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#2 The Korean “Geobukseon” (turtle ship); what happens when a revolutionary design is wielded by a naval genius. Hello and welcome to the second installment of Bizzare Naval Tech, this time with a very interesting design from Asia, the “Geobukseon” or turtle ship. In addition, we will see how it’s “inventor”, Korean Admiral Yi Sun-sin managed with the help of this ship to triumph against the Japanese, often overcoming overwhelming odds. Please forgive any mistakes in my English, not my mother tongue. Introduction The era we will be examining this time is the late 16th century, more specifically 1592-1598, a time period during which the Japanese attempted to invade Korea twice (and China) under the leadership of Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The Japanese way of fighting at sea was inspired by land battles, with boarding actions by samurai and widespread use of well drilled Ashigaru (common troops) armed with matchlock firearms. Some of the Japanese ships even resembled fortresses with superstructures. Most lacked cannons. Of course, such ships were mostly suitable for coastal actions. The Japanese had some distinct advantages over the Koreans; samurai were unparalleled in hand to hand combat in boarding actions, matchlock firearms were pretty deadly. Most importantly we are talking about a Japan near the end of the Sengoku Period, with numerous troops being battle hardened and very experienced thanks to a century of almost constant war. This lead to the Japanese being dominant in land battles during both invasions of Korea. On the other hand Korea at that time was at the forefront of naval technology in the region. They employed large numbers of cannons on their ships, with the more common “panokseon” type of ship outranging most Japanese ships. However the Koreans found themselves early in the war being forced to scuttle a large portion of their fleet, with the Japanese warships outnumbering them. This is when “Geobukseon” and Admiral Yi Sun-sin appear. Design of “Geobukseon”: “Geobukseon” or turtle ship was one of the newest breakthroughs in Korean naval technology. It’s creator is considered to be Admiral Yi Sun-sin, although the design already existed and he simply realized it to it’s full, at that time modern potential. So, what was a turtle ship? Simply put, it was a type of large and relatively fast warship that was armed to the brim with cannons, was strong enough to protect it’s crew from matchlock fire and was covered at the top with spikes to make boarding nigh impossible. On the bow there was a good luck dragon’s head. It could house a cannon, or could be used as a form of sulfur smoke projector to conceal the ship. The ship itself could turn on its radius and because of the combination of sails and oars was surprisingly quick. As you can see, it was a vessel perfectly designed to counter the preferred Japanese naval fighting method. A bit more detailed information from a historian describing the ship: http://aas2.asian-studies.org/EAA/EAA-Archives/12/1/772.pdf A modern full sized replica of a turtle ship, this one is a museum piece. You can barely notice the spikes covering the deck. A small replica of the ship in a museum From Admiral Yi’s report to King Sonjo on the ship itself: One of the earliest drawings depicting a turtle ship. Notice the front anchor, it was often used for ramming as well Some sources consider turtle ships to have had a metal cover on the top deck, making them the first iron clad ships in history. This is disputed however since iron at the time was in short supply and the thick wood was already proof to most forms of damage. While not many of these ships were made (at the height of the war about 6 to 8 are considered to have been in use), they were used to tip the scale in the many naval battles during the war. They were used as breakthrough vessels, able to enter deep within enemy formations and use the cannon to wreak havoc, often focusing on sinking the enemy flagships. Usage of the turtle ship and disadvantages For this section I chose two of the better known battles in which turtle ships were used and were important in securing victories. The first one is the battle of Sacheon (1592). Always under the command of Admiral Yi, the Korean nay encountered 12 large battleships in the harbor of Sacheon. By feigning retreat the Koreans managed to lure the Japanese ships. Then, the Korean fleet turned, and with a turtle ship at the front rushed to fight the Japanese. Due to the inability of the Japanese to cause any damage they lost all their battleships, while the Koreans only had 5 wounded (including Admiral Yi). At the battle of Tanghanp’o, the same tactic of feigning retreat was used, followed by an ambush at open waters. Again the turtle ship played an important role in the win, rushing to the enemy flagship, ramming it and devastating it with cannon fire. From Admiral Yi’s report to King Sonjo on the battle: A turtle ship in it’s favorite place, in the middle of everything and rushing an Atakebune (particularly large Japanese warships that served as flagships) While impressive, turtle ships weren’t invincible machines of naval war. They were more suited to coastal actions and not open waters. In addition they were very expensive to produce and required many resources. Last, their performance relied on good leadership and tactics; when Admiral Yi lost command of the fleet for a time, his successor, eager to prove his worth managed to lose almost his entire fleet pretty quickly. Admiral Yi Sun-sin While the focus of these articles is on naval designs, there has to be some further mention on Admiral Yi Sun-sin, an admiral that had no naval training, was never defeated, never lost a single ship and lost his life while fighting for his country in 1598. He was considered by historians and military leaders as one of the greatest naval minds in history. In the words of Admiral George Alexander Ballard: Statue of the man himself in Seoul Thanks to his ships and tactics he managed to always emerge as the victor, utilizing his ships in the best possible way and using every possible factor to secure advantages in battle.He is famous for the feigning retreat tactics as we already saw, as well as the “crane maneuver” that gave him victory in important battles such as the one on Hansando A depiction of the crane formation during the battle of Hansado; blue depicts the Koreans, red the Japanese; this maneuver enabled the numerically inferior Korean navy to surround the Japanese and ensure a decisive victory. Perhaps his greatest victory however was in the battle of Myeongnyang in 1597 during the second invasion of Korea. After most of his fleet was lost thanks to the incompetence of his predecessor he decided to make a final stand at Myeongryang Strait. The reason for this choice was the narrowness of the Strait as well as the currents that flowed in different directions every three hours. He faced 130 Japanese warships with just 13. At the start of the battle, due to his own fleet being scared and shaken, he fought alone in his flagship against the whole Japanese fleet. In his words from his diary: Managing to rally his fleet and using the current that had shifted by that time, he delivered a crushing blow to the Japanese fleet, destroying 30 ships and killing half of the enemy forces to no ship losses on his side. Conclusion: With the successful use of turtle ships and the leadership of Admiral Yi, the Japanese land forces quickly found themselves with their supply lines in peril. They were unable to seize any advantages their superiority on land provided them thanks to the Korean dominance at sea. Eventually their plan of conquering Korea failed. I specifically chose the turtle ship as a prime example of how in the end technological advancements often require the human factor to really shine. In combination with the genius of Admiral Yi they were deadly weapons that succeeded in defending their country. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy this subject as much as I did writing and researching about it. As usual I would welcome any comments, be they negative and giving me some constructive criticism, or positive for my work. Thanks again for reading! Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtle_ship http://aas2.asian-studies.org/EAA/EAA-Archives/12/1/772.pdf https://deadliestblogpage.wordpress.com/2017/07/23/great-warships-of-history-korean-turtle-ship/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Japanese_invasions_of_Korea_(1592%E2%80%931598) http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Turtle_ship http://www.antiquealive.com/Blogs/Geobukseon_Turtle_Ship.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Myeongnyang Previous article in case anyone is interested