PANO - Some platoons carrying explosive charges under Companies 241 and 243 were wounded by French troops’ fire-power, mines and artillery while the barb-wired fences were not being destroyed.
Explosive Charge Platoon under Company 245 was ordered to make a sortie. However, nightfall and dense smoke obscured our troops’ view and some get injured.
Fire-power placed by the enemy to defend barb-wired fences was very dangerous. Each main blockhouse was surrounded with satellite gun emplacement and this caused many injuries to our troops.
In these very harsh circumstance, the deputy-head of the Explosive Charge Platoon, Tran Van Ty, loudly and sedately ordered: “Move forward! Revenge for dead comrades!”.
His voice drowned the sound of machine-guns fired from enemies’ blockhouses. Ty went forward with an explosive charge, followed by comrade Pham Van Nham. The third explosive charge exploded destroyed the last barb-wired fence.
The main Company 243 under the Battalion made advantage of that and incisively attacked the headquarters of the enemy’s Battalion, the centre of Him Lam.
While Company 241 was strongly attacking the left side of Him Lam, Company 245, led by the head of the Company, Thiem, and Commissar Viet, attacked the right one. From three directions, Phu Thong Battalion separated French troops’ combat formation, so that they could not re-gather or reinforce.
Some 500 French troops from Muong Thanh who reinforced Him Lam were wiped out.
Phu Thong Battalion annihilated General De Castries’ Parachute Battalion 3 which was the strongest and most reliable one, which had been led by De Castries and landed in the south of France to wipe out Nazis in the second World War. It was also this Battalion which marched in Italy and crossed the Rhine into Germany in the last days of the second World War.
The night of March 13th was a nightmare for generals De Castries, Cogni and Navarre. That night marked the first victory of Vietnamese troops in Dien Bien Phu. It proved the right of the warfare motto, “Firm attack, firm move forward”.
After the first victory of the Campaign in Him Lam, a Battalion under Brigade 308 took control of Doc Lap (Independence) entrenched fortification on early March 16th.
On March 30th, our troops launched the second attack on entrenched fortifications A1, C1, D1, E1, A2, C2 and E2.
No surprise happened on the battlefield
French troops were reinforced with more troops and weapons. Muong Thanh Airport received, on a daily basis, hundreds of tons of parachuted supplies dropped from the sky.
Their group of fortified positions had shrunk. Lots of Parachute Battalions, weapons and military equipment were dispatched from Hanoi.
There were some days when Dien Bien Phu was strangely quiet.
Commissar Viet recalled the past battles in Dien Bien Phu, from Him Lam. 56 of his comrades died while 15 others were seriously injured. His mission at that time was to tell his comrades about various combats of the Brigade, of Battalion that annihilated the Parachute Battalion 3 of the enemy and of the over-running of E entrenched fortification and others.
Company 245 received an order to reinforce other Companies with seriously wounded soldiers. They crept and dragged along communications trenches to reach the middle of E and D entrenched fortifications while the enemy’s 12.7mm machine-guns opened fire on them and a high density of mines were laid all around.
Viet led his comrades to step on previously marked footprints, with the mines below and about; however, this was a much less dangerous strategy because the mines did not explode.
The Company went across E hill to the foot of D hill and took control a section of the combat trench which was used by European-African paratroopers to fire at our troops.
While Viet was observing bombs dropped, he received a report from a soldier on the presence of tanks.
Viet eyed at Muong Thanh Bridge. A series of pillars of dust rose. Various tanks moved towards the place our troops were laying in ambush.
The Company’s fire-power had no effect. Moreover, the Company had no antitank gun and was not combined with any units to fight against tanks.
The deputy-head of the Company ordered the regiments to stand by.
Seeing our troops hiding on the side of D hill, the enemy’s tanks did not dare to approach any nearer. They suddenly stopped and opened fire on the Company’s position. They were also supported by artillery from battlefields in Muong Thanh.
Fortunately, French troops did not know that our troops were just a Company. So, their bombers stopped dropping bombs and the tanks also stopped firing.
The sun was scorching. Our troops, including dozens of comrades, had nothing even a wart or a mouthful of water.
Company 245 could not contact with the Battalion after April 1st, 1954, the second day of the second attack.
They sat still. No one could stand up to move, as, if they stood up they could be a target of a tank because with their 12.7mm guns, they could easily wipe out each soldier.
Noon was coming. The sun was blazing even hotter. Our troops felt exhausted, hungry and sleepy.
Fearing that comrades could fall asleep while tanks suddenly attacked, Viet often spread by word to each regiment “Watch tanks!”.
At noon, some comrades dozed off. Viet asked his liaison to remind each regiment of heightening their vigilance to fight against tanks. The liaison stood up, making a spurt ahead and jumped into the combat trench.
12.7mm machine-gun from a tank opened fire on the target. The liaison both moved forwards and tried to avoid being fired on. Not until the night fell could he come back and then, Viet held the liaison’s hand and hailed his bravery.
(to be continued)
Translated by Mai Huong