SINKING OF THE KOWSHING
The Battle of Asan began at 7.5 a.m. on July 25, 1894. It was well over when, at 8.30 a.m., the British-owned transport Kowshing was sighted in the distance, and at 9.15 a.m. the Naniwa fired two blank charges at her and signaled to her to stop.
The Kowshing was perfectly well known to the Japanese, Lieutenant Kuroi, of the Intelligence Department, having informed his Government on July 14th that she was charted as a transport for Chinese troops. She was commanded by Captain Galsworthy of the British mercantile marine, and had on board, besides her officers and crew of 64 men, 1100 Chinese soldiers and the German Von Hannacken, who was in the Chinese service.
The Naniwa ordered the Kowshing to follow her, and to this capture the captain assented, but the Chinese on board insisted on returning to Taku instead. Four hours were spent in negotiations, at the end of which time Captain Togo advised the Europeans in the Kowshing to leave. Before this was complied with the Chinese were in a state of mutiny, and Togo, dreading the arrival of the Chinese battle-fleet, gave the order to open fire on the transport. At 1.10 p.m. he fired a torpedo, which missed, and a broadside that hit the Kowshing in the engine-room. Five minutes later she began to sink, and at 1.46 went under.
Most of the European officers jumped overboard, and the majority were rescued by the Naniwa's boats. The Chinese on board the sinking ship opened a heavy rifle-fire on everything and everybody. The story that the Japanese fired on the men in the water does not appear to have any foundation in fact. The statement that they did so rests on the authority of the German Von Hannacken, who was hardly in a position to observe the exact facts as he swam to safety. It is probable, and, indeed, to be presumed, that the men on the Naniwa's tops fired at the Kowshing, in order to keep down the fire which the Chinese soldiers directed at the Japanese boats sent to pick up the European survivors.
About half the Chinese were picked up by a French gunboat or escaped to the islands; no attempt to save any was made by the Japanese. For this they have received stronger condemnation than they merit. To risk being killed by one lot of the enemy in order to save another lot is not a necessary act in war ethics. This was Captain Togo's view, situated as he was in a position of considerable danger, owing to the supposed propinquity of the Chinese fleet. From panic, or the idea that the Japanese would give no quarter, the Chinese had to all intents and purposes gone mad en masse; and whatever theories armchair critics may evolve, the amount of blame actually due to Captain Togo is of trifling nature. He had to choose between two evils, and chose the least.
The legality of the attack on the Kowshing was hotly contested; but in the end it was established that Japan was inside her legal rights. As to the ethics of the matter-well, the moralist who objects is apt to fail to realize that the Kowshing carried 1100 of the best soldiers China could put in the field, and they had been destined to fight the Naniwa's countrymen. To allow them to proceed would have been a splendid exhibition of legal-mindedness, but it would also have been a criminally stupid act from the patriotic standpoint.
source: The Imperial Japanese Navy, Fred T. Jane, 1904