Category Archives: Russo-Japanese war

Flotsam of the Tsar’s 1st Pacific Squadron

Camp Kanzense. Matsuyama. Japan, Spring 1905: A group of Russian sailors from the assorted warships sunk by Japanese artillery in the mud of Port Arthur during the siege there. Cap bands show they are from the Баян (Bayan), Бобр (Bobr), Варяг (Varyag), Гиляк (Gilyak), Забияка (Zabiyaka), Паллада (Pallada), Пересвет (Peresvet), Победа (Pobeda), Полтава (Poltava), Ретвизан (Retvizan), and Отважный (Otvazhnyy).

Unlike Japanese EPOW camps in WWII, the Meiji era camps of the Russo-Japanese War were reportedly very hospitable, and the “guests” were returned in good health after the peace. It was only after the corruption of the Bushido code by the 1930s Japanese military elite that the treatment of captured enemy troops and sailors was seen as a dim and distasteful burden. 

When the fortress seaport was scandalously surrendered by Baron Anatoly Stoessel to the Japanese on 2 January 1905, despite having another 30-to-60 days worth of shells and supplied on hand, some 8,985 Russian sailors were marched off to captivity along with 878 Army officers and 23,491 of the Tsar’s soldiers.

Fast Torpedo Boats on a Cold February Night

Some 117 years ago today, similarly over a Monday night/Tuesday morning, a Japanese force under ADM Togo conducted a pre-emptive strike on the Russian fleet at anchor in Port Arthur– without a declaration of war.

“The Japanese torpedo destroyers, the Asagiri and Hayadori, attacking the Russian Men-of-war.” Chromolithograph print showing Japanese torpedo boats sinking Russian battleships. From The real illustration of the Japano-Russian War. No. 3, published April 1904. LOC LC-DIG-jpd-02520

Using a force of 10 destroyers, the first Japanese torpedos were in the water at 00:28 on the snowy Tuesday morning of 9 February 1904 and the force withdrew from the harbor by 02:00. Of the 16 torps fired, just a few hit their targets, damaging the pre-dreadnoughts Retvizan and the Tsesarevich and the protected cruiser Pallada— all of which were returned to duty in a few weeks.

Related: Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Watanabe Nobukazu

“The destruction of Russ[i]an torpede [sic] destroyers by Japanese torpede destroyers at Port Arthur — the illustration of the war between Japan and Russia (no. 5).” Woodblock by Ryōzō Tanaka. Published April 1904. LOC LC-DIG-jpd-02531

The night engagement and a delusory surface action the next morning likewise was unspectacular, resulting in a total of about 100-150 dead on each side. Though tactically ineffective, Togo did achieve surprise on the Russian bear and the fleet at Port Arthur never managed to leave the harbor successfully during the resulting war, which proved disastrous for the Tsar.

End of the Kwantung Army

Soviet Defeat of the Japanese Kwantung Army, 1945

75 years ago today, the largest Imperial Japanese military force on the planet, the fabled Kwantung Army, was instructed to surrender its remaining 500,000+ men into Soviet hands.

Formed in 1906 in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War to police the Empire’s slice of mainland Asia, it had long been the key command in the IJA and by 1945 was in actuality a large army group composed of no less than six numbered (3rd, 4th, 5th, 30th, 34th, and 44th) armies in addition to the forces of the puppet state of Manchukuo, those of various White Russian exile units, Korean auxiliaries, and assorted Chinese warlord allies.

That is, until the Soviets crashed in and burst that bubble, showing the force to be a hollow Easter bunny of sorts. This is because the Kwantung Army had been siphoned off in 1942-45, drawing irreplaceable elite cadres away to be fed into the meat chopper that was defending the Empire against the on-rushing Allied forces island hopping from Guadalcanal to Okinawa. For reference, in June 1938, 18 months before Pear Harbor, the Imperial Japanese Army had a full 34 combat divisions tied down on the ground in Eastern China along the Yellow River, that, when coupled with a supply train that ran back to the Home Islands through Manchuria and Korea, totaled over 1.1 million men in the field.

When the Soviets marched into the Theatre, that force had been halved and most of what was left were second-rate troops.

Soviet vehicles and troops crossing the border into Manchuria, August 1945.

A Lend-Leased M4A2 Sherman with a Soviet crew making friends

Soviet Motorcyclist column on Harley-Davidson WLA-42 and Dnepr M-72 in Manchuria, August 1945.

Soviet soldiers sitting on the throne of emperor Pu Yi, leader of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, China, September 1945

Gen. Otozō Yamada, an old horse soldier, cumulated 40 years of service in the Imperial Japanese Army on 16 August, the day after the Emperor ordered national surrender, by issuing a command to lay down the Kwantung Army’s arms and banners at the feet of the invading Soviets in Manchuria.

However, many of Yamada’s units kept fighting for several days until Field Marshal Hata Shunroku, son of a samurai of the Aizu domain, met with Soviet Field Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky in Harbin on the 19th, and a further cease-fire order circulated directly after.

A former Minister of War, Hata had experience with surrender, having been a member of the Japanese delegation to the Versailles Peace Treaty negotiations as a young colonel in 1919, although on the winning side.

Nonetheless, the Soviets kept advancing even after Stalin had announced the end of hostilities on 23 August. Red paratroopers hit the silk into Heijō, a Japanese colonial outpost since 1905 and known today as Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, on 24 August, the same week as the Soviet Pacific Fleet arrived in Wonsan– on American Lend-Leased LSTs.

Column of Soviet Soldiers advancing into the Korean Peninsula against the Kwaungtung Army meet U.S. personnel, September 1945. Soviet forces occupied the north of Korea with U.S. forces occupying the south, with the arbitray boundary between their zones being the 38th parallel, one that holds today. LIFE Magazine Archives – George Silk Photographer

On 9 September, a full week after the instruments of surrender were signed in Tokyo Bay, 100,000 Japanese troops in Nanking laid down their arms. Even with that, there were still isolated Japanese garrisons in China that remained intact well into November 1945.

Japanese fort surrendering to Chinese partisans, Fall 1945

Japanese surrender in Peking (Beijing), China to combined U.S./British/KMT forces, October 1945

The Soviets remained a presence in Manchuria and North Korea for several years, going so far as to keep troops in the Manchurian hubs of Mukden, Harbin, Dairen, and Port Arthur– all notably former Tsarist stomping grounds– until 1955, more than eight years after the Communist Chinese had taken over the supposed governance of such areas.

PPS-43 armed Soviet tankers in Mukden, 1946. Note the officer with an upcycled Japanese Army tanker winter suit that he has installed shoulder boards on. Also, note the bronze plaque behind them with T-34s on it.

Soviet Naval Infantry raising their flag on the famous 203 Meter Hill in Port Arthur– now known as Lüshun in Liaoning province– 22 August 1945. The Baiyu Tower, constructed by the Japanese in the 1930s to commemorate 1904-1905 war dead, is visible in the distance. The Japanese Army used 203 Meter Hill in late 1904 to destroy the besieged Imperial Russian Navy’s Pacific Squadron below. RIAN Archive Photo 834147


Standing with the Japanese– briefly– was the “Manchukuo Imperial Army” of puppet Manchurian Emperor Pu Yi. Originally formed around the roughly corps-sized Chinese National Revolutionary Army of the “Young Marshal” (Zhang Xueliang) in 1932, it grew to a nominal peak of 300,000 men in the field, under Japanese tutelage, in seven provincial armies. While capable of pushing into Inner Mongolia and fighting roaming bands of warlords, the occasional Chinese Communist insurgent group, and bandit gangs, it was no match for the battle-hardened Soviets and, once the Russkis crossed the border, melted away into the countryside, with the conscripts often turning on their officers, killing their Japanese advisers, and vanishing into the towns and villages, taking their weapons but leaving their uniforms behind. Tellingly, the Soviets only captured about 30,000 non-Japanese Manchukuo Army soldiers– of whom half were ethnic Koreans and were too far from home to self-demobilize– and killed about 10,000 in very one-sided combat. In less than two weeks, the force had ceased to exist.

Chinese troops train under Japanese instructors. More than 300,000 soldiers from China fought for Hirohito against their own countrymen between 1932 and 1945.

Much as the Russkis dismantled the Kwangtung Army and its puppet Manchukuoan allies, they also took apart the Egami-gun, the Manchukuo Imperial Navy. Established in 1932 with donated Japanese destroyers and gunboats and drawing half of its officers (the senior half) from the IJN’s retired list, the force concentrated largely on coastal defense and river operations on the Sungari, Amur, and Ussuri rivers against bandits, pirates and anti-Manchu Communist partisans. Consisting of about 20 small gunboats and a force of armored cars to drive around on the ice every winter once the rivers froze over, the Egami-gun quickly lowered its flags as the Russians came in and took over their vessels. Some of these warships would be retained by the Soviet’s Amur flotilla for years as working trophies.

Manchurian gunboat Chin Jen in Soviet fleet as KL-56 captured in August 1945 from the Manchukuo Navy.

At 290-tons, Chin Jen and Ting Pien were built in the 1930s by the Japanese for the Manchukuo Imperial Navy as seen here and operated on the Sungari River as a part of the 1st Patrol Division until 1945. Armed with a pair of 120mm/45 DP mounts, two 170mm mortars, and some machine guns, they were both captured without a fight by the Soviets in August 1945. Refitted with Russian armament, they served on the Amur river as patrol boats until 1951, as training ships until at least 1953.

Throw away the key

As for Yamada, the former Japanese general was taken as a prisoner of war to Siberia and sentenced to 25 years in the Soviet gulag for war crimes, primarily related to the heinous activities of Unit 731, but was repatriated to Japan in the mid-1950s after Stalin’s death along with the remnants of his surrendered Army.

Ironically, most of those crimes had occurred under Hata’s period as commander of the Kwantung Army from 1941 through 1944, rather than Yamada’s. Sentenced to life imprisonment after a war crimes trial by the Americans, Hata was paroled in 1954.

On 10 May 1962, Field Marshal Hata Shunroku, the last surviving Field Marshal of the Imperial Japanese Army, died while attending a ceremony honoring Imperial war dead, age 82.

The Soviets said they ended up with 594,000 Japanese EPWs by October 1945, but Japanese authorities contend it was well over 700,000 when other, non-military, subjects of the Emperor under Stalin’s control were counted. Although 60,000, mostly the ill and elderly or females with children, were quickly paroled, some the same day, the Soviets hauled the rest back to Siberia.

Repatriated Japanese soldiers returning from Siberia wait to disembark from a ship at Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, Japan, in 1946. The Kwantung Army would trickle back over the next decade. 

Over the next decade, many of the Siberian prisoners perished, with estimates running at a minimum of 50,000 and some as much as six times that amount. Meanwhile, many ethnic Koreans in the Japanese ranks would be “re-educated” by the Soviets to become the bedrock of the North Korean People’s Army.

The last remnants of the Kwantung Army went home in 1956 although some elected to stay behind and “go native” in the Worker’s Paradise.

“A Japanese mother is reunited with her son after he is released from a Soviet POW camp in Siberia, 31 December 1956. He and his fellow prisoners are arriving at Maizuru port in Japan, having been captured at the end of World War II and held for another 11 years.” (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive via History Forum)

Japanese artist Nobuo Kiuchi, who during WWII was a Japanese paratrooper, spent years in Siberia after the Kwantung Army laid down its arms, and chronicled what he saw.

His art reflects those experiences and is on exhibit at the Maizuru Repatriation Memorial Museum located in the principal port where some 660,000 Japanese POWs and civilians were sent back home from China, Russia, and North Korea in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Echos into new wars

The wealth of equipment used by the Kwantung Army, unwanted and typically seen as obsolete when captured by the Allies, was quickly inherited by the Chinese and Koreans who soon put it into use against themselves and others. The boon of materiel picked up in large part by Mao’s Red Army gave it a huge shot in the arm in the final act of the Chinese Civil War and subsequently was recycled into the Korean War in the 1950s.

US soldier, Chinese soldier, and Chinese guerrilla fighters displaying captured Japanese flags, aircraft machine guns, and MP 34 submachine gun, China, 1945

Japanese Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tank in use with the Chicoms. Some 300 of these tanks became Mao’s iron fist through the late 1940s.

Shanghai Police Department monitor a political protest in 1948. Equipment includes a stahlhelm M35 helmet and captured Japanese Arisaka Type 38 rifle.

Red Chinese soldier late 1940s with captured Japanese Arisaka

Red Chinese captured Japanese Arisaka Type 38 rifles Type 30 bayonets M30-32 Tetsu-bo helmets 1949

Chinese soldier carrying captured Arisaka Type 38 rifles and a Type 11 light machine gun, date unknown.

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 three Петропавловск ‘Petropavlovsk’ class sisters just outside Port-Arthur before the outbreak of war with Japan. Photo taken by Maximilian Shultz, captain of cruiser Novik. Note the battleships are in their “war colors”

Same as above

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 he died 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 they 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.

Japanese sentry with a captured Russian naval gun overlooking Port Arthur after the siege. At least 10 of these were removed from Russian battleships, with many coming from Petropavlask. 

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.

Japan coast defense 280mm L/10 howitzers in their original Home Island emplacements. Nicknamed “Osaka Babies” by the Japanese and “Roaring Trains” by the Russians when they were dismounted and used as siege artillery at Port Arthur in 1904.

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, left and Sevastopol, right, 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

Port Arthur, December 1904. The photo shows two Russian officers inspecting beached or recovered Japanese torpedoes which were scavenged for Pyroxylin and melinite needed in the defense. In the background are Сокол ‘Sokol’ class Destroyer Смелый ‘Smelyi’, the Battleship Севастополь ‘Sevastopol’ and the British merchant SS King Arthur, the last ship to break through the Japanese blockade.

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.

Japanese Torpedo boats returning to base after night attack

Gunboat Отважный ‘Otvazhnyy’ and the listing Pre-dreadnought Battleship Севастополь ‘Sevastopol’ not long after surviving the various waves of Japanese Torpedo boats in early to mid-December 1904

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.


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.


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
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

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find.

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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Did you Tsushima what I did there?

Offical caption from JMSDF: “25 NOV, ADM YAMAMURA Hiroshi, Chief of Maritime staff, invited officially ADM Nikolay Yevmenov, commander-in-chief of the Russian Navy. They discussed about the current situation and the Japan-Russia defense exchange, promoted mutual understanding.”

The portrait on the wall? You know, Marshal-Admiral Marquis Tōgō Heihachirō, the fabled Japanese sea lord who destroyed not one but two separate Russian fleets– which included sinking or capturing 13 of the Tsar’s battleships– in a brief 15 month period from Feb. 1904 to May 1905.

Interestingly, the photo is in a simple sea uniform rather than the Admiral’s grand dress uniform, which was topped by the exceedingly rarely-bestowed Collar of the Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum.

You can always dismiss the humor of the situation by saying maybe it was intended as a full-circle moment. However, if the same pose was struck by the current British First Sea Lord and head of the French Navy in front of a nice portrait of Nelson, you know there would be a gallery full of shit-eating grins.

Of course, it should be pointed out that ADM Yamamura is wearing a dress uniform based on that of the U.S. Navy, but still…

Polishing Togo’s ride

Those appreciative of 20th Century naval history will find a slight bit of irony in this photo:

190824-N-HH215-1025YOKOSUKA, Japan (Aug. 24, 2019) Yokosuka area chief petty officer (CPO) selectees join members of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) in a community relations event where the CPO selectees and JMSDF members cleaned the historic Japanese battleship, Mikasa. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tyler R. Fraser/Released)

Commissioned in 1902, the Vickers-built 15,000-ton Mikasa was notable as Adm. Togo’s flagship during the Russo-Japanese War including putting the capital “T” in Tsushima.

Rebuilt after a magazine explosion, she was later decommissioned to comply with the 1922 Washington Naval Treaty and preserved as a museum ship, somehow managing not to pick up a dozen 500-pound bombs during WWII only to be restored in a campaign championed by no less a figure than Adm. Nimitz.

Mikasa is the only pre-dreadnought battleship still around (as well as Japan’s last battlewagon) and predates the elderly dreadnought USS Texas (BB-35) by a decade.

Warship Wednesday, July 31, 2019: “80 Sen,” or a young Yamamoto’s Italian Stallion

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 31, 2019: 80 Sen

NHHC Collection Photo # NH 83034

Here we see a crooked image from the files of the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence, likely a quick snapshot taken from the deck of a rented junk, showing the coastal defense ship (formerly classified as an armored cruiser, or junjokan) Nisshin of the Imperial Japanese Navy as she sat at a Hong Kong mooring buoy, in October 1920. Note the Emperor’s chrysanthemum marking on the bow, and inquisitive members of her crew on the side– likely wondering just who was in the approaching small boat with the camera. You wouldn’t know it to look at her, but this ship had once gone toe-to-toe with a much larger opponent and come out on top, although with the scars to show it.

If you like that photo, how about another two taken the same day, with her crew’s laundry drying and a picturesque junk added for Hong Kong flavor:

NH 83032

NH 83033

Anywho, you didn’t come here for Hong Kong laundry stories.

Built around the turn of the Century by Gio. Ansaldo & C shipbuilders, Genoa, Italy, as an updated version of the Giuseppe Garibaldi armored cruiser class, Nisshin (or Nissin, a name that roughly translates to “Japan”) was designed by Italian naval architect Edoardo Masdea as a vessel only smaller than a 1st-rate (pre-dreadnought) battleship of the era, yet larger and stronger than most cruisers that could oppose it.

The Garibaldi class was innovative (for 1894,) with a 344-foot long/7,200-ton hull capable of making 20-knots and sustaining a range of more than 7,000 nm at 12 when stuffed with enough coal. Although made in Italy, she was almost all-British from her Armstrong batteries to her Bellville boilers, Whitehead torpedoes, and Harvey armor.

Armored with a belt that ran up-to 5.9-inches thick, Garibaldi could take hits from faster cruisers and gunboats while being able to dish out punishment from a pair of Elswick (Armstrong) 10-inch guns that no ship smaller than her could absorb. Capable of outrunning larger ships, she also had a quartet of casemate-mounted torpedo tubes and extensive rapid-fire secondary batteries to make life hard on the enemy’s small ships and merchantmen.

These cruisers were designed for power projection on a budget and the Argentine Navy, facing a quiet arms race between Brazil and Chile on each side, needed modern ships. They, therefore, scooped up not only the Garibaldi (commissioned in 1895) but also the follow-on sister-ships General Belgrano and General San Martín (built by Orlando of Livorno in 1896) and Genoa-made Pueyrredón (1898) to make a quartet of powerful cruisers. These ships, coupled with a pair of battleships ordered later in the U.S., helped make the Argentine navy for about two decades the eighth most powerful in the world (after the big five European powers, Japan, and the United States), and the largest in Latin America.

The design was well-liked, with Spain moving to buy two (but only taking delivery of one in the end, the ill-fated Cristóbal Colón, which was sunk at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba during the Spanish American War) and Italy electing to purchase five further examples of the type.

Why all the talk about Argentina and Italy?

Well, because Nisshin and her sistership Kasuga were originally ordered by the Italians in 1900 as Mitra (Yard #130) and Roca (#129), respectively, but then sold while still on the ways to Argentina to further flesh out the fleet of that South American country’s naval forces, who dutifully renamed them Mariano Moreno and Rivadavia.

At some 8,500-tons (full), these final Garibaldis were 364-feet long overall and were roughly the same speed and carried the same armor plan (with Terni plate) as their predecessors.

However, they differed in armament, with Mitra/Rivadavia/Kasuga carrying a single 10-inch EOC gun forward and twin 8″/45s aft, while Roca/Moreno/Nisshin carried the twin 8-inchers both forward and aft.

Stern 8"/45 (20.3 cm) turret on armored cruiser Nisshin on 24 October 1908. Ship's officers with USN officers from USS Missouri (B-11) during "Great White Fleet" around the world cruise. Note the landing guns on the upper platform. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph # NH 82511.

Stern 8″/45 (20.3 cm) turret on armored cruiser Nisshin on 24 October 1908. Ship’s officers with USN officers from USS Missouri (B-11) during “Great White Fleet” around the world cruise. Note the landing guns on the upper platform. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph # NH 82511.

[Of note, the same 8-inch EOC guns were also used on other British-built Japanese armored cruisers (Adzuma, Asama, Iwate, Izumo, Tokiwa, and Yakumo) so they weren’t too out of place when Japan took delivery of these ships in 1904 instead of Argentina.]

Both Mitra/Rivadavia/Kasuga and Roca/Moreno/Nisshin were launched, fitted out and ran builders’ trials in Italy under the Argentine flag.

