Admiral Lee and the Turtle Boat

Admiral Lee, Soon-shin born in 1545, was one of the greatest swordsmen in Korea.

While Lee was growing up, the Japanese often invaded Korea and tortured the Korean people. Such wickedness made a deep impression on Lee, Soon-shin. He became a fierce warrior and an admiral in the Korean navy.

Today, Admiral Lee is most remembered for his invention of the turtle boat (gubooksun), the first submarine-type vessel in the world. It was made of iron and resembled the body of a turtle. Inside the head was a hollow tube that spewed out frightening sulphur gas.

Along both sides of the boat were twelve small doors and twenty-two cannons. The doors made it possible for the crew to extend oars and propel the boat in any direction. Inside the boat there were twenty-four rooms, including the captain’s cabin, two ammunition storage sections, and nineteen rooms for the crew members.

The top of the boat usually had sharp knives projecting out of the metal so that the enemy could not make entry through its ceiling. Using the turtle boat, Admiral Lee attacked and sank nearly all of the invading Japanese navy.

In 1598, at the battle of No-Ryang, Admiral Lee was shot by a Japanese soldier. At his request his injury was kept secret for as long as possible so that the crew’s spirit wouldn’t fail. After a victorious battle, Admiral Lee died. But his memory has lived on as a great leader and as the inventor of the famous turtle boat.