Tsingtao Campaign
by Colin Denis (cdenis@goldengate.net)

Japan in the Great War: Diplomacy & Internal Politics

Japan fought a minor and obscure campaign in World War I, yet the war deeply influenced Japanese politics. She entered the war as an Allied state, becoming a democratic constitutional monarchy. She left the war in clear danger of military dictatorship, alienated from her allies, sympathetic to her ex-enemies. Why? Domestic politics dominated the entire campaign. The Japanese army conceived of the war as an elaborate attack on its internal political foes, and it routed them.

The Meiji Emperor of Japan died in 1912. Japan had come a long way in his 45-year reign. The country now counted itself a great power, with a navy ranked 4th in the world. Japan even had a colonial empire (Taiwan and Korea, and some small islands) and "interests" in China. Japanese colonial rule, while stern, had not yet assumed the brutal manner adopted in 1919. Despite a small industrial base, the prewar economy flourished. Japanese diplomacy centered on an alliance with Britain, in which each pledged to aid the other should they become embroiled with 2 great powers. Each side insisted on an exception. Britain would in no case fight the USA, and Japan would not enter a purely European war. In 1904, the alliance allowed Japan to attack Russia, secure that the intervention of Russia's ally, France, would trigger British involvement. In the event, France wisely stayed neutral.

The new emperor, taking the name of Taisho, proved to be feeble-minded. Political factions soon realized that he would and could not exert the centralizing influence the Meiji Emperor had. As the elder statesmen of the Meiji Restoration retired to make way for younger men, high politics changed. The Meiji leaders, having risked their lives to overthrow the Shogun, had worked together. Their successors, without this bond, and under no Imperial pressure, could only consult the written Constitution. Loosely based on the German Imperial Constitution, this document allowed the resignation of any minister to force a new election, a prescription for parliamentary paralysis. The Army and Navy, guaranteed Cabinet seats, increasingly resorted to threatened resignations to force particular policies upon reluctant governments.

Japanese society faced new pressures. Trade unions, parliamentary opposition, a political middle class, journalism and public opinion forced liberalization, known as "Taisho democracy". The military grudgingly accepted fiscal retrenchment after the Russo-Japanese War, because the Navy put faith in the British alliance, while the army felt its prestige too low to resist.

The army had not come out of the Russo-Japanese war well. It had won some great victories, particularly at Mukden and Port Arthur, but they had been terribly bloody. Army calculations seemed to have been unfoundedly optimistic. The navy, by contrast, appeared to have fought brilliantly, and claimed to have actually won the war at Tsushima. The 2 services, largely recruited from rival Satsuma and Choshu clans, competed openly. Civilian governments used this against them.

From about 1910, Japan's post-war fiscal pinch eased, and military budgets grew. The navy demanded more money to finance its dreadnought arms race. The army, too, wished to modernize, but found civilians and sailors alike reluctant to spend.

When World War I broke out in Europe, the British at first assumed that Japan would remain neutral. The Admiralty, parrying German cruiser depredations on British trade, convinced a reluctant Foreign Office to ask Japan for help. Diplomats feared complications in China, as the US and Australia both opposed Japanese expansion.

Initially, all Japanese factions prepared to sit out the war. Nobody could be sure who would win. The actual British request for help changed everything. Civilians knew that their tentative control over the military hinged on the British alliance. The British connection charmed the navy by emphasizing the "navalist" analogy between the 2 island empires (Britain, after all, made do with a small elite army). The weight of the Royal Navy reduced pressure for arms expenditures. Weakening the alliance - the inevitable result of a refusal - would weaken the civilian position. The navy, in turn, pressed to learn more from operational combat against modern foes, and from working together with the British. The Japanese naval staff never doubted that Britain would win. Eliminating the German base at Tsingtao would turn the Yellow Sea into a Japanese lake. The army, in turn, saw a chance to recoup lost prestige, and perhaps force some increase in expenditure. The British request therefore changed Japanese opinion remarkably quickly. A Japanese ultimatum to Germany followed within the week (15 August). Japan declared war on 23 August.

Paradoxically, the political effects of the Tsingtao campaign reversed the verdict of military success. Germany lost her colony. This eliminated absurd contention between her and the Far Eastern states, allaying their suspicions of ulterior German motives. Moreover, fighting against heroic odds raised German military prestige. As a result, Nationalist China turned to Germany for military advisers and models. The Japanese army strengthened its German connection, confirmed in the wisdom of its choice of tutor. In influence, intelligence co-operation and prestige, Germany won.

Britain found her role diminished. The British had retained a superb harbor at Weiheiwei as undeveloped war anchorage for their mobile China Squadron. The lease, initially a reaction to the Russian base at Port Arthur, ran as long as any foreign power had bases in North China. Japan had returned Port Arthur to China in 1906, and agreed to give back Tsingtao in 1920 - it actually returned to (nominal) Chinese authority in 1922. This ended the British lease. Japan had plenty of bases in Korea, Taiwan and the Home Islands. The nearest British base became Hong Kong. Japan clearly dominated these waters. What is more, with the German menace gone, tensions between Japan and Britain grew, as did Chinese resentment of the British colonial presence. Diplomatically, the British lost ground.

China had started the war as neutral, but generally favorable to the Allies. With Germany gone, Japan pressed hard while Britain fought in Europe. Nationalist Chinese diplomats understood that Japan had become China's most dangerous enemy, and that declining British influence opposed Japanese expansion.

Japan lost by far the most. Despite propaganda, the Tsingtao campaign aroused little domestic enthusiasm. Nonetheless, its internal effects worked out as the army hoped. The civilian government felt forced to pursue a policy of active imperialism to justify the risk of intervention. Japan presented her "21 demands" to China in 1915. The Chinese, with some Allied help, rather skillfully evaded them. Japan then began to delve deeply in the mainland's affairs. Japanese agents advised all sides among the fighting warlords and Nationalists. Japan's need for a large army to defend her interests seemed clear. Military assumption of the prerogatives of local knowledge and initiative further relaxed already slack reins of control. Indeed, central army command in Tokyo often itself had no idea what the Kwantung Army was up to, so tangled were its machinations. Most of all, Japanese army experts appeared to have been confirmed in the validity of their political-military calculations. They never again hesitated to agitate against naval or civilian priorities. Hadn't they gotten it just right? Japan drifted into its Siberian campaign against Bolshevism as tensions with the USA grew. Stating that Korea had become a vital springboard for operations in Northern China,the army took control of the administration of Korea from a confused civilian government on the defensive. Ferocious repression of Korean politics followed. In 1921, the British, uncomfortable with increasing rivalry between Japan and the USA, ended their alliance with Japan. The Japanese Army blamed the navy for having put national survival in the hands of such an unreliable ally. At the same time, Japanese diplomats at the Washington Naval Conference agreed to limit their navy to only 60% of the strength of the American Navy. The Japanese Navy, uneasy, demanded more funds. Civilians, profoundly associated with diplomacy rather than arms build-up, lost leverage. A premature army coup d'etat in 1922 collapsed, but this only briefly postponed Japan's slide into fascism.

