Guangdong Fleet

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The Guangdong Fleet (Chinese: 廣東水師) was the smallest of China's four regional fleets during the second half of the nineteenth century. The fleet played virtually no part in the Sino-French War (August 1884–April 1885), but several of its ships saw action in the Sino-Japanese War (1894–5).

Leadership[edit]

In the summer of 1882, when China began to challenge French expansion in Tonkin, the Guangdong Fleet was commanded by Wu Quanmei (吳全美).[1]

Composition[edit]

The composition of the Guangdong Fleet during the 1870s and early 1880s is difficult to establish. British sources record about fifteen small war vessels built and stationed at Canton between 1865 and 1885, and the fleet also contained at least seven vessels purchased from overseas.[2]

Seven steamers built in Britain or France were purchased in 1867 and 1868 by Jui Lin (瑞麟), the governor-general of the two Guangs, for use against pirates. Although the identity of these vessels is not entirely certain, they seem to have included the wooden steamships Feilong (飛龍), Tianjin (天津), Zhenhai (鎮海), Anlan (安瀾) and Zhentao (鎮濤), and the composite gunboats Guangdong (廣東) and Shandong (山東), completed at Dumbarton in 1868. Feilong was lost in a typhoon in 1874, and Zhenhai was condemned in the same year.[3]

Several British gunboats of the Dapper/Gleaner/Albacore class, which had served in the Second Opium War, were sold off by the British in the late 1860s, and two of them seem to have been acquired by the Guangdong Fleet. One of them was probably Suiqing (綏靖, normally spelled Sui-ching or Sui-tsing), described as a former British gunboat. Suiqing was lost at sea in 1886.[4]

Other vessels known to have served in Guangdong waters include the flatiron gunboat Haichangqing (海長清), completed at the Canton Dockyard in June 1877. Her machinery was taken from the steamer Zhenhai, condemned in 1874.[5]

In 1881 the Guangdong fleet took delivery of Zhenhai (鎮海), a 440-ton steel Rendel gunboat built by Armstrong and Company along with six gunboats of similar design ordered by Li Hongzhang's Beiyang Fleet. She seems to have had the same name as the steamer Zhenhai, condemned in 1874.[6]

Five composite 150-ton gunboats were completed at the Canton Dockyard in 1881 for the Guangdong fleet: Jing'an (靖安), Henghai (橫海), Xiangyun (祥云), Xuanwei (宣威) and Yangwu (揚武). These vessels appear to have had a speed of around 6 knots. Jing'an was armed with 12 Armstrong cannon and two Gatling guns. The armament of the other four gunboats is not certain.[1]

In the wake of the seizure of the citadel of Hanoi in April 1882 by Henri Rivière, the Qing government decided to send a message to France that China viewed French colonial expansion in Tonkin with concern. In May 1882 the Guangdong Fleet was ordered to patrol the seas around Hainan Island and the Gulf of Tonkin in order to 'show the flag'. In a letter concerning this deployment to the Zongli Yamen, the Guangdong authorities mentioned that the only reasonably large ships in the Guangdong Fleet at that period were Haijing (海鏡), Qinghai (清海) and Dongyong (東雍).[7]

Two ships of the Fujian Fleet, Feiyun and Ji'an, were seconded to the Guangdong Fleet at about this time. They remained in service with the Guangdong Fleet until August 1884. In response to the appeals for help of the Fujian military commissioner Zhang Peilun, they were sent back to Fuzhou on the eve of the Sino-French War, where they were destroyed along with seven other ships of the Fujian Fleet in the Battle of Fuzhou (23 August 1884).[8]

The Sino-French War[edit]

Given Guangdong's proximity to Tonkin (northern Vietnam), where the main clashes in the Sino-French War took place, the Guangdong Fleet might have been expected to play a prominent part in the war. In fact it remained in harbour throughout the nine-month war. In March 1885 French warships imposed a blockade of the Cantonese port of Pak-hoi. No attempt was made by the Guangdong Fleet to break this blockade.

Acquisitions, 1885–94[edit]

The Guangdong Fleet grew significantly during the second half of the 1880s, acquiring a force of gunboats and other ships. Some of these ships were built in China, either at the Canton Dockyard or the Foochow Navy Yard, while others were purchased from Germany. The locally-built warships normally contained the character guang (廣, for Guangdong) in their names.

The first additions to the fleet were the gunboats Guangheng, Guangli, Guangyuan and Guangzhen. These shallow draft gunboats, built at the Whampoa dockyard, were designed to guard the approaches to Canton.[9]

Two 64-ton first class steam torpedo boats, Leihu (雷虎) and Leilong (雷龍), were completed for the Guangdong Fleet at the Vulcan works at Stettin in 1884, but their delivery to China was delayed for a year because of the outbreak of the Sino-French War. They arrived in Canton in late 1885.[10]

Nine 26-ton second class torpedo boats were completed for the Guangdong Fleet at the Schichau works in Germany in 1885 and arrived in China in 1886. Like their larger predecessors built at the Vulcan works in Stettin, they all contained the character lei (雷, thunder) in their names: Leidui (雷兑), Leiqian (雷乾), Leikan (雷坎), Leikun (雷坤), Leili (雷離), Leigen (雷艮), Leixun (雷巽), Leizhen (雷震) and Leizhong (雷中).[11]

