Tonkin Expeditionary Corps

Tonkin Expeditionary Corps

The Tonkin Expeditionary Corps (French: "corps expéditionnaire du Tonkin") was an important French military command based in northern Vietnam (Tonkin) from June 1883 to April 1886. The expeditionary corps fought the Tonkin campaign (1883–6) taking part in campaigns against the Black Flag Army and the Chinese Yunnan and Guangxi Armies during the Sino-French War (August 1884–April 1885) and the period of undeclared hostilities that preceded it (August 1883–June 1884), and in important operations against Vietnamese guerilla bands during the subsequent 'Pacification of Tonkin' (May 1885–February 1886).

Commanders and campaigns

General Alexandre-Eugène Bouët (1833–87)

The expeditionary corps was established in June 1883 in the wake of Henri Rivière's defeat and death at the Battle of Paper Bridge, to entrench the French protectorate in Tonkin. Its first commander was "général de brigade" Alexandre-Eugène Bouët (1833–87), the most senior marine infantry officer available in the French colony of Cochinchina. Bouët introduced a lightweight black pyjama summer uniform for French troops in Tonkin, and also ordered them to cover their white pith helmets with black cloth to make themselves less conspicuous. These were sensible innovations, which were appreciated by the common soldiers. Bouët's first task was to secure the French posts in Hanoi, Nam Dinh and Haiphong against Black Flag and Vietnamese attacks. In July 1883 he prepared to go over to the offensive, recruiting a force of 800 Yellow Flag soldiers to augment the French forces at his disposal. Pressured by the civil commissioner-general Jules Harmand to attack the Black Flags as soon as possible in their positions on the Day River, he took the field in August 1883, despite the heat and humidity of the Tonkin summer. Bouët twice attacked the entrenchments held by Liu Yongfu's Black Flag army, at the Battle of Phu Hoai (15 August 1883) and the Battle of Palan (1 September 1883). Both battles were disappointing for the French, and Bouët's command was also dogged by disagreements with Jules Harmand over French strategy in Tonkin. In September 1883 Bouët resigned, and was briefly replaced in command of the expeditionary corps by Lieutenant-Colonel Anicet-Edmond-Justin Bichot (1835–1908). Shortly before his resignation Bouët recommended to the French government that the Tonkin Expeditionary Corps should be constituted as a regular two-brigade army division with the normal complement of artillery and ancillary support. This recommendation was accepted by the army ministry and implemented in February 1884.

Admiral Anatole-Amédée-Prosper Courbet (1827–85)

Upon the arrival of substantial French reinforcements in Tonkin in November and December 1883, the French government placed Admiral Amédée Courbet, the commander of the Tonkin Coasts naval division, in command of the expeditionary corps. Courbet commanded the expeditionary corps during the Son Tay Campaign (December 1883). Among his many other talents, Courbet was a first-class administrator, and was deeply respected by the men of the expeditionary corps for the pains he took to ensure that military life ran as smoothly as possible for them. Long after his departure, this aspect of his command was remembered. If the mail went astray, or if a unit lost its way during a route march, the soldiers would say 'This wouldn't have happened if Courbet were still in command!'

The 1883 campaigns in Tonkin were conducted, like most French colonial enterprises, by the "troupes de marine", and had been overseen by the navy ministry. In December 1883, however, in view of the increasing commitment of troops from Algeria to Tonkin, the army ministry insisted on appointing a general from the regular army to command of the Tonkin Expeditionary Corps, which would be henceforth be constituted as a two-brigade infantry division with the normal complement of artillery and other supporting arms. Jules Ferry's cabinet approved this recommendation, and Courbet was replaced in command of the expeditionary corps on 16 December 1883 by General Charles-Théodore Millot—ironically, on the very day on which he captured Son Tay. He resumed command of the Tonkin Coasts naval division, and for the next six months played a most unwelcome subordinate role, hunting down bands of Vietnamese pirates in the Gulf of Tonkin while Millot was winning glory in the Bac Ninh campaign. [Loir, "L’escadre de l’amiral Courbet", 29–35; Rollet de l’Isle, "Au Tonkin et dans les mers de Chine", 75–147]

General Charles-Théodore Millot (1829–89)

In early 1884 the arrival of substantial reinforcements from France and the African colonies raised the strength of the expeditionary corps to over 10,000 men. Its new commander, "général de division" Charles-Théodore Millot (1829–1889), organised this force into two brigades. The 1st Brigade was commanded by "général de brigade" Louis Brière de l'Isle (1827–1896), who had earlier made his reputation as governor of Senegal. The 2nd Brigade was commanded by "général de brigade" François de Négrier (1842–1913), a charismatic young Foreign Legion commander who had recently quelled a serious Arab rebellion in Algeria.

