Forces Engaged: Empire of China (Qing) - the Northern Ocean (Beiyang, 北洋舰队 or Běiyáng Jiànduì) Fleet of the Qing Imperial Navy.
2 "armored turret ships" (sometimes called "battleships" although these vessels were definitely not "battleships" by even pre-dreadnought standards) -
Dingyuan (定远 or Dìngyǔan, flagship) main battery - 4 × 12"/25 caliber) guns in two twin turrets, secondary battery included 2 × 6"/35 cal guns, 2 × 57 mm guns, 2 × 47 mm guns, 8 × 37 mm guns, 3 × 14 in (356 mm) torpedo tubes.
Zhenyuan (鎮遠, Chen Yuen) sister to Dingyuan; armament as the flagship except secondary battery consisted of 2 x 6"/35 cal guns, 6 × 37 mm (1 in) guns.
Note: We talked about these "turret" or "barbette" ships back in May of 2011 when we discussed Tsushima Strait. Basically these jokers were naval architects' first attempt to mate a conventional ship hull (that is, not a low-freeboard "Monitor"-type hull) with a centralized main battery in a rotating mount, either an actual turret or an open-topped armored bucket (a "barbette") instead of a broadside-style fixed side-shooting cannon. What's kind of interesting without being particularly conclusive is that McGiffin (1895) calls both of them "ironclads" instead of "battleships".8 "cruisers" of various types:
1 "armored cruiser" or coastal defense ship - Pingyuan (平远 or Ping-yüan) Main battery 1 × 10" gun in a single turret, secondary battery 2 × 6" guns, 8 × machine guns, 4 × 18" torpedo tubes.
Note:This vessel was a thoroughgoing oddity.
First of all, while it's often described as an "armored cruiser" technically it was pretty much a straight copy of a French vessel described as an "armored gunboat of the first class", the Acheron. The originals were designed primarily for close-in coastal defense along the French Channel, Mediterranean, and North Sea coasts. The value of such a warship for the long coast and many large rivers of eastern China is fairly obvious but, still, this wasn't a vessel really designed to fight major fleet actions. McGiffin (1895) straight-out calls this vessel a "coast-defense ship".
The other thing about this vessel was that it was the first Chinese-built steel warship, laid down at the Foochow Arsenal at Mawei. While the design and many of the cannon and engine parts were European the vessel as a whole was Chinese from the keel up.2 Chaoyong-class heavy protected cruisers -
Chaoyong (超勇, Chāoyǒng) 2 × 10" guns in single mounts (fore/aft), 4 × 4.7" guns, 4 × 9-pounder guns (2 twin mounts) ,4 × 11 mm Gatling guns, 4 × 37 mm Hotchkiss guns, 2 × 4-barreled Nordenfeldt guns
Yangwei (揚威, Yangwei) sister to Chaoyang with the same armament
These vessels are described as "cruisers" but the builders, Armstrong Whitworth of Great Britain, called them "gunboats" albeit pretty damn heavily gunned for such. The British Admiralty passed on them in the 1880s and they were sold to foreign clients. Not really terrible ships for the '80s but outclassed by vessels of similar size by 1894. McGiffin (1895) calls them "lame ducks". Similar to the "Elswick" cruisers in concentrating on speed and battery and skimping on armor.2 "Elswick"-type (protected) cruisers -
Zhiyuan (致遠, Zhiyuan) 3 × 8.3" guns; twin gunshield-mount forward, single gunshield-mount aft, 2 × 5.9" guns, 8 × 57 mm (2.2") guns, 4 × 18" torpedo tubes
Jingyuan (靖遠, Jingyuan) - sister to Zhiyuan with the same armament.
Both of these vessels were built by Armstrong Whitworth and, again, called "gunboats" by the builders but classed as "cruisers" by the Qing Navy. The "Elswick"-design cruisers - constructed for export at the Armstrong Whitworth Elswick Yard - were typified by speed and relatively decent armament but often lightly armored compared to First World protected cruisers. These vessels are often called "armored cruisers" which misstates the type of protection they were designed with - specifically, an armored internal deck and gunshields or barbettes but without the side armor belts that characterized an "armored" cruiser".3 German-built protected cruisers -
Note that this Jingyuan is often referred to as the "1886 Jingyuan" to distinguish her from the German-built Jingyuan. Why the fuck they didn't just name one of the damn ships something else baffles the hell out of me. If the Qing system of supply and services hadn't already been as fucked up as a football bat this two-Jingyuan thing wouldn't have helped them a bit.
Jingyuan (經遠, Jingyuan) 2 × 8.3" guns in a double barbette mount forward, 2 × 5.9" guns, 4 × 18" torpedo tubes, 8 × machine guns (this is the so-called 1887 Jingyuan)
Laiyuan (來遠, Laiyuan) sister to 1887 Jingyuan: 2 × 8.3" guns in double barbette mount forward, 2 × 5.9" guns, 4 18" torpedo tubes, 8 × machine guns
Jiyuan (济远) 2 × 8" guns in double barbette mount forward,1 × 6" gun, 4 × 3" guns, 6 × 47 mm (2") guns, 4 × 15" torpedo tubes
These three protected cruisers were all built for the Chinese Navy by Stettiner AG Vulkan of Stettin, Germany. Interestingly, McGiffin (1895) calls the first two of these three German-built ships "armored cruisers" although their specifications clearly show them to lack armored belts.2 "corvettes" or similar light destroyer-type warships -
Kwan Chia (广甲) 1 × 6" gun in a single mount forward,4 × 5" guns in sponsons, 6 × 37mm guns
Guangbing (广丙) 3 × 4.7 guns, 8 × machineguns, 4 15/18" torpedo tubes
2 torpedo boats -
Fulong (福龙) 3 × 14" torpedo tubes (two forward, one aft) and either 2 × 37mm light cannon or 2 machineguns (probably the latter)
Tso Yih (??) presumably similar armament to Fulong
The Beiyang Fleet at the Yalu was organized into two wings;
Left Wing included the Jiyuan, Kwan Chia, Zhiwyuan and the flagship Dingyuan
The Right Wing included the Zhenyuan, Laiyuan, both Jingyuans, Chaoyong, and the Yangwei.
Pingyuan, Guangbing, and the two torpedo boats joined the Right Wing several hours after the opening of the engagement.
