Wakamiya Maru off Tsingtao: September 1914

by John Parkinson (jmp@iafrica.com), (c) 2001

In Europe the Great War, WW1, commenced on 4th August 1914. On 23rd August Japan too declared war on the Central Powers.

The German leased territory in China consisted of a large area of the Shantung peninsula centred around the city of Tsingtao in Kyau Chau Bay (today: Chiao-chou Wan). Imperial Japanese forces, together with a small British contingent (AAA) under the command of Brigadier N.W. Barnardiston, were ordered to capture the German enclave.

The Allied Blockading Fleet was under the overall command of Vice Admiral Sadakichi Kato (BBB) with his flag in the old battleship 'SUWO' (CCC) of the 2nd Fleet.

At the time the British C. in C., China Station was Vice Admiral Sir Thomas H.M. Jerram (DDD) but as members of the blockading fleet Great Britain was represented by just two warships, the battleship 'TRIUMPH' (EEE) (Captain M.S. Fitz Maurice (FFF) and the destroyer 'USK' (GGG) (Lieut. Commander Wellgood G.C. Maxwell).

As will be imagined by far the greater number of warships employed in this affair were Japanese with, for example, four battleships in addition to 'SUWO' being present.

Their 'Flying Division" (HHH) was represented by:-

'WAKAMIYA MARU' with 4 aeroplanes.'

On 18th November 1914 two officers serving in 'TRIUMPH', Lieut. Commanders G.S.F. Nash and G. Gipps submitted a report (III) covering the operation carried out against Tsingtao. Amongst other observations they described something of the use to which Naval aircraft were put, and also the danger to ships from mines which had been laid by the defending forces:-

Daily reconnaissances, weather permitting, were made by the Japanese seaplanes, working from the seaplane mother ship. They continued to bring valuable information throughout the siege. The mother ship was fitted with a couple of derricks for hoisting them in and out. During these reconnaissances they were constantly fired at by the German guns mostly with shrapnel, but were never hit. The Japanese airmen usually carried bombs for dropping on the enemy positions.

The recovery of mines (in Laoshan Bay to the east of Tsingtao) was undertaken by a flotilla of trawlers and torpedo boats, together with steam launches, and this was not performed without loss for two trawlers were sunk, with the loss of several lives, whilst the seaplane ship was also badly damaged and had to be beached for temporary repairs, before being sent to Sasebo. (Japanese Naval base North of Nagasaki in Western Kyushu).

'The seaplane corps and three Henry Farman 100 h.p. seaplanes were, in consequence of the damage done to the mother ship, landed at the Base already established at Laoshan Harbour (to the West of the Bay so nearer to Tsingtao), and this proved eminently satisfactory.

From 9th October 1912 the British Naval Attache to Tokio had been Captain Hon. Hubert Brand (JJJ). During the Allied assault of Tsingtao he spent some three months embarked in IJN warships in order to witness the proceedings. In his report (HHH) he too made a number of observations including frequent references to the Naval aeroplane reconnaissances performing:-

'.... most valuable services.'

Regarding the bombs dropped by IJN aircraft he thought that they were only about the equivalent to 12 pdr. shell:-

'.... and the damage they would inflict is not very great.'

A part of his entry in respect of Wednesday, 30th September 1914 reads:-

Fine and warm. 'TOKIWA' (KKK) returned to Lo Shan Harbour (variously spelt Laoshan or Lo Shan) to embark Signal Station party, and was on her way to Tai-Kung-Tau when, a few minutes after 8 a.m. the 'WAKAMIYA MARU' struck a mine in the entrance of Lo Shan Harbour, and had to be beached to prevent her sinking; her engines were disabled owing to breaking of steam pipes, No. 3 hold full, and one man killed - fortunately no damage done to aeroplanes though it is feared that a spare engine may be injured.

The repair ship 'KWANTO MARU' (LLL) at once came round to Lo Shan Harbour to see what could be done to render 'WAKAMIYA MARU' fit for service again, and after examination they think they may be able to get her going again in about a week's time. As the Aeroplane establishment is all being moved ashore at this place this accident will not affect the efficiency of the Aeroplane Corps.

The estimate of the time required to affect repairs was to prove accurate. Later Captain Brand was to continue:-

Thursday, October 8th.

Fine. N.W. wind. This morning with Admiral (Hikonojo) Kamimura (MMM), I visited 'WAKAMIYA' and Naval Aeroplane establishment at Lo Shan Harbour. The hole knocked in bottom of 'WAKAMIYA' was about 15' x 12' - No. 3 hold was flooded - her repairs are practically finished, and the work has been exceedingly well done by 'KWANTO MARU'. 'WAKAMIYA' left for Lo Shan Bay, under escort, at about 1.30 p.m.