Millot commanded the expeditionary corps for eight months, from February to September 1884. During his tenure of command he organised two major campaigns to capture Bac Ninh and Hung Hoa (March and April 1884) and two more modest expeditions to capture Thai Nguyen and Tuyen Quang (May and June 1884). In the Bac Ninh campaign he won a spectacular walkover victory against Xu Yanxu's Guangxi Army. In the Hung Hoa campaign he flanked Liu Yongfu out of a formidable defensive system without losing a man. Having argued strenuously against sending a column to occupy Lang Son in the heat of the Tonkin summer, he emerged unscathed from the official enquiry into the circumstances of the Bac Le Ambush (June 1884).

Millot was arguably the most successful of the many commanders of the expeditionary corps, but he was unpopular with both his officers and his men, who considered him overcautious. Significantly, his decision to halt General de Négrier's pursuit of the defeated Chinese forces in the Bac Ninh campaign was held against him, even though he had sound military reasons for this decision. The troops immediately gave sardonic Vietnamese nicknames to their three generals. The much-admired de Négrier became "Maolen" ('Quick!'), Brière de l'Isle "Mann Mann" ('Slow!'), and Millot "Toi Toi" ('Stop!). Millot's career in Tonkin ended on a sour note. In poor health, and dismayed at the way the French government used the Bac Le Ambush as a pretext for war with China, he submitted his resignation in September 1884. In his last order of the day, he described himself as 'a sick and disappointed man'.

General Louis-Alexandre-Esprit-Gaston Brière de l'Isle (1827–96)

Millot was replaced as general-in-chief by his senior brigade commander, Louis Brière de l'Isle. Brière de l'Isle appointed Colonel Dujardin to the interim command of the 1st Brigade during the autumn and winter of 1884. In January 1885, on the eve of the Lang Son Campaign, Lieutenant-Colonel Ange-Laurent Giovanninelli (1839–1903) arrived in Tonkin and assumed command of the 1st Brigade. General de Négrier remained in command of the 2nd Brigade.

Brière de l'Isle was a natural leader of men, and under his command the expeditionary corps achieved a high standard of professional excellence. In October 1884, in the Kep Campaign, Brière de l'Isle defeated a major Chinese invasion of the Tonkin Delta, skilfully exploiting the mobility of the French gunboats to concentrate his forces successively against both wings of the Guangxi Army. [Thomazi, "La conquête de l’Indochine", 234–7] In the first fortnight of February 1885, in the Lang Son Campaign, he took the expeditionary corps in triumph to Lang Son. The success of the campaign owed as much to Brière de l'Isle's meticulous planning and organisation as it did to the courage and professionalism of the troops he led. [Thomazi, "La conquête de l’Indochine", 244–6] In mid-February, pausing only a few days at Lang Son to resupply his troops, Brière de l'Isle marched personally with Giovanninelli's 1st Brigade from Lang Son back to Hanoi, and then up the Red and Clear Rivers to relieve the Siege of Tuyen Quang. Although the French suffered heavy casualties in the Battle of Hoa Moc (2 March 1885), they captured Liu Yongfu's blocking position and broke through to Tuyen Quang. The relief of Tuyen Quang, on 3 March 1885, was the high point of Brière de l'Isle's career. [Thomazi, "La conquête de l’Indochine", 237–41 and 246–8]

Brière de l'Isle's record of solid professional achievement was marred in the second fortnight of March 1885, with simultaneous French defeats on 24 March at the Battle of Phu Lam Tao and (far more serious) the Battle of Bang Bo (Zhennan Pass). Although de Négrier retrieved his defeat at Bang Bo by inflicting crippling casualties on the Guangxi Army at the Battle of Ky Lua on 28 March, the disastrous decision by Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Gustave Herbinger to retreat from Lang Son transformed a French tactical victory into a strategic defeat. Although Brière de l'Isle soon stabilised the situation, the French had lost the hard-won gains of the February campaign. Meanwhile, Brière de l'Isle knew that he would now go down in history not as the victor of Lang Son and Tuyen Quang but as the general who had sent the notorious 'Lang Son telegram' that brought down the government of Jules Ferry. In later years, whenever asked about his experiences during the Sino-French War, he would reply 'Let's talk about something else. That campaign left a bitter taste in everybody's mouth!'

