Tag Archives: Russo-Japanese war

Warship Wednesday, July 6, 2022: Dispatches from the New Navy

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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 6, 2022: Dispatches from the New Navy

Naval History and Heritage Command photo NH 69187

Above we see the one-of-a-kind steel-hulled dispatch boat USS Dolphin (later PG-24) off New York City, about 1890. Note the Statue of Liberty in the right background. A controversial warship when she first appeared, she later proved to have a long and star-studded career.

Dolphin was part of the famed “ABCD” ships, the first modern steel-hulled warships of the “New Navy” ordered in the early 1880s along with the protected cruisers USS Atlanta, Boston, and Chicago. While the ABC part of this quartet was built to fight, running 3,200 tons in the case of Atlanta and Boston and 4,500 tons for Chicago, with as much as 4-inches of armor plate and a total of eight 8-inch, 20 6-inch, and two 5-inch guns between them, Dolphin was, well, a lot less of a bruiser.

Laid down on 11 October 1883 as an unarmored cruiser by John Roach and Sons, Chester, PA, Dolphin hit the scales at just 1,485 tons with a length of 256 feet (240 between perpendiculars). Her armament was also slight, with a single 6″/30 Mark 1 (serial no. 1), three 6-pounders, four 3-pounders, and two Colt Gatling guns.

6″/30 (15.2 cm) Mark I gun on the protected cruiser USS Atlanta circa 1895. Note three-motion breech mechanism and Mark 2, Muzzle Pivot Mount inclined mounting. Dolphin was to carry one of these, but it wasn’t to be. Detroit Publishing Company Collection Photograph Library of Congress Photograph ID LC-USZ62-60234

However, although all the ABC cruisers would successfully carry 6″/30s along with their other wild mix of armament, it was soon seen that Dolphin was too light for the piece and she transitioned to two 4″/40 (10.2 cm) Mark 1 pieces as her main armament.

Equipped with four (two double-ended and two single-ended) boilers trunked through a centerline stack pushing a single 2,253ihp vertical compound direct-acting engine on a centerline shaft, she also had a three-mast auxiliary sail rig, a hermaphrodite pattern carried by all the ABCD ships. With everything lit and a clean hull, it was thought she could make 17 knots on a flat sea, something that was thought to equal 15 knots in rough conditions.

Brooklyn, NY. Dock No 2 with USS Dolphin (dispatch boat) showing her hull shape, masts, stack, and screw. USN 902198

Unofficial plans, USS Dolphin, published in the Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, 1893. By Deutsch Lith and Ptg Co., Photo-Lith, Balto. NH 70119

However, in the spring and summer of 1885, the ship was the subject of much controversy. The first of the ABCD ships nearing completion, she could not make her target speed under any condition, barely hitting 14 knots, and incapable of sustaining that for over six hours. Meanwhile, the Herreshoff-built steam yacht Stiletto was hitting 24.8 knots and the Cunard steamship Etruria was logging over 19 sustained across a 72-hour period.

That, coupled with the issue of armament, led to a special board directed by President Chester A. Arthur’s SECNAV Bill Chandler to inspect and evaluate Dolphin, which was accordingly reclassified as a dispatch boat rather than a cruiser.

A subsequent board formed by President Cleveland’s incoming SECNAV William C. Whitney, consisting of Capt. George E. Belknap, Commanders Robley D. Evans, William T. Sampson, and Caspar F. Goodrich (all of which became famed admirals); Naval Constructor Francis Bowles, and one Mr. Herman Winters, was formed to criticize the first board later that fall, and by early 1886 it was deemed Dolphin had caulking and planking issues, a few defective steel trusses, and her plant was never able to make the designed 2,300 hp on her original boilers. Further, it was thought her powerplant and battery were too exposed to any sort of fire to be effective in combat.

The papers were filled with drama, with the New York Times archives holding dozens of stories filed on the subject that year.

“Cruelty” Dolphin: “What! go to sea, Secretary Whitney! Why, that might make me seasick!'”– says the caption of this Thomas Nast cartoon published in Harper’s weekly, satirizing the mediocre performance during sea trials of the USS Dolphin, one of four vessels ordered by Congress in 1883 to rebuild a United States Navy that was in disrepair. Secretary of the Navy William Whitney refused to accept the new ship, setting off a well-publicized political controversy and eventually driving the shipbuilder into bankruptcy. Via the NYPL collection.

