Battle of Dagu Forts (1900)



The Battle of Taku or Dagu Forts was a battle during the Boxer Rebellion between the Chinese military and allied Western and Japanese naval forces. The Allies captured the forts after a brief but bloody battle.

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 a weapon called “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 Dagu forts at the mouth of the Hai River were the key to maintaining a foothold in northern China. Vice-Admiral Hildenbrandt, from the Imperial Russian Navy, through Lieutnant 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 Dagu Forts and demanded that Chinese forces surrender the forts before 2 a.m. 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 ancient 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 small 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 Dagu Forts could be occupied or assaulted.

The Chinese did not wait for the expiration of the deadline but opened fire from the forts with every single gun at the Allied ships simultaneously at about 00:45 on June 17. The Russian gunboat Korietz was heavily damaged in the opening salvo. The Monocacy, despite its distance from the battle and the assurances of its officers to the 37 women and children aboard that they were “in a position of absolute safety” took a Chinese shell in its bow which hurt nobody. The captain quickly moved the Monocacy to a safer position. Chinese gunnery from the forts aimed at the ships was accurate, also hitting HMS Whiting, SMS Iltis, and Lion and driving Giliak aground. The Russians turned on the searchlight of Giliak, exposing them to Chinese guns. Giliak and another ship were severely damaged. 18 Russians died with 65 others receiving wounds.

The most serious offensive threat to the Allied attack were four modern German-built destroyers laying alongside the dock at Dagu. These warships could have easily overpowered the Allied ships, but inexplicably they remained docked even after the Chinese opened fire. Two British destroyers, HMS Whiting and HMS Fame (the former commanded by Lieutenantt Colin Mackenzie and the latter by Roger Keyes), each towing a whaleboat with 10 men aboard, darted alongside the Chinese ships and boarded them. The Chinese only offered weak resistance before fleeing and leaving their ships in the hands of the British.

The artillery duel continued inconclusively until nearly dawn when the Allies stripped their ships of crew and mounted a ground assault on the Northwest Fort. Two hundred Russians and Austrians led the way followed by 380 British and Italians with 300 Japanese bringing up the rear. In a bit of luck for the allies, the powder magazine exploded just as the ground assault began and in the confusion afterwards the Japanese had the honor of storming the fort. The British and Italians then led the way on the assault of the North Fort which was soon captured.

Two forts remained on the south side of the river. The Allies turned all their guns, and the guns in the two Chinese forts they had captured, on these two forts. They blew up another powder magazine in one, and shortly afterwards the Chinese soldiers abandoned the forts. The Allied ground force then crossed the river and captured the forts with almost no opposition. The battle of the Dagu Forts was over at 6:30 a.m. The Allies had suffered 172 casualties among the more than 900 soldiers and sailors engaged. The number of Chinese casualties is unknown but the forts were described as flowing in “rivers of blood”. However, Robert B. Edgerton says that Chinese casualties were “probably not heavy”.

The attack by the allied navies on the Dagu Forts had a profound impact. The first reports of the battle arriving in Beijing from Governor Lu Yu in Tianjin emphasized the positive – and failed to mention to the Dowager Empress Cixi that the allies had captured the forts.

The battle pushed the Qing government definitively to the side of the Boxers and the Chinese army was instructed to resist foreign military forces on Chinese soil. The next day, June 18, Admiral Seymour and his two thousand men were attacked by the Chinese army along the railroad running from Tianjin and Beijing and Seymour decided to abandon his objective of reaching Beijing and instead retreated to Tianjin. On June 19, an ultimatum was delivered to the diplomats in the Legation Quarter in Beijing informing them that they had 24 hours to depart the capital. When the foreigners refused to leave, fearing for their safety, the Siege of the Legations began on June 20. The Dagu forts remained in foreign hands for the remainder of the Boxer Rebellion.

Allied officers praised the courage and skill the Chinese soldiers had demonstrated in defending the Dagu Forts


Tupolev Tu-16/Xian H-6



One of Russia’s first effective jet bombers, the Tupolev Tu-16 has enjoyed a frontline service career matched by few other types.

The Tu-16 was made possible by the development of the Mikulin AM-3 turbojet, which also powered the four engined Myasishchyev M-4 ‘Bison’. A prototype designated Tu-88 and powered by AM-3A turbojets flew for the first time on April 27 1952. A second, considerably lightened prototype flew later that year and the type was subsequently selected for production ahead of the rival llyushin II-46.

Early production Tu-16s covered by NATO’s ‘Badger-A’ designation include the Tu-16A nuclear bomber, torpedo armed naval Tu-16T and the Tu-16N tanker for other Tu-16s (using the unique wingtip to wingtip method). Of the ‘Badger-A’s, only Tu-16Ms survive in service, although over 100 Chinese built Xian H-6s remain in service.

