IMG_0143Admiral Yi Sun-Shin

Admiral Yi Sun-Shin by no doubts, the greatest figure in Korean history. To the Korean people, he is their greatest hero who saved the Korean kingdom from the brink of collapse when the Japanese forces under Toyotomi Hideyoshi invaded Korea in 1592. As a way to show how important he is, a national poll was conducted in 2005 in Korea, and Admiral Yi was chosen as the greatest figure in Korean history by 43.8% of the vote (The Chosun Daily, April 15, 2005). Admiral Yi was a military genius of his time for his success in naval combat. He drew comparison to two of the world’s greatest naval minds: Admiral Horatio Nelson of Britain and Admiral Heihachiro Togo of Japan. But further arguments were made that proved Admiral Yi was a different class above Togo and Nelson. All three men fought for their country, but Yi was in a different situation. Yi’s greatest military achievement was winning the Battle of Myeongnyang, which was considered to be a miracle because Yi and the Korean Navy came out victorious against 330 Japanese ships with merely 13 ships. Nelson’s most notable battle at Trafalgar and Togo’s most notable battle at Tsushima were not considered to be at the same level as Yi’s battle at Myeongnyang due to the fact that Togo and Nelson both were from nations that had a strong naval tradition as well as almost equal number of forces at the battle. Yi had to fight an impossible odd with a navy that did not have much experience or tradition. His deployment of the Crane Wing formation was also another genius tactic of naval combat.

Screenshot 1

Yi was a military genius of his time, thus, he played an incredible role to save his country that was corrupt and weak. While the Japanese forces were victorious battle after battle on land, Yi did all he can to defeat the Japanese at sea and to disrupt the supply lines to prevent supplies from Japan from arriving to Japanese ground forces stationed in Korea. Battle after battle, Yi destroyed as many Japanese ships as he can to ease the pressure on the Korean ground forces. Because Admiral Yi controlled the sea, he is the very reason why the Koreans were able to win the Imjin Wars. Why this is significant is because Unified Japan under Hideyoshi was ambitious enough to attack China with newly acquired weapons called “matchlocks” which were early predecessors to the modern gun. Using this newly acquired weapon, Japan wanted to conquer Asia 300 years earlier before the Meiji Era. I believe because of Admiral Yi’s actions, it changed how history would have played out in East Asia. If Admiral Yi was not victorious, then the Japanese would surely have conquered Korea and then moved onto the weak Ming Empire that was weakened internally as well as externally. If Japan conquered both Korea and China 300 years earlier, history would certainly have played out differently.


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Preservation of my project

I created this blog for a project and I wish to maintain my work as long as I put effort to maintain it. One way of maintaining the project is manual export or guided transfer as outlined

I can backup my content through an .xml file or through another wordpress blog. If I have a personal blog on wordpress, I could back up the content through the personal blog so no content gets lost.

In terms of information, if there are student scholars like myself interested in expanding further into the research on Admiral Yi, they should feel free to quote the information from the two articles that I have used in mainly attributing most of the information.

Personal experience of mine about how I learned about Admiral Yi is pretty much the same experience most Korean children get. So I don’t hold copyright over anything.

If the Project need to be preserved over time, perhaps there can be more expansion on the blog to attract readers and contributors, who can keep adding information regarding the subject or perhaps the blog can merge into another blog that primarily focus on the Imjin Conflict or Asian history in general. As long as there are multiple contributors, the website would still be running and up-to-date on the information.

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Quotes, Statements, and Praises.

Admiral Yi was known by the international community for his outstanding, notable achievements as a military genius of his time. This is a compilation of quotes and statements regarding what the international community thought of him as a military commander.

There are praises from naval commanders in history. The first is from a naval commander of the Royal Navy, which was the world’s undisputed strongest navy. Getting praise from a vice-admiral from the strongest navy at the time would suggest Admiral Yi was indeed a remarkable and extraordinary commander of his time.

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.

– George Alexander Ballard (1962-1948), vice-admiral of the British Royal Navy

Another great naval power during the 20th century was the Empire of Japan. During the industrial growth of the Meiji Era, the Japanese delegation sent students to study in England’s naval academies to create a powerful, modern Japanese Navy. Admiral Yi was still remembered by the Japanese and praised even if he defeated the Japanese soldiers plenty of times. He even influenced Japan’s most famous admiral Togo, who defeated the Russian Navy at the Battle of Tsushima opening the age of Japanese naval domination in the Pacific. To Togo, he did not see himself an equal to Yi, instead, he saw Yi as his master.

