HANOI, Oct 4 (Reuters) - General Vo Nguyen Giap, architect of Vietnam's military victories over France and the United States, died on Friday, aged 102, family members said.
The general was one of Vietnam's best known 20th century figures, ranked by historians among such military giants as Montgomery, Rommel and MacArthur.
The son of a peasant scholar, he was considered the mastermind of the historic defeat of the French in 1954 at Dien Bien Phu and the communist victory over U.S.-backed South Vietnam 21 years later.
He died Friday evening after several years in a Hanoi military hospital.
In a 2004 interview with Reuters in his spacious French villa in central Hanoi, the old warrior preached peace and said Vietnam's independence wars were a "victory for colonised countries all over the world".
Giap recalled that on a visit to the United Nations in Geneva the previous year, he was handed a book to sign.
"I wrote...and signed Vo Nguyen Giap, General of Peace."
Born on Aug. 25, 1911, in central Vietnam, Giap was a close friend of the late revered president Ho Chi Minh and was held in high regard alongside former prime minister Pham Van Dong.
But Giap's critics and his nemesis, the late U.S. General William C. Westmoreland, said he was effective partly because he was willing to sustain huge losses in pursuit of victory.
"Any American commander who took the same vast losses as General Giap would have been sacked overnight," Westmoreland was quoted as saying in Pulitzer Prize-winning author Stanley Karnow's 1983 book "Vietnam. A History."
Karnow wrote that Westmoreland seemed to misunderstand how determined the communists under Ho and Giap really were.
Giap is known to have opposed several important military decisions, including the costly move in 1968 to delay the withdrawal of forces from unsustainable positions in South Vietnam during the Tet Offensive.
In 1975 he held back again on a decision by Hanoi to commit all its forces - leaving the capital unprotected - to the Spring campaign which climaxed in late April with the fall of Saigon, now called Ho Chi Minh City.
Later, he opposed Hanoi's decision to maintain an occupying force in Cambodia following Vietnam's late-1978 invasion.
This, coupled with long-harboured resentment by some members of the establishment towards him, is said to have contributed to his declining political influence after the war years.
He remarried after his first wife died in a French prison in 1943. Giap had three daughters and two sons. (Compiled by Hanoi Newsroom; Editing by Martin Petty and Sonya Hepinstall)