The protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth in defence of

Tsingtao, in the Year of 1914

 

Compiled and translated by Captain András VEPERDI,

formerly Chief Officer in the Hungarian Merchant Marine.

 

 

          The Navy of Austro-Hungarian Monarchy because of the almost continuous lack of money has decided in the late 1880s to build instead of bigger armoured vessels rather two ships which will have not armour protection, except of the light armoured deck above the engine-room, boilers' room and the magazines. In turn they must have a strong artillery, anti-torpedo boats arms and relative high speed. Officially this two "mixed type" ships, the Kaiser Franz Joseph I and the Kaiserin Elisabeth were called as "protected cruisers" or "mission cruisers". In this article we will study the late career of SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth, although both of them had made more "flag showing" journeys in the Far-East, she was that Austro-Hungarian warship which has trapped into the ring of the enemy Powers, so she had joined to the essentially hopeless defence of the German port, Tsingtao, in the mainland of China.

 

The protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth

 

 

On 17th 02 1913 the SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth had sailed from Pola in company of armoured cruiser SMS Kaiserin und Königin Maria Theresia toward Levante. 21-23rd 02 Smyrna. 24th 02 - 15th 06 Constantinople. She arrived back at Pola on 20th 06 and was put out of commission. On 17th 08 she was put into commission and on 19th 08 has sailed under command of Commander Richard Makowitz towards East-Asia. 25-26th 08 Port Said, 27th 08 Suez, 1-2nd 09 Aden, 11-15th 09 Colombo, 22-23rd 09 Singapore, 30th 09 - 2nd 10 Hong Kong, 8-9th 10 Chefoo, 10-16th 10 Chingwangtao, 18th 10 - 1st 11 Chefoo, 4th 11 - 15th 12 Nagasaki, where the colour of ship was changed. 17th 12 - 21st 01 1914 Shanghai, but while escaping a typhoon she steamed with maximum power of the main engines for a long time, so her boilers were damaged, and they could only repair them partially. 23-31st 01 Pagoda anchorage, Fochow, 1-23rd 02 Hong Kong, 24th 02 - 6th 03 Amoy, 9-12th 03 Nagasaki, 13-16th 03 Beppu Bungo, 17-20th 03 Mitsugahama, 20-22nd 03 Itsukishima, 23rd 03 - 7th 04 Kobe, 6th 4 - 1st 05 Yokohama, 2-3rd 05 Yokkaichi, 4-6th 05 Toba, 8-10th 05 Kagoshima, 12th 05 - 7th 06 Shanghai. 10-22nd 06 Chingwangtao. 23rd 06 - 21st 07 she has anchored with the American East-Asian Squadron in the Bay of Chefoo. On 22nd of July she arrived at Tsingtao.

 

          Before continue the story of ship and her complement, we must review the political and military situation which has characterized the era immediately before the break out of I. World War, to understand better the defence German port of Tsingtao and the role of SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth and her crew played in defence of that port. Notwithstanding it is worth-while to understand, what reason made Japan to join the Allies in the I. World War. With this action Japan had decided the fate of Tsingtao (being in German hands in that time) and the German East-Asian Squadron, and what are more particular for us, the fate of the cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth and her complement.

 

 

Japan in the I. World War

 

         Japan fought a minor and obscure campaign in World War I, yet the war deeply influenced Japanese politics. The country now counted itself a great power, with a navy ranked 4th in the world. Japan even had a colonial empire (Taiwan and Korea, and some small islands) and "interests" in China. Japanese colonial rule, while stern, had not yet assumed the brutal manner adopted in 1919. Despite a small industrial base, the pre-war economy flourished. Japanese diplomacy centred on an alliance with Britain, in which each pledged to aid the other should they become embroiled with two Great Powers. Each side insisted on an exception. Britain would in no case fight the USA, and Japan would not enter a purely European war. In 1904, the alliance allowed Japan to attack Russia, secure that the intervention of Russia's ally, France, would trigger British involvement. In the event, France wisely stayed neutral.

 

         The Army had not come out of the Russo-Japanese war well. It had won some great victories, particularly at Mukden and Port Arthur, but they had been terribly bloody. Army calculations seemed to have been unfoundedly optimistic. The Navy, by contrast, appeared to have fought brilliantly, and claimed to have actually won the war at Tsushima.

 

         When World War I broke out in Europe, the British at first assumed that Japan would remain neutral. The Admiralty, parrying German cruiser depredations on British overseas trade, convinced a reluctant Foreign Office to ask Japan for help. The Japanese Naval Staff never doubted that Britain would win. Eliminating the German base at Tsingtao would turn the Yellow Sea into a Japanese lake. The Army, in turn, saw a chance to recoup lost prestige, and perhaps force some increase in expenditure. The British request therefore changed Japanese opinion remarkably quickly. A Japanese ultimatum to Germany followed within the week (15 August). Japan declared war on 23rd August.

 

 

Japan in the Great War: The Japan Navy

 

          In August 1914, the Navy had 2 dreadnought battleships, 2 fast battle cruisers, 14 pre-dreadnought battleships (2 new, 6 quite old), 13 cruisers (4 modern), 13 light cruisers, 7 old cruisers (down-rated to gunboats), 9 gunboats, 50 destroyers, 31 torpedo boats and 13 submarines, a total of 460,000 tons. This force dominated the Pacific, threatening to crush the German East Asia Squadron of 2 armoured and 3 light cruisers and some 8 gunboats.

 

         The British feared German cruiser raids on their merchant shipping, and planned to run the Germans down by destroying their bases and communications. The Allies allocated German bases north of the Equator to Japan, and bases south of it to the British Empire. A New Zealand force escorted by British, French and Australian warships seized German Samoa on 28th August. A landing party from a lone British warship seized the remote guano-mining island of Nauru. The scattered Germans could offer no resistance. In September, the Australian Navy landed a force on the Bismarck Islands. After a short skirmish, they secured the surrender of German New Guinea and the Bismarck, Admiralty and Solomon Islands.

