Indochine: The Kindling for Vietnam (Part 1)

Ken Burns and and Lynn Novick’s “The Vietnam War” is a new 10 part miniseries on the conflicts between France, the US, South Vietnam, North Vietnam, the Viet Minh, and the Viet Cong over a period of about twenty years. The French presence in their colony of Indochine, or Indochina, was regarded as the instigation for the Vietnam War in which the US was flung into a massive conflict across the Pacific. It is important to understand the background of Vietnam’s relationship with the Western Nations before looking at the US involvement.

Related image
Battle of Kep, 1884

The first Franco-Vietnamese relations were based on Catholicism in the 17th century as missionaries arrived to spread their religion across the world. The French East India Company set up trading posts in 1680 as their presence in the region grew stronger. The French were in India, Siam, and now Vietnam in the 17th century. Things soon turned sour as local Vietnamese people resisted the French missionaries. 200 years later, French ships arrived to rescue some captured missionaries and sunk Vietnamese vessels on their way.

Image result for charles rigault de genouilly
French Admiral de Genouilly

Napoleon III ordered the end of persecution in Vietnam of French Catholics, and sent Admiral Charles Rigault de Genouilly and Spanish allies on a Punitive Expedition called the Cochinchina Campaign in 1858. They captured Tourane (Modern-day Da Nang) but were eventually besieged themselves. Franco-Spanish troops in Saigon were also under siege and French troops tied up in Italy and China could not help. Francois Page replaced de Grenouilly s commander of the French forces, and reinforcements arrived in 1860 from China. Tourane was given up in favour of keeping Saigon, so the city was reclaimed by Vietnamese troops. At Ky Hoa, the Vietnamese army of 35,000 were pushed back, allowing French and Spanish troops room in Saigon. The French repeatedly offered peace but each time it was refused. With the fall of Vinh Long, the Vietnamese were in no place to win and peace was organized in June 1862. The Treaty of Saigon gave three provinces to the French and three more were added in 1867.

French expeditions into Tonkin soon exploded as resistance from Vietnamese members of the Chinese Black Flag Army and in 1873, French officer Francis Garnier was killed. The Tonkin Campaign began in 1883 as Henri Riviere brought French troops into Hanoi in an attempt to capture the region. The Black Flag Army were victorious at Paper Bridge, and Riviere was killed. The Tonkin Expeditionary Corps was sent to reinforce the French troops already there and was led by General Alexandre-Eugene Bouet. A victory at Nam Dinh pushed Vietnamese forces to the edge and the French troops had an opportunity to achieve a quick victory. French forces captured the Hue River at the Battle of Thuan An and forced four more provinces to be under French ownership.

At Phu Hoai and Palan, the French were pushed back by the Black Flag Army and the French outpost at Hai Douong fell to Vietnamese troops. The French were in trouble and had wasted their opportunity to end the campaign swiftly. In December, the Tonkin Expeditionary Corps met the Black Flag Army at Son Tay and the battle raged from the 11th until the 17th as the French bombarded their enemies and repeatedly attacked a set of redoubts. After a disastrous counterattack by the Black Flag Army, French Foreign Legionnaires and fusiliers-marins stormed Son Tay and claimed victory for the French.

Image result for tonkin campaign
The Battle of Bac Ninh

In 1884, Chinese support of the Guangxi Army at Bac Ninh failed as 11,000 French troops crushed them under leadership of Charles-Theodore Millot. The sheer numbers of French troops was the most in the entire Tonkin campaign, managing to field two brigades including artillery. The force was made up of line infantry, Algerian tirailleurs, Foreign Legionnaires, marines, and Turcos. A Chinese ambush at Bac Le in 1884 sparked the Sino-French War over Tonkin. The French navy secured a massive victory at Fuzhou and allowed the French to create a blockade of Chinese ports. The French followed and crushed the Guangxi Army at the Battle of Kep and in retaliation to their high casualties, they massacred droves of Chinese wounded and prisoners to the dismay of the Western Powers. By 1885, the French were on the doorstep of Lang Son which was the main supply line for Chinese troops in Vietnam. After a series of engagements, the French managed to claim victory and the Guangxi were forced to retreat yet again. At Hoa Moc, the French were checked hard suffering some 300 casualties but opened the way to relieving a French outpost nearby. The Guangxi were thrown out of Tonkin the Battle of Dong Dang on Feburary 23rd. The French entered Southern China and were repulsed suffering heavy casualties yet again. The French finally were victorious at the Battle of Phu Lam Tao on March 25th 1885.

