Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Navarre, Henri (1898–1983)

French Army general and commander in chief of French forces in Indochina (1953–1954). Born on 31 July 1898 at Villefranche de Rouergue in Aveyron, Henri Navarre enlisted in the French Army in 1916 to gain admission to the French military academy at Saint-Cyr in 1917, receiving a commission in the cavalry (Hussars) the following year. As a career army officer, he served with distinction in Syria, Morocco, and Germany during the 1920s and 1930s. He became an intelligence officer in 1939 for the French command in North Africa and in metropolitan France for the French resistance during World War II. He was promoted to brigadier general in 1945 and became inspector general of French Army troops in Germany. Advanced to major general in 1950, he commanded the French 5th Armored Division in Germany. He was promoted to lieutenant general in 1953.

In May 1953, Navarre was selected to replace General Raoul Salan as commander in chief of French forces in Indochina. Navarre soon changed French tactics from defensive to offensive operations. In July 1953 he flew to Paris to present his plan to win the war. The Navarre Plan called for deployment to Indochina of 20,000 additional French troops, the expansion of the National Vietnamese Army to at least 200,000 men, and the granting of greater independence to the Indochinese states in order to secure their support for a wider war.

In undertaking offensive operations, Navarre set up a major blocking position in northeastern Vietnam that he hoped would prevent a renewed Viet Minh invasion of Laos. He also hoped to draw limited Viet Minh forces into a set-piece battle in which they might be destroyed by French artillery and airpower. Navarre's plan, Operation castor, positioned sizable French military assets in the remote valley town of Dien Bien Phu. Viet Minh commander General Vo Nguyen Giap took the bait, and the result was the March–May 1954 Battle of Dien Bien Phu. The Viet Minh decision to commit much greater assets than Navarre had anticipated coupled with their success in bringing artillery to the mountains around Dien Bien Phu and Navarre's overestimation of French air capabilities spelled defeat for the besieged and allowed French politicians to shift the blame to the military and extract the nation from the war.

An embittered Navarre retired from the army in 1956 to run a brick factory and to write his memors, Agonie de l'Indochine (1956). He died in Paris on 21 June 1983.

Bradford Wineman


Further Reading
Navarre, Henri. Agonie de l'Indochine, 1953–1954. Paris: Librairie Plon, 1956.; Navarre, Henri. Le Temps de Vérités. Paris: Plon, 1979.
 

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