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  • After the Sengoku Jidai - the all-out war between the Japanese clans - came to the end,

  • it became clear to the winners that Japan would need to find another target for the

  • hundreds of thousands of warriors now roving around the shattered country. Toyotomi Hideyoshi

  • united the country for the first time in over a century. Now that he could harness some

  • of the most veteran armies in Japanese history, he would launch a devastating invasion of

  • Korea. Welcome to the new Kings and Generals series on the Imjin War, which our patrons

  • and youtube members selected to be covered next.

  • ________________________________________ Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s dream to unite Japan

  • into one nation was almost a reality. He had claimed Honshu in its entirety after succeeding

  • his betrayed master - Oda Nobunaga - in 1582. Shikoku was subdued in 1585, and Kyushu fell

  • soon after in 1587. However, like Nobunaga before him, Hideyoshi believed that his power

  • ought to extend beyond the confines of his small island nation, and was convinced his

  • destiny was to conquer further afield.

  • The rival daimyo who swore to follow Hideyoshi were allowed to keep their demesnes and were

  • promised more lands and spoils as the Land of the Rising Sun came ever closer to unification.

  • This was precisely the problem, as with no more battles to fight or gains to be had,

  • they would surely begin to plot and scheme against Hideyoshi. Aware of this fact, he

  • began to make his plans in the late 1580s, hungrily eying Korea as the initial target,

  • and the Chinese Ming Empire after that.

  • The great unifier’s most recent conquest was the island of Tsushima, located at the

  • midpoint of the Tsushima Strait. The lords of this clan - the Sō - now became Hideyoshi’s

  • vassals, and were ordered to deliver a message to the Koreans. It was a threat of invasion

  • that put thein a difficult spot. Sō’s long relations with the Korean Joseon monarchy

  • made them ideal diplomats, but the outbreak of hostilities would damage the trade which

  • granted the clan much of its wealth.

  • Aiming to soften the diplomatic blow as much as he could, Sō Yoshishige altered Hideyoshi’s

  • message to the Korean court. It now demanded that a simple tribute mission be sent to Japan

  • in order to confirm Korea’s respect. In a lethal blunder, theclan leader sent

  • a rough, hardened subordinate known as Yutani Yasuhiro to deliver the message, instead of

  • going himself. Yasuhiro offended his Korean hosts by insulting the size of their spears

  • compared to the Japanese and mocking their lifestyle. Not content with that, the brash

  • envoy warned: “Your country will not last long! Having already lost the sense of order

  • and discipline, how can you expect to survive?”.

  • The uncouth nature of the envoy’s conduct, in addition to the unacceptable terms of Hideyoshi’s

  • edited letter, led to the Koreansrefusal. Naturally, Hideyoshi was furious at the failure

  • and ordered that Yasuhiro and his entire family be killed. Sō Yoshishige was punished less

  • severely, being deposed as daimyo of Tsushima by his adopted son Yoshitoshi, who Hideyoshi

  • considered more trustworthy.

  • Over the next few years, more embassies were sent from Japan to Korea and vice versa. In

  • a crucial visit to Kyoto during 1590, Korean courtiers failed to gather intelligence on

  • just how powerful Hideyoshi’s military was, leading their government to underestimate

  • the imminent danger. Furthermore, the issue divided the Korean court factions, named for

  • the location of their respective headquarters in Seoul. Members of theWesternerfaction

  • gradually came to realise the very real peril Japan posed, but any attempt to prepare for

  • the invasion was actively opposed by theEasternergroup.

  • In Japan, a colossal war machine was gearing up in the summer of 1591, beginning with Hideyoshi’s

  • establishment of a massively fortified headquarters complex on the island of Kyushu. From there,

  • he oversaw the levying of a massive army comprising 335,000 total troops, 158,000 of which would

  • cross to Korea itself. The levies were raised by the individual daimyo, who were obliged

  • to supply a predetermined number of men according to the size and wealth of their fiefdom in

  • a system known as gunyaku. However, it is notable that other political factors could

  • influence a daimyo’s required contribution, such as their standing with Hideyoshi.

