managed to escape and join the central position through a tunnel which had been dug below one of the 3 hills of Béatrice.

This failure became all the more bitter that, during this same night, the highly respected Lt-Col Jules Gaucher, CO of 13 DBLE (2 battalions I/13 and III/13 were present at DBP) and the most senior Legion officer of the garrison was also killed, along with Lt de Bretteville and Lt Bailly, by another direct shell hit on his command post, situated in the central position.
Gaucher was the third CO of 13 DBLE to be KIA in 12 years, after Lt-Col Amilakvari near El-Alamein in 1942 and Lt-Col Brunet de Sairigné in 1948 between Saigon and Dalat.
Below a picture of Béatrice nowadays (one of the 3 hills). One can see reconstructed trenches and stairs, done by the Vietnamese for the tourists, probably for the 50th anniversary of the battle and a number of steles commemorating some Vietnamese heroes who gave their lives during the assault.
One became famous in Vietnam for sacrifying his life, putting his body in front of the opening of a French machine gun nest that was blocking the assault of his comrades.

What's worth noting too is the relatively small size of the position. Imagine it being pounded for 2 hours by artillery shells and then hundreds of soldiers fighting hand-to-hand on its slopes.
Now you may understand better the title of the famous book by Bernard Fall : Dien Bien Phu, Hell in a very small place.

Click on pics for larger view.

Sunday March 14 1954

In the morning of Mar 14, the Viets contact the French and offer them a four-hour truce to allegedly let them recover their wounded.
Col de Castries, requested instructions about this offer to his superior, Gen René Cogny, commanding the ground forces in Tonkin (northern region of Vietnam). Cogny, in his turn, tries to contact Gen Navarre (did you say CYA ..?).
Navarre being unreachable, Cogny finally takes the initiative to accept the truce.
A small detachment of medics and ambulances, escorted by an unarmed platoon of I/13 DBLE, is sent to Béatrice and finds a devastated position.
A dozen or so wounded soldiers only has been gathered at the foot of it, and the detachment is refused access to the former command post, to recover the bodies of Major Pégot and his staff.
Among the wounded are Lt Turpin, with a fractured and dislocated harm who is medevaced the same day. Another is legionnaire Leblanc, whose wound are acutally not too bad.
After being medevaced and cured in Hanoi, he will volunteer to be parachuted back into the camp in April. Unfortunately, for him he will fall in the Viet lines and will be taken prisoner.
This truce later became the object of all sorts of speculations and controversies, some even denying it ever took place, others saying it was a 'trick' of the Viets to dissuade the French to try and take Béatrice back and blaming the French high command for accepting it.
Anyway, the position will never be retaken and will remain under the Viet Minh forces control till the end of the battle.

Having lost one battalion, de Castries requests some reinforcement to Cogny and the 5 BPVN (Bataillon de Parachutistes Vietnamiens) is put on alert.
This battalion (along with other units) was part of the Vietnamese national army that the French tried to set up, under Gen de Lattre de Tassigny's impetus, after the formal independence granted to Vietnam in 1949, with Emperor Bao Dai as the head of state.

This regime will never be recognised or accepted by the Viet Minh who will always consider Bao Dai as a puppet in the hand of his French masters.
The 5 BPVN was commanded by Capt André Botella, a veteran WWII French SAS, trained by the Brits and dropped with his unit in Brittany on June 5, 1944 behind the German lines, to organize the local resistance into a more powerful guerrilla force and prevent the German forces present in Brittany to reinforce the Normandy front.

Most of the cadre at battalion and company commanders level were French and all the rest were Vietnamese.
Among the Vietnamese officers was Lt Pham Van Phu(*1), a Coy commander. Justified or not, the battalion's reputation among the CEFEO wasn't very good.
Upon learning the decision of the high command, impulsive Lt-Col Langlais, who had taken the command of sous-secteur Centre(*2), after Gaucher's death during the night, threatens to disarm it and use the soldiers as a 'coolie' force, demanding that a more solid unit be sent.
In spite of Langlais opposition however, the 5 BPVN finally takes off from Bach Mai military airport in Hanoi and is dropped in DBP in the afternoon of Mar 14.

(*1) Pham Van Phu (1928-1975), Commander, II Corps/Military Region, General Phu was born in Ha Dong, North Vietnam. He graduated the Dalat Military Academy, Class 8. In 1954, Phu was a company officer in the 5th Parachutist Battalion of the Army of the State of Vietnam, fighting beside the French in Dien Bien Phu.

In the ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam), Phu had been commander of the RVN Special Force, the 2nd Infantry Division, Quang Trung Training Center, before taking the command of the II Corps/Military Region II in Pleiku.
His troops suffered heavy losses during the withdrawal to the coastal areas in April 1975.
General Phu committed suicide on 30 April 1975 in Saigon.

(*2) Dien Bien Phu was organised in 3 so-called sous-secteurs : sous-secteur Nord (with the northernmost Anne-Marie and Gabrielle strongpoints), commanded by Lt-Col Trancàrt, sous-secteur Centre (central position of DBP) commanded by Lt-Col Gaucher (then Lt-Col Langlais) and sous-secteur Sud with strongpoint Isabelle, located about 4 km South of the central position and commanded by Lt-Col André Lalande, a Legion officer.

Sunday Mar 14 – Monday Mar 15, 1954

After Béatrice, taken by the Viets in the night of March 13 to 14, it has now become obvious that the next target is stronghold Gabrielle, located about 4 km North of the central position.
The position is held by V/7 RTA (5e Bataillon/7e Régiment de Tirailleurs Algériens) reinforced by a Legion platoon of 120 mm.
In the Algerian or Moroccan tirailleurs units, the cadre were French, but the troops and a majority of NCOs came from North Africa.
The battalion is commanded by Maj Roland de Mecquenem, a veteran of the campaign of Italy in 1943/44. Mecquenem, having reached the end of his 2-year tour, was supposed to hand over in the next few days the command of his battalion to his successor, Maj Kah, also present on the position. The Viet Minh wouldl decide otherwise…

Like at Béatrice, the attack begins around 1800 with a heavy artillery bombing, followed by an infantry assault of two Viet Minh regiments (regiment 88 of division 308 on the North flank of the position and regiment 165 of division 312 on the east flank).

Contrary to what happened at Béatrice however, where the odds had played against III/13 DBLE, V/7 RTA manages to keep its organisation intact and remain in contact with the central position, to get accurate artillery support from the 105mm howitzers that formed the biggest part of the French artillery. Human losses in the Viet Minh infantry are huge, but don't seem to be of any importance to Gen Giap.

Fighting heroically the ‘Turcos’ (nickname given to the tirailleurs from North Africa) manage to push back the Viets and around 0230 on March 15, they suspend their attack.
The attack resumes after about an hour break with a new artillery bombardment that last about 30 min.
On the east flank little progress are made, but on the northern flank, 4 Coy of V/7 RTA is progressively pushed back to the south of the position.
Maj de Mecquenem and Major Kah are both wounded and taken prisoners. Maj de Mecquenem will survive, but Kah will die in captivity.

On March 15 at dawn, Col de Castries decides to launch a counter-attack to support Gabrielle garrison and retake the position, which isn’t yet fully in the hands of the Viets.
Under Major Hubert de Seguin-Pazzis’ command, 2 Coys of 1 BEP, 3Coy (Lt Martin) and 4Coy (Lt Domigo) are designated along with the 5th. BPVN for this counter attack, supported by 3 of the 10 M24 Chaffee tanks present at DBP. However, it's too little, too late. The ill-conceived and insufficiently coordinated operation is a failure.

Capt Gendre, who is still holding the southernmost part of Gabrielle misinterprets the objective of the operation, assuming it is an evacuation plan and not an attack aimed at retaking Gabrielle.
He orders his men to leave their positions on the hill and join the counter-attacking force in the rice fields. The fight for Gabrielle is over. Capt Gendre will later die in captivity and will never be questioned on his decision to leave the position.

About 150 survivors of V/7 RTA are taken to Isabelle along with a few legionnaires of the mortars platoon, with their officer, Lt Clerget wounded.
During this attack some soldiers and cadre of 5 BPVN stayed back and refused to move ahead, frightened by the Viet artillery bombing.
Capt Botella decided to take the battalion apart to individual companies and disarm and demote those he considered had failed in their duty.
The various companies of 5 BPVN will keep fighting individually till the end, often with extreme bravery, probably to compensate for the cowardice of some of them.

Langlais’ decision to send 5 BPVN later became another source of controversy. The unit had been dropped the day before in the afternoon and sent to a position (future Éliane 4) that lacked any type of protection.
After spending most of the night digging fox holes, without time to rest, they were called upon at around 0500 for the operation on Gabrielle.
Contrary to 5 BPVN, 8 BPC (Bataillon de Parachutistes de Choc) of Capt Tourret, like 1 BEP, had been present at DBP uninterruptedly since Nov 1953. The unit knew very well the camp topography and was located closer to Gabrielle than 5 BPVN.
It was rumoured that Langlais wanted to keep a ‘solid’ battalion at his disposal in case of an offensice targeting sous-secteur Centre and opposed it being used for the counter-attack on Gabrielle.
After 2 days, the Viet Minh has lost an estimate of 1,500 soldiers KIA and 3 times more wounded and seriously depleted is ammunition stocks, but manage to take the two outermost positions of DBP.
The runway is now the range of their adverse artillery and landings and take-offs will become increasingly risky, until they became impossible.

The morale on the French side is badly hit and some members of the HQ lost control, like Lt-Col René Keller who had to be relieved from his command and sent back to Hanoi.
Lt-Col Charles Piroth, commanding the artillery at DBP, who had repeatedly affirmed that he was in a position to annihilate the Viet Minh artillery, commits suicide in his bunker.
Lt-Col Pierre Langlais, commander of GAP1 (Groupement Aéroporté n°1), started from this moment to take a predominant role in the defence of DBP.
In the afternoon of Mar 15, Maj Marcel Bigeard is summoned to Gen Cogny's office in Hanoi : “tu sautes demain” Cogny tells him (you'll be dropped tomorrow). His battalion, 6 BPC (Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux), is put on alert and start the preparation for what would be their last operational drop in Indochina.

