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Warship Wednesday, July 17, 2019: Willy’s Vulture

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, July 17, 2019: Willy’s Vulture

Deutsches Bundesarchiv Bild 134-C0105

Here we see the three-masted bark-rigged “kleiner geschutzter kreuzer” (small protected cruiser) SMS Geier of the Imperial German Kaiserliche Marine photographed at the beginning of her career around 1895. A well-traveled Teutonic warship named after the German word for “vulture,” she would repeatedly find herself only narrowly avoiding some of the largest naval clashes of her era.

The final installment of the six-ship Bussard-class of colonial cruisers, all of which were named after birds, Geier and her sisters (Falke, Seeadler, Condor, and Comoran) would today be classified either as corvettes or well-armed offshore patrol vessels. With an 1800~ ton displacement (which varied from ship to ship as they had at least three varying generations of subclasses), these pint-sized “cruisers” were about 275-feet long overall and could float in less than three fathoms. While most cruisers are built for speed, the Bussards could only make 15-ish knots when everything was lit. When it came to an armament, they packed eight 10.5 cm (4.1″) SK L/35 low-angle guns and a pair of cute 350mm torpedo tubes, which wasn’t that bad for policing the colonies but was hopeless in a surface action against a real cruiser.

Geier’s sister, SMS Seeadler, in a postcard-worthy setting. The six ships of the class ranged from the West Indies to Africa, the Indian Ocean, and the Pacific. Much more exotic duty than the typical Baltic/North Sea gigs for the High Seas Fleet

Constructed between 1888 and 1895 at four different Northern German yards, the half-dozen Bussards were a very late 19th Century design, complete with a three-masted auxiliary barquentine rig, ram bows, and a wooden-backed copper-sheathed hull. They carried a pair of early electric generators and their composite hull was separated into 10 watertight compartments. Despite the “geschutzter” designation given by the Germans, they carried no armor other than splinter shields.

The only member of the class built at Kaiserliche Werft, Wilhelmshaven, Geier was laid down in 1893 and commissioned 24 October 1895, with Kaiser Wilhelm himself visiting the ship on that day.

SMS “Geier” der kaiserlichen deutschen Marine

SMS “Geier”, Kaiser Wilhelm II. spricht zur Besatzung

SMS “Geier”, Kleiner Kreuzer; Besichtigung des Schiffes durch Kaiser Wilhelm II.

Notably, Geier was the largest and most developed of her sisters, using a slightly different gun arrangement, better engines and 18-inch torpedo tubes rather than the 14s carried by the preceding five ships of the class.

All six Bussards were subsequently deployed overseas in Willy’s far-flung colonies in Africa and the Pacific, a tasking Geier soon adopted. Setting off for the West Indies, she joined the German squadron of old ironclads and school ships that were deployed there in 1897 to protect Berlin’s interests in Venezuela and Haiti.

The next year, under the command of Korvettenkapitän (later Vizeadmiral) Hermann Jacobsen, Geier was permitted by the U.S. fleet during the Spanish-American War to pass in and out of the blockaded Spanish ports in Cuba and Puerto Rico on several occasions, ostensibly on humanitarian grounds to evacuate neutral European civilians.

The unprotected cruiser SMS Geier entering Havana Harbor, Cuba, in 1898, during the SpanAm War

However, Jacobson dutifully kept a log of ships that ran the American blockade and their cargo as well as conducted a detailed analysis of the damage done to the Spanish ships at the Battle of Santiago. These observations were later released then ultimately translated into English and published in the USNI’s Proceedings in 1899.

By 1900, Geier was operating in the Pacific and, operating with the German East Asia Squadron, was in Chinese waters in time to join the international task force bringing the Manchu Dynasty to its knees during the Boxer Rebellion. She remained in the region and observed the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-05, notably poking around at Chemulpo (Inchon) where the Russian protected cruiser Varyag and gunboat Korietz were scuttled after a sharp engagement with a superior IJN force under Baron Sotokichi.

GEIER Photographed early in her career, before her 1908-1909 refit that reduced her Barkentine Rig to Brigantine Standard. NH 88631

Returning to Germany in 1909 for repair and refit, her rigging was changed from that of a three-mast barquentine to a two-mast topsail schooner while her bridge was enlarged, and her boilers replaced.

Geier with her late-career schooner rig

Recommissioned in 1911, she was assigned to the Mediterranean where she spent the next couple years exercising gunboat diplomacy in the wake of the Moroccan Crisis while eating popcorn on the sidelines of the Italian-Turkish War and Balkan Wars, all of which involved a smattering of curious naval actions to report back to Berlin. By 1914, although she had never fired a shot in anger, our Vulture had already haunted five significant wars from Tripoli to Korea and Cuba, very much living up to her name.

To catch us up on the rest of the class, by the eve of the Great War, the Bussards was showing their age. Sisterships Seeadler and Condor in 1914 were converted to mine storage hulks in Wilhelmshaven and Kiel, respectively. Bussard and Falke had already been stricken from the Naval List in 1912 and sold to the breakers. Meanwhile, in the German Chinese treaty port of Tsingtao (Qingdao), Cormoran was laid up with bad engines.

Speaking of which, when the lamps went out across Europe in August 1914, Geier was already en route from Dar es Salaam in German East Africa (where she had been relieved by the doomed cruiser Konigsberg) to Tsingtao to join Vizeadmiral Count Maximilian von Spee’s East Asia Squadron in the Pacific.

Once the balloon went up, she was in a precarious situation as just about any British, French, Russian or Japanese warship she encountered could have sent her quickly to the bottom. Eluding the massive Allied dragnet, which was deployed not only to capture our old cruiser but also Von Spee’s much more serious task force and the downright dangerous SMS Emden (which Geier briefly met with at sea), Geier attempted to become a commerce raider and, taking on coal from two German merchant ships, managed to capture a British freighter, SS Southport, at Kusaie in the Eastern Carolines on 4 September. After disabling Southport’s engines and leaving the British merchantman to eventually recover and report Geier’s last position, our decrepit light cruiser missed her rendezvous with Von Spee’s squadron at Pagan Island in the Northern Marianas and the good Count left her behind.

Alone, short on coal and only a day or so ahead of the Japanese battleship Hizen (former Russian Retvizan) and the armored cruiser Asama, Geier steamed into Honolulu on 17 October, having somehow survived 11 weeks on the run.

After failing to leave port within the limits set by neutral U.S. authorities, she was interned on 8 November and nominally disarmed.

Bussard Class Unprotected Cruiser SMS Geier pictured interned in Hawaii, she arrived in Honolulu on October 17th, 1914 for coaling, repairs and freshwater– and never left

Meanwhile, the Graf Spee’s East Asia Squadron had defeated the British 4th Cruiser Squadron under RADM Christopher Cradock in the Battle of Coronel on 1 November, sinking the old cruisers HMS Good Hope and Monmouth and sending Cradock and 1,600 of his men to the bottom of the South Atlantic. A month later, Spee himself along with his two sons and all but one ship of his squadron was smashed by VADM Doveton Sturdee’s battlecruiser squadron at the Battle of the Falkland Islands.

Our Vulture had evaded another meeting with Poseidon.

As for Geier, her war was far from over, reportedly being used as a base for disinformation (alleging a Japanese invasion of Mexico!) and espionage (tracking Allied ship movements) for the next two years.

German cruiser Geier shown interned in Honolulu. Photo by Herbert B Turner. NARA 165-WW-272C-006

German cruiser Geier shown interned in Honolulu. Photo by Herbert B Turner. NARA 165-WW-272C-006

Finally, in February 1917, the events came to a head.

According to the U.S. NHHC:

German reservists and agents surreptitiously utilized the ship for their operations, and the Americans grew increasingly suspicious of their activities. Emotions ran hot during the war and the Germans violated “neutrality,” Lt. (j.g.) Albert J. Porter of the ship’s company, who penned the commemorative War Log of the USS. St. Louis (Cruiser No. 20), observed, “with characteristic Hun disregard for international law and accepted honor codes.” Geier, Korvettenkapitän Curt Graßhoff in command, lay at Pier 3, moored to interned German steamer Pomeran when a column of smoke began to rise from her stack early on the morning of 4 February 1917. The ship’s internment prohibited her from getting steam up, and the Americans suspected the Germans’ intentions.

