The Battle of the Sea of Japan – Part 6

The most dangerous injury to an armoured vessel in battle is damage under water, for this involves heeling over to either side. Here is the cause of this heeling. The interior of a ship of war is divided into a number of compartments which preserve her from sinking outright, so that only part is filled with water. In consequence, however, of this part being on the side where the injury occurs, she begins to heel over. The vessel, of course, cannot continue heeling to an unlimited extent; when it reaches a certain point she turns over. 

The capability or tendency of a vessel to right herself when she heels is called her stability, and it is plain that the greater her stability, the greater the amount of heeling a ship can sustain without capsizing. It is also evident that the stability is greater in proportion to the depth at which the greatest weights are stowed; and so much less when these weights are above. Since there are many of these on board warships, where the bulk of their armour and all their guns are necessarily above water, battleships are less stable for this reason than commercial craft. At the same time the stability varies according to the breadth of the vessel at the waterline. For these reasons war vessels, especially those carrying heavy armour and many guns, i.e. battleships, are made exceptionally broad. Heeling, however, is dangerous to a vessel, not only because she may turn over from it. Long before the heeling reaches a dangerous limit, the ship loses her power of firing and manoeuvring, i.e. is rendered practically helpless. It is impossible to fire, because the guns on the side facing the enemy are compelled to incline downwards or upwards, according to the side on which the injury occurs. In the first place because they cannot be pointed; secondly, all the mechanism for their handling (especially in turrets and with the heavier guns) ceases to act, being designed only for small inclinations of the vessel. Moreover, when the heeling is very great on the side opposite from the injury, the submerged part of the vessel, unprotected by armour, becomes exposed, and if the enemy happens to be on that side he can easily riddle her with shells of small calibre. 

Finally, a battleship heeling over deeply becomes an easy prey for torpedo-vessels, especially on the side raised out of the water. Water may flow into the interior of the vessel, not only from injuries deep down below the waterline, but from rolling, from heavy seas, and from shot-holes only slightly above the waterline. The consequent heeling permits the water to enter at still higher shot-holes, so that the heeling and the danger to the vessel increases in degree. Thus it is all important not to permit the initial cause of heeling, – shot-holes below the water-line. The danger of this has been considerably intensified by the introduction of quick-firing guns, which, discharging rapidly, may riddle every unprotected part of the vessel, i.e. at the water-line and along the portion where there is either no armour or it is inadequate. On this account, the idea has long prevailed that it is necessary, along the whole line of a vessel from stem to stern, to place a belt of armour at the waterline, and the deeper this belt is, and the higher it stands above the water, the greater the security of the vessel from shot-holes near the water-line, and consequently from heeling. This view has been strongly held by the French, and formerly was by the Russians.

All Russian armoured vessels designed up to the second half of the eighties carried armour along the waterline. The representatives of this system of armour plating, bearing the type of armour employed at that time but now held to be obsolete, in Rozhestvensky’s squadron were the battleship “Imperator Nikolai I”, and the cruisers “Vladimir Monomakh” and “Dmitri Donskoi” Such also were the four Black Sea vessels of the “Tshesma” type, launched in 1886. Germany quickly became an adherent of this system. England, on the contrary, constructed armoured vessels with unprotected extremities and but slowly yielded to the necessity of plating them all over. Only in 1897 were her first vessels launched with their extremities protected – and then only by very thin armour. It would really be hard to consider this as real armour, merely two inches in all. Also, even in their very newest vessels the English have varied very slightly from this. Unfortunately for us, it was at that time the fashion – I do not venture to call it anything else – to imitate England in many things, and unluckily among others in her system of armour plating. In this way were armoured nearly all our battleships destroyed at Port Arthur ; and in Rozhestvensky’s squadron the three battleships “Oslabya”, “Sissoi Veliky”, “Navarin” with the three armoured vessels for coast defence, as well as our armoured cruisers at Vladivostok. 

