The outbreak of war thus found the Japanese in possession of Seoul and ready to send large forces to Korea, while the Chinese occupied Asan (about 40 m. south of the capital), and had a considerable body of troops in Manchuria in addition to those despatched to the Yalu river. To Japan the command of the sea was essential for the secure transport and supply of her troops. Without it the experience of the war of the 16th century would be repeated. China, too, could only utilize overland routes to Korea by submitting to the difficulties and delays entailed. To both powers the naval question was thus important.
By the time war was finally declared (August 1) hostilities had already begun. On the 25th of July Oshima set out from Seoul to attack the Chinese at Asan. On the 29th he won a victory at Söng-hwan, but the Chinese commander escaped with a considerable part of his forces by a detour to Ping-Yang (Phyong-Yang). Meanwhile a portion of the Japanese fleet had encountered some Chinese warships and transports off Phung-Tao, and scored an important success, sinking, amongst other vessels, the transport “Kowshing” (July 25). The loss of more than 1000 Chinese soldiers in this vessel materially lightened Oshima’s task. The intention of the Chinese to crush their enemies between their forces at Asan and Ping-Yang was completely frustrated, and the Japanese obtained control of all southern Korea.
Reinforcements from Japan were now pouring into Korea, in spite of the fact that the rival navies had not yet tried conclusions, and General Nozu, the senior Japanese officer present, soon found himself in a position to move on Ping-Yang. Three columns converged upon the place on the 15th of September, and in spite of its strong walls carried it, though only after severe fighting.
Nearly all the troops on either side had been conveyed to the scene of war by sea, though the decisive contest for sea supremacy was still to be fought. The Chinese admiral Ting with the Northern Squadron (which alone took part in the war) had hitherto remained inactive in Wei-hai-wei, and on the other side Vice-Admiral Ito’s fleet had not directly interfered with the hostile transports which were reinforcing the troops on the Yalu. But two days after the battle of Ping-Yang, Ting, who had conveyed a large body of troops to the mouth of the Yalu, encountered the Japanese fleet on his return journey off Hai-Yang-Tao on the 17th of September. The heavy battleships “Chen-Yuen” and “Ting-Yuen” constituted the strongest element of the Chinese squadron, for the Japanese, superior as they were in every other factor of success, had no vessels which could compare with these in the matter of protection. Ting advanced in a long irregular line abreast; the battleships in the centre, the lighter vessels on the wings. Ito’s fast cruisers steamed in line ahead against the Chinese right wing, crushing their weaker opponents with their fire. In the end the Chinese fleet was defeated and scattered, but the two heavy battleships drew off without serious injury. This battle of the Yalu gave Japan command of the sea, but Ito continued to act with great caution. The remnants of the vanquished fleet took refuge in Port Arthur, whence after repairs Ting proceeded to Wei-hai-wei.
The victory of Ping-Yang had cleared Korea of the Chinese troops, but on the lower Yalu—their own frontier—large forces threatened a second advance. Marshal Yamagata therefore took the offensive with his 1st army, and on the 24th and 25th of October, under great difficulties—though without serious opposition from the enemy—forced the passage of the river and occupied Chiulien-cheng. Part of the Chinese force retired to the north-east, part to Feng-hwang-cheng and Hsiu-yuen (Siu-Yen). The Japanese 1st army advanced several columns towards the mountains of Manchuria to secure its conquests and prepare for a future advance. General Tachimi’s brigade occupied Feng-hwang-cheng on the 29th of October. On the 7th of November a column from the Yalu took Takushan, and a few days later a converging attack from these two places was made upon Hsiu-yuen, which was abandoned by the Chinese. Meanwhile Tachimi, skirmishing with the enemy on the Mukden and Liao-Yang roads, found the Chinese in force. A simultaneous forward move by both sides led to the action of Tsao-ho-ku (November 30), after which both sides withdrew—the Chinese to the line of the mountains covering Hai-cheng, Liao-Yang and Mukden, with the Tatar general Ikotenga’s force, 14,000 strong, on the Japanese right north-east of Feng-hwang-cheng; and the Japanese to Chiulien-cheng, Takushan and Hsiu-yuen. The difficulties of supply in the hills were almost insurmountable, and no serious advance was intended by the Japanese until January 1895, when it was to be made in co-operation with the 2nd army. This army, under Marshal Oyama, had been formed in September and at first sent to Chemulpo as a support to the forces under Yamagata; but its chief task was the siege and capture of the Chinese fortress, dockyard and arsenal of Port Arthur.