Strong reinforcements were sent to Tonkin in the wake of the Retreat from Lang Son (March 1885), bringing the total number of French soldiers in Tonkin to 35,000 in the summer of 1885. In May and June 1885 thousands of fresh French troops poured into Tonkin, swamping the veterans of the two brigades that had fought the Sino-French War, and the expeditionary corps was reorganised into two two-brigade divisions. Brière de l’Isle was replaced in command of the expeditionary corps on 1 June 1885 by General Philippe-Marie-Henri Roussel de Courcy (1827–1887), but remained in Tonkin for several months as commander of the 1st Division of the expanded expeditionary corps. De Négrier, who had recovered from the wound he sustained at the Battle of Ky Lua (28 March 1885), was given command of the 2nd Division.

General Philippe-Marie-Henri Roussel de Courcy (1827–1887)

De Courcy's command was marked by growing resistance to French rule in Tonkin and by outright insurrection in Annam. It was also memorable for a cholera epidemic which swept through the expeditionary corps in the summer and autumn of 1885, exacerabated by de Courcy's neglect of quarantine precautions, in which more French soldiers died than in the entire nine months of the Sino-French War. Elements of the Tonkin expeditionary corps were attacked at Hue on 2 July 1885 in the so-called 'Hue Ambush', which initiated the Annamese insurrection. Forbidden by the French government to launch a full-scale invasion of Annam, de Courcy landed troops along the vulnerable coastline of central Vietnam to seize a number of strategic points and to protect Vietnamese Catholic communities in the wake of massacres of Christians by the Annamese insurgents at Quang Ngai and Binh Dinh. Key moments in de Courcy's intervention were the occupation of Vinh by Lieutenant-Colonel Chaumont in August, and the relief of Qui Nhon and capture of Binh Dinh by General Prud'homme in September. In November 1885 a so-called 'Annam column' under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Mignot set off from Ninh Binh in southern Tonkin and marched down the narrow spine of Vietnam as far as Hue, scattering any insurgent bands that attempted to dispute its progress. [Huard, "La guerre du Tonkin", 1,017–19, 1,020–3 and 1,096–1,107; Huguet, "En colonne", 133–223; Sarrat, "Journal d’un marsouin", 271–3; Thomazi, "Histoire militaire de l’Indochine française", 124–5; Thomazi, "La conquête de l’Indochine", 272–5]

In Tonkin, the expeditionary corps undertook a large-scale campaign in October 1885 to capture the Yunnan Army's old base at Thanh May on the Red River, occupied by Vietnamese insurgents under the command of Nguyen Quang Bich since the end of the Sino-French War. De Négrier also conducted a major sweep of the Bai Sai region near Hanoi. De Courcy was warned by his senior medical officers not to mix units in which cholera had already broken out with uninfected units. He ignored this advice, with the result that there were appalling fatalities from cholera in both the Thanh May and Bai Sai columns.

General Charles-Auguste-Louis Warnet (1828–1913)

In December 1885, disgusted with de Courcy's obtuseness, General Briere de l'Isle submitted his resignation and returned to France. Shortly afterwards de Courcy's chief of staff General Charles-Auguste-Louis Warnet (1828–1913) also asked to return to France. The army ministry belatedly realised that things were very wrong in Tonkin. It refused Warnet's resignation and instead recalled de Courcy to France on 16 January 1886. De Courcy was briefly replaced in command of the expeditionary corps by General Warnet. Warnet, despite a wealth of evidence that Tonkin was far from pacified, was a political general. Knowing that the French public wanted to hear no more depressing news of bandits and pirates in Tonkin, he declared that Tonkin was pacified and recommended to the army ministry the formal downgrading of the expeditionary corps into a division of occupation. Some colour was given to this claim by Warnet's decision to secure the line of the Red River all the way up to the Yunnan border. In March 1886 Lieutenant-Colonel de Maussion advanced up the Red River, meeting almost no resistance, and occupied the town of Lao Cai on the Chinese border. In April 1886 the expeditionary corps was reduced to a three-brigade division of occupation under the command of General Édouard-Ferdinand Jamont (1831–1918). [Lecomte, "La vie militaire au Tonkin", 297–301; Sainmont, "Algérie, Tonkin, Cambodge", 178–8 and 183–6; Huguet, "En colonne", 118–22; Thomazi, "Histoire militaire de l’Indochine française", 125; Thomazi, "La conquête de l’Indochine", 275–7]

