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Sino-French Naval War 1884-1885

Sino-French Naval War 1884-1885 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review January 2013 Title Sino-French Naval War 1884-1885
Author Piotr Olender Publisher Mushroom Model Publications
Published 2012 ISBN 978-83-61421-53-5
Format 128 pages, softbound MSRP (GBP) £19.99


Dien Bien Phu.  Khe Sanh.  Quang Tri.  Tet.  Linebacker.

Few realize that bloody battles of 20th-century Indochina arguably originated from obscure 19th-century fighting between France and China.

Now MMP BOOKS provides those links in Sino-French Naval War 1884-1885.  Author Piotr Olender capably charts the conflict's largely coastal and riverine operations from Tonkin to Taiwan.  And after helpful notes on causes and comparisons, the bulk of the book competently chronicles key actions.

Olender contends that the French "owed their unquestionable success to the navy which, by seizing control the sea, was able to seriously threatened the Chinese economy, most significantly with the 'rice blockade'."

And he confidently confirms his thesis in fascinating fashion.  Beset by political divisions and low combat readiness, China's navy officially comprised the Peiyang and Nanyang fleets.  The Nanyang component, in turn, incorporated the southern Fukien and Kwangtung fleets – all of which bore the brunt of battle.

Audacious French moves – coupled with mainly dispirited, disjointed Chinese reactions – pepper passages.  From France's overwhelming victory over China's Fukien Fleet at Foochow through its Min River actions to its Taiwan blockade, sea power forged France's complete, "undisputed control of Vietnam."

Nor do naval clashes completely consume contents.  Author Olender critically covers French Marines, Black Flag bandits, native defenders and other land forces.  He even notes an early modern Chinese "human wave" attack!

An 1885 peace agreement resolved all "contentious issues" between both countries.  And by 1893, Cochinchina, Annam, Tonkin, Cambodia and Laos comprised the colony called "French Indochina" – thereby sowing the seeds of future fighting.

Helpful annotations, bibliography, and transcription/transliteration notes augment MMP's instructive account.  But a chronology with index would have considerably clarified coverage.  And my inner modeler personally prefers warship drawings to one scale.

Maps proved perplexing, too.  Page 55's Min River estuary chart, for instance, imprecisely locates the crucial Pagoda Point landmark.  And larger scale insets would positively put local actions into clearer geographic perspectives.

Still, I simply couldn't put Sino-French Naval War 1884-1885 down.  Connect some historical dots.  And brilliantly illumine your Asian conflict studies with this superbly vital volume.

Rabidly recommended.

With thanks to MMP BOOKS for the review copy:


Available in North America from CASEMATE: