Battle of Myeongnyang
|Battle of Myeongnyang|
|Revised Romanization||Myeongnyang Daecheop|
In the Battle of Myeongnyang, on October 26, 1597, the Korean Joseon kingdom's navy, led by Admiral Yi Sun-sin, fought the Japanese navy in the Myeongnyang Strait, near Jindo Island, off the southwest corner of the Korean peninsula.
With only 13 ships remaining from Admiral Won Gyun's disastrous defeat at the Battle of Chilchonryang, Admiral Yi held the strait as a "last stand" battle against the Japanese Navy, who were sailing to support their land army's advance towards the Joseon capital of Hanyang (modern day Seoul).
The number of the Japanese navy is differently recorded on the Korean and Japanese sides. In total 31 Japanese warships were damaged or sunk during the battle. Given the disparity in numbers of ships, the naval battle is regarded as one of Admiral Yi's most remarkable victories, and a humiliating naval defeat for the Japanese.
- 1 Background
- 2 Prelude
- 3 Battle
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Technical notes
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Bibliography
Due to Japanese intrigue taking advantage of the fractious politics of the Joseon Dynasty court, Admiral Yi Sun-sin was impeached and almost put to death. Yi was instead tortured and demoted to the rank of a common soldier. Yi's rival, Admiral Won Gyun, took command of the Joseon fleet, which under Yi's careful management had grown from 63 heavy warships to 166.
Won Gyun was an incompetent military commander who immediately began squandering the Joseon Navy's strength through ill-conceived maneuvers against the Japanese naval base at Busan. In the Battle of Chilchonryang, the Japanese navy, with Todo Takatora in overall command, outmaneuvered the Joseon navy and virtually wiped it out. Soon afterwards, the Japanese reinforced their garrisons in Busan and various forts in the southern coast of Korea, and began the second invasion.
With the Joseon navy taken out of the scene, the Japanese believed that they now had free access to the Yellow Sea and could resupply their troops through this sea route as they advanced northward. In the 1592 campaigns, Admiral Yi prevented the Japanese from resupplying their troops in this manner and kept their ships holed up at their main bases in Busan harbor.
The Japanese had started the second war and renewed their offensive, laying siege and capturing the city of Namwon in September 26  and fighting the Ming Chinese army to a standstill in Jiksan on September 7. The Japanese army then awaited supplies and reinforcements from their navy, who would need to enter the Yellow Sea to reach the western coast of Korea. The army, thus supported by their navy, planned to make a major push to recapture Hanyang (modern Seoul).
Admiral Yi Sun-sin was hastily reinstated as Supreme Commander of the Regional Navies after Won Gyun was killed at the Battle of Chilchonryang. Yi initially only had 10 panokseon ships at his disposal, which had been saved by Gyeongsang Right Naval Commander Bae Seol, who retreated early in the Battle of Chilchonryang. Bae Seol had originally saved 12 ships, but lost two while on his retreat towards Hoeryongpo. Two ships were brought by newly appointed Jolla Right Naval Commander Kim Eok-chu and by the time of the battle, Yi had acquired another warship, likely one of the two that Bae Seol had previously lost. Thus, in total Yi had 13 warships. Although Yi only found 120 men initially, some of the survivors of Chilchonryang rallied to him, and he had at least 1,500 sailors and marines by the end of September.
At that time, King Seonjo, who judged that the Joseon navy had lost its power and would never be restored again, sent a letter to abolish the navy and have its men join the ground forces under General Kwon Yul. Admiral Yi responded with his own letter, stating: "Even though our navy is small, as long as I live the enemy cannot despise us."
Before the main body of the Japanese navy advanced into the Yellow Sea, they sent out a few probing missions with armed scouting parties. At this time, Admiral Yi's fleet was south of the Myeongnyang Strait near Oranpo. In October 8, an advanced scouting party of eight Japanese vessels staged a surprise attack, which the Joseon fleet drove off. Yi retreated further north to Byeokpajin, on the northern end of Jindo island. On October 12, Bae Seol fled (he would be found later by Joseon authorities and executed for desertion). On October 17, a Japanese scouting fleet of 13 ships launched a night attack which, after heavy fighting, was also repulsed.
