Rise of the Imperial Japanese Navy
The traditions of Japan suggest that the art of navigation was not unfamiliar to the inhabitants of a country consisting of hundreds of islands and abounding in Japanese bays and inlets. Some interpreters of her cosmography discover a great bridge vessels of heaven from which the divine procreators of the islands commenced their work, and construe in a similar sense other poetically named vehicles of that remote age. But though the seas were certainly traversed by the early invaders of Japan, and though there is plenty of proof that in medieval times the Japanese flag floated over merchantmen which voyaged as far as Siam and India, and over piratical craft which harassed the coasts of Korea and China, it is unquestionable that in the matter of naval architecture Japan fell behind even her next-door neighbours. Thus, when a Mongol fleet came to Kiushiu in the 13th century, Japan had no vessels capable of contending against the invaders, and when, at the close of the 16th century, a Japanese army was fighting in Korea, repeated defeats of Japan's squadrons by Korean war-junks decided the fate of the campaign on shore as well as on sea.
It seems strange that an enterprising nation like the Japanese should not have taken for models the great galleons which visited the Far East in the second half of the 16th century under the flags of Portugal, Holland and England. With the exception, however, of two ships built by a castaway English pilot to order of Iyeyasu, no effort in that direction appears to have been made, and when an edict vetoing the construction of sea-going vessels was issued in 1636 as part of the Tokugawa policy of isolation, it can scarcely be said to have checked the growth of Japan's navy, for she possessed nothing worthy of the name.
It was to the object lesson furnished by the American ships which visited Yedo bay in 1853 and to the urgent counsels of the Dutch that Japan owed the inception of a naval policy. A seamen's training station was opened under Dutch instructors in 1855 at Nagasaki, a building-slip was constructed and an iron factory established at the same place, and shortly afterwards a naval school was organized at Tsukiji in Yedo, a war-ship the Kwanko Maru - presented by the Dutch to the shogun's government-being used for exercising the cadets [the term maru subsequently became applicable to merchantmen only.
To this vessel two others, purchased from the Dutch, were added in 1857 and 1858, and these, with one given by Queen Victoria, formed the nucleus of Japan's navy. In 1860, the Pacific wa crossed for the first time by a Japanese warship - the Kwanrin Maru - and subsequently some young officers were sent to Holland for instruction in naval science. In fact the Tokugawa statesmen had now thoroughly appreciated the imperative need of a navy. Thus, in spite of domestic unrest which menaced the very existence of the Yedo government, a dock-yard was established and fully equipped, the place chosen as its site being, by a strange coincidence, the village of Yokosuka where Japan's first foreign ship-builder, Will Adams, had lived and died 250 years previously. This dockyard was planned and its construction superintended by a Frenchman, M. Bertin. But although the Dutch had been the first to advise Japan's acquisition of a navy, and although French aid was sought in the case of the important and costly work at Yokosuka, the shogun's government turned to England for teachers of the art of maritime warfare. Captain Tracey, R.N., and other British officers and warrant-officers were engaged to organize and superintend the school at Tsukiji. They arrived, however, on the eve of the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, and as the new administration was not prepared to utilize their services immediately, they returned to England. It is not to be inferred that the Imperial government underrated the importance of organizing a naval force.
One of the earliest Imperial rescripts ranked a navy among the country's most urgent needs and ordered that it should be at once placed on a firm foundation. But during the four years immediately subsequent to the restoration, a semi-interregnum existed in military affairs, the power of the sword being partly transferred to the hands of the sovereign and partly retained by the feudal chiefs. Ultimately, not only the vessels which had been in the possession of the shogunate but also several obtained from Europe by the great feudatories had to be taken over by the Imperial government, which, on reviewing the situation, found itself owner of a motley squadron of 17 warships aggregating 13,812 tons displacement, of which two were armoured, one was a composite ship, and the rest were of wood. Steps were then taken to establish and equip a suitable naval college in Tsukiji, and application having been made to the British government for instructors, a second naval mission was sent from England in 1873, consisting of 30 officers and warrant-officers under Commander (afterwards Vice-Admiral Sir) Archibald Douglas. At the very outset occasions for active service afloat presented themselves. In 1868, the year after the fall of the shogunate, such ships as could be assembled had to be sent to Yezo to attack the main part of the Tokugawa squadron which had raised the flag of revolt and retired to Hakodate under the command of the shogun's admiral, Enomoto. Then in 1874 the duty of convoying a fleet of transports to Formosa had to be undertaken; and in 1877 sea power played its part in crushing the formidable rebellion in Satsuma. Meanwhile the work of increasing and organizing the navy went on steadily.
The first steam war-ship constructed in Japan had been a gun-boat (138 tons) launched in 1866 from a building-yard established at Ishikawajima, an island near the mouth of the Sumida river on which Tokyo stands. At this yard and at Yokosuka two vessels of 897 tons and 1450 tons, respectively, were launched in 1875 and 1876, and Japan now found herself competent not only to execute all repairs but also to build ships of considerablesize. An order was placed in England in 1875, which produced, three years later, the Fuso, Japan's first ironclad (3717 tons) and the Kongo and Hiei,steel-frame sister-cruisers of 2248 tons. Meanwhile training, practical and theoretical, in seamanship, gunnery, torpedo-practice and naval architecture went on vigorously, and in 1878 the Japanese flag was for the first time seen in European waters, floating over the cruiser Seiki (1897 tons) built in Japan and navigated solely by Japanese.
The government, constantly solicitous of increasing the fleet, inaugurated, in 1882, a program of 30 cruisers and 12 torpedo-boats, and in 1886 this was extended, funds being obtained by an issue of naval loan-bonds. But the fleet did not yet include a single battleship. When the diet opened for the first time in 1890, a plan for the construction of two battleships encountered stubborn opposition in the lower house, where the majority attached much less importance to voting money for war-ships than to reducing the land tax. Not until 1892 was this opposition overcome in deference to an order from the throne that thirty thousand pounds sterling should be contributed yearly from the privy purse and that a tithe of all official salaries should be devoted during the same interval to naval needs.
Had the house been more prescient, Japan's position at the outbreak of war with China in 1894 would have been very different. She entered the contest with 28 fighting craft, aggregating 57,600 tons, and 24 torpedo-boats, but among them the most powerful was a belted cruiser of 4300 tons. Not one battleship was included, whereas China had two ironclads of nearly 8000 tons each. Under these conditions the result of the naval conflict was awaited with much anxiety in Japan. But the Chinese suffered signal defeats off the Yalu and at Wei-hai-wei, and the victors took possession of 17 Chinese craft, including one battleship. The resulting addition to Japan's fighting force was, however, insignificant. But the naval strength of Japan did not depend on prizes.
Battleships and cruisers were ordered and launched in Europe one after the other, and when the Russo-Japanese War came, the fleet promptly asserted its physical and moral superiority in the surprise of Port Arthur, the battle of the 10th of August 1904, and the crowning victory of Tsushima.
At the close of 1908 there were four naval dockyards, namely, at Yokosuka, Kure, Sasebo and Maizuru. Twenty-one vessels built at Yokosuka since 1876 included a battleship (19,000 tons) and Naval an armoured cruiser (14,000 tons) ; seven built at Kure Dockyards. since 1898 included a battleship (19,000 tons) and an armoured cruiser (14,000 tons). The yards at Sasebo and Maizuru had not yet been used in 1909 for constructing large vessels. Two private yards - the Mitsubishi at Nagasaki and Kobe, and the Kawasaki at the latter place - had built several cruisers, gunboats and torpedo craft, and were competent to undertake more important work. Nevertheless in 1909 Japan did not yet possess complete independence in this matter, for she was obliged to have recourse to foreign countries for a part of the steel used in ship-building. Kure manufactured practically all the steel it required, and there was a government steel-foundry at Wakamatsu on which more than 3 millions sterling had been spent in 1909, but it did not yet keep pace with thecountry's needs. When this independence was attained, it was hoped to effect an economy of about 18% on the outlay for naval construction, owing to the cheapness of manual labour and the disappearance both of the manufacturer's profit and of the expenses of transfer from Europe to Japan. As of 1910 There were five admiralties - Yokosuka, Kure, Sasebo, Maizuru and Port Arthur; and four naval stations - Takeshiki (in Tsushima), Mekong (in the Pescadores), Ominato and Chinhai (in southern Korea).
