Tsingtao was the most important German possession in China. At the end of the nineteenth century Germany had gained control of part of the Shantung peninsula, and founded a port at Tsingtao (an earlier Chinese plan to do the same thing had come to nothing). The port then became the headquarters of the German Far East Squadron. At the start of the First World War that squadron was under the command of Admiral Graf von Spee. On learning of the outbreak of war, he took the fleet out of Tsingtao to avoid getting trapped in port. His squadron inflicted an early defeat on the British at the battle of Coronel (1 November 1914), before being destroyed at the battle of the Falkland Islands on 8 December 1914.
The Germans had a 4,000 strong garrison in Tsingtao. This may have been enough to deter an early British attack, but at the end of August 1914 Japan joined the war on the Allied side, hoping to gain control of the German empire in the Far East.
The attack on Tsingtao began on 18 September 1914 when 23,000 Japanese troops landed above the city and began to prepare for a formal siege, digging siege parallels that slowly approached the city. At the same time a Japanese fleet prepared to bombard the port. The Japanese were joined by a small force of British troops (1,500 strong) as well as a squadron of British warships. Tsingtao came under bombardment from land and sea while the siege works approached the city.
The final assault came on the night of 6-7 November. The allies fought their way into the main line of defence, capturing most of the important strong points. The Japanese suffered 1,800 casualties, the Germans around 700 and the British only 70. Many of the Japanese casualties came when a cruiser was sunk by a mine. The next morning (7 November) the German garrison surrendered. The Japanese would go on to capture Germany’s island possessions in the Pacific (several of these islands would go on to play an important role in the Second World War).