Siege of Tsingtao
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The Siege of Tsingtao took place between 31 October and 7 November 1914 and was fought by Japan and the United Kingdom against Imperial Germany. The siege was the first encounter between Japanese and German forces and also the first Anglo-Japanese operation during the war.
Throughout the late 19th century, Imperial Germany joined other European powers in an imperialist scramble for colonial possessions. As with the other world powers, Germany began to interfere in Chinese local affairs. After two German missionaries were killed in 1897, China was forced to transfer Kiaochow and the surrounding areas in Shantung (now Shandong) to Germany in 1898 on a 99-year lease. Germany then began to assert its influence across the rest of the province and built the city and port of Tsingtao. This became the home base of the German Navy's East Asia Squadron, which operated in support of the German colonies in the Pacific.
However, Britain viewed the German presence in China as a threat to her own interests and leased Weihaiwei, also in Shantung, as a naval port and coaling station, while Russia leased its own at Port Arthur (now Lüshunkou) and France at Kwang-Chou-Wan. Britain also began to forge close ties with Japan.
Japan's developments in the late 19th century mirrored that of the European imperialist powers, and Japan acquired colonial footholds on the Asian mainland. Japanese and British diplomatic relations became closer and an Anglo-Japanese alliance was signed on 30 January 1902. This was seen as necessary, especially by Japan, who considered it as a step to deterring its main rival, Russia. Japan demonstrated its potential by its victory in the Russo-Japanese War 1904–1905, and the alliance continued into World War I.
When the war in Europe began in August 1914, Britain promptly requested Japanese assistance. On 15 August Japan issued an ultimatum, stating that Germany must withdraw her warships from Chinese and Japanese waters and transfer control of its port of Tsingtao to Japan. The next day, Major-General Mitsuomi Kamio, General Officer Commanding (GOC), 18th Infantry Division, was ordered to begin preparing to take Tsingtao by force. The ultimatum expired on 23 August, and Japan declared war on Germany.
At the beginning of hostilities, the ships of the East Asia Squadron under Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee were dispersed at various Pacific colonies on routine missions. Spee's ships rendezvoused in the Northern Mariana Islands for coaling, and except for the SMS Emden, which headed for the Indian Ocean, all made their way to the west coast of South America. The squadron engaged and destroyed a Royal Navy squadron at the Battle of Coronel, before finally being destroyed itself at the Battle of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.
The Boxer Rebellion at the beginning of the century had led Germany to consider the defense of Tsingtao. The port and town were divided from the rest of the peninsula by steep hills. The natural line of defense lay along these hills, from the Kaiserstuhl to Litsuner Heights. A second 17 kilometres (11 mi) line of defense was set up along a closer line of steep hills. The final line of defense was along hills 200 metres (660 ft) above the town. A network of trenches, batteries, and other fortifications had been built in preparation for the coming siege.
Germany had strengthened the defenses from the sea, laying mines in the approaches to the harbour, and building four batteries and five redoubts. The fortifications were well equipped (though some with outdated Chinese artillery) and were well manned.
On 27 August, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) sent ships under Vice-Admiral Sadakichi Kato, flying his flag in the pre-dreadnought Suwo, to blockade the coast of Kiaochow. The British Royal Navy (RN) strengthened the Japanese fleet by sending the China Station's pre-dreadnought HMS Triumph and the destroyer HMS Usk. According to a German press report after the siege, the Triumph was damaged by the German shore batteries. The blockading fleet consisted mainly of nearly obsolete warships, though it did at times include a few modern vessels. These included the dreadnoughts Kawachi, Settsu, the battlecruiser Kongō, her sister Hiei, and the seaplane carrier Wakamiya, whose aircraft became the first of its kind in the world to successfully attack land and sea targets. These Japanese aircraft would also take part in another military first, a night-time bombing raid.
The 18th Infantry Division was the primary Japanese Army formation that took part in the initial landings, numbering some 23,000 soldiers with support from 142 artillery pieces. They began to land on 2 September at Lungkow, which was experiencing heavy floods at the time, and later at Lau Schan Bay on 18 September, about 29 kilometres (18 mi) east of Tsingtao. China protested Japan's violation of her neutrality but did not interfere in the operations.
The British Government and the other European great powers were concerned about Japanese intentions in the region and decided to send a small symbolic British contingent from Tientsin in an effort to allay their fears. The 1,500-man contingent was commanded by Brigadier-General Nathaniel Walter Barnardiston and consisted of 1,000 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, The South Wales Borderers; later followed by 500 soldiers of the 36th Sikhs.
The Germans responded to the threat against Tsingtao by concentrating all of their available East Asian troops in the city. Kaiser Wilhelm II made the defense of Tsingtao a top priority, saying that "… it would shame me more to surrender Tsingtao to the Japanese than Berlin to the Russians".
The German garrison, commanded by naval Captain and Governor Alfred Meyer-Waldeck, consisted of the marines of III. Seebataillon, naval personnel, and soldiers (Chinese colonial troops and Austro-Hungarian sailors), for a total strength of 3,625 men. He also had a modest complement of vessels, including the torpedo boat S-90; four small gunboats: the Iltis, Jaguar, Tiger, and Luchs;[a] and the Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth,[b] whose crew was initially divided in two: to man the ship and fight as part of the German land forces.
On 22 August HMS Kennet of the China squadron, under the command of Lieutenant Commander F. A. Russel while routinely monitoring the naval trade routes, encountered and was damaged in action by the German torpedo boat SMS S-90, the German gunboat SMS Lauting and a 4-inch shore battery off Tsingtao. She was hit twice from the retreating S-90.
