The Peresviet Class (1898/1902)
Peresviet and her two sister ships Pobieda (the name means "Victory") and Osliabya were rather unexceptional second-class battleships of 12,000 tons, carrying a main armament of four 10" guns apiece, capable of 18 kts. on trials but, more realistically, 16+ sustained kts. at sea. For an enlargement of the bow shot at left, click here. Built in the Tsarist regime's Admiralty Yard at Kronstadt, they were workmanlike but lacking in technical finesse, like most Russian-made vessels; like many, they were the product of a cloudy concept as well. They were an adaptation of the French tumble-home hull idea, built as a section of the ship between four armored pillars holding down the ends (see photo below right). It was therefore odd that they should have been the cause of such a severe case of jitters at the British Admiralty.
In one of the worst intelligence mix-ups before the WMD fiasco in Iraq, the Pobiedas were reported to British intelligence as 19-kt superbattleships capable of challenging -- even besting -- the British Majestics and Bulwarks. As had been quite common for some decades, it was demanded that Britain meet the challenge by building an entire class of ships as a "reply" to the Russians, the ships being designed to counter the new Russian vessels' supposed capabilities point by point, as the Powerful class cruisers had been built as a "reply" to the Ruriks. The "reply" ships became known as the Duncan class, the last class of battleships to be wholly designed by long-time DNC Sir William White. To say that this 6-ship class of fast, 19-knot pre-dreadnought battleships, (each mounting four 12-inch guns and a dozen 6-inchers) represented British over-reaction would be an understatement. In fact the Peresviets were second-class battleships inspired by the British colonial battleships Barfleur and Centurion of 1893. The Russian ships were never intended to be main battle line units. Rather, they were more of a super armored cruiser (compare to hull shape of Aurora) intended for commerce raiding in the Far East, with 6" bow chaser gun and relatively high speed, but a limited armor belt and scant protection for the barbettes. When they were drafted to the battle line their performance was not impressive. Apparently British intelligence operatives in Petersburg conflated the speed specifications for Pallada class cruisers with the armament of a heavy battleship, exaggerated like mad, and shook twice before reporting it to Whitehall -- much as Ahmed Chalabi's exile organization made a fortune telling paranoid ears in the U.S. government what they wanted to hear about Iraq in 2000-03.
This quarter view of Peresviet (completed 1901) shows the main characteristics of the class: high forecastle and sides, three stubby funnels, two masts with fighting tops and separate topmasts as in the French fleet cruisers (French battleships had space-age masts with electric elevators inside them and flying-saucer-like gunhouses at the masthead), a short forecastle just big enough for a 10" turret, two capstans, and a few bitts and cleats. The sided 6" and 3" guns were carried in casemates stacked on two decks, bristling like a hedgehog during naval reviews, but guaranteeing that at least half the guns would be unworkable in any kind of weather. The Peresviets had a compact, chunky look with their tall, haughty sides, and a longish, low-slung quarterdeck. Russian warships frequently mimicked the French mania for plow-like ram bows, pronounced tumble-home and high sides, as seen from this angle, though the Persviets were not an extreme example. This design had marked disadvantages, among them top-heaviness, diminished stability, and cramped deck space on the upper levels. In addition, the Peresviets were underprotected and under-gunned; and ill-prepared for the ruthless warfare that awaited them in the Far East. Far from intimidating natives and protecting trade, they ended up fighting the cream of the Japanese fleet -- the latest designs from London.
The ships' armor put them at particular disadvantage for the scenario that awaited them on the voyage east. To quote John Campbell, an ordnance expert with a particular interest in the Tsushima débacle, the Peresviets were "a thoroughly bad design, ... high-sided with a nominal displacement of 12,674 tons and a beam of only 71.2 ft. The main armament was only four 10-inch twin French-type turrets fore and aft, with eleven 6-inch, of which one was unprotected in the bows, six in upper deck and four in main deck casemates. Of the twenty 3-inch guns, eight were in an unprotected main deck battery. The heavy armour was mainly American Harvey with some KC. Of the 425 ft waterline, 312 ft was protected by a belt 7 ft 10 in wide and 9 in amidships (5 in lower edge) but reduced to 7 in fore and aft where there were 4-in bulkheads. Above the belt was 188 ft of 5-in armour to the main deck, ending in 4-in bulkheads reaching to the forecastle deck. All the 4-in bulkheads had unarmoured doors. The turrets were 9 in with 5-in bases, the casemates 5 in, and the CT 6 in. There was a 3/2 in lower armoured deck extending to bow and stern with 3-in slopes, but none of the other decks were over 1 in." The narrow belt armor was largely submerged at the time of Tsushima owing to the ships' being grossly overloaded with coal at Adm. Rozhdestvensky's insistence.
Plans and Specifications
Specifications for the Peresviet class:
Dimensions: 424' x 71'6" x 27'4" Displacement: 12,683 tons standard. Armament: (4) 10"/45 cal., (11) 6"/45 guns, (20) 3" 12-pounder guns, (5) 15" torpedo tubes. Armor: mostly Krupp Cemented (KC) armor, with some Harvey armor. Belt: 9", barbettes 8", turrets 10", deck 2.75", conning tower 10", casemates 5". Propulsion: 32 coal-fired Belleville boilers; (3) inverted vertical triple expansion engines developing 15,000 HP, shafted to triple screw. Speed: 18 knots. Endurance: 3,500 nm @ 10 kts. Fuel capacity: 2,100 tons of coal. Crew: 752 officers and men.