 

         Meanwhile, Japanese forces bloodlessly occupied the Palau, Caroline, Marshall and Marianas Islands, taking the bases at Yap, Ponape and Jaluit. Japanese surveys revealed the potential fleet base of Truk, which the Germans had overlooked. The Navy searched for the fleeing Germans with First and Second South-Seas Squadrons of powerful fast battle cruisers and light cruisers.

 

         Naturally, attention focused on Tsingtao. A small squadron of elderly ships (First Squadron) protected the expedition's Line of Communications (LOC) and base at Hakko-ho, on the Western Korean coast. Third Squadron (cruisers and gunboats) patrolled the shipping lanes South of Shanghai. Second Squadron (old battleships and cruisers) blockaded Tsingtao, transported, escorted and supported the expedition.

 

 

Japan in the Great War: The Siege of Tsingtao

 

The siege of Tsingtao marks the military collision of two policies pursued entirely for internal political purposes. Like a shadow play, the actual siege merely reflected other concerns more important to the combatants. Germany founded its Chinese colony as part of Tirpitz's propaganda campaign to build a German battle fleet. Tirpitz could not confess to a reluctant Reichstag that he intended to challenge the Royal Navy. He found himself hard-pressed to explain how a large German fleet would harm France or Russia in a war. He found allies in the colonial lobby, arguing that German economic prosperity demanded a large colonial empire. Unfortunately, this lobby, including the Kaiser himself, favoured cruisers over battleships. Tirpitz won them over by proposing a great fleet base in the Pacific. A cruiser squadron would hold the base against all comers when war broke out, awaiting relief by the battle fleet. This disingenuous argument underlay Germany's China policy for 17 years!

 

         Using the murder of some missionaries as a pretext, German sailors landed at Tsingtao in 1897, hoisting the German flag. A small poverty-stricken fishing village sat on an island guarding a sheltered deep-water bay. Recognizing its potential, China had begun to build a small base a few years before, but the work languished for lack of funds. During the Sino-Japanese War, Japanese troops had moved in, and the Japanese Navy had taken up the work of building a naval base. Displeased at the speed of Chinese collapse, three European powers decided to take some "compensation" before Japan got it all. A joint ultimatum by Russia, France and Germany shocked the Japanese into giving the area back to China. Russia then seized Port Arthur, France took some territory in the far South of China, and Germany took Tsingtao. Britain then took Weiheiwei to "watch" Port Arthur and Tsingtao.

 

 

         The colony thus started out under naval administration, to support the cruiser squadron and its base. Massive German investment built a first-class port, modern communication facilities, a railway, coal mines, a prosperous town. By 1913, Tsingtao's commerce exceeded that of all other ports in China save for Shanghai, Hong Kong and Canton. Undersea cables ran to Shanghai and to Chefoo. The radio station could reach as far as one on Yap Island (Palaus), a link in an imperial radio chain.

 

         Beyond the protectorate lay Shantung, a wealthy but isolated province. Awful roads joined walled Chinese villages of about 200 stone houses. Far across the peninsula, a tiny British garrison held Weiheiwei as an undeveloped war anchorage.

 

         The Boxer Rising led Germany to fortify the base against land assault. What use was a great fleet base if it fell from the land side? The natural line of defence lay along the boundary of the protectorate, from the Kaiserstuhl to the Litsuner Heights. These very rough mountains reached as high as 400 meters and plunged down into the sea abruptly, with just a few passes. The Germans estimated that they needed a full infantry corps to hold this line firmly. Tirpitz forbade such extravagant expenditure away from his battle fleet. After all, he argued, who might attack by land? Only the Chinese could arrive this way, and Tsingtao did not need a corps to hold off ill-armed, poorly disciplined hordes. German experience with the Boxers seemed to confirm his assertions. The second line lay along 17 kilometres of steep hills from Prinz Heinrich Hill to Kuschan. Tirpitz vetoed this line as well, since it would have absorbed a division. The final line of defence lay along the inner hills, from Iltis to Bismarck to Moltke. The hills rose from 80 to 200 meters high over the town. The Germans dug in here.

 

         Tsingtao's seaward defences consisted of 4 batteries, searchlights and mines. To the land ward, the German Navy built fives redoubts. Each had positions for field guns, machine-guns, its own kitchen, bakery, power generator, ammunition magazines and sleeping quarters for about 200 men. In front of each lay a wall and a ditch, heavily wired, marked for range. Two hill batteries supported these redoubts.

 

 

         Governor Meyer-Waldeck, a naval officer, understood his duty as support of the East Asia Cruiser Squadron. When war broke out, he summoned all German forces in China to Tsingtao. Gunboats Luchs and Jaguar made breathtaking escapes from under the noses of watching Allied warships, arriving in early August, as did destroyer S90. The crew of river gunboat Tsingtao scuttled her, and proceeded to Tsingtao overland. The crews of river gunboats Otter and Vaterland "sold" them to a German merchant in Nanking. China promptly interned the ships but the men made it to Tsingtao overland. From all over China, German reservists poured in. They took staff and logistics jobs, swelled gun crews, releasing trained seamen to join the cruiser squadron as prize crews and extra stokers. Iltis, Tiger and Luchs each gave up some men and guns to arm corsairs, and landed some more to swell the garrison. The mail liner Prinz Eitel Friedrich arrived picked up guns and left to raid shipping as an armed merchant corsair. Light cruiser Emden left to join the Cruiser Squadron, but returned almost immediately with the captured Russian liner Rjazany. The prize took over all the guns and crew of refitting gunboat Cormoran, leaving the old gunboat a floating hulk. This liner, too, became a corsair, taking the name Cormoran. Emden, too, promptly left, followed by a stream of 8 ships in a fortnight, carrying 19,000 tons of coal and supplies to the Cruiser Squadron. Most of these ships got through.

