I haven't gone outside much lately. It's been either too cold, or too wet, or both. Instead, I've been doing a lot of reading to pass the time.
Dien Bien Phu is always spoken in the same breath as Khe Sahn if you are American. In both cases, the North Vietnamese surrounded a major fire base and tried to wipe it out. In the case of the French at Dien Bien Phu, they succeeded. Nobody thought the North Vietnamese could get anti-aircraft guns or heavy artillery in there, but they did. France lost a large percentage of their elite Paratroop and Foreign Legion units there, and at the end of the battle they negotiated a cut and run. We could have saved the French at Dien Bien Phu with a massive airstrike, and our Air Force was ready to launch it when the politicians in D.C. turned craven and left the French to twist in the wind. Thanks to that, we inherited the war.
Bernard Fall wrote another book, on the Indochinese war up to the point of Dien Bien Phu. It covers the different major operations of the first years of the war. The French did not have enough troops, weapons or money but they put up a good fight. They did have some very good forces, including a unit that had been fighting with the UN in Korea and was withdrawn because things were getting tight in Indochina.
What strikes me as strange is how many big battles were fought right in the same places, first by the French then by us. But no one seems to have realized it at the time, and the Americans made the same mistakes, in the same locations, with the same results. Trying to use South Vietnamese troops worked out even worse for us than it did for the French, and that's saying something because by and large, the South Vietnamese were worthless.
It's interesting to read about the French Foreign Legion in Indochina. A great number of them were former German Army soldiers, and they had a great record, both there and in Algeria later. But when part of the French Army revolted against De Gaul in Algeria , the Foreign Legion was implicated and many of it's best units were disbanded. I saw the Foreign Legion at work in Lebanon and was much impressed. Even then, there were still an inordinate number of German soldiers in it, mostly long term guys who were unimpressed with 50 years of Garrison Duty , which at the time was all the German Army had done since WW2. They wanted to see the elephant, and that's how they got in the Legion.
It's a strange fact that the North Koreans and Red Chinese were equipped with large numbers of German and American weapons from World War II. The German weapons were gifts to the fraternal communist forces from the Russians, captured during World War II. The American weapons were given to Chaing Kai Shek during and after World War II. When his regime collapsed and the communists took over, they inherited vast quantities of American weapons and equipment. They then gleefully used all this material against us. A list of weapons captured by one USMC company from the North Koreans included the Thompson submachine gun, Springfield M1903 and 1903A4, M1911 Colt, .30 caliber "American Enfield", K98 Mausers, MP-40 submachine gun, Walther P38, Mosin Nagant rifles, Russian sub guns, Tokorov pistols and the list goes on. How would you like to have been responsible for ammunition supply for that Army?
The classic book on Korea is This Kind of War, and my copy comes from the Marine Corps Association Bookstore at Quantico, Va.
Korea probably isn't at the top of current military officers reading lists, but it ought to be. Everything we could possibly have done wrong , we did at the start of that war. Since no culture records it's failures with the same enthusiasm as it's victories, not a lot is written about Korea.
Still, anyone on active duty today could learn a lot from this book, if they could find a copy. Once you start reading it, it's very hard to put down.
Last night, or perhaps I should say early this morning, I finished this book. It was written just after World War I, and though it's old, it's still interesting and informative. One thing that I found worth thinking about is the contention of Nickerson that societies inevitably decay, that civilization is a constant pulse, going up and then slowly deteriorating until it collapses and is replaced by a new version. Most of the book deals with the Romans, but there are sections on earlier and later cultures as well.
Winter is a good time for reading. I've read all these books before, but it seems like I always learn something new every time I read a book for the second time. With the weather being so bad, it's a good pass time. I sit up in my study, with the big skylights and the window looking out over the mountains, and half the time I seem to wind up going to sleep in the big easy chair there. Maybe I am hibernating and just don't know it.