The following account of the battle fought between the Chinese and Japanese fleets off the mouth of the Yalu river on September 17, 1894, is based upon the reports printed in the Army and Navy Gazette, London, Sept. 22 to Dec. 1; the Engineer, London, Oct. 5; le Yacht, Paris, Sept. 29, Oct. 6, and Dec, 1; the Japan Daily Mail, Yokohama, Oct. 11; the New York Herald, Nov. 7; the New York Times, Dec. 9; and several letters in the London Times and other papers. The clearest accounts of the maneuvers of the two fleets are found in the Japanese official reports, printed in the Japan Mail of Oct. 11 and le Yacht of Oct. 6.
About the 12th of September the Chinese fleet under Admiral Ting was assembled in Port Arthur, under orders to convoy a fleet of six or seven transports from Talien Wan—25 miles northeast of Port Arthur—to Wiju, at the mouth of the Yalu river. The first reports were that this fleet sailed on the 14th, the later ones that it started in haste upon receipt of news of the victory of the Japanese army and the capture of the citadel of Ping Yang, which occurred early in the morning of the 15th. However this may be, the Chinese fleet with the transports in convoy arrived in the Yalu, which is about 200 miles from Port Arthur, on the afternoon of the 16th; and the transports proceeded up the river to disembark their troops.*
The Japanese fleet, in the meantime, had been in the Ping Yang inlet acting in concert with the army, and after the victory there had gone northward to a "temporary anchorage" or rendezvous, whose exact position is not given, but which must have been in the eastern part of the Bay of Korea, some distance to the southward of the Yalu. At 5 p.m. on the 16th, the fleet, under Admiral Ito, sailed from this anchorage in search of the Chinese, steering for the island of Hai Yun, which is nearly in the course from Port Arthur to the Yalu and about midway between the two. At 6.30 a. m. on the 17th this island was reached, and the Akagi sent forward to reconnoiter the inner harbor of Thornton Haven. Finding no enemy the fleet steered for Talu Tao, off Taku Shan, 45 miles northeast of Hai Yun Tao and 40 miles westward of the Yalu, which island was sighted on the port bow at 10 a. m. Between 11 and 11.30 the van division signaled smoke to the east-northeast; and a few minutes past noon, the enemy having been recognized, the signal was made to prepare for action.
The Chinese opened fire at 10 minutes before 1, at a distance of 5000 or 6000 meters.
The first reports gave the position of the Chinese fleet across the mouth of the Yalu river; but later information, corroborating the inference from the times and distances just given, shows that it was lying in Takuo-hoa, or Taku-chad, or Ta-Tau-K'ou Bay, or inlet,—which is not marked on the Intelligence Office chart, but the position of which is given in Lat. 39° 47' N., Long. 124° 7' E,; that is, on the coast of Manchuria about 15 miles east of the Talu Tao and nearly 25 miles west of the Yalu. This position is marked on the accompanying chart by a cross. At the approach of the Japanese fleet the Chinese steamed out to meet them. The battle was fought in the open sea, and there is no reason to believe that either fleet was hindered in its maneuvering by shoals; nor was the Chinese, as was first stated, hampered by the presence of its transports. The sky was overcast, the sea rough, and the wind fresh from the east.
The composition of the two fleets is given in the following tables, which are taken from a paper by Secretary Herbert in the North American Review for November. Two ships omitted from the list of the Chinese fleet have been inserted in the table, and a column added giving the secondary batteries of the ships. These tables are based upon the publications of the Office of Naval Intelligence, and give the most accurate description of the ships that has been printed. It may be noted that all the English papers, following the repeated inaccuracies of Brassey's Naval Annual for 1892, 1893 and 1894, give the Akitsushima the same battery as the three sister-ships Itskushima, Matsushima, and Hasidate; and their enumeration of the guns of the Japanese fleet is consequently erroneous. The tables in the Army and Navy Gazette contain besides some typographical errors. There is of course considerable diversity in the spelling of the names. Most of the English papers spell Chi Yuen "Tsi Yuen." The spelling here followed is that adopted by the Intelligence Office.
In addition to the ships given in the tables, the Chinese had three or four torpedo-boats (one report says that only one of these took part in the action), besides two 65-ft. boats hoisted on board each of the two battleships; and the Japanese had an armed mail steamer, the Saikyo Maru, in which Admiral Kabayama, of the naval general staff, was embarked on a tour of inspection.
It is not easy to estimate the relative strength of two such heterogeneous fleets. In numbers the Chinese were 12 to the Japanese 11. Considering that the little Akagi, with her two guns, is not much more than half the size of the smallest of the Chinese ships, and that she had no regular place in the formation, the slight numerical superiority of the Chinese is more marked. As to size, although the biggest two Chinese are bigger than the biggest three Japanese ships together, the average size of the Japanese ships is larger, and the total displacement of their 11 is greater than the total of the Chinese 12. In speed the Japanese had a great advantage. The figures in the table are maximum trial speeds, and it is not likely that either fleet attained its maximum in the engagement, but the figures may serve for comparison. The average of the Chinese fleet is 16 knots, the Japanese 17. The Japanese had three slow ships, the Fuso, Hiyei and Akagi, of 13 to 14 knots maximum, which were put in the rear of their column, and Admiral Ito did not always wait for them; the remainder of his fleet could go 16 knots or better, and his van was led by one of the fastest ships in the world. The Ping Yuen of the Chinese fleet had a maximum of only 10.5 knots, and even if she were left out—she seems to have played but a small part in the action—the remainder of the fleet could not keep more than 15 knots together. Considering that with the exception of the slow Ping Yuen and the two small gunboats, built at Foochow in 1890 and 1892, all the Chinese ships were completed in 1887 or earlier; and that of the Japanese, with the exception of two old ships—Fuso and Hiyei built in 1878, two were completed in 1886 and the rest all since 1890; and remembering that the Japanese ships are kept in much more efficient condition than the Chinese, and are better manned; it is probably not too much to say that Admiral Ito had an advantage in speed over Admiral Ting of at least 2 knots with the main division of his fleet, and not less than 5 with his swifter van.
Comparing now the armaments and armor of the two fleets:—the Japanese had nearly twice as many guns in their main batteries as the Chinese; but the Chinese had more heavy guns and could discharge considerably greater weight of metal at a broadside, though much less in a given time. In estimating the relative value of the two batteries on a particular occasion, the armor opposed to them must of course be taken into account. A more detailed comparison of the calibers may be made as follows:
|Guns||10” and over||Below 10.” Over 6.”||6” and 4.7”|
Of guns fit to pierce heavy armor the Chinese had 13 to the Japanese 7. But the Japanese had no heavy armor to be pierced, except the turrets of the three sister coast defense vessels (so called), and the slow old Fuso. The Chinese, properly speaking, had only two heavily armored ships. There were, it is true, the Chi Yuen, with a 15” barbette and no other armor, the King Yuen and Lai Yuen with 8” turrets and belts of 9 ½” to 5 ¼”—but only partial belts extending only 2 feet above water—and the wretched little Ping Yuen, with her 8 inches of armor, 10 ½ knots speed and 3 guns;—but what sort of armored ships were they? In guns able to pierce lighter armor the two fleets were nearly equal. Of the smaller calibers the Japanese had almost three times as many; and moreover, all their 4.7” guns and none of the Chinese were rapid-fire funs. In secondary batteries the superiority of the Japanese was even more marked. They had in all 161 guns to the Chinese 120.
|6-pdr and 3-pdr R.F.G.||H.R.C.||Gatling and Nordenfeldt||Misc.|
Of these, 104 were 6-pdr and 3-pdr rapid-fire guns, and 57 Gatling and Nordenfeldt machine-guns. The Chinese had only rapid-fire guns and 16 Gatlings and Nordenfeldts, and also 46 Hotchkiss revolver cannon and 10 miscellaneous light guns, which last were boat howitzers, etc., and probably were not used at all. The Japanese had very few guns able to do any serious harm to the two heavy Chinese ironclads, but on the other hand it cannot be doubted that the Chinese would have been better off had all the heavy guns in their smaller ships been replaced by lighter quick-firing pieces.
In torpedoes the Chinese were decidedly superior, having 44 tubes to their enemies’ 34, besides 4 torpedo-boats. It is open to question, however, whether they had that many tubes or torpedoes ready for action.
On the whole, considering the adversaries to which they were opposed, it is the opinion of the writer that the Japanese fleet, although none of its ships were quite a match for the best two Chinese, was decidedly superior in strength.
The following plans of the action are made up chiefly from Admiral Ito’s report as published in the Japan Mail, Oct. 11. They differ somewhat from the plans given by Lieutenant Maoki Miyaoka, the Japanese naval attaché at Washington, in the New York Times, Dec. 9, which are the same as those in the New York Herald of Nov. 7, taken from the Jiji-Shimpo of Tokyo of Oct. 2. A good deal has to be left to conjecture. No attempt is here made to represent the maneuvers in the last part of the action. The order of the ships in the Chinese formation, as well as the formation itself, can only be taken as approximate. The two gunboats, Kuang Ting and Kuang Ki, and perhaps the Ping Yuen, probably reached their stations some time after the action had begun. The order of the Japanese ships in column is more nearly certain. The Naniwa may have been the fourth ship instead of the second, and the Chiyoda may have been next astern of the flagship; but these differences are immaterial.
The Chinese fleet, as it steamed out to meet its fate, formed in an irregular line, or crescent, or double echelon, or V, or “two converging columns," according to the various accounts, which all agree that it was in great disorder. The actual formation probably was not the result of deliberate choice, but the order in which the ships found themselves in their unskillful attempt to get into some sort of line abreast. The battleships Ting Yuen and Chen Yuen were in the centre, flanked by the Lai Yuen and King Yuen, with the weakest vessels on the flanks. The Japanese fleet advanced in single column. The van division, commanded by Admiral Teuboi, was composed of the swift protected cruisers Yoshino, Naniwa, Takachiho, and Akitsushima. Then came the flagship Matsushima and her two sisters, then the Chiyoda, Fuso and Hiyei. The Akagi and Saikyo Maru were at first on the flank of the centre and rear divisions of the fleet; but the Saikyo, being ordered to avoid fighting, dropped to the rear,—though she afterwards joined in the battle,—and the Akagi, unable to keep up, was left behind.
The Japanese column first steered for the centre of the enemy's line, then gradually changed course to port, so as to come into action with its right wing. The Chinese opened fire at very long range; the Japanese replied at 3000 meters. The battle was fought in general at ranges from 2000 to 3000 meters. The Japanese van passed around the Chinese right flank and along their rear, apparently increasing its distance from the centre and rear divisions, which, led by Admiral Ito's flagship, performed the same maneuver, defiling past the enemy's front as the van enveloped his rear. The Chinese order was thrown into great confusion, their right wing attacked on both sides by the whole of the Japanese fleet, their left out of action altogether. Admiral Ting's flagship and her sister ironclad headed for the enemy's centre, endeavoring to keep bows on, while the rest of the fleet steered in different directions, as if to engage separate vessels. Both sides kept up a hot fire.