French troops during the Sino-French War

The French finally had Tonkin and Annam in June 1885 after years of bloody war. However, the locals still were against the French and constant attacks on supply routes along the Red River angered the French. Though Tonkin was French, it was still very much Vietnamese.

Part Two will discuss Indochina, French influences in the area, and how war broke out yet again in the Indochina War including the legendary of Dien Bien Phu.

Advertisements

Ireland and the Spanish Civil War

The Spanish Civil War lasted from 1936 to 1939, and involved many foreign units fighting for the control Spain and her colonies. The Republicans, supported indirectly by the Soviet Union and Mexico, fought to preserve Republican Spain and contained many Catalans and Basques. The Nationalists, led by Generalissimo Francisco Franco, rebelled against the Second Spanish Republic in order to form a fascist government and was supported predominately by Italy and Germany.

Irish troops had served among the Spanish since the 16th century in the 80 Years’ War. Later, the legendary “Flight of the Wild Geese”, the diaspora of Irish Jacobites to France in 1691, brought more Irishmen to Spain. The “Wild Geese” became a name for all Irish troops serving in foreign forces. The Irish who traveled to Spain formed a few regiments in the Spanish Army: the Hibernian Regiment, the Ulster Regiment, and the Irish Regiment. These were disbanded in 1818 at the request of the British.

Image result for irish brigade spanish civil war
Members of the Irish Brigade

By 1936, some 700 Irish Catholics travelled to Spain in order to help Franco’s forces. Ireland and Spain’s similar Catholic heritage joined the two nations together in an indirect bond, as did the “Wild Geese.” Ireland officially did not help the Nationalists, but Eoin O’Duffy, a former member of Irish Parliament and leader of the Irish National Corporate Party, led Irishmen to Spain in order to stop the rise of Communism. O’Duffy allegedly received some 7,000 applications but was only able to bring a small number with him to Spain. The Irish trained in Caceres and were formed as the 15th Battalion of the Spanish Foreign Legion.

The Nationalist Irish were deployed in the Battle of Jarama in February 1937. They were stationed long with British and Balkan volunteers along the San Martin-Morata Road, and soon defended against Republican troops. Heavy fighting ensued, but their involvement delayed the advance of the rest of Franco’s troops. A counter-attack by Republican troops pushed back the Nationalists and eventually ended the battle.

Generalissimo Franco felt he had no need for more foreign troops, as well as having political pressure against his use of foreigners, so the ‘Irish Brigade’ of the Nationalist Army was not used again, nor were any more volunteers drawn from Ireland.

O’Duffy later returned to Ireland after Franco granted his leave, but he and his troops were not received well. O’Duffy held no political power and would never do so again, and the Irish government began removing files of the ‘Irish Brigade’ in the 1940’s.

Image result for eoin o'duffy
Eoin O’Duffy

As well as fighting for the Nationalists, there were some Irishmen who took up arms for the Spanish Republic. The ‘International Brigades’ that supported the Republic began being formed in 1936, and the Communist Party of Ireland organised a movement in the country.

Frank Ryan, a former member of the Irish Republican Army, traveled to Spain with 80 men in 1936 and his socialist Irishmen became known as the ‘Connolly Column.’ They later gained more support for their cause, and the ‘Connolly Column’ fought at Jarama, Brunete, Belchite, Teruel, Gandesa, and the Ebro.

Ryan was captured during the Battle of the Ebro in 1937, and he was later sentenced to hard labour. He died in 1940. The rest of the Irish returned home in 1938, for political reasons, and they were not given any recognition, similar to O’Duffy’s Irish Brigade.

Image result for frank ryan ira
Frank Ryan

In the 1930’s, the Spanish Civil War was viewed as a war between the Church and Communism. The Irish loyalty to their Catholic beliefs illustrated the willingness of some 700 to serve on the Nationalist side. The Communist support was much more subdued. The war, realistically, was a war between Franco’s fascism and the preservation of a Spanish Republic.

Much of the Irish press in the 1930’s portrayed Franco’s forces as fighting for Catholicism and that the Republican forces were brutally murdering clergymen. In reality, there were plenty of Catholics on either side of the war. After Franco’s victory, some 6,000 members of the clergy were killed in Spain, causing outrage in the Catholic world.

Francoist Spain was dissolved in 1975 after Franco’s death, forming the modern Kingdom of Spain, and their colonies were later granted independence.