Japan in the First World War

By Harald Pöcher

Translated by Christopher Schönberger, Austrian Armed Forces Language Institute 

Japan’s participation in the First World War led to a reorganisation of the Western Pacific/East Asian region and created the conditions for the subsequent shocks to European colonial policies in the Pacific. To provide some background to the issues discussed in this paper, Japanese foreign policy interests pre-WWI and its domestic conditions need to be analysed.


Japan on the Eve of the Great War

In 1853, Commodore Matthew C. Perry, with the help of his modern steamships, forced the opening up of the country after more than 250 years of national isolation.[1] The first Japan-US treaty on trade and friendship (1854) was soon followed by European powers brandishing similar unequal treaties, in which territorial and sovereign rights had to be ceded to foreign powers. Following fierce battles, the imperial forces won the domestic struggle for power and, since then, the year 1868 has been regarded as the beginning of the restoration of imperial power. In contrast to the Tennos of old Japan, who had been revered as demi-gods, the post-restauration Tennos were demi-gods abused by politicians. The advisers of Emperor Mutsuhito (as is traditional in Japan, Mutsuhito was awarded the name Meiji-Tenno after his death) tried everything to modernise Japan speedily, as it was backward in many areas. There were study trips, e.g. the Iwakura Mission, which visited North America and Europe between 1870 and 1873, and inter alia during the 1873 World Fair also Austro-Hungary, which had established diplomatic relations with Japan in 1869.[2]

An important element in Japan’s endeavour to catch up concerned the armed forces, which, in the middle of the 19th century, were hopelessly outdated compared with the great powers of the time. The leading politicians were fully aware that the armed forces had to assume an important role and also developed the appropriate motto “fukoku kyohei” (rich nation-strong army). Immediately following the opening up of the country, international military delegations beat a path to the Japanese doorstep - also in the hope of good business for their defence industries - and tried to stress the appeal of their respective military systems. In this respect, the British were most successful in establishing a modern Japanese navy, whereas the French initially set the tone when it came to the land forces.[3] However, after the French defeat in the war against Prussia in 1870/71, Japanese officers were increasingly sent to German military schools and institutions to study the successes of the German army. This was the beginning of the German army’s influence on the organisation of the imperial Japanese army. The Austro-Hungarian armed forces did not play a major role in the creation of a modern army. Austro-Hungary, however, could boast the fact that Theodor Edler von Lerch (1869-1945), a Major of the General Staff, introduced the Japanese armed forces to skiing during his study trip to Japan in 1911.[4]

The arguably most important contribution as regards training and advisory actitivies was made by the German Major (GS) Klemens Wilhelm Jakob Meckel (1842-1906)[5], who arrived inJapan in 1885 and taught at theStaffAcademy until 1888. At his suggestion, a General Inspector and CPX were introduced. The basics of tactics, logistics, as well as command in peacetime and during operations, which Meckel had taught the Japanese in his courses and writings, shaped the imperial Japanese army until the end of the Second World War.

1885 can be seen as the date when the Gunbatsu (= military faction) achieved its powerful influence on the control and decisions of the government’s national and international policies. From 1885 to 1945, 15 out of 30 Prime Ministers (i.e. 50%) and almost a quarter of all cabinet members came from the armed forces. The Ministers of War and the Navy were, apart from a few exceptions, always active generals and admirals, who were only subordinate to the Emperor. On the eve of the First World War, Japan was mostly ruled by ultra-conservative Prime Ministers. One of them, Taro Katsura, an important protégé of Aritoma Yamagata, one of the co-founders of the modern Japanese army, dominated domestic and international policy between 1898 and 1911. Apart from Katsura, Kinochi Saionji influenced domestic policy. Influenced by his studies in France, Saionji turned from a conservative into a liberal and thus took a different approach to the military. He tried, inter alia, to limit the defence budget during his time in office, which did not come to pass, as the Minster of the Army resigned and the army refused to send a different representative to the government.

Japan’s military ascent and the onset of Japanese imperialism from the middle of the 19th century onward began with the annexation of the Kingdom of the Ryūkyū Islands in 1871 and the punitive expedition to Taiwanin 1874. Twenty years later, Japanwas already strong enough to beat Chinadecisively in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894/95. As a result, Chinahad to cede, inter alia, Port Arthur to Japan. As Russia, however, claimed this territory as well, it intervened against this cession, supported by France and Germany. Japan was thereby forced to relinquish its spoils. From the turn of the century, researchers and ideologues developed expansion plans. These plans basically stipulated that within 100 years Japan should, first, annex Korea, following a war with China. After this, a war with Russia was to result in the conquest of Manchuria and parts of North China. Among the long-term goals were the occupation of South-East Asia, Dutch India, and, finally, the subjugation of the South Sea Archipelago up to Hawaii, as well as the annexation of Australia and New Zealand. Japan proceeded meticulously in the implementation of its plans. During the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, Japan deployed the largest military contingent and thereby contributed decisively to the crushing of the rebellion. In the Russo-Japanese War (1904/05) Japan defeated Czarist Russia by mobilising all forces. The military victories led to territorial gains on the Asian mainland, which were to be consolidated in 1910 through the annexation of Korea. The latter fulfilled a wish Japan had long harboured and which had originated in the third century AD when Japan first sent a military expedition to Korea, and failed, just as it did in 663 AD or during the attempts at invasion towards the end of the 16th century. Following the annexation ofKorea,Japan became hungry for more, a hunger that, according to leading circles inTokyo, could most easily be appeased by conquering the German colonies inEast Asia and in the Western Pacific. This hunger coincided with the fateful events inEurope in the summer of 1914. Ten years after the triumph overRussia,Japan entered the First World War. Before the events of the First World War under Japanese participation are investigated, it seems necessary to provide an overview ofGermany’s position in theFar East and the Western Pacific.


