26 MARCH 1954, Page 3

The French Hold Fast

It was suggested in these notes last week that the French 'ought to win the battle at Dien Bien Phu. They still look like doing so. The Viet Minh's only hope of success lay in a sustained frontal assault carried out in overwhelming numerical strength and well supported by artillery. They tried these tactics when the action began and achieved in one sector a measure of success which, though it had importance, they were unable to exploit. They lost a lot of men in the process and have had further casualties since; the human sea on whose capacity to engulf the garrison everything depended proved only able to erode its perimeter. The rebel gunners, who have since kept up an intense but in the last analysis rather aimless bombardment, now appear to be running short of ammunition; mortar fire alone is keeping the air-strips closed, and it is almost certain that General Giap, if he launched a second all-out attack, would not be able to give it' more than a fraction of the artillery support in spite of , which the first one failed. He seems to have toyed with the idea of investing Dien Bien ' Phu with an elaborate system of trenches and field-works; but if he sat in these for a year he would still not achieve his object, and the longer he stays where he is the more punishment he will get from the French air force. He seems, in short, to have failed completely but to be unwilling to admit it. Meanwhile General Ely, the Chief of the French General Staff, has been discussing in Washington a number of problems, of which probably the trickiest arises from the American feeling that things would go better in • Indo-China if they took over from the French responsibility for training the Vietnamese forces; this is a conviction which the, French— despite the reasonably_ example of the South Korean army—do not share. It must in conclusion be said that the staunchness and resource of the French Union forces on a remote and desperate battlefield has aroused in this country both admiration and gratitude.