The Emergence of the Imperial Japanese Navy

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This topic will present the emergence of the Imperial Japanese Navy up to the Inter-war period. We shall illustrate naval development in several parts including the creation of a navy and its initial dependence on foreign warship builders, life in the Imperial Japanese Navy, its participation alongside the Allies in the First World War, the Imperial Japanese Navy at home and abroad and its success in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-1905.

Part One: Reliance on foreign shipbuilders

Although an island nation, Japan had long been a feudal state with only a small coastal defence fleet and it was only after the civil war that an Imperial Navy was formed. The poor state of the first vessels and the lack of training of the officers and men led to the invitation of a British mission to organise a new navy. This was the beginning of a long-lasting collaboration between the Imperial Japanese Navy and the Royal Navy. Japanese shipyards were neither sufficiently developed in the late 1800s nor were there the raw materials necessary to build the warships programmed in the following naval construction programmes and the government turned to foreign yards especially in Britain but also France, Germany, Italy and the United States of America.

Capital ships laid down up to 1902

Catalogue number 92110

The central battery ironclad Fuso

Fuso was built in the British shipyard of Samuda Brothers (laid down in 1875). Despite the Japanese-sounding name, the Samuda family was British. The future Admiral Togo Heihachiro supervised the construction of Fuso after his initial navy training in Britain.

Credit: A. Bougault

13.2cm x 8.4cm gelatin silver print


Catalogue number

The central battery Chin Yen

The ironclad battleship Chen Yuen was built for the Chinese navy by the German shipyard AG Vulcan in Stettin, laid down in 1882. As one of the two Dingyuan class, with four 12-inch in two gun turrets they were the most powereful battleships in the Far East. Damaged in the 1894 Sino-Japanese War, she was repaired and taken into the Japanese Navy as the Chin Yen becoming the first battleship of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Credit: The Naval Annual, Brassey, 1896


Catalogue number 80197

Battleship Yashima, launched 1896

Yashima and her sister ship Fuji were of an improved design of the Royal Sovereign class battleships but mounted 12-inch guns in place of the 13.5-inch guns. Yashima was one of the first of a long line of Japanese warships built by Armstrong Whitworth of Elswick, Great Britain.

Recto: "A general view of the "Yashima" after her speed trials"

9.3cm x 6.2cm negative


Catalogue number 114090

Battleship Fuji

Fuji was built by the Thames Iron Works, Poplar and launched in 1897. She had major refits in 1901 and 1910 when the Armstrong 12-inch guns were replaced by Japanese guns. It is said that a Japanese team of over 240 engineers and naval officers supervised the construction and at the same time acquiring the technical know-how of warship construction. This photograph was probably taken just after the completion of Fuji, at the naval review for the 60th anniversary of the coronation of Queen Victoria, June 1897. Fuji then sailed on to Japan.

12.5cm x 7.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 118082

The 1896 Naval Expansion Programme, Shikishima and Hatsuse

As for Yashima and Fuji before, these two battleships were an improved type of the Royal Navy Majestic class of 1893-1895. The Majestic class was a succesful design and formed the largest class of battleships ever built. Like the British ships, the two Japanese battleships carried 12-inch guns. The order was shared between the Thames Iron Works (Shikishima, shown here) and Armstrong Whitworth (Hatsuse).

12.4cm x 7.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 78106

Hatsuse leaving the shipyard

Hatsuse was laid down in 1898 and completed 1901, she is shown here passing under the High Level Bridge in Newcastle upon Tyne. To do so it was necessary to fold the tripode mast.

14.3cm x 10.2cm Printed image


Catalogue number 24025

Hatsuse at anchor

Both ships of this class carried four 12-inch guns (note the covered barbette) and fourteen 6-inch guns. For the nacent Japanese navy, it required a considerable effort to train up and crew a ship's complement (Shikishima 836, Hatsuse 741). The newly-completed Hatsuse represented the Emperor of Japan at Queen Victoria's funeral before sailing for Japan.

13.3cm x 8.4cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 118084

Battleship Asahi

The contract for Asahi went to the John Brown shipyard on Clydebank although she was a repeat of the Shikishima class from Armstrong Whitworth and Thames Iron Works.

12.6 x 7.6cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 118081


The battleship Mikasa is accompanied by a twin-funnel paddle tug leaving Portsmouth after completion in 1902 at the Armstrong shipyard.

12.6cm x 7.8cm Sepia Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 108027

Mikasa leaving the dockside

The barbette-mounting of the stern 12-inch guns is clearly shown in this image. Protection of the 6-inch guns was improved with an armoured box battery giving protection from shells coming through from the opposite side of the ship. Note the captain's walkway and the three white bands on the funnels.