“John Roach’s little miscalculation” Illustration shows Secretary of the Navy, William C. Whitney, handing a boat labeled “Dolphin” to James G. Blaine who shies away, refusing to accept it; in the background, John Roach, a contractor, who built the ship “Dolphin”, is crying because the Cleveland administration has voided his contract. Published in Puck, May 20, 1885, cover. Art by Joseph Ferdinand Keppler. Via LOC

Completed on 23 July 1884, Dolphin was only commissioned on 8 December 1885, while the Navy would work out her issues and pass on her lessons learned to the other new steel warships being built.

Notably, her skipper during this period was Capt., George Dewey (USNA 1858), later to become the hero of Manila Bay.

The first of the vessels of the “New Navy” to be completed, Dolphin was assigned to the North Atlantic Station, cruising along the eastern seaboard until February 1886 when it was deemed, she was ready to undertake longer runs, embarking in a stately three-year, 58,000-mile deployment and circumnavigation of the globe under CDR George Francis Faxon Wilde (USNA 1865). America had to show off her new warship via foreign service.

Accordingly, as noted by DANFS, “she then sailed around South America on her way to the Pacific Station for duty. She visited ports in Japan, Korea, China, Ceylon, India, Arabia, Egypt, Italy, Spain, and England, and the islands of Madeira and Bermuda, before arriving at New York on 27 September 1889 to complete her round-the-world cruise.”

USS Dolphin, some of the ship’s officers, with a monkey mascot, circa 1889, likely picked up on the way round the globe. Odds are the officer holding him is CDR George Francis Faxon Wilde. Decorated as a midshipman at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Wilde would go on to command the monitor USS Katahdin, the cruiser USS Boston during the Span Am War, and the battleship USS Oregon then retire in 1905 as head of the Boston Navy Yard. NH 54538

This trip, with the ship proving her worth, led to her appearing in the periodicals of the day in a much more impressive take. 

Dispatch-vessel Dolphin from The Illustrated London News 1891

Harpers Weekly cover USS Dolphin

Harper’s Weekly January 1886 USS Dolphin in sails

By the time she arrived back home, the Navy’s other steel ships were reaching the fleet and they all became part of the new “Squadron of Evolution.”

USS Dolphin (1885-1922); USS Atlanta (1886-1912); and USS Chicago (1889-1935) off New York City, about 1890. NH 69190

As with most Naval vessels of the era, Dolphin would spend her career in and out of commission, being laid up in ordinary and reserve on no less than three times between 1891 and 1911, typically for about a year or so. Today the Navy still conducts the same lengthy yard periods but keeps the vessels in commission.

In April 1891, Dolphin was detached from the Squadron of Evolution and the Navy made $40,000 available for her cabins to be refitted to assume the task of Presidential yacht from the older USS Despatch, a much smaller (560 ton) vessel that was in poor condition.

She would continue this tasking off and on mixed with yearly fleet exercises and experiments for the rest of her career.

Speaking to the latter, in April 1893, she embarked pigeons from the Naval Academy lofts, the Washington Navy Yard’s loft in Richmond, and of Philadelphia Navy Yard then released them while steaming off Hampton Roads. The birds all made it back to their nests, covering 98 miles, 212, and 214 miles, respectively, delivering short messages penned by the daughter of SECNAV Hilary A. Herbert.

The same year, she took part in the bash that was the Columbian Naval Review in New York, where Edward H. Hart of the Detriot Post Card Co. captured several striking views of her with her glad rags flying.

Dolphin LC-D4-8923

Dolphin LC-D4-20362


In 1895, she carried out a survey mission to Guatemala

She carried President William McKinley and his party to New York for the ceremonies at Grant’s Tomb on 23 April 1897.

Grant Tomb dedication, 1897: View of Grant’s tomb, Claremont Heights, New York City, in the background, and the USS Dolphin and tugboats in the foreground. J.S. Johnston, view & marine photo, N.Y. LOC LC-USZ62-110717

Then came war.


In ordinary when the USS Maine blew up in Havanna, Dolphin recommissioned on 24 March 1898 just prior to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. She then rushed south to serve on blockade duty off Havana, Cuba, a mission she slogged away on during April and May.

It was during this period she captured the Spanish vessel Lola (31 tons) with a cargo of fish and salt.

She covered her white and buff scheme with a more warlike dark grey. 

U.S. Navy gunboat/dispatch vessel USS Dolphin (PG-24), port bow. Photographed by J.S. Johnston, 1898. LOC Lot-3370-8

USS Dolphin overhauling Schooner Kate [Kate S. Flint] with an unknown young woman in white. Dolphin in distance. Santiago de Cuba. 1898 Stevens-Coolidge Place Collection via Digital Commonwealth/Massachusetts libraries system.

A second view of the same centered on Dolphin.