“Togo returned from the victorious Battle of Tsushima(1905) in which he had defeated the Russian Baltic Fleet, at that time the world’s most powerful naval force. He had been instated as Admiral of the Japanese Navy, and at a celebratory gathering, a member of the company exclaimed, ‘Your great victory is so remarkable that it deserves an everlasting place in history. You can be regarded the equal of Admiral Nelson, who defeated Napoleon in the Battle of Trafalgar; you are indeed a god of war.’ To this Admiral Togo replied ‘I appreciate your compliment. But,…if there ever were an Admiral worthy of the name of ‘god of war’, that one is Yi Sun-sin. Next to him, I am little more than a petty officer.’”

– Kotaro Andohi (1964), History and Theory of Relations of Japan, Korea, and China

Throughout history there have been few generals accomplished at the tactics of frontal attack, sudden attack, concentration and dilation. Napoleon, who mastered the art of conquering the part with the whole, can be held to have been such a general, and among admirals, two further tactical geniuses may be named: in the East, Yi Sun-sin of Korea, and in the West, Horatio Nelson of England. Undoubtedly, Yi is a supreme naval commander even on the basis of the limited literature of the Seven Years War, and despite the fact that his bravery and brilliance are not known to the West, since he had the misfortune to be born in Choson. Anyone who can be compared to Yi should be better than Michiel de Ruyter from Netherlands. Nelson is behind Yi in terms of character and integrity. Yi was the inventor of the iron-clad warship known as the Turtle Ship (Kobukson). He was a truly great commander and a master of the naval tactics of three hundred years ago.

– Sato Destaro (1866-1942), vice-admiral of the Japanese Navy

During the seven years conflict, Admiral Yi went through tragic events in his life, including burying his youngest son who was killed in battle. Yi wrote in his diary,

“How could the Heavens be so merciless. It is as if my heart is being burned and torn to pieces. Proper, by Nature, it is I who should have died and it is you who should have lived. Yet since you are dead and I alive, how contrary to Nature, how improper is it. The heavens and the earth are dark, and even the sun has lost its color. Ah, how sad! My son, where are you now, having deserted me? Is it because you are such an outstanding figure that the heavens are unwilling to leave you in this world, or is it because of my sin, that this great misfortune has befallen you. Even if I hold out in this world, now on whom can I lean my heart? I wish to follow you to the grave, to stay and weep with you together under the ground, but if I do, your brothers, sisters and your mother will have no one to lean their hearts on. Thus I endure, but my mind that wails is already dead, soulless. Passing a night now seems like waiting for a year to go by.”

King Sunjo, who was the monarch of the Korean kingdom during the Imjin Wars said the following address at Admiral Yi’s funeral,

I abandoned you, and yet

You did not once abandon me.

The sufferings you underwent in this world,

And those you take with you to the world after,

How could one convey them in words?

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The Turtle Ship 거북선


The Turtle Ship on display in Korean Museum

One of Admiral Yi’s greatest achievement was his development of the Turtle Ship, which he implemented successfully against the Japanese Navy. The Turtle Ship (Pronounced Kobukson in Korean) was the world’s first ironclad warship. The ship was not the original invention by Yi, but Yi simply made significant additions and upgrades to an old design. He planned the design before the outbreak of the Imjin Wars and implemented the Turtle Ship for the first time at the Battle of Sacheon. After seeing the Turtle Ship’s success in battle, the secret weapon was used from that point on in naval battles which attributed to Yi’s success at sea.

The Turtle Ship was armed with cannons on all sides. It had two decks. The lower deck consisted of oarsmen while the upper deck consisted of cannons and archers. The metal plating of the roof was to protect the gunners and archers as well as protecting the crew from the Japanese attempt to board the ship. The sharp spikes would lead to a gruesome death to any Japanese soldiers that dared to jump on board.

The head of a dragon was a way to affect the enemy psychologically. Guns could be fired from the mouth of the cannon as well, thus, it would look as if the dragon was breathing fire. Indeed this had psychologically affects on the Japanese soldiers.

