Cannons in Southeast Asia

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Amphibious Warfare: Nineteenth Century

1871 - Korean Expedition

On 23 May 1871 five warships of U.S. Asiatic Fleet commanded by Rear Admiral John Rodgers dropped anchor in the waters off Kangwha, an island at the mouth of the Han River on Korea's west coast. The U.S. minister to China, Frederick F. Low, was on board the flagship of this force, the steam screw frigate Colorado. The objective of his mission was to inquire into the fate of a U.S. merchant ship that had entered Korean waters in 1866 and to otherwise open diplomatic and commercial relations with hermit kingdom of Korea.

Several low-level Korean delegations boarded Colorado to ascertain the intentions of the U.S. force. Through his subordinates, Low told the Koreans that he would only deal with a high-level official authorized to make decisions, and that he would wait to receive a more suitable emissary. In the interim, the U.S. diplomats and naval officers asked local officials for permission to chart the channel at the mouth of Han. The Koreans made no objection, leading U.S. commanders to assume that they did have permission to begin their surveys.

On 1 June four steam launches, supported by two the gunboats Palos and Monocacy, set out to chart the river. The situation was quiet at first, but as the small vessels came abreast of three stone fortifications on Kangwha, Korean fighters unmasked their batteries and opened fire. The fire from the forts was heavy but inaccurate, allowing the U.S. boats to withdraw with only two minor injuries. Meanwhile, Palos and Monocacy charged upriver and opened fire on the forts, at which point the Koreans ceased fire. Maneuvering in the swift, treacherous current, Monocacy struck a rock and, leaking badly, was forced to retreat downriver, followed shortly thereafter by Palos.

The gunboats Monocacy and Palos operating on the Han River, 1871.
Naval Historical Center.

Ambassador Low and Rear Admiral Rodgers decided that the Korean actions could not go un-avenged. They drafted a message to the Koreans, demanding an apology and reparations within ten days. They chose this timeframe not only to give the Koreans time to respond, but also to take advantage of more favorable neap tides in any subsequent retaliatory operation.

Planning for such an effort began immediately. Rodgers and Low believed that the U.S. punitive response should be proportional to the Korean attack. Hence, the force would limit its actions to destroying the three fortifications on Kangwha from which the Korean fire had originated. According to the plan developed by Rodgers and his officers, these positions would be taken through a joint land and naval assault. The landing force, commanded by Commander L.A. Kimberly, would consist of 686 officers and men. This included 109 Marines, led by Captain McLane Tilton, who would spearhead the effort ashore. Seven 12-pound howitzers would provide land-based fire support for the operation, while the two gunboats and steam launches with bow-mounted howitzers would deliver close-in naval gunfire support. The landing itself would occur on section of shoreline one-half mile below the nearest enemy fort, which the Americans dubbed "Marine Redoubt." Sailors and Marines coming ashore in the spot would be able to partially flank the river-facing redoubt and - at least initially - leave enemy forces little opportunity to attack their flanks or rear.

Rear Admiral John Rodgers and his captains plan retaliatory operations against Korean forces on board USS Colorado, June 1871.

On 10 June 1871, having received no explanation from the Koreans, Rodgers ordered the expedition to commence. Two steam launches led the way, taking soundings in the channel. Then came Monocacy to conduct a preliminary bombardment of Marine Redoubt. The gunboat Palos brought up the rear, towing 22 boats carrying the landing force.

Monocacy and the Marine Redoubt exchanged fire for a short period, after which the Korean garrison retreated from their position. Immediately afterward, Palos headed for shore, breaking off at the last minute and cutting loose the chain of boats behind her. The Marines and sailors disembarking from these craft onto the "beach" promptly found themselves mired in knee-deep mud that stretched almost 200 yards inland. Men and artillery had an excruciatingly slow slog through mud, and would have been in deep trouble if the Koreans had contested the landing. Fortunately, they did not.

Once they reached firm ground, Tilton's men formed into skirmish line and advanced on the redoubt. They encountered only a few scattered shots, but otherwise faced little opposition other than high temperatures and humidity. Once they reached the fortification, the Marines scaled its 12-foot walls and moved over the parapet. Finding the redoubt abandoned, they secured it and waited for the rest of the landing force to catch up. Once they had, the sailors and Marines began dismantling the position. Most of the fort's cannon, which were small, ineffective, breach-loading cannons made of brass, were tossed into the river. Two larger 32-pound cannons were spiked.

