Admiral Ri Sun Sin


Ri Sun Sin (1545-1598) was an illustrated military strategist who held the command of the sea through successive victories and made a great contribution to the Korean people's victory in the Imjin Patriotic War against the Japanese aggressors' large-scale invasion.

While organising and commanding scores of naval battles, Ri developed new naval tactics, and set an example in comprehensively applying medieval naval tactics.

The offensive and defence tactics with the turtle ship, the world's first iron-clad ship, in the van; the completion of naval movement tactics relying on warships equipped with powder weapons and cannons; the organisation of a naval landing party and the creation and application of offensive tactics against the enemy stationed at port in cooperation with the naval landing party; fire-attack operation; and the formation of diversified battle arrays including the linear type and the echelon type—all these were comprehensive introduction and improvement of previous naval tactics.

The offensive and defence tactics with the turtle ship in the van can be cited. The turtle ship, in battles, was always in the van of charge destroying the battle array of enemy warships, and it moved close to the flagship of the enemy to destroy it with gunfire or impact, thus disrupting the enemy's command system. This tactics was widely used in many battles including the battle off Sachon, the battle at Tanghang Port and the battle off the Hansan Island.

The turtle ship could be in the van of battle thanks to its special structure. It was all covered with iron armour like the back of a turtle, and there were sharp daggers, augers and so on to prevent the enemy from getting on. So people inside the ship had no fear of being hurt.

As to the power of the ship, old publications say, “When they are confronted with the enemy, they cover the ship with purple eulalia so as to hide the augers and daggers so that the ship could be in the van. When the enemy attempt to climb it, they get stabbed by daggers and augers, and when they dare to get close to the ship, they get in a shower of bullets from it, so they hardly dare fight against it. In this way the ship has made very many achievements in large and small battles.”

Ri Sun Sin applied and completed his tactics of naval movement relying on warships equipped with powder weapons and cannons.

There had been earlier mobile naval operations relying on cannon-equipped warships in Korea, and Ri Sun Sin further developed and perfected the tactics. He had warships loaded with cannons such as chonjachongthong and jijachongthong and cannon balls. The cannons were capable of exterminating the enemy's manpower en masse and destroying warships as well.

Jijachongthong could throw a shell or a round stone as far as four kilometres. It could fire 200 egg-size balls at a time, and the balls could kill and injure enemy troops crowded on a ship.

Well versed in marine configuration and weather, Ri Sun Sin employed tactics of allurement and ambush and deceptive tactics a lot.

A typical example of allurement and ambush tactics came in the Hansan Island naval battle that remains in the world's medieval history of naval battles. On the morning of July 8, 1592 Korea's fleet advanced to Kyonnaeryang where the enemy's warships were at anchor. Kyonnaeryang was unfavourable for movement of large warships because its strait was merely 500 metres in width and it had lots of reefs. And if the situation turned unfavourable, the enemy might flee to the land.

Ri ordered his ships to retreat, and the enemy elatedly followed several Korean ships that were "retreating." When the enemy ships had passed the narrows, Ri beat the drum, and the alluring ships turned back forming a line to link up with those standing by there. At a sign from Ri, the Korean fleet, with turtle ship at the head, launched a general offensive, encircling the enemy ships. Then the Korean fleet massed its fire upon the enemy, the smoke and sparks, it is said, seeming to fill up the sky. In the battle 59 of the enemy ships were destroyed, and no more than 1 000 of about 10 000 enemy soldiers survived.

During the Roryang naval battle, which marked the end of the Imjin Patriotic War, Ri died shot by an enemy bullet while commanding the battle with drumbeats.


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