Wednesday, May 08, 2019, 20:50 (GMT+7)
The Anti-Aircraft Artillery Force’s role in the Dien Bien Phu Campaign

The Campaign of Dien Bien Phu was the strategic decisive battle and the largest joint campaign by our Army in the war against the French Colonialists. In that Campaign, our fledgling air defence force whose core was the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment 367 (founded on April 1st 1953) included six 37-mm anti-aircraft artillery battalions and other air defence units equipped with 12.7-mm air defence machine guns within infantry divisions. In spite of the fact that our Anti-Aircraft Artillery Force was meagre, first joined such a large-scale campaign within a joint formation in the complex mountainous area, and had to confront the enemy’s powerful air force, it bravely fought against the enemy, successfully fulfilled the task assigned by the Campaign Command, and greatly contributed to the country’s historic victory. In the Campaign, the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Force’s role was expressed as follows.

 The Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment 367 in the Dien Bien Phu Campaign       (file photo)

First, properly using the force, flexibly converting the posture, resolutely fighting the enemy’s air force, and protecting our artillery and infantry forces’ operations. Considering it as the central task while the area of responsibility was very large, and our air defence force was very meagre (at the first stage of the Campaign, we only had only 2 anti-aircraft artillery battalions directly engaging in combat), the Regiment 367 overcame all difficulties, built a solid, inter-connected air defence posture, stayed close to the formation, and focused its force on the main attacking direction, the key battle, and the important opportunity. At the same time, it flexibly, creatively employed the combat method and promoted the effectiveness of its materiel to the utmost to defeat the enemy’s air force and opportunely protect its targets. In the first battle of Him Lam, anti-aircraft artillery battalions and air defence machine gun units tasked with protecting the Division 312’s combat formation were positioned mainly in the places favourable for shooting the enemy’s aircraft and supporting our infantry and artillery forces’ attacks. Thus, when the enemy’s aircraft were about to attack our starting line, our air defence units effectively suppressed the enemy’s air firepower and protected our infantry and artillery forces’ combat process victoriously. After the first battle, to adapt to the following ones, our anti-aircraft artillery units quickly moved, stayed close to our infantry force and directly supported them. As a result, the Divisions 312 and 308 managed to attack and destroy the enemy’s fortresses of Doc Lap and Ban Keo.

At the Campaign’s second stage, our air defence force was reinforced with the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion 381. Our anti-aircraft artillery units continued to stay close to the infantry formation and flexibly employed various tactical forms, such as manoeuvre, ambush, night-time combat. Thus, we not only protected our infantry force, but also caused many surprises for the enemy on our combat time, zones for positioning firepower, and firepower degree. At the Campaign’s third stage, to facilitate our general offensive, the anti-aircraft artillery battalions secretly moved close to the centre of Muong Thanh and Hong Cum, formed up the firepower coverage against the zone under the enemy’s control, effectively supported our infantry units’ attacks.

Second, proactively besieging and cutting off the enemy’s airlift and supply. In the Campaign, the French troops also faced a lot of difficulties in logistics work as Dien Bien Phu was located in the Northwest’s mountainous area far from their bases, and air supply was the only way. Therefore, mastering the airspace and ensuring safety for the airlift to Dien Bien Phu was “vital” to the enemy. Perceiving that, our General Command demanded to speed up operations behind the enemy’s back (i.e. using the commando force to raid the airports of Cat Bi, Gia Lam, and Do Son), thereby causing huge damage to the enemy and seriously undermining their air supply capacity. On the battlefield of Dien Bien Phu, we used artillery to control the enemy’s airports, prevent their aircraft from landing, forced them to parachute supplies, while deploying the infantry and commando forces to gradually besiege and narrow the enemy’s scale of operations. Notably, we focused our anti-aircraft artillery force on controlling, preventing and gradually cutting off the enemy’s airlift.

