Yi Sun-sin

From Academic Kids

Template:Koreanname noimage Yi Sun-sin (April 28, 1545December 16, 1598), was a famous Korean naval leader. As the Lord High Admiral of the Korean fleet under the Joseon Dynasty, Yi led the fight against the Japanese during their first invasion of Korea during April 1592 in the Seven-Year War. He turned back the enemy fleet of Japanese invaders with his innovative turtle ships, and became to many Koreans a national hero. He was shot by a sniper in the Battle of Noryang in 1598, and died.


Early life

Yi was born in Geoncheon Dong (Korean: 건천동; 乾川洞) in Seoul. His courtesy name was Deoksu (덕수; 德水) and his posthumous name was Chungmu or Chung Mu (충무; 忠武). In 1576 he passed the military civil service examination and was posted to the northern border region for the next 10 years. Later he was falsely accused of desertion and was demoted to the rank of common soldier. But General Yi climbed up the steps from time to time. In 1591, he was assigned to the naval command in Jeolla (전라도 (全羅道)),where he could have a good position on fighting the Japanese.

The Seven-Year War and the Japanese invasions

This Korean admiral was responsible for defeat of Japanese invasions in 1592 and 1597. In 1592, Toyotomi Hideyoshi gave the order to invade Korea, planning to sweep through the peninsula and use it as a forward base to conquer China. (See Seven-Year War) Hideyoshi was fully aware of the need to control the seas during the invasion. Having failed to hire two Portuguese galleons to help him, he increased the size of his own fleet to 700 vessels, assuming that the Koreans would fight hand-to-hand and be overwhelmed.

As expected, the invasion force landed at Busan without meeting any Korean ships, and the Japanese forces began a lightning march north, reaching Seoul within twenty days on 2 May 1592. But the Korean navy was not idle. In May and June, in a series of actions, a small Korean fleet commanded by Yi Sun-shin destroyed several Japanese flotillas - in all ~72 vessels were sunk by the end of June.

Yi and the Turtle Ships

Yi designed revolutionary ironclad ships called Geobukseon, or turtle ship. These were probably the first warships to use iron plates as defensive armour. About 33 metres long and 8 metres broad, their roofs were made of hexagonal metal plates, which made them impossible to board and also provided substanial protection against gunfire.

They were armed with twelve gunports and twenty-two loopholes per side for small-arms, plus four more ports at each end, and equiped with fire-pots and toxic smoke. Tactics varied: sometimes the turtle-ships would come up close, just like a modern torpedo boat, and fire broadsides; other times they would use their metal ram to hole the enemy, leaving the other warships to close in for the kill. Their armament outweighed that of the Japanese by about 40 to 1.

Turtle ships were first deployed at Sachun, where they helped destroy 13 enemy Japanese ships. Subsequently, Admiral Yi achieved tremendous victories in every battle he engaged. In the battles at Dangpo & Danghangpo, he sank 20 and 100 Japanese ships respectively and utterly routed the inexperienced Japanese sailors--remember, this is out of a main Japanese fleet of ~700 vessels. Then on 8 July, in a decisive battle, Admiral Yi destroyed the main enemy fleet in Hansan Bay, sinking 59 out of 73 warships; and on the following day he defeated a relief expedition sailing up from Japan.

The Japanese response

But Hideyoshi and his commanders soon adjusted. At Busan, the surviving Japanese warships took abroad some heavier guns and iron plates, and clustered beneath the harbour's defences of heavy shore-mounted cannon. With an outnumbered and outgunned fleet, Yi refused to make the suicidal attack and withdrew; this decision would play a crucial part in him being demoted later in 1597. With his victories, he was appointed the Lord High Admiral and given command of all naval forces of southern Korea in 1593. From then to 1597 there was a hiatus in the war but when it resumed, the Japanese again failed to win command of the sea. Yi was removed from his post after disputes with Admiral Won Gyun, who replaced Yi as Lord High Admiral (수군 통제사). Yi was reinstated after successes by the Japanese navy in July 1597 against Won Gyun, who was killed in battle at Chilcheonnyang. On September 16, 1597, he led 12 remnant ships of Won Gyun's fleet against 133 Japanese ships in the Myeongnyang Straits,which would come to be known as the Battle of Myeongnyang. The Koreans sank 31 enemy ships and forced a Japanese retreat.