By this time, through the reports of their scouting forces, the Japanese knew there were some survivors of the Joseon navy that was still willing to offer resistance. Well armed scouting forces alone were not going to defeat or scatter the Joseon remnants, so the Japanese began amassing a much larger fleet. Admiral Yi's diary mentions reports of around 55 Japanese ships massing near Oranpo on October 17. With Japanese naval activity increasing, Admiral Yi did not want to fight a major battle with his back to the Myeongnyang Strait, so on October 25 he decided to withdraw further north and hide his ships in the shadow of the hills on the opposite (northern) side of the Myeongnyang Strait, near Usuyeong (우수영).
Admiral Yi studied numerous sites for his last stand with the Japanese navy and decided on luring them into the Myeongnyang Strait. The Japanese would clearly enter the strait when the tide was favorable; thus, he didn't want to fight south of the strait, with the current at the attacker's advantage. Instead he wanted to fight in the waters just north of the strait, where the currents were calmer. The strait had very strong currents that flowed at approximately 10 knots, first in one direction, then in the opposite direction, in three hour intervals. Admiral Yi realized he could use this unique condition as a force multiplier. The narrowness of the strait would prevent the Joseon fleet from being flanked by the numerically superior enemy fleet, and the roughness of the currents prevented the Japanese from effectively maneuvering, forcing them to attack in smaller groups, and made it difficult to close in with the Korean ships. Furthermore, once the tide changed the flow of the current would in effect push the Japanese away from Yi's fleet and the momentum could be harnessed to increase the effectiveness of a counterattack.
First phase (north flowing current)
Early the morning of October 26, the huge Japanese fleet was spotted by Yi's scouts as they deployed around the small bay on the southern end of Myeongnyang strait. Admiral Yi's fleet then redeployed out of their base in Usuyeong to block the northern end of the strait. Yi described about "...200 enemy ships... flowing [into the strait]" and at least 133 ships in his immediate vicinity. It is estimated that at least 133 ships were warships and at least 200 ships immediately behind were logistical (supply and troop carrying) support ships. In the Japanese record, the ships put into the frontline were the middle class warships called 'Seki-bune' since the Japanese navy came to understand the risk of attacks by the main Korean warships which were near the strait.
Yi's warships deployed on the northern end of the strait and dropped anchor. Yi in his flagship advanced upon the vanguard of the Japanese fleet, which was commanded by Kurushima Michifusa. For a time only the flagship fought in the battle. The crews of the Joseon fleet were made up of survivors from Chilchonryang and they were still badly shaken up and intimidated by the overwhelming size of the Japanese fleet. Yi said in his diary: "My flagship was alone facing the enemy formation. Only my ship fired cannons and arrows. None of the other ships advanced, so I could not assure our outcome. All other officers were seeking to run, as they knew this battle was against a massive force. Ship commanded by Kim Eok-chu, the Officer of Jeolla Right province, was at 1 majang (approximately 2-3 km) away." For a time it looked like Yi's flagship was "... standing like a castle in the middle of the sea."
The flagship's ability to hold out against the Japanese vanguard eventually gave heart to the rest of Yi's fleet and small groups of his ships came to his aid. First came a ship commanded by local magistrate An Wi and then several ships commanded by central squadron leader Kim Ung-ham. Seeing the success of the flagship and the handful of other boats, the rest of Yi's fleet joined in the fight.
Second phase (south flowing current)
The tide soon shifted and the Japanese ships began to drift backwards and collide with each other. In the confusion, Admiral Yi ordered his ships to advance and press the attack, ramming 30 Japanese ships. The dense formation of Japanese ships crowded in the narrow strait made a perfect target for Joseon cannon fire. The strong tides prevented those in the water from swimming to shore, and many Japanese sailors who abandoned sinking or damaged ships drowned. By the end of the battle, approximately 30 Japanese warships were damaged. Some Korean documents record the number of damaged Japanese warships; however the condition of the damaged ships is unclear.
The immediate results of the battle were a shock to the Japanese command. Without being resupplied or reinforced, the morale of the Japanese soldiers declined. Joseon and Ming armies were able to regroup. Even after the victory, however, the Joseon navy was still outnumbered by the remaining Japanese navy, so Admiral Yi withdrew to the Yellow sea to resupply his fleet and have more space for mobile defense. After hearing the news of the heroic victory, many surviving ships and sailors who had been hiding after the defeat at Chilcheollyang joined Admiral Yi's fleet.
The victory also enabled the Chinese navy to join Admiral Yi in early 1598. After the destruction of most of the Joseon fleet at Chilcheollyang, the Ming kept their navy stationed at important port cities to guard against possible Japanese naval attacks. The victory at Myeongnyang convinced the Ming government that they could ease security at their major ports and deploy a fleet to the Joseon navy's aid.
