Indochina was part of the French colonial empire in Southeast Asia,
consisting of a federation of protectorates of Tonkin and Annam and one directly ruled colony, Cochin China. The capital of French Indochina was Hanoi.
Cochinchina, from Cochin China (known
locally as Nam Ky, meaning ‘southern region’) is a
name for the southernmost part of Vietnam,
lying southeast of Cambodia.
During the French colonial period, it was called Cochinchine
in French and its capital was at Saigon. Annam formed the central region and Tonkin the northern region,
however these were fairly arbitrary in their geographical extent.
The reigning emperor of the Nguyen Dynasty of Vietnam, Tu Duc, had been on the throne since
1847. The persecution of foreign
missionaries and native Christians, on the rise since 1820, came to full
flower under Tu Duc and
led inevitably to clashes with the West. The emperor feared that Christians
in Vietnam might act as a
fifth column and deliver Vietnam
to the British or the French. There was also the very real possibility that
Vietnamese Christians would unite behind one of Tu Duc's dynastic rivals. He had already been faced with one
such rebellion in the north.
late 1850s, under Napoleon III and the Second Empire, Paris was showing renewed interest in
overseas expansion. France
was driven both by a self-proclaimed "civilizing mission" and by a
nagging fear within Parisian diplomatic and commercial circles that Britain, which already had acquired Singapore and Hong Kong, would snatch up Vietnam if the
French didn't beat them to it. In this atmosphere, Napoleon III proved a
receptive audience for French missionaries who insisted that Vietnam was
ripe for the taking.
bishop of Tonkin (northern Vietnam),
Monsignor Jose Sanjurjo Diaz, was arrested and
executed on July 20th 1857. Triggered by the bishop’s death and
ongoing missionary propaganda, the decision to invade Vietnam was
made by Napoleon III in July 1857.
commander of French forces in the Far East, Vice Admiral Charles Rigault de Genouilly, long an advocate of French military action against Vietnam, was ordered to attack the harbour and
city of Tourane (modern Da Nang) and to turn it into a French military base. Tourane was the principal
trading port on Vietnam’s
central coast. Genouilly sailed into the Bay
of Tourane on August 31st
1858 with a flotilla of 14 ships of France’s China Seas Naval
Division. This was accompanied by two Spanish naval vessels (‘Jorge Juan’ and
‘Elcano’) originating from Manila under the command of Colonel Oscariz; consisting of 500 soldiers, all of whom were of
Philippine origin other than the officers who were Spanish. The following
day, Genouilly’s ships shelled and neutralised the
gun positions that guarded the city, and on September 2nd 1858, a
Franco-Spanish force of 2,500 troops landed.
It was to
prove a far more difficult operation than the French anticipated. After six
months of inconclusive fighting, they found themselves short of food and
suffering from cholera, malaria and dysentery. In February 1859, a frustrated
Vice Admiral de Genouilly decided to leave a
garrison at Tourane and sail south to seize Saigon
and Cochinchina's much-needed stores of rice.
February 16th 1859, Genouilly's ships
took station opposite the Gia Dinh
Citadel. This large earth-and-masonry fort, the most important in Cochinchina, was located about 800 meters from the Saigon River and on the south side of Thi Nghe Creek. What transpired
was brief and decisive. There was an exchange of fire between de Genouilly's ships and the cannon at the Citadel. When
Vietnamese fire began to slacken, French and Spanish troops went ashore.
Under the cover of continued shelling from naval guns and of small-arms fire
from riflemen stationed in the ships' topmasts, two companies of marine
infantry and naval landing parties, all under the command of General
Charles-Gabriel-Felicité Martin des Pallires, formed up in column and attacked the Citadel's
northeast wall. Des Pallires was supported by a
group of engineers and a troop of Spanish light cavalry from the Philippines.
By 10am, they had scaled the walls of the Citadel and put the Vietnamese
defenders to flight.