As the Japanese approached his position, the German Commander withdrew his forces from the two outer defensive lines and concentrated his troops on the innermost line of defense along the hills closest to the town.
The Austro-Hungarian cruiser, SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth, was stationed in Tsingtao at the start of the war. On 2 September 1914 the German gunboat Jaguar sank the stranded Japanese destroyer Shirotaye. On 5 September a Japanese recon plane scouted the port and reported that the Asian German fleet had departed. As a result, the Japanese ordered the dreadnought, pre-dreadnought and cruiser to leave the blockade. The next day, the first air-sea battle in history took place when a Farman seaplane launched by the Wakamiya unsuccessfully attacked the Kaiserin Elisabeth and the Jaguar in Qiaozhou Bay with bombs. On 28 September the Jaguar sank the Japanese cruiser Takashio. Early in the siege, the Kaiserin Elisabeth and German gunboat Jaguar made an unsuccessful sortie against Japanese vessels blockading Tsingtao. Later, the cruiser's 15‑cm and 4.7‑cm guns were removed from the ship and mounted on shore, creating the Batterie Elisabeth. The ship's crew took part in the defense of Tsingtao. On 13 September the advancing Japanese land forces launched a cavalry raid on the German rear-guard at Tsimo, which the Germans gave up and retreated. Subsequently the Japanese took control of Kiautschou and the Santung railway. Lt. Gen. Kamio considered this the point of no return for his land forces and as the weather became extremely harsh he took no risk and fortified the troops at the town and returned the yet-to-arrive reinforcements, reembarked, and landed at Lau Schan Bay.
As the siege progressed, the naval vessels trapped in the harbor were scuttled -- Cormoran, Iltis and Luchs on 28 September. On 17 October 1914 the torpedo boat S-90 slipped out of Tsingtao harbor and fired a single torpedo which sank the Japanese cruiser Takachiho with the loss of 271 officers and men. S-90 was however unable to run the blockade back to Tsingtao and was scuttled in Chinese waters when the ship ran low on fuel. Tiger was scuttled on 29 October, Kaiserin Elisabeth on 2 November, followed finally by Jaguar on 7 November, the day the fortress surrendered to the Japanese.
The Japanese started shelling the fort and the city on 31 October and began digging parallel lines of trenches, just as they had done at the Siege of Port Arthur nine years earlier. Very large 11‑inch howitzers from land, in addition to the firing of the Japanese naval guns, brought the German defences under constant bombardment during the night, the Japanese moving their own trenches further forward under the cover of their artillery. The bombardment continued for seven days, employing around 100 siege guns with 1,200 shells each on the Japanese side. While the Germans were able to use the heavy guns of the port fortifications to attack the landward positions of the Allies, they soon ran out of ammunition. When the artillery rounds had been finally used up by 6 November, surrender was inevitable.
The German garrison was able to field only a single Taube aircraft during the siege, flown by Lieutenant Gunther Plüschow. (A second Taube piloted by Lt. Friedrich Müllerskowsky crashed early in the campaign). The Taube was used primarily for frequent reconnaissance flights, but Plüschow made several nuisance attacks on the vessels of the blockading squadron, dropping jury-rigged munitions and other ordnance on them. He also claimed the downing of a Japanese Farman MF.7 with his pistol, the first aerial victory in aviation history. Plüschow flew out from Tsingtao on 6 November 1914 carrying the governor's last dispatches which were forwarded to Berlin through neutral diplomatic channels.[c]
On the night of 6 November waves of Japanese infantry attacked the third line of defences and overwhelmed the defenders. The next morning, the German forces, along with their Austro-Hungarian allies, asked for terms.
The Allies took formal possession of the colony on 16 November 1914.
Japanese casualties numbered 236 killed and 1,282 wounded; the British had 12 killed and 53 wounded. The German defenders lost 199 dead and 504 wounded.
As the German garrison was able to hold out for nearly two months despite a total Anglo-Japanese blockade with sustained artillery bombardment and being outnumbered 6 to 1, the defeat nevertheless served as a morale booster. The German defenders watched the Japanese as they marched into Tsingtao, but turned their backs on the British when they entered into town. The German dead were buried at Tsingtao, while the remainder were transported to prisoner of war camps in Japan. The 4700 German prisoners were treated well and with respect in Japan, such as in Bandō prisoner-of-war camp. The German troops were interned in Japan until the formal signature of the Versailles peace treaty in 1919, but due to technical questions the troops were not repatriated before 1920. 170 prisoners chose to remain in Japan after the end of the war.
- the four gunboats of the East Asia Squadron that had been left at Tsingtao were later scuttled by their crews just prior to the capture of the base by Japanese forces in November 1914
- the ship was scuttled after all ammunition had been fired
- Plüschow made his way home by August 1915 after a journey lasting nine months via Shanghai, San Francisco, New York, Gibraltar (where he was captured), London (where he escaped from a prisoner of war camp into the neutral Netherlands), and finally to Germany itself. He continued flying with the naval air service reaching the rank of Kapitänleutnant (Lieutenant Commander) by the end of the war. He then became a well known explorer, and died in a 1931 crash in Patagonia, Argentina.
- The Naruto camp orchestra (enlarged from the band of the III Seebataillon) gave Beethoven and Bach concerts throughout Japan wearing their uniforms
- Radó 1919, p. 41.
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- Adelaide Advertiser, Page 8, "The War" section, subparagraph "The China Fight – Australian who was wounded." summary of interview with Captain M. J. G. Colyer, December 28, 1914
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