In the late 1960s, the Soviets envisioned a class of 10 or more massive 12,000-ton guided missile cruisers. Capable of traveling more than 12,000 miles without refueling, these bruisers would be able to sail the world, showing the Red Banner of the worker’s paradise. As a tie-in to the old Tsarist navy, many of these ships were named after classic warships of that fleet, including the lead ship of the class, Slava (Glory). One of the last of these craft completed, the Varyag (Varangian– based on what the Greeks called thVikings), although originally named Chervona Ukraina (Red Ukraine) was given the name of the Pacific fleet cruiser who fought and lost a wonderfully heroic one-sided battle in 1904 against the Japanese.
Commissioned October 16, 1989, Varyag was sent to the Pacific like her namesake and spent most of her life in a caretaker status in Vladivostok, the new Russian Navy being very cash strapped, especially after 1991.
Overhauled in 2008, she has found new life in the past half decade and has sailed from one end of the Pacific to the other, visiting California, Hawaii, Singapore, and all points in between. Equipped with 16 huge carrier-killer P-500 Bazalt (SS-N-12 Sandbox) anti-ship missiles, as well as enough of an anti-air and ASW suite to make most fleets think twice, she speaks softly but carries a big stick.
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take out every Wednesday for a look at the old steampunk navies of the 1866-1938 time period and will profile a different ship each week.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, June 13
Here we have the beautiful Russian cruiser Varyag (Viking.) She was built at William Cramp and Sons of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania with her keel was laid in October 1898. She was commisoned January 2, 1901 and sailed immediately for the Russian Far East where she visited many foreign ports and waved her flag proudly for her Tsar.
Type: Protected cruiser
Displacement: 6,500 long tons (6,604 t)
Length: 129.6 m (425 ft 2 in) w/l
Beam: 15.8 m (51 ft 10 in)
Draught: 6.3 m (20 ft 8 in)
Propulsion: 2-shaft Vertical triple expansion steam engines
30 Niclausse water-tube boilers
20,000 ihp (15,000 kW)
Speed: 23 knots (26 mph; 43 km/h)
Armament: 12 × 1 – 152 mm (6 in) guns
12 × 1 – 75 mm (3.0 in) guns
8 × 1 – 47 mm (1.9 in) guns
2 × 1 – 37 mm (1.5 in) guns
6 × 1 – 381 mm (15.0 in) submerged torpedo tubes
When the Russo-Japanese war erupted she was anchored as shown above in the harbor at Inchon in Chemulpo Bay, Korea (at that time part of the Japanese Empire) her only companion was the small sailing gunboat Korietz.
At the harbor mouth appeared an entire Japanese squadron led by Rear Admiral Uryu Sotokichi who commanded 6 cruisers and 8 torpedo boats, outnumbering and outgunning the pair of Russian ships by a factor of about 700%.
Instead of surrendering, the Varyag‘s captain Vsevolod Rudnev, built steam and charged at the Japanese ships with all flags flying and the ship’s band playing.
A number of neutral vessels in the bay, including the British cruiser Talbot, the French cruiser Pascal, the Italian cruiser Elba, and the U.S. gunboat USS Vicksburg and collier USS Pompey, watched the action that unfolded.
From the Varyag logbook:
11:10 All hands on deck on Varyag.
11:20 Cruiser goes to open sea, Korietz in 1 cable length (200 meters) behind. English and Italian crews cheer Russians; on the Italian cruiser Elba the Russian anthem is played.
11:25 Battle alarm on “Varyag“. Japanese cruisers Asama, Naniwa, Takachiho, Chiyoda, Akashi and Niitaka in bearing line from Richy island to Northern passage. Japanese torpedo-boats behind cruisers.
11:45 Varyag opens fire with port guns.
11:47 Asama opens fire with 8″ gun; all Japanese squadron then open fire.
One of the first Japanese shells that hit cruiser, destroyed the port wing of front bridge, set fire in chart house and broke the fore shrouds. Junior navigating officer midshipman Count Alexey Nirod was killed, all personnel on range finding station #1 were killed or wounded.