The first anti-ship missile launching Tu-16 was the Kh-1 (AS-1 ‘Kennel’) firing Tu-16KS-1 ‘Badger-B’ with retractable radome (now retired). The Tu-16K-10 ‘Badger-C’ is identifiable by its large, flat nose radome housing the l-band ‘Puff Ball’ radar and carried a single Kh-1 OS (AS-2 ‘Kipper’) missile semi recessed under the fuselage (modified to Tu-16K-10-26 ‘Badger-C Mod’ standard it could carry a single Kh-26/AS-6 ‘Kingfish’). The similar Tu-16K-11-16 ‘Badger-G’ was developed to carry the 320km (170nm) range Mach 1.2 Kh-11/ Kh-15 (AS-5 ‘Kelt’). ‘Badger-G’s modified to fire the Kh-26 are designated Tu-16K-26 ‘Badger-G Mod’.

Many of the 1800 plus Tu-16s built were converted to Elint/reconnaissance platforms. The Tu-16Ye is an elint conversion of ‘Badger-C’s, as is the Tu-16P ‘Badger-K’ and Tupolev Tu-16P ‘Badger-L’, while the Tu-16R ‘Badger-E’ and Tu-16P ‘Badger-F’ are optical reconnaissance variants.

Finally the Tu-16PP ‘Badger-H’ and Tu-16RM and Tu-16KRM, both ‘Badger-J’, are EW jammers.

Xian H-6 medium bomber

In early 1956 the Soviet Union agreed to licence production of the Tupolev Tu-16 medium bomber (NATO reporting name Badger) in China. The aircraft, which first flew in April 1952 and entered Soviet Air Force service in February1954, represented the then-latest state of the art in Soviet bomber design. The Tu-16 had mid-set wings with moderate sweepback and conventional swept tail surfaces; the four-wheel bogies of the main landing gear units retracted aft, somersaulting through 1800 to lie in large fairings projecting beyond the wing trailing edge. The powerplant consisted of two Mikulin RD-3M-500 axial-flow turbojets with a take-off thrust of 9,520 kgp (20,990 Ibst) placed on the fuselage sides immediately aft of the rear wing spar so that the inlet ducts passed through the wing roots, the fuselage being ‘pinched’ in accordance with the area rule. The crew consisted of two pilots, a navigator/bomb-aimer (sitting in an extensively glazed nose), a dorsal gunner/radio operator sitting behind the pilots, plus two more gunners sitting in a separate pressure cabin in the rear fuselage. The defensive armament comprised three powered barbettes with twin 23-mm AM-23 cannons and a single fixed cannon of the same type in the nose.

The actual licence agreement for manufacture of the Tu-16 was signed in September 1957. Under the terms of this, China received two production Tu-16 bombers as pattern aircraft, a further two aircraft in the form of a semi-knocked-down (SKD) kit and a CKD kit, essential for mastering the assembly of the first examples, and a set of blanks and raw materials for parts manufacture together with the necessary technical documentation. All of this was supplied by plant No. 22 in Kazan’, the main manufacturer of the type.

In 1959 the decision was taken to begin licence production in China, and in the same year a large technical team left the USSR for China to assist in setting up series production. It remained in China until the autumn of 1960.

The Bureau of Aircraft Industry (BAI) allocated two factories in Harbin and Xian (sometimes spelled Xi’an) for Tu-16 production. A major reconstruction of the Harbin Aircraft Factory, in the course of which the shop floor area was doubled, began in 1958; the plant received assistance in the form of 200 qualified workers seconded from the Shenyang Aircraft Factory. In May 1959 the Harbin plant took delivery of the two Tu-16 pattern aircraft and the CKD kit, and assembly of a bomber from the kit began immediately. The first Chinese Tu-16 was assembled in just 67 days (28th June – 3rd September), making its maiden flight on 27th September 1959, and was handed over to the PLAAF that December.

In 1958 the large aircraft factory at Xian was completed, and to assist in Tu-16 production there 1,040 skilled technical and engineering staff and 1,697 other workers were transferred from Shenyang. In 1961 the BAI decided to concentrate all work on the Tu-16 at the Xian factory so that the Harbin plant could concentrate on the H-5; the transfer of production took place in 1962-64. The Chinese licence-built version was briefly designated Feilong-201 (Flying Dragon-201) but became the H-6 in 1964. The RD-3M-500 was built under licence at the Xian Engine Factory (with assistance from the Harbin and Shenyang plants) as the WP-8.

In 1964 the plant began manufacturing the jigs and tooling for series production of the H-6; new production methods differing from the Soviet ones were used, including explosive forming and epoxy resin male moulds instead of metal ones. In October 1966 the first airframe assembled from Chinese parts was finished, one year ahead of schedule; it underwent static tests at the BAI’s Aircraft Structure Analysis Research Institute in December 1968.

