The Battles of the Yellow Sea (1894) and Weihaiwei (1895) were decisive naval battles in the First Sino-Japanese War. The Beiyang Fleet of China – formed during the Self-Strengthening Movement under Governor-General Li Hongzhan (李鴻章) – engaged the Japanese navy in the Yellow Sea in September 1894. The overall capability of the Japanese fleet was far above that of China in terms of tonnage, firepower, speed and strength. The Beiyang Fleet also suffered from insufficient training and maintenance – its flagship Dingyuan had not been maintained or refitted for 7 years despite having been in service for 12 years.
During the battle, Dingyuan was heavily damaged while Commander-in-Chief Admiral Ding Ruchang (丁汝昌) was critically injured. Chinese cruiser Zhiyuan under the command of Captain Deng Shichang (鄧世昌) charged on Japanese cruiser Yoshino, but was sunk by a torpedo. In total, five Chinese warships sank while four Japanese warships, including the flagship Matsushima, suffered considerable damage.
The Beiyang Fleet, despite being battle-worthy, withdrew to the port of Weihaiwei (威海衛) and refrained from engaging the enemy, following the strict orders of Li Hongzhang. In early 1895 when Weihaiwei came under heavy Japanese land and naval attacks, over 20 Chinese warships sat in the bay making no attempt to attack the Japanese or to defend themselves. What remained of the fleet surrendered as Admiral Ding Ruchang committed suicide by poison, destroying 30 years of China’s modernization efforts.
While the land forces of the two countries were engaged in battle, their naval forces also prepared for a decisive sea battle. Pictured are the naval commanders of the First Sino-Japanese War, Ding Ruchang, Commander-in-Chief of the Beiyang Fleet, and Itō Sukeyuki, Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet (right).
Pictures of the Beiyang battleships Dingyuan (left) and Zhenyuan (right). Dingyuan and Zhenyuan, deployed in the Sino-Japanese naval battle, were the Beiyang Fleet’s largest and most heavily armored capital ships. With a displacement of over 7,000 tons each and equipped with large cannons, they outclassed the Japanese vessels at that time. Dingyuan, the flagship, was to command the fleet in the battle.
Pictures of the Japanese cruisers Matsushima (left) and Yoshino (right). Both were famous for their feats in the First Sino-Japanese War.
The cruiser Naniwa had sunk the Qing’s troop transport vessel Kowshing during the Battle of Pungdo Island, and went on to participate in the battles of the Yellow Sea, Lushun, Weihaiwei and Taiwan (台灣). It was captained by Tōgō Heihachirō.
An oil painting depicting the Sino-Japanese naval battle of the Yellow Sea. This decisive battle took place on September 17, 1895 between the elite naval forces of China and Japan. It was considered the most symbolic event of the First Sino-Japanese War and it ended with China’s utter defeat.
The warship Zhiyuan and her captain Deng Shichang (鄧世昌). Most of the Beiyang Fleet fought valiantly in the Battle of the Yellow Sea. The actions of the warship Zhiyuan were particularly heroic.
On the left: Oil painting of Deng Shichang, hero of the First Sino-Japanese War; on the right: statue of Deng Shichang and his faithful dog at modern-day Liugong Island (劉公島) of Weihai City (威海市), Shandong (山東). Deng Shichang ordered his blazing vessel Zhiyuan to close on the enemy warship and attempt to ram it, and ultimately perished along with over 200 men on board.
On January 20, 1895, the Japanese waged war on Weihaiwei and overpowered its Qing defenders.
The Chinese warships Weiyuan and Dingyuan were torpedoed and ultimately sunk during the Battle of Weihaiwei. The annihilation of the Beiyang Fleet during the Battle of Weihaiwei sealed Japan’s victory in the First Sino-Japanese War.
Military situation map of the First Sino-Japanese War
Source of most photos used in this feature piece: Fotoe (pictures 1-9), Visual China Group (picture 7), misc. photo sources.