Admiral Yi Sun-shin
Korean history spans almost five millennia. Being located between such fierce peoples as the Xiong niu, Mongols and Manchurians to the North, the Japanese to the East and the various Chinese empires that came and fell it is amazing that Korea managed to survive as a very unique culture for so long. Korea has a history of invasion and like China many Korean empires rose and fell. Korea still kept its cultural identity during these periods of invasion in part due to inspirational leaders and generals. Korea has many national heroes but none compare to Admiral Yi Sun-shin who saved Choson Korea from the Japanese invasion of 1592. He is still remembered today and in 2005 he was voted the greatest figure in Korean history.
It is therefore regrettable that so few people outside of Korea have ever heard of him. Admiral Yi achieved a battle record few could match. In his four campaigns against the Japanese from 1592 – 1598 he fought 23 naval battles and was never defeated. Of Admiral Yi’s 23 sea battles, the most crucial were the Battle of Hansan and Battle of Myongnyang. In the Battle of Hansan, considered as among the greatest naval engagements in history, Yi, by means of his famous ‘Crane Wing’ formation, achieved a great victory by sinking and capturing 59 of the 73 Japanese ships which opposed him, thereby frustrating Hideyoshi’s plan of advancing along the coast. The Battle of Myeongnyang, in which he defeated 333 enemy ships (133 of which were battle ships with 200 in support ) with only 13 ships of his own, is regarded among maritime historians as nothing less than a miracle.
Brief overview of the Japanese invasion
In 1592, Toyotomi Hideyoshi gave the order to invade Korea, to sweep through the peninsula and use it as a forward base to conquer Ming China. The Japanese invasion force landed at Busan, a major port city on the southern tip of Korea. The Japanese, without meeting any Korean ships, quickly captured the port and began a lightning march north, reaching Seoul in just nineteen days. Due to the military inefficiency of the Korean army, especially at the Battle of Sangju and the failure to defend Choryang pass. After the Japanese attacked Busan, Yi began his naval operations from his headquarters at Yeosu. Quickly, he won a string of battles including the Battle of Okpo and Sacheon. The string of victories made the Japanese generals suddenly wary of the Korean threat at sea.
Hideyoshi was fully aware of the need to control the seas during the invasion. Having failed to hire two Portuguese galleons to help him, he increased the size of his own fleet to 700 vessels, assuming that the Koreans would fight hand-to-hand and be easily overwhelmed. This was not the case and after brief occupation the Japanese abandoned Korea. Despite the Japanese winning nearly all land battles in the Korea, Admiral Yi’s complete naval dominance took its’ toll on the invading Japanese.
The life of Admiral Yi Sun-shin
Yi Sun-shin was born on April 28, 1545 in the aristocratic neighbourhood of Geonchondong, Hansung (now Seoul) as the third son of Yi Chong and his wife Byun. Although he was of good ancestry, his family was not well off because his grandfather had been embroiled in a political purge during the reign of King Jung Jong. When economic situation worsened for his family, they moved to Asan, the country home of Yi’s maternal family.
At the age of 21, he married a woman from a neighbouring town and had three sons and a daughter. Like any other young man of aristocratic family, he studied Confucian classics from an early age. But he began to train in the military arts when he turned 22. Although Yi was fully aware that the literary tradition was more highly regarded than the military tradition in his society, he chose the military service because of his personal conviction. But the refined writings in his dairy, reports, and poems demonstrate that he had remarkable literary talent as well as the valour and brilliance of a warrior.
In 1572, when he was 28, Yi took a military service examination. During the exam, he fell from horseback and broke his left leg. The crowd was astonished when they saw him quietly get up on one leg to bind the broken leg with a branch from a nearby willow tree. Four years after his first trial, without giving up, he took the exam again and, at the age of 32, he passed the military service examination.
Thereafter, he was always true to his duties as a military officer while stationed at various locations. However, because of his unwillingness to compromise his integrity, he did not seek favours from those in power. As a result, Yi’s military career languished and his accomplishments went unnoticed. Once, he was even relieved of his post for refusing to participate in unlawful activities solicited by his superior. Also, he experienced a harsh demotion to a common foot soldier as result of false accusations by another officer who blamed Yi for his own mistake. Then, just a few months before the outbreak of war, he received an exceptional promotion and became the Commander of Cholla Left Naval Station thanks to the vigorous recommendation from Prime Minister Yu, who had known Yi since childhood and firmly believed that Choson Korea was in need of his abilities.