Strength, organisation and orders of battle

Although the Tonkin expeditionary corps eventually reached a strength of 35,000 men, it was never able to put more than a fraction of its troops into the field against the Chinese armies. Most of its men were tied down in garrison duty and in sweeps against concentrations of Vietnamese resistance fighters ('bandits' or 'pirates', as the French called them). Courbet fielded 9,000 troops during the Son Tay Campaign, and Millot 12,000 troops in the Bac Ninh campaign. De Négrier commanded slightly fewer than 3,000 men during the Kep Campaign of October 1884, and Brière de l’Isle was only with difficulty able to put 7,200 men into the field in the February 1885 Lang Son Campaign. De Courcy, using a sledgehammer to crack a nut, concentrated 6,000 infantry, seven artillery batteries and three squadrons of cavalry for the October 1885 Thanh May campaign.

Order of battle, Phu Hoai, Palan and Son Tay campaigns

During Bouët and Courbet's tenures of command, the bulk of the expeditionary corps was drawn from the "troupes de marine", as befitted a traditional colonial campaign, and the campaign was overseen by the navy ministry. During June and July 1883 the handful of marine infantry companies in Tonkin that had fought under Rivière's command at Nam Dinh and Paper Bridge were reinforced by an influx of marine infantry from France and New Caledonia. At the Battle of Phu Hoai (15 August 1883), Bouët fielded three marine infantry battalions ("chefs de bataillon" Chevallier, Lafont and Roux), three marine artillery batteries (Captains Isoir, Dupont and Roussel), five companies of Cochinchinese riflemen and around 450 Yellow Flag auxiliaries. The battle of Palan (1 September 1883), a smaller affair, was fought by two marine infantry battalions ("chefs de bataillon" Berger and Roux), Roussel's battery and the Yellow Flags. The Yellow Flag auxiliaries plundered a peaceful Vietnamese village shortly after the battle, and Bouët was forced to disband them. Many of the discharged Yellow Flags promptly joined Liu Yongfu's Black Flag Army at Son Tay. Three months later they would be fighting against their former paymasters.

The commitment of marine infantry and marine artillery units reached a peak in the Son Tay Campaign (December 1883). Courbet's column included four marine infantry battalions ("chefs de bataillon" Roux, Chevallier, Dulieu and Reygasse) and six marine artillery batteries (Captains Isoir, Dupont, Roussel, Roperh, Péricaud and Dudraille). As often in French colonial warfare, the "marsouins" and "bigors" were supported by native auxiliaries and naval detachments. The Son Tay column included a "fusilier-marin" battalion ("capitaine de frégate" Laguerre), 800 Tonkinese riflemen ("chef de bataillon" Bertaux-Levillain), four companies of Cochinchinese riflemen and a 65-millimetre naval battery ("lieutenant de vaisseau" Amelot).

But the column also included two recently-arrived Turco battalions ("chefs de bataillon" Jouneau and Letellier) and the 1st Foreign Legion Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Donnier), and the presence of Legion and Turco units at Son Tay was a portent of things to come. The army ministry insisted that the Tonkin campaign should be run by a general from the regular army, and Courbet was relieved of the command of the expeditionary corps on 16 December 1883 (ironically, the very day on which he captured Son Tay). Thereafter, the army in Algeria would supply most of the formations sent to Tonkin, and the war on land against the Black Flags and China would be run by the army ministry.

