Operation Castor

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Operation Castor
Part of First Indochina War
Date 20–22 November 1953
Location Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam
Result French Union victory;
creation of the Dien Bien Phu outpost

France French Union

North Vietnam Viet Minh
Commanders and leaders
Jean Gilles
Jean Dechaux
Henri Navarre
Vo Nguyen Giap
4,195 (as of 22 November)[1] One battalion (~500)
Casualties and losses
As of 20 November:
16 killed,
47 wounded
French est (As of 20 November):
115 killed,
4 wounded (POW)
Điện Biên Province (shown in green) was sufficiently far from Hanoi, the seat of French military power, that it could not easily be supplied by air.

Opération Castor[2] was a French airborne operation in the First Indochina War. The operation established a fortified airhead in Điện Biên Province, in the north-west corner of Vietnam. Commanded by Brigadier General Jean Gilles, Castor was the largest airborne operation since World War II. The Operation began at 10:35 on 20 November 1953, with reinforcements dropped over the following two days. With all its objectives achieved, the operation ended on 22 November.

The French paratroopers of the 6ème Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux (6ème BPC) and the 2nd Battalion of the 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes (II/1er RCP) dropped over Dien Bien Phu in order to secure the airstrip built by the Japanese during the occupation of French Indochina by Japan from 1940 to 1945. The operation took 65 of the 70 operational Dakota and all 12 C-119 Flying Boxcar transport aircraft the French had in the area, and still required two trips to get the lead elements into the valley. Also dropped in the first wave were elements of the 17e Régiment de Génie Parachutiste (RGP) ("17th Airborne Engineers Regiment") and the Headquarters group of Groupement Aéroporté 1 (GAP 1), ("Airborne Group 1"). They were followed later in the afternoon by the 1er Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux (1 BPC) and elements of 35e Régiment d'Artillerie Légère Parachutiste (35 RALP) and other combat support elements.

The following day, the second airborne group, "GAP 2" – consisting of 1er Bataillon Etranger de Parachutistes (1 BEP), 8e Bataillon de Parachutistes de Choc (8 BPC), other combat support elements and the entire command and Headquarters group for the Dien Bien Phu operation under Brigadier General Jean Gilles – was dropped in. While on another drop zone, the heavy equipment came down and the engineers quickly set about repairing and lengthening the airstrip.

On 22 November, the last troops of the initial garrison, the 5e Bataillon de Parachutistes Vietnamiens ("Battalion of Vietnamese Parachutists", 5 BPVN), jumped into the valley. In the same "stick" as the commander of 5 BPVN was Brigitte Friang, a woman war correspondent with a military parachutist diploma, and five combat jumps.[3] General Navarre created the outpost to draw the Viet Minh into fighting a pitched battle. That battle, the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, occurred four months after Operation Castor.

French order of battle[edit]

  • Groupement Aéroporté 1 (GAP 1), (Airborne Group 1)
  • GAP 1 Headquarters staff
  • 1er Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux (1 BPC) (Colonial Parachute Battalion)
  • 6ème Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux (6 BPC) (Colonial Parachute Battalion)
  • 2ème Bataillon, 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes (II/1 RCP) (Light Infantry Parachute Regiment)
  • 17e Régiment de Génie Parachutiste (RGP) (Airborne Engineers Regiment)
  • 35e Régiment d'Artillerie Légère Parachutistes (35 RALP) (Light Artillery Parachute Regiment)
  • Groupement Aéroporté 2 (GAP 2), (Airborne Group 2)
  • 1er Bataillon Etranger de Parachutistes (1 BEP) (Foreign Parachute Battalion)
  • 8e Bataillon de Parachutistes de Choc (8 BPC) (Parachute Assault Battalion)
  • 5e Bataillon de Parachutistes Vietnamiens (5 BPVN) (Vietnamese Parachute Battalion)


  1. ^ DienBienPhu.org
  2. ^ Some English sources erroneously translate the name of operation into the English "Beaver". However the name of the second operation (the evacuation of Lai Châu), which took place weeks later, "Pollux"; clearly indicates that this is an error and both names refer to mythological twins Castor and Pollux. Fall, Bernard B. (2002). "Notes". Hell in a very small place: the siege of Dien Bien Phu. New York, N.Y.: Da Capo Press. p. 467. ISBN 0-306-81157-X. 
  3. ^ Fall, 138.


  • Chen Jian. 1993. "China and the First Indo-China War, 1950-54", The China Quarterly, No. 133. (Mar., 1993), pp 85–110. London: School of Oriental and African Studies.
  • Cogan, Charles G. 2000. "L'attitude des États-Unis à l'égard de la guerre d'Indochine" in Vaïsse (2000: 51–88).
  • Fall, Barnard. 2005. Street Without Joy. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 978-1-84415-318-3
  • Farrell, Ryan F. 1991. "Airlift's role at Dien Bien Phu and Khe Sanh". Global Security website. Retrieved: February 19, 2008.
  • Friang, Brigitte. 1958. Parachutes and Petticoats. London: Jarrolds.
  • Giap, Vo Nguyen. 1971. The Military Art of People's War. New York & London: Modern Reader. ISBN 0-85345-193-1
  • Navarre, Henri. 1956. Agonie de l'Indochine. Paris: Librairie Plon. ISBN 978-2-87027-810-9
  • Simpson, Howard R. 1994. Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot. London: Brassey's. ISBN 978-1-57488-024-3
  • Vaïsse, Maurice (editor). 2000. L'Armée française dans la guerre d'Indochine (1946–1954). Paris: Editions Complexe.
  • Windrow, Martin. 1998. The French Indochina War, 1946-1954, Osprey. ISBN 1-85532-789-9
  • Windrow, Martin. 2004. The Last Valley. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-306-81386-6

External links[edit]