As soon as he became a naval commander, he took up the task of reviving and restoring the Korean Naval Force. He straightened the administrative system, improved the condition of weapons and tightened sailors’ discipline. He also put his efforts in making warships and improved the Turtle Ship. In the following seven years, Yi saved his homeland and his people by leading all of his 23 naval engagements to victory with his unshakable loyalty, brilliant tactics, and indomitable spirit. His four campaigns resulted in hundreds of sunken Japanese warships, transports, and supply ships and thousands of dead Japanese sailors and soldiers.
While he accomplished unbelievable feats at sea as an Admiral, Yi suffered continuous tragedies and hardships in his personal life, which makes his life even more remarkable. Even when he was faced with a King who tried to kill him, his loyalty to his country never wavered. His absolute loyalty to his country and people enabled him to achieve a maritime miracle of uninterrupted victories.
In 1598, at the age of 54, he died gloriously in his final battle at Noryang, which concluded the Seven Year War. He was killed by a bullet. He was posthumously titled Chung Moo Gong (Duke of Loyalty and Art of Chivalry).
George Alexander Ballard, (1862-1948), author of the book The Influence of Sea on the Political History of Japan, and formerly a vice-admiral of the British Royal Navy, summarized Yi’s life in the following:
It is always difficult for Englishmen to admit that Nelson ever had an equal in his profession, but if any man is entitled to be so regarded, it should be this great naval commander of Asiatic race who never knew defeat and died in the presence of the enemy; of whose movements a track-chart might be compiled from the wrecks of hundreds of Japanese ships lying with their valiant crews at the bottom of the sea, off the coasts of the Korean peninsula…and it seems, in truth, no exaggeration to assert that from first to last he never made a mistake, for his work was so complete under each variety of circumstances as to defy criticism… His whole career might be summarized by saying that, although he had no lessons from past history to serve as a guide, he waged war on the sea as it should be waged if it is to produce definite results, and ended by making the supreme sacrifice of a defender of his country.
Admiral Yi achieved a truly legendary naval record. His greatness, however, lies not in mere battle figures, but rather in the great and noble sacrifice which he made for his country. The Seven Years War, to which he dedicated both his life and his death, was not a war driven by a politician’s desire for imperial expansion, but by his pure wish to defend his country and people against a foreign invader. Even in the face of many conspiracies against him by his own government Yi defended his country successfully.
Today, there is a statue of Yi Sun-shin overlooking central Seoul in Korea.
Geobukseon (The turtle ship)
The most famous of the Korean ships, it was also the least numerous. There were never any more than five in any one fleet at one time. For their small numbers though the turtle ship played a vital role in the war. The turtle ship originally dates back to the Koryeo dynasty.
Contrary to popular belief Admiral Yi did not design the turtle ship but rather redesigned and improved it by making it less bulky and faster. He also improved its’ defences and armoury.
The turtle ship was effectively a tank at sea. The turtle ship was wide and solidly built and could carry 60 marines and 70 oarsmen. They were usually 30 – 37 metres in length. The turtle ship resembled a turtle in appearance and at the front of the ship was a dragon’s head. The dragon’s head was originally a psychological item but soon it was moderated into a weapon. One version had a tube that released a dense toxic smoke which could obscure the view of the ship whilst another had a large cannon stationed in its’ mouth. The head could also be used as a flame thrower with naft or Greek fire being projected from the mouth.
Also important were the spikes which were placed on the “shell” of the turtle ship which prevented the Japanese from boarding the ship. Due to the top plating of the turtle ship and its protruded spikes, grappling hooks could not gain direct hold on the plating, and jumping to the turtle ship often meant being impaled. The iron plating also made it more difficult for Japanese ships to destroy, because it allowed the turtle ship to survive damage from enemy cannons coming from above, as well as deflecting raining arquebuse bullets and arrows. The design also made it impossible to see inside the ship but all those inside could see what was going on outside.
Despite popular depiction, the turtle ship was not a slow ship. Admiral Yi constructed the turtle ship to be fast and agile for the purpose of ramming. The Turtle ship was faster and much more manoeuvrable than many of the larger Japanese vessels and could take out several Japanese ships and disappear before turning up again and ram a ship before delivering another barrage of cannon fire.
The turtle ship could hold around 30 cannons with some carrying 24 and others 36. The gun ports were located on all sides of the ship and it could fire in any direction. Generally there were 6 gunports on each side of the deck as well as gunports at the front of the ship (under the dragon’s head) and at the rear.
