Battle of Pungdo
|Battle of Pungdo|
|Part of the First Sino-Japanese War|
Ukiyo-e by Kobayashi Kiyochika dated August 1894
|Commanders and leaders|
|Tsuboi Kōzō||Fang Boqian|
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Pungdo or Feng-tao (Japanese: Hoto-oki kaisen (豊島沖海戦)) was the first naval battle of the First Sino-Japanese War. It took place on 25 July 1894 off Asan, Chungcheongnam-do, Korea, between cruisers of the Imperial Japanese Navy and components of the Chinese Beiyang Fleet. Both China and Japan had been intervening in Korea against the Donghak Peasant Revolution. While China tried to maintain her suzerain relationship with Korea, Japan wanted to increase her sphere of influence. Both countries had already sent troops to Korea as requested by different factions within the Korean government. Chinese troops from the Huai Army, were stationed in Asan, south of Seoul, numbering 3,000 men in early July, could be effectively supplied only by sea through the Bay of Asan. This presented a situation very similar to the British position at the beginning of the Yorktown campaign during the American Revolution. The Japanese plan was to blockade the entrance of the Bay of Asan, while her land forces moved overland to encircle the Chinese detachment in Asan before reinforcements arrived by sea.
In the early months of 1894, the Donghak Rebellion broke out in southern Korea and which had soon spread throughout the rest of the country, threatening the Korea capital Seoul, itself. The Chinese, since the beginning of May, had taken steps to prepare the mobilization of their forces in the provinces of Zhili, Shandong and in Manchuria, as a result of the tense situation on the Korean peninsula. These actions were planned more as an armed demonstration intended to strengthen the Chinese position in Korea, rather than as a preparation for war with Japan. On June 3, the Chinese government accepted the requests from the Korean government to send troops to help quell the rebellion, additionally they also informed the Japanese of the action. It was decided to send 2,500 men under the command of General Ye Zhichao to the harbour of Asan, about 70 km from the capital Seoul. The troops destined for Korea, sailed on board three steamers chartered by the Chinese government and arrived in Asan on June 9. On June 25, the forces in Asan were additionally reinforced by 400 troops transported to Asan. Consequently, at the end of the June Ye Zhichao in Asan had about 2,900 soldiers under his command.
From the very outset, the developments in Korea had been carefully observed in Tokyo. Japanese government had soon become convinced that the Donghak Rebellion would lead to Chinese intervention in Korea. As a result, soon after learning word about the Korean government's request for Chinese military help, immediately ordered all warships in the vicinity to be sent to Pusan and Chemulpo. By June 9, the Yamato, Tsukushi, Akagi, Matsushima and the Chiyoda had consecutively called at Chemulpo, while the Takao arrived at Pusan. A formation of 420 sailors, selected from the crews of the Japanese warships anchored in Chempulo, was immediately dispatched to Seoul which managed enter the city on the same day. Where they served, temporarily, as a counterbalance to the Chinese troops camped at Asan. Simultaneously, the Japanese government decided to send a reinforced brigade (9th Brigade of the 5th Division) under the command of General Oshima Yoshimasa to Chemulpo. Altogether, with the auxiliary units there were approximately 8,000 troops in the reinforced brigade. The first battalion arrived in Korea on 12 June, relieving the sailors in Seoul the following day. The rest of the reinforced brigade was fully transported to Chemulpo by June 27.
The Japanese were willing to withdraw the brigade under General Oshima, if the Chinese left Asan prior. However, when on 16 July, 8,000 Chinese troops landed near the entrance of the Taedong River to reinforce Chinese troops garrisoned in Pyongyang, the Japanese delivered Li Hongzhang an ultimatum, threatening to take action if any further troops were sent to Korea. Consequently, General Oshima in Seoul and commanders of the Japanese warships in Korean waters received orders allowing them to initiate military operations in the event that any more Chinese troops were sent to Korea.
Despite this ultimatum, Li, probably considered that Japanese were bluffing and were trying to probe the Chinese readiness to make concessions. He decided, therefore, to reinforce General Ye's forces in Asan with a further 2,500 troops who were embarked at Taku on board three chartered transports. The first two of which, the Irene and Fei Ching, carried a total of 1,300 troops and arrived at Asan during the night of July 23–24, escorted in Korean waters by the cruiser Jiyuan and the torpedo gunboat Kwang-yi. In addition, the small cruiser Weiyuan was stationed at Chemulpo. At the same time, in the early morning of July 23, the Japanese had taken control of the Royal Palace in Seoul and imprisoned the King Gojong, forcing him to renounce ties with China.
