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Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Mikasa - The Champion Battleship That Refused To Die.


In 1895 Imperial Japan decided upon a more substantial naval building program. Her nation was rapidly modernising and was seeking territory and raw resources that her island homeland could not acquire within. Mainland Asia held the answer and many of the imperial European countries of the world had claimed territories from Asia and were benefiting from the exploitation of raw resources. It was an age of empire building and though many did not know it at the time; empires were soon to crumble in the chaos of two world wars. At this time, however, countries like Great Britain, France and Russia served as examples of what could be exploited through empire and naval power.

Japan had just won victory over China’s Qing Dynasty and gained much-needed lands in China and Korea. To preserve and protect her territorial gains Japan decided to build six more battleships and six cruisers for her growing navy. She could see the threat of imperial Russian expansionism and realised that conflict with the vast Tsarist ruled nation could come about in the near future.

The United Kingdom saw Imperial Russia as a greater threat than Imperial Japan and readily agreed to build one of the Japanese Battleships. The Battleship Mikasa was ordered from Vickers builders in the shipyards of Burrow-in-Furness in 1898. The great ship took three years to build and was supplied to Japan in the year of 1902.

She became the Flagship of the Japanese fleet with Admiral Togo aboard her. In 1904, the Russo-Japanese war started and Battleship Mikasa went into action at the Battle of the Yellow Sea. She was hit around twenty times during the naval engagement but held her ground and gave a good account of herself. The Russian Navy had tried to break out of Port Arthur and link with other Russian ships from Vladivostok. The Imperial Japanese Navy foiled this enemy attempted breakout. Nine months later, the Mikasa would be Admiral Togo’s flagship in the famous Battle of Tsushima. This is reported to be one of the most important naval battles since the Battle of Trafalgar. Japan’s navy smashed the Russian fleet and destroyed all the Tsar’s hopes of gaining territory in Asia.
How gun crew looked on board Mikasa during the Battle of Tsushima
After this war ended, disaster struck the Mikasa. The great ship had come through trials and tribulations, during the Russo-Japanese War, with her bold crew, surviving great perils. But in the September of 1905, a fire started while in the harbour of Sasebo. It caused a magazine to exploded and rupture the ship’s hull. She sank in the harbour claiming well over 350 sailor’s lives. Mikasa was resting beneath the harbour’s water of around 10 meters and would take almost another year to re-float her. The ship underwent extensive repairs caused by sea water damage including new guns that had become corroded.

Because new design ships were coming into service, the Mikasa was relegated to service and importance in the Imperial Japanese navy. Eventually, she was just a coastal defence vessel, though her adventures did not end here. In 1921 the Mikasa was sent to patrol the Askold Channel off the coast of Russia. This was during the Siberian Intervention of allied nations against Russia’s Red Army of Bolsheviks who were fighting a civil war against Russia’s White Army.

The Mikasa run aground in dense fog and needed to be rescued by other Imperial Japanese ships. She was taken to Vladivostok which was then occupied by Japanese forces for repair. After she returned to Japan and was taken from active service and put into a reserve fleet for a short time. However, it was agreed that the Mikasa should become a monument ship because of her part in the great Battle of Tsushima, and remained so during the Second World War, surviving air attacks from the United States. When this war ended with Japan’s defeat, the US forces stripped and dismantled her guns as Japan was forced to accept demilitarisation. The Mikasa was in a complete dilapidated state.
Stern of Mikasa today - Museum

But the Mikasa is a ship that will not die, and in the 1950s a restoration project brought the grand old Battleship back to former glory where she remains today, in great condition and a prime museum piece of well over a hundred years of age.


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