What was the Siege of Busanjin (1592)?

Introduction

The Siege of Busanjin was a battle fought at Busan between Japanese and Korean forces on 14 April 1592 (Gregorian: 24 May 1592). The attacks on Busan and the neighbouring fort of Dadaejin were the first battles of the Japanese invasions of Korea (1592-1598).

Background

The Japanese invasion force consisting of 400 transports bearing 18,700 men under the command of Konishi Yukinaga departed from Tsushima Island on 13 April (Gregorian: 23 May) and arrived at Busan harbour without any incident. The commander of Busan, Yeong Bal, spotted the invasion fleet while hunting on Yeong Island off Busan Harbour and rushed back to Busan to prepare defences. A single vessel bearing the daimyō of Tsushima, Sō Yoshitoshi (who had been a member of the Japanese mission to Korea in 1589), detached from the Japanese fleet with a letter to the commander of Busan, Jeong Bal, demanding that the Korean forces stand down to allow the Japanese armies to proceed on towards China. The letter went unanswered, and the Japanese commenced landing operations from 0400 the following morning.

The Joseon fleet of 150 ships did nothing and sat idle at port while Gyeongsang Left Navy Commander Bak Hong reported to Gyeongsang Right Navy Commander Won Gyun, who thought the invasion might have been a really large trade mission.

The commanders of the Japanese forces were Konishi, Sō, Matsura Shigenobu, Arima Harunobu, Ōmura Yoshiaki, and Gotō Mototsugu, all of whom (with the exception of Matsura) were Kirishitans, as were many of their men. A portion of this force led by Konishi attacked a nearby fort called Dadaejin, while Sō led the main contingent against Busan.

The Battle

To establish a beachhead and control Busan shores, a strategy was planned based on the local knowledge of So Yoshitoshi, lord of Tsushima. The plan consisted of dividing their forces and leading simultaneous attacks against the fort, and subsidiary harbor forts of Tadaejin and Seopyeongpo.

Early in the morning of 14 April 1592 (Gregorian: 24 May 1592), Sō Yoshitoshi once again called up Joeng Bal to stand down, assuring that he and his men would be safe if they would stand aside and allow the Japanese to pass. Jeong refused, stating that he was dutifully bound to oppose the Japanese advance unless he received orders from Seoul to do otherwise, and the Japanese attack then commenced. While So Yoshitoshi attacked within the main city walls of Busan, Konishi Yukinaga led the assault on the harbour fort of Tadaejin.

The Japanese tried to take the south gate of Busan Castle first but took heavy casualties and were forced to switch to the north gate. The Japanese took high ground positions on the mountain behind Busan and shot at Korean defenders within the city with their arquebuss until they created a breach in their northern defences.

The Japanese overwhelmed the Korean defenses by scaling the walls under cover of the arquebuses. This new technology destroyed the Koreans on the walls. Again and again the Japanese would win battles with arquebuses (Korea would not begin to train with these firearms until the Korean General Kim Si-min forged them at a Korean armoury).

The Koreans retreated to the second line of defence after the surprise attack of So Yoshitoshi. General Jeong Bal (Hangul: 정발, Hanja :鄭撥) regrouped the Korean archers and counterattacked. By now, the Koreans had retreated to the third line of defence. After hours of fighting, the Koreans ran out of arrows. The Japanese were taking losses and regrouped to attack again.

General Jeong Bal was shot and killed. Morale fell amongst the Korean soldiers and the fort was overrun at around 9:00 am in the morning – nearly all of Busan’s fighting force was killed. The Japanese massacred the remaining garrison and non-combatants. Not even animals were spared. Yoshitoshi ordered his soldiers to loot and burn valuable items.

The Japanese army now occupied Busan. For the next several years Busan would be a supply depot for the Japanese. The Japanese continued to supply troops and food across the sea to Busan until Korean Admiral Yi Sun-sin attacked Busan with his navy.

Aftermath and Legacy

Once within the walls of the fortification, the Japanese massacred thousands. “Both men, women, and even dogs and cats were beheaded.” Per Korean sources, 3,000-8,000 defenders were killed. According to Japanese records, 8,500 Koreans were killed in Busan and 200 were taken prisoner.

Gyeongsang Left Navy Commander Bak Hong watched the fall of Busan from a distance. He then scuttled his fleet of 100 ships, which included more than 50 warships armed with cannon, and destroyed his weapons and provisions, so that they would not fall into Japanese hands. Abandoning his men, he fled to Hanseong where he would deliver news of the Japanese invasion to the court.

With the fall of Fort Busan, the First Division of the Japanese Army completed its first objective. However, a few miles to the north of Busan lay the fortress of Dongnae; its garrison was a threat to the newly established beachhead. The following day, Konishi Yukinaga and So Yoshitoshi recombined their forces, and then advanced towards the fortress of Dongnae located ten kilometres northeast on the main road to Seoul.

These series of lightning-like attacks marked the beginning of the Seven Year War.

With the port in Japanese hands, the area became the primary landing ground for subsequent Japanese deployments to Korea during the Japanese invasion, notably the large army led by Kato Kiyomasa and the slightly smaller army led by Kuroda Nagamasa. It was also the primary Japanese supply base throughout the conflict.

To commemorate the battle, there is a statue of Jeong Bal next to the Japanese Consulate in Busan.

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