Battle of Taku Forts (1860)

The Third Battle of Taku Forts was an engagement of the Second Opium War, part of the British and French 1860 expedition to China. It took place at the Taku Forts (also called Peiho Forts) near Tanggu District (Wade-Giles: Pei Tang-Ho), approximately 60 kilometers (36 mi.) southeast of the city of Tianjin (Tientsin).


James Hope Grant, 1853
James Hope Grant

The aim of the allied French-British expedition was to compel the Chinese government at Peking to observe the trade treaties signed between their governments at Tianjin (Tientsin) in 1858, which included allowing the British to continue the opium trade in China. Lt-Gen. Sir Hope Grant was the British commander with Lt-Gen. Charles Cousin-Montauban, Comte de Palikao in charge of the French. The allied force consisted of 11,000 British including ~1,000 cavalry, as well as 6,700 French troops.[1] The Taku Forts were defended by 7,000 Qing troops including some 2,000 cavalry. At least forty-five artillery pieces were among the Chinese defenders.

A year earlier, a similar attempt had been made to steam up the river but the Qing forces had made a barrier across the river resulting in the Battle of Taku Forts (1859) that was a disaster for the Anglo French force.

Following that humiliation, Captain Fisher of the Corps of Royal Engineers and three British ships, "Cruiser", "Forester" and "Starling" were left behind to survey the area, on land as well as along the coast. The reports would determine the strategy for the next attempt. The conclusion of the Indian Mutiny had also released troops to reinforce the Hong Kong station.[2]:511


Opium Wars, storming of the Taku Forts by British troops, 1860
An illustration of Rogers reaching the top of the wall with help from Lieutenant Lenon

Not wanting to have a repeat of the 1859 disaster, on 30 July 1860 the Anglo-French army began landing at Beitang 10 miles (16 km) to the north of the Forts. A few days later a reconnaissance force moved towards the Taku Forts for close observation, two British soldiers were wounded by bullets from a Chinese jingal.[3] The whole force was ashore by 7 August and a few days later on 12 August, the allied force advanced.[2]:511

Pushing back enemy forces in front of them, including ~2,000 cavalry, the Anglo French expedition arrived at the Forts.[1] There were four, two on the north and two on the south side. The French wanted to attack the southern forts, but the survey by Fisher indicated that the key was the main northern fort. On 17 August his plan was adopted.[2]:512

Five batteries were established during the night of 20–21 August with fascines made using the straw walls and roofs of nearby barracks.[2]:512

  1. Battery - 6 x French field-pieces and 1 x 8-inch gun
  2. Battery - 3 x 8-inch mortars this battery platform was made from coffin lids which were 6 inches (15 cm) thick.
  3. Battery - 2 x 32-pounders and 2 x 8-inch howitzers
  4. Battery - 2 x 8-inch guns
  5. Battery - 6 x Armstrong guns

Opening fire next morning, it took four hours to crush the fort's artillery. Then the major assault took place on the main Chinese fort, attacking as two columns, one British and one French.[2]:513

Heavy fighting ensued as the attackers crossed several Chinese ditches and spiked bamboo palisades.

The Anglo-French force initially attacked the main gate of the fortifications, but it was found there were two wet ditches and many spikes. An engineer managed to cut the ropes holding up the drawbridge,[3] but it was too heavily damaged by artillery to be effectively used as a route. The main attack was therefore made against the walls using the ladders.[2]:513 The French column managed to get onto the parapet first.[3] The first British officer to enter the fort was Lieutenant Robert Montresor Rogers, who was later awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery that day. He was closely followed by a private, John McDougall who was also awarded the Victoria Cross. Resistance continued inside the fort for three and a half hours before the fort was cleared of defenders.[3]

During the fighting, fourteen British soldiers were killed and Lieutenant Rogers was severely wounded. Forty-six other men were also wounded. The French forces suffered 158 casualties.[3] Over 100 Qing defenders were killed, many more wounded and forty-five guns captured.