The navy was manned partly by conscripts and partly by volunteers. About 5500 were taken every year by 1910, and the ratio was, approximately, 55% of volunteers and 45% of conscripts. The period personnel. of active service is 4 years and that of service with the reserve 7 years. On the average 200 cadets are admitted yearly, of whom 50 are engineers, and in 1906 the personnel of the navy consisted of the following: Admirals, combative and non-combative 77; Officers, combative and non-combative, below the rank of admiral 2,867; Warrant officers 9,075; Bluejackets 29,667; Cadets 721; Total 42,407. The highest educational institution for the navy is the naval staff college, in which there are five courses for officers alone. The gunnery and torpedo schools were attended by officers, and also by selected warrant-officers and bluejackets, &dNaval who consent to extend their service. There was also a mechanical school for junior engineers, warrant-officers and ordinary artificers. At the naval cadet academy - originally situated in Tokoyo but by 1910 at Etajima near Kure - aspirants for service as naval officers received a 3 years' academic course and 1 year's training at sea; and, finally, there was a navalengineering college collateral to the naval cadet academy.
Since 1882, foreign instruction had been wholly dispensed with in the Japanese navy; since 1886 she had manufactured her own prismatic powder; since 1891 she has been able to make quick-firing guns and Schwartzkopf torpedoes, and in 1892 one of her officers invented a particularly potent explosive, called (after its inventor) Shimose powder.
Korea, Pirates And Kublai Khan
Over a thousand years ago an Emperor issued an edict beginning with the words, "Ships are necessary for Japan". A country made up of islands must have good water communications if that country is to be anything of a unit. Early Japan had many ships. Coastal traffic was heavy and the harbors well filled. But most of the ships were for coastal waters only. The intrepid merchantmen - and pirates - who ventured far south were exceptions. Ships were small and of primitive construction, knowledge of navigation was scanty, and the terrible threat of storms was always present. This last element has been, and still is, a major factor in the fortunes of Japan and her enemies in Eastern waters. During winter months northerly winds of considerable force prevail in the Straits of Tsushima. Summer months have long fine spells. But at any time between June and October the fine weather may be broken by the extremely violent typhoons common to that region. These hazards have had enormous influence on the history of Japan.
Such obstacles, however, have rarely deterred the Japanese from expanding overseas. Early chronicles are vague and untrustworthy, as full of stories of the intervention of the gods and supernatural beings as are the original accounts of Troy. But it is established that as long ago as the second century of the Christian era the militant Empress, Jingo Kogo, determined to extend Japanese power to Korea. She assembled a fleet of sea-going ships, and with the aid of all the gods she could muster, successfully invaded the mainland. Here is the first recorded instance of Japan's using sea power as an instrument of national policy. Details of the expedition are lacking. One historian describes the invasion thus: "A great wave came which carried the whole fleet with it rapidly and safely, and even the fishes of the sea bore on their backs the vessel which carried the Empress herself, and brought it at the head of the fleet to the shores of southern Korea." The rest of the expedition seems to have been equally successful, for the Empress is said to have returned to Japan with 80 ships laden with spoils. The Korean King promised to pay tribute to Japan "until the sun rose in the west, till the rivers flowed backwards, and the stones on earth became stars in heaven." Subsequent Kings were not so obliging, however, and Japan's fortunes in Korea had many ups and downs over the years. There were periods when tribute was paid promptly and periods when the Koreans revolted. The Japanese frequently had to assemble ships and dispatch punitive expeditions, always a dangerous undertaking. The expeditions met with varying success until the Tenth Century when, with the rise of a new Korean dynasty to power, the Japanese hold on the country was broken. It was a temporary break only, however; for Japanese imperialists were constantly to have their eyes, and frequently their clutches, on their unfortunate neighbor.
For the first twelve centuries A.D. the sea proved a sufficient barrier to neighbors who might have had designs upon the islands of Japan. Only one invasion of any scope is recorded of that period. In 1019 a tribe of Manchurian pirates known as "Tois" swooped down upon tiny Tsushima, the island halfway between Korea and the Japanese coasts. The inhabitants fought to the last
man, as they were to do so often later, but they failed even to slow up the Tois. Swarming into their ships, the pirates sailed on to Kyushu and made an unopposed landing. The Japanese were sadly lacking in seapower. The samurai, however, put up such a sturdy defense as the Tois moved inland that the pirates broke and retreated to their ships. Foul winds held them in the harbor. By this time the Japanese had been able to collect 38 ships and proceeded to engage the enemy. Here they won their first sea battle of any consequence, probably as a result of the skill of the bowmen with which the small vessels were packed. The pirates fled south. They had sufficient leisure, however, to touch the coast once more, seize 1,200 prisoners, and make off.
This raid is certainly unimportant historically. But the old records contain a description of the ships used by the Tois. They are said to have been about 50 feet long and to have carried 40 oars each. Admiral G. A. Ballard, C.B., has conjectured that the oars must have been arranged in double tiers, much like the biremes of Greece or Carthage, for 20 oars to a side would be impracticable along the gunwale of a vessel only 50 feet long. The double tier design, on the other hand, would give a high freeboard and, with adequate beam, good sea-going qualities. This is pure conjecture, however, since even the accuracy of the brief description cannot be determined.
The raid by the Tois was a prelude of an enormously greater danger to threaten Japan some 250 years later. During the Thirteenth Century Kublai Khan, the great Mongol, fell heir to the vast conquests of his grandfather, Genghis Khan, and proceeded to enlarge them. Having conquered North China and Korea, he turned his attentions to Japan. Diplomatic approaches, couched in language which left no doubt as to his intentions, failed utterly to bring the Japanese to heel. Kublai decided on conquest, although the problems involved in a sea-borne invasion were new to him and to his hordes of Mongolian horsemen. His first, indeed his greatest, problem was transportation. The largest junk which his Korean shipwrights could put afloat was capable of carrying only about 100 men, exclusive of campaign supplies and horses. With these indispensable supplies 40 men could be carried, in addition to the crew. Kublai ordered 1,000 such vessels and the Korean king groaned. Further, the Khan ordered a large tract of land set aside for the sole purpose of growing supplies for the expedition. The Koreans were given five years to complete preparations.
In about 1273 all was ready. Forty thousand tough little Mongols with their horses and supplies boarded the unfamiliar vessels, and in November, the typhoon season barely being over, the huge armada shoved off. Tsushima and Iki were attacked on the way. One vessel escaped to Japan with the news; otherwise all the inhabitants were slain. Island defense was expensive to the Japanese even then, and they defended their islands as they do today - to the last man.
Kublai apparently wanted to stay at sea as short a time as possible, for the fleet headed for that point of Japan nearest to Korea - the northern shore
of Kyushu. The invaders landed at Hakozaki (Fukuoka) Bay without opposition. Again, the Japanese had no sea power. But on land they were powerful, and after the Mongols had advanced a short distance inland, they met such a furious defense that by evening they were forced to retreat to the ships. They re-embarked under cover of darkness, rain, and a growing gale from the north. By early morning the storm was of such violence as to threaten the ships with being driven ashore. The Korean crews slipped their cables, and those ships which were able battered their way out to sea. Many were lost and the proud fleet was dispersed, remnants of it straggling back to the mainland as best they could. Total losses of the expedition are said to have been about 300 ships and 20,000 men. The Japanese had fought well on land for their homes. But the forces of the sea, still a barrier to invaders, had fought for them with even greater effect.
Although this defeat must have been a chastening experience for the great Khan, it was not enough to daunt him. He immediately ordered another thousand ships to be built within another five years' time. To supplement this fleet he had an estimated 3,500 junks of various sizes, seized from the ports of southern China which he had meanwhile conquered. According to Marco Polo's account, some of the Chinese vessels were so large as to require crews of 300 men each. Most of the junks must have been small, however. In all the Chinese ships at his disposal Kublai embarked about 100,000 men with their supplies, water and horses. Farther north, in Korea, 50,000 picked Mongols were put aboard the newly constructed ships. Thus, practically every bottom considered in the least seaworthy from the harbors of Kublai's vast empire was pressed into service. It was a gigantic undertaking involving problems of logistics and seamanship which are staggering. And there was the ever-present fear of a typhoon.
In June of 1280 the enormous fleet was assembled at the rendezvous. It set sail again for Kyushu, the nearest island within reach. The Korean group made for Hakozaki Bay, the ships with the southern army for the Gulf of Imari, about 30 miles westward. This time the Japanese did have naval forces - light craft and fire ships - but not in sufficient strength to interfere effectively with the gigantic armada. The beachheads were made and the troops landed. In Hakozaki Bay Kublai's ships were lashed together with chains for mutual support in the event of boarding attacks. Some of the ships were supplied with siege catapults from which huge stones were flung against the Japanese defenses. On land the fighting was indecisive. The Japanese, unified in the defense of their islands, fought with extraordinary ferocity and skill. By mid-August the forces of the invincible Khan had made very little headway.
