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Diên Biên Phu : 57 jours d'héroïsme

Le Figaro Magazine - 09/04/2004
Il y a cinquante ans, dans une cuvette du Tonkin, 15 000 hommes du corps expéditionnaire français d'Indochine résistaient à l'assaut du Vietminh. Menée contre un adversaire courageux, cette bataille s'est soldée par une défaite, mais une défaite glorieuse.

Infirmière à l'époque, elle était convoyeuse de l'air. Après que son Dakota eut été détruit par l'ennemi, elle s'était retrouvée prisonnière de la bataille. Vingt ans et seule Européenne au milieu de 10 000 hommes : un ange en enfer. Son livre, Une femme à Diên Biên Phu, a été un succès de l'automne 2003. Quand Geneviève de Galard prononce une conférence, les jeunes se pressent pour l'écouter. Cinquante ans après Diên Biên Phu, certes, nous avons changé de monde et de société : « l'Indo » , c'est loin. Le récit de ce désastre, cependant, ne cesse de déchirer le coeur et l'âme.

Le drame se noue en 1953. Hô Chi Minh a beau être communiste, il a compris la force du nationalisme. Depuis 1945, il mène contre la puissance coloniale française une guerre qui est aussi une guerre des Vietnamiens du Nord (le Tonkin et l'Annam) contre ceux du Sud (la Cochinchine). Côté français, les chefs militaires successifs - Leclerc, de Lattre ou Salan - n'ont pu venir à bout de la rébellion. En 1949, le Vietnam a accédé à l'indépendance, mais le pays, membre de l'Union française, comme le Laos et le Cambodge, est précipité dans le vaste affrontement Est-Ouest. La Chine de Mao et l'URSS soutiennent le Vietminh, tandis que les Etats-Unis, engagés en Corée, aident financièrement la France en Indochine.

En métropole, le conflit est impopulaire. Les communistes, bien sûr, se montrent les plus virulents dans la stigmatisation de la « sale guerre » . Mais l'opinion, dans son ensemble, ne voit pas l'intérêt d'expédier à grands frais tous ces régiments professionnels à l'autre bout de la planète. A Paris, le gouvernement cherche une porte de sortie.

En mai 1953, le général Navarre est nommé commandant en chef en Indochine. Sa mission ? Créer les conditions militaires qui favoriseront un règlement politique. En gros, avant de donner l'assaut pour forcer Hô Chi Minh à négocier, il prévoit de reconstituer ses forces. D'où, au nord, une stratégie défensive. Le Vietminh, toutefois, lance une offensive vers le Laos qui vient de signer un accord de défense avec la France. A l'automne 1953, afin de barrer la route du Laos, le commandement décide donc d'établir un camp retranché dans les zones montagneuses du nord du Tonkin. Lieu choisi : le village de Diên Biên Phu.

Le 20 novembre 1953, six bataillons parachutistes sont largués au-dessus de cette vallée reculée. Afin d'acheminer hommes et matériels, un aérodrome est construit dans la cuvette. Le camp est organisé comme une couronne de points d'appui ; baptisés de prénoms féminins (Gabrielle, Isabelle ou Dominique) ils ont pour fonction de protéger l'aérodrome, centre et poumon du camp. Selon le 2e Bureau, le Vietminh ne peut pas engager plus de deux divisions dans la région, et les communications sont si difficiles que les Viets seront incapables d'y amener des canons de plus de 75 mm. Fatale erreur.

Hô Chi Minh, lui, est bien informé. Ce Lénine asiatique mesure l'effet qu'exercerait une défaite française sur l'opinion occidentale. Autour de Diên Biên Phu, il masse quatre divisions d'infanterie et sa division d'artillerie lourde : 24 pièces de 105 mm. Une noria de 700 camions Molotova (cadeau des Soviétiques) et 75 000 coolies transportent des tonnes de munitions. Ces mouvements n'échappent pas à l'état-major français, mais Navarre reste persuadé que Diên Biên Phu ne sera pas le théâtre d'un affrontement majeur. A Noël 1953, 60000 Viets cernent 12 000 Français, Marocains, Algériens et Thaïs, qui ne se doutent pas de ce qui les attend.

Au sommet de Berlin, le 18 février 1954, le gouvernement de Joseph Laniel (président du Conseil depuis juin 1953) accepte le principe d'une conférence qui s'ouvrira à Genève, au mois d'avril, afin d'examiner le problème du rétablissement de la paix en Indochine. Le général Navarre n'a pas été tenu au courant. Hô Chi Minh, en revanche, voit le parti qu'il peut en tirer : il faut qu'il gagne avant la fin de cette conférence.

Le 13 mars 1954, le général Giap déclenche sur Diên Biên Phu un terrifiant pilonnage d'artillerie, auquel les défenseurs du camp ne s'attendaient pas et auquel ils ne possèdent pas les moyens de répondre. Les tirs alternent avec les assauts d'infanterie, à dix contre un. En cinq jours, les points d'appui Béatrice, Gabrielle et Anne-Marie tombent aux mains de l'ennemi.

