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Sino-Japanese Naval War 1894-1895

Sino-Japanese Naval War 1894-1895 Book Review

By David L. Veres

Date of Review September 2014 Title Sino-Japanese Naval War 1894-1895
Author Piotr Olender Publisher Mushroom Model Publications
Published 2014 ISBN 9788363678302
Format 228 pages, softbound MSRP (USD) $45.00


The mid-1890s naval war between China and Japan proved pivotal in the history of modern Pacific combat.

Now historian Piotr Olender deftly distills and competently chronicles the conflict's origins, operations and outcomes in Sino-Japanese Naval War 1894-1895.

MMP's superb study – available in North America from Casemate – begins with two chapters recapping each country's political and military position.

Decades of internal divisions, foreign intervention and battlefield defeats had systemically weakened China.  Japan, by contrast, overcame internal strife and isolationist inclinations to forge an homogenous – and expansionist – national identity.  Events in Korea propelled both nations to conflict.

Author Olender then girds the reader for battle with details of comparative combatant strengths and strategy – including organizational, command, training, logistics, cultural and morale factors.  Background notes also cover defense expenditures, harbor facilities, weapons and warship acquisitions.

Text next turns to 17 concise, lavishly illustrated and admirably annotated chapters on combat operations.  Control of the sea proved critical to Japan's rapid, three-phase plan to conquer Korea.  And China's northern Peiyang Fleet – with elements of two Chinese southern formations – proved the main barrier to Japanese success.

Events move from initial skirmishes through operations at Yalu and Port Arthur to China's naval defeat at Weihaiwei.  Concluding sections cover peace negotiations, final Japanese actions against the Pescadores and Taiwan, and an assessment of the fighting.  Where appropriate, details of land operations also augment Olender's narrative.

Photos, annotations, maps, charts, tables, bibliography, index and transliteration notes season MMP's superb study.  Five appendices recap participating vessels, naval artillery, torpedoes, comparative service ranks, and Japanese ship commanders.  And a concluding section showcases 1:350 starboard drawings of 36 Chinese and Japanese warships.

But as with MMP's equally excellent Sino-French Naval War 1884-1885, maps proved problematic.  Details sometimes differ between graphics, causing confusion.  And Olender only offers small battlefield views – with no map of the whole Korea/Manchuria/Yellow Sea theater of operations to put local actions into clear geographic context.

Gripes aside, I loved MMP's enormously informative effort.  The brief, bitter Sino-Japanese naval war forged the tactical and technological foundation of Japan's victory over Russia a decade later.  "China," the author observes, "practically became a quasi-colony" of European imperialists – and entered a half-century of "internal/social unrest".  Likewise, Japan's expansionist ambitions only ended with its total defeat in World War II – 50 years on.

Start tracing those paths to Nanking, Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Mao.  Get this terrific tome.

Robustly recommended!

With thanks to Casemate for the review copy.