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Timo Nieminen

Location: Brisbane, Australia
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PostPosted: Mon 14 May, 2012 3:31 pm    Post subject: Imjin War - Hideyoshi's Invasion 1592-1598         Reply with quote

The basics: The Japanese invaded Korea in 1592, as the first stage of a planned invasion of China (and, in theory, India). The Japanese swept aside initial Korean opposition, and rapidly advanced to Seoul and captured it. Some Japanese force reached the Yalu River. The Chinese intervened to help the Koreans. The Japanese were pushed back, and peace talks went on for some years. The Japanese launched a major offensive when unhappy with the peace talks. This was defeated, and the Japanese withdrew. There is plenty of information at the Wikipedia page:

This war is interesting because it shows the various East Asian powers of the time in action, with there different military traditions, systems, and arms. It's one of the few time we can see end-of-Sengoku period Japanese armies in action outside Japan (another being the conquest of Okinawa).

A lot of writing about the war is partisan, with Japanese claims that the Japanese won, and only left because Hideyoshi died, and Korean claims that the victory was due almost entirely to Yi Sun Shin (leading the Korean navy) and Korean guerrillas. Accusations of partisan writing have been directed at all three major English-language books on the war. These are:

Stephen Turnbull, Samurai Invasion: Japan's Korean War 1592 -1598. Turnbull has been criticised for being very pro-Japanese, and for depending too much on Japanese sources. However, Turnbull also used Korean sources, and uses largely the same language to describe Korean heroics as Japanese heroics, Korean victories as Japanese victories. Turnbull is not anti-Korean. Perhaps anti-Chinese? It's much harder to get to the Chinese side of the war - the Korean and the Japanese wrote their own heroic accounts of the war, and popular fiction based on the war (e.g., Record of the Black Dragon Year / Imjin Nok), the Chinese histories of the late Ming were written in the early Qing, and the writers did not make much of late Ming Chinese success or heroism. There is a wealth of detail on battles in Turnbull - this is the book for a detailed tactical/operational picture of the war.

Kenneth Swope, A Dragon's Head and a Serpent's Tail: Ming China and the First Great East Asian War, 1592-1598. Swope has been criticised for being pro-Chinese. Swope mostly mostly the Chinese intervention, using mainly Chinese sources. Swope deals with logistics and strategy, not the small detail of battles and tactics. Swope discusses the technologies used by the Chinese and Japanese forces in Kenneth M. Swope, Crouching Tigers, Secret Weapons: Military Technology Employed during the Sino-Japanese-Korean War, 1592-1598, Journal of Military History 69, No. 1 (Jan., 2005), pp. 11-41.

Swope and Turbull, together, provide a good coverage of the war.

The third main book is Samuel Hawley, The Imjin War: Japan's Sixteenth-Century Invasion of Korea and Attempt to Conquer China. This is the pro-Korean acount. I haven't read it, so won't comment further.

There is also Turnbull's Osprey Campaign book, The Samurai Invasion of Korea 1592-98. Said to be much inferior to his book above. I haven't read it.

Arms and armour

The Japanese army can be characterised as a musket army (or spear-and-musket). Approximately 25% of the Japanese force was gunners. The Japanese army was well-equipped, and well experienced. And large. One motivation for the war was to keep them busy outside Japan.

The Korean army can be characterised as an archery army. The bow was the key weapon, the high-status weapon. 2/3 or the Korean military examination was archery (the non-archery components were equestrian: mounted spear and polo). Training, readiness, and equipment were poor. Fortresses were poorly maintained. There was little experience.

The Chinese army was very varied. The first force sent were local force, from just across the border. They performed very poorly. The main expeditionary force was experienced, and very artillery-heavy.

Japanese muskets were among the best in the world at the time. As a result of the war, the Ming decided to improve their muskets, and tested various imported designs (their conclusion: Ottoman muskets were best, but the Japanese ones were very good, too). The Koreans immediately adopted the Japanese-style musket, and used as many as available throughout the rest of the war. Musketry was added to the military exams in 1593. In the 1620s, when Korea sent forces to help China against the Manchus, these were 80% musketeers.

