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, Sept. 19, 2018: The well-traveled Sea Otter
Here we see the deteriorating Qing Empire’s most modern warship, the 1st class protected cruiser Hai-Chi (also seen as Hai Chi, Haicang, and Hai Qi), of the Northern Fleet of the Imperial Chinese Navy as she sat at anchor in the Hudson off Gotham on Sept. 11, 1911. Note her Yellow Dragon Flag, flown by the Qing Dynasty from 1889 through 1911. This proud ship was an important turning point in Chinese military history.
The sleeping dragon that was old Imperial China had a rude awakening in 1894-95 when the Japanese picked a fight in Manchuria over Korea that ended in humiliation for the larger country. Scarcely 10 months long, the First Sino-Japanese War saw the Japanese slaughter the vaunted Chinese Beiyang Fleet, hailed at the time as the largest and most battle-ready in Asia, complete with a pair of German-built armored turret ironclads — the 8,000-ton Dingyuan and Zhenyuan— both outfitted with thick armor and modern Krupp guns. The latter was even commanded by American naval mercenary and Annapolis legend Philo Norton McGiffin.
However, the Beiyang Fleet was filled with ill-trained landsmen, at the mercy of corrupt officials (who sold off the explosives and powder charges, replacing them with flour and sand) and had just an overall poor tactical appreciation of modern naval warfare. This showed in the disastrous Battle of the Yalu River (also termed the Battle of the Yellow Sea), the world’s first large fleet action since 1866. At the end of the engagement, the Chinese fleet was, for all intents, combat ineffective, bested by a smaller but more professional Japanese force that had done their homework.
Following the Japanese capture of Weihaiwei four months later, the battered Zhenyuan was taken as a war prize while Dingyuan was scuttled. The Beiyang Fleet commander, Qing Adm. Ding Ruchang, along with his deputy, Adm. Liu Buchan, committed suicide and were posthumously drummed out of the service. Philo McGiffin, shattered and suffering from wounds incurred at the Yalu, blew his own brains out in a Manhattan hospital two years after the battle, aged a very hard 36.
Suffice it to say, China needed a new fleet.
In the immediate aftermath of the war, Germany seized Tsingtao, the British took over Weihaiwei, Russia moved into Port Arthur and the French took over Kwangchow Wan, all on “leases” set to run out in the 1990s.
Between the signing of the Treaty of Shimonoseki in April 1895, which ended the war, and the Chinese Revolution that saw the end of the four-century-long Great Qing dynasty in 1911 and birthed the Republic of China, the Manchu court ordered over 40 new warships from around the globe. A trio of small cruisers, the 3,000-ton Hai-Yung, Hai-Chu, and Hai-Chen, were ordered from Vulkan in Germany. From Vickers came the 2,750-ton cruisers Ying Swei and Chao-Ho. French-made torpedo boats, Krupp-built river monitors, Kawasaki-produced gunboats (ironically), destroyers from Schichau. It was a rapid expansion and recrafting.
The largest of the orders, placed at Armstrong for production at its Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne shipyard, was for a pair of 4,500-ton (full load) protected cruisers, Hai-Chi (Yard No. 667) and her sister Hai-Tien (#668).
(One note about the naming convention of our subject here, some translate Hai Chi as “Boundary of the Sea” while others go with “Sea Otter,” anyway, back to the story)
The design by British naval architect Sir Philip Watts, KCB, FRS, was what we would term “off the shelf” today, simply a very slightly modified version of the Chilean cruiser Blanco Encalada and the Argentine ARA Buenos Aires, also produced by Armstrong.
These cruisers were fast, at some 22 knots (which was surpassed on builder’s speed trials for the Chinese ships, whose hybrid Yarrow/Bellville boiler arrangement allowed them to break 24kts), and had long legs, capable of cruising some 8,000 miles– an important factor for ships in the Pacific.
Further, they were big, with twin 8″/45 cal Armstrong Pattern S guns in single fore and aft mounts (the Japanese also fitted these to their Kasagi and Takasago-class cruisers), and a secondary of 10 QF 4.7 inch Mk V naval guns. Add to this a host of smaller anti-torpedo boat guns, the latest Maxim machine guns, and five above-water torpedo tubes and you had a brawler. Armor protection ranged from 4 to 6 inches and a 37mm deck sheath. The ships were modern, with the best Barr & Stroud optics, electric lights and shell hoists, as well as powered turrets and forced ventilation.