As the Japanese centre and rear divisions passed in turn around the Chinese flank, their slowest ships, the Fuso and Hiyei, came within shorter and shorter range; and finally the captain of the Hiyei, which brought up the rear, seeing that by holding his course he could not clear the enemy's line, boldly steered between the two Chinese battleships, passed through their line, receiving and returning their fire, and rejoined his squadron on the opposite side. The little Akagi also appears to have broken through the enemy's line, somewhere to the left of its centre; and three Chinese ships passed under her stern within 800 meters. A shell struck her bridge, killed the captain and several men, and wounded several others; her forward magazine was destroyed and a steam pipe shattered. The first lieutenant took command of the ship. The Japanese van division, headed by the Yoshino, then, seeing the peril of the Hiyei and Akagi, instead of leading down the enemy's rear, changed course more to starboard and steamed at full speed to the rescue, pushed between the Akagi and her assailants, pouring their starboard broadsides into the latter as they passed. This again enveloped the Chinese right wing between two fires. [At this point the plans here given differ from those of Lieutenant Miyaoka and the Jiji-Shimpo. The latter represent the van division turning with starboard helm, and passing a second time entirely around the Chinese right flank, outside and in opposite direction to the Japanese centre division. The plan here given (which was made before these two were published) is believed to represent the movement more truly. Otherwise the van of the Japanese fleet must have been separated for a considerable time from the Chinese by its own centre and rear divisions, and must have turned its port broadsides toward the enemy. Whereas Admiral Ito explicitly says the Hiyei had passed through the Chinese line, and his van went to rescue her as well as the Akagi, and poured in their starboard broadsides as they passed, and "thus the enemy was placed between the fires" of the two divisions.]
The Hiyei about this time signaled that she had taken fire, and together with the Akagi retired from the action. Three Chinese ships, the Lai Yuen, Chih Yuen and Kuang Ki, pursued first the Hiyei and then the Akagi; but that brave little ship, in spite of the damage to her steam pipe, managed to keep ahead of them, working her stern gun with the utmost rapidity and with good effect. The commanding officer of the Akagi went into the maintop to look out for torpedo-boats, and signaled their movements by flags to the other ships. The Lai Yuen got within 300 meters; a shell from her struck the Akagi's bridge and wounded the navigator, who resumed his post as soon as his wounds were dressed; several shots hit her mainmast and finally brought it down, killing the commanding officer and two men on the lookout aloft; but at last a shell from the Akagi's stern gun set her pursuers' quarter-deck on fire, and in the midst of the confusion the other two Chinese ships stopped to succor her, and the Akagi escaped. After repairing her steam pipe she rejoined the fleet three or four hours later. The Chih Yuen returned to the battle-ground; the Lai Yuen was too much damaged to take any further part in the fight; and the Kuang Ki was not heard of more.*
There is some mention in one or two accounts of the Chinese fleet being reinforced in the midst of the action, and Admiral Ito states the numbers reported to have joined the enemy at this time as six torpedo-boats and four men-of-war. It is doubtful if so many joined, as their names are not given and there is no more detailed account of their part in the action, the course of which they certainly did not affect. If men-of-war, they were probably one or two of the small alphabetical gunboats. It is more probable that two or three of the Chinese fleet were so far behind in coming into action as to be mistaken by Admiral Ito for reinforcements, for he gives the original force of the Chinese ten ships instead of twelve.
In the meantime the centre and right of Admiral Ting's fleet continued in hot action. Admiral Ting was wounded 20 minutes after the fight began, in the following peculiar manner: He is reported to have been standing on the bridge, and to have been warned that he was in a dangerous place, but refused to move. One of the barbette guns when trained across came under the bridge; the admiral was thrown in the air, his right leg hit by splinters, and his face burnt. Commodore Liu Tai Tsan then took command of the fleet.* All four—or possibly only two—of the Chen Yuen's heavy guns—which are mounted in pairs, covered only by 7/8" hoods, within an irregular shaped barbette redoubt—were knocked out of service early in the fight, apparently by a single lucky shot; and she was reduced to the two 6" guns in the bow and stern.
The Yang Wei and Chao Yung, which occupied the extreme right of the line, where they received the fire of the whole Japanese fleet in passing, were by this time out of action,—the former retiring slowly shorewards in the direction of Talu Tao, the latter run upon a rock,—both enveloped in flames. Finally the Yang Wei was beached; and the Chao Yung, settling aft, went down in deep water, her upper masts remaining above the surface. Her miserable crew took refuge in the rigging, but the battle was too furious for friend or foe to heed their cries. The Kuang Ting also, from her position in the left wing, passed by the Chinese flagship and fled toward the shore. The Chi Yuen also withdrew early in the day, all three of her gun carriages having got out of gear, though not from any damage by the enemy's fire.
The descriptions of the maneuvers in the latter part of the action are extremely vague. It is evident that the Chinese order was thrown into entire confusion. Admiral Ito's main division, keeping its formation of single column to the last, is reported to have circled around what was left of the Chinese fleet, and even to have repeated the maneuver three times. After a time the Chinese flagship tried to close, apparently with a view to ramming. She broke the formation and with two or three other ships charged at full speed. Admiral Ito reports that at half past two the Ting Yuen steamed past the front of his squadron,—"but she received such a storm of projectiles that her crew seemed to fall into a state of the greatest confusion, and presently she took fire." The King Yuen also was severely crippled in the attempt. The enemy's fire was concentrated upon the disabled ships and especially upon her. She tried to escape, but the Japanese van gave chase, leaving the main division engaged with the sister ironclads. Finally the King Yuen was sunk. Her gunners remained at their pieces until the last minute. She went down slowly, stern first; her bow rose out of the water, remained a minute and a half in that position, then disappeared forever. In the Japanese fleet "the enthusiasm was indescribable, the crews redoubled their ardor, the officers exulted in satisfaction."
About this time the Chih Yuen, which had returned from the chase of the Akagi, went down with all on board. The manner of her loss is uncertain. According to the first reports of the Chinese, her captain, who had several times disregarded the Admiral's signals, deliberately steamed out of line, rammed and sank a Japanese ship, and in so doing received such injuries to his own ship that she also went down. This is very doubtful, for the Japanese official reports make no mention of any of their ships being rammed, and it is certain none of them was sunk. The earlier reports mentioned a second armed merchantman, besides the Saikyo Maru, and it has been conjectured that this might have been the ship sunk. It is much more probable that no such ship was present. The later Chinese reports say the Chih Yuen was sunk by gun fire, and went down bow first, screws revolving.
At half past three, when the two flagships were in close range, the Matsushima's turret was struck by a 12" shell, which did great damage and set the deck on fire, though apparently it did not penetrate the armor. Another shell exploded aboard the Matsushima, dismounting the forward 4.7" rapid-fire gun and killing a number of men. The gun was hurled violently across the ship. The Japanese flagship had been from the first the object of the Chinese special attentions; her commander and first lieutenant were killed, 120 men either killed or wounded. Admiral Ito then, like Commodore Perry at Lake Erie, transferred his flag to the Hasidate.
About this time—3.30 p. m. —it is reported that firing ceased on both sides, many of the ships, especially the Chinese, being on fire. The action recommenced at about 4.30, by the five ships of the Japanese main division again attacking the two Chinese battleships. Firing finally ceased at six.
The whereabouts of the Hiyei and Saikyo Maru were then uncertain. The former, on fire, had retired as already described. A torpedo fired at her missed. She suffered severely from shells, and one exploding in the officers' quarters killed two surgeons, several nurses, and many men already wounded. The fire was finally got under control. She went to the rendezvous and removed her wounded to a transport next morning, then sailed in company with the Kaimon to the scene of the battle, at which the latter had not been present, and returned to rejoin the fleet on the 20th.
The Saikyo had also taken some part in the fight and got roughly handled. She first opened fire at long range, and later got to close quarters with the Chinese ironclads. After an hour or more her steering gear was disabled and she retired, attacked or chased for awhile by the Ping Yuen and one of the smaller Chinese vessels and two or three torpedo-boats. Two torpedoes were fired at her and missed, one of which, discharged from a distance of 40 or 50 yards, passed under her bottom. The Saikyo returned to the rendezvous early the following morning.
Falling darkness ended the battle. Admiral Ting gathered the remnants of his fleet and steered—as afterwards appeared—for Port Arthur. Admiral Ito recalled his van division and shaped a course supposed to be parallel to that of the Chinese squadron, which was standing to the southward, apparently for Wei-Hai-Wei. Speed was reduced to that of the slowest injured ships, and the fleet separated from the Chinese as a precaution against torpedo-boats. During the night, which was dark, the enemy was no longer in sight.
Admiral Ito steamed southward until dawn, hoping to intercept the Chinese off Wei-Hai-Wei. Not finding them, he ordered the Akagi to proceed to the rendezvous, returned with the rest of the fleet to the scene of the action, and there discovered the Yang Wei, beached and deserted. The Chiyoda blew her up with a torpedo,—the only one fired by the Japanese. Thence the fleet went to the rendezvous or "temporary anchorage," where it arrived early on the morning of the 19th, found the Akagi and Saikyo Maru, and next morning was joined by the Hiyei and Kaimon.
Later reports state that the Kuang Ki, having made her escape early in the battle, after the chase of the Akagi, ran on the rocks in Talien Wan while making for Port Arthur. There she was discovered, apparently some days later, by the Naniwa and Akitsushima; and her crew, seeing the cruisers, set fire to her and fled. The Japanese completed her destruction.
By the latest accounts the Chinese lost five ships, and at least two others were disabled. The Chao Yung, King Yuen and Chih Yuen were sunk; the Yang Wei and Kuang Ki were run ashore and subsequently destroyed. The Chen Yuen and Lai Yuen were totally disabled.
The Ting Yuen is reported to have been struck by no fewer than 200 projectiles, but her armor was not seriously damaged. The deepest dents were about three inches. Her upper deck was entirely destroyed by fire; two of the secondary battery guns were disabled; all the signal halliards were shot away; but the engines were uninjured. The Chen Yuen was hit fewer times—120—but her injuries were even more serious than the flagship's. Her main battery was crippled; she is reported to have reached the anchorage almost sinking, about three feet down by the head. The Lai Yuen suffered most from fire. She was gutted fore and aft; the deck and bulkheads about the magazine became red hot. The Ping Yuen, according to Admiral Ito's report, suffered severely from fire; according to others she took little part in the action. The Ching Yuen also is reported to have been badly hulled.
Of the entire fleet only three—not counting the Ping Yuen escaped without very serious injury,—namely, the Ching Yuen, Chi Yuen and Kuang Ting. And of these three, two—the last named—had run away; as did at least one other. The captains of the Chi Yuen and Kuang Ki have since, in consequence, been beheaded.
As for the Japanese, three ships—the Matsushima, Hiyei and Akagi—and also the Saikyo Maru, were more or less severely injured; and of these the two small ships and the armed transport were driven out of action. All the rest were injured very slightly or not at all. The Yoshino, in coming to the rescue of the Hiyei and Akagi, was struck several times and sustained some damage to one of her forward sponsons, which was repaired on the spot. The Matsushima had to be sent to Japan; the others were repaired by their own hands.
