Taku Fort Naval Action
In mid-June 1900, allied forces in northern China were vastly outnumbered. In Beijing there were 450 soldiers and marines from eight countries protecting the diplomatic legations. Somewhere between Tianjin and Beijing were the 2,000 men in the Seymour Expedition which was attempting to get to Beijing to reinforce the legation guards. In Tianjin were 2,400 Allied soldiers, mostly Russians. All of these forces were menaced by thousands of Boxers, members of an indigenous peasant movement that aimed to end foreign influence in China. The Qing government of China was wavering between supporting the Boxers in their anti-foreign crusade or suppressing them because they represented a threat to the dynasty.
A few miles offshore in the Yellow Sea were a large number of Western and Japanese warships. On June 15, Chinese forces deployed electric mines in the Peiho River before the battle to prevent the Eight-Nation Alliance from sending ships to attack. With their supply and communication lines to Tianjin threatened, the commanders of the ships met on June 16. Control of the Taku forts at the mouth of the Hai River was the key to maintaining a foothold in northern China. Vice-Admiral Hildebrandt, from the Imperial Russian Navy, through Lieutenant Bakhmetev, sent a message to the commander of the forts, who then sent a message by telegraph to the Governor of Zhili Province, stating that they proposed to "occupy provisionally, by consent or by force" the Taku Forts and demanded that Chinese forces surrender the forts before 2 am on June 17. Of the Allied countries represented, only the United States Navy’s Rear Admiral Louis Kempff demurred, stating that he had no authority to undertake hostilities against China. Kempff said that an attack was an "act of war", and therefore refused to participate. However, Kempff agreed that an ageing American gunboat, the Monocacy, could be stationed near the forts as a place of refuge for civilians in the vicinity.
It was an audacious demand by the foreign sailors. Only ten ships, including the non-combatant Monocacy, could cross over the banks at the river’s mouth to enter the Hai River – two hundred yards wide—from where the four forts could be occupied or assaulted. Only 900 men could be assembled to undertake the operation. By contrast the Chinese soldiers and sailors in the forts and on several modern gunboats docked along the river consisted of about 2,000 men. The Chinese also began laying mines near the mouth of the river and installing torpedo tubes in the forts. In the evening of June 16, the foreign warships began entering the river and taking up their stations from which the Taku Forts could be occupied or assaulted.
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