Gen. Christian de Castries; Defeated in Vietnam

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Christian de la Croix de Castries, the French brigadier general whose soldiers lost the battle for Dien Bien Phu, ending France’s control of Vietnam and its colonial rule in Indochina, has died, his family has announced. He was 88 and the cause and date of death were not reported.

Despite his defeat, de Castries became a national hero because of the gallant battle his troops waged at Dien Bien Phu.

De Castries was born in Paris to an aristocratic family with a tradition of equestrian expertise and military service dating to the time of Louis XV.

In 1933, de Castries guided his horse to a world-record high jump of 7 feet, 10 inches.


De Castries was twice wounded in action during World War II. Troops under his command took Siena in Italy, and he helped capture Karlsruhe and Freudenstadt in Germany.

In 1946, de Castries began his first tour of Indochina, where communist, nationalist Viet Minh guerrillas commanded by Ho Chi Minh were battling for independence from France.

While commanding a light tank unit, de Castries was wounded for a third time and won his 18th citation for valor. He spent a year recuperating in France, then returned.

In December, 1953, de Castries was sent to Dien Bien Phu, where France hoped to lure the Viet Minh into a set-piece battle.

Instead, Viet Minh troops commanded by Vo Nguyen Giap, the architect of the subsequent U.S. defeat in Vietnam, surrounded Dien Bien Phu to prevent France from resupplying it.