With regard to the loss of life, there is the same appalling inequality. The Chinese casualties are variously stated, from 700 killed and 250 wounded, to 1500 altogether, including the men lost in the ships sunk. Several of the foreigners serving in the Chinese fleet were killed. The Japanese loss, according to the highest figures in any of the reports, was 10 officers and 84 men killed, and 160 officers and men wounded,—total 254. The greatest loss was aboard the flagship Matsushima.
Such were the incidents of this memorable battle, as far as the truth can be made out from the mass of incomplete and conflicting reports thus far published. Many criticisms of it have been written, opinions the most various and opposite expressed, and scarcely a theory of naval tactics or construction has not been held to have been either proved or disproved by it. In the humble opinion of the present writer, the moral of the tale is very plain.
With regard to construction, the most striking and important lesson undoubtedly is the liability of modern ships to injury from fire. Throughout the whole engagement conflagrations were raging, and the severest damage to both fleets was done by fire. It may be supposed that the Chinese, at least, made no efficient efforts to put out the flames; but still the warning is unmistakable that men-of-war ought, if possible, to be built entirely of incombustible materials.
As to the relative advantages of different types of ship, this battle certainly did not prove that unarmored cruisers can stand up against battleships,—Lord Armstrong, the builder of the Piemonte, to the contrary notwithstanding. Rather quite the contrary, it proved, if it proved anything at all about the question, that heavy guns are necessary to attack heavy armor. Witness the battering of the Ting Yuen. It may be replied that the Chen Yuen's heavy guns were disabled by a single shot. The answer is not that she would have been better off without them in an action with another armored ship, but that heavy guns must be heavily protected. There is hardly a modern battleship afloat with her heavy guns so badly mounted, and without, in addition, a numerous secondary battery powerful enough to have silenced the Matsushima or Chiyoda. What this action did show regarding types is how much a fleet is handicapped by being composed of dissimilar ships. Even one or two discordant units, like the Akagi or Yang Wei, may cripple a line-of-battle.
It is to be regretted that the tactics of the battle are so imperfectly described. Enough is known however to justify certain broad conclusions. Admiral Ito, realizing his superiority in ordnance, wisely neglected his torpedoes and his rams, and formed his line-of-battle in the way to reap the fullest advantage from his guns. Until more precise knowledge is available it is probably premature to say that the Japanese superiority in speed absolutely prevented the Chinese from closing to ram. But this much at least is certain, that if modern fleets are to follow the tactics of the Athenian triremes, it is absolutely essential that ships must move and turn in unison. The ridiculous performances of the Chinese torpedo-boats will not discourage the advocates of those auxiliaries in fleet actions. In the words of M. Weyl, "In skillful hands the torpedo sometimes misses; managed by Chinese, it is absolutely inoffensive."
All accounts of the damage suffered by the different ships go to show the tremendously destructive power of modern ordnance. It is worth noting that the Chinese reported that they suffered most from the small-caliber rapid-fire guns. This probably refers to injury to personnel. In gun practice as in ordnance the Japanese were far superior to their enemies. In the latter part of the battle the Chinese ships ran short of ammunition. The two ironclads fired 197 rounds from their 12" guns. We cannot tell from this precisely what the time between fires was, because the duration of the action is not exactly known, nor the time when the Chen Yuen's heavy guns were disabled, but it was probably from 5 to 6 minutes. If any deductions regarding weapons can be drawn from a battle between antagonists so unequal, they verify the predictions of Professor Alger: "A ship which, either improperly armed or manned with men insufficiently trained in gun practice, trusts to her torpedoes or ram and endeavors by them to gain the victory, will fall an easy prey to an antagonist in whose construction and tactics the gun is recognized as the paramount weapon." And, further, "power lies in broadside far more than in end fire."
We are not told what signals were made. The only ones mentioned in the Japanese reports were made before the action began, and after it had ended. On the Chinese side we hear of one captain repeatedly disregarding the admiral's signals, and of all the signal halliards being shot away. All accounts describe the ships of the Celestial Empire disordered and disorganized from the very first, the fleet of the Rising Sun maneuvering throughout with admirable precision.
In his conception of grand tactics. Admiral Ito proved himself immeasurably superior to the Mandarin who before this battle had the reputation of an able admiral. It is impossible not to admire the mastery of the art he displayed, while at the same time one wishes he had had a foeman worthier of his steel. Admiral Ito's plan of battle appears to have been prearranged. In the words of the official report, "our fleet maneuvered so as to concentrate its fire on one flank of the Chinese squadron, then on the other." But whether preconcerted, or the inspiration of the moment, his plan to double on the weakest part of the enemy's line, in a manner virtually identical with that of Nelson at the Nile, was an application of the unchanging principles by which all battles have been won. It is very much to be doubted, on the other hand, whether Admiral Ting had any preconceived plan of action whatever. By his miserable formation he laid himself open to be beaten in detail. Had the Chinese fleet been capable of concerted movement, it is conceivable that by forming column, by "vessels right turn," before the Japanese van had passed around its wing, it might have frustrated Admiral Ito's plan and concentrated all its fires upon the head of the enemy's advancing column. Even after his flank had been turned, a bolder leader would have seized the opportunity to separate the two divisions of the Japanese fleet.
Not a little of the glory of the victory belongs to Admiral Teuboi, the second in command,—or to the captain of the Yoshino, whichever it was,—who with coup d'oeil worthy of Nelson at Cape St. Vincent, without waiting for orders, led the van away from the prescribed course to carry succor to the Hiyei and Akagi, If he did not actually save the day, at least he saved those two ships.
And "the conduct of our crews was above all praise." The commander-in-chief concludes his official report by saying: "One thing to be specially noted is that even the seamen, firemen and others—of course it is unnecessary to speak of the officers—discharged their duties with evident satisfaction, and preserved their presence of mind even when the enemy's fire was at its hottest and when their superiors and comrades were falling dead or wounded beside them. On this point there is remarkable unanimity among the reports of the various commanding officers." On the other side, what a contrast! Admiral Ting was as ill-supported as old Benbow, He is said to have conducted himself with "admirable coolness," but his fleet acted like a scared flock. The shepherd knew not his sheep, and the sheep knew not their shepherd. Ship after ship under the yellow dragon fled toward the shore. Two captains have lost their heads for cowardice. The gunners of the King Yuen alone relieve the dismal story. Bravely indeed they fought, with the savage courage of despair, when no hope remained of either victory or flight.
If there is any criticism to be made of Admiral Ito, it is that he did not continue the battle to the bitter end. He had eight ships in fighting trim, while at the most five only remained of the Chinese fleet, and two of those were disabled. "Had we taken ten sail, and allowed the eleventh to escape, being able to get at her, I could never have called it well done." It is remarkable that not a single ship surrendered. Every one of the Chinese fleet either was sunk, or took to flight, or retired after the battle was over. The two battleships, the mainstay of the enemy's strength afloat, were still unconquered, and the demoralization of the Chinese, which Admiral Ito had witnessed, might have emboldened him to take greater risks. And it certainly was a blunder to lose touch with the enemy during the night. His apprehension of the Chinese torpedo-boats, which is the reason given, certainly was not justified by the experience he had had of them that day.
But this suggestion that Admiral Ito, having done well, might have done better still, is made with extreme deference. It must be borne in mind that we have as yet very imperfect knowledge of the operations of the war, and none whatever of the orders under which the admiral was acting. It may well be that Captain Mahan's comment upon the battle of Cape St. Vincent is perfectly applicable to the Yalu: "It has been thought that further pursuit of a fleet so disgracefully beaten would have increased the British triumph; but Jervis was not the man to risk a substantial success, securely held, for a doubtful further gain. The victory essential to Great Britain was won; the worthlessness of the Spanish navy was revealed,—it could no longer be counted a factor in the political situation. In the opinion of the author, Jervis was right not to expose this, the great and attained result of Valentine's Day, to those chances of mishap that cannot be excluded from the operations of war."
Upon Admiral Ting the following judgment, severe but just, has been written by M. Weyl: "Voilà des annees qu'il commande la flotte de Petchili, et il n'a pas su constituer une force navale digne de ce nom! . . .Des mouvements de I'ennemi il ne savait rien, et s'il s'en inquiétait, c'était d'une façon toute platonique! L'amiral Ting s'est bravement conduit, mais le courage ne suffit pas à ceux qui ont le redoubtable honneur de commander en chef."
Any discussion of the strategy of the campaign belongs rather to the history of the war than to the story of a single battle. It may be remarked however, that whatever knowledge of strategy Admiral Ting may have had, he was bound hand and foot by the orders of the Tsung-Li Yamen. He is not the first admiral that has suffered from the meddling of cabinets. The same thing may be true of Admiral Ito. Otherwise the question arises: Would he not have rendered more effectual service by blockading the Chinese fleet and transports in Port Arthur and Talien Wan, after the manner of St. Vincent before Brest, than by guarding the flank of the army in the Ping Yang inlet? Once free, however, he moved with no uncertain steps and manifested an energy and forethought in bright contrast to the lethargy or indifference of Admiral Ting.
The battle of the Yalu, like the frigate actions of 1812, was won by the stronger fleet; but the loss inflicted was out of all proportion to the preponderance of material force. As history has again and again proclaimed, battles are not won by ships and guns alone, but by cool heads, trained hands, steady nerves and brave hearts. And this is the lesson of the Yalu.
Ships and guns, the best of their kind, Admiral Ito had; and the mere provision of such a fleet—in no small measure due to the personal influence of the Emperor himself—shows on the part of the government the same foresight that has characterized all the operations of this war. And the ships themselves were well equipped,—as anyone that has seen them can bear witness; while the Chinese, to cite only one example from a letter by the American commander of the Chen Yuen, were "badly fitted out in the surgeon's department, only two Chinese doctors to 20 ships and an army of 300,000 men." The Mikado's sailors kept their lamps, trimmed and were ready when the bridegroom came; while the subjects of the Son of Heaven, like foolish virgins, had let their oil run dry, and the crisis found them unprepared.
But not only was the Japanese fleet in a state of high efficiency; the personnel of every rank, by previous energetic training and hard study, was prepared for the day of battle. And when the great day came, the squadrons of evolution, which the Japanese have had ever since they have had a fleet, the naval maneuvers, which they have carried on for the last two or three years for periods of a month at a time, the study of naval tactics and the conduct of war, in which the admirals and captains took such pride,—all bore their just fruit. Can anyone doubt that, whichever fleet Admiral Ito and his captains and crews had fought, they would have won?
This Asiatic war, waged between two nations whom we newer western civilizations have been accustomed to regard as barbarians, has such transcendent interest to us, not because the battle of the Yalu, the first modern fleet action since Lissa, has settled any moot questions of naval tactics or naval construction; but because it has furnished a most striking exemplification of the everlasting truth, which all history has proved,—that training, organization, discipline, esprit de corps—these are the begetters of victory.
"The gods all things on men bestow, at labor's price."