 

 

 

         The Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser, Kaiserin Elisabeth entered Tsingtao on 22nd July 1914, as she had not any hope to steam back to the Adriatic-Sea because of the political tensions. On 5th August, when the Austrian-Hungarian Monarchy had declared war on Russia, the ship' services were offered by the captain of cruiser to Governor of Tsingtao, Meyer-Waldeck. After that the cruiser and the German gun boat Jaguar have patrolled alternately the waters before the bay, until 23rd August. Japan scilicet gave an ultimatum the Germans on 16th August, in which she had demanded evacuation of Tsingtao and the German naval forces till 15th September. The time limit for the answer was 23rd August. This ultimatum has mentioned the question of neutrality of A-H. Monarchy, in which case the Austro-Hungarian cruiser entering into a neutral port, could have waited till the end of War, but if she remains in Tsingtao, she will be regarded as a combatant unit. Vienna has sent a message to Kaiserin Elisabeth to go internment. The German Emperor in the same time, without any agreement, made a statement that the cruiser will fight on the side of her German Allies. The situation became very delicate for the cruiser, because there was not state of war between the Monarchy and Japan, but Germany was the Ally of the Monarchy.

 

         On 23rd August arrived a new signal from Vienna. According its orders the cruiser was to put out of commission, and leaving behind a small guard, the all complement must go to Tientsin, where an Austro-Hungarian Consulate existed. Only the captain and 17 men have remained on board ship, the others, under the officers went by train to Tientsin.

 

         Vienna, on pressure of the Germans, on 26th August has sent the following order to the captain of the cruiser: "In case of a Japanese attack the ship must participate in defence of city and port." Then the Germans immediately have started the re-mounting of the ship, and the captain gave the order to his crew to return from Tientsin to Tsingtao. The return of men had a lot of difficulties, because not only the Chinese, but the representatives of Entente Powers have fussed about this action. The Chinese authorities have escorted back to the Consulate the Austrian-Hungarian sailors under arms from the railway station, where they have waited for the train. Then a Hungarian subject, named Sinkó, who was living in Tientsin, has got some civilian clothes, in which some of them could took on the train, and after a change the train they could go back Tsingtao. The first group, two officers and 44 sailors arrived on board on 30th August, while the second, one officer and 78 sailors on 2nd September. Because of the increased Chinese control, the other groups had to leave by foot in secrecy the town and march to the nearest railway station. After that the Chinese have closed all road, so two officers and 92 sailors have trapped in Tientsin, and were treated as prisoners of war after China has waged war on the Central Powers in 1917. Altogether seven officers and 299 sailors have returned to the Kaiserin Elisabeth, so with the men left there, a total of 324 Austrian-Hungarian seamen took part in defence of Tsingtao.

 

         Several guns were taken off from the Kaiserin Elisabeth and the only ones were left on board which could be used as anti-aircraft guns. Her two 15 cm guns formed the XV shore battery, while her four quick firing guns were built into the VI and VII coastal batteries. Furthermore they have formed a "marine detachment" (38 men), and more 18 men were detached to the six landed machine-guns. From the decreased personnel of the cruiser altogether 122 men were landed to duty on shore. The cruiser beside of the anti-aircraft defence of city often duelled with the Japanese batteries with her artillery.

 

         After the first weeks of war, Meyer-Waldeck decided that no more ships would make it through the tightening Allied net. He prepared the town for siege, hoping that victory in Europe would ward off the overwhelming forces gathering against him. The Germans laid naval and land mines, wired in their positions, cleared fields of fire.

 

         The Germans had plenty of supplies, but would have to be careful with ammunition (the annual ammunition re-supply was to have arrived in September). Nonetheless, the reserves of the Cruiser Squadron lay open to them, so they only ran short at the very end. Engineers used small calibre naval shells to make hundreds of land mines and explosive charges.

 

         Some German officers favoured a raid on Weiheiwei, but Meyer-Waldeck decided to husband his men. No large force could make it over the poor Chinese roads; a small one could not win. Any landing near Tsingtao might cut them off. Troops trained, scouted, waited. The Staff debated. Would the Japanese attempt a swift assault or a protracted siege? Spy scares and absurd rumours circulated. A Chinese warlord was bringing 80,000 troops to their rescue. The USA had forbidden Japan from attacking. The German fleet had decisively defeated the British fleet, and was already on its way.

 

         The siege of Tsingtao differed radically from other Japanese military campaigns. In its careful attention to political impact, awkward diplomatic strains with Allies, lavish use of logistics and scrupulous minimization of casualties, it more closely resembled the Gulf War than battles in the Russo-Japanese War or World War II. Yet it led to futile bloodletting undertaken by the Japanese Army in World War II.

 

         From the planning stage, the Japanese Army Staff pulled out all the stops. They would show the precision and care of the army. Logistics and firepower flowed abundantly, so as to keep bloodshed low. The nation would admire the perfection of Japanese military technique, expunging memories of bloodbaths versus Russia in 1905.

 

         The Staff chose Lieutenant-General Mitsuomi Kamio, an officer distinguished rather by caution than brilliance, charging him to risk no reverse. He had to win a showpiece victory. He could ask for anything he needed.

 

         Kamio considered landing near Tsingtao. What if the Germans attacked the beachhead early on? They might disrupt the disembarkation, causing precisely the kind of embarrassment he had to avoid at all costs. He saw no reason to run any risk. He decided to land his infantry division on the far (Northern) side of the peninsula, and march them overland to Tsingtao. Once he had captured the nearby beaches, he would land his unwieldy siege artillery.

