Battle of Đông Khê

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Battle of Dong Khe
Part of the First Indochina War
RC4 vietnam.jpg
Date September 15–18, 1950
Location Đông Khê, An Trach District, French Indochina
Result Viet Minh victory
France French Union North Vietnam Viet Minh
Commanders and leaders
Colonel Charton Hoàng Văn Thái

The Battle of Dong Khe (September 1950) was a major battle of the First Indochina War fought at Đông Khê. The fight took place in Dong Khe, in the Province of Tonkin, during September and October 1950, ending with a Viet Minh victory. The outpost was held by two companies from the 2nd Battalion/3rd Foreign Legion Infantry regiment and on 16 September 1950 the Viet Minh attacked with mortar bombardments and human wave attacks of up to 2,000 soldiers. After two days of close quarter fighting only a few legionnaires managed to escape.

The outpost had been designated as the rendezvous point for the evacuation of the small town of Cao Bang approximately 15 miles away. The evacuation was to take place in early October but was forestalled by the Viet Minh assault which may have indicated that General Giap appeared to be already aware of it.

On 18 September the 1st Foreign Legion Parachute Battalion (1BEP) was dropped in south of Dong Khe but was unable to fight their way to recapture the outpost. A week later a column of 3.500 Moroccans assembled at Lang San under Col Le Page and marched up to meet 1BEP. They linked up on 1 October and together they moved up to retake Dong Khe. Col Charton at Cao Bang was ordered to march south and he moved out with a column of 1,500 legionnaires and Moroccans. This column was burdened with a number of civilians.

Both columns were attacked by the Viet Minh and eventually left the roads in an attempt to outflank the Viet Minh through the jungle. By the time the two columns met on October 7 they had suffered heavy casualties, were short of food and ammunition and had many wounded. Half of the 3rd Colonial Commando Parachute Battalion (3BCCP) and a company of 1BEP replacements were dropped into That Khe to hold that post for the arrival of survivors from the Charton and Le Page columns. Only 300 men managed to reach the post which was then abandoned in haste.

Three weak companies of 3BCCP and 1BEP formed the rearguard of the column and by 14 October almost all of them had been killed. Eventually only 600 men from the two columns fought their way back to French lines. 4,800 were listed as dead or missing. It was by far France's worst defeat in the war so far.

As a result of the disaster the French government passed a law that French conscripts were prevented from being sent to areas in which military operations were taking place or to take part in them other than in time of war. This law would have serious consequences in three years time during the Battle of Bien Bien Phu.

Sources: David Stone "Dien Bien Phu" Brasseys 2004.Martin Windrow "The Last Valley. Dien Bien Phu and the French defeat in Vietnam". Da Capo 2006