February 1884 reinforcements

In November 1883 the Chamber of Deputies approved the despatch of a further 6,500 troops to Tonkin. This was the largest single troop movement of its kind during the conflict with China. The newcomers included six fresh infantry battalions, which were grouped into two marching regiments. The first regiment, which included three line infantry battalions from France, was under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Defoy. Its three battalions—the 23rd, 111th and 143rd—were commanded respectively by "chef de bataillon" Godart, Lieutenant-Colonel Chapuis and "chef de bataillon" Farret. The second regiment, led by Lieutenant-Colonel Jacques Duchesne of the Foreign Legion, was supplied by the 19th Army Corps in Algeria and included a Legion battalion, a Turco battalion and one of the penal African light infantry battalions. These three battalions—the 2nd Legion Battalion, the 1st Battalion, 3rd Algerian Rifle Regiment, and the 2nd African Battalion—were commanded respectively by "chefs de bataillon" Hutin, de Mibielle and Servière.

The artillery reinforcements consisted of two 80-millimetre army artillery batteries, under the command of Captains Jourdy and de Saxcé, and a battery of "canons-revolvers" served by sailors. A cavalry detachment of 50 "chasseurs d’Afrique" under the command of Captain Laperrine was also sent to give the expeditionary corps a capability for scouting and pursuit, plus a number of specialist units, including a balloon detachment (Lieutenant Jullien). A draft of nearly 200 men was also despatched to bring Donnier’s Legion battalion, which had suffered heavy casualties at Son Tay, back up to its paper strength of 800 men.

The reinforcements sailed from France and North Africa in December 1883 and January 1884 in two convoys. On 23 December the transports "Vinh-Long", "Européen", "Comorin" and "Cholon" left Toulon to embark the Legion, Turco and "Bat d'Af" reinforcements at Mers-el-Kebir and Oran. On 10 January the three line battalions, the artillery and specialist troops set sail from Toulon aboard the transports "Saint-Germain", "Poitou", "Annamite" and "Mytho". Two smaller vessels, "Sarthe" and "Shamrock", accommodated the overflow. [Grisot and Coulombon, "La légion étrangère de 1831 à 1887", 427–8; "Historique de l’artillerie de la marine", 270–1; Nicolas, "Livre d’or de l’infanterie de la marine", 319–20; Thomazi, "Histoire militaire de l’Indochine française", 73 and 76; Thomazi, "La conquête de l’Indochine", 181–2]

Order of battle, Bac Ninh campaign

The expeditionary column that General Millot led to Bac Ninh in March 1884 was organised into two brigades, under the respective command of Generals Louis Brière de l'Isle and François de Négrier. After making troop deductions for garrison duty, Millot was able to give each of his brigade commanders two marching regiments ("régiments de marche"), each containing the equivalent of three infantry battalions. Professional protocol prevented him from mixing the battalions of the marine infantry, the "armée d’Afrique" and the metropolitan army ("armée de terre"), and he was obliged to create one regiment of marine infantry, two 'Algerian' regiments of troops from the "armée d’Afrique", and one French regiment. One of the 'Algerian' regiments contained the three Turco battalions then in Tonkin, the other the white formations of the Foreign Legion and African Light Infantry. These four marching regiments were commanded respectively by Lieutenant-Colonels Bertaux-Levillain, Belin, Duchesne and Defoy.

*1st Brigade ("général de brigade" Louis Brière de l'Isle)
**1st Marching Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Bertaux-Levillain)
***marine infantry battalion ("chef de bataillon" Reygasse)
***marine infantry battalion ("chef de bataillon" Coronnat)
**2nd Marching Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Belin)
***Algerian Rifle Battalion ("chef de bataillon" de Mibielle)
***Algerian Rifle Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Hessling)
***Algerian Rifle Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Godon)
**"fusilier-marin" battalion ("capitaine de frégate" Laguerre)
**Brigade artillery ("chef d'escadron" de Douvres)
***1st, 2nd and 6th Marine Artillery Batteries "bis" (Captains Régis, Vintemberger and Dudraille)
***11th Battery, 12th Army Artillery Regiment (Captain Jourdy)
***naval artillery battery, "corps de débarquement".

*2nd Brigade ("général de brigade" François de Négrier)
**3rd Marching Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Defoy)
***23rd Line Infantry Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Godart)
***111th Line Infantry Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Chapuis)
***143rd Line Infantry Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Farret)
**4th Marching Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Duchesne)
***1st Foreign Legion Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Donnier)
***2nd Foreign Legion Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Hutin)
***2nd African Light Infantry Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Servière)
**"fusilier-marin" battalion ("capitaine de frégate" de Beaumont)
**Brigade artillery ("chef d'escadron" Chapotin)
***3rd and 4th Marine Artillery Batteries "bis" (Captains Roussel and Roperh)
***12th Battery, 12th Army Artillery Regiment (Captain de Saxcé)
***naval artillery half-battery, "corps de débarquement".

