from the book
'Battle Sketches 1914 - 1915'
by Neville Hilditch 1915 (Oxford University Press)

The Siege of Tsing-Tao

map of the area

 

TOKYO, capital of Japan, lies at the head of Tokyo Bay, in the south-east of Nippon. Its two million inhabitants are distributed among houses and streets which present curious intermixtures of Japanese and European architecture, customs, or science. The riksha notably has been displaced largely by tramcars which, carrying all passengers at a uniform rate of four sen, make it possible to travel ten miles for a penny. It is an industrial city, but on account of occasional earthquakes no very large buildings line the thoroughfares. The traveller can here observe to advantage the strange characteristics of the most stoical race upon earth, or can contrast, if he will, the courteous, imperturbably serene disposition of the most martial nation of the East with the present disposition of the most rabidly bellicose nation of the West. When Japanese and German, indeed, met in conflict before Tsing-tao in the autumn of 1914, there was seen, in the Japanese soldier, during a campaign of peculiar hardship and difficulty, a revival of the qualities of the old Samurai, with his quiet courage, his burning patriotism, his patience, his habitual suppression of emotional display in pain, pleasure, passion, or peril, qualities singularly distinct from those of the modern Goth. Nor was the statesmanship which brought about that conflict less admirable. Japan's alliance with Great Britain was at once a solemn pledge and the guiding principle of her foreign policy. August 1914 found British interests and the vast trade that centred at Hong-Kong in danger.

German armed vessels prowled the seas, and the German naval base of Tsing-tao was busy with warlike preparations. Great Britain appealed to Japan to free their joint commerce from the menace. The Japanese Prime Minister, Count Okuma, might well hesitate, however, before recommending intervention. Was he the right minister to direct a war ? He was nearer eighty than seventy years old, and recently had been for seven years in retirement: his Government had a minority in the Diet, and to the Genro his name was anathema: he claimed the allegiance of no party, and the powerful military and naval clans, Choshin and Satsuma, were openly hostile. He had been raised to power a few months before by public demand for progressive government. There were considerations other than domestic or personal, indeed, which might have tempted some statesmen to hold their hands. To temporize while events revealed themselves in Europe would be safer than immediate action; while to remain neutral might lead to the transference to the Japanese of much trade with China now in British hands, inevitably hampered by the menace of German commerce-destroyers. Nevertheless, Count Okuma's Cabinet came to a bold and loyal decision. Baron Kato, the Foreign Minister, reassured Great Britain of active Japanese aid, and on August 15 sent an ultimatum to Germany. The latter was requested to withdraw at once all German armed vessels from Eastern waters, and to deliver to Japan before September 15 the entire leased territory of Kiao-chau, with a view to its eventual restoration to China. The ultimatum was timed to expire at noon on August 23. That day arrived without satisfaction having been given to Japan. Within a few hours the 2nd Japanese squadron steamed off towards Tsing-tao.

Before the outbreak of hostilities with Great Britain, Vice-Admiral the Graf von Spee, who commanded the German Pacific squadron, had steamed away from Tsing-tao with most of his ships. To use Tsing-tao as a naval base while engaging in commerce- raiding seemed a sound and a practicable plan, since the British and Australian naval forces, though superior, were hardly strong enough simultaneously to blockade the harbour and to search the seas. The plan was, however, rendered impossible by the Japanese ultimatum, and the Admiral, after having lingered for some weeks in the Western Pacific, departed for other seas and other adventures. Such was the result of Japan's action, and thus dangerous were the tactics that Japan's action had frustrated. For Tsing-tao, situated upon one of the two peninsulas, divided by two miles of waterway, enclosing the bay of Kiao-chau, with its safe and spacious anchorage for vessels of any size, constituted one of the most important naval bases on the Chinese coast. It bad, indeed, been described as the key to Northern China. Dominating the eastern coast of the Shantung peninsula, the port formed the centre of the semicircular area known as Kiao-chau, extending on a radius of 32 miles around the shores of the bay, with a population of 60,000. This area was, under the Chinese-German agreement as to Tsing-tao, influenced and controlled by Germany, though not strictly subject to her, and regarded as neutral territory. Its surface was mainly mountainous and bare, though the lowlands were well cultivated, but in parts it was rich in mineral wealth, large but undeveloped supplies of coal being present. In winter the port, connected to the junction of Tsi-nan by a German-built railway, was the natural outlet for the trade of Northern China. The heights which surrounded the bay offered admirable sites for fortification, while the land-approaches to Tsing-tao were guarded by formidable defences stretched across its peninsula.

In many quarters the stronghold was regarded as a second Port Arthur. The Germans had paid particular attention to defence, so much so, indeed, that over five-sixths of the white inhabitants were engaged in military occupations. Five thousand German marines constituted the normal garrison, though the outbreak of war in August called about a thousand more men-volunteers, reservists, and sailors-to the colours. The complement of the Kaiserin Elizabeth, an Austrian cruiser sheltering in the harbour, left for Tientsin, having received orders to disarm their ship, but returned in time to join the defenders. The garrison was amply provisioned for five or six months, and well provided with weapons, stores, and munitions. Most of the German ships off the Chinese coast at the outbreak of war, indeed, had made immediately for Tsing-tao, and discharged upon its wharves many thousand tons of cargo. When war with Japan became inevitable, therefore, the defenders could anticipate a successful resistance, provided the expected instantaneous victories in Europe materialized. Elaborate preparations were made for the defence. The harbour mouth was blocked by three sunken vessels, enabling only small craft to enter. Chinese villages within the leased territory, and the bridge where the railway crossed the boundary, were destroyed, partial compensation being paid to the inhabitants. Native labourers were engaged to throw up earthworks to strengthen the town fortifications. Many foreigners, women, children, and non- combatants, meanwhile, had left the town. On Friday evening, August 21, at roll-call, the Governor, Captain Meyer-Waldeck, read out a message from the German Emperor exhorting the garrison to defend the town to their utmost, and to do their 'duty to the last'. It was listened to stoically.

The following day a diversion occurred which opened hostilities propitiously for the Germans. The British destroyer Kennet, encountering the German destroyer 8.90 off the coast, gave chase. The 8.90 immediately made for port, and the Kennet, in the ardour of pursuit, closed in unawares within range of the German land batteries. The latter opened fire, and before she could draw off the Kennet sustained ten casualties, though little material damage. Next day the term of the Japanese ultimatum expired. It was doubtful at what point the Japanese would begin operations, or what tactics they would adopt. The fear was prevalent among Germans that the enemy would enter Chinese territory to reach the town from the land newspapers under German influence, indeed, circulating in Chinese coast towns, started a press campaign with the object of stirring the Chinese Government to oppose by force any Japanese landing in her territory. Outposts were placed by the Germans along the shores of the neutral zone to watch for developments : they descried, on August 24, the approach of Japanese warships.

Vice-Admiral Sadakichi Kato, who commanded the approaching squadron, immediately upon arrival took measures to protect himself against danger from mines. Seven islets clustering round the mouth of Kiao-chau Bay were occupied, to form a convenient local naval base, while mine-sweepers swept the surrounding seas. No less than a thousand mines were taken from the water. A blockade of the whole Kiao-chau coast was declared, as commencing from 9 a.m., August 27, and war vessels patrolled the shores, some seventy miles long. Action soon began, and continued during ensuing days, with shells that at intervals screamed towards the town. The position was, however, reconnoitred carefully. Japanese airmen went up frequently to scan the fortifications and to drop bombs. All protruding structures, spires and factory-chimneys, had been levelled to the ground by the Germans so as to accord no mark for fire. Bombs were dropped on the railway station and on one of the numerous barrack buildings. The operations continued spasmodically into September, while Kato was awaiting the approach by land of a cooperating army, which had now disembarked on the tiorthern coast of the Shantung peninsula, about 150 miles due north of Tsingtao.

The landing was effected on September 2, without hindrance or opposition on the part of the Chinese. The Government, following the precedent of the Russo-Japanese War, immediately published a declaration re fusing to hold itself responsible for the obligations of strict neutrality in areas that formed, within Lung-kow, Lai-chau, and the neighbourhood of Kiao-chau Bay, passage-ways essential to the belligerent troops. It was, of course, incumbent upon the Powers involved to respect Chinese property and administrative rights. Japan, therefore, was permitted to make use of the main roads to transport an army to the rear of Tsing-tao. The forces landed composed a division numbering 23,000, and commanded by Lieutenant-General Mitsuomi Kamio. An advance-guard was sent forward without delay, but soon found its way rendered impassable by torrential floods which at this time swept down upon and devastated the province of Shantung, bridges, roads, and even villages being submerged and destroyed, with great loss of life, largely owing to Chinese official incompetence. The Japanese, after covering 20 kilometres in two days, reached a stream so swollen that crossing was impossible. The artillery had to return to Lung-kow. German diplomacy, meanwhile, exasperated at its inability to prevent a Japanese landing, had not been inactive.

The German and Austrian ministers at Peking, on hearing of the Japanese landing, protested strongly. China, it was claimed, ought to have forestalled and resisted the landing, but instead had deliberately extended the war-zone in order to facilitate Japanese movements. She would be held responsible for any injury to the German cause or property. To this China replied that, if it was incumbent upon her to prevent by force Japan operating in her territory, it was equally her duty to prevent by force Germany fortifying and defending Tsing-tao. China had endeavoured, indeed, but unsuccessfully, to preclude belligerent operations in her territory: only after the Japanese landing, when she was powerless to do otherwise, had she extended the zone of war. As to the responsibility, she reiterated her previous declaration. The baffled Germans fell back on threats : the right was reserved to Visit upon China dire consequences for her alleged breach of neutrality. The incident, thrown into striking contrast with Germany's offer to Belgium, marked the unscrupulousness of German diplomacy, but stirred also many doubts among the foreign communities in China, in which the British, allied as they were to the Japanese, formed a predominating element. An anomaly of the situation was that British local interests had long conflicted with Japanese national interests. Japan's activities had, at every stage of her recent history, reduced British opportunities. Japanese trader competed with British trader for the markets of China, and Japan's share of the annual trade expansion was increasing, that of Great Britain decreasing. High tariffs and preferential rates had closed Corea and Manchuria to British enterprise. It is easy to estimate in what commercial jealousy and rivalry such circumstances had resulted. While the expediency of the British- Japanese alliance was fully recognized, and its consequences admitted to be the freedom of the China seas from menace of commerce-destroyers, nevertheless the fact remained that the hostilities against Tsing-tao would constitute a fresh impulse to Japanese expansion.

The operations in Shantung were watched with critical eyes by many British in the foreign settlements of China. The floods had, meanwhile, subsided considerably and on September 12 Japanese cavalry reached Tsimo, ten miles outside the Kiao-chau zone. No trace of the enemy north of the Pal-sha River had been seen, beyond a German aeroplane that occasionally passed overhead on reconnoitring flights. On the following day a number of sharp skirmishes with outposts occurred, and one Japanese patrol found its way to the small town of Kiao-chau, situated at the head of the bay, some 22 miles from Tsing -tao itself. The brushes - with the Germans became of daily occurrence, and in one of them a high official of the German Legation at Peking, who had volunteered for service, was killed. On September 17 the Japanese attacked Wang-ko-huang, 13 miles from Tsimo, the enemy being in a fortified position and provided with machine-guns. At sunset, however, they abandoned the village and withdrew under cover of darkness, leaving behind quantities of equipment and supplies. A little later a development came about that brought the dissatisfaction of British traders to a head.

About September 18, after hostile patrols had been driven away from the shore by the fire of destroyers, Japanese artillery and troops were landed at Laoshan Bay, north of Tsing-tao, just within the leased territory. Why was it necessary that troops should have been landed on the northern shore of the peninsula of Shantung, 150 miles from their objective, when guns could be disembarked with perfect safety on the eastern shore, not 49 miles from the objective, and within the German zone ? The British were not as critical of Japan's strategy as they were suspicious of her policy. Dark suggestions got afoot that she had ulterior designs upon the whole Chinese province of Shantung. Such views could not but have reached the ears of the British authorities at Wei-hei-wei and elsewhere, nor could they have been deaf to previous murmurs. Diplomatic circles, however, could extend little sympathy to the critics. Nevertheless, it was undeniable that the latter were aggrieved, and that their attitude might produce unfortunate effects. If Great Britain herself took some share in the Tsing-tao operations, greater sympathy with their purpose might be induced, and a better state of feeling in the Orient between the two peoples might possibly result. It must have been some aim such as this that prompted the dispatch of a British force to the Tsing-tao area to co-operate with General Kamio, a step which the earlier symptoms of the British discontent cannot but have influenced. On September 19, however, 1,000 of the 2nd South Wales Borderers, a force so small as to be nominal, under Brigadier-General Barnardiston, left Tientsin and proceeded to Wei-hei-wei. Transport mules having there been taken on board, the expedition on September 22 coasted down the eastern shore of Shantung, and next day landed at Laoshan Bay. A month later, as will be seen, they were joined by 500 of the 36th Sikhs.

