The Battle of Asan (PHUNG-DO)

On July 25th (1894) the Chinese warships Tsi Yuen and Kwang Yi, coming from Asan in Korea, with awnings up, and generally unprepared for action, encountered off the island of Phung-Do a portion of the Japanese flying squadron, consisting of the Naniwa (Captain Togo), and Akitsushima (Captain Kamimura), the Yoshino flying the flag of Rear Admiral Tsuboi.

Many accounts of this action have been written. The one I give here differs in many details from the narrative currently accepted; however, it is based on the personal narratives to me of officers of the Japanese ships engaged, and appears to me to afford by far the most reasonable explanation as to how the fight came about.

The Tsi Yuen was never a good steering ship, and her steering-gear, which had been for some time in a state of neglect, broke down just about the time the Japanese ships were sighted.

This caused her to alter course, and she bore down upon the Japanese, coming nearer and nearer. The idea went round that she purposed torpedoing.

Every gun in the Japanese fleet was thereupon laid upon the Tsi Yuen's conning-tower, red flags hoisted, and the Chinese ships ordered to keep off. This the leading vessel, Tsi Yuen (Captain Fong), was unable to do, and she pressed so closely on the Naniwa that Captain Togo turned and headed towards her.

The Tsi Yuen hoisted a white flag, but still continued to approach. Thereupon the Naniwa opened fire, the other ships following suit. The Japanese version, that the Tsi Yuen fired a torpedo first of all, while under the white flag, generally credited, is, on the evidence of Japanese officers, quite incorrect. No torpedo was fired; they expected one-that is all.

The conning-tower of the Tsi Yuen was hit five times at the first discharge, the first lieutenant and a sub-lieutenant, who were inside, being killed, though the captain, who stood beside them, was unhurt. He vacated the tower, and gave orders to clear for action. In the circumstances he made a very passable fight for it, despite the subsequent Chinese allegations of cowardice. Caught unprepared, his fighting did not amount to much; but that was a natural sequel to his unpreparedness.

Long before the Chinese could reply, the Japanese, at 300 yards, had practically put the ship hors de combat. A large shell hit the armour-deck, and glancing up, struck the fore-turret, disabling one of the 8-in. guns. All men on deck were killed, wounded, or driven away, and in a little while the fore-turret was again hit and the gun's crew killed. A shell burst in the funnel base, killing or wounding men in the stokehold, and all the upper works were riddled.

At about this stage the Tsi Yuen did what she should have done long before, got the hand-steering wheel going, and, this done, she made off for Wei-hai-wei, keeping up a mild fire on the Japanese ships from her after 6-in. gun. This retreat was the only thing she could do; to remain would have been madness.

The Japanese attempted no pursuit, despite Chinese stories to the contrary. They believed that the Chinese battle-fleet was near by, and were chary accordingly. The only hit obtained by the Tsi Yuen was on the Yoshino's bridge, and this did little harm. On the other hand, the Tsi Yuen, though she lost three officers and thirteen men killed, and twenty-five wounded, was not seriously damaged structurally, for within a week she was repaired. She, however, looked a fearful wreck; and an idea obtains that the Japanese thought that the sight of her would have a strong moral effect on the Chinese, which to some extent it did. If so, it was no unwise move; the ship, sound or damaged, could never be a serious enemy to them.

While this was going on the Kuang Yi, disregarding orders to retire, attempted to charge and torpedo the enemy. In this, of course, she failed, and, being on fire, most of her crew killed or wounded, she ran ashore. What was left of her crew-eighteen men all told-reached the land. The Naniwa, which had engaged the gunboat, continued to pound her, till a torpedo in the stern-tube blew up, and practically destroyed her completely.

This battle, save that it began the war, was a quite unimportant event, and has never been regarded in the Japanese Navy for more than it is worth. It is chiefly interesting on account of the pluck exhibited by the Chinese captain of the Kuang Yi, and for the fact that in it Togo of the Naniwa first came to the front.

source: The Imperial Japanese Navy, Fred T. Jane, 1904