On 6 June she came under fire from the Morro Battery at Santiago and replied in kind. Less than two weeks later, on 14 June, Dolphin bombarded the Spanish positions in the Battle of Cuzco Well, near Guantanamo Bay, carrying casualties back to the American positions there.

Sent back to Norfolk with casualties, she arrived there on 2 July and the war ended before she could make it back to Cuba.

U.S. Navy dispatch vessel, USS Dolphin, port view with flags. Lot 3000-L-5

Good work if you can get it

Her wartime service completed; Dolphin would spend the next two decades heavily involved in shuttling around dignitaries. This would include:

  • Washington Navy Yard for the Peace Jubilee of 14 May to 30 June 1899.
  • New York for the Dewey celebration of 26 to 29 September 1899.
  • Alexandria, Va., for the city’s sesquicentennial on 10 October 1899.
  • Took the U.S. Minister to Venezuela to La Guaira, arriving in January 1903.
  • From 1903 through 1905 she carried such dignitaries as the Naval Committee, Secretary of the Navy, Admiral and Mrs. Dewey, the Philippine Commissioners, the Attorney General, Prince Louis of Battenberg and his party, and President T. Roosevelt on various cruises.
  • Participating in the interment of John Paul Jones at the Naval Academy, and the departure ceremonies for the Great White Fleet, in 1908.

Early in August 1905, she carried the Japanese peace plenipotentiaries from Oyster Bay, N.Y., to Portsmouth, N.H., to negotiate the settlement of the Russo-Japanese War.

Footage exists of her role in the event.

She also was used in survey work during this time, completing expeditions to Venezuela and the southeast coast of Santo Domingo, in addition to carrying inspection boards to survey coaling stations in the West Indies.

She also had a series of updates. For instance, in 1910, she had her original single/double-ended boilers replaced with cylindrical boilers. In 1911, she had her 6-pounder mounts deleted due to obsolescence, and in 1914 her 4″/40s were removed as well. She also had her masts reconfigured from three to two in the early 1900s.

USS Dolphin steaming alongside USS Maine (BB-10), with the Secretary of the Navy on board, circa 1903-1905. Note she still has her figurehead bow crest. Description: Collection of Mr. & Ms. Joe Cahn, 1990. NH 102421

USS Dolphin docked at the western end of the Washington Navy Yard waterfront, District of Columbia, circa 1901. The view looks north. The old experimental battery building is on the right. NH 93333

USS Dolphin (PG-24) photographed following the reduction of her rig to two masts, during the early 1900s. Note her bowcrest figurehead is now gone. NH 54536

Back to haze grey! USS Dolphin (PG 24), which was used as a dispatch ship of the Naval Review for President William Taft in New York City, New York, on October 14, 1912. Note the battleship lattice masts in the distance and the torpedo boat to the right. Published by Bain News Service. LC-DIG-GGBAIN-10794

Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin D. Roosevelt in the crow’s nest of the dispatch boat USS Dolphin off Old Point Comfort, VA during the Naval review. 10/25/1913. National Archives Identifier: 196066910

ASECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt on the USS Dolphin in 1913, observing gunnery trials of the fleet

USS Dolphin view looking forward from the bridge, taken while the ship was at sea in February 1916. Note ice accumulated on deck and lifelines. The original image is printed on postal card stock. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2005. NH 103039

War (again!)

Sailing from the Washington Navy Yard on 2 April 1917 to take possession of the recently purchased Danish Virgin Islands, four days later, Dolphin received word of the declaration of war between the United States and Germany. Arriving at St. Croix in the now-USVI on 9 April, she would carry the new American Governor-General James Oliver to and St. John on 15 April for a low-key flag-raising ceremony. The islands had initially been handed over in a ceremony on 31 March between the Danish warship Valkyrien and the American gunboat USS Hancock, but Oliver’s arrival on Dolphin sealed the deal.

Remaining in the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean region to protect merchant shipping from German raiders and U-boats, Dolphin would pick up a camouflage scheme as she served as flagship for the very motley American Patrol Detachment at Key West, gaining a new 4″/50 gun and depth charges to augment her surviving 6-pounders.

USS Dolphin at Galveston, Texas, 1 March 1919. Photographed by Paul Verkin, Galveston. Note that the ship is still wearing pattern camouflage nearly four months after the World War I Armistice. Donation of Dr. Mark Kulikowski, 2007. NH 104949

She would remain in her quiet backwater into June 1920, when she was finally recalled to the East Coast and a short overhaul at Boston.