The battle for possession of Tsingtao continued. Although primarily a struggle on land the German Navy did their best. For example on 18th October their torpedo boat 'S.90' (NNN) sortied to successfully torpedo and sink H.I.J.M.S. 'TAKACHIHO' (OOO) with the loss of 280 lives.

On Saturday, 31st October the Birthday of H.I.M. The Emperor of Japan was marked by a particularly heavy Army and Navy bombardment of positions ashore.

In the face of such an assault there could be only one result and on Saturday, 7th November 1914, in addition to a few other remarks, Captain Brand was able to record:-

'Thus Tsingtao has fallen after a siege lasting just over ten weeks.'

His report also included a number of summaries. That headed 'Aeroplanes' reads as follows:-

The 'WAKAMIYA MARU', with 4 seaplanes, arrived on September 1st and later on the Aeroplane Corps was established ashore in Lo Shan Harbour. It was found that three of these machines of 75 h.p. were not powerful enough to rise to the height required, and until another 100 h.p. machine arrived from Japan one seaplane did all the work. The Seaplanes did very good work, they were constantly up reconnoitring and dropping bombs, though the damage done by the latter was probably very little. They were, invariably, fired at by shrapnel, but never received any damage, neither did they have any accidents. The Aeroplane Corps may be said to have done very useful work.

Be it in an extremely modest manner the era of Naval Air power in the Far East had commenced. Within a period of forty years the advances made in this field of warfare were to develop beyond recognition.


(AAA) PRO ADM 137/35. 'British troops consisting of 970 men, 240 Chinese coollies, 98 wagons and 200 mules. Landed on 23rd September 1914.' (PRO is the Public Record Office, Kew, London).

(BBB) (1861-1927). Graduated from Tsukiji Naval Academy: October 1883. As a young officer specialised in torpedoes. Promoted Captain: October 1902. As Captain of the cruiser 'HASHIDATE', 4,277 tons, from October 1903, and of the armoured cruiser 'KASUGA', 7,700 tons, from January 1905, actively participated in the naval war against Russia, 1904/1905. This included Tsushima, 27th/28th May 1905. Rear Admiral: August 1908. Vice Admiral and C. in C., Yokosuka: December 1912. C. in C., Second Fleet: December 1913. C. in C., Kure: December 1916. Admiral: July 1918.

(CCC) Completed in St. Petersburg in 1902 as the Russian 'POBIEDA', 12,700 tons. In July 1903 arrived at Port Arthur/Ryojun. Following the commencement of the Russo-Japanese War in February 1904 when participating in Naval sorties to be damaged on at least three occasions. After the sortie of 10th August 1904 remained in harbour at Port Arthur. On 5th December the Japanese Army captured 203 Metre Hill from which point they were able to successfully bombard the Russian ships remaining in port. Following the surrender of Port Arthur on 3rd January 1905 subsequently she was raised by Japan and re-named 'SUWO'. Reconstructed in 1908-1909. About 13,500 tons. Four 10", ten 6" and smaller guns. Triple screw. 19 knots.

(DDD) Thomas Henry Martyn Jerram. Born: 6th September 1858. Died: 19th March 1933. Joined Navy: 1871. Captain: 1st January 1899. Rear Admiral: 30th June 1908. C. in C., China Station: 25th January 1913 to 1915. Vice Admiral: 4th June 1913. KCB: 1914. Commanded Second Battle Squadron with his Flag in 'KING GEORGE V', 23,000 tons: 16th December 1915-1916 including participation in the Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916. KCMG: 1916. Admiral: 10th April 1917. GCMG: 1919. Maybe he was fortunate to have done so well in his career. The late Professor Arthur J. Marder (in 'From the Dreadnought to Scapa Flow', Vol. 3, page 39) describes him as 'colourless, not possessing much initiative or dash, a reliable, reasonably competent officer with no frills.'

(EEE) 11,800 tons. Acquired from Chile in December 1903 and completed in June 1904. Four 10", fourteen 7.5" and lesser guns. Designed for 19 knots. Sister ship was 'SWIFTSURE' - first battleships in the R.N. to achieve 20 knots. At Tsingtao it was noted that whereas 'TRIUMPH' could only elevate her 10" guns to about thirteen degrees 'SUWO' could manage 24. This enabled 'SUWO' to bombard the German forts, such as Iltis, from a greater distance. On 25th May 1915 at the Dardanelles 'TRIUMPH' was to be torpedoed and sunk by 'U-21' (Otto Hersing). Three officers and seventy men were lost.