Lt. Cmdr. Victor S. Houston, St. Louis’ commanding officer, held an urgent conference on board the cruiser at which Cmdr. Thomas C. Hart, Commander SubDiv 3, represented the Commandant. Houston ordered St. Louis to clear for action and sent a boarding party, led by Lt. Roy Le C. Stover, Lt. (j.g.) Robert A. Hall, and Chief Gunner Frank C. Wisker. The sailors disembarked at the head of the Alakea wharf and took up a position in the second story of the pier warehouse. Soldiers from nearby Schofield Barracks meanwhile arrived and deployed a battery of 3-inch field pieces, screened by a coal pile across the street from the pier, from where they could command the decks of the German ship. Smoke poured in great plumes from Geier and her crewmen’s actions persuaded the Americans that the Germans likely intended to escape from the harbor, while some of the boarding party feared that failing to sortie, the Germans might scuttle the ship with charges, and the ensuing blaze could destroy part of the waterfront.

The boarding party, therefore, split into three sections and boarded and seized Pomeran, and Hart and Stover then boarded Geier and informed Graßhoff that they intended to take possession of the cruiser and extinguish her blaze, to protect the harbor. Graßhoff vigorously protested but his “wily” efforts to delay the boarders failed and the rest of the St. Louis sailors swarmed on board. The bluejackets swiftly took stations forward, amidships, and aft, and posted sentries at all the hatches and watertight doors, blocking any of the Germans from passing. Graßhoff surrendered and the Americans rounded-up his unresisting men. 1st Lt. Randolph T. Zane, USMC, arrived with a detachment of marines, and they led the prisoners under guard to Schofield Barracks for internment.

Her crew headed off to Schofield Barracks for the rest of the war, some of the first German POWs in the U.S. (Hawaii State Archives)

Wisker took some men below to the magazines, where they found shrapnel fuzes scattered about, ammunition hoists dismantled, and floodcocks battered into uselessness. The Germans also cunningly hid their wrenches and spans in the hope of forestalling the Americans’ repairs. Stover in the meantime hastened with a third section and they discovered a fire of wood and oil-soaked waste under a dry boiler. The blaze had spread to the deck above and the woodwork of the fire room also caught by the heat thrown off by the “incandescent” boiler, and the woodwork of the magazine bulkheads had begun to catch. The boarders could not douse the flames with water because of the likelihood of exploding the dry boiler, but they led out lines from the bow and stern of the burning ship and skillfully warped her across the slip to the east side of Pier 4. The Honolulu Fire Department rushed chemical engines to the scene, and the firemen and sailors worked furiously cutting holes thru the decks to facilitate dousing the flames with their chemicals. The Americans extinguished the blaze by 5:00 p.m., and then a detachment from SubDiv 3, led by Lt. (j.g.) Norman L. Kirk, who commanded K-3 (Submarine No. 34), relieved the exhausted men.

German cruiser Geier with boilers on fire being sabotauged by her crew Honolulu Feb 4 1917 Photo by Herbert NARA 165-WW-272C-007

German cruiser Geier with boilers on fire being sabotauged by her crew Honolulu Feb 4 1917 Photo by Herbert NARA 165-WW-272C-007

The Germans all but wrecked Geier and their “wanton work” further damaged the engines, steam lines, oil lines, auxiliaries, navigation instruments, and even the wardroom, which Porter described as a “shambles.”

As such, she was the only German Imperial Navy warship captured by the U.S. Navy during World War I.

Coupled with the more than 590,000 tons of German merchant ships seized in U.S. ports April 1917, Geier was reconditioned for American service and eventually commissioned as USS Schurz, a name used in honor of German radical Carl Schurz who fled Prussia in 1849 after the failed revolution there. Schurz had, in turn, joined the Union Army during the Civil War and commanded a division of largely German-speaking immigrants in the XI Corps at Second Manassas, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Chattanooga, rising to the rank of major general.

[Of XI Corps’s 27 infantry regiments, at least 13 were “Dutch” (German) regiments with many German-born/speaking commanders prevalent. Besides Schurz, brigades and divisions of the XI Corps were led by men such as Col. Ludwig Blenker and Brig. Gen. Adolph von Steinwehr, formerly officers of the Royal Armies Bavaria and the Duchy of Brunswick, respectively.]

Postwar, Schurz was a senator from Missouri, where a large German population had settled, and later served as Interior Secretary in the Hayes Administration.

Don’t let his bookish looks fool you, although Schurz was a journalist who served as editor of the New York Evening Post, he also fought in the German revolution and saw the elephant several times in the Civil War.

Under the command of LCDR Arthur Crenshaw, the new USS Schurz joined the fleet in September 1917 and served as an escort on the East Coast. Her German armament landed; she was equipped with four 5-inch mounts in U.S. service.

USS Schurz off the foot of Market Street, San Diego, California, in November-December 1917. Note the U.S. colors. Courtesy of the San Diego Maritime Museum, 1983 Catalog #: NH 94909

While on a convoy from New York for Key West, Fla., on 0444 on 21 June 1918, she collided with the merchant ship SS Florida southwest of Cape Lookout lightship, North Carolina, about 130 miles east of Wilmington.

As noted by the NHHC, “The collision crumpled the starboard bridge wing, slicing into the well and berth deck nearly 12 feet, and cutting through bunker no. 3 to the forward fire room.” One of Schurz’s crewmen was killed instantly, and 12 others injured. The 216 survivors abandoned ship and Schurz sank about three hours later in 110-feet of water.

A later naval board laid the blame for the collision on Florida, as the steamer was running at full steam in the predawn darkness in the thick fog without any lights or horns and had failed to keep a proper distance.

USS Schurz was stricken from the Navy list on 26 August 1918, and her name has not been reissued. The Kaiserliche Marine confusingly recycled the name “Geier” for an auxiliary cruiser (the former British merchant vessel Saint Theodore, captured by the commerce raider SMS Möwe) as well as an armed trawler during the war even while the original ship was interned in Hawaii with a German crew pulling shenanigans.

Of SMS Geier‘s remaining sisters in German service, Seeadler was destroyed by an accidental explosion on the Jade in April 1917 and never raised, Cormoran had been scuttled in Tsingtao and captured by the Japanese who scrapped her, and Condor was broken up in 1921.

Today, while she has been extensively looted of artifacts over the years the wreck of the Schurz is currently protected as part of the NOAA Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and she is a popular dive site.

NOAA divers swim over the stern of the USS Schurz shipwreck. Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

Photo: Tane Casserley, NOAA

East Carolina University conducted an extensive survey of her wreckage in 2000 and found her remarkably intact, with her boilers in place as well as brass fasteners and copper hull sheathing with nails still attached.

Specs:

Displacement, full: 1918 tons
Length: 275 ft oal, 261 wl
Beam: 34 ft. 10.6
Draft: 15 feet 4.74 mean 5.22 deep load
Machinery: 2 HTE, 4 cylindrical boilers, 2880 hp, 2 shafts
Coal: 320 tons
Speed: 15.5-knots max
Range: 3610nm at 9kts
Complement: 9 officers, 152 men (German) 197 to 217 (US)
Armor: None
Armament
(1895)
8 x 1 – 4.1″/32cal SK L/35 single mounts
5 x 1-pdr (37mm) revolving cannon (removed in 1909)
2 x 1 – 450mm TT with 5 18-inch torpedoes in magazine
(1917)
4 x 5″/51cal U.S. mounts

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Warship Wednesday, July 25, 2018: Tsar Nicky’s lost (crypto) millions?

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 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, July 25, 2018: Tsar Nicky’s lost (crypto) millions?

Colorized by my good friend Diego Mar of Postales Navales

Here we see the semi-armored frigate (often classified as a cruiser) Dmitriy Donskoy (or, Dmitri Donskoi) of the Tsarist Imperial Navy in her classic black and buff scheme. Note the Romanov double eagle crest in yellow– house colors– on her bow.

She was the last warship claimed by the military fiasco that was the Battle of Tsushima in 1905 and notably has popped back in the news last week with her (re)discovery by a Singapore-based South Korean treasure hunting group, thus:

Via the Shinil Group

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s get some context.

In the late 1870s, the Russian navy was fairly powerful, the proud owner of several U.S.-built coastal monitors ready to mix it up with anything sent into their waters, and a reasonable fleet of blue water steam vessels. What they really needed, however, were armored blue water ships capable of ranging far and wide. Enter the armored frigate Minin, some 295-feet overall and 6,100-tons, she was capable of 14-knots and carried a quartet of 8-inch guns and as much as 7-inches of locally made iron armor. Not bad for 1878. At the same time came the Russian cruiser General Admiral, considered the world’s first armored cruiser, combining an armor belt with an armored protective deck in a 285-foot/5,038-ton package capable of making 12 knots.

General Admiral, shown in New York in 1893– but we’ll get to that (LOC photo)

By 1880, the Admiralty ordered the follow-on Dmitriy Donskoy, named after St. Dmitry of the Don who beat the Tartars at the Battle of Kulikovo in the 14th century, one of the largest battles of the Middle Ages and the event that signaled the beginning of the end of the Mongol Yoke over Rus.

