A GRAND OLD LADY
Mikasa holds the same historical, and even cultural, significance for the
Japanese as HMS Victory does for the British.
Likewise her famous admiral, Heihachiro Togo, holds a similar place in
their defeat of China in 1895 the Japanese felt robbed of the spoils of
their victory by the coercion of Russia, France and Germany which led to the
Russians being ceded the Liaotung Peninsula, and trading and military rights
in Manchuria and Korea, which the Japanese saw as theirs alone.
To ensure that they would never again have to back down from the mere
threat of force, the Japanese decided upon a major increase in their fleet.
The resulting “6+6” programme was intended to furnish six battleships
and six armoured cruisers in ten years.
The ships of the programme, (plus two more Italian built armoured
cruisers purchased from
was ordered from Vickers and Sons in Britain in 1898, she was launched in November 1900 and was completed, and became
flagship of the Japanese fleet, in 1902.
In size and power she was a close cousin of the British Formidable
class battleships and, as such, represented the penultimate step in
battleship development before she, and all her sisters, were made obsolete
by the launching of HMS Dreadnought. But,
for her day, she was one of the most powerful ships afloat, displacing
15,140 tons, armed with four 12” guns, 14 6” guns, 20 12 pounder (3”)
guns and four torpedo tubes. She
was protected by nine inches of Krupp cemented armour and the 15,000
horsepower of her reciprocating engines drove her at 18 knots.
In DBSA terms she is the archetypal First Class Battleship.
thing that the Mikasa wasn’t was what Royal Navy matelotes would term a
“lucky ship” ~ a ship which survives unscathed through the thick of the
action. Mikasa saw four wars but
the price of her fame came high in the blood of her crew.
She was also more than usually unfortunate when out of combat as
Russian fleet was only to be eventually destroyed months later as the 11”
howitzers of the Japanese Army picked off the ships inside
1339 hrs on May 27th, 1905 in the straits of
Trafalgar, 100 years before
danger of “Togo’s turn” was that whilst making it, most of the Japanese
fleet would be masked, whereas the Russian fire would be enhanced because
they could fire on a fixed point ~ the knuckle of the turn ~ to which they
already know the range, as each Japanese ship passed through this point.
Like Nelson, Togo had taken a finely balanced risk ~ but his judgement
had been right, and although the Mikasa was badly battered, and one of his
armoured cruisers was knocked out, the Japanese line shook itself out,
returned the fire from a tactically advantageous position and from then on
fought the battle on its own terms. By
the next morning almost the entire Russian fleet was either sunk,
surrendered or in flight for neutral ports ~ only three of the thirty-eight
Russian ships made it to Vladivostok. The
war was, to all effects, over. To
pay for this decisive victory Mikasa was hit 32 times and 113 of her crew
all this sacrifice Mikasa was deserving of a safe peace, but it was not to
be. In September 1905, in
1925 it was decided to preserve Mikasa as a memorial ship and she was
encased in concrete in her home
the shore of
get there from
The official website is at: http://www.kinenkan-mikasa.or.jp/
although there is little in English. There is further information at: http://www.city.yokosuka.kanagawa.jp/mikasa/gide.html.
is She Like Now?
firstly, I hope that I look as good when I am 106!
really interesting thing that struck me about treading the decks of a
pre-dreadnought is that the “pre” is really brought home to you.
Compared with other preserved ships that I have visited Mikasa still
seems to have more in common with the Victory, Constitution and Warrior than
with the Texas and Belfast. I’ll
explain this feeling as we take a trip around.
you go through the gates you are greeted by a statue of
statue is based on the famous picture of
Mikasa is encased in concrete up to the waterline this does have one
advantage over most memorial ships which are either dry docked or still
afloat ~ you can get much closer to her.
The affect is only spoiled by a fibre-glass cabin on the port beam
which houses, I think, the electrical transformers.
I’m sure that for technical and safety reasons this white box is
necessary but it does detract from the epic sweep of a 100 year old
is a reasonable 500 yen and for this you get a couple of English guide
pamphlets too. Another 500 yen
will get you the 34 page English guide book.
Once on board your tour can conveniently be divided into two parts ~
above deck and below.
above deck, and at the business end, the first thing that struck me was the
prominence of the sighting hoods on the 12” gun turrets fore and aft.
In the days before director control the approximate range to the
target was passed down from a small range finder on roof of the pilot house
to the gun captain in these armoured pimples, and direction given to the
turret crew below. When a gun
was fired a ship’s boy or midshipman would start a special stopwatch
calibrated not in seconds but in metres, with the hand moving at the same
rate as a shell would fly. So if
the range to the target was estimated at, say, 4,000 meters, when the hand
reached 4,000 the boy would shout “splash.”
The gunnery officer in the sighting hood could then judge from the
real splash or hit he saw whether the range estimation was over or under
and, hopefully, could tell the difference between his own splashes and those
of other guns firing at the same target.
bridgework is a mixture of the old and new in naval warfare.
The armoured conning tower was “state of the art” protection.
Inside the captain, navigating officer and helmsmen would be safe,
even from most direct hits, unless a splinter entered through one of the
narrow vision slits. If shrapnel
or splinters did get in, with any momentum behind them, the results were
devastating as they would rattle around, bouncing off the equally heavily
armoured inside of the tower into the closely packed sailors inside.
Outside of the conning tower on the disengaged side would have been
another midshipman using a sextant to measure the angle to the masthead of
the ship ahead and thus give the captain the separation distance so that the
squadron could maintain proper station.
Exactly the same method was used in Nelson’s day.
the conning tower was the bridge proper, with the wheelhouse and chart room.
On the exposed roof of this stood Admiral
12 pounder battery on the upper deck on either side of the funnels is
another place that Nelson would have felt at home ~ an open gun-deck with
guns firing out through ports on the broadside.
In action though it would have been a lot more cluttered than it is
today. Between each gun was a
hemp rope mantelet, a sort of thick climbing net, that was supposed to stop
splinters. The naval historian
D. K. Brown records that British tests in 1893 had shown such mantelets to be
“almost useless.” I hope
that for the peace of mind of Mikasa’s gunners no one told them about the
British tests. Another of
you go below check out the radio room in the aft superstructure.
Radio telegraphy was in its infancy when Mikasa was built but the
Russo-Japanese War proved its utility. Whilst
Nelson had to guess where Villeneuve was,
decks very little remains of the old Mikasa.
The 6” gun casements have been rather simply restored and some are
used as galleries. The wardroom,
officer’s cabins, (including, because this is a Japanese ship, a splendid
you like ship models then this is the place for you.
Personally I would have preferred to see the preserved mighty
reciprocating engines like those on the Warrior or the Texas,
rather than a museum, but my slight disappointment was dispelled when I
discovered that the museum has a wargames table with the Battle of Tsushima
set up on it. And it’s the
sort of wargames table we have all always wanted too ~ an automated one!
On a simulated sea the two fleets sail from one end to the other on a
sort of chain mechanism. OK,
when I first saw that the ships were generic types of about 1:1800 scale and
not accurate individual models I was a bit put out, but when little lights
started flashing in the models when the ships fired, and when little water
spouts started rising out of the plasticine sea as the shells fell over and
short, my inner child was totally sold.
Needless to say I pressed the “start” button several times …
you leave the site check out the gift shop for the compulsory T shirt,
prints, ship models and, to celebrate a visit to a fine old lady in the
proper spirit, a bottle of ice cold “Amiral” beer.
With a picture of