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Warship Wednesday (on a Thursday) Jan 2, 2020: One Tough Russian

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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 (on a Thursday) Jan 2, 2020: One Tough Russian

Here we see, under what looks like an albatross circling, the gently listing Petropavlovsk-class battleship Sevastopol of the Imperial Russian Navy in early December 1904. The olive drab warship is terrain masking as best she could in besieged Port Arthur to avoid the Japanese Army’s 11-inch howitzer shells which had sent all the rest of the Tsar’s Pacific battlewagons to the bottom. She would enter 1905 as the sole combat-ready Russian battleship still afloat on that side of the globe– only to fight her last on 2 January, some 115 years ago today.

At 11,500-tons (standard), the trio of Petropavlovsk were essentially improved versions of the previous one-off Sissoi Veliky and Tri Sviatitelia-class battleships.

Russian Petropavlovsk-class battleship Poltava fitting out in Kronstadt, 1900 

Packing four 12″/40 (30.5 cm) Pattern 1895 Obukhov guns in a pair of twin hydraulic turrets forward and aft, which had a two-minute firing cycle between rounds, they also carried a secondary armament of eight 6″/45cal guns in four twin mounts (rather than casemates as commonly seen around the world).

Imperial Russian battleships Poltava and Sevastopol in Kronshtadt, 1899 under construction–note the turrets being constructed

Imperial Russian battleship Sevastopol in Kronshtadt, September 1900

Topping the cake was something on the order of 40 37mm and 47mm anti-torpedo boat guns and a half-dozen torpedo tubes. Armor was an impressive mix that ran up to 16-inches thick. Speed, just 15.3 knots on 16 coal-fired boilers and a pair of VTE engines, was typical of the era.

Russian battleships Poltava and Sevastopol in Kronshtadt, September 1900. Note the myriad of 37mm and 47mm light guns slathered throughout the ship from fighting tops to decks

Petropavlovsk and her sister, Sevastopol, were laid down at the Galerny Island Shipyard in St. Petersburg while the third ship of the class, Poltava, was laid down at the city’s Admiralty Yard at the tail-end of the 19th Century. All were named after famous Russian battles, with our featured ship honoring the epic 11-month Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War.

Commissioned 15 July 1900 after a second set of builder’s trials– during which she made 16.41 knots– Sevastopol was dispatched to join the rest of her class in the Pacific where the Russians were hedging in on Korea and Manchuria, much to the heartburn of the Japanese Empire.

From 1900 to the beginning of 1904 the Petropavlovsk-class vessels carried a Far East scheme that included white sides, turrets, deckhouses, masts, and fans with black-capped yellow stacks and gilded bow and stern decorations. This would later switch during the Russo-Japanese War to an all-over dark olive-green and black.

Sevastopol photographed at Algiers in 1901 while en route to the Russian base at Port Arthur where she was scuttled in 1905. Courtesy of J. Meister, Zurich Switzerland, 1975 NH 81876

Battleships Sevastopol and Petropavlovsk (in the background) in Vladivostok, August 1901

Russian battleships Sevastopol, Poltava, and Petropavlovsk in Port Arthur, 1903

The Balloon Goes Up

When Port Arthur was attacked by the Japanese in the opening act of the war on the night of 8/9 February 1904, the Russians had their fleet in three lines anchored in the outer harbor.

The innermost line included Sevastopol and her sisters Petropavlovsk (fleet flagship) and Poltava along with the two similar 15,000-ton Peresvet-class battleships Peresvet and Pobieda. The middle line included the new battleships Tsarevich and Retvizan as well as several cruisers. In all, seven Russian battlewagons swaying at anchor in a “peacetime” Pacific port. (Similarly, at Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. had seven along Battleship Row as well as the dreadnought Pennsylvania in dry dock.)

Within 20 minutes, three flotillas of Japanese destroyers swept in, delivered their fish, and slipped out to sea, suffering no casualties. The middle line took the worst of it with both Retvizan and Tsarevich taking torpedoes and having to run aground to prevent a total loss.

Japanese Ukiyo-E woodblock art depiction, “Illustration of Our Torpedo Hitting Russian Ship at Great Naval Battle of Port Arthur” by Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1904

Japanese Ukiyo-E woodblock art depiction by Toshihide Migita of the torpedo ship attack, Port Arthur

Nonetheless, the undamaged Russian ships stood to the next morning and engaged Japanese Adm. Togo’s squadron in a 40-minute battle that was a tactical draw in the respect that it left the status quo with the Russians in Port Arthur and the Japanese in control of the water outside the range of the base’s coastal guns.

Print shows Japanese battleships bombarding Russian battleships in the surprise initial naval assault on the Russian fleet at Lüshun (Port Arthur) 1904

During the said engagement, Sevastopol fired 10 12-inch and 65 6-inch shells at the Japanese with no reported hits, taking three small hits in return which caused little damage.

Sevastopol. This photograph might possibly have been taken at Port Arthur on the Yellow Sea during the early stages of the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, after the opening engagement but before she got her olive drab paint. Courtesy of J. Meister, Zurich Switzerland, 1975 NH 81875

Togo next decided to try and bottle up the Russian fleet in Port Arthur by sinking old merchant ships, manned by volunteer IJN crews, in the approach channel. Said one-way volunteers would be plucked from their doomed ships by accompanying torpedo boats.

The first attempt, with four blockships– Bushu Maru, Buyo Maru, Hokoku Maru, and Jinsen Maru-– took place on the night of 24/25 February and but was unsuccessful after the grounded battleship Retvizan caught the lead ship in her searchlights and plastered it.

