Dramatic Sino-Japanese War illustration of the Imperial Warship Akagi under attack by the Chinese during the Battle of the Yalu River. Pursued by the Chinese cruiser Laiyuan, they managed to fire a shot setting the enemy vessel afire, but the Laiyuan was able to keep firing, causing extensive damage to the Akagi and killing the captain, Lieutenant-Commander Sakamoto. Here, Sakamoto strikes a brave pose at upper right, leaning forward and gesturing toward the burning Chinese ship as he shouts orders to his crew. Smoke pours from the cannon on the deck below at left, and shells burst in the sky and water all around.
The English text at upper right reads “Terrible war of General Sakamoto, leader of the Imperial Warship Akagi”. A lively image of this battle.
The Japanese Combined Fleet met the larger Chinese Northern Fleet in the battle of the Yellow Sea on September 17, 1894. The small Japanese gunship Akagi, found itself in the thick of battle with larger, faster enemy vessels. Commander Sakamoto, the ship’s skipper, directed the manoeuvring and succeeded in hitting the Chinese ship Laiyuan before his ship was damaged by enemy fire. Sakamoto, who was on the bridge, was killed by enemy fire. The heroism of this David-and-Goliath incident was reported around the world, including an account I the English publication The Graphic (December 8, 1894). The English title : The Terrible War of General Sakamoto, Leader of Imperial Warship Akagi” in the cartouche on the right sheet is evidence that a foreign audience existed for war prints.
Foreigners were likely to see war prints either for sale in Tokyo or reproduced in the foreign press. The English Title in the cartouche of this print indicates that the publisher assumed there would be such an audience. 2001 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts publication “Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age”,
An account by a Japanese officer on the Akagi of the fight between that vessel and the King-yuen:
On September 17, about 1pm, the first Japanese squadron of eleven warships and a steam packet fitted up as a cruiser encountered, north-east of the island of Hai-yang-tao, the Chinese northern squadron of fourteen warships and six torpedo boats. The Chinese flagship Ting-yuen opened fire. The Akagi, the Hiyei and the Saikio Maru, being of very inferior speed, had orders to keep the rear. In the course of different manoeuvres, unable to follow their quicker consorts, the Akagi found herself soon in the thickest of the fight, and engaged single-handed with the armoured cruiser (9.5 inch belt) King-yuen and two other men-of-war. Though the odds were overwhelming, the Akagi’s gallant commander, H. Sakamoto, chart in hand, and as cool as if on
The floor of the Imperial ball-room at St. Petersburg, himself directed the manoeuvring and firing of his little vessel, thinking of nothing else but how to inflict on his assailants the utmost damage possible, before being annihilated. One shot from the King-yuen 10-ton gun carried the mainmast away, bringing down on the deck all the top-hamper and killing instantaneously an officer and two men on the look-out, while within fifteen minutes of the beginning of the fight another shot blew the undaunted commander’s head off, his headless body falling into the arms of a bystander. First-Lieutenant Lasaki, who assumed command, bravely continued the unequal combat, shells meanwhile bursting right and left. Before long, however, severely wounded in several places, he, too, was disabled, and the command devolved upon the Second-Lieutenant, S. Lato, who in turn, while encouraging those of the crew not wounded, or, though wounded, still able to fight, was almost immediately struck by the splinters of another bursting shell. But, though thus wounded in the head and arms, he only waited to have his injuries dressed and then resumed and then resumed the command, fully determined to carry out the legacy left by his dead commander Sakamoto. But the end was not far off, a tremendous round of cheering, mingled with the roar of cannon, suddenly announced that a well directed shot from the little Akagi’s 12-centimeter gun had set the King-yuen on fire. With redoubled vigour the gunners worked their guns, until suddenly with one lurch the King-yuen’s bows rose out of the water, and stern first she disappeared with all hands on board. Thus a little steel gunboat of 622 tons, sank, with her 12-centimeter guns, the 9.5-inch armoured cruiser King-yuen, of 2.850 tons, with her 10-ton guns. To avoid being drawn down into the vortex which the disappearing King-yuen opened, the Akagi and the King-yuen’s consorts sheered off, and the failing light and mutual exhaustion put an end to the unequal contest. (The Graphic, December 8, 1894)
Collections : British Library.
Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf Collection, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts.
Philadelphia Museum of Art.
References : Illustrated in the 1991 Worcester Art Museum publication “In Battles Light”, Catalogue number 42. p.76.
Illustrated in the Shinbaku Books 2014 publication “Massacres in Manchuria: Sino Japanese War Prints 1894-1895”, edited by Jack Hunter, page 62.
Illustrated in the 2001 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts publication “Japan at the Dawn of the Modern Age”, Catalogue number 37, p.84.
Illustrated in the 1983 publication “The Sino-Japanese War” by Nathan Chaikin, Catalogue number 43, p.153.
Illustrated in the 1983 Philadelphia Museum of Art publication “Impressions of the Front”, Catalogue number 29. p.27.