Meanwhile, it was probably about this time, or shortly after, that the Triumph, a British battleship of nearly 12,000 tons displacement, 191 knots speed, and four 10-inch guns primary armament, joined the Japanese squadron off Tsing-tao. A spasmodic bombardment had been maintained during the preceding weeks, and seaplanes had been busy, bombing and range-finding. The wireless station, the electric-power station, and several ships in harbour were damaged by explosive missiles. Little could be done, however, from the sea alone, and the attack by land, owing largely to transport difficulties, had still to develop. But the weather was now improving considerably. Another set-back to Japanese military ardour was, indeed, constituted by the marked reluctance of the Germans to form a line of resistance. German outposts, upon encountering hostile patrols, invariably retired after offering faint opposition. When the British troops, after a circuitous march of 40 miles, much hampered by bad roads, came up in the rear of the Japanese, then preparing to assault the enemy's advanced positions on high ground between the rivers Pai-sha and Lio-sun, the part that it had been arranged they should take in the Japanese attack, on September 26, fell through owing to a disinclination of the Germans to fight. Their resistance was so meagre that the Allies were hardly engaged, and next day gained without difficulty the easterly banks of the Li-tsun and Chang-sun rivers, only seven miles north-east of Tsing-tao. The enemy at all points fell back, and the advance upon the town continued. The Japanese had now drawn their lines across the neck of the narrow peninsula upon which Tsing-tao stands. There were indications that the main forces were now in contact.

The only obstacle, but a formidable one, between the invaders and the forts themselves was constituted by the dominating height of Prince Heinrich Hill, from whose crest, rising some five miles from the town, all the forts could be bombarded. General Kamio estimated that three days of fighting would be required for its capture : it was as all- important to the defence as to the attack, and was sure to be strongly held. The forts themselves, of the latest type, were elaborately constructed, and equipped with concrete and steel cupolas, mounting high calibre pieces. They commanded both laudward and seaward approaches to the town, those nearest the invading Japanese being situated upon, and named, Moltke Berg, Bismarck Berg, and Iltis Berg. Earth redoubts and trenches between formed the German line of defence. Plans for the most considerable engagement, the assault of Prince Heinrich Hill, that had so far taken place, to begin on Sunday, September 27, were made by the Japanese General. It developed more speedily than had been expected. German artillery opened a terrific cannonade upon the Japanese lines, while three warships shelled the attacking right wing from the bay. The German fire was heavy and accurate.

Japanese warships and aeroplanes, and also the British battleship Triumph, however, created a diversion that relieved the assaulting forces. Two of the forts were shelled from the sea, and suffered serious injury, a barrack-house and other buildings being, moreover, damaged. For many hours the great guns, thundering their challenges from sea and land and estuary, maintained continual uproar. Darkness began to gather. Fighting continued into the night, and early next morning was renewed. But the defenders seemed to lack enthusiasm. It is doubtful, indeed, whether their forces were sufficiently numerous to hold with strength their advanced positions, and at the same time to man adequately their main fortified positions. During the morning of the 28th the Germans withdrew from Prince Heinrich Hill, leaving fifty of their number and four machine-guns in Japanese hands and many dead uponthe slopes. The Japanese casualties numbered 150. By noon the whole position was in the attackers' hands, and the beleaguered town, visible from the height, was now face to face with siege. German officers who knew all the points, weak and strong, of the defences, could not but realize their inability to withstand the siege guns which Japan would sooner or later bring to the attack. But the heavy artillery was yet far away. A month was to elapse before the pieces could be dragged across the difficult country, and emplaced in prepared positions on Prince Heinrich Hill.