One composite cruiser and three steel torpedo boats were built at the Foochow Navy Yard for the Guangdong Fleet between 1887 and 1892, named respectively Guangjia, Guangyi, Guangbing and Guangding ('Guangdong A, B, C and D').[12]

The Foochow Navy Yard also supplied the Guangdong Fleet with four shallow-draught wooden gunboats at about the same period: Guanggeng, Guangxing, Guangzhen and Guangkui. Their tonnage is variously given as 320 tons or 560 tons.[13]


Table 1: Acquisitions by the Guangdong Fleet, 1885–94

Name (pinyin) Name (Wade Giles) Characters Type Construction Specifications
Leihu Lei-hu 雷虎 steam torpedo boat 1884, Stettin, Germany 64 tons, two bow torpedo tubes, 1 Hotchkiss
Leilong Lei-lung 雷龍 steam torpedo boat 1884, Stettin, Germany 64 tons, two bow torpedo tubes, 1 Hotchkiss
Leidui Lei-tui 雷兑 steam torpedo boat 1885, Schichau, Germany 26 tons, one bow torpedo tube
Leigan Lei-kan 雷乾 steam torpedo boat 1885, Schichau, Germany 26 tons, one bow torpedo tube
Leiqian Lei-ch'ien 雷坎 steam torpedo boat 1885, Schichau, Germany 26 tons, one bow torpedo tube
Leikun Lei-k'un 雷坤 steam torpedo boat 1885, Schichau, Germany 26 tons, one bow torpedo tube
Leili Lei-li 雷離 steam torpedo boat 1885, Schichau, Germany 26 tons, one bow torpedo tube
Leigen Lei-gen 雷艮 steam torpedo boat 1885, Schichau, Germany 26 tons, one bow torpedo tube
Leixun Lei-hsun 雷巽 steam torpedo boat 1885, Schichau, Germany 26 tons, one bow torpedo tube
Leizhen Lei-chen 雷震 steam torpedo boat 1885, Schichau, Germany 26 tons, one bow torpedo tube
Leizhong Lei-chung 雷中 steam torpedo boat 1885, Schichau, Germany 26 tons, one bow torpedo tube
Guangheng Kuang-heng 廣亨 composite shallow-draft gunboat 1886, Canton 300 tons, one 5.9-in Krupp breechloader, one 3.5-in Krupp breechloader, 3 Nordenfeldts
Guangli Kuang-li 廣利 composite shallow-draft gunboat 1886, Canton 300 tons, one 5.9-in Krupp breechloader, one 3.5-in Krupp breechloader, 3 Nordenfeldts
Guangyuan Kuang-yuan 廣元 composite shallow-draft gunboat 1886, Canton 300 tons, one 5.9-in Krupp breechloader, one 3.5-in Krupp breechloader, 3 Nordenfeldts
Guangzhen Kuang-chen 廣貞 composite shallow-draft gunboat 1886, Canton 300 tons, one 5.9-in Krupp breechloader, one 3.5-in Krupp breechloader, 3 Nordenfeldts
Guanggeng Kuang-keng 廣庚 wooden gunboat c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard 320 tons, two 4.7-in guns, one 3.9-in gun, 2 Hotchkiss
Guangxing Kuang-hsing 廣興 wooden gunboat c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard 320 tons, two 4.7-in guns, one 3.9-in gun, 2 Hotchkiss
Guangzhen Kuang-chen 廣鎮 wooden gunboat c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard 320 tons, two 4.7-in guns, one 3.9-in gun, 2 Hotchkiss
Guangkui Kuang-k'uei 廣癸 wooden gunboat c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard 320 tons, two 4.7-in guns, one 3.9-in gun, 2 Hotchkiss
Guangjia Kuang-chia 廣甲 composite cruiser 1887, Foochow Navy Yard 1,296 tons, 15 knots, one 5.9-in Krupp breechloader, four 4.7-in Krupp breechloaders
Guangyi Kuang-i 廣乙 steel torpedo gunboat 1892, Foochow Navy Yard 1,000 tons, three 4.7-in Krupp quickfirers
Guangbing Kuang-ping 廣丙 steel torpedo gunboat 1892, Foochow Navy Yard 1,000 tons, three 4.7-in Krupp quickfirers
Guangding Kuang-ting 廣丁 steel torpedo gunboat 1892, Foochow Navy Yard 1,000 tons, three 4.7-in Krupp quickfirers

Ships of the Guangdong Fleet[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Lung Chang, 90
  2. ^ Wright, 25
  3. ^ Rawlinson, 246; Wright, 20
  4. ^ Wright, 20
  5. ^ Rawlinson, 246; Wright, 20
  6. ^ Wright, 46
  7. ^ Lung Chang, 111
  8. ^ Rawlinson, 113–16
  9. ^ Wright, 69–70
  10. ^ Wright, 183
  11. ^ Rawlinson, 255; Wright, 179 and 182
  12. ^ Wright, 70–73
  13. ^ Rawlinson, 254; Wright, 70

References[edit]

  • Loir, Maurice, L'escadre de l'amiral Courbet (Paris, 1886)
  • Lung Chang [龍章], Yueh-nan yu Chung-fa chan-cheng [越南與中法戰爭, Vietnam and the Sino-French War] (Taipei, 1993)
  • Rawlinson, John, China's Struggle for Naval Development, 1839–1895 (Harvard, 1967)
  • Wright, Richard, The Chinese Steam Navy, 1862–1945 (London, 2001)