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Old January 1st, 2018, 02:04 PM   #1
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The turtle ship


So there's debates over whether the turtle ship had iron plates or not, or what it looked like. I'm not aware of anyone in the English-speaking academia actually going into the information we have.

If you look at the actual data you realize that it simply referred to two-decked warships built in the p'anoksŏn style. There was considerable variation in the details and the design used by Yi Sunshin (built by Na Taeyong) appears to have been a good deal smaller than later versions.

Here's the well-known drawing of a chwasuyŏng type turtle ship in existence in 1795:
Click the image to open in full size.

Here's a drawing from the same source of the t'ongjeyŏng type turtle ship also in existence at the time (and NOT representing the early 15th century design as some authors have claimed):
Click the image to open in full size.

This latter type is very misunderstood. It's often described as the early 15th century design, but the work both of these are found in (Yi Ch'ungmugong Chŏnsŏ of 1795) it was in existence in 1795, and the description of the turtle ship itself was almost completely about this design! The chwasuyŏng design only got a brief paragraph.

Here's a painting from the late 17th century which includes turtle ships (obviously similar to the chwasuyŏng type):
Click the image to open in full size.

Here's a Japanese painting believed to date to the mid 17th century
Click the image to open in full size.

Last edited by Haakbus; January 1st, 2018 at 02:29 PM.
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Old January 1st, 2018, 02:19 PM   #2
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Here are two more drawings which I believe date to the 19th century:
Click the image to open in full size.Click the image to open in full size.

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Old January 1st, 2018, 02:37 PM   #3
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There are various textual sources which have information on the turtle ship namely Yi Sunshin's writings (Nanjung Ilgi and Imjin Changch'o), Yu Sŏngnyong's writings (Chingbirok), Yi's nephew Yi Pun's writings (Yi Sunshin Haengnok), brief bits of information in the Annals of the Chosŏn Dynasty. By far the most extensive source is the aforementioned Yi Ch'ungmugong Chŏnsŏ.

The descriptions from Yi Sunshin's time indicate a pretty small ship, perhaps as small as the single-decked auxiliaries. It had 6 gun ports per side, one in the dragon's mouth on the front, and another at the rear. It had iron spikes on a planked roof to guard against potential boarders.

The later depictions and descriptions indicate a larger ship with 8-10 gun ports per side. Some include four guns on the front, none on the rear, and the dragon's head was used to emit sulfur smoke.

In 1795 we have two turtle ships described, one of which (t'ongjeyŏng) is primarily a small-arms ship, only having two hyŏnja cannon in the bow. The second is the chwasuyŏng type which most modern reconstructions are based on. It had a total of 24 guns: 10 guns per side, 4 in the bow (two of which were hyŏnja; all the rest of the cannon were probably the heavier chija and ch'ŏnja cannon).

The number of men aboard appears to have been about 130-150 men or so.

Last edited by Haakbus; January 1st, 2018 at 02:45 PM.
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Old January 1st, 2018, 02:58 PM   #4
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As far as iron plating, we can be certain no known versions had it. The one depiction that has the hexagonal pattern that has been used to support this idea specifically states this was painted on the ship's roof. As much as I admire the works of Hawley and others, none of them to my knowledge actually went into the original sources very much if at all.
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Old January 1st, 2018, 03:42 PM   #5

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Yes. That was what Koreans used to beat an invasion by Japanese Yamato kingdom, IIRC. The turtle ship. Not so fast, but almost invincible, kind of like a mobile, floating fortress.

What about the geobukseon? That is also a turtle ship, right?

And any possibility that a prototype version of it was already around much earlier, like the 11th century?
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Old January 1st, 2018, 03:51 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dreamhunter View Post
Yes. That was what Koreans used to beat an invasion by Japanese Yamato kingdom, IIRC. The turtle ship. Not so fast, but almost invincible, kind of like a mobile, floating fortress.

What about the geobukseon? That is also a turtle ship, right?

And any possibility that a prototype version of it was already around much earlier, like the 11th century?
Actually it was the regime of unified Japan under Toyotomi Hideyoshi who invaded in the 1590s. The imperial family was nominally in charge of Japan at the time but had no real power.

Also the role the turtle ship played in ultimately defeating the Japanese is in my opinion greatly exaggerated. No more than five or six at most were in use at any given time during the war. They were used to disrupt enemy formations by ramming and cannon fire, often targeting the flagship. Then the main body of the fleet would move in with cannon fire.

Yes geobukseon or kobukson is simply the modern Korean name of the turtle ship. The name used in the older texts was the Sino-Korean kwison.

The turtle ship we know a lot about was developed shortly before the Japanese invaded in 1592. There were two mentions of some type of covered warship called the turtle ship in the early 15th century but know nothing more and whatever relation it might have had to the later ones we don't really know.

People sometimes point to the kwason in the early 11th century as being a precursor to the turtle ship but there doesn't seem to be any real connection to me.

Last edited by Haakbus; January 1st, 2018 at 03:57 PM.
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Old January 1st, 2018, 04:02 PM   #7

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The kwason was a spear ship, IIRC. I believe ancient variants of this type of ship hv in fact been around since earliest times.

This was a Persian version, from Achaemenid times.

Click the image to open in full size.

The metal spears in the bow side are fitted as weapons for ramming & tearing into an opposing ship, usually from the side.

Last edited by Dreamhunter; January 1st, 2018 at 04:04 PM.
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Old January 1st, 2018, 04:05 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dreamhunter View Post
The kwason was a spear ship, IIRC. I believe ancient variants of this type of ship hv in fact been around since earliest times.

This was a Persian version, from Achaemenid times.

Click the image to open in full size.
It was. It had some sort of iron horn on the front and apparently a traction trebuchet for launching stones. 75 of them were built but only use AFAIK was intercepting the Jurchen pirate fleet off Wonsan that had raided Japan.
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Old January 1st, 2018, 04:07 PM   #9

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Haakbus View Post
It was. It had some sort of iron horn on the front and apparently a traction trebuchet for launching stones. The only known use was intercepting the Jurchen pirate fleet off Wonsan that had raided Japan.
Was that interception done by Koreans, or by Japanese?
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Old January 1st, 2018, 04:08 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Dreamhunter View Post
Was that interception done by Koreans, or by Japanese?
The Koreans. The kwason were stationed near modern Wonsan, North Korea. It's called the Toi invasion in Japanese https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toi_invasion

They had come from what is now Hamgyong province it was not part of Koryo or Choson until the 1430s.

Last edited by Haakbus; January 1st, 2018 at 04:12 PM.
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