So two "ironclads" or pre-pre-dreadnought battleships, eight assorted cruiser types (or seven cruisers and a coast-defense ship), two corvettes, and two torpedo boats under the command of TITU (提督, the Qing rank equivalent to a modern USN four-star admiral) Ding Ruchang (丁汝昌, Dīng Rǔchāng)
Imperial Japanese Navy (大日本帝国海軍, Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun) -
3 Matsushima-class protected cruisers -
HIJMS Matsushima (松島) 1 × 12.6" "Canet" gun barbette mount forward, 12 × QF 4.7" Mk I–IV guns, 16 × QF 6 pounder Hotchkiss guns, 6 × 1-pounder guns, 4 × 14" torpedo tubes
HIJMS Itsukushima (厳島) 1 × 12.6" Canet gun, 11 × QF 4.7" Mk I–IV guns, 5 × QF 6 pounder Hotchkiss guns, 5 × QF 3 pounder Hotchkiss guns, 4 × 14" torpedo tubes
HIJMS Hashidate (橋立) 1 × 12.6" Canet gun, 11 × QF 4.7" Mk I–IV guns, 6 × QF 6 pounder Hotchkiss guns, 2 ×QF 3 pounder Hotchkiss guns, 4 × 14" torpedo tubes
I can't really top what I wrote about these ships back in 2011, so I'll just paste it in here.
"The Matsushimas are a truly unusual vessel, and like many bizarrely entertaining and frivolously odd things, they are fundamentally French.2 Naniwa-class protected cruisers -
In the 1880s the young Imperial Japanese Navy was looking at a problem. Qing China, next on her list for a little European-style unequal-treaty fun, was arming up. The Germans had just delivered the two Dingyuan-class battleships; nothing Japan had could match the Dingyuan and Zhengyuan. Enter the French Navy. The Japanese were getting a little hinky about their dependence on the British, who at the time were rather cosy with the Qings. The then-Minister of Marine was a Francophile, and turned the IJN's interest to the French "Young School", which was then all excited about the idea of swarming enemy battleships with masses of light craft, cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats. The upshot of this was the arrival in the Japanese navel shipyard of one Emile Bertin. Starting in 1885, Bertin directed construction, either in France or at Yokosuka, of over 20 hulls, from torpedo boats to the Matsushimas. The latter were Japan's largest capital ships.
But they were utterly, absolutely weird.
These ships only displaced about 4,000 tons and mounted mostly light guns, 5-inch and below. But each one had a single, ginormous 12-inch cannon in a barbette. This so-called "Canet gun" loaded at the breech, but so frigging slowly that you could have timed the crew drill with a sundial and the effect of the monster gun firing was truly frightening; the entire ship would stagger, even seeming to lose way altogether. You couldn't train it abeam because the massive barrel would cause the cruiser to list so frighteningly it threatened to capsize. It was like one of those monster late-war Nazi tanks; huge, frightening, but practically useless."
HIJMS Naniwa (浪速) 2 × 10"/35 guns in single mounts fore/aft, 6 x 6"/35 guns, 6 × QF 6 pounder Hotchkiss guns, 10 × 1" Nordenfelt guns, 4 × 11mm 10-barrel Nordenfelt guns, 4 × 14" torpedo tubes
HIJMS Takachiho (高千穂) armament as her sister Naniwa
Both of these warships were Armstrong-built "Elswick" cruisers purchased in the mid-1880s1 "central battery ironclad" -
HIJMS Fusō (扶桑) 4 × 9.4" Krupp guns in recessed hull mounts, 4 × 6.7" Krupp guns, 8 × 3" guns (4 "long", 4 "short" barreled cannon), 2 × Nordenfelt quadruple machine gun
Fusō, along with Hiei, was really obsolete by 1894. These "central battery" or "casemate" warships were the first attempt by European naval architects to take advantage of the late-19th-Century technological advances in arms and armor. The idea was to - instead of dozens of smaller cannon firing straight out from the side of the ship - centralize several bigger guns near the center of the vessel inside an armored "box". The guns would be set in apertures recessed into the side of the hull with a sort of bevel fore and aft to allow them to pivot towards the bow and stern. Just what a craptacular idea this scheme is becomes quickly apparent; train the gun fore (or aft) so that the muzzle is right alongside the hull and the muzzle blast would likely set the sideplating (and anything else nearby) on fire and/or blast it to flinders. In practice battery-ship captains tended to fight broadside-on in the old style and navies quickly moved on to the deck-level barbette or rotating turret.2 protected cruisers -
HIJMS Yoshino (吉野) 4 × QF 6"/40 guns (single mounts - gunshield-type fore and aft and in twin sponsons either side),8 × QF 4.7" Mk I–IV guns, 22 × QF 3-pounder Hotchkiss guns, 5 × 14" torpedo tubes
HIJMS Akitsushima (秋津洲) 4 × QF 6"/40 guns (single mounts, 2 forward, 2 aft),6 × QF 4.7" guns, 8 × QF 3-pounder Hotchkiss guns,5 x 1-inch Nordenfelt guns,4 × 14" torpedo tubes
Both new, fast, and powerful cruisers; Yoshino was an Elswick design built in Britain, Akitsushima a French Jeune Ecole design constructed in Japan after concerns developed about the intrinsic weirdness of the Matsushimas.1 "belted" or light armored cruiser -
HIJMS Chiyoda (千代田) 10 × QF 4.7"/40 guns in single mounts (one each fore and aft, eight in two sets of four in side sponsons), 14 x QF 3-pounder Hotchkiss guns, 3 x 11mm 10-barrel Nordenfelt guns, 3 x 14" torpedo tubes
Chiyoda is often described as a "protected" cruiser but she was, in fact, an early "armored" cruiser based on the Royal Navy's Nelson-class iron armored frigates of the 1870s. Despite this she was a new ship, launched in 1890, and a relatively effective one for all that her main battery was poorly sited, the Big Fail of pre-turreted ships.1 Kongō-class corvette -
HIJMS Hiei (比叡) 3 × 6.7" guns, 6 × 5.9" guns, 2 × 3"/1-pounder guns, 4 × 25 mm quadruple mount "pom-pom" guns, 2 × 11mm dual mount guns, 1 × 14" torpedo tube
Hiei was the other old feeb of the IJN present at the Yalu, a holdover from the earliest days of the Imperial Naval service in the 1870s. She was built at Pembroke Dock in Wales and was apparently quite the sensation. Here's a delightful oddiment that, while giving the overall history of the Dock, also provides us with the details of the construction of Hiei, including this treasure that's so perfect I can't just skip over it. Here you go:1 Maya-class gunboat -
"...the launch of Hiei on 9 June 1877 attracted many dignitaries of the time and created great interest and excitement among the population of Pembroke and Pembroke Dock. His Excellency Jushie Wooyeno Kagenori, Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary of his Imperial Majesty the Mikado of Japan and Members of the Japanese Embassy attended, together with Prince Hachisuka ,Former Ministers ,Embassy Senior Staff,including the Consul General. Also attending were the British Admiral the Right Honourable Lord Clarence Paget, Chairman at the time of the Milford Haven Shipbuilding and Engineering Company and his Board of Directors, Pembroke Dock Mayor and numerous others. Mr. Reed's guests at a banquet in London were Dr and Mrs Schliemann (Discoverer of Troy) and Baron Reuter (Founder of the Newsagency). Celebrations began when the Japanese Ambassador and his party arrived by rail into the Royal Dockyard where they were wined and dined by the Captain Superintendent of the Dockyard. The Ambassador was presented to the Mayor of Pembroke Dock at Hobbs Point at 3.00pm and then proceeded on a serpentine tour of Pembroke Dock.
