Tonkin Campaign - Hanoi and Nam Dinh (June–July 1883)

Hanoi and Nam Dinh (June–July 1883)

Nine years after Francis Garnier's failed attempt to conquer Tonkin, French and Vietnamese troops clashed in Tonkin on 25 April 1882, when Commandant Henri Rivière seized the citadel of Hanoi with a small force of marine infantry.

After a lull of several months, the arrival of reinforcements from France in February 1883 allowed Rivière to mount a campaign to capture the citadel of Nam Dinh (27 March 1883). The Capture of Nam Dinh was strategically necessary for the French, to secure their communications with the sea.

During Rivière's absence at Nam Dinh with the bulk of his forces, chef de bataillon Berthe de Villers defeated a Vietnamese attack on the French positions at Hanoi by Prince Hoang Ke Viem at the Battle of Gia Cuc (27 and 28 March 1883).

Although these early actions deserve to be considered part of the Tonkin campaign, the campaign is conventionally considered to have begun in June 1883, in the wake of the decision by the French government to despatch reinforcements to Tonkin to avenge Rivière's defeat and death at the hands of Liu Yongfu's Black Flag Army at the Battle of Paper Bridge on 19 May 1883. These reinforcements were organised into a Tonkin Expeditionary Corps, which was placed under the command of général de brigade Alexandre-Eugène Bouët (1833–87), the highest-ranking marine infantry officer available in the French colony of Cochinchina.

The French position in Tonkin on Bouët's arrival in early June 1883 was extremely precarious. The French had only small garrisons in Hanoi, Haiphong and Nam Dinh, isolated posts at Hon Gai and at Qui Nhon in Annam, and little immediate prospect of taking the offensive against Liu Yongfu's Black Flags and Prince Hoang Ke Viem's Vietnamese. Bouët's first step was to withdraw the isolated French garrisons of Qui Nhon and Hon Gai. He had also been authorised to abandon Nam Dinh at need, but he decided to try to defend all three major French posts. During June, the French dug in behind their defences and beat off half-hearted Vietnamese demonstrations against Hanoi and Nam Dinh.

The early arrival of reinforcements from France and New Caledonia and the recruitment of Cochinchinese and Tonkinese auxiliary formations allowed Bouët to hit back at his tormentors. On 19 July chef de bataillon Pierre de Badens, the French commandant supérieur at Nam Dinh, attacked and defeated Prince Hoang Ke Viem's besieging Vietnamese army, effectively relieving Vietnamese pressure on Nam Dinh.

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