The 32-km-long Pha Din pass with its highest peak at 1,648 metres above sea level is the gateway to the northwestern mountainous province of Dien Bien. Sixty years ago, Pha Din pass was the place from which soldiers pulled the artilleries up the mountain to the Dien Bien Phu battlefield. A report by radio The Voice of Vietnam (VOV).

The terrain of the Pha Din pass now is not as difficult as before though there are still eight sharp zigzag bends along the road. Work has been done to lower the altitude of the pass and to widen the road, making it easier to go through it. Pha Din pass becomes picturesque with green scenery dotted with bamboo houses of the Thai ethnic minority people.

Sixty years ago, the pass was part of the pipeline supplying ammunitions and food to the Dien Bien Phu battlefield. Everyday, thousands of people, including young volunteers, militia and workers, carried ammunition and rice up the mountain through the pass.

It was also the place where ground forces and artillerymen marched through to Dien Bien Phu.

Music composer Hoang Van, who composed the song “Artillery pulling chant”, still remembers the marches through Pha Din pass 60 years ago, saying: "Before entering Muong Thanh field, we had to go through a long zigzag pass, soldiers moved through on foot while transporters pushed bicycles carrying supplies to the front."

The supply line began in late 1953. The pass was dozens of kilometres and winding while French planes continuously bombarded, he said. "At that time, we had to be careful to avoid enemy bombings. After that, we had to pull artillery up the mountain. All these experiences inspired me to compose the song 'Artillery pulling chant'.”.

Pha Din pass was the most difficult section in the long journey of moving the artilleries. After Pha Din pass, soldiers had to pull their weapons over many slopes, abysses and high peaks to move toward Him Lam, Doc Lap and A1 hills and ultimately French commander De Castries' bunker. The Dien Bien soldiers’ efforts to haul their weaponry are unimaginable.

“As we hauled our ammunitions, dozens of people were arranged at each end of the artileries. At one end, some people pulled the cannons and at the other, some people pushed it. We used a winch and put a roller inside to pull the artilleries," Van said.

It is now about dozens of kilometres from Pha Din pass to Dien Bien city. During the Dien Bien Phu campaign, the length of the road was not calculated by kilometres but by the hardship that the soldiers suffered.

There were different roads for transporting supplies to carry artilleries to the battlefield. Some roads were used for just a few hours for artilleries to go through and then hidden by the forest as if they had never existed.

There was a special section of the road that was 15 km long and built within 20 hours running the distance from Na Nham forest to Ngheu hamlet. On that road, Vietnamese soldiers manually pulled 2.4-tonne artilleries, 75-mm canons and 120-mm mortars through difficult mountains, deep abysses and enemy bombings to join the opening battle of the Dien Bien Phu campaign on March 13, 1954.

Pham Duc Cu, a former artilleryman at Dien Bien Phu, recalled: “Our condition was very harsh. When we were 15 to 18 km from Dien Bien Phu, we had to pull the artilleries with our hands. It was the most difficult section of the road. The Dien Bien artillerymen must have been made of bronze bodies and iron feet. We will never forget the winding roads and slopes in Bay Toi, U Mau, Suoi Ngua and Voi Phuc, where we pulled 2.4-tonne artilleries to their positions in the battlefield”.

A monument to the memory of hero To Vinh Dien, who used himself to save an artillery piece from sliding down to abyss, and his artillery platoon was erected 20 km from Dien Bien. The monument reminds younger generations of Vietnam’s glorious history and the heroic soldiers of Dien Bien Phu.-VNA