Warship Wednesday June 10, 2015: The first Red Castle

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 June 10, 2015: The first Red Castle

Photo colorized by irootoko_jr   http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/  Click image go big up

Photo colorized by irootoko_jr http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/ Click image goes big up

Here we see the Maya-class gunboat Akagi of the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1902 at Kure. She was the first domestically built steel-hulled warship in Japan, but she would not be the last.

Opened to the West in the 1850s, the ships of the Shogunal and Domain naval forces rapidly evolved from wooden-hulled domestic sailing ships to screw-driven steamships (Kanrin Maru, 1857) to ironclads (French-built Kōtetsu ex-CSS Stonewall in 1869) to iron-hulled ships ordered overseas and built domestically. By 1875, the Japanese were sending iron steamships to intervene in the hidden kingdom of Korea and roam as far away as the French Atlantic ports.

In 1883, the Navy ordered a class of four iron-ribbed, iron-sheathed, two-master gunboats with a horizontal double expansion reciprocating steam engine with two cylindrical boilers driving two screws. The first of these, Maya, was laid down at the Onohama Shipyards (now Hitachi) at Kobe in 1885 while a sister, Chōkai, was laid down at the Ishikawajima-Hirano Shipyards in Tokyo the next year. Then followed an experiment, the bi-metal iron and steel composite hulled sistership Atago laid down at Yokosuka Naval Arsenal.

Sistership Atago gives a good port-side profile

Sistership Atago gives a good port-side profile. Note the extensive awning use to keep the crew from dying of heatstroke

The class was rounded out with a fourth ship developed from lessons learned in the first three– the all-steel hulled Akagi— laid down at Onohama in 1886.

All four ships were named after well-known mountains in the Empire, with Akagi carrying the moniker of the famous Mount Akagi in Gunma Prefecture. The name translates to Red Castle and the 6,000-foot high summit has long been an object of worship in the area, with the cold north winds coming down the mountain termed Akagi-oroshi or Karakkaze.

While these were not impressive ships, just 600-650 tons and but 155-feet in length, you have to remember that Shogunal Japan was just opened to the West a scant quarter century before and here they are building their own steel warships to European standards locally.

Akagi, who always seems to be photographed from the starboard. Note the beefy ass Teutonic 8-incher on deck...now THATs a gunboat

Akagi, who always seems to be photographed from the starboard. Note the beefy ass Teutonic 8-incher on deck…now THATs a gunboat

Of course, they had some experts to help out though. These classy schooner-rigged gunboats were designed by the French, carried British locomotion suites, and mounted a good German Krupp-made 8-inch (210mm) gun, a 120mm Krupp rapid-fire and a pair of English Nordenfelt-made anti-torpedo boat batteries (the Russians had just sank a Turkish ship in 1877 using just such infernal small boats).

Commissioned 20 August 1890, Akagi soon saw service in Japan’s first modern war, sailing as the escort to flagship Saikyo Maru during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894. Captain Hachiro Sakamoto commanded her, from a long dynasty of samurai.

akagi 1894

Checking out Akagi’s 210mm Krupp hood ornament. Click to big up

During the pivotal Battle of the Yalu River, Sakamoto swung Akagi between the lightly protected transport carrying Admiral Kabeyama Sukenori, and the Chinese fleet (led ironically enough by American adventurers).

She soon became locked in mortal combat with the larger German-built Chinese cruiser (2,900-tons, 270 feet, 9.4-inches of armor) Laiyeun. Although more than four times the size of the Japanese gunboat, and despite the fact that the Chinese guns killed both Sakamoto and severely injured his executive officer Lt. (later Admiral and head of the Naval War College which crafted Japanese Naval theory in the 1920s) Satō Tetsutarō, the Akagi kept fighting despite being holed 8 times with 210mm German shells (small world, right?).

Great Japanese Naval Victory off Haiyang Island” by Nakamura Shûkô. Akagi in gleaming white, Chinese sailors tumbling into the dark sea

Great Japanese Naval Victory off Haiyang Island” by Nakamura Shûkô. Akagi in gleaming white, Chinese sailors tumbling into the dark sea

Akagi gave as good as she got, hammering the Laiyeun extensively, leaving her to limp off and be sunk later in the war unrepaired. Her sisters Atago and Chōkai likewise shellacked the Chinese Admiral Ding Ruchang’s flagship, the 8,000-ton German-built battleship Dingyuan (3x305mm guns, whose shells were filled with sawdust rather than powder due to corruption).

Lieutenant Commander Sakamoto of the Imperial Warship Akagi Fights Bravely by Mizuno

Lieutenant Commander Sakamoto of the Imperial Warship Akagi Fights Bravely by Mizuno

This defense of the flag by the Akagi helped carry the day and a woodblock print of the action became famous in Japan, receiving widespread duplication.

Further, a martial song was created, “Sakamoto Major, bravely of Akagi” which endured throughout the Imperial Navy through World War II and was the battle song of the Pearl Harbor carrier of the same name.

The naval review that emperor sees booty ship of the Sino-Japanese War 1895. Photo colorized by irootoko_jr   http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

The naval review that emperor sees booty ship of the Sino-Japanese War 1895. Photo colorized by irootoko_jr http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Akagi came home from her first war covered with glory and was repaired.

She was soon again in Chinese waters in 1899 as part of the Boxer Rebellion expeditionary force. In 1904, she was back in combat against the Russians, helping to bottle up the Tsar’s Pacific Squadron at Port Arthur and later invade Sakhalin island (which is still at least half-Japanese today).

It was during the Port Arthur blockade that her sister Atago came too close to an uncharted bar and grounded and sank 6 November 1904. Soon after the war, Akagi and her two remaining sisters were disarmed and laid up, obsolete.

1908

1908

In 1911, Akagi was sold to Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha, repainted, and dubbed Akagi Maru, continued in service as a coastal steamer until 1921 when she was sold to Amagasaki, another steamship company that kept her in steady tramp work until World War II.

Able to float in just 9 feet of water, Akagi Maru was used extensively during that conflict to run close to the coast and away from American submarines, becoming one of the few ships still afloat in 1945– although she did settle on the bottom during the great Halsey Typhoon that year. Raised, she remained in commercial service until 1953 when she was laid up for a final time.

She was scrapped in 1963, her good steel being recycled.

Specs:

Displacement: 614 long tons (624 t)
Length: 47.0 m (154.2 ft.)
Beam: 8.2 m (26 ft. 11 in)
Draught: 2.95 m (9 ft. 8 in)
Installed power: 950 ihp (710 kW)
Propulsion: 2 × horizontally mounted reciprocating steam engine
2 boilers, 2 × screws
Sail plan: Schooner-rigged
Speed: 10.25 kn (18.98 km/h; 11.80 mph)
Capacity: 60 t (66 short tons) coal
Complement: 104
Armament: 1x 210 mm (8 in) Krupp L/22 breech-loading gun
1x Krupp 120 mm (4.7 in) L/22 breech-loading gun
2x quadruple 1-inch Nordenfelt guns

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