Japan in the Great War: the Japanese army in 1914

Japan initially modeled her army on the French, but disastrous early maneuvers led to German advisers replacing French ones. Army structure therefore resembled the French, while doctrine followed German ideas. The staff considered Russia as the likely enemy, training and planning for a renewed Russo-Japanese War.

The standing army of 1/4 million men boasted 19 infantry divisions, 4 cavalry brigades, 3 field artillery brigades, 6 heavy artillery regiments and a signals "brigade" (not intended to operate as a unit, but to detach sections for service). The army could not afford to train the whole population. Each year, about 120,000 men entered the ranks, chosen by lot out of an annual conscript "class" of 550,000. Fully mobilized, Japan could field 1 1/2 million men.

Each infantry division consisted of a logistics "battalion", an engineering battalion (of 3 companies), a field artillery regiment (6 batteries of 6 guns), a cavalry regiment (of 3 squadrons), and 2 infantry brigades of two 3-battalion regiments. Some divisions also had mountain artillery battalions (2 batteries of 4 guns). Divisions attached signals and sanitary units separately. After mobilization, a reserve infantry brigade followed each infantry division into action. Reserves took refresher training. They therefore mobilized late, but did not differ in any other way from regulars.

Japanese soldiers suffered from cheap, inferior weapons. The Arisaka rifle jammed frequently. Field artillery only shot at short range with poor accuracy, as did even the brand new Model 3 field howitzer. Coastal defense batteries, some captured from Russia in 1905 or China in 1895, provided a variety of heavy guns.

Japanese assault tactics developed against Russia stressed initial rapid maneuver followed by careful artillery preparation, small arms fire concentration and a decisive bayonet charge. Japanese troops on the defensive dug in swiftly, deeply and well.

Japan in the Great War: the Japanese Navy

Japan modeled her navy on the British in construction, doctrine and tactics. Naval officers even issued bridge commands in English until the 1930s. Japanese ships so resembled British counterparts as to confuse Allied naval fliers in World War II.

In August 1914, the Navy had 2 dreadnought battleships, 2 fast battle cruisers, 14 pre-dreadnought battleships (2 new, 6 quite old), 13 cruisers (4 modern), 13 light cruisers, 7 old cruisers (down-rated to gunboats), 9 gunboats, 50 destroyers, 31 torpedo boats and 13 submarines, a total of 460,000 tons. This force dominated the Pacific, threatening to crush the German East Asia Squadron of 2 armored and 3 light cruisers and some 8 gunboats.

The British feared German cruiser raids on their merchant shipping, and planned to run the Germans down by destroying their bases and communications. The Allies allocated German bases North of the Equator to Japan, and bases South of it to the British Empire. A New Zealand force escorted by British, French and Australian warships seized German Samoa on 28 August. A landing party from a lone British warship seized the remote guano-mining island of Nauru. The scattered Germans could offer no resistance. In September, the Australian Navy landed a force on the Bismarck Islands. After a short skirmish, they secured the surrender of German New Guinea and the Bismarck, Admiralty and Solomon Islands.

Meanwhile, Japanese forces bloodlessly occupied the Palau, Caroline, Marshall and Marianas Islands, taking the bases at Yap, Ponape and Jaluit. Japanese surveys revealed the potential fleet base of Truk, which the Germans had overlooked. The Navy searched for the fleeing Germans with First and Second South Seas Squadrons of powerful fast battle cruisers and light cruisers.

Naturally, attention focused on Tsingtao. A small squadron of elderly ships (First Squadron) protected the expedition's LOC and base at Hakko-ho, on the Western Korean coast. Third Squadron (cruisers and gunboats) patrolled the shipping lanes South of Shanghai. Second Squadron (old battleships and cruisers) blockaded Tsingtao, transported, escorted and supported the expedition.

After Tsingtao fell, the Navy continued to patrol the whole Pacific, widening its reach as the British pulled ever more ships to Europe. Japanese cruisers strengthened Allied troop convoy escorts and hunted for German corsairs. Landing parties from a cruiser helped the British suppress a mutiny in the Indian battalion garrisoning Singapore. Two cruisers even joined British forces patrolling shipping lanes off Capetown.

During the war, the Japanese Navy grew, despite losing a dreadnought and a new armored cruiser to accidental magazine explosions. Japan gained 4 dreadnoughts, 2 battle cruisers, 7 light cruisers, 28 destroyers (counting 1 British-built and another the Italians bought), 7 submarines and dozens of small ASW and minesweeping vessels. The similarity of Japanese and British design tempted the Royal Navy. The Japanese refused to diminish their own strength, turning down British requests to buy or lease battle cruisers. The Navy did not so highly value several obsolete Russian prizes taken in 1905. Twice refusing suggestions that Japan form these ships into a squadron and send them to reinforce the Russian Fleet in the Baltic, the Japanese Navy eventually agreed to sell the old ships to Russia.

In 1917, the U-boat crisis prompted the Royal Navy to request "a division" (4 to 6) of Japanese destroyers to help in the Mediterranean. The Army strongly opposed again sending Japanese forces into active combat against Germany. Why further antagonize the Germans, who might win the war? The Navy wanted to learn modern ASW techniques in practice. Japan sent an officer to "report" on whether Germany could win. The naval-civilian alliance dealt the army faction one of its last political defeats by choosing an admiral rather than a general as observer. This choice predetermined the response. Japan deployed 1 old light cruiser and 8 new destroyers to Malta in April, 1917. Further requests for help brought out an old armored cruiser and 4 brand-new large destroyers. The ships served efficiently in convoys and ASW sweeps.