A flag of truce arrived by boat from a southern fort, the envoy was not permitted to negotiate so the Anglo British force advanced, two fresh regiments, The Buffs and the 8th Punjab Infantry, being brought up to attack the second northern fort in heavy rain.[3] Little resistance was offered and it was quickly captured. The two southern forts were untenable and capitulated.[2]:513

Southern Chinese coolies served with the French and British forces against the Qing: "The Chinese coolies entertained in 1857 from the inhabitants of South China, renegades though they were, served the British faithfully and cheerfully before Canton, and throughout the operations in North China in 1860 they likewise proved invaluable. Their coolness under fire was admirable. At the assault of the Peiho Forts in 1860 they carried the French ladders to the ditch, and, standing in the water up to their necks, supported them with their hands to enable the storming party to cross. It was not usual to take them into action ; they, however, bore the dangers of a distant fire with the greatest composure, evincing a strong desire to close with their compatriots, and engage them in mortal combat with ther bamboos.—(Fisher.)"[4]


Seven awards of the Victoria Cross were made for Gallantry on 21 August to soldiers of the 44th Regiment of Foot and the 67th Regiment of Foot (see List of Victoria Cross recipients by campaign).

The battle was one of the last major engagements of the Second Opium War. The river route to Peking was now open, the Chinese authorities capitulated all 22 forts along the river as far as Tianjin, including that town.[2]:514 The army would march to the Battle of Palikao. The fighting ended with the allied occupation of Peking on 13 October 1860 and the Chinese acceptance of the trading treaties.


  1. ^ a b c d "China War 1860". 1st Queens Dragoon Guards.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Porter, Maj Gen Whitworth (1889). History of the Corps of Royal Engineers Vol I. Chatham: The Institution of Royal Engineers.
  3. ^ a b c d e f "The Taku Forts 1860".
  4. ^ China : Being a Military Report on the North-eastern Portions of the Provinces of Chih-li and Shan-tung, Nanking and Its Approaches, Canton and Its Approaches: Together with an Account of the Chinese Civil, Naval and Military Administrations, and a Narrative of the Wars Between Great Britain and Chine. Government Central Branch Press. 1884. pp. 28–.
  • Bartlett, Beatrice S. Monarchs and Ministers: The Grand Council in Mid-Ch'ing China, 1723–1820. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1991.
  • Ebrey, Patricia. Chinese Civilization: A Sourcebook. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1993.
  • Elliott, Mark C. "The Limits of Tartary: Manchuria in Imperial and National Geographies." Journal of Asian Studies 59 (2000): 603-46.
  • Faure, David. Emperor and Ancestor: State and Lineage in South China. 2007.

External links

Coordinates: 38°58′29.50″N 117°42′43.80″E / 38.9748611°N 117.7121667°E

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1860 in China

Events from the year 1860 in China.

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Battle of Taku Forts

Throughout history there have been several battles over control of the Taku Forts in China:

Battle of Taku Forts (1858), a successful Franco-British attack against the forts during the Second Opium War

Battle of Taku Forts (1859), a repulsed Franco-British attack against the forts during the Second Opium War

Battle of Taku Forts (1860), a successful Franco-British attack against the forts during the Second Opium War

Battle of Taku Forts (1900), successful Allied attack against the forts during the Boxer Rebellion

List of conflicts in Asia

This is a list of wars and conflicts in Asia, particularly East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia and Russia. For a list of conflicts in Southwest Asia, see List of conflicts in the Near East for historical conflicts and List of conflicts in the Middle East for contemporary conflicts.

List of wars involving France

The following is an incomplete list of French wars and battles from the Gauls to modern France.

Richard Harrison (British Army officer)

General Sir Richard Harrison (26 May 1837 – 25 September 1931) was a British Army officer and engineer.

Second Opium War

The Second Opium War (第二次鴉片戰爭), the Second Anglo-Chinese War, the Second China War, the Arrow War, or the Anglo-French expedition to China, was a war pitting the United Kingdom and the French Empire against the Qing dynasty of China, lasting from 1856 to 1860.

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