While proceeding along Bush Street, the procession arrived at the house of Mr. H A Jones– loyd , a solicitor ,where a pleasing and novel reception awaited the ambassador. A beautiful arch had been erected and upon a dais six or seven young girls in traditional Welsh costume presented an address of welcome to Lady Wooyeno."
(One can only imagine Lady Ueno's reaction of this little display, assuming that she could understand a word of it.)
"A pause at the Barrack Hill followed, to hear a song of welcome sung by local schoolchildren, then the party went up the hill to the site of the new Bethany Baptist Chapel in High Street where Miss Rose Reed (Sir Edward's Daughter) laid one of the foundation stones, after which another choir sang the Hallelujah Chorus. At the corner of Hill Street, Bufferland, another arch had been erected over the street. This was surmounted by a dragon made of wild iris leaves, a plant which abounded in the nearby marshy areas. It served equally well as it represented the dragon of Wales, though its colour was green and not red, while it served as a delicate compliment to the Ambassador and attendants by symbolizing the allegoric emblem of the East."
(I'm sure the Ambassador was...ummm...very touched by the...errr...delicate "compliment"...given that the dragon symbolized Qing China, the then-rival and eventual-enemy of Japan.)
Eventually the Procession eventually reached Lower Pennar at 5.30 p.m. in time for the 6.00pm launch. After the successful launch the Ambassador and his party attended a banquet after which there was a grand general illumination consisting of thousands of Japanese lanterns, balloons, peacocks and giraffes.
(Words fail me. Japanese lanterns, sure. But giraffes? Peacocks?)
"The banquet was held in the Victoria Hotel, situated at the top of Pembroke Street, Pembroke Dock, and quite the most opulent hotel in the town.. Eventually the Ambassador and his party were taken to Pembroke Dock railway station when the Japanese National Anthem was played prior to their departure for London."
(And I'll bet His Excellency and party had a lot to talk about on the trip back to the embassy. Wow.)
HIJMS Akagi (赤城) 4 × 4.7" guns in single gunshield mounts, 4 × 2" guns, 2 x 30mm Nordenfelt guns
In addition to the warships the requisitioned civilian vessel Saikyo Maru with Chief of the Imperial Naval Staff ADM Kabayama Sukenori (樺山 資紀) embarked was engaged; the Akagi's defense of the unarmored merchie is quite a story in itself, and we'll get there in a bit.
For the engagement the IJN force was organized into two squadrons: the
Flying Squadron, composed of HIJMS Yoshino (flag, RADM Tsuboi Kōzō), Takachiho, Naniwa, and Akitsushima; and the
Main Body, composed of HIJMS Matsushima (flag, VADM Itoh Sukeyuki), Chiyoda, Itsukushima, Hashidate, Fusō, and Hiei.
The Saikyo Maru wasn't supposed to be involved at all but got stuck in because ADM Kabayama was a fucking lunatic, dragging poor little HIJMS Akagi in with her. This is him, by the way, looking every inch the madman you'd expect.
Overall, 12 vessels (11 warships): 9 cruisers (3 Matsushima-class protected cruisers, 4 protected cruisers, 1 "central battery"-type cruiser, 1 "belted" or light armored cruiser), 1 corvette, 1 gunboat, 1 auxiliary under Vice-admiral (海軍中将, Kaigun Chūjō, equivalent of modern USN 3-star admiral) Itō (or Itoh) Sukeyuki. (伊東 祐亨).
The Sources: As with Tsushima Strait, again we're dealing with two literate and bureaucratic adversaries that you'd expect to keep up-to-date official records in the form of things like orders, communications logs, after-action reports, briefings, damage and casualty returns, muster rolls and all the other bumf that industrial armies and navies generate.
First, neither of the combatants kept their records in English, so for an English-speaking observer the primary sources are difficult to access and impossible to read.
Second, the Beiyang Fleet - for all that it was better than anything Qing China had had for centuries - was a welter of corruption, mismangement, disorder, and barely-contained chaos. So for the one side the records are incomplete at best and completely missing at worst. Add to that the fifty-five years of foreign invasion, revolution, foreign invasion and revolution that followed this engagement it's pretty incredible that anything survived at all.
Fortunately for the English-speaker interested in the engagement a number of decent secondary sources exist to fill this void, including several contemporary or nearly so, including:
Eastlake, F.W. and Yamada, Y. 1897 Heroic Japan: A History of the War between China and Japan: S.Low, Marston&Co., London
Paine,S.C.M. 2003 The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895 Perceptions, Power, and Primacy: Cambridge University Press, NY, New York
Volpicelli, Z. 1896 The China-Japan War Complied from Japanese, Chinese, and Foreign Sources: Scribners, NY, New York
Xu, G. 2012 Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895), in China at War: An Encyclopedia, Xiaobing Li, ed. pp 11482-573. Santa Barbara, CA: ABC-CLIO,
McGiffin, Philo N. The Battle of Yalu, Personal Recollections by the Commander of the Chinese Ironclad 'Chen Yuen.' in The Century Magazine, Vol. 50, issue 4 (Aug 1895), pp 585-605 Available on-line here.
I can't pass this guy by without talking about him a little. Philo McGiffin was one of a group of people that you tended to run into a fair bit back in the day - Western officers out to make a name for themselves (or just collect a paycheck) amongst the Lesser Tribes Beyond the Law. These guys turn up first in numbers in India and the Middle East back in the 18th Century, mostly French and English (tho many of these "English" were actually Scots or Irish...) officers officially or privately working with native armies or navies either allied with or working in the interests of their home countries.
This breed of cat multiplied wildly in the Victorian Era, and by the middle 1800s you had white guys all over hell leading native troops, from Fred Ward and "Chinese" Gordon to "Kaid" Maclean and our man Philo. A lot of this was because the local rulers wanted Western technical expertise without taking the time and trouble to send their own guys out of the country to get it. So you get French "advisors" with the Sikh Army against the British at Chillianwallah and Russians with the Ethiopians against the Italians at Adowa or, as here, Germans, British, and Americans fighting with the Qing Imperial forces against the Japanese (who were, at least, nominally allied with Great Britain!).
Anyway, McGiffin sounds like he was a bit of a character in life and since has become a sort of mascot and legend at the US Naval Academy, where he is invoked as a sort of prankster spirit who was guilty of all sorts of spectacular misbehavior; we'll come back to him later, promise.