In April 1918, the Navy landed 500 sailors to protect Allied interests in Vladivostok. The Army reinforced them in August with an infantry division, forerunner of a force of 70,000 men who would occupy Eastern Siberia until 1922. By war's end, the RAF had begun to help Japan modernize its naval air arm. The rapid chill in relations between Japan and the US, and their resulting naval arms race, quickly alienated the British.

Japan in the Great War: the siege of Tsingtao

The siege of Tsingtao marks the military collision of 2 policies pursued entirely for internal political purposes. Like a shadow play, the actual siege merely reflected other concerns more important to the combatants. Germany founded its Chinese colony as part of Tirpitz's propaganda campaign to build a German battle fleet. Tirpitz could not confess to a reluctant Reichstag that he intended to challenge the Royal Navy. He found himself hard-pressed to explain how a large German fleet would harm France or Russia in a war. He found allies in the colonial lobby, arguing that German economic prosperity demanded a large colonial empire. Unfortunately, this lobby, including the Kaiser himself, favored cruisers over battleships. Tirpitz won them over by proposing a great fleet base in the Pacific. A cruiser squadron would hold the base against all comers when war broke out, awaiting relief by the battle fleet. This disingenuous argument underlay Germany's China policy for 17 years!

Using the murder of some missionaries as a pretext, German sailors landed at Tsingtao in 1897, hoisting the German flag. A small fishing village sat on an island guarding a sheltered deep-water bay. Recognizing its potential, China had begun to build a small base a few years before, but the work languished for lack of funds. During the Sino-Japanese War, Japanese troops had moved in, and the Japanese Navy had taken up the work of building a naval base. Displeased at the speed of Chinese collapse, three European powers decided to take some "compensation" before Japan got it all. A joint ultimatum by Russia, France and Germany shocked the Japanese into giving the area back to China. Russia then seized Port Arthur, France took some territory in the far South of China, and Germany took Tsingtao. Britain then took Weiheiwei to "watch" Port Arthur and Tsingtao.

The colony thus started out under naval administration, to support the cruiser squadron and its base. Massive German investment built a first-class port, modern communication facilities, a railway, coal mines, a prosperous town. By 1913, Tsingtao's commerce exceeded that of all other ports in China save for Shanghai, Hong Kong and Canton. Undersea cables ran to Shanghai and to Chufu. The radio station could reach as far as one on Yap Island (Palaus), a link in an imperial radio chain.

Beyond the protectorate lay Shantung, a wealthy but isolated province. Awful roads joined walled Chinese villages of about 200 stone houses. Far across the peninsula, a tiny British garrison held Weiheiwei as an undeveloped war anchorage.

The Boxer Rising led Germany to fortify the base against land assault. What use was a great fleet base if it fell from the land side? The natural line of defense lay along the boundary of the protectorate, from the Kaiserstuhl to the Litsuner Heights. These very rough mountains reached as high as 400 meters and plunged down into the sea abruptly, with just a few passes. The Germans estimated that they needed a full infantry corps to hold this line firmly. Tirpitz forbade such extravagant expenditure away from his battle fleet. After all, he argued, who might attack by land? Only the Chinese could arrive this way, and Tsingtao did not need a corps to hold off ill-armed, poorly disciplined hordes. German experience with the Boxers seemed to confirm his assertions. The second line lay along 10 miles of steep hills from Prinz Heinrich Hill to Kuschan. Tirpitz vetoed this line as well, since it would have absorbed a division. The final line of defense lay along the inner hills, from Iltis to Bismarck to Moltke. The hills rose from 80 to 200 meters high over the town. The Germans dug in here.

Tsingtao's seaward defenses consisted of 4 batteries, searchlights and mines. To the land ward, the German Navy built 5 redoubts. Each had positions for field guns, machine-guns, its own kitchen, bakery, power generator, ammunition magazines and sleeping quarters for about 200 men. In front of each lay a wall and a ditch, heavily wired, marked for range. Two hill batteries supported these redoubts.

Governor Meyer-Waldeck, a naval officer, understood his duty as support of the East Asia Cruiser Squadron. When war broke out, he summoned all German forces in China to Tsingtao. Gunboats Luchs and Jaguar made breathtaking escapes from under the noses of watching Allied warships, arriving in early August, as did destroyer S90. The crew of river gunboat Tsingtau scuttled her, and proceeded to Tsingtao overland. The crews of river gunboats Otter and Vaterland "sold" them to a German merchant in Nanking. China promptly interned the ships but the men made it to Tsingtao overland. From all over China, German reservists poured in. They took staff and logistics jobs, swelled gun crews, releasing trained seamen to join the cruiser squadron as prize crews and extra stokers. Some even joined new garrison units. Iltis, Tiger and Luchs each gave up some men and guns to arm corsairs, and landed some more to swell the garrison. The mail liner Prinz Eitel Friedrich arrived, picked up guns and left to raid shipping as an armed merchant corsair. Light cruiser Emden left to join the Cruiser Squadron, but returned almost immediately with the captured Russian liner Rjasan. The prize took over all the guns and crew of refitting gunboat Cormoran, leaving the old gunboat a floating hulk. This liner, too, became a corsair, taking the name Cormoran. Emden, too, promptly left, followed by a stream of 8 ships in a fortnight, carrying 19,000 tons of coal and supplies to the Cruiser Squadron. Most of these ships got through.

Austro-Hungarian armored cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth entered harbor bewildered by conflicting orders. Vienna alternately commanded the ship to support the Germans, to intern herself, to fight the British, not to antagonize Japan. Leaving Tsingtao and then returning, her crew wound up dispersed, with 100 men interned and 300 trapped in Tsingtao with the ship. The latter simply joined the Germans.

After the first weeks of war, Meyer-Waldeck decided that no more ships would make it through the tightening Allied net. He prepared the town for siege, hoping that victory in Europe would ward off the overwhelming forces gathering against him. The Germans laid naval and land mines, wired in their positions, cleared fields of fire.

The Germans had plenty of supplies, but would have to be careful with ammunition (the annual ammunition resupply was to have arrived in September). Nonetheless, the reserves of the Cruiser Squadron lay open to them, so they only ran short at the very end. Engineers used small caliber naval shells to make hundreds of land mines and explosive charges.