The Liao-Tong peninsula was guarded by the walled city of Kinchow and the forts of Ta-lien-wan (Dalny under the Russian régime, and Tairen under the Japanese) as well as the fortifications around Port Arthur itself. On the 24th of October the disembarkation of the 2nd army began near Pi-tsze-wo, and the successive columns of the Japanese gradually moved towards Kinchow, which was carried without difficulty on the 6th of November. Even less resistance was offered by the modern forts of Ta-lien-wan. The Japanese now held a good harbour within a few miles of the main fortress. Here they landed siege artillery, and on the 17th of November the advance was resumed. The attack was made on the 19th at dawn. Yamaji’s division (Nogi’s and Nishi’s brigades) after a trying night march assaulted and carried the western defences and moved upon the town. Hasegawa in the centre, as soon as Yamaji began to appear in rear of his opponents in the northern forts, pushed home his attack with equal success, and by 3 p.m. practically all resistance was at an end. The Japanese paid for this important success with but 423 casualties. Meanwhile the Chinese general Sung, who had marched from Hai-cheng to engage the 2nd army, appeared before Kinchow, where he received on the 22nd a severe repulse at the hands of the Japanese garrison. Marshal Oyama subsequently stationed his advanced guard towards Hai-cheng, the main body at Kinchow, and a brigade of infantry at Port Arthur. Soon after this overtures of peace were made by China; but her envoy, a foreigner unfurnished with credentials, was not received by the Tokyo government.
The Japanese 1st army (now under General Nozu) at Antung and Feng-hwang-cheng prepared, in spite of the season, to move across the mountains, and on the 3rd of December General Katsura left Antung for Hai-cheng. His line of march was by Hsi-mu-cheng, and strong flank guards followed parallel routes on either side. The march was accomplished safely and Hai-cheng occupied on the 13th of December. In the meantime Tachimi had moved northward from Feng-hwang-cheng, in order to distract the attention of the Chinese from Hai-cheng, and there were some small engagements between this force and that of Ikotenga, who ultimately retired beyond the mountains to Liao-Yang. Sung had already left Kai-ping to secure Hai-cheng when he heard of the fall of that place; his communications with Ikotenga being now severed, he swerved to the north-west and established a new base at Niu-chwang. Once on his new line Sung moved upon Hai-cheng. As it was essential that he should be prevented from joining forces with Ikotenga, General Katsura marched out of Hai-cheng to fight him. At Kang-wang-tsai (December 19th) the Chinese displayed unusual steadiness, and it cost the Japanese some 343 casualties to dislodge the enemy. The victors returned to Hai-cheng exhausted with their efforts, but secure from attack for some time to come. The advanced troops of the 2nd army (Nogi’s brigade) were now ready to advance, and only the Kai-ping garrison (left behind by Sung) barred their junction with Katsura. At Kai-ping (January 10th) the resistance of the Chinese was almost as steady as at Kang-wang-tsai, and the Japanese lost 300 killed and wounded in their successful attack. In neither of these actions was the defeated force routed, nor did it retire very far. On the 17th of January and again on the 22nd Ikotenga attacked Hai-cheng from the north, but was repulsed.
Meanwhile the 2nd army, still under Oyama, had undertaken operations against Wei-hai-wei, the second great fortress and dockyard of northern China, where Admiral Ting’s squadron had been refitting since the battle of the Yalu; and it was hoped that both armies would accomplish their present tasks in time to advance in the summer against Peking itself. On the 18th of January a naval demonstration was made at Teng-chow-fu, 70 m. west of Wei-hai-wei, and on the 19th the Japanese began their disembarkation at Yung-cheng Bay, about 12 m. from Wei-hai-wei. The landing was scarcely opposed, and on the 26th the Japanese advance was begun. The south-eastern defences of Wei-hai-wei harbour were carried by the 6th division, whilst the 2nd division reached the inner waters of the bay, driving the Chinese before them. The fleet under Ito co-operated effectively. On the night of the 4th-5th of February the Chinese squadron in harbour was attacked by ten torpedo boats. Two boats were lost, but the armour-clad “Ting-Yuen” was sunk. On the following night a second attack was made, and three more vessels were sunk. On the 9th the “Ching-Yuen” was sunk by the guns in one of the captured forts. On the 12th Admiral Ting wrote to Admiral Ito offering to surrender, and then took poison, other officers following his example. Wei-hai-wei was then dismantled by the Japanese, who recovered the remnant of the Chinese squadron, including the “Chen Yuen,” and the 2nd army concentrated at Port Arthur for the advance on Peking.
While this campaign was in progress the Chinese despatched a second peace mission, also with defective credentials. The Japanese declined to treat, and the mission returned to China. In February the Chinese made further unsuccessful attacks on Hai-cheng. Yamaji near Kai-ping fought a severe action on the 21st, 22nd and 23rd of February at Taping-shan against a part of Sung’s army under General Ma-yu-kun. This action was fought with 2 ft. of snow on the ground, the thermometer registering zero F., and no less than 1500 cases of frost-bite were reported. It was the intention of General Nozu, after freeing the Hai-cheng garrison from Ikotenga, to seize Niu-chwang port. Two divisions converged on An-shan-chan, and the Chinese, threatened in front and flank, retired to Liao-Yang. Meanwhile two more attacks on Hai-cheng had been repulsed. The 3rd and 5th divisions then moved on Niu-chwang, and Yamaji’s 1st division at Kai-ping joined in the advance. The column from An-shan-chan stormed Niu-chwang, which was obstinately defended, and cost the stormers nearly 400 men. All