Hai-Chi was commissioned 10 May 1899. When arriving in China later that summer, Hai-Chi was the nominal flagship of Admiral Sa Zhenbing (Sah Chen-ping), commander of the Imperial Chinese Navy– the seniormost survivor of the Battle of the Yalu. Luckily the Navy did not become involved in the mess that was the Boxer Rebellion, although some Army units did, and were the worse for it.
Her sister, Hai Tien, foundered 25 April 1904 after hitting a rock in at night in Hangzhou Bay, ending her career after just five years of service.
In 1911, Hai-Chi was tapped to participate by the dynasty in King George V’s coronation review in Spithead alongside an all-star cast of international warships. For the circumnavigational voyage, she was fitted with a Marconi wireless system, one of the first in the Chinese Navy.
On the way back to the Pacific, she crossed the Atlantic and paid lengthy port calls in New York and Boston.
The New York Times noted the event as the arrival of the “cruiser Hai-Chi of the Imperial Navy of China, the first vessel of any kind flying the yellow dragon flag of China that has ever been in American waters.”
Both hosting local dignitaries aboard and sending an honor guard to Grant’s Tomb (the former U.S. President was a key ally to China while in and out of office and was well-respected), the Chinese made a splash akin to visiting Martians in pre-Great War New York.
Recalled to China at the fall of the Dynasty, Ha-Chi became part of the new Republic’s navy and remained the most significant Chinese naval asset until the two-ship Ning Hai-class cruiser class was completed after 1932. During WWI, she served in home waters after China entered the conflict in 1917 on the side of the Allies, with no one around to fight.
She was later scuttled as a blockship in the Yangtze River at Jiangyin along with 39 other ships on 11 August 1937 to obstruct the Japanese advance during the Second Sino-Japanese war.
4,300 tons (standard)
4,515 t (full load)
Length: 423 ft 11 in o/a
Beam: 46 ft 7 in
Draught: 17 ft 11 in
Propulsion:2 shafts, 4 Humphrys & Tennant, Deptford VTE engines, four double-ended Bellville and four single-ended Yarrow 12-cylindrical boilers, 17,000 bhp at a forced draught.
Speed: 24.15 knots
Range: 8,000 nmi at 10kts on 1,000 tons of coal
Complement: 350-450 (sources vary)
2 × 203.2mm (8.00 in)/45 Armstrong Pattern S (2 × 1)
10 × 120mm (5 in)/45 Armstrong (10 × 1)
16 × 47mm (2 in)/40 Hotchkiss (16 × 1)
6 x Maxim machine guns
5 × 450mm (18 in) torpedo tubes (1 × 1 bow, 4 × 1 stern broadside) for Whitehead torpedoes.
Armor: Armstrong Harvey nickel-steel
Deck: 37–127 mm (1–5 in)
Turrets: 114.3 mm (5 in)
Barbettes: 51 mm (2 in)
Conning tower: 152 mm (6 in)
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Marine Corps Photo #530953 entitled “Ready for Anything–Maneuvers outside of Peking” showing some well-outfitted Devil Dogs clad in overseas winter gear to include fur caps readying a Browning M1917 water-cooled 30.06 machine gun while sheltering in what looks like a tilled field. Although the M1919 air-cooled Browning was around, the sustained fire M1917 was a thing of beauty on the defense.
The picture is comparable to one from RN Marines from about 30 years previous:
While the USMC photo is undated, it likely comes from the late 1920s-30s, the heydey of the famous “China Marines” which saw the whole of the 4th Marine Regiment stationed in Shanghai from March 1927 onward to augment the Legation Guard Marines from Peking and Tientsin in protecting American citizens and property in the International Settlement during outbreak of violence that came with the Chinese Revolution– and, after 1937, the Japanese invasion of China.
Reduced over time to just two (sometimes horse-mounted on Mongolian ponies) battalions, each with only two rifle companies of two platoons each and one machine gun company (but augmented by the only fife band in the Corps), by 1940 the Marines were the only large international force in Shanghai as the French and Brits had withdrawn due to pressing needs elsewhere.
The 4th Marines was itself pulled from China less than a month before Pearl Harbor. These hardy regulars were withdrawn to the Philippines aboard the chartered Dollar liners SS President Madison and President Harrison, where they were soon ground down against the Japanese to the point that the remnants burned their colors on Corregidor before the surrender there in 1942.
Of the 204 remaining Legation Marines and their Navy support personnel under Col. William W. Ashurst in China not directly assigned to the 4th, their own planned extraction to the PI was interrupted by Pearl Harbor and, on 8 December 1941, they were captured by overwhelming Japanese forces. The men were interned in a prisoner of war camp in Shanghai under harsh conditions until it was liberated, 19 June 1945.