Some German officers favored a raid on Weiheiwei, but Meyer-Waldeck decided to husband his men. No large force could make it over the poor Chinese roads; a small one could not win. Any landing near Tsingtao might cut them off. Troops trained, scouted, waited. The staff debated. Would the Japanese attempt a swift assault or a protracted siege? Spy scares and absurd rumors circulated. A Chinese warlord was bringing 80,000 troops to their rescue. The USA had forbidden Japan from attacking. The German fleet had decisively defeated the British fleet, and was already on its way.

The siege of Tsingtao differed radically from other Japanese military campaigns. In its careful attention to political impact, awkward diplomatic strains with allies, lavish use of logistics and scrupulous minimization of casualties, it more closely resembled the Gulf War than battles in the Russo-Japanese War or World War II. Yet it led to futile bloodletting undertaken by the Japanese Army in World War II.

From the planning stage, the Japanese Army Staff pulled out all the stops. They would show the precision and care of the army. Logistics and firepower flowed abundantly, so as to keep bloodshed low. The nation would admire the perfection of Japanese military technique, expunging memories of bloodbaths versus Russia in 1905.

The staff chose Lieutenant-General Mitsuomi Kamio, an officer distinguished rather by caution than brilliance, charging him to risk no reverse. He had to win a showpiece victory. He could ask for anything he needed.

Kamio considered landing near Tsingtao. What if the Germans attacked the beachhead early on? They might disrupt the disembarkation, causing precisely the kind of embarrassment he had to avoid at all costs. He saw no reason to run any risk. He decided to land his infantry division on the far (Northern) side of the peninsula, and march them overland to Tsingtao. Once he had captured the nearby beaches, he would land his unwieldy siege artillery.

The campaign opened, naturally enough, with a naval skirmish. To cover Lauting's mine laying off of Tsingtao, S90 patrolled farther out from shore than usual. British China Squadron, stretched thin to escort convoys and patrol shipping lanes, could not spare enough ships to blockade Tsingtao. Detachments did, however, sweep by from time to time, capturing some supply ships. On 22d August, one such sweep of 3 destroyers caught S90. Old British "River" class destroyer Kennet raced in to engage the even older and slower S90. The more lightly-armed German ship fled, scoring 2 damaging hits on Kennet. Nonetheless, the end loomed as Kennet neared. Desperate, S90 veered inshore of a coastal island, over uncharted water marked as "shallow". Kennet disengaged when Tsingtao's coastal batteries joined in. Bold seamanship and superior handling had won the Germans a handy little victory.

On 27 August, Vice-Admiral Sadakichi Kato's Second Squadron began blockading Tsingtao. British naval intelligence suspected that the East Asia Cruiser Squadron had already left, but the Japanese Navy took no chances. A modern battle fleet of 2 dreadnoughts, 1 battle cruiser and 2 new pre-dreadnought battleships reinforced Second Squadron, prepared to engage the whole German Cruiser Squadron. The fleet seized 3 small coastal islands as observation points, and began careful minesweeping.

On 30 August, the weather broke. Tsingtao, "Riviera of the East", boasted of mild dry autumns. The fall of 1914 turned out to be the wettest on record then or since as unseasonable typhoons drenched the whole peninsula. That night, the storm drove Japanese destroyer Shirotaye aground on a coastal island. The crew escaped, but Jaguar, herself guarded by coastal batteries, came out of harbor and destroyed her.

On September 2d, the Japanese started landing at Lungkou, on the peninsula's North coast. Four naval infantry companies, supported by an Army machine-gun company itself reinforced by sailors, rowed ashore. They fanned out over the beach, finding no Germans. An engineering battalion came next, building a floating pier and 2 stone quays in 24 hours. A cavalry regiment followed, and then an infantry regiment, which reclaimed its detached machine-gun company. By now, the freak weather had flooded the beach. A nightmarish scene unfolded in a chaos of mud, surf, rain, wind and noise. Animals floundered as they pulled at mired carts, unloaded crates floated out to sea and sank, hysterical beach masters cursed weary soldiers. Kamio stopped further unloading, and ordered the troops already ashore to advance inland at all costs. One incredulous Japanese engineer watched a small brook rise 2 meters in an hour, as it swept away his pontoon bridge. By the next day, it had risen 9 meters, becoming unbridgeable. The Japanese stuck fast. Ahead of them, flash floods flushed entire villages away. Thousands of peasants died in Shantung's worst disaster in living memory. Chinese officials had protested the Japanese landing as a violation of Chinese neutrality, but offered no real opposition; local authorities gladly accepted Japanese help in the crisis.

A brief break in the downpour allowed the landed force to straighten itself out, and the bedraggled cavalry began advancing on 7 September, laboriously followed by infantry. No rations could come up, so the troops lived off the country. Terraced farms survived the weather pretty well, so the Japanese found food rotting in market towns stranded by washed-out roads. Nonetheless, the troops went on half-rations as they marched ahead.

A Navy seaplane flew over Tsingtao on 5 September, shocking the Germans who had not expected aircraft. The pilot reported the Austro-Hungarian cruiser, 5 gunboats, a destroyer and several steamers. He had mistaken the unarmed paid-off hulks of Cormoran, Tiger, Iltis and Luchs for active warships, and had missed Lauting's conversion to a mine layer, but he confirmed that the Cruiser Squadron had escaped. Kato released his attached dreadnought, battle cruiser and new pre-dreadnought battleships. The Navy redeployed, creating 2 fast squadrons to hunt down the missing Germans and lending the British a powerful cruiser as convoy escort and 2 cruisers to patrol against corsairs off Singapore. In return, the British lent Kato Triumph, an old pre-dreadnought battleship mobilized at Hong Kong.

British residents began to form volunteer self-defense forces, releasing Army troops. The British Army gathered a small contribution to Kamio's command. One Regular British infantry battalion would land with the Japanese siege artillery, followed by 2 Indian infantry companies.

On 13 September, Japanese cavalry bumped into a German outpost at Tsimo, on the edge of the protectorate. The astonished Germans fled after a short skirmish. The Japanese took Kiautschou the next day, cutting the Shantung railway.

Excellent German roads connected Tsingtao to these points, and Meyer-Waldeck reinforced his mountain outposts along the extended outer line, ignoring a diversionary bombardment by Japanese destroyers. He hoped to delay the Japanese advance.

