Sơn Tây Campaign - Significance

Significance

Courbet had achieved his objective, but at considerable cost. Total French casualties during the two days of fighting amounted to 83 dead and 320 wounded. The dead or mortally-wounded officers included Captain Godinet of Jouneau’s Algerian Rifle battalion, Captains Doucet and Cuny and Lieutenant Clavet of the marine infantry, and Captain Mehl of Donnier’s Legion battalion. Twenty-two other officers were wounded. One jaundiced French officer commented, 'Admiral Courbet took Son Tay as you would expect a sailor to do: by boarding.'

According to reports later received by the French, Chinese and Vietnamese casualties at Son Tay had been heavy: 900 dead and around 1,000 wounded. Nearly all these casualties were suffered by Liu Yongfu's Black Flag Army. The fighting at Son Tay took a terrible toll of the Black Flags, and in the opinion of the British observer William Mesny broke them once and for all as a serious fighting force.

The disproportionate sacrifices made by the Black Flag Army at Son Tay had important consequences. Liu Yongfu felt that he had been deliberately left to bear the brunt of the fighting by his Chinese and Vietnamese allies, and determined never again to expose his troops so openly. After the fall of Son Tay Liu retreated with the Black Flag Army to Bac Ninh, but made little attempt to coordinate the movements of the Black Flag Army with those of the Chinese forces at Bac Ninh. The absence of the Black Flags from the battlefield was an important factor in the defeat of China's Guangxi Army in the Bac Ninh campaign in March 1884.

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