Armada Argentina crucero acorazado ARA Moreno, at 1903 launch. Note Italian and Argentine flags. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter

Nisshin Running trials under the Argentine flag, probably in late 1903, just before her purchase by the Japanese NH 58664

Running trials under the Argentine flag, probably in late 1903, just before her purchase by the Japanese. Photo credited to her builder Ansaldo. NH 58665

With the Japanese and Imperial Russia circling each other tensely in late 1903, and Argentina not really wanting to take final delivery of these new cruisers, Buenos Aries shopped them to the Tsar’s kopeck-pinching Admiralty only to be rebuffed over sticker shock, leaving the Tokyo to pick them up for £760,000 each– considered a high price at the time but a bargain that the Russians would likely later regret. The Argentines would later reuse the briefly-issued Moreno and Rivadavia names for their matching pair of Massachusetts-built battleships in 1911

Nisshin photographed at Genoa, Italy in January 1904. This ship was built in Italy by Ansaldo of Genoa and competed on January 17, 1904. Courtesy of Mr. Tom Stribling, 1987. NH 101923

With a scratch British/Italian contract delivery crew, Kasuga and Nisshin (their names are taken from Meiji-period steam warships of the 1860s) set sail immediately for the Far East and were already outbound of Singapore by the time the balloon finally went up between the Russians and Japanese in February 1904. The sisters were soon in the gun line off Russian-held Port Arthur, lending their fine British-made batteries to reducing that fortress, and took part in both the ineffective Battle of the Yellow Sea in August 1904 (where Nisshin was lightly damaged) and the much more epic Battle of Tsushima in May 1905.

Carrying the flag of VADM Baron Misu Sotarō, Nisshin fired something on the order of 180 heavy shells during Tsushima, exchanging heavy damage with the 15,000-ton Russian battleship Oslyabya and others– taking several 12-inch hits to show for it. The Japanese cruiser had three of her four 8-inch guns sliced off and a number of her crew, to include a young Ensign Isoroku Yamamoto, wounded. The future commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet during World War II had the index and middle fingers on his left hand shorn off by a splinter, earning him the wardrobe nickname “80 sen” as a manicure cost 10 sen per digit at the time.

The forward gun turret and superstructure of the Japanese armored cruiser Nisshin following the Battle of Tsushima, showing 8-inch guns severed by Russian 12-inch shells

From a different angle

Another view

Aft turret of Armored Cruiser Nisshin damaged in the Battle of Tsushima

Starboard 12-pound gun of Armored Cruiser Nisshin damaged in the Battle of Tsushima

Oslyabya, in turn, was ultimately lost in the course of the battle, taking the Russian Squadron’s second-in-command, Capt. Vladimir Ber, and half of her crew with her to the bottom of the Korea Strait.

Armoured Cruiser Kasuga pictured post the Battle of Tsushima at Sasebo in May 1905

Japanese cruiser Nisshin, listed as June 24, 1905, at Kure, which is just a month after Tsushima and may be an incorrect date as she looks almost brand new. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter

For both Kasuga and Nisshin, Tsushima was their brightest moment under the Rising Sun.

Greatly modified later with Japanese-made Kampon boilers replacing their Italian ones, along with a host of other improvements, Kasuga went on to serve as a destroyer squadron flagship in World War I looking out for German surface raiders and escorting Allied shipping between Australia and Singapore. She later took Imperial troops to Vladivostok in 1918 as part of the Allied Intervention into the Russian Civil War.

Nisshin during WWI. Colorized photo by Atsushi Yamashita/Monochrome Specter

As for Nisshin, she also spent her time as a destroyer squadron leader on the lookout for the Kaiser’s wolves and was later dispatched to the Mediterranean as part of the Japanese 2nd Special Squadron (Suma-class cruiser Akashi, the cruiser Izumo, 8 Kaba-class destroyers and 4 Momo-class destroyers). Deployed in late 1917, the squadron was tasked with riding shotgun over Allied troopships steaming between Malta and Salonica and from Alexandria to Taranto and Marseille.

Photographed at Port Said, Egypt, on October 27, 1917. The early French mixed battery pre-dreadnought Jauréguiberry (1893-1934) can be seen at left background. Courtesy of Mr. Tom Stribling, 1987. NH 101922

In all, the force escorted nearly 800 ships and engaged German and Austrian subs something like 40 times (although without sinking any).
After the Armistice, selected crews from the Squadron marched in the 1919 victory parades in Paris and London.

To close out Japan’s involvement in the Great War, Nisshin returned home with seven captured German U-boats, (U-46, U-55, U-125, UC-90, UC-99, UB-125, and UB-143) after stops in Malta and other friendly ports along the way from England to Yokosuka, arriving there in June 1919. The former German boats went on to an uninteresting life of their own under the Kyokujitsu-ki, used for testing, salvage exercises and floating jetties. While most of these submarines were low-mileage vessels of little notoriety, U-46 (Hillebrand) and U-55 (Blue Max winner Willy Werner) were very successful during the war, accounting for 116 Allied vessels of some 273,000 tons between them.

