The Novik Class:
Fast Protected Cruisers (1900/1901)
The Novik class referred to a trio of very fast, German-designed cruisers that mustered into the Imperial Russian Navy during the buildup for war with Japan. As was customary at the time, Russia purchased the prototype from a foreign builder (in this case the Schichau yard in Danzig, Germany) and expanded the class with home-made copies, built at the Nyevsky Shipyard in St. Petersburg 1901-1904. The Russian navy tended toward showy and impressive ships and built mostly armored cruisers through the 1890s. The Noviks -- fast light cruisers from one of the originators of the light cruiser type -- were unusual members of the Russian fleet.
These sleek, triple-screw ships were capable of 25 knots when new. They were smaller and less heavily armed than most protected cruisers in service at the time. Their chief purposes were to act as fast scouts for the battle fleet and to deliver despatches. The knifelike hull form also included whalebacked edges along the foredeck and sides, common in German cruisers at the time. Amidships the sides curled even further inboard, with a flying deck provided for foot traffic some 4 feet above the curved gunwale. Three plump funnels vented the coal-burning furnaces of the steam plant, which occupied 60% of the ship's hold space. The main armament was six 4.7" (120 mm) guns: single pivot mounts laid out in a hex disposition (at right: the bow gun on the Novik). The 4 beam guns sat inside small sponsons that brought their line of fire slightly outboard (see plan).
The lead ship was triple screw and the others copied the layout, but with Yarrow boilers substituted for the German Schulz-Thornycroft type. More powerful 4-cylinder engines developing 19,000 HP were installed on the Russian-built ships. Their armament was essentially the same as the prototype; the conning tower protection was dispensed with. Both Russian-made ships exceeded their 24-knot design speed, but were a knot slower than the Novik at that. The lead ship had a distinctly Italian look with the single central mast; the Russian Admiralty insisted on cluttering the design with military masts forward and aft for a 3-masted look not unlike their 19th-century monitors. But details aside, these 3 ships were essentially the same design: distinctively modern looking ships whose long, low silhouette whispered seductively of speed.
Since the Novik differed somewhat from the two ships built in Russia to her pattern, we will consider the prototype first.
Plans and Specifications
Specifications for the Novik:
Dimensions: 360'11" x 40'8" x 16'5" Displacement: 3,129 tons. Armament: (6) 4.7"/45 cal M1892 (6x1), (8) 1.9" Hotchkiss 3-pdr, and (2) 37mm Hotchkiss 1-pdr guns; (5) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp cemented type. 1" conning tower; 3.1"/1.25" deck; 3.1" shields. Fuel capacity: 500 tons of coal std; 600 tons maximum. Propulsion: (12) coal-fired Schulz-Thornycroft boilers; (3) vertical triple expansion engines developing 17,000 IHP, shafted to triple screw. Maximum speed: 25 kts. Endurance: 5,000 nm @ 10 kts; 500 nm @ 20 kts. Crew: 337.
Ships in class: Novik · Zhemchug · Izumrud. Novik renamed Suzuya after capture by the Japanese (served 1906-1913).
Dimensions: 110m x 12.2m x 5m. Displacement: 3,129 tons. Armament: (6) 120 mm/45 cal M1892 (6x1), (8) 47 mm Hotchkiss 3-pdr, and (2) 37 mm Hotchkiss 1-pdr guns; (5) 450 mm torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp cemented type. 28 mm conning tower; 80/28 mm deck; 80 mm shields. Fuel capacity: 500 tons of coal std; 600 tons maximum. Propulsion: (12) coal-fired Schulz-Thornycroft boilers; (3) vertical triple expansion engines developing 13,000 kW, shafted to triple screw. Maximum speed: 46 km/hr. Endurance: 9,300 km @ 19 km/hr; 930 km @ 37 km/hr. Crew: 337.
Specifications for the Izumrud and Zhemchug:
Dimensions: 360' x 40' x 16' Displacement: 3,050 tons std; 3,153 deep laden. Armament: (6) 4.7"/45 cal M1892 (6x1), (6) 1.9" Hotchkiss 3-pdr, and (2) 37mm Hotchkiss 1-pdr guns; (5) 14" torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp cemented type. 2"/1.25" deck; 2" shields. Fuel capacity: 500 tons of coal std; 600 tons maximum; 1,310 tons sailing under Rozhdestvensky. Propulsion: (16) coal-fired Yarrow boilers; (3) 4-cyl vertical triple expansion engines developing 19,000 HP, shafted to triple screw. Maximum speed: 24 kts. Endurance: 3,790 nmi @ 10 kts. Crew: 334.