One word more. It is ludicrous to note how the French rejoice that some of the Japanese ships were designed by them; how the Germans congratulate themselves that the Japanese regimental organization was modeled after theirs; how the English, who seemed at first to be not a little chagrined that their friends the Chinamen were getting so badly beaten, now pat themselves on the back because they had a share in building the Japanese fleet, and set the fashion in uniforms; how we Americans take unto ourselves credit that some of the Japanese officers were trained at the Naval Academy; how all we foreigners congratulate the Japanese on their progress in European civilization and skill in European warfare. Let us rather acknowledge them masters of the art. Ships and guns and uniforms, elementary training and drill-books, indeed, they had of us; but these, as the Japanese call the Roman alphabet, are but the "gateway to the kingdom of western knowledge." The principles of the art of war are catholic and eternal, and belong not to one nation nor to one age. The Japanese are a race of warriors and sailors, and trace back their martial inheritance from the long line of Shoguns, beginning with Yoritomo, and his brother who won the great sea fight near Shimonoseki seven centuries ago; from the famous Iyeyasu, first of the Tokugawa line; from the great general Hideyoshi, who invaded Korea three hundred years ago, and many more brave daimios and samurai who have made their names terrible in war, since the day when the first Mikado, Jimmu Tenno, descendant of the Sun-goddess, sailed up the Inland Sea.
Lieutenant-Commander Richard Wainwright, U.S.N.:—The battle of the Yalu has been treated in a most satisfactory manner by Ensign Marble. He has arranged the data and adjusted the conflicting statements with skill and discrimination. I am glad he does not follow the plans of Lieutenant Miyaoka, I.J.N., who gives the distance between the divisions of the Japanese fleet, when advancing to the attack, as 4000 yards. From Mr. Marble's figure this distance appears to be about 1300 yards. This latter distance may be due to irregularity in formation; but it would be difficult to justify such a separation between divisions as 4000 yards with any tactical theory.
That the Japanese succeeded in doubling on the Chinese fleet is undoubted and according to Mr. Marble they doubled on the right flank of the Chinese fleet both in position and in succession. It is doubtful if this utilization of higher speed, which enabled them to double on the right wing in position but resulted in a further separation of the two divisions, would have been advisable against a more skillful enemy, but the doubling in succession was tactically sound.
The escape of the Hiyei and Akagi from total destruction, especially that of the former, which passed between the two battleships, illustrates the inefficient armament of the Chinese vessels. Had the battleships been properly armed with rapid-fire guns, and had they been decently served, the Hiyei must have been destroyed.
When the question of the Japanese fleet keeping in touch with that of the Chinese is considered, it must be remembered that the former fleet was composed of cruisers and that Admiral Ito would have been obliged to detach from his main fleet several of its units in order to maintain touch. It would have been a questionable action for Admiral Ito, with only eight ships remaining, to have detached two or three of the eight to act as scouts. Had his fleet been one of battleships with a respectable allowance of cruisers, he would have been seriously in fault had he failed to keep touch with the Chinese.
The criticism of Admiral Ito for guarding the flank of the army in the Ping Yang inlet, in place of blockading the Chinese fleet in Port Arthur and Talien Wan, hardly seems well founded, and the comparison with Saint Vincent off Brest does not seem to be applicable to the condition of affairs immediately previous to the battle of the Yalu. Saint Vincent was guarding no specially weak point of his own forces. His object was to prevent the Brest fleet from engaging in any sea operations, particularly from combining with other French fleets. The escape of a few vessels was unimportant. As history shows is the correct practice, he drew the lines of blockade close to the port. Ito had a specially weak point to guard, viz., the transports that carried one portion of the army to Ping Yang, and the supply boats for the entire army. Even had the Japanese been of sufficient strength to blockade successfully the Chinese fleet, it would have been necessary to leave a guard of several vessels at the inlet in case of the escape of a small portion of the Chinese fleet. Then the eleven vessels of the Japanese were not a sufficient force to blockade the twelve Chinese vessels.
Where a whole coast or a great commerce must be protected from a fleet, it is sound strategy to blockade closely that fleet, for there being many weak points it is impracticable to guard all; but where there is one weak point it can be protected best by holding the force at or near the point. It was not sound strategically, landing a force with the Chinese force united, unbeaten and free to take the sea; of this history gives many illustrations; but one of the most frequent incidents in history shows the necessity of running risks in war and attempting undertakings, which, while not strictly correct according to the maxims of strategy, are justified by the governing conditions. Japan could not afford to arrest her advance upon the Korean frontier until her fleet was able to bring the Chinese fleet to action and defeat it. Admiral Ito felt strong enough to drive this fleet back and prevent them from disturbing the operations of the army.
The danger from a flanking fleet should not be exaggerated. It is most dangerous when the co-operating fleet is transporting troops, assisting with its guns, or otherwise hampered by the nature of the operations; then the attack of a flanking fleet is to be dreaded; but when all the troops are in transports, the landing is unopposed and the co-operating fleet untrammeled except by the obligation of a complete defense, the attack of an inferior or equal flanking fleet becomes an ordinary incident of war, the liability being no greater than usual although the consequences of defeat might be far more serious.
Lieutenant W.F. Halsey, U.S.N.:*—Ensign Marble's most ably written article on the Yalu river fight has been read with great interest but an intelligent criticism on its contents is impracticable. With the advantages to be gained by reading numerous reports of the engagement, coupled with conversations with officers of both sides that were engaged in the fight, and after seeing some of the injured vessels, there still remain so many conflicting conditions that a report compiled from newspaper descriptions must necessarily contain numerous inaccuracies. From information received on the station, some of the doubtful points under discussion may be made clearer, but an absolutely accurate description of the naval battle of Hiyang (Yalu) is yet to be written. The relative sizes of the two fleets as to tonnage, guns, and armor is practically established.
As a unit the speed of the Japanese fleet did not exceed 10 knots; for though the Akagi is quoted as a 12-knot vessel, 10 knots represented the best results from that gunboat under most favorable conditions. Individual ships of the Japanese were very fast, notably the Yoshino. The writer has seen this vessel make 19 knots with ease, when chasing torpedo-boats that had escaped from Wei-hai-wei. The formation of the Chinese fleet was that of an irregular double echelon on the battleships Ting Yuen and Chen Yuen in the center. The Japanese were practically in column of vessels, but the flying squadron, composed of the Yoshino, Takachiho, Akitsushima and Naniwa, was separated from the main squadron by a distance much greater than that between individual vessels. When the Chinese fleet was first sighted, the vessels of Japan were headed for the center of their antagonist's formation. Admiral Ito changed course so that the head of column was directed towards the right wing of the enemy. The speed of the flying squadron was increased to 10 knots, and when they opened fire the guns were apparently concentrated on the two vessels on the extreme right wing of the Chinese. These two, the Chao Yung and Yang Wei, were first set on fire, and before very long went down. The Akagi, on account of slow speed, and the Sakyo, being in no sense a man-of-war, had taken positions to the left of the main squadron. The flying squadron after inflicting the injuries to the two Chinese vessels, mentioned before, turned to starboard at a distance of about 1600 meters from the Chinese fleet. This squadron was signaled to join the main squadron and began turning to port behind the other fleet. Before this evolution was completed the Hiyei and Akagi had gotten into difficulties, and Admiral Ito made a second signal for the flying squadron to go to the assistance of the smaller vessels. Apparently the shortest way to reach the scene was by continuing the circle, and this accounts for the two turns made by the flying squadron, the explanation of which we were unable to obtain for some time. There are no other reports of any signals having been made by the Commander-in-Chief to the Japanese fleet during the action. As the evolutions were performed in good shape by the flying squadron, it is but fair to suppose that the signals were thoroughly understood. The main Japanese squadron advanced to the attack, and the Chinese fleet turned so that their vessels were nearly bows on. Firing at this time became general, the Chinese fire being more rapid (with the large caliber guns), and at the same time very wild. The Hiyei being unable to maintain the speed indicated (10 knots) fell behind the main squadron, and as the latter turned to starboard behind the Chinese fleet, the Hiyei was closed upon by the Chinese vessels. At a distance of about 700 meters the Ting Yuen and Chen Yuen failed to inflict serious damage upon the Hiyei; the latter vessel was set on fire and hauled out of the action. The Chinese had lost all formation as regards distances between ships, and the captain of the Hiyei, fearing to be rammed by one of the battleships if he continued to follow the main squadron, boldly steered his vessel between the two large ships; it was a nervy piece of work, but most successfully executed, and probably saved the ship from utter destruction. The Hiyei subsequently joined the main squadron.
The Akagi also was unable to keep up with the main squadron, and found herself the object of attack from the left wing of the Chinese fleet. The little gunboat was well fought, and finally succeeded in getting away, though roughly handled. The captain was killed on the bridge: a 15-cm. shell struck the pedestal of the bridge gun, glanced and brought up on an iron brace; the shell broke (did not explode) and a fragment killed the captain. The executive officer was shortly afterwards wounded on the bridge, and his place was taken by the navigator, who kept command until the wounds of the executive were dressed, when the latter again assumed charge. The mainmast was shot away, but no one was injured by the fall, for the only top gun that was manned was in the foretop. The maintop was not occupied when the mast fell. On the Akagi, 11 were killed, including the commanding officer, and 17 wounded. In addition to the loss of the mainmast, there were two 1 5-cm. shells passed through the ship above water, a 3-pdr. shell went through the shield of the stern gun, the top and bridge guns were disabled. It seems a miracle that this small vessel was not blown off the face of the waters. Considering the number and size of the Chinese ships, the short range, and the length of time under fire, the damage done to Akagi was comparatively slight. The accuracy of the Chinese fire in this case is not apparent; it is stated that the sight-bars were never changed after being set for the first range. The main squadron was now circling the Chinese fleet and was joined by the flying squadron, the Yoshino and Matsushima approaching bows on so that the Chinese fleet was surrounded. The Japanese apparently devoted their fire to the battleships, encircling the fleet and increasing the diameters of the circles as they neared the armored vessels, and decreasing the circles as they left them. The Chinese were huddled in the vortex of this fire; stunned by the volume of projectiles poured upon them, they were without instructions and were out-fought. The Chinese commanders of the smaller vessels sought safety in flight. Sullenly the two battleships held their ground, but their case, under the existing conditions, was hopeless. The Ting Yuen took fire, but was ably protected by her sister ship, the Chen Yuen. The handling of this last named vessel has been complimented in more than one report from the Japanese. Incidentally, it may be remarked that the only American in the fight was on the Chen Yuen; his rank was that of commander, and his duties were to advise the Chinese commanding officer. This American was graduated from the United States Naval Academy.* The Tsi Yuen, Lai Yuen and King Yuen were in active retreat, and in pursuit of these went the flying squadron. The Lai Yuen caught fire, and the Yoshino and Takachiho followed the fleeing King Yuen. Here we find a discrepancy in regard to the fate of this vessel, or rather the cause of her sinking. The first Japanese reports called attention to the fact that this belted cruiser caught fire and went down, being injured by the 15-cm. Q.F. guns of the Yoshino, fired at a distance of 1800 meters. Officers of the Yoshino have made the same statement, and will show, with pride, the gun that they claim did the work. From another officer that was temporarily on board the Yoshino, it was learned that the vessels had approached to within about 800 meters when the Yoshino was preparing to discharge a torpedo. Before the torpedo could be fired the King Yuen listed to starboard, two fires broke out, the stern became submerged, and after a violent explosion on board, probably the bursting of the boilers, the ill-fated vessel disappeared. As the Takachiho was firing at the same time, it seems more probable that the lo-inch guns of this vessel inflicted the mortal wounds. The Japanese still kept up their fire on the two iron-clads, while the latter were slowly making their way in the direction of Port Arthur. The fight ceased before sundown; pursuit not being kept up by the Japanese ships. The remnant of the Chinese fleet succeeded in reaching Port Arthur.