 

         The campaign opened, naturally enough, with a naval skirmish. To cover Lauting's mine laying off of Tsingtao, S90 patrolled farther out from shore than usual. British China Squadron, stretched thin to escort convoys and patrol shipping lanes, could not spare enough ships to blockade Tsingtao. Detachments did, however, sweep by from time to time, capturing some supply ships. On 22nd August, one such sweep of 3 destroyers caught S90. Old British "River" class destroyer Kennet raced in to engage the even older and slower S90. The more lightly-armed German ship fled, scoring two damaging hits on Kennet. Nonetheless, the end loomed as Kennet neared. Desperate, S90 veered inshore of a coastal island, over uncharted water marked as "shallow". Kennet disengaged when Tsingtao's coastal batteries joined in. Bold seamanship and superior handling had won the Germans a handy little victory.

 

         On 27th August, Vice-Admiral Sadakichi Kato's Second Squadron began blockading Tsingtao. British naval intelligence suspected that the (German) East Asia Cruiser Squadron had already left, but the Japanese Navy took no chances. A modern battle fleet of 2 dreadnoughts, 1 battle cruiser and 2 new pre-dreadnought battleships reinforced Second Squadron, prepared to engage the whole German Cruiser Squadron. The fleet seized 3 small coastal islands as observation points, and began careful minesweeping.

 

         On 30th August, the weather broke. Tsingtao, "Riviera of the East", boasted of mild dry autumns. The fall of 1914 turned out to be the wettest on record then or since as unseasonable typhoons drenched the whole peninsula. That night, the storm drove Japanese destroyer Shirotaye aground on a coastal island. The crew escaped, but Jaguar, herself guarded by coastal batteries, came out of harbour and destroyed her.

 

         On September 2nd the Japanese started landing at Lungkou, on the peninsula's North coast. Four naval infantry companies, supported by an Army machine-gun company itself reinforced by sailors, rowed ashore. They fanned out over the beach, finding no Germans. An engineering battalion came next, building a floating pier and 2 stone quays in 24 hours. A cavalry regiment followed, and then an infantry regiment, which reclaimed its detached machine-gun company. By now, the freak weather had flooded the beach. A nightmarish scene unfolded in a chaos of mud, surf, rain, wind and noise. Animals floundered as they pulled at mired carts, unloaded crates floated out to sea and sank, hysterical beach masters cursed weary soldiers. Kamio stopped further unloading, and ordered the troops already ashore to advance inland at all costs. One incredulous Japanese engineer watched a small brook rise 2 meters in an hour, as it swept away his pontoon bridge. By the next day, it had risen 9 meters, becoming unbridgeable. The Japanese stuck fast. Ahead of them, flash floods flushed entire villages away. Thousands of peasants died in Shantung's worst disaster in living memory. Chinese officials had protested the Japanese landing as a violation of Chinese neutrality, but offered no real opposition; local authorities gladly accepted Japanese help in the crisis.

 

         A brief break in the downpour allowed the landed force to straighten itself out, and the bedraggled cavalry began advancing on 7th September, laboriously followed by infantry. No rations could come up, so the troops lived off the country. Terraced farms survived the weather pretty well, so the Japanese found food in towns' market stranded by washed-out roads. Nonetheless, the troops went on half-rations as they marched ahead.

 

         A Navy seaplane flew over Tsingtao on 5th September, shocking the Germans who had not expected aircraft. The pilot reported the Austro-Hungarian cruiser, 5 gunboats, a destroyer and several steamers. He had mistaken the unarmed paid-off hulks of Cormoran, Tiger, Iltis and Luchs for active warships, and had missed Lauting's conversion to a mine layer, but he confirmed that the Cruiser Squadron had escaped. Kato released his attached dreadnought, battle cruiser and new pre-dreadnought battleships. The Navy redeployed, creating 2 fast squadrons to hunt down the missing Germans and lending the British a powerful cruiser as convoy escort and 2 cruisers to patrol against corsairs off Singapore. In return, the British lent Kato Triumph, an old pre-dreadnought battleship mobilized at Hong Kong.

 

         British residents began to form volunteer self-defence forces, releasing Army troops. The British Army gathered a small contribution to Kamio's command. One Regular British infantry battalion would land with the Japanese siege artillery, followed by two Indian infantry companies.

 

         On 13th September, Japanese cavalry bumped into a German outpost at Tsimo, on the edge of the protectorate. The astonished Germans fled after a short skirmish. The Japanese took Kiautschou the next day, cutting the Shantung railway.

 

         Excellent German roads connected Tsingtao to these points, and Meyer-Waldeck reinforced his mountain outposts along the extended outer line, ignoring a diversionary bombardment by Japanese destroyers. He hoped to delay the Japanese advance.

 

         Meanwhile, Kamio decided to abort his Northern landing as the weather thickened again. It might take many weeks to haul his whole division over the muddy peninsula. He reasoned that the Germans could not risk being cut off from Tsingtao by launching a beach attack while Japanese forces held Tsimo. Taking a calculated risk, he ordered 24th infantry brigade, splashing ashore just now, to re-embark. The cavalry, engineers and 23rd infantry brigade, already ashore, would march to Tsimo, abandoning the bridgehead. Kamio ordered his troops to land near Tsingtao, in Lau Schan Bay. A new base would keep his forces supplied. Kamio had correctly understood the German situation, and extricated his force from an unpleasant situation by improvising.

 

         Japanese infantry arrived at Tsimo on 18th September, exhausted and half-starved. It began closing up to the German mountain outposts. At dawn, Japanese cruisers bombarded the (empty) beaches at Lau Schan, and 23rd infantry brigade started landing. Secure in his possession of Tsimo, Kamio ordered the troops to race into the mountains and contact his isolated force. That evening, an infantry company seized the Hotung pass, driving back a German outpost in a long skirmish. Another company made contact with cavalry from Tsimo. Tsingtao was surrounded.