Dimensions: 111m x 12.2m x 4.88m Displacement: 3,050 tons std; 3,153 deep laden. Armament: (6) 120 mm/45 cal M1892 (6x1), (6) 47 mm Hotchkiss 3-pdr, and (2) 37mm Hotchkiss 1-pdr guns; (5) 356 mm torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp cemented type. 51/32 mm deck; 51 mm shields. Fuel capacity: 500 tons of coal std; 600 tons maximum; 1,310 tons sailing under Rozhdestvensky. Propulsion: (16) coal-fired Yarrow boilers; (3) 4-cyl vertical triple expansion engines developing 14,168 kW, shafted to triple screw. Maximum speed: 44 km/hr. Endurance: 7,020 km @ 18.5 km/hr. Crew: 334.
Above, the completed Novik at dock in Germany during trials. Though lightly armed, these were not small ships. It is quite evident that, as in many a fast cruiser and every destroyer built, a great deal of the hull space was devoted to steam plant and propulsion. The ships did deliver on the promised speed, although that did not spare any of them from a tragic fate.
The Novik commissioned into the fleet in 1901 and was immediately despatched to Port Arthur to join the burgeoning fleet there. During the night of the Japanese sneak attack which started the Russo-Japanese War (Feb. 8, 1904) Novik was the only Russian vessel alert enough to challenge the attackers, moving forth and shooting a torpedo at the squadron's tormentors.
Later that year, she was part of the Port Arthur squadron's sortie that resulted in the Battle of the Yellow Sea on Aug. 10. The intent of the sortie was to join the Port Arthur group with the Vladivostok cruiser squadron. However, the battle-damaged and irresolutely led battleships most retreated to Port Arthur after a day's action with the Japanese. Only Novik with her superior speed and undamaged power plant took the strategic orders of Viceroy Alexeiev seriously and made for the Golden Horn, after escorting the badly damaged battleship Tsesarevich into Qingdao for internment. Under Capt. Maximilian Schultz she led the Japanese cruiser Tsushima on a merry chase. Low on fuel, she was coaling in the port of Korsakov on Russian-held Sakhalin Island on Aug. 7 when she was surprised by the Tsushima, now jointed by the cruiser Chitose. Outnumbered, outgunned, and cornered in Aniva Bay, Schultz ordered the ship scuttled and prepared to become a prisoner of His Imperial Japanese Majesty. At right, Japanese sailors visit the wreck of the Novik shortly after the incident.
Schultz' hasty scuttling job was not enough to stymie the ingenious and persistent Japanese, who after the war salvaged the wreck and returned the ship to service for 6 years -- of which more later.
Meanwhile, both the Izumrud and Zhemchug had completed and mustered into the Baltic fleet -- the names mean Emerald and Pearl, making them part of a select group in the Russian fleet with the most beautiful "cruiser" of all, the converted yacht Almaz ("Diamond"). When the news of the disaster to the Port Arthur squadron reached St. Petersburg, the Tsar called urgent consultation of his naval and military advisors. He determined to bet his all on a naval reverse, ordering anything that would float to prepare for sea; the objective: to relieve Port Arthur and sweep the seas of Togo's fleet. The two new fast cruisers were among the ill-assorted ships swept into the mission, and so became part of the ill-fated expedition that met its doom at Tsushima Straits after steaming 18,000 miles around the globe.
The two ships had very different experiences. Zhemchug was in the confused formation of the First Cruiser Squadron, commanded by R. Adm. Oskar Enkvist. Well back from the fighting front of the Russian formation, Enkvist soon decided to make a U-turn and run for safety as fast as his ships could go -- abandoning the old belted cruisers under his command and the flotilla of fleet auxiliaries he was supposed to be protecting. Several days later the fast ships of Enkvist's command arrived in Manila and petitioned for asylum: the Oleg (flag), Aurora, and Zhemchug. Despite some minor battle damage, all 3 vessels were in good condition; and remained so when they reverted to the Russian government by the terms of the Treaty of Portsmouth (Sept. 1905).