Tuesday Mar 16, 1954

“Bigeard is back!” The rumour spreads across the camp when it is known that 6 BPC (Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux), commanded by one of the most famous CO in Indochina is to be dropped on DBP in the afternoon.
This unit, along with II/1 RCP (2e Bataillon/1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes) had participated 4 months earlier (Nov 20, 1953) in Opération Castor aimed at seizing the site of DBP, occupied by a small Vietminh force.
Apart from being a remarkable tactician, Maj Marcel Bigeard had the reputation of being very lucky. Superstitiously many defenders believed he would bring some of his luck with him and after all, if Bigeard was coming back, this might mean that there was still some hope.
Bigeard was in his third tour in Indochina. He was also a veteran of WWII, when he'd been trained by the Brits as a Jedburgh commando after managing to escape occupied France and join the Free French in London. He was dropped with his team in Ariege (Southwestern France) to help organize the local resistance.
Many of his comrade officers didn't appreciate the way he was always promoting himself and pushing himself in front of the cameras.
His Legion counterparts in particular (CO of 1 & 2BEP) didn't like him much. For them modesty was part an officer's ethics and Bigeard was anything but modest !
On airborne alert since the day before, 6 BPC takes off from Bach Mai military airport in Hanoi and is dropped after a 1 ½ hour flight on DZ « Simone », South of DBP, near stronghold Isabelle, commanded by Col Lalande.
Along 6 BPC is dropped ACP n°6 (Antenne Chirurgicale Parachutiste, Airborne Surgical Unit) of Lt (Medic) Vidal.
Upon landing, the paras are immediately bombarded while they're regrouping and 6 BPC suffers its first losses at DBP. Among them is Cpl Jean-Paul Hamel, who had made the cover of magazine Paris Match some years earlier. Hit by schrapnel, he loses his right arm and is medevaced the same day.
This will be the last massive day drop on DBP. Because of the Vietminh flak, and the shrinking perimeter of the camp, future airborne reinforcements will have to be dropped by night, in small groups, company by company.
After joining the central position and a strong argument with Lt-Col Langlais who has given orders directly to one his companies, without asking him before (!), Bigeard is ordered to take position on a hill East of the camp, which will later be code-named Éliane 4.
Below a picture, available on ECPAD web site. It was taken on Mar 16, 1954 by war correspondent Daniel Camus in one of the C47 (Dakota) planes lifting 6 BPC, before their take off from Hanoi. Along with cameraman Pierre Schoendoerffer, he was dropped on DBP with 6 BPC and will participate in the whole battle. Like many others he'll be taken prisoner and will have to walk his way up to the prisoners camps 700 km away. Let's keep in mind that statistically, 70% of the men who can be seen on the picture will not come back...
Soldiers of 6 BPC before their drop on DBP
Cpl Jean-Paul Hamel

Wednesday Mar 17 – Sun Mar 21, 1954

After the fall of Beatrice and Gabrielle, stronghold Anne-Marie, located South-West of Gabrielle, near the hamlet of Ban Keo, is now in the front line. Anne-Marie is made of four different positions, two are on top of a hill (Anne-Marie 1 & 2) and two (Anne-Marie 3 & 4) in the plain below, half-way to the northern end of the runway.

The position is held by Bataillon Thai n°3 (BT3), commanded by Capt Léopold Thimonnier and constituted essentially of local Thai auxiliaries. Very good at small-scale guerrilla warfare, in the jungle they are all familiar with, they are completely unfit in the current situation.
Extremely impressed by the fire power employed at DBP, submitted to an intense propaganda by the Viets who are encouraging them to desert via messages sent through loudspeakers and propaganda leaflets (these ‘psy ops’ actions will be used all along the battle), their morale declines rapidly and many just decide to ‘vanish’ in the dark.

On Mar 18, BT3 evacuates Anne-Marie without fighting. They are replaced in Anne-Marie 3 (renamed Huguette 6) by a Coy of I/2 REI (Lt Donnadieu) and in Anne-Marie 4 (renamed Huguette 7) by a Coy of 5 BPVN (Lt Rondeau). Strongpoints Anne-Marie 1 & 2 are not occupied by the Viets who will use them only as an observation post.
The remains of BT3 (those who have not deserted) are transferred to stronghold Isabelle. In April, Huguette 6 and Huguette 7 will see extremely intense fights, as they are the key to the runway.
In those days following the two big fights for Beatrice and Gabrielle, the situation is relatively ‘calm’. The Viets are occupied replacing the heavy losses suffered in the first two days and replenishing their ammunition stocks which have been significantly depleted.

No big operations are undertaken, only permanent artillery harassing just to ‘keep the pressure on’, that is causing continuous losses.
The big problem quickly becomes the evacuation of the wounded. This issue will get worse and worse and is probably the greatest tragedy of DBP.
The C47 planes used for medevacs can still land by day till March 18, but they can't stay too long on the runway. They immediately become targets for the Viet Minh artillery, in spite of the big red crosses painted on them.
Evacuations are terrible : under the Viet bombing, wounded are hastily ‘loaded’ into the plane with its engines still running, there are even scenes of fight between the most valid to get on board, and after 3 min, the klaxon goes off, doors are shut and the plane lifts off.
They have now to escape the Viet flak and are safe only when the plane is high enough. Daylight evacuations soon become too risky and a new tactic is decided : during the night of March 19 to 20, 8 planes successively take off from Hanoi. When they arrive over DBP, another plane is doing loops over the positions, with its engines at high revs, to attract the Viets' attention.
In the meantime, those designated for the medevacs, with lights and engines switched off on the final approach to stay undetectable, land as gliders on the runway which is only marked by 6 very small lights.

The pilots must definitely have had steel nerves to land ‘blind’ in those conditions on a runway partially damaged by the bombings. Some of them were WWII vets who had fought with the Free French Air Force or with the Franco/Soviet squadron “Normandie-Niemen”.
The operation is a relative success and in the first night 93 WIA are evacuated.
Night evacuations will continue in the next days, however the Viets will somehow realised the trick. Landings at DBP will become more and more difficult and finally impossible around the end of March.

Monday Mar 22, 1954

Over the days, maintaining the link between the central position and stronghold Isabelle is getting increasingly difficult. Located, about 4/5 km to the South of the central position, Isabelle is commanded by Col André Lalande who has under his orders III/3 REI (Major Henri Grand d'Esnon) and II/1 RTA of Capt Pierre Jeancenelle.
To maintain the link between Isabelle and the central position, operations of significant scale must be organised every day to ‘open the road’ and repel the Viet Minh units infiltrated during the night.

On March 22 it's 1 BEP turn. Led by Capt Vieulès, the battalion second in command (Major Guiraud, the CO, was slightly wounded the day before), the battalion is to progress from the North and make junction halfway to Isabelle with elements coming from this position. Around 0900, the battalion is pinned down by a heavy ambush set-up by the Viets waiting at the junction point.
After a 2-hour fight, the Viets are cleared from their position, with losses close to 200.
1 BEP loses 9 KIA and around 20 wounded. Among the dead are 3 officers : Lt André Lecoq, Coy CO, Lt Rémy Raynaud and Lt André Bertrand. They are buried together the following day.

Because of the increasing losses, the ground liaisons with Isabelle are progressively cancelled and by the end of March. Isabelle will fight as a standalone stronghold, and its role will be essentially the one of a fire base, supporting the central position with the 12 105mm HM2 howitzers of III/10 RAC (Régiment d'Artillerie Coloniale) of Major Alliou.

Tuesday Mar 23, 1954

2Lt Gambiez of III/3 REI, WIA on March 20, is killed when the Sikorsky chopper which was evacuating him from Isabelle is hit by the Viet artillery. He was the son of Gen Gambiez, a WWII veteran who was at this time CO of a commandos unit called 1er Bataillon de Choc.
Gen Gambiez will become years later the Chief Commanding General in Algeria and will be taken ‘prisoner’ by legionnaires of 1 REP during the Algiers putsch in April 1961. The same day, Lt-Col Lemeunier is transported to DBP by helicopter too. He replaces Lt-Col Gaucher, killed on March 13, as CO of 13DBLE. Until the end of the battle, Lt-Col Lemeunier will remain the most senior Legion officer on the battlefield.

Saturday Mar 27, 1954

On March 27 at dawn, Lt Erhart manages to land his C47 and evacuate in haste 9 wounded. Nobody knows it yet, but this will be the last successful medevac till the end of the battle.
In 2 weeks, from March 13, about 300 WIA have been evacuated. From now on, they will precariously remain in the various underground ‘hospitals’ of DBP or in the battalions aid posts, for those not too seriously wounded or the convalescents, who had been treated and need not stay in one of the main hospitals.

Two surgical units were present at the beginning of the battle: ACM (Antenne Chirurgicale Mobile – Mobile Surgical Unit) n°29 of Major Paul Grauwin, who will later become famous for this book “J’étais médecin à Diên Biên Phu” (I was a doctor at Dien Bien Phu), and ACM n°44 of Lt Jacques Gindrey.
Three more will be parachuted during the battle: ACP (Antenne Chirurgicale Parachutiste – Airborne Surgical Unit) n°3 of Lt Louis Résillot, ACP n°5 of Capt Ernest Hantz and ACP n°6 of Lt Jean Vidal.
At the end of the battle they will have treated altogether an estimated number of 4,000 wounded, executing pretty complex surgical operations in very difficult conditions.
Surprisingly, the proportion of wounded who died in one of those medical units will remain below 5%, comparable to the rate in rear echelon hospitals.

Meanwhile the French High Command has to deal with an increasing effectiveness of the Viet Minh flak, in particular the 37mm AA cannons provided by the Chinese to the heavy division 351.
Many planes are hit or shot down and after the loss of the C47 Dakota piloted by Capt Dartigues and the death of the whole crew, a decision is made the same day to stop low altitude (200m) re supply drops.

The Air Supply unit decides to install on the parachutes a makeshift timer that will allow dropping the loads at an altitude of about 3,000m, above the flak ceiling. After an initial free fall, the timer opens the canopy and the pallet normally lands safely.
In practice the system is not 100% reliable and many loads will either be destroyed during the drop or, the parachute having opened too early, will drift beyond the French lines. During the battle resupplying the besieged troops will become a more and more difficult logistical challenge for the French High Command and will eventually be the cause of the defeat.

