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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Then ensued a disorderly retreat on the part of the Koreans


The

distance from Seoul to Pyong-yang on the Tadong is 130 miles, and it was traversed by the Japanese in eighteen days, ten of which had been occupied in forcing the passage of the Imjin. On the southern bank of the Tadong, the invaders found themselves in a position even more difficult than that which had confronted them at the Imjin. They had to pass a wide rapid river with a walled city of great strength on its northern bank and with all the boats in the possession of the Korean garrison, which was believed to be very numerous. Some parleying took place, and the issue of the situation seemed very doubtful when the Koreans lost patience and crossed the river, hoping to destroy the Japanese by a night attack. They miscalculated the time required for this operation, and daylight compelled them to abandon the enterprise when its only result had been to disclose to the invaders the whereabouts of the fords. Then ensued a disorderly retreat on the part of the Koreans, and there being no time for the latter to fire the town, storehouses full of grain fell into the hands of the invaders. The Korean Court resumed its flight as far as Wi-ju, a few miles south of the Yalu River, whence messengers were sent to China to solicit succour.

THE COMMAND OF THE SEA

Thus far, everything had marched in perfect accord with the Japanese programme. A force of nearly two hundred thousand men had been carried over the sea and had overrun

practically the whole of Korea. "At this point, however, the invasion suffered a check owing to a cause which in modern times has received much attention, though in Hideyoshi's days it had been little considered; the Japanese lost the command of the sea. The Japanese idea of sea fighting in those times was to use open boats propelled chiefly by oars. They closed as quickly as possible with the enemy and then fell on with the trenchant swords which they used so skilfully. Now, during the fifteenth century and part of the sixteenth, the Chinese had been so harassed by Japanese piratical raids that their inventive genius, quickened by suffering, suggested a device for coping with these formidable adversaries. Once allow the Japanese swordsman to come to close quarters and he carried all before him. To keep him at a distance, then, was the great desideratum, and the Chinese compassed this in maritime warfare by completely covering their boats with roofs of solid timber, so that those within were protected against missiles or other weapons, while loop-holes and ports enabled them to pour bullets and arrows on a foe.

"The Koreans learned this device from the Chinese and were the first to employ it in actual warfare. Their own history alleges that they improved upon the Chinese model by nailing sheet iron over the roofs and sides of the 'turtle-shell' craft and studding the whole surface with chevaux de frise, but Japanese annals indicate that in the great majority of cases timber alone was used. It seems strange that the Japanese should have been without any clear perception of the immense fighting superiority possessed by such protected war-vessels over small open boats. But certainly they were either ignorant or indifferent. The fleet which they provided to hold the command of Korean waters did not include one vessel of any magnitude; it consisted simply of some hundreds of row-boats manned by seven thousand men. Hideyoshi himself was perhaps not without misgivings. Six years previously, he had endeavoured to obtain two war-galleons from the Portuguese, and had he succeeded, the history of the Far East might have been radically different. Evidently, however, he committed a blunder which his countrymen in modern times have conspicuously avoided; he drew the sword without having fully investigated his adversary's resources.

"Just about the time when the van of the Japanese army was entering Seoul, the Korean admiral, Yi Sun-sin, at the head of a fleet of eighty vessels, attacked the Japanese squadron which lay at anchor near the entrance to Fusan harbour, set twenty-six of the vessels on fire, and dispersed the rest. Four other engagements ensued in rapid succession. The last and most important took place shortly after the Japanese troops had seized Pyong-yang. It resulted in the sinking of over seventy Japanese vessels, transports and fighting ships combined, which formed the main part of a flotilla carrying reinforcements by sea to the van of the invading army. This despatch of troops and supplies by water had been a leading feature of Hideyoshi's plan of campaign, and the destruction of the flotilla to which the duty was entrusted may be said to have sealed the fate of the war by isolating the army in Korea from its home base.


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