On 24th December 1968 the first Xian-built production H-6 bomber completely manufactured in China (with Chinese-made WP-8 engines) made its first flight The crew was commanded by test pilot Li Yuanyi, with Xu Wenhong as co-pilot After this, full-scale production of the H-6 in China got under way.

The reason that it took so long to establish H-6 in production in China was the disorganisation of the Chinese aircraft industry caused by the spread of the ‘Cultural Revolution’. A lot of design documentation was lost during the transfer of production from Harbin to Xian, and it took forever to restore it.

The London Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that approximately 120 H-6 bombers in various versions had been built up to 1987 when production was interrupted. It was resumed several years later.

The standard H-6 was 34.8 m (114 ft 2’Y64 in) long and 9.85 m (32 ft 35Y64 in) high, with a wing span of 34.2 m (112 ft F%4 in). The normal and maximum take-off weight were 72,000 kg (158,730 Ib) and 75,800 kg (167,110 Ib) respectively; the bomber could carry a normal weapons load of 3,000 kg (6,610 Ib) and a maximum weapons load of 9,000 kg (19,840 Ib). The maximum fuel load was 33,000 kg (72,750 Ib). The H-6 attained a maximum speed of 1,014 km/h (630 mph) at 6,250 m (20,500 ft), a cruising speed of 786 km/h (488 mph) or Mach 0.75 and a service ceiling Of 13,100 m (42,980 ft). The ferry range was 6,000 km (3,728 miles) and the combat radius was 1,800 km (1,120 miles).

H-6A nuclear-capable bomber

Even before production of the H-6 had been fully implemented, the modification of a Tu-16 assembled from Soviet parts into a carrier for the Chinese atomic bomb started at Xian under the codename ‘Mission 21-511′. The bomb bay was heat-insulated and air-conditioned to provide the correct environment for the nuclear weapons, the bomb release system was modified and the necessary monitoring and recording equipment for nuclear testing was installed. To all intents and purposes this aircraft was the counterpart of the Soviet Tu-16A. The modification work was supervised by Li Xipu.

The modified aircraft was the prototype of the nuclear-capable H-6A. On 14th May 1965 this aircraft captained by Li Yuanyi successfully carried out the third Chinese nuclear test, dropping a 20-kiloton atomic bomb over the Lop Nor nuclear test range in western China. The flight crew received a collective government award for this mission. On 29th September 1969, an H-6 bomber dropped China’s first thermonuclear bomb with a yield of 3,000 kilotons.

H-6D (H-6 IV, B-6D) missile strike aircraft

In 1975 work began on an anti-shipping missile strike version of the H-6A for the PLANAF. The carrier, given the designation H-6D (orginally H-6 IV), featured a missile guidance system, an automated navigation system and a new Type 245 surveillance radar in a much-enlarged flat-bottomed chin radome linked to the missile guidance system. At an altitude of 9,000 m (29,530 ft) the radar could detect a surface target with a radar cross-section of 7,500 m2 (80,645 sq ft) from a maximum range of 150 km (93 miles). The wings were strengthened for carrying two YJ-6L anti-shipping cruise missiles which were suspended on pylons resembling those of the Soviet Navy’s Tu-16KSR-2 missile strike aircraft.

The YJ-6L air-to-surface missile (export designation C-601, NATO codename CAS-1 Kraken) was developed in China from the HY-2 ship-/land-based anti-shipping missile – a copy of the Soviet P-15 supplied to China at the end of the 1950s. The missile was powered by a liquid-fuel rocket motor and fitted with a 513-kg (1, 131-lb) high-explosive warhead; it had a range of 120 km (74.5 miles) and a speed of Mach 0.8. The H-6D reportedly also retained a level bombing capability.

The first flight of the experimental H-6D took place on 29th August 1981 with Zhai Xijie in the captain’s seat. The first launch of a YJ-6L instrumented test round followed on 6th December; all four tests of inert missiles were reportedly successful. The test program for the aircraft and the ASM complex as a whole was concluded by live missile tests at the end of 1983. In December 1985 the new anti-shipping complex entered service with the People’s Liberation Army Naval Air Force (PLANAF).

In May 1985 the H-6D with its C-601 missiles was exhibited at the Paris Air Show.

Later, the YJ-6L was replaced by the more modern YJ-61 (C-611) missile which has a range of 200 km (124 miles). The export version of the H-6D was designated B-6D (B for bomber); four were supplied to Iraq.

The dimensions of the H-6D were identical to those of the standard bomber, and the performance was similar. Differences included a service ceiling reduced to 12,000 m (39,370 ft).