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Battle of the Yalu River

The Battle of the Yalu River, also called simply 'The Battle of Yalu' took place on September 17, 1894. The Yalu River is the border between Korea and China, though the battle was actually fought at the mouth of this river, in Korea Bay[?]. The battle was the largest naval engagement of the Sino-Japanese War.

A Japanese fleet under Admiral Isokuru Ito was attempting to disrupt the landing of Chinese troops protected by a fleet under Admiral Ting.

On paper, the Chinese had the superior ships, and included numerous ten inch and eight inch gun mounts. However, the Chinese had not seen fit to engage in gunnery practice in months prior, and the Chinese guncrews were somewhat unprepared for the stress of gunnery under fire. Corruption seems also to have played a role; many Chinese shells appear to have been filled with sawdust or water, some Chinese officers fled the engagement area shamefully, one vessel appears to have used its guns to store pickles, and in at least one case, a pair of ten inch guns seem to have been hocked for cash on the black market.

The engagement raged for most of the day, and involved the first engagement of pre-dreadnought technology on a wide scale. The Chinese fought poorly at first, but when Admiral Ting ran to his state-room following superficial damage to his flagship, the American advisor Philo McGiffin[?] took control of the Chinese fleet and saved the day, the Chinese fighting savagely for the remainder of the engagement.

The Japanese fleet, for its part, ravaged the Chinese and fought with fierce determination. Japanese shells set many Chinese ships aflame, and were responsible for sinking or seriously damaging eight of them. The Chinese ships, caked with flammable ornamental paint and manned by inexperienced crews, suffered horribly from the effect of superior Japanese gunnery.

Japan sank or damaged eight Chinese warships, and killed 1,000 Chinese; the Chinese seriously damaged four Japanese warships, did cosmetic damage to two more, and killed about 400 Japanese sailors.

While the Japanese certainly did far more damage to the Chinese fleet, foreigners at the time credited China with the victory. The Chinese had successfully carried out their troop landing, and the Japanese, for their part, had withdrawn after running low on ammunition. Many credit the prompt action of foreign advisers in the Chinese fleet (most notably McGiffin) for keeping even the most heavily damaged Chinese ships fighting till the very end of the engagement.


  • Fred T. Jane The Imperial Japanese Navy; Various Websites

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