Then came the "Divine Wind". Japanese priests claimed credit for its appearance, and many still give them credit today. Others, less devout, point out that August is the worst month of the year for those storms which have been dreaded by sailors since they first sailed the Eastern seas. Be that as it may, a typhoon of unparalleled violence burst from the northwest on to the unprotected invasion fleet. The ships were doomed. Swamped by the enormous waves, blown on to the rocks by the force of the blast, thousands of vessels
simply disintegrated in the face of the awful violence. The harbors of Hakozaki and Imari Bay were a mass of wreckage. Some say that a man could walk from the shore of Imari Bay clear to an island in the gulf on the litter of broken ships.
Inspired by what seemed supernatural aid, the Japanese quickly exterminated the Mongols left ashore. In the space of a few hours 4,000 ships were lost; 130,000 men are said to have died in the sea or by Japanese swords. It was a stunning, overwhelming victory, far more complete than Britain's victory over the Spanish Armada with which it has often been compared. The sea, with its attendant dangers, had once again proved to be an actual weapon on the side of the Japanese. This marked the last time, within the scope of this article, that Japan's shores were threatened by an alien foe.
The "Divine Wind" is still revered in Japanese tradition. Suicide aircraft of the Japanese forces today are called Kamikaze units. "Kamikazi" means "Divine Wind".
Divine wind depicted by two men in vessel upon the wind.
Japanese conception of the "Divine Wind" destroying Kublai Khan's fleet.
Japanese conception of the "Divine Wind" destroying Kublai Khan's fleet.
Japanese victory over the Chinese at the Battle of the Yalu.
Japanese victory over the Chinese at the Battle of the Yalu.
Piracy And Japanese Sea Power
No account of the Japanese on the sea would be complete without some attention to pirates. A curious difficulty arises here. Strictly speaking, pirates and their activities, being outside the law, should not be considered as representative of the government or of the people of Japan. For centuries, however, there was no government of Japan in the sense that one group of men represented or was responsible for the people of a unified nation. The Mikado was a figurehead most of the time. The Shoguns had varying success in trying to control feudal lords, each of whom was apt to have his own army and all of whom were constantly fighting each other. As for pirates, the Shogun might frown; but a particular band might well be under the protection of a powerful lord - indeed, it was often the case that the lord himself, was leader of the pirates. Moreover, numerous instances can be cited in which the pirate bands were loaded down with honors by the Shogunate. The conclusion must be that piracy, although technically outside the law, was an important feature of Japanese maritime life and should be considered an integral part of Japan's naval history.
Nobody knows when the first pirates started operating from Japan. Doubtless they plundered their own coasts before looking for loot farther afield. By the First Century A.D. shipbuilding and navigation had progressed sufficiently for mariners to cross the barrier of water to the mainland and to reach the islands to the south. In the vanguard of these mariners were the pirates. Korea suffered heavily from them. Early (and inaccurate) Korean chronicles list 36 major forays against their coasts from the First to the Sixth Centuries. The pirates operated in fleets often of 50 or more small ships. With no sea forces to deter them, they would moor or beach their ships, swoop down on a coastal village, burn, loot, rape, seize captives and make off. The raids were not confined to Korea. The entire coast of China, particularly the Shantung area, the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies - all suffered heavily from the ravages of these marauders. At times, it is said, the coastal areas of Korea and the Shantung Peninsula were completely uninhabited as a direct result of pirate depredations. There was nothing left to loot. Chinese mothers frightened their children with the words, "The Japanese are coming!" The piratical reign of terror lasted, intermittently, for centuries.
It must be emphasized that these forays were often on a very large scale, amounting at times to actual invasion of a foreign country. In the Tenth Century Fujiwara no Sumitomo, a member of one of Japan's great families, was most successful for a time in hunting out and destroying individual pirate bands. But, having an eye for the main chance, this Japanese war lord turned pirate himself, and with phenomenal success. At one time he is said to have had 1,400 ships under his command. Against such power no government in all Asia could contend on the seas. Fujiwara plundered almost at will for years until, betrayed by one of his own lieutenants, he was defeated by the forces of the Shogun.
During the Ming dynasty in China the Japanese were so feared, largely as a result of experience of pirates, that an edict was passed prohibiting Chinese subjects from having any intercourse whatever with the Japanese and ordering that any Japanese caught in China be decapitated. An Englishman, Sir Edward Michelborne,
wrote of "Japons not being suffered to land in any port in India with weapons, being accounted a people so desparate and daring that they were feared in all places where they came." Similar laws were in effect in Korea, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies.
One effect, then, of the pirates' activity was to make the Japanese feared throughout Asiatic waters. A second effect was manifest in Japan itself. The pirates needed fast, seaworthy ships. There can be little doubt that this demand gave impetus to the development of shipbuilding in Japan. Several Chinese accounts describe the pirate ships of the Sixteenth Century. One writer says:
"The largest of the Japanese vessels can carry about 300 men; the medium-sized from one to two hundred; and the smallest from 50 to 80. They were constructed low and narrow. Thus, when they meet a big ship they have to look up to attack her. The sails are not rigged like those of our ships which can be navigated in any wind. But wicked people on the coast of Fuhkien sold their ships to the foreigners; and the buyers, having fitted them with double bottoms and keels shaped so as to cleave the waves, came to our shores in them."
Bogengi, a Chinese, writing about 1600, says:
"In building a Japanese ship, contrary to our method, they use great timbers, which they intertwine together without using iron nails, and only cover the joints with iron plates. In order to prevent leakage they use grass called Tansuiso instead of using hemp fibre and tarpaulin. Their method of building is very costly in labour and materials ...... The biggest of their ships are so small that when they meet with our great ones they are unable to attack and are easily sunk. Therefore they always fear our great ships from Canton and Fukkien, and, above all, they fear our kosen, which have side-oars resembling a fence. Wako [Japanese enemy] ships are flat-bottomed and do not cut through the waves. Their sails are suspended in front to a movable mast, while ours hang on the sides of a fixed mast. They can only sail before the wind and when there is no wind, or an adverse one, they have to unstep the mast and row. Consequently it takes them more than a month to cross the sea. Nowadays, however, evilly disposed men on the coast of Fukushu and Sekko buy ships abroad and reconstruct the keels. Thus reconstructed they can stand up well against any kind of wind, and being very easy to handle can cross the sea in a few days."
Until Commodore Perry woke Japan to the ways of the western world, these pirate ships were probably the closest thing Japan had to a Navy.
Divine wind depicted by two men in vessel upon the wind.
The Invasion Of Korea
Since the days of Empress Jingo the Japanese had made no attempt at permanent conquest of a foreign nation. Among other things, they had been too busy fighting among themselves. During the Sixteenth Century, however, the rise of a great soldier with imperialistic ambitions altered this state of affairs completely. In 1582 Hideyoshi, a former stable boy, later a general, assumed the position of Shogun, although he could not bear the title because of his lowly birth. Hideyoshi was a statesman, a warrior and a man of boundless ambition. He conceived the project of conquering China, and to further that purpose demanded Korea aid (at other times he proposed invading India and the islands south of Japan). Korea, long on friendly terms with China, refused. Hideyoshi declared he would conquer Korea. While diplomatic missions fruitlessly debated the issues, Hideyoshi made feverish preparations for war. He levied a force of 300,000 trained soldiers; it was easy to get soldiers in Japan. Transport, however, was a much more difficult problem. Every lord living in a coastal area was forced to build a quota of ships, the number depending upon the extent of his dominion. In this fashion Hideyoshi assembled about 2,000 ships. His emphasis was entirely upon the problem of getting his armies from Japan to Korea. As a result most of the ships were transports, clumsy "square-enders". Japan had never experienced the necessity of maintaining control of the seas during an amphibious operation.
The invasion forces got underway in May 1592. They landed at the southern tip of Korea without opposition, and the armies smashed inland 200 miles to the capital, Seoul, within two weeks.
On the heels of this remarkable success came disaster. The Korean fleet under the great Admiral Yi-sun swept into action.
Up to this point in Asiatic history tactics in naval warfare were extremely primitive. Guns had never been mounted on ships, and the fighting ships themselves were different from merchantmen only in slight modifications for greater speed and maneuverability. Boarding and a finish fight with swords was still the traditional method of attack. When this was impossible, long range archery or matchlock duels took place between crews. Finally, fire arrows were often used to good effect, the ships being, of course, highly inflammable.
