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 War Begins, Battle of Pung-do, Sinking of the Kowshing  July 25, 1894

 

 

 

 

 War Begins

 

 

Li Hung-zhang hoped to find a diplomatic solution to the tense situation of having Chinese and Japanese troops in Korea, and wasted valuable time trying to get, Russia, Writing and America to intervene On July 18, the Korean Government informed Otori, the Japanese Minister, that the presence of Japanese soldiers troubled the minds of the people, and that they could not undertake the reforms until after the withdrawal of the Japanese troops. . On July 19, Yuan Shi-kai, the Chinese minister in Korea, departed for China .Li called for withdrawal of Chinese and Japanese troops and the creation of a neutral zone around Seoul .The Japanese rejected this proposal and felt that its military had modernized enough by this time to challenge China .

 

On the 20th July, Otori sent an ultimatum to the Korean Government ; he reminded them that by the Convention of 1885, Corea had bound itself to build barracks for the Japanese soldiers ; he added, that the presence of soldiers, who had publicly proclaimed their object of protecting a dependent state was incompatible with the independence of that country, and he gave the Korean Government three days' time for a final answer to his demands ; if it were not satisfactory Japan would carry out the reforms by force. The Korean Government, considering its helplessness, showed considerable resolution. On the night of the 22nd it answered that the Chinese troops had come at their request, and would not leave until similarly requested.

Orders were at once given to the Japanese troops encamped near the capital to attack the King's Palace next morning. Two battalions, led by Majors Mori and Hashimoto, marched out of their camp early in the morning ; their object was declared to be an attack on the Chinese troops at Asan, but they soon changed their direction, and moved towards the front and rear of the palace. After a short engagement they drove out the Korean troops and took possession of the person of the King, to whom they declared they had come to guard the Palace and deliver him from an obnoxious faction. There was another short scuffle with some Korean troops outside the Palace, but with the loss of only two killed and five wounded in both engagements, the Japanese became masters of the capital and the Government. The Japanese loudly declared that the 23rd July marked the beginning of a new era for Korea, and set themselves to remodel the Government ; the Min party were driven out and replaced by progressive politicians. The notorious Tai-Wen-Kun, the father of the King, who had not been allowed to see his son for vears, was called to the Palace and entrusted with high authority. The occupation of the Palace and the change in the Government gave the Japanese legal sanction for all their future proceedings ; they at once received a request from the new Korean Government to drive out from Asan the Chinese, who now instead of defenders were considered intruders. With the feeble resistance at the Palace, hostilities between Japan and Korea commenced and ended ; it now became only a question of a few days when hostilities would break out between China and Japan.

When hope of a settlement faded, Li authorized the sending of reinforcements to Korea .The Chinese forces could only be reinforced through the Bay of asan, which the Japanese sought to blockade .On July 23rd the Yoshino, Naniwa, Akitsushima, Matsushima, Itsukushima, Hashidate, Chiyoda and Hiei steamed from Sasebo to Asan Bay .

 

 

On the 21st of July and following days, eleven steamers carrying over 8,000 soldiers were despatched from Tientsin to Korea. They were sent in two directions, some to the Yalu, the boundary river of Korea, and others to Asan, to increase the strength of the small expedition which originally had been sent simply to intimidate the Tonghaks. The object of the Chinese was to reinforce the Asan detachment to such an extent that it could resist any attack of the Japanese, while at the same time troops should be constantly sent to the frontier, to form a large army to march south to Seoul and drive out the Japanese, who thus would be attacked on lioth sides and driven into tlie sea. The absence of railways and good roads rendered a rapid concentration by land im- possible. China, though possessing a long frontier with Corea, was compelled to depend on the sea for the rapid conveyance of troops to the neighbouring country.

 

The Chinese chartered the British steamers Kowshing, Irene and the Fei Ching from the Indo-Chinese Steam Navigation Company and a number of Chinese steamers for the transport the second division from Taku to Asan .It has been speculated that China sent the British-flagged ships to Korea thinking that if they were discovered, the Japanese would not attack them because of their flags. The Irene left on July 21 with 1,150 men. The other two stemaers were to leave on the 22nd and the 23rd.The Koshing transported 1,200 troops, four battalions of Chinese infantry and artillery soldiers from Taku .On July 25, the transport was sighted by the Japanese protected cruiser Naniwa , which was stationed off the coast near Seoul with the protected cruiser Akitsushima and Yoshino to keep a lookout for Chinese reinforcements .The Chinese ships, Cruiser Tsi-yuan and Torpedo gunboat Kwang-Yi , in port in Asan since July 23, left on the morning of July 25 and were on their way to rendezvous with the Kow-shing and supply ship Tsao-kiang .

 

At 7 A.M., when the Japanese cruisers were near the islands of Phung and Shapain, they met two Chinese men-of-war, the Tsi-yuen and the Kuang-yi  The Chinese vessels knew of the attack of the Japanese troops on the King's Palace at Seoul of the preceding day. They therefore knew that war was all but declared, and probably expected to be attacked by the enemy's vessels. The Japanese vessels, on the other hand, had been at sea for two days and knew nothing of the grave events that had taken place at Seoul on the 23rd, but they must have known that such events would happen, and they probably had instructions to stop all transports. They were, however, astonished that the Chinese did not salute their flag and that they were cleared for action. The Japanese likewise made preparations for action .