Yi resurrected the turtle ship as a close-assault vessel, intended to ram enemy ships and sink them, similar to their use in past centuries. It was rowed directly into enemy ship formations to disrupt their lines. After ramming, the turtle ship would unleash a broadside cannonball attack. Because of this tactic, the Japanese called the turtle ships the mekurabune (“blind ships”) because they would get close and seemingly blast and ram into enemy ships. This kind of attack was used during the battles of Dangpo, Okpo and Sacheon. Later, the turtle ship was used for other purposes such as spearheading attacks or ambushing Japanese ships in tight areas such as in the Battle of Noryang. Admiral Yi also planned his battles according to sea tides and used narrow straits to the his and the turtle ships’ advantage.
The p’anokseon was developed to counter the Japanese Wako (pirates). It had an extra deck so that it was not easily boarded and separated the oarsmen from the fighting deck. A rudimentary castle on the deck was the command post for the captain.
One reason why the Korean navy was overall better than the Japanese fleet was that Korean p’anokseons were structurally stronger than Japanese ships. Korean p’anokseons had strong hulls and could carry at least 20 cannons, compared to the Japanese 1 or 2. Japanese cannons were also inferior to Korean cannons in range and power.
Typically Korean, the p’anokseon was solidly built. The p’anokseon were the stalwarts of the Korean navy and made up the vast majority of fighting ships. They were accompanied by turtle ships and other smaller vessels. Usually ornamented with dragons and painted on all sides the p’anokseon kept the Korean navy together.
Battles in more detail
Finally we shall look at five of Admiral Yi’s battles in more detail.
Battle of Okpo, 1592
The Battle of Okpo was the first major victory for Admiral Yi. The Battle of Okpo was a 2 day fight around the harbor of Okpo at Geoje Island in 1592. The Battle of Okpo caused anxiety and nervousness from the Japanese, because Yi now began to deploy his navy to attack Japanese supply and carrier vessels.
Admiral Yi set sail on am from Yeosu on May the 5th with his 24 p’anokseon. On May 6th Admiral Yi arrived at Tangpo, which was the rendezvous point with the other commanders. Yi Ok-ki came with his fleet, but Won Kyun showed up extremely late.
When Admiral Yi approached Okpo harbour the next day he saw around 50 Japanese ships anchored there. The Japanese soldiers were looting and killing Korean civilians. Enraged, Yi attacked.
The Japanese panicked and quickly boarded their ships in an attempt to escape. The Koreans encircled the Japanese and commenced firing with the cannons. Immediately, several Japanese ships disintegrated. The Japanese commander Todo Takatora ordered his men to counter attack with arquebuses but did not kill any of the Koreans. After futile fighting, the Japanese threw their weapons and armour overboard, and jumped into the water to flee. Yi pulled back into the sea and the next day neared a harbour called Chokjinpo. The Korean commander was again saddened by the Japanese harassing the Koreans and ordered his men to throw a heavy volley of arrows and cannonballs upon the Japanese. 11 out of 13 ships were destroyed. The Koreans helped themselves to the treasures inside the Japanese wreck and sailed away back to Yeosu.
In all the Japanese lost 50 ships out of the 70 present at both engagements and almost 4000 men perished compared to a few wounded on the Korean side.
Battle of Sacheon, 1592
The Battle of Sacheon took place on May 15th and was the first time the turtle ships were used by Yi. Admiral Yi met Won Kyun at Noryang Strait and discussed battle plans. Admiral Yi scrutinized the surrounding area. A large cliff overlooked the city and Japanese soldiers seemed to move about everywhere in the city. 12 very large Japanese warships were anchored in the harbor, along with numerous other smaller ships. Admiral Yi knew that he could not attack the Japanese front on because he knew that the Japanese would climb the cliff and riddle the Koreans with bullets.
Admiral Yi wanted to fight the Japanese in the sea where there was more room to manoeuvre. So he suddenly turned his battleships around and retreated. The Japanese commander had been observing all the Korean movements and quickly ordered his captains to take part of the fleet anchored at Sacheon and attack the Koreans when he saw them retreat. Taking the bait, the Japanese jumped to their ships and pursued the Koreans.
By the time the Koreans and the Japanese were out in the open sea, it was nearly dark. Admiral Yi had the Turtle Ship and his other vessels to turn around quickly and fire upon the Japanese. Admiral Yi had his men unleash a hail of cannonballs and fire arrows upon the Japanese fleet. This had immediate effect on the enemy warships, and the Japanese ships were starting to take heavy damage.
