Warship Wednesday April 12, 2017: The Tsar’s German tin-can four-pack

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 their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday, April 12, 2017: The Tsar’s German tin-can four-pack

Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983. Catalog #: NH 94425

Here we see a group of five German and Russian destroyers in the bay at Kaiochau (Jiaozhou), China, then part of the German colonial concession in late 1904. If the ships look similar– the German vessels are in gleaming white tropical scheme while the Russians are in a gray war coat– that is because all the above were recently produced by the firm of Schichau, Elbing, Germany, for the respective emperor-cousins. Why are the Russian ships in a German harbor? Well, that’s because they just made it there by the skin of their teeth after Battle of the Yellow, 10 Aug. 1904, running from the Japanese.

Why are the Russian ships in a German harbor? Well, that’s because they just made it there by the skin of their teeth after Battle of the Yellow, 10 Aug. 1904, running from the Japanese.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

The Tsarist Imperial Navy of the 1900s was an amalgam force that included not only capital, second-line and support ships made in Russia, but also craft purchased from France, the U.S., Germany, Great Britain and Italy. Girding for war with everyone from the Ottoman Empire to Sweden to Japan, the Russian Admiralty liked to hedge their bets.

The nation’s first class of modern “tin cans” were a large group of 27 300-ton Sokol-class vessels built at Yarrow and at Russian yards with British assistance between 1895-1903. Capable of making better than 30-knots, they were armed with two 15-inch (381mm) torpedoes and one 75mm gun, as well as several smaller 3 pounders.

Then came an exploratory order for five Forel-class ships from France, the single Som-class ship from Laird in England, and four Kit-class destroyers from Germany in 1899, all of nominally the same size– 350-tons. Armed with a trio of 15-inch tubes with six (three plus three reloads) Whitehead torpedoes capable of a 900-yard range, they carried a single 75mm gun with 160 rounds and five rapid-fire Hotchkiss 3 pdrs with 1350 rounds.

Fueled by four coal-fired steam boilers, they could make 27-knots or better. The destroyers were given one 24-foot whaleboat, as well as one 17-foot, one 19-foot, and one 12.5-foot canvas boats. In all, the boats were probably not enough to cram the 67-man crew into all of them if need be, but at least a good size portion could land ashore at once. The hulls were 35mm wood plank frames covered with 3mm of steel.

Our four German-built ships: Kit (Whale), Skat (Skate), Kastatka (Killer Whale), and Delfin (Dolphin), were laid down in 1899 at Schichau and completed by the summer of 1900. The cost of construction of each destroyer averaged 472,000 rubles or 1,020,000 German marks.

Russian officers in Elbing. 1900

Once complete, the four German-built units formed the First Detachment of the destroyers of the First Pacific Squadron under the overall command of Cdr. Kita Kevnarsky and sailed from Kronstadt in the Baltic on 12 October 1900 to Port Arthur– Russia’s new Pacific concession wrested away from China in 1895– arriving at the latter on 23 April 1901.

Delfin/Besstrashnyy as completed, click to big up 1200×918

In 1902, they were renamed and their “fish” names later used for early Russian submarines. The Kit was called Bditelnyy (Vigilant), Delfin became Besstrashnyy (Fearless), KastakaBesshumnyy (Silent) and SkatBesposhchadnyy (Merciless).

Kit/Bditelnyi with her white scheme at Port Arthur, prewar

Kit/Bditelnyi with a more warlike gray coat. Note the 75mm canet gun forward

Then, after just a couple years of quiet peacetime service, came the Russian Pearl Harbor, when Japanese torpedo boats skirted into Port Arthur at night and made hay with the resting Tsarist battle line before an official declaration of war.

A Japanese woodblock print of the torpedo boat attack on Port Arthur

Our class leader, Kit/Bditelnyy, made patrols to sea and, due to ruptured boiler pipes after hitting a mine in October later was relegated to the role of a floating artillery battery, hitting out at Japanese land positions as they grew closer.

She was destroyed by her crew 20 December 1904 as the Japanese closed in and was later salvaged.

The other three ships of our class, as you probably figured out from the first image of this post, made it out of Port Arthur.