Three torpedoes were fired during the action, and all from the largest of the Chinese torpedo-boats. This boat, with the lieutenant in command, was fallen in with on the first visit of the Baltimore to Port Arthur, before its capture by the Japanese. The lieutenant in command had been ten years in the United States, principally at New Haven, his English was without a flaw, and consequently his narrative was clearly understood. The sea was smooth, not rough as quoted by Mr. Marble, and the conditions were good for torpedo work. The Sakyo after being roughly handled, steam steering gear disabled, had connected hand gear, and at top speed was getting away from close quarters; the Chinese torpedo-boat was speeding in the opposite direction, and under these conditions the vessels approached. Each maneuvered to keep end on; the Sakyo used the machine guns, and the torpedo-boat discharged from the bow first one and then a second torpedo; both missed. At a distance of 30 meters the third torpedo was launched from turn-table on deck, broadside, at the Sakyo; the torpedo was set for 4 ½ meters, the Sakyo drew 18 feet, but the short distance between target and torpedo-boat proved the salvation of the former. Before the torpedo had recovered from the initial dive, it had passed under the Sakyo and broached harmlessly on the other side. In the words of the Chinese lieutenant, "It was a golden opportunity, and I missed." The vessels parted company, neither being the least injured in the encounter. There is every reason for believing that the Chinese lieutenant was perfectly up in his work, he was under fire all the time, and yet handled his boat with coolness; the torpedo simply failed to score.
It has never been understood on the station that the large guns of the Chen Yuen were hurt in the least; the information that they were damaged by the fire of the Japanese is an error I think, for having listened to a partial account of the fight given by the American on board the Chen Yuen, the impression received was to the effect that the guns were as serviceable after the action as before; the proper kind of ammunition in the shape of common shell was lacking on the Chinese battleships, and when the fight ended the supply of such shells as were furnished was very short.
Facts that were well known have been accentuated in this engagement. The Japanese took the risk of piling up rapid-fire ammunition on deck in order that the supply might be ample; a shell from one of the 30.2-cm. guns of the Chen Yuen exploded over this pile on the Matsushima, and in turn caused an explosion of the individual projectiles; eighty persons were killed or wounded, the vessel was set on fire, and the large gun put out of action.
On this vessel two shells, one a 6-pdr., exploded in the cofferdam above water, pieces of the shells being found embedded in the cellulose. No damage resulted from these wounds, and as they were all above water, no data is obtained as to the value of cellulose for obturating purposes. The total killed on the Japanese side has been variously given, probably the number will not exceed 100, of which ten were officers. The damages done to the ships were not great, the Akagi, Hiyei, and Matsushima suffering the most, but even these were not seriously damaged. On the Chinese side we find the Chao Yung sunk, the Yang Wei stranded, Chih Yuen sunk, King Yuen sunk, and the Kwang Chia, while fleeing, struck on a shoal outside Talien Wan, and was destroyed. Of the other ships none were badly injured except by fire; hulls and motive power did not suffer, but superstructures and upper decks were simply wrecked by the rapid-fire guns of the Japanese. The Chen Yuen was on fire several times. All the Chinese vessels that were sunk had taken fire. About 600 went down on the Chinese ships, while 100 in addition were either killed or wounded on the Chinese side. To prevent injury by splinters all the boats from the Chinese ships had been left at Port Arthur, one boat being the allowance for each vessel. The Japanese covered their boats with canvas well wrapped in. On the Chen Yuen, the hose had been led out and water was circulating through them, this being done to prevent unnecessary orders to the engine room in regard to pumps.
The Japanese fleet was officered and manned entirely by natives; their ships individually and collectively were well handled and fought; while the usual dash and nerve, so characteristic of the Japanese nation, was apparent everywhere. From seven to nine foreign officers of military education were on board the vessels that composed the Chinese fleet. These officers were of German, American and English nationalities. Apathetically the Chinese let fires burn that could easily have been put out in the first instance with but little damage. The shells in many instances were improperly fuzed. A naval fight lasting five or more hours took place, with a smooth sea, between two fleets equipped with the most modern appliances of destructive warfare. For the sake of comparison alone it is to be regretted that the fleets were not equipped with men of like characteristics. The result, if such conditions had obtained, would be merely hypothetical. The Japanese not only have learned well the lesson of civilization, but also have gone beyond and have become masters in the art of handling and fighting ships. Their bravery was never a subject for doubt. In this fight we find skill, nerve and ability, with the faster but weaker ships, pitted against the more powerful instruments in the hands of ignorant, apathetic and not over-brave workmen. The question of tactics does not require much discussion. With the Chinese there were none. Admiral Ito started well with his column of vessels; he cornered his quarry and nothing was clearer than that by encircling them he could inflict the death blow. Human beings could not exist in the terrific storm of projectiles that riddled the superstructure of the Ting Yuen and Chen Yuen; no signal halliards remained with which to signal, consequently each individual Chinese captain was left to shift for himself; they displayed greater ability in getting out of action, than in encountering their opponents. The ram was not brought into play, for the faster Japanese ships gave the Chinese no chance for this work; and naturally while the guns were doing such good work, it would have been folly to have rammed with the lighter vessels. The actual resistance of armor was not demonstrated by the Yalu river fight, for the Japanese hardly approached the battleship closer than 3000 meters, and at this distance the 14-inch armor of the Chinese was impregnable. The moral effect of the battleship was beyond question, for these two representatives of that class of vessel stood off the Japanese fleet. The battle was not won so long as they were able to hold their own; had the range been less the story might have been different. The Chinese were confused by the volume of projectiles poured upon the battleships and withdrew. These two vessels were able to continue the action, and with well disciplined crews, properly officered, would have done so. The danger from fire impresses one with the belief that wood work should be reduced to a minimum; though fires were frequent, the reports were perhaps much exaggerated. The Chinese were confident of success and underrated their opponents. Whether these impressions were fostered by their foreign instructors is not known. The meeting of the two fleets was accidental; for had Admiral Ito known of the vicinity of the Chinese he never would have sent his torpedo boats up the Taitong river. From reliable sources it is learned that if Admiral Ting had known that the Japanese fleet was in the vicinity there would have been no battle. Admiral Ting was caught in a trap, and being unable to escape, accepted the alternative and fought with disastrous results.
Assistant Constructor Y. Wadagaki, I.J.N.:*—The subject of the paper is a most important one, and one to which a great many people have given their attention. While I do not feel myself competent to express any opinion on the subject, I hope it may be of some use to corroborate the truth of what the writer says, and to call attention to some slight misunderstanding which he seems to entertain. After carefully looking through the paper, one cannot but admire the intellectual ability of the writer who has succeeded in the difficult task of showing the real character of this great naval battle from utterly contradictory reports of various newspapers. The writer is quite right in stating that the battle was fought in the open sea, and not, as is often reported by news correspondents, at the mouth of the Yalu river. True, the Chinese had previously been engaged in convoying the transports of troops. So had been the Japanese. But, at the time of the encounter, neither party had encumbrance of any sort. In fact, the fighting commenced on equal footing, so far as the relative positions of the two opposing fleets were concerned.
The intention of the Chinese admiral seems to have been to get his vessels arranged in line abreast, as they had their guns more strongly developed at the bow than on the broadsides. Admiral Ito's masterly plan of circling round the enemy's fleet and concentrating all his available forces on its weak point from front and rear proved most successful. Due credit must be accorded to the captain of the Hiyei, who, seeing that his ship could not steam fast enough to keep up her position with the rest of the column, boldly broke through the Chinese line and was thus able to destroy its formation. The little Akagi also did good work. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the ability of the admiral, the patriotic devotion of the officers and men, and their training and discipline did as much to decide the fate of the battle as the quality and strength of the vessels themselves.
Asking the reason why the Japanese did not continue the battle and push close after the Chinese to the bitter end, the writer of the paper expresses his opinion that Admiral Ito's apprehension of the Chinese torpedo-boats was not justified by the experience he had had of them that day. On this point I am rather inclined to think otherwise. What a torpedo-boat fails to do in the broad daylight she may accomplish with great success under cover of darkness.
Therefore, the Japanese admiral was perfectly right in not risking his ships in an uncertain attempt to complete the victory he had already gained for all practical purposes. He was warranted by the circumstances of that time to preserve his fleet intact in order to be able to proceed at any moment to execute much greater works, if called upon. With reference to the writer's suggestion that Admiral Ito might have done better if he had blockaded the Gulf of Pe-Chi-Li, etc., instead of guarding the coast of Corea, I will only ask him to remember the relative strength of the two contending navies. A fleet that undertakes to blockade the outlet of the enemy must have by far a superior strength. But such had not been the case with the Japanese Navy at the outset of the contest.
As regards the proposed change in the material for warship construction, although it is certain that most of the injuries received by the ships engaged resulted from conflagrations, the idea of building the ships entirely of incombustible materials hardly looks practicable. Even if this were possible, what are we to do with the coal carried above the protective deck, which when set on fire would make the whole ship quite uninhabitable. It is therefore most desirable that every vessel of war should be provided with a fire main system arranged in as complete a manner as possible.
Lieutenant William P. White, U.S.N.:*—In a pamphlet entitled "The Naval Battle of Haiyang," compiled from official and other sources by Jukichi Inouye, appear reproductions of photographs taken on board the Saikyo Maru as she was withdrawing from action, about 3 P.M. In these the sea appears smooth, the trend of the smoke from different vessels indicating a breeze not stronger than moderate—ideal weather for target practice.
On inspection, Plate II seems to have been taken at the beginning of the fight, Plate III shortly after; still later the plate entitled "The Burning of the Chao Yung." In II, though the plate is not very sharp, the flying squadron is seen a thousand yards at least in advance of the main squadron, the Yoshino leading, Akitsushima third, Naniwa and Takachiho second and last—the vessels in pairs. The main squadron, Matsushima leading, Chiyoda second, Itsukushima and Hashidate third and fourth. Unmistakable are the three sister so-called coast defense vessels, the Matsushima having a high forecastle and her 32-cm. Canet gun on the main deck aft, while the other two have the gun forward and superstructure aft. The Chinese fleet may be seen in the distance steaming almost bows on and that distance is very considerable. Owing to the arrangement of the Matsushima's battery, the line of battle must be approached at an oblique, this allowing the fleet attacking to maintain the distance as it could with its greater speed, without appearing to run away. The Japanese are said to have commenced the action at 3000 metres, and though decreasing it in regard to smaller Chinese vessels they seem to have maintained it in fighting the battleships.
The reason for attacking the right wing is evident, since the Chinese base lay in that direction; but apart from that, the arrangement of the battery of the Ting and Chen Yuen diagonally from starboard to port, if attacked on that flank, would strike the weakest point of these battleships.