The Japanese proceeded in a contrary direction. On constructing their fleet after the Chino-Japanese War, they set out on an independent course. This was clearly demonstrated in their system of armour plating. In spite of the fact that all their armoured vessels were constructed in England, only in the two first the “Fudji” and the “Yashima” (only the former took part in the battle of the Korean Straits) did they follow the English example. In the rest of their battleships, of which three took part in the battle, they armoured the extremities very powerfully with sufficiently thick armour of four inches. They introduced this system also in all their six armoured cruisers, the extremities of which were protected by 3 and a half inch armour. Of this type too were the cruisers  “Nishin” and ”Kassuga” purchased in Italy; in these latter the armour on bows and stern was even thicker – 4 and a half inches.

In this manner, as regards armour plating along the waterline, the Japanese armoured squadron presented the greatest homogeneity.

With us a complete and secure defence along the waterline was realised in the fine battleship “Tsesarevitch”, constructed in France, and this type also was chosen as a model for the construction of five similar vessels, of which four, the “Suvorov”,  “Imperator Alexander III”, “Borodino” and “Orel”’ formed part of Rozhestvensky’s squadron. Two of these, however, were sunk by artillery fire, and one suffered so much therefrom that a dangerous heeling was set up. 

I can only advance the following opinion in explanation of this. Armoured vessels, known as of the improved “Tsesarevitch”, type, possessed serious imperfections in comparison with their prototype. Above all, they were terribly overweighted, i.e. were submerged more deeply than was intended (almost two feet), and the belt of the thickest armour at the waterline did not rise two feet above the water. Thus the submerged armour proved useless. The overweighting (this is the scourge of Russian shipbuilding) and the cause for its existence can best be explained by our naval engineers, who, as I am aware, are often placed under impossible conditions, thanks to our regulations for ship construction. All are, however, acquainted with this fact: that this overweighting is only absent in vessels constructed abroad; that is, where we leave the initiative in construction to the yards in which they are built. The Japanese vessels were constructed exclusively abroad, and were not burdened with this overweight. Whenever the armour goes too far below water, it might quite as well be absent altogether; armour then constitutes merely a superfluous weight for the vessel. Therefore it is clear that the stability of armoured vessels of the “Suvorov” type was very uncertain. 

Just on the eve of the departure of the second squadron from Libau, a paper was sent to Admiral Rozhestvensky by special courier from the Ministry, in which it was indicated that in consequence of various causes the stability of his new battleships had proved to be far less than it ought to have been, and he was recommended to take all possible precautions to diminish their rolling, particularly when, in consequence of the expenditure of coal, the weights below water would be diminished. The measures recommended proceeded to such minuteness that it was suggested, for example, to strike the signal yards, the weight of which was practically nil. This shows that straws were being clutched at, and serves as a characteristic example of the seriousness of the danger. The contents of this paper were not of course communicated for the general information of the fleet, as it might have produced a depressing effect. But on this very account these four battleships were separated from the rest of the fleet, and when the remainder of the battleships and large cruisers were proceeding from Skagen to Tangier they ought to have remained behind at Brest in order to coal before crossing the Bay of Biscay.

But the fleet did not go there, simply on account of fog. The sea became perfectly calm, and the barometer indicating that the fine weather would last, Rozhestvensky took advantage of these favourable circumstances and made the passage to Vigo, leaving the dangerous Bay of Biscay behind. The overweight of these battleships and the insufficiency of their stability were displayed at the time of the so-called “Hull Incident”. The sea was only slightly rough, yet the battleships rolled five degrees each way. Moreover, in consequence of the top-hamper, the 3″ guns, especially suited for repulsing torpedo-boats, were brought so near the water that the sea entered freely through the ports, and men and guns were standing in water. On board the battleship “Orel” one of the guns took in water at its muzzle, and at a subsequent discharge burst. In some of these ships the gun ports were not opened at all. It was decided not to fire from them, merely because of the danger that these parts would be swamped. 