German Colonies in East Asia and in the Pacific

While other European powers had already begun – at the end of the 15th century – to acquire colonies overseas, the unified German Reich only joined the ranks of the European colonial powers in 1884. In the Pacific, the German Reich annexed the island of Nauru, and in 1897/98 Jiaozhou Bay and the harbour of Tsingtao became German leased territory. In 1913 the population consisted of 53,312 Chinese, 2,069 Europeans and Americans, 2,400 garrisoned soldiers, 204 Japanese and 25 other Asians.[6] A neutral zone of 50 km was created aroundJiaozhouBay, in which Chinese sovereignty was restricted byGermany. Furthermore, there were German mining and railway concessions inShantungProvince. Through the German-Spanish Treaty of 1899 the Micronesian Caroline, Mariana, andPalauIslands became part of the German sphere of influence. German claims to thePhilippines could not be realised, however, which led to the deterioration in diplomatic relations with theUSA. In 1899, the Samoa Treaty made the western parts of theSamoaIslands a German protectorate. Whereas the Pacific territories were not garrisoned, theharbour ofTsingtao was expanded into a naval base.

The German East Asia Squadron was stationed in Tsingtao. This cruiser squadron was used by the German Navy to assert and protect its national interests in the East Asiaand South Pacific regions. When war broke out on 2 August 1914, these German vessels were part of the East Asia station:[7] one cruiser squadron consisting of the armoured cruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, the light cruisers Emden, Nürnberg, and Leipzig, the auxiliary cruiser Cormoran, and the accompanying steamship SS Titania. There were also the gun boats Iltis, Jaguar, Tiger, Luchs and Cormoran, the river gun boats Tsingtau, Otter, and Vaterland, as well as the torpedo boat S-90. The naval base was also the home port of the Austro-Hungarian station ship in the Far East. In summer 1914 the old protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth was in Tsingtao.[8]


The Japanese Armed Forces on the eve of the Great War

In the race to catch up, it became clear to those responsible, especially to Minister of War Yamagata Aritomo (1838-1922), that only the introduction of universal conscription would provide the Japanese Armed Forces with the number of soldiers required. That is whyJapan, after a two-year trial run, introduced universal conscription in 1873, and, in 1878, set up an independent general staff to advise the Emperor. Parallel to the restructuring of the military organisation, a national defence industry was set up. The army and navy were organised and armed along European lines. An independent air force did not yet exist, although both army and navy were testing the new aircraft at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Japanese arms build-up led to a number of huge corruption scandals. Especially noteworthy was the Siemens/Vickers Scandal. Siemens ensured a virtual monopoly on defence procurement by bribing those responsible for awarding the contracts. Vickers, a British company, offered an even more lucrative deal involving the payment of a higher bribe. The scandal came to light when incriminating evidence was leaked to the Reuters news agency.


Organisation and Equipment of the Army and the Navy

In 1914, the Japanese Army[9] [10] consisted of 18 field divisions. One field division included one division HQ, two brigades with two infantry regiments each, one cavalry regiment, one or two artillery regiments, one engineer battalion, one supply battalion, and medical units. Each of these field divisions was organised in such a manner that it could be deployed independently and without reinforcements.

The troops of the Japanese Army had modern weapons and equipment. The infantry boasted the type 38 Arisaka infantry rifle and the type 3 machine gun. The artillery’s backbone[11] was formed of Krupp guns produced in Japan under license and included the type 38 75 mm field gun. There were also 70 mm Alpine guns, as well as the 100 mm or 150 mm guns of the field artillery. The most important gun of the siege artillery was the type 45 240 mm howitzer. In 1910, a Farman biplane was procured. The first motorised flight was undertaken that year by Captain Tokugawa Yoshitoshi. The Army, however, only developed a significant interest in military aviation shortly before and during the First World War. The most important types of military aircraft came from the manufacturers Farman and Nieuport.

In 1914, the navy was formed of three fleets. The first fleet consisted of modern battleships and cruisers and was commanded by Vice Admiral Kato Tomosaburo. The second fleet consisted of seized, older Russian ships and cruisers. Its commander was Vice Admiral Kato Sadakichi. The third fleet was stationed in theSouth China Seaand consisted of cruisers. The fleets’ most important harbours wereYokosuka,Kure,Sasebo, Ominato and Maizuru.

Similarly to the Army, Japanese naval aircraft were still in their infancy. The Japanese Admirals, however, recognised the advantages of the plane, and in 1913 the transport ship Wakamiya was refitted as a seaplane carrier (7,720 GRT - 111.1 metres length overall - 14.7 metre beam - 5.8 metres draft - speed ten knots - complement of 234 - four seaplanes - two 47mm guns), and a number of aircraft were procured. During the manoeuvres in the autumn of 1913, a number of take-offs were carried out from this vessel. At the beginning of 1914, the Navy had ten seaplanes (three Curtiss, five Farman, and two Duperdussin) and two German Rumpler Tauben. On 5 September 1914, the first attack on German targets off Tsingtao was carried out by naval planes from the Wakamiya.

The differing strategic approaches and the increased mechanisation of the services on the eve of the First World War did not yet pose insoluble problems to the Japanese defence industry. Only during the interwar period did differences of opinion between the Army and the Navy lead to an overlap in arms production and to a waste of the Empire’s already limited resources.


The Development of the Situation in the Far East in 1914 up to the Outbreak of the War

At the beginning of the twentieth century Japan went through a golden period, which is why it was already a regional superpower in 1910 competing (especially in Asia) with the USA and the European powers for markets and political spheres of influence. After the death of Meiji-Tenno in 1912 his son Yoshihito (1879-1926) acceded to the throne. Today, his short reign (1912-1926) is referred to as the Taisho Period. In 1914 Japan had by far the highest military expenditure in Asia (160 million Yen = 540 million Crowns) and higher defence spending than some European powers.[12] Through clever treaties,Japan had furthermore ensured the military goodwill of what were the superpowers at that time. The most important one was the Anglo-Japanese Alliance of 1902, which was extended in 1905 and 1911. There was also the 1907 treaty withFrance, which set out the spheres of influence in the Far East and affirmed the territorial integrity ofChina, the 1908 agreement with theUSA on the mutual recognition of territorial possessions in the Pacific, and the third Russo-Japanese Entente of 1912 on spheres of influence inManchuria. This network of bilateral contracts was a first attempt to secure the European colonial possessions andUS claims inAsia and the Pacific.