Japanese naval tactics had advanced very little beyond this point. In enemy waters the flagship was anchored behind a protective line of smaller ships made fast to each other by cables. This was probably an adaptation of tactics used by Kublai Khan's armada. Ships in the center of the defensive alignment were equipped with projectile throwers to be used against shore emplacements. Outside the cordon, fast scouting ships kept in touch with enemy movements.
Such tactics were traditional and conservative. They were to collapse utterly when opposed by the radical genius of Yi-sun. This Korean Admiral developed the first ironclad ship in naval history. Over a hull designed for exceptional speed and maneuverability Yi-sun erected an iron-plated turtleback studded with spikes.
The armor was pierced ahead, abeam and astern for archery ports, and the stem strengthened to form a ram. Thus the vessel was made impervious to bullets, arrows, fire and boarding. It handling qualities gave it offensive power far beyond anything seen in those waters.
How many of the "turtlebacks" Yi-sun commanded is not known. Those he had he used with devastating effect. In a series of brilliant engagements the Korean fleet smashed completely and thoroughly the numerically superior Japanese armada. It was a rout unparalleled in naval history. Within six weeks Yi-sun had destroyed the enemy's battle-fleets, sunk hundreds of his transports and supply ships, severed his lines of communication, and imperiled a hitherto successful land operation. No admiral could have done more.
As a result the Japanese were forced to sue for peace and to withdraw to southern Korea. The Japanese admiral committed hara-kiri, traditionally the only course open to a samurai whose forces had been so completely defeated.
A few years later Yi-sun was called back from retirement to meet a second Japanese threat. Although in the interim his fleet had been allowed to deteriorate shockingly, he took to the sea and in a final battle, in which he lost his own life, he once again defeated his old enemy. Vice-Admiral G. A. Ballard, the English naval historian, says this of Yi-sun: "It is always difficult for an Englishman to admit that Nelson ever had an equal in his profession, but if any man is entitled to be so regarded, it should surely be this great naval commander of Asiatic race who never knew defeat and died in the presence of the enemy; of whose movements a track-chart might be compiled from the wrecks of hundreds of Japanese ships."
Shortly before the final defeat at sea Hideyoshi had died in Japan, and the Korean campaign was abandoned. The invasion had been terribly costly in men and ships, but it had been productive of lessons in naval warfare the Japanese were never to forget. For 250 years Japan had no occasion to apply those lessons. But in the Nineteenth Century, when she embarked on her policy of expansion, she never lost sight for a moment of the fundamental importance of sea power in any conflict with a foreign nation.
Within a few years after Hideyoshi's death, Japan was to embark on a 250-year period of complete isolation from the rest of the world. A discussion of the reasons for this unique policy is beyond the scope of this work. However, the result was that the Shogun, Iyemitsu, decreed that on pain of death no Japanese could leave his native country. All foreigners were expelled from Japan with the exception of the Dutch, who were allowed to keep a small trading post in Nagasaki Harbor under humiliating conditions. All native Christians (there were an estimated 250,000) either recanted or were slaughtered. Any foreign ship putting in to a Japanese harbor was to be destroyed and the crew killed. Finally, no craft more than 75 feet long could be built in all Japan. Thus, for 250 years Japan had no sea power and no naval history whatever.
Perry To The Sino-Japanese War
By the time Japan was somewhat peremptorily nudged out of her isolation by Commodore Perry, the sea was no longer the great defensive barrier it had once been. Typhoons and the narrow Strait of Tsushima had twice saved Japan from the hordes of Kublai Khan. By the Nineteenth Century, however, western nations had made such strides in shipbuilding that the vast Pacific and its storms were no longer impassable barriers. The change was so complete and so apparent that after Perry's visit a Shogun could address the Mikado with these words: "We are surrounded by the sea and therefore vulnerable at every point."
The dramatic appearance of Commodore Perry and his steamers in Yedo (Tokyo) Bay in 1853 abruptly shifted the course of Japanese history. The power of the United States was obviously too great to be ignored (or at that time, at least, opposed), and the United States had made her wishes known. The treaties that followed Perry's visit gradually opened up Japanese ports to foreign commerce.
Inevitably there was resistance to this sudden disavowal of the policy of two and a half centuries. Powerful and provincial feudal lords, who had long been sick of the Shogun's tyranny, openly rebelled against dealing with the hated barbarians. They resorted to a campaign of terror and political assassination. Foreigners who had come to Japan in the wake of Perry found their lives in danger. The murder by Satsuman soldiers of an English subject named Richardson provoked a controversy which ended only when British warships entered Kagoshima Bay and shelled the town, knocking out the antiquated fortifications as well as Satsuman hopes of remaining aloof from the despised foreigners. As a sidelight on this "incident", it is interesting to note that the British warships*, in confined and unfamiliar waters, continued their bombardment through the fury of a typhoon. Although the ancient gods had once more sent help, their power was ineffectual before the might of Western industrial progress.
Lord Mori of the Choshu Clan, like Satsuma a great hater of anything foreign, determined to close the Straits of Shimonoseki. These straits, once too difficult for sailing vessels, were now much in use by the new steamers passing from the Sea of Japan to the Inland Sea. The Choshu Clan occupied the Honshu side of the straits, and Choshu batteries, mostly old smooth-bore muzzle-loading guns and mortars commanded the narrow passage. The batteries opened up one morning in 1863 on the American steamer Pembroke. Making a dash for the Kyushu side, the startled ship was lucky enough to strike a favorable current and ran the gantlet safely. Subsequently, French and Dutch ships were fired on by the irascible lord. Retaliation was rapid and frequent. First the United States sloop Wyoming, then two French warships, and finally an allied squadron consisting of British, French and Dutch ships, and a token U.S. vessel chartered for the purpose, all took turns over the period of a year at bombarding Lord Mori's fortifications. The final combined operation broke all resistance and the straits were declared open.
* A powerful frigate; a corvette; two sloops, one of them with paddle-wheels, and three small gunboats.
This exhibition of military strength gave the Japanese much to ponder. Isolation fared ill when confronted by the new exploding ammunition fired from a rifled barrel. The Japanese decided to settle for the new kind of shooting-iron.
In these events were the death throes of the feudal lords as independent powers. The Restoration of the Meiji had occurred by 1868, and Japan was about to enter upon a period of intense Westernization.
Divine wind depicted by two men in vessel upon the wind.
Beginnings Of A Modern Navy
The long period of seclusion had placed the Japanese hundreds of years behind Western nations in the development of sea power. This break in their maritime development was completely artificial, for as far back as the early 1600's they had been building ships comparable in many respects to those of the Occident. An Englishman was in large measure responsible for the early Japanese ships of European design. In the year 1600 one Will Adams, an English shipwright who had sailed in the British Navy, put in at Nagasaki as pilot-master of a Dutch vessel. Adams had skill and the willingness to impart it. He was lionized by the Japanese, and in turn taught them what he knew of British shipbuilding. His shipyard was at Yokosuka, site two and a half centuries later of the great yards of modern Japan. Adams' pupils were able. Seventeenth Century mariners sailed his ships to the Malay peninsula and as far as the west coasts of the Americas. Such achievements were short lived, however; the edicts of 1638 prohibited the building of any vessel over 75 feet long, and all Japanese progress on the sea went into a self-imposed eclipse until Perry's "black ships" dragged the nation back into the world again.
No sooner had the import of Perry's visit become apparent, than the Shogun and some of the more aggressive provincial lords started building Navies - side by side. The Daimio (lord) of Satsuma led the way. He launched several large sailing vessels and managed to buy three steamers. One of these he converted, crudely enough, into a warship, Japan's first man-of-war after a European design. The Government followed suit. In 1866 it was able to buy from the United States the ex-Confederate ironclad Stonewall, armed with one 300-pound and two 70-pound Armstrong rifles. Renamed Azuma, the ironclad formed the nucleus of the new Government fleet. By 1869 Japan's Civil War was over, the Shogun dispossessed, and the Emperor's force firmly in control of the Government. The Navy from this time on was in truth the Government Navy.
One of the first steps necessary in this sudden re-birth was to get future officers trained in modern seamanship. The Government sent young men abroad, particularly to Britain, for indoctrination in the complex new problems of steam propulsion. In 1868 our own Congress authorized the Naval Academy at Annapolis to admit selected Japanese students. From that year until 1906 17 of them were admitted, six of whom graduated. Foreign experts were brought to Japan to give technical aid. After purchase of the Stonewall, another somewhat similar vessel was bought from Britain. It quickly became obsolete and was used later as a gunnery and training vessel. Four years after the Restoration, Japan had 14 ships, a conglomerate lot with a total displacement of slightly more than 12,000 tons. With the exception of one small vessel, all were foreign-built. In 1873 construction was started at Yokohama on two warships, one of 1,450 tons, the second 900 tons.