The tactics of the Japanese fleet was then to clip the wing of the Chinese fleet, keep away from the battleships as much as possible and destroy him in detail. Inouye says the flying squadron changed course to port 16 points, and if they turned again 16 points to port they would still be able to bring their starboard batteries to bear on the Chinese fleet, and have it between two fires should the admiral see fit to take his squadron around the right flank of the enemy. This method of moving in a circle was a usual one with the Japanese in maintaining position, and it would have the advantage in this case of giving the speedy flying squadron an opportunity to succor the weaker slower vessels of the column, permitting the admiral, unhampered, to change the direction of the attack. The Matsushima, though badly punished, remained as flagship until after the battle was finished, so Inouye says.
The experience of the Chinese in a former skirmish with Japanese vessels led them to strip their ships, leaving but one boat on board, clearing away all boat davits, etc. But there seems to have been no organized fire brigade, and the disastrous fires which occurred on board their ships should properly have been controlled. In the case of the Ting Yuen a slight fire that might have proved fatal to the ship was put out by the exertions of a European. At Wei-hai-wei, we saw both battleships and there were no evidences then of any considerable fire, though the wooden sheathing, inside the superstructure, was cut up by the projectiles that had passed through it, the shot holes through the skin having been patched. These shot holes appeared to have been made by the smaller rapid-fire guns, and nowhere did there appear marks that might have been made by a 32-cm. projectile, although three of these great guns had been brought to bear on them. The hood of the starboard pair of barbette guns was pierced, but the guns themselves were uninjured, and there appeared nothing that should have affected the port guns. The 6-in. gun in the hood on the bow of the Chen Yuen was disabled. But the damage to both the battleships was immaterial. They were running short of ammunition, and would not have been able to carry on the fight on that account alone.
The Japanese did not strip their ships as the Chinese had done, but their vessels were struck so few times, the precaution seemed hardly necessary; so poor was the quality of Chinese marksmanship that only one of their largest ships had to go to a dock yard for repairs. It may be interesting to know that a table of distances using the Matsushima's mast head angle was found on the Ting Yuen.
As to torpedoes, eight Japanese cruisers with an average of 4 torpedo launching tubes or cars fired not one torpedo; the Chinese fleet was beaten by gun-fire alone. Ten Chinese vessels armed, it is supposed, with torpedoes were equally reticent in making use of them; only the Chen Yuen is said to have fired them from her above-water tubes, as a precaution lest they be struck by gun-fire, and she bears the mark of a projectile close to her starboard forward above-water discharge, very dangerously near.
The presence of torpedo-boats, though they seem not to have been very enterprising, was sufficient to make the Japanese fleet withdraw before dark. It is reported that the electrical connections on board the Japanese fleet were so deranged that they could not use their search lights.
The Chinese fleet was so badly beaten however, that its battleships only went to sea once afterwards, and then to escape from one port to take refuge in another.
It would have been interesting to see what the Japanese torpedo-boats might have done had they been present at Yalu. Their work at Wei-hai-wei leads us to suppose their presence might have made a difference, the Chinese vessels being so poorly supplied with rapid-fire guns of the smaller calibers.
In the Chinese fleet there was not one medical officer; there was one and only one European at Wei-hai-wei.
Lieutenant Sims reports a very complete fire bill on the Chen Yuen, that their hose was led out and pumps running when the ship went into action.
Inouye gives the order of ships: Japanese fleet—Yoshino, Takachiho, Akitsushima, Naniwa, flying squadron; Matsushima, Chiyoda, Itsukushima, Hashidate, Hiyei, Fuso, main squadron, and the Akagi and Saikyo. Chinese fleet in line, right vessel Chao-Yung, then Yang-Wei, Lai-Yuen, King-Yuen, Ting-Yuen, Chen-Yuen, and Ching-Yuen, Kwang-Ping, Tsi- Yuen, Kwang-Chia and Ping-Yuen.
I see from Admiral Ito's remarks published in fragments in the Japan Mail, in the battle of the Yalu, that the flying squadron did turn to port; he had intended they should go to starboard, doubling on the enemy's right wing. Also he attributes the great loss of some ships with the slight loss of others to the slowness of the Chinese fire, not being able to load fast enough to permit them to fire at each vessel as it came up.
The white marks shown in the accompanying photographs are outlines of the patches that were placed over the shot holes. The marks in the redoubt are slight indentations which might have been made by 4.7-in. shell.
Ensign Marble:—I wish first to express my thanks to the officers who have been kind enough to criticize this essay, especially to Lieutenant Halsey, for the trouble he has taken, profiting by the opportunities he had in serving on the Asiatic station of getting information at first hand, to correct several misstatements of fact and to give a detailed account of the action.
Since the battle of the Yalu was fought now more than a year has passed. Between the writing and publication of this paper more complete and accurate reports have appeared than were then available, the facts are now generally known, every phase of the action has been criticized, and the world has drawn its conclusions. Want of leisure prevents the fulfillment of my original intention to revise the foregoing description and make it as far as now possible a complete history of the battle. Moreover it is unnecessary, since this essay is no longer news. This reply therefore will be limited to correcting misstatements of fact in the original, supplying only the most important omissions, then to modifying or corroborating the conclusions drawn, and finally to answering some opinions expressed in this discussion and in other articles, with which I disagree.
The more important articles on the battle of the Yalu that have come to my notice since this essay was written are the following: The naval battle of Haiyang, compiled from official and other sources by Jukichi Inouye, published in Yokohama,—which contains several photographs taken during the action, the first battle-pictures, it is safe to say, absolutely true to life; Die Seeschlacht von Hai-yun-tau, Der Krieg um Korea bis zur Einnahme von Port Arthur, Folgerungen aus den japanisch-chinesischen Seekämpfen für Kriegsschiffbau und -Armirung, in the Marine Rundschau for February, March, and April, 1895,—which last contains very full and detailed tables of the injuries received by the several ships; several articles in the Revista general de marina, the Rivista marittima, the Revue maritime et coloniale, the Marine française, the Yacht, the Army and Navy Gazette, and other papers; the Naval War between China and Japan, by W. Laird Clowes, and Lessons from the War in the East, anonymous, in Brassey's Naval Annual for 1895; the report of Herr von Hanneken to Li-Hung-Chang; and last in time, but first in importance as the testimony of a responsible actor in the fight, the article by Commander McGiffin in the Century for August, with the review by Captain Mahan.
As for the place where the Chinese fleet was found, it appears that the chart published by the Intelligence Office, from which the one here given was copied, is inaccurate. The island of Talu is off the mouth of the Yalu river. The Chinese fleet was lying to the eastward of the island outside the bar, while the transports and several small craft had gone fifteen miles up the river.* The smoke of the Japanese fleet was sighted about 10 o’clock; the Chinese immediately got under way, and their smoke was sighted by the Japanese about 11.30.* The sea was smooth and the breeze light.
A few slight corrections ought to be made in the table of the main batteries of the Chinese ships, which however do not materially alter the comparison. According to Commander McGiffin, the King Yuen and Lai Yuen had each two 6" guns instead of three, the Ping Yuen's heavy gun was 12.2'' inside of 10.2", the Kuang Ki had three 6" and four 5" guns instead of three 4.7", and the Kuang Ting's three 4.7"s were rapid-fire guns. There are also some differences in the secondary batteries, but the total number of guns is exactly the same as given in the table—120. Commander McGiffin's table of the armament of the Japanese fleet is inaccurate. He seems to have followed the error in Brassey in regard to the Akitsushima. It may be typographical errors that give the Chiyoda fourteen 4.7" guns instead of 3 pdrs. (the 5" should be 4.7"), and the Yoshino eighteen instead of eight 4.7"s. Brassey 's Naval Annual for 1895, by the way, gives the Akitsushima her proper battery at last, but adopts the spelling Akitsusu, which is original at least. With regard to spelling it is worth noting that Commander McGiffin gives Tsi Yuen, and pronounces it Tsee. Chih Yuen is pronounced Chee. By the same authority the two smaller gunvessels ought to be Kwang Ping and Kwan Chia.
The actual speeds of the two fleets can now be stated with great probability of certainty. Commander McGiffin gives that of the Chinese as 6 knots (and estimates the Japanese as double theirs); all the Japanese accounts agree that the speed of their main squadron was 10 knots, and that of the van or flying squadron, at times 14. The speeds given in the tables in Commander McGiffin's article differ very little from the maximum trial speeds hereinbefore given. (The average of the Chinese fleet is six-tenths of a knot less, and that of the Japanese two-tenths more in Commander McGiffin's than in these tables.) But since Commander McGiffin states that the Chinese fleet went into action under forced draft, and that in the early part of the engagement it steamed at about 6 knots, and ascribes great advantage to the Japanese in their superiority of speed, it is fair to assume that the Chinese were doing their best, that as a whole they could not keep up any higher speed. The Japanese fleet, leaving out the Fuso, Hiyei, and Akagi, may perhaps have been able to go faster than it did. The greater superiority of the Japanese van must be borne in mind.
The much-disputed order of the Chinese fleet was in fact an indented line, the flank ships, somewhat astern of their proper stations. At the beginning of the action there were ten ships in line; the Ping Yuen and Kuang Ting (Kwang Ping) joined later. The Lai Yuen (in Fig. 1.) ought to be in the right wing of the Chinese fleet next to her sister-ship the King Yuen; and the Kuang Ting (Kwang Ping) also, when she came up, joined that wing-. The left wing therefore had originally fewer ships than the right, and the early flight of the Kuang Ki (Kwan Chia) and Chi (Tsi) Yuen left only one ship, the Chih Yuen, on the port hand of the flagship. In respect to the circling of the Japanese van after it had passed the Chinese flank, the turn was undoubtedly made to port, and not to starboard as shown in the foregoing figures. My apologies are due to Lieutenant Miyaoka for disputing the accuracy of his description on insufficient grounds. The explanation is suggested by Lieutenant White. It may also be there was an error in translation in the report upon which these figures were based: there is often some confusion between port and starboard. Mr. Clowes' article, quoting another version of this same report, says the van, in going to the rescue of the Akagi and Hiyei, "attacked the enemy on the latter's port side," instead of "with their starboard broadsides." Admiral Ito, in a speech in Tokyo on June 30th last, gave the following account:*
"I ordered the first squadron to attack the right wing of the enemy and then to come in upon his rear, utilizing for this purpose the great speed of the vessels of the first squadron. . . . The enemy . . . concentrated his chief attack upon my principal squadron. I managed to keep as far away from him as possible, with a view to attacking him from both sides—front and rear—when the first squadron had got astern of him. A misunderstanding in the signaling took place at this point, however, and the first squadron turned its course in the opposite direction, and consequently the principal squadron had to change its course also" (to which side is not stated, but presumably to starboard).
It thus appears that Admiral Ito first intended to double the enemy's flank as represented in Fig. 2. In a speech nine months after the battle he says a misunderstanding of signals caused the flying squadron to turn to port. Several Japanese reports, written nearer the time, state, as Lieutenant Halsey says, that the flying squadron at that moment was signaled to rejoin the main squadron; in that case it would have to turn to port. However, the fact is certain. Commander McGiffin in conversation said that the Yoshino began to turn to port almost immediately after passing around the Chinese flank, and after turning sixteen points she was heading in the same direction as the Chinese line, which in the meanwhile was standing on. The whole van division had overtaken and repassed around the Chinese flank, firing their port broadsides, before the main squadron passed around for the first time. The main squadron having passed around, the Chinese right wing was between two fires.
