Amédée Courbet : biography
Anatole-Amédée-Prosper Courbet (26 June 1827 – 11 June 1885) was a French admiral who won a series of important land and naval victories during the Tonkin campaign (1883–86) and the Sino-French War (August 1884–April 1885).
Command of Far East Squadron
The 1883 campaigns in Tonkin had been conducted, like most French colonial enterprises, by the troupes de marine, and had been overseen by the navy ministry. In December 1883, however, in view of the increasing commitment of troops from Algeria to Tonkin, the army ministry insisted on appointing a general from the regular army to command of the Tonkin Expeditionary Corps, which would be henceforth be constituted as a two-brigade infantry division with the normal complement of artillery and other supporting arms. Jules Ferry's cabinet approved this recommendation, and Courbet was replaced in command of the expeditionary corps on 16 December 1883 by General Charles-Théodore Millot—ironically, on the very day on which he captured Son Tay. He resumed command of the Tonkin Coasts naval division, and for the next six months played a most unwelcome subordinate role, hunting down bands of Vietnamese pirates in the Gulf of Tonkin while Millot was winning glory in the Bac Ninh campaign.Loir, 29–35
Courbet's luck changed in June 1884. On 27 June, in response to the news of the Bac Le ambush, the Tonkin Coasts naval division and the Far East naval division were amalgamated into a Far East Squadron. The new squadron, which would remain in existence throughout the Sino-French War, was placed under Courbet's command, with Admiral Sébastien Lespès (the commander of the Far East naval division) second in command. Courbet's squadron initially included the ironclads Bayard (the flagship), Atalante, La Galissonnière and Triomphante, the cruisers Châteaurenault, d'Estaing, Duguay-Trouin and Volta, the light frigates Hamelin and Parseval, the gunboats Lynx, Vipère, Lutin and Aspic, the troopships Drac and Saône and Torpedo Boats Nos. 45 and 46. In July 1884 Courbet was ordered to concentrate part of the squadron at Fuzhou, to threaten the Fujian fleet (one of China's four regional fleets) and the Foochow Navy Yard.Loir, 65–87
Min River operations, August 1884
Negotiations between France and China to resolve the crisis over the Bac Le ambush broke down in mid- August and on 22 August Courbet was ordered to attack the Chinese fleet at Fuzhou. In the Battle of Fuzhou (also known as the Battle of the Pagoda Anchorage) on 23 August 1884, Courbet's Far East Squadron annihilated China's outclassed Fujian fleet and severely damaged the Foochow Navy Yard. Nine Chinese ships were sunk in less than an hour, including the corvette Yangwu, the flagship of the Fujian fleet. Chinese losses may have amounted to 3,000 dead, while French losses were minimal. Courbet then successfully withdrew down the Min River to the open sea, destroying several Chinese shore batteries from behind as he took the French squadron through the Min'an and Jinpai passes.Lung Chang, 280–3; Thomazi, Conquête, 204–15
Operations in Formosa, October 1884
In late September 1884, much to his distaste, Courbet was ordered to use the Far East Squadron to support the landing of a French expeditionary corps at Keelung and Tamsui in northern Formosa (Taiwan). Courbet argued vigorously against a campaign in Formosa and submitted alternative proposals to the navy ministry for a campaign in northern Chinese waters to seize Port Arthur or Weihaiwei. He was supported by Jules Patenôtre, the French minister to China, but both men were overruled.Garnot, 32–40
On 1 October Lieutenant-Colonel Bertaux-Levillain landed at Keelung with a force of 1,800 marine infantry, forcing the Chinese to withdraw to strong defensive positions which had been prepared in the surrounding hills. The French force was too small to advance beyond Keelung. Meanwhile, after an ineffective naval bombardment on 2 October, Admiral Lespès attacked the Chinese defences at Tamsui with 600 sailors from his squadron's landing companies on 8 October, and was decisively repulsed by forces under the command of the Fujianese general Sun Kaihua (孫開華). The French were now committed to a prolonged Keelung Campaign, and Courbet's squadron was tied down in a largely ineffective blockade of Formosa.
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