Tag Archives: Dien Bien Phu


Combat Footage: French Indochina War

Number of military casualties in the French Indochina War:

— Viet Minh – 500,000 killed (est.)

— French Union Forces – 89,797 killed and MIA

The 317th Platoon & The Anderson Platoon – Pierre Schoendoerffer (Video)

La 317ème section

La 317ème section (Photo credit: antonella.beccaria)

In 1951 Pierre Schoendoerffer, then in his early twenties, was out for adventure. He had read about French reporters and cameramen working in Indochina and it fascinated him. So he volunteered in the Service Cinématographique des Armées and was assigned to Saigon. There he befriended a Service Presse Information war photographer named Jean Péraud. In 1954, it was Péraud who asked Schoendoerffer to jump into Dien Bien Phu to work with him on filming the combat. Schoendoerffer agreed. He dropped with the 5th Vietnamese Parachutist Battalion into the besieged fortress during the early days of the battle. Corporal-Chief Schoendoerffer “celebrated” his 26th birthday in the midst of the 57 day siege. He filmed much of the battle, but after the French defeat he tragically decided to destroy most of his film and his cameras to keep them out of Vietminh hands. One small reel of footage was salvaged. It didn’t resurface for years.

After the fall of Dien Bien Phu to the Vietminh on 7 May 1954 Schoendoerffer shared the same fate as thousands of French soldiers; he was captured and marched off, hundreds of miles, to a Vietminh prison camp. During the march he and Jean Péraud attempted a daring escape. The two men joined with the legendary French paratroop commander Marcel Bigeard, darting into the jungle at an opportune moment. Unfortunately he and Bigaerd were ultimately caught. Péraud vanished into the jungle, never to be heard from again. Schoendoerffer was released by the Viet Minh in September 1954. After his release he left the French army and became a war reporter in South Vietnam for various French and American news magazines including Paris Match, Time and Life. Later Schoendoerffer took up film making.

His first success was in 1965 with The 317th Platoon (La 317e Section) based on his experience in the First Indochina War. WATCH: THE 317th PLATOON  MOVIE TRAILER HERE>>

On 1 August 1965, the U.S. 1st Air Cavalry Division was sent to South Vietnam. The American war in Vietnam was on. The following year, in September 1966, Schoendoerffer joined it and followed a 33-man platoon led by Lieutenant Joseph B. Anderson. WATCH THE ANDERSON PLATOON ENTIRE MOVIE HERE>>


Vietnam Notebook: First Indochina War, Dien Bien Phu (1953-1954)

English: memorial to the 10,000+ French coloni...

Image via Wikipedia

…Cabanier arrived in Saigon on the 19th of November, 1953, just as Operation CASTOR, the occupation of Dien Bien Phu by airborne assault, was launching.  He would meet with General Navarre as the first French paras were floating down over Dien Bien Phu. Interestingly, the weather was questionable for jumping over western Tonkin that day. Cogny and the commander of the assault force, Brigadier General Jean Gilles, considered calling the operation off. The window of opportunity was a brief one, and it’s quite possible that had they opted out that day the operation would not have been re-mounted, ever…. MORE >>

First Indochina War: Meat Grinder War (1951-1953)

English: The French Foreign Legion is playing ...

Image via Wikipedia

In a feat that foreshadowed his greatest logistical triumph years later at Dien Bien Phu, Giap achieved both strategic and tactical surprise at Vinh Yen. He had marched two divisions many miles, and yet the French didn’t know when, or where, the Vietminh were going to attack. The French units at the point of attack had no warning when Giap ordered a regiment to storm Vinh Yen.  Just as he had surmised, the French predictably sent a mobile group charging down the road to the rescue. With their arrival an entire Vietminh division came out of the jungle. De Lattre then sent in another mobile group. Another Vietminh division appeared. Suddenly the Vietminh had two mobile groups pinned down and surrounded. The Vietminh attacked in mass formations in daylight…. MORE>>