While not a primary source JSTOR provides a contemporary article by the then-U.S. Secretary of the Navy that discussed the combat factors involved and is well worth a glance:
Herbert, H.A. 1894 The Fight off the Yalu River, in The North American Review, Vol. 159, No. 456, November, 1894, pp. 513-528
Given the obscure (to Western mind) nature of this conflict I was not surprised to be unable to locate a detailed English-language works covering the engagement itself. The Wikipedia entry, while a decent example of the genre, admits this difficulty, noting that "(t)here is also no agreement among contemporary sources on the exact numbers and compositions of each fleet."
The Campaign: To know how we get to the Yellow Sea off the mouth of the Yalu River we have to first take a brief look at the "First Sino-Japanese War. In China this little fracas is known as the War of Jiawu (甲午战争, Jiǎwǔ Zhànzhēng) after the traditional year it was fought. The Japanese - since they couldn't agree with the Chinese about anything in those days - call it the Japan–Qing War (日清戦争, Nisshin sensō).
The Koreans, who were the ones who got fought over and got killed because other people were a bunch of greedy, venal, brutal, or simply incompetent pricks - as is the case in almost any and all wars - call it the Qing-Japan War (청일전쟁).
But whatever you call it, it was principally about greedy prickishness.
You can go to the Wiki entry and read about all the coups, "controversies", "incidents", "affairs", rebellions, hissy-fits, tantrums, chest-beating and dick-waving that brought Imperial Japan and Qing China to the battlefield, but the bottom line was that Japan, newly emerged from 400 years of isolation, was feeling tough and grabby and Korea was what they wanted to grab.
The Qing government has always considered Korea it's "near abroad". Even though the Qing "empire" was a bloody shambolic disaster by the end of the 19th Century this hadn't changed -enough - to accommodate the Japanese, who saw Korea as a sort of natural part of Japan only across the Yellow Sea and populated by Koreans.
Nobody asked the Koreans what the fuck they wanted, by the way.
So through the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s Chinese and Japanese officials, officers and troopers did quite a bit of pushing and shoving in Korea and around the west Pacific. By the summer of 1894 things were getting ugly. Here's how the Wiki entry describes what happened next:
"A rebellion in Korea caused (the) Korean king to request Chinese troops on June 4 to aid in suppressing the Tonghak Rebellion. The Chinese government sent General Yuan Shikai as its plenipotentiary at the head of 2,800 troops. According to the Japanese, the Chinese government did not inform the Japanese government of its decision to send troops to the Korean peninsula, and in doing so failed to comply with the Convention of Tientsin.So. Trouble in Korea (what else is new?), China sends in the troops, Japan gets pissed and sends in their troops, grabs the palace in Seoul, China gets pissed.
In the face of China's violation of the convention, the Japanese countered and sent their own 8,000-man expeditionary force (the Oshima Composite Brigade) to Korea. Japan requested that China and Japan co-operate to reform the Korean government, which China refused. Korea requested that Japan withdraw its troops which Japan refused.
The Japanese force of 8,000 strong subsequently seized the king, occupied the Royal Palace in Seoul by early June 1894, and replaced the existing government with members from the pro-Japanese faction. A new government was formed July 25. The legitimacy of the new government was rejected by China, and the stage was thus set for conflict."
Now everybody's pissed. With me so far?
Now here's where things get kind of weird.
In July 1894 the Qing outfit in Korea - part of the Beiyang Army (北洋軍, Běiyáng Jūn) had about 3,000 troops in the south end of Korea and another 10,000 or so in the middle of the country around Pyongyang. Don't ask me things like organization and equipment; I have no more idea than (probably) the Qing government in Beijing did then.
The appalling thing (to me, a modern U.S. soldier) about the Qing Chinese military is that there was no "Chinese Army" or "Chinese Navy".
After the human disaster we now call the Taiping Rebellion the already ridiculously awful Manchu "Eight Banner" forces (as well as the mob of "Green Standard" Han Chinese militia) pretty much dissolved into regional armies and navies. China didn't have "a navy"; it had a Beiyang Fleet, a Nanyang Fleet, a Fujian Fleet, and a Guangdong Fleet, all functionally separate and independent of each other. They didn't work together, they didn't train together, and they sure as hel didn't fight together.
One of the separate armies - the Huai Army (淮軍) eventually mutated into the Beiyang Army and branched out into the navy business as the Beiyang Fleet.
These two Beiyang organizations fought the Chinese part of the War of Jiawu; none of the other armies or navies even bothered to send a box of C-rations and a postcard.
The Beiyang troopers were at the far end of a looooong supply line. The reality of what a north Chinese peasant would have called "infrastructure" if he'd known there was a word for "infrastructure" for what passed for roads and bridges in Manchuria and Korea in 1894 was; none.
You couldn't supply a Chinese Army in Korea over land.
I know; that's hard for me to believe, too. But there it is; the Beiyang troops in Korea were as dependent as their Japanese enemies on their Navy to get their beans and bullets to them. So when the shooting started in Korea the Beiyang Fleet was critical to the Jiawu war effort. Convoys had to get through to Korea and that meant that the Beiyang swabbies had to get them there.
Meanwhile the war in Korea wasn't going so well. Right after the takeover in Seoul the Japanese Army sent a mixed force of about 4,000 south to hit the 3,500 Beiyang troops garrisoned at Seonghwan Station located east of the towns of Asan and Kongju. The two forces met on 28 JUL 1894 and the Chinese were whipped, running north towards Pyongyang. By the first week of August the Beiyang Army in Korea - about 13-15,000 all arms including reinforcements sent from North China - had fortified Pyongyang in an attempt to hold the southern part of Korea.
That didn't work, either; the IJA First Army assembled an two-division assault force of about 10,000 and stormed the place on 15 SEP 1894. The Beiyang defenders fought well but were outmaneuvered and broken in losing some 6,000 killed and wounded. The survivors broke out and fled west, towards Uiju near the mouth of the Yalu River. The Japanese lost 102 men killed, 433 wounded and 33 missing.
Meanwhile the Beiyang Fleet had been escorting convoys, bringing replacements and supplies to Korea. It was in the aftermath of escorting one of these convoys into the Yalu that the Chinese encountered the IJN's Combined Fleet. The Wiki entry explains it thusly:
"Even before the Battle of Pyongyang, Chinese Viceroy Li Hongzhang ordered reinforcements from the Beiyang Army to bolster the increasingly precarious Chinese position in Korea. As the roads were considered impassable, the only practical way to move a large number of men and equipment was by sea. However, he was constrained by orders from Beijing not to allow his ships to cross the line of the Yalu River, as the imperial authorities were reluctant to risk China's most modern western vessels in combat. However Emperor Guangxu was enraged that the Japanese fleet was near Chinese territory, so he insisted that the convoys be continued and that the Japanese fleet be pushed back. The Beiyang fleet had completed escorting a convoy to the mouth of the Yalu River, and was returning to its base at Lushunkou (Port Arthur) when it was engaged by the Japanese navy."So far, so simple, it would seem. But - and you knew there'd be a but - there were some long-standing issues that come into play as the lookouts from the Beiyang squadron anchored off the mouth of the big river sight the first Japanese smoke.