This month, which covered the whole of October, saw many interesting incidents, and betrayed no signs of idleness on the part of besiegers or besieged. The Germans indeed proved extraordinarily prodigal in ammunition, firing on an average 1,000 to 1,500 shells daily, a fact which lent support to the current view that, while undesirous of incurring their emperor's displeasure, they realized the hopelessness, so far as Tsing- tao was concerned, of their emperor's cause. Warships in the bay assisted the cannonade from the forts, and Lieutenant von Plusehow, the airman of the single aeroplane the town possessed, ventured forth at intervals to reconnoitre or to bomb. Life in the town itself continued to be quite normal. Japanese and British, meanwhile, withdrew their lines closer and closer to the fortress by sap and mine, though hindered greatly by terrible weather, and occasionally having slight encounters with the enemy. In one of these, on October 5, a German night-attack was heavily repulsed, forty-seven dead being left behind by the attackers.

At sea the operations were also spasmodic. At the end of September a landing force occupied Lao-she harbour, in the vicinity of Tsing-tao, where four abandoned field- guns were taken possession of. Mine-sweeping had constantly to be maintained, under fire from the shore, and proved a dangerous task. Several vessels thus engaged were sunk or damaged, though with comparatively few casualties, through coming into contact with mines. Some German gunboats, however, among them the Cormoran and the Iltis, were apparently sunk about this time, either deliberately by the Germans, or from the fire of the Japanese guns. A torpedo flotilla bombarded one of the barracks, moreover, to some effect, while Japanese aeroplanes were also active. Von Plusehow twice attempted to attack vessels of the blockading squadron, but unsuccessfully, and on one occasion a Japanese aeroplane pursuing him gave a German balloon, floating captive above the town, some critical moments before it could be hauled to safety. A few days later, about October 7, the rope which held this balloon was, during the spasmodic firing, severed by a shot, and the great bag floated away, apparently across the bay in the direction of Kiao-chau town and the railway line inland. In this quarter, indeed, over the line itself, serious friction had arisen between the Japanese and the Chinese authorities.

The line ran from Tsing-tao and Kiao-chau to the junction of Tsi-nan, a distance of about 250 miles, passing through the towns of Wei-hsien and Tsing-ehau. It was German built and almost wholly German owned.

From some points of view it might reasonably be said to constitute an adjunct, if not a part, of the leased territory itself. In any case the Japanese claimed that, since the outbreak of war the line had been consistently utilized to bring reservists, supplies, and ammunition to the town. The Austrian crew of the disarmed Kaiserin Elizabeth, both when they left and later returned to Tsing-tao, had used this means of transit. The railway, being still under German control, constituted a menace in the Japanese rear, which the latter, upon consolidating their position towards the end of September, took measures to remove. Mter occupying Wei-hsien, they began to arrange for the seizure of the whole line as far as Tsi-nan itself. Hints of such action drew forth protests from China, whose Government, however, adopted too compromising an attitude. The Japanese Government was firm. China's right to formal protest was admitted, but the occupation was stated to be an urgent military necessity, and without any prejudice to Chinese claims after the war. Since China was unable to enforce the neutrality of the line, flagrantly violated by the Germans, the Japanese had no alternative but to bring it under their own control. The Chino-German Treaty of 1898 and the German Government's charter clearly proved that the railway was essentially German. A compromise, hastened by the unhesitating and thorough measures taken by the Japanese to effect the occupation, was arrived at.

The Japanese were temporarily to control the administration, while the Chinese conducted the traffic, of the railway. Its fate, since China did not admit the contention that it was purely German, was to be decided after the war. A bellicose attitude noticeable in Chinese military circles became very marked when, three days later, on October 6, unquestionably in breach of the arrangement, Japanese soldiers arrived at Tsi-nan, and took over the control of the rolling stock on the Shantung line. It was alleged at Peking that this force had declared martial law in the town, which contained, indeed, many German sympathizers who, rumour added, had destroyed several collieries there in their anxiety to obstruct the Allies. But the Chinese Government submitted under further strong protest, and with a request that the troops should be withdrawn. The Japanese action occasioned, however, further distrust among British residents in the Orient. Meanwhile, a second British force, consisting of 500 Sikhs, was being prepared to reinforce General Barnardiston.