 

         As the Japanese took control of the passes one by one, they redeployed. Engineers and support troops came ashore, building piers at Lau Schan and an airfield at Tsimo. On 21st September, three Japanese Army airplanes began to fly from Tsimo. Kamio told them to destroy the German airplane. They never actually shot it down, but ceaseless buzzing, shooting (pistols, rifles and 1 mounted machine-gun) and bombing reduced the Germans to short forays over the lines. Japanese Navy seaplanes systematically surveyed the German positions.

 

         The Germans realized that Kamio was manoeuvring past the mountain line without a major battle. Determined not to let him have it all his own way, Meyer-Waldeck ordered a counter-attack. Reasoning that the Mecklenburg House breakthrough would focus Japanese attention there, the German staff planned a raid on the Kletter Pass, near Tsimo. A German force of 130 men, 4 machine-guns and 2 field guns surprised and routed the Japanese outpost. Neighbouring Japanese officers kept calm. Nearby companies moved in to support, and the Germans withdrew. They had won another minor victory, given the foe a bloody nose, but no more. That same day, the British contingent started landing at Lau Schan.

 

         On 26th September, with his division firmly ashore, properly deployed and a secure base, Kamio ordered a general advance. Skirmishes along the whole line gradually alerted the German staff. At short notice, S90 and Jaguar came up on the harbour side, bombarding the Japanese right. At night, the Germans fell back to their second line, convinced that the enemy had lost dearly. In fact, the mountain outposts had fallen, one by one, almost bloodlessly. The Allies closed up to the German line over the next two days, as Kaiserin Elisabeth, Jaguar and S90 again shelled the harbour flank. Kamio had assigned a field battery to engage them. The ships destroyed an observation post and silenced the battery. Impressed by the power of naval guns, Kamio asked Kato to bombard the enemy land batteries to distract them from his advance. Kato decided instead to bombard the sea batteries: typically poor cooperation between the Japanese Army and Navy.

 

         Meyer-Waldeck knew that he would soon have to abandon the second line too, but he had an ace up his sleeve. Prinz Heinrich Hill towered over the neighbouring hills, offering an extremely difficult climb and excellent observation for kilometres in all directions. German engineers prepared a small outpost on its crest. Connected by telephone and heliograph to the heavy land batteries, it would hold even if the Japanese took the rest of the line. It would then direct fire onto the enemy from the rear. Sixty men with machine-guns held the outpost, provisioned for a two-month siege.

 

         Foul weather intensified on the night of 27/28 September. Kamio's staff chose a company from the 46th infantry regiment, reinforced by an engineering platoon, to attempt the heroic task of climbing up in the dark during a typhoon. The engineers cut steps, slung ropes, all in relative silence, without light. They followed a fissure up the cliff. Baffled when it forked, they detached an infantry platoon to try what seemed the less likely route. Dawn broke to better weather. Exhausted and half-drowned, the main force arrived at the crest. The surprised Germans reacted quickly, pinning the attackers down on the actual lip. Hanging off vertically, the Japanese shot erratically for hours at the Germans. The desperate Japanese commander led a charge. The Germans mowed him down. His lieutenant organized a second assault, dying in the withering German fire. Covered by this fight, the detached platoon quietly hauled itself up onto the summit. Lost, it had actually wound up on the German (Southwest) face of the hill, 3 hours late. The platoon caught the Germans in crossfire. The German CO decided to negotiate; he would surrender the peak if allowed to take his men back to Tsingtao. To his indignation, the Japanese ignored his flag of truce and seized him. The German force surrendered. At a cost of 24 killed, the Japanese had killed 6 Germans, taken 54 prisoners and won the decisive fight of the siege.

 

         Shaken by the unexpected loss of their outpost and by a surprise mass Allied naval bombardment, the Germans fell back from their second line. Kaiserin Elisabeth, Jaguar and S90 supported, but suffered repeated hits from field guns. The ships retreated.

 

         Kamio closed his troops up to the German inner line and ordered a base at Schatsykou Bay, closer to Tsingtao. The Navy cleared the area, losing 2 small mine sweepers. Engineers built a pier, a road and a narrow-gauge railway for the final logistical build-up. Engineers prepared concrete platforms for siege guns and constructed a camouflaged observation post 900 feet (274 metres) up a ridge of Prinz Heinrich Hill, served by 5 telephone lines and a radio set. It looked over all Tsingtao.

 

         Meyer-Waldeck decided to disrupt Allied preparations. His heavy land batteries began shelling the Japanese rear. The Taube indicated general targets, but enemy airplanes harassed too effectively to allow it to correct gunfire. Anti-aircraft fire on a hoisted observation balloon so rattled its observer that he refused to go up again. The next day, a meteorological balloon went up as a decoy; AA fire destroyed it. The batteries therefore fired blindly, sending over some 1500 shells daily. The Germans wrongly convinced themselves that their fire seriously injured the Allies. Wishing to compound the blow, German staff planned a night raid on the enemy right flank. Late on 2nd October, three German companies attacked. One found only empty trenches, and withdrew. The others triggered furious fire, and fled for their lives. The Japanese captured 6 prisoners and found 29 bodies. Wishful German thinking transformed this skirmish into a major success. With their Chinese spy network in Japanese hands, German intelligence officers could no longer distinguish reality from fantasy. They believed that the arrival of 29th infantry brigade, actually entirely routine, confirmed that they had inflicted grievous losses.

