Chemulpo (Inchon), Korea, 9 February 1904, 1200 hrs.


Despite all the attention it has received from historians, the attack on Port Arthur was just a covering operation for the real target of Japan's opening move of the war, the invasion of Korea at Chemulpo. This critical operation was given to Rear Admiral Uriu Sotokichi.

The approach to the port lies between two islands, Richy to the north and Yung-hung-do to the south. Off the south coast of Richy lies the small Philip Island, and north of Yung-hung-do are reefs ending in the Pender Rock. Between this rock and Philip Island is a fairway nearly four miles wide. About three miles inside this line lays the Island of Yodolmi, and here begins the real entrance to the port, a channel nearly ten miles long running roughly northeast up to the place where Rear Admiral Uriu intended to land his troops.

About seven miles up the channel from Yodolmi the Russian cruiser Varyag and gunboat Korietz were anchored. Just to make matters more interesting four neutral vessels were also present in the anchorage, Talbot (Great Britain), Pascal (France), Elba (Italy) and Vicksburg (United States). Uriu reasoned that if the Russians remained where they were, in the midst of the neutral ships, they could not possibly attack his transports and if they came out to do battle he had ample force to destroy them.

Uriu ordered Chiyoda, Takachiho, Asama and the torpedo boats to proceed up the channel with the troop-ships to commence the debarkation at once while Naniwa, Niitaka and Akashi lay to the westward of Yodolmi Island.

The Japanese advance detachment entered Chemulpo and moored near the Russians, while the soldiers streamed ashore in disembarkation operations that continued through that night in which Togo's declaratory assault was being delivered at Port Arthur. To the amazement of the tense Japanese, Varyag and Korietz seemed as phlegmatic and casual as usual, airing out bunting and leaving out booms as though all were well in the affairs of nations.

By the next morning the transports had discharged their passengers and withdrawn from the harbor, along with all of the Japanese men-of-war excepting Chiyoda. The latter delivered to Captain Rudneff of Varyag an ultimatum from Admiral Uriu to vacate the harbor by noon and to the commanding officers of the neutral warships a request that they shift their berths to a safe corner. Talbot's skipper was the future Admiral Sir Lewis Bayly and, despite the Anglo-Japanese Alliance and its unwritten implications, he protested as senior officer present against any violation of Korean neutrality, a measure in which the American captain refused to join.

Rudneff spared Uriu the necessity of making a decision with respect to a harbor attack. Declining to be trapped like a bird in a cage, he resolved to make a hopeless break for the open sea.

True to the general conditions prevailing in the Russian Navy, Varyag was able to attain a scant two-thirds of her maximum speed. Korietz was even slower and of no combatant value anyway but bravely insisted upon tagging along. In formidable array stood the Japanese cruisers. Asama alone was capable of disposing of the weaker Russians but Togo, like Fisher in dispatching Invincible and Inflexible to sink Von Spee's inferior squadron, purposely had sent a force that he was sure would be overwhelming.

Shortly after noon, Korietz started down the channel directly past the Japanese line and soon was overtaken by Varyag. The Japanese had nothing to worry about. They let Asama's 8" rifles do the heavy damage of which they were capable at a range reasonably safe from Varyag's wildly inaccurate return fire. The other Japanese cruisers, particularly the flagship Naniwa, contributed superfluous support and attacked Korietz without effect.

The latter kept partly behind the shelter of one of the islands in the vicinity and in mid-afternoon she followed the battered Varyag back to the harbor, where both took refuge near the neutral warships. Their crews then scuttled the ships. That Varyag had been able to limp back to port with her slaughtered complement and shattered hull was a wonder.