Order of battle, Lang Son and Tuyen Quang campaigns

During the Lang Son Campaign (February 1885) and the campaigns of March 1885 around Tuyen Quang and Lang Son, both brigades of the expeditionary corps contained two marching regiments ("régiments de marche"), each of two or three battalions, with supporting artillery, Tonkinese skirmishers and field hospital and engineering detachments. Giovanninelli's 1st Brigade consisted of a two-battalion marine infantry regiment, a two-battalion regiment of Algerian riflemen (Turcos), a battalion of Tonkinese riflemen and three artillery batteries. De Négrier's 2nd Brigade consisted of a 'French' regiment of three line infantry battalions from the metropolitan army, an 'Algerian' regiment of two Foreign Legion battalions and one battalion of African Light Infantry, a battalion of Tonkinese riflemen and three artillery batteries:
*1st Brigade (Lieutenant-Colonel Ange-Laurent Giovanninelli)
**1st Marching Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Chaumont)
***marine infantry battalion ("chef de bataillon" Mahias)
***marine infantry battalion ("chef de bataillon" Lambinet)
**2nd Marching Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Letellier)
***3rd Algerian Rifle Battalion ("chef de bataillon" de Mibielle)
***4th Algerian Rifle Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Comoy)
**1st Battalion, 2nd Tonkinese Rifle Regiment ("chef de bataillon" Tonnot)
**Brigade artillery ("chef d'escadron" Levrard)
***3rd, 4th and 5th Marine Artillery Batteries "bis" (Captains Roussel, Roperh and Péricaud).

*2nd Brigade ("général de brigade" François de Négrier)
**3rd Marching Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Herbinger)
***23rd Line Infantry Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Godart)
***111th Line Infantry Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Faure)
***143rd Line Infantry Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Farret)
**4th Marching Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Donnier)
***2nd Foreign Legion Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Diguet)
***3rd Foreign Legion Battalion (Lieutenant-Colonel Schoeffer)
***2nd African Light Infantry Battalion ("chef de bataillon" Servière)
**1st Battalion, 1st Tonkinese Rifle Regiment ("chef de bataillon" Jorna de Lacale)
**Brigade artillery ("chef d'escadron" de Douvres)
***1st Marine Artillery Battery "bis" (Captain Martin)
***11th and 12th Batteries, 12th Army Artillery Regiment (Captains Jourdy and de Saxcé). [Lecomte, "Lang-Son", 205–6]

The artillery complements of the two brigades were reorganised before the 1st Brigade left Lang Son to relieve the Siege of Tuyen Quang. Roussel and Roperh's batteries were left at Lang Son, and Jourdy's battery was transferred to the 1st Brigade.

March 1885 reinforcements

In March 1885 the expeditionary corps was reinforced by two battalions of zouaves ("chefs de bataillon" Mignot and Simon), under the overall command of Lieutenant-Colonel Callet, a third Algerian Rifle battalion, an army artillery battery (Captain Gradoz), and two squadrons of spahis (Captains Pfeiffer and Marochetti). Mignot's zouave battalion was defeated at the Battle of Phu Lam Tao on 23 March. Pfeiffer's spahi squadron joined the 2nd Brigade during the retreat from Lang Son, and was forbidden by the acting brigade commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Herbinger, to charge a small party of Chinese skirmishers at Pho Cam. [Huard, "La guerre du Tonkin", 499–504 and 661–3; Lecomte, "Lang-Son", 408–15; Thomazi, "Histoire militaire de l’Indochine française", 110–11; Thomazi, "La conquête de l’Indochine", 250–2]