Sunday Mar 28, 1954

Gen Cogny in Hanoi orders de Castries to do something about the Viet Minh flak.
Maj Bigeard is tasked with organising an operation aimed at destroying as much AA artillery as possible, which is essentially positioned west of the central position, near the hamlets of Ban Ong Pet and Ban Po (at the foot of former stronghold Anne-Marie).
The operation starts on Mar 28 at dawn after a heavy artillery preparation. It's spearheaded by 6 BPC and 8 BPC of Capt. Pierre Tourret, and supported by 1 BEP. Additional support is provided by M24 Shaffee tanks platoon of Lt Henri Préaud, coming from Isabelle.
The fights are very intense, sometimes hand-to-hand, and last the whole day, proving how important to the defenders the objective was. The final result of the operation is best described by the half-full/half-empty glass image. About 400 Viet Minh soldiers are killed, many weapons destroyed or captured, including AA heavy machine guns, but the main objective, the 37mm AA cannons have suffered only little damage.
6 BPC has 17 KIA, including 2 officers (Lt Michel Le Vigouroux and Lt Jean Jacobs) and 4 NCOs. 4 Coy has no valid officer left (the CO, Lt De Wilde is severely wounded and the XO, Lt Jacobs, killed). At 8 BPC the toll is 3 KIA and 39 MIA.
At stronghold Huguette 7 (former Anne-Marie 4), nickname the star-like stronghold due to its shape, the CO, Lt Rondeau of 5 BPVN is wounded by a mortar shell splinter. He's replaced by Capt Alain Bizard who is not a qualified para but volunteered nonetheless for DBP and was dropped a few days before, after a quick para instruction.

Capt Bizard will illustrate himself in the battle for the Huguettes during the month of April and will remain as one of the most heroic characters of the battle of DBP. He'll survive the battle and the captivity and will end up, as a General, CO of the French Military Academy of Saint-Cyr.
The same day, a C47 piloted by Capt. Blanchet lands at DBP slightly before dawn, for another medevac operation. The plane is damaged in a wrong manoeuvre and needs repair before taking off again.
Not surprisingly however, the immobilized plane is destroyed during the day by the Viet Minh artillery and the crew becomes stranded at DBP.
Among them, like for any medevac plane, is a young “Convoyeuse de l'Air”, a qualified nurse, in charge of looking after the wounded during the flight.
Geneviève de Galard, her name, will work for the rest of the battle in the hospital of Maj Grauwin and will later become world famous under a high-flown nickname, given by the press, which will remain in history: “the Angel of Dien Bien Phu.”

For the anecdote, she was often described as the only woman present on the battlefield. This is not exactly true, but the other, less publicized ones had a slightly less immaculate reputation: they were the ladies of the Legion BMC (military bordello) who refused to be evacuated at the beginning of the battle and will serve with a high devotion as auxiliary nurses.

Tuesday, Mar 30, 1954

“La bataille des cinq collines”
The French HQ has learnt in the few days before that a large scale offensive is scheduled in the evening of Mar 30. After 2 weeks spent in replacing their losses after the first offensive phase of March 13-15, getting fresh supplies and digging approach trenches, the Viets are now targeting the hills on the eastern flank of the camp, as shown by the approach trenches dug by the Viets that can be seen on aerial pictures taken every day and dropped on the camp after being processed at Hanoi.

From north to south, those positions, located on little hills have been code-named Dominique 1, Dominique 2 (the highest one), Dominique 5, Éliane 1 and Éliane 2. The Dominiques are held by III/3 RTA (3e Bataillon/3e Régiment de Tirailleurs Algériens) of Capt Jean Garandeau and the Élianes by I/4 RTM (1er Bataillon/4e Régiment de Tirailleurs Marocains) of Major Jean Nicolas.

During the day of Mar 30, taking advantage of a temporary lull, Lt-Col Langlais decides to inspect those positions and doesn’t like what he sees. Tirailleurs of III/3e RTA, mostly young recruits with little experience and suffering a critical lack of seasoned cadre don’t show a very high morale, Dominique 5 is being held by a Coy of BT2 (Bataillon Thai n°2) although Thai units have already proved completely unfit for this type of warfare, defences on Dominique 2 seem too ‘thin’. It’s unfortunately too late to make any significant improvement, but Langlais decides however to reinforce those positions : 4 Coy of 5 BPVN (Capt Martinais) is dispatched to Dominique 1, 1 Coy of 1 BEP (Lt Luciani) and one platoon of I/13 DBLE are sent to Éliane 2.

At 1830 the Viet Minh artillery opens fire. What will later be called by historians “la bataille des cinq collines” (the battle for the five hills) has started. After a preparation that has never been seen before, the Viet infantry enters into action, according the same scenario already seen at Béatrice and Gabrielle. Div 312 is targeting the Dominiques and Div 316 the Élianes. On Dominique 2 the Viet artillery preparation has caused big losses and partly destroyed the defence lines of barbed wire.

Less than two hours after the beginning of the offensive, the surviving defenders of the III/3 RTA Coy holding the position, abandon their positions in panic and Dominique 2 is lost. In spite of counter-attacks later in the night, where many cadre of III/3 RTA will literally sacrify themselves, the position remains in the hands of the Viets.

A similar situation happens on Éliane 1 where a Coy of I/4e RTM abandon their positions without almost any fight. Many of those soldiers, along with others, will from now on refuse to fight any more and take refuge in hand dug caves on the banks of the river Nam Youm.

They’ll be later nicknamed “Les rats de la Nam Youm” (the Nam Youm rats). The behaviour of III/3 RTA and I/4 RTM this night will also give birth to the myth that at DBP, only the Legion and the paras did really fight.
This of course is unfair and doesn’t take into account the gallantry of V/7e RTA on Gabrielle and also the resistance of the remaining part of I/4 RTM on Éliane 2 later that night. As Capt Botella, CO of 5 BPVN, would put it after the battle “the 100% pure hero, every day, every minute doesn’t exist.
The soldier that one day stormed a machine-gun nest singing, may be the same who, the day after, will remain prostrate, shaking and sweating, incapable of getting out of his fox-hole”. This is very true, but the myth will survive anyway.

Dominique 1 is lost at its turn and the road is now open for the Viets to the central position. Mixed with fleeing tirailleurs, they arrive in front of stronghold Dominique 3, at the foot of Dominique 2, where is located a battery of four 105mm howitzers, commanded by Lt Paul Brunbrouck of II/4e RAC and a Coy of III/3e RTA (Lt Filaudeau).

Although being ordered to destroy his weapons and withdraw on the other side of the river Nam Youm, Brunbrouck refuses to execute the order as he understands that his position is the last one between the Viets assault wave and the HQ.
He orders his cannons to fire at point blank range (less than 100 meters!) with a zero elevation. The Viet Minh infantry is decimated and those who are not killed by the cannons jump for protection into a nearby ditch, that had been mined.
Many dislocated bodies will be found there the following morning. Brunbrouk’s decision anyway probably prevented the Viets to win the battle that night.
On Éliane 2, the Viet Minh assaults are repeatedly blocked on a glacis, below the summit, nicknamed “Champs-Elysées” by the defenders. It's an open climbing slope which the Viet Minh assault troops have to charge through, and which is quickly turned into a ‘kill zone’, thanks in particular to a constant support from the artillery at Isabelle, very well guided by a young forward observer, 2Lt Yves Cloix.

A counter-attack by a Coy of I/2 REI is organised and helps relieve the defenders. Terrible hand-to-hand fights, with all units mixed, take place all night long in the dark or under the artificial light shed by flares dropped from a C47. Capt Russeil of I/13 DBLE, not willing to be taken prisoner when the Viets arrive only a few meters from his command post, decides to leave it and withdraw to a fall-back position.

Having left the protection of the CP, built in the cellar of the Dien Bien Phu governor's former residence, he's killed by a mortar shell. At one point, the DBP HQ, having lost radio contact with Éliane 2 and assuming it has been overwhelmed by the Viets, orders the artillery to fire directly on the position.
Having heard that order, Lt Luciani somehow manages to get back in contact with the central HQ on the radio network to inform them he and his comrades are still holding the position and asks the order to be called off.
Finally, after being on the verge to collapse several times during the night Éliane 2 (A1 according the Viet Minh name coding), remains in French hands at daybreak on March 31.

The battle for the last of the “five hills” will last 4 more days. The Viets will lose hundreds of bo-doïs repeatedly trying to attack it head-on, until finally renouncing. This is where, after the battle they will elect to erect their commemorative monument, in memory of all their soldiers killed in that “very small place”.

Re: Tuesday, Mar 31, 1954

In the morning, 1 BEP, 2Coy of Lt Fournié (who has succeeded Lt Lecoq, KIA on Mar 23) is sent to Éliane 2 as a reinforcement. At 0800 on Mar 31, Éliane 2 is 'clear' of any Viets. Not willing to be exposed during daylight on an open terrain, they've withdraw before dawn with their wounded and some of their dead.

A decision is made by the high command, to retake Dominique 2, the highest of the five hills, and Éliane 1, both lost the night before.
2 Coy (Capt Pichelin) and 3 Coy (Lt Bailly) of 8 BPC are designated for Dominique 2. 2Coy (Lt Hervé Trapp) and 3Coy (Lt Lucien Le Boudec) of 6 BPC are designated for Éliane 1.

Éliane 1 is retaken, but the counter-attack on Dominique 2 is blocked by heaving Viet Minh shelling half-way through the summit.
In the action Capt Pichelin as well as his deputy, 2Lt Pastor are KIA. Gen Cogny in Hanoi refuses to drop any reinforcement (although II/1 RCP is on airborne alert since the day before).
The terrain that was retaken has to be abandoned again, since the two severely stricken units cannot be relieved. This action will also be a source of future controversy. Many will wonder why the DBP HQ didn't call off the counter-attacks while it knew, before they started, that no reinforcement would be dropped that day?

For the second night in a row, between Mar 31 and Apr 1 the Viets try to take over Éliane 2. It's another night of hand-to-hand fights in the dark and successive counterattacks by 4Coy of 6 BPC (Lt Héry) and 2Coy of I/13 DBLE (Capt Krumenacker) help keep the position.
Tanks of Capt Yves Hervouët provide an appreciated support. One of them, named “Bazeilles”, hit by a Viet bazooka has its engine destroyed and will be used as a machine-gun nest for the rest of the battle. 60 years later, the wreck is still on top of the hill. After 2 nights of intense fights, on Apr 1, the defenders have lost 31 KIA and 69 WIA. The position is still held by the French.

Thursday Apr 1, 1954

In the night from Mar 31 to Apr 1, stronghold Huguette 7 (formerly Anne-Marie 4), on the north west of the camp, held by two platoons of I/2 REI (Lt Spozio, Lt Huguenin) who have replaced the Capt Bizard Coy of 5 BPVN, is targeted by a large Viet Minh attack.
After severe fights, the stronghold which is falling in ruins and is not longer tenable is evacuated. In the morning of Apr 1 losses for I/2 REI amount to 3 KIA, 15 WIA and 33 MIA (presumed killed), including Lt Huguenin.
II/1 RCP (Maj Jean Bréchignac) is on alert in Hanoi since March 30. 4Coy (Capt Minaud) takes off from Bach Mai airport at 2100. The drop is very difficult because of the shrinking size of the DZ and the Vietminh flak. Only about half of 4Coy can jump on the first night. The rest have to fly back to Hanoi.