It would have been easy forJapannot to enter the war which was raging mostly in Europe, the North Atlantic, and in theMiddle East. When, however, on 7 August 1914Great Britainsent a request toJapanto destroy the German war ships in Chinese waters, the Japanese government took the decision the following day to enter the war on the side ofBritain. The treaty with the British had already made it possible for the Admiralty inLondonto strengthen the Home Fleet by pulling troops out ofEast Asia.

On 15 August 1914, Japanissued an ultimatum to the German Reich to pull out all German warships from Chinese and Japanese waters, and to hand over Tsingtao. The following day, Lieutenant General Kamio Mitsuomi, the commander of the 18th Division, was ordered to prepare the seizure ofTsingtao. When the ultimatum expired on 23 August,Japan declared war onGermany, and the sea blockade ofTsingtao began already on 27 August.


The Forces of the Central Powers in the Far East and their Defence Preparations

At the outbreak of the Great War, the forces in the German colonies were not prepared for a war with European powers.[13] The Germans reacted to the Japanese threat by mobilising Tsingtao and concentrating all available Asian auxiliary forces in the city, including the Tientsin and Beijing navy detachments. The German garrison under Governor Captain at Sea Alfred Meyer-Waldeck subsequently consisted of approximately 1,400 soldiers of the III Seebataillon (four companies of marines, one field artillery battery, one company of engineers, and one mounted company), as well as approximately 3,400 naval personnel (among these four companies sailor artillery), soldiers, and volunteers. Altogether, the defenders numbered approximately 5,000 soldiers, among them Chinese as well as Austro-Hungarian forces (305 crew of the protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth).

The defence preparations were as follows: creation of mine barriers at potential landing sites, surveillance of the entrance to JiaozhouBayand therefore to Tsingtao harbour, manning of sea-front and land-front artillery, mobilisation of III Seebataillion and the East Asia navy detachment, and the sailing of all ships capable of cruiser warfare. The artillery pieces on the seafront were emplaced in the following manner: Fort Hui tsch’uen Huk on Iltisbay with 3 x 150 mm fast loading guns in tank turrets on rotating mounts, and 2 x 240 mm Krupp long-barrel guns; Fort Yu-ni-san on the peninsula of the same name with 4 x 88 mm quick fire guns; mole head battery with 2 x 88 mm quick fire guns; Tsingtao battery at the harbour with 2 x 150 mm Krupp long-barrel guns; Bismarckberg battery embedded in rock with 4 x 280 mm coastal howitzers in tank turrets with 360 degree coverage; and the Hsianuniwa battery with 4 x 210 mm guns. The land front employed the following artillery: Iltisberg battery with two fixed 105 mm fast loading guns in the upper battery, as well as six free standing 120 mm fortress guns in the lower battery; at Bismarckberg 2 x 210 mm guns; at Taitungtschen 2 x 120 mm guns.

There were also three batteries of old 90 mm field guns with six guns each, as well as five batteries of 37 mm machine cannon with two and four barrels each. There were also five infantry battle positions, numbered from south to north. The first, fourth and fifth battle positions were manned with a company from the Seebataillon, the second and third with half a company each. There were no military installations on the islands in the Pacific; they were only monitored by small police units. There were also two Rumpler Etrich-Taube planes inTsingtao, which were to be flown by First Lieutenant at Sea Plüschow and Lieutenant Müllerskowsky. On the day of mobilisation, both planes were airworthy and operationally ready. During a practice flight, however, one of the two machines crashed, severely injuring Müllerskowsky.

Scharnhorst, Gneisenau, Nürnberg, and Titania sailed from Tsingtao for the last time on Friday, 7 August 1914. They were, at first, to adhere to prize rules. On 12 August the small cruiser Emden joined the squadron. Already on 14 August the squadron commander released the Emden to conduct warfare independently in the Indian Ocean. When war broke out, the small cruiser Leipzig (also part of the squadron) was off Mexico’s west coast. Leipzig only joined the squadron in October, together with the Dresden, another small cruiser. The squadron crossed the Pacific Ocean and stopped at various German stations in the South Seas. The only ships remaining in Tsingtao were the gunboats Iltis, Tiger, Luchs, the torpedo boat S90 and the gunboat Jaguar, as well as the cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth. The German squadron cruising in the Pacific was an element of uncertainty, the elimination of which was given high priority by the Entente.


Japan Prepares to Attack

From its analysis of events in Europe and, especially, from its own experience in the Russo-Japanese War, the Japanese General Staff had developed a clear picture of modern warfare.[14] They ultimately decided on an operation which should produce as few casualties on their side as possible. The Japanese were of the opinion that this could be only achieved if the bulk of the heavy artillery available in Japan would be attached to the assault forces. The General Staff in Tokyo was also aware that the operation against German possessions in the Far East, which were protected by a manageable number of defenders, would not require a mobilisation and could be managed with a tailored task organisation using all resources available in the peacetime garrisons. The British furthermore offered to contribute to the battle for the German possessions. The Japanese, however, regarded this more as a kind of supervision than as real reinforcements.