Two years later the Japanese, now firmly launched on a program of naval expansion, placed orders with British shipyards for three men-of-war of the most modern construction. They were the second-class battleship Fuso, and the steam-and-sail corvettes Kiei and Kongo. In the fashion of that day, even the iron Fuso was bark-rigged. Its specifications are of interest: 220 feet long, 48 feet beam, 3,718
tons, 3,500 horsepower, twin screws, 13 knots. The Fuso's iron belt varied from four to nine inches in thickness; she carried four 9.4-inch and two 6.6-inch Krupp rifles. The corvettes were longer but were single screw with considerably smaller horsepower and displacement. The Hiei had two torpedo tubes, thus including the latest development in naval warfare. By 1878 the ships finished and headed for Eastern waters, there to add power and prestige to the growing Navy.
Japan's renascence had occurred in a period of world-wide imperialist activity. Imperialist ideas, of course, were nothing new to her. Hideyoshi had envisaged conquering China and Korea and even had designs on Formosa, the Philippines and India. Subsequently, other prominent Japanese had similar, if less grandiose, visions of expansion. Now, for the first time since the Seventeenth Century, the nation was in a position to implement those ideas. She wasted no time getting started. In 1855 Russia and Japan had amicably decided to partition the Kurile Islands; 20 years later Japan got them all. In 1861 she established sovereignty over the Bonins, which include an island that will always live in American memory: Iwo Jima. Further consolidating her control over the approaches to Japan, she formally incorporated the Ryukyu Islands into her Empire in 1879.
Korea, however, was always the great bone of contention. For centuries China and Japan had been jockeying for control of that unfortunate nation. In 1876 and again in 1882 Japan imposed treaties which were clearly indicative of her intentions. The new Navy was proving a most effective Big Stick, particularly when there was no appreciable competition. And all the time the Big Stick was growing; the shipyards of England and France continued to turn out cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats to the specifications of the Japanese. The yards in the homeland were gradually accumulating the equipment and the "know-how" to undertake major construction for themselves. Near Kure, the new Naval Academy, which included many Europeans on its staff, was training capable, well-disciplined officers. Quietly and efficiently, Japan was preparing for the inevitable show-down on her expansionist policies.
As if symbolic of the new Japanese position, a powerful modern cruiser, the Naniwa,* showed up in Honolulu Harbor on the occasion of the revolution there in 1893. Commanding was Captain Togo, destined to become Japan's greatest naval hero. His mission was to protect the interests of the Japanese in Hawaii. Naniwa's appearance occasioned many qualms among the inhabitants of the Islands, some of whom expressed openly their fear of Japanese annexation. The time was not yet ripe for such ambitions, however, and Togo's visit, though impressive, was unproductive of incident. Only a few weeks after his return to Japan, Togo was to give the order for the first shots of the Sino-Japanese War.
* Elswich protected steel cruiser; 3,700 tons, 300 feet, beam 46 feet, 18 knots, main battery two 10-inch Krupps, secondary battery six 6-inch and smaller pieces, 4 torpedo tubes.)
War With China
The maneuvering over control of Korea never stopped. In 1885 China and Japan had signed a covenant agreeing that neither country would send troops to Korea, except for the respective legation guards, without notifying the other. The covenant stood for nine years, principally because neither country was yet prepared for war. A civil uprising in Korea, aimed at ousting the foreigners, precipitated the conflict. China informed Japan that she was sending troops to this "tributary state". At the word "tributary", the Japanese Foreign Office blew up. The crux of the whole explosive issue was Japan's insistence that China give up all claim to interest in Korea. Japan wanted a free hand there. "Tributary" was too much. The Japanese started mobilizing. Three hundred years after Hideyoshi troops bent on conquest were once again preparing to cross the Straits of Tsushima. But the lessons of that disastrous campaign had been well learned. This time the Japanese were prepared on sea as well as on land.
Statistics gave China considerable advantage over Japan in sea power. However, statistics fail to take into account two important factors: first, of China's four squadrons, only one, Li's North Fleet, was to get into action; second, man for man and gun for gun the Japanese Navy was a much more efficient fighting unit than the Navy of their enemy. Their months of arduous training now stood them in good stead. China's advantage on paper was soon proved to be on paper only. Her Navy was weakened by venality and by sheer sloppiness of officers and men. Ill-trained crews, defective ammunition, corroded engines and batteries--all helped throw the balance in favor of the coldly efficient Japanese forces.
Here is how the two Navies lined up at the beginning of the war. The North China Fleet contained two vessels more powerful than anything Japan had: the Ting-Yuen and Chen-Yuen. These were 7,400 ton ironclad battleships, products of German navy yards. Each mounted a main battery of four 12-inch Krupp rifles. In addition there were three somewhat smaller armored ships which had been built in China, ten unarmored light cruisers (gunboats, we would call them now), nine small sloops of about 1,000 tons, and 30 torpedo boats.
Japan had only three armored units: the Fuso, Hiei and Kongo, laid down in England 13 years before and now obsolete. Her most modern ships were the protected cruisers Yoshino and Akitsushiu. The Yoshino was the fastest cruiser in the world. She could do over 23 knots. The Matsushima, Hashidate and Itsukushima carried heavy guns, made 17 knots and were about 10 years old. Togo's Naniwa, a sistership, and one smaller cruiser completed the major units. In addition there were about 12 sloops and 38 torpedo boats.
Theoretically, China's two battleships alone constituted such a preponderance of power that they seemed capable of disposing of the lighter Japanese units by themselves. Actually, in one major engagement China's sea power was broken.
After diplomatic discussions reached an impasse, hostilities were opened in July 1894 in typical Japanese fashion. A salvo from Togo's Naniwa started the war,
rather than a declaration by Government officials. A cruiser and a sloop of the Chinese Navy were the victims. Both were heavily damaged. The cruiser escaped and the sloop beached herself. Almost immediately after this engagement, Togo created an international incident by sinking the British merchantman Kowshing which was headed for Korea with a load of Chinese troops. Scrupulously picking up the Europeans from the water, Togo had machine guns turned on the lifeboats and steamed away, leaving the Chinese helplessly floundering in the water. There is a pattern here set by Japan's greatest naval hero. It was to be followed in greater detail by his successors nearly half a century later.
Having no Yi-sun to oppose them, Japanese transports disgorged troops onto Korean soil. The Chinese navy contented itself with convoying Chinese troops (overland passage being too difficult) to the Yalu River. Off this river the Japanese fought their first great modern naval engagement. The Japanese, under Admiral Ito, had speed and rapidity of fire. They also had efficiently trained crews. The Chinese, on the other hand, were handicapped by defective ammunition and poor fire control. The result was inevitable. After a day-long, fiercely contested battle, five crippled heavy units of the Chinese fleet limped back to Port Arthur. Five more of their fleet were on the bottom. The Japanese had suffered casualties and fairly heavy battle damage, but they had not lost a ship. It was a smashing victory, the turning point of the war, although hostilities were to drag on for many months after.
Why Admiral Ito broke off the engagement at nightfall and failed to press home a final attack on the almost helpless battleships have never been understood. As an interesting sidelight, one of those battleships, the Chen-Yuen, was commanded by an American, Commander Philo N. McGiffin, U.S. Naval Academy, Class of '82. In his report McGiffin wrote that the Japanese withdrawal "has always been a mystery... Had they stayed with us a quarter of an hour more, our guns would have been silent and the ships defenceless.... The Japanese claim a victory at the Yalu, and with justice. But with the going down of the sun on that day seemed to disappear the elan with which they broke our formation in the early afternoon." The suggestion has been made that fear of the newly developed torpedo kept Ito from the kill. Admiral Togo displayed similar excessive caution in similar circumstances during the Russo-Japanese War.
The crippled Chinese battleships and cruisers constituted a fleet in being and thus a menace to Japan's newly acquired control of the seas. To remove this menace an army was sent to capture Port Arthur by land; a naval assault would almost certainly have been prohibitively costly. But Ito made a mistake. He relaxed his blockade, and when Port Arthur fell, the Chinese fleet had slipped across the Yellow Sea to Weihaiwei on the Shantung Peninsula. Nothing remained for the Japanese but to send a second army to capture Weihaiwei. This time the blockade was rigidly enforced. Ito made several fruitless attempts to slip torpedo boats past the booms protecting the harbor. Finally, one night in mid-winter sappers cut away a portion of the boom and 10 of the deadly craft sneaked in. It was a bitter night with very heavy winds. Men froze to death on the decks. But four boats managed to get away their torpedoes. The Ting-Yuen and an armored cruiser were sunk, two other ships damaged. Even the fleet in being was now finished. As Japanese soldiers were gaining the heights above the harbor, Admiral Ting surrendered and sat down to a fatal overdose of opium.
