Battle of Myeongnyang

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For the 2014 film, see The Admiral: Roaring Currents.
Battle of Myeongnyang
Part of the Imjin War
Navalzhugenu2.jpg
Date October 26, 1597 (September 16 according to Chinese lunisolar calendar, September 13 according to Korean lunisolar calendar)
Location Myeongnyang Strait, near Jindo Island
Result Decisive Joseon Victory[1][2][3][4]
Belligerents
Goshichi no kiri.svg Fleet of Toyotomi Hideyoshi  Joseon Navy
Commanders and leaders
Tōdō Takatora
Katō Yoshiaki
Kurushima Michifusa 
Wakizaka Yasuharu
Mōri Takamasa
Kan Michinaga
Kuki Yoshitaka
Yi Sun-sin
Kim Eok-chu
Kim Ung-ham
Ahn Wi
Song Yeo-jong
Strength
120-330 ships [5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16] 13 ships [17][18]
Casualties and losses

30 ships crashed (Yi's records)[19]

More than 30 ships destroyed (Modern estimate)[20][21][22][23]

Half of the Japanese soldiers dead or wounded[24]

Half of Todo's subordinate officers dead or wounded including Tōdō Takatora(Todo's record)[25]

No ships lost[26][27][28][29][30] At least 2 killed and 3 wounded aboard Yi Sun-sin's flagship(Yi's record) [26]


At least 8 drowned from Ahn Wi's ship
Battle of Myeongnyang
Hangul 명량대첩
Hanja 鳴梁大捷
Revised Romanization Myeongnyang Daecheop
McCune–Reischauer Myŏngnyang Taech'ŏp

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 12 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 various source from 120 to 330 ships.[5][6][31] But it is obvious that the Japanese ships heavily outnumbered the Korean ships by at least ten to one.[32][33][34] In total 30 Japanese warships were sunk or crippled during the battle. Todo Takatora, the commander of the Japanese navy, was wounded during the battle and half of his subordinate officers were also wounded or dead.[35] 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. 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 a mobile defense.[36] After the Korean navy withdrew, the Japanese navy made an incursion into the western coast of Korea, near some islands in Yeonggwang County. [37][38][39][40]

Background[edit]

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.[41] 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.[42]

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.[citation needed] In the Battle of Chilchonryang, the Japanese navy, with Todo Takatora in overall command,[43] outmaneuvered the Joseon navy and virtually wiped it out.[44] Soon afterwards, the Japanese reinforced their garrisons in Busan and various forts in the southern coast of Korea, and began the second invasion.[45]

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.[46]

The Japanese had started the second war and renewed their offensive, laying siege and capturing the city of Namwon in September 26 [47] and fighting the Ming Chinese army to a standstill in Jiksan on September 7.[48] 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).[49]

Prelude[edit]

Admiral Yi Sun-sin was hastily reinstated as Supreme Commander of the Regional Navies after Won Gyun was killed at the Battle of Chilchonryang.[50] 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.[51] Although Yi only found 120 men initially,[52] some of the survivors of Chilchonryang rallied to him,[52] and he had at least 1,500 sailors and marines by the end of September.[5]

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."[53]

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.[54] Yi retreated further north to Byeokpajin, on the northern end of Jindo island. On October 12, Bae Seol fled[55] (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.[56]

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.[56] 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).[57]

Battle[edit]

Preparation[edit]

Admiral Yi studied numerous sites for his last stand with the Japanese navy and decided on luring them into the Myeongnyang Strait.[58] 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.[57] 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.[59] Admiral Yi realized he could use this unique condition as a force multiplier.[60] The narrowness of the strait would prevent the Joseon fleet from being flanked by the numerically superior enemy fleet,[61] 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.[62]

First phase (north flowing current)[edit]

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.[63] Yi described about "...200 enemy ships... flowing [into the strait]" and at least 133 ships in his immediate vicinity.[63] 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.[64]

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.[65] 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."[63] For a time it looked like Yi's flagship was "... standing like a castle in the middle of the sea."[66]

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.[67][68] 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)[edit]

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 crashed. Some Korean documents record the number of damaged Japanese warships; however the condition of the damaged ships is unclear.[69][70]

The official record of Todo Takatora[edit]

The official record of Todo Takatora, who was the commander of the Japanese navy, summarized this battle as a decisive defeat:

"御歸陣被成候 ちとまへかとにこもかいへ御こしなされ候 処にすいえんと申所にはん舟の大しやう分十三そうい申候 大川のせよりはやきしはのさし引御さ候 所の內にちとしほのやハらき申候 所に十三そうのふねい申候 それを見付是ともとり可よし舟手と御相にてはいまのせとをこきくたし候 儀はなるましきとていつれもせきふねを御かゝり被成 さき手のふねともハ敵船にあひ手負あまたいてき申候 中にも來島出雲守殿うちしににて御座候 其外ふね手の重めしつれられ候 からうのもの共もくわはん手負討死仕候 処に 毛利民部大夫殿せき舟にて、はんふねへ御かゝり成候。 はん船へ十文字のかまを御かけ候処に、 はん船より弓鉄砲はけしくうち申候に付、 船をはなれ海へ御はいりなされ、あやうく候 処に、藤堂孫八郎、藤堂勘解由両人船をよせ、敵船をおいのけ、たすけ申候。 朝の五しふんより酉の刻まて御合戰にて御座候 みなとのやうすはん船能存候に付風を能見すまし 其せと口をめけほをひきかけはしらせ申について是非なくおつかけ申儀もまかいならす いつみ樣も手を二か所おはせられ候."[71]