Due to its geographic vicinity to the area of operations, the 18th Field Division, which was stationed in and around the city of Kurume, was chosen as the OHQ and to provide the nucleus of the assault forces. The General Staff in Tokyo also planned to reinforce the 18th Division with the bulk of available siege artillery, additional engineer units, railway transport units, and logistics units. The task organisation of the Japanese assault forces was therefore as follows: Division HQ; 23rd, 24th, and 29th Infantry Brigades with two infantry regiments each; 22nd Cavalry Regiment; one signal battalion (telegraphy and radiotelegraphy); one military aviation unit with three aircraft; three engineer battalions; one bridge-building unit; one railway transport regiment as well as one additional independent railway transport battalion; the 24th Field Artillery Regiment; one mountain artillery battery; the 2nd and 3rd Heavy Siege Artillery Regiments including logistics; four further, independent heavy siege units; the 18th Logistics Battalion; one logistics regiment; one medical battalion, and two field hospitals. The British also provided support on land, by detaching a brigade, consisting of the South Wales Borderers and Sikhs (approx. 1,500 men) under the command of BG N. W. Barnardiston. Total strength of the immediate assault forces was approximately 29,000 soldiers. There were another 23,000 personnel in the area of operations to support the assault forces.[15]

Compared with the army, the preparations of the Imperial Japanese Navy proceeded without any major organisational measures, as the Navy had already assumed a peace-time/war-time organisation. The 1st Fleet under the command of Vice Admiral Katō Tomosaburō (1861-1923) consisted of the 1st, 3rd, and 5th Battle Flotillas, as well as of the 1st Destroyer Flotilla. The 1st Flotilla was formed of the modern battleships Settsu, Kawachi, Aki, and Satsuma, the 3rd Flotilla of the modern battle cruiser Kongo, and Hiei, as well as the cruisers Kurama, and Tsukuba, and the 5th Flotilla of the cruisers Yahagi, Hirado, and Niitake. The 1st Torpedo Destroyer Flotilla consisted of the cruiser Otowa as the command ship, and the 1st, 2nd, 16th, and 17th Destroyer Flotilla. The 2nd Flotilla under the command of Katō Sadakichi (1861-1927) was formed of the 2nd, 4th, and 6th Battle Flotillas, as well as the 2nd Torpedo Destroyer Flotilla. The 2nd Flotilla consisted of the old ships of the line from the Russo-Japanese War: Suwo (formerly Pobieda), Iwami (formerly Orel), Tango (formerly Poltawa), Okinoshima (formerly General Admiral Apraskin), and Mishima (formerly Admiral Senyiavin). The 4th Flotilla consisted of the cruisers Iwate, Yakumo, Tokiwa, the 6th Fleet of the cruisers Chitose, Akitsushima, and Chiyoda. The 2nd Torpedo Destroyer Flotilla was formed of the cruiser Tone as the command ship, and the 9th, 12th, and 13th Destroyer Flotillas, a minesweeping flotilla, consisting of 13 mine sweepers, and one auxiliary ship flotilla, consisting of the auxiliary ship Kumano Maru, and the older cruisers Matsue, and Takachiho. The 3rd Fleet under the command of Rear Admiral Tsuchiya Mitsukane (1864-1925) was formed of the protected cruisers Tsushima, Yodo, Mogami, as well as the river gun boats Saga, Fushimi, Toba, Sumida, and Uji. The total strength of naval forces involved in combat operations was approximately 20,000 personnel. In total, therefore, more than 70,000 Japanese soldiers were involved in the operation.

In its wars with Chinaand Russia, the Japanese Armed Forces were able to gain experience in military sealift operations. Transporting troops from Japanto the Asian mainland and securing these transports was therefore no real challenge, as there was also no maritime competitor who could have effectively disrupted these transport movements. The 1st Fleet was earmarked for operations against the German possessions in the Pacific, the 2nd Fleet was to protect the assault forces againstTsingtao and support them with naval artillery.


The Japanese Attack

Already on 27 August 1914, Japanese ships[16] turned up to blockade the German protectorate of Jiaozhou. The Japanese ships (three former Russian ships of the line, two former Russian coast defenders, seven cruisers, sixteen destroyers, and fourteen auxiliary ships) were joined by the British ship of the line HMS Triumph, the destroyer HMS Usk, and a hospital ship. This made it clear toTsingtao’s defenders that the landing of Japanese forces to the north of the Jiaozhou Bay Concession was imminent.

On 2 September 1914, the Japanese landed the bulk of their forces with 26 transport vessels in Lungkou in the Bayof Laizhou. On 5 September they began their advance and, due to great problems with the weather, only reached the border of the Concession on 23 September. The 29th Infantry Brigade carried out a secondary landing in theBay ofLauschan on 18 September, i.e. to the East of the protectorate. From there, the Japanese marched in the direction ofTsingtao harbour, where, only after great losses, they were able to occupy the accesses to and passes of the Lauschan on 19 September.

On 25 September the Japanese managed to link up their forces, which were, however, brought to a halt by German delaying forces on 26 September. Only after these had retreated did the Japanese take the important Waldersee Heights and Prinz Heinrich Mountains, as well as a number of small villages. When, on 28 September, the delaying forces had finally retreated to the prepared defence line between Haipo Estuary (NW) and Fouschan Bay (SE), the Japanese occupied the spaces between the fortified infantry strong points.

During these encounters the single German aircraft proved its worth. Plüschow managed to keep the governor permanently informed about Japanese activities so that he was also called Tsingtao’s eye. On 2 October a German counterattack which deeply penetrated the left wing had to be aborted due to heavy fire from a number of Japanese machine guns.

On 26 October the shelling of the city of Tsingtaowas begun from land and sea, which indicated an imminent assault on the fortress. The governor therefore had the shipyard and the dock blown up. All guns were removed from the Austro-Hungarian cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth and taken on land, and the ship scuttled on 2 November.[17]

Following a number of attempts, the Japanese tried again to penetrate the German defences on 7 November 1914. The frontal attack of Japanese infantry on middle infantry strong point 3 began at approximately midnight, led to its encirclement at 1 a.m., and to its seizure at 2 a.m. The Japanese forces then encircled infantry strong points 2 and 4. Starting from the latter, the Japanese used the gap that had been created, advanced on the Iltisberg at 3 a.m. and broke through. When the batteries in strong points 2 and 4 had fired all their ammunition, they were taken by the Japanese at 4 a.m. and the advance on the Bismarckberg continued. Finally, infantry strong point 1 was attacked at 5 a.m., and strong point 5 at 6 a.m. Japanese infantry also attacked the city from the Bismarckberg. At 6:20 a.m. the white flag was raised on the Signalberg and the fortress capitulated. The defenders’ last shot rang out at 7:30 a.m. in the area of Taitungtschen.