Second attempt to block Port Arthur, 27 March 1904 William Lionel Wylie RMG PV0976

The second attempt was in the early morning of 27 March and, like the first, involved four blockships: the Chiyo Maru, Fukui Maru, Yahiko Maru, and Yoneyama Maru. The whole thing fell apart when Fukui Maru was spotted and promptly sunk by the patrolling Russian destroyer Silnyii well short of the outer harbor and the other three condemned steamers scuttled too far out to fill their intended role.

Blockade of Port Arthur by Hannosuke Kuroki 1904

A third attempt was made a few weeks later using a doubled force of eight blockships– but this was also unsuccessful and cost the lives of more than 70 of the volunteers who rode them to the bottom.

It was roughly at this point that Sevastopol’s skipper, Capt. Nikolai Chernyshev, was relieved by the newly-installed squadron commander, Russian Vice Adm. Stephan Makarov, after the battleship had a collision with Peresvet that was ruled Chernyshev’s fault during a rushed inquiry. The career officer was sent back to St. Petersburg on one of the last trains out of the fortress and would be found dead in his apartment the same week the Treaty of Portsmouth formally ended the Russo-Japanese War, aged 48.

Relieving Chernyshev was the commander of the fast cruiser Novik, Capt. Nicholas von Essen, from an esteemed Baltic German family with a long history of service to the Tsar. Although the crack up between the two battleships left one of Sevastopol’s rudders and screws damaged, an ersatz repair was able to semi-fix the warship enough to consider her still fit for service.

Makarov, who was seen by the Russians as essentially their equivalent of Chester Nimitz, led the patched up Russian squadron on a patrol out of Port Arthur on 13 April, with his flag on Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol just to her stern.

However, Petropavlovsk stumbled across as many as three unmarked Russian mines (!) and sank in about a minute with the loss of 646 lives, to include the good admiral and Russian combat artist Vasily Vereshchagin.

A Japanese Ukiyo-E depiction by artist Yasuda Hampō of the sinking of Petropavlovsk. The original caption reads: “Picture of the Eighth Attack on Port Arthur. The Flagship of Russia Was Destroyed by the Torpedo of Our Navy and Admiral Makaroff [sic] Drowned.” Photo via Museum of Fine Art, Boston

“The Russian battleship Petropvavlask sinks as Adm. Makarov stands bravely on deck”

“Faith, Tsar, and Fatherland 1905 Forgotten War” by Pavel Viktorovich Ryzhenko showing Russian military artist Vasili Verestchagin aboard battleship Petropavlovsk with Admiral Makarov just before it sank. I love the sailors in the background.

Among the 89 survivors from Petropavlask plucked from the water was Lt. Grand Duke Kirill (Cyril) Vladimirovich, the Tsar’s first cousin and the man who would go on to be the pretender to the Romanov throne in exile from 1924 until his death in 1938, a position his granddaughter continues to style today. Kirill would suffer from burns, back injuries, and PTSD for the rest of his life.

Sevastopol, along with the rest of the squadron, was able to return to port after the loss of her sister.

Under newly promoted and deeply fatalistic Rear Adm. Wilgelm Vitgeft (aka Withief), the fleet at Port Arthur was ordered to sortie from the doomed base to the relative safety of Vladivostok to the North, fighting their way through Togo if they had to.

Sailing out on 10 June with six battleships, seven cruisers, and six destroyers, they made it some 20 miles outside of the port before the clashed– briefly– with Togo’s slightly smaller force (four battleships and 12 cruisers) and turned tail.

On re-entering the port, Sevastopol was hit by another unmarked mine and suffered 11 wounded.

Russian naval mines of the 1904 era were not that much more advanced than the black powder Jacobi mines of the Crimean War, a design that predated Farragut’s damnation in the Civil War. Nonetheless, they worked. The Russo-Japanese war experience led the Russkis to develop the M08 mine shortly after, one that is still used extensively today.

Russian naval mines on the beach on the east coast of Heishakow, Port Arthur 1905. In addition to Japanese mines, the loss or the Russian minelayer Yenisei, struck one of her own devices two days after the war began while laying an unmarked minefield, would haunt the Russian fleet. NH 94783

Japanese sailors inspect captured Russian sea mines during the Russo-Japanese War. The IJN lost the battleships Hatsuse and Yashima, the cruisers Miyako, Saien and Takasago; auxiliary cruiser Otagawa Maru, the destroyers Akatsuki and Hayatori, blockship Aikoku Maru, the torpedo boat No. 48, gunboat Heien, transport Maiko Maru, and corvette Kaimon to mines during the conflict. Photo via USNI photo archive

Left with a 12×14-foot hole in her hull and a 5-degree list, Sevastopol went to the port’s naval yard once again for repairs. It was during this period that a few of her 6-inch and most of her light guns (37mm Maxims and 47mm Hotchkiss) were removed to be installed ashore, manned by her gunners. One of her 12-inch guns was cannibalized to repair a similar one that had been damaged on Poltava.

Six-inch naval gun in a Russian hillside battery commander seated at left Port Arthur, LC-DIG-ppmsca-07978

The Beginning of the End

The hourglass was upended on Port Arthur on 1 August when the fortress city was cut off from the rest of Asia on land by the Japanese Army. With no more trains or supply columns, fresh troops or stock coming, and the port blockaded by the Japanese fleet applied against a single point, Port Arthur was withering on the vine for the next 154 days as the world watched.

