Members of SMS Scharnhorst’s crew pose for a group photograph. Charles Stephenson /

By Mark McConville

A NEW BOOK has shed light on Britain’s little known dirty war in the Far East during WW1 as they allied with Japan to take German territories in China.


The Japanese landing equipment at Lungkou. The sheer scale of the operation is evidenced by the
number of ships in the shot. Charles Stephenson /

Rare images show Japanese forces as they led siege to Tsingtau in order to wrest it from German control.

Other pictures show the German and Chinese naval personnel who attempted to defend Tsingtau and Kapitanleutnant Gunther Pluschow and his Rumpler Taube aeroplane represented the only viable source of airpower available to the defenders.


German and Chinese personnel posing at the stern of a torpedo boat in the floating dock. Charles Stephenson /

The images are included in a new book, The Siege of Tsingtau, by Charles Stephenson and published by Pen and Sword.

“The book demonstrates that Japan, Britain’s only formal ally at the time, entered the First World War out of naked self-interest,” he said.

A member of the 5th (Mounted) Company of the 3rd Naval Battalion. The company were mounted infantry rather than cavalry, the horses conveying mobility. Charles Stephenson /

“The outbreak of war in Europe gave Japan a ‘one in a million chance’ both to secure her existing position in China and the Pacific and extend her economic and political influence by taking control of Germany’s possessions and investments.

“As Marquis Inoue Kaoru, one of Japan’s most senior statesman, put it: ‘August 1914 was a moment of ‘supreme opportunity’ for Japan.’


Pre-war manoeuvres. Members of the 3rd Naval Battalion move a heavy machine gun through the rough terrain around Tsingtau. Charles Stephenson /

“It was undoubtedly the most serious incursion into Chinese affairs since the Sino-Japanese War of 1894–1895, and was closely followed by the infamous ‘Twenty-One Demands’ of January 1915.”

The Siege of Tsingtau took place between 31 October and 7 November 1914 against Imperial Germany. The siege was the first encounter between Japanese and German forces and also the first Anglo-Japanese operation of the war.


Pre-war manoeuvres. Members of the 3rd Naval Battalion move a heavy machine gun through the rough terrain around Tsingtau. Charles Stephenson /

The core of the book is based largely on four volumes that were published by the General Staff of the Japanese Army.

Mr Stephenson explained how the extension of Japanese power threatened more than just Germany.


German sailors posing with some of the local inhabitants. Charles Stephenson /

“In strategic terms, Japan’s conquest of the German territories in Micronesia extended the Imperial Navy’s perimeter by several thousand miles, threatening to render the US Navy’s ‘War Plan Orange’ ineffective,” he said.

“It was not only the United States that was rendered more vulnerable and disadvantaged by the extension of Japanese power; Australia, New Zealand and, by extension, Britain perceived themselves threatened too.”


A view of the floating dock with three vessels inside. The two outer ones appear to be the Taku (left) and S-90. Charles Stephenson /

Mr Stephenson expanded on the role of Kapitanleutnant Gunther Pluschow during the Siege of Tsingtau and his remarkable escape from British capture.

“Later dubbed ‘The Kaiser’s One-Man Air Force,’ Plüschow records that he was provided with extemporised ‘bombs’ made of tin boxes filled with dynamite and improvised shrapnel, but that these devices were largely ineffectual,” he explained.



Arkona Island and lighthouse with Tsingtau in the background. To the Chinese the isle had been Green Island (Tsing Tau), which the Germans took for the name of the town. Charles Stephenson /

“He claimed to have hit a Japanese vessel with one, which failed to explode, and to have succeeded in killing thirty soldiers with another that did. It was during this period that he became engaged in air-to-air combat, of a type, with the enemy aeroplanes.

“Indeed, if Plüschow is to be believed, he succeeded in shooting down one of the Japanese aeroplanes with his pistol, having fired thirty shots. Being airborne allowed him to escape Tsingtau and attempt to return to Germany.


Prince Heinrich of Prussia at the head of the 3rd Naval Battalion complete with band. Charles Stephenson /

“Astonishingly he made it as far as Gibraltar before being captured then, even more astonishingly, became the only German prisoner of war in World War One to escape from Britain back to Germany.”