Operation Castor[a] was a French airborne operation in the First Indochina War. The operation established a fortified airhead in Điện Biên Province, in the north-west corner of Vietnam and was commanded by Brigadier General Jean Gilles. The Operation began at 10:35 on 20 November 1953, with reinforcements dropped over the following two days. With all its objectives achieved, the operation ended on 22 November. Castor was the largest airborne operation since World War II.

Operation Castor
Part of First Indochina War

French Union paratroops dropping from a C-119 over Battle of Dien Bien Phu
Date20–22 November 1953
Result Successful French establishment of the Dien Bien Phu outpost

French Fourth Republic French Union

North Vietnam Việt Minh
Commanders and leaders
Jean Gilles
Jean Dechaux
Henri Navarre
Võ Nguyên Giáp
4,195 (as of 22 November)[1] One infantry battalion and one artillery battery
Casualties and losses
By 20 November:
11 killed,[2]
52 wounded
Điện Biên Province (shown in green) was sufficiently far from Hanoi, the seat of French military power, that it could not easily be supplied by air.



The French paratroopers of the 6ème Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux (6 BPC) and the 2nd Battalion of the 1er Régiment de Chasseurs Parachutistes (II/1er RCP) dropped over Dien Bien Phu on the first day in order to secure the airstrip built by the Japanese during the occupation of French Indochina by Japan from 1940 to 1945. The operation took 65 of the 70 operational C-47 Dakota and all 12 C-119 Flying Boxcar transport aircraft the French had in the area, and still required two trips to get the lead elements into the valley. Also dropped in the first wave were elements of the 17e Régiment de Génie Parachutiste (RGP) ("17th Airborne Engineers Regiment") and the Headquarters group of Groupement Aéroporté 1 (GAP 1), ("Airborne Group 1"). They were followed later in the afternoon by the 1er Bataillon de Parachutistes Coloniaux (1 BPC) and elements of 35e Régiment d'Artillerie Légère Parachutiste (35 RALP) and other combat support elements. Just after its landing, the 6 BPC ran into contact with the Việt Minh 910th Battalion, 148th Regiment, which was conducting field exercise in the area along with a battery from the 351st Artillery Division and an infantry company of the 320th Division. Fighting persisted until afternoon when the Việt Minh units eventually withdrew to the south.

The following day, the second airborne group, "GAP 2" – consisting of 1er Bataillon Etranger de Parachutistes (1 BEP), 8e Bataillon de Parachutistes de Choc (8 BPC), other combat support elements and the entire command and Headquarters group for the Dien Bien Phu operation under Brigadier General Jean Gilles – was dropped in. While on another drop zone, the heavy equipment came down and the engineers quickly set about repairing and lengthening the airstrip.

On 22 November, the last troops of the initial garrison, the 5e Bataillon de Parachutistes Vietnamiens ("Battalion of Vietnamese Parachutists", 5 BPVN), jumped into the valley. In the same "stick" as the commander of 5 BPVN was Brigitte Friang, a woman war correspondent with a military parachutist diploma, and five combat jumps.[5] These troops raised the Dien Bien Phu garrison to its full planned strength of 4,500. On November 30, orders were issued for the garrison to guarantee free use of the airfield, to hold the position to the last man, and to conduct attacks to retard buildups of Viet Minh forces.[6] General Navarre created the outpost to draw the Việt Minh into fighting a pitched battle. That battle, the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, occurred four months after Operation Castor.

French order of battle


Aeroportable Division Element (French: , Elément Divisionnaire Aéroporté, EDAP):

  • Groupement Aéroporté 1 (GAP 1), (Airborne Group 1)
  • Groupement Aéroporté 2 (GAP 2), (Airborne Group 2)




  1. ^ Some English sources erroneously translate the name of operation into the English "Beaver".[3][4] However the name of the second operation (the evacuation of Lai Châu), which took place weeks later, "Pollux"; clearly indicates that this is an error and both names refer to mythological twins Castor and Pollux. Fall, Bernard B. (2002). "Notes". Hell in a very small place: the siege of Dien Bien Phu. New York, N.Y.: Da Capo Press. p. 467. ISBN 0-306-81157-X.
  1. ^ "DienBienPhu.org". Archived from the original on 2007-09-27. Retrieved 2007-05-13.
  2. ^ Clodfelter 2008, p. 657.
  3. ^ B. J. C. McKercher (1996). The Operational Art: Developments in the Theories of War. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 109. ISBN 9780275953058.
  4. ^ Doctor At Dien-Bien-Phuauthor=Paul Grauwin. Pickle Partners Publishing. 2015. p. 16. ISBN 9781786256850.
  5. ^ Fall, 138.
  6. ^ Prados, John (2002). Operation Vulture. Ibooks. p. 41. ISBN 978-0-7434-4490-3.


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  • Cogan, Charles G. 2000. "L'attitude des États-Unis à l'égard de la guerre d'Indochine" in Vaïsse (2000: 51–88).
  • Davidson, Phillip. 1988. Vietnam at War: The History, 1946–1975. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-506792-4
  • Clodfelter, M. (2008). Warfare and armed conflicts : a statistical encyclopedia of casualty and other figures, 1494-2007. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland. ISBN 978-0786433193.
  • Fall, Bernard. 2005. Street Without Joy. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military. ISBN 978-1-84415-318-3
  • Farrell, Ryan F. 1991. "Airlift's role at Dien Bien Phu and Khe Sanh". Global Security website. Retrieved: February 19, 2008.
  • Friang, Brigitte. 1958. Parachutes and Petticoats. London: Jarrolds.
  • Giap, Vo Nguyen. 1971. The Military Art of People's War. New York & London: Modern Reader. ISBN 0-85345-193-1
  • Navarre, Henri. 1956. Agonie de l'Indochine. Paris: Librairie Plon. ISBN 978-2-87027-810-9
  • Simpson, Howard R. 1994. Dien Bien Phu: The Epic Battle America Forgot. London: Brassey's. ISBN 978-1-57488-024-3
  • Vaïsse, Maurice (editor). 2000. L'Armée française dans la guerre d'Indochine (1946–1954). Paris: Editions Complexe.
  • Windrow, Martin. 1998. The French Indochina War, 1946–1954, Osprey. ISBN 1-85532-789-9
  • Windrow, Martin. 2004. The Last Valley. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 0-306-81386-6