 

The Battle of Pung-do

 

Japan

 

protected cruiser Naniwa

built 1892 (UK) 3,650 tons 18 knots  2 10 in guns

captain Togo Heihachiro

 

protected cruiser Akitsushima

built 1892(JP) 3,100 tons 19 knots  4 6 in guns

 

protected cruiser Yoshino

built 1892(JP) 4,150 tons  23 knots  2 6in guns

 

no causilties

vs

China

 

The chinese cruiser Tsi-yuan (Jiyuan)

built 1883 (Ger) 2,440   15 knots  2 8in guns

Captain Fang Boqian

escaped to Wei Hai

 

gunboat Kwang-yi (広乙)

(lost to magazine explosion)

 

transport Kowshing (sunk)

 

Gunboat Tsao-Kiang (caputured with 82 officers and men)

 

 

estimated 1,100 killed

 

 

 

Both sides claimed the other fired first According to the Chinese, .at 7:45 am, Near Pundo, an island sitting next to both of the only two navigable channels out of Asan-Man (Bay of Asan), the two Chinese ships were fired upon by three Japanese cruisers Akitsushima, Naniwa, and Yoshino. Chinese ships returned fire at 7:52 am.The Japanese claimed the Chinese warships fired first, apparently to cover the retreat of the transport steamers .After an exchange of fire for over an hour, the Tsi-yuen broke off the engagement and escaped. According to the Japanese, the Tsi-Yuen displayed flags of surrender, and the Japanese men-of-war were approaching her, when she suddenly discharged torpedoes, which, however, the Japanese were able to dispose of. The engagement was then renewed more hotly than ever, until, finally, the Tsi Yuen turned and made off at full speed toward Jinsen, being pursued for one hundred miles by the Japanese, but was not overtaken.The Tsi-Yuen was hit more than 400 times .It is a strong testimony to the skill of the Tsi Yuen's commander, Captain Fang Boqian, that he fought two of Japan's best ships for a full hour and then escaped. Despite this and brave action at the Battle of the Yalu, Fang was beheaded two monthsfor cowardice at the Battle of the Yalu ..

 

 

Captain Fang Boqian of the Tsi-Yuen being honored upon his return to Weihai

from The Sino-Japanese War 1962

 

The Kwang-yi was stranded on some rocks, and its gunpowder magazine exploded.At this time, the Tsao-kiang and the transport vessel Kow-shing, flying a British civil ensign arrived on the scene.The Tsao Kian, which was captured by the Japanese, was an old man-of-war that had been impressed into use as a transport. Many men were killed on board of her before she fell into the hands of the Japanese.

 

The Kow Shing was the fastest vessel in Eastern waters, and the Japanese were glad of the chance of depriving China of her services. The presence on board of General Von Hanneken, who had helped the Chinese build their forts, would also give an incentive to an attack upon the ship, as that officer was supposed to be on his way to take command of the Chinese army in Korea. The Kowshing was ordered to stop and anchor and the Naniwa sent a boarding party over The Kowshing was ordered to follow the Namiwa to Japan, where the Chinese would become prisunors of war, which caused a  commotion among the Chinese crew and soldiers. the Chinese generals in charge refused to surrender .After the Japanese boarding party left, the Chinese on board told the English officers and the Captain Thomas Ryder Galsworthy, that they would rather die than surrender and demanded the foreign crew sail back to China .The foreign officers tried to talk the Chinese out of this action, but could not. . The foreign officers signalled the Naniwa to send another boat .The commander of the Naniwa was Captain Togo Heihachiro, who gained fame in the Russo-Japanese War .

 

captain of the Naniwa Togo Heihachiro

Captain Galsworthy explained the situation to the Japanese boarding officer, pointing out that there had been no declaration of war, that the Kow-shing was a British ship under the British flag, and that owing to the position taken by the Chinese it was physically impossible for the officers of the vessels to obey the Naniwa's order. He claimed that the flag should be respected, and that the ship should be escorted back to the Chinese coast. The boarding party then returned to the Naniwa, which thereupon signalled " Quit the ship as soon as possible." The Kowshing officers replied that it was impossible to quit the ship, owing to the threats of the Chinese. The Naniwa threw an answering pennant, and steamed quickly into position, broadside on, at a distance of about two hundred yards. Mr. Tamplin, the chief officer of the Kow-shing, tells a graphic story of the scene that followed.

Chinese woodblock print of the sinking of the Kowshing

" The Chinese were greatly excited, and kept drawing their fingers across their throats in order to show us what we might expect. The British officers, and German military advisor Major von Hanneken for the Chinese, were anxiously gathered on the bridge, and the bodyguards were at the bottom of the ladder watching us like cats. Two executioners fully armed were told off to follow the captain and myself . About one o'clock the Naniwa opened fire, first discharging a torpedo at the Kowshing, which did not strike her. The man-of-war then fired a broadside of five heavy guns, and continued firing both heavy and machine guns from deck and tops until the Kowshing sank about an hour later. The Kowshing was first struck right amid- ships, and the sound of the crashing and splintering was almost deafening. To add to the danger, the Chinese rushed to the other side, causing the ship to heel over more than ever.