  • The 158,000 strong invasion force consisted of 82,200 men from Kyushu, which was closest

  • to Korea, 57,000 from Honshu, and 19,600 from Shikoku. How this giant force was equipped

  • must be discussed for a moment, as it is often common to envision Japanese armies as something

  • different to reality. Rather than an army of samurai wielding katanas, the majority

  • of Hideyoshi’s invading troops were instead the humble ashigaru, peasant foot soldiers

  • armed with swords, spears and bows . As the high-tech spearhead, Hideyoshi used a considerable

  • number of lightweight arquebuses, but the exact number of troops who possessed one is

  • not known, perhaps one third. The plan itself was to be a domino rolling through Asia. When

  • the Koreans were conquered, they were to supply manpower and material for the push into China.

  • When the area around Beijing was conquered, that area would supply manpower for a push

  • further into the Middle Kingdom, and so on.

  • The invading force would be ferried to Korea by 700 assorted ships which, along with their

  • crews, were requisitioned from the various daimyo of the coastal provinces. These were

  • mostly repurposed merchant or civilian vessels. Though Hideyoshi had a massive army at his

  • disposal, in addition to high-quality military technology on land, naval power would prove

  • a problem for him throughout the coming conflict. The Koreans had just two advantages over the

  • Japanese: their superior shipbuilding and cannon technology. In addition to their relative

  • lack of knowledge of European-style firearms that the enemy possessed, corruption in Korea

  • was rampant, leaving military units neglected, untrained and lazy. The kingdom was not ready

  • for the storm that was coming, but one appointment was made which would prove decisive.

  • A forty-six-year-old career soldier Yi Sun-shin was promoted to command the navy of Cholla

  • province. After being assigned to Cholla in late 1590, Yi immediately understood that

  • his province could serve as a possible invasion route. Determined to be as prepared as he

  • could, he spent a year diligently studying naval command, whipping his men into shape,

  • and repairing infrastructure.

  • After being delayed multiple times, three contingents of the first wave were ready to

  • sail by May 22nd. On the 23rd, 18,700 troops under the command of Konishi Yukinaga and

  • Yoshitoshi set out for Busan. The warships earmarked to guard the troop transports had

  • not arrived, and so this fleet was completely vulnerable.

  • Though initially believing the ships on the horizon were part of an abnormally large trade

  • mission, the Korean commanders in the Busan region gradually came to realise that the

  • invasion had begun. They could have used the superior warships under their command to assault

  • the undefended Japanese fleet, but they failed to do so. By nightfall on May 23rd, around

  • 400 transports crowded the waters off Busan. The fleet rested that night in the harbour,

  • completely unopposed. After a final demand for an unopposed Japanese crossing to China

  • was rejected, the landings began.

  • At 4am on May 24th 1592, 5,000 men under Yoshitoshi disembarked onto the land, followed by another

  • 7,000 under Yukinaga. Eventually, the entire first contingent was on land and a Japanese

  • army had landed on Korean soil without a single shot being fired. After two brief sieges,

  • the main fortresses at Busan and its harbour fell, triggering panic among military leaders

  • in surrounding provinces. Instead of acting decisively, incompetent Korean naval commanders

  • scuttled their sizeable provincial fleets and destroyed their weaponry and provisions,

  • retreating north as quickly as they could.

  • With Busan secured, proud Yukinaga would not wait for reinforcements as instructed. Instead,

  • he immediately pushed north along the middle of the peninsula on May 26th, marching at

  • a blistering pace. This daimyo either wished to monopolise the glory of seizing the capital

  • for himself, or may have been anxious to break out of his beachhead before the counterattack.

  • This invading force first came to the deserted town of Yangsan, then went onto Miryang and

  • Daegu on May 28th, conquering and plundering as they did. Realising he had to mount some

  • opposition, the governor of Gyeongsang province - Kim Su - tried to lead a force south to

  • meet the Japanese. However, he soon withdrew without fighting after learning that Dongnae

  • had also fallen.

  • News of the Japanese invasion had reached Yi Sun-shin in Cholla on May 25th, along with

  • the shocking knowledge that both of the Gyeongsang navies had already self-destructed. However,

  • Yi waited patiently; he had orders to defend his segment of coastline and would do so.

