The Pentagon Papers
Gravel Edition
Volume 1
Document 52, Telegram from Ambassador Dillon to the Secretary of State Dulles on French Plans in Indochina, 27 May 1954, pp. 516-18.


FROM: Paris
TO: Secretary of State
NO: 4566, May 27, 6 p.m.

SENT DEPARTMENT 4566, REPEATED INFORMATION GENEVA 305, SAIGON 550.

EYES ONLY SECRETARY; GENEVA EYES ONLY UNDER SECRETARY; SAIGON EYES ONLY CHARGE

PASS DEFENSE FOR DEPARTMENT ARMY FOR RIDGWAY

THIS IS JOINT EMBASSY-TRAPNELL MESSAGE

After arriving Paris, Trapnell called first on Ambassador for general background discussion and subsequently on General Gruenther for same purpose. He was originally scheduled to call on Laniel May 28 before seeing Ely but because of Prime Minister's preoccupation with Cabinet meetings and other urgent business meeting was postponed. Trapnell accompanied by Ambassador seeing Laniel at latter's home tomorrow morning. Meanwhile Laniel suggested that Trapnell make direct contact with Ely. This was done this morning when Trapnell, accompanied by embassy Officer, had hour and half interview with Ely, accompanied by Colonel Brohan.

As conversation opened, it became apparent that Ely was not fully aware of reason behind Trapnell's presence in Paris. After this was explained Ely launched into a general review of the Indochina situation giving particular emphasis to following points:

1. He recounted content of talks he had had in Indochina with O'Daniel. He was agreeable to principle of American instruction Vietnamese forces but not
entirely in accord with O'Daniel's proposal that national army be reorganized on divisional basis. He believed that divisional units were perhaps too weighty and that lighter units of perhaps 6, 7 or 8 battalions per division were more practicable. Yet, he did not wish to press this point as he regarded it as a detail which could be worked out subsequently. He pointed out that if O'Daniel's concept was followed and US instructor-advisers remained with units upon completion of training, they would have to accompany units into battle and, therefore, major question of whether US prepared to participate in combat operations would arise. Only alternate to this would be replacement of US instructor-advisers by French as units were prepared to enter combat. This would be unsatisfactory because training and advising methods of French and Americans were dissimilar.

2. Ely stated that O'Daniel had presented an operational plan for continuing the war but that he found it unrealistic on basis that it gave priority to operations in the south while the principal and immediate threat is in the north.

3. Ely referred to increasing frequency of American criticism of French conduct of war. He explained that it was easy to criticize post facto and when things went wrong. As Trapnell knew, the war in Indochina was of a very special nature and it was unfair for people who perhaps didn't understand this fact as well as he and Trapnell to criticize. It was useless to compare the wars in Korea and Indochina; they were entirely different. He hoped that Trapnell could use his influence to reduce the degree of present US criticism of past and present Frencli performance in Indochina in the interests of good Franco-American working relations in the important joint tasks at hand.

4. At about this stage of the conversation, Ely remarked that it was virtually impossible to discuss specific military questions in Indochina without getting into the major political questions including the possibility of US intervention, the prospects for a Pacific pact and the whole question of where the defense of Southeast Asia was to take place and by whom. Trapnell referred to his terms of reference which prevented him from discussing other than specific military questions, particularly that of the regrouping of existing forces in Indochina for the defense of the Delta.

5. When Trapnell asked Ely what the immediate military prospects were in the Delta, he replied that the five Viet Minh divisions released from Dien Bien Phu were moving rapidly forward and should be at the Delta perimeter between the 10th and 15th of June. Normally at that season they would return to their regrouping areas for rest, "self-criticism" and general revision. Whether they will do so this year or not is still uncertain, although there are indications at the moment that some Viet Minh forces are moving to regrouping areas.

6. When Trapnell asked what Ely was doing to regroup his forces for the defense of the Delta he replied two basic things: First, removing units from pacification and other static missions to the Delta to become part of mobile defense groups; secondly, he was recovering units from inactive posts in Laos, Central Annam and other areas for transfer to the Delta to become part of these same mobile forces.

7. Ely's plan for the defense of the Delta centers around the defense of what he termed the Hanoi-Haiphong axis. No specific detail was given as to the number of units, where they were to be retained, or the exact area to be defended. He was particularly and, no doubt, designedly pessimistic on the aspects for the defense of this axis, stating that if Hanoi had to be surrendered French Union Forces would move to Haiphong, and if Haiphong were lost they would at least be able to move out from there to "possibly another stand in the south." This, too, depended entirely, according to Ely, on what was decided about US intervention and other pending high-level political decisions.

8. Trapnell pointed out that French superiority in aviation and armor could be extremely effective against a Viet Minh coordinated attack in the Delta because of the terrain. Ely not only admitted this fact but stated that it "is our trump card."

9. When Trapnell pressed Ely for an opinion as to what was required between the period of the immediate threat and the period when, it was hoped, the Vietnamese army would be on an effective footing, Ely replied that the General was obviously thinking of how many US Marines would be required to assure the defense of the Delta. He went on to say that in his opinion, of one or two US Marine divisions intervened "there would be no problem."

Comment: The conversation was largely unsatisfactory from our standpoint because our efforts to obtain specific commitments from Ely, including any statement regarding French intentions concerning despatch of reinforcements from metropolitan France and North Africa to Indochina, were unsuccessful. Nor did Ely appear particularly interested in Trapnell's recommendations concerning the redeployment of forces. We attribute this to the fact that Ely is still busily engaged in consultations with the Prime Minister, Pleven, and the High Council of National Defense, and was probably being very careful not to make any commitments which had not yet been cleared by the government. He was aware that Trapnell is seeing Laniel tomorrow morning with the Ambassador, at which time more specific matters may be discussed. In the meanwhile, Ely requested that Trapnell continue his conversations with Colonel Brohan for the time being and that, of course, Ely would be seeing Trapnell again after the interview with Laniel.

DILLON


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