Meanwhile, Kamio decided to abort his Northern landing as the weather thickened again. It might take many weeks to haul his whole division over the muddy peninsula. He reasoned that the Germans could not risk being cut off from Tsingtao by launching a beach attack while Japanese forces held Tsimo. Taking a calculated risk, he ordered 24th infantry brigade, splashing ashore just now, to reembark. The cavalry, engineers and 23rd infantry brigade, already ashore, would march to Tsimo, abandoning the bridgehead. Kamio ordered his troops to land near Tsingtao, in Lau Schan Bay. A new base would keep his forces supplied. Kamio had correctly understood the German situation, and extricated his force from an unpleasant situation by improvising.

Japanese infantry arrived at Tsimo on 18 September, exhausted and half-starved. It began closing up to the German mountain outposts. At dawn, Japanese cruisers bombarded the (empty) beaches at Lau Schan, and 23rd infantry brigade started landing. Secure in his possession of Tsimo, Kamio ordered the troops to race into the mountains and contact his isolated force. That evening, an infantry company seized the Hotung pass, driving back a German outpost in a long skirmish. Another company made contact with cavalry from Tsimo. Tsingtao was surrounded.

The next day, in steadily worsening weather, Japanese infantry seized Mecklenburg House, a mountain spa, breaking through the outer defense line. Kamio concluded that the Germans could risk no severe engagement, lest they be cut off. He decided that they would not mount a determined defense until within the city's fortifications. Once again, Kamio had correctly divined German limitations. He ordered a swift advance through the mountains, ignoring risks of defeat in detail. Japanese troops moved in small columns, usually of company strength. German outposts, engaging one column, would find others working around their flanks. Invariably, the Germans fell back. British troops defending Singapore reacted the same way to these tactics 26 years later.

Kamio's skill at projecting German intentions derived from better intelligence. Both sides recruited Chinese labor, and tried to organize local coolies as spies. Some Japanese officers disguised as coolies even worked on the German lines. The Japanese cavalry regiment moved to patrol the far (inland) side of the harbor, making slipping in or out of Tsingtao very hard. Chinese opinion somewhat favored the Japanese, a sentiment that grew more pronounced as German defeat drew nigh. The German organization began to unravel. The Chinese told the Germans what they wanted to hear: tales of terrible conditions along the Allied LOC (true) and of staggering Japanese losses (false). The Japanese got accurate reports, but they always arrived days late. Only aircraft provided timely information. As in the Russo-Japanese War, Japanese soldiers erected elaborate screens masking roads and bridges to hide their movement. The lone German Taube (its partner crashed in August) nullified their work.

As the Japanese took control of the passes one by one, they redeployed. Engineers and support troops came ashore, building piers at Lau Schan and an airfield at Tsimo. On 21 September, 3 Japanese Army airplanes began to fly from Tsimo. Kamio told them to destroy the German airplane. They never actually shot it down, but ceaseless buzzing, shooting (pistols, rifles and 1 mounted machine-gun) and bombing reduced the Germans to short forays over the lines. Japanese Navy seaplanes systematically surveyed the German positions.

Kamio received orders from the Army Staff, which had begun to realize the political opportunities war in China offered. Taking the Shantung Railway would deepen and secure Japanese interests throughout the province. How could anyone protest Allied seizure of a German line? As part of his troop reshuffle, Kamio occupied the whole rail line with a battalion. The Army later sent him an extra infantry regiment to garrison it.

The Germans realized that Kamio was maneuvering past the mountain line without a major battle. Determined not to let him have it all his own way, Meyer-Waldeck ordered a counter-attack. Reasoning that the Mecklenburg House breakthrough would focus Japanese attention there, the German staff planned a raid on the Kletter Pass, near Tsimo. A German force of 130 men, 4 machine-guns and 2 field guns surprised and routed the Japanese outpost. Neighboring Japanese officers kept calm. Nearby companies moved in to support, and the Germans withdrew. They had won another minor victory, given the foe a bloody nose, but no more. That same day, the British contingent started landing at Lau Schan.

On 26 September, with his division firmly ashore, properly deployed and a secure base, Kamio ordered a general advance. As before, his troops moved in small groups. Skirmishes along the whole line gradually alerted the German staff. At short notice, S90 and Jaguar came up on the harbor side, bombarding the Japanese right. At night, the Germans fell back to their second line, convinced that the enemy had lost dearly. In fact, the mountain outposts had fallen, one by one, almost bloodlessly. The Allies closed up to the German line over the next two days, as Kaiserin Elisabeth, Jaguar and S90 again shelled the harbor flank. Kamio had assigned a field battery to engage them. The ships destroyed an observation post and silenced the battery. Impressed by the power of naval guns, Kamio asked Kato to bombard the enemy land batteries to distract them from his advance. Kato decided instead to bombard the sea batteries: typically poor cooperation between the Japanese Army and Navy.

Meyer-Waldeck knew that he would soon have to abandon the second line too, but he had an ace up his sleeve. Prinz Heinrich Hill towered over the neighboring hills, offering an extremely difficult climb and excellent observation for miles in all directions. German engineers prepared a small outpost on its crest. Connected by telephone and heliograph to the heavy land batteries, it would hold even if the Japanese took the rest of the line. It would then direct fire onto the enemy from the rear. Sixty men with machine-guns held the outpost, provisioned for a 2-month siege.

Foul weather intensified on the night of 27/28 September. Kamio's staff chose a company from the 46th infantry regiment, reinforced by an engineering platoon, to attempt the heroic task of climbing up in the dark during a typhoon. The engineers cut steps, slung ropes, all in relative silence, without light. They followed a fissure up the cliff. Baffled when it forked, they detached an infantry platoon to try what seemed the less likely route. Dawn broke to better weather. Exhausted and half-drowned, the main force arrived at the crest. The surprised Germans reacted quickly, pinning the attackers down on the actual lip. Hanging off vertically, the Japanese shot erratically for hours at the Germans. The desperate Japanese commander led a charge. The Germans mowed him down. His lieutenant organized a second assault, dying in the withering German fire. Covered by this fight, the detached platoon quietly hauled itself up onto the summit. Lost, it had actually wound up on the German (Southwest) face of the hill, 3 hours late. The platoon caught the Germans in a crossfire. The German CO decided to negotiate; he would surrender the peak if allowed to take his men back to Tsingtao. To his indignation, the Japanese ignored his flag of truce and seized him. The German force surrendered. At a cost of 24 killed, the Japanese had killed 6 Germans, taken 54 prisoners and won the decisive fight of the siege.

