Battle of Foochow (Fuzhou), Sino-French War

The order of battle for this engagement may appear in some sources as a fairly even fight, because of the description of both fleets as including about half a dozen cruisers (including in Mordel's "25 Centuries of Sea Warfare" and Pemsel's "A History of War at Sea"). In fact the French fleet, even without the armored cruiser Bayard and other ships that did not enter the river, was far stronger and the battle was obviously going to be one-sided (the French had anchored themselves in the middle of the Chinese squadron in the first place and were prepared for a punitive strike to back up colonial threats).

The ship locations are taken from a map in "25 Centuries of Sea Warfare" but unfortunately the transliteration of the Chinese ship names on that map are different enough from that used in Wright's "The Chinese Steam Navy" or Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships to make identification of some of the ships difficult. I have attempted to mix the description of the battle in the Chinese Steam Navy book with the map in 25 Centuries of Sea Warfare to place the ships.

The French armored cruisers Bayard and La Galissonniere were not in the middle of the naval battle but instead stayed out at the mouth of the river, destroying shore batteries and forts with their heavy guns. However, the equally well-armed Triomphante managed to make it up the river close enough to help the unprotected cruisers Duguay-Trouin, D'estaing and Villars obliterate the Chinese gunboat Chen Wei and the wooden armed transport ships (some sources call them 'cruisers') Fei Yuan and Chi An. On this, the east side of the battle, the number of French guns would have been overwhelming. A more "fair" fight might have taken place further to the west near the arsenal and dockyards, where the smaller French ships, Volta and three gunboats, faced the Chinese flagship Yang Wu, the Fu Po (sister to the Fei Yuan and Chi An), the gunboat Fu Hsing, and the "Rendel gunboats" (small calm-water only ships with one huge gun mounted on each) Chien Sheng and Fu Sheng (location on maps uncertain). However, French torpedo boats managed to run explosive charges against the Yang Wu and Fu Hsing, sinking them (these were not motorized torpedos but bombs on a stick or line rammed or dragged into the enemy ships). Fire was then focused on the Rendel gunboats with their heavy guns and these were also sunk. The Fu Po and a small paddle-steamer, I Hsin, retreated up the river and were grounded (the I Hsin destroyed by its crew there) and two transports near the arsenal were shelled (the Yung Pao sunk, the Chen Yang disabled). There may still have been a threat from Chinese torpedo boats and old-fashioned armed junks (traditional sailing ships) but these were apparently completely ineffective, as there were few French casualties and only minor damage to their squadron. The dockyards and arsenal itself were also blasted by the French ships, which then made their way back down the river, destroying fortresses and shore batteries as they went.

This battle was basically a demonstration of firepower; the Chinese lost heavily in men but the ships lost were mostly smaller or obselete compared to the French squadron. In this war, while the French navy could cruise the coastline and attack weak targets of their choosing, on land the Chinese army managed to fight off a French invasion, and so the war was not as one-sided as the Europeans hoped. France still retained control of Indochina at the end of it, and China's history of being picked on by outside powers was not going to end anytime soon (ten years later it was Japan's turn).

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