As this work progressed, Tilton's Marines headed for second fort, which the Americans had named Fort Monocacy. This stone bastion stood on a bluff overlooking the river, three miles above Marine Redoubt. With daylight waning, Tilton's force fortified a wooded knoll overlooking the second fort and waited until morning. They set out pickets and positioned one howitzer atop the knoll to deal with potential Korean attacks or infiltration, but all they received were occasional, inaccurate shots.

Tilton's men led the way again the next morning. With approximately one-third of their force forward and two-thirds in reserve, the Marine cautiously entered Fort Monocacy, to find that it, too, had been abandoned. This fortification, more formidable than the Marine Redoubt, also had 33 brass cannons and four large guns, none of which had gone into action that morning. Again, the landing force destroyed the weapons and pulled down the walls of the fort.

The landing force quickly resumed its advance on the last of three forts, nicknamed the Citadel. However, unlike the terrain previously encountered, the terrain between Fort Monocacy and the Citadel was marked by steep hills and deep ravines, over and through which the sailors and Marines had to move with their artillery. They also were threatened by a large body of Koreans that had moved into the hills on their left flank. In response, Commander Kimberly ordered five howitzers and three companies of sailors to establish a blocking position while the Marines and rest of the force continued toward the Citadel. The Korean forces surged forward several times, but the fire from the howitzers kept them from ever getting close enough to interfere with the assault on the Citadel.

This last fortification was situated atop a steep-sided, 150-foot high hill two miles north of Fort Monocacy. Its garrison consisted of approximately 1,000 troops known as 'Tiger Hunters." Surmounting the fort's walls would have been extremely difficult were it not for the damage done by the guns of Monocacy and the landing force's howitzers during a pre-assault bombardment.

This fire support ceased upon a signal from Kimberly. On cue, a storming party of 350 sailors and Marines rushed forward to seize a ridge only 120 yards from the Korean defenses. Once there, they rested and used their muzzle-loading rifles to suppress the defenders, who themselves were armed with ancient matchlock rifles.

The naval battalion took the lead in the subsequent charge down the intervening ravine and up the slope to the Citadel. They climbed over the parapet into the fort, followed closely by Tilton and his men. The Koreans fought fiercely, neither expecting nor giving any quarter. The first Navy officer and sailors over the wall were killed or wounded. As more Americans entered the Citadel, desperate close-quarters and hand-to-hand combat ensued. Finally, the remaining Koreans broke and ran for the river, under heavy fire from U.S. forces.

The action in the Citadel effectively marked the end of U.S. combat operations against the Koreans. With all three forts captured destroyed, the very limited objectives that Low and Rodgers had established for the operation were achieved. The morning after the Citadel fell, the landing force re-embarked on board their warships. For the next three weeks, Low attempted to negotiate with the Koreans and return several of their wounded comrades that Rodgers' men had captured, but to no avail. Three weeks later, the task force left the area.

The overall result of this short expedition was inconclusive. Casualties during this action were decidedly lopsided - the Koreans lost some 240 men killed and 20 captured in the fight for the Citadel alone, while U.S. casualties were three killed and ten wounded. The Navy subsequently awarded the Medal of Honor to nine sailors and six Marines for their heroism. However, the United States had not forced the Koreans to open diplomatic relations. That opening would not occur for another eleven years.


Lieutenant Colonel Merrill L. Bartlett, USMC (ret.) and Jack Sweetman, "River Raid on Korea," Naval History, December 2001, pp. 43-45.

Rear Admiral John Rodgers, U.S. Navy, Expedition to Corea [sic], Report to the Secretary of the Navy, No. 18, 3 June 1871.

Rear Admiral John Rodgers, U.S. Navy, Report of Rear-Admiral John Rodgers, No. 43, 5 July 1871.