There remained one further job for the Navy to do, a job that was inherent in Japan's imperialism. On the day that Chinese emissaries left for peace negotiations, the Japanese fleet cleared Sasebo, heading south. Backed by the guns of the cruisers, Japanese units swiftly occupied Formosa and the adjoining Pescadores, territory which had been a nominally held dependence of China. In the midst of the operation an armistice was declared.
China was helpless at the peace table. Japan demanded much. She was grabbing while she had a chance. She demanded Chinese recognition of Korean independence (an independence Japan herself refused to recognize), the payment of a heavy indemnity, recognition of the expropriation of Formosa and the Pescadores, and, what shocked the world to attention, the cession of the entire Liaotung Peninsula, including, of course, Port Arthur.
This was too much, particularly for the Russians who were already feeling most uneasy about their suddenly pretentious neighbor. Russia, France and Germany filed a joint protest against the last provision. Japan backed down but with a resentment that remained undimmed with the years.
The war and its results had considerable effect on Western nations. In the first place, it brought clearly to light China's fatal weakness. Echoes of the guns had hardly died out when nation after nation started carving out their "concessions" along China's coasts. Hardly two years after Japan had been forced to give up the Liaotung Peninsula, Russia herself had "leased" Port Arthur. Here was a second Port Arthur campaign for Japan in the making.
A second effect of the war was to bring Western eyes, astonished eyes, onto Japan. To most people who thought about the Orient at all, Japan was a quaint nation, only just removed from barbarism. To think that these little men could operate the complicated mechanisms of cruisers and battleships came as a real shock. And here with seeming ease they had defeated a nation of many times their population! It was a far cry from the days of Perry and the bombing of Shimonoseki. Military men particularly were interested and amazed. There were many lessons having to do with strategy and tactics and performance of armament to be gained from a study of the Yalu battle. Momentous decisions in naval architecture, involving many thousands of dollars and pounds and marks and francs, were made as a result of those studies.
Meanwhile, Japan went ahead with increasing single-mindedness to acquire greater naval strength.
Divine wind depicted by two men in vessel upon the wind.
Interlude And Preparation
The Japanese Navy came out of the war with China stronger than it went in. The only losses had been torpedo boats. More than compensating, the Chen-Yuen, one of China's two battleships, had been captured, refitted, and added to the fleet. By now it was abundantly clear that a strong Navy was to be the essence of Japanese foreign policy. The Navy was popular with the people and indispensable for the plans being laid in Tokyo. The funds poured in and the Navy grew.
Two years after the war, three cruisers and two battleships of 12,500 tons mounting four 12-inch guns, made in England, had been added to the fleet. At this point the Navy Department put into operation a definite program of construction, designed to culminate in a modern, balanced, powerful battle-fleet. Great Britain got the order for four battleships. They were 400 feet long, 15,000 tons, heavily armored, mounted four 12-inch rifles with 6-inch secondaries, made about 18 knots. Six armored cruisers were built abroad, four in Britain, one each in France and Germany. By 1900 Japan had acquired most of the power that was to take on Russia.
Concurrent with these advances in military affairs, the Japanese Government achieved a coup of like importance in diplomacy. Japan planned to fight Russia. Russia had an alliance with France. Japan needed further naval aid to check France in the event she should come to Russia's support. England was the logical country, but England seemed utterly unapproachable to the country whose ears still burned at the thought of the bombardment of Kagoshima. But to the surprise of everyone, particularly the Japanese, England was glad to form a "mutual support" alliance. The treaty was signed early in 1902. This was an enormous stride for the Japanese people in their affairs with the rest of the world. It was peculiarly gratifying to the Navy to be regarded as a peer by the nation who for so many years had ruled the seas.
Divine wind depicted by two men in vessel upon the wind.
Japanese torpedo scoring direct hit at Port Arthur. Sino-Japanese War - 1894.
Japanese torpedo scoring direct hit at Port Arthur. Sino-Japanese War - 1894.
Russian ships sinking at Port Arthur (1894).
Russian ships sinking at Port Arthur (1894).
A collision between Japan and Russia over the basic question of dominance in the Pacific was inevitable. This was apparent to the whole world. The principal issues were these: The mammoth Russian Empire had long wanted an ice-free Pacific port. Vladivostok had a good harbor, but for several months a year it was frozen in. When China's weakness was laid bare to the world, Russia joined the international grab and obtained a lease on Port Arthur. This served her purpose well. However, a port cut off from the main body of the Empire by the expanses of Manchuria was a dubious asset. The Russians built a branch railroad line connecting Port Arthur and the main line running through Siberia to Vladivostok. This means of communication through alien territory was tenuous at best. The Boxer Rebellion in China gave the Russians a pretext for moving large numbers of troops into Manchuria. After the Rebellion had been put down, it was evident that the Russian troops were in Manchuria to stay, despite protests of China, the United States and other powers. Manchuria was obviously being engulfed.
At this juncture Japan was faced with the prospect of seeing the Russian colossus establishing bases which would enable her to become the dominant sea power in the Pacific. Japan's whole position of influence in the Far East was threatened. Furthermore, Russian acquisition of Manchuria would mean that Korea was encircled on land. Ultimately, it would mean that Russia would "acquire" Korea too.
Interests of the two countries were thus diametrically opposed. Both nations openly rushed preparations for war. Russian shipyards, working full blast, turned out ships as fast as possible. Each new one was immediately dispatched to the fleet in the Pacific. Japan acquired warships as quickly as they came off the ways in England. The Japanese fleet drilled and trained and maneuvered constantly. Morale was excellent, the victories of the China was having been a heady tonic. Efficiency reached new heights. The Russian fleets, on the other hand, lay in the harbors of the Pacific, the Baltic, and the Black Sea gathering barnacles. The crews, whose discontent with the Czar's graft-ridden, corrupt, inefficient government was already smouldering, talked revolution.
Japan risked everything in a conflict with Russia. Her fleet was heavily outnumbered, although Russian dispositions were such as to cut down greatly the disparity. Japanese losses at sea could not be replaced. Her yards were still not capable of building capital ships, and the international laws of neutrality prohibited the purchase of warships abroad by a nation at war. If Japan should be decisively beaten at sea, Russia would have a free hand on the continent and would even be in a position to invade the Japanese homeland.
On the other hand, Russia could replace losses of ships from her own yards. Even if defeated at sea, her enormous manpower would probably enable her to fight indefinitely, if need be, on the mainland. Russia had far less at stake.
Japan possessed one great advantage. Her bases for repair and supply were near the scene where action must take place. Vast distances, spanned by a single
railroad line, lay between Russian bases in the Pacific and the industries of the West. Problems of supply were staggering. For a nation as incompetently administered as the Russian, the problems were insuperable.
Such was the background and the stakes involved. Diplomatic maneuvers failed inevitably. The issues had to be decided by the fleets and by the armies.
Russian disposition of naval units on the eve of war could hardly have been worse. She had a fleet in the Black Sea that was absolutely worthless, for by international treaty the Dardanelles could not be transited by warships. The English Navy was a potent guarantor of that treaty. Thus the Alliance of 1902 was paying big dividends. A second fleet was in the Baltic. It seemed doubtful that these ships could even make the agonizingly long voyage around the Cape of Good Hope to the waters of the Far East. Sailing ships might have done it, but the steamers needed coal. Neutrals were forbidden by international law to fuel ships of a belligerent nation. Russia conceivably could, and later did, rely on France to make this breach of neutrality. Finally, there was the Pacific fleet, the only one of immediate danger to the Japanese. This was largely based on Port Arthur and consisted of seven battleships, powerful units but not the equal of those of the Japanese; one armored and five protected cruisers, much inferior to the enemy's, two gunboats, 25 destroyers and two minelayers. In addition, over a thousand miles away at Vladivostok, were three good armored cruisers, one protected cruiser, 17 torpedo boats and numerous auxiliaries.
To oppose this force Japan had its six modern battleships, eight modern armored cruisers, 17 protected cruisers of which about half were modern, four new torpedo-gunboats, 20 destroyers, and over 70 torpedo-boats. In addition to this superiority in guns and armor, Japanese personnel from the High Command on down had a big edge in experience, in training, and in general over-all competence. In matters of strategy, in tactics, and in seamanship the Russians were greatly inferior.