At one o'clock on October 12, Captain Meyer-Waldeck, the Governor of Tsing-tao, received a joint wireless message from the commanders of the besieging troops and the blockading squadron, offering a safe escort out of the town to Tientsin of neutrals and non-combatants. He at once assented. Delegates met next day at ten o'clock to discuss details, and on the 15th the American consul, accompanied by German women and children and Chinese subjects, left the town. On the previous day there had been a combined sea and air attack upon forts Iltis and Kaiser, in which the Triumph participated and suffered the only Allied casualties. It is recorded that, before reopening bombardment after the departure of the non-combatants, the Japanese, ever polite, signalled ‘Are you now quite ready, gentlemen?’

For reply a German sniper, taking careful but faulty aim, sent a bullet which removed three out of the eleven hairs of the signalman's moustache. Two days later, days notable for torrential rains, which intensified the discomforts of the troops ashore, the Japanese suffered a severe naval loss. The Takachiho, an old cruiser of some 3,000 tons, which had seen service in the Chino-Japanese War, was on patrol duty on Saturday night, October 17, when she fouled a mine, released by and adrift in the rough seas. Destroyers hastened to her aid, but rescue work was difficult in the darkness and the heavy weather. The cruiser sank rapidly. Two hundred and seventy- one officers and seamen lost their lives. The rough weather which contributed to the disaster continued with little break, and hindered operations, till the end of the month.

The landing of the Sikh contingent at Laoshan Bay on October 21 was, indeed, attended by great difficulties and some loss of life. A strong southerly gale had raised high seas, and enormous lighters and sampans, employed for disembarkation, were thrown high and dry upon the beach. Sixteen Japanese were drowned in trying to save other boats that broke loose. The Sikhs got safely ashore, but next morning again the winds blew and the rains descended, and the camping-ground was soon a miry pool. Circumstances other than the weather, however, helped to put the British officers out of humour. Trouble ahead threatened in connexion with transport arrangements. While the Chinese carts and drivers, brought hurriedly from Tientsin, were doubtfully reliable, many of the mules were raw and quite unused to harness. When a start for the front was preparing on the morning of the 23rd, it was found that the best of the harness, which had been purchased from peasants in the locality, had been stolen in the night by the people who had brought it in, and that what was left was tied up with string. The column, however, at length set off, and made a march memorable for hardship and difficulty.

From Laoshan to Lutin, where a metalled road began, was 30 miles, crossed by a track formed at one time by quagmire, at another by slippery boulders. During eleven hours 6 miles were covered, by which time the Sikhs were completely exhausted with digging carts or mules out of the mud, hauling them out with drag-ropes, reloading overturned carts, or unloading those immovable. Next day the column was on the road at seven o'clock, and covered 13 miles. So deep was the mud in parts that when, owing to the rotten harness giving way, a mule would occasionally lurch forward suddenly and walk away by itself, the body of the cart would be left floating on the surface. One cart was pulled completely off its axles by a squad of men, and slid along admirably for a considerable distance. Seventy Chinese wheelbarrows, however, obtained from a Japanese depot, rendered invaluable aid on this day. Tsimo, the halting-place, was reached in the evening, and next day, after the first ten miles, saw plain sailing. A few days later, on October 30, after the Sikhs had rested and recovered, the whole British force, now some 1,500 strong, moved up to the front in readiness for the bombardment of Tsing-tao, which had been arranged to begin next morning in celebration of the birthday of the Mikado. Siege artillery, 150 pieces, including six 2.8-cm. howitzers and some heavy naval guns, had now been brought up and placed in position. The shelling was timed to start, in royal salute, at dawn.

Men who, stationed upon Prince Heinrich Hill, could look below upon the doomed town, athwart the narrowing peninsula, with the sea, studded with grey warships, surrounding, had before them a wonderful spectacle as the morning sun, rising from the Pacific, slowly dispersed the darkness. The thunder of the great guns broke suddenly upon that stillness which only dawn knows, and their discharges flashed readily on the darkling slopes. The Japanese shooting, it is related, displayed remarkable accuracy, some of the first projectiles bursting upon the enormous oiltanks of the Standard Oil Company and the Asiatic Petroleum Company. A blaze roared skywards, and for many hours the heavens were darkened by an immense cloud of black petroleum smoke which hung like a pall over the town. Shells passing over these fires drew up columns of flame to a great height. Chinese coolies could be seen running before the spreading and burning oil. Fires broke out also on the wharves of the outer harbour, in which during the day a gunboat, apparently damaged fatally by a shot which carried away her funnel, disappeared. The redoubts and infantry works particularly were heavily bombarded.