Shaken by the unexpected loss of their outpost and by a surprise mass Allied naval bombardment, the Germans fell back from their second line. Kaiserin Elisabeth, Jaguar and S90 supported, but suffered repeated hits from field guns. The ships retreated.

Kamio closed his troops up to the German inner line and ordered a base at Schatsykou Bay, closer to Tsingtao. The Navy cleared the area, losing 2 small mine sweepers. Engineers built a pier, a road and a narrow-gauge railway for the final logistical buildup. The Lau Schan base would feed the men while heavy siege artillery and ammunition arrived at Schatsykou Bay. As the railway ran up a grade too steep for small locomotives, some 1,500 rail troops and 10,000 coolies pushed 1,200 cars up and down. When complete, the railway would deliver 150 tons in 300 cars daily. A round trip took 4 days. More rail troops built spur lines for supply depots. On the road, coolies wheeled 800 Chinese carts. Each cart, pulled and pushed by 2 men, carried 350 pounds. Engineers prepared concrete platforms for siege guns and constructed a camouflaged observation post 900 feet up a ridge of Prinz Heinrich Hill, served by 5 telephone lines and a radio set. It looked over all Tsingtao.

Meyer-Waldeck decided to disrupt Allied preparations. His heavy land batteries began shelling the Japanese rear. The Taube indicated general targets, but enemy airplanes harassed too effectively to allow it to correct gunfire. Anti-aircraft fire on a hoisted observation balloon so rattled its observer that he refused to go up again. The next day, a meteorological balloon went up as a decoy; AA fire destroyed it. The batteries therefore fired blindly, sending over some 1500 shells daily. The Germans wrongly convinced themselves that their fire seriously injured the Allies. Wishing to compound the blow, German staff planned a night raid on the enemy right flank. Late on 2 October, 3 German companies sortied. One found only empty trenches, and withdrew. The others triggered furious fire, and fled for their lives. The Japanese captured 6 prisoners and found 29 bodies. Wishful German thinking transformed this skirmish into a major success. With their Chinese spy network in Japanese hands, German intelligence officers could no longer distinguish reality from fantasy. They believed that the arrival of 29th infantry brigade, actually entirely routine, confirmed that they had inflicted grievous losses.

The Allies dug an initial trench 1 to 2 kilometers in front of the fortified line. Kamio insisted on a textbook siege, complete with wavy S-shaped trenches, saps and parallels. The British, who had finally caught up with the advancing front line, found their Japanese allies irritating. The German artillery always sought the British out, as soldiers who might later fight against Germany in Europe. Kamio refused Japanese counter battery support, because he wanted his siege guns to remain hidden until the final bombardment. In the trenches, Kamio's soldiers could not tell German from British, and blazed away at British patrols. Only the poor Japanese marksmanship kept British casualties down. British soldiers took to wearing the distinctive Japanese Army overcoats, which reduced, but did not eliminate, incidents. Poor Japanese sanitary standards, varying scales of provisions, differing staff routines, conflicting tactical doctrine, British racial arrogance (many thought of their allies as coolies in uniform): all contributed to prickly relations. The arrival late in October of 2 Indian infantry companies to reinforce the British Regular contingent only further complicated serious command friction. Interestingly, the Royal Navy got along very well with the Japanese at the same time, as Triumph fit seamlessly into Second Squadron.

Mass naval bombardments could swamp Tsingtao's defenses to cover particular operations, but they could not accurately destroy coastal batteries. Too many explosions confused gun layers; they could not plot each ship's individual shot. Therefore, three blockading ships moved in close to duel with the coastal batteries on 6 and 10 October. The German batteries drove them off. Kato decided to press harder. On 14 October, he brought up his whole fleet for a furious bombardment, and then sent four ships in close. A heavy shell seriously injured Triumph, which retired hastily as German gunners cheered. Support vessels repaired her in 24 hours.

Yet another typhoon struck on 15 October. Violent weather washed out the railway and undermined gun platforms, setting preparations back by days. Flash floods drowned 25 Japanese soldiers. The Germans scuttled all non-essential ships in harbor, landing the crews as infantry. The Allies permitted them to evacuate non-combatants. Meyer-Waldeck wondered whether the naval attacks and recent lull in the action might have distracted the Allied fleet. He ordered a night sortie by S90. Late on 17 October, the ancient German destroyer slipped slowly out of harbor. After some hours, she detected a dark shadow. S90 fired a small torpedo. It hit old light cruiser Takachiho, detonating the magazine with a tremendous explosion. Searchlights flashed on, Allied ships started firing, German coastal batteries joined in the confusion. S90, cut off, fled into the night. Evading frantic Allied searches, she interned herself in a Chinese port down the coast. In Tsingtao, only Jaguar and Kaiserin Elisabeth remained afloat. Of 256 men aboard Takachiho that night, only 3 survived.

Meyer-Waldeck ordered another land sortie. Late on 22 October, 80 Germans crept up to the enemy lines. Alert sentries opened fire at once, and the Germans fled.

On 25 October, all the Japanese siege artillery reported itself ready in position. Planning the great bombardment, Kamio ordered that not one gun open fire until every gun had its full supply of 1,200 shells. No gun would reveal its position to the enemy until all did. He wanted each gun to fire 80 shells daily. Staff planned a 7-day bombardment, but he insisted on a 15-day ammunition supply. For the final attack, Japanese engineers formed assault platoons equipped with rifle grenades and bamboo tubes filled with explosives (like Bangalore torpedoes to clear barbed wire).

As the weather gradually cleared, Second Squadron began a slow, systematic naval bombardment of Tsingtao's sea batteries. A few ships cruised back and forth, firing at extreme range. On 29 October and again on 30 October, Kato brought up the whole fleet for mass bombardments. Triumph took part, noting the tactics, later used by the British against Turkish coastal guns at Gallipoli. Steadily, hit by hit, the German sea batteries crumbled into dust.