The guy on the white horse…

She was the fifth Russian naval ship since 1771 to carry the name– and the last until 2000.

Beefier than General Admiral and about even 10 feet longer and 100-tons heavier (she used heavier steel armor ordered abroad from Cammell Laird to include a belt and armored deck) than Minin, the new armored frigate had more economical engines coupled with larger coal bunkers that gave her three times the range of Minin and a speed of 16-knots (making 16.16 on trials). She could travel for a week at full speed and up to 30 days at a more pedestrian 10-knots. Then, in 1883, came her half-sister, the more refined Vladimir Monomakh, a tweaked 306-foot/6,000-ton vessel to the same layout.

All four of these experimental ships had copper sheathed hulls to cut down on drydocking– and allowing more distant deployments– and were heavily ship-rigged on three wooden masts for extending their range under sail. Their props were originally designed to be lifted to prevent drag while under canvas, but that did not work in practice.

Referred to as armored cruisers by the rest of the world, there was a legit concern (mainly by the British) at the time that these ships would create havoc on sea lanes as commerce raiders in the event of war.

Donskoy spent the first two years of her career with the Mediterranean Sea squadron, then in 1887 transferred to the Pacific, where Russia was eagerly looking to expand.

An 1889 modification saw her wooden masts replaced by lighter steel ones, followed by another tour of the Med, and by 1891 she was back in the Pacific and would sail the world extensively for several years.

She participated in the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893 as the flagship of the Russian squadron, sailing up the Hudson along with the already-mentioned General Admiral, gunboat Rynda (c1885/3,537t) and the new and mighty armored cruiser Admiral Nakhimov (c1888/8,609t), the latter a Warship Wednesday alum.

Dmitri Donskoi, Russian navy_LOC-D4-21190

Dmitri Donskoi, Russian navy_LOC-D4-21191

Her officers were a hit with the New York social crowd.

Capt. 1st Rank NA Zelenoy, skipper of the Donskoy, in his full uniform, colorized photo from Detriot Post Card company, via LOC

In 1895 she was extensively modified with new engines and boilers, and her armament updated, shipping for the Far East again the next year, carrying a white scheme for a time.

Ironclad IRN Dmitrii Donskoi picture at the opening of the Vladivostok Drydock, October 7th, 1897

She would spend six years in Vladivostok, then the new Russian enclave at Port Arthur (which they basically stole from the Japanese), and her crew formed a naval battalion that participated in the Boxer rebellion.

Russian Sailors Defending A Barricade Before The Peking Legation 1900 in Boxer Rebellion via the London Illustrated News

At the end of 1901, she returned to the Baltic again for another refit and armament swap (honestly, she changed her batteries so much that it is irrelevant to cover each update, check the specs at the bottom for more details).

She was aging, slow for her times, and poorly armed for her size, and a 1900 Jane’s entry characterized her as such.

Early 1904 saw her leaving for the Far East once again with the cruiser Almaz and a group of new destroyers, but they only got as far as the Red Sea before war came with Japan– over Port Arthur– and she was recalled to the Baltic.

With the war going exceptionally bad for the Russians militarily, and the Tsar’s Pacific Squadron largely bottled up behind minefields and Japanese blockade at Port Arthur, the Baltic Fleet suddenly became dubbed the 2nd Pacific Squadron and soon received orders to sail to the Far East and throw down. The epic story is told best by Constantine Pleshakov in his “The Tsar’s Last Armada: The Epic Voyage to the Battle of Tsushima.”

It’s a good read…

In the book, Donskoy appears a dozen or more times, derided by Vice Adm. Rozhestvensky as the “cabbie” of the fleet due to her slow speed. First, she caught a broadside from her own fleet in the Baltic (!) during a confusing nighttime skirmish that injured several men and, as British trawlers were harmed, forced the ill-fated warships to sail all the way around the Cape of Good Hope rather than via the London-controlled Suez Canal.

Then, Donskoy became the great fisherman of the fleet in Madagascar– catching some 1,800 pounds of fish in one go via nets but losing a man to a shark. Then came her officers’ rather racy involvement with the nurses of the hospital ship Orel. Anyway, pick up the book, it’s a great read.

The blue line…

Now, in the third act, we have our valiant frigate’s destruction in the Strait of Korea. Part of a four-ship column of cruisers under the flag of the unpopular but politically connected Rear-Admiral Oskar Enkvist– she joined Oleg, Aurora, and her sister Monomakh and were tasked with guarding the auxiliaries in the rear column of the fleet by Rozhdestvensky.

Escaping the carnage of the main fleet action, he ordered the group to make their way as best they could to Vladivostok. The Admiral later caught up to them in the leaking torpedo boat Buiny but during the night of May 27/28, they became separated again. Meanwhile, the Japanese were busy hunting the stragglers. Monomakh was torpedoed by Japanese torpedo boat in the night and surrendered the next day. The Zhemchug, Aurora, and Oleg damaged, managed to make it to Manila to be interned by the Americans under the guns of the old monitor USS Monadnock (BM-3).

By the morning of the 28th, Donskoy, now just accompanied by two torpedo boats– Bedovy and Grozny— found the wounded Rozhdestvensky on his languishing Buiny and transferred him, along with the Donskoy‘s surgeon, to the Bedovy for the final 400-mile run to safety in Vladivostok. Donskoy remained behind to cover the admiral’s retreat and rescue the crew from Buiny then sink her with gunfire. Overall, the ship had more than 300 survivors aboard, mostly from the lost battleship Oslyabya.

Ultimately, Rozhestvensky was captured after his new torpedo boat suffered an engineering casualty later that morning, but Donskoy pressed on alone, filled with survivors she picked up along the way. By 5 p.m. she was sighted by the pursuing Japanese and, some two hours later, was some 30 nautical miles south of Ulleungdo (Dajelet) Island. Over the next two hours, she dueled with the Japanese cruisers Otowa (3,000t) and Niitaka (3,400 tons), together with the destroyers Asagiri, Shirakumo, and Fubuki. It was a hell of a fight by all accounts and the Japanese caught a few rounds in return fire– a rarety in the typical Russo-Japanese exchange.

Zaikin A.Yu. (born 1954) “The last fight of Dmitry Donskoy,” 1995

This left the old Donskoy battered and her skipper, the valiant Capt.1st Rank Ivan Nikolayevich Lebedev, a veteran with some 38 years of service behind him, on his literal last leg, one of some 190 casualties suffered in the final act of Tsushima.

From a Russian memoir of the hellish scene on Donskoy, of her XO, Capt. 2nd rank Konstantin Platonovich Blokhin, being called to the bridge:

The senior officer was on deck when one of the sailors flew up to him and, choking on words, reported:

“Your Honor … the commander asks you.”

Blokhin immediately climbed to the bridge and, peering into the warped and dilapidated cabin, for a moment was dumbfounded. The whole deck shone with fresh blood. Lieutenant Durnovo, leaning against the wall, sat motionless, bent, as if thinking about something, but he and his cap had a skull and horribly pinked frozen brain. The helmsman Quartermaster Polyakov curled up at the binnacle. Lieutenant Giers was lying with his belly open. Above these corpses, gritting his teeth in pain, Lieutenant commander towered alone, barely holding onto the handles of the wheel. He had a through wound in his thigh with a bone fracture.

In addition, his entire body was wounded with small fragments. He stood on one leg and tried to hold the cruiser on the course, himself unaware that the steering gear was broken and that the ship was steadily rolling to the right. Seeing the senior officer, he raised his eyebrows in surprise and said with blue lips:

“I hand over the command…”

“I’ll arrange for you to be transferred, Ivan Nikolayevich, to the dressing station.”

“Do not. I’ll stay here. Try to get to the shade of the island. Do not hand over the ship. Better to scuttle her.”

And with that, Lebedev died and his battered ship limped closer to Ulleungdo Island and was scuttled by her crew in deep water some two miles offshore on the morning of the 29th, sending her survivors ashore where the Japanese took them, prisoner.

Blokhin survived, later becoming a rear admiral. Her mine officer, Lt. Alexander Oskarovich Stark (whose father, Vice Adm. Oskar Viktorovich Stark had ironically been in command of the 1st Pacific Squadron at Port Arthur), went on to command the cruiser Bayan in the Baltic during WWI and died in exile (along with his dad) in Finland in the 1920s.

As for Rozhestvensky, after ducking a death sentence at a court-martial after the war, he lived out the last years of his life in St Petersburg as a recluse and died in 1909 of a bad heart, aged 60. He had lost 4,380 men and 21 vessels– including an amazing seven battleships– over the course of about 24-hours, while another seven of his warships were captured by the Japanese along with a staggering 5,900 men– to include the survivors of Donskoy, of course. The Japanese lost no major ships and suffered about 700 mixed casualties in what could be called the all-time benchmark for a decisive naval victory.

