Battle of Weihaiwei
|Battle of Weihaiwei|
|Part of the First Sino-Japanese War|
Ukiyoe, by Utagawa Kokunimasa, depicting the death of Major General Odera Yasuzumi at the Battle of Weihaiwei, dated February 1895
|Commanders and leaders|
| General Oyama Iwao
Admiral Ito Sukeyuki
| Viceroy Li Hongzhang
Admiral Ding Ruchang †
|Casualties and losses|
The Battle of Weihaiwei (Japanese: Ikaiei-no-tatakai (威海衛の戦い?) was a battle of the First Sino-Japanese War. It took place between 20 January and 12 February 1895 in Weihai, Shandong Province, China between the forces of the Empire of Japan and Empire of China.
Following its victory at the Battle of Lushunkou on 21 November 1894 the next strategic objective of the Japanese campaign was to neutralize the Qing naval base at Weihaiwai on Shandong Peninsula. This would give Japan total control over the entrance to the Bay of Bohai, and the seaward approaches to Beijing. It would also eliminate any possible threat to Japanese supply lines by the remnants of the Beiyang Fleet.
The Qing naval base at Weihaiwei had been designed with the assistance of German military advisors, and was regarded by western observers as superior to Hong Kong. Captain William M. Lang, a British military advisor seconded to the Beiyang Fleet had boasted that the base was impregnable as late as autumn 1894, and had scoffed at rumors that the Japanese were planning to attack it. The defenses consisted of a series of twelve land fortifications overlooking the entrances to the harbor, equipped with Krupp and Armstrong cannons, as well as two fortified islands in the bay. The entrances to the harbor were closed off by booms to prevent attacks from outside, and the remaining ships of Beiyang Fleet were anchored inside. These included some 16 warships, led by the battleship Dingyuan, protected cruisers Jingyuan and Pingyuan, and 13 torpedo boats.
The campaign began on 18 January 1895 with a bombardment of the town of Dengzhou, some 100 miles to the west of Weihaiwei, by the Imperial Japanese Navy cruisers Yoshino, Akitsushima, and Naniwa. This was a diversion to draw attention away from the landing of the Imperial Japanese Army’s Japanese Second Army under the overall command of General Oyama Iwao at Rongcheng, to the east of Weihaiwei. The Japanese forces, which consisted of the IJA 2nd Division under Lieutenant General Sakuma Samata, and the IJA 6th Division (less its 12th Brigade, which was left to garrison Lushunkou) under General Kuroki Tamemoto completed its landing without opposition by 22 January.
The Japanese divided into two columns, one following the coastal road, and the other struggling along a path some four miles inland, both departing Roncheng on 26 January. The timing of the attack had been planned to coincide with Chinese New Year, and the invasion encountered no resistance as they converged on Weihaiwei on 29 January.
The Japanese launched a three-pronged attack on the landward fortifications to the south and east of the town on 30 January. The attack was hampered by the severe winter cold and blizzard conditions, with temperature as low as minus 26 degrees Celsius. The Beiyang Army made a defense for around nine hours, before abandoning the fortifications largely intact. Japanese casualties were minor except for the death of Major General Odera Yasuzumi, who was the highest-ranking Japanese casualty of the war. Japanese troops entered the town of Weihai on 2 February without opposition, as its garrison had fled the night before.
With the guns of the land fortifications now in Japanese hands, and in position to fire upon the Beiyang Fleet, Admiral Ding Ruchang's situation became precarious. Further, the Japanese managed to remove the boom protecting the anchorage on 4 February, allowing their torpedo boats to make repeated night attacks on the Chinese ships. A combined Japanese fleet attack from 7 February severely damaged Dingyuen and sank three other vessels. The crews of the remaining Chinese torpedo boats mutinied and attempted to escape towards Yentai, but in total six were destroyed and the remaining seven were captured by the Japanese.
As a Chinese defeat appeared certain, Japanese Admiral Itoh Sukeyuki made an appeal to Admiral Ding, who was a personal friend. In his letter, he expressed his regret that the old acquaintances had been obliged to meet each other in hostility, appealed to the Ding's patriotism by pointing out the retrogressive policy which Ding had been called upon to defend and which could only end in disaster, and then counseled him to prevent a certain defeat and unnecessary loss of life by capitulating. Ito further advised Ding to accept political asylum in Japan until the end of the war, and then return to his native land in order to aid China in setting her policy on a sound basis. When Ding read this message he was visibly moved, but wrote a letter in response stating that "I am thankful for the admiral's friendship, but I cannot forsake my duties to the state. The only thing now remaining for me to do is to die." Ding committed suicide by overdose of opium in his office at his Liugong Island headquarters. His deputy, Admiral Liu Buchan, after ordering that his warship be scuttled by explosives, also committed suicide.
Command of the Beiyang Fleet fell to Scottish-born Vice-Admiral John McClure who wrote a letter of surrender in Admiral Ding’s name, and had it translated into Chinese and transmitted to the Japanese on the morning of 12 February. Per the terms of the letter, the remaining ships, forts and stores were surrendered to the Japanese. McClure requested that all Chinese troops, civilians and the foreign military advisors be allowed to depart unmolested, and suggested that the British China squadron oversee compliance with the surrender agreement. Admiral Itoh, despite the reservations of some members of his staff, agreed to all terms. The manner of Admiral Ding’s death in the manner of Japanese bushido precepts had made him a tragic hero in Japanese eyes, and Admiral Itoh further insisted that the body of Admiral Ding be treated with respect.
Aftermath of the battle
With the fall of Weihaiwai, Prince Gong ordered that the Admiralty Board in Beijing be abolished, as China no longer had a navy. The Japanese had gained their strategic objectives of securing the seaward approach to Beijing, as well as their supply lines, and had received praise from foreign observers for the speed of the campaign.
The Battle of Weihaiwei is regarded as the last major battle of the First Sino-Japanese War, since China entered into peace negotiations in earnest with Japan shortly thereafter. However, the Battle of Yingkou and a number of minor battles would take place before the Treaty of Shimonoseki ending the war was signed.
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