USS Dolphin (PG-24) at dock at Boston Navy Yard, MA, September 1920, back to a grey scheme. She had been designated a Patrol Gunboat, PG-24, 17 July 1920. S-553-J

Now 35 years old and with the Navy in possession of many much finer and better-outfitted vessels, Dolphin would have one last cruise. As the flagship of the Special Service Squadron, she joined the gunboat USS Des Moines (PG-29) in October 1920 to represent the U.S. at the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the Straits of Magellan. The next year, she would attend the anniversary of Guatemalan independence.

Dolphin arrived at Boston Navy Yard on 14 October 1921. She was decommissioned on 8 December 1921 and was sold on 25 February 1922 to the Ammunition Products Corp. of Washington, DC. for scrapping. Rumors of her further service in the Mexican navy are incorrect, confusing a former steamer originally named Dolphin for our dispatch ship.


Few relics remain of Dolphin. Like most of the American steel warships, in 1909 she had her ornate bow crest removed and installed ashore. It was photographed in Boston in 1911 and, odds are, is probably still around on display somewhere on the East Coast.

Figurehead, USS Dolphin photographed in the Boston Navy Yard, 15 December 1911. NH 115213.

Her bell popped up on eBay in 2019 with a kinda sketchy story about how it got into civilian hands.

The National Archives has extensive plans on file for her. 

As for her name, the Navy recycled it at least twice, both for submarines: SS-169 and AGSS-555, the former a V-boat that earned two battlestars in WWII and the latter a well-known research boat that served for 38 years– the longest in history for a US Navy submarine.

Speaking of WWII, importantly, between 1915 and 1917, our USS Dolphin’s 18th skipper was one LCDR William Daniel Leahy (USNA 1897) who, interacting with then ASECNAV Franklin D. Roosevelt, would become close companions. Although retired after service as CNO in 1939, Leahy would be recalled to service as the personal Chief of Staff to FDR in 1942 and served in that pivotal position throughout World War II. It is rightfully the little dispatch ship’s greatest legacy.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt in conference with General Douglas MacArthur, Admiral Chester Nimitz, and Admiral William D. Leahy, while on tour in the Hawaiian Islands., 1944. 80-G-239549

Displacement 1,485 t.
Length 256′ 6″
Length between perpendiculars 240′
Beam 32′
Draft 14′ 3″
Speed 15.5 kts.
Complement 117
1910 – 152
1914 – 139
Armament: Two 4″ rapid fires, three 6-pounder rapid-fire guns, four 3-pounder rapid-fire guns, and two Colt machine guns
1911 – Two 4″/40 rapid-fire mounts and five 3-pounder rapid-fire guns
1914 – Six 6-pounder rapid-fire mounts
1921 – One 4″/50 mount and two 6-pounders
Propulsion two double-ended and two single-ended boilers (replaced by cylindrical boilers in 1910), one 2,253ihp vertical compound direct-acting engine, one shaft.

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Warship Wednesday, March 24, 2021: Nicky’s Dangerous Dolphin

Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, March 24, 2021: Nicky’s Dangerous Dolphin

Here we see the primitive one-of-a-kind submarine, Delfin of the Imperial Russian Navy cruising around the Krondstadt roadstead in August 1903, proudly flying the St. Andrew’s ensign. A sometimes-cranky little boat in perhaps the world’s most unlucky fleet, she would nonetheless leave a huge mark on naval history.

On 19 December 1900, Lt. Gen Nikolai Kuteinikov, head of shipbuilding for the Russian Admiralty, authorized a commission to begin work towards a submersible torpednyy kater, or torpedo cutter. While negotiations with Irish engineer John Philip Holland’s concern in American to purchase one of his submarine boats proved fruitless as Holland wanted a 10-unit package deal for a whopping $1.9 million, the Russians decided to roll their own. After all, how hard could it be?

Assigned this task was a team under promising young naval architect Ivan Bubnov. Bubnov, just 28 at the time, was fresh from the construction of the new battleship Poltava. As it would turn out, he would end up as Tsarist Russia’s Simon Lake.

Laid down on 5 July 1901 at the Baltic Shipbuilding & Mechanical Plant on Vasilevskiy Island– today’s historic 165-year-old OJSC Baltic Shipyard– the subject of our story was at first dubbed Torpednyy Kater No. 113, then later switching her pennant to Minonosets (destroyer) No. 150 before leaving the slipways.

The design was simple. Made in two symmetrical halves of rounded 8mm nickel steel then riveted and forge welded together over an internal framework, the submersible was just 64 feet long– the same size as USS Holland (SS-1).

Using flat iron plating on the vessel’s top decks for added strength, her fixed periscope-equipped conning tower/wheelhouse doubled as a hatch. Just 113 tons, she had ballast tanks on each end and could take on nine tons of seawater (in 15 minutes) to submerge to a maximum depth of about 150 feet. Obukhov was contracted for the blow system, which included a small electric air compressor that took four hours to refill completely empty air tanks.