Fast forward a few years, and the stories of the gold started to come out, with the legend going that the vessels were piled high with a mini-fortune to be used to buy coal and supplies aboard as needed due  to the fact that Russia had precisely zero coaling stations between the Baltic and Vladivostok.

In 1933, an author named Garry Berg published a hard-to-find pamphlet, “600 Billion in Water,” holding that four ships of the Rozhestvensky’s 2nd Pacific Squadron sunk at the Battle of Tsushima had a horde of gold, then worth US $5 million, with the largest portions on two cruisers– $2 million carried on Admiral Nakhimov, and another $2 million on Donskoy. In 1980, Japanese salvors located Nakhimov and pulled up an unspecified amount of gold bullion, platinum ingots, and British gold sovereigns– over the howls of the Soviets. The ship reportedly carried 16 platinum bars, 48 gold bars and about 5,000 pounds of British gold coins. The funny thing is– the ingots shown off in 1980 were later found to be made out of lead.

In 2001, a South Korean group said they found Donskoy, which is rumored to hold 5,500 boxes of gold bullion and 200 tons of gold coins aboard her– an incredible cache that today is worth some $130 billion if it is to be believed. The ROK-government-run Korea Institute of Ocean Science and Technology followed up with a claim on the wreck a few years later.

However, no one has been able to salve it.

Now, the Singapore-based Shinil Group has once again stirred the Donskoy pot, saying they have located her stern (she is nearly broken in two) at N37°-29′.2″ E130°-56′.3″ to be precise.

“The bottom of Donskoy is about 40 degrees on the slope of the seabed with its stern 380 meters below the water level, and its bow is at 430 meters. One-third of the stern is bombarded, and the hull is severely damaged. It is a half-broken situation. However, the upper deck of the wooden hull is almost untouched. The armor on the side of the hull is also well preserved, while the anchors, guns and machine guns remain in place. In addition, all three of the masts and the two chimneys are broken, there was also a partial attacked trail of marking on the sides.”

Now, as reported by the Singapore Straits Times, the group is offering a swing at the “Donskoi International” cryptocurrency exchange providing tokens called Shinil Gold Coins (SGCs), backed apparently by gold futures on the wreck, which makes the whole idea of the 2nd Pacific Squadron’s ridiculous 18,000-mile journey to Valhalla seem like an innovative idea in comparison…

As for the Russians, after spending some 95 years trying to forget Donskoy, they renamed the 20-year-old TK-208, a huge Project 941 Akula (NATO: Typhoon-class) ballistic missile submarine built in 1980, as Dmitriy Donskoy.

She is the largest submarine in the world in regular fleet service, assigned to the Northern Fleet at Severodvinsk, and the last of her class on active duty. Her aging R-39 ballistic missiles were replaced with launchers for the new RSM-56 Bulava SLBM and she has been testing them out over the past several years.

Specs:

Displacement 5800 t, 6200 fl
Length 306 ft.
Width 52.1 ft.
Draft 23 ft.
Machinery: two 3-cylinder compound machines, 8 boilers, 7000 hp nominal (7360 max), 1 screw
Speed 16 knots
Range: 3,300 nautical miles @10kts, 900 tons coal
Crew 515, incl 23 officers when built. 571 in 1902
Armor: 114 to 152 mm belt, 12.7 mm – deck
Armament:
(1886)
2 × 203mm / 30 low angle
14 × 152mm / 28
4 × 87mm / 24
2 × 64mm / 20 Baranovsky on wings
4 × 47mm/ 43 Hotchkiss
4 × 37mm / 23 Hotchkiss
4 wheeled .45/70 Fearington “coffee mill guns”
4 381mm surface torpedo tubes abeam, 1 in bow
(1895)
6 × 152mm / 45 Canet
10 × 120mm / 45 Canet
2 × 64mm / 20 Baranovsky
8 × 47mm / 43 Hotchkiss
10 × 37mm / 23 Hotchkiss
4 381mm surface torpedo tubes abeam, 1 in bow
(1902)
6 × 152mm / 45 Canet
4 × 120mm / 45 Canet
6 × 75mm / 50 Obukhov
2 × 64mm / 20 Baranovsky
8 × 47mm / 43 Hotchkiss
10 × 37mm / 23 Hotchkiss
2 × 7.62mm Maxim Machine Guns

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

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The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

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Warship Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2018: Meiji’s favorite cruiser

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, Jan. 10, 2018: Meiji’s favorite cruiser

Photo by famed Boston Herald cameraman Leslie Jones via The Boston Public Library, colorized by my friend and the most excellent Postales Navales https://www.facebook.com/Postales-Navales-100381150365520/

Here we see the lead ship of her class of Japanese armored cruisers, IJN Asama, leaving Boston harbor for New York, 26 September 1927, during a happier time in Japanese-U.S. relations. She held her head high in three wars, taking on all comers, and in the end, from her award date to the time she was broken, she gave the Empire a full half-century of service.

Ordered as part of the “Six-Six Fleet” in the days immediately after the Japanese crushed the Manchu Chinese empire on the water in 1894-95, Asama (named after Mount Asama) and her sistership Tokiwa were ordered from Armstrong Whitworth in Britain.

Some 9,700-tons and carrying a mixture of Armstrong 8-inch/45cal main guns and Elswick 6″/40 secondaries, these two 21-knot cruisers were meant to scout for the new battleships also ordered from her London ally to counter the growing Imperial Russian Navy’s Pacific fleet– remember at the time the Tsar had just cheated the Japanese out of Port Arthur and was eyeing both Manchuria proper and Korea as well. They were designed by naval architect Sir Philip Watts as an update to his 8,600-ton Chilean cruiser O’Higgins.

Asama shortly on trials, 1899 NH 58986

ASAMA (Japanese cruiser, 1898-1947) Starboard bow view taken in British waters soon after completion in 1899. Description: Catalog #: NH 86665

Completed within six weeks of each other in the Spring of 1899, the two Japanese first-class cruisers were considered a success from the start– Asama made 22.1 knots on trials– and arrived at Yokosuka by Summer. Emperor Meiji himself, the nation’s 122nd, used Asama for his flagship during the Imperial Naval Review in 1900 and the ship was dispatched back to Britain two years later for the Coronation Review for King Edward VII at Spithead.

photograph (Q 22402) Japanese Cruiser ASAMA, 1902. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205262917

When war came she was in the vanguard.

The very first surface engagement of any significance, besides the opening raid on Port Arthur itself, saw Asama and a host of other cruisers under RADM Uryū Sotokichi confront the Russian cruiser Varyag and the gunboat Korietz in Chemulpo Bay, Korea on 9 February 1904.

Nihon kaigun daishori Banzaii! Battle of Chemulpo Bay 1904 Russian protected cruiser Varyag and the aging gunboat Korietz ablaze and sinking. Japanese cruisers Asama (foreground), Naniwa, Takachiho, Chiyoda, Akashi and Niitaka (by Kobayashi Kiyochika)

The action did not go well for the Russians, with both of the Tsar’s ships on the bottom at the end of the fight and no “official” casualties reported by the Japanese.

Asama later engaged the ships of the 1st Russian Pacific Squadron at the Battle of the Yellow Sea in August and the 2nd and 3rd Squadrons (the former Baltic Fleet) in the much more pivotal carnage of Tsushima. In the latter, she traded shots with the Russian battlewagon Oslyabya and came away with three 12-inch holes in her superstructure to show for it. Following the war, Meiji once again used Asama to review his victorious fleet in Tokyo Bay despite more powerful and modern ships being available for the task.

Her next war found Asama searching for German surface raiders and Adm. Von Spee’s Pacific Squadron in August 1914, a task that brought her across the Pacific and in close operation with British and French allies– as well as cautious Americans. In was in Mexican waters on 31 January 1915 that she holed herself and eventually grounded, her boiler room flooded.

Photographed off the Mexican Pacific coast (possibly Mazatlán) from aboard USS RALEIGH (C-8, 1892-1921). The original caption states, “RALEIGH standing by until ASAMA leaves harbor” and also that the ASAMA was aground. ASAMA does appear slightly down by the head here. Description: Catalog #: NH 93394

ASAMA (Japanese cruiser, 1898-1947) Port beam view. Probably taken during salvage operations in mid-1915 after ASAMA had grounded in San Bartolome Bay, California. Catalog #: NH 86657

It wasn’t until May that she was refloated with the help of a crew of shipwrights from Japan and, after more substantial repairs at the British naval base in Esquimalt BC, she limped into the Home Islands that December, her war effectively over until she could be completely refit and given new boilers, a job not completed until March 1917.