The Turtle Ship was quick in speed and it was designed to ram into enemy ships. On the front of the ship, there was a gargoyle’s head which would ram into the enemy ship breaching its hull. The gun from the mouth of the dragon would fire at the same time when the Turtle Ship  collided into the enemy ship.

Admiral Yi’s nephew wrote in his book, Haeng Rok about the main features of the Turtle Ship.

main features


University of Maryland students weren’t the first ones to come up with the phrase “Fear the Turtle.”

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Admiral Yi left a legacy for the Korean people, as the Korean people still celebrate him to this day. He holds the title Chungmugong (충무공) which means Lord of Loyalty.

An iconic statue of Admiral Yi stands in Seoul at the boulevard with many other iconic figures in Korean history.


Statue of Admiral Yi with a light show at night

Admiral Yi is also celebrated and remembered through his portrait on the 100 won coin (equivalent to American dime).


100 Won

South Korean Navy uses Admiral Yi as the focus of study, to learn about his strategies and competency as a maritime genius.

A South Korean Navy Destroyer class is named after him.

There have also been films and dramas made about him.

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Significant Battle #3: Battle of Noryang


Death of Admiral Yi at Noryang

The Battle of Noryang was the final battle that ultimately brought about the end to the seven years of conflict of Imjin Wars. As the combined forces of Ming and Korean ground forces were pushing the Japanese forces down south, the war looked grim for Japan as Japanese were left leaderless after the death of Hideyoshi. The word arrived to Japanese commanders stationed in Korea to evacuate, but the had a major concern, they were blockaded by Admiral Yi and the combined Chinese-Korean Navy. The Japanese ground forces stationed at Noryang planned to set sail back to their homeland with assistance from the Japanese Navy. As the Japanese forces were sailing to leave Korea for good, they were met by the combined Chinese-Korean Navy. During the battle, Yi urged his troops to spot the enemy commanders and aim for them. Unfortunately, during the battle, Admiral Yi was hit by a stray bullet that mortally wounded him. As he lay dying near his eldest son and nephew, he said,

“The Battle is at its height. Tell no one of my death…”

They agreed and kept on waving the flag and beating the battle drum to urge the men to keep fighting. Noryang was a decisive, final victory for the Korean forces leaving only 50 out of the 500 Japanese ships to escape. However, the Korean people lost a hero who struggled so much, shed blood and tears to save his country.

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Significant Battle #2: Miracle at Myeongnyang


Battle of Myeongnyang is considered to be a miracle of a victory. After Admiral Yi’s arrest for treason even after his numerous victories against the Japanese Navy, Admiral Won Kyun, who was part of the conspiracy to put away Yi, was promoted to Head Admiral of the Korean Navy. Admiral Won ran a disastrous campaign against the Japanese Navy that was fresh and resupplied from Japan. Only 12 of 134 Korean ships were left standing after the Battle of Chilcheollyang, where Admiral Won was killed along with the hope of controlling the sea. Admiral Yi was reinstated back to his position as Head Admiral by the king. With only 12 remaining ships and one donated ship, Yi was facing impossible odds against the Japanese Navy.

The king and his court urged Yi to give up the fight at sea and join the ground forces; however, Yi refused to give up fighting for the sea. Yi responded to the king insisting how important the naval force in the conflict:

During the past five or six years, since the earliest days of the war, the enemy have been unable to penetrate the Chungchon and Cholla provinces directly, for our navy has blocked their way. Your humble servant still commands no fewer than twelve ships. If I engage the enemy fleet with resolute effort, even now, as I believe, they can be driven back. The total decommissioning of our navy would not only please the enemy, but would open up for him the sea route along the coast of Chungchong Province, enabling him to sail up the Han River itself, which is my heart’s greatest fear. Even though our navy is small, I promise you that as long as I live, the enemy cannot despise us.”

The Complete Works of Yi Sun-sin, Vol. 9

The king granted his wish to continue fighting at sea. Yi had to find a suitable area to meet a large foe with little he got. Yi decided that Myeongnyang Strait would be the best place to lure the Japanese Navy for an engagement due to the fact Myeongnyang was a long narrow strait with a very fast current. Because the strait was very narrow, only a group of ships would be able to enter the strait and fight at the same time.