Sevastopol was ready for action again by the end of July and fell in with the squadron once more for Vitgeft’s second attempt to break out on 10 August. The flag officer, in a meeting with his commanders before the sortie, reportedly told the assembled as they departed, “Gentlemen, we will meet again in the next world.”

Proving himself correct, the mission saw the unlucky admiral killed on the bridge of his battleship Tsarevich and most of the force– except for the battered Tsarevich herself which made for neutral Chinese shelter along with a trio of German-made destroyers— returned to Port Arthur a final time. In that lengthy (10 hours) running fight, known today as the Battle in the Yellow Sea, Sevastopol fired 78 12-inch and 323 6-inch shells and was hit twice by Japanese shells in return, causing 61 casualties.

With the likelihood of breakout evaporating, the fleet then turned to provide extra hands for the shrinking siege lines in the hills to fight off Gen. Baron Nogi Maresuke’s entire Third Japanese Army. Mobilizing nearly half of her crew to serve ashore in an ersatz infantry company, Sevastopol’s bluejackets were given rifles and cartridge belts and sent packing.

Imperial Russian battleship Sevastopol in Port-Arthur, 1904, with her crew sending off a scratch naval battalion armed with Mosin M91 rifles. Note, she now has an olive drab scheme. 

Still, Sevastopol, by then a battered and half-manned floating war engine, shuttled around the harbor and provided direct gunfire support in late August, during which she exchanged fire with the Japanese armored cruisers Nissin and Kasuga. Once again, she struck a mine, which put her in repair until October.

It was while she was the Navy Yard that the Japanese had begun to bombard the base and its defenses with over a dozen Armstrong-designed 11-inch (280mm) L/10 howitzers which had been pulled from the coastal defenses of Tokyo Bay and manhandled to the fortress. Each of the behemoths fired 478-pound AP shells to a range of nearly 5-miles.

Enormous 11-inch shell from Japanese siege gun, beginning its deadly flight into Port Arthur LC-USZ62-67825

Drydock in Port Arthur Navy Yard showing cruiser Bayan and Sevastopol under fire from Japanese 11-inch howitzers, likely in October. Courtesy of Mrs. John B. McDonald, September 15, 1966. NH 111897

Hit by five such shells while in repair, Sevastopol’s deck was reinforced with a layer of sandbags and slag under a cover of an inch of plate steel. Such up-armored, the battered Russian was able to clock back in and provide counter-battery fire throughout November.

However, once the Japanese on 3 December seized control of the strategic key to Port Arthur, 203 Meter Hill, which commanded the harbor itself, and with a gunfire support team atop the crest directing fire, it was game over for the Russian fleet.

Destroying Russian ships and town terrific rain of great Japanese shells in Port Arthur, LC-DIG-ppmsca-07969

On 5 December, Sevastopol’s remaining sistership Poltava was hit by plunging howitzer shells and suffered a magazine explosion, sinking her to the mud of Port Arthur.

The Russian pre-dreadnought battleship Poltava sunk at Port Arthur as a result of bombardment by Japanese land-based artillery during the siege of Port Arthur (December 1904). She would later be salvaged and put into service with the Japanese then repatriated to Russia in 1915 and be finally scrapped in the Baltic in the 1920s. 

The next day, Retvizan was pounded to the bottom.

Port Arthur, 1905 Russian battleship Retvizan sunk by Japanese 11-inch howitzers shallow water

On 7 December, Peresvet and Pobeda went.

Russian Peresvet Class Pre-Dreadnought Battleship IRN Pobeda under intense Japanese artillery fire at Port Arthur on December 6th, 1904.

On 8 December, the cruiser Pallada was destroyed.

Destroying a fleet — battleship Pallada struck by a 500 lb. Japanese shell — Port Arthur harbor via LOC LC-USZ62-68822

On the 9th, the cruiser Bayan joined the butcher’s list. The minelayer Amur and gunboat Bobr followed.

Port Arthur from the top of Gold Hill in 1905. From the left wrecks of battleships Peresvet, Poltava, Retvizan, Pobeda and the cruiser Pallada

The Final Act

After the first week or so of December, Sevastopol and a retinue of small ships were all that was left of the once-mighty Russian Pacific force in Port Arthur. Though missing some of her armament and still suffering damage from two mines, a collision, five 11-inch hits and a dozen from smaller 8- and 6-inch naval guns, she was still the only combat-effective Russian capital ship available.

Therefore, Essen, with his ground-fighting sailors repatriated back from the frozen trenches to their floating steel home, fought the last naval battle for Port Arthur from 10 December onward, with the big howitzers firing another 300 rounds indirectly at the theorized location of the Russian ship in a real-life game of Battleship without success, forcing the Japanese navy to tap back into the fight.

A fleet in being, although trapped, the Sevastopol and her escorts pinned down the bulk of the Japanese fleet for the rest of the year.

As described in Richard Connaughton’s Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear: Russia’s War with Japan:

Von Essen, formerly captain of the Novik, placed Sevastopol in the roadstead at the southern end of Tiger’s Tail behind a hill that shielded her from 203 Meter Hill. She was protected by an anti-torpedo boom and a small, hurrying, anxious destroyer flotilla. Wave after wave of Japanese destroyers sped in to release no fewer than 124 torpedoes in six successive attacks against the luckless target. For three weeks, Essen survived…

Sevastopol repulsing a night attack. Painting by A.V. Ganzena

In the series of attacks, the Russian force sank at least two Japanese torpedo boats, No. 53 and No. 42, and damaged as many as 13 other vessels. Meanwhile, the protected cruiser Takasago was sent to the bottom on 13 December when she struck a mine while shepherding the small attack craft, with a loss of 273 of her crew.