Planning to reinforce their forces in Korea, the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to redeploy the main component of the Combined Fleet to Korean waters since the ships stationed there at the time, the Yaeyama, Musashi and Oshima, were considered insufficient to prevent the Chinese reinforcements from landing at Asan. In the event of hostilities breaking out, they would also not be able to provide support to Japanese troops on the Korean peninsula. Consequently, on July 23, fifteen major warships and seven torpedo boats under the command of Vice-Admiral Itō, left Sasebo and headed for Gunsan on the western coast of Korea. Gunsan was chosen due to its strategic location and telegraphic connection with Japan, would become a temporary naval base for the Japanese Fleet.
The Flying Squadron under Rear-Admiral Tsuboi, comprising the cruisers Yoshino, Akitsushima and Naniwa, detached from the main fleet. The three ships were to meet and rendezvous with the cruiser Yaeyama and the gunboat Oshima, which were stationed in Chemulpo, near the island of Pungdo and patrol the western coast together to prevent the landing of the Chinese reinforcements at Asan. The Musashi, which was also stationed at Chempulo, was to not join the patrol and instead accompany the main fleet at Gunsan. However, the orders wired for the commanders of the three ships at Chemulpo never came through as the telegraph line was severed by Donghaks. As a result, the two Japanese warships remained at Chempulo, ignorant of the order to rendezvous with the Flying Squadron under Rear-Admiral Tsuboi.
With tensions with Japan increasing over the situation on the Peninsula, the Chinese government chartered three British steamers to carry reinforcements to Korea in late July in order to bolster the their position in Korea. The three troop ships were escorted by three ships; the cruiser Jiyuan and the gunboats the Kwang-yi and Tsao-kiang. Captain Fang Boqian received word about the Japanese actions in Seoul and Chempulo from the commander of the Weiyuan, and on July 25 immediately sent Irene and Fei Ching back to Taku while the Weiyuan was ordered back to Weihaiwei to inform Admiral Ding Ruchang the situation unfolding in Korea. Captain Fang Boqian, however, decided to remain at Asan Bay along with the cruiser Jiyuan and the torpedo gunboat Kwang-yi to wait for the last of the transports Kowshing, which left Taku on 23 July with 1,200 Chinese troops and 12 pieces of artillery.
After the takeover of Chemulpo and Seoul by Japanese troops, events eased a little. Fearing escalating tensions in relations with Japan, the Chinese withheld sending reinforcements to Asan. Furthermore, at the beginning of July, the Chinese withdrew most of their ships stationed in Korean waters. However, in order to prevent the Japanese from perceiving the Chinese actions as a sign of weakness, Li Hongzhang decided to send reinforcements to Korea, they were to be stationed in the north at Pyongyang. For the Chinese, this move would allow for the potential withdrawal of General Ye's forces from Asan and to express goodwill as far as peaceful settlement of the conflict was concerned. At the same time, with the forces stationed at Pyongyang, the Chinese would not lose control over the development of events and if the Japanese remained at Chemulpo and Seoul, it would be possible to launch a large offensive in the spring of 1895 to drive the Japanese from Korea.
The Chinese cruiser Jiyuan and torpedo gunboat Kwang-yi, in port in Asan since 23 July, left on the morning of 25 July and were on their way to rendezvous with the troopship Kowshing and Tsao-kiang which was en route from Tianjin. At 7:45 am, near Pungdo, a small island (also known as "Feng Island" in Western sources) sitting next to the two navigable channels out of the Bay of Asan, in Korean territorial waters, the two Chinese ships were fired upon by three Japanese cruisers Akitsushima, Naniwa, and Yoshino. Chinese ships returned fire at 0752 hours.
Events during the Battle
During the early morning of 25 July, Rear-Admiral Tsuboi's squadron arrived at the rendezvous point near Pungdo island without sighting the Yaeyama or the Oshima, speculating that their commanders had mistakenly headed for the main Island of Pungdo which was located just under 20 nautical miles to the south, Tsuboi set course for the island. Approaching Pungdo, at 6.30 am, the Japanese vessels spotted two warships heading south-west, they turned out to be the Chinese cruiser Jiyuan and the torpedo gunboat Kwang-yi. Tsuboi correctly assumed them to be the escorts of the Chinese troop transports, at the same the Tsuboi sought to continue to investigate as to why the two Japanese warships from Chemulpo had not arrived at the prearranged location. For these reasons, Tsuboi made a straight course for the Chinese warships, simultaneously sounding general quarters.
The commander of the Jiyuan, Captain Fang Boqian had also spotted the Japanese warships at approximately the same time and was alarmed by their appearance, the Chinese ships then increased their speed and headed south-west in order to escape the closed waters of the bay into the open sea. Noticing the Chinese maneuver, the Japanese cruisers in turn increased their speed to 15 knots, in line ahead formation with the Yoshino leading the Naniwa and Akitsushima. Tsuboi clearly desired to outmaneuver the Chinese and prevent their escape to open waters, however realizing that this would not be possible, executed a turn to port bearing west, in order to converge with the Chinese.