 

         The Allies dug an initial trench 1 to 2 kilometres in front of the fortified line. Kamio insisted on a textbook siege, complete with wavy S-shaped trenches, saps and parallels. The British, who had finally caught up with the advancing front line, found their Japanese allies irritating. The German artillery always sought the British out, as soldiers who might later fight against Germany in Europe. Kamio refused Japanese counter battery support, because he wanted his siege guns to remain hidden until the final bombardment. In the trenches, Kamio's soldiers could not tell German from British, and blazed away at British patrols. Only the poor Japanese marksmanship kept British casualties down. British soldiers took to wearing the distinctive Japanese Army overcoats, which reduced, but did not eliminate, incidents. Poor Japanese sanitary standards, varying scales of provisions, differing staff routines, conflicting tactical doctrine, British racial arrogance (many thought of their allies as coolies in uniform): all contributed to prickly relations. The arrival late in October of two Indian infantry companies to reinforce the British Regular contingent only further complicated serious command friction. Interestingly, the Royal Navy got along very well with the Japanese at the same time, as Triumph fit seamlessly into Second Squadron.

 

         Mass naval bombardments could swamp Tsingtao's defences to cover particular operations, but they could not accurately destroy coastal batteries. Too many explosions confused gun layers; they could not plot each ship's individual shot. Therefore, three blockading ships moved in close to duel with the coastal batteries on 6th and 10th October. The German batteries drove them off. Kato decided to press harder. On 14th October, he brought up his whole fleet for a furious bombardment, and then sent four ships in close. A heavy shell seriously injured Triumph, which retired hastily as German gunners cheered. Support vessels repaired her in 24 hours.

 

         Yet another typhoon struck on 15th October. Violent weather washed out the railway and undermined gun platforms, setting preparations back by days. Flash floods drowned 25 Japanese soldiers. The Germans scuttled all non-essential ships in harbour, landing the crews as infantry. The Allies permitted them to evacuate non-combatants. Meyer-Waldeck wondered whether the naval attacks and recent lull in the action might have distracted the Allied fleet. He ordered a night sortie by S90. Late on 17th October, the ancient German destroyer slipped slowly out of harbour. After some hours, she detected a dark shadow. S90 fired a small torpedo. It hit old light cruiser Takachiho, detonating the magazine with a tremendous explosion. Searchlights flashed on, Allied ships started firing, German coastal batteries joined in the confusion. S90, cut off, fled into the night. Evading frantic Allied searches, she interned herself in a Chinese port down the coast. In Tsingtao, only Jaguar and Kaiserin Elisabeth remained afloat. Of 256 men aboard Takachiho that night, only 3 survived.

 

         Meyer-Waldeck ordered another land sortie. Late on 22nd October, 80 Germans crept up to the enemy lines. Alert sentries opened fire at once, and the Germans fled.

 

         On 25th October, all the Japanese siege artillery reported itself ready in position. Planning the great bombardment, Kamio ordered that not one gun open fire until every gun had its full supply of 1,200 shells. No gun would reveal its position to the enemy until all did. He wanted each gun to fire 80 shells daily. Staff planned a 7-day bombardment, but he insisted on a 15-day ammunition supply. For the final attack, Japanese engineers formed assault platoons equipped with rifle grenades and bamboo tubes filled with explosives (like Bangalore torpedoes to clear barbed wire).

 

         As the weather gradually cleared, Second Squadron began a slow, systematic naval bombardment of Tsingtao's sea batteries. A few ships cruised back and forth, firing at extreme range. On 29th October and again on 30th October, Kato brought up the whole fleet for mass bombardments. Triumph took part, noting the tactics, later used by the British against Turkish coastal guns at Gallipoli. Steadily, hit by hit, the German sea batteries crumbled into dust.

 

         On 31st October, the Taisho Emperor's birthday, the siege artillery of over 100 guns opened fire. Each battery had a primary and secondary target. Kato's fleet swamped the eroding sea defences. The landed Austrian-Hungarian detachment in this time has suffered his first casualties. One heavy shell hit the XV battery and killed five men and wounded other three. The Hungarian József ÁCS was killed, and Béla DOMOKOS was wounded. Prinz Heinrich Hill observation post corrected shooting. The first day, the heavy artillery destroyed Tsingtao's land batteries. At night, field guns laid down shrapnel to prevent repairs. The Germans abandoned the shattered works. The besiegers dug saps 300 meters forward that night, covered by continuous fire.

 

         The bombardment continued the next day as some siege guns shifted to the oil tanks and docks while most made sure of the heavy land batteries. The fleet again overwhelmed the collapsing sea batteries. The besiegers dug their first forward assault line parallel that night, in textbook fashion. A Japanese patrol cutting barbed wire outside a redoubt exchanged fire with its garrison. The Germans believed they had repelled a major assault. Meyer-Waldeck, thinking the end near, ordered Kaiserin Elisabeth and Jaguar scuttled. The captain of Kaiserin Elisabeth on 2nd November has steamed with his cruiser to the deepest point of the bay. The crew had disembarked, only her commander, chief engineer and 15 sailors remained on board. They have destroyed the secret and confidential materials, threw overboard the breech blocks of guns, opened the Kingston valves, fired the slow matches leading into the magazines, and left the sinking ship by boat. In Kaiserin Elisabeth there were explosions in short time, and she sunk with flying colours on dawn 3rd November, at 02.55. The landed crew of cruiser was attached to the garrison with the personnel of Jaguar.

