Battle of Chilcheollyang

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Battle of Chilchonryang
Part of Imjin War
Date 27 August 1597
Location Geoje, Chilcheollyang, South Korea
Result Japanese victory
Fleet of Toyotomi Hideyoshi  Joseon Navy
Commanders and leaders
Todo Takatora
Katō Yoshiaki
Wakisaka Yasuharu
Konishi Yukinaga
Shimazu Yoshihiro
Kuki Yoshitaka
Won Gyun
Choe Ho
Yi Eok-gi
Bae Seol
500-1000 total ships 169 total ships[1]
Casualties and losses
minimal 157 ships lost[2]

The naval Battle of Chilcheollyang took place before dawn on August 27, 1597 (the 15th day of the 7th lunar month 1597)[3] during the Imjin War in Chilcheollyang, which is a narrow strait near Geoje island. It took place during the second invasion of the Japanese. This was the only naval victory for the Japanese during the War.


A Japanese double agent was dispatched by the Japanese commanders to bring false information to Admiral Yi and move him into a trap where he could be killed. For a time, the double agent brought what appeared to be important information to the Koreans.

At one point, the agent brought reports of Katō Kiyomasa planning to invade Korea to Gim Eung-seo, a commander of Gyeongsang province. The agent brought the exact place and time of the Japanese fleet's arrival; he then insisted that Yi intercept and destroy it. Gim sent the message to General Gwon Yul, who sent it to Seoul in March 1597. King Seonjo ordered Admiral Yi to attack but the latter refused, reportedly not trusting a lone letter delivered by an agent and feeling he was unable to prepare for battle in time. Yi may also have believed that there was a trap at Chilchonryang; the hazardous area contained sharp rocks.

For his refusal, King Seonjo ordered Admiral Yi to be court martialed and stand trial in Seoul. In addition, Won Gyun accused Yi of drinking and idling. He was spared the death sentence due to his combat record and prime minister Ryu Seong-ryong's support. The decision to remove him may have significantly affected further historical events.


Won Gyun replaced Admiral Yi as the naval commander of the entire Korean fleet. Won Gyun decided to attack a large Japanese flotilla of which he did not know the size, strength, or location.

He decided to look for the enemy navy with the entire Korean fleet that Admiral Yi had carefully built and strengthened. Won Gyun left Hansando on August 27, 1597, and soon met a very large enemy fleet near Pusan. Won Gyun was shocked to see the Japanese navy of a size of at least 500 to 1000 ships. Even though his troops were tired, Won Gyun ordered the attack. At the moment of the attack, a commander named Bae Seol quickly ran away with 12 ships under his command knowing the results of the battle ahead. Of note, it was these 12 ships that Admiral Yi would use to defeat the Japanese at Myeongnyang Straits upon his reinstatement. (Commander Bae Seol deserted with his single ship before that battle as well.) The Koreans advanced quickly with barely any strategy when the Japanese returned fire with arquebuses. The Japanese destroyed at least 30 Korean ships by rowing close to the Korean ships and jumping aboard to begin melee combat. The Koreans had no chance to fire with cannons.

Won Gyun retreated back to nearby Gadeok island suffering even more damage to his ships. Apparently, Gadeok island was under Japanese control and when Won Gyun landed with his troops in search of food and supplies, the Japanese commander Chikushi Hirokado of the fort and the island attacked the Koreans and killed 400 Korean marines. Won Gyun quickly retreated and left Gadeok Island.

The Japanese were surprised at this terrible performance of the Korean navy and set out at once to attack the Koreans at night. It was a disaster for the Koreans and the Japanese used their traditional grapple and board attack to overwhelm the Koreans. Admiral Yi had always kept hold of the upper hand by blasting the Japanese from a distance, but Won Gyun had allowed the Japanese to attack the Koreans with swords and spears. After a surprise attack, 200 Panokseons and other Korean ships sank to the bottom of the ocean. Won Gyun was shocked at this attack and retreated quickly again while the Koreans were struggling.