Damaged 10.2″ gun #3, all personnel killed or wounded, battery commander midshipman Gubonin was wounded, but refused to go away until he fall. Fire on bow and quarterdeck (was put out by midshipman Chernilovsky-Sokol). With the same shell, that caused fire was damaged guns: 10.2″ #8 and #9, 75mm #21 47mm #27 and #28. With other hits was nearly destroyed main battle top, destroyed range finding station #2, damaged guns #31 and #32, fire in lockers on accommodation deck (was put out lively).
12:05 After passing traverse of “Yo-dol-mi” island trunk with rudder drive was damaged. At the same time, Captain Rudnev was shell-shocked in head by fragments of another shell, hitting foremast. Staff-bugler and drummer, who stay astride him was deadly killed, helmsman petty officer Snegirev was badly wounded in back, and orderly of captain quartermaster Chibisov was lightly wounded too. Ship from now was steered from steering compartment, but orders were stiffed, so course permanently was corrected with engines. At strong current cruiser steered badly.
12:15 Willing to go out of fire range to repair as possible steering drive and put out fires in different places begin to turn with machines, as cruiser steered badly. Near Yo-dol-mi island engines on full back.
Cruiser was put in disadvantage position relatively to island when steering drive was broken with rudder at 15-20° on port side.
Distance to enemy shortens to 28-30 cable length, fire strengthens, hits increase.
Near the same time large caliber shell hit port side under water, water gushed into huge hole, stokehold #3 begins to full with water, which level raised up to furnaces. Chief Officer and chief boatswain placed patch under the hole, water was pumped all time, its level decreased continuously, but cruiser continue to listing at port side.
With shell passing through officer cabins, which were wrecked, deck was pierced and meal in provision berth was inflamed. Then cot netting at waist under the sick quarters was pierced, wherein fragments get into sick quarters, cots in netting catch fire, which was put out lively. Serious damage forced us to get out of fire range for a more long time, that is why we come to roadstead at full speed, firing with port and bow guns.
Throughout the battle with one shot of 10.2″ gun #XII bow bridge of Asama cruiser was destroyed and put afire, Asama stop fire for some time. bow turret on her was apparently damaged, as it not fired up to the end of battle.
12:40 With cruiser approached the berth and Japanese fire become dangerous for neutral ships on roadstead, two cruiser pursuing us stop the fire and return to the rest of squadron out of Yo-dol-mi island.
12:45 Distance to the Japanese so increased, that our fire become ineffective, so we stop it.
Unable to break past the Japanese squadron by mid-afternoon, Korietz and the badly battered Varyag returned to Chemulpo harbor at 13:15, where both took refuge near the neutral warships. At 16:00, Korietz was scuttled by her crew by blowing up two powder-rooms. Fragments of the blown-up ship landed dangerously close to neutral vessels. Fearing a greater explosion with potential casualties, the captains of the neutral warships present urged Rudnev not to blow up Varyag in a similar manner. At 18:10, scuttled by her crew, Varyag rolled over on her port side and sank. Crewmen from Varyag were dispatched to the Russian transport Sungari, which had remained behind in the harbor during the battle, and set her on fire to prevent her from falling into Japanese hands.
These efforts were for naught and the Japanese raised the ship, renamed her Soya and dubbed her a 3rd class cruiser. The Soya was used primarily for training duties. From 14 March 1909 to 7 August 1909, it made a long distance navigational and officer cadet training cruise to Hawaii and North America. It repeated this training cruise every year until 1913.
During World War I Russia and Japan became allies and the Soya (along with several other vessels) was transferred back to Russia at Vladivostok on 5 April 1916, and its original name of Varyag restored. While being refit in Great Britain the Russian revolution gripped Russia and the British seized her. In 1920, judging the vessel in poor repair, the British sold her to a German breaking yard. That same year, while under tow in the Firth of Clyde, she ran aground on rocks near the Scottish village of Lendalfoot, and was scrapped there. Her remaining hull finally sank in 1925 and was never recovered.
In November 2010 the government of South Korea turned over a number of captured relics in their possession to the Russian government. The Japanese Navy had in 1904 recovered 14 artifacts from the Varyag, including its flag, artillery rounds, shells, gun and mast, and stored them at a location in Inchon. Now the Inchon Metropolitan Museum, which acquired them after Japan’s defeat at the end of World War II, returned them to Russia under an honor guard of ROK Marines.