This can be translated as follows:

"We came back to the camp. There were 13 Joseon ships in the sea. It is the whirlwind sea, but 13 ships stood there while it had calmed. We decided to fight with them. The width of the sea is too narrow so that we prepared Sekibune and started the battle. Starting the battle, lots of our people got wounded. And sir Kurushima Michifusa was killed. Also, lots of our people got captured. Half of my subordinates officers were wounded or killed. Mori attacked the enemy's ship riding on a Sekibune. To get aboard to the enemy's ship, we threw sickles. But the enemy shot the arrows and bullets fiercely, so he got endangered. Todo Songhachiro, Todo Kanggaiu's ships pushed the enemy's ship and saved him. We fought from morning till night. We ran out of the narrow sea hoisting a sail. Because of that fact, the enemy's ships could not chase us. Izzumi(Todo Takatora) got wounded in his arms."

Aftermath[edit]

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.[citation needed] 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.[36] 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.[36]

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 (30 of the battleships were left destroyed.[19] but the number of the damaged ships was not clearly reported[69][70]). As previously mentioned, Kurushima was killed, and Todo Takatora (the hero of Chilcheollyang) was wounded.[64] According to the Annals of the Joseon Dynasty,[72] half of the Japanese sailors and marines were casualties.

Due to the Korean victory, even though the Japanese navy made an incursion into the western coast of Korea, near some islands of Yeonggwang County, they withdrew soon afterwards.[73][74][75][76]

Technical notes[edit]

Chain or iron rope across the strait[edit]

There are claims that Yi had iron ropes tightened across the channel between Japanese fleet groups, which severely dampened the Japanese numerical advantage,.[77]

However, this theory is largely regarded as fiction by historians.[78]

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).[78] 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 a 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"[78]). 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:[78]

  • The journal of Admiral Yi states:
    1. 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").
    2. During August 1597, Admiral Yi went around southern parts of Joseon gathering troops and military supplies.
    3. Early September 1597, Admiral Yi's forces based at Byeokpa area. They fought a number of small skirmishes against the Japanese forces.
    4. 15 September 1597, Admiral Yi repositioned his base to Jeonra Woosooyeong.
    5. 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 specification/limited usage would've been around for collection in 1500s 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 1500s 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[edit]

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;[citation needed] most of the Japanese in the water ended up drowning.

Estimates for strength[edit]

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." An enlisted soldier, Chun who had been captured by the Japanese forces and escaped from the Japanese forces testified that there were 120 ships in the battle.[79]

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. According to Todo, 13 Joseon ships were standing in the middle of the strait.[80]

Estimates for casualties and losses[edit]

According to Todo, half of his subordinate officers were killed or wounded during the battle.[81]

Also, a prisoner who had been captured by Japanese forces and escaped also testified that half of the Japanese soldiers were killed or wounded during the battle.[82]

The mention of 30 ships were crashed from Yi's diary.[83]

According to British and American historians, more than 30 Japanese ships were destroyed. [84][85][86][87]

Yi recorded that only 2 were killed and 3 were wounded in his flagship.[26]

In short, half of the Japanese soldiers got killed or wounded while Yi lost only 2 soldiers and 3 wounded in his flagship even though the Japanese ships outnumbered Yi's ship at least 10 times. It was a heroic victory. [88][89]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  74. ^ "Annals of the Joseon Dynasty". Retrieved 2014-08-19. 退泊于務安地, 連日焚蕩 
  75. ^ 毛利高棟文書
  76. ^ 강항(姜沆) 간양록(看羊錄)
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  78. ^ a b c d "명량 해전". namu.wiki. Retrieved 2015-10-18. 
  79. ^ "船數則一百二十餘隻". 
  80. ^ "The official record of Todo Takatora, 高山公實錄, Tokyo University". 
  81. ^ "The official record of Todo Takatora, 高山公實錄, Tokyo University". 
  82. ^ "與統制使接戰, 倭賊爲半死傷". 
  83. ^ Yi Sun-sin, Nanjung Ilgi, p. 314
  84. ^ James B. Lewis, The East Asian War, 1592-1598 ; International relations, violence, and memory, Routledge Press, 150p (2014)
  85. ^ "Routledge". 
  86. ^ Samuel Hawley, The Imjin War, Royal Asiatic Society, Korea Branch ; Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 302p (2005)
  87. ^ "the National Assembly Library of Japan". 
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  89. ^ "Routledge". 

Bibliography[edit]

  • Ha, Tae-hung (translated by) 1979 Imjin Changch'o: Admiral Yi Sun-Sin's Memorials to Court. Republic of Korea: Yonsei University Press.
  • 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.