The diminution of the stability of armoured vessels of the “Suvorov”‘ type proved, however, not so dangerous as it appeared at the beginning, since they all sustained very rough passages, especially on the way to Madagascar; but this was not so in the battle. During the battle, in consequence of the overweighting, injuries from shot occurred very close to the waterline. At that time it was not possible to do without using the 3″ guns, and, consequently, their ports had to be open. They would then be only slightly above the water, and if these ports, unprotected by armour, were struck by the enemy’s shells, then, with anything of a sea on (which, judging by descriptions, was the case during the battle in the Korean Straits), a considerable quantity of water would easily enter the ships and cause heeling to a particularly dangerous degree. If these ships righted themselves, as, for example, the battleship “Imperator Alexander III” did, there was only one means of doing so, namely, by letting in the water on the side opposite that on which the vessel heeled. Thus the quantity of water in the vessel would be doubled, adding considerably to the weight. Thus, also, a larger portion of the armour would be under water, and the probability of receiving an injury admitting water would be still greater; the waves would still more easily swamp the ports of the 3″ guns, which at length would sink to the waterline. There were eight pieces on each side. But the principal cause of this was the overweight and the slight stability. 

The armoured vessel “Tsesarevitch” splendidly proved her stability and endurance, both at the time of the torpedo attack on the night of 8-9 February, 1904, and during the battle of 11 July. On the former occasion she listed to 18°. The four ships of the “improved” type protected their 3″ gun positions with 3″ armour, of which there was none on board the Tsesarevitch”.’ In this way the weight of the vessels above water, i.e. their capacity for resisting heeling, was diminished. And besides, their length was increased by 8 and a half ft., while their breadth was decreased by 1″ (see the Naval Pocket Book for 1904, p. 236), i.e. their stability was still further diminished. How this disadvantage was compensated is unknown, but the fact of the diminution of the stability is apparent. 

For my own part, this is my opinion as to one of the causes of the destructive overweighting. 

Exactly contrary to the established law in ship-building, as it seems to me, that progress consists in increased water displacement, there has, with us, always been economy in regard to displacement; striving to compress within small displacement what should really be disposed in a vessel of larger proportions. 

As a result this is not successful. The displacement still proves great in consequence of the considerable overweight, and the inconveniences and compromises necessitated by the disposal of everything in the smallest space are apparent. This is clearly proved by a comparison of our battleships of the “Suvorov” type with the Japanese vessels of the “Mikasa” and “Asahi” types. The displacement of the latter is 15,000 tons (with a length of 400 ft., breadth of 75 ft., and draught of 273 ft.). That of the “Suvorov” ought to have been 13, 500 tons (with a length of 393 ft., breadth of 76 ft., and draught of 26 ft.). In consequence of overweight, she was almost two feet deeper in the water, and her displacement exceeded 15,000 tons. On board the Japanese vessels everything was arranged in accordance with their larger proportions. There was not, for example, a single gun placed too low ; and although the lower-deck ports were near the water, there was armour at the exact level for which it was designed; i.e., it fulfilled its intention, and so on.

The fact that our vessels perished, and not those of the Japanese, in a purely gun-fire engagement may possibly be explained in other ways. Our artillery was certainly not inferior, and our shells were better adapted for piercing armour, if we remember that the Japanese shot and shell were of the English type; but the difference in methods of firing, which undoubtedly existed, could not exert such a vast influence. That the ships of the “Suvorov” type were destroyed earliest, while the less efficiently protected “Sissoi Veliky”, “Navarin”, “Imperator Nikolai I”‘ and the armoured coast-defence vessels held out longer, only proved that the Japanese concentrated upon these all their united efforts. That these armoured vessels of ours had serious imperfections is what I wished to prove, and their imperfections are so clearly in evidence during rough weather that the matter ought to lead to very careful attention in our plans for the future.

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