Search



ABOUT SSL CERTIFICATES

 
 

Japan's First Dreadnoughts, Part II
By Arrigo Velicogna, Ph.D.
February 2015

Ed. Note: Settsu appears, in modernized form, in Second Great War at Sea: Royal Netherlands Navy.

Two New Battleships for the Imperial Navy

Japan’s victory against Russia in 1905 had certainly catapulted the country in the realm of major powers, but had also bankrupted the Empire and added new dangers for the Imperial Navy. The victory prompted the admirals to ask for more funding and more ships. What they wanted was a structure based on two major fleets: one composed of battleships and the other of armored cruisers.  From a requirement for six of each type the Navy, based on its tactical experiences in actual combat, now asked for eight ships of each type, for the so-called Eight-Eight fleet plan, a plan authorized in 1906.

Japan’s victory against Russia in 1905 had certainly catapulted the country in the realm of major powers, but had also bankrupted the Empire and added new dangers for the Imperial Navy. The victory prompted the admirals to ask for more funding and more ships. What they wanted was a structure based on two major fleets: one composed of battleships and the other of armored cruisers.  From a requirement for six of each type the Navy, based on its tactical experiences in actual combat, now asked for eight ships of each type, for the so-called Eight-Eight fleet plan, a plan authorized in 1906.


Kawachi on trials.

At the time of the official implementation of the plan there were several ships in construction, ordered, or already authorized that appeared sufficient to create the two fleets envisaged. Yet the majority of these ships were old designs, often predating the Russo-Japanese War. Furthermore the launching of the Dreadnought did exercise some influence on Japanese designers. Her speed seemed to have attracted the interest of Japanese naval architects and admirals. Dreadnought’s amazing 21 knots had been made possible by the switching from triple expansion steam engines to turbines. Of the new battleship’s features, her speed seemed to be the most important feature for the Japanese Navy. In the summer of 1906 the Imperial Navy placed orders in the United States for steam turbines to fit the battleship Aki and cruiser Ibuki (then under construction).
 
Modifications of existing ships were not enough. In 1908 the government authorized the Navy to build two new battleships, Battleship I and Battleship Ro, respectively Kawachi and Settsu. These two ships were the first ordered after the acceptance of the Eight-Eight fleet plan and the first Japanese capital ships designed after the unveiling of HMS Dreadnought. We do not know the name of the architect who designed them but it is clear that there were several departures from previous designs.

The two ships, with a displacement of 20,823 tons, were designed from the start to be propelled by Curtis turbines capable of 25,000 horsepower for a speed of 20 knots. The armament was peculiar. They had a main battery consisting of twelve 12-inch guns in six twin turrets; two on each beam and two centerline-mounted, one forward and one aft. They had a secondary battery of 10 six-inch guns and eight 4.7-inch guns mounted in casemates on the sides. The 12-inch guns were of two different barrel length, 50 calibers for the centerline-mounted ones and 45 calibers for those mounted on the beam.
 
Evans argued that the difference of barrel lengths hampered accuracy and fire control, but again, based on Fairbanks and on German World War One examples (Dogger Bank, Coronel, Jutland) there appear to be no particular problems in firing main and secondary battery together. Returning to Fairbanks’s argument it appears that the ballistic differences in shell trajectory were the lesser problem in long-range firing. Determining the range and the position of the target relative to the firer were much more pressing problems. Evans’s argument that on each fire arc at least four, if not six turrets would have been masked, and thus wasted, makes more sense. Yet with a minimum of six guns firing at the target and a maximum of eight the arrangement of turrets was not particularly bad. It guaranteed the same salvo-weight of HMS Dreadnought on all aspects. The presence of a strong secondary battery also made the ship more dangerous at shorter ranges where direct, almost flat-trajectory fire was required and the difference in calibers mattered less.

It’s also worth noting that even in 1916 the chances of actually hitting a target at long range were extremely low. The average at Jutland was 1.5 to 4 percent and at Dogger Bank the British ships scored a whopping 0.33 percent. The data here are based on Marder. On the other hand quick-firing smaller-caliber guns were, at the time, more accurate and in a letter dated 15 October 1902 Admiral Fisher wrote that they should be used as main armament rather than secondary. His boast appears to be based on data coming from the Spanish-American and Russo-Japanese wars. There, 6-inch to 8-inch guns had scored the overwhelming majority of hits. Thus the Japanese ship designers hedged their bet, equipping their new battleships with the best of two worlds. The two new ships were still sufficiently armed to hold their own in a long range duel if long range gunnery was proved effective, and capable of overwhelming their opponents at shorter ranges. Kawachi and Settsu were thus both a look to the future and an embodiment of proven concepts.

They also allowed Japan to become the third major power (after the British Empire and the German Empire) to adopt turbines in capital ships. Definitely Kawachi and Settsu were not a throwback to a bygone era as David Evans has suggested in Kaigun, but a giant step forward for the Imperial Japanese Navy. Yet it was to be seen if that giant leap forward could have been sustained by the Japanese industry.

Don’t wait to put Royal Netherlands Navy on your game table! Join the Gold Club and find out how to get it before anyone else!