 

         With Tsingtao's land batteries obviously in ruins, siege artillery fire shifted to the redoubts and barbed wire covering them on 2nd November. That night, the besiegers dug saps another 300 meters forward. The next day, some batteries obliterated the power station while most continued flattening wire and smashing the redoubts. The Germans began to abandon the redoubts as roofs caved in. That night, the besiegers dug their second forward assault line parallel. At dawn on 4th November, a Japanese infantry company reinforced by an engineering platoon attacked the water pumping station. It fell easily, yielding 21 prisoners. The defenders now had to make do with well water. Day after day, the fleet had pounded the sea batteries to rubble while the siege guns crushed wire. That night, the Allies dug saps another 300 meters forward. The British, in a difficult section of the line (on a down slope exposing them to fire while a high water table prevented digging), tried but failed to advance their saps together with the Japanese. They lost 26 casualties (8 killed) to small arms fire before they abandoned the effort, falling back to the second assault parallel line. Naturally, more unpleasant Anglo-Japanese acrimony ensued.

 

         On 5th November, the fleet closed in to point-blank range, annihilating Hui tschuen huk, the last sea battery. Meanwhile, the siege guns crushed more wire and pulverized the abandoned redoubts. Tsingtao had no defences left, by land or sea. That night, the Japanese dug their final assault parallel line. It ran from 100 to 1000 meters away from the German trenches, depending on the sector. Rubble and dirt had filled in most of the defending trenches anyway. The defenders cowered in scattered shell holes.

 

         Meyer-Waldeck saw the end near. On 6th November, he ordered the Taube to fly to China with his final dispatches. The Chinese sent the dispatches on to Germany. Now running out of targets, the siege artillery crushed such odd bits of barbed wire or abandoned masonry as it could still find. The fleet, with no targets left at all, joined in for moral effect, churning up the dust of former sea batteries. Clearly, everyone was marking time, awaiting the final assault that night. Kamio hesitated. A by-the-book officer, Kamio wanted the British to close up the Allied assault line and join the attack. He told the British to dig their approach saps and final assault parallel tonight at all costs. Neighbouring Japanese units ahead of them would lay down small arms fire in support. The next night, he would order the grand attack come what may. The British would join, advancing, if need be, in the open. This command further exacerbated inter-Allied tensions, the British commander protesting the useless exposure of his elite force.

 

         Meanwhile, Kamio instructed his units to probe the German line for weak points. One Japanese infantry company advanced up to Redoubt 4 before the dazed garrison detected them. The Germans opened fire and then launched a bayonet charge to push the enemy back. The Japanese withdrew. So purple a report reached Meyer-Waldeck that he thought the redoubt had repulsed the main assault. He ordered the reserve up to Redoubt 4. Another Japanese infantry company probed Redoubt 3. The Germans fell back into the cracked concrete bunker. A second company arrived, surrounding the bunker and firing through loopholes and cracks. The garrison surrendered. A local German reserve counter-attacked, overwhelming a Japanese flank outpost before the main force crushed them. Japanese platoons spread out along the trench line. Redoubt 2, struck without warning from flank and rear, fell quickly. The attackers hit Redoubt 4 in the flank, but met the German reserve just coming up. An intense fire fight erupted. The probing forces requested reinforcements. More infantry companies arrived. After 3 hours, a bayonet charge cleared the Germans out of Redoubt 4. On the flanks, Redoubts 1 and 5 held out desperately. Elaborate Japanese communications arrangements now paid off. Hearing that his probes had actually captured a redoubt, Kamio ordered an immediate general assault.

 

         Advancing through the hole in the German centre, Japanese forces fanned out. One infantry company charged up Iltis Hill. A searchlight lit up a German lieutenant rallying his men with drawn sword as a Japanese captain ran up, leading his men with sword out. Blinking, the 2 men stared at each other. Then, in an incredible parody of feudal combat, the two officers fought a fencing duel between their deployed troops. Samurai sword proved much superior to ceremonial dress sword; the Japanese commander cut his opponent down. The Germans surrendered. Another company climbing up Bismarck Hill received the surrender of Germans disheartened by Japanese cheering on Iltis Hill. In this night fight there was a close combat between the Austro-Hungarian seamen and Japanese, and two men were killed and three were wounded. Meyer-Waldeck surrendered, and his men marched out of Redoubts 1 and 5. The morning of 7th November, ironically a fine clear day, Japanese and British troops entered Tsingtao. Three days later, a Japanese torpedo boat sank sweeping mines.

 

         The Germans lost 493 casualties (199 dead), plus about 3,600 prisoners. In this total are included also the 10 dead heroes and 10 wounded of Kaiserin Elisabeth. The survivors, among them two Hungarian naval officer and 56 Hungarian sailors, went into a Japanese prison camp, from where they could return to Europe in the year of 1920, exception sailor János VITA, who has died in 1916 in the prison camp. German intelligence reports estimated Allied losses as "at least 12,000 casualties", an absurd exaggeration still repeated in German documents. The Japanese Army suffered 1,900 casualties (415 dead). The Navy lost light cruiser Takachiho, destroyer Shirotaye, a torpedo boat and 2 small minesweepers, with some 400 casualties (about 300 dead). Kamio deserves credit; Japan paid a remarkably low price for seizing a major naval base. The British lost 74 Army and 9 Navy casualties (13 Army and 3 Navy dead).

 

         Japan gave Tsingtao back to China, but kept the Shantung Railway. Its garrison became the nucleus of the infamous Kwantung Army. Kamio soon retired.

 

         Today, China intends to build Tsingtao up into a major modern naval base. Little now remains of German influence. The old brewery still produces pre-war-style German beer, sold in Chinese restaurants as "Tsingtao" beer.

 

 

Order of Battle of the siege of Tsingtao

 

German East Asia Squadron

 

Armoured cruisers: Scharnhorst (flag) and Gneisenau

Light cruisers: Nürnberg, Emden and Leipzig

Destroyer: S90

Gunboats: Jaguar, Luchs, Tiger, Iltis, Cormoran

River gunboats: Tsingtao, Vaterland. Otter

 

         When war broke out, Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Nürnberg were cruising in the Carolinas. Leipzig was detached to Mexico, to defend German interests during the revolution. Emden, Tiger, Iltis and Cormoran (refitting in dock) were in Tsingtao. Vaterland and Otter were cruising on the upper Yangtze, Jaguar on the lower Yangtze, Tsingtao on the West River (above Canton). Luchs was at Shanghai, S90 at Chefoo.

