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Siege of Tsingtao
Part of the Asian and Pacific theatre of World War I
Tsingtao battle lithograph 1914.jpg
Japanese lithograph of the siege
Date 31 October 1914 – 7 November 1914
Location Tsingtao, China
Result Allied victory
Empire of Japan Japan
United Kingdom United Kingdom
German Empire German Empire
Austria–Hungary Austria-Hungary
Empire of Japan Sadakichi Kato
Empire of Japan Kamio Mitsuomi
United Kingdom Nathaniel Walter Barnardiston
German Empire Alfred Meyer-Waldeck
United Kingdom:1,500
Casualties and losses
519 killed
1,335 wounded
1 cruiser sunk
199 killed
504 wounded

The Siege of Tsingtao was the attack on the German-controlled port of Tsingtao (now Qingdao) in China during World War I by Imperial Japan and the United Kingdom. It took place between 31 October and 7 November 1914 and was fought by Imperial Japan and the United Kingdom against Germany. It was the first encounter between Japanese and German forces and the first British-Japanese operation in World War I.



Throughout the late 19th century the German Empire joined other European powers in an imperialist scramble for colonial possessions. As did other world powers, the Germans began to interfere in Chinese local affairs. After two German missionaries were killed in 1897, China was forced to transfer Kiaochow in Shandong to Germany in 1898 on a 99-year lease. The Germans then began to assert their influence across the rest of the province of Shandong and built the port of Tsingtao. The port became the home base of the Kaiserliche Marine's East Asia Squadron, which operated in support of German territories in the Pacific Ocean.

The United Kingdom perceived the German presence in China as a threat to British interests and leased Weihaiwei, also in Shandong, as a naval port & coaling station in response, while Russia and France leased their own at Port Arthur (now Lüshunkou) and Kwang-Chou-Wan respectively. The British also began to forge close ties with the Japanese.

Imperial Japanese army uniform as worn on the expedition to Kiaochow.

Japan's developments in the late 19th century also mirrored that of other imperialist powers and Japan acquired colonial territories on the Asian mainland. Japanese and British diplomatic relations became closer and the Anglo-Japanese alliance was signed on 30 January 1902. This was seen as a necessity by both powers, especially by Japan who saw it as a further step to being recognized as a world power. Japan demonstrated its potential of being a rival to the British Empire after its victory in the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905; the alliance remained intact into World War I.

The First World War began in early August 1914. Britain soon requested Japanese assistance. The Japanese civil government, led by Prime Minister Okuma Shigenobu, feared growing military power which was playing an ever greater role in Japanese politics. The government believed that maintaining a strong alliance with Britain would help maintain control over the military. Pressure came from the Imperial Japanese Navy (whose structure was closely based on the British Royal Navy) and the Imperial Japanese Army in a growing desire to expand the Japanese Empire.

In accordance with the Anglo-Japanese alliance the Japanese Government sided with Britain in the war. On 15 August Japan issued an ultimatum to Germany, stating that Germany must withdraw their warships from Chinese and Japanese waters and transfer control of Tsingtao to Japan. The following day, Major-General Mitsuomi Kamio, commanding officer (CO) of the 18th Infantry Division, was directed to begin preparations for an invasion of Tsingtao. When the ultimatum expired on 23 August Japan declared war on Germany.

At the beginning of hostilities the larger units of the East Asia Squadron under the command of Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee were dispersed at central Pacific colonies on routine missions. The ships rendezvoused in the northern Marianas for coaling, and, with the exception of SMS Emden which headed for the Indian Ocean, made their way to the west coast of South America. There the squadron destroyed a Royal Navy squadron at the Battle of Coronel before being itself destroyed at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.


The Suwo was the flagship of the Japanese expeditionary fleet during the Siege of Tsingtao
The Japanese seaplane carrier Wakamiya conducted the world's first naval-launched air raids in September 1914 against German positions in Tsingtao

The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) first sent ships under Vice-Admiral Sadakichi Kato, flying his flag in the pre-dreadnought Suwo, to blockade the coast of German-controlled Kiaochow, beginning on 27 August. During the course of the naval operations off Tsingtao, the British Royal Navy (RN) attached the China Station's pre-dreadnought HMS Triumph and the destroyer HMS Usk to the IJN. The British warships were integrated into the Second Squadron with few problems. According to a German press report following the siege, the Triumph was damaged by German land batteries. The Japanese squadron consisted of mostly obsolete warships, though did briefly engage a number of more modern vessels. These included the dreadnoughts Kawachi, Settsu, the battlecruiser Kongō and the seaplane carrier Wakamiya, whose aircraft became the first of its kind in the world to successfully attack land and sea targets [1]. These planes would also take part in another military first: the first night-time bombing raid[citation needed].

Japanese troops coming ashore near Tsingtao
British troops arrive at Tsingtao 1914

The 18th Infantry Division was the primary Japanese Army formation that took part in the initial landings, numbering 23,000 soldiers with support from 142 artillery pieces. They began to land on 2 September at Lungkow, Shandong, which was experiencing heavy floods at the time, and later at Laoshan Bay on 18 September, about 18 miles east of Tsingtao.