Longitudinal section of submarine “Dolphin” via Ivan Grigorievich Bubnov’s Russian submarines: The history of creation and use of, 1834-1923.

He (Russian warships are never referred to as being female) used a French-made Soter-Garle electric motor and 64 Fullmen lead-acid batteries to achieve 7.5-knots submerged for short periods, and a German-made 300hp Daimler gasoline engine to reach 8.5 knots on the surface. Control was through a series of six rudders.

In short, he has been described as “like the USS Holland (SS-1) but worse.”

By September 1902, he was launched, and the following Spring was undergoing trials under the command of Capt. (3rd Rank) Mikhail Beklemishev, a 44-year-old torpedo tactics instructor on the submarine commission who had learned his trade on destroyers in the 1890s. During the construction of the Russian submarine under his command, he had traveled to the U.S. and met with Mr. Holland ostensibly on a shopping trip, and both observed and went to sea on Holland’s early Type 7 submarines at Electric Boat in Groton. Ironic considering Delfin’s description.

All the plankowners were volunteers recruited by Beklemishev.

Accommodations for the 13-member crew were cramped– remember the boat was shorter than a mobile home today and most of the spaces were taken up by machinery. Berthing was via hammocks and seabags strung over the wooden deck in the bow covering the batteries. A small stove for heating canned food and a novel electric samovar provided tea made up the galley. Fresh water amounted to about 40 gallons and the head consisted of a sand-lined closet. Officers’ quarters in the middle of the boat for the skipper and XO amounted to two stuffed sofas and a small dining table, all bolted to the deck around their own O-club cistern. Workstations had wooden stools similarly affixed to the deck.

He was armed with a pair of 1898 pattern 15-inch Whitehead torpedoes held outside of the submarine in a trapeze arrangement designed by Polish engineer Dr. Stefan Drzewiecki. Termed a “drop collar,” Drzewiecki’s girder launching system would become standard on Tsarist submarines through 1918 as well as a few French classes.

French submarine Espadon is seen at Cherbourg, France. Note the 17.7-inch torpedo in the Drzewiecki drop collar external launching system on her deck. Also, note her very Delfin-like main hatch with a periscope on top.

They could launch their steel fish with the submarine either submerged or surfaced and were operated via a hellbox inside the sub. The total price of the new submersible was 388,000 gold rubles.

In two rounds of sea trials in the Gulf of Finland during the summer of 1903, Beklemishev and crew were able to spend several days in a row on the ocean and found the craft to perform satisfactorily, both on the surface and submerged.

The occasion of her launch for sea trials. Note the two Whitehead torpedoes in Drzewiecki drop collars at her stern. Also, Beklemishev is the goateed officer on deck.

The same day, with a better view of the Whiteheads. 

On 16 August, Tsar Nicholas II, aboard his yacht Alexander and with the battleship Slava in escort, reviewed the little submersible torpedo boat and received the details of his trials directly from Beklemishev.

The well-known image of the Tsar (second from center, hands on sword) receiving the report from Beklemishev (far left) aboard Minonosets No. 150 on 16 Aug 1903. Bubnov stands behind the emperor and looks like he is waiting for Beklemishev to say something crazy.

Laid up during the annual Baltic Sea freeze-over, Minonosets No. 150 was given several modifications to correct errors observed during her sea trials to include a second periscope as well as redesigned rudders and diving planes.

Lessons learned in her construction and operation were used by Bubnov to create a larger, 100-foot submarine from the Minonosets No. 150 design– the six-boat kerosene/electric Kasatka (killer whale) class– which had four drop collared torpedoes. To compare with foreign types, the Admiralty purchased six 137-ton boats with bottoming wheels from Simon Lake (Osetr-class), three 209-ton subs from Krupp in Germany (Karp, Karas, and Kambala), a gifted midget sub from Krupp (the trailerable 40-foot Forel) and seven 105-ton boats from Mr. Holland (Som-class). Beklemishev was pulled from command and placed in charge of what was effectively the first Russian submarine school. Whereas the Russians only had their sole domestic-made boat in 1903, within a year they had more than two dozen soon on the way from multiple sources.

On May 31, 1904, all Russian destroyer submarines were given names by order of the Tsar, and “Minonosets No. 150” was christened Delfin.

When the ice melted, Delfin was ready for fleet operations but looked slightly different.