Chinese soldiers on the Kowshing firing at the Naniwa

from The Sino-Japanese War 1962

As soon as the Kow-shing was struck the soldiers made a rush. I rushed from the bridge, got a life-belt, and jumped overboard forward. While in the wheel house selecting a life-belt I passed another European, but I had no time to see who it was.Mr. Wake, our third officer, said it was no use for him to take to the water, as he could not swim, and he went down with the ship.As I came to the surface the boiler exploded with terrific noise. I looked up and saw Captain Von Hannecken striking out vigorously. Captain Galsworthy, the master of the vessel, was also close by, his face perfectly black from the explosion. All of us went in the direction of the island of Shotai-ul, which was about a mile and a half to the northeast, swimming through the swarm of dead and dying Chinamen. Bullets began to strike the water on every side, and turning to see whence they came, I saw that the Chinese herding around the only part of the Kowshing that was then out of water, were firing at us. I was slightly hit on the shoulder, and in order to protect my head covered it with the life-belt until I got clear of the sinking vessel. When I succeeded in doing this, and got away from the swarms of Chinamen, I swam straight for the Naniwa. I had been in the water nearly an hour when I was picked up by one of the Naniwa's boats. While in the water I passed two Chinese warriors clinging to a sheep which was swimming vigorously. As soon as I was on board the Naniwa's boat, I told the officer in which direction the captain had gone, and he said that he had already sent another boat to pick him up. By this time only the Kowshing's masts were visible.The water was however covered with Chinese, and there were two lifeboats from the Kow-shing crowded with soldiers. The Japanese officer informed me that he had been ordered by signal from the Naniwa to sink these boats. I remonstrated, but he fired two volleys from the cutter, turned back, and steamed for the Naniwa. No attempt was made to rescue the Chinese. The Naniwa steamed about until eight o'clock in the evening, but did not pick up any other Europeans."

The transport Irene

The Irene, which had been the first vessel to leave Taku, herself had a narrow escape from an attack. She sighted a war vessel at eleven o'clock on the night of July 23, but by at once putting out all her lights was enabled to escape, and reached Asan early the next morning.The troops were at once disembarked, and about nine o'clock the same morning the Irene left for Chefoo(Yantai).

Battle between the Chih Yuen and the Yoshino

The same morning, July 26, the cruiser Chih Yuen arrived at Wei-hai-wei from Asan, and reported that shortly after leaving that port, the new Japanese cruiser Yoshino fired on her and her consort, the Kwang Kai, unexpectedly, and a shell, piercing the bow turret, exploded, killing the entire crew serving one gun, and disabling the turret. As soon as the Chih Yuen got a little sea-room, her steering-gear having been disabled, she maneuvered and fought with her stern gun, one shell from which swept away the entire bridge of her opponent. A second shell striking the same place, the Japanese ceased firing and hoisted a white flag over a Chinese ensign, but Captain Hong, of the Chih Yuen, having his bow guns and his steering gear disabled, and other Japanese coming up, decided to make for Wei-hai-wei and report to the admiral. Twelve of the crew were killed and thirty wounded. The Japanese vessel suffering somewhat less.

The effects of the sinking of the Kowshing

The Kowshing affair caused a complete change in the attitude of the Chinese government and in the foreign mind. The viceroy , Li Hung Chang, declared in an interview that if war was once provoked, China would fight to the bitter end. Japan was at- tacked in the European press for having sent a British ship to the bottom, even though it were loaded with Chinese soldiers, in as much as war had not been declared. The Japanese government at once instructed the minister in London to apologize to Great Britain for firing on the British flag, which was floating over the Kow-shing, and it was talked in every quarter that a heavy in- demnity would be required from Japan. The demand for an indemnity was practically abandoned on account of a clause contained in the ship's charter to the effect that in the event of an outbreak of hostilities between China and Japan, the Kow-shing should be considered Chinese property.Less than two hundred were saved, out of nearly twelve hundred souls who were on board the vessel. French, German, and Italian gunboats which were cruising near, brought to Chefoo the few Chinese survivors, and several of the European officers were saved by the Japanese. Von Hannecken was rescued by a fisherman's boat, and made his way back to China. The one-thousand-strong Chinese renforcement, 12 cannans and the German military advisor Major von Hanneken  on board Kowshing and military supplies on board Tsao-kiang failed to reach Asan. And the outnumbered and isolated Chinese detachment in Asan was attacked and defeated in the subsequent Battle of Seonghwan four days later.

Salvage of the Kowshing

In 2000, a Korean salvage company tried to salvage the Kowshing and retrive a large horde of gold and silver said to be within it . The ship was destroyed in the operation, which was probably a stock swindle, and only a few artifacts were found .

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comparison of the Japanese and Chinese Forces

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Formal Declarations of War

 Aug 1, 1894