The Battle of Myeongryang Straits, September 16th (Oct. 25th in Western Calendar), 1597Background
For five years since the beginning of the Imjin War
(more commonly known as Bunroku no eki / Keicho no eki
to Westerners) in 1592, the Admiral of Three Provinces
, Yi Sun Shin had successfully laid waste to the invasion fleets of Japan with devastating efficiency, destroying entire armadas and wrecking havoc to the logistics of the Japanese invasion army within the Joseon Peninsula.
In 1597, now acknowledging the existence of admiral Yi as the largest obstacle to the war against the Kingdom of Joseon, the Japanese devised a plan. Japanese double agents successfully tapped into the internal political struggles of the Joseon Kingdom. Admiral Yi was framed, stripped of his position and title, imprisoned and tortured according to allegations of insubordination, and then, was sentenced to punishment to serve as a common foot soldier. Admiral Won Gyun, the political antagonist who framed admiral Yi, was promoted as the new Admiral of Three Provinces
, the highest naval position of the Kingdom of Joseon.
The Japanese made good use of this opportunity. The foolish admiral Won Gyun was lured by the Japanese navy and led his forces into a trap at the seapath of Chilcheonryang. On July 15th, 1597, the Joseon navy, for the first time since the war began, was defeated. In a single day the entire Joseon navy - consisting of around 300 warships with its veteran seamen and officers - was lost. Surviving ships were scattered, and the chain of command collapsed. Most of the veteran officers and captains whom admiral Yi trusted the most, were killed in action. Countless seamen were killed and drowned. What remained of the once invincible Joseon navy, was now only 12 warships.
Upon hearing this news, the royal court of Joseon regret its actions and reinstated admiral Yi. However the situation was dire, and some of the officials, as well as the King himself, suggested perhaps they should give up on the (now destroyed) navy entirely and move admiral Yi to a position to command land battles. Upon hearing this suggestion, admiral Yi sent a letter to the King, and made an oath by writing; "I still have 12 ships left, and by giving up ourselves we will find a way to fight them. If we give up on the navy now, the enemy will be glad of this, and will pass through the province of Chungcheong to the capital city, and that is what I worry the most. Though we have only a few ships left, I swear, as long as I am alive, the enemy shall never look down upon us."The Battle
Two months from the defeat at Chilcheonryang, a Japanese fleet consisting of around 200 ships (130 warships and 70 support ships) was spotted by the remnants of the Joseon navy, now including one more ship which was constructed during the months, for a total force of 13 warships. After weeks of reconnaissance, careful maneuvering, and small-scale combat, the Japanese navy finally showed up at the opposite end of the narrow, Myeonryang straits. Seeing that the Joseon navy was now only 13 ships in total strength, even the great admiral Yi was bound to be defeated, or so they thought.
On September 15th, one day before the battle, admiral Yi addressed his men; "Military doctrines say that, 'One who is ready to die shall be rewarded with life, one who seeks life shall be rewarded with only death' and, 'if one person defends a narrow path he can repel one thousand enemies.' That is the situation we are in. If you, men, shall not meet my commands to the end, I will never forgive it."
It was literally a last stand, a final battle which seemed to be destined that the Joseon navy would meet its end in a final, glorious battle.
In the morning of the 16th, the Japanese navy moved forward, attempting to pass the narrow straits and into the open sea. If the Japanese navy succeeded, then they would have been able to support the movements of their land forces up in the north. Admiral Yi reacted immediately and tried
to form a defensive line at the narrowest point of the straits by ordering the ships to advance. However, the other 12 ships and its crew were clearly terrified of the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, as the 133 Japanese warships outnumbered the Joseon warships by 10 to 1.
As a result, for hours only admiral Yi's flagship guarded the choke point and fought off advancing Japanese warships alone. Other warships were unresponsive in a state of panic, watching from behind in horror as the admiral's flagship faced the endless stream of advancing Japanese ships alone. The captains were locked in a dilemma, fearing for their lives, but still could not in their good conscience just abandon their commander and leave him to fight alone. Seeing this, admiral Yi put up a flag to summon the ships around him, and shouted, "Will you choose to die by my sword, or to die like a captain should - in a fight against the enemy?" and "You are to support me in battle and yet you hide behind me. I should kill you myself, but the battle is dire - I give you a chance to redeem yourselves."
From that point on, all 12 ships stayed with their flagship and held the line. 31 Japanese ships were sunk, countless other ships were damaged, and the fleet retreated. The Joseon navy lost no ships, and sustained minor casualties. While the exact numbers are unknow, only 2 seamen were killed on the flagship, despite the fact it fought alone at the chokepoint for hours, until the rest of the ships came to its aid.
On that day, they prepared themselves for a last stand, and ended up saving the kingdom with an unexpected victory. The Order of BattleJoseon Navy(13)
- 13 warships, panokseon-classFlagship (1)
- Admiral of Three Provinces, Yi Sun Shin (1)-Center (5)
- Lieutenant of Mijoham, Kim Eung Ham
- Defense Commander of the Bay of Yeongdeung: Captain of reconnaisance/Jo Gye Jong
- Defense Commander of the Bay of Angol: Woo Soo
- Governor of Geoje: An Wi
- Captain of the Bay of Pyeongsan: Jeong Eung DooLeft (3)
- Admiral of the Eastern Jeolla Province, Kim Eok Choo
- UnknownRight (4)
- Commander of the Eastern Jeolla Province, Bae Heung Rib
- Defense Commander of the Bay of Hwoeryeong, Min Jeong Boong
- Defense Commander of the Bay of Balpo, So Gye Nam
- Defense Commander of Nokdo, Song Yeo JongJapanese Navy (133)
- Recon from the Joseon navy counts a total of 133 warships* Exact order is unknown. Only the below are confirmed:
- Todo Takatora (fleet commander)
- Kurushima Michifusa (captain fo the vanguard)
- Mori Takamasa (naval inspector)