After the war, the historic ship was converted to a coast defense vessel to take away her cruiser classification (the Naval Treaties were afoot) with the resulting removal of most of her 8-inch and 6-inch guns. She then was tasked throughout the 1920s and 30s with a series of long-distance training cruises which saw her roam the globe– that is where our Boston picture at the top of the post comes from.

Photo by famed Boston Herald cameraman Leslie Jones via The Boston Public Library, showing Asama in Boston Harbor in front of the Custom House Tower, Sept 1927. This was during Prohibition and several USCG 75-foot cutters are seen in the foreground.

ASAMA (Japanese cruiser, 1898) Photographed during a visit to an American port between the wars. Note Naval ensign, also 8″ guns. National Archives 80-G-188754

ASAMA (Japanese cruiser, 1898-1947) Overhead view taken during coaling operations between 1922 and 1937.NH 86666

ASAMA (Japanese cruiser, 1898-1947) Caption: Starboard beam view took off Diamond Head, prior to 1937. Description: Catalog #: NH 86650

Then came the night of 13 October 1935, when, while operating in the Inland Sea north north-west of the Kurushima Strait, she ran aground again and was severely damaged. Though repaired, her hull was considered too battered to continue her training cruises and she was converted to a more sedate pierside role at Kure as a floating classroom for midshipmen.

When her third war came in 1941, she was used as a barracks ship and largely disarmed, her guns no doubt passed on to equip new and converted escort craft. She avoided destruction by the Allies and was captured at the end of the war, eventually stricken on 30 November 1945.

ASAMA (Japanese training ship, ex-CA) At Kure, circa October 1945. Collection of Captain D.L. Madeira, 1978. Catalog #: NH 86279

The old girl was towed away and scrapped locally in 1947 at the Innoshima shipyard.

Her sister, Tokiwa, was converted to a minelayer and sowed thousands of those deadly seeds across the Pacific. Up armed with batteries of AAA guns and air search radars, she made it through the war until 9 August 1945 when she was plastered by dive bombers from TF38 while in Northern Japan’s Mutsu Bay and beached to prevent losing her entirely. She was scrapped in Hokkaidō at the same time as Asama.

Specs:

ASAMA Port beam view. Probably taken between 1910 and 1918. Ship in background is cruiser TSUKUBA. NH 86654

Displacement: 9,514–9,557 long tons (9,667–9,710 t)
Length: 442 ft. 0 in (134.72 m) (o/a)
Beam: 67 ft. 2 in (20.48 m)
Draft: 24 ft. 3 in–24 ft. 5 in (7.4–7.43 m)
Installed power:
18,000 hip (13,000 kW)
12 Cylindrical boilers (replaced by 16 Miyabara boilers in 1917)
Propulsion:
2 Shafts
2 triple-expansion Humphry’s, Tennant steam engines
1406 tons coal
Speed: 21+ knots (39 km/h; 24 mph), 19 by 1904, 16 by 1933
Range: 10,000 nmi (19,000 km; 12,000 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 676-726
Armament:
2 × twin 20.3 cm/45 Type 41 Armstrong naval guns
14 × single QF 6 inch /40 Elswick naval guns
12 × single QF 76mm (12 pounder) 12 cwt Armstrong naval guns
8 × single QF 3 pounder Hotchkiss guns
5 × single 457 mm (18.0 in) torpedo tubes, (1 bow, 4 beam) (removed 1917)
Armor: Harvey nickel steel
Waterline belt: 89–178 mm (3.5–7.0 in)
Deck: 51 mm (2.0 in)
Gun Turret: 160 mm (6.3 in)
Barbette: 152 mm (6.0 in)
Casemate: 51–152 mm (2.0–6.0 in)
Conning tower: 356 mm (14.0 in)
Bulkhead: 127 mm (5.0 in)

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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Warship Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017: The Potemkin’s little red brother

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, Sept. 20, 2017: The Potemkin’s little red brother

Here we see the modified Bogatyr-class 1st class protected cruiser Ochakov (Очаков) of the Tsarist Navy as she appeared when first commissioned. She went by several different names and flew a myriad of different ensigns in her time, including that of the first Red admiral and the last White Russian general.

Ordered as part of the Imperial Russian Navy’s 8-year building plan, the German yard of AG Vulcan Stettin won the contract to design and build a class of protected cruisers that, for the time of the Spanish-American War, were modern. The basic design was a 6,000-ton ship with a main battery of 152mm guns, a secondary battery of a dozen 75mm guns, six torpedo tubes (four on deck and two submerged), the capability to carry sea mines and make 23-knots. In short, the Tsar’s admiralty described these ships as “a partially armored cruiser, resembling a high-breasted battleship in appearance, and in fact is a linear, lightly armored ship.”

Bogatyr. Colourised photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter http://blog.livedoor.jp/irootoko_jr/

The cruisers of this type were rightly considered the best representatives of the class of medium armor deck cruisers of their day.

Only class-leader Bogatyr was built in Germany. Follow-on vessels Oleg and Vityaz were built in two Russian yards in St Petersburg, intended for the Baltic Fleet, while two others, Kagul (we’ll call her Kagul I, for reasons you will see later) and Ochakov were constructed in the Black Sea– the latter at the Lazarev Admiralty Yard in Sevastopol. As the five cruisers were built in five different yards spread across the continent, it should come as no surprise that they were all slightly different.

Laid down within 14 months of each other, they were envisioned to commission about the same time, however Vityaz was destroyed by fire on the builder’s ways in 1901 and scrapped, leaving the other four ships to enter service between August 1902 and October 1905, with the hero of our tale, Ochakov, named after a city in Mykolaiv region of Ukraine, joining the fleet on 2 October 1902 though, suffering from several defects in her electrical system and boilers, she was still in what could best be described as extended builder’s trails as late as November 1905.

OCHAKOV (Russian Protected Cruiser, 1902-1933). View made on the deck looking aft toward the ship’s twin 6-inch mount and the bridge. Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Florida, 1986. Description: Catalog #: NH 101049

Trapped in the Black Sea due to Ottoman control of the Straits, Ochakov, and Kagul I did not participate in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905 though sister Oleg fought at the Battle of Tsushima and managed to barely escape to be interned in the Philippines while Bogatyr sortied from Vladivostok for commerce raiding during the conflict.

Speaking of the Black Sea Fleet in 1905, something happened that you may have heard of:

Caught up in the anti-Tsarist backlash that resulted from defeat in the Pacific and loss of two out of three Russian fleets, the country was thrown into the what is described as the Russian Revolution of 1905. Some two months after the war ended, one of the darkest chapters of that unsuccessful episode was The Sevastopol Uprising.

There, one Lt. Pyotr Petrovitch Schmidt, from an Odessa-based naval family of German descent (his father fought at Sevastopol during its great siege in the Crimean War), was something of a rabble-rouser.

Schmidt

A graduate of the Naval Officers’ Corps in Saint Petersburg (53rd out of 307, class of 1886) he was soon dismissed to the reserves in 1889 after spending much of his time with the frozen Baltic Fleet on the sick list, but rejoined the warm Black Sea Fleet in 1892 only to transfer into the merchant shipping service in 1900, going on to command several steamers. Recalled to the colors for the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, he was given command of the coal transport Irtysh which was sailing for the Pacific to be sunk at Tsushima but before it left Russian waters he was thrown in the brig for insulting a fellow officer but later let out to rejoin his ship. However, by the time the fleet made it to Africa, he was back on the sick list and sent to the Black Sea Fleet to help hold it down for the duration of the war, nominally given command of Torpedo Boat No. 253.

Stripped of most effective officers and NCOs to man the other ill-fated Russian task forces and left with ships full of raw recruits and untalented leaders, the Black Sea Fleet in late 1905 was a powder keg of inefficiency that led to the famous mutiny of the battleship Potemkin in June, which was quickly put down and the ship recaptured, the 42 men considered to be in the thick of it thrown in the brig on the minelayer Prut.

Enter Schmidt, stage left.

He formed the “Union of Officers-Friends of the People in Sevastopol” and in October 1905 led a crowd to the Odessa city prison to protest the arrest of local revolutionaries and began distributing leaflets. This landed him in the jail alongside the other reds, but he was quickly released. He was cashiered at the rank of Captain 2nd Rank.

However, by 11 November, representative crew members from at least seven Black Sea Fleet warships were attending Schmidt’s group’s fiery meetings, with some calling for outright rebellion. The new sailors’ soviet elected him as their leader.

By 13 November, with an estimated 2,000 sailors and longshoremen in mutiny across Odessa, the officers of the Ochakov beat feet and left the mutineers in charge. The leaderless crew signaled that Schmidt should join them and he did, arriving at around 2 p.m. on 14 November with his 16-year-old son in tow and Imperial shoulder boards still on his uniform. Understrength– just 350 crew, with few senior NCOs and no officers, remained– the unfinished warship was clearing for an uncertain fight.

