First published 1959 by Robert Hale Ltd Corgi edition published 1961
The orders were simple - the road past the fort at Ma-Kouie must be denied to the enemy artillery for five days. Time is essential for planes to bring in reinforcements urgently needed at Dien Bien Phu otherwise all Laos falls to the Viet-Minh. The problem is that by the time these orders arrive at Captain Renoir's HQ he has just eighteen men left alive. But these men of the French Foreign Legion are a tough bunch and prepared to carry out their orders. After all there is very little choice though the mission is totally suicidal. The plan is simple. First destroy the bridge over the Ma-Kouie River. Second hold the fort for twenty four hours after the enemy arrive. Third pull back to a grassy knoll where Renoir will place mortar positions. The fort is placed under the command of Sergeant Steve Brent, a tough uncompromising 'Limey'. With him is the American Corporal Bud Galland who loves hard as he fights; Johnny Hellwig, a young German deserter who becomes a man. Others are memorable like Me'n Fou with a fly tattooed on the end of his nose and Mohaffy the Irish American with a grudge against the sergeant. Then there is the big built Marie with a hatred for the Viet-Nimh who killed her husband and son - a woman determined to go down fighting. And Ly-Lin, a prostitute hopelessly devoted to Bud Galland who stands by his side through thick and thin.
Derrick Wright has written a character driven book about men and war that still stands up today. The reader gets involved with the story and as the numbers begin to dwindle you feel the loss. The battle scenes are well described - in such a way that you can see it happen as though it was a movie. This was one of those books that went around my class at school and I still have it.