“Germany, to the front!”: How German sailors and marines suppressed the “rebellion of boxers”

From November 1899 to September 1901, China was shaken by the Ihetuansky (it’s Boxing) uprising. Much has been written about its causes, as well as about the origin of the second name. Well, for the channel “Chronicles of Prussia”, taking into account its “specialization”, it is important that the German soldiers were also among the multinational forces that took part in suppressing the unrest.

Initially, the German troops in the Middle Kingdom was not so much. Since 1897, the 3rd Marine Battalion has quartered in the port city of Qingdao. The main forces of the Navy were represented by the East Asian cruising squadron based there. In February 1900, when the Iheituan rebellion was already in full swing, Vice-Admiral Felix von Bedemann took command of it . The flagship of the compound was considered first cruiser “Irene”, which then gave this honorary right to the same type “Hertha”. In addition, the squadron included the Hansa and Gefion cruisers, gunboats and several small ships.

The first battle of the Germans with the Chinese occurred May 31, 1900of the year. In view of the approach of the insurgents to Beijing, the government of the Qing Empire declared its impossibility to defend the Embassy Quarter and demanded that foreign diplomats leave the capital. “Zdesa, blizko – badly, Ikhetuan come – ax-noggin wake up,” the yellow-faced officials crammed at the dull “white devils” waving their sleeves of silk robes. “Tama, far away – good luck, chump!” However, the Europeans, with the Americans and the Japanese who joined them, decided to defend themselves. To protect the embassies, we managed to form a small, only 400 bayonets, detachment. In its ranks there were 50 German sailors landed from ships. It was these paratroopers who attacked the pagoda, which was occupied by the “boxers”. According to some historians, thereby provoking retaliatory attacks on diplomatic institutions, at the same time with which the Christian missions came under the hand. Although, I think, the ihetuans would have been able to do without this excuse, if they really needed it, easily finding any other.

Anyway, as soon as the rebels found themselves on the streets of Beijing, pogroms of shops and offices of firms with the participation of foreigners or simply having connections with foreign countries began in the city. In parallel, the destruction of Chinese Christians, who did not want to give up their faith, was going on.

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“The whole vats were full of blood,” the Russian diplomat Boris Evreinov later recalled what he had seen in the Catholic quarter of Nan-Tan. – Disfigured corpses of old men, women and children were lying around everywhere; most of them died after terrible agony, judging by the corpses frozen in terrible convulsions. There were small children with open entrails, with poked out eyes, with a fractured skull and more signs of life. In one corner a fire was found with 40 girls, apparently burned alive. ”
Many corpses were dismembered – the ihethuani thus tried to prevent the resurrection of their enemies on the third day after death, being firmly convinced that not only the Christian god, but also all without exception, his followers have this ability.

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Ambassador of the German Empire in China, Baron Clemens von Ketteler.
Well, then the “boxers” finally got to European diplomats. The first victim was just the envoy of Germany. Clemens von Ketteler was born in Potsdam, and although soon after that the family moved to Westphalia, after graduating from the gymnasium, he returned to Prussia, where he enlisted in the army, having served for six years. After receiving an appointment for the diplomatic service, he worked as a translator at consulates in Guangzhou and Tianjin, worked in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, served as German ambassador to the US and Mexico, and in the spring of 1899 went to represent the interests of his country in China. Directly to our history is not having a relationship, but a curious fact: through his wife, an American, von Catteler intermarried with the influential clan Bush(yes, yes, the same, two of whom subsequently became presidents of the United States).

So, on June 20, von Ketteler, accompanied by an interpreter, left the German diplomatic mission and went to the Chinese Foreign Ministry – according to some sources, to express an official protest against the ultimatum demanding that all foreigners leave Beijing immediately. And when he passed through the gates of the Embassy Quarter, he was shot at close range by a corporal from the Manchurian regiment guarding them. During the interrogation, the killer said that the ambassador was “ordered” to him by the immediate commander for a certain amount of money. But the exact causes and circumstances of the incident remained unknown. Chinese historians even claim that von Ketteler himself was armed with a pistol and opened fire first after the call of the sentry. Another interesting fact: Wilhelm von Catteler’s nephew of the deceased ambassadorwho also chose a diplomatic path, was killed in 1938 in Vienna, and the details of the incident also remained secret.