The Japanese navy was heavily damaged (31 of the battleships were left destroyed or impaired, but the number of the damaged ships was not clearly reported). As previously mentioned, Kurushima was killed, and Todo Takatora (the hero of Chilcheollyang) was wounded. According to the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty, half of the Japanese sailors and marines were casualties.
||This article possibly contains original research. (December 2011)|
Chain or iron rope across the strait
There are claims that Yi had iron ropes tightened across the channel between Japanese fleet groups, which severely dampened the Japanese numerical advantage,.
However, this theory is largely regarded as fiction by historians.
The primary records that claim iron ropes/chains were used to hold the Japanese navy against the current are dated around 1751 (Taekriji), 1795 (Haenamhyeonji) and 1799 (Honamjeoluirok). Considering the battle took place at 1597, these records were created almost 200 years or more after the battle. (Honamjeoluirok by Kim Eokchu in particular is considered very unreliable source as it contains very questionable and downright fictional contents; such as sinking enemy ships with "a gust of wind created by swing of a sword"). The records from those who lived through the war (the journal of Admiral Yi, records of his nephew Yi Bun and Jingbirok by Ryu Seong-ryong) make no mention of an iron rope or chain used in the battle. In particular, considering the detailed portrayal of the battle in Admiral Yi's journal, it is unlikely that he would've have left out such an important aspect of the battle plan. Scholar Samuel Hawley believes that the story of the iron rope/chain first entered oral history a few years after the battle and became accepted as fact a few decades later.
Reliability of records aside, even from engineering perspective, some historians argue against the claim of chain usage for the following reasons:
- The journal of Admiral Yi states:
- On 3 August 1597, Admiral Yi received the official document from the King to be reinstated as Samdo Sugun Tongjesa (삼도 수군 통제사 ; 三道水軍統制使, "Naval Commander of the Three Provinces").
- During August 1597, Admiral Yi went around southern parts of Joseon gathering troops and military supplies.
- Earliy September 1597, Admiral Yi's forces based at Byeokpa area. They fought a number of small skirmishes against the Japanese forces.
- 15 September 1597, Admiral Yi repositioned his base to Jeonra Woosooyeong.
- The Journal mentions the decision to make a stand at Myeongnyang Strait was made on 15 September. The battle took place on 16th - which means the Joseon Navy most likely had one day to prepare the chains across the strait.
- The narrowest point of Myeongnyang Strait is almost 300m: Keep in mind that the chains would not only have had to be 300m+ in length, they also had to be very thick/strong chains that wouldn't snap against Japanese warships that would be swept by the strong currents of the strait. It is very unlikely the Joseon navy had access to 300m+ lengths of such chains on demand; as it is unrealistic to assume chains of such spefication/limited usage would've been around for collection in 1500's Joseon. It is equally unlikely that Joseon navy was able to collect such a large amount of metal and forge the chains in time.
- Even if the Joseon navy had somehow managed to obtain the chains of required length/durability, the installation had to be not only across the entire strait, but also durable enough to withstand a large bulk of the Japanese navy being swept against it by the strong currents of the strait. This is a major operation if you consider the engineering abilities 1500's Joseon it is very unlikely that they could have installed the chains to the required standard in time - especially on the very same day the navy had relocated its base while preparing for the battle the next day.
Unique hydrodynamic conditions
The unique tidal conditions of the strait, which Admiral Yi was careful to study beforehand, affected the Japanese in several ways. The Japanese were not incompetent sailors however, and also were not unaware of nor inexperienced in sailing in rough tides as similar conditions existed in Japan. They counted on the rapid tides of the strait and their numerical advantages to break through the Korean line. This turned out to be a miscalculation.
When attacking the Koreans, the Japanese did so in smaller groups. The Japanese could not advance all their ships into the channel at the same time; although the current was moving north, it was still unpredictable, with isolated eddies and whirlpools, and sending a mass of ships into the channel would cause them to collide with each other.
Secondly, when the current reversed and flowed south at the end of three hours, the Japanese ships not only drifted away from the battle, but could not maneuver and ended up colliding with each other even if they avoided the eddy problems. This is probably the major reason why there were so many damaged Japanese ships.
Lastly, the rough currents of Myeongnyang made it difficult for anybody who fell overboard or jumped from sinking or burning ships to swim to shore; most of the Japanese in the water ended up drowning.