Won Gyun and Yi Eok-gi, another general, struggled ashore at a nearby island with a few survivors. Again, there was another fort with a garrison of Japanese soldiers who rushed outside and killed every single Korean, including Won Gyun and Yi Eok-gi.[4]


The Battle of Chilcheollyang resulted in the near-destruction of the Korean navy and a huge loss of life. When King Seonjo and the Korean court heard of the battle on July 22, they were left shocked and devastated.[5] They pardoned Admiral Yi (who had spent some time as a common foot soldier under General Gwon Yul), and put him back as the commander of the now small and weak Korean fleet on the same day. With only 200 men, and the 13 ships that Bae Seol had fled with, Admiral Yi then had to fight the Japanese with overwhelming odds against him.

Although he had a disadvantage, Admiral Yi would emerge as a hero and victor at the Battle of Myeongnyang when he destroyed 33 of 133 Japanese warships with only 13 Korean ships (minus the ship captained by the once again fleeing Bae Seol).

Despite this victory, the immediate consequence of the battle that left most of the Japanese invasion fleet intact was a near-complete collapse of the allied defenses in southern Korea, as the Japanese forces were now able to surge forward having secured their logistics and supply routes from the Korean navy. Key southern defensive fortresses such as Namwon were left completely exposed.

Within weeks, the Japanese forces took much of Jeolla province and surrounded the fortress of Namwon, and then took it in the ensuing Siege of Namwon.


  1. ^ A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East, Spencer C. Tucker, 2009, p.548
  2. ^ A Global Chronology of Conflict: From the Ancient World to the Modern Middle East, Spencer C. Tucker, 2009, p.548
  3. ^ Annals of Seonjo chapter 90
  4. ^ Annals of Seonjo chapter 90, Entry on July 22nd. 宣傳官金軾, 哨探閑山事情, 還來入啓曰: “十五日二更, 倭船五六隻, 不意夜驚衝火, 我國戰船四隻, 全數燒沒, 我國諸將蒼皇動船, 艱難結陣, 鷄鳴, 倭船不知其數, 來圍三四匝, 荊島等處, 布滿無際。 且戰且退, 勢不相敵, 我舟師退屯于固城地秋原浦, 賊勢滔天, 我國戰船, 全被燒沒, 諸將軍卒, 焚溺盡死。 臣與統制使元均及順天府使禹致績, 脫身下陸, 元均老不能行, 赤身杖劍, 兀坐松下。 臣走且顧見, 倭奴六七, 揮劍已到元均處, 元均生死, 不得詳知。 慶尙右水使裵楔、玉浦、安骨萬戶等, 艱難獲全, 焚蕩諸船, 火炎漲天, 倭船無數向閑山島矣
  5. ^ Annals of Seonjo chapter 90 entry on July 22nd 御別殿, 引見大臣及備邊司堂上。 領議政柳成龍、行判中樞府事尹斗壽、右議政金應南、行知中樞府事鄭琢、行刑曹判書金命元、兵曹判書李恒福、兵曹參判柳永慶、行上護軍盧稷、左承旨鄭光績、注書朴承業、假注書李惺、檢閱任守正ㆍ李必榮入侍。 上以金軾書啓, 出示大臣曰: “舟(帥)〔師〕全軍覆沒, 今則無可奈何。 大臣當往告于都督、按察衙門。” 又曰: “未知忠淸、全羅等道有餘船乎, 豈可諉以無可奈何而置之? 今可收拾餘船, 以爲防守之計耳。” 左右默無一言者久, 上厲聲曰: “大臣何不答乎? 將欲置而不爲乎? 不答則倭賊可退, 而國事可做乎?” 成龍曰: “非敢不對, 悶迫之間, 未得思其策, 不及達矣。”


Annals of Seonjo

Coordinates: 34°49′05″N 128°33′58″E / 34.8181°N 128.566°E / 34.8181; 128.566