Friday Apr 2, 1954

While the situation on the eastern face of the camp is still attracting most of the attention, the northernmost positions (after the loss of Gabrielle and Béatrice) are also under pressure from Viet Minh division 308.
Huguette 7, evacuated the night before by elements of I/2 REI under Lt Spozio's command is reoccupied on Apr 2 by Capt Bizard and his Coy of 5 BPVN.
The position is in ruins. It cannot be held as it is and time and manpower are lacking to rebuild it. A decision is made to evacuate it definitively.

In the night of Apr 2 to 3, another Coy of II/1 RCP (3Coy, Capt Charles) is dropped, with the same difficulties as previously, due to the small size of the DZ and the Vietminh flak. Planes can drop only a maximum of 10 paras in a row, forcing them to make several loops over the camp.

Apr 2 is the third consecutive day of battle on Éliane 2. Although the situation has become less critical that in the first two days, the pressure is still high.
The Viet Minh troops, not having drawn the lessons of their past failures, keep attacking the position from the ‘Champs Elysées’ and keep being crunched by the defenders and the artillery, but regardless of the losses, Giap still wants the ‘fifth hill’.

Sunday Apr 4, 1954

On Apr 4 at dawn, the Viets evacuate the portion of Éliane 2 they were holding, after more than 4 days and nights of uninterrupted fights and madness. The battle for the ‘fifth hill’ is over and on the position the dead are more numerous than the living...

This failure and the huge losses on the Vietminh side will have serious consequences on the morale. For the first time in the battle some bo-doïs are seen dropping their weapons and surrendering.
By eavesdropping on Viet Minh radio network, the French Military Intelligence (so-called “2e Bureau”) will learn that the CO leading the attack on Éliane 2 has been relieved from his command and the units participating in the assault temporarily withdrawn from the battlefield.
This will allow the cadre to undertake their self-criticism and the troops to receive further indoctrination from their political commissioners, in the most classic Marxist tradition.

Between Apr 3 and 4, for the third night, detachments of 2/1 RCP are being dropped on DBP, taking off from Bach Maï airfield from 1900. 304 men manage to parachute into the entrenched camp, including the CO, Major Jean Bréchignac, 3 Coy of Capt Charles hand half of 2 Coy of Capt Marcel Clédic.
Lt-Col Langlais however realises that if nothing is done it will take ages to drop the whole battalion. He finally orders to install a drum full of petrol on a sandbank of the river Nam Youm, set it on fire and use it as a beacon for the C47 pilots.
After a few hesitations, feeling that this is not exactly in line with the regulations in force for a para drop, the pilots finally obey and from now on, all future reinforcements will be dropped directly on the central position, in the middle of the trenches and barbed wires.

Quite surprisingly, the losses will not be significantly higher, compared to a drop on a ‘regulatory’ DZ. This initiative however will not help mend the already very tense relationship between Lt-Col Langlais and Col Sauvagnac, the CO of all airborne troops in Indochina and a stickler for the rules.
On the northwest side of the camp, stronghold Huguette 6, situated at the northern end of the runway and held by Capt Jacques Donnadieu of I/2 REI is in front line. His company has been under heavy strain for several days, following the loss of « Huguette 7 ». Maj Clémençon (CO of I/2 REI) informs him he'll be relieved on Aprl 5 but orders him to stay on the position until then.

On Apr 4 in the evening, the Vietminh attack starts, preceded - as always - by a heavy artillery and mortar preparation. Lt-Col Langlais decides to launch a counterattack spearheaded by a Coy of 8 BPC (Lt Bailly), supported by tanks commanded by 2nd Lt Mengelle. The operation doesn't succeed, and 8 BPC is pinned down along the runway by an intense small arms fire. Lt Defline, deputy of Lt Bailly, is severely wounded and evacuated.
Lt-Col Langlais orders another offensive to help keep Huguette 6, this time with 2 Coy of II/1 RCP (Capt Clédic), dropped the night before (!). Clédic orders his men to charge in open terrain through the runway and succeeds in breaking through the Viets lines.

When they finally enter the position perimeter, they find only a few valid legionnaires left, who had resigned themselves to doing another Camerone.

Capt Donnadieu, severely wounded during the night dies on April 5. Vietminh losses are estimated around 500, on the French side, the official toll is 23 KIA, 112 WIA and 86 missing (presumed dead).
The picture below is a quite rare document. Taken during the night of Apr 3 to 4, 1954, it shows two paras of II/1 RCP, before take-off, in the C47 (Dakota) plane taking them to DBP.
Left is Caporal Lucien Gauthier, right is 2e classe Richard Sauret. Cpl Gauthier will survive the battle, with a citation for his gallantry, be captured and released by the Viets in late August 1954. Pvt Sauret will be KIA on Apr 22, aged 19.

For the former paras on the forum who have one day lost a helmet when the parachute opened, note the trick of attaching it with a small cord to the parachute harness. Not sure if they are showing off for the photographer or what, but they don't look like people on their way to Hell...
Something that may also ring a bell for the former repmen on the forum of deCervens. Below is the so-called “Carnet de sauts” (official name being Carnet Individuel des Services Aériens) of Cpl Gauthier, that was kept in rear echelon. The last line give the details of his drop on DBP.
From left to right : Date (4/4/54) - his role on board : Para - Name of the pilot : Capt Desnoyers, etc. The altitude stated (300m) is probably not right (must have been dropped from a lower altitude). Flight time (2h50) seems a bit long since DBP was about only 300km from Hanoi. It might mean that the plane had to circle a certain time over DBP before being able to drop the guys.

P.S : thanks to Bruno Gauthier, son of Lucien, who authorised me to use those pictures and gave me the details.

Re: Sunday Apr 4, 1954

On Apr 5, 2 Coy of II/1 RCP (Capt Clédic) which successfully counterattacked in the previous night to help keep the position is relieved on Huguette 6 by 4Coy of Capt Émilien Minaud. During the night of Apr 5 to 6, the rest of II/1 RCP (177 men) is dropped on the camp. It took five nights to drop the entire battalion, while 5 BPVN and 6 BPC could be dropped in one go, in early days of the battle.

Friday April 9, 1954

On Huguette 6, 4Coy of II/1 RCP (Capt Minaud), is relieved by a Coy of I/2 REI (Lt François).
Minaud was holding the position since Apr 5, when a successful counter attack managed to keep the position in French possession. His company is transferred to stronghold Éliane 2. In the night of Apr 8 to 9 begins the drop of 2 BEP. They are relieved from their mission of planes protection at the Gia Lam airport in Hanoi and sent to join their brothers in arms of 1 BEP, who have been present at DBP since the beginning of the battle.

A decision is made by Lt-Col Langlais and Maj Bigeard to retake position Éliane 1. It was lost on March 30, during the large Viet offensive on the “five hills”, retaken by 6 BPC on March 31, but abandoned the same day due to lack of reinforcement.
From a tactical standpoint the decision is justified by the fact that the Viets, from above Éliane 1, have direct views over Éliane 4, making this position extremely difficult to keep. Any mistake is immediately punished by a Viet sniper or a recoilless gun.

Now that a ‘fresh’ unit (II/1 RCP) is available to relieve the assault units, the operation appears more feasible.
It is scheduled for the following day (Apr 10). 2 Coys of 6 BPC are designated, commanded by Lt Trapp and Lt Le Boudec. During the night, Bigeard orders to dig an approach trench from Éliane 4 to Éliane 1, which will help the assault troops to get to their starting base, as closely as possible to their objective, under some protection.

. Saturday April 10, 1954

On Apr 10 at 0630, after a 30mn artillery shelling, the offensive to retake position Éliane 1 is launched by 2 Coys of 6 BPC, supported by two teams of flame throwers, operated by legionnaires of 1 BEP. In total, around 200 men are attacking a position held by a whole Viet-Minh battalion of about 800 men.
The operation is coordinated by Maj Bigeard, from his CP dug on Éliane 4. Given the numeric disadvantage, Bigeard of course cannot attack Éliane 1 in a frontal assault and decides to use infiltration tactics, to isolate and reduce one by one all Viet positions on the hill.

Around 1200, the hill top is taken by the French after severe hand-to-hand fights. The Viets are pushed back beyond the crest of the hill, but are still holding part of the opposite slope..
2 Coys of II/1 RCP (3Coy, Capt Charles and 4Coy, Capt Minaud) are ordered to move to Éliane 1 and relieve the assault units at the beginning of the afternoon.
4 Coy is coming from the nearby Éliane 2 where it was positioned since the day before. 3Coy is coming from Dominique 3, where it's been relieved by 7Coy of 2 BEP (Capt Charles Delafond), parachuted the previous night.
In the movement, Capt Delafond is killed by a mortar shell, less than 24h after his arrival at DBP. The two II/1 RCP Coys take their positions on Éliane 1, severely damaged by the combats in the morning and only a few dozens meters away from the Viet trenches.

The same day, on Huguette 6 at the northern end of the runway, Coy of Lt François (I/2 REI) is reinforced by Capt Bizard, with a Coy of 5 BPVN, who takes command of the position. In the night from Apr 10 to 11, the Viets launch an offensive to retake Éliane 1. The action rapidly turns into a series of local hand-to-hand fights, the adversaries struggling for a piece of collapsed trench or an individual foxhole.

In the night, Capt Charles is severely wounded by a hand grenade and is evacuated from the position, leaving the command to Capt Minaud alone. Lt Guilhon is killed, along with several NCOs but at dawn, the paras of II/1 RCP have managed to keep the position. This is the first day of what will be an uninterrupted 3 week close combats period on Éliane 1, where all Coys of II/1 RCP will alternatively hold the position, until its final loss on May 1.

Sunday Apr 11, 1954

This is Palm Sunday. In the morning of Apr 11, Lt-Col Langlais and Maj Bréchignac (CO of II/1 RCP) decide to go on inspection to Éliane 1 which was, the night before, the theatre of intense hand-to-hand fights.
The objective is more to boost the morale of the defenders than anything else, as there's little they can do to reinforce the position. Lt Minaud is worried that they may be killed or wounded by a sniper or a shrapnel, and pushes them to cut their inspection short and leave the position.

