Franco-Vietnamese Wars

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Franco-Vietnamese Wars


(1858–62 and 1883–84), predatory wars launched by France for the colonial enslavement of Vietnam.

The First Franco-Vietnamese War, which lasted from 1858 to 1862, initiated the French conquest of Vietnam. The government of Napoleon III also drew Spain into the war. Military operations began on Sept. 1, 1858, with the capture by Franco-Spanish forces of the fortress and port of Da Nang, located 100 km from Hue, the capital of Vietnam. In February 1859 the command of the expeditionary corps sent the main forces of a Franco-Spanish squadron into southern Vietnam. On February 18, after bitter fighting, the French took Saigon. The brave resistance of the Vietnamese Army and the hostility of the population of southern Vietnam prevented the French invaders from advancing into the interior. On Mar. 23, 1860, the Franco-Spanish troops were forced to abandon Da Nang.

As Great Britain’s ally in the Opium War of 1856–60, France sent most of its expeditionary corps to the Chinese theater of military operations in the summer of 1860. At the conclusion of the Opium War another Franco-Spanish squadron was sent to Vietnam in January 1861. In late February the French occupied the province of Gia Dinh (Saigon); in April they overran the province of Dinh Tuong; and in December they captured the province of Bien Hoa, the city of Ba Gia, and the island of Poulo Condore. In March 1862, they occupied the province of Vinh Long. The struggle of the Vietnamese patriots against the invaders became more and more active, finally escalating into a large-scale partisan war. Under these conditions the French command had to give up its original plans for establishing French domination over all Vietnam. Nevertheless, the treaty concluded between Vietnam, France, and Spain in June 1862 gave France a foothold in the three eastern provinces of southern Vietnam. After the three western provinces of southern Vietnam were annexed by France in 1867, the six southern provinces became the French colony of Cochin China.

In the Second Franco-Vietnamese War (1883–84) the French colonialists completed their conquest of Vietnam. On Aug. 19, 1883, an expeditionary corps sent to the Hong Ha (Red River) Delta captured Hai Duong. Next, the French occupied the forts of Thuenan at the mouth of the Hué River, which guarded the approaches to the capital. On August 25 the feudal Vietnamese government signed a preliminary peace treaty establishing a French protectorate over Vietnam. Owing to the strong partisan movement, however, it took the invaders almost another year to capture the main centers of the Hong Ha Delta and of the central part of northern Vietnam—the cities of Son Tay (December 1883), Bac Ninh (March 1884), Hung Hoa (April 1884), and Tuyen Quang (June 1884). On June 6, 1884, the Vietnamese court and France signed a final peace treaty under which Vietnam recognized the French protectorate. The effect of the treaty was to turn Vietnam into a French colony.

Vietnam’s defeat in the Franco-Vietnamese wars may be explained by the military superiority of capitalist France over the backward feudal Vietnamese state and the defeatist policy of the Vietnamese court circles, which sought to prevent the spread of the people’s war of resistance.


Shiltova, A. P., and V. F. Mordvinov. Natsional’no-osvoboditel’noe dvizhenie vo V’etname (1858–1945). Moscow, 1958.
Dement’ev, Iu. P. Politika Frantsii v Indokitae i obrazovanie Indokitaiskogo soiuza (1858–1907). Moscow, 1975.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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