Czar Nicholas and his Navy


Imperial Russian battleship Borodino at Kronshtadt, Augst 1904. Borodino was the lead ship of her class of pre-dreadnought battleships built for the Imperial Russian Navy although she was the second ship of her class to be completed. Named after the 1812 Battle of Borodino, the ship was completed after the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War in 1904. Borodino was assigned to the Second Pacific Squadron sent to the Far East a few months after her completion to break the Japanese blockade of Port Arthur. The Japanese captured the port while the squadron was in transit and their destination was changed to Vladivostok. The ship was sunk during the Battle of Tsushima on 27 May 1905 due to explosions set off by a Japanese shell hitting a 6-inch (152 mm) magazine. There was only one survivor from her crew of 855 officers and enlisted men.

The Industrial Revolution and the age of steam heralded a period of comparative decline in the Russian navy which was destined to last more than a century. They were slow to adopt steam-powered ships, this in itself reflecting the innate conservatism of Russian society, their lack of natural resources in coal and iron, and the paucity of labour and skilled craftsmen. In the Crimean War the Russian Navy was hopelessly out-matched both in the Black Sea and the Baltic so that the sailors were used on land as infantry while the warships were laid up in their home ports. Only on rare occasions did the ships venture out and even then scuttled back behind the shelter of their garrison artillery at the first sign of the Royal Navy. In the final quarter of the century there was some revival of interest in the fleets, the Czar Alexander II appointed his brother as Minister of Marine. This resulted in a prototype ironclad being imported from England and the eventual appearance of a small squadron of screw-driven warships in the Baltic, but the standard of maintenance was such that the ships had only an indifferent performance, while their design lagged far behind the more progressive navies.

By the turn of the century the navy had begun to show some improvements under Czar Alexander III and his son Nicholas II: the navy was encouraged to learn from others and new methods were copied from the naval powers, especially the Germans. However all this was dissipated in a ruinous war with Japan; the Russo- Japanese war is probably chiefly remembered for the almost total defeat of the Imperial Navy at the Battle of Tsushima. Czar Nicholas introduced an acquisitive foreign policy in the Far East which meant that the Pacific Fleet should operate out of the secure base of a warm water port. Such a policy was bound to result in a collision with the rapidly emerging naval power of Japan. The Russians found their base in Port Arthur which the Japanese had been forced to return to China in 1895; the Chinese with a little pressure allowed the Russians to garrison this base under the cynical guise of protecting them from the further ravages of Japan. For the first time in their history the Russians possessed two viable bases for their Pacific Fleet, in Vladivostok and Port Arthur, and this represented a direct challenge to Japanese ambitions for the naval hegemony of the North Pacific.

The Japanese war aim was clear and explicit. They needed to bottle up the Russian squadrons in their respective bases and then destroy each in turn with an overwhelming show of force. To this end the Japanese prepared secretly for war and then, in a style reminiscent of a later occasion, struck swiftly and without warning early in 1904. Japanese mine-laying proved almost immediately successful for when the Russians sailed out from Port Arthur in April to meet the Japanese challenge their flagship the Fetropavlousk was enticed onto a minefield and sank, taking almost the full complement and their Admiral, Makharoff to the bottom. By August of that year the Russian naval presence was practically destroyed. While the Imperial Japanese Army laid siege to Port Arthur from the landward side, their naval squadron defeated the Russian fleet twenty miles out, the few vessels that survived struggled back into the harbour. In the meanwhile the squadron at Vladivostok was defeated by the Japanese fleet under Admiral Kamimura as it tried to reach Port Arthur. In five short months the Japanese had thus secured control over the Northern Pacific and had completely destroyed the Russian squadrons as a viable naval force. It is ironic that the architect of this brilliant episode in Japanese history. Admiral Togo, was an officer who had studied the art of naval warfare in England and whose major victory over the Russians, which was still to come, was to earn him the immortal title of the ‘Nelson of the East’.

Czar Nicholas II prided himself on being a European and thus this defeat of his navy by an oriental power represented a double humiliation as well as thwarting his ambitions in the Pacific. He therefore decided to restore the balance and regain his tarnished reputation by transferring his only remaining fleet from the Baltic to the Northern Pacific, and so began what must be regarded as one of the most bizarre episodes in naval history. Nicholas appointed Admiral Rozhestvenski to command this expedition, at fifty-six a relatively young officer who owed his rapid promotion to his dashing exploits as a torpedo boat commander when fighting against the Turks. The spearhead of the Baltic fleet was built around four new battleships, which were not really operational, manned by novice crews. The rest of the fighting ships (together with the fleet support and colliers) were vessels that already belonged to a bygone age, old ships armed with obsolescent guns and poor crews.

Rozhestvenski intended to work up his fleet during the voyage to the Pacific, but even as he sailed from the Baltic alarmist (and totally unfounded) reports warned him that Japanese torpedo boats, which had been shipped to England, were already lying in wait in the North Sea. This jittery Russian fleet fired on a Swedish merchant ship and the occasional German fishing vessel in the Baltic; it was hardly surprising therefore, that when it came upon British trawlers operating in the fishing grounds off the Dogger Bank, in the dead of night, that ‘all hell should break loose’. At point-blank range, as mass hysteria gripped the Russian ships, broadsides poured into the trawlers, although British loss of life would have been much greater if the Russian gunnery had been even half-way efficient. Nevertheless by the time the Russians had realised their mistake the damage had been done; although only one trawler actually sank, a number of lives were lost and the resultant indignation and sense of outrage in England pushed the two countries to the brink of war. Royal Naval units shadowed the Russian fleet through the English Channel and out into the open seas as far as Tangier, with their main armament trained on this hapless Russian Force. At the Mediterranean the Russian fleet divided, the older units proceeded to the Indian Ocean via the Suez Canal while Rozhestvenski took his main squadron the additional 10,000 miles around the Cape of Good Hope. In the New Year of 1905 the units rendezvoused at Madagascar where the fleet waited for two months for the reinforcements of the Black Sea fleet and for colliers and auxiliaries to replenish the much depleted bunkers. This period of enforced delay and inactivity in an unhealthy and disease-ridden anchorage played havoc with Russian morale and efficiency.

It was while they were off Madagascar that news was received of the Fall of Port Arthur. Rozhestvenski dared not turn back and so the nearest haven was Vladivostok, a voyage in itself of many thousands of miles through waters unknown to the navigators, and between them and safety was the Japanese fleet under Togo. In March new units joined up with the fleet at Madagascar, including the battleship Nikokai I and the force set out across the Indian Ocean. In early April the Royal Navy shadowed the Russian fleet as it passed within sight of Singapore on the way to Kamranh Bay in Cochin China where Rozhestvenski intended to make his final landfall and complete his preparations before undertaking the last leg of this remarkable voyage to Vladivostok. At Kamranh