Le colonel de Castries (il sera nommé général le 14 avril) commande le camp. « Sa réaction est faible » , considère le général Gras, un historien militaire. Le chef d'état-major, le colonel Keller, est dépressif (on l'évacue par avion) et le colonel Piroth, commandant l'artillerie, se suicide. Heureusement, la position centrale est dirigée par le lieutenant-colonel Langlais, un parachutiste, tandis que la position sud est tenue par le lieutenant-colonel Lalande, un officier de la Légion. Et le 16 mars, le commandant Bigeard (il recevra ses galons de lieutenant-colonel pendant la bataille) est largué sur la cuvette à la tête de son 6e BPC (bataillon de parachutistes coloniaux). « A partir du jour où il est arrivé à Diên Biên Phu, note son biographe, Erwan Bergot, c'est l'esprit même du camp retranché qui a changé. » Avec son autorité naturelle, mais sans bousculer la hiérarchie, Bigeard impose son style : ne pas subir. Ses contre-attaques, qui décimeront les rangs du Vietminh, lui vaudront l'admiration de Giap.

En tout cas, trois jours après le début de l'offensive, l'assaillant a atteint son premier objectif : le 17 mars, le pont aérien est interrompu. Bombardé, l'aérodrome sera bientôt impraticable. Dès lors, la base ne pourra être ravitaillée que par parachutage. Giap suspend le feu de son artillerie, tandis que ses hommes effectuent un travail de termites : autour du camp, ils creusent un lacis de boyaux et de tranchées, se rapprochant chaque jour un peu plus des lignes françaises.

Le 30 mars au soir, la deuxième phase de l'offensive est lancée : l'artillerie et l'infanterie du Vietminh reprennent leurs assauts meurtriers. Les verrous Eliane et Dominique doivent être abandonnés, puis Huguette tombe à son tour. Légionnaires et parachutistes manifestent une énergie surhumaine : Giap, dont les pertes sont considérables, doit mobiliser 25 000 bo doi supplémentaires. A Hanoi, le commandement français réclame des volontaires pour sauter sur le camp : pour 750 soldats, ce sera leur baptême de parachutisme.

Fin avril, dans le camp retranché, il reste 3 000 combattants valides, plus 1 200 qui sont isolés au sud, dans la position Isabelle. Sous un déluge de feu ininterrompu, dans la boue, manquant d'eau, de vivres et de munitions, képis blancs et bérets rouges repoussent les limites de l'héroïsme. Diên Biên Phu, dira Castries, c'est Verdun, mais Verdun sans la Voie sacrée. Hô Chi Minh a refusé l'intervention de la Croix-Rouge qui demandait l'évacuation des blessés. Ceux qui tiennent sur leurs jambes se servent de leur fusil. Dans l'hôpital souterrain où passe le sourire de Geneviève de Galard, l'équipe médicale opère jour et nuit dans des conditions sanitaires effroyables.

La disproportion des forces est écrasante. Peu à peu, les Viets s'emparent des derniers points d'appui. Le 7 mai, à 16 heures, après cinquante-sept jours de combat, c'est la fin. Quand la nouvelle parvient à Paris, l'Assemblée nationale est en séance : les seuls qui refusent de se lever pour rendre hommage aux hommes de Diên Biên Phu sont les députés communistes.

Officiers et soldats, 16 000 hommes ont fait partie de la garnison : on comptera 1 600 morts, 1 600 disparus, 4 800 blessés et 8 000 prisonniers, dont à peine 3 900 reviendront vivants. Côté Vietminh, le bilan sera d'environ 10 000 tués et 20 000 blessés.

Pierre Mendès France, devenu président du Conseil le 18 juin, hâte les négociations de Genève. Le 21 juillet, l'armistice est signé. Les dernières troupes françaises quitteront en 1956 un pays coupé en deux. Pour les Vietnamiens du Sud, la guerre continuera aux côtés des Américains et se terminera, en 1975, par la chute de Saigon.

Depuis, officiellement, le Vietnam est communiste. Dans la pratique, les années de plomb ont passé. Il y a maintenant plus de dix ans que Pierre Schoendoerffer a tourné sur place son Diên Biên Phu avec le concours de l'Armée populaire... Belle leçon : les peuples de vieille mémoire, quand ils ont vécu ensemble, finissent par se retrouver. Tenaillés par le « mal jaune », les anciens du corps expéditionnaire français voyagent au Vietnam. Il se murmure que certains d'entre eux, lorsqu'ils disparaîtront, veulent être incinérés afin que leurs cendres soient dispersées là-bas, sur ces lieux où ils ont tant aimé et tant souffert. Ce sera aussi une façon de rejoindre leurs camarades restés sur le terrain. Mort, où est ta victoire ?

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Dernière mise à jour le Vendredi 23 Janvier 2015