Note the second periscope

During regular operations in a rapidly expanding specialty branch, Delfin was used increasingly as a training boat, and on a practice dive while at the shipyard in June 1904, she went to the bottom under the command of LT. Anatoly Cherkasov along with 37 men and, tragically, remained there due to an issue with an improperly closed hatch, filling the sub’s interior with seawater except for a two-foot air bubble at the top of the boat. When finally rescued, Cherkasov and 23 of his crew had perished with the young officer voluntarily giving up his place to allow others to survive on the increasingly fetid air.

The first Russian submariners to be buried as heroes, they would not be the last. Amazingly, the survivors all elected to remain in the branch.

The grievous loss led the Russians to develop some of the world’s first submarine rescue tactics and vessels, including the rescue ship Volkhov, ordered in 1911 (which still, amazingly, endures as the Kommuna in Black Sea Fleet today.)

Raised and repaired, Delfin fired test torpedoes at a target hulk in October and, along with seven other small submarines, were hauled out of the water, fitted to railcars, and shipped via the single track Trans-Siberian Railway some 4,060 miles to the Siberian Flotilla’s base in Vladivostok as a pitched war was on with the Japanese in the Pacific.

Russian submarines on railcars to Vladivostok, 1904. The closest to the photo is Nalim/Burbot, a Kasatka-class boat. Four Kasatkas, notably just larger refinements to the Delfin’s design, were sent to the Pacific along with Delfin and two Holland-produced Som-class boats. 

The trip included a break at Lake Baikal where, as the spur around the world’s deepest freshwater body of water was not complete, they had to be transferred to a ferry to cross to the other side. The sight of submarines on a ferry crossing a lake in Siberia must have been a sight.

By 23 December 1904, Delfin arrived at Vladivostok and, once put in the water through a hole chopped in the iced-in harbor, made a test dive in the Pacific on 12 February. Two days later, along with the Holland-produced Som, he made a cautious combat patrol under the ice to the sea and soon was venturing further out to as far as 120 miles offshore, later operating with Kasatka as well.

Imperial Russian Submarines Delfin and Kasatka prepared to go out to sea for a patrol against the Japanese.

In all, by May, he spent 17 days at sea including eight on patrol. Together, Delfin, Som, and Kasatka reportedly came across two blockading Japanese destroyers 70 miles out and, attempted to get close enough to fire a torpedo volley– the Whiteheads only had a range of 1,500 yards– but were unable to due to the disparity in speed.

Speaking of the first submarine war in the Pacific, the Japanese ordered five of Mr. Holland’s boats in the summer of 1904, and quietly– so as not to flout American neutrality too much– they were constructed, dismantled, shipped from Connecticut to Seattle by rail and then, under the supervision of Arthur Leopold Busch, shipped to Japan for reassembly at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal. However, the Japanese Holland boats weren’t ready for combat until after the end of the war.

Holland-built No 1 Class Submarine No.2 pictured at Yokosuka Naval Arsenal on May 1,1905

Japanese submarine tender Toyohashi mothering two Holland-class boats, Yokusuka, Sept. 25, 1905

Delfin’s war was cut short when, on 5 May, he suffered a gasoline explosion in port that singed crewmembers and popped 29 rivets. The smokey submariners were able to escape before he sank (for the second time in two years). Raised, he needed three months of repairs ashore before she was able to take to the water again.

Imperial Russian Submarine Delfin raised after sinking On May the 5th 1905,

The next Spring, on 11 March 1906, acting on behalf of the Tsar, the Minister of the Sea, Admiral Alexei Birilev decreed that Russia’s submersible “destroyers” were actually submarines and finally listed on the naval rolls as such.

Delfin would spend the next decade in the Far East, becoming the granddaddy of the Pacific Submarine Division. There she underwent a regular cycle of summertime cruises followed by winter lay-ups sans batteries and to keep the hull out of the ice. Each spring, she would receive additional equipment and improvements, making her much less spartan and much more survivable. Notably, she would suffer at least two other fires in her service they were quickly contained. In 1910, he performed a role of a torpedo testing craft, firing no less than 43 fish that summer while submerged.

Russian Siberian Military Flotilla, Ulysses Bay 1908, submarine Delfin (far left) along with submarines Kasatka, Skat, Nalim, Sheremetev, Osyotr, Kefal, Paltus, Bychok or Plotva, with the destroyer Grozovoy offshore. 

In August 1914, with the Great War upon the world, Delfin would take on war shot torpedoes and, along with the other subs of the Siberian Flotilla, would undertake fruitless combat patrols with a weather eye peeled for German and Austrian vessels.