On the night of February 8, 1904, the Russian fleet lay at anchor in the roadstead outside of Port Arthur. Although war seemed imminent, there had been no declaration and there was apparently hope for some kind of mediation. Ship's lights were burning. Two destroyers were patrolling in a half-hearted manner, and what torpedo nets had been set protected only the waists of the ships. It was a perfect opportunity for the Japanese for whom a declaration of war was easily dispensed with. Admiral Togo, now in command of the Fleet, had sailed from Sasebo on the sixth. His approach had been undetected. With the Russians sitting in the roadstead like ducks, Togo sent his destroyers in. Eighteen torpedoes were fired; three found their marks. The two finest Russian battleships, Czarevick and Retvisan, and the light cruiser Pallada were badly hit but did not sink. Togo failed to follow up his initial advantage, and the Russians withdrew to the shelter of Port Arthur guns. Here they stayed.
Japan was faced with the problem of whether she dared risk an expeditionary force to Korea while control of the sea was lacking. Should Togo be defeated, only disaster could follow. She took the risk, and 60,000 men were transported without incident to Korea, the first of many soldiers to be sent to the continent.
Meanwhile, Togo was blockading Port Arthur. (He had sent part of his heavy cruiser squadron to deal with the cruisers at Vladivostok.) The Russians would not come out and he could not get in. In his effort to solve this impasse, Togo made three separate attempts to sink block ships at the mouth of the harbor and so bottle up the enemy. Seventeen merchant ships* were vainly sacrificed with considerable loss of life. As the months wore on the situation became more serious for the Japanese. The Russian ships injured in the first blow had been repaired. Command of the Russian fleet had been taken over by Admiral Makaroff, an extraordinarily able leader, who was injecting new life into his personnel. Most serious of all, intelligence reports indicated that the Baltic Fleet was in the throes of preparations to steam to the Pacific. A successful reinforcement would have made the odds against Togo enormous. The Port Arthur force had to be disposed of.
Careful observations had been made of Russian movements between their own minefields in the roadstead. Under cover of darkness Japanese minelayers were sent in to mine the channels. The stratagem worked. Makaroff was lured out of the harbor by a Japanese flotilla which fled at his approach. On returning to the harbor, the flagship Petropavlosk struck a mine and blew up, killing Makaroff and most of the crew. A second battleship was disabled.
Even more drastic steps had to be taken, however, if Japan was to be in a position to deal with the Russian naval forces separately. A decision was made to employ the tactics of the war with China, and an army was landed on the Liaotung Peninsula. Meanwhile, the Japanese Navy had suffered heavy losses. Taking a leaf out of the enemy's book, the Russians mined, under cover of fog, an area in which the Japanese battleships had been seen frequently to maneuver. Two battleships struck mines and sank. The Japanese yelled foul at the top of their lungs, for the mined area was several miles off-shore, a violation of the unwritten but generally accepted rules protecting neutral shipping. Foul or no, the loss was a serious one. One third of their heaviest units was gone at a blow. On the same day a light cruiser collided with a ship of its own fleet and went to the bottom.
The dreary weeks of blockading dragged on while the Japanese Army fought its way, with heavy losses, toward Port Arthur. Vitgeft, the new Russian Admiral, made one abortive sortie out from the protection of the big guns. He got within sight of the Japanese fleet but turned tail for home before any action ensued. A battleship, on the way into harbor, was badly damaged by a Russian mine. Circumstances finally forced Vitgeft's hand. By August the Japanese Army was menacingly near. An order from the Czar commanded Vitgeft to make a break for Vladivostok where the fleet was to wait until reinforced. Thus was the Battle of the Yellow Sea joined.
Vitgeft's dash was intercepted by Togo who had anticipated some such move. The Russians' six battleships (those damaged having been repaired), four light cruisers, and eight destroyers were opposed by four battleships, three armored
* It is interesting to note that the expansion of the merchant marine kept pace with the expansion of the Navy in this period. In 1893, thirty merchant ships totaling 4,426 tons were constructed in Japan. Nine years later 204 ships with a tonnage of 29,363 tons were built.
cruisers, eight light cruisers, and torpedo boats. Togo's mission was to sink what he could but, at all odds, to prevent a break-through to Vladivostok. In this latter he was successful. The engagement was carried on for the most part at long range, and was indecisive until toward evening two 12-inch shells simultaneously hit the Russian flagship. Vitgeft, most of his staff, and nearly everybody in the conning tower were killed in the explosions. The ship went out of control with the result that the entire Russian battle line was thrown into whirling confusion. At this critical moment the Japanese closed the range. Under the renewed assault, and with no leadership to guide them, the Russians broke for Port Arthur.
Togo's failure to finish off the demoralized enemy that night has been criticized, but he did accomplish his mission. Although not a Russian ship was sunk, not a one got through to Vladivostok. The flagship was so badly damaged it had to make for a neutral port, where it was interned, as were several smaller vessels. Two battleships were battered too heavily to be repaired at Port Arthur. The other three big ships were hurt; furthermore, nearly all their 12-inch ammunition had been expended, and it could not be replaced.
The Japanese, too, were hurt, in some instances heavily. But they were all intact and could be marshalled against the Baltic fleet, if necessary. It was a decisive Japanese victory.
A few days later the Vladivostok-based cruisers received a bad mauling from the squadron Togo had sent to counter them. One Russian ship was sunk. The others limped back to port.
These fleet actions were the last undertaken at sea by the Russian Pacific Fleet. By December, after taking huge losses, the Japanese Army had succeeded in capturing famous "203-Metre Hill", a promintory overlooking Port Arthur. This sealed the fate of the battleships. With their heavy howitzers, the Japanese "zeroed in" on the armored ships and methodically sank all but one. Only the battleship Sevastopol put up much of a fight. She steamed out of the harbor and anchored in the outer roads where she fought gallantly her hopeless battle. It was three weeks before she succumbed to the repeated Japanese torpedo attacks. In January 1905 Port Arthur surrendered. Togo was master of Far Eastern waters. He had long respite in which to prepare for the final Russian challenge.
The challenge had been long in the making. Twelve thousand miles from the scene of action, the Russian Baltic Fleet finally got under way by the middle of October 1904. The fleet was a strange conglomeration of the obsolete and the untried. Three-fourths of the men, it is said, had never been to sea before. Enormous difficulties confronted Admiral Rojestvensky before he could hope to come anywhere near Pacific waters. Somehow the fuel problem had to be solved. Somehow the fleet had to be welded into at least a semblance of a fighting unit. Somehow the men had to be trained.
Somehow Rojestvensky did it. He bullied and cajoled coal from neutrals who had no business giving it to him. He performed miracles of fueling from colliers at sea. He trained men in gunnery although he was short of ammunition. And he shepherded his heavy units through the North Sea, clear down around the Cape of
Good Hope up to Madagascar. Here he picked up lighter vessels which had been able to come by way of the Suez Canal. After three debilitating months of inactivity there, while the Admiral argued long distance with the Admiralty, the entire fleet got under way once more, transited the entire Indian Ocean, the Straits of Malacca, and reached Camranh Bay without once having entered a harbor. This was a remarkable feat for those days.
Leaving Cochim, China, Rojestvensky entered upon the last lap. His forces looked imposing: 45 ships, including seven battleships, six cruisers, a flotilla of destroyers, the rest auxiliaries and the train. Four of the battleships were so new that this long voyage to destruction was their shakedown cruise. On the other hand, four ships of the line were so old that their own fleet called them the "flat-irons and galoshes". They were worse than useless.
Meanwhile, Togo's forces had been resting, refitting, and were at the peak of fighting trim. Commander H. H. Frost, U.S.N., has estimated Japanese superiority in materiel at the Battle of Tsushima as two to one, their superiority in personnel as "at least" the same.
Contact between the two fleets was made as Rojestvensky steamed east of Tsushima Island on his dash for Vladivostok, now the only port remaining open to him. Immediately, the superiority of Togo's forces told. In a daring maneuver which gave the Russians an initial advantage they failed to capitalize on, Togo crossed the enemy's T and brought the guns of his heavies to bear on the leading Russian battleships. His fire control was excellent. The Japanese repeatedly scored four hits to the Russians' one. No fleet could take that punishment. One by one the Russian ships of the line were sunk or put out of action. Those which could stagger on tried vainly to break through to Vladivostok. It was like trying to break through a shifting, impenetrable wall of steel. By night four of Russia's five best battleships were on the bottom. The ships remaining were harried all night long by torpedo attacks which sank an old battleship and at least two cruisers.
Morning brought the realization that any further efforts would be madness. Rojestvensky was out of the battle, severely wounded. Nebogatoff surrendered his four old hulks and the wounded battleships remaining in his command. Some few other Russian vessels made neutral ports where they were interned. Thirty-six hours after the initial contact every ship of the main Russian line had been sunk or captured. One cruiser and two destroyers escaped sinking, capture or internment. That was all. The Russians lost 4,830 men, the Japanese 117. It was the most devastating naval victory in modern history, and it established Japan as the undisputed mistress of Asiatic waters.