On the same day, the Japanese combed through the area between the city and the previous battle positions. All prisoners were assembled on the grounds of the Bismarck barracks, and, for fear of sabotage, transferred on foot to Schatsykou. Losses were not high on both sides. The Japanese Army lost 676 and the Navy 338 men, and a few thousand were wounded. The British Army and Navy lost three men respectively, with 67 wounded. German losses were 184 fallen and 500 wounded, Austro-Hungary lost eleven men. The number of wounded is not known.


Taking the German Colonies in the Pacific

The German territory in the Pacific[18] comprised Micronesia with 1,459 islands and atolls with a land area of only 2,200 km2. There were 450,000 inhabitants, among them only few Europeans. After war was declared on the German Reich, the united Japanese fleet was made ready for sea, and on 14 September the 1st South Sea Squadron of the 1st Battle Fleet sailed from the Japanese naval port of Yokosuka under the command of Rear Admiral Yamaya Tamin. The squadron included the modern cruisers Kurama and Tsukuba, as well as the older cruiser Asama, two destroyers, and three transport steamers. The squadron reached the Marshall Islands on 29 September, at first Eniwotek and, on 30 September, Jaluit, the German station. The German administration personnel made no attempt at resistance and were taken prisoner. After the Admiral had left three officers as the new masters of the station, the squadron resumed its mission and, after a number of stops, reached Truk harbour on 12 October. In the meantime, the 2nd South Sea Squadron commanded by Rear Admiral Matsumura Tatsuo and consisting of the modern battleship Satsuma and the cruisers Hirado and Yahasi, set sail fromSasebo naval port and headed for theisland ofYap, where Japanese marines occupied the important telegraph station.

The occupied territories in the South Seassoon experienced tough military administration. The Truk Atoll was chosen as the centre and, after the war, was expanded into one of the most important naval bases outside of Japan. With its conquest of the South Sea Islands the navy implemented its strategic goal to expand Japanto the south. The Southern Expansion Doctrine was especially pursued by the navy, because it regarded being in control of the marginal seas and of the Pacific as more important than controlling continentalAsia.

The employment of the Japanese Imperial Navy’s most modern and most powerful ships against German possessions in the Pacific shows clearly how important the destruction of the German East Asia Squadron was to Japanese naval warfare in the Pacific. Sometimes even the modern battle cruiser Kongo was employed to this end.


The Japanese Navy in the Pacific and in the Indian Ocean

At the request of the allies, the Japanese Navy had to carry out manifold security operations in the Pacific and in the Indian Ocean[19]. It participated in escorting troop transports fromAustralia andNew Zealand to Europe and also secured the sea route around theCape of Good Hope. This made it possible for the British fleet to move more forces to the North Atlantic and to secure theUS convoys toEurope. The Japanese Navy also secured the sea route toSingapore and the routes in the North Pacific toMexico, as well as the west coast of theUSA, which made it possible for the US Navy to move their warships from the Pacific to theAtlantic.


The Japanese Navy in the Mediterranean

The Mediterranean Sea[20] was of vital importance to the Entente, as (inter alia) allied troop transports from Africa and Asia to the battlefields in Western Europe were conducted across it. As German and Austro-Hungarian submarines were a serious threat to secure sea routes in the Mediterranean, Japan, upon request by the British Admiralty, despatched the 10th and 11th Destroyer Flotillas with eight Kaba-class destroyers under the command of Rear Admiral Kōzō Satō to support the security and escort forces.[21] Japan also secretly intended not only to learn about the new u-boat weapon on operations, but also about anti-submarine warfare, to study both, and to evaluate the results. The group of warships, together with the cruiser Akashi, its command ship, reached the Mediterranean in the middle of April 1917 and took up position in Malta. The 15th destroyer flotilla with four Momo-class destroyers and the protected cruisers Izumo and Nisshin followed in 1917. All in all, the Japanese Navy escorted 788 ships in theMediterranean, including the transport of over 700,000 Commonwealth personnel.

During the operations of the Japanese Navy in the Mediterranean, SMS U-27 torpedoed the destroyer Sakaki on 11 June 1917[22], blowing away its prow and killing 68 men. The destroyer was towed to harbour, repaired, and returned toJapan in 1919 with the other Japanese warships.


The 21 Demands Japan vis-à-vis China

Japanused the victory in Tsingtao to make demands on China. On 18 January 1915, the Chinese President was presented with 21 Demands by the Japanese Prime Minister Okuma Shigenobu.[23] These 21 Demands can be classified in five groups: the first group dealt with replacing German with Japanese influence onShandungPeninsula. Group two pertained to an increase of Japanese influence in southern Manchuria; the lease ofPort Arthur was to be extended by a further 99 years. The third group consisted of demands for mining concessions inChina. The fourth group formally guaranteedChina’s national sovereignty, but also contained the demand thatChina must not lease any more harbours to foreign powers. This demand was directed against an expansion ofUS influence in Asia, as theUSA had not yet leased any Chinese harbours. Group five contained the most far-reaching demands.Japan demanded influence on Chinese politics and consultation on all important matters of foreign and domestic policy. This would have madeChina dependent onJapan.

