The Decision To Attack Nam Dinh
Rivière also believed that, in his present situation, doing nothing was more dangerous than taking the initiative. Alarming news was coming in from both the north and the south. At Son Tay, Liu Yongfu was preparing to attack the French in Hanoi with 5,000 men of the Black Flag Army. In the Delta, the governor of Nam Dinh had armed the citadel, and the French gunboats were having great difficulty in preventing him from blocking the canals. Rivière was convinced that France should strike first. Now, at last, he had the means to act. 'As this indecisive government has been imprudent enough to send me 500 men,' he wrote to a friend, 'I have decided to use them to do what it did not decide I should do.'
Rivière decided to strike at Nam Dinh, again in order to secure his communications with the coast. It was the strategy that Francis Garnier had adopted in 1873, and it was probably the right one. But the decision aroused considerable opposition among his officers. They argued that it would result in a most undesirable division of the small French force at Hanoi. Nam Dinh would have to be garrisonned if it fell, and the French would then be too stretched to carry out further military operations. They recommended that the French should instead attack Liu Yongfu in Son Tay with all their available forces. Rivière was not convinced. He believed, probably rightly, that the French were not strong enough to take on Liu Yongfu. He overruled his officers and ordered plans to be prepared for an expedition against Nam Dinh. Eleven months after French troops had gone into action at Hanoi, Rivière once again threw down the gauntlet to the Vietnamese and Chinese courts.
Nam Dinh was defended by 6,200 Vietnamese soldiers under the command of the tong doc (governor) Vu Truong Binh, assisted by the de doc Le Van Diem and the quan an Ho Ba On. A contingent of 600 Chinese soldiers from the Chinese garrison of Bac Ninh also fought covertly on the Vietnamese side, led by the Black Flag officer Vinh Thong Chat. As France and China were not at war, the Chinese troops wore Black Flag uniforms to disguise their participation in the battle.
Read more about this topic: Capture Of Nam Định (1883)
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