Recto: Franked Godalming 1908

13.3cm x 8.2cm Printed image


Cruisers laid down up to 1902

Catalogue number 118083

Armstrong cruisers, Asama

The Imperial Japanese Navy was quite adventurous in selecting different foreign shipyards to build its armoured and protected cruiser fleet. Asama and her sister ship Tokiwa were built by Armstrongs and carried a main armement of twin turret 8-inch guns fore and aft. Laid down in 1896 and 1898 respectively, both ships had long careers, Asama was scrapped in 1947 and Tokiwa lost in 1945. Note the steam pinnace alongside.

12.5cm x 7.7cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 94058

Asama, with Takasago: Anvers 1902

Asama and Takasago traveled from Japan to the United Kingdom (24,718 nautical miles/45,778 km) to assist at the coronation ceremonies of King Edward VII and also to celebrate the signing of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance. They are shown here at Anvers on the return journey. Left background is the protected cruiser Takasago.

Recto: "Asama & Tagasago (sic)" in black ink

17cm x 12cm Matt gelatin silver print


Catalogue number

Asama abroad: Toulon 1931

From 1922, Asama made training cruises abroad including in the Mediterranean Sea, here she is in Toulon. In the background is what appears to be the armoured cruiser Yakumo, she was also a training ship from the 1920s on.

Quarter plate glass negative


Catalogue number 71090

Tokiwa, sister ship to Asama

Judging by the hills in the background, this photograph may have been taken in Toulon.

Credit: Marius Bar

13.3cm x 7.9 Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 79052

Asama or Tokiwa in harbour at Honolulu


Verso: "Japanese cruiser Honolulu" in French and in light pencil

12.1cm x 7.2cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 119011

Armoured cruiser Yakumo

Yakumo was also part of the 1896 Naval Expansion Programme but Japan turned to the Vulcan shipyard in the then German city of Stettin for its construction. However, the 8-inch guns were supplied by Armstrong.

Recto: "Stettin. Vulcan shipyard, Japanese battleship (sic) Yakumo" in French

15cm x 7.4cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 126104

Armoured cruiser Yakumo, broadside

A good broadside view of Yakumo taken during her time as a training ship.

15cm x 7.4cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 114015

Cruiser Nisshin

The armoured cruiser Nisshin had a complicated beginning. Laid down in the shipyard of Ansaldo, Genoa, she was originally for the Italian Navy but was bought by Argentina after her launch to participate in the war with Chile. By the time she was completed, the war was over so Argentina had no need for the ship and sold her and the sister ship to Japan to counter the menance of the Russian Far East Fleet.

Recto: "Here, Madame the Vicomtesse is one of the two battleships acquired by Japan prior to the opening of hostilities. As you see here, the sky blue, white and sky blue flag is flying. Now under the colours of the Emperor of the Rising Sun, she is named "Kasuga" sic. Buenos Aires 15 4 1905" Text in French

Verso: Postcard sent from Buenos Aires, franked 1905 to Madame la Vicomptesse de Bire at an address in Laval

13.6cm x 8.6cm Matt gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 92107

Protected cruisers: Takachiho

The fleet of protected cruises initially followed the trend of purchasing from foreign shipyards but from the late 1880s, Japanese shipyards began to build cruisers from French and then entirely Japanese designs. Although built by Armstrong, the main (10.3-inch) and secondary armement (5.9-inch) of Takachiho were provided by Krupp but in 1900, these were replaced with Elswick 6-inch quick firing guns. In this photograph the forward 10.3-inch gun can be seen on its barbette mount. The ship's flags appear to be at half mast

13.2cm x 8.8cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number ****

Unebi: an unsuccessful French design

In the competition between French and British shipyards for Japanese contracts, Unebi was built with heavier armement than the contempory Armstrong protected cruisers. The beam-mounted guns gave rise to fears about her stability especially when the sails were set. Unebi disappeared at sea on a voyage from Singapore to Japan in 1887. This poor design shattered the confidence that Japan had concerning French-built warships



Catalogue number 92113

Protected cruiser Itsukushima

In response to tension with China, Japan turned to France in 1888 for the construction of two protected cruisers armed with a single Canet 12.6 inch gun, one of the most powerful guns of the time. However, the rate of fire was poor, with one round per five minutes. In this ship, the single gun was mounted forward.