Deflin’s 1914 Jane’s listing as part of the Russian Siberian Flotilla. Note the “Bubnoff” reference. The Russians entered the Great War with over 40 submarines, one of the world’s largest users

In March 1916, with the Kaiser’s wolves long cleared from the Far East except for the occasional surface raider, it was decided to ship Delfin from frozen Vladivostok to equally frigid Archangel in the White Sea, to be used in the defense of Kola Bay. Packed on railcars as far as Kotlas, he was transferred to barges on the Dvina River in June to take up to Archangel. Damaged in transport, he was not repaired and successfully placed in the water at her new homeport until September.

Badly damaged in a storm in April 1917, the commander of the Northern Fleet sidelined Delfin in favor of a new American-built Amerikanskiy Golland (Holland)-class submarine that was soon to arrive in port. Used briefly for training, Delfin was stricken from the fleet’s list in August 1917.

Later transferred to the local White Sea merchant fleet, he would be repurposed to a shift-lifting pontoon for salvage work, and then, on 16 March 1932, it was ordered by the Council of Labor and Defense Commissars that she be scrapped.


Delfin today is remembered in several pieces of maritime art.

Relics of the boat as well as a monument to the first Russian submariners are in Vladivostok.

Cap Ribbon and model of Russian submarine Дельфин Delphin at Vladivostok

Monument to Delphin and the first Rusian submariners. Vladivostok

As for his fathers, submarine designer Bubnov would design no less than 32 subs for the Tsar including the successful Akula and Bars classes, with the latter seeing service in both world wars. He would also lend his expertise to the Gangut-class battleships, which would cover themselves in glory and endure into the 1950s.

I.G. Bubnov near to submarine Akula on the dock of the Baltic factory

Made a Major General, Bubnov was ushered out of the design bureau with the fall of the Tsar but never left St. Petersburg, dying in the city’s Typhus epidemic in 1919 during the Civil War at the ripe old age of 47. The Soviets later named two merchant ships after him in the 1970s and 80s.

Beklemishev, Delfin’s first and most successful skipper, remained with the fleet until 1910, retiring as a Major General in charge of diving and submarine training. After teaching at various universities in the capital, he was appointed to the shipbuilding commission during the Great War, a position he was surprisingly able to keep for a while even after the Reds took over, even though he was arrested several times. Comrade Beklemishev retired for good in 1931 and passed away five years later in St. Petersburg, err Leningrad, and his grave was lost during the siege of the city in WWII. Both his son and grandson would go on to be Soviet merchant officers of some renowned, with the latter having a rescue tug named in his honor.

Speaking of honors and rescues, the grave of Delfin’s lost 24 submariners remain at Smolensk Orthodox Cemetery on Vasilevskiy Island in St. Petersburg, not too far away from that of Bubnov, who is celebrated today and has his likeness on several stamps and institutions.

Since 1996, a new holiday, the “Day of the Submariner” has been a national occasion. Implemented by order No. 253 of Admiral of the Fleet Felix Nikolayevich Gromov the “Day of the Submariner” is celebrated annually on 19 March, citing the 1906 order given by Adm. Birilev adding the term to the fleet and changing the submersible “destroyers” into official submarines, of which the Russians have had several hundred since then.

Last week, on the 115th anniversary of Birilev’s order, the Russian Navy, submarine vets, and their families held services across the country, including at the graves of the Delfin’s crew and the monument for the lost submariners of the Kursk, a more recent disaster.


Via ‘“Submarines of the Tsarist Navy” (Spassky, I. D., Semyonov, V. P., Polmar, Norman), an excellent English primer to early Russian subs. 

Displacement: 113 tons surfaced; 126 tons submerged
Length: 64 ft
Beam: 11 ft
Draught: 9 ft 6 in
Propulsion: 1 shaft petrol / electric, 300 hp/120 hp
10 knots surfaced; 6 knots submerged after 1910.
Complement: 22 officers and men after 1910
2 external 15 in torpedoes in Drzewiecki drop collars.

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

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

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

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

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I’m a member, so should you be!

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.

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.

Petropavlovsk class Pre-dreadnought Battleship (Севасто́поль) Sevastopol passing Port Arthur’s Electric Hill, which mounted five 254mm Model 1895 guns on Durlyakher carriages (top left) and a pair of 57mm QF mounts, the strategic key to the port’s seaside defenses. The hill got its name from the electrical works located to its rear which were very modern.

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.

Via Ocean-Magazine.ru

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

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

Battleship Sevastopol by Nikolay Konstantinovich Artseulov

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


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. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Don’t count on that Tsushima cryptocurrency just yet

The stern plate of Donskoy, via the Shinil Group, who may be one of the biggest hoaxsters of the 21st century.

It increasingly looks like the shadowy group that intended to salvage the “billions” from the Tsar’s lost semi-armored frigate Dmitriy Donskoy, which made headlines last month, was more flash in the pan than gold in the bank.

