Book Review: Sino-French Naval War 1884-1885

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by Piotr Olender

Petersfield, Eng.: MMP Books / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2012. 132. Illus., maps, diagr., appends., notes, biblio., index. $39.00 paper. ISBN: 836142153X

The Sino-French Naval War deals with a long-forgotten colonial conflict with far reaching consequences

Although hardly known in the English-speaking world, American readers in particular will find many of the places named in this book familiar from a later war.  Olender, author of several books on naval warfare in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, does a good job with a complex subject.  He opens with a discussion of the origins of French colonialism in the area now encompassed by Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, and the resultant clash with China.  Olender’s review of the military resources of the two sides is excellent, and particularly useful; the war occurred as armies and navies were sorting out the possibilities of innovative technologies, and some of the “transitional” weapons and warships are likely to be unfamiliar to even fairly seasoned students of military history.  His account of the actual maritime conflict between France and China is certainly the best recent one in English, and reminds us that this war was on a surprisingly large scale.  In what was one of the largest naval wars of the nineteenth century, the French defeated in the Chinese in several fleet actions, blockaded the Chinese coast, and captured the Pescadores Islands, off Taiwan.  Operations on land are also well covered, and Olender’s survey of the Chinese Army is particularly useful, as they are usually often neglected in accounts of conflicts with Western powers. 

An even-handed account, Sino-French Naval War makes an excellent short introduction to this largely forgotten war.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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