  • He remained confident that the Japanese could be defeated on the seas despite their superiority

  • on land, so Yi was biding his time.

  • Meanwhile, the second Japanese army landed in Busan on May 28th under the command of

  • Kato Kiyomasa. The troop ships this time disgorged a fearsome contingent of 22,800 soldiers.

  • Realising that the vanguard under Yukinaga had not waited for him, the irritated Kiyomasa

  • also swiftly pushed forward. He took the eastern route, seizing the cities of Ulsan, Kyongju,

  • Yongchon, Sinnyong, and Kumo on the path to Seoul. It would not be his rival Yukinaga,

  • but he, who reached the capital first.

  • To the south, Hideyoshi’s third contingent under Kuroda Nagamasa arrived at Angolpo on

  • the 29th. This force consisted of 11,000 troops who would take the western route north, after

  • seizing the nearby fort at Kimhae. Three Japanese armies were now set to converge on the Korean

  • capital at Seoul, but they would not get to the city totally unopposed.

  • Revered Joseon general Sin Rip had assembled a sizeable resistance army of 8,000 at Chungju

  • - around 100 kilometres south of the capital - and he intended to fight. The ragtag agglomeration

  • of cavalry troops, officers who had retreated from the south, and hastily raised levies

  • from the north, possibly could have held the Choryong pass - General Sin’s original plan.

  • However, retreating Korean units revealed that it had already been lost, and instead

  • Sin chose to do battle at Chungju on an open field.

  • At midday on June 6th 1592, as the Japanese were descending from the Choryong heights,

  • General Sin drew up his army outside Chungju on a stretch of flat ground, hemmed in by

  • a hill called Tangumdae to their flank and the South Han river behind them. This was

  • a death trap with no possibility of retreat, and this was precisely the point. Placing

  • troops in this kind of situation was a long-established Chinese military tactic which had led to remarkable

  • victories in the past. Perhaps the Koreans could use it to haltthe robbers’, as

  • they derisively called the Japanese.

  • As Yukinaga’s first contingent descended from the heights, Kiyomasa emerged from the

  • eastern route and managed to catch up with his rival daimyo near Chungju. The latter

  • was angered that Yukinaga had stolen the glories by storming ahead and demanded to now take

  • the lead with his own force. He refused, and Kiyomasa decided that he would take revenge

  • on his rival at Chungju. As Yukinaga began his advance towards the city from the southeast,

  • the second contingent stayed behind, hoping their rivals would be defeated.

  • The attacking troops fanned out as they approached the town, finally emerging opposite General

  • Sin’s force in a vast arc. At 2PM in the afternoon of June 6th, Yukinaga divided his

  • army into three main units. 10,000 soldiers under himself and his retainer Matsuura Shigenobu

  • formed the vanguard, whileYoshitoshi and his 5,000 strong contingent formed the

  • left flank. Finally, 3,700 assorted troops commanded by their minor daimyos - Arima Haru,

  • Omura Yoshiaki, and Goto Sumiharu, were placed on the right. Arquebusiers were placed on

  • the front lines of the Japanese army, while behind them stood ashigaru footmen armed with

  • melee weapons.

  • When arrayed in battle formation, the Japanese advanced with a roar of musket fire. It was

  • hardly even a contest; General Sin’s amateur forces were almost immediately overwhelmed

  • by flying arquebus balls and began to suffer devastating losses. The peasant soldiers began

  • to rout under the pressure, but the brave General would not retreat so easily. He led

  • his crack cavalry in a headlong charge towards the enemy line. It was to no avail. The arquebusiers

  • rained withering musket fire down on his horsemen, breaking the charge before any contact was

  • made. In short order, General Sin’s 8,000 strong army had ceased to exist, many survivors

  • of the initial slaughter being hunted down by pursuing ashigaru soon after. Sin threw

  • himself into a natural spring adorned in full armour, committing suicide by drowning.

  • Japanese armies had advanced hundreds of miles into Korean territory in under a month, allies

  • seemed nowhere in sight, and the only significant defensive army had been crushed. It looked

  • as though the Joseon kingdom was finished, but the war was just starting, and in the

  • next episode we will see mounting Korean resistance, so make sure