Prior to the battle, he set up underwater traps of iron ropes to be used as a blockade mechanism which would catch the Japanese ships and cause them to smash onto one another in the narrow strait. Yi designed the trap because the Japanese ships have a V-shaped hull, which was deep and sharp, thus, hitting the iron rope would cause the ship to go out of control.

Ships Detail

The day before the battle, Yi addressed his officers and captains for one last meeting. He said,

According to the principles of strategy, ‘He who seeks death will live, and he who seeks life will die’. And again, ‘If one defender stands watch by a strong gateway, he may drive terror deep into the heart of an enemy coming up by the ten thousand.’ To men in our condition, these sayings are worth more than gold. You, my Captains, are expected to render strict obedience to my commands. If you do not, not even the least error will be pardoned, nay, but severely punished according to Martial Law”.

War Diary, September 15, 1597

His statement of “He who seeks death will live, and he who seeks life will die” was one of the most powerful and notable statement that characterized Admiral Yi’s nature as a leader and a soldier.

On the day of the battle, with only 13 ships, Admiral Yi went against 330 Japanese ships. He used the one line formation because he knew that he was not at liberty to try any complex formation since he only had 13 ships to work with. His men were in fear due to the overwhelming odds against them; however, Admiral Yi kept pushing on to fight the Japanese with constant cannon and arrow fires. The first miracle occurred when a Japanese defector who worked for Yi as a translator on Yi’s flagship spotted a particular dead body floating in the water. The body was of Kurushima, the Japanese general in the battle. Yi ordered the dead body of the Japanese general to be displayed to the enemy. The Japanese ranks were filled with chaos and terror as they saw their commander has fallen. The second miracle occurred when the currents of Myeongnyang Strait changed directions against the Japanese forces. The morale on the Korean side skyrocketed causing the Japanese forces to flee. When the Japanese ships started fleeing, the traps were revealed and the Japanese ships collided and smashed onto each other creating great chaos. At the Battle of Myeongnyang, 31 Japanese ships were sunk and 90 were severely damaged. No Korean ships were lost. Admiral Yi claimed that the battle was won purely by the grace of heaven, a miracle.

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Significant Battle #1: Battle of Hansando


Crane Wing Formation, Korean Navy identified as blue, Japanese Navy identified as red

Battle of Hansando was one of Admiral Yi’s most notable battle for using the Crane Wing Formation. Prior to the battle, Yi wanted to make sure that he could do as much damage as he can to the Japanese Navy. He made a risky move to fight a greater Japanese force in an open area instead of a narrow area. He planned to lure out the Japanese Navy into the open sea so they do not have the safety of the mainland, allowing the Korean forces to attack freely. This was also done so that the Japanese survivors would not be able to swim back to the mainland.

At the start of the battle, Yi only sent a few ships (5-6) into Kyonnaeryang Channel where the Japanese Navy was stationed. Seeing the small number of the Korean Navy, the Japanese Navy went in for an attack. Admiral Yi feigned a retreat so that the Japanese ships would be lured into the open sea. As soon as the Japanese Navy entered the open sea, Admiral Yi ordered an immediate turn of his ships into the Crane Wing Formation and attack with everything they got. Once the ships turned, the pursuing Japanese ships were met with a storm of cannon balls and fire arrows. Seeing the destruction of their comrades, the Japanese ships at the rear fled in fear. Admiral Yi sank 47 enemy ships and captured 12 ships. Only 14 out of 73 Japanese ships escaped.

Battle of Hansan was hailed to be a great military victory and held high in regards by the British Navy. George Alexander Ballard, a vice admiral of the British Royal Navy praised,

“This [the Battle of Hansan] was the great Korean admiral’s crowning exploit. In the short space of six weeks he had achieved a series of successes unsurpassed in the whole annals of maritime war, destroying the enemy’s battle fleets, cutting his lines of communication, sweeping up his convoys,…and bringing his ambitious schemes to utter ruin. Not even Nelson, Blake, or Jean Bart could have done more than this scarcely known representative of a small and cruelly oppressed nation; and it is to be regretted that his memory lingers nowhere outside his native land, for no impartial judge could deny him the right to be accounted among the born leaders of men.”

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