A War of Logistics: Parachutes and Porters in Indochina, 1945-1954.

Author:Zeybel, Henry
Position:Book review

A War of Logistics: Parachutes and Porters in Indochina, 1945-1954. By Charles R. Shrader. Lexington, Ky.: The University Press of Kentucky, 2015. Maps. Tables. Figures. Photographs. Notes. Glossary. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xv, 488. $52.80 ISBN: 978-0-8131-6575-2

In the past, Bernard Fall's history lessons and Jean Larteguy's thinly-veiled fiction have told me all I want to know concerning France's involvement in Indo-China. Now, however, historian Charles Shrader has presented new perspectives of the war between French Union and Viet Minh forces. He describes the "First Indochina War" as a "war in which logistics decided the outcome." His research proves that poor logistical support can (and, in this case, did) defeat an army. Seventy pages of notes validate his depth of research.

The book is based on declassified contemporary French official documents and U.S. intelligence material, reports and memoirs of French participants and Western observers, and a wide range of secondary studies. Viet Minh sources are limited to contemporary documents captured by the French, prisoner of war interrogations, and the writings of Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. Maps, tables, figures, and photographs abound to support the text.

The first half of the book explains the influence of Viet Nam's terrain on the war's participants. Most of the fighting took place in the Red River area in the north. The rugged terrain stymied the development of a system of highways, railroads, and waterways capable of supporting military activities on the scale used in World War II.

Working from that background, Shrader discusses the disproportionate sizes of the opposing combat forces, explains how their logistical systems were organized and operated, and compares their opposing transportation systems. He presents detailed summations of the dependency for war supplies that the Viet Minh had with Communist China and the French Union had with the United States.

At that time, air power was far less available than what America employed during its later involvement in Vietnam. Helicopters were scarce and used primarily for medical purposes. Poor weather conditions, widely scattered airfields, limited numbers of aircraft and aircrews, and constantly improving Viet Minh antiaircraft capability minimized the effectiveness of the French Union air force. The Viet Minh had no air support.

The book's second half describes the war itself and explains how logistical factors influenced the...

To continue reading