Before Genouilly could take advantage of his victory, he
received word that his forces in Tourane
were in desperate straits. The admiral left a garrison of about 1,000 men at Saigon and sailed north again. What he found was
discouraging. The French and Spanish troops were dying from disease at a rate
of about 100 per month. Any hope of reinforcements was dashed when word
reached the French fleet that Napoleon III had declared war on Austria in
May 1859. Disgusted by the lack of support, Genouilly
asked to be relieved of command in October. In March 1860, the French finally
abandoned Tourane and sailed north to join the British, who had resumed the
West's war with China.
thousand-man French garrison left at Saigon
was strong enough to defend what the French had thus far gained, including
the Chinese commercial centre of Cholon. Without
reinforcements, however, they were unable to capitalize on their position and
expand into the hinterland of Cochinchina.
Vietnamese forces to the west of the town steadily pushed trench works toward
the French lines and conducted increasingly costly raids.
Treaty of Peking ended the war in China
in January 1861, Vice Admiral Léonard Charner, the new commander of the China Seas Naval
Division, was ordered to relieve the French garrison at Saigon
and complete the conquest of Cochinchina. In
mid-February 1861, Charner sailed south from
Shanghai with the 3rd Marine Infantry Regiment and six detached companies
from the 4th Regiment (a total of 1,200 men under the command of a Lt. Col. Favre and Lt. Col. Jules Marcelin
Albert Testard); the 2nd Light Infantry Battalion
(600 men under a Major Comte); 200 artillerymen (commanded by Lt. Col. Pierre
Franois Crouzat) manning
10 30mm and 80mm field howitzers, as well as 12-pounder and 4-pounder
cannons; a detachment of engineers; and 800 sailors organized as naval
infantry and another 100 formed into boarding parties (both elements
commanded by naval Captain Franois Théodore de Lapelin). These
forces rendezvoused at Saigon with a Spanish
force (under Colonel Carlos Palanca y Guttierez) consisting of 200 infantry and 70 mixed
cavalry (Filipino, African chasseurs and Cochinchina
spahis) commanded by Captain Charles-douard Hocquard. Including the
men available from the Saigon garrison, Charner's small army now numbered about 3,500 men.
Vietnamese attempts to re-conquer the occupied area failed and on April 13th
1862, the Vietnamese government was forced to cede those territories to France.
Anti-French agitation continued however until 1866, when the western
provinces of Nam Bo (Chau Doc, Ha Tie, and Vinh Long) were also occupied by the French.
most of the Spanish expeditionary force under the command of Admiral Bernardo
Ruiz de Lanzarote was withdrawn on French request.
All that then remained was a small garrison at Saigon,
Commander and Plenipotentiary for Indochinese Affairs, lead by Col. Carlos Palanca y Gutiérrez. This
garrison was soon abandoned by the Spanish government and became completely
dependent on French supply. Likewise the Spanish authorities showed no
interest at all for the attempt to obtain some of the Vietnamese territory
and all Spain
eventually got in 1862 were some commercial concessions. On April 4th
1862, the Filipino soldiers withdrew from Cochinchina, while the French
continued to expand their control of this area. The last Spanish troops
returned to the Philippines
all the French territories in Southern Vietnam
were declared to be the New French colony of Cochinchina.
In 1867, the provinces of Chau Doc, Ha Tien and Vinh Long were added
to the French controlled territory. In 1887, Cochinchina,
which had formally been proclaimed a French colony in 1864, became part of
the Federation of French Indochina.
the Spratly islands were annexed to French Cochinchina.
On July 28th 1941, imperial Japanese troops were based in French Cochinchina under defacto
occupation, followed on March 9th 1945 by formal Japanese occupation until
August 15th 1945. Between 1945 and 1946 Cochinchina
was nominally part of the Empire of Vietnam. On June 14th 1949, it became
part of the (Associated) State of Vietnam.