As the Koreans attacked, the Japanese were much surprised at this sudden shock attack. But unlike the Battle of Okpo, the Japanese soldiers here fought bravely and returned fire. However, the Japanese did not have a chance to board the Korean ships because of concentrated fire of the cannons. Soon the turtle ship smashed into the Japanese lines and began to fire in every direction. This battle highlighted the usefulness of the turtle ship. Only one was present at Sacheon but once it broke through the Japanese lines and began firing it was all over for the Japanese fleet. Psychologically, the turtle ship done as much damage as physically after this encounter.
It was in the heat of the battle when Admiral Yi was shot by a Japanese arquebusier but luckily for Korea, the bullet only punctured the skin on the left arm and Admiral Yi was in good health otherwise.
In a couple of hours, every single Japanese warship that fought was sinking to the bottom of the sea. Only a handful of survivors straggled ashore. After the Battle of Sacheon, the Japanese command at Busan became anxious. Supply ships that were coming from Japan might be in danger now that Admiral Yi was ready to attack.
Battle of Hansan, 1592
Admiral Yi Sun Shin, along with the small fleet of seven ships of Admiral Won Kyun, had fought two campaigns across the southern coast of Korea. Admiral Yi Eok Ki joined Admirals Yi and Won for the third campaign. In all, the Koreans sank over 100 Japanese ships and inflicted thousands of casualties. Admiral Yi and the combined Korean fleet did not lose any ships and suffered only 11 killed and 26 wounded up to this point.
The Battle of Hansan took place on August 14th near the Korean island of Hansan and was one of the most important battles of Admiral Yi’s career. He destroyed at least 47 Japanese ships, captured 12 and killed over 8,000 Japanese sailors and marines. Only 19 Korean marines died with 114 wounded and no ships lost. Yi’s success in this battle became a turning point in the war.
Given the importance that the Japanese navy had in supplying the army as it advanced along the Korean peninsula and prepared to invade China, Toyotomi Hideyoshi made it absolutely imperative to his commanders that the naval situation must be brought under control, the Korean fleets destroyed and the supply routes through the Yellow Sea secured. The Japanese commander, Wakizaka Yasuharu, was ordered to wait and combine his fleet with the forces of Katô Yoshiaki and Kuki Yoshitaka to seek out and destroy the Korean fleet. However, it would have taken some time for Katô and Kuki to assemble their ships, so Wakizaka went out alone with 73 ships. Wakizaka’s fleet probably had the best war ships fielded by the Japanese up to that point in the war. Out of the 73 ships, 36 were the large multi-decked atakebune, 24 the medium sized seki bune and 13 small kobaya scout ships.
In the meantime, Admiral Yi was planning a third campaign and worked with Admirals Won and Yi Eok Ki in combined operations and practiced arranging their fleets in a “crane’s wing” battle formation. The formation was often used on land, but not normally used at sea. The combined fleets had a total of 54 p’anokseons and 3 turtle ships.
Admiral Yi received intelligence from a local farmer that a large Japanese fleet was making its way west towards him and was anchored north of the Kyonnaeryang Strait, which was a narrow channel between Koje Island and the mainland.
On August 14th, the next morning, Admiral Yi sent out six p’anokseon through the channel to lure out Wakizaka’s fleet. Wakizaka took the bait and his ships chased them through the channel and into the broad open sea in front of Hansan Island. At this time, Admiral Yi began to arrange the fleet in the crane wing formation.
In the two previous campaigns, the Koreans had either met the Japanese ships in a straight battle line or, if space was limited, with a circular or rolling method of attack, where their ships attacked in relays to sustain a continuous bombardment. Although these tactics were effective, considerable numbers of Japanese had escaped and swum ashore. The crane wing formation was designed to not just sink ships, but to annihilate the enemy without losing a lot of men.
The formation itself resembled a “U” shape, with the heaviest battleships in the center and lighter ships on the wings. Reserves were placed behind the central ships and would plug gaps as the formation expanded. Ships at the front of the formation would face broadsides to maximize the number of cannons that would be aimed at the enemy. Furthermore, the “U” shape itself would allow for interlocking fields of fire so that many Japanese ships would be hit from several angles.
The Japanese tactic was to put their fastest ships in the vanguard to keep the Korean ships occupied, then move their larger ships rapidly to close in, grapple, and board the Korean ships. However, this tactic played right into Admiral Yi’s plan, as the Japanese rowed deeper into the trap. The volume and range of Korean cannon fire prevented the Japanese from employing their favourite tactic and the two wings of the crane formation would envelop the Japanese ships, making it difficult to manoeuvre or retreat and making them an easier target for Korean cannons.