It was downright embarrassing to Togo that, even after the Army had dismantled the Russian squadron piecemeal, his force still could not shut the lid on its coffin.

Finally, it was all for naught as Gen. Baron Anatoly Stessel (Stoessel), the Russian commander at Port Arthur, moved to surrender his force on New Year’s Day 1905, without consulting his shocked staff. Apparently, while in a tactically bad position, the besieged base could have held out much longer in theory.

From W. Bruce Lincoln’s, In War’s Dark Shadow:

When they entered Port Arthur, the Japanese expected to find a handful of desperate defenders short of weapons, ammunition, and food. Not counting doctors, nurses and noncombatants, they found 13,485 able-bodied men, another 5,809 suffering from scurvy or minor wounds, and 13,856 who were in the hospital or on light duty because of wounds or serious illness. There were over 600 pieces of artillery still in good order, over 200,000 shells still unfired, and about 2.5 million rounds of machine gun and rifle ammunition. There were tons of food and fodder: flour for 27 days, groats for another 23 days, beans and lentils for 34 days, and dried vegetables for 88 days. There were nearly 200 days’ worth of salt and tea. Most amazing of all, perhaps, there was 2,944 horses in the fortress, enough to supply the garrison with fresh meat for many days to come in view of the large quantities of fodder remaining. With their sense of honor that drove them to fight to the death for their Emperor, the Japanese were dumbfounded.

Of note, Stessel was later court marshaled and sentenced to death by a Russian military tribunal, although his sentence was eventually commuted.

Just before the Nogi’s forces moved into Port Arthur on 2 January, the last of the Russian fleet in the harbor pulled a Toulon 1942 and scuttled. These included the Puilki-class destroyers Storozhevoi, Silni, and Razyashchi; the Delfin-class destroyers Bditelni and Boevoi; the gunboats Djigit, Guidamak, Guidamak and Razboinik; and the battered but not broken Sevastopol.

Von Essen, with a crew of 50, moved the ship to the deepest water available to him, 30 fathoms, and opened her seacocks after passing the word to dog closed only the portside watertight doors. This caused the ship to keel over starboard and sink by the stern in about 15 minutes. Notably, while the Japanese were able to raise and ultimately repair all the Russian battleships sunk at Port Arthur (apart from the shattered Petropavlovsk) Sevastopol was declared a loss and not salvaged.

In all, some 507 of Sevastopol’s crew and 31 of her officers, to include Von Essen, were captured by the Japanese, bringing their ship’s battle flag with them.

Russian sailors from the wrecked battleships – surrendered prisoners of war in Port Arthur. LC-USZ62-11832

Stossel and Makarov over Nogi and Togo on the cover of The Sphere, 115 years ago this month. Makarov was, of course, already long dead when this was published while Stossel would live under a commuted death sentence until 1915. As for Nogi, grieving for the loss of more than 14,000 of his men on the costly Port Arthur campaign– including his eldest son– he would commit ritual suicide in 1912 upon the death of the Emperor. Notably, Nogi after the war spent most of his personal wealth on the construction of memorials to both the Russian and Japanese soldiers of the 1904 campaign. Togo, Japan’s most decorated naval officer of all time, died of throat cancer in 1934, aged 86, and is still seen as “The Nelson of the Pacific.”

Essen would go on to be appointed commander of the Baltic Sea fleet during the first part of WWI before he died of pneumonia and today a frigate in the modern Russian Navy carries his name.

The Sevastopol’s Port Arthur St. Andrew’s flag remains in the Russian Navy’s collection to this day, housed in the building of the Naval Cadet Corps.

Via Ocean-Magazine.ru

The name Sevastopol went on to be used both on a Gangut-class battleship that served in both WWI and WWII before going on to be scrapped in 1956 as well as for a Kresta-class cruiser during the Cold War.

Our circa-1904 battlewagon is remembered in maritime art as well.

Battleship Sevastopol by Nikolay Konstantinovich Artseulov

Finally, Combrig released an excellent 1:700 scale model of Sevastopol, #70102.

Specs:

Line drawing via Combrig

Displacement: 11,842 long tons
Length: 376 ft
Beam: 70 ft
Draught: 28 ft 3 in
Machinery: 16 cylindrical boilers, 9368 ihp, 2 shafts, 2 triple-expansion steam engines
Speed: 16 knots
Range: 3,750 nm
Complement: 27 officers and 625 sailors as designed
Armor, nickel-steel Harvey type:
Waterline belt: 10–16 in
Gun turrets: 10 in
Secondary turrets: 5 in
Conning tower: 9 in
Deck: 2–3 in
Armament:
2 × twin 12″/40 (305 mm) guns
12 (4 × twins, 4 × single) 6″/45cal (152 mm) guns
12 × single 47mm Hotchkiss guns
28 × single 37mm Maxim guns
4 × 15-inch torpedo tubes, broadside
2 × 18-inch torpedo tubes, below the waterline
50 mines

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

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Vale, Robert K. Massie

As a fan of both Russian and naval history, to say that I grew up reading the works of Robert K. Massie is an understatement.

The noted scholar, a man who interviewed Alexander Kerensky while he was still alive in exile, passed away this month at age 90.

Revisit your copy of Dreadnought, Castles of Steel, and Nicholas & Alexandria in his honor.

