Battle of Shimonoseki Straits

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Battle of Shimonoseki Straits
Naval battle of Shimonoseki
The USS Wyoming battling in the Shimonoseki Straits against the Choshu steam warships Daniel Webster, the brig Lanrick, and the steamer Lancefield.
Date July 16, 1863
Location Shimonoseki Straits, Honshu, Japan
Result United States victory
  • American withdrawal
Belligerents
Flag of Choshu domain.svg Chōshū United States United States
Commanders and leaders
Flag of Choshu domain.svg Mori Takachika US Naval Jack 34 stars.svg David McDougal
Strength
Land:
4 shore batteries
Sea:
1 bark
1 brig
1 steamer
1 sloop-of-war
198 sailors and
marine infantry
Casualties and losses
1 brig sunk
1 steamer sunk
1 bark damaged
40 killed
4 shore batteries damaged
1 sloop-of-war damaged
4 killed
7 wounded

The Battle of Shimonoseki Straits (Japanese:下関海戦, Shimonoseki Kaisen) is a little-known naval engagement fought on July 16, 1863, by a warship of the United States Navy, the USS Wyoming, against the powerful feudal Japanese daimyo, Lord Mori Takachika of the Chōshū clan based in Shimonoseki.

The USS Wyoming under Captain David McDougal sailed into the strait and single-handedly engaged the US-built but poorly manned Japanese fleet. Engaged for almost two hours before withdrawing, McDougal sank two enemy vessels and severely damaged the other one, and inflicted some forty Japanese casualties. The Wyoming suffered considerable damage with 4 crew dead and 7 wounded.

The battle was a prelude to the larger-scale 1863 and 1864 Shimonoseki Campaign by allied foreign powers. It took place among the troubled events of the Late Tokugawa shogunate from 1854 to 1868, associated with the opening of Japan to the European and American powers.

Background[edit]

In 1863 the Japanese Emperor Kōmei, breaking with centuries of imperial tradition and dissatisfied with Japan's opening to the United States and Europe, began to take an active role in matters of state and issued on March 11 and April 11, 1863, an "Order to expel barbarians" (攘夷実行の勅命). The Shimonoseki based Chōshū clan, under Lord Mori, followed the order, and began to take actions to expel all foreigners by the date fixed as a deadline, May 10 on a lunar calendar. Openly defying the shogunate, Mori ordered his forces to fire without warning on all foreign ships traversing Shimonoseki Strait.

The Chōshū clan was equipped with mostly antiquated cannon firing round shot, but also some modern armament, such as five 8-inch Dahlgren guns which had been presented to Japan by the United States, and three steam warships of American construction; the barque Daniel Webster of six guns, the brig Kosei[disambiguation needed] of ten guns (originally the Lanrick), and the steamer Koshin of four guns (originally the Lancefield).[1]

Attacks on foreign shipping[edit]

The first attack occurred on June 25, 1863. The American merchant steamer Pembroke, under Captain Simon Cooper, was riding at anchor outside Shimonoseki Strait, when intercepted and unexpectedly fired upon by two European-built warships belonging to the Choshu clan. The crew of one enemy vessel taunted the frantic American seamen with the loud and unnerving cry, "Revere the Emperor and drive out the barbarians!" ("尊皇攘夷", pronounced "Sonnō Jōi"). Under incessant cannon fire, Pembroke managed to get under way and escape through the adjacent Bungo Strait, with only slight damage and no casualties. Upon arrival in Shanghai, Cooper filed a report of the attack and dispatched it to the U.S. Consulate in Yokohama, Japan.

The next day, June 26, the French naval dispatch steamer Kienchang was also riding at anchor outside the strait when Japanese artillery, atop the bluffs surrounding Shimonoseki, opened fire on her. Damaged in several places, the French vessel escaped with one wounded sailor.

On July 11, despite warnings from the crew of the Kienchang, with whom they had rendezvoused earlier, the 16-gun Dutch warship Medusa cruised into Shimonoseki Strait. Her skipper, Captain François de Casembroot was convinced that Lord Mori would not fire on his vessel, due to the strength of his ship and longstanding relations between the Netherlands and Japan. But Mori opened fire, pounding Medusa with more than thirty shells and killing or wounding nine seamen. De Casembroot returned fire and ran the rebel gauntlet at full speed, fearful of endangering the life of the Dutch Consul General, who was then aboard Medusa.

Within a short time, the Japanese warlord had fired on vessels of most of the foreign nations with consulates in Japan.

Battle[edit]

David McDougal, captain of the USS Wyoming, photographed circa 1860.