Wakizaka Yasuharu was a highly aggressive commander and one of the legendary “Seven Spears of Shizugatake,” having gained fame in the battle that solidified Hideyoshi’s claim to be Oda Nobunaga’s successor. It is clear from his tactics in the Battle of Hansan Island that Wakizaka tried to get as close as possible to the Korean ships so he can grapple and board them. Wazikaka not only followed the six Korean ships through the Kyonnaeryang Strait with his entire fleet of 73 ships, but pressed as quickly as possible into the center of the crane wing formation, oblivious to the fact that he was exposing his ships to the Korean fleet’s concentrated firepower.
The battle continued from the mid-morning to the late afternoon. Some boarding of Japanese ships by the Koreans did take place, but Admiral Yi only allowed it if the ship was already crippled and damaged. Commanders Wakizaka Sabei and Watanabe Shichi’emon were killed. Commander Manabe Samanosuke committed seppuku aboard his burning, sinking ship. Wakizaka Yasuharu himself was hit by several arrows, but none penetrated his armor. After losing 59 ships, Wakizaka abandoned his flagship and boarded a faster, lighter ship. In total, 14 Japanese ships were able to retreat from the immediate area of the battle. However, many of the surviving ships were damaged so badly that they had to be abandoned in some of the surrounding islands that dotted the southern Korean coast. Only a few ships ever made it back to the Japanese base at Busan Harbor.
Importance of the Battle of Hansan
Admiral Yi’s victory at Hansan Island effectively ended Hideyoshi’s dreams of conquering Ming China, which was his original goal in invading Korea. The supply routes through the Yellow Sea had to be open in order for his troops to have enough supplies and reinforcements to invade China. Thus, Konishi Yukinaga, the commander of the contingent of troops in Pyongyang could not move further north due to lack of supplies, nor could more troops be sent to him because there was not enough food to feed them.
The battle of Hansan Island was the most important battle of the Imjin War. It ensured that all the fighting would be in Korea, not China. It can be argued that the battle was one of the most important in East Asian history. Had Hideyoshi been able to invade China and conquer a large part of it, his plans were to also invade the Philippines and other commercially important islands in the East and South China seas. Hideyoshi’s larger war plans, supported in much written documentation, was nearly identical to Imperial Japan’s blue print for conquest in the second half of the 20th century.
Battle of Myeongnyang, 1597
Perhaps the greatest naval victory of all time. In the battle of Myeongnyang, Admiral Yi defeated a fleet of over 300 Japanese ships with just 13 of his own. These 13 ships were all that was left from Won Kyun’s disastrous defeat at the Battle of Chilchonryang. The battle of Chilchonryang had resulted in the loss of almost the entire Korean navy and 157 ships.
With the Korean Navy out of the picture, the Japanese believed that they now had access to the Yellow Sea and could resupply their troops through this sea route as they advanced northward. The exact make-up of the Japanese fleet was 133 battle ships and 200 supporting vessels.
Admiral Yi was hastily reinstated as supreme commander of the regional navies after Won Kyun was killed at the Battle of Chilchonryang. Yi only had 12 p’anokseon ships at his disposal, which had been saved by Bae Seol, a Korean officer who escaped early in the Chilchonryang battle. Later, another ship joined with Yi and his small fleet numbered 13. Although Yi only found 100 sailors initially, some of the survivors of Chilchonryang flocked to him and he had at least 1,500 sailors and marines by the end of September.
The Myeongnyang Strait had very strong currents which frequently changed direction. Admiral Yi decided to use this unique condition to his advantage. In the morning of the 26th of October, the Japanese surged into the strait on a favourable tide, and Admiral Yi was waiting for them at the opposite end, using the shadows of the hills to hide his ships. As the Japanese ships came close to the end of the strait, Admiral Yi ordered his 13 ships to come out of the shelter of the hillside and form for attack.
The Koreans threw a fierce barrage that kept the Japanese at a distance. The narrowness of the strait prevented the Korean fleet from being flanked and the roughness of the tide prevented the Japanese from effectively enveloping them. Furthermore, the Koreans ships had flat bottoms that provided more stable and accurate cannon firing platforms then the Japanese ships, which had keel bottoms.