Warship Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2019: The Russians Aren’t Good at Borrowing Ships

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 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, Nov. 27, 2019: The Russians Aren’t Good at Borrowing Ships

IWM Photo. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

Here we see the Royal Navy R-class battleship HMS Royal Sovereign (05), resplendent in her peacetime livery, entering the Grand Harbor of Malta, sometime in the 1920s. Born in the Great War, she would give hard service to the Empire across four decades only to end up as one of the most unpleasant early tales of WWII alliances chilling in the new Cold War.

The R-class of superdreadnoughts was designed in the days leading up to World War I during the great battleship race with the Kaiser. Following on the heels of the mighty Queen Elizabeth-class, there were to be eight R-class ships: Revenge, Resolution, Royal Oak, Royal Sovereign, Ramillies, Resistance, Renown and Repulse. However Resistance was canceled on the builder’s ways and the last two ships, Renown and Repulse, were redesigned as lighter, and faster, battlecruisers.

Carrying eight BL 15-inch Mk I naval guns in four twin turrets, they had a simple layout with two turrets forward and two aft. Perhaps the best big gun the Brits ever sent to war, the 15″/46 could fire a 1,900-pound shell out to 33,550 yards. This was at a time when most of the world’s battleships carried 12-inch guns.

British battleship HMS Royal Sovereign firing her after turret guns Great War IWM Q18138

Royal Sovereign British battleship fires her guns during gunnery practice late in World War I

Royal Sovereign, British battleship fires her guns during gunnery practice late in World War I

Protected by up to 13 inches of armor, the R-class battlewagons tipped the scales at nearly 33,000 tons but could still make 21 knots.

Constructed at four different yards, our vessel was laid down at HM Dockyard, Portsmouth, on 15 January 1914, less than seven months before the lamps went out across Europe.

The 8th Royal Navy vessel to carry the Royal Sovereign name since 1519, our battleship was known in the fleet as the “Tiddley Quid” as both the terms “quid” and “sovereign” were synonymous to a pound sterling.

The five completed R-class battleships hit the waves between February 1916 and September 1917, with Royal Sovereign commissioning 18 April 1916. As such, she was still on shakedown during Jutland, which was a pity. She and her brawling sisters formed the 1st Battle Squadron but saw little to no real action during the rest of the war as the German High Seas Fleet elected not to try for the 2nd Battle of Jutland.

Battleships of the 1st Battle Squadron – HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN (nearest), HMS REVENGE and HMS RESOLUTION (leading) – in line IWM Q17926

British battleships HMS Revenge, HMS Resolution and HMS Royal Sovereign of the 1st Battle Squadron at sea. Great War. IWM Q18123

British battleships of 1st Battle Squadron; HMS Royal Sovereign, HMS Resolution and HMS REVENGE Great War Q18136

The “Rs” were part of the Allied line when the Germans sailed into Scapa Flow in November 1918.

British battleships of the 1st Battle Squadron at sea on the morning of the German surrender, 21 November 1918. Inscribed by the artist, lower right, ‘Morning of German surrender’. This study of R-class battleships of the 1st Battle Squadron of the Grand Fleet is apparently taken from its flagship, HMS ‘Revenge’, on which Wyllie was a guest of Admiral Sir Charles Madden for a month at the time of the surrender and internment of the German High Seas Fleet. That being so, the ships shown are ‘Resolution’ immediately following, ‘Royal Sovereign’ and ‘Royal Oak’. http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/125878 RMG PW1743

In April 1920, Royal Sovereign and her sister ship Resolution steamed to the Eastern Med, where they became involved in the Russian Civil War and the Greco-Turkish War interchangeably. This included bombarding Turkish positions at Mudanya during the Greek summer offensive in July and shepherding the exile diaspora of 140,000 White Russians who lost their Russia privileges from the Crimea in November. During the latter, Royal Sovereign herself carried several members of the petit Russian nobility in style, making good on her name.

HMS Royal Sovereign (05) 6” Guns in Action (6th July 1920, Mudanya)

The return of HMS Royal Sovereign’s seaman after forced landing under heavy machine gun & rifle fire. (Mudanya, July 1920)

Royal Sovereign would spend the rest of the 1920s and 1930s in refit and peacetime exercises as part of an ever-shrinking Treaty-era Royal Navy.

Although not as thoroughly modernized as American dreadnoughts of the age, or even the slightly older HMS Queen Elizabeth-class ships, the “Rs” would be given torpedo blisters which and landed some of their 6-inch casemate guns– which were of limited use anyway due to being seriously wet in most sea states– in exchange for some AAA guns.

British ‘R’ class WW1 battleships at sea, 1930 HMS Revenge, Ramillies, Royal Sovereign and Resolution, taken from sister HMS Royal Oak

HMS Royal Sovereign in 1938

As global tensions ramped up in the late 1930s, the five “Rs” only narrowly avoided scrapping or being deployed to the Far East to form a fleet thought capable of warning the Japanese against going to war, but that was not to be and in September 1939, when the balloon went up in Europe, Royal Sovereign was already on patrol off Iceland with four destroyers.

She was to spend the early part of WWII in Atlantic convoy and escort duties, and notably in January 1940 sailed for Portsmouth’s Pitch House Jetty where she embarked £5M of gold bullion which she then took to Canada for safekeeping. On the way back, she escorted convoy HX 18 from Halifax and continued such operations with HX 22, HX 28, and HX 34, just in case the German battleships decided to come out and play.

