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The Siege of Tsingtao was the attack on the German-controlled port of Tsingtao (now Qingdao) in China during World War I by Imperial Japan and the United Kingdom. It took place between 31 October and 7 November 1914 and was fought by Imperial Japan and the United Kingdom against Germany. It was the first encounter between Japanese and German forces, and also the first Anglo-Japanese operation during the war.
Throughout the late 19th century the German Empire joined other European powers in an imperialist scramble for colonial possessions. As did other world powers, the Germans began to interfere in Chinese local affairs. After two German missionaries were killed in 1897, China was forced to transfer Kiaochow in Shantung (now Shandong) to Germany in 1898 on a 99-year lease. The Germans then began to assert their influence across the rest of the province of Shandong and built the port of Tsingtao. The port became the home base of the Kaiserliche Marine's East Asia Squadron, which operated in support of German territories in the Pacific Ocean.
The United Kingdom perceived the German presence in China as a threat to British interests and leased Weihaiwei, also in Shantung, as a naval port and coaling station in response, while Russia and France leased their own at Port Arthur (now Lüshunkou) and Kwang-Chou-Wan respectively. The British also began to forge close ties with the Japanese.
Japan's developments in the late 19th century also mirrored that of other imperialist powers and Japan acquired colonial territories on the Asian mainland. Japanese and British diplomatic relations became closer and the Anglo-Japanese alliance was signed on 30 January 1902. This was seen as a necessity by both powers, especially by Japan who saw it as a further step to being recognized as a world power. Japan demonstrated its potential of being a rival to the British Empire after its victory in the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905; the alliance remained intact into World War I.
The First World War began in early August 1914. Britain soon requested Japanese assistance. The Japanese civil government, led by Prime Minister Okuma Shigenobu, feared growing military power which was playing an ever greater role in Japanese politics. The government believed that maintaining a strong alliance with Britain would help maintain control over the military. Pressure came from the Imperial Japanese Navy, whose structure was closely based on the British Royal Navy and the Imperial Japanese Army, in a growing desire to expand the Japanese Empire.
In accordance with the Anglo-Japanese alliance the Japanese Government sided with Britain in the war. On 15 August Japan issued an ultimatum to Germany, stating that Germany must withdraw their warships from Chinese and Japanese waters and transfer control of Tsingtao to Japan. The following day, Major-General Mitsuomi Kamio, General Officer Commanding (GOC), 18th Infantry Division, was directed to begin preparations for an invasion of Tsingtao. When the ultimatum expired on 23 August Japan declared war on Germany.
At the beginning of hostilities the larger units of the East Asia Squadron under the command of Vice Admiral Maximilian von Spee were dispersed at central Pacific colonies on routine missions. The ships rendezvoused in the northern Marianas for coaling, and, with the exception of SMS Emden which headed for the Indian Ocean, made their way to the west coast of South America. There the squadron destroyed a Royal Navy squadron at the Battle of Coronel before being itself destroyed at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.
The Boxer Rebellion lead the German administration in Tsingtao to more seriously consider the defense of Tsingtao. The port and town were separated from the rest of the peninsula by steep hills. A natural line of defense lay along these hills, from the Kaiserstuhl to Litsuner Heights. The second, 17km long line of defense was built up along a closer line of steep hills. The final line of defense was built along hills 200 meters above the town. A network of trenches, batteries, and other fortifications were built here before the siege.
The Germans also built up their seaward defenses, laying mines on the aproaches to the harbour, and building four batteries and five redoubts. The fortifications were well equipped (although some were using older Chinese artillery) and well manned.
The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) first sent ships under Vice-Admiral Sadakichi Kato, flying his flag in the pre-dreadnought Suwo, to blockade the coast of German-controlled Kiaochow, beginning on 27 August. During the course of the naval operations off Tsingtao, the British Royal Navy (RN) attached the China Station's pre-dreadnought HMS Triumph and the destroyer HMS Usk to the IJN. The British warships were integrated into the Second Squadron with few problems. According to a German press report following the siege, the Triumph was damaged by German land batteries. The Japanese squadron consisted of mostly obsolete warships, though it did briefly engage a number of more modern vessels. These included the dreadnoughts Kawachi, Settsu, the battlecruiser Kongō and the seaplane carrier Wakamiya, whose aircraft became the first of its kind in the world to successfully attack land and sea targets. These planes would also take part in another military first: the first night-time bombing raid.
