Wednesday, May 08, 2019, 20:50 (GMT+7)
The rear and logistics support in Dien Bien Phu Campaign and current issues

In Dien Bien Phu Campaign, being united and creative, our army and people overcame all difficulties and hardships to provide sufficient human and material resources, making a great contribution to the victory that “resounded throughout the five continents and shook the world”. The lesson about the rear and logistics support in Dien Bien Phu Campaign requires ongoing research and development in the current cause of national construction and defense.

In late 1953, when deciding to build Dien Bien Phu into the strongest fortress in Indochina, the French colonialists believed that such an amount of material could not be transported to the area for our main force to fight an intense, protracted battle in rugged mountains and forests, far away from the strategic rear (500-700 km), with unique transport route, harsh weather, sparse population and underdeveloped economy. Meanwhile, the French had air superiority, which not only facilitated supply but also possessed strong firepower to hinder our forces.

Packhorses carrying supplies for our troops in the Dien Bien Phu Campaign (file photo)

However, with resolve, self-reliance, determination to fight and to win, our army and people had overcome numerous hardships, been sacrificed, brought into full play the role of the rear and logistics work of the Army and people, creating synergy, promptly meeting the demand of food, weapons, equipment for operations, significantly contributing to the victory of the Campaign.

To this end, first and foremost, the Politburo, the Government, and the General Military Committee attached great importance to building a strong rear to supply human and material resources for the resistance war; to raising the spirit of the frontline in fighting the enemy. Implementing the guideline: “resistance war to go with national construction” by the Party Central Committee and President Ho Chi Minh, the rear had constantly developed. In preparation for the 1953-1954 Winter Spring Offensive, and with the aim of forming large rear areas, a series of offensives were launched on strategic areas of the country in order to expand and connect Viet Bac with socialist countries and free Inter-regions of 3 and 4, etc. Simultaneously, together with land reform, improvement in people’s material and spiritual life, favorable conditions were created to mobilize the strength of the entire nation. Right after the Politburo’s and Central Party’s decision to define Dien Bien Phu as the strategic battlefield, the Central Front Supply Council and the Supply Councils of inter-regional areas of 3, 4, Northwest and Viet Bac were founded to mobilize human and material resources for the Campaign. In the beginning of 1954, the Party Central Committee and the Government issued a call: “All for the frontline”, “All for the victory”, so as to wholeheartedly support Dien Bien Phu. Accordingly, the entire country was towards the front; people paid taxes, sold food, supplied the army and actively participated in the civil service. By maximizing the exploitation and mobilization of material resources both from the rear and in the Campaign area, our force had, in a short time, gathered a large number of human and material resources from free zones (Thanh-Nghe-Tinh, Viet Bac, etc.) to enemy-occupied areas to support the Campaign, with more than 23,000 tons of rice, 266 tons of salt, nearly 2,000 tons of food, 21,000 bicycles, about 1,000 packhorses, over 3,000 boats and 261,400 civilian turns with 12 million workdays. Particularly, the Northwest people provided 47% of rice, 43% of meat, and 100% of fresh vegetables, boats and packhorses. It could be said that under the great leadership of the Party and Uncle Ho, the work of logistics organization, command and mobilization from the rear to the front was closely and flexibly conducted. A truly logistics revolution, as it deserved, represented the power of the whole nation, of the strategic rear with a strong belief in defeating the enemy and gaining national independence.  Never before had our people contributed effort that much, as judged by General Vo Nguyen Giap. Even Navarre had to admit that: “People fully acknowledge the extraordinary effort (of the people supporting the battle) and admire the effectiveness created by the Military Command and the Government of Vietnam”.

To ensure connection and strengthen the front with the power of the rear, the work of logistics assurance was closely organized in accordance with specific situation, creating a solid logistics posture. Due to the distance, the supply was divided into two lines: the rear line under the command of the Supply General Department and the Front Supply Committee of the inter-regional areas of Viet Bac, 3 and 4; the campaign line by the Front Supply General Department and the Front Supply Committee of Northwestern Inter-region. The campaign line was organized into four military stations, each containing enough transport forces, storage and medics, etc. At the same time, these lines were flexibly adjusted to suit the specific situation. When transforming the operational motto from “quick fight, rapid victory” into “steady fight, steady advancement”, the rear line from Ba Khe, Suoi Rut expanded its outreach to Son La so as to reduce difficulties; the campaign line was arranged from Son La to Dien Bien, followed by the adjustment of military stations. Being scientifically organized, these lines were clearly defined, forming a wide supply network, creating a solid, continuous posture. Furthermore, the work of command and coordination was smooth, unified and timely to guarantee forces’ participation in the Campaign.

