Yank of the Yalu
January 8, 2014 12:18 PM   Subscribe

The First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) was notable for having the first confrontation between ironclad ships with modern weaponry, at the Battle of the Yalu River. And the presence of foreign advisors among the Chinese fleet, like German Captain von Hannecken and American Captain Philo Norton McGiffin [same text with some embellishment, Google Books links to Collier's article and Real Soldiers of Fortune], who later wrote The Battle of the Yalu for Century Magazine.

McGiffin was also famous for his pranks at Annapolis. Due to the low numbers of officer billets in the United States Navy at the time, McGiffin did not recieve a commission and so headed West, ending up as an instructor at the Chinese Naval College. He taught there for 10 years, and was appointed to the Chen-yuen prior to the battle.

Captain McGiffin was grievously wounded during the Chinese withdrawal, and he committed suicide in 1897, still suffering from his wounds.
posted by the man of twists and turns (5 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
the first confrontation between ironclad ships with modern weaponry

Contrast the weird, weird battle of Lissa (1866). The Austrian and Italian navies both had everything-but-the-kitchen-sink fleets with ships ranging from early-model turreted cruisers to unarmored wooden sailing ships. The battle was decided by ramming, which led to battleships being designed with ramming prows well into the 20th century. That wasn't quite as silly as it sounds. The only career kill of the ultra-modern HMS Dreadnought was a German U-boat it rammed.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 12:51 PM on January 8, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to figure out what they think counts as "modern weapons". Evidently the cannons used by USS Monitor and CSS Virginia don't count. Likewise the ironclads at the Battle of Lissa, where some of the ships were armed with breech-loaded rifled guns.

...ha; beat me to it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:55 PM on January 8, 2014

Fascinatingly, Dreadnought was the first British battleship not equipped with a ram, and the only British battleship to sink another vessel by ramming in wartime (there was a terrible accident in 1893 when HMS Camperdown rammed HMS Victoria with great loss of life, but that was a training accident, not a battle). Dreadnought's bow had been given a ram shape (the head of the Navy thought it looked better), but there was no actual ram on it.

There was a lot of interesting detail that went into this decision, but the short version was that rams were placed on battleships because it was thought possible to run straight at an enemy ship and ram it before they would have time to inflict fatal damage on you. By the early c20, naval artillery ranges were limited only by visibility. Planners calculated that a battleship would be shot to pieces long before it got close enough to ram an enemy, so rams were a waste of weight.

HMS Dreadnought had also been built with no 'secondary' armament of small, quick firing guns, designed to kill destroyers or surfaced submarines. This meant that she was supposed to be almost defenceless when confronted by small ships, a design decision that was much criticised at the time and, in fact, reversed in future British construction. So it was strange and deeply ironic when U-29, skippered by the famous Otto Weddigen (who had stunned the British by sinking three cruisers, in a single action, two months into the war), surfaced right in front of the astonished Brits, who made a minimal course change to sink the German submarine before they even knew what hit them.

One more twist to this macabre story, tying it back to the history of ramming: a few months before being rammed by Dreadnought, Weddigen's previous command (the U-9) torpedoed and blew up the cruiser HMS Hawke. Hawke's claim to fame? Accidentally ramming (but not sinking) the liner RMS Olympic, sister ship of the Titanic.
posted by Dreadnought at 1:31 PM on January 8, 2014 [17 favorites]

what fascinating photos, thanks for posting!
posted by rebent at 1:51 PM on January 8, 2014

Very interesting post!
posted by bluejayway at 4:31 PM on January 8, 2014

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