AlthoughChinainformedGreat Britain, theUSAand the other Western powers of these tough Japanese Demands, there were no protests from its European allies; especially not fromFrance,Russia, andGreat Britain- only theUSAraised objections.Chinarejected the Demands. However, abandoned by the international community, it had to accept them in May 1915. Only Group Five was retracted byJapan, or hidden from the public in a secret appendix. Acceptance of the Demands led to huge protests by the Chinese public, signified the first milestone of expansive policy on the East Asian mainland, and made it possible to foretell the policyJapanwould adopt on the mainland.

The largest Chinese protest against the Demands was the gathering of thousands of students inBeijingon 4 May 1919, soon to be joined by thousands of sympathisers from all walks of life across the whole country. It was the first time, inChina, that people from different classes came together to fight for a common goal. This prepared the ground for Chinese strength in the face of claims made by foreign powers.


Strained Relations Between Japan and the USA

There had been a conflict of interests between Japanand the USA[24] in the Western Pacific at least since the assertion of sovereignty over the Philippines, which, however, took a back seat during the First World War. The Lansing-Ishii-Agreement, signed between Japanese Foreign Minister Ishii Kikujiro andUS Secretary of State Robert Lansing on 2 November 1917, greatly influencedJapan’s freedom of action inEast Asia. In it both powers came to an understanding on their interests inChina. TheUSA had accepted Japanese special interests inChina and indirectly approved ofJapan’s actions inChina. However, already in 1923, the Agreement was abrogated. This was first indirect proof of the rivalry betweenJapan and theUSA for dominance in the Pacific as well as in East andSoutheast Asia.

Japan’s rivalry with the USAcould also be discerned in the arms build-up.[25] As an answer to the former’s large 8:8 fleet building programme[26] of 1916, the American Congress passed the 1916 Naval Act.Japan’s answer was not long in coming. In the winter of 1919/1920, negotiations began in parliament concerning an extensive construction programme. Further points of contention were questions of race, such as equal rights for Japanese permanently living inHawaii and theUSA, as well as the question of the formerly Germanisland ofYap, which was an important cable telegraphy hub between theUSA and thePhilippines.


Japanese Military Aid to Allies

When war began in summer 1914, Russialost its business contacts with the Central Powers, which resulted in a rapprochement with Japan and the request for a shipment of arms. Russia especially needed field artillery and howitzers, as well as their ammunition. Concrete talks only commenced after the Japanese government had sent an ultimatum to Berlin on 15 August and begun preparations for war. On 25 August, a Russian military commission headed by Major General Eduard Karlovich Hermonius (1864-1938) was despatched and arrived in Tokyo on 10 September 1914. On 12 September, the Russian officers reported to the Japanese Ministry of War and began first talks. Beginning in spring 1915, and thanks to the Hermonius Mission, Russia received 340,000 small arms and rifles of various calibres, 351 artillery pieces, 500,000 cartridges, 500,000 shrapnel shells, as well as an undisclosed quantity of explosives and powder.[27]

Francesuffered under the German occupation and thus had almost no free capacities to build smaller battleships, which is why it ordered 12 Kaba-class destroyers in their export version from Japan.[28] The ships were named Algérien, Annamite, Arabe, Bambara, Hova, Kabyle, Marocain, Sakalave, Sénégalais, Somali, Tonkinois, and Tuareg and were used by the French Navy between 1917 and 1936.


The Siberian Intervention

In summer 1918, Japanwas embroiled in a military operation which resulted in little profit and no glory - the so-called Siberian Intervention.[29] The 1917 October Revolution in Russia, the separate peace with the Central Powers in 1918, as well as the extension of the Russian Civil War to Siberia heightened Allied fears of the chaos in Russia, which is why, in July 1918, the USA, France, and Great Britain asked the Japanese government to participate in a combined intervention in Siberia. TheUSA proposed that each nation send 7,000 personnel. The Tokyo Defence Staff then developed ambitious plans for a military expedition to Siberia, and also convincedChina to agree to a Japanese intervention in Norther Manchuria. Instead of the 7,000 troops agreed upon,Japan finally deployed 12,000, a naval squadron, and numerous military aircraft toVladivostok. In the space of a few months it increased the number of troops to more than 75,000, and advanced along the Siberian Railway to the region of Transbaikalia between the Amur River andLakeBaikal. At the end of the Great War in November 1918, Japanese soldiers had occupied all harbours and major towns in the Russianprovince ofPrimorje andEast Siberia.

Japan’s reasons for intervening in Siberiawere complex. According to official sources Japan, just like the USAand the other nations, only wanted to go to Siberiato secure the stockpiles of war material, and to “rescue” the Czechoslovak Legion. Indirectly, however, further important considerations also were the Japanese government’s intense hatred of Communism, the urge to make up for historic losses vis-à-vis Russia, and the excellent opportunity to solve the northern problem with regard to Japan’s security by either creating a buffer state, or through direct territorial expansion. These proved to be a complete debacle,Japan incurred heavy losses, and, in October 1922, had to withdraw its forces from Soviet Russia.


The Home Front and the Japan’s War Economy

Japan’s home front did not experience the hardships and privations of an economy of scarcity, brought on in Europeby the war.[30] This is why the Japanese public was not confronted with rationing, and industrial as well as agricultural production continued in peacetime conditions. Increasing inflation, however, created the breeding ground for disaffection among swaths of the public, so that almost all parts of the country witnessed disturbances and public protests against the rising cost of living. Japan was also not spared the global influenza epidemic of 1918, and suffered 250,000 casualties in the spring of that year. A special situation was created by the behaviour of the Japanese authorities towards German and Austro-Hungarian property, especially company branch offices. A special example is Japan’s conduct concerning the Böhler branch office.[31] Manager Müller’s offices were consolidated, those in Osaka and Moji closed down, and the company’s East Asia stock was taken to the Tokyo branch office. Müller, however, could continue doing business during the entire war without any supplies from home, as the Japanese, despite being requested to do so by the allies, did not confiscate Austrian property and tolerated Böhler’s business activities.Japan even went so far as to warn Müller in good time of imminent inspections.