By April 1940, Royal Sovereign was in the Med as part of Force C and later Force B, shuttling back and forth from Gibraltar to Alexandria via Malta throughout the summer, dodging Axis air attacks and submarines the whole time.

In July, she was present at the Battle of Calabria with the Italian fleet, arrayed against the Regina Marina’s battleships Giulio Cesare and Conte di Cavour although her low speed (sub-18 knots at the time) kept her from engaging, leaving the heavy lifting to HMS Warspite.

Sailing via the Suez for Durban, where her ever-troublesome boilers were repaired (at times she could only make steam on one boiler), Royal Sovereign was back in the North Atlantic escorting slow convoys out of Halifax by the end of the year.

In 1941, she covered SC 16, HX 103, TC 09, HX 113, HX 114, HX 116, HX 120, and HX 124 before putting in to (officially neutral) Norfolk Navy Yard at the end of May for maintenance and additional AAA guns.

HMS Royal Sovereign appears at the iconic Hammerhead crane, Norfolk Naval Shipyard.  

Setting back across the pond, she put into Greenock in August where she had her first radar fit: Type 284 fire control for her 15-inch guns, Type 285 for secondary armament, Type 286 aircraft warning, and Type 273 surface warning.

HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN ENTERING A FLOATING DOCK. 28 OCTOBER 1941, GREENOCK. IWM (A 6149)

HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN ENTERING A FLOATING DOCK. 28 OCTOBER 1941, GREENOCK. (A 6149) HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN entering a floating dock. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205140320

In late November 1941, with the Japanese thought ready for war in the Far East, Royal Sovereign and other ships joined the large WS 12Z convoy to reinforce Singapore. While on the way, Pearl Harbor was struck, and the RN was in a truly global war.

With that, Royal Sovereign stopped short of the Pacific and became part of the 3rd Battle Squadron of the Eastern Fleet in February 1942 along with sisters Ramillies, Revenge and Resolution (the fifth sister, Royal Oak, had been sunk in Scapa Flow by a U-boat in October 1939). Still, the class was seen as being of limited value against the Japanese and were seen by many as being “coffin ships,” as Churchill once described them.

While operating in the Indian Ocean over the next year, the force largely managed to avoid being sunk by Japanese submarines and air power and remained a fleet in being, which counted for something, anyway.

HMS RESOLUTION and HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN of the eastern fleet in the Indian Ocean IWM A11791

HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN, part of the Eastern Fleet, underway in the Indian Ocean, late WWII. IWM A11795

In October 1942, Royal Sovereign sailed for the U.S. and received additional up-armoring against aerial-dropped bombs as well as no less than 46 x 20mm Oerlikons in 14 single and 16 twin mounts. She would spend almost a full year in the City of Brotherly Love, recycling most of her crew in exchange for new recruits. In effect, when she left Philly in 1943, she was a very rebooted ship.

Underway in the Philadelphia Naval Yard, Sept 14, 1943. IWM FL18403

HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN lying at the Admiralty Anchorage at Scapa Flow after being refitted (photograph was taken from the cruiser HMS LONDON) IWM A5896

Then, a funny thing happened.

You see, the Italians dropped out of the war in September 1943 as a result of the Allied invasion of that country. With that, the capital units of the Regina Marina sailed to Malta where they were interned under British guns for the rest of the war. This included the 25,000-ton Conte di Cavour-class dreadnought, Giulio Cesare.

Battleship Giulio Cesare going on the Ponte Girevole in Taranto, 1937-193

With 11-inches of armor and nine 12-inch guns, Stalin told Churchill and FDR at the Tehran Conference in November 1943 that he expected the pre-owned spaghetti battleship, which had been commissioned in 1914, to be transferred to the Soviet Union as spoils of war.

The thing is, due to the political situation in Italy, which had descended into civil war with German-allied fascists still fighting in the North against the Allies, splitting up the sidelined Italian ships would have played badly in Rome.

To sate Uncle Joe, Churchill offered the recently extensively refitted Royal Sovereign, which was larger, stronger, and newer than the Italian battleship anyway (and ironically faced off with at the Battle of Calabria in 1940). Once the war was over for real and Giulio Cesare cleared to sail for Sevastopol, the Soviets would return the Lend-Leased Royal Sovereign back to her titleholders.

The deal was accepted and at the end of May, Royal Sovereign, along with four submarines, and eight destroyers were handed over to the Red Banner Fleet at Rosyth in a three-day ceremony that reportedly saw much merriment. After all, not only would the ships be used by the Soviets until Hitler was vanquished, they would also likely be used in the Far East against Japan, a war that Stalin had promised to start fighting 90 days after VE-Day.

THE BRITISH NAVY’S GIFT TO RUSSIA. 29 TO 31 MAY 1944, ROSYTH. THE BRITISH BATTLESHIP HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN, TOGETHER WITH 4 BRITISH SUBMARINES; URSULA, UNISON, UNBROKEN AND SUNFISH AND 8 EX-AMERICAN DESTROYERS, WERE HANDED OVER TO THE RUSSIAN NAVY IWM (A 23809)

A Russian rating sounding the bell of HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN (after being passed to the Soviet Navy and renamed ARCHANGELSK). IWM A23811

Aft guns of battleship Arkhangelsk HMS Royal Sovereign note RN tampions

The Soviet crew spent all of June and July working up in British coastal waters– and thus missing the Overlord landings on D-Day– then, on 17 August 1944, sailed from Scapa to join convoy JW 59 under the Hammer & Sickle ensign, bound for Murmansk.

