In early February 1885 part of Admiral Courbet's Far East Squadron left Keelung to head off a threatened attempt by part of the Chinese Nanyang Fleet (Southern Seas fleet) to break the French blockade of Formosa (Taiwan). On 11 February Courbet's task force met the cruisers Kaiji (開濟), Nanchen (南琛) and Nanrui (南瑞), three of the most modern ships in the Chinese fleet, near Shipu Bay, accompanied by the frigate Yuyuan (馭遠) and the composite sloop Dengching (登慶).
Suspecting that Kaiji, Nanchen and Nanrui had taken refuge in Zhenhai Bay, Courbet scouted the entrance to the bay at dawn on 1 March. Not only could he see the masts of the three Chinese cruisers, but he was also able to identify four other Chinese warships: the composite sloop Chaowu (超武), the wooden transport Yuankai (元凱), and two 'alphabetical' gunboats. The entrance to the bay had been blocked by a barrage of sunken junks by the Chinese authorities, and was also defended by two recently-built forts.
1 March 1885[编辑]
These precautions turned out to be unnecessary. Far from making plans for an attack on the French squadron, the Chinese commanders appear to have been afraid that the French would send their torpedo boats into the Ningpo river to repeat their recent triumph in the Battle of Shipu. On the night of 2 March, as the French squadron lay at anchor, a searchlight suddenly began to sweep the Chinese barrage, several flares soared into the air, and the sound of cannon fire and rifle fire from within the bay disturbed the silence of the night. Nervous Chinese sentries had mistakenly identified a harmless fishing boat as a French torpedo boat and immediately given the alarm. The French listened in disbelief as the Chinese blazed away until dawn at an imaginary enemy. The scene was repeated, on an almost nightly basis, for the rest of the month.
The Chinese version crystallised shortly after the war, with the erection of a commemorative tablet near the site of the engagement in 1889 by the Chinese general Ouyang Lijian (歐陽利見), who had been charged with the defence of Ningbo and Zhenhai. According to Ouyang's account, the defence of the town was in the hands of the Chinese military mandarins Xue Fucheng (薛福成), Liu Bingzhang (劉秉璋) and himself. The hero of the battle was the artillery officer Wu Jie (吳杰), who directed the fire of a battery of cannon. Wu Jie defied direct orders not to fire on the French, and precipitated the battle by ordering his men to open fire. The Chinese cannon inflicted terrible damage on the French ships, hitting both Bayard and Nielly, and a shot aimed in person by Wu Jie severely wounded the ‘terrible Guba’ (as the Chinese called Courbet). After the battle was over, Wu Jie expected to be commended for his prowess. Instead, he was punished for disobedience.
According to Arlington, the Chinese gunners were reluctant to fire on the French on 1 March, and the artillery duel was precipitated by a German gunner named Jerkins, who opened fire without orders on one of the French ships.
French ships at Zhenhai[编辑]
Commemoration of the battle of Zhenhai in China[编辑]
Thanks to the care taken by Ouyang Lijian in 1889 to burnish his own reputation, the 'battle of Zhenhai' is still remembered with pride in China. Chinese fortifications and cannon used during the battle have been preserved at Zhenhai, and a monument has been erected that bears the inscription 中法战争镇海之役胜利纪念碑, 'Monument to the victory in the Zhenhai battle in the Sino-French War'.
- Loir, 271–7
- Loir, 282–3
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- Duboc, E., Trente cinq mois de campagne en Chine, au Tonkin (Paris, 1899)
- Garnot, L'expédition française de Formose, 1884–1885 (Paris, 1894)
- Loir, Maurice, L'escadre de l'amiral Courbet (Paris, 1886)
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- Thomazi, La conquête de l’Indochine (Paris, 1934)