The First World War was a critical juncture in economic terms. Before the war, for example,Japan’s shipyards only produced a third of all shipsJapanrequired. During the war the rate was 89%, as other countries had no capacities for export orders.Japanthus became the world’s third-largest shipbuilding nation. This meant thatJapanprovided approximately 10% of world production.

Between 1913 and 1919 the number of factories increased from 32,000 to 44,000, and the number of employees from 1.2 to 2 million.[32] The value of industrial output rose from 1.4 million yen to 6.7 million yen, which means that this improved industrial performance had an effect on exports. In 1913,Japan’s exports amounted to 315 million yen; in 1918 it was 978 million. In the same period, imports increased from 363 million to 831 million yen.Japan therefore produced a current-account surplus and thus became a large creditor when the war ended.


POW Camps in Japan

The POW’s from Tsingtao were shipped to Japanand were at first distributed to makeshift camps[33] (large temples, public buildings, tea houses, and barracks). The Austrian soldiers were not housed as a group, but assigned to camps in Himeji, Kumamoto, Osaka, and Fukuoka. The CO of the protected cruiser SMS Kaiserin Elisabeth, Commander Richard Makoviz (1868-1946) was housed incampFukuoka, together with the Commander of Tsingtao Garrison, Rear Admiral Mayer-Waldeck. In 1915 the two high-ranking officers were moved tocampNarashino.

The camps were only merged into larger, newly-erected POW camps during 1915. The largest of these, which held up to 1,000 POWs, were the camps in Narashino in the vicinity of Tokyo(size: 95,000 m2), in Bando on Shikoku (57,233 m2), and in Aonogahara near Himeiji (22,684 m2).

The individual camps were quite comfortably furnished. The officers occupied their own, spacious accommodations, with the NCOs and the other ranks housed in soldiers barracks. There were sports facilities for football and tennis either inside the camp, or outside. The POWs were also allowed to to engage in agricultural actitivies, and to practise their crafts and trades. This way German craftsmanship and enterprise came toJapan, for example, sausage and bread making, as well as artist blacksmithing, etc.

The POWs were treated very humanely; the only exception was Kurume POW camp on Kyushu. The reasons for the tough conditions there were the frequent attempts to escape, as well as the proximity of the garrison of the 18th Troop Division, which meant that POWs could not be treated better than Japanese soldiers. Bando POW camp[34] was run by its commander Colonel Matsue Toyohisa, who was also fluent in German, with a high degree of self-management by the inmates. There was a camp newspaper which was produced in the camp print shop. The highlight of the prisoners’ activities was the first Asian performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on 1 June 1918. Today, Bando is museum, it has been the focus of research, and a film has been made called Baruto no gakuen (baruto refers to the moustache of the camp commander, who wore it like Kaiser Wilhelm, and gakuen to the camp as a place of music). The war over, the POW’s returned home in 1920, on board of Japanese passenger ships.


Japan and the Paris Treaties

In November 1918 the guns stopped in Europe, and the victors could begin to redraw the map of the world. Suitable palaces in and around Pariswere chosen as venues for peace negotiations.[35] Important for Japan were the territorial stipulations in the Treaty of Versailles, which meant that Jiaozhou (leased from China) fell to Japan. It remained under its administration until 1922, before it reverted back to China following American pressure. The League of Nations also awarded the Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, and the Caroline Islands under mandate to Japan. This was a so-called Class C-mandate, which meant that the islands were administered under the law ofJapan. Erecting military installations, however, was forbidden.

These peace negotiations were also used by a delegation of Korean expatriates and the provisional Korean government inShanghaito lobby for Korean independence. This, however, fell on deaf ears, asKoreawas regarded as a Japanese colony.

The Japanese were also involved in implementing the resolutions of the peace conferences, which is why Japanese officers participated in the border settlement committees and co-determined future redrawn borders. Col(GS) Yamaguchi Juhachi[36] was, inter alia, part of the regulatory committee which had to determine the border betweenHungary andAustria.


Final Remarks

The Empire of Japan was one of the countries on the ascendant at the beginning of the 20th century. Excessive nationalism and the military’s seemingly limitless power in the Privy Council and in the Supreme War Council turned the country into a totalitarian and imperialist entity which regarded the frenzied expansion of its dominion as its greatest challenge.

Apart from the USA, Japanwas one of the real winners of the Great War. It did not, however, manage to turn this victory into an enduring success. Its ill-fated participation in the Siberian Intervention should, at the latest, have led to a rethink. Japan, however, continued its unrestrained and aggressive expansionist policy on the East Asian mainland. This triggered its downfall, with the crossing of the Marco Polo Bridge in 1937, and – after eight years of privations as a result of the total war on the Asian mainland and in the Pacific – forced an end to militarism.



[1] The following books were used for the short history of Japan: Hall, John Whitney, Das Japanische Kaiserreich, Fischer, Frankfurt, 2000. Linhart, Sepp and Susanne Weiglin-Schwiedrzik (eds.), Ostasien 1600-1900. Geschichte und Gesellschaft, Promedia, Vienna 2004. The Cambridge History of Japan, vol. 1 - vol 2., Cambridge University Press,Cambridge, 1988-1999.

[2] Pöcher, Harald, ‘140 Jahre offizielle Beziehungen zwischen Japan und Österreich‘, in, ÖMZ 6/2009, p.707-714.

[3] A charming anecdote is told about the later General Oyama Iwao (1842-1916). As a young officer he visitedFrance and is reported to have used a Louis Vuitton case upon his return. It is quite likely that Oyama was the first Japanese to have used a Louis Vuitton product. It may very well be that he started the Louis Vuitton boom inFrance which continues to this day.

[4] see also Pöcher, Harald, ‘Generalmajor Theodor Edler von Lerch - Wie der Alpine Schilauf nach Japan kam‘, in, Truppendienst, 4/2009, p.324-332.