On the left of the German line 100 Chinese in the village of Tao-sung-chien were unfortunately caught by shell-fire directed on the redoubt close at hand, while the fort of Siao-chau-shan, near by, was set afire. The tops of several of the forts were soon concealed by clouds of dust and smoke. A heavy fusillade was concentrated upon an observation point which the defenders had constructed on a hill in the town, and had considerable effect. The Germans did not on this first day of general bombardment reply strongly, two only of the forts persistently firing. At length the sun sank and night obscured the conflict. It had been a bad day for the besieged: and dismantled guns, shattered concrete platforms and entrenchments, devastated barbed-wire entanglements, augured the town's approaching fate.

The bombardment continued for a week. During that period the Japanese and British guns, directed from land and sea by a balloon, by aeroplanes, or by observation stations on the hills, in daytime thundered incessantly. The German shelling, though severe, was far less heavy, because, it is said, the men in the forts, sheltering most of the time in bomb-proof caverns, issued forth only at night and during pauses of the Japanese to return the fire. The airman von Plusehow actively directed the replies. The latter seemed not, indeed, impartially distributed. The marked attention paid to British troops and ships afforded an illustration of that attitude of peculiar malevolence which Germans have adopted towards the British nation and name. The German airman singled out the British camp, recognizable by its white tents, for his bombs, while for the German artillery it had an inordinate attraction.

Officers on board the Triumph, moreover, observed that the largest German guns, of 12-inch calibre, were consistently directed upon their vessel. But of many projectiles one only, which struck the mast, being fired from Hui-tchien-huk, proved effective. This hit, however, caused rejoicing in Tsing-tao which, it is asserted, would not have been equalled by the sinking of a Japanese Dreadnought. The Triumph singled out for attack Fort Bismarck especially, and two of the German 6-inch guns were early put out of action. The British gunners adopted the ingenious plan of heeling their ship by five degrees, and bombarding the enemy, from sight strips specially calculated, without exposing themselves or their weapons. It became customary aboard to call the bombardment pressing the enemy, from an exhortation sent by the Japanese Crown Prince to 'press the enemy, braving all hardships'. Ashore, indeed, the pressure on the enemy developed steadily as the days passed.

On November 2 the Austrian cruiser Kaiserin Elizabeth, which had, with the German gunboats still afloat, been engaging vigorously in the fighting, sank, having probably been blown up deliberately, and the floating dock also disappeared. Iltis Fort, moreover, was silenced, two guns being smashed and ammunition giving out, and Japanese infantry advanced and captured an eminence in German hands. On another ridge, however, hard by the silenced fort, some German naval gunners carried out a ruse which saved for the present both their position and their battery, composed of naval 9-cm. pieces, which were exposed dangerously to fire from sea and land. Lieutenant von Trendel, in command, during the night constructed wooden models of cannon, which he placed in position 200 yards from his real guns. Next morning he exploded powder near by, and drew the fire of the besiegers, attracted by the flashes, upon the dummies. That day the wireless and electric power stations were wrecked, and large attacking forces crept further forward, despite severe fire, and entrenched closer to the enemy's lines. In the evening and night the latter showed special activity, star rockets and other fireworks being used to illumine the opposing positions, which were heavily fusilladed. A German night-attack was delivered, but was repulsed. Next day, the 4th, and on the two following days, progress was maintained. The Allied trenches were pushed forward until they were right up to and almost half round the nearest German forts. Many casualties were suffered, but the German fire was kept down by the Japanese guns, whose accuracy was remarkable. The weather conditions were unfavourable, high winds and heavy rains prevailing, and the troops in the trenches had to endure hard privations. So effective was the bombardment, however, that during November 5 and 6 plans were prepared for the final assault. It was arranged that a general infantry attack should be made as soon as practicable.