Then they went to get the Potemkin‘s locked up leaders:

Having thrown out the Admiral’s flag on Ochakov and gave the signal: “I command the fleet, Schmidt”, with the expectation of immediately attracting the whole squadron to this insurrection, he sent his cutter to the “Prut” in order to release the Potemkin people. There was no resistance. “Ochakov” received the sailors-convicts on board and went around with them the whole squadron. From all the courts, there was a welcome “Hurray.” Several of the ships, including the battleships Potemkin [which had been renamed St. Panteleimon, the patron saint of accidents and loneliness] and Rostislav, raised a red banner; at the latter, however, it only fluttered for a few minutes.

By the morning of the 15th, Schmidt fired off a telegram to Tsar Nicholas II:

“The glorious Black Sea Fleet, sacredly devoted to the people, demands Your Majesty to immediately call a meeting of the Constituent Assembly, and no longer obeys orders of Your ministers. Commander of the Fleet P. Schmidt.”

While he initially had seven other warships answering his signals, and his little red fleet was a sight that no doubt gave every Bolshevik a lump in their throat, they really had no chance.

Over the course of the day, one by one the ships took down their red flag, leaving only the cruiser and a destroyer as the only rebels. Gen. Meller-Zakomelsky, the Tsar’s commander ashore, trained every gun in the harbor– including some 12-inch pieces– on the Ochakov and the gunners were loyal. An ultimatum was issued. The battleship Rostislav, with her 254mm guns and Vice Admiral Alexander Krieger aboard, closed to within 900m of the cruiser.

At 1600, the shore batteries and Rostislav opened fire, riddling the cruiser with at least 2 254-mm and 16 152-mm shells. She was able to get six shots off in return, which missed. A fire soon broke out on Ochakov, and Schmidt stopped the fight, lowered the national ensign and red flag, then hoisted a white one. It was all over in 20 minutes. Schmidt and 35 of the sailors thought the key to the uprising were carted off in chains.

In March 1906, Schmidt and three men from Ochakov (sailors AI Gladkov, NG Antonenko, Quartermaster S. P. Priknik) were executed by a firing squad on windswept Berezan Island at the entrance of the Dnieper-Bug Estuary by the crew of the gunboat Terets.

Thrown into a shallow grave, it was unmarked until 1924 when the Soviets began erecting monuments to the people’s heroes of 1905. Of the other 300~ survivors of her red crew and the men that were recycled from the Potemkin mutineers, 14 were exiled to Siberia, 103 imprisoned at hard labor at terms several years, and 151 sent to labor battalions to serve the rest of their original enlistment.

As for Ochakov, her magazines flooded to prevent her from going in one quick puff of smoke, she smoldered for two days but did not sink. Towed into the yard for repairs, the blackened ship had 63 shell holes in her hull and superstructure and several compartments with human remains.

To erase her memory from the fleet, the ship was extensively reconstructed and, oddly enough, given the name of her sister– Kagul, which was, in turn, renamed Pamyat’ Merkuriya in March 1907.

Returning to the fleet, Kagul II as we like to call her (ex-Ochakov), was a much different ship. She proved relatively effective, rebuilt with lessons learned from her plastering by the fleet in 1905 and from against the Japanese.

She also became a test bed for seaplane use for reconnaissance and scouting purposes.

Russian Navy Curtiss Floatplane being hoisted aboard the Cruiser KAGUL (1902-1933) in February 1915, in the Black Sea. Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drapshil of Margate, Florida, 1984. Description: Catalog #: NH 100152

Russian Navy Curtiss Floatplane being hoisted aboard the Cruiser KAGUL (1902-1933) in February 1915, in the Black Sea. Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drapshil of Margate, Florida, 1984. Description: Catalog #: NH 100152

Russian Navy Curtiss F-type flying boat serial number 15 seen in the Black Sea, with the cruiser KAGUL (1902-1933) in the background. Information accompanying this photograph indicates that it was taken during the 28 March 1915 operation off the Bosporus. Description: Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Florida, 1984.Catalog #: NH 100153

Russian Navy Curtiss F-type flying boat serial number 15 seen in the Black Sea, with the cruiser KAGUL (1902-1933) in the background. Information accompanying this photograph indicates that it was taken during the 28 March 1915 operation off the Bosporus. Description: Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Florida, 1984.Catalog #: NH 100153

When the Great War came, the two cruisers served as the eyes of the Black Sea Fleet and hunted for the German cruisers Goeben and Breslau, bombarded fired the Turkish coast, covered minelaying expeditions (and themselves laid several of their own mine barriers) and captured or sank a number of Ottoman and later Bulgarian coasters.

Unidentified personnel seen on deck aboard the protected cruiser KAGUL (1902-1934) in The Black Sea on 20 March 1915. A twin 152mm/ 6-inch, 45-caliber gun turret appears in the center. Description: Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983 Catalog #: NH 94406

Unidentified personnel seen on deck aboard the protected cruiser KAGUL (1902-1934) in The Black Sea on 20 March 1915. A twin 152mm/ 6-inch, 45-caliber gun turret appears in the center. Description: Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1983 Catalog #: NH 94406

AMALIA (Turkish Merchant Ship) Photographed in the Black Sea at the time of capture on 4 May 1915 off the Rumelian coast. This 430-register ton merchant ship was carrying a cargo of petrol. This view was taken from aboard the Russian cruiser KAGUL (1902-1932) which made the capture while on a raiding cruise. Description: Courtesy of Boris V. Drashpil Catalog #: NH 94798

AMALIA (Turkish Merchant Ship) Photographed in the Black Sea at the time of capture on 4 May 1915 off the Rumelian coast. This 430-register ton merchant ship was carrying a cargo of petrol. This view was taken from aboard the Russian cruiser KAGUL (1902-1932) which made the capture while on a raiding cruise. Description: Courtesy of Boris V. Drashpil Catalog #: NH 94798

Photographed in Port at Novorossiysk on the Black Sea on 27 March 1916 (old style calendar, 13 days behind present western dating). Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1893 Catalog #: NH 94408

Photographed in Port at Novorossiysk on the Black Sea on 27 March 1916 (old style calendar, 13 days behind present western dating). Courtesy of Mr. Boris V. Drashpil of Margate, Fla., 1893 Catalog #: NH 94408

After her Great War redemption, again came the revolution.

On 15 March 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated after a week of riots and mutinies by the Imperial Guard in Petrograd. The Baltic Fleet, Northern Fleet, and Pacific Squadron followed suit in swearing allegiance to the Provisional Government, as did the Black Sea Fleet. Memories of the 1905 Mutiny in Odessa and Sevastopol were still strong and, at the end of the month with a red flag on her mast once more, Kagul (II) became Ochakov again, her sailor’s committee in charge.

With the decline of the Russian war effort against the Central Powers, and Lenin and Co removing the Provisional Government in November, the country dropped out of the conflict with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918. Ceded to German/Austrian control as part of the pact, Ochakov was captured by the Germans in May and remained in nominal service to the Kaiser until the British arrived on 24 November, two weeks after the Armistice.

Turned over to the anti-Bolshevik White Army forces, the largely crewless warship became part of Lt. Gen. Anton Denikin’s Armed Forces of the South of Russia, which led to the cruiser being renamed after that force’s early leader, General Lavr Kornilov (who himself was zapped by Red artillery in April 1918).

In 1919, after Denikin’s attack upon Moscow faltered, he fell back to the Black Sea and evacuated the remnants of his forces from Novorossiysk to the Crimea where Lt. Gen. Piotr Wrangel took over the force, our cruiser included.

The endgame of Wrangel’s effort came in November 1920 when 140,000 soldiers, Cossacks, monarchists and general White Russian diaspora left the Crimea on everything that could float. Wrangel, on his yacht Lucullus, led the working ships of the Black Sea Fleet including two battleships, two cruisers (including our subject), 15 destroyers/escorts, and five submarines first to Constantinople and then to Bizerte in French North Africa where they arrived in December.

There, the fleet in being remained for four years under RADM. Mikhail Berens until its disarmament after the recognition by France of the Soviet Union on 29 October 1924, when her old Cross of St. Andrew was hauled down as ownership had been transferred to the Soviets. After inspection by emissaries from Moscow, Ochakov/Kornilov never left Tunisia and was instead sold as scrap in 1933. Some of her guns were later likely used in French coastal defenses.

