Japanese Semi-Dreadnought Battlecruiser Tsukuba (1907)

Name of the pre-dreadnought battlecruiser TSUKUBA written in Chinese characters (kanji)

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Tsukuba and her sister ship Ikoma were built in Japan and armed with Japanese-made weapons. Laid down during the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, they were to have been the lead ships for an ambitiious 6-ship class, but with the financial strictures that came at war's end (largely because the anticipated princely indemnity was blocked by peace broker President Theodore Roosevelt), an economizing Admiralty pruned the project back to the first two ships, already well advanced by fall 1905 when the conditions of the Treaty of Portsmouth began to sink in.

Small photo of IKOMA at anchorThe thought that Japan's ambition to humble Russia at the counting-house might be thwarted after Japan had won such an overwhelming victory on the battlefield, was sufficient to touch off anti-American riots across Japan, lasting nearly 2 weeks.

Japan had its revenge in a small way in 1907 when it despatched the newly completed Tsukuba to the U.S for the tricentennial celebration of the settlement at Jamestown. Visitors were pointedly reminded that the ship had been constructed entirely in Japan, along with all its guns and machinery. And that she had been produced in less than 2 years' time. This was a shock to complacent military thinkers who had assumed that because Japan had procured her warships from overseas yards, she would always do so. When the Great White Fleet of 16 U.S. battleships hove into Yokohama the following year, intent at least in part on intimidating the Japanese, Tsukuba and her twin Ikoma were part of the hospitality fleet escorting the gai-jin (foreign barbarians) through the many ceremonials of the visit. Although Japanese militarism had not yet assumed the strident tone it later achieved with near-absolute power and Imperial approval in the 1930s, Japan was able to play gracious host without losing face to the U.S. America had reason to ruminate on Japan's demonstrated military prowess, its burgeoning naval and industrial might, and its stubborn insistence on being treated as a first-class Power. It being the apogee of European imperialpaternalism, Japan's insistence on equality cut against the racial supremacy so commonly assumed in the West at the time.

Plans and Specifications

Specifications for the Tsukuba class:
Dimensions: 449'9" OA x 74'9" x 26'1½". LWL: 440' Displacement: 13,750 tons std; 15,400 tons deep laden. Armament: (4) 12"/40 cal, (12) 6"/40, (12) 4.7"/35, and (4) 3" guns; (3) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp Cemented type throughout. 7"/4" belt; 7" barbettes and turrets; 5" battery and casemates; 8" fore conning tower; 6" aft conning tower; 4" upper belt; 3" deck. Fuel capacity: 700 tons of coal std; 1,300 tons maximum. Propulsion: (20) coal-fired Miyabara boilers; (2) 4-cyl vertical triple expansion engines developing 20,500 SHP, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 20.5 kts . Crew: 879. Endurance: 5,000 nm @ 14 kts.

Ships in class: Tsukuba Ikoma.

Metric specs:
Dimensions: 137m OA x 22.8m x 7.95m. LWL: 134.1m. Displacement: 13,750 tons std; 15,400 tons deep laden. Armament: (4) 305mm/40 cal, (12) 152 mm/40, (12) 119 mm, and (4) 76 mm guns; (3) 450mm torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp Cemented type throughout. 180/102 mm belt; 180 mm barbettes and turrets; 254 mm conning tower; 152 mm turrets and casemates; 102 mm upper belt; 76 mm deck. Fuel capacity: 600 tons of coal std; 2,000 tons maximum. Propulsion: (12) coal-fired Miyabara boilers; (2) 4-cyl vertical triple expansion engines developing 15,463 kW, shafted to twin screw. Maximum speed: 38 km/hr. Crew: 879.Endurance: 9,260 km @ 26 km/hr.

Ships' Histories

After her visit to the U.S. in 1907, the Tsukuba returned to Japan via Portsmouth, England, the Suez Canal, British India, and the Indian Ocean and South China Seas, thus completing a circumnavigation of the globe. This was handy for one-upping visiting American officers bent on their own circumnavigation the following year.

Tsukuba and the slightly later Ibuki class were originally designated "heavy cruisers." They were intended (at least in part) as Japan's "replies" to the new British battlecruisers being constructed under great secrecy under the auspices of First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher. These ships, the Invincible class, were also called "armored cruisers" at first, and their importance was publicly downplayed until they burst on the scene with incandescent glory -- a triumph of concept and shipbuilding -- a ship so revolutionary and promising it was truly sui generis. As befitted their somewhat blurred mission, being equipped with 12" guns and tremendous speed (25.5 knots and up), the Invincibles were dubbed "Battle Cruisers" by the press. The name stuck. There was rapturous enthusiasm at the type's capabilities. Its lack of effective armor plating was overlooked for the moment.

Small photo of TSUKUBA at anchorThe Germans had been fooled by Fisher's deadpan performance; their "reply" was the Blücher, an 8"-gunned cruiser with a reciprocating-driven speed of 23 knots. The Japanese were allies of the British, but they too were bamboozled by Fisher; they too came up a bit short when the Indomitable debuted in 1908. Tsukuba and Ikoma were 20+-knot ships and carried an armament that matched most pre-dreadnought battleships, with four 12" guns, and a weak armor belt. Even the Ibuki, with her turbine engines, could only make 22 knots. Her mixed armament, a match to the U.S. Connecticut class battleships, was formidable, but still contained only half the number of 12" guns of an Invincible.

Nevertheless, these were among the most powerful vessels in their area of operation, barring a very unusual event such as the Great White Fleet's visit or a recurrence of Adm. Rozhdestvensky's excursion. The European powers were busy as never before in home waters with naval rivalry reaching giddy heights and military spending going off the charts. Japan assumed the rôle of Britain's loyal ally, holding the fort in Asia while troops were brought in from around the globe to keep the Allied war effort in France from foundering in the shell-churned mud of Flanders -- and Gallipoli.

Tsukuba was a participant in the Siege of Qingdao in 1914. In that year, she also participated with Ibuki in the hunt for von Spee's East Asia Squadron. Subsequent to the British sinking that force, she performed escort duty, as did her sister Ikoma, based out of Hong Kong, Singapore and Townsville, Australia, protecting British colonies and shipping from German raiders in 1914-15.

Tsukuba was in home waters for gala fleet reviews attended by the Taisho Emperor in 1915 and 1916. On Jan. 14, 1917, while in port at Yokosuka base, she suddenly blew up. It was apparently the result of a magazine fire. 305 of her ship's company were killed in the accident, which shattered shoji as far away as Kamakura.

For some 9 months the hulk was used as a target for Japan's fledgling naval air arm. In 1918 the remains of Tsukuba were salved and sold for scrapping.

Sister ship Ikoma was virtually identical to the Tsukuba. Her fate was kinder: She was towed to Nagasaki to be scrapped at the gigantic Mitsubishi shipyard there under the terms of the Washington Treaty of 1923.

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