IJN Nissin at Malta with captured German UC-90 U-boat, via IWM

Nisshin, photographed March 1919, with the ex-German submarines O-4 (ex-UC-90) and O-5 (ex-UC-99) alongside. NH 58666

Nisshin, photographed in March 1919, with the ex-German submarines O-4 (ex-UC-90) and O-5 (ex-UC-99) alongside. NH 58667

Japanese Cruiser Nisshin U-boats escorting surrendered German submarines allocated to Japan, March 1919, Malta, by Frank Henry Algernon Mason, via the IWM

Disarmed and largely relegated to training tasks, Nisshin and Kasuga were put on the sidelines after the Great War, replaced by much better ships in the Japanese battle line.

Hulked, Nisshin was eventually disposed of as part of a sinkex in the Inland Sea in 1936, then raised by Shentian Maritime Industry Co., Ltd, patched up and sunk a second time in 1942 during WWII by the new super battleship Yamato, whose 18.1″/45cal Type 94 guns likely made quick work of her.

Her immediate sister, Kasuga, used as a floating barracks at Yokosuka, was sunk by U.S. carrier aircraft in July 1945 then later raised and scrapped after the war. Incidentally, the two Japanese Garibaldis outlasted their Italian sisters, all of which were disposed of by the 1930s. Their everlasting Argentine classmates, however, lingered on until as late as 1954 with the last of their kind, ARA Pueyrredon, ironically being towed to Japan for scrapping that year.

Of note, the British 8″/45s EOCs removed from Nisshin, Kasuga and the other Japanese 1900s armored cruisers in the 1920s and 30s were recycled and used as coastal artillery, including four at Tokyo Bay, four at Tarawa (Betio) and another four at Wake Island once it was captured in 1941.

Japanese Special Naval Landing Force troops mount a British-made, Vickers eight-inch naval cannon into its turret on Betio before the battle. This film was developed from a Japanese camera found in the ruins while the battle was still on. Via

Destruction of one of the four Japanese eight-inch EOC guns on Betio caused by naval gunfire and airstrikes, 1943. Department of Defense photo (USMC) 63618

Nisshin’s name was reused for use on a well-armed seaplane/midget submarine carrier that saw extensive action in WWII during the Guadalcanal campaign, where she was lost.  It has not been reused further.


Jane 1914 entry, listing the class as first-class cruisers

Displacement: 7,700 t (7,578 long tons) std, 8,500 full
Length: 366 ft 7 in (o/a), 357 wl
Beam: 61 ft 5 in
Draft: 24 ft 1 in, 25.5 max
Machinery: (1904)
13,500 ihp, 2 vertical triple-expansion steam engines, 8 Ansaldo marine boilers, 2 shafts
Speed: 20 knots at 14,000 shp, although in practice were limited to 18 at full load.
Range: 5,500 nmi at 10 knots on 1316 tons of coal, typically just 650 carried
Complement: 600 as built, 568 in Japanese service.
Armor: (Terni)
Belt: 2.8–5.9 in
Deck: 0.79–1.57 in
Barbette: 3.9–5.9 in
Conning tower: 5.9 in
2 twin 8″/45 EOC (classified as Type 41 guns by the Japanese)
14 single QF 6″/45 Armstrong “Z” guns
10 single QF 3″/40 12-pdr Armstrong “N” guns
6 single QF 3-pounder Hotchkiss guns
2 Maxim machine guns
2 landing howitzers
4 × 457 mm (18 in) torpedo tubes in casemates
4 single QF 6″/45 Armstrong “Z” guns
4 single QF 3″/40 12-pdr Armstrong “N” guns
1 single 76/40 AAA

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.

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.

PRINT still has its place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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 Pacific off the coast of Chile. 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 in the South Atlantic.

Schlacht bei den Falkland-Inseln (8.12.1914) Battle Falklands Islands, German chart

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.


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
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
4 x 5″/51cal U.S. mounts

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.

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, 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 a 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 because 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” crypto currency 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.


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
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
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
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.

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, 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

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:

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.


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)
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
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)

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