The position has become extremely difficult to organise. The trenches and fire bases are collapsing as the dirt has become extremely friable.
When soldiers try to dug new foxholes, they find several layers of decomposing bodies French and Viet Minh all mixed.
In the evening of Apr 11, for the second night in a row, the Viets launch an attack to retake Éliane 1. It's another night of madness, with terrible close combats, on a position where the soldiers risk getting killed or buried alive at any moment by a shell impact.

In the middle of the night, feeling the position might be lost, Maj Bigeard, decides to send a platoon of 6 BPC, commanded by Lt Gilles de Fromont, as a reinforcement and ask Maj Guiraud to send 3Coy of 1 BEP (Lt Louis Martin), soon followed by a Coy of 5 BPVN.

Then, suddenly, as recounted by Bernard Fall in his book (Hell in a very small place), « something very strange happened. Something which, in the recollection of the thousands of men who heard it that night, had rarely happened before in Indochina . As the hundred legionnaires and French paratroopers stormed across the low saddle between Éliane 4 and Éliane 1, they began to sing »

The French and the legionnaires had marching songs going back to their founding. The legionnaires of 1 BEP started to sing their regimental song “Contre les Viets” but the Vietnamese paratroopers of 5 BPVN had « [no such]… rousing marching song that could be shouted at the top of one’s lungs if only to drive out one’s fright.
But there was one song which was then still in the cultural inventory of every Vietnamese schoolboy, and that was the French national anthem, La Marseillaise.
As the Vietnamese paratroopers in turn emerged on the fire-beaten saddle between the hills there suddenly arose, for the first and last time in the Indochina War, the Marseillaise. It was sung in the way it had been written to be sung in the days of the French Revolution, as a battle hymn of the French Republic.

It was sung that night on the blood stained slopes of hill Éliane 1 by Vietnamese fighting other Vietnamese in the last battle France fought as an Asian Power ».
Lt de Fromont is killed at 0110 on Apr 12, but in the morning, the position is still held by the French. In 2 nights, II/1 RCP, dropped one week before, has lost 19 KIA, 25 missing (presumed killed) and 65 WIA.

Monday Apr 12, 1954

Stronghold Huguette 6, commanded by Capt Bizard, with a Coy of 5 BPVN and a Coy of II/2 REI (Lt François) is getting more and more isolated by the trenches the Viets are digging around.
After the big frontal offensive phase of end March/early April and in order to limit as much as possible the losses, Gen Giap has inaugurated a new tactic, consisting of progressively ‘nibbling’ the French positions, and maintaining the ‘pressure‘ with permanent artillery shellings. On Apr 12, 2 officers are killed on the position, 2nd Lt Thien (5 BPVN) and Lt Jacques Rastouil (I/2 REI).

Tuesday Apr 13, 1954

Lt Paul Brunbrouck of II/4 RAC, is very severely wounded in the back by a shell that penetrates into his CP. He was the one who had probably saved the camp when - during the Viet offensive in the night of Mar 30 to 31 - he had refused to evacuate his position on Dominique 3 and stopped their infantry hurtling down from Dominique 2 by ordering his men to fire their 4 105mm howitzers horizontally, at point blank range.
Before being evacuated to the hospital Lt Brunbrouck exhorts his men to keep fighting as they've done so far and hands over the command of his battery to his deputy, 2Lt Baysset. Upon arrival to the DBP hospital, the medics realise that his wound is too serious to be operated with any serious chance of success.
Like always for all the morituri (those who are going to die), he's given morphin to alleviate the pain and after a few minutes Lt Brunbrouck dies. He's buried next to the hospital.

Thursday Apr 15, 1954

Resupplying strongholds Huguette 1 (on the west side of the former runway, about half-way between the beginning and the end of it) and Huguette 6, on the northern end, is getting increasingly difficult. On Apr 15 it takes 5h to bring them all they need, including drinking water.
A real operation has to be set up, with companies tasked with neutralising the trenches dug by the Viet Minh around the two positions and across the runway and others protecting the prisoners of war, called PIMs (Prisonniers Internés Militaires), used as coolies to carry the payload.
The troops involved suffer 28 losses in the operation. Huguette 6 is now almost completely isolated, since the Viet trenches are crossing the former runway, between Huguette 1 and Huguette 6.

Saturday 17 - Sunday 18 April, 1954

In the evening of April 17, a decision is made by Col de Castries, in agreement with Langlais and Bigeard, to evacuate Huguette 6, held by 1Coy of 5 BPVN, under Capt Alain Bizard and a Marching company of I/2 REI (former 1 and 3 Coy amalgamated), under Lt Jean François.
The position is completely surrounded by Viet Minh trenches. Since it has now become like an ‘island in a Viet Minh sea’, it has no longer any tactical interest and resupplying it has become virtually impossible.
Maj Clémençon (CO of I/2 REI) is entrusted with coordinating the operation. 1 BEP, reduced by the losses to 2 Coys commanded by Lt Martin and Lt Bienvault, moves to Huguette 1 with a mission to make a liaison with Huguette 6 and support the garrison while they are evacuation their position.

Fights are intense and during the night a Coy of 6 BPC (Lt Le Page) is sent as a reinforcement. However, the French elements are unable to reach Huguette 6 and Capt Bizard is given all latitude to try and escape the position or surrender.
At dawn, on April 18, Bizard decides to evacuate Huguette 6, without any external support. He knows that losses will be high, since between Huguette 6 and Huguette 1 (the closest position hold by the French) they will have to cross several Viet defense lines.

Before leaving, Bizard orders his men to put sand bags on their back and chest as kind of makeshift bullet-proof vests. The wounded who can't walk by themselves are left behind in the position, then, like in 1942 at Bir Hakeim, the big rush is launched to break through the Viet lines, counting on a surprise effect.

The operation is a success, but the detachment (about 150 men) has suffered 50% losses, among which Lt François of I/2 REI, who was KIA soon after leaving the position. For 1 BEP, who spent the whole night fighting around Huguette 1, the toll is 17 KIA and 78 WIA. Following the evacuation of Huguette 6, Huguette 1 is now on the front line and will be the next ‘hot spot’ at DBP. The Viets have progressed 800m towards the central position.

Monday April 19, 1954

On Apr 19, Major Coutant, CO of I/13 DBLE is ordered to send a Coy on Huguette 1, to relieve the company of Capt Bourges (I/2 REI). 4 Coy of Capt Jacques Chevallier is designated. At 2100, Chevallier and his men leave Huguette 3 and are soon pinned down by the Viet Minh artillery and light weapons fire.
They have to fight all night long, with artillery support, to be able to make their way through to Huguette 1 that they manage to reach at dawn. The distance was only 300m.

Capt Chevallier's company has lost 1/3 of its manpower and is now reduced to 80 able-bodied men. Lt Galopin (I/4 RTM) who was protecting the resupply column, going with I/13 DBLE element is killed in the operation.
Capt Bourges and his company leave Huguette 1. It will take two hours for them to get back to Huguette 3 the ‘second line’ of defense, only 200m away. Behind them, the curtain has fallen around Huguette 1. Like Huguette 6, a couple of days before, the position is almost entirely surrounded by approach trenches dug by the Viet ‘coolies’ and this is definitely their next objective.

Thursday April 22, 1954

During three days, Huguette 1 is attacked every night by battalions of regiment n°36 of Division 308. The legionnaires of Capt Chevallier 4 Coy I/13 DBLE are fighting alone, without any possible reinforcement or even resupply.
The Viets have dug numerous approach trenches, including some that are going under the various lines of barbed wire and in the evening of Apr 22, they launch the final assault. This is the coup de grâce. At 2300, the radio contact with Huguette 1 is lost. Nobody knows exactly what happened, but all realise that the position has changed hands.

Only one man, on the 60 or so left on the last day, manages to escape the position and join the French lines at dawn. Interrogated by Gen de Castries (he's been promoted from Col a few days before), legionnaire Josef Unterleschner recounts the last fights on the position and tells that it was like if the Viets were just surging from below the ground, just in front, or even behind the first trenches.
It quickly turned into a totally confused hand-to-hand fight. Capt Chevallier is last seen fighting on the roof of his CP and quickly disappears in the middle of the mass of Viets soldiers. Nobody will ever see him again.

Friday April 23, 1954

Gen de Castries decides to retake Huguette 1, against Langlais' and Bigeard's opinions. 2 BEP, which is the most recently dropped unit and, with about 400 men left, the one with less losses, is designated for the operation. The ground elements will be commanded by Maj Hubert Liesenfeldt, CO of 2 BEP.
Scheduled to start at 1400, it will be preceded by an artillery preparation and bombing by 4 B26 of the Air Force and close air support by the Hellcats of the Navy aircraft carrier Arromanches (squadron 12F). Supported by 2 tanks, 5Coy (Lt de Biré) will attack northwards, from Huguette 2 while 7Coy (Lt Jacques Lecour-Grandmaison, who replaced Capt Delafond, KIA on Apr 10) and 8Coy (Lt Pétré) will attack westwards, across the runway, from stronghold Opéra, built by 8 BPC. 6 Coy (Capt Émilien Boulinguiez) will be held in reserve at Opéra.

Very soon it appears that the operation is improperly coordinated. Artillery preparation and aerial bombing start while 2 BEP has not yet reached its starting positions.
When it finally launches the assault, the Viets have had enough time to recover from the heavy and accurate bombing, send reinforcements and brace themselves for the hand-to-hand fight.
When they launch their assault, across the flat terrain of the runway, with little or no shelter, the legionnaires are almost immediately pinned down by a very accurate and intense fire of automatic weapons. Some elements manage to reach the first lines of Huguette 1 but the attack makes little progress.

Castries realises around 1530 that something is going wrong and orders Bigeard, who is having a rest after a sleepless night, to go see what's going on. When he arrives at Liesenfeldt's CP on Huguette 3, he quickly realises that the 2 BEP CO has a limited and inaccurate view of the actual situation.
Worse, it appears that the radio frequencies are not properly set, or have been scrambled by a ‘fading’ effect due to the metallic mass of the Perforated Steel Plates used to build the runway.

Without contact with his companies fighting 300m north, Liesenfeldt assumes that everything is going right, while actually the operation is being derailed. Realising the situation is hopeless, Bigeard finally decides to abort the attack and orders 2 BEP to withdraw. The retreat is as costly as the assault, as the legionnaires have to cross again the runway in the opposite direction, under heavy fire.

