Ba Dinh Insurrection (1886 – 1887) deeply manifested the patriotism, undaunted spirit, and the determination to fight the enemy to protect the country of our people. Despite its weak strength and simple weapons, the insurgents, with their unique art of creating posture, broke down a number of enemy’s attacks.
Responding to the King’s Appeal, a strong movement against the French colonialist broke out in all three regions (the North, the Central and the South) with various insurrections. Notably, the Ba Dinh Insurrection led by Pham Banh, Dinh Cong Trang stimulated the rebellious movement against the French colonialist all across the country and left us valuable lessons, including the art of creating combat posture.
1. Consolidating and promoting the “people’s heart and mind posture” in the area, bringing about enormous strength for the insurrection. Ba Dinh base was located in the three villages, namely My Khe, Mau Thinh, Thuong Tho of Nga Son district, Thanh Hoa province where people were patriotic, resilient, and indomitable in combating foreign invaders. They were also strongly supportive of the King Appeal against the French colonialist. As soon as being informed about the French occupation of the Hue Citadel (5th July 1885), the people there established a network against the French. From coastal to mountainous areas, people were eager to prepare for resistance war. Therefore, when Dinh Cong Trang and Pham Banh stationed their troops in the area, they were strongly supported by the villagers. They not only abandoned their houses to leave ground for the insurgents but also eagerly provided food and necessary facilities for them. Particularly, local youths, after helping the insurgents build their base, voluntarily joined the troop. To earn people’s heart and mind, commanders of the troop usually kept close to people, helping, stimulating and instructing them how to get information and engage the enemy independently from a distance. Thereby, a network was set up to protect and support the troop during their operations.
2. Taking advantage of the favorable features of the terrain to establish devious, interconnected and firm battle disposition, dealing effectively with the enemy’s attacks. Ba Dinh base located between the two rivers, overlooking the sea and backed by vast forests. It was not only surrounded by rivers but also protected by Thuc and Xa Lieu mountains. Taking advantage of the terrain, the troop established their firm combat disposition. Accordingly, Ba Dinh was protected by a wall of 8 to 10 meters wide and 3 to 4 meters high, made of earth with fortifications built-in. Inside the wall, the troop built up three strong stations right on the positions of the three community houses. The three stations are interconnected, made easy for observation and supporting each other in operation. Ba Dinh base got stronger in battles and became the center of the resistance movement in Thanh Hoa province.
3. Carrying out sound command, reasonable force disposition, and flexible methods of combat. To enhance the effectiveness in engaging the enemy, organizing forces, commanders of the troop clearly appointed commanders for each station in a unified command system. Each station comprised of 10 teams with snipping, attacking, counterattacking forces, etc. Furthermore, the troop also detached small groups conducting diversionary activities and engaging the enemy from a distance which forced the enemy to scatter. To ensure the ability to fight the enemy continuously and sustainably, the troop also established logistic forces, which were in charge of supplying food, evacuating and curing the wounded, thereby the strength of the troop was maintained. With such organization, the troop both met the requirements of being a regular troop and fitted the specific conditions, hence achieving the unification in command and coordination in any combat situations.
In addition, the troop carried out flexible combat operations, making the battle disposition change smoothly and firmly. Accordingly, the troop actively carried out many battles outside their base, such as: attacking the Tam Cao station, entering Ninh Binh, ambushing in Nho Quan and attacking supplying convoys surrounding Ba Dinh, etc. Thus, they totally controlled Road No1. Later, colonel Brissand, the commander of the French attack to Ba Dinh admitted that all the routes in the region were insecure. That was why though French troop was crowded and equipped with modern weapons, they were engaged from distance. When they reached closer to the base, they were destroyed by archers hidden in the bamboos. When they were mired in paddies, they were ambushed by our troop at night which inflicted damaged on them and made them extremely panic. Only when our troop abandoned the base could the enemy occupied it.
Being the flagship in the resistance movement against the French colonialist in the late 19th Century, Ba Dinh Insurrection left us a number of valuable lessons, particularly the organization of hamlet in combat operations was later applied popularly in the two resistance wars against the French and the US of our people. In the current period, the lessons on building and promoting the “people’s heart and mind posture”; taking advantage of the natural features of the terrain to establish devious and firm combat disposition; the sound and widespread organization and dispatch of forces, etc of the Ba Dinh Insurrection should be further studied and applied in the building of the local defensive areas, meeting the requirements of Homeland protection in the new situation.
Senior Colonel Pham Duc Truong
Vietnam Military History Institute