At around 7.45 am and the distance between the flagship Yoshino and the Jiyuan was roughly 3 km, for a short while the Japanese and Chinese warships were steaming on a convergent heading, observing each other, but at 7.52, the cruiser Naniwa unexpectedly opened fire at the Jiyuan. Immediately after the Naniwa opened fire, the Yoshino and Akitsushima followed suit. Yoshino and Naniwa concentrated their fire on the leading Jiyuan, while the Akitsushima concentrated fired on the torpedo gunboat Kwang-yi, which was trailing over a kilometre behind the stern of the Chinese cruiser. Although, the Chinese warships were not caught by surprise and had soon returned fire, the Japanese had gained the advantage. The first projectiles which had been fired by the Yoshino and Naniwa hit the Jiyuan's conning tower, demolishing it and damaging the steering mechanism. The next volley of shells then put both forward heavy barbette-mounted guns out of action. Furthermore, the hail of Japanese shelling also started numerous fires in the midship section and although, as it later turned out they were not quite serious, caused panic among the Chinese gun crews on the upper deck. It was only through the intervention of some of the officers. who armed with revolvers, rounded the gunners back up to the deck and man their positions again. After getting the situation under control, the Jiyuan finally managed to escape to the open sea and its crew soon repaired the steering mechanism, which allowed the cruiser to regain her manoeuvrability.
Destruction of the Kwang-yi
The Kwangyi which had followed the Jiyuan, did not fare so well. Like to the Jiyuan, the vessel was hit at the beginning of the battle, however, the damage inflicted by the Japanese gunfire was much more serious. Shells fired by the Akitsushima penetrated the hull of the warship below the waterline at least once and damaged her boiler room. The Kwang-yi became heavily damaged was rapidly taking on water, as a result, the Captain Lin Kuohsiang ordered the ship to be beached. Enveloped in the smoke and steam and with the fires raging on board, the Kwang-yi turned southeast and stranded herself on the shore on some shoals, against constantly being fired upon by the Naniwa. After being abandoned by her crew, the wreck of the Kwang-yi was destroyed by the raging fires and internal explosions. At least 37 crew members were killed with the ship while another 71 including the Captain, Lin Kuohsiang, reached the shore. After a failed attempt to join Chinese troops at Asan, they were later taken on board the British torpedo cruisers Archer and Porpoise at the end of July and transported to Chefoo.
Pursuit of the Jiyuan
The destruction of the Kwang-yi took the Japanese squadron no more than a quarter of an hour and did not hinder the pursuit of the Jiyuan. The plight of the single Chinese cruiser seemed dire, largely because the Japanese had the advantage of speed. At about 8.10 am, the Yoshino and the Naniwa were almost abeam of the escaping Chinese cruiser and when the Naniwa turned to close on the her. Captain Fang considering further combat to be pointless, contemplated to surrender his vessel. However, an unexpected turn of events took place, the Yoshino spotted smoke from on the horizon from two unknown vessels which were probably heading towards Asan. It later turned out that they were the transport ship Kowshing which had sailed from Taku carrying Chinese troops and the gunboat Tsao-Kiang which had left from Weihaiwei with mail and orders. Their arrival turned the Japanese attention away from the Jiyuan which took the opportunity to increase to full speed and escape heading west, away from the Japanese squadron. At the same moment, after spotting the Japanese warships, the Tsao-Kiang also turned headed back to Weihaiwei. Whereas, the Kowshing continued on course to Asan.
In light of two the appearance of the new vessels on the scene, Rear-Admiral Tsuboi relinquished his chase of the Jiyuan; where the Japanese advantage in speed would not have negative impact on the outcome of a chase and decided to instead investigate the unknown vessels heading from the north-west. Tsuboi had correctly suspected that the Kowshing was carrying reinforcements for the Chinese forces at Asan and that the prevention of which, was the Flying Squadron's main objective.
Re-engagement of the pursuit
The three Japanese cruisers intercepted the Kowshing, and there was a break in the pursuit which lasted until 9.50am. While the Naniwa started to search the ship and events of surrounding the sinking of the Kowshing unfolded, the Yoshino and the Akitsushima re-engaged and began to pursue the remaining two ships. Both Japanese cruisers headed at full speed after the Chinese warships which were trying to escape to Weihaiwei. The gunboat Tsao-Kiang was caught at 11.37 am, surrendering without a fight, to the Akitsushima. After 11.40 am, only the Yoshino continued the chase after the remaining ship Jiyuan. The Yoshino, due to the advantage of speed, quickly closed the distance and at 12.05 pm, the Japanese cruiser commenced firing at the Jiyuan with her forward guns at a distance of approximately 2.5 km. Captain Fang Boqian steered the cruiser among some shoals, which were dangerous and poorly-charted, however this risky move saved the ship from destruction as the Japanese were not in possession of accurate maps of the area and they feared risking running aground on the shoals. Consequently, at 12.43 pm, the Yoshino turned back towards the Korean coast and the Jiyuan reached Weihaiwei in the morning of July 26.
