Christian de Castries

Christian Marie Ferdinand de la Croix de Castries (11 August 1902 – 29 July 1991) was the French commander at the Battle of Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

Christian de Castries
Dien Bien Phu001.jpg
Born11 August 1902 (1902-08-11)
Paris, France
Died29 July 1991(1991-07-29) (aged 88)
Paris, France
Allegiance France
Service/branch French Army
Years of service1921-1959
RankGeneral de brigade
Commands heldMobile Group 2
Mobile Group 1
Operational Group North-West


Christian de Castries was born into a distinguished military family: the House of Castries; and enlisted in the army at the age of 19. He was sent to the Saumur Cavalry School. In 1926 de Castries was commissioned as a cavalry officer but later resigned to devote himself to equestrian sports. After rejoining the army at the start of World War II, he was captured (1940), escaped from a German prison-of-war camp (1941), and fought with the Allied forces in North Africa, Italy, the south of France and finally, during the invasion of Southern Germany. He ended the war in command of the 3rd Moroccan Spahis (mechanized cavalry), whose distinctive red cap he subsequently wore throughout his service in Indochina.

In 1946 de Castries, soon to become a lieutenant colonel, was sent to Indochina where he commanded a tabor (battalion) of Moroccan goumiers. He was wounded and spent a year recuperating in France before returning to Vietnam as a full colonel. In December 1953 he was charged with defending Dien Bien Phu against the Viet Minh. After an eight-week siege, the garrison was defeated, and near the end de Castries was promoted to brigadier general. The French were overrun by the Viet Minh forces on 7 May 1954, effectively ending the First Indochina War and the French presence in Southeast Asia. He was held prisoner for four months while an armistice agreement was reached in Geneva.

Upon his return to France de Castries was appointed to command the 5th Armoured Division, then stationed in West Germany. Following a car accident in 1959 he retired from the military.[1] He subsequently headed a recycling firm. He died in Paris on 29 July 1991.


  1. ^ Martin Windrow, 'The Last Valley: Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam' Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 2004 ISBN 0-297-84671-X