In November, the Japanese fleet was lured by Yi into a tide-race where the oar-driven turtle ships caused wholesale destruction. The Japanese never recovered from this blow: lacking naval support and a sea-borne supply line, their land armies were unable to advance very far from their base in Busan and the survivors gladly returned home in 1598. On November 19, 1598, Admiral Yi was shot during the final battle of the war when he attacked retreating Japanese remnants at Noryang. He is said to have asked his son to cover up his body with a large shield, and keep on fighting. The Korean turtle ships did not go into action again after the Admiral's demise, on the orders of incompetent ministers that neglected the country's interests, under the influence of Confucian views discouraging warfare.


In order to fully understand Admiral Yi's legacy, one must first understand how the navy operated in Korea at the time. During the time of the invasion, it was up to the admiral to find the supply for his fleet. Admiral Yi's navy was cut off from any helping hand from the king's court and had to fend for itself. Admiral Yi often wrote in his war diary how concerned he was about the food supply during winters. His enemy was fully supplied, and always outnumbered him, yet Admiral Yi never lost a battle.

Another astonishng fact is that Admiral Yi himself had never been trained as an admiral. Korea, called Chosun at the time, did not have any naval training facility. Admiral Yi used to be a general, fighting foreign Jurchen tribes invading from Manchuria. In fact,Okpo Battle, his first victory against the Japanese fleet, was also his first sea battle ever. None of his subordinates, including his own staff, had ever fought at sea before.

One of the biggest factors in Admiral Yi's success was his foresight to develop new weapons, even before the war. His cannons and guns had longer range than the enemy. His turtle ship, which actually had first set sail the day before the invasion, was very effective in leading the attack and breaking the enemy's formation.

However, Admiral Yi's real legacy lies in the fact that he was a brilliant strategist. The more advanced weapons might have given him the edge, but it was his strategy that made him invincible. He used many different formations according to the situation, and capitalized on tides and ocean currents. Many times he lured the enemy to a place where his fleet would have advantage. Admiral Yi's expertise on naval strategy is apparent in the fact that his successor Won Gyun, even with all of Admiral Yi's ships and trained crew, could not defeat the enemy fleet of similar might. In fact, Won lost all but 12 of 300 ships that Admiral Yi left him, and was killed himself in the battle.

Yi Sun-shin kept a careful record of daily events in a diary, and it is from these entries, along with the reports he sent to the throne during the war, that much about the man has been learned. These works have been published in English as Nanjung Ilgi: War Diary of Admiral Yi Sun-shin, and Imjin Jangcho: Admiral Yi Sun-shin's Memorials to Court. His posthumous title, Lord of Loyalty and Chivalry (Chungmu-gong, 충무공; 忠武公) is used in Korea's third highest military honor, the Cordon of Chungmu of the Order of Military Merit and Valour. Chungmuro (충무로; 忠武路)—a street in downtown Seoul—is also named after him. The city Chungmu, later renamed to Tongyeong, on southern coast of Korea is named in honour of his posthumous title and the site of his headquarters respectively. There is a prominent statue of Admiral Yi Sun-Shin in the middle of Sejongno in central Seoul. Reputedly, he never lost a single ship under his command yet he destroyed around a thousand ships of the enemy; a remarkable testment to his tactical skills and knowledge of when to retreat.

There is also a show airing on Korean Television called "The Immortal Yi-Soon-Shin", which shows the events of his life.

See also

External links

fr:Yi Sun-shin ko:이순신 ja:李舜臣 zh:李舜臣


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