Joining the Soviet Northern Fleet, she was a target for the Germans who tried repeatedly to sink her via submarines both large and small without success.

She did, in typical Russian fashion, pick up some new mascots.

She was the most impressive battleship the Motherland ever put to sea– larger and more powerful that Tsar’s Gangut-class (25,000 t, 12 x12″ guns) or Imperatritsa Mariya-class battleships (23,000 t, 12 x12″ guns). While four giant 65,000-ton Sovetsky Soyuz-class super-dreadnoughts were laid down, they never came close to being completed.

ARCHANGELSK (Soviet battleship, formerly HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN) Photographed in 1944 NH 71448

ARCHANGELSK (Soviet battleship, formerly HMS ROYAL SOVEREIGN) Photographed in 1944 NH 71449

When the war ended, she remained in Soviet hands as the status of the Italian fleet was worked out via the Four Power Committee.

Her entry from Jane’s 1947 edition shows her as the preeminent Soviet capital ship and gives a full page to her listing.

In December 1948, the Soviets were cleared to begin the process of taking over Giulio Cesare as war reparations and the ship was moved first to Sicily then Albania where she was fully-added to the Red Navy’s list on 6 February 1949 and would ultimately be named Novorossiysk.

With that transfer underway, Royal Sovereign/Archangelsk was readied for repatriation back to HMs Royal Navy. Entering Rosyth on 4 February 1949, she once again became HMS Royal Sovereign on five days later with the hoisting of the White Ensign.

HMS Royal Sovereign under the Forth Bridge

Royal Sovereign/Archangelsk passes under the Forth Bridge with a Red Navy crew on her way to Rosyth for the official handover to the Royal Navy 9 February 1949.

While the 1944 handover was a party, the give-back party was absent in 1949, with the Soviets reportedly declining most invites to social events and parties– a matter that made it to the floor of Parliament. 

Sadly, the Soviets were kind of bitter about the whole thing. Keep in mind that this was at the height of the Berlin Airlift and more than three years after Churchill’s famous “Iron Curtain” speech. The NATO treaty, which would be signed in April, was being negotiated in Washington.

Upon inspection, the material condition of the Royal Sovereign was considered…poor.

Specifically, much equipment was broken or missing, her turret rings were corroded to such a point that none of her four turrets could traverse, and the ship was crawling with vermin and pests of all kinds. Some reports even had it that the battleship’s heads had been clogged for months or possibly years, leaving Red sailors to turn semi-used compartments into open lavatories. The situation was not unique, the American cruiser USS Milwaukee (CL 5), which had likewise been loaned to the Soviets as the Murmansk in 1944, was returned in a similar state in March 1949.

The decision on what to do with the Royal Sovereign was easy. As the remaining three sisters of her were all slated for scrapping, her name was added to the list and they were all sent to the breakers by the end of the year.

Components of the drive gear sets and associated pinions from both Royal Sovereign and sister HMS Revenge‘s main guns were recycled into the Jodrell Bank Observatory’s Mark I (Lovell) radio telescope in the late 1940s and are still there today. It is one of the largest steerable radio telescopes in the world.

Royal Sovereign‘s name has not been used since by the RN, but she is remembered in the maritime art of her period.

William Lionel Wyllie, blue pencil. Two studies of HMS ‘Royal Sovereign’
Inscribed by the artist, lower right. ‘R Sov’. Two loose studies of the battleship ‘Royal Sovereign’, built at Portsmouth Dockyard, launched on 29 April 1915 and completed in May 1916. These sketches of her at anchor show her rig as completed and were probably made in 1916-17. The main wash drawing is a view from off the port bow: the slighter pencil sketch takes practically the same angle from off the starboard bow. The paper has a blue-grey tint and has been given a wash of blue-green watercolor over which the rest is worked. http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/116841 RMG PV2691

William Lionel Wyllie, watercolor. Inscribed ‘Royal Sov’ by the artist, lower right. The battleship is shown in her 1918-19 condition, from astern at anchor, with other ships beyond, off a hilly coast probably in Scotland. She has a flying-off platform with a Sopwith 2F1 Camel fighter on it fitted on X turret and a range clock fitted to the rear face of her mainmast searchlight tower. These were fitted in the spring of 1918 and the last aircraft recorded for her in this period was serial number N7108 in January 1919. http://collections.rmg.co.uk/collections/objects/125944 RMG PW1809

The Russians still apparently have some parts of Royal Sovereign, including her chipped bell, which is in a maritime museum.

This week, the Russian Navy made news for returning a series of seized Ukrainian vessels–the fast gunboats Nikopol and Berdyansk and the tugboat Tany Kapu— back to their former owners in kind of rough condition.

“The Russians ruined them,” said Admiral Ihor Voronchenko, the head of the Ukrainian Navy, as reported by The Telegraph. “They even took the ceiling lights, plug sockets, and lavatories,” he said. “Some of the equipment is missing, as well as some weapons.”