GENERAL KORNILOV Possibly photographed at Bizerte, where the ship spent 1920 to 1932 as a unit of the White Russian "Wrangel-Fleet." From the P.A. Warneck Collection, 1981; Courtesy of B. V. Drashpil of Margate, Florida. Catalog #: NH 92158

GENERAL KORNILOV Possibly photographed at Bizerte, where the ship spent 1920 to 1932 as a unit of the White Russian “Wrangel-Fleet.” From the P.A. Warneck Collection, 1981; Courtesy of B. V. Drashpil of Margate, Florida. Catalog #: NH 92158

Of her sisters, Bogatyr was scrapped in Germany in 1922 after the Reds sold her for spare change along with a number of other Baltic Fleet vessels while Oleg was written off by the Bolsheviks as a combat loss 17 June 1919 after she was torpedoed and sunk by Royal Navy speedboat CMB-4 commanded by Captain Augustus Agar at Kronstadt. As for Kagul I (Pamiat’ Merkuria) she was unable to sortie with Wrangel’s last fleet and, captured at Sevastopol, was renamed Komintern and refitted with material salvaged from Bogatyr and Oleg, later fighting the Germans in WWII until her loss in 1942.

The name Ochakov was celebrated in the Soviet Union, going on to grace a Kara-class cruiser in 1969. Based in the Black Sea (where else?) she was decommissioned in 2011 but later sunk as a blockship to piss off the Ukrainians in 2014.

The more things change.

Specs:

Displacement: 7800 fl
Length: 439 ft. 8 in
Beam: 54 ft. 6 in
Draft: 20 ft. 8 in
Propulsion:
2 shaft vertical triple-expansion steam engines
16 Normand-type boilers
23,000 hp
Speed: 23 knots
Endurance: 5320 (10) on 1194 tons coal
Complement: 30 officers and 550 sailors
Armament:
(As built)
12 × 152mm (6 in/44cal) Obuhovsky/Canet guns (2 twin turrets and 8 single guns), 2160 rounds
12 × 75mm (3in/48cal) 11-pounder guns, singles, 3600 rounds
8 × 47mm Hotchkiss guns, single
2 × 5-barrel 37 mm guns Hotchkiss guns
6 × 17.7 in (450 mm) torpedo tubes
292 M08 Sea mines
(1917)
10x 130mm/53cal singles
12 × 75mm (3in/48cal) 11-pounder guns, single
2x 64mm landing guns
8 × 47mm Hotchkiss guns, single
2 × 5-barrel 37 mm guns Hotchkiss guns
2 x Maxim machine guns
6 × 17.7 in (450 mm) torpedo tubes
292 M08 sea mines
Armor:
Deck: 80 mm (3.1 in)
Turrets: 127 mm (5.0 in)
Casemates: 80 mm (3.1 in)
Conning tower: 140 mm (5.5 in)

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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I’m a member, so should you be!

Of Russians and palm trees

In December 1908, when the slava Glory was in the Sicilian city of Messina, there was the strongest earthquake.

Click to big up

Here we see past Warship Wednesday alumni and the only survivor of the Borodino-class of predeadnought battleship Slava (Russian: Слава “Glory“) in December 1908, while in the Sicilian city of Messina providing assistance to the locals following a strong earthquake that left as many as 200,000 dead.

We say Slava was the last of class because her four sister ships–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, which was its own sort of strong earthquake for Tsarist Russia.

Combat Gallery Sunday : The Martial Art of Y. Mizuno

Much as once a week I like to take time off to cover warships (Wednesdays), on Sundays (when I feel like working), I like to cover military art and the painters, illustrators, sculptors, and the like that produced them.

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Y. Mizuno

Y. Mizuno is a Japanese watercolor artist who specializes in war art, specifically the ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s Combined Fleet in World War II. His work is truly epic.

Yugumo class destroyer

Yugumo class destroyer

Chiyoda

Chiyoda

IJN submarine with piggyback midget sub. prior the attack on Pearl harbor 1941

IJN submarine with piggyback midget sub. prior the attack on Pearl Harbor 1941

IJN Akitsushima flying boat tender

IJN Akitsushima flying boat tender

Heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Heavy cruisers Tone and Chikuma during the Battle of Leyte Gulf.

Heavy cruiser Furutaka during the Battle of Savo Island.

Heavy cruiser Furutaka during the Battle of Savo Island.

Destroyer Take under attack by a B-25 Mitchell bomber during the Battle of Ormoc Bay

Destroyer Take under attack by a B-25 Mitchell bomber during the Battle of Ormoc Bay

Destroyer Kuwa during the Battle of Cape Engaño, an aircraft carrier in the background

Destroyer Kuwa during the Battle of Cape Engaño, an aircraft carrier in the background

For more, please visit the Marine Gallery where the work of Mizuno as well as the art of Takeshi Yuki, an artist and a war veteran himself and Mr. Ueda Kihachiro reside.

Thank you for your work, sirs.

Warship Wednesday May 27, 2015 The coldest boat in the Russian Navy

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, May 27, 2015, The coldest boat in the Russian Navy

Click to big up

Click to big up

Here we see the unique vessel of the Tsar’s Imperial Russian Navy, the icebreaker Yermak (also spelled Ермак, Ermak, and Yermack due to transliteration) doing what she did best—breaking sea ice. She was the first true modern sea-going icebreaker in any navy and lasted an impressive 80~ years and through five world wars in which she got bloodier than could be expected for a ship of her type.

In the late 1890s, polar exploration was all the rage and Holy Russia, pushing ever further to control the Western Pacific, sought to join Europe and Asia via the Northeast Passage across the top of the country. The thing is the ships that had tried this arduous journey had all failed. One renowned Russian polar explorer and naval officer, Stepan Makarov, fresh off his expeditions to the mouth of the north-flowing Siberian rivers Ob and Yenisei, proposed a radical new steel-hulled steamship with powerful engines and screws on both the stern and bow, ready to chop up polar ice as she went.

Note the close arrangement of her three stern screws

Note the close arrangement of her three stern screws

The ship, some 319 feet long and 70 abeam, was very tubby in design. Six boilers fed either three shafts aft or one forward, allowing her to back and ram if needed– now standard procedure for icebreakers but novel at the time. Speaking of the bow, she had a strengthened hull of 29 mm plate steel sandwiched with oak and cork to allow her to break sea ice at over 7 feet thick.

Under construction

Under construction. Note the strengthened steel ‘nose’ over which in essence a second double hull would be constructed.

Her twin 55-foot high stacks and round sloping bow with a small stem and flare angles made her readily distinguishable and came to typify early icebreaker design. Even today, her hull form is imitated in even the most advanced polar icebreaker design.

The resulting design was authorized by Count Witte in 1897 at the cost of 3 million gold rubles and ordered abroad to ensure fast and reliable delivery. Laid down in December at Sir W.G. Armstrong, Whitworth & Co Ltd, Newcastle upon Tyne, she was completed 29 January 1899– and delivered at half the price.

Launching

Launching

On trails. How many times have you seen an icebreaker with a bone in her mouth?

On trails. How many times have you seen an icebreaker with a bone in her mouth?

She carried the name of cossack ataman (head man) Vasiliy `Yermak` Timofeyevich Alenin, the Don Cossack who conquered Siberia under the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the 1580s, her purpose was clear.

Surikov's "The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak" The cossack swashbuckler took 800 men east and won an empire from the khans of the tartars and tribal people of the region that the Russians hold until today.

Surikov’s “The Conquest of Siberia by Yermak” The cossack swashbuckler took 800 men east and won an empire from the khans of the tartars and tribal people of the region that the Russians hold until today.

Arriving at the headquarters of the Russian Baltic Fleet in March after a ten-day voyage from the UK, Yermak made her smashing debut ( I love a pun) by breaking her way into the ice-bound harbor Kronstadt and then up the Neva River to St. Petersburg– where thousands thronged to see her across the frozen river.

Yermak in St Petersburg on the Neva

Yermak in St Petersburg on the Neva

By that November, she came in handy. The massive 12,500-ton armored cruiser Gromoboi had been forced by early ice from her moorings to the shore, and future ice movement threatened to sink the ship. Three days later, Yermak pulled her free.

Then, just weeks later, she had to help pull the 4,200-ton Admiral Ushakov-class coastal defense ship General-Admiral Graf Apraksin from the rocks and tow her back to Kronstadt.

Yermack was the first polar icebreaker in the world, colorized photo of it assisting the Graf Apraksin in 1899.

Yermack was the first polar icebreaker in the world, a colorized photo of it assisting the Graf Apraksin in 1899. Whoever colorized the photo neglected to add the correct cap bands to the breaker, which should be blue.

She was one of the first ships to use a wireless for rescue at sea when she rescued 27 lost Finnish fishermen from the rocks near Hango and transmitted the fact to a land station there with the help of Professor Alexander Stepanovich Popov (the Russian Marconi) who had set up a station near Apraksin and relayed messages back and forth.