The Martyrdom of Kalaafaanu

An artist's illustration of the battle in which Sultan Ibrahim III (Kalaafaanu) was martyred. Kalaafaanu was martyred in a naval engagement between the Malabars and the Maldivians. After the death of Kalaafaanu, the Malabars abandoned the caravel and alighted at Male', tortured those they found in the Palace and kidnapped Kalhuthuhkalaa and departed to Cananore

Sultan Ibrahim III (Kalaafaanu) was the son of Sultan Ghazee Muhammed Thakurufaanu Al Auzam. He ascended the throne in the year 993 AH (1585 AD). The famous French traveler, Francois Pyrard de Laval, arrived in the Maldives with his ship "Corbin" in the year 1602 AD, during the reign of Kalaafaanu. The writings of Pyrard relate a number of stories and events in the Maldives during that time. Historical writings show that Kalaafaanu was martyred during an attack by the Malabars in 1609 AD (1017 AH). The battle took place at sea. After the Sultan was killed, the Malabars looted the palace at Malé, tortured members of the royal family, and kidnapped Kalhuthukkala and took him to Cananore. Kalhuthukkala was the great grandson of Kalaafaanu's uncle, Ali Thakurufaanu, and his father was Umar Maafaiy Kilege. Kalhuthukkala remained a captive of Ali Raja in Cananore for a long time and returned to Malé upon his release.

After Kalaafaanu, the next ruler was Sultan Hussain Faamuladheyri Kilegefaanu who was the son of Madifushi Umar Olhigina. The new Sultan reigned for 11 years and 5 months and, upon his death, was succeeded by Kalhuthukkala who ruled as Sultan Muhammed Imaduddhin I. Kalhuthukkala was also known as Bodu Rasgefaanu and Shujaaee Muhammed Imaduddhin. He came to the throne in 1029 AH (1620 AD)

Bodu Rasgefaanu married Kanbaa Aisha Rani Kilegefaanu who was the widow of Kalaafaanu. Sultan Hussain Faamuladheyri Kilegefaanu, who had succeeded Kalaafaanu, had also married her. She bore a son, Ibrahim to Bodu Rasgefaanu, who later became Sultan Ibrahim Iskandhar.

Bodu Rasgefaanu reconstructed the palace which had been destroyed, constructed walls with gun turrets around its perimeter and dug a moat outside the walls and strengthened the defences of the palace.

During the fifth year of the reign of Bodu Rasgefaanu, a number of Portuguese caravels came to attack the Maldives. The Sultan assembled all the ministers, senior officials and his troops and made them pledge an oath to fight to the end. At that time there were no city walls or forts or citadels in Malé. There were only five cannons in Malé. However, under the direction of Bodu Rasgefaanu, Maldivians defeated the Portuguese through strategic use of the five cannons. The fleeing Portuguese set ablaze the mosque at Vilingili. The event took place in 1034 AH (1624 AD).

The construction of fortifications, watchtowers and city walls in Male'. The photo shows Bodu Buruzu and Kotte, one of the many forts and towers that were erected around Male'. Upon ascension to the throne, Kalhuthuhkalaa adopted the name Sultan Muhammed Imaduddin. He was popularly known as Bodu Rasgefaanu. He built fortifications and city walls in order to strengthen the defences of Male' and also constructed revetments around the island.

Following that experience, the defenses of Malé were strengthened. Fortifications were built near the palace as well as at strategic locations around Malé. Walls with gun turrets were built between the forts, which also had gun emplacements. Thus, Malé could be defended against an attack from any direction. Revetments were built around the island and outlets for ships to ply in and out of Malé were made. After reorganizing administration, the Sultan dispatched a mission to Aceh to secure cannons as Malé was under-armed. The ship to Aceh came back with 14 bronze cannons. Around the same time, Maldivians were able to salvage weapons from ships that had been wrecked and abandoned in Maldivian waters.

During Bodu Rasgefaanu's reign, his wife's brother, Saamiya Faashana Kilege made an abortive attempt to set up a kingdom at Maafilaafushi. Bodu Rasgefaanu reigned for 29 years and was succeeded upon death by his son, Sultan Ibrahim Iskandhar.

The journey to Aceh to procure guns. When Bodu Rasgefaanu ascended the throne, there were only five canons in Male'. Bronze canons were purchased from Aceh to increase the firepower at Male'. The map shows the province of Aceh on Sumatra.


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Last up-dated on 08/01/2011