Sơn Tây Campaign - Background

Background

Following the defeat and death of the French naval captain Henri Rivière at the Battle of Paper Bridge on 19 May 1883 at the hands of Liu Yongfu and the Black Flag Army, the French government sent substantial reinforcements to Tonkin. General Alexandre-Eugène Bouët (1833–87), Rivière's successor, attempted to destroy the Black Flag Army in the summer and autumn of 1883, but although the Black Flags suffered substantial losses in the Battle of Phu Hoai (15 August) and the Battle of Palan (1 September), the French failed to defeat them decisively. In October 1883 command of the Tonkin Expeditionary Corps was given to Admiral Amédée Courbet. The French now prepared for a major offensive at the end of the year to annihilate the Black Flags, and tried to persuade China to withdraw its support for Liu Yongfu, while attempting to win the support of the other European powers for the projected offensive. Jules Ferry and the French foreign minister Paul-Armand Challemel-Lacour met a number of times in the summer and autumn of 1883 with the Chinese minister Marquis Zeng Jize in Paris, but these diplomatic discussions proved abortive. The Chinese stood firm, and refused to withdraw substantial garrisons of Chinese regular troops from Son Tay, Bac Ninh and Lang Son, despite the likelihood that they would be shortly engaged in battle against the French. In turn, the French consolidated their hold on the Delta by establishing posts at Quang Yen, Hung Yen and Ninh Binh. In December 1883 Admiral Courbet was authorised by Ferry's government to attack Son Tay. The French cabinet accepted that an attack on Liu Yongfu would probably result in an undeclared war with China, but calculated that a quick victory in Tonkin would force the Chinese to accept a fait accompli.

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