When the Japanese attacked the Port in February 1904, Delfin/Besstrashnyy reportedly landed a hit on the Japanese Yarrow-built destroyer Akatsuki but did not do her any great damage. Akatsuki later hit a Russian mine and was written off. After helping evacuate Russian troops along the coastline before the Japanese blockade was airtight, she slipped out with her two sisters and the rest of the capable fleet for the Battle of the Yellow Sea which saw Russian Admiral Wilhelm Vitgeft’s plan to break out for Vladivostok before that port was iced in foiled by Japanese Adm. Togo’s fleet.

Though inconclusive, both sides suffered a mauling (the Japanese battleship Mikasa was hit 20 times by large caliber shells while the Russian pre-dreadnought Peresvet had 39 hits) while the three German-made destroyers of Vitgeft’s were low on coal and forced to withdraw towards China rather than make for either Port Arthur or Vladivostok.

Making it to Kaiochau, they were disarmed and interned by the Chinese government on 15 August for the remainder of the conflict.

After the war, the three surviving destroyers were modernized in 1909 with larger 17.7-inch torpedo tubes and a second 75mm gun. To balance the increase in topside weight, the Hotchkiss 47mm battery was replaced by six lighter 7.62x54R Colt M1895 machine guns.

Serving together in the Siberian Flotilla based in Vladivostok, the interwar period between fighting the Japanese and scrapping with the Germans was quiet.

Life in the Siberian Flotilla. Note the straw boater hat and Mosin M.91 rifle. Sailors of the flotilla were often dispatched for land service ashore to protect Russian interests in the area.

When the Great War erupted, the tin cans put to sea to fruitlessly scout for German ships until Vladivostok iced over and they continued their operations from the Chinese coast into the summer of 1915.

Once the threat of enemy raiders in the Pacific abated, two of the three destroyers– Delfin/Besstrashnyy and Kastaka/Besshumnyy— were ordered to sail for the Arctic Sea Flotilla at Murmansk in the Barents Sea in early 1917, arriving there that September.

Beshumnyi, note her post-1909 arrangement with two radio masts

There, they were in turn captured by the British when they seized the port after the Russian Revolution and remained part of the White forces in that region until early 1920 when the Reds recaptured the pair in poor condition. With parts for their Schichau-built plant hard to come by in 1920s Europe, the old girls were broken up in 1924-25.

Skat/Besposhchadnyy, in her 1904 arrangement, showing her with a single mast

Skat/Besposhchadnyy, unable to make the trip back to Europe, was captured by the Japanese Navy when they landed in Vladivostok in June 1918. Turned over to the Whites there, she was scuttled in 1922 so the Reds couldn’t use her further.

Between the four ships, they saw a lot of weird action in their 20~ year lifespan and some changed flags 3-4 times serving Tsar, White and Red governments with some allied intervention in between. But hey, that’s Russia for you.

The destroyer of the “Kit” type:

(Longitudinal section, bilge plan, and top view)

1 – aft flagpole; 2 – 47-mm gun; 3 – stern bridge; 4 – “17-foot” mined vehicle, 5 – chimney, 6 – Francis system boat, 7 – galley, 8 – chopping (combat) felling, 9 – mast, 10 -75-mm gun, 11 – 12-steam boiler, 13-main machine, 14-officer rooms, 15-non-commissioned officer’s cabin, 16-aft cockpit of the crew, 17-propeller, 18-pen handle, 19-pit pit, 20-condenser, 21 – Officer’s cabins, 22 – Cabin-room, 23 – Cabin of the ship’s commander, 24 – Buffet, 25 – Wash basin, 26 – Anchor, 27-like hatch, 28 – Throat pit, 29 – Engine hatch, 30 – Skylight.

Displacement: 354 tons (full)
Length: 200-feet (61 m) (between perpendiculars)
Beam:  23-feet (7 m) (the largest for frames)
Draft: 5.9 ft. (1.8 m)
Engines     2 triple-expansion steam engines, 6,000 shp, 4 Shichau water-tube boilers
Speed:       27.4 knots full

Coal: 90t, 1500-mile range 10 kts.
Crew     62-67
1x75mm Canet gun
5x47mm (3 Pdr) Hotchkiss
3x trainable 381mm TT with six torpedoes
2x75mm Canet guns
6x MG
3x trainable 450mm TT with no reloads

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