Grasping the combat intent and the assigned task, while focusing the firepower on destroying and preventing the enemy’s bombers and fighters and protecting our ground combat formation, our anti-aircraft artillery and air defence machine gun units gradually controlled the airspace, annihilated the enemy’s air freighters, and step by step neutralized the enemy’s air force. At the Campaign’s first stage, the enemy’s aircraft could take off and land at the airports of Muong Thanh and Hong Cum. However, at the second stage, the enemy’s air force had to parachute their supplies, even did not dare to drop their supplies during daytime. When our general offensive commenced, our encirclement in the air and on the ground was closed; therefore, the French fortresses were totally isolated and became “hell on earth”, and their defeat in the Campaign was unavoidable.

Third, resiliently sticking to the battlefield to protect our traffic and transportation systems. Fully aware that the work of transportation to maintain combat operations was an urgent demand, after discovering us repairing the routes and transporting goods to the Northwest, the French Colonialists used their air force to severely attack and prevent all our transportation routes day and night, particularly in the Ta Khoa ferry port, Ban Ban mountain pass, and Co Noi T-junction. Clearly understanding the enemy’s plot, at the Campaign’s preparatory stage, we deployed several air defence units to protect the transportation system. At the Campaign’s second stage, in spite of our meagre air defence force, the General Command prioritized the deployment of 3 anti-aircraft artillery battalions 385, 392, and 396 (accounting for 50% of our anti-aircraft artillery force’s strength) in order create an in-depth posture to protect our traffic system from the rear bases to the frontline. Although the air defence force had to move and combat under the enemy’s fierce attacks, with its iron will and determination, it both stuck to the battlefield and manoeuvred to fight the enemy. Units pulled artillery to the mountain ridges and set up ambushes on the two flanks of the mountain passes, waiting for the enemy’s aircraft to destroy. By doing so, we managed to restrict the operations of the enemy’s air force and maintain the safety and smoothness of traffic lines to provide logistics support for the Campaign.

After 56 days and nights of bravely fighting, the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Force smashed the French air force’s superiority, control the airspace, protect the combat formation of our infantry and artillery forces and the Campaign’s transportation system, cut off the enemy’s airlift, completely isolated the French troops in Dien Bien Phu, and created a favourable condition for our forces to besiege, isolate, and completely destroy the enemy’s group of fortresses. In the Campaign, the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment 367 shot down 52 enemy aircraft, damaged 153 enemy aircraft, including the Bomber B.24, annihilated and captured many enemy pilots, greatly contributing to the landslide Victory of Dien Bien Phu.

65 year have elapsed, but the glorious victory of our cadres and soldiers on the Dien Bien Phu front in general, the Anti-Aircraft Artillery Force in particular will be a milestone in the country’s history of national construction and protection forever.

Realities of recent wars waged by America and its allies have revealed that air raids have been always at the beginning of each war and had many new developments in terms of space, time, scale, intensity, materiel and technology. Notably, air operations tend to be at a low altitude, even at an extremely low altitude and take place unexpectedly. Thus, the air defence artillery force will play a role of utmost importance in cooperation with the three-category air defence force to create a multi-layer air defence network.

To fulfil the assigned task, the Air Defence Artillery Force should continue promoting and flexibly applying its forerunner’s valuable experiences in the two wars against the French Colonialists and American Imperialists, particularly in the Dien Bien Phu Campaign. At the same time, it should undertake researches and develop projects to employ forces and combat methods in accordance with the combat condition in the new situation. In addition, the Air Defence Artillery Force should frequently improve its political will and combat determination, make party organizations and members really pure, and well implement the Resolution of the 12th Party Central Committee’s 4th Plenum, the Politburo’s Directive 05-CT/TW, the Central Military Commission Standing Board’s Directive 87-CT/QUTW on studying and following Ho Chi Minh’s ideology and moral example, and the Campaign entitled “promote tradition, devote talent, deserve to be Uncle Ho’s soldiers”. Moreover, it should keep raising the training quality under the Central Military Commission’s Resolution 765-NQ/QUTW and the Resolution 558-NQ/ĐU by the Air Defence - Air Force Service’s Party Committee on improving the training quality in the 2013-2020 period and beyond. At the same time, it should frequently maintain vigilance, enhance its combat readiness capacity, closely manage the air space, and resolutely avoid falling into passivity, thereby contributing to safeguarding the Homeland’s airspace in all situations.

Lt. Gen. Le Huy Vinh, PhD, Member of the Party Central Committee

Commander of the Air Defence - Air Force Service

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