"Icebreaker " Yermak ", who worked for the removal of stones from the battleship "Adm. Apraksin ", saved the 10th February 1900 27 fishermen, the news of the death of the first of which was received on a radio installation"

“Icebreaker ” Yermak “, who worked for the removal of stones from the battleship “Adm. Apraksin “, saved the 10th February 1900 27 fishermen, the news of the death of the first of which was received on a radio installation”

In 1901 Yermak helped Makarov complete his Third (and last) Siberian exploration expedition, reaching as far as Nova Zemyla. It was the last time the admiral was aboard the ship that was his magnum opus.

Picture M. G. Platunova First swimming polar icebreaker Ermak, depicting her first encounter with sea ice in 1899

Painting by M. G. Platunova “First swimming polar icebreaker Ermak,” depicting her first encounter with polar sea ice. Note her buff superstructure and blue cap bands.

Makarov, sadly the best Russian naval mind of his era, was blown sky high on his flagship, the battleship Petropavlovsk, on a sortie out of Port Arthur in 1904.

During the Russo-Japanese War, Yermak helped rush reinforcements to the front, freeing first the cruisers of Capt. Yegoryev’s unit in February 1904 from Libau and then the 12 ships of Rear Admiral Nebogatov’s division the next January.

In port, click to big up

In port, click to big up

She was ordered to follow the fleet as a coal supply ship and, once in the Pacific, assist in helping to Vladivostok free of ice. Five days after leaving Russian waters, however, Yermak suffered a shaft failure, which Adm. Rozhdestvensky, enraged at the time, did not believe, and took as an act of mutiny until he personally came aboard and verified it himself.

In the end, she was allowed to limp back to Kronstadt after cross-decking a number of her officers and crew to other vessels that were short. This act saved Yermak from what would certainly have been death at the hands of the Japanese at Tsushima (though not the men she transferred).

In the summer of 1905, with the completion of the Trans-Siberian Railway all-important to a Russian victory in the Far East and her shaft repaired, she escorted supplies and rails for the project to along the Russian Arctic coast to the mouth of the Yenisey River, about half the distance.

Yermak in heavy sea ice

Yermak in heavy sea ice

A great stern shot in warm waters. Click to big up

A great stern shot in warm waters. Click to big up

She conducted some of the first through-ice dives in frozen waters

She conducted some of the first through-ice dives in frozen waters

With the war over, she went back to merchant and research service, breaking the ice around the Baltic. In 1908, she rescued her third warship when she pulled the cruiser Oleg from the ice off Finland.

By the time of the next war in 1914, Yermak was armed with some small deck guns to help ward off German submarines but again stuck to breaking out Russian warships when needed. This included freeing the cruiser Rurik for a sortie in March 1915 and the battleships Slava and Tsarevitch. Stationed in Revel for most of the war and with little for an icebreaker to do in summer months, she served as a depot ship for submarines.

Note the mascot and Tsarist uniforms with British influence

Note the mascot and Tsarist uniforms with British influence

When the rest of the Baltic Fleet raised the red flag in March 1917, she was one of the last ships to do so and even then her crew re-elected her longtime skipper, Estonian-born Capt. Rudolf Karlovich Felman, who had commanded the ship since 1903– one of the few fleet vessels to do so.

However, Felman, in the end, was kicked out in November with the coming of the Bolsheviks and promptly left Russia only to find easy work in Estonian service. He was the longest-serving of her more than 21 captains spanning seven decades.

Felman. This intrepid polar explorer and ship driver lived until 1928

Felman. This intrepid polar explorer and ship driver lived until 1928

With the Germans fast approaching and the war at its end (for the Russians anyway), Yermak sailed from Revel to Helsinki and broke out the fleet to include 7 battleships, 9 cruisers and 200~ misc vessels so that they could assemble in Kronstadt and not fall into the Kaiser’s hands. This event was later referred to as the Great Ice Cruise of the Baltic Fleet and is seen as saving the Soviet Navy. (It should be noted that the Whites sailed away in 1920 and 22 with the majority of serviceable vessels of the Black Sea and Pacific fleets respectively, leaving only those in the Baltic under the Red Flag)

At the end of March, Yermak tried to return to Helsinki with a contingent of Red Navy sailors to seize the town but after trading some naval artillery with the local Finnish ship Tarmo (2400-tons, 1 47mm gun), she turned back around when a German plane dropped a few small bombs danger close to the hapless Russian icebreaker.

Nonetheless, her service in the Revolution and later Civil War, where her crew was sent to fight on land, earned her the Revolutionary Red Banner of the Central Executive Committee for outstanding service in her third war.

By 1921, she was disarmed and back in service around the Baltic since she was one of the few operational vessels left. She was even loaned to the Germans in 1929 (at a price of 1 million DM, which was music to the ears of the cash-strapped Kremlin) to open the Kiel Canal early.

In 1935, she made an Arctic expedition equipped with a seaplane and helped pick up floating North Pole Station 1 under the famous explorer Ivan Papanin, cementing her place in polar history.

1-3

Note the Red Banner flag

 

Yermak’s fourth conflict, the Russo-Finnish Winter War; saw her again armed, this time much more heavily. In December of that year, the Finns came close to sinking the old girl when the submarine Vetehinen (Merman) stalked her without success over an 8-day period off Libau. By early 1940, Yermak helped escort Soviet Naval troops to occupy disputed islands in the Gulf of Finland—and again was scrapping with her old Civil War enemy, the Finnish Tarmo, without effect.

Click to big up

Click to big up

In 1941, her fifth war was upon her and she was soon going toe to toe with German and Finnish bombers and attack planes. According to Soviet historians, Yermak‘s gunners splashed 36 aircraft during the war while, again, she served as a depot and berthing ship for submarines as needed. In 1942, with the Axis powers closing in on Leningrad, most of her armament was shipped to the front, with all but 15 of her crew going with it to fight on shore as they had in the Civil War.

By 1944, disarmed, and her crew of dirt sailors advancing on Berlin, Yermak was transferred back to merchant service with the ship earning the Order of Lenin for her WWII service.

1950, at this point she had seen a solid half-century of service.

1950, at this point she had seen a solid half-century of service.

By 1950, after an inspection found her half-century-old hull still sound, she was sent to Antwerp for refit and then assigned to the White Sea based at Murmansk. Her floatplane long since gone, she was given a helicopter and pad in 1954 and spent the next decade assisting in breaking submarines in and out of Polyarni as well as escorting seal fishing expeditions out into the Arctic.

With new atomic icebreakers coming into Soviet service, the days of the old steam Yermak were numbered. On 23 May 1963, she was withdrawn from service and, when a bid to preserve her as a museum failed, she was ordered stripped. Her good British steel was stolen from her and everything of value slowly disappeared over a ten-year period.

What was left was burned 17 December 1975 in the bleak ship cemetery at nearby Gadzhiyevo. It is believed that part of her keel is still visible at the radioactive summer low tide in that rusty ship graveyard today.

Her monument in Murmansk

Her monument in Murmansk

A monument stands to her in Murmansk that includes one of her anchors, while a number of stamps have been issued by the Soviets and Russians to honor her memory. She has also been commemorated in Soviet maritime art.

Icebreaker Ermak

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Icebreaker Yermak by noted Soviet maritime artist Eugene Voishvillo

Icebreaker Yermak by noted Soviet maritime artist Eugene Voishvillo

Yermak at revel by Yuri Sorokin

Yermak at revel by Yuri Sorokin

A 20,000-ton icebreaker (made ironically in Finland) was commissioned in 1974 with her old name and continues service today.

In a twist of Baltic fate, Yermak’s longtime nemesis, the Finnish icebreaker Tarmo, retired in 1970, has been preserved in the Maritime Museum of Finland in Kotka since 1992. Her hull, also built by Armstrong, is still sound.

Specs:

ermak2

Displacement 7875 tons as designed, 10,000 by 1941
Length 319 feet
Width 70.8 feet
Draft 24 feet
Engines steam engines, 10,000 hp as designed
Three shafts, VTE steam engines, 6 boilers. Bow shaft as designed (removed in 1935)
Speed: 15 knots when new. 10 by 1939
Cruising range 5000 miles on 2200 tons of coal (bunkerage for 3,000 if needed). Coal consumption was 100 tons per day while underway.
Crew 89 as designed with berths for 102, 166 in naval service, 250 in 1939
Armament: 1914-1921: 2-4 small mounts of unknown caliber
1939-42ish:
2x 102 mm/45 (4″) B-2 Pattern 1930 mounts
4x 76.2 mm/30 (3″) Pattern 1914/15 mounts
4×45 mm/46 (1.77″) 21-K anti-tank guns in navalized AAA mounts
4x quad Maxim machineguns on GAZ-4M-AA mounts

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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find http://www.warship.org/

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

Nearing their 50th Anniversary, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

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