The Beiyang Fleet was perhaps the best of the Qing navies. But this was a little like comparing it to the "best" of the French armies in 1940, or the "best" of the Republican candidates for President in 2008. The "best" just wasn't very good.
Part of this was the Qing government's fault. Allowing the idiotic "regional armies" and navies was a good example of Qing ineptitude, as was allowing the separate forces to become rivals and even enemies; the Nanyang Fleet, for example, hated the Beiyang Fleet for not helping them out against the French in 1884-85 and so returned the disfavor in 1894. The dysfunctional Qing court was unable to do anything about the administrative and logistical chaos that characterized Chinese government and military business in the second half of the 19th Century.
The Fleet didn't help itself, either. Corruption was endemic in the fleet as it was in most of Qing China; officers sold parts of their warships and looted training and equipment funds. Money was spent on the 1894-equivalent of Peruvian flake (opium...) and whores and the ammo ready racks were weighted with coal or rocks. Supposedly gunnery officers filled shells with sand or coal because there were no explosives. Many of the matelots were, like many Chinese of the time, addicted to opium - the "black smoke" - and were poorly trained when they were sober enough to work.
But they could fight when they had to; we'll see that.
So on the morning of 17 SEP the Beiyang Navy was in trouble long before the first round went downrange. At least the morning was pretty; McGiffin (1895) reported:
"The next morning, Monday, the memorable 17th of September, was a beautiful day, a light breeze gently ruffling the surface of the water. The forenoon was passed as usual. At 9:15 each ship went to general quarters, cleared for action, and for an hour exercised the crew at the guns, no one dreaming that the results of our training were so soon to be tested. As usual, the crews were full of spirit..."But the fun was over not long after lunchtime. McGiffin (1895) again:
"...the Chen Yuen’s forenoon routine, drills and exercises, had been carried out, and the cooks were preparing the midday meal, when the smoke from the enemy’s ships was sighted by lookout men at the masthead. They were made out almost simultaneously from several vessels, and before even a signal could be made from the flagship the bugles throughout the fleet were sounding merrily the "officers’ call" and "action."
Columns of dense black smoke shooting upward from our funnels told that in the depth of each vessel the stokers were spreading fires, and, using forced draft with closed stoke-holes, were storing up energy in the boilers, that breath might not fail when most needed in the coming fight. These black pillars of smoke must have signaled our presence to the enemy; for their "smokes" now increased in volume and height, showing that they also had put on forced draft, and, like ourselves, were preparing for the contest.
For weeks we had anticipated an engagement, and had had daily exercise at general quarters, etc., and little remained to be done. There were woeful defects in our ammunition supplies, as will be seen; but had we kept the seas for a year longer before fighting, there would have been no improvement in that respect, since the responsibility for the neglect lay in Tientsin. So the fleet went into action as well prepared as it was humanly possible for it to be with the same officers and men, handicapped as they were by official corruption and treachery ashore."
The Engagement: To get a picture of what was happening LT McGiffin has given us a decent map of the opening movements. One thing to note is that for reasons of his own McGiffin or his cartographer has decided to make north down instead of the conventional up, so south is towards the TOP of the mapsheet:
"Our actual formation," he says, "which has justly been criticized, was an indented or zigzag line, the two ironclads in the center, as shown in the diagram."
Justly indeed; it's hard to imagine a worse way to come out to fight a fleet action.
Despite the advent of turreted or barbette-housed guns on a single deck most of the Qing warships still had many, or most, of their batteries on one side or the other. Firing directly forward reduced the Beiyang Fleet's firepower considerably. Add to that the difficulty of maneuvering a fleet in a broad column opposed to a line-ahead and you've got a real problem.
Meanwhile the IJN was coming on in good order and ready to fight. McGiffin (1895) describes how it looked from the Beiyang flagship:
"The Japanese formed into two squadrons: The Flying Squadron, consisting of the Yoshino (flag), Takachiho, Naniwa, and Akitsushima, led, followed by the Principal Squadron, composed of the Matsushima (flag of Admiral Ito, commander-in-chief), Itsukushima, Hasidate, Chiyoda, Fuso, and Hiyei. On the unengaged side were the Akagi and Saikio. These twelve Japanese ships, forming apparently a single line and preserving station and speed throughout most beautifully, could not but excite a feeling of admiration."The Japanese commander ADM Itoh intended to cross the Chinese "T" and directed his advance "Flying Squadron" to turn the Chinese right and hit McGiffin's "lame ducks", the protected cruisers Chaoyong and Yangwei. Along with the problems inherent in the bizarre formation the Beiyang warships also suffered from having to fire at rapidly moving targets that were divided into two smaller units.
The sensible option at this point would have been for the Beiyang squadron to execute a turn together either to the left or right. They didn't, and in the hundred and nineteen years several theories have been proposed for why.
One is treachery. Supposedly TITU Ding did command a fleet maneuver that would have turned towards the IJN squadron but in the process exposed the flagship to the worse of the Japanese fire. As cited by Paine (2003), LT William Ferdinand Tyler, RN (who was aboard the flagship) claimed that the Dingyuan’s captain ordered the main battery to fire with the guns bearing directly forward. According to Tyler this was knwn to be a problem dating back to 1883, when the German builders determined that firing the main battery directly forward resulted in the destruction of the ship's own flying bridge. Tyler claims that Ding was wounded and out of action after this fragging along with most of his staff and senior officers. I find this unlikely, as McGiffin's account suggests that this supposed design flaw - a rather serious one for a large warship - was not shared by the Dingyuan's sister.
Allen (1898) claims that TITU Ding was advised by a German army officer, one Major Constantin von Hannecken, who treated the engagement like a land battle and thus lost it.
Whatever the reason, the Beiyang Fleet held it's course and speed and the Dingyuan opened fire at 12:20pm.
"The fleets closed on each other rapidly. My crew was silent. The sublieutenant in the military foretop was taking sextant angles and announcing the range, and exhibiting an appropriate small signal flag. As each range was called the men at the guns would lower the sight-bars, each gun captain, lanyard in hand, keeping his gun trained on the enemy. Through the ventilators could be heard the beats of the steam pumps; for all the lines of hose were joined up and spouting water, so that in case of fire no time need be lost. The range was about four miles, and decreasing fast. "Six thousand meters!" "Five thousand eight hundred" "six hundred" "five hundred!" "Five thousand four hundred!" The crisis was rapidly approaching. Every man’s nerves were in a state of tension, which was greatly relieved as a huge cloud of white smoke, belching from the Ting Yuen’s starboard barbette, "opened the ball." Just as the projectile threw up a column of white water a little short of the Yoshino, a roar from the Chen Yuen’s battery seconded the flagship’s motion. It was exactly 12:20 P.M. The range, as found on the Chen Yuen, was 5200 meters; on the Ting Yuen it was assumed to be 5300. On our side the firing now became general from the main batteries, but it was about five minutes before the Japanese replied." (McGiffin, 1895)Almost as soon as the engagement began Beiyang Fleet suffered its first loss; the captain or the officers of the protected cruiser Jiyuan put the vessel's helm hard over to starboard and ran her down the back of the entire squadron running for Lüshunkou (Port Arthur).