Naturally, the massacre of the messenger in Germany caused the most severe reaction. Its apogee can be considered the so-called. “Hun speech” Kaiser Wilhelm II , with whom he instructed the soldiers sent to China Expeditionary Corps:

“As the Huns used to be, under the leadership of Attila, they gained an unforgettable reputation in history, just let Germany become known to China, so that not one Chinese will dare to look askance at the German!”
Corps commander was appointed Field Marshal Alfred von Waldersee (another curious circumstance – like von Ketteler, a native of Potsdam). And since, in the current situation, Germany turned out to be offended more than other foreign powers, the Kaiser suggested that it was his military leader who led the international contingent, which was to suppress the Ihetuan uprising. Russia arranged this option because it was unacceptable for the Russians to fight under the English or Japanese command. For a similar reason, the British and Japanese agreed with the candidature of von Waldersee. The French were not smiling at Bosch’s subordinates, the memories of the disgraceful defeat in the war of 1870–1871 were still too fresh. But the rest of the French were not particularly interested in the opinion of the French.


Meanwhile, in China, events went on as usual. After the murder of Clemens von Ketteler, the “boxers” laid siege to the Embassy Quarter, for which heavy fighting took place. An international corps of 2,000 men, commanded by English admiral Edward Hobart Seymour, advanced to the rescue of diplomats . A quarter of the fighters of this formation were German marines from the said Third Battalion and the sailors of the cruiser Gefion, commanded by Lieutenant Otto Weniger . However, the body of Seymour did not act too well. For example, the interventionists got pretty in battle on June 22 . When it smelled defeat, the hapless Seymour called out: “Germany, go to the front!”, And the Germans managed to rectify the situation, although at the cost of great losses. And the corps had to retreat.

German troops stormed the Chinese fort.
The German Marines were able to distinguish themselves in the battle for the forts of Dagou on June 16-17. These fortifications, which were defended by 3,500 Chinese soldiers with 177 guns, were to be taken at all costs to lift the siege of Tianjin and ensure a general offensive against Beijing. Among other ships, the German gunner Iltis set off a battle with a night duel with serf artillery. The ship received 17 hits, losing 7 crew members killed and 17 wounded, among which was the commander, Corvette-Captain Wilhelm Lanz- he lost his leg. As soon as it began to dawn, shelling from the sea resumed with all the forces at the disposal of the Europeans. However, the Chinese held on, and then the assault went ahead of the landing of the ships, which was led by the German captain-zur-see Hugo Paul (under the command of the sailors from the Hansa, Gefion and Hertha) and the Russian lieutenant Stankevich . It was Paul, who left forever 16 of his fighters under the walls (another 62 were wounded) and hoisted the Kaiser naval banner over the defeated fort, for which he was later honored to be marked by William II.

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“This battle has become the largest military success for the German marines for the entire period of suppression of the Ihetuani uprising,” said Russian historian D. Kirilchik.
In the battle for Tianjin, the Germans and the Russians also had to work together when attacking from the east gate of the city. About one hundred German sailors participated in that battle, who made a feasible contribution to the subsequent massacre committed by the victorious fury.

The execution of prisoners Ikhetuan before the formation of German and Japanese soldiers.
In the battle of Ha, the Germans no longer took part, preferring to be in Qingdao, to which the ihetuani, driven by the Russian troops, retreated. In case you had to repel the attack, the city was surrounded by a five-kilometer shaft. Well, the Ambassadorial Quarter, instead of Seymour, was known to be released by another international corps, under the command of Russian General Linevich. Most of all, there were Japanese there – 8,000, and besides them – 4,800 Russians, 3,000 British, 2,100 American 800 French, 58 Austrian and 53 Italian soldiers and officers. The siege of the embassies was removed on August 14. Four days later, a small German-Austrian detachment led by Hugo Paul, who was already familiar to us, entered Beijing. In the street battles, his fighters were late to distinguish themselves, but they again willingly joined in the brutal massacre of the defeated and the total looting of the imperial palace (although they were far from the Japanese, they generally outdid everyone).

And only on September 12 , the 17,000-strong corps of von Waldersee sailed to China, finally distinguished only by his punitive expeditions. All the previous months, marines and sailors of the East Asian squadron did not take part in them fighting with the “boxers”.

German soldiers with a Chinese rebel.
Germany in the so-called. The “boxing protocol” obliged the Chinese government to apologize for the murder of Clemens von Ketteler and to install a proper memorial sign at the site of his death. The remains of the ambassador, originally buried in the garden of the diplomatic mission, were transported to Vaterland, to the central cemetery of Münster . There, in the palace garden in 1903, a monument to a diplomat was erected.

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