On 31 October, the Taisho Emperor's birthday,the siege artillery of over 100 guns opened fire. Each battery had a primary and secondary target. Kato's fleet swamped the eroding sea defenses. Prinz Heinrich Hill observation post corrected shooting. The first day, the heavy artillery destroyed Tsingtao's land batteries. At night, field guns laid down shrapnel to prevent repairs. The Germans abandoned the shattered works. The besiegers dug saps 300 meters forward that night, covered by continuous fire.

The bombardment continued the next day as some siege guns shifted to the oil tanks and docks while most made sure of the heavy land batteries. The fleet again overwhelmed the collapsing sea batteries. The besiegers dug their first forward assault line parallel that night, in textbook fashion. A Japanese patrol cutting barbed wire outside a redoubt exchanged fire with its garrison. The Germans believed they had repelled a major assault. Meyer-Waldeck, thinking the end near, ordered Kaiserin Elisabeth and Jaguar scuttled. Their crews landed to reinforce the garrison.

With Tsingtao's land batteries obviously in ruins, siege artillery fire shifted to the redoubts and barbed wire covering them on 2 November. That night, the besiegers dug saps another 300 meters forward. The next day, some batteries obliterated the power station while most continued flattening wire and smashing the redoubts. The Germans began to abandon the redoubts as roofs caved in. That night, the besiegers dug their second forward assault line parallel. At dawn on 4 November, a Japanese infantry company reinforced by an engineering platoon attacked the water pumping station. It fell easily, yielding 21 prisoners. The defenders now had to make do with well water. Day after day, the fleet had pounded the sea batteries to rubble while the siege guns crushed wire. That night, the Allies dug saps another 300 meters forward. The British, in a difficult section of the line (on a down slope exposing them to fire while a high water table prevented digging), tried but failed to advance their saps together with the Japanese. They lost 26 casualties (8 killed) to small arms fire before they abandoned the effort, falling back to the second assault parallel line. Naturally, more unpleasant Anglo-Japanese acrimony ensued.

On 5 November, the fleet closed in to point-blank range, annihilating Hui tschuen huk, the last sea battery. Meanwhile, the siege guns crushed more wire and pulverized the abandoned redoubts. Tsingtao had no defenses left, by land or sea. That night, the Japanese dug their final assault parallel line. It ran from 100 to 1000 meters away from the German trenches, depending on the sector. Rubble and dirt had filled in most of the defending trenches anyway. The defenders cowered in scattered shell holes.

Meyer-Waldeck saw the end near. On 6 November, he ordered the Taube to fly to China with his final dispatches. The Chinese sent the dispatches on to Germany. Now running out of targets, the siege artillery crushed such odd bits of barbed wire or abandoned masonry as it could still find. The fleet, with no targets left at all, joined in for moral effect, churning up the dust of former sea batteries. Clearly, everyone was marking time, awaiting the final assault that night. Kamio hesitated. A by-the-book officer, Kamio wanted the British to close up the Allied assault line and join the attack. He told the British to dig their approach saps and final assault parallel tonight at all costs. Neighboring Japanese units ahead of them would lay down small arms fire in support. The next night, he would order the grand attack come what may. The British would join, advancing, if need be, in the open. This command further exacerbated inter-Allied tensions, the British commander protesting the useless exposure of his elite force.

Meanwhile, Kamio instructed his units to probe the German line for weak points. One Japanese infantry company advanced up to Redoubt 4 before the dazed garrison detected them. The Germans opened fire and then launched a bayonet charge to push the enemy back. The Japanese withdrew. So purple a report reached Meyer-Waldeck that he thought the redoubt had repulsed the main assault. He ordered the reserve up to Redoubt 4. Another Japanese infantry company probed Redoubt 3. The Germans fell back into the cracked concrete bunker. A second company arrived, surrounding the bunker and firing through loopholes and cracks. The garrison surrendered. A local German reserve counter-attacked, overwhelming a Japanese flank outpost before the main force crushed them. Japanese platoons spread out along the trench line. Redoubt 2, struck without warning from flank and rear, fell quickly. The attackers hit Redoubt 4 in the flank, but met the German reserve just coming up. An intense fire fight erupted. The probing forces requested reinforcements. More infantry companies arrived. After 3 hours, a bayonet charge cleared the Germans out of Redoubt 4. On the flanks, Redoubts 1 and 5 held out desperately. Elaborate Japanese communications arrangements now paid off. Hearing that his probes had actually captured a redoubt, Kamio ordered an immediate general assault.

Advancing through the hole in the German center, Japanese forces fanned out. One infantry company charged up Iltis Hill. A searchlight lit up a German lieutenant rallying his men with drawn sword as a Japanese captain ran up, leading his men with sword out. Blinking, the 2 men stared at each other. Then, in an incredible parody of feudal combat, the 2 officers fought a fencing duel between their deployed troops. Samurai sword proved much superior to ceremonial dress sword; the Japanese commander cut his opponent down. The Germans surrendered. Another company climbing up Bismarck Hill received the surrender of Germans disheartened by Japanese cheering on Iltis Hill. Meyer-Waldeck surrendered, and his men marched out of Redoubts 1 and 5. The morning of 7 November, ironically a fine clear day, Japanese and British troops entered Tsingtao. Three days later, a Japanese torpedo boat sank sweeping mines.

Japanese Army HQ made a point of showing that the Tsingtao campaign in no way disturbed the routine Army maneuvers in November.

The Germans lost 493 casualties (199 dead), plus about 3,600 prisoners. German intelligence reports estimated Allied losses as "at least 12,000 casualties", an absurd exaggeration still repeated in German documents. The Japanese Army suffered 1,900 casualties (415 dead). The Navy lost light cruiser Takachiho, destroyer Shirotaye, a torpedo boat and 2 small minesweepers, with some 400 casualties (about 300 dead). Kamio deserves credit; Japan paid a remarkably low price for seizing a major naval base. The British lost 74 Army and 9 Navy casualties (13 Army and 3 Navy dead).

Japan gave Tsingtao back to China, but kept the Shantung Railway. Its garrison became the nucleus of the infamous Kwantung Army. Kamio had no stomach for the fascistic antics of his junior staff. He soon retired. His staff formed cabals with some senior officers in Tokyo, aiming to embroil Japan deeply in China and to subvert civilian government. Over the next decade, they gradually succeeded in both aims.

