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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Sunday 4 February 2018

The Siege of Tsingtau 1914

I am a sucker for an obscure conflict, so the 'Siege of Tsingtau' by Charles Stephenson, just screams at me from the bookshelves.

At the outbreak of war in 1914, the Germans had acquired the port of Tsingtau on the east coast of China. It was their main naval base in the Far East and it was left to the Japanese to evict them. Partly out of their obligations to the Entente cause, but also in support of their own strategic objectives in the region.

The Germans were late to the colonial scramble, but they had acquired a small number of Pacific islands. The Bismarck Archipelago is a bit of a hint, but names that became famous in WW2 such as the Marianas, Marshall, Caroline and Pelew islands, were all German territory. To which they added Samoa later. The limitations of coal powered ships, created a need for coaling and wireless stations on even the most uneconomic of overseas possessions.

The German East Asiatic Squadron was a powerful force, commanded by none other than Vice-Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee. It included two modern armoured cruisers and four light cruisers. British and Australian forces were modest, with the exception of the modern battle cruiser 'Australia' and had a huge area to cover. The main aim of German naval forces would be commerce raiding and the light cruiser 'Emden' caused huge damage before being caught. However, Spee recognised that his coaling stations would be quickly knocked out and Japan's entry into the war, with its large fleet, made his position hopeless. He headed home via victory in the Coronels and defeat in the Falklands.

The author, having set out the context, focuses on the siege. The Germans had fortified Tsingtau, but Governor Alfred Meyer-Waldeck had insufficient troops for a defence in depth. Essentially, he had two naval battalions supplemented by reservists who arrived as best they could from all over the Far East. A total of just over 4,000 men. The Japanese (General Kamio) deployed a division (three brigades) supported by extensive artillery. They were joined by a small British force, including a battalion of the the South Wales Borderers. A total of 40,000 men.

With their recent experience at Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese War, Kamio had a clear plan for capturing Tsingtau. This involved heavy artillery preparation as cover for sapping, an approach which would have been recognised by Vauban. Only when a breach was achieved would an infantry assault be risked.

There would be a number of firsts in this campaign. Most notably the use of aircraft by both sides, in reconnaissance and also bombing. There was even some limited air to air combat.

The Japanese ground away at the German defences, and once the mains water supply had been captured and the big guns knocked out, they surrendered on 7 November. Outnumbered ten to one, this was inevitable from the outset. The Japanese took over the territory, there was no question of it reverting to China.

This is a really interesting book about an episode in WW1 that is little understood. It also had long term consequences, which the author explores in the final chapter. Consequences that were only resolved, with great bloodshed, in WW2.


  1. Hi Dave,

    "I am a sucker for an obscure conflict...." I know that sentiment very well....

    All the best,


  2. How many type 240mm seige guns were used during the seige? Also how many shell fired by these guns and were damage or lost during the seige ?

  3. On a quick look I don't think there is that degree of detail in the book. Tsingtau had 2 x 240mm coastal batteries, which are described as obsolete Chinese weapons.

    The Japanese 2nd Independent Battalion Heavy Siege Artillery (Lieutenant Colonel Ogata) had 240mm howitzers, but it doesn't say how many. The battalion also had 200mm guns.