Ships in class: Peresviet · Pobieda · Oslyabya
Dimensions: 133m x 21.8m x 8m. Displacement: 12,683 tons standard. Armament: (4) 254 mm/45 cal., (11) 152 mm/45, and (20) 75mm 12-pounder guns; (5) 381 mm torpedo tubes. Armor: mostly Krupp KC armor, with some Harvey armor. Belt 229 mm, barbettes 203 mm, turrets 254 mm, deck 70 mm, conning tower 254 mm, casemates 127 mm. Propulsion: 32 coal-fired Belleville boilers; (3) inverted vertical triple expansion engines developing 11,186 kW, shafted to triple screw. Speed: 33.3 km/hr. Endurance: 6,482 km @ 18.5 km/hr. Fuel capacity: 2,100 tons of coal. Crew: 752.
The Osliabya becomes subject for more than one lens. Enlarge
As judged by their performance in battle, the Peresviet class needn't have spooked the British. In the Russo-Japanese War all three of the ships were sunk and put out of action by the Japanese. Peresviet was stationed at Port Arthur with the main fleet, along with Pobieda. They were involved in a sortie in strength in August 1904, resulting in Russian breakout and pitched battle with the Japanese battle fleet offshore as afternoon deepened into evening. Peresviet became the flagship at the Battle of the Yellow Sea after the commanding admiral was killed and his flagship Tsesarevich disabled; but Peresviet herself sustained 39 hits and had her signal halyards shot away so she was a most ineffective flagship, though she survived to sink another day, and later to serve the enemy. Sister ship Pobieda also survived the battle only to be bottled up in Port Arthur until the city fell to the Japanese in January 1905. There they were sunk by plunging fire from the heights starting in Nov. 1904. All the warships sank or scuttled by the surrender, just into the New Year. Meanwhile the third sister Osliabya had been detained in European waters by mechanical problems, until ordered off to the Far East with the flower of the Baltic fleet in Oct. 1904. After an 18,000-nm voyage the Russian "Second Pacific Fleet" (as the Tsar dubbed the ill-assorted aggregation) met obliteration while trying to run the strait between Japan and Korea. Leading the port column into a tornado of Japanese HE and AP projectiles at the Battle of Tsushima, Osliabya became the first of seven Russian battleships to be sunk that day. To quote NJM Campbell:
At about 1418 the Osliabya had been hit by a heavy shell on or below the waterline forward which made a large hole and caused very serious flooding. Another shell pierced the armour amidships and entered a coal bunker, and here again serious flooding occurred. The ship took a heavy list to port and was down by the head, and counter-flooding and hole-stopping attempts were unsuccessful. In addition the fore turret had been hit and put out of action and she was badly on fire so that the Shikishima at 1440 could not lay her guns on the Osliabya for smoke. At 1450 the Osliabya turned to starboard out of line and at almost the same time was hit again on the waterline by two heavy shells, one of which made a second huge hole close to the first bad hit.Her two sisters were soon raised by the Japanese during October 1905. They were extensively rebuilt and added to the Mikado's naval lineup in 1907-08, though they were quite obsolete by that time and used primarily for coastal defense. In the rebuild the funnels were lengthened, improving the ships' profiles and enhancing their speed. In all, six Russian oceangoing battleships and two large coast-defense ironclads with 10" guns were added to the Mikado's fleet in 1905. After enjoying their peculiarities for about a decade, the Japanese were glad to sell them back to the Russians when chance placed them on the same side in WWI.
The [Osliabya ] was now sinking with an increasing list. The sea entered her main deck ports and then the bases of her funnels, and by 1510 the Osliabya had gone down without capsizing, her deck nearly vertical. Russian destroyers rescued 385 survivors, but 514 were lost. The body of Adm. Felkerzam went down with his flagship.
A Peresviet Class Picture Gallery
The Osliabya was the flagship of Rear Adm. Baron Felkerzam during the Baltic Fleet's nightmarish passage from Libau to Tsushima. The admiral himself died of a brain hemmorhage on May 24, 1905, three days before the battle. His death was kept secret to avoid demoralizing the fleet. Like all of Rozhdestvensky's ships, Osliabya was so heavily laden with coal that her armor belt was partly submerged and stability impaired in battle. Osliabya had the dubious distinction of being the first Russian battleship sunk at Tsushima, diving for the depths in a dense cloud of black smoke after sustaining numerous hits forward. Full account More than 57% of her crew were killed; but nearly 400 were rescued by Russian destroyers and auxiliaries.
The Peresviet in wintry afternoon light at Dalny, c. 1903. Click here for huge enlargement (2.5MB).
The Osliabya riding high out of the water during her fitting out.
Quarter view of the Osliabya at anchor, rocking to a gentle swell.
Launch of the Pobieda at the Baltic Works, St. Petersburg, 1900. This view shows the sides of the superstructure well, with the embrasures already cut for the double-tier 6" casemate guns. It also shows the admiral's walk well. The Baltic yard was one of the 3 principal builders for the Russian fleet in the capital. Nikolayev in Ukraine furnished most of the Tsar's Black Sea armor.
A good view of Pobieda's tumble-home casemate section, a sloped-back redoubt sandwiched between vertical armored corner towers bristling with 6" guns. Taken while fitting out at Kronstadt.
Pobieda listing after being mined on April 13, 1904, the same day the Petropavlovsk was sunk. Tropmasts have been struck and guns trained abeam to correct the list and prevent her from capsizing. She was towed back to Port Arthur for repairs, where she is seen in the queue for the drydock.
Four years after the gala launch: Pobieda sunk at Port Arthur, early 1905.
Pobieda in Japanese service as HIJMS Suo, circa 1908. In an astounding turn of events, the ship was sold back to the Russians during WWI, who lost her yet again after she hit a mine laid by the German U-73 off Vladivostok.
Osliabya driving herself under, the first Russian battleship sunk at Tsushima. Enlarge Vladimir Emyshev