Izumrud, meanwhile, had become separated from Enkvist's group in the battle. During the night she joined forces with R. Adm. Nebogatoff's flagship, the antiquated battleship Nikolai I. As morning broke on May 28, the small group of ships being shepherded by Nebogatoff was quickly located and surrounded by Japanese warships. While the encirclement was still loose, and with the admiral's permission, Izumrud, under the command of Baron Ferzen, made a run for it, hoping to outspeed her pursuers to Vladivostok. At first it seemed she might succeed, although she was down to her last 10 tons of coal. However, in the middle of the night, she ran hard aground at the entrance to Vladimir Bay, only 60 miles (100 km) from her destination. Realizing the jig was up, Ferzen ordered the crew ashore and, together with the ships' bo'suns, conducted a very thorough demolition job (see photo). Ferzen and crew (10 of them wounded) reached Vladivostok overland 2 days later, on June 1. The crew told their tale in the taverns and their captain telegraphed his report to Petersburg, already reeling from news of the Tsushima catastrophe.
At left, a spirited watercolor of Novik bucking through a gale; click to enlarge.
Two of the ships in the class had a further history after 1905. The Japanese were intrigued by the ease with which the Novik had eluded them and decided to salvage her from what was now Japanese soil -- the island of Sakhalin became a spoil of war. The ship was raised, towed back to Yokosuka Naval Arsenal, and reconstructed, mustering into the Mikado's fleet on Aug. 20, 1906 under the name HIJMS Suzuya, 2nd class cruiser. She was minus 3 boilers from her salad days, however, and with the damage from scuttling and battle, could not do better than 19 knots (35 km/hr). She just was not the same. With the improvement of W/T a number of her functions were no longer needed. The ship was downgraded in 1912 and scrapped the following year.
Zhemchug remained in the Russian Pacific squadron after the war. During WWI she was attached to the British Asiatic Fleet, and was in port at Penang, Malaya at the beginning of the war, along with a couple of French destroyers. She was completely taken by surprise when the German light cruiser Emden raided the port on Oct. 28, 1914. Emden shot up the port, set oil storage tanks ablaze, sank one destroyer, and put 2 torpedoes and a number of 4.1" shells into Zhemchug. The second torpedo detonated her magazines and she sank, a total loss. Moreover, 89 of her crew were killed and 143 wounded. Emden escaped unscathed, to pursue her career of commerce constriction for another 2 weeks. On inquiry, it was discovered that Zhemchug's commander, Baron Cherkassov, had been ashore carousing with his mistress the night before the raid, making no provision for the readiness of his cruiser. The keys for the ship's magazine had been brought ashore and no lookouts had been posted. In a rare case of justice punishing a high-ranking aristocrat, Cherkassov was found guilty of negligence at court martial. The Baron was stripped of his naval rank and spent 3½ years in prison; though of course this did not bring back those who had died on account of his carelessness.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
A Nosegay of Novik Notions
Speed was the raison d'être of the Novik class. Here is a photo of the name ship that embodies that trait, as any of the class may have appeared running all out to escape destruction
Last of the class, the Zhemchug in colonial white paint. Like the Izumrud she had a 3-mast military rig; sometime between 1905 and 1909 the foremast and the mizzen were removed and she became a one-central-mast ship, like the Novik.
Bow view of Novik on a visit to Brest when new radiates yachtlike splendor in a sporty white.
Bow view of Izumrud moored at Kronstadt assumes a far different aspect in regulation black.
Stern quarter view of Izumrud shows her 3-masted rig. Note the elongation of the hull - mark of a true speed queen.
Inspection of the Zhemchug while fitting out in 1904. Top brass and their wives do the honors. A door is being planed at right; the deck is covered with wood chips. Also visible are the aft searchlight tower, skylights, vents, main and mizzen masts, and aftermost funnel. The ship would be on her way to Tsushima within weeks. She was the sole member of the class to survive the Russo-Japanese War.
Wreck of the Izumrud at Vladimir Bay in Siberia. The aft half of the ship was effectively destroyed by her commander, Baron Ferzen, to prevent the Japanese from restoring the ship and adding it to their navy, as they had with the Novik.
Wreck of Novik at Korsakov Bay, Southern Sakhalin, where she was cornered by two Japanese cruisers and scuttled by her commander, Baron Schultz, to avoid capture.
The salvaged Novik at Kure while serving as HIJMS Suzuya, November 1908. With one boiler room removed, she turned in a disappointing performance and was soon relegated to scrap. But not before undergoing a rigorous engineering deconstruction at the hands of Japanese shipwrights. Enlarge
Computer-generated image of Novik reveals fine points of the deck layout. What a sweet design!
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