The 18th Infantry Division was the primary Japanese Army formation that took part in the initial landings, numbering 23,000 soldiers with support from 142 artillery pieces. They began to land on 2 September at Lungkow (now Longkou), Shandong, which was experiencing heavy floods at the time, and later at Laoshan Bay on 18 September, about 18 miles east of Tsingtao. China protested Japan's violation of her neutrality but did not interfere in the operations.
The British Government and the other European great powers were concerned about Japanese intentions in the region and decided to send a small symbolic British contingent from Tientsin in an effort to allay their fears. The 1,500-man contingent was commanded by Brigadier-General Nathaniel Walter Barnardiston and consisted of 1,000 soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, The South Wales Borderers later followed by 500 soldiers of the 36th Sikhs.
The Germans responded to the threat against Tsingtao by concentrating all of their available East Asian troops in the city. Kaiser Wilhelm II made the defense of Tsingtao a top priority, saying that "... it would shame me more to surrender Tsingtao to the Japanese than Berlin to the Russians."
The German garrison, commanded by naval Captain and Governor Alfred Meyer-Waldeck, consisted of the marines of III. Seebataillon, naval personnel and soldiers (Chinese colonial troops and Austro-Hungarian sailors) for a total strength of 3,625 men under arms. He also had a modest complement of vessels, the torpedo boat S-90 and four small gunboats, the Iltis, Jaguar, Tiger and Luchs and the Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth, whose crew was initially divided in two; to man the ship and fight as part of the German land forces.
As the Japanese approached his position, the German Commander withdrew his forces from the two outer defensive lines and concentrated his troops on the innermost line of defense, along the hills closest to the town.
The Austro-Hungarian cruiser, SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth was stationed in Tsingtao at the start of the war. Early in the siege, the Kaiserin Elisabeth and German gunboat Jaguar made an unsuccessful sortie against Japanese vessels blokading Tsingao. Later, the cruiser's 15cm and 4.7cm guns were removed from the ship and mounted on shore, creating the "Batterie Elisabeth". The ship's crew took part in the defense of Tsingtao.
On 17 October 1914 the torpedo boat S-90 slipped out of Tsingtao harbor and, firing a single torpedo, sank the 3,000 ton Japanese cruiser Takachiho with the loss of 271 officers and men. S-90 was unable to run the blockade back to Tsingtao and scuttled itself in Chinese waters when running short on fuel.
The Japanese commenced shelling of the fort and the city on 31 October and began digging parallel lines of trenches just as they had done at the Siege of Port Arthur nine years earlier. Very large 11 inch howitzers from land, in addition to the firing of their naval guns, brought the German defences under constant shrapnel bombardment during the night, the Japanese moving their own trenches further forward under the cover of their artillery. The bombardment continued for seven days, employing around 100 siege guns with 1,200 shells each on the Japanese side. While the Germans were able to use the heavy guns of the port fortifications to attack the landward positions of the Allies, they soon ran out of ammunition.
The Germans were only able to field a single aircraft during the siege flown by Lieutenant Gunther Plüschow (a second airplane flown by Lt. Müllerskowsky crashed). The surviving aircraft was used primarily for frequent reconnaissance flights, but Plüschow made several nuisance attacks on the vessels of the blockading squadron by dropping jury-rigged munitions and other available ordnance. He also claimed the downing of a Japanese Farman MF.7. Plüschow with his aircraft flew out from Tsingtao on 6 November 1914 carrying the governor's last dispatches which were forwarded to Berlin through neutral diplomatic channels. On the night of 6 November waves of Japanese infantry attacked the third line of defences and overwhelmed the defenders. The next morning, the German forces along with their Austro-Hungarian allies asked for terms.
The Allies took formal possession of the colony on 16 November 1914.
Japanese army casualties numbered 236 killed and 1,282 wounded; the British, 12 killed and 53 wounded. The German defenders suffered 199 dead and 504 wounded.
That the Germans were able to hold out for nearly two months under a total Japanese/British blockade, sustained artillery barrages and manpower odds of 6:1 gave a morale boost during the siege as well as later in defeat. The defeated Germans on the other hand watched the Japanese as they marched into Tsingtao but turned their backs on the triumphant British as they marched into town. The German dead were buried at Tsingtao; the troops were transported to prisoner of war camps in Japan and were treated well and with respect. The internment of German troops in Japan lasted until the formal signature of the Versailles peace treaty in 1919, but due to technical questions the troops were not repatriated before 1920. This episode of World War I was recently revisited by an exhibition at Marburg University (Germany), which focused on the impact of German and Japanese culture coming into contact.
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