During the battle, due to a large transport demand, a long dangerous transport route, plus serious attacks by the enemy, special attention was paid to the transportation work. The Party Central Committee ordered our forces to overcome difficulties and bring power to the front at all costs. The General Department of Supply adopted the motto: taking motor transport as the main one, thoroughly promoting motor vehicles while making use of all rudimentary means of transport. Meanwhile, a narrow road system to the Northwest, weak bridges, landslides, rugged terrain with high mountains and deep streams, and a unique small route from Tuan Giao to Dien Bien, etc. hindered the maneuver of motor vehicles, hence causing extreme difficulties for transportation. To solve this problem, our force actively renewed nearly 100 km of motor roads, repaired and expanded Road No.41 and No.13 for mobile vehicles with a total length of 500 km; simultaneously, opened routes for rudimentary means of transport, broke the waterfall for the use of boats and rafts. Also, the work of protection, camouflage and restoration after each attack was closely and continuously conducted, thereby smoothing the basic traffic network, and meeting the requirements of transportation. Our force mobilized the highest number of motor transport, with 16 companies of trucks, in close combination with others such as bicycles, horses, boats, rafts, people, etc. to establish a diversified transport system. This creative application promoted the strength of each means of transport, satisfying specific conditions to give reciprocal support. In fact, over 90% of material resources was transported by motor vehicles, while the rudimentary ones and human power only did the rest but made a great contribution, especially in case of traffic congestion and in places beyond reach of motor transport. Most notably, rudimentary transport in the Campaign was entirely carried out by civilians. This was a valuable lesson in mobilizing and using civil servants, supplementing a unique feature in the art of Vietnam’s transportation.

Having foreseen the severity of the Dien Bien Phu Campaign, the Logistics Branch concentrated all 11 treatment teams; five teams were built into front hospitals while three teams deployed in the rear line in order to rescue wounded and sick soldiers. In particular, many medical teachers and students were mobilized to strengthen the front. Considering each transfer vehicle as a “mobile hospital”, each group of stretcher-bearers as a “home”, our force had cured thousands of wounded and sick soldiers to reinforce fighting units and promptly transferred thousands of severely injured soldiers (including our force and the enemy) to hospitals behind the frontline.

With the indomitable spirit, determination and courage of our army and people, after 56 days and nights fighting in such a fierce, intense battle, the Dien Bien Phu Campaign ended in our complete victory. The victory of the Campaign affirmed the proper and comprehensive guideline of all-people war by our Party and President Ho Chi Minh, the important role of the rear and logistics work as well. The rear and logistics support, with the military logistics branch as its core, successfully completed the task, leaving us valuable practical lessons which continued to be developed and applied creatively in the resistance war against America later on.

 At present, the cause of national construction and defense has set new demands for our Party, army and people to build and well prepare in peacetime, so that when war breaks out, we have enough fighting potential, strength and capability to meet the mission requirements. Accordingly, we need to further understand the guideline of the all-people defense and war, the all-people logistics perspective and fully recognize the rear’s significant role in national protection. On that basis, the emphasis is placed upon building a strategic rear combined with strong on-site rear bases; promoting research, planning, building logistics potential and posture in the all-people war, meeting the Strategy for Homeland defence in the new situation. In particular, the focal point is to take the building of widespread people’s logistics as the basis, the logistics of solid defensive area as the foundation, the operational logistics as the core, and to combine on-site logistics with mobile logistics. Simultaneously, it centers on building the Military Logistics Branch increasingly regular and modern, capable of playing a core role, well ensuring logistics in the hi-tech warfare. To achieve that goal, all branches and localities need to speed up socio-economic development together with national defence and security, turning every step of economic development into a boost to the potential of national defence and of on-the-spot logistics, especially in strategic and key areas. Moreover, the work of planning, building strategic rear and logistics posture continues to be strengthened, particularly the rear and logistics bases at all levels combined with the defensive posture of the military zone and the provincial (or city) defensive area. Attention is also paid to building synchronous logistics reserve of a reasonable quantity and high quality. In close touch with reality, the Military Logistics Branch proactively advises the Ministry of National Defense on recommending the Government to perfect mechanisms and policies for mobilizing and encouraging wartime logistics appropriate to the market economy. At the same time, it well performs the practical review, research and development of logistics theory, in accordance with the improvement in military art, personnel, equipment of the armed forces and new conditions of the war for national defence; further makes forecasts and gives advice on the issues related to the building of the rear and logistics potential, guaranteeing the armed forces’ combat readiness and victory in any situation.

Major General Tran Duy Giang

Head of the General Department of Logistics

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