Japanese Battleships Shikishima and Hatsuse - 1900

Name of the battleship SHIKISHIMA written in Chinese characters (kanji)

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The battleships Hatsuse and Shikishima comprised Japan's second pair of pre-dreadnoughts, added to the Imperial fleet in anticipation of the war then brewing with Russia. Built in Britain, they were closely modeled on the Majestic class (Formidable class equivalent) except for the boiler uptake and funnel arrangments and improved secondary battery protection.

According to Julian Corbett,
The Japanese battleship "Hatsuse" had a very brief career. She was laid down under the 1896 "Ten Year Naval Expansion Programme" at Armstrong, Whitworth & Co., Elswick, on 10 January 1898. She was designed by Phillip Watts and was similar to the British "Formidable" class. She was launched on 27 June 1899, and her trials took place on 18 January 1901.

Before sailing to Japan she represented the Emperor at Queen Victoria's funeral.

Tacky card of the YASHIMA hitting a mineWhen the fleet was reorganized on 28 December 1903 she was incorporated into the 1st Squadron, 1st Division together with the other six modern battleships, flying the flag of Rear Admiral Nashiba Tokioki.

[War having begun on Feb. 19, 1904,] on 14th May 1904 Admiral Nashiba put to sea to relieve another Japanese blockading force outside Port Arthur. Nashiba had with him the battleships "Hatsuse" (flag), "Shikishima", and "Yashima", the cruiser "Kasagi", and the despatch-vessel "Tatsuta". On the morning of the 15th he reached Encounter Rock and continued N.W., till he was about 15 miles off Port Arthur. Here Nashiba proceeded to patrol to the E. by N. across the mouth of the port. This course brought him straight into the midst of a minefield laid by the Russian minelayer "Amur".

At 10.50 the "Hatsuse" fouled a mine and she began to heel over with her steering engine compartment flooded and her port main engines useless. Only minutes later the "Yashima" was also struck (and later sank). By 11.30 the "Kasagi" was alongside the "Hatsuse" but the battleship's stern-walk was under water, and she was heeling four degrees. A hawser was passed and the "Kasagi" was just hauling in when the flagship struck another mine. Her funnels fell; her mainmast broke off; her upper deck flew into the air, and in a minute and a half she had gone down with her ram high out of water. The loss of life was appalling. The "Tatsuta" and "Kasagi" managed to save the Admiral and Captain Nakao with 21 other officers and 313 men. 38 officers and 458 men went down with the ship.
                        Sir Julian S. Corbett, Maritime Operations in the Russo-Japanese War, 81.
While the loss of the Hatsuse was truly catastrophic, that of the Yashima was somewhat less so. She was got under tow and nursed back within sight of the Korean coastline. There she foundered only 20 miles from a port where she could have been beached for repairs. Casualties were just under 200 killed and three dozen wounded. But taken together, the day's toll was sobering. The Emperor himself was said to have wept on hearing of the disaster; and well he might, for there was no prospect of building or purchasing new units to replace the two sunken battleships. In order to safeguard morale, the losses were hushed up by the Japanese government until after the war.

The twin tragedy left the Japanese battle fleet with only four battleships, while the Russian Pacific Squadron boasted seven, albeit not all in seagoing condition at any one time. The Garibaldi-class armored cruisers Kasuga and Nisshin immediately began trainng as part of the battle fleet. Rallying to the cause, Hatsuse's sister, the Elswick-built Shikishima, was one of the four indomitable pre-dreadnoughts forming the Japanese line at the Battle of the Yellow Sea in August 1904 and the monumental Battle of Tsushima the following May.

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  • Plans and Specifications

    Specifications for the Shikishima class:
    Dimensions: 415' x 76' x 28'3". Displacement: 15,000 tons. Armament: (4) 12"/45 cal (2x2), (14) 6"/41, (20) 12-pdr and (8) 3-pdr, and (6) 2.5-pdr guns; (4) submerged 18" torpedo tubes and (Shikishima only) one above-water tube. Armor: Harvey type throughout. 9"/4" belt; 10"/8" main turret; 14" conning tower; 14"/10" barbettes; 14" bulkhead; 8"/6" secondary turret; 6" casemates 6" upper belt; 4" after conning tower; 3" deck. Fuel capacity: 700 tons of coal std; 1,400 tons maximum. Propulsion: (25) coal-fired Belleville boilers; (2) inverted vertical triple expansion engines developing 16,900 hp, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 18.78 kts. Crew: 741.

    Ships in class: Shikishima Hatsuse

    Metric specs:
    Dimensions: 126.5m x 23.2m x 8.6m Displacement: 15,000 tons. Armament: (4) 305 mm/45 cal (2x2), (14) 152 mm/41, (20) 12-pdr and (8) 3-pdr, and (6) 2.5-pdr guns; (4) submerged 450 mm torpedo tubes and (Shikishima only) one above-water tube. Armor: Harvey type throughout. 229/102 mm belt; 254/203 mm main turret; 356 mm conning tower; 356/254 mm barbette; 356 mm bulkhead; 203/102 mm secondary turret; 102 mm casemate; 102 mm upper belt; 102 mm after conning tower; 76 mm deck. Fuel capacity: 700 tons of coal std; 1,400 tons maximum. Propulsion: (25) coal-fired Belleville boilers; (2) inverted vertical triple expansion engines developing 12,600 kW, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 34.8 km/hr. Crew: 741.

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  • Shades of the Shikishima

    Bow view of HATSUSE hull readay for launch
    Inception of a pre-dreadnought: Hatsuse ready for launch, June 1899. Enlarge

    Battleship HATSUSE at anchor, c1902
    Hatsuse as completed, looking very much like a British unit except for that kiku mon at the prow.

    Illustration of HATSUSE sinking & men escaping in small boat, whirling screws

    Demise of a pre-dreadnought: Hatsuse sinks in a typically melodramatic period illustration from l'Illustration. The ship's mainmast has just crashed onto men struggling in a lifeboat, which did happen. Ship actually sank by the stern, according to the account quoted above. She first hit one mine that disabled her port engine and steering, and was being assisted by other vessels in the squadron. Then minutes later, she struck another mine further forward with catastrophic effect, and quickly foundered.

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  • SHIKISHIMA in port at Nagasaki

    Hatsuse's sister-ship, Shikishima seen at Nagasaki. Built at Thames Iron Works; completed Dec. 1900. For a fabulous wide hi-res view, click here.

    SHIKISHIMA in port at Sasebo
    Shikishima in a colorful mezzotint from the Aiguebelle warships series.

    Woodblock print of Port Arthur bombardment, 1904
    Shikishima brings up the rear of the Japanese line at the bombardment of Port Arthur, Feb. 1904.
    Words are from Togo's inspirational speech to the men before the attack commenced.


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