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Asian and Pacific theater of World War I
Part of World War I
Tsingtao battle lithograph 1914.jpg
The Siege of Tsingtao.
Date August 3, 1914 - August 7, 1917
Location China, Bismark Archipelago, Caroline Islands, Line Islands, German New Guinea, German Samoa, Guam, Mariana Islands, Marshall Islands, Tahiti
Result Allied victory
 Empire of Japan

United Kingdom United Kingdom
Australia Australia
New Zealand New Zealand
 Russian Empire
France French Third Republic
 United States

Central Powers:
 German Empire
Austria–Hungary Austria-Hungary

The Asian and Pacific Theatre of World War I was a largely bloodless conquest of German colonial possession in the Pacific Ocean and China. The most significant military action was the careful and well-executed Japanese Siege of Tsingtao in what is now China, but smaller actions were also fought at Bita Paka and Toma in German New Guinea. All other German and Austrian possessions in Asia and the Pacific fell without bloodshed.


Allied Offensives in the Pacific

One of the first land offensives in the Pacific theatre was the Occupation of German Samoa in August 1914 by New Zealand forces. The campaign to take Samoa ended without bloodshed after over 1,000 New Zealanders landed on the German colony, supported by an Australian and French naval squadron.

Aussie troops after digging up a German land mine along Bita Paka Road during the New Guinea Campaign.

Australian forces attacked German New Guinea in September 1914, 500 Australians encountered 300 Germans and native policemen at the Battle of Bita Paka, the allies won the day and the Germans retreated to Toma. A company of Australians and allied warships besieged the Germans and their colonial subjects, ending without bloodshed and a German surrender. After the Siege of Toma, the New Guinea Campaign of World War I ended.

German Micronesia also fell to allied forces during the war.

Retreat of the High Seas Fleet

When war declared on Germany in 1914, the German High Seas Fleet withdrew from it's base at Tsingtao and attempted to make it's way east across the Pacific and back to Germany. The fleet fought several engagements during the retreat, the first was the Battle of Papeete in which Admiral Maximilian von Spee with two cruisers sank a French gunboat and a civil freighter before bombarding Papeete's shore batteries.

The German fleet off Valparaiso, after the battle off Coronel.

The next engagement was fought off Chile at the Battle of Coronel on November 1, 1914, Admiral Spee won the battle by defeating a British squadron which was sent to destroy him. His two protected cruisers and three light cruisers sank two Royal Navy protected cruisers and forced a British light cruiser and auxiliary cruiser to flee. Over 1,500 U.K. sailors were killed while only three Germans were wounded. The victory did not last long as the German fleet was soon defeated in Atlantic waters at the Battle of the Falklands in December 1914.

Only one German light cruiser escaped the battle off the Falkland Islands, which turned around and steamed back around South America and into the Pacific. This vessel was sunk by the British during the Battle of Más a Tierra in March 1915.

The Cruise of SMS Emden

Madras oil tanks on fire after being bombarded by SMS Emden.

SMS Emden was left behind by Admiral Graf Maximilian von Spee. The ship won the Battle of Penang, harried merchant vessels of the Allies and destroyed over 30 of them, she also bombarded Madras, India. Engaged by HMAS Sydney at the Battle of Cocos, the ship was destroyed. A group of sailors under the command of Hellmuth von Mücke managed to escape towards the Arabian peninsula which was then part of the Ottoman Empire, an ally of the German Empire during World War I.

The Siege of Tsingtao

Tsingtao was the most significant German base in the area. It was defended by 600 German troops supported by 3,400 Chinese colonial troops and Austro-Hungarian soldiers and sailors occupying a well-designed fort. Supporting the defenders were a small number of vessels from the Imperial German Navy and Austro-Hungarian Navy. The Japanese sent nearly their entire fleet[citation needed] to the area, including six battleships and 50,000 soldiers. The British sent two military units to the battle from their garrison at Tientsin numbering 1,600.

The German frontline at Tsingtao.

The bombardment of the fort started on October 31. An assault was made by the Imperial Japanese Army on the night of November 6. The garrison surrendered the next day. Casualties of the battle were 200 on the German side and 1,455 on the allied side. One allied cruiser was also sunk by a German gunboat.

The Cruise of SMS Seeadler

The SMS Seeadler, an auxiliary cruiser windjammer and merchant raider, led by Felix von Luckner managed successful attacks on Allied shipping in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans before being wrecked in French Polynesia in 1917. The Germans established a small colony on the island which housed the stranded Germans and several allied prisoners, most of whom were American. During the taking of several allied vessels, only one man perished, due to an accident.

The Scuttling of SMS Cormoran

SMS Cormoran

The United States was involved in at least one hostile encounter with Germans in the Pacific during World War One. The SMS Cormoran was scuttled in Apra Harbor, Guam to prevent her capture by a force of United States Marines. The Americans fired their first shots of the war at the Germans as they attempted to sink their ship. Ultimately the Germans succeeded in scuttling the Cormoran but with a loss of nine men dead.

Manchu Restoration

The German government was accused of being behind Zhang Xun's monarchist coup in China to prevent Duan Qirui's pro-war faction from supporting the Allies. After the coup failed in July 1917, Duan used the incident as a pretext for declaring war on Germany. An even more serious plot was Germany's funding of the Constitutional Protection Movement, which geographically split China into two rival governments for eleven years.

See also



  • Falls, Cyril The Great War (1960) pgs. 98–99.
  • Keegan, John World War One (1998) pgs. 205–206.


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