In total 2 BEP loses over 80 men, wounded or killed. Among the KIA are 2 officers, Lt Jean Garin, who – badly wounded on the runway during the retreat – decides to commit suicide when he sees his men taking huge risks to recover him and Capt Léonce Picatto who had arrived during the fight to replace Lt de Biré, WIA. 4 officers are wounded, including two Coy CO, Lt de Biré and Pétré.
During the fight, F6F-Hellcat of Enseigne de Vaisseau (equivalent of Captain in the Navy) Bernard Klotz is shot down by the Viet flak. He manages to eject and lands very near the Viet lines. He's saved by elements of I/13 DBLE of SCH Gniewek.
Since he's the highest ranking Navy Officer in the camp, Klotz will be humorously nominated COMAR (Commandant de la Marine) Dien Bien Phu, Navy Commander at Dien Bien Phu.

Due to the losses, 1 BEP and 2 BEP are merged two days after into one single unit (so-called Bataillon de Marche). Major Liesenfelt, CO of 2BEP, is held responsible for the failure (some say a scapegoated) and will be side-lined for the rest of the battle.
Following the loss of Huguette 1, DBP is approximately reduced to a square of about 1.5 km each side. The Viets are 600m from Castries CP and the camp has got 2 more weeks to live.

Saturday April 24 – Thursday April 29, 1954

This short period of time sees no large scale operations. Only the usual harassment from the Viet artillery and limited coups de mains, to regain 10m here or plug a new Viet approach trench there, which is getting too close.
Both adversaries are exhausted and Giap has to replace the severe losses suffered during the bataille des cinq collines on the east flank and the battle for the Huguette's on the west side. Young recruits, often with less than a month of instruction are called in from all over the places controlled by the Viet Minh and the Chinese supplies keep flowing from the northern border.

On the French side, resupplying the camp has got increasingly difficult during the month of April, despite all the efforts by the Aviation, some pilots flying two or three missions a day. Volunteers, para-qualified or not, keep arriving every night, from all parts of Indochina.
Finally Lt-Col Langlais has won his argument with Col Sauvagnac who wanted to have the non para-qualified volunteers to receive a formal training before being dropped. The bureaucracy however will take its revenge after the battle, by denying those volunteers the right to wear the paras wings.
They will only receive a document, certifying that they have volunteered to jump on DBP and it will take months of squabble to finally allow those ‘one-jump paras’ to wear the wings.
In total around 700 individual volunteers will be dropped on the camp. Among them is Lt Maurice Schmitt, an artillery forward observer, who will hold, at the end of is career, between 1987 and 1991, the position of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the French army. He wrote his memoirs under the title De Dien Bien Phu à Koweït City.

One unit even volunteers [I]‘en bloc’, II/3 REI of Maj Raymond Cabaribère. Captured by the Viets in Laos, in Feb 1954, after his battalion was caught in an ambush, Cabaribère manages to escape the PoW camp just a few days after his capture. Two months after joining back his unit in April, he sends a telegram to Gen Cogny, requesting his battalion to be dropped on the camp.
Unfortunately, he is KIA near Haiphong, before that could happen and the request is finally turned down.
The current Legion base of the DLEM in Mayotte is named after Maj Cabaribère.

Friday April 30, 1954

Camerone at DBP. The most senior Legion officer present in the camp, Lt-Col Maurice Lemeunier, who volunteered to replace Lt-Col Gaucher after he was KIA on Mar 13, pays a visit to the CP of Gen de Castries, in impeccable uniform and polished shoes.
Col Langlais and Lt-Col Bigeard are made honorary corporals of the Legion, Castries and nurse Geneviève de Galard are made honorary legionnaires first class and everybody drinks Cognac, pulled from the secret reserves of the Legion, to celebrate those ‘promotions’...

Lt-Col Lemeunier reads the account of the Camerone fight over the radio network, for the legionnaires on the front line. Since mid-April the heavy spring monsoon rains have transformed DBP into a gigantic and filthy mud pool and the front line soldiers are staying in their trenches with mud up to their knees.

The day is relatively quiet, only one skirmish is mentioned in the daily report, with legionnaires setting up an ‘operation’ to recover a parachuted parcel that has fallen near the Viet Minh lines and contains Vinogel.
This ‘substance’ is partially dehydrated wine and comes in metal cans. It has to be mixed with a certain amount of water to, in theory, become regular 12% alcohol red wine again. But, since potable water is getting scarce, many don't bother and just drink it pure...
All legionnaires celebrate Camerone the best they can, thinking with some nostalgia of the traditional festivities that must take place elsewhere.
The last 4 or 5 days have seen no major operations, except the usual harassment from the Viet Minh artillery that causes new losses every day.
Recoiless rifles in particular installed on Dominique 2 (the highest hill taken on Mar 30) are taking on anybody that is seen out of their trenches or bunkers and force the besieged garrison to live underground (the trench network linking the remaining strongholds is nicknamed “Le métro”, the Tube). Volunteers are still coming in every night.

After many discussions, twist and turns, Operation Vulture (Vautour in French), a massive bombardment by USAF B29 on the Viet Minh supply lines and rear bases around DBP is cancelled. Opération Condor (aka Opération “D”), is launched in the last days of April.
A rescue column is sent from Laos, through the jungle. It's commanded by Jedburgh veteran Captain Jean Sassi with GCMA Malo. They have to make their junction with two other GCMAs (Servan and Rodeur) consisting of Mèo partisans.
In total they form a force of about 1'500 men, whose mission is to launch attacks on the Viet Minh communication and supply lines and create confusion, to release the pressure on the DBP garrison. The Viets have taken advantage of those same days to get fresh supplies and reinforcements. They are now ready for the final act...

Saturday May 1 – Sunday May 2, 1954

On May 1, at 1700, starts the most intense artillery preparation ever seen since the beginning of the battle. It will last 3 hours. For the Viet Minh, this is the final effort to take DBP.
On the eastern side, Éliane 1, Éliane 2 and Dominique 3 are attacked from 2030. Dominique 3 is held by 8Coy of BT 2 (Thaï Battalion #2) commanded by Lt Pagès and the last company of III/3 RTA under Capt Filaudeau. Major Thomas, who has taken over command of 6 BPC, now that Bigeard is part of Gen de Castries' staff, sends 3Coy, under Capt Perret, as a reinforcement.

After a first assault, repelled by the defenders, the position sees hand-to-hand fighting inside the perimeter. In spite of counter-attacks, reinforced by 5 Coy of BT 2 (Lt de la Malène), the position is lost around 0400 on May 2. Capt Perret and Lt Pagès are wounded and captured by the Viets. Lt de la Malène is wounded also but manages to join the French lines with his unit.

Above Dominique 3, Éliane 1 and Éliane 2 are also under Viet infantry attack from 2030. Eliane 1 is held by remains of 3 and 4Coy of II/1 RCP, under Lt René Leguéré (after both 3 and 4Coy company commanders, Capt Charles and Minaud were wounded 3 weeks before).
For them, this is also the final act. After 3 weeks of uniterrupted fights, the position is littered with dozens of dead bodies and the ground has become as friable as sand.

The Viet Minh have delimited with little flags the axis of the main assault and hundreds of soldiers are advancing towards the French positions. The artillery could transform this into a slaughter, but they are desperately low on ammunition and too many positions are requesting support.

After 30min. of close quarter fight, 3Coy of II/1 RCP has virtually ceased to exist as an organised unit. It is reduced to soldiers fighting individually or by groups of 2 or 3 for a piece of collapsed trench or a foxhole.
Lt Leguéré wounded early in the fight is lying in his CP and calls for reinforcement. Maj Bréchignac sends in 1 Coy, under Lt Yves Périou, which arrives on the position around 2100.
Then starts a night of total madness, crazy counter-attacks at 10 against 100 or 200. Paras of II/1 RCP fight tooth and nail to keep their positions, but there's no miracle. Lost on Mar 30, retaken on Mar 31 and lost again the same day, retaken on Apr 10, the position is definitely lost on May 2.
At dawn, on out of the 180 men that participated in the defense of Éliane 1, 18 manage to make it back to Éliane 4, the ‘second line’, including Lt Leguéré. Lt Périou will never be seen again and is probably still buried where he was killed, on top of the doomed hill.

On the Western flank, Viet Minh division 308 has launched two diversionary attacks, on Lily, a stronghold that has been hastily built at the end of April, to protect the central area of the camp after the fall of Huguette 1 and then on Huguette 4, held by the remains of the two BEPs, merged into a single unit, BMEP (Bataillon de Marche Étranger Parachutiste).

Everything becomes quiet again, until suddenly a massive assault is launched against Huguette 5 at 0200. The position is held by another Coy of the BMEP, under Capt Luciani. The Viet Minh have brought in the plain at the foot of former stronghold Anne-Marie, a battery of eight 105mm howitzers and two companies of 120mm mortars. When the artillery preparation stops, Viet Minh regiments 88 and 102 launch their assault. 3'000 soldiers against less than 100 : a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

After 1½ h of hand-to-hand fight, the position is lost. Capt Luciani is wounded and taken prisoner, 2Lt Boibouvier is MIA. Lt de Stabenrath is also wounded but manages to crawl out of the position after staying unconscious for several hours.
Too weak to progress any further, he lies in the no man's land until he is recovered by legionnaire Grana – who volunteered to rescue him – and taken to the hospital.
Lt de Stabenrath will survive the battle, but he eventually dies on May 13, for lack of proper medical care and because his case had not been considered serious enough by the Viets to allow his medevac to a French rear base.
Around 0400 a counter-attack of 50 I/2 REI legionnaires, starting from Huguette 2, is launched to retake Huguette 5, but is quickly blocked by the Viet Minh artillery. The position is definitively lost.

On May 2 in the evening, in the daily situation assessment, Langlais and Bigeard realise that it has gone from bad to worse. Three more positons (Éliane 1, Dominique 3 and Huguette 5) have been lost.
After many vacillations and ‘bickering’ with Gen Cogny and Col Langlais, Gen Henri Navarre – Commander in Chief in Indochina – finally accepts to send the last para battalion to DBP. In Hanoi, 1 BPC commanded by Capt de Bazin de Bezons is put on alert.