In the morning of July 14, 1863, under sanction by Minister Pruyn, in an apparent swift response to the attack on the Pembroke.[2]

At 4:45 a.m. on 14 July, Comdr. McDougal called all hands; and Wyoming got under way 15 minutes later, bound for the strait. After a two-day voyage, she arrived off the island of Himeshima on the evening of 15 July and anchored off the south side of that island.

At five o'clock in the following morning, Wyoming weighed anchor and steamed toward the Strait of Shimonoseki. She went to general quarters at nine, loaded her pivot guns with shell, and cleared for action. The warship entered the strait at 10:45 and beat to quarters. Soon, three signal guns boomed from the landward, alerting the batteries and ships of Lord Mori of Wyoming's arrival.

At about 11:15, after being fired upon from the shore batteries, Wyoming hoisted her colors and replied with her 11-inch pivot guns. Momentarily ignoring the batteries, McDougal ordered Wyoming to continue steaming toward a bark, a steamer, and a brig at anchor off the town of Shimonoseki. Meanwhile, four shore batteries took the warship under fire. Wyoming answered the Japanese cannon "as fast as the guns could be brought to bear,"[3] while shells from the shore guns passed through her rigging.

USS Wyoming then passed between the brig and the bark on the starboard hand and the steamer on the port, steaming within a pistol shot's range. One shot from either the bark or brig struck near Wyoming's forward broadside gun, killing two men and wounding four. Elsewhere on the ship, a Marine was struck dead by a piece of shrapnel.

Wyoming sinking the Japanese Lancefield.

Wyoming, in hostile territory, then grounded in uncharted waters shortly after she had made one run past the forts. The Japanese steamer, in the meantime, had slipped her cable and headed directly for Wyoming —possibly to attempt a boarding. The American man-of-war, however, managed to work free of the mud and then unleashed her 11-inch Dahlgrens on the enemy ship, hulling her and damaging her severely. Two well-directed shots exploded her boilers and, as she began to sink, her crew abandoned the ship.

Wyoming then passed the bark and the brig, firing into them steadily and methodically. Some shells were "overs" and landed in the town ashore. As Comdr. McDougal wrote in his report to Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles on 23 July, "the punishment inflicted and in store for him will, I trust, teach him a lesson that will not soon be forgotten."

After having been under fire for a little over an hour, Wyoming returned to Yokohama. She had been hulled 11 times, with considerable damage to her smokestack and rigging. Her casualties had been comparatively light: four men killed and seven wounded—one of whom later died. Significantly, Wyoming had been the first foreign warship to take the offensive to uphold treaty rights in Japan.

The two Japanese steamers sunk by the Wyoming were raised again by Chōshū in 1864 and attached to the harbor of Hagi. The results of the battle were not sufficient to stop the actions of the Choshu clan against foreign shipping and the shore batteries of Choshu remained intact. The shelling of foreign ships continued. Foreign powers would later combine into a powerful fleet in 1864 in order to conduct the Shimonoseki Campaign, with successful results.

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ "The Battle of the Straits of Shimonoséki, July 16, 1863". On Deck! webzine. Navy & Marine Living History Association (NMLHA). Archived from the original on 27 November 2010. Retrieved 2010-11-11. 
  2. ^ "Battle of Shimonoseki Casualties". Casualties: U. S. Navy and Marine Corps. navy.mil. Archived from the original on 5 June 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-08. 
  3. ^ "Official records of the Union and Confederate navies in the War of the Rebellion – Google Book Search". Naval War Records Office, United States (1895, Government Printing Office). Retrieved 2010-11-11. 

References[edit]

  • "A Diplomat in Japan", Sir Ernest Satow, 2006 Stone Bridge Press, ISBN 978-1-933330-16-7
  • Polak, Christian. (2001). Soie et lumières: L'âge d'or des échanges franco-japonais (des origines aux années 1950). Tokyo: Chambre de Commerce et d'Industrie Française du Japon, Hachette Fujin Gahōsha (アシェット婦人画報社).
  • __________. (2002). 絹と光: 知られざる日仏交流100年の歴史 (江戶時代-1950年代) Kinu to hikariō: shirarezaru Nichi-Futsu kōryū 100-nen no rekishi (Edo jidai-1950-nendai). Tokyo: Ashetto Fujin Gahōsha, 2002. 10-ISBN 4-573-06210-6; 13-ISBN 978-4-573-06210-8; OCLC 50875162
  • Denney, John. Respect and Consideration: Britain in Japan 1853 - 1868 and beyond. Radiance Press (2011). ISBN 978-0-9568798-0-6