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René Cogny
April 25 1904 – September 11 1968[1]
Nickname Le General Vitesse (General Hurry-Up), 'Coco the Siren'
Place of birth Normandy, France
Place of death Mediterranean
Allegiance France
Service/branch French Army
Rank Général de division
Commands held Forces Terrestres du Nord Viêtnam
Battles/wars World War II
First Indochina War
Awards Croix de guerre

René Cogny (April 25, 1904 – September 11, 1968)[1][2] was a French Général de division, World War II veteran and later commander of the French forces in Tonkin (northern Vietnam) during the First Indochina War and notably the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. Known to his men as Le General Vitesse (General Hurry-Up), Cogny was killed when Air France Flight 1611 crashed in the Mediterranean near Nice.




Early life

Cogny was born in Normandy in April 1904, the son of a police sergeant. An academically gifted boy, Cogny was awarded a scholarship to École Polytechnique, where he received an engineering degree, a diploma from the French Institute of Political Science,[2][3] and a doctorate in law.[4] Cogny enlisted in the French Army before the outbreak of World War II, graduating in 1929 from the Fontainebleau artillery school, and was a battery commander by the time the war started. He was awarded the Croix de guerre during early engagements.[2]

World War II

In June 1940, he was one of 780,000 soldiers captured by the German army as it circumvented the Maginot Line. He was held in captivity for almost a year before he escaped in May by crawling naked through a drain pipe with three companions, pushing their disguises out in front of them.[5] Cogny moved back to Vichy France through Bavaria in 1941 to join the Armistice Army and the underground French Resistance.[6] In 1943, now a Major, Cogny was again arrested by the Gestapo and underwent six months of interrogation and torture in Frennes prison before being sent to Buchenwald, and later Mauthausen, concentration camps.[3] Cogny was liberated in April 1945 in a poor state of health. Though he did recover from being a "walking skeleton",[3] his severe limp would require the use of a cane for the rest of his life.[4]

Between 1946 and 1947, Cogny, despite being an artillery officer, commanded an infantry division near Paris, and he then gained political experience in an appointment to the War Ministry as executive secretary to the Defence Minister, and later to the staff of General Jean de Lattre de Tassigny. Cogny was sent with de Lattre to French Indochina in 1950, and after the latter departure, Cogny commanded a French division in Tonkin and a Groupe Mobilé in the Red River Delta[3]. Henri Navarre later offered him command of the Forces Terrestres du Nord Viêtnam (North Vietnam Ground Forces, or FTNV), and he oversaw the French efforts in the Delta until the end of the war.[2]

Dien Bien Phu

According to Davidson, Cogny was in fact the officer who proposed Dien Bien Phu as a "mooring point"[7] to Navarre. Jules Roy, however, disagrees. Where Cogny had envisioned a light mobile base of operations, Roy argues, Navarre saw a heavily defended fortress. Cogny was one of many officers who protested against this new strategy, stating that "we are running the risk of a new Na San under worse conditions".[8] These protests, however, had no effect. Though stationed in Hanoi during the Battle of Dien Bien Phu itself, having seen the battle turning against France, Cogny attempted to reach the besieged garrison to take command; however, his aircraft was beaten back by anti-air fire on March 17 1954. He considered parachuting in, but was advised against it.[9] Throughout the battle, Cogny and his superior Navarre were at odds on the disposition of forces between Dien Bien Phu, Cogny's own sector in the Tonkin Delta, and Navarre's Operation 'Atlanta'. In response to a damming letter from Navarre on March 29, Cogny informed his superior that he no longer wished to serve under his command.[10] The time scale for his departure was not discussed at the time, and Cogny continued to serve under Navarre, with the relationship between the two degrading significantly. Cogny would continue attempts to with-hold certain reinforcements from Dien Bien Phu or relating relief efforts if he believed it would undermine his strength in the Tonkin Delta.[11] On May 2, Navarre went as far to threaten Cogny with an investigation into his 'defeatist' press releases.[12] As Dien Bien Phu was about to fall, it was Cogny who took the final radio calls from the commander of the garrison there,[2] from Colonel Christian de Castries.

De Castries: "The Viets are everywhere. The situation is very grave. The combat is confused and goes on all about. I feel the end is approaching, but we will fight to the finish." Cogny: "Well understood. You will fight to the end. It is out of the question to run up the white flag after your heroic resistance."


De Castries: "I'm blowing up the installations. The ammunition dumps are already exploding. Au revoir." Cogny: "Well, then, au revoir, mon vieux." (literally 'my old one', more commonly translated as 'my friend', 'my fellow' or the phrase 'old man' in a sense of friendship)[2]

By nightfall, all French central positions had been captured and Dien Bien Phu had fallen.

Later life

After Indochina, Cogny weny on to become a Lieutenant General and commander of French forces in Central Africa by 1963.[2] On September 11 1968,[1] while flying across the Mediterranean, Cogny's Air France Sud Aviation Caravelle crashed near Nice. Cogny was killed in the crash along with 94 others.

Command style

Cogny is seen by historians to have had a particular style of military pomp during his time in Vietnam. Bernard B. Fall remarked that it took "a special kind of guts and dash" to furfill Cogny's role during the conflict.[3] As well as "Le General Vitesse", Cogny was known to his men as 'Coco the Siren' due to his use of motorcycle outriders with sirens. He was a popular commander with his men, and particularly with journalists with whom he often dealt with in the place of his more reclusive superiors.[4] Cogny focused his interest on the Tonkin Delta region where his troops were stationed, calling himself "Delta Man". On June 7, 1954 Cogny was the subject of an article in Time Magazine with the title "Delta General."[5] Despite the popularity, Cogny was said to be "sensitive to criticism" and had a tendency to "brood on real or imagined injuries."[4] He is criticsed by Roy as having focused overly on blaming Navarre for defeat in Indochina rather than working on a solution.[2]


  1. ^ a b c Emergency Management retrieved on March 13, 2007
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Roy, p. 313-314.
  3. ^ a b c d e Fall, p. 62.
  4. ^ a b c d Windrow, p. 207.
  5. ^ a b Time magazine retrieved on March 13 2007
  6. ^ Fall (Street), p. 62.
  7. ^ Davidson, p. 182.
  8. ^ Roy, p. 21.
  9. ^ Davidson, p. 240–1.
  10. ^ Windrow, p. 472.
  11. ^ Windrow, p. 543.
  12. ^ Fall, Hell in a very small place p. 358, as cited in Windrow, p. 584.




  • Fall, Bernard B. (1966). Hell in a Very Small Place. The Siege of Dien Bien Phu. London: Da Capo Press. ISBN 9780306811579. 
  • Fall, Bernard B. (1961). Street Without Joy. The French Debacle in Indochina. New York: Stackpole Military History. ISBN 9780811732369. 
  • Fall, Bernard B. (1967). The Two Vietnams. A Political and Military Analysis (Second Edition ed.). New York: Frederick A. Praeger, Inc.. 
  • Roy, Jules (1963). The Battle of Dien Bien Phu. New York: Carroll and Graf Publishers. ISBN 9780786709588. 
  • Windrow, Martin (2004). The Last Valley. Dien Bien Phu and the French Defeat in Vietnam. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. ISBN 9780304366927. 


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