It also appears that the rescue of the Hiyei and Akagi by the flying squadron was not done by Admiral Tsuboi's (not Teuboi) initiative, but in obedience to signal from the Commander-in-Chief. His credit is hardly less for the skill and promptness of the execution. To accomplish it the van squadron made a second complete circle with starboard helm.
The officer who succeeded Admiral Ting when he was wounded, was
Commodore Liu Poo Chin, captain of the flagship. Actually the chief command, in so far as any was exercised during the remainder of the battle, appears to have devolved upon Herr von Hanneken, who was nominally adviser to Admiral Ting, but who, in his report to the Viceroy, speaks of "the two vessels placed under my immediate command—the two armor-clads," and mentions the orders given to the fleet as emanating from himself—using the first person. Commodore Lin (not Liu), who afterward ran the Chen Yuen aground, was nominally in command of that ship at the Yalu. Commander McGiffin was her executive officer, but actually fought the ship.
The report that the Chen Yuen's heavy guns were disabled was an error. One of the turrets was jammed for a time, but the main battery kept on firing as long as ammunition lasted. The forward 6” gun was disabled by an accident to the breech mechanism.
It was also an error to say that the Kuang Ting (Kwang Ping) fled toward the shore. As shown in Commander McGiffin's diagram, she brought up the rear of the retiring column after the battle was over.
The Chih Yuen was sunk in attempting to ram, overwhelmed by gunfire before she reached her target.
The 12” shell that struck the Matsushima's turret, the very last one in the Chen Yuen's lockers, exploded a pile of ammunition and disabled her 32-cm. gun, besides killing a large number of men. Admiral Ito, however, did not shift his flag until after the battle.
The latter part of the action divided itself into two separate engagements, the two Chinese battleships on the one hand encircled by the five ships of the Japanese main division, while the flying squadron held in check, pursued, or attacked the scattered ships that had formed the wings of the Chinese battle order.
As to the tactical advantage of superior speed much has been written since this battle. One French writer goes so far as to say, "Speed is the principal arm; a squadron which has not an incontestable superiority should decline to fight,"—omitting to explain how the slower squadron can avoid action. Even an English writer—the anonymous critic in Brasey's Naval Annual, 1895—says, "Too much importance cannot be given to the speed of ships and of fleets as a whole." The question is closely connected with the broader one of types of ships and general naval policy. The specialization of types,—as the French call it—torpedo-boats and coast defense ships,—and the sacrifice of offensive power to speed are parts of a theory which is the modern offspring of the discredited and abandoned gunboat policy of the United States, with its corollary of dependence upon privateers and commerce destroyers. Without entering into this discussion let it suffice here to repeat the judgment of Captain Mahan: "Inferiority carried beyond a certain degree becomes impotence; nor will all the commerce-destroyers fancy can picture restore the balance to the nation hopelessly weaker in ships of the line-of-battle." Couple with this the opinion expressed in his review of Commander McGiffin's article, "that a given amount of tonnage in one or in a few big ships possesses a decided advantage over the same, or even a greater amount, divided among several.
Something, however, must be said as to the advantage actually derived from superior speed in the battle of the Yalu. Admiral Ito was enabled by it to keep at a distance; and did so to avoid the Chinese rams, since at long range he could profit more by his superiority in rapid gun-fire than he could have profited at close range by his superior speed in a ramming encounter with an equal number of more heavily armored ships. The Chinese, on the other hand, tried to close, if with any intelligent purpose, not as Herr von Hanneken says to get the full advantage of their heavy guns,—which, other things being equal, would have been more decisive at long range where the enemy's lighter ordnance would have been less effective,—but to ram. This the Japanese superiority in speed, but still more their uniform, close, combined, accurate maneuvering undoubtedly prevented. It is obvious that the maneuver undertaken by the Japanese van could not have been accomplished without vastly superior speed. But it is equally certain that the tactical advantage gained by it could have been frustrated by the Chinese fleet, notwithstanding its inferior speed, had it possessed any maneuvering capacity whatever. And mark, that in this action the difference was enormous,—at least sixty per cent. (10 to 6 knots) in the main division, and more than one hundred per cent. (14 to 6 knots) in the van—a superiority wholly unlikely ever to exist between two tolerably evenly matched fleets of homogeneous battleships. To say that a fleet superior in ordnance and superior in maneuvering capacity gained great advantage over a disorganized and undisciplined enemy by its immensely superior speed does not prove that superior speed will compensate in fighting—not in running away—for inferiority in armament and drill. Only when other things are equal can the tactical value of speed as such be deduced from the equation. Speed is not a weapon, whatever enthusiasts may claim, but only a means of making the best use of all the ship's—or fleet's—weapons. It is like saying that because agility is a good thing for a prize-fighter, and lightness promotes agility, the lighter he is the better. Beyond a certain point lightness weakens the force of his weapons, and so the heavy-weight, slow though he be, can beat the lightweight in the end. A battleship is a compromise of weights. Remember the cost in weight of extreme speed, and the sacrifice of offensive power necessary to attain it. In the light of this experience it may even be questioned if some of the weight given to speed might not more wisely be taken by larger ammunition supply.
A word more about the tactics of the battle. Admiral Ito’s official report distinctly states that his column steered first for the centre of the enemy's line. Herr von Hanneken reports that as soon as the enemy was sighted the Chinese fleet weighed and stood directly toward them. Therefore the fleets approached on opposite courses. This is confirmed by the fact that the battle was opened by a shot from the Ting Yuen aimed at the Yoshino. Then, after the Japanese van had turned gradually to port and a little before it had begun to circle around the Chinese right, the Chinese fleet changed course two points to starboard, trying to keep bows on, which resulted in an irregular wheel, and huddled together the ships on the light flank, which it will be remembered were behind their stations. At the same time the two ships on the left flank, which had not been in action at all, took to flight. This accounts for Commander McGiffin, who viewed the action from the Chen Yuen, and does not mention the change of direction of the Chinese line, saying, "as the Japanese fleet approached it steamed along our front from left to right." Commander McGiffin's plan is evidently not drawn to scale, and is misleading as to the distance between the fleets and the direction of the Japanese approach. If the Japanese column had come originally from so far to the eastward, and steamed so close along the front of the Chinese line, it never could have passed its right flank. The photographs taken from the Saikyo Maru, as Lieutenant White points out, show the Chinese fleet at a great distance, approaching bows on. The one reproduced in the Century, taken 36 minutes after the Ting Yuen opened fire apparently just as the main squadron was coming into action, shows the Chinese fleet still at very long range. A shell has just struck short (on the other side in the picture) of the Chiyoda, the ship next astern of the Matsushima. This seems to furnish the explanation desired by Captain Mahan, of the "maneuver of steaming in column across the front of the Chinese line, merely to concentrate fire in the end on the right flank, when the left flank could, apparently, equally well have been attacked without the previous punishment." As the fleets approached, their lines of bearing were perpendicular to each other. The Japanese van, opposite the Chinese centre, had to choose which flank to double, and rightly chose the weaker, the Chinese battleships being somewhat nearer the left. The distance of both, and the change of course necessary, to left or right, would be equal in the two cases. The Japanese van passed diagonally along the front of one wing only of the Chinese line, at very long range, and did not open fire until it was about to turn to starboard around the flank, when the distance was still more than 3000 yards. In doing this, it ran no considerable risk. The Japanese main squadron, separated by some distance from the van, was compelled by the change of direction of the Chinese line to pass more nearly parallel along the front of most of what was left of the enemy's fleet,—for by this time two of the three ships in the left wing had vanished,—but still at long range. When the Hiyei, far astern, came opposite the Chinese battleships, the main squadron had already passed the right flank. The danger of presenting the broadside to the oncoming prow of the enemy is only the danger of being rammed. Out of range of the ram, so to speak, there is none. It is apt to be forgotten that in these days of high power and fiat trajectory an unarmored ship at least is safer, both with respect to the chance of being hit and to the damage done by hits, broadside on than bows on. Now, even more than a hundred years ago, the worst position an unarmored ship can be in, at ranges where gun-fire alone is to be considered, is where she is liable to be raked. Had the Japanese column attacked the left flank instead of the right, it would have run much greater risk; for the Chinese line would then have changed course, or wheeled, to port, and the whole Japanese fleet would have come into closer range with the battleships. Moreover, the two runaways would doubtless have made even greater haste in their flight, and left the flagship and her mate to bear the brunt of the attack only one ship removed from that flank of the line. As it was, both divisions of the Japanese fleet came first into close action, not with the centre, but with the right and weaker flank of the Chinese line. The range at which the flank was turned was 3000 metres at the beginning of the turn and 1600 at the end. The Japanese opened fire at the first named distance. If this be greater than naval professional opinion would generally approve, it may be replied that the fire of the Japanese fleet in passing once at that range destroyed two ships outright.
Admiral Ito, in the speech already quoted, gives an interesting account of the previous practice of the fleet, which, as it has not been reprinted in this country, is worth repeating here. Speaking of the time just before the outbreak of hostilities, he says:
"At the same time I felt the weight of my duty was largely added to. I thought it very important at this moment to increase the skill of the squadron in active maneuvers. So we daily practised target firing on the open sea. According to the regulations of the navy only a certain number of shots can be fired from each gun at one drill. I thought the regulation allowance was insufficient for the emergencies of the case, so I applied to the Minister of the Navy for permission to use up the ammunition allowed for practise purposes during the coming year (1895). This was refused and we had therefore to practise for the rest of the time with blank charges. [Possibly this means sub-calibre.] I then equipped the steam launches of the various men-of-war in such a way as to ensure them against severe damage in case of collision, and then divided them into two parties—imaginary squadrons—and appointed the two senior officers of the squadron as the commander of each party respectively, and with them we practised sham fighting. This form of drill is very apt to become half a pleasure, and as a matter of fact in a very short time every boat in the sham squadrons began to evince an inclination to try the ram, as they were all well protected against damage in case of collision. Seeing this I called a meeting of the commanders of all the boats and cautioned them against any such child's play, pointing out to them that all the vessels we were commanding were not ironclads and were therefore unsuited for ramming. We then set about training so as to avoid any mistakes of actual collision. I ordered all to drill as if they were engaged in actual combat. After this, the tone of their tactics became greatly improved, and all began to maneuver carefully with a view to avoiding running into each other. This drill was continued until July 23rd, when we received an order to proceed to Chemulpo and moved accordingly."
Both Commander McGififin and Herr von Hanneken ascribe as one of the chief causes of the Chinese defeat their deficiency in ammunition supply, resulting from the persistent refusal of the authorities at the Tientsin arsenal to furnish shell, of which they had plenty in store, instead of solid shot. Commander McGiffin openly charges treachery as well as official corruption. This undoubtedly was the chief material cause, but it neglects the personal equation. It is rather unfair in Commander McGiffin to claim that the Japanese had twelve ships against the Chinese eight. If he leaves out the two that ran away and the two disabled at the first blow by the superior tactics of their enemies, and omits to count the Chinese torpedo-boats, he ought also to count out the Hiyei, Akagi, and Saikyo, which were disabled early in the action after bearing an honorable part in it, and the last of which was not a man-of-war at all.