Monday May 3, 1954

The first company of 1 BPC designated to jump on DBP during the night of May 2 to 3 is 2Coy of Capt Marcel Edme, a Free French SAS WWII veteran, who participated among others in Operation Armhest, with his British counterparts.
When the company is gathered for the jump, quite surprisingly, nobody is missing, although by now the fate of the besieged camp is obvious. Even the sick and the convalescent have ‘escaped’ from the hospital and show up, or those whose tour is over and are repatriable.
They do it for no sensible reason, other than to be “with their buddies”.
Due to the bad conditions (rainstorms and Viet Minh flak), only 107 men can be dropped, out of 122 in total. Upon arrival Capt Edme's company is sent to Éliane 2, to reinforce the legionnaires of I/13 DBLE.
The Viets have started digging a tunnel below Éliane 2, that will be later filled with 1 ton of explosives... The men on top of the hill can hear the sappers digging.
The day is relatively quiet, like often after heavy fights. An opportunity for each side to recover their dead and wounded and get some rest.

Tuesday May 4, 1954

Huguette 4 (renamed Lily 3), held by 1Coy of I/4 RTM (Lt Perrin) is lost on May 4 around 0400. A counter-attack by 3Coy of I/13 DBLE, and a mix of Thaïs and Moroccans from I/4 RTM is blocked soon after leaving their assault starting position.
During the night of May 3 to May 4, another company of 1 BPC, 3Coy under Capt Jean Pouget is dropped on the camp, 3Coy. An aide-de-camp to Gen Navarre, Pouget voluntarily left his riskless position to jump on DBP. He'll later become famous during the Algeria war, in particular for his role during the uprising in Algiers on May 13, 1958 that will bring Gen De Gaulle back to power.

When the morning comes, the sky is grey and it keeps raining. Gen de Castries decides to visit the wounded who are in the various underground hospitals. He presents many of of them with decorations, but all he can give are pieces of paper as certificates of decorations, the only exception being nurse Geneviève de Galard, who is made chevalier de la Légion d'Honneur and receives the cross given to her by a wounded officer.

Bigeard and Langlais visit the last positions on the Eastern side : Éliane 4, held by the remains of II/1 RCP 2Coy commanded by Capt Marcel Clédic and the battalion mortars commanded by Lt Césarini, one Coy of 5 BPVN commanded by Capt Phu, with survivors of another Coy and the battalion mortars commanded by 2nd Lt Pierre Latanne. Éliane 2 is held by 2 Coys of 1 BPC and for several days now the Viets have been digging a tunnel below the hill.

At the foot of Éliane 2 and Éliane 4, Éliane 10 is held by the remains of 6 BPC, commanded by Capt Thomas, and Éliane 3 by one Coy of I/4 RTM (Capt Nicod). On boths positions are more that 300 wounded who didn't want to be evacuated or have left one of the main hospitals after being operated.
In the last days of the battle many wounded or are not forced to stay lying in the hospital will join back the front line. One will see on all positions amputees, wounded having lost an eye, others with plasters, joining their comrades and taking part in the fights, holding any possible role, compatible with their state. In the afternoon a B26 bomber is taken down by the Viet Minh flak.

Wednesday May 5, 1954

In spite of bad weather, hampering aerial activity 86 men of 4Coy of 1 BPC, under Capt Jean Tréhiou, a former member of the French resistance during WWII, are dropped in the night from May 4 to 5.
Tréhiou insisted to be with his company, although he was wounded some days before and still has one of his ankles in plaster. Nobody knows it yet, but these will be the last unit to be dropped on the camp.

3Coy of 1 BPC (Capt Pouget) relieves the I/13 DBLE Coy of Capt Coutant on Éliane 2, joining 2Coy of Capt Edme who has taken position the day before. The Viet Minh artillery harassment gets stronger and stronger and C119 keep dropping supplies at high altitude. Because of the lack of precision and the reduced size of the French perimeter most of the tonnage however is lost and recovered by the Viets.
On the west bank of river Nam Youm, two strongholds are still covering the central CP: Épervier (aka Dominique 4), held by Capt Bizard and his men of 5 BPVN reinforced by elements of 8 BPC and Huguette 2, which nobody can really say which unit is holding it. Probably a mix of legionnaires paratroopers from BMEP and Moroccans of I/4 RTM. Less than 50 men in total.

Feeling that the camp will not be able to resist much longer, Gen de Castries and his staff start preparing so-called “Opération Albatros”. The idea is to leave behind the wounded and all the heavy equipment and regroup all the able bodied men to break southwards, through the Viet Minh lines, to join the forces of Isabelle and then escape the valley towards Laos. That's the last resort option to avoid total defeat.

Thursday May 6, 1954

91 men of 1 BPC, the remaining parts of 2, 3 and 4Coy, are dropped in the night from May 4 to 5. Nobody knows it yet, but they will be the last reinforcements dropped on the camp. In the afternoon, C119 “Flying boxcar” #149, flying a resupply mission over Isabelle, from its base in Cat Bi, near Haiphong, is hit twice by the Viet Minh flak.
The crew is made of two American ‘civilian’ CAT (Civil Air Transport) pilots, James “Earthquake McGoon” McGovern and Wallace Bufford, and three French bailers in the cargo compartment, commanded by a young officer.
McGovern manages fly his crippled plane for about 120 km before decide to try a crash landing on a jungle airstrip in Laos. “Looks like this is it, son” are his last words transmitted on the radio.
The left wing hits a tree in its attempt to reach the airstrip a mere half-mile away and crashes on the ground. Both pilots are killed on the spot. Two bailers are also killed in the crash but the other two crew members are captured alive by pro-communist Laotian partisans.
Pvt Moussa, severy injured, passes away a few days later and only 2Lt Jean Arlaux, 24, will survive. He had arrived in Indochina less than 2 weeks before.

McGovern's skeletal remains were discovered in an unmarked grave in northern Laos in 2002. They were identified in September 2006 by laboratory experts at the U.S. military's Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.
He was interred in Arlington National Cemetery on May 24, 2007.
McGovern and Buford are probably the first American KIA in Indochina, the first of a long list. On February 24, 2005 both were posthumously awarded (along with six other surviving pilots) the Légion d'Honneur with the rank of knight (Chevalier) by the French President Jacques Chirac for their actions in supplying Dien Bien Phu during the 57-day siege.

The day before, a new weapon has appeared in DBP, similar to the Russian katyouchas, or German Nebelwerfer of WWII. Those rockets, fired by group of 6, have a devastating effect adding to the already heavy strain put on the camp.
On the eastern side, 4Coy of 1 BPC (Capt Tréhiou) is sent to Éliane 4 to reinforce the remaining elements of II/1 RCP and 5 BPVN.

The manoeuvre takes place under a heavy monsoon rain and the paras are immediately shelled after taking their positions. The military intelligence has learnt that Giap is going to launch another offensive in the evening. As a matter of fact, an artillery preparation starts at 1700 targeting Éliane 2 and Éliane 4, the last 2 uphill positions on the eastern bank of river Nam Youm.
Then, like so many times before, the Viet infantry launch the assault on Éliane 4, Éliane 2 and Éliane 10 (in the plain), held by 6 BPC. On Éliane 2, the position that has already cost Gen Giap so many losses, the infantry assault is launched around 2000 first against the south-west flank.
The first waves are blocked and decimated in the barbed wire, but they are renewed every 30min.
At 2300, the Viets blow up the mine planted in the tunnel they've been digging for several days, creating a huge crater and causing many losses to 1 BPC Coy of Capt Edme. However,it doesn't have the decisive effect the Viets were expecting because the length of the tunnel has been miscalculated and its end is not right underneath Éliane 2 CP.

The last Coy of 1 BPC (1Coy, Lt Faussurier) arrives over DBP in their Dakotas, but after some moments of hesitation Col Langlais decides to give priority to the plane dropping flares to light the attacked positions. The drop is cancelled and the planes fly back to Hanoi. There will be no more reinforcements sent to DBP.
Very confused hand-to-hand fights last all night long, in which many men are killed or go missing.

Friday May 7, 1954

At 0300, a counter-attack on Éliane 2 by 3Coy of 1 BPC manages to reoccupy the portion of the position that has been blown away by the Viet Minh mine. Most of it is occupied by a vast crater of 50m diameter, that is still visible nowadays (the Vietnamese have reinforced it with concrete, to avoid erosion). The position however can hardly be defended and finally Éliane 2 is overwhelmed on May 7 at 0500, more than 39 days after Giap launched the first attack against it, in the night of Mar 30 to 31. Capt Pouget is wounded and taken prisoner. He'll recount his experience in the Viet Minh PoW camps in a book titled “Le Manifeste du Camp n°1”.

At dawn, contrary to what happened in the previous large scale Viet Minh offensives, Giap doesn't stop his efforts. He has realised that the defenders have reached their limits and wants to grab this opportunity to finish them off.
The last hilltop position on the eastern bank of river Nam Youm, Éliane 4, after suffering heavy bombings all night long is attacked around 0600. A brand new Viet Minh battalion is seen going down the slopes of nearby Éliane 1 and nothing can stop them.
After the same hand-to-hand fights as in other places, Éliane 4, held by remains of II/1 RCP and 5 BPVN is taken around 1000. The last message from CO of II/1 RCP, Maj Bréchignac to the HQ : “Don't shell the position, there are too many wounded”, then a few minutes later, Capt Botella “The Viets are here, it's over. I'm destroying the radio.”
Éliane 10, the last position on the eastern bank of river Nam Youm, in the plain below Éliane 2 and Éliane 4, held by the ‘remains of the remains’ of 6 BPC under Lt Trapp, is now in first line. It's lost early in the afternoon, as well as Claudine 5, on the western flank, held by 2Coy of 1/2 REI (Capt Schmitz).

After a meeting held around noon by Castries and his battalion commanders, opération “Albatros” is called off. After the losses of the last night fights and with soldiers having fought continuously for 56 days and as many nights, it has become obvious that it would be impossible to gather a force with sufficient strength to break through the Viet Minh encirclement.
Opération “D”, led by GCMA Capt Jean Sassi and opération “Condor” led by Lt-Col Yves Godard, both launched from Laos, respectively to create disruption behind the Viet Minh lines and rescue the DBP defenders by breaking through them will also be called off a few days later.
Column called “Crèvecoeur”, led by Col Godard, was only about 20km from DBP when they received the order to stop their progression. Gen de Castries holds two last radio converstations with his superior, Gen Cogny in Hanoi, in the morning and in the afternoonb. A decision is finally taken to cease fire at 17:30.
All units receive the order to destroy their arms and ammunition and let the Viets come in, without raising white flags.
Realising that the French defenders are no longer firing, the Viets suddenly start ‘flooding’ the whole camp. Silence suddenly falls on the camp.
All soldiers are forced out of their bunkers and taken prisoner. Those who can still walk (even if slightly wounded) are immediately regrouped in columns and forced marched to the PoW camps near the Chinese border. Stronghold Isabelle, commanded by Col André Lalande will hold till May 8 before ceasing fire.