13.2cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 29032

Protected cruiser Matsushima

In contrast to Itsukushima, Matsushima had the gun aft and we can see it here under the awning. These ships were not a successful design - low displacement for such a heavy gun, design speed not achieved and poor seakeeping. This ship was built by the Societe Nouvelle des Forges et Chantiers de la Mediterranee, at La Seyne-sur-Mer where this photograph was probably taken.

9.2cm x 13.9cm Sepia gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 123044

Armoured cruiser Yoshino

Another Armstrong-built cruiser laid down in 1892. Yoshino was well-armed with with quick-firing 6-inch guns fore and aft and two others on beam sponsons. The postcard is franked 1905 but the ship was lost in 1904 when rammed by the cruiser Kasuga off Port Arthur.

Recto: "Toulon, 3rd March 1905" in French and in black ink

14cm x 9.1cm Printed image


Catalogue number 126094

Armoured cruiser Yoshino

Yoshino is shown here going full ahead, when completed in 1893 she was the fastest cruiser aflot (23kts).

14cm x 9cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 92114

Protected cruiser Suma

The two cruisers Suma and Akashi were the first to be built from Japanese designs and material at the Yokosuka Naval Arsenal although the guns came from Great Britain. This photograph was taken before the mainmast and foremast fighting top were removed in an attempt to improve stability, the ship had proved to be very wet.

13.2cm x 8.4cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 121096

6-inch stern gun, Suma

The British-built 6-inch gun was made at the Elswick Ordnance Company and the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich. It incorporated recent advances including quick-firing ammunition and a recoil buffer with run-out cylinders.

13.9cm x 8.9cm Printed image


Catalogue number 92112

Takasago, a typical Armstrong cruiser

This photograph give a good view of the 8-inch quick firing gun on the high foc'sle which, along with the aft gun in a similar position, caused instability and a heavy roll.

13.3cm x 8.4cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 38167

Takasago at anchor

Takasago is seen here in Anvers when accompanying Asama on the return cruise to Japan in 1902.

11cm x 7.9cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 119013


Although built by American shipyards, Chitose (1897, Union Iron Works, San Francisco) and Kasagi (1897, Cramp, Philadelphia) were standard designs for this type of vessel. Chitose was in company with Tsukuba in 1907 off Royan at the mouth of the Gironde estuary, France. They were to visit Bordeaux on their way back from the United States.

Recto: Franked Royan August, 1907

Verso: "The Chitose, **** smaller cruiser. Nothing special. Built in San Francisco" in French and in black ink. Sent at the same time as a photograph of Tsukuba off Royan.

14cm x 9cm Matt gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 17006


In contrast to Takasago, there was no bow torpedo tube in Chitose. This photograph was purchased along with a similar photograph of Tsukuba.

Verso: "The Chitose" in black ink

15.4cm x 7.5cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number 24025


After commissioning in Philadelphia, Kasagi sailed across the Atlantic Ocean to receive her guns in Great Britain.

13.3cm x 8.3cm Gelatin silver print


Catalogue number


Laid down at Armstrong's Elswick works in 1893, Tatsuta was an unprotected cruiser with a good turn of speed (21 kts) .

Credit: From The Naval Anuual, Brassey, 1896, plate 71


Foreign-built Torpedo boats

Catalogue number 118085

Sazanami, a Yarrow boat

The six Ikazuchi class boats were ordered under the 1885 Programme. When arriving in Japan, she was classified as a destroyer, speed 30 kts and carrying two 18-inch torpedoes, one quick firing 12 pounder gun and five quick-firing 6 pounder Hotchkiss guns.

13.4cm x 8.4cm Printed image


Catalogue number 104111

Akatsuki, a British-built torpedo boat destroyer

Built by the Yarrow shipyard, the two Akatsuki class 363 ton boats were completed in 1901/02. They were similar to the Royal Navy B class torpedo boats with the same problem of the turtleback plunging into high waves and making the bridge very wet. Note the canvas screens around the bridge.

13.4cm x 8.4cm Printed image

Catalogue number 126095

French-built torpedo boat number 19

This French design was a consequence of the Jeune Ecole thinking of - inexpensive - torpedo boat flottilla swarming over an - expensive - battleship fleet. Torpedo boat number 19 was part of the fourteen 35m ordered by Japan. Note the side-by-side funnels and the two 14-inch torpedo tubes, fore and mid-ship. This photograph was taken at Chefoo, China from aboard the cruiser U.S.S. Charleston on 25th February 1895.

Verso: "Japanese torpedo boat 19" in French and in light pencil

14.1cm x 9cm Gelatin silver print