China’s first aircraft carrier built entirely in its own shipyard, the giant unnamed Type 001A modified Kuznetsov-class flattop, set out from Dalian (old Tsarist Port Arthur from the Russo-Japanese War for those military history buffs) on builder’s sea trials Sunday morning.
“Our country’s second aircraft carrier set sail from its dock in the Dalian shipyard for relevant waters to conduct a sea trial mission, mainly to inspect and verify the reliability and stability of mechanical systems and other equipment,” Reuters quoted the official Xinhua news agency as saying.
Unlike Type 001 carrier Liaoning, which was originally laid down in 1985 for the Soviet Navy as the Kuznetsov-class aircraft cruiser Riga and only completed in 2012 after an epic 27-year saga, the new Type 001A was built wholly in China and could be a sign of things to come.
Laid down in Nov. 2013, she is expected to be operational sometime next year, a production cycle that took just six years and rivals that of the current Ford-class (although it should be pointed out that class-leader, USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78), had her first steel cut in 2005, was officially laid down in 2009, commissoned last year, and is not expected to deploy until 2020)
Adm. T.S. Rowden, Commander, Naval Surface Force, on the joys of “DL” — the future of warfighting:
Distributed Lethality requires increasing the offensive and defensive capability of surface forces, and guides deliberate resource investment for modernization and for the future force. Providing more capabilities across surface forces yields more options for Geographic Combatant Commanders in peace and war.
In order to achieve the desired outcome of this strategy, we must rededicate the force to attain and sustain sea control, retain the best and the brightest, develop and provide advanced tactical training, and equip our ships with improved offensive weapons, sensors, and hard kill/soft kill capabilities. Pursuing these ends will enhance our capability and capacity to go on the offensive and to defeat multiple attacks. By providing a more powerful deterrent, we will dissuade the first act of aggression, and failing that, we will respond to an attack in kind by inflicting damage of such magnitude that it compels an adversary to cease hostilities, and render it incapable of further aggression.
The above footage, posted last week by Chinese media, shows the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s only aircraft carrier, Liaoning, deploying with a couple of escorts at sea and moving around some Shenyang J-15 (China’s modded Su-33) fighters on deck. The blueberry camoed (oh come on!) crew even gets in some pretty decent flight ops in beautiful weather and calm seas.
Around the 3-minute mark there is a good bit of canned footage of self-defense weapons tests of a 30mm CIWS and a Flying Leopard 3000 Naval (FL-3000N) RAM-type system.
The 67,000-ton Admiral Kuznetsov-class strike carrier took some 29 years to build and switched hands at least three times during that process before the PLAN finally put her in fleet service in 2012.
The ski jump is very different…
CDR Salamader’s blog over at USNI cued me into just how bad the West-Pac missile gap is between the USN and PLAN:
From the Autumn issue of the Naval War College Review, Lieutenant Alan Cummings, USN, has a must-read article, A Thousand Splendid Guns.
I’ll let you read the full article, but there are two images that provides an overview of our ASCM shortfall in crisp profile.
When looking at the Chinese Navy in WESTPAC, how do our surface units that can or should carry ASCM line up – just in quantity?
In short, we have no problem meeting the Chinese in naval tonnage, but they have a huge advantage in distributed lethality by having way more platforms, each filled with (often longer range) ASCMs, making it possible to smother a U.S. task force or two with hundreds of incoming ship killers.
Sure, we have Aegis and lots of SM-2s, so we can swat a lot, but what of taking out those Chinese frigates and destroyers in turn? Our own Harpoon program has been whittled down so far over the years that we’d have to bank on submarines (who may be up to their necks in schools of PLAN smoke boats already), lucky TLAMs and even SM-2s used in surface mode to help even the odds.
As for our closest naval allies, the Royal Navy is expected to be left without an ASCM capability between 2018-2020. Such a gap is being caused by the planned retirement of the Sea Skua missile in early 2017 and the 2018 retirement of the SWS60 Harpoon. A limited anti-ship capability will only return when the Sea Venom/ANL lightweight anti-ship missile is equipped on the Wildcat HMA.2 helicopter in late 2020 and that is mainly meant to take out small FAC-style vessels. No funded program is in place by the UK for a Harpoon replacement, however.
Good thing the Army is looking into cross-domain fires. As PAC commander Adm. Harry Harris says, “I think the Army should be in the business of sinking ships with land-based ballistic missiles.”