The corvette Kwan Chia was right behind her. McGiffin (1895) notes contemptuously that her commander's "...courage was scarcely exceeded by his knowledge of navigation; for, about midnight, he ran upon a reef outside of Ta-Lien-Wan, which he said was a most unaccountable mishap, as he had laid his course (in a 100-mile run) "to clear it by one and a half miles"!"
The fight had barely begun, the Left Wing had already lost half its force and Beiyang Fleet was down to eight warships against twelve.
For the next 90 minutes or so both fleets pursued their separate plans. The Beiyang Fleet continued to steam slowly southwards in line abreast firing at whatever Japanese ships they could hit. The Japanese "Flying Squadron" crossed the Beiyang "T" and turned to close on the far end of the Chinese line where the two Chaoyong-class cruisers were posted while the Main Body engaged the Chinese left, which by this time was pretty much the two barbette ships the flagship Dingyuan and her sister Zhenyuan.
While the goofed-up Chinese formation was a problem, a much bigger problem turned out to be the difference in the type of heavy guns the two sides had mounted.
In the main the Beiyang warships were outfitted with the earlier models of breechloading artillery. These tended to be fairly short-barreled, relatively slow to reload and train, and fired with a relatively low muzzle velocity; the main battery on the Dingyuan is a good example of this sort of weapon:
Until the advent of a mount that could turn from side to side it was just impossible; the only way to hit such a target was to swing the entire ship, so it isn't surprising that the "tactic" for the muzzleloading, broadside-mounted cannon was to get reeeeeal close and shoot like a sonofabitch.
A target that is moving towards or away from you just adds to the difficulty. This is called "searching fire", and you combine the two and you have a "traverse and search" mission that is difficult even for a modern fire direction center with the ability to digitally compute the firing solution and produce gunlaying data.
So the Chinese gunners had a hell of a bad job. They had to try and track the faster Japanese ships moving across their bows and closing the range at the same time. That would have been a tricky job even for a central fire direction system, let alone the "system" the gunners of 1894 had.
Modern warships use a single control system for their guns (and all their other weapons, obviously...). Warships of the pre-dreadnought era - such as the warships at the Yalu - still relied on the individual gun captains, or the captains of individual turrets, to point the guns using simple optical sights attached to the cannon itself. This is a pretty crude system that was more difficult for the Chinese because of the arcing trajectory of their lower velocity shells.
McGiffin (1895) has a nice diagram of this:
His Japanese ships (on the right) are shooting high-velocity projectiles. The projectile travels in a relatively flat arc, and as a result is fairly simple to put on a target that is at the same elevation as the gun (land artillery has the issue of topography, which complicates matters immensely...). The Chinese gunners, firing from the left, have to use a sort of windage to drop the round on their target, making getting a hit like trying to toss a tennis ball into a moving bucket fifteen feet away. It's not easy and then remember that the bucket is throwing big fucking explosive bullets back at you while you're trying.
You can see how hard that could be.
So it's a credit to the Beiyang Fleet that its gunners did as well as they did. McGiffin (1895) paints a picture of the opening moments of the engagement:
"On our side the firing now became general from the main batteries, but it was about five minutes before the Japanese replied. As they opened fire, the Chinese quick-firing Hotchkiss and Maxim-Nordenfelt, 3- and 6-pounders, joined in, and thenceforward the conflict was almost incessant. Like ours, the enemy’s first shots fell short; but with an exultant chuckle we noted that a shot from one of our 12-inch guns had struck one of the Japanese leading ships. The bridge of the Chen Yuen, although some thirty feet above the water, was very soon soaked, as was, indeed, the entire exposed surface on the engaged side, by spray thrown up by line shots that struck the water a little short. Many of the men at the guns on deck were wet through, and indeed the water was flung on board with such violence as to sting the face and hands like hail. Every one in the conning tower had his ears stopped with cotton, yet the din made by projectiles rattling up against the outside of its 10-inch armor was a serious annoyance."Notice that Philo talks about the irritating shell-splash and the sound of the shell fragments on the armor but doesn't mention how the Zhenyuan's flying bridge got blown off?
Yeah. Me neither.
That's why I don't buy the Tyler story cited above, the one about TITU Ding getting blown off his own bridge by the scaredy captain. Zhenyuan must have had a very similar if not identical firing solution to the Dingyuan, ranging from some acute angle off the bows to straight on, and yet there's no mention of this freakish design flaw where the muzzle-blast rips off the whole bridge superstructure.
But...some Beiyang ships did get blown to flinders. Here's McGiffin (1895) again:
"...the (Japanese) Flying Squadron...upon reaching our right flank, turned it and poured in a heavy cross-fire on the extreme wing, the Chao Yung and Yang Wei receiving the most of it. From the first these two old-fashioned cruisers were doomed. Two passageways in each superstructure connected the bow and stern 10-inch guns, on the outboard side of each being officers’ quarters, etc., the partitions and bulkheads being of wood highly varnished and oiled. The vessels were early set on fire, and the draft down these passageways at once turned them into alleys of roaring flame. The machine-guns overhead were thus rendered useless, the deck being untenable, and the bow and stern guns were isolated from each other and from their magazines. As a forlorn hope, the ill-fated vessels made for the nearest land."Kind of a design flaw, all that pretty lacquered wood, eh? The naval architects of the time hadn't quite "got it", the deadly danger of high explosive shells against wooden warship or wooden parts of warships.
So at this point - probably some time between 1:30 and 2:00pm - the Beiyang Fleet has lost 4 of the 10 warships it opened the engagement with; two to enemy action, two to panic fear (or sensible cowardice, take your pick...) and the IJN is making fairly hard way amongst the survivors. Or, at least some of the IJN warships are. Both fleets' formations by this time are getting pretty ragged, and this leads both the Akagi and Hiei into trouble.
Well, it leads the Hiei into trouble.
What leads the Akagi into trouble is that idiot Kabayama aboard the Saikyō Maru.
McGiffin (1895) says that as the two Chinese Chaoyung-class cruisers drifted out of line afire the mad samurai ordered his converted passenger ship to chase down the Chinese vessels so...he could hit them with his sword, or some such damn thing.
"The Japanese armed transport Saikio, seeing their plight and intention, made for them;" says McGiffin, "whereupon the Chinese ironclads fired a few shots at her at long range, making fair practice; for, according to Japanese report, she received at least four 30.5-centimeter projectiles."