Kamio's success reflected lavish use of logistics and overwhelming firepower to spare bloodshed, rather like American operations against Iraq. His junior staff drew exactly opposite conclusions; careful planning and sheer will had defeated the Germans. They believed that the superiority of the samurai race in focusing fanatically on victory rendered logistics, odds and material irrelevant. By exerting mind over matter, disciplined Japanese soldiers (reared in a properly disciplined society) would always win. This view led Japan into an expanding series of catastrophic wars.

Today, China intends to build Tsingtao up into a major modern naval base. Little now remains of German influence. The old brewery still produces pre-war-style German beer, sold in Chinese restaurants as "Tsingtao" beer.

Order of Battle of the siege of Tsingtao

German East Asia Squadron
armored cruisers Scharnhorst (flag) and Gneisenau, light cruisers Nurnberg, Emden and Leipzig, gunboats Jaguar, Luchs, Tiger, Iltis, Cormoran, river gunboats Tsingtau, Vaterland, Otter and destroyer S90.

When war broke out, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nurnberg were cruising in the Carolines. Leipzig was detached to Mexico, to defend German interests during the revolution. Emden, Tiger, Iltis and Cormoran (refitting in dock) were in Tsingtau. Vaterland and Otter were cruising on the upper Yangtze, Jaguar on the lower Yangtze, Tsingtau on the West River (above Canton). Luchs was at Shanghai, S90 at Chifu.

Emden left, as did her prize Rjasan (armed and manned from Cormoran's hulk, then renamed Cormoran) and the armed merchant corsair Prinz Eitel Friedrich (a prewar mail liner). Into harbor came the Austro-Hungarian armored cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth and gunboats Jaguar and Luchs and destroyer S90.

During the siege, the Germans used the Lauting (a mine layer converted from pleasure steamer), Kaiserin Elisabeth, Jaguar and S90 extensively.

Tsingtao Sea Defenses
Hui tschuen Huk battery: two 24 cm., three 15 cm. guns, searchlights in armored cupolas
Bismarck Hill battery: four 28 cm. guns
old Tsingtau battery: four old (Chinese) 15 cm. guns
old Hsiauniwa battery: four old 21 cm. guns, searchlight, well dug in along the harbor: seven 8.8 cm. guns
about 300 naval mines

Tsingtao Land Defenses
5 redoubts, searchlights, wall, ditch, barbed wire
Iltis Hill battery: two 10.5 cm., six old (Chinese) 12 cm. guns, searchlights
Moltke Hill battery: two 10.5 cm. guns, searchlights
12 open gun pits sheltered twenty-two 3.7 cm., twenty-two 9 cm. and six old (Chinese) 12 cm. guns
2 Rumpler Taube airplanes, 1 kite-balloon, 1 meteorological balloon

Tsingtao Garrison

Some 750 naval gunners manned the various batteries of the base. Another 180 men held signaling, staff and logistical positions. About 100 Chinese policemen kept internal order. The Third Sea Battalion of about 1,300 men formed the actual garrison, consisting of 4 infantry companies (210 men each), 1 cavalry company (140 men), 1 field artillery battery (133 men, six 7.7 cm. Krupp field guns), 1 engineering company (108 men) and 2 horse-drawn machine-gun companies (38 men and 6 machine-guns each). In Tientsin and Peking, the East Asiatic Naval Detachment deployed 4 infantry companies (100 men each), 1 machine-gun battalion (60 men and 14 machine-guns) and two artillery sections (three 8 cm. field guns and three 15 cm. howitzers). All these forces except the three 8 cm. field guns reached Tsingtao.

Reservists added about 1,500 men to the garrison, swelling auxiliary forces as well as adding 2 more infantry companies to the Third Sea Battalion. Counting sailors, guns and machine-guns landed from ships, the garrison disposed of about 4,000 men, 120 machine-guns and 90 guns.

Japanese Second Squadron

5 old pre-dreadnought battleships, ex-Russian prizes from the Russo-Japanese War: Suwo, Iwami, Tango, Okinoshima, Mishima, armored cruisers Iwate, Tokiwa, Yakumo, light cruisers Chitose, Tone, Mogami, Yodo, Akashi, Akitsushima, Chiyoda, Takachiho, 24 destroyers, 4 old gunboats and 13 torpedo boats as minesweepers, seaplane carrier Wakamiya (with 4 early Henry and Maurice Farman seaplanes operational + 1 in reserve), several logistics, support and repair ships, 26 transports. Dreadnoughts Settsu and Kawachi, battle cruiser Kongo, new pre-dreadnought battleships Aki and Satsuma initially joined the force, but soon left.

The British attached the old pre-dreadnought battleship Triumph, mobilized in Hong Kong and a division of 4 old destroyers from Weiheiwei.

Japanese Forces Besieging Tsingtao
18th infantry division consisted of 23rd infantry brigade (46th + 55th infantry regiments) + 24th infantry brigade(48th + 56th infantry regiments), 22d cavalry regiment, 24th field artillery regiment (six 6-gun batteries), an engineering battalion, a logistics battalion, attached sanitary and signals sections, and possibly a mountain artillery battalion (two 4-gun batteries). The 29th infantry brigade (67th infantry regiment + 1 battalion of 34th infantry regiment) followed up the division.

Siege artillery consisted of a naval artillery detachment (of 10 cm. and 15 cm. naval guns), Miyama and Yokosuka heavy artillery regiments, Shimonoseki and Tadanoumi heavy artillery battalions, a total of about 100 guns from 12 cm. to 28 cm. caliber.

The 6th and 12th infantry divisions detached 2 logistics battalions and 2 engineering battalions. A group of 3 Army airplanes (Farmans) and 2 railway battalions joined.

Later, 8th infantry regiment arrived to occupy the Shantung Railway.

The British deployed the 2d battalion of South Wales Borderers, later reinforced by 2 infantry companies of the 36th Sikhs Regiment.

Jork Artelt: Tsingtau: Deutsche Stadt und Festung in China 1897-1914
Charles B. Burdick: The Japanese Siege of Tsingtao
Paul G. Halpern: A Naval History of World War I
Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1906-1921
Peter Young, editor: Marshall Cavendish Illustrated Encyclopedia of World War I
The Times History of the War 1914 Illustrated volume II

Last Updated: 3 November, 2000.

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