June 1885 reinforcements

In April 1885 the French government responded to the news of the retreat from Langson by arranging for reinforcements of just under 8,000 men to be dispatched to Tonkin. It decided to bring the three depleted French line battalions up to their proper strength of just over 3,000 men by calling for volunteers from the classes of 1881 and 1882 from all the line regiments in the metropolitan army. This appeal produced just under 1,700 officers and soldiers, more than doubling the existing strength of the French marching regiment. Meanwhile the "armée d’Afrique" was asked to furnish just under 4,000 men in fresh drafts from its zouave, Turco, Legion and African light infantry battalions. It was also asked to send a third zouave battalion under the command of "chef de bataillon" Hubert Metzinger to Tonkin, and to provide a squadron of spahis and a half-squadron of "chasseurs d’Afrique" to swell the meagre cavalry contingent of the expeditionary corps. Five army artillery batteries and one marine artillery battery (around 30 guns and 1,400 men) were also earmarked for Tonkin. [Metzinger’s zouave battalion was the 3rd Battalion, 3rd Zouave Regiment. The artillery reinforcements included the 5th and 6th Batteries, 13th Army Artillery Regiment (Captains Marie and Dumont), the 5th Battery, 23rd Army Artillery Regiment (Captain Gâteau), the 5th Battery, 21st Army Artillery Regiment (Captain Bacque), the 5th Battery, 38th Army Artillery Regiment (Captain Pons), and the 2nd Battery "bis", 1st Marine Artillery Regiment (Captain Pertus).]

Deployment of 1st and 2nd Divisions, June 1885

With the arrival of these reinforcements from France in June 1885, the expanded expeditionary corps was a formidable force on paper. Four Turco battalions, three zouave battalions, two marine infantry battalions, four Foreign Legion battalions, three line infantry battalions, two "zéphyr" battalions and seven Tonkinese Rifle battalions, plus supporting artillery, cavalry and engineer units, were grouped into four brigades deployed around the strategic locations in the Delta:

1st Division (General Brière de l’Isle), at Hanoi
*1st Brigade (General Jamais), at Son Tay
**1st Marching Regiment (Colonel Mourlan)
**2nd Marching Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Callet)
*2nd Brigade (General Munier), at Hanoi
**3rd Marching Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Chaumont)
**1st Tonkinese Rifle Regiment (Colonel de Maussion)

2nd Division (General de Négrier), at Haiphong
*3rd Brigade (General Giovanninelli), at Phu Lang Thuong
**4th Marching Regiment (Colonel Donnier)
** 2 African Light Infantry battalions
*4th Brigade (General Prud'homme), at Dap Cau
**5th Marching Regiment (Colonel Godart)
**2nd Tonkinese Rifle Regiment (Lieutenant-Colonel Berger).

3rd Division

A reserve 3rd Division of 9,000 men was assembled at Pas de Lanciers near Marseilles in April 1885, in case the Chinese showed any reluctance to implement the provisions of the recently-signed peace protocol. The 3rd Division, under the command of General Coiffé, consisted of two brigades, each of two line infantry regiments and a battalion of "chasseurs à pied". The division’s 1st Brigade (General de Pereira) consisted of the 47th Infantry Regiment (from Saint-Malo), the 62nd Infantry Regiment (from Lorient) and the 22nd Battalion, "chasseurs à pied" (from Morlaix). The 2nd Brigade (General de Sermensan) consisted of the 63rd Infantry Regiment (from Limoges), the 123rd Infantry Regiment (from La Rochelle) and the 28th Battalion, "chasseurs à pied" (from Bayonne). The division was struck by an epidemic of typhoid fever and had to evacuate its camps. Had its men ever been sent to Tonkin, they would probably have suffered a high mortality rate. In the event, China punctiliously implemented the terms of the peace settlement, and the division was broken up in late June 1885. [Huard, "La guerre du Tonkin", 784–6 and 791–5]



* Grisot and Coulombon, "La légion étrangère de 1831 à 1887" (Paris, 1888)
* Harmant, J., "La verité sur la retraite de Lang-Son" (Paris, 1892)
* Hocquard, C., "Une campagne au Tonkin" (Paris, 1892)
* Huard, "La guerre du Tonkin" (Paris, 1887)
* Lecomte, J., "Lang-Son: combats, retraite et négociations" (Paris, 1895)
* Lecomte, J., "La vie militaire au Tonkin" (Paris, 1893)
* Lecomte, J., "Le guet-apens de Bac-Lé" (Paris, 1890)
* Nicolas, V., "Livre d'or de l'infanterie de la marine" (Paris, 1891)
* Thomazi, A., "Histoire militaire de l’Indochine française" (Hanoi, 1931)
* Thomazi, A., "La conquête de l'Indochine" (Paris, 1934)

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  • Oscar de Négrier — François Oscar de Négrier General François de Négrier Nickname Maolen ( Quick! ) Born October 2, 1839 …   Wikipedia

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