In fact the situation for Japan's Chief of Naval Staff and the poor helpless buggers he dragged with him on his personal death-ride were in worse shape than that. The cruiser Laiyuan closed on the liner and her escort Akagi first to 800 and finally to 300 meters; practically boarding range.
In the exchange of fire the Akagi was hit repeated by 8-inch projectiles. Her bridge was wrecked and her captain and most of his staff killed and then hit again, wounding the senior lieutenant that had taken command. For an hour the two ships pasted each other. Among the other damage to Akagi a Chinese shell got into her lower deck spaces and severed a a steam line. "Hot steam cut off access to her magazine, and shells have to be hand-fed through a broken vent to reach her guns." (Wiki, 2013)
Finally the combination of Japanese high-explosives and Chinese wooden upperworks produced an onboard fire so intense that Laiyuan could no longer maneuver and had to break off the action. Akagi took no further part in the engagement as well, however, as her crew was tied up in damage control. Amazingly enough for all the horrendous pounding she took Akagi lost only 11 killed and 17 wounded out of her complement of 111 and had effectively destroyed Laiyuan as a combat unit.
By 2:00pm the Beiyang Fleet had been pretty well shot to pieces. Chaoyyung, Yangwei, and Laiyuan were burning and unfightable and the two left-wing vessels fleeing and out of contact. At this point ADM Itoh seems to have determined to close with and destroy his enemy. McGiffin (1895) says: "The flagship Matsushima, leading the Principal Squadron, had now reached our right wing, and, flanking it, steamed down again on the opposite course."
The intent here seems to be to sail completely around the Chinese squadron. This prospect, however, wasn't particularly appealing to the captain of the last ship in line, Hiei, who decided to take advantage of the disintegrating Chinese formation rather than sail right across the front of it.
"The Hiyei, the last of the Principal Squadron, was now almost ahead of the Ting Yuen, having been engaged by the Chih Yuen on our flagship’s left. Her distance from her next in line ahead was increasing, and her captain, presumably seeing that his slow old ship could not keep up with the rest, and, being already on fire, fearing to continue on and receive the fire of both ironclads and of the King Yuen, Lai Yuen, and Ching Yuen, boldly decided to make a short cut between the two ironclads and rejoin his comrades on the other side. This was splendidly done. As his ship passed between our two big ships we fired into her point-blank. It was impossible to miss, and flying material showed that we did not. The smoke increased in volume and rolled up from the Hiyei’s quarter-deck and poop as high as the mizzentop, the ship yawing wildly at the same time. We considered her "done for" — as doubtless she would have been had we used shell — one shot, for instance, passing diagonally through the ship from one bow to the opposite quarter, doing various minor damages. Had it been a live shell the result may be imagined." (McGiffin, 1895)Hell of an adventure for the crew of the Hiei, but despite her adventure she was lucky.
The Beiyang Fleet was not.
Itoh's maneuver had placed the remaining Chinese warships between his Main Body to the north and his Flying Squadron to the southeast. Remember that the original disadvantage the Chinese warships suffered was painfully slow rate of fire. Now they were forced to divide their fire between the two Japanese elements, further reducing the weight of metal the Chinese could put on any one target. Meanwhile the Japanese were continuing to pour fire into the already badly knocked-about Beiyang squadron.
The main targets were the two big turret ships.
"The Principal Squadron now seemed to ignore the four smaller Chinese vessels," says McGiffin, "...and its five ships steamed around our two ironclads, pouring in a storm of shell. Time and again fires broke out, but, with one notable exception, the flames were subdued without much trouble. Some of the enemy’s ships used melinite shells, the noxious fumes from which could at once be distinguished from those of powder. One ship, for a time, practiced "broadside firing by director"— i.e., each gun is laid by its crew on the object, and the entire battery, joined in one electric circuit, is fired by pressing a key. This system, though doubtless hard on the structure of the ship using it, was most effective — the result of so many shot striking at once, and producing perhaps several fires, being very annoying."
Some time between 2:30 and 3:00 the Chinese squadron was reinforced by the arrival of the cruiser Pingyuan, corvette Guangbing and two torpedo boats; the Zhiwyuen swings east around the back of the two big turret ships to join the new arrivals and join them in giving Saikyō Maru hell. Here's McGiffin's situation map for about this time. Again, remember north is towards the bottom of the map:
So it's midafternoon, everyone's still pinging away, ships are afire and some (Yangwei, for example, and Hiei) are basically no longer worried about fighting but simply surviving, when the commander of the Chinese cruiser Zhiwyuen gets a wild hair. He firewalls the throttle and turns out of line towards the Flying Squadron, possibly with the intention of ramming, seeing as how the whole projectiles-filled-with-cement-and-sawdust thing isn't working out as well as the corrupt munitions suppliers and gunnery officers hoped it would.
This doesn't work well, either. McGiffin (1895):
"Just what happened no one seems to know, but apparently she was struck below the waterline by a heavy shell — either a ten-inch or a thirteen-inch. Be that as it may, she took a heavy list, and, thus fatally injured, her commander, Tang Shi Chang, a most courageous albeit somewhat obstinate officer, resolved at least to avenge himself and charged one of the largest vessels, intending to ram. A hurricane of projectiles from both heavy and machine guns swept down upon his ship, the list became more pronounced, and just before getting home to his intended victim his ship rolled over and then plunged, bows first, into the depths, righting herself as she sank, her screws whirling in the air and carrying down all hands, including the chief engineer, Mr. Purvis, a gentleman and a most efficient officer, who was shut up in the engine room. Seven of her crew clung to one of the circular life-buoys kept on the bridge, and were drifted by the tide toward the coast, where they were rescued by a junk."
You'd think that a notoriously corrupt, mismanaged, and nepotistic naval organization would have fallen apart by this time, sauve qui peut, every squid for himself, but you wouldn't have reckoned with the Beiyang Fleet. In fact, it was late in the engagement that the Zhenyuan dealt the Japanese flagship a hell of a knock.
"At about three o’clock the Matsushima closed upon the Chen Yuen to about 1700 meters, and we fired at her, from one of our 12.2-inch guns, a steel shell of 5 calibers (5x12.2-inches) length, having a bursting-charge of nearly ninety pounds of powder. The Japanese flagship was struck by this missile, and as a burst of flame arose from her, followed by a great cloud of white smoke, hiding her entirely from view, our gun’s crew yelled their satisfaction. This shell indeed wrought frightful havoc. From the Japanese report it totally disabled the big 13-inch Canet gun and swept the decks. Several charges of powder for this gun had been massed on deck, and these, exploding, gave the gunners a true "hoist with their own petard." By this one shell forty-nine officers and men were instantly killed, and over fifty wounded; the gunnery lieutenant was blown into the sea, his cap and telescope being all trace of him ever found on the ship." (McGiffin, 1895)This nasty reminder that the Chinese guns were still dangerous at close range might have convinced ADM Itoh to stand off, for at or near this time the IJN Main Body turned away to the southeast. The two Dingyuan-class followed as best their speed could allow, although McGiffin (1895) says that the only weapons still firing were the 12-inch main battery; all other rounds had been expended.