From Gizmodo:

More bizarre twists and outrageous claims kept coming, culminating in a July 26 press conference in which company President Choi Yong-seok told reporters, “there’s no way for us to figure out whether there would be gold coins or bars on the Donskoi,” and that the company’s previous claims were based on speculation and media reports. He also said he’d only become president a few hours before the conference and the other members of leadership had resigned.

It should be noted that this is not the first time that treasure hunters have promised big bucks from the Tsar’s doomed 2nd Pacific Squadron only to come up short. In 1980, Japanese salvors located the armored cruiser Admiral 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.

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

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

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

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

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

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

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

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

But we are getting ahead of ourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

Russian officers in Elbing. 1900

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The destroyer of the “Kit” type:

(Longitudinal section, bilge plan, and top view)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m a member, so should you be!

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Watanabe Nobukazu

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

Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Watanabe Nobukazu

Japanese woodblock printing (moku hanga) goes back to the 1700s and had evolved into high art by the 19th century. One of the more noted artists who operated in this media was Watanabe Nobukazu. Born in Tokyo in 1872 as Shimada Jiro, he studied duteously under master Yōshū Chikanobu in the Utagawa school before taking his new name.

His art ranged from traditional pre-Edo period Imperial Japanese Ukiyo-e imagery, to that of the more modern era the country was rapidly moving into. The process for this art form is among the most complex and demanding.

Woman with an Umbrella

Woman with an Umbrella

The Battle of Go-San-Nen

The Battle of Go-San-Nen

Nobukazu 3 Nobukazu 2

Nasu no Yoichi, Samurai of Genji side, tries to shoot down the fan placed atop the mast of his enemy Taira's ship at the battle of Yashima in 1185 via SCRC Virtual Museum at Southern Illinois University's Morris Library http://scrcexhibits.omeka.net/items/show/2

Nasu no Yoichi, Samurai of Genji side, tries to shoot down the fan placed atop the mast of his enemy Taira’s ship at the battle of Yashima in 1185 via SCRC Virtual Museum at Southern Illinois University’s Morris Library

Picture of Noble's Imperial Ceremony, 1900

Picture of Noble’s Imperial Ceremony, 1900

He later evolved his form to encompass a series of exquisite triptychs prints centering on the Sino-Japanese war of 1894. His use of vivid colors, glazes, and multiple transparencies gave his work a very characteristic depth of field.

The Second Army Bombarding and Occupying Port Arthur” by Watanabe Nobukazu, November 1894

The Second Army Bombarding and Occupying Port Arthur” by Watanabe Nobukazu, November 1894

Sino-Japanese Pitched Battles Two Generals Fighting at Fenghuangcheng

Sino-Japanese Pitched Battles Two Generals Fighting at Fenghuangcheng

Sergeant Miyake’s Courage at the Yalu River” by Watanabe Nobukazu, 1895

Sergeant Miyake’s Courage at the Yalu River” by Watanabe Nobukazu, 1895

Our Forces Crossing the Yalu River In Honor of Lieutenant General Nozu

Our Forces Crossing the Yalu River In Honor of Lieutenant General Nozu


Illustration of the Attack on the Hōōjyo

Illustration of the Attack on the Hōōjyo

Battle of Yellow Sea

Battle of Yellow Sea

16126.d.1_(28)_B20107-32 2000_439 2000_380_22

And the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-05:

Torpedo boat attack on Port Arthur

Torpedo boat attack on Port Arthur

torpedo boat attack on Port Arthur 1904

torpedo boat attack on Port Arthur 1904

Russian soldiers

Russian soldiers

Picture of Our Valorous Military Repulsing the Russian Cossack Cavalry on the Bank of the Yalu River by Watanabe Nobukazu, March 1904

Picture of Our Valorous Military Repulsing the Russian Cossack Cavalry on the Bank of the Yalu River by Watanabe Nobukazu, March 1904

The Russian battleship Petropvavlask sinks as Adm. Makarov stands bravely on desk

The Russian battleship Petropavlask sinks as Adm. Makarov stands bravely on deck

Illustration of Russian and Japanese Army and Navy Officers Watanabe Nobukazu, February 1904

Illustration of Russian and Japanese Army and Navy Officers Watanabe Nobukazu, February 1904

As with many woodblock artists of his day, his art fell out of favor in the 1920s, a victim of increasing modernization in Japan. He died in 1944, largely forgotten in his own country. However, his body of work is seen as among the best of its genre.

MIT has an amazing gallery of woodblock prints by the artist and others in the same period from the Sharf Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston available here while another inspiring gallery is maintained by the Lavenberg and at Ukiyo-e.org .

Thank you for your work, sir.