It is a pleasure to read Commander McGiffin's high praise of the bravery and discipline of his well-drilled crew and the Chinese sailors in general. Pity is it the same cannot be said of the captains. He thus describes the behavior of Commodore Lin:
"Commodore Lin was our captain, but he was not to be seen at Yalu, Clearing for action was more than he could stomach even—the fright of anticipation nearly killed him. ... I kept on hearing a curious noise going on below me in the conning tower every time there was a lull in the firing, and going down there after a while to fight the ship, I came an awful header over Commodore Lin, lying flat on his stomach, cursing and groveling, and praying to Buddha for all he was worth. He belonged to the Mandarin class, and they are all an effete race of arrant cowards."
Some brave officers there doubtless were, but when three out of twelve captains show the white feather what can the physical bravery of crews avail? Someone—I think it was Napoleon—has said, "an army of donkeys led by a lion is better than an army of lions led by a donkey." All praise is due to the foreigners in the Chinese fleet, who, working unsupported against great odds, gave their best service to an ungrateful nation and alone deserve the credit for whatever discipline existed.
Herr von Hanneken thus describes the tactical preparation in the Chinese fleet:
"On first going on board I endeavored to become acquainted with the conditions under which the squadron was to be maneuvered, and I remarked among other defects that the new code of secret signals was not satisfactory and that it did not respond to all the numerous exigencies of command for a fleet of twelve ships. I saw also that the ships had very different speeds and turning circles, and that in consequence it was difficult for them to execute correctly changes of formation and to keep their places exactly during evolutions. This inconvenience was aggravated by the difficulty of the signals, or the lack of attention that had been paid to understanding them; but as it was necessary always to be ready to go to sea, I resolved not to change them, fearing to embarrass yet more the crews who might not have time to familiarize themselves with my new code.
"These reasons decided me not to regard the twelve ships of the squadron as forming a single group, but to consider them as single ships, able to unite in ordinary times under the command of an admiral, but before the enemy during battle to act individually at their own risk and peril. The commanders of vessels received in consequence instructions based upon the following principles:
- "1. In action sister-ships, or each pair of ships belonging to a subdivision, shall remain together if possible and mutually support each other in attack and defense.
- "2. The fundamental tactics will be always to keep bows onto the enemy.
- "3. All the ships shall follow as far as possible the motions of the Admiral."
Was ever defeat more plainly foreordained? The battle was fought by the Chinese literally every ship for herself. The only tactical theory was to keep bows on at all hazards without reference to the movements of the enemy. The only instance of combined movement was the action of the Chen Yuen, which kept her station and distance from the flagship throughout. Commander McGiffin's skill in directmg the movements and fire of his ship so as to cover and support the Ting Yuen when in straits won the praise of his enemies and undoubtedly, as he says, "prevented the fleet from suffering annihilation instead of its actual heavy loss."
The manner of Admiral Ito's attack has been likened by Captain Mahan to Rodney's action off the Saints in 1782, and by Captain Taylor to Phormio's victory at Patras four centuries before Christ: a striking instance of the permanence of tactical principles in spite of change of weapons. If Admiral Ito's tactics were not perfect, if he used his relatively great speed to undertake maneuvers that would have been impossible against an equally fast fleet, or, as Lieutenant Commander Wainwright suggests, that would have cost him dear against a skilfuller foe, no one will quarrel with him, for rashness even, against such tactical lubbers as the Chinese.
Both Commander McGiffin and Herr von Hanneken state that the battle ended by the withdrawal of the Japanese fleet, the latter adding that the Chinese followed them for more than an hour. The Japanese reports state that the Chinese were the first to withdraw. It is unnecessary to reconcile these statements, which are not more different than the testimonies of two witnesses to the same event often are, since the responsibility for discontinuing the action unquestionably rests with Admiral Ito, who had it in his power to continue, while the Chinese had not. He and Commander McGiffin agree that the two fleets stood on parallel courses until dark. Admiral Ito's stated reason, with all respect to Mr. Wadagaki, still seems trivial. He ought not to have "made a picture to himself" of the possible harm from the Chinese torpedo-boats. They were probably worse scared than he. But,—and herein is his justification—for the reason that Mr. Wadagaki himself gives, that "the victory for all practical purposes was already gained,"—the same broad ground that determined the action of Sir John Jervis in a similar case—"he was warranted by the circumstances of that time" in his decision. And he has been amply justified by the result. After this battle the Japanese command of the sea was unchallenged. As Lieutenant White says, "the Chinese fleet was so badly beaten that its battleships only went to sea once afterwards, and then to escape from one port to take refuge in another." As Commander McGiffin says, "before the battles at the Yalu and Ping Yang the Chinese equaled the Japanese in their eagerness to fight; but as the result of these battles gave increased courage to the one, in like measure it disheartened the other."
I cannot agree with Captain Mahan in describing the victory inconclusive. Even its immediate tactical results, considered simply as a naval engagement, were by no means limited to the insignificant Chinese vessels sunk. The battleships were virtually conquered. Commander McGiffin says: "Had they stayed with us a quarter of an hour more, our guns would have been silent and the ships defenseless." It may almost be said that the surrender was merely postponed from the Yalu to Wei-Hai-Wei; for although the two armorclads fought bravely and stubbornly there, surrounded and attacked by land and sea, they were literally caught in a trap whence there was no escape. From the day of the Yalu they had abandoned their strategic mobility and no longer exercised even the deterrent influence of a "fleet in being." Instead of saying, "the subsequent demoralization of the Chinese left to their enemies the control of the sea, which was decisive of the war, but which the Yalu fight alone would not have conferred," it seems to me truer to say that the victory of the Yalu was the immediate cause of the demoralization of the Chinese navy, which, like the Spanish after Valentine's day, "could no longer be counted a factor in the political situation."
On the strategic question raised in the discussion I beg to differ with Lieutenant Commander Wainwright, The governing conditions undoubtedly are, as he states them: "Where a whole coast or a great commerce must be protected from a fleet, it is sound strategy to blockade closely that fleet, for there being many weak points, it is impracticable to guard all; but where there is one weak point it can be protected best by holding the force at or near the point." It may be added that when the points of departure of the fleet to be watched are few—or one—the reason is all the stronger for blockading it there. Now in this case it seems to me that Japan in her position in Korea had to fear, not for the safety of her army in Ping Yang only or chiefly, but the landing of Chinese troops anywhere on the peninsula. Like England, she had many points to guard. In Korea, with respect to descents of force from China, her general attitude was for the time defensive. Admiral Ito must—or may—have known of the orders of the Tsung-Li Yamen forbidding Admiral Ting to cruise to the eastward of the line from the Shantung promontory to the month of the Yalu river. So actually he had little to fear for the army in the Ping Yang inlet; and the Chinese transports in fact landed not there but in the Yalu river. If it be replied that this is reasoning from knowledge after the event, then it seems to me that against the moral weakness of the Chinese government Japan was justified in assuming the most aggressive offensive, notwithstanding her supposed inferiority in physical force, which actually, considering the quality of her fleet, was more apparent than real. Control of the sea was all-essential to the safety of the Japanese communications; no time ought to have been lost to win it. Had the Chinese fleet been defeated before the landing of troops at Wiju, some subsequent fighting on the march of the Japanese army would have been saved.
It seems to me, also, that the Japanese fleet was strong enough to blockade the Chinese in Port Arthur or Wei-Hai-Wei. Admiral Ito's force was not limited to the eleven ships present at the Yalu. The "Combined Fleet" was divided into the Principal and four Auxiliary squadrons, of which the Principal and first Auxiliary only were engaged in that battle. The ships composing the second Auxiliary or Western Sea squadron are not named, but the other two contained eleven or twelve cruisers and gunboats. These vessels were not all very fast or very modern, but they would have sufficed for scouts against the slower Chinese fleet, as well as they did as convoys to their own transports. Some of them were in fact "sent daily on scouting expeditions towards Wei-Hai-Wei and elsewhere."
But Admiral Ito, even if he were not able to press into service more mail steamers like the Saikyo Maru, might at least have kept in constant touch with the Chinese fleet without weakening his "Main" and "Flying" squadrons. It may even be questioned if he would not have been better off in the battle had he left the Hiyei, Akagi, and Saikyo behind. They won the largest share of glory, but in truth were a hindrance rather than a help to the fleet.
But in stating what I believe would have been sounder strategy, I am far from blaming Admiral Ito. He acted under direct orders from headquarters in convoying the armies. The criticism is made wholly upon military grounds, without taking into account the political conditions, which must always influence the action of a commander-in-chief, and with admittedly incomplete knowledge of the general operations of the war. It must be remembered, too, that before the battle of the Yalu all the world thought China possessed the far superior fleet. The Japanese themselves distrusted their navy, ships and men; the administration of the department and the professional ability and even the discipline of the service had been the object of violent condemnation in Parliament and in the press; Parliament had repeatedly refused or only reluctantly granted appropriations for its increase, not on the ground of disagreement with the national naval policy of the Government, but because of the openly charged corruption of the administration and the alleged inefficiency of the service itself. Admiral Ito's highest honor lies in having demonstrated to the Nation in the crucial proof of war that its fears and its mistrust were groundless.
Happy is it for Japan that in the winter of 1893—in time of peace—when the controversy over the naval appropriations resulted only in repeated upheavals and adjournments of Parliament, the wiser steadfast counsel of the Government prevailed. The lofty patriotism and farsighted policy of the Emperor himself settled the dispute by ordering the contribution of one-tenth of the salaries of all officers of the Government, civil, military and naval, for the term of six years, to the fund tor increasing the navy; and himself headed the list by the gift for the same period of one-tenth of the imperial income, amounting to three hundred thousand yen. While we wonder at the authority exercised by a Throne, still hedged around with a majesty half divine whose very reality is strange to our republican eyes, the prophetic words with which the Emperor closed his famous rescript deserve to be had in everlasting remembrance: "A single day's neglect may involve a century's regret."
* Later reports seem to indicate that the troops were landed in the inlet west of the Yalu, where the fleet was found by the Japanese.
* It is uncertain whether both the captain and the first lieutenant or only the captain of the Akagi was killed. The "report of the Akagi" in the Japan Mail says that the captain was killed at 1.25 p.m. by a shell striking the bridge, but makes no mention of the either the captain or the first lieutenant being aloft and being killed by the fall of the mast, which happened some time later; but it mentions the name of the lieutenant who "took the place of the navigating officer and commanded the vessel" (for 8 minutes, from 2.15 to 2.23) while the latter was having his wounds dressed. The report of Admiral Ito's aide-de-campe to the Mikado, on the other hand, says that the captain was aloft and was killed by the fall of the mast, and that the first lieutenant then took command. The lists of casualties published in the Army and Navy Gazette credit the Akagi with only one officer killed.
* He it is that has since committed suiced in consequence of having stranded the Chen Yuen in attempting to avoid the submarine mines in the harbor of Wei-Hai-Wei.
* Secretary to Commander-in-Chief, Asiatic Squadron
* Commander P. N. McGiffin, I. C. N.
* Navy Yard, Yokosuka, Japan.
* U. S. S. Charleston, Asiatic Squadron
* See Commander McGiffin's plan in the Century. The Japanese are said to have possessed accurate charts from their own surveys of the coast made two or three years before.
* Marine Rundschau, February 1895.
* Published in the Japan Mail.