The captain of the Kowshing, Englishman Thomas Ryder Galsworthy, nor anyone on board the vessel was aware of the encounter fought at Pungdo. The Jiyuan at about 8.30 am, which was fleeing from the battle, had passed the Kowshing but for reasons unknown, the Chinese cruiser did not inform the Kowshing. The Jiyuan was also misidentified by the transport as being Japanese, therefore when the three cruisers of the Flying Squadron approached the Captain Galsworthy was neither surprised or even worried as thought that the Japanese vessels would be more concerned with the gunboat Tsao-kiang which had been escorting the Kowshing since about 7.00 am. Regardless, the Kowshing was a British vessel which had only been temporarily chartered by the Chinese government as a consequence Captain Galsworthy felt safe under the flag of the British civil ensign.
At approximately 9.00 am, Kowshing was ordered to follow the Japanese cruiser Naniwa to the main Japanese squadron. After a formal protest citing the neutrality of the British flag, the Captain Galsworthy, agreed. However, the Chinese soldiers on board revolted, and threatened to kill the crew unless Galsworthy took them back to China. After four hours of negotiation, when the Beiyang troops were momentarily distracted, Galsworthy and the British crew jumped overboard and attempted to swim to Naniwa, but were fired upon by the Chinese. Most of the sailors were killed, but Galsworthy and two crewmen were rescued by the Japanese. Naniwa then opened fire on Kowshing, sinking her and her mutineers. A few on board (including German military advisor Major Constantin von Hanneken) escaped by swimming and was rescued by a local fisherman. The first officer of Kowshing gave an interview to The Times on 25 October 1894 stating that the Chinese were distracted by a torpedo launched from Naniwa, which failed to explode, and that he was only able to jump overboard after Naniwa started shelling Kowshing. While in the water, he was fired upon and wounded by the Chinese, but was rescued by the Japanese along with other European survivors. He also stated that Naniwa sank two lifeboats full of Chinese troops. Only three out of the forty three crew of Kowshing survived the sinking.
Chinese casualties were approximately 1,100, including more than 800 from the troop transport Kowshing alone, against none for the Japanese. Some 300 Chinese troops survived by swimming to nearby islands.
Aftermath of the battle
The Jiyuan arrived in Weihaiwei with news of the encounter and was immediately sent for repairs, for two-weeks, as the damage which had sustained was quite serious. The Jiyuan lost 16 killed and 25 wounded. The Yoshino, Akitsushima along with the captured gunboat Tsao-Kiang returned to the vicinity of Pungdo Island, where they made rendezvous with the Naniwa and the Yaeyama, Musashi and Oshima, which had just arrived from Chemulpo. Later that day, Rear Admiral Tsuboi ordered the Yaeyama, Musashi and Oshima along with the Akitsushima and the Tsao-Kiang, to join main fleet at Kunsan under Vice-Admiral Itō.
The battle had a direct impact on the fighting on land. The reinforcements, together with twelve pieces of artillery on board the Kowshing and other military supplies on board Tsao-kiang failed to reach Asan. And the outnumbered and isolated Chinese detachment in Asan was attacked and defeated in the subsequently at Seonghwan, four days later. Formal declarations of war came only on August 1, 1894, after the battle of Seonghwan.
Naniwa was under the command of Captain (later Fleet Admiral) Tōgō Heihachirō. The owners of Kowshing, Jardine, Matheson & Company (better known for its role in the opium trade with China), protested the action in the British press and demanded compensation from the Japanese government. The public response to Japan having fired upon a vessel flying the British flag almost led to a diplomatic incident between Japan and Great Britain. Japan also came under criticism for having failed to make any effort to rescue any of the Chinese survivors of the sinking. However, calls for Japan to pay an indemnity ceased after British jurists ruled that the action was in conformity with International Law regarding the treatment of mutineers. The sinking was also specifically cited by the Chinese government as one of the "treacherous actions" by the Japanese in their formal declaration of war against Japan.
One major result of this battle was the introduction of Western maritime prize rules into Japanese law. On 21 August 1894, a new Japanese law provided for the establishment of a Japanese prize court at Sasebo to judge on such matters.
In 2000, a Korean salvage company tried to salvage the wreck of Kowshing, claiming to investors that the ship contained a treasure of gold and silver bullion. The wreckage was destroyed in the operation, and only a few artifacts of little monetary value were discovered. steaming under control of the prize crew (her 82 complement had been taken prisoners),
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