The more things change…

Specs

Scan from Burgess, Malcolm William (1936) Warships To-day, London: Oxford University Press, pp. fig. 23, via Wiki Commons

Displacement:
29,970 long tons (30,450 t) (normal)
31,130 long tons (31,630 t) (deep load)
33, 500 tons (full load, 1944)
Length: 620 ft 7 in (o.a.); 580 ft (pp.) 614.5 ft (w.l.)
Beam: 88 ft 6 in as designed; 102.5 after blisters added in 1928
Draught: 33 ft 7 in (deep load), 28.5 ft. (mean)
Installed power: 40,000 shp (30,000 kW) 18 Babcock & Wilcox boilers
Propulsion: 4 shafts; 4 Parsons steam turbines, direct drive
Speed: 23 knots as designed, 20 by 1939
Range: 7,000 nmi at 10 knots on 900 tons oil fuel
Crew: 1,240 (1921) 1146 (1944)
Armor:
Waterline belt: 13 in
Deck: 1–4 in
Barbettes: 6–10 in
Gun turrets: 11–13 in
Conning tower: 3–11 in
Bulkheads: 6 inches (24 watertight sections)
Armament:
(1916)
4 × twin 15″/46cal (38.1 cm) Mark I
14 × single BL 6-inch Mk XII naval guns described as “wet in head seas but dwarf walls retain water which rapidly drains away”
2 × single QF 3-inch 20 cwt AAA
4 × single Ordnance QF 3-pounder 47mm Vickers guns
4 × 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes
(1944)
4 × twin 15″/46cal (38.1 cm) Mark I
12 × single BL 6-inch Mk XII naval gun
8 x 4-inch AA
46 x 20mm Oerlikons in 14 single and 16 twin mounts
Aircraft:
1 Sopwith 2F1 Camel fighter on it fitted on X turret 1918
1 Fairey Flycatcher carried on B turret 1920s
1 Supermarine Walrus floatplane carried on X turret from the 1930s onward
Aviation facilities removed in 1942.

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Speaking of 1960s technology…

The MiG-25 Foxbat dazzled NATO when it was first spied in 1964. Theoretically capable of Mach 3 and reaching altitudes as high as 115,000 ft., the giant interceptor sent a chill through the West, especially when it was feared it was a strike aircraft.

Then, in September 1976, when Soviet Red Air Force Lt. Viktor Belenko famously defected with his late-model Foxbat-P and U.S. analysts got a first-hand look at the beast, they saw it was terribly flawed. Constructed of stainless steel due to its size and weight, its engines were fragile and could be easily damaged, especially at high speeds. The electronics left a lot to be desired. Lacking a look-down-shoot-down radar, it was limited in combat.

To fix some of the MiG-25’s shortcomings, the Soviets developed what was termed the “Super Foxbat” in the late 1970s. The airframe was crafted from a blend of composite nickel steel, various alloys, and titanium. Featuring a longer fuselage to accommodate a more advanced PESA-style radar able to track 24 airborne targets even among ground clutter and an RIO to take advantage of it, the MiG-31 Foxhound was born.

Although out of production since 1994, the Russians have about 100 updated MiG-31BM models, complete with glass cockpits, HOTAS controls, the late gen Zaslon (Flash Dance) phased array radar, and other good stuff. Still, the 26-ton monster looks like a Cold War pterodactyl.

Check out this recently released video of the aircraft operating around Perm, notably the very region where Gary Powers was lost in 1960.

Happy Fall, guys!

Soviet frontoviks with a straw-camouflaged ZPU-4, a quad PM 1910 Maxim gun set up, getting ready for the Great Pumpkin.

Or maybe it was a Stuka they were looking for…

Nonetheless, Happy Fall!

Relic retrieval and historical interpretation

The below Vesti report popped up this week showing a Russian Ministry of Defense expedition in the Northern Kuriles recovering old Japanese anti-tank guns/light artillery via helicopter. They are fairly well preserved considering they have been in a windswept saltwater environment for 75+ years. Of note, they also found reportedly 700 UXO items and kaboom’d same.

The island in question is Iturup (Yetorup) or as the Japanese call it, Etorofu-tō, and was part of the Japanese Empire from 1855 to 1945 when the Soviets came in and switched flags. Although Tokyo today still refers to it as an occupied island, the Russian news report, with Moscow’s own spin, says it was liberated by the Patriotic Red Army during WWII.

Iturup is perhaps best known in military history as the staging point for the six-carrier Japanese striking force (Kidô Butai) headed to Pearl Harbor in late November 1941.

IJN Zuikaku cruising from Hitokappu Bay, Iturup, in November 1941. The carrier Kaga and Akagi is seen in the background

The ballistic properties of the Red Army winter coat

As it’s 100 degrees outside, this seems logical to review now.

Popular legend has it that the submachine guns of WWII had trouble penetrating the Soviet Red Army’s padded winter coats. The coats, called “telogreika” (body warmer) were first fielded during the war to help keep Stalin’s frontoviks cozy amid the frosty Russian winter while they repelled the “fascist invaders” in what the country continues to call “The Great Patriotic War.”

Hero of the Soviet Union Semyon Agafonov – intelligence officer of the 181st reconnaissance detachment of the Red Army. Note his Mosin Sniper with PE scope and padded telogreika uniform

The myth is that German MP38/40 SMGs, firing puny 9mm parabellum, were no match for the awesome Ivan thus swaddled in his quilted telogreika or two. The legend further swelled with tales of Chinese volunteers fighting in the Korean war, clad in cloned jackets, overcoming .30-caliber M1/M2 Carbines through the magic of layered cotton and wool. A more modern version of this involves Carhartt jackets and the NYPD’s 9mm handguns.

To debunk this, Kalashnikov Concern’s in-house historian, Vladimir Onokoy, coats (get it?) a dummy in not one but two telogreikas then riddles the construction with an MP40 that just happens to be around in the above video. The results tend to vindicate the burp guns.

As you have come this far, check out the below debunk of the whole NYPD thing as well.

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