Warship Wednesday, June 12 The Tsars Lost Eagle
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Here we see the Tsar’s mighty new battleship Orel (Russian for Eagle) in all of her black-painted brooding majesty as she sat at Krondstadt harbor in 1904. She looks like a ship in morning and for good reason, her country is at war with upstart Imperial Japan and she was soon to sail to the far-off Pacific to put things right.
Built at the Galerniy Island Shipyards, Saint Petersburg, she was brand new, only completed finally in October 1904. A Borodino-class battleship, she was the pinnacle of pre-dreadnought design. Weighing in at nearly 15,000 tons full load, she was armed with four 12-inch guns and a dozen six inchers besides a huge battery of smaller 75 and 47mm rifles to ward away torpedo boats. She could make 18-knots which was pretty fast for these types of ships. The thing is, to get this fast, she was comparatively lightly armored. It had long been a rule of thumb to armor battleships against the same size cannon they carried in inches (example, since she had 12-inch guns, her main belt should be 12-inches thick, with turrets and conning tower a little heavier). Instead, the Orel had a belt that ran 5-7 inches and her strongest armor was on her two main turrets of just 10-inches.
Oh well, you can’t have everything. At least it was good German Krupp armor and not that junk Harvey stuff. Trust me, where she was going, she was gonna need it.
Still, with her paint wet and her crew largely as new as the ship itself, her shakedown cruise was epic. She joined the 27 other Baltic fleet ships in the force designated as the 2nd Pacific Squadron (the first was trapped at Port Arthur by the Japanese) and set sail 18,000 miles to break the siege of that far off port. During the epic voyage, which predated that of the Great White Fleet by a half-decade, Orel was overloaded with coal at all times which made keeping sea hard and limited the vital underway training her crew needed to simply shovel coal.
Two months at sea and still more than 10,000 miles away, Port Arthur surrendered to the Japanese. Instead of logically turning back for the Baltic, the fleet under Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky pressed on, coaling at French ports around the world. By May 1905 the Russian fleet was trying to run the Straits of Tsushima between Japan and Korea. With a sneak attack preceded by seven months of foreshadowing, Japanese Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō met the 28 Russian ships with 89 of his own, a great tactical position, and all guns and tubes loaded.
The resulting battle, known as the ‘Battle of Tsushima’ in most of the world and ‘Holy Shit We Just Lost a Whole Fleet’ in Imperial Russia, was possibly the most one-sided naval engagement in history. Of the 8 Russian battleships in the line, 7 were sent to the bottom along with over 4300 brave Tsarist sailors. The Japanese lost a couple torpedo boats and 117 sailors.
But what about the 8th battleship?– well, that’s Orel‘s story.
She was itching to get into the fight and fired the first shots of the battle. She got her licks back from the Japanese. During the battle, Orel was hit by no less than five 12-inch, two 10-inch (254 mm), nine 8-inch (203 mm), 39 six-inch shells, and 21 smaller rounds or fragments. Although the ship had many large holes in the unarmored portions of her side, she was only moderately damaged as all of the four (one 12-inch and three 6-inch) shells that hit her side armor failed to penetrate.
The left gun of her forward 12-inch turret had been struck by an eight-inch sell that broke off its muzzle and another eight-inch shell struck the roof of the rear 12-inch turret and forced it down, which limited the maximum elevation of the left gun. Two six-inch gun turrets had been jammed by hits from eight-inch shells and one of them had been burnt out by an ammunition fire. Another turret had been damaged by a 12-inch shell that struck its supporting tube. Splinters from two 6-inch shells entered the conning tower and wounded Captian Nikolay Viktorovich Yung badly enough he was unconscious for the rest of the battle and later died of his wounds. Casualties totaled 43 crewmen killed and approximately 80 wounded.
A battered wreck that had taken tremendous punishment, the remaining crew pulled down her flag to stop the fight. Captain Yung’s body was buried at sea with full military honors after the surrender. As far as I can tell, it was the last time in Naval history that a capital ship was captured at sea after a battle.
The Japanese took her into service as the battleship Iwami although she needed nearly two years in a shipyard before she could serve again under her new flag. Her British made Bellville boilers were replaced by Japanese-built Miyabara boilers as well as her whole above-deck superstructure rebuilt. As her secondary armament was French made by Canet, the Japanese replaced it as well.
She continued to be used as a coastal defense ship throughout World War One and then as the flagship of the 90,000 man Japanese Army force that landed in Vladivostok during the Russian Civil War (1917-21)– just to rub the Russians faces in it a little further.
Odds are the Japanese would have kept her around as a trophy till this day but the battered and rebuilt warship’s tonnage counted against her in the Washington Naval Agreement, and she was disarmed used as a target ship for aircraft (see December 1941 for how that worked out) and her remains scrapped in 1925. Ironically, her service with the Japanese Navy was for almost twenty years while her service with the Russians was only seven months, and she spent most of her time in Russian waters flying the banner of the Rising Sun.
Displacement: 14,151 long tons (14,378 t)
Length: 397 ft (121.0 m)
Beam: 76 ft 1 in (23.2 m)
Draft: 29 ft 2 in (8.9 m)
Installed power: 15,800 ihp (11,782 kW)
20 Belleville boilers
Propulsion: 2 shafts, 2 Triple-expansion steam engines
Speed: 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
Range: 2,590 nmi (4,800 km; 2,980 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 28 officers, 826 enlisted men
Armament: 2 × 2 – 12 in (305 mm) guns
6 × 2 – 6 inches (152 mm) guns
20 × 1 – 75 mm (3 in) guns
20 × 1 – 47 mm (1.9 in) guns
4 × 1 – 15 in (381 mm) torpedo tubes
Armor: Krupp armor
Belt: 7.64–5.7 inches (194–145 mm)
Deck: 1–2 inches (25–51 mm)
Turrets: 10 inches (254 mm)
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