Floating in the water and moving towards the Koreans along the current was a body with the ornate uniform of a high ranking Japanese commander. The body was hauled aboard by Admiral Yi’s men and identified as Kurushima Michifusa, the commander of the vanguard units of the Japanese fleet and the brother of the late Kurushima Michiyuki, killed in 1592 by Admiral Yi at Dangpo. Yi ordered Kurushima’s head cut off and posted on the mast of his flagship. Upon seeing the head of their commander, Japanese morale was affected.
The tide soon shifted and the Japanese ships began to flow backwards and collide with each other. In the confusion, Admiral Yi ordered his ships to advance and press the attack, destroying ships out of all proportion to their relative numbers. The dense formation of Japanese ships crowded in the narrow strait made a perfect target for Korean cannon fire. The strong tides prevented those in the water from swimming to shore, and many Japanese sailors who abandoned sinking or damaged ships drowned. After the Japanese lost 31 warships with a further 92 more disabled, their fleet was no longer combat effective and thus they retreated. Todo Takatora (the hero of Chilchonryang) was seriously wounded and as many as 12 000 Japanese soldiers and marines were dead. There were only 2 Korean casualties.
The Battle of Myeongnyang was a terrible shock to the entire Japanese command. It essentially meant that the Japanese land offensive could not continue. Contrary to popular belief, there were no turtle ships present for this battle. At most, Admiral Yi probably had 2 to 6 turtle ships at any one given time and they were all lost during the Battle of Chilchonryang. The thirteen ships that Yi had were p’anokseons.
Battle of Noryang, 1598
The Battle of Noryang was the last major battle of the Japanese invasions and was fought on December 16th. It was also the battle in which Admiral Yi Sun-shin was killed.
On December 15, about 20,000 Japanese troops boarded 500 ships and began to mass east of the Noryang Strait in an attempt to break the allied blockade of Sunch’on. The overall commander of this relief force was Shimazu Yoshihiro. The allied force of about 150 Korean and Ming ships, led by Admiral Yi and Chen Lin, attacked, captured and destroyed over half of the 500 Japanese ships commanded by Shimazu Yoshihiro, and prevented his link-up with Konishi Yukinaga.
The Korean fleet consisted of 82 p’anokseons, gathered around three turtle ships. The Ming fleet consisted of six large flagships, 57 lighter war galleys and two p’anokseon given to Chen Lin by Admiral Yi. In terms of manpower, the allied fleet had 8,000 sailors and marines under Admiral Yi, 5,000 Ming men of the Guangdong squadron and 2,600 Ming marines who fought aboard Korean ships, a total of almost 16,000 sailors and fighting men. The Japanese had 500 ships, but a significant part of their fleet consisted of light transports. The Japanese ships were well armed with arquebuses and also had a number of captured Korean cannons.
The allied fleet waited for Shimazu on the west end of Noryang strait. The battle began in the early morning of December 16th. It was, from the very beginning, a desperate affair with the Japanese determined to fight through the allied fleet and the allies equally determined to keep them from breaking through and advancing. Like Admiral Yi’s previous battles, the Japanese were unable to respond effectively as the Korean and Chinese cannons prevented them from moving. The tightness of the Noryang Strait also prevented any manoeuvrability.
When the Japanese fleet was significantly damaged, Chen Lin ordered his fleet to engage in melee combat with the Japanese. This, however, allowed the Japanese to use their arquebuses and fight using their traditional fighting style of boarding enemy ships. When Chen Lin’s flagship was attacked, Admiral Yi ordered his fleet to engage in hand to hand combat as well. Heavy Japanese fire was beginning to turn the tide of battle and Chen Lin’s own son was struck down.
Seeing Chen’s ship in trouble, the Ming left wing commander Deng Zilong and two hundred of his personal guard transferred to a Korean p’anokseon and rowed to his aid. However, several Ming ships mistook it for a Japanese ship, opened fire and disabled it. The stricken ship drifted towards the Japanese and they boarded and killed everyone on board, including Deng.
After intense fighting the Japanese began to retreat. As they retreated Admiral Yi ordered a pursuit. During the pursuit Admiral Yi was shot by a Japanese arquebus bullet and died shortly after. The battered survivors of Shimazu’s fleet limped back to Busan and a few days later, left for Japan. Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s dream of Korean conquest was ended.
After the battle Admiral Yi Sun-sin’s body was brought back to his hometown in Asan to be buried next to his father, Yi Chong. Chen Lin gave a euology while attending Admiral Yi’s funeral. He would then return to Ming China to receive military honours.
Fighting ships of the Far East 2 by Stephen Turnbull
Various internet sources