The garrisons in the forts, meanwhile, were beginning to exhaust their ammunition, of which they had been, during the preliminary operations, strangely prodigal. Guns lay silent for other reasons than structural injury, though the latter cause, indeed, was frequent, a single shot, in one case, from the Suwo, the Japanese flagship, having destroyed a 24-cm. gun and killed eight men on Fort Hui-tchien-huk. In the town itself the streets, not immune from falling projectiles, were deserted, and the only centre of social intercourse and conviviality was the German Club, where regularly officers or non-combatants slipped in for dinner, luncheon, or a glass of beer. But it was realized that the end was not far distant.

Early in the morning of November 6 the airman von Plusehow flew away across Kiao- chau Bay, and did not return. He escaped with the Governor's last dispatches into Chinese territory, where his machine was interned. That day and night saw no cessation of the firing, the guns of the defenders still roaring at intervals. About an hour after midnight the first impulse of the general attack took effect. While a particularly heavy artillery fire kept the Germans in their bomb-proof shelters, the central redoubt of the first line of defence, which had been badly shattered by the bombardment, was rushed by a storming party headed by General Yoshimi Yamada. Engineers had in the darkness sapped right up to the barbed-wire entanglements, which being cut provided way for the infantry, who, while part held the enemy in front, rushed the redoubt on both flanks. Two hundred prisoners were taken, and the Japanese flag was hoisted. The besiegers were through the German line, but the position had to be consolidated, or disaster would follow. Danger from the flank was, however, soon obviated by advances in other parts of the line.

Just after five o'clock a battery on Shao-tan Hill was captured; half an hour later another battery in Tao-tung-chien redoubt was taken, and Fort Chung-shan-wa, the base of the German right wing, fell. The shadows were still dense, and the final phase of the siege, viewed from Prince Heinrich Hill, presented a sight brilliant with many flashes and flaming fireworks, and a sound dominated by the thunder of the batteries. But dawn, as the besiegers began in mass to close in upon the main line of forts Iltis, Moltke, and Bismarck, was breaking. It was decided to storm these positions forthwith, since the German fire, owing to exhaustion of the ammunition, was dying away. Governor Meyer-Waldeck, who had been wounded, realized now that further resistance was futile. Shortly before six o'clock he sent Major von Kayser, his adjutant, accompanied by another officer and a trumpeter, from the staff headquarters bearing the white flag: at the same time a signal of surrender was made from the Observatory. This was not, however, observed, while von Kayser's party, coming under fire, was dispersed by a shell which killed the trumpeter and the adjutant's horse. Meanwhile, Japanese and British were closing in, and were tensely awaiting the final assault. It was never made. Soon after seven o'clock a welcome sight relaxed the tension of the troops, torn, dirty, and weary, calling forth cheers from the British, and shouts of 'Banzai’ from the Japanese. The campaign was over: Tsing-tao had fallen. White flags were fluttering from the forts.

That evening delegates from the two armies met and signed the terms of capitulation, which were unconditional. Honours of war were accorded the defenders, the Governor and his officers being permitted to retain their swords. The Allies marched into the town, and on November 10 the garrison was formally transferred. Over 4,000 Germans were sent to Japan as prisoners, and large quantities of war material were confiscated. The captures included 30 field-guns, 100 machine-guns, 2,500 rifles, 40 motor-cars, 1,200 in bullion, and 15,000 tons of coal. All ships in harbour, and also the floating dock, had been destroyed, but it seemed probable that the Kaiserin Elizabeth could be successfully raised. Sufficient provisions were found to feed 5,000 persons for three months, and the victors were able to regal their appetites with luxuries such as butter, crab, or salmon, which were plentiful. Looting, however, was strictly forbidden. For fastidious persons the bath, after many weeks, was again available, and proved, indeed, in view of steady accumulations of mud, a salutary course. Measures, meanwhile, were at once taken to restore the town to its normal condition. The troops and sailors were employed in removing debris or undischarged land and sea mines. Another Japanese gunboat was sunk, and several officers and men lost their lives, while engaged in this dangerous work. The victory had to be paid for, indeed, with a heavy toll of life and limb. The Japanese casualties numbered 236 killed and 1,282 wounded; the British, 12 killed and 53 wounded. On November 16 the Allies formally took possession of Tsing-tao ; and a memorial service was held for the dead.

 

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