Once the enemy's power at sea was broken, the Japanese embarked on a campaign similar to the Formosa-Pescadores expedition of 1895. They sent an army to the Russian island of Sakhalin, lying north of Hokkaido. The occupation was effected against little opposition. On the Asiatic mainland, meanwhile, the armies had reached a deadlock of exhaustion. Both countries were ready for peace. Russia's reserves were still enormous, but revolution was threatening at home. The Japanese, in spite of their brilliant victories at sea and on land, had about reached the limit of their military effort. Prolongation of the war seemed foolish for either side. At this juncture President Theodore Roosevelt stepped in. Pleased at having
the Japanese in the dominant role in Asia, as was the great majority of the American people, he proposed an armistice. The Treaty of Portsmouth resulted. By its terms Russia agreed to recognize Japan's special interests in Korea and to surrender her rights and privileges in South Manchuria to Japan. No indemnity payment was required of Russia. Sakhalin was divided between the two nations, the northern half going to Russia, the southern to Japan.
Although the treaty was unpopular with the public at home, Japan had got what she wanted from the war. She was mistress of Asiatic waters. The road lay clear for further imperialist expansion*. The threat of the Slav, which had been so menacing, was done away with. Furthermore, almost literally over night - within the 36 hours of the Battle of Tsushima - Japan had projected herself into the exclusive and jealous ranks of the Great Powers. Steaming against Rojestvensky, Togo had flown this signal from the masthead of his flagship: "The destiny of the Empire depends upon this one battle," The battle had been won, and the Empire was riding high.
* In 1905 Korea assigned full authority over her foreign relations to Japan; in 1907 Tokyo took over internal administration; in 1910 the treaty of annexation was signed.
Battle of Tsushima (1905)
Battle of Tsushima (1905)
World War I
Togo's entire main battle line at Tsushima had been foreign-built. Rapidly, however, the shipyards of Kure and Yokosuka developed to the point where they could turn out capital ships. By the time negotiations at Portsmouth were over Japan had two battleships of 16,400 tons building in England. Two battleships of over 19,000 tons were under construction in Japan. Shipyards of the homeland were turning out simultaneously four armored and one light cruiser.
However, the advent of England's new super-warship, the fast, big-gunned Dreadnought, changed the construction plans of every navy in the world. The Dreadnought carried ten 12-inch rifles, was rated at 21 knots. It made obsolete every capital ship preceding it. Japan's first two dreadnoughts (the name became generic) were laid down in 1909 and completed in 1912 and 1913, respectively. Battle cruisers were the next type adopted in the program to keep up with the latest design. By 1915 Japan had four: Kongo, Hiei, Haruna and Kirishima. These are familiar names to the men who have been fighting Japan at sea since December 7, 1941, for when the war started they played important roles in the Japanese battle line. Colin Kelley's famous attack was thought to have sunk the Haruna early in the war. We later had to admit that Haruna had survived to take part in many later engagements. Two of these old battle cruisers (they are now classified as battleships) were reported sunk off Guadalcanal as they were supporting Japanese landings there.
When they first came off the ways more than 30 years ago, the Kongo class carried a main battery of eight 14-inch, 45 calibre guns. They had an over all length of 704 feet, a beam of between 92 and 95 feet. Over a period of years, of course, they underwent extensive modifications to fit them for modern fighting conditions. The Kongo, for instance, was completely rebuilt in 1935-1937.
Approximately the same story applies to the four 14-inch battleships Japan had built by 1918. They were Fuso, Yamashiro, Ise and Hyuga. Of these, the first two were reported sunk at the Second Battle of the Philippines Sea. Ise and Hyuga have undergone a strange transformation. Both carry a short flight deck, and, being neither fish nor fowl, are known as "hermaphrodites". They are a far cry from the sleek vessels laid down in the yards of the Kawasaki and Mitsubishi Companies in 1915.
Lighter units, of course, kept pace in that expansion of World War I days. So firmly embedded in the Japanese mind was the conviction that their existence as a Great Power depended on their sea forces, that no expense was spared to keep the Navy modern, big and powerful.
When the World War came, Japan was in an excellent position. She could jump either way or she could remain neutral. Traditionally, Japan was Britain's ally. Traditionally, also, Japan remembered with bitterness Germany's intervention in her affairs in 1895. That loss of Port Arthur, occasioned by the Western diplomats, had always rankled. But more important than these considerations was the prospect of loot with little risk attached. Japan entered the war on the side of the Allies,
but not until secret commitments had been made granting to Japan those German-held islands in the Pacific north of the Equator. Islands to the south were reserved for Britain.
The part played by Japan in the war was not particularly significant. Germany had a lease-hold on Tsingtao and the port of Kiaochow. Based there was the German Far Eastern squadron under Vice Admiral Graf von Spee. Japan's ultimatum and declaration of war allowed Spee's ships (two fast armored cruisers and two light cruisers) ample time to disappear into the Pacific. When Britain entered the war, Spee was at Ponape in the Carolines. From there he went toward Japan to Pagan in the Marianas. After Japan's ultimatum had expired, he lost himself among the Marshall atolls. For months these cruisers raised havoc with Allied merchant shipping. The light cruiser Emden made one of the most devastating forays of this kind in history. Although Japan took part in the hunt for the Germans, it was a half-hearted effort at best. Her contribution to the pursuit consisted of an old Russian battleship, one of those that had been torpedoed the first night at Port Arthur, and some decrepit cruisers. Spee was not bothering Japan and Japan did not bother Spee. He was finally brought to bay and sunk by the British at the Battle of the Falklands.
Meanwhile, in a joint Army-Navy operation of a type which the Japanese have employed so often in their history Tsingtao was occupied by the Mikado's armies. Hard on the heels of this operation against the enemy, Japan pressed the infamous Twenty-one Demands on China - demands which would in effect have reduced all of China to the status of Korea before her annexation. The pattern of conquest was even then being laid out.
All during the war, Japan kept her battle fleet within home waters. She did do good work, however, in escorting Australian convoys in the Indian Ocean. And she did send one cruiser and three destroyer divisions to the Mediterranean, where their work was praised by the British.
In return for this service, the League of Nations granted to the Mikado a mandate over the Marshall, the Caroline, and the Marianas Islands (less Guam). Here was the source of those "unsinkable aircraft carriers" of our day: Kwajalein, Eniwetok, Saipan, Truk, Peleliu, and so many others. Measured in terms of American blood lost on these islands, Japan was paid a heavy price for her services in World War I.
Divine wind depicted by two men in vessel upon the wind.
An ancient Japanese proverb says: "The life blood of Japan is the water of the sea." There is much truth in this statement. In ancient times the sea served as a mighty line of defense, protecting the homeland against foreign invasion. During the years of seclusion, however, Japan turned back from the sea while other nations mastered its dangers. The result is implicit in the statement of a Shogun to the Mikado: "We are surrounded by the sea, and therefore vulnerable at every point." The sea brought life, but it also brought Perry and the British.
Japan's fortunes in relation to Asiatic powers have always varied directly with her control over adjacent waters. Dreams of conquest have from earliest times been a part of her life. From the Empress Jingo through Hideyoshi down to the present time the desire of this island people to expand, to control, to be mighty beyond their size has run like a constant design through the pattern of their history. Yi-sun and his "turtleback" taught them that conquest was impossible with an army alone. A Navy, powerful enough to control Eastern waters, must be basic to all overseas ventures, just as it must be basic to homeland defense. Perry provided stimulus, and after his visit the Japanese, with great single-mindedness, built just such a Navy.
Few Americans had knowledge or understanding enough to realize the implications of Japan's new position in the Orient at the beginning of the Twentieth Century. Shortly after the Battle of Manila Bay, however, Admiral George Dewey made some extraordinarily prescient remarks on the subject. He said:
"I look forward some 40 to 50 years and see a Japanese naval squadron entering this harbor, as I have just done, and demanding the surrender of Manila and the Philippines, with the plan of making these islands a part of the great Pacific Japanese empire of the future.
"I will not live to witness what you will see if you live your ordinary life. That will be the conquest of China by Japan and when that is done conquest of all island possessions from north to south off the Pacific coast of the Far East."
The pattern was there, although few had vision enough to see it. The Japanese Navy grew and with it Japanese ambitions, until they finally over-reached themselves at Pearl Harbor.
Divine wind depicted by two men in vessel upon the wind.
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