 

         Emden left, as did her prize Rjazany (armed and manned from Cormoran's hulk, then renamed Cormoran) and the armed merchant corsair Prinz Eitel Friedrich (a pre-war mail liner). Into harbour came the Austro-Hungarian protected cruiser Kaiserin Elisabeth and gunboats Jaguar and Luchs and destroyer S90.

 

         During the siege, the Germans used the Lauting (a mine layer converted from pleasure steamer), Kaiserin Elisabeth, Jaguar and S90 extensively.

 

 

Tsingtao Sea Defences:

 

Hui tschuen Huk battery: two 24 cm., three 15 cm. guns, searchlights in armoured cupolas Bismarck Hill battery: four 28 cm. guns

Old Tsingtao battery: four old (Chinese) 15 cm. guns

Old Hsiauniwa battery: four old 21 cm. guns, searchlight, well dug in along the harbour: seven 8.8 cm. guns

And: about 300 naval mines

 

Tsingtao Land Defences:

 

5 redoubts: searchlights, wall, ditch, barbed wire

Iltis Hill battery: two 10.5 cm., six old (Chinese) 12 cm. guns, searchlights

Moltke Hill battery: two 10.5 cm. guns, searchlights

12 open gun pits: sheltered twenty-two 3.7 cm., twenty-two 9 cm. and six old (Chinese) 12 cm. guns

2 Rumpler Taube airplanes, 1 kite-balloon, 1 meteorological balloon

 

 

Tsingtao Garrison:

 

         Some 750 naval gunners manned the various batteries of the base. Another 180 men held signalling, staff and logistical positions. About 100 Chinese policemen kept internal order. The Third Sea Battalion of about 1,300 men formed the actual garrison, consisting of 4 infantry companies (210 men each), 1 cavalry company (140 men), 1 field artillery battery (133 men, six 7.7 cm. Krupp field guns), 1 engineering company (108 men) and 2 horse-drawn machine-gun companies (38 men and 6 machine-guns each). In Tientsin and Peking, the East Asiatic Naval Detachment deployed 4 infantry companies (100 men each), 1 machine-gun battalion (60 men and 14 machine-guns) and two artillery sections (three 8 cm. field guns and three 15 cm. howitzers). All these forces except the three 8 cm. field guns reached Tsingtao.

 

         Reservists added about 1,500 men to the garrison, swelling auxiliary forces as well as adding 2 more infantry companies to the Third Sea Battalion. Counting sailors, guns and machine-guns landed from ships, the garrison disposed of about 4,000 men, 120 machine-guns and 90 guns.

 

 

Japanese Second Squadron:

 

         5 old pre-dreadnought battleships, ex-Russian prizes from the Russo-Japanese War: Suwo, Iwami, Tango, Okinoshima, Mishima, armoured cruisers Iwate, Tokiwa, Yakumo, light cruisers Chitose, Tone, Mogami, Yodo, Akashi, Akitsushima, Chiyoda, Takachiho, 24 destroyers, 4 old gunboats and 13 torpedo boats as minesweepers, seaplane carrier Wakamiya (with 4 early Henry and Maurice Farman seaplanes operational + 1 in reserve), several logistics, support and repair ships, 26 transports. Dreadnoughts Settsu and Kawachi, battle cruiser Kongo, new pre-dreadnought battleships Aki and Satsuma initially joined the force, but soon left.

 

         The British attached the old pre-dreadnought battleship Triumph, mobilized in Hong Kong and a division of 4 old destroyers from Weiheiwei.

 

 

Japanese Forces Besieging Tsingtao:

 

         18th infantry division consisted of 23rd infantry brigade (46th + 55th infantry regiments) + 24th infantry brigade(48th + 56th infantry regiments), 22d cavalry regiment, 24th field artillery regiment (six 6-gun batteries), an engineering battalion, a logistics battalion, attached sanitary and signals sections, and possibly a mountain artillery battalion (two 4-gun batteries). The 29th infantry brigade (67th infantry regiment + 1 battalion of 34th infantry regiment) followed up the division.

 

         Siege artillery consisted of a naval artillery detachment (of 10 cm. and 15 cm. naval guns), Miyama and Yokosuka heavy artillery regiments, Shimonoseki and Tadanoumi heavy artillery battalions, a total of about 100 guns from 12 cm. to 28 cm. calibre.

 

         The 6th and 12th infantry divisions detached 2 logistics battalions and 2 engineering battalions. A group of 3 Army airplanes (Farmans) and 2 railway battalions joined.

Later, 8th infantry regiment arrived to occupy the Shantung Railway.

 

         The British deployed the 2d battalion of South Wales Borderers, later reinforced by 2 infantry companies of the 36th Sikhs Regiment.

 

Sources:

 

Jork Artelt: Tsingtau: Deutsche Stadt und Festung in China 1897-1914

Charles B. Burdick: The Japanese Siege of Tsingtao

Dr. Csonkaréti Károly: Az Osztrák-Magyar Monarchia haditengerészete

Dr. Csonkaréti Károly: Császári és Királyi hadihajók

Dan van der Vat: The Last Corsair, The story of Emden

Colin Denis: Tsingtao Campaign

A Haditengerészeti Hősi Emlékmű kézzel írt Emlékkönyvének fotókópiájának másolata

A Magyar Tüzér

Paul G. Halpern: A Naval History of World War I

 

PHOTOS OF SMS KAISERIN ELISABETH