The British Government and the other European great powers were concerned about Japanese intentions in the region and decided to send a small symbolic British contingent from Tientsin in an effort to allay their fears. The 1,500-man contingent was commanded by Brigadier-General Nathaniel Walter Barnardiston and consisted of 1,000 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, The South Wales Borderers later followed by 500 soldiers of the 36th Sikhs.[2]

The Germans responded to the threat against Tsingtao by concentrating all of their available East Asian troops in the city. Kaiser Wilhelm II made the defense of Tsingtao a top priority, saying that "... it would shame me more to surrender Tsingtao to the Japanese than Berlin to the Russians."[3]

The German garrison, commanded by naval Captain and Governor Alfred Meyer-Waldeck, consisted of the marines of III. Seebatallion, naval personnel and soldiers (Chinese colonial troops and Austro-Hungarian sailors) for a total strength of 3,625 men under arms.[4] He also had a modest complement of vessels, the torpedo boat S-90 and four small gunboats, the Iltis, Jaguar, Tiger and Luchs[5] and the Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth,[6] whose crew was initially divided in two; to man the ship and fight as part of the German land forces.

The Siege

German forces moving to the outer defences
German front line at Tsingtao 1914; the head cover identifies these men as members of III Sea Battalion (Marines)
German Marines in forward position during the siege
German PoWs returning to Wilhelmshaven, Germany from Japan in February 1920

As the Japanese approached his position, the German Commander withdrew his forces from the two outer defensive lines and concentrated his troops on the innermost line of defence.

On 17 October 1914 the torpedo boat S-90 slipped out of Tsingtao harbor and, firing a single torpedo, sank the 3,000 ton Japanese cruiser Takachiho with the loss of 271 officers and men. S-90 was unable to run the blockade back to Tsingtao and scuttled itself in Chinese waters when running short on fuel.

The Japanese commenced shelling of the fort and the city on 31 October and began digging parallel lines of trenches just as they had done at the Siege of Port Arthur nine years earlier. Very large 11 inch howitzers from land, in addition to the firing of their naval guns, brought the German defences under constant shrapnel bombardment during the night, the Japanese moving their own trenches further forward under the cover of their artillery.[2] The bombardment continued for seven days, employing around 100 siege guns with 1,200 shells each on the Japanese side. While the Germans were able to use the heavy guns of the port fortifications to attack the landward positions of the Allies, they soon ran out of ammunition.[2]

The Germans were only able to field a single aircraft during the siege flown by Lieutenant Gunther Plüschow (a second airplane flown by Lt. Müllerskowsky crashed). The surviving aircraft was used primarily for frequent reconnaissance flights, but Plüschow made several nuisance attacks on the vessels of the blockading squadron by dropping jury-rigged munitions and other available ordnance. He also claimed the downing of a Japanese Farman MF.7. Plüschow with his aircraft flew out from Tsingtao on 6 November 1914 carrying the governor's last dispatches which were forwarded to Berlin through neutral diplomatic channels.[7] On the night of 6 November waves of Japanese infantry attacked the third line of defences and overwhelmed the defenders. The next morning, the German forces along with their Austro-Hungarian allies asked for terms.[2]

The Allies took formal possession of the colony on 16 November 1914.

Japanese army casualties numbered 236 killed and 1,282 wounded; the British, 12 killed and 53 wounded. The German defenders suffered 199 dead and 504 wounded.[8]

That the Germans were able to hold out for nearly two months under a total Japanese/British blockade, sustained artillery barrages and manpower odds of 6:1 gave a morale boost during the siege as well as later in defeat. The German dead were buried at Tsingtao; the troops were transported to prisoner of war camps in Japan and were treated well and with respect.[9] The internment of German troops in Japan lasted until the formal signature of the Versailles peace treaty in 1919, but due to technical questions the troops were not repatriated before 1920. This episode of World War I was recently revisited by an exhibition at Marburg University (Germany), which focused on the impact of German and Japanese culture coming into contact.[10]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ Timothy D. Saxon, Anglo-Japanese Naval Cooperation, 1914–1918, Naval War College Review, Winter 2000, Vol. LIII, No. 1, 1999
  2. ^ a b c d First World War - Willmott, H.P. Dorling Kindersley, 2003, Page 91
  3. ^ Edgerton, Robert B., Warriors of the Rising Sun, p. 227
  4. ^ Schultz-Naumann, Unter Kaisers Flagge, p. 204
  5. ^ the four gunboats of the East Asia Squadron that had been left at Tsingtao were later scuttled by their crews just prior to the capture of the base by Japanese forces in November 1914
  6. ^ the ship was scuttled after all ammunition had been fired
  7. ^ Plüschow made his way back to Germany by August 1915 after a journey lasting nine months via Shanghai - San Francisco - New York - Gibraltar - London (from where he escaped into neutral Holland) - and finally Germany. He continued flying with the naval air service reaching the rank of Kapitänleutnant [Lieutenant Commander] by the end of the war. He was killed in a 1931 crash in Patagonia, Argentina
  8. ^ Haupt, Deutschlands Schutzgebiete in Übersee 1884-1918, p. 147
  9. ^ Schultz-Naumann, p. 207. The Naruto camp orchestra (enlarged from the band of the III. Seebatallion) gave Beethoven and Bach concerts throughout Japan wearing their uniforms
  10. ^
  • Burdick, Charles B. The Japanese Siege of Tsingtao (1976).
  • Falls, Cyril The Great War, (1960), p. 98-99.
  • Haupt, Werner. Deutschlands Schutzgebiete in Übersee 1884-1918 [Germany’s Overseas Protectorates 1884-1918]. Friedberg: Podzun-Pallas Verlag. 1984. ISBN 3790902047
  • Hoyt, Edwin P. The Fall of Tsingtao (1975).
  • Keegan, John The First World War, (1998). p. 206.
  • Reynolds, Francis World's War Events, Vol. I, (1919), p. 198-220.
  • Schultz-Naumann, Joachim. Unter Kaisers Flagge, Deutschlands Schutzgebiete im Pazifik und in China einst und heute [Under the Kaiser’s Flag, Germany’s Protectorates in the Pacific and in China then and today]. Munich: Universitas Verlag. 1985.

External links



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