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The Turtle Boat

The Turtle Boat

The First Ironclad Warship Ever Built

Invented in 1591 by Li Soon Sin, the Turtle ship, also known as Geobukseon or Kobukson, was a type of large warship belonging to the Panokseon class in Korea that was used intermittently by the Royal Korean Navy during the Joseon Dynasty from the early 15th century up until the 19th century.

Turtle ships participated against Japanese naval forces that supported Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s attempts to conquer Korea from 1592-1598, inflicting heavy losses.

Scale museum replica
These turtle ships were equipped with at least five different types of cannon. Their most distinguishable feature was a dragon-shaped head at the bow (front) that could launch cannon fire or flames from the mouth. Each was also equipped with a fully covered deck to deflect arrow fire, musket-shots, and incendiary weapons. The deck was covered with iron spikes to discourage enemy men from attempting to board the ship.

Turtle Boat Specs

  • Class and type: Panokseon type
  • Length: 100 to 120 feet
  • Beam: 30 to 40 feet
  • Propulsion: 80 oarsmen
  • Complement: 50 soldiers
  • Armament: Sulfur gas thrower, iron spikes, 26 cannons
    Notes: in full operational conditions cannons ranged between 200 yds to 600 yds

Cross section of deck


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Author: Otelo

3 Comments to “The Turtle Boat”
  1. Is it a turtle or a dragon?? A dragon with body of turtle or a turtle with the face of dragon?? I am confused!! lol

  2. Gentlemen, and Gentlewomen,

    The genius of Koreans is well shown here. And this was indeed the first ironclad, even tho’ we Americans tend to give that credit only to the Monitor and the Virginia of the American Civil War.

    One question does linger: why is it that when Asians are brilliant, we pay no heed, but when some blessed Americans or Europeans are clever, we pretend that each of them invented the wheel?

    Anyway: this ironclad is fascinating. And, do note: When the great Roman armies of antiquity defended themselves with their shields in disciplined fashion, what was the maneuver called? It was the “testudo,” or Turtle.

    Interesting, is it not?


    Will Brownell, PhD

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