[5] cf. Presseisen, Ernst L., Before Aggression - Europeans Prepare the Japanese Army, The University of Arizona Press, Tuscon, 1965, p.69ff.

[6] cf. Bruninghaus, Die Entwicklung der deutschen Kolonialstadt Tsingtau 1897 bis 1914, Grin Verlag, Norderstedt, 2006.

[7] Pochhammer, Hans, Graf Spees letzte Fahrt, Koehler, Leipzig, 1933, p.12-13.

[8] cf. ‘Rot-Weiß-Rot auf Gelbem Meer-Tsingtau 1914‘, Österreichische Marinegeschichte, Verlagsbuchhandlung Stöhr, Vienna, 1996.

[9] cf. Pöcher, Harald, Die Produktion von Waffen in Japan - Vom Mittelalter bis zur Gegenwart, Lit-Verlag, Vienna, 2008. Pöcher, Harald, Kriege und Schlachten in Japan, die Geschichte schrieben - Von 1853 bis 1922, Lit-Verlag, Vienna, 2011.

[10] Evans, David C. and Mark R. Peattie, KAIGUN-Strategy, Tactics, and Technology in the Imperial Japanese 4 Navy 1887-1941, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, 1997, p.152ff.

[11] cf. Kosar, Artillerie im 20. Jahrhundert, Bernard&Graefe, Bonn, 2004.

[12] cf. Veltze’s Internationaler Armee-Almanach, Jahrgang, Edlinger’s Verlag, Vienna, 1913/14. In 1914, Austro-Hungary spent approx. 853 million Crowns.

[13] http://www.tsingtau.info/ (downloaded 10 October 2013) and http://www.marine-infanterie.de/html/4_10.html (downloaded 10 October 2013).

[14] cf. Burdick, Charles B, The Japanese Siege of Tsingtao,Hamden, Conneticut, 1976.

[15] Saito, Seiji, Nichi Doku Tsingtao Senso, Yumanishobo, Tokio, 2001, pp.48 and 49.

[16] cf. Geschichte der Marine-Infanterie (1675-1919) on http://www.marine-infanterie.de/html/4_10.html (downloaded 4 March 2013). Plüschow, Die Abenteuer des Fliegers von Tsingtau, Ullstein, Berlin, 1916.

[17] cf. ‘Rot-Weiß-Rot auf Gelbem Meer - Tsingtau 1914‘, in, Österreichische Marinegeschichte, Verlagsbuchhandlung Stöhr, Vienna, 1996.

[18] Peattie. Mark R., Nan’yo. The Rise and Fall of the Japanese in Micronesia. 1885-1945,University ofHawaii Press,Honolulu, 1988, p.41ff.

[19] cf. Saxon, Timothy D., ‘Anglo-Japanese Naval Cooperation, 1914-1918’, in, Liberty University DigitalCommons@LibertyUniversity, Faculty Publications and Presentations Department of History, 1-1-2000.

[20] cf. Halpern, Paul G, A Naval History of World War I, Naval Institute Press,Annapolis, 1994, p.393.

[21] cf. Saxon, Timothy D, ‘Anglo-Japanese Naval Cooperation. 1914-1918’, in, Liberty University DigitalCommons@LibertyUniversity, Faculty Publications and Presentations Department of History 1-1-2000.

[22] cf. Trulei, Oliver, ‘Torpedo los auf SAKAKI‘, in, Österreich Maritim, 4 March 2002, p.20-22.

[23] cf. M. Chi, China Diplomacy 1914-1918, Harvard East Asian Monographs 1970, p.31-32.

[25] The 1916 Naval Act (also called Big Navy Act) the USA intended to create the world’s largest navy (with, inter alia, 10 battleships, 6 battle cruisers, 30 submarines, 50 destroyers).

[26] The 8:8 fleet building programme was a Japanese fleet strategy with the intention of putting 8 battleships and 8 battle cruisers into service.

[27] cf. Baryshew, Eduard, ‘The General Hermonius Mission to Japan (August 1914-March 1915) and the Issue of Armaments Supply in Russo-Japanese Relations during the First World War’, in, Acta Slavica Iaponica, Tomus 30, pp.21-42.

[28] cf. Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1906-1921, Naval Institute Press,Annapolis, 1984.

[29] cf. J.A. White, The Siberian Intervention,PrincetonUniversity Press,Princeton, 1950.

[30] cf. V. Hentschel, Wirtschaftsgeschichte des modernen Japans, Steiner, Stuttgart, 1986.

[31] cf also: Pöcher, Harald, ‘Die Geschäftsverbindungen der Firma Böhler zu Japan‘, in, Die Republik Österreich und Japan während der Zwischenkriegszeit 1918-1938 (1945), Getreuer-Kargl and Linhart (eds.), Beiträge zur Japanologie, Department of Japanology - Institute for East Asian Studies, Vienna, 2013, pp 51-67.

[32] cf. G. Hardach, The First World War 1914-1918, Penguin Books, London, 1977, pp.258-261.

[33] cf. also the historical-biographical project www.tsingtau.info, the Japanese analsis of events on http://homepage3.nifty.com/akagaki, as well as http://www.golf-dornseif.de/uploads/Die%20letzten%20Friedenstage%20von%20Tsingtau.pdf (downloaded 10 October 2013).

[36] As a captain, Colonel Yamaguchi was significantly involved in introducing skiing to Japan. At that time, he was general staff officer of the 13th Troop Division. From the beginning, he participated in the skiing events organised by Major (GS) Theodor von Lerch for the 58th Infantry Regiment. A detailed discussion of Yamaguchi’s work in the regulatory committee can be found in: Pöcher, Harald, ‘Ein japanischer Oberst des Generalstabes zog die Grenze im Burgenland, in, Beiträge zur Japanologie 42 „Die Republik Österreich und Japan während der Zwischenkriegszeit 1918-1938 (1945)“, Department of Japanology - Institute for East Asian Studies, Vienna, 2013, pp 19-39.