Estimates for strength
The primary sources for number of ships and men involved are from Yi Sun-sin and his nephew Yi Pun, in his biography on his famous uncle. In his war diary, Admiral Yi specifically mentions "at least 200 enemy ships" and "133 enemy warships." Yi Pun echoes these numbers and adds the detail that refugees viewing the battle from the hills above counted 333 Japanese ships then "stopped counting."
For Korean numbers the most recent and accurate source is a letter from Yi Sun-sin to the Ming general Ma Gui where he states, "I have 13 warships and 32 hyeopseon (협선)." Hyeopseon means "narrow ship" and was primarily used for scouting. It is speculated that these were ships given to Yi by local fisherman and not actively used in the battle.
Estimates for casualties and losses
Personnel casualties for both sides were likely high, however there is not much detail in the historical records for the total number of combatants killed or wounded. Admiral Yi's diary mentioned a few specific casualties (losses on his ship and An Wi's ship), but it is likely there were more. However, the diary says that the Joseon navy had no ship losses. The mention of 31 damaged or lost Japanese ships were from Yi's diary.
- List of Korea-related topics
- Force multiplication
- Forlorn hope
- History of Korea
- Joseon Dynasty
- Last stand
- Naval history of Korea
- Battle of Salamis – an ancient sea battle in which a small Greek fleet defeated a numerically far superior Persian fleet of invaders
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- Yi, Sun-sin, (translated by Ha, Tae-hung) 1979 "Imjin Changch'o: Admiral Yi Sun-Sin's Memorials to Court." Republic of Korea: Yonsei University Press, p. 226
- The official record of Todo Takatora, 高山公實錄
- Hawley, Samuel (2005) "The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China." Republic of Korea and U.S.A.: Co-Published by The Royal Asiatic Society and The Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley., p. 482
- Yi Sun-sin, Nanjung Ilgi, p. 314
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- Turnbull, Stephen 2002 Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War. Great Britain: Cassell & Co., p. 183
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- Turnbull, Stephen 2008 The Samurai Invasion of Korea 1592-98. Great Britain: Osprey Publishing, p. 82
- Hawley (2005), p. 478
- Turnbull (2002), p. 200
- Hawley (2005), p. 463
- Hawley (2005), p. 482
- Yi Sun-sin, Imjin Changch'o, p. 226
- Yi Sun-sin, Imjin Changch'o, p. 227
- Yi Sun-sin, Nanjung Ilgi, p. 306
- Yi Sun-sin, Nanjung Ilgi, p. 307
- Yi Sun-sin, Nanjung Ilgi, p. 308
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- Cho Kyungnam(조경남), 난중잡록(亂中雜錄)
- Yi Keungik(이긍익), 燃藜室記述(연려실기술)
- Yi Sun-sin, Nanjung Ilgi, Sep 17-Oct 2 in 1597 (Chinese Lunisolar Calendar)
- "Annals of the Joseon Dynasty". Retrieved 2014-08-19.
留河東一旬, 山道盡擧船隻, 以水路, 由順天、興陽, 至右水營前洋, 與統制使接戰, 倭賊爲半死傷。
- "Annals of the Joseon Dynasty". Retrieved 2013-12-09.
靈光避亂儒生李洪鍾等船隻, 忠淸營前浦到泊, 問水路賊勢, 則洪鍾言內, 在海中時, 連遇上來鮑作人, 詳問下道賊勢, 則賊船或三四隻, 或八九隻, 入靈光以下諸島, 殺擄極慘, 靈光地有避亂船七隻, 無遺陷沒。
- "Annals of the Joseon Dynasty". Retrieved 2014-08-19.
- 강항(姜沆) 간양록(看羊錄)
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- "명량 해전". namu.wiki. Retrieved 2015-10-18.
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- Hawley, Samuel 2005 The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China. Republic of Korea and U.S.A.: Co-Published by The Royal Asiatic Society and The Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Berkeley.
- Turnbull, Stephen 2002 Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War. Great Britain: Cassell & Co.
- Sŏng-nyong Yu (translated by Byonghyon Choi), 2002, The Book of Corrections: Reflections on the National Crisis During the Japanese Invasion of Korea, 1592-1598: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, Jan 1, 2002
- Sohn, Pow Key (edited by) 1977 Nanjung Ilgi: War Diary of Admiral Yi Sun-Sin. Republic of Korea: Yonsei University Press.