Losses on the French side amount to around 1'500 KIA, with approximately the same number of MIA (presumed dead) and three times more wounded. Only around 850 will be medevaced by air to Luang Prabang in Laos and then to military hospital Lanessan in Hanoi. On the Vietminh side, estimates are around 30'000 losses, of which between 8'000 and 10'000 KIA.
The Viet Minh forces captured around 10'000 soldiers in DBP. Four months later, in Aug and Sep 1954, only around 3'500 were released and handed back. The rest died of starvation, diseases, bad treatment, psychological effects of the Communist brain washing, either on their way to the PoW camp – during an excruciating 700 km ‘death march’ – or in the camps themselves.

Some prisoners tried to escape, but many were taken back (and in most cases summarily executed) or disappeared, lost in the middle of the jungle of the so-called Haute Région.
This is what happened to photograph Jean Péraud, a companion of cameraman Pierre Schoendoerffer. A few succeeded, including a group of four NCOs of 6 BPC. They wandered for days in the jungle before being rescued by a group of Thai partisans. Among them C/Ch René Sentenac who will later become famous in Algeria and will be KIA in Nov 1957.

Nobody among the French authorities seriously questioned the Viet Minh about the 65% PoW missing. The war was over and nobody wanted to raise sensitive questions... After 56 days and 56 nights of fight, France had lost its last battle in Indochina.
In Jul 1954 the Geneva agreements will lead to the partition of Vietnam in two states, along the 17th parallel. Hanoi will be handed over to the Viet Minh in Oct 54, the last French units will leave North Vietnam in April 1955 and South Vietnam one year later.
The USA became the new ‘sponsors’ of the South Vietnamese regime and few years after DBP another war would start in Indochina.

Today, May 7, 2014 marks the 60th anniversary of the fall of Dien Bien Phu. A special remembrance day for all those who fought in this battle and made the ultimate sacrifice.

Front page of newspaper Le Parisien libéré dated May 8, 1954

Jean Luciani, aged 88, photographed nowadays. A veteran of 1 BEP and the ‘hero’ of Éliane 2 in the night of Mar 30 to 31.

A French prisoner upon his liberation from the Viet Minh PoW camps.

* 5/7 RTA (Régiment de Tirailleurs Algériens) * 2/1 RTA * 3/3 RTA * 1/4 RTM (Régiment de Tirailleurs Marocains) * 2 BT (Bataillon Thaï) * 3 BT * 1/13 DBLE (Demi-Brigade de Légion Etrangère) * 3/13 DBLE * 1/2 REI (Régiment Etranger d'Infanterie) * 3/3 REI * 1 BEP (Bataillon Etranger de Parachutistes) * 2 BEP * 1 CEPML (Compagnie Etrangère Parachutiste de Mortiers Lourds) * 2/1 RCP (Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes) * 1 BPC (Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux) * 6 BPC * 8 BPC * 5 BPVN (Bataillon de Parachutistes Vietnamiens) * 3/10 RAC (Régiment d'Artillerie Coloniale) * 2/4 RAC * 4/4 RAC * 1 RCC (Régiment de Chasseurs à Cheval) * 31 BG (Bataillon du Génie)


The truth about the “battle of the rails” by Alec Forbes
31st February 2004

1.- A train was attacked and all passengers and Legion escort killed at Phan Tiet?? Let’s look at the truth.
On 13 February 1948 the true “Battle for the Rails” began. In the South, the entire railroad network had been destroyed in accordance with Ho Chi Minh’s slogan “Destroy your town, it will serve the country”.
It was in accordance with this directive that the entire towns of Phu Lang Thuong and Bac Ninh simply ceased to exist.
There was only a small railroad operating between Ninh Hoa, Phan Tiet and Nha Trang.

2.- On 13 February the little train was approaching Phan Tiet with supplies and civilian passengers when it was attacked and the passengers massacred.
The Colonel in charge of the Region decided to put into action a sort of armoured train rather similar to that used by Churchill in the Boer War, a fortress on rails. The construction and command of this monster was given to Captain Raphanaud of the 2eREI.
On 10 November 1948 construction was finished.
It was made up of two articulated armoured locomotives, 14 wagons of which 8 were combat trucks, one wagon HQ or Papa Charlie, one armoured hospital wagon, a restaurant/ kitchen wagon and two pilot wagons in the front of the train loaded with spare rails, guirders, sleepers and so on
The train was armed with 8 twin Reibel machine guns, one 40mm Bofors cannon on turret, one 20mm canon equipped with infra-red sighting devices, grenade launchers, two mortars of 81 and 60 and of course all the necessary communications equipment and the whole monster was manned with about one hundred officers, legionnaires and partisans.
The armoured train successfully cleared the rails and life went on as mormal. The Viets, as was their custom, sat back to take stock of this phenomenon.
Then on 29 April 1949 (the day before Camerone) the Viets struck. They destroyed two bridges five kilometres apart while the train as in the middle, thus immobilizing it.
They, the Viets couldn’t take on the train but they could stop it. Then again on 29 July 1949 they attacked the train itself with mortars but it proved indestructible.
The train was nick named “The Rafale” and was never taken. It found a sad but neglected end on some rail siding overgrown and forgotten.
This is the truth about the “massacres” that were promulgated in the Eastern zones.

3.- There seems to be some confusion on the attack that took place on Dong Ha wherein rumor has it a Legion deserter tricked the whole garrison and got them all to surrender! Wrong.
Let’s look at the facts, the report of the incident by the Lieutenant Colonel Battisti, Commander of the 1erREC in March 1949.
The Platoon Pialoux was camped on the RC9 at Dong Ha. Three AM’s “Coventry” formed the defence in their garage. No wall nor battlement encircled the open camp.
On Sunday 20 March at 20:50 hours Lieutenant Pailoux was in his office, his legionnaires in their rooms and a sentry posted near the garages housing the AMs. At 20:55 a burst of automatic fire dropped the sentry with two rounds in his stomach.
The rebels had infiltrated surrounding houses and gardens and from these position launched an attack on the Platoon Pialoux.
The rebels were being guided by a legion deserter who had gone AWOL 30 June 1948. His initials were G..R..
The rebels, taking advantage of the complete surprise, charged the garage holding the AM “Rachaya”, got the tank started and then started firing point blank into the camp and then on to the RC9.
Lieutenant Pialoux ran to organize defence, followed by his legionnaires he set up an FM in an attempt to silence the rebel MG popsitions.
He was wounded in the arm and then received a round right in the heart.
His ordonance received right in his body a bazooka round and the gunner of the FM received rounds in arm and thigh.
The Marechal de Logis Lepage, armed with an FM stopped the rebels in their tracks as they tried to get to the munitions depot, he was wonded in te head.
He was replaced by Legionnaire Mavillod who was in his turn wounded. Legionnaire Rerat put a third FM in battery position and defended the entrance to the munitions depot.
With the tenacity of the defense, the rebels hesitated.
Elements nearby, Maroccans, Genie and the Tran (draftees)) were alerted and came to the rescue. Many enemy bodies littered the ground including the Legion deserter.
The AM “Rachaya” still in rebel hands moved west in the direction of PK7200.
At 22:30 Captain Ducos commanding the 4eEscadron in his PC at Cam Lo, received a message by radio that post 7200 was under attack.
At one kilometre from the post a scout car blew up on two mines and at that moment Ducos learned that his own PC was under attack so turned around and raced back.
He left a group of legionnaires in ambush on the RC9 to stop “Rachaya”. In the meantime a column left Donmg Ha and moved toward PK7200.
Early in the morning of 21 March the column reached Dong Ha and found that the “Rachaya” had been abandoned, a tyre punctured and found on board were two Thomson machine guns.
The Marechal de Logis Bauwens then entered the post where he found only one wounded man. At 09:30 that morning, the fighter aircraft in Tourane (Danang) were alerted to destroy the AM but on flying over the scene, they were reassured that the Legion were in control of the tank and went back to base.
Emeny losses, ten dead of which one was the Eurpean Legion deserter and four machine guns seized. Friendly losses 1 officer killed, 1 legionnaire killed and five wounded (one later died from his wounds, Legionnaire Bonafe).
This then is the true story of what happened at Dong Ha and it has been distorted in Eastern European Press in those days to read that legion deserters seized a complete post and marched the bataillon off to captivity.
Let’s be objective and stick to the facts, warts and all. It was a decisive victory for the Legion.
I trust this is of some help to you and can clarify the truth. All the best, Alec

account by "James" about his experience and subsequent leaving the Legion after 5 months

Goodbye to the Foreign Legion

Posted By: James. ( Date: Saturday, 12 April 2003, at 1:57 p.m.

Well,after over five months in the Legion,I made the decision to leave a few weeks back, and this past Friday I left Aubagne. Joining in the first place was easy, leaving was actually harder. My reasons for leaving were the following: 1.No clear career path in the Legion--Most likely I'd stay at the rank of Legionnaire 1st class for five years, or get Corporal after four years if I was lucky. If cleaning shit for endless hours wasn't enough in "instruction"-- I don't look forward to it for another four or five years straight. 2.Too many damn Russians and other subversives from society. I could write volumes on these clowns but its not 3.Getting my balls busted every day about being American. And with good reason I'll admit...a lot come to the Legion then go home after instruction or desert.It seems the only Americans that stay in the Legion usually have long, previous Military Service or can't go back to the US due to problems with the police. That was the case of one American Corporal Chef who had problems with the police in the US and has been in the Legion nine years. He also was in the US Army for 4 years. And then lots of people are pissed and jealous over US Politics and American Military power...and I had to hear it.

To answer a few questions people love to repeatedly ask:
Age: Not a factor as long as your a good candidate and pass all the tests in Aubagne. I saw people accepted at all ages, 18-40, and actually alot of people in my section were over age 28. In another section there was a 40 year old guy.
Glasses: Unless you have a severe problem that should also not be a factor.
And this are recommended minimums to make your life easy in instruction and then afterwards at your regiment:

50 pushups
50 situps
10 pull ups
2800-3200 cooper
50 squats
100 meters swimming 10 meters swim underwater
Of course the more, the better. If your struggling with just 10 or 15 pushups, get tired of running after 5 minutes...Think hard.
Learn as much French as possible. And for the Americans: Think long and hard--because when one American deserts, you make it hard for the next American who needs to be in the Legion or whose only life has been the military.
The Legion is good, just too many negatives for me. Like someone posted below, I'll just join the American army now.