(FFF) Maurice Swynfen Fitz Maurice. Born: 12th August 1870. Died in office as C. in C., Africa Station: 23rd January 1927. Commanded 'TRIUMPH' from 5th August 1914 until the time of her sinking. Principal Naval Transport Officer, Dardanelles and Salonika: 1915-1916. Chief of Staff, Eastern Mediterranean: 1916-1917, thereafter Captain of 'DREADNOUGHT' in 1918. From 1st January 1919 Commodore Commanding British Aegean Squadron. Rear Admiral: 26th November 1920. Director of Naval Intelligence: 15th August 1921. C. in C., Africa Station: 12th December 1924. KCVO: 1925. Vice Admiral: 1st May 1926.

(GGG) 590 tons. Four 12 pounders. Built 1904. 25.5 knots.

(HHH) PRO ADM 137/35. Attachment to report dated 30th November 1914 prepared by the British Naval Attache to Tokio, Captain Hon. Hubert Brand, MVO, RN.

(III) PRO ADM 137/35. 'Narrative of the Events in Connection with the Siege, Blockade and Reduction of the Fortress of Tsingtao.' Geoffrey Stewart Fleetwood Nash. Promoted Commander: 30th June 1917. DSO. From 15th February 1926 appointed Naval Attache to Berlin. Promoted Captain on 3rd January 1930 and retired. George Gipps. Promoted Commander: 30th June 1915. Killed in action:16th January 1917.

(JJJ) Hubert George Brand. Born: 20th May 1870. Died: 14th December 1955. Entered the RN: 1883. Promoted Captain: 31st December 1907. Naval Attache at Tokyo from 9th December 1912 until succeeded on 1st December 1914 by Captain Edward H. Rymer. His predecessor from 16th Sept. 1910 had been Captain Sir Douglas E.R. Brownrigg, Bart. Naval Assistant to Second Sea Lord, Admiralty: 1915-1916. Chief of Staff to Sir David Beatty, Battle Cruiser Fleet, and Captain of the Fleet: 1916-1919. Promoted Rear Admiral: 12th February 1919. KCMG: 1919. Commanded H.M. Yachts: 1919-1922. KCVO: 1922. Commanded First Light Cruiser Squadron: 1922-1924. Vice Admiral: 1st October 1924. Naval Secretary to First Lord of the Admiralty: 1925. Second Sea Lord: 1925-1927. KCB: 1927. C. in C., Atlantic Fleet: 15th August 1927-1929. Admiral: 11th June 1928. C. in C., Plymouth: 8th October 1929-1932. Retired List: 1932. GCB: 1932.

(KKK) 9,700 tons. Launched at Elswick: 6th July 1898. Armoured cruiser to remain in service until 9th August 1945 when to be bombed by U.S. aircraft and stranded near Ominato, North Honshu, Japan. Four 8", fourteen 6" and smaller guns. Five T.T. 23 knots. She had played an active role in the Russo-Japanese War including participation in the Battle of Tsushima, 27th/28th May 1905.

(LLL) 5,308 grt. Steamer built in Sunderland in 1898. As built was 'WAKOOL', 5,004 grt, an early reefer for W. Lund, the Blue Anchor Line. In 1910 the line was acquired by P. & O. In turn in 1913 the ship was bought by Goshi Kaisha Kishimoto Shokai, and re-named. Registered: Dairen.

(MMM) (1848-1916). Of Satsuma heritage. Entered the Navy in September 1871. At the Battle of the Yalu against China on 17th September 1894 commanded the cruiser 'AKITSUSHIMA', 3,150 tons. Promoted Captain: December 1894. Ordered to Great Britain in February 1899 and promoted Rear Admiral that September. Superintendent of the IJN shipbuilding programme then being undertaken in Great Britain. Included in the programme were the battleships 'ASAHI', 'HATSUSE', 'SHIKISHIMA' and 'MIKASA'. Vice Chief of Naval Staff: March 1902. Promoted Vice Admiral: September 1903. At Tsushima, 27th/28th May 1905, flew his flag in 'IDZUMO', 9,750 tons, as Commander of the 2nd Division consisting of six armoured cruisers. C. in C., Yokosuka: December 1905. Created a Baron: September 1907. Promoted Admiral: December 1908.

(NNN) 350 tons. Launched 1900. Three 3 pdr. guns and three T.T. 27.5 knots.

(OOO) 3,700 tons. Completed at Elswick: 26th March 1886. Two 10.2", six 6" and two 3 pdr. guns. Four T.T. 18.7 knots. At Tsingtao she was carrying 120 mines.

Last Updated: 24 December, 2001.

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