This isn't such a good idea. The IJN is still faster, more maneuverable, and capable of putting more rounds downrange than the Chinese warships. The Main Body decides to deal forcefully with this Chinese snook-cocking. McGiffin (1895) again:
"When they had gone a distance of two or three miles the Principal Squadron turned, and, circling about us, poured in perhaps the most destructive fire we received during the day. We had now used up all of our 6-inch ammunition, having fired 148 projectiles of that caliber. There were left for the 12-inch guns (one of which was disabled) only some 25 steel shot, and no shell. The Ting Yuen was in a similar plight. In half an hour we would have none left, and be at the mercy of the enemy; for to ram agile, well-handled ships of 17½ knots speed with our slower ships was out of the question. We fired carefully, but having no shell, comparatively little damage was done. It was now nearly five o’clock. After about a half-hour’s cannonade the enemy again with- drew, we firing our last shot at them, save three left in the guns for the last moment."This was the last real fighting of the day. The IJN withdrew out of range.
TITU Ding turned his flagship and her companion back to the remnants of his fleet. These had not fared well.
The 1886 Jingyuen had been pounded to pieces by the Flying Squadron; McGiffin says that "(a)fter covering the Saikio, Hiyei, and Akagi, the van (of the Flying Squadron) bore down on the King Yuen, which had been burning for some time, and the Yoshino with her next astern engaged the King Yuen at close range (less than 2000 meters). A heavy fire from the Yoshino’s three 6-inch quick-firing bow guns told upon her with terrible effect. One after another of the 100-pound shells tore up her sides, and after yawing about wildly, as if her steering gear was useless, she burst into flame and sank."
The Chinese admiral gathers his battered fleet and makes steam for Lüshunkou shadowed by the IJN. The Chinese squadron was barely serviceable, while the Japanese showed no enthusiasm for re-engaging.
The Battle of the Yalu River is over, and by morning the Beiyang fleet is safe in port.
The Outcome: Japanese tactical victory
The Impact: The main benefit Japan gets from her victory at the Yalu is propaganda. In a sense, the only way the Yalu "works" is counterfactually. If the Beiyang Fleet had been able to destroy Japanese seapower and control the Yellow Sea China might have been able to counterbalance the advantage Japan had on the ground. But Qing military incompetence was thorough and extended out to sea as well as on land. To have managed to get his ships to the Yalu in good order, well trained and equipped, and well-led enough to have had a chance to defeat the IJN TITU Ding would have had to be a magician, not a naval officer, and he was barely the latter.
Even so, many observers were impressed by the fighting quality of the Beiyang sailors. Herbert (1894) says flat-out that he considered the Yalu to be nearly a draw and that with better ammunition the Chinese might have gotten the better of the day.
But in fact the defeat meant that the IJN took control of the Yellow Sea and never lost it. The remains of the Beiyang Fleet remained bottled up in port, first at Lüshunkou and then Weihaiwei where a combined land-sea assault captured or destroyed the ships that escaped the Yalu. The outcome of the war was foreordained from the start. The antiquated, poorly managed, badly led Chinese forces were doomed.
However, in the larger sense the sweetness of the win at the Yalu, and the overall success over her old rival China, only served to bitter the cup that Japan was forced to drink after the war at the hands of the European Powers.
The so-called Triple Intervention that forced her to abandon her spoils was a shocking betrayal to the Japanese and especially to the elites of the Imperial Court who had seen the war as a path to an imperium in Asia. The resulting anger led first to the Russo-Japanese War and later to the campaigns of the Thirties and Forties to chew off more of the Chinese mainland. From there, to the Great Pacific War that changed Japan completely.
For the Chinese, the lesson of the Yalu and of the humiliations that followed was that the old ways were the wrong ways; that while you might not make good man into soldiers any more than good iron into horse-shoe nails there were times when you needed those nails and those men, like when foreigners with ill intent showed up to beat and rob you. What the Japanese did in China was perhaps worse than any atrocity of the Westerners. The big-noses were barbarians, after all. The Japanese were fellow Asians, products of generations of influence of Chinese culture. Their barbarism was infuriating.
That anger fueled the 1911 revolution and, when that revolution in turn decayed in corruption and nepotism, the rise of Mao and the Great Revolution of 1949.
An anger that we are still living with today.
Touchline Tattles: As you'd expect, pretty much all the human interest stories that emerge from the Yalu are grim. Here's Philo McGiffin with a tale of a man and his dog: "Captain Tang (of the cruiser Zhiwyuen) had a large dog of a most vicious temper, unruly at times even with his master. After the ship sank Captain Tang, who could not swim, managed to get to an oar or some small piece of wood — enough to have supported him had not his dog swum to him, and, climbing up on him, forced him to release his grasp and thus miserably drown, the brute sharing his fate — perhaps the only case on record of a man drowned by his dog."
The story of Philo himself is a pretty wretched one. Although he doesn't mention it in his tale he was badly torn up with shell fragments at Yalu. Here he is, looking like one large walking bandage:
He was released from Chinese service and returned to the States, still in hellish pain and - I suspect - serious PTSD. It was this that managed to get him committed to the Graduate Hospital in New York City.
Here's a piece of one of his letters discussing how the docs there recommanded that he have a little operation to help him "feel better": "I know that I will have to have a piece about three inches square cut out of my skull, and this nerve cut off near the middle of the brain, as well as my eye taken out (for a couple of hours only, provided it is not mislaid, and can be found). Doctor ---- and his crowd show a bad memory for failures. As a result of this operation others have told me--I forget the percentage of deaths, which does not matter, but--that a large percentage have become insane. And some lost their sight."
Finally the physical and mental pain became too hard to bear. McGiffin asked his nurse for his personal effects box, and then asked this individual to run another errand for him.
In the box along with his other belongings was his service pistol.
At the end of his 1895 Century article McGiffin wrote a valedictory to his commander at the Yalu.
Of Admiral Ding he said:
"Chief among those who have died for their country is Admiral Ting Ju Chang, a gallant soldier and true gentleman. Betrayed by his countrymen, fighting against odds, almost his last official act was to stipulate for the lives of his officers and men. His own he scorned to save, well knowing that his ungrateful country would prove less merciful than his honorable foe. Bitter, indeed, must have been the reflections of the old, wounded hero, in that midnight hour, as he drank the poisoned cup that was to give him rest."Perhaps he was thinking of that cup on the February day as he raised the revolver from its box, and of what George Santayana would say more than 25 year later; that only the dead have seen an end to war.