Korean sources blame some of the early defeats on the superiority of Japanese swords (sharper and longer). The real problem appears to be poor leadership and poor training, and consequent poor morale. Korean forces did defeat Japanese forces in hand-to-hand fighting later in the war (naval and land), with similar equipment as at the start. See Turnbull for many examples.

Korean "turtle ships" are sometimes given much credit for the naval victories. However, there were few of them, and most of the fighting (and damage) was done by more conventional warships, such as the panokseon. Archery, musketry, and light artillery were all important in naval fighting.

Most of the artillery was light artillery. Chinese and Japanese fortresses were artillery proof, and artillery was used in sieges and battles in an anti-personnel role rather than to bring down walls. It isn't easy to bring down 15 metre thick rammed earth walls with cannon! Still, the Chinese and Korean artillery was much heavier and more plentiful than the Japanese.

Now, let me comment on what was becoming a long off-topic digression in a discussion on Chinese shields. From there,

William P wrote:

Timo Nieminen wrote:

William P wrote:
the koreans did VERY badly in that war due to a cultural aversion to martial arts in koreas confucian system, except for archery, it was noted the archery trained men had very little skill in close quarters and were frequently scattered by japanese musket volleys followed by infantry charges.

... and because they were very deficient in muskets at the start of the war, and, locally, they were outnumbered by the Japanese, and the Japanese army consisted in large part of seasoned veterans. And incompetence in command; such commanders had not been filtered out by earlier fighting.

the korean armies strength was in archery, either mounted or on foot, but it shunned close quarter combat arts for aformentioned reasons.
korea didnt have that core of martial elites within the ruling class,
As for the military situation in Joseon, the Korean scholar official Yu Seong-ryong observed, "not one in a hundred [Korean generals] knew the methods of drilling soldiers":[69] rise in ranks depended far more on social connections than military knowledge.[70] Korean soldiers were disorganized, ill-trained and ill-equipped,[70] and they were used mostly in construction projects such as building castle walls.[71]

Yes, as I said. Poor leadership and poor training were key elements in Korean losses. Generally, many things contributed to their losses. Some losses were solely due to poor leadership (such as commanders abandoning their men before battle, choosing to leave fortifications and fight superior forces in the open in the belief that the Japanese were very poor fighters).

Lack of a core of martial elites in the ruling class doesn't automatically mean that the common soldiers - not drawn from the ruling class - can't fight well. Lack of a core of martial elites in military command is a problem, since it leads to poor training. In Korea, the key word is "lack", not "absence". There were some good leaders.

William P wrote:

so it wasnt really the japanese musket volleys, that caused the koreans to be scattered, it was more what came straight after aka hordes of angry samurai charging at you

The Koreans did, on occasion, defeat the Japanese in hand-to-hand fighting. They considered the musket effective enough to adopt it as a major arm for themselves.

The oversimplified versions of what happened, saying "it's all due to the single cause X", are just that, oversimplified. The Korean army at the start of the war was ineffective. As many armies with poor training and readiness are at the start of wars against experienced veteran armies. When they become experienced veterans themselves, they do better.

William P wrote:

btw the japanese had been exposed to cannons but didnt adopt them from europeans like they did with the musket.
in fact, the europeans presented a mortar to the court of the japanese and though the japanese were 'impressed' they rejected the thing as something to be used
the reasons for this are unknown, but the japanese had the capacity to make guns, evidenced by a few breechloaders attributed to nobunaga,, so the technology was there the japanese didnt adopt it.
but unlike in korea and china japanese cannons were very rare

More that the Japanese had less opportunity to use cannons. Cannons were (probably) used at Sekigahara (and in earlier field battles), were used at the siege of Osaka castle, and then there were few wars where they could be used. Cannon being decommisioned during the Edo Period were often not replaced, leaving the Japanese very cannon-poor in the 19th century (still, some old cannons were used in the end-of-Edo wars).

Surviving examples of highly advanced cannon from the late 16th century is not evidence that the Japanese didn't adopt cannon. They used them, but not as much as the Chinese or Koreans.

William P wrote:

in anycase, the ming chinese were much more capable of facing japan on close quarter terms.
they were much better trained and drilled in all aspects of war, i.e much more of a martial culture, the chinese were also more organised

It's not that simple. The first forces the Chinese sent were crushed almost as badly as Korean forces had been. They performed badly in close combat.

The main expeditionary force was much better equipped and trained. That's why they were chosen, and sent a long way to get to Korea.

(Apparently, Siam offered to send forces to help the Chinese in Korea.)

"In addition to being efficient, all pole arms were quite nice to look at." - Cherney Berg, A hideous history of weapons, Collier 1963.
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William P

Location: Sydney, Australia
Joined: 11 Jul 2010

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PostPosted: Tue 15 May, 2012 1:20 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

well i was gonna suggest starting a thread on the imjin war to seperate from the topic of that of rattan shield use but you beat me to it.

with regard to cannon, i think we're in agreement that the japanese did occasionlly use cannon but it was so sparse in its use (according to turnbull anyway)

the cannons i mentioned were breech loading swivel guns apparently you can see the examples.

especially compared to chinese and korean cannons which came in all shapes and sizes for all sorts of uses.
the wiki article shows an unusual korean weapon called the cannon arrow, which was a wooden shaft with an iron head shot out of cannons, this being, btw, not just an ancient weapon but part of the korean arsenal during the imjin war.
and then of course theres the famous rocket-arrow cart aka hwacha.

however your note about japanese castle being cannon proof was something turnbull failed to mention in his book on the samurai.. this might go some way to explain why they weren't used nearly as often and the japanese maybe relying on traction trebuchets flinging ovoid 'thunder crash bombs' aka gunpowder bombs which were more or less oversized fireworks without all the colour and such, or simply large rocks
whichj would have been more important in their ability to lob shots over walls and hit towers and troops
but thats guesswork on my part.

i might bring over some key quotes on the korean leadership talking about the korean letters etc regarding defeats.
just to help complete the picture
Koreans, who fare fairly well in ranged combat by employing small firearms and bows, were poorly trained in close combat, and lacked battlefield experience and discipline. Thus Korean soldiers were unable to hold their line against charging Japanese soldiers. The following words from a Korean military official named Shi-eon Lee to the Korean king clearly shows such weakness:

The King asked him (Shi-eon Lee),

"You have already told me about the low accuracy of Japanese muskets. Why, then, are Korean armies having great problem with defeating them?"

He then answered, "The Korean soldiers cower before the enemy and flee for their lives even before they have engaged the enemy. As for the commanders, they seldom leave their positions because they fear that they might be executed for deserting. However, there is a limit to executing deserting soldiers since there are so many of them. Truly, the Japanese aren't good musketeers, but they advance so rapidly that they appear right in front of the Koreans in the time Koreans can shoot only two arrows. It is said that Koreans are good archers, but they seldom hit the targets when the enemy is too far away, and are too scared to shoot when the enemy is near because they fear Japanese swords. Archery often becomes useless because Koreans, fearing the Japanese arme blanche, can barely shoot. The Japanese are reputed to be good swordsmen, but it is possible for Koreans to draw swords and hold their ground. However, the Koreans seldom do this and merely run for their lives."

which more or less supports what timo said and what i was implying but didnt say outright. which was, as he said, the fact that there wasnt that extensive martial culture as was in japan, and somewhat in china, may have trickled down and hindered the development of martial training among the army in general. both maybe in terms of direct training, and more broadly, there being a lack of pressure from government, or officials to keep up a standard of training and martial prowess.

then end result is that these problems with koreas military system galvanised them to reform their policies of training and martial techniques, as a result a number of manuals were compiled, based off chinese manuals at the time, the end result being the muyedobotongji which was published 1791

the first edition was the muyejebo was written in 1598
In the Ji Xiao Xin Shu general Qi introduces the so called 'Mandarin Duck Formation' (Yuan Yang Zhen, 鸳鸯阵). This formation consisted of a unit of eleven soldiers and one person for logistics.

1. 1 squad leader (with the squad flag)
2. 2 men with sabers and rattan shields
3. 2 men with multiple tip bamboo spears
4. 4 men with long spears
5. 2 men with tridents or swords
6. 1 cook/porter (logistical personnel)

This squad was drilled in coordinated and mutually-supportive fighting with clearly defined roles for everyone. In a smallest fighting unit of 5 men (excluding the squad leader), there are the following roles:

1. One multiple tip bamboo spearman attached to one saber-and-shield man to protect him by entangling the Japanese pirate and his weapon, should the saber-and-shield man become vulnerable during combat.....
2. 2 spearmen to thrust at the enemy should the multiple tip bamboo spearman become vulnerable.
3. The saber-and-shield man to protect the spearmen should they themselves become overextended and vulnerable.
4. The trident man would act as a supportive backup.

If the squad leader was killed in battle, the whole squad would be put to death.
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Yu-Hsing Chen

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PostPosted: Tue 18 Mar, 2014 4:43 am    Post subject: Re: Imjin War - Hideyoshi's Invasion 1592-1598         Reply with quote

An old one, but let me point out that the Chinese side of the story were NOT poorly recorded as I have read into much of it myself, it included very detailed first hand account as things developed such as the compilation of letters written by the chief administrator in charge of the war operation in the first war (Song Ying Chang) along with biography accounts of generals that participated in the war, and of course the formal history (which while it was formally complied in the Qing dynasty, all the sources were based on Ming era records.)

It is actually the Japanese sources that is the most difficult , since it was spread out among the different families, many of whom died out shortly after in the aftermath of the battle of Sekigihara (for example, Konishi Yukinaga who was probably the single most active japanese daiymo in the entire war, he and his family were wiped out less than a *2* years after the war ended. ) Guys like Turnbull, full time historians , might be able to access these record, but the public can not, however, most of the Korean and Chinese archive are readily available in any major library of those country, in fact, the single most comprehensive Korean source that everyone quotes most of their work from .. aka the Annuls of Senjo is ONLINE in BOTH KOREAN AND CHINESE as records of the dynasty was written in both. anyone with high school comprehension of those language can access them easily.)

I've read all 3 account, and Hawley's was probably the most overall objective work, which is ironic since he is also the only guy who has no background in history what so ever.

The war (especially the first one) can really be summed up more or less as a hilarious logistic disaster due to epic misjudgement on Japan's part and an understandable but horrendous lie on the Korean part. suffice to say, the simple story was this, Japan's invasion plans counted on them being able to secure that year's harvest in Korea to sustain their operation, however, this assumed that Korean peasants cooperated, which really didn't happen. so what happened was that almost 80% or more of the harvest in all of Korea that year failed as peasants fled their fields all across the country.

However, the Korean court did not tell this to the Ming , and the Ming also did a poor job of information gathering, and simply assumed that they would be supported by the local Koreans when they arrive (which was also what the court told them.) only to find that it was the other way around, a ton of refugees were begging or out right attacking their baggage trains for food.

So the disaster of 1593 was that all 3 sides were starving , with the only source of food being the slow and tiny flow from China, and of course Jeolla province which didn't fall, (but was completely cut off from the Korean court and thus also the Ming military.)

It was an interesting war as equipment used by the sides were wildly different and a lot of characters that would effect their country's history in a much longer run were involved. but the war it self was really a ugly dragfest and most of the time and effort on all front were simply spent on trying to secure logistics.
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