Warship Wednesday November 19, 2014 the Hard-to-Kill Russian Crown Prince
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off 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. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, November 19, 2014, the Hard to Kill Russian Crown Prince
Here we see the Tsar’s own pre-dreadnought battleship Tsesarevich (Цесаревич, also transliterated as Tsarvitch and Czarevitch = “Crown Prince”) of the Imperial Russian Navy at Portsmouth 1903, just after commissioning, on her way to the Pacific.
She was the only ship of her class, built in France at Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée, La Seyne-Sur-Mer. The same yard had produced a series of 12,000-ton leviathans for the French Navy (Jauréguiberry et. al.) and patterned the new Russian ship along those lines.
The new ship would be 388-feet long and very beamy at some 76-feet, giving her a 5:1 length-to-beam ratio that was accentuated by her 1900s typical tumblehome hull (now brought back for the USS Zumwalt super destroyer). Weighing in at 13,000-tons due to her thicker armor (up to 10-inches of good German Krupp plate), she was powered by 20 Belleville water-tube boilers who ate coal like it was going out of style.
Armament was in two pairs of impressive Russian designed 12-inch/40 (305mm) low-angle naval rifles mounted in double turrets fore and aft with six French-made Canet Model 1892 6-inch gun in double tube turrets arrayed along the hull of the ship.
Capable of 18-knots and able to steam over 6,000nm before needed more coal, she was capable of deploying to the Pacific, which was to be her homeport at Port Arthur.
The Tsar’s naval architects liked her well enough that they used the design with only minor changes to build five ships of the same type in Russia. Of these five follow-on ships of the Borodino-class battleships, four near-sisterships of the Tsesarevich: Borodino, Imperator Alexander III, Knyaz Suvorov, and Oryol, were all either sunk or captured at the Battle of Tsushima, 27 May 1905 during the Russo-Japanese War. Warship Wednesday-alumni Slava, the last of the class to commission, only survived because she was under construction during the war and never left the Baltic.
Laid down 8 July 1899, Tsesarevich was complete by late 1903 and rushed to the Pacific where tensions with the Japanese were mounting. In truth, just 68 days after she arrived at Port Arthur, she was attacked at her anchorage without warning by a torpedo boat of the Japanese Imperial Navy.
Shrugging off damage from a Nippon torpedo, she was hastily repaired. However, Tsesarevich, along with most of the Russian 1st Pacific Squadron, was blockaded in the port while the Japanese landed armies to besiege the far-flung and isolated Manchurian installation. Facing the ignoble fate of being sunk at anchor by Japanese Army howitzers firing over the hills into the harbor, Admiral Vitgeft took command of the fleet, with his flag on the brand-new and recently patched-up Tsesarevich, and sailed out on 10 August 1904 to break the Japanese fleet in half– then make good their retreat to Vladivostok before that harbor was iced in for the winter.
However, things soon turned pretty shitty for the Russians and within minutes, the Russian force of five battleships and four light cruisers and eight destroyers met Togo’s force of four battleships, two heavy cruisers, and seven light. After six hours of vain maneuvering on both sides, Tsesarevich was riddled with over a dozen large-caliber Japanese shells from the Japanese battleship Asahi that killed Vitgeft and shot up most of the ship’s topside.
While the Russian 2iC withdrew back into Port Arthur, (to have his new command sunk in December and his landlubber crews captured when that harbor fell to the Japanese January 2, 1905), Tsesarevich limped away into the night with three destroyers to try to make Vladivostok.
Unable to do make it Vladivostok due to smoke and sparks escaping from her nearly shot-away stacks, Tsesarevich instead made for the closest non-Japanese harbor and was interned at the German treaty port of Tsingtao, to be nominally disarmed and sit out the rest of the war under the protection of the guns of the Kaiserlichemarine‘s Far East Squadron. There she remained even when the Japanese sank the Tsar’s Baltic Fleet (renamed the 2nd Pacific Squadron), rushed to avenge previous losses, at Tsushima.
When the war ended that September, the rested Tsesarevich sailed back for the Baltic where she, along with her only surviving sister Slava, formed the backbone of the Baltic Fleet. For the next several years, the bruised veteran, the only Russian battleship to make it out of Port Arthur, had a quiet life that consisted mainly of summer cruises around the jetties of the Finnish coastline (then part of the Russian Empire), and winter cruises once that sea froze over to the Med and Atlantic.
When the next war erupted, she and Slava, still in their default roles as battle sisters of the Baltic, barred the gates to the Gulf of Finland, supported Russian army operations ashore through naval gunfire, and generally tried to avoid being sunk by the Kaiser’s U-boats.
In March 1917, her crew joined the general mutiny of the Baltic Fleet and several of her officers were cashiered at the point of a bayonet. With senior NCOs largely in command of understrength divisions, the ship fought alongside Slava at the Battle of Moon Sound in October. Sadly, Slava was destroyed and Tsesarevich (renamed Grazhdanin= Citizen), took a licking from the German Koenig class dreadnought battleship SMS Kronpriz (Crown Prince, talk about irony).
She retired to the Russian base at Kronstadt, where the British attempted to sink her during the Russian Civil War without luck while most of her sailors shipped out to fight alongside Red Guards in the Ukraine and Siberia. Deprived of the technical expertise to make the ship function, she never sailed again.
In March 1921, her remaining crew, mainly junior rates who had never seen blue water, mutinied with the bulk of the fleet, this time against the Reds. That didn’t work out so well as the Red Army soon invaded the naval base, killing over 1,000 sailors outright and executing 2600 more after the rebellion was put down.
A non-functional hulk, Tsesarevich/Grazhdanin was stricken 21 November 1925 and scrapped although some of her guns endured as coastal artillery pieces into WWII and likely a few fired rounds in anger against the Germans once more.
Of her wartime enemies, the Japanese battleship Asahi was sent to the bottom by an American submarine in WWII while the German SMS Kronpriz was scuttled 21 June 1919 in Gutter Sound, Scapa Flow after internment following WWI, where her wreck lies today.
Displacement: 13,105 t (12,898 long tons)
Length: 118.5 m (388 ft. 9 in)
Beam: 23.2 m (76 ft. 1 in)
Draught: 7.92 m (26 ft. 0 in)
Installed power: 16,300 ihp (12,200 kW)
20 Belleville boilers
Propulsion: 2 shafts, 2 Vertical triple-expansion steam engines
Speed: 18 knots (33 km/h; 21 mph)
Range: 5,500 nmi (10,200 km; 6,300 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
2 × 2 – 305 mm (12 in) guns
6 × 2 – 152 mm (6 in) guns
20 × 1 – 75 mm (3 in) guns
20 × 1 – 47 mm (1.9 in) guns
8 × 1 – 37 mm (1.5 in) guns
4 × 381 mm (15 in) torpedo tubes
Waterline belt: 160–250 mm (6.3–9.8 in)
Deck: 40–50 mm (1.6–2.0 in)
Main Gun turrets: 250 mm (9.8 in)
Barbettes: 250 mm (9.8 in)
Conning tower: 254 mm (10.0 in)
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Great article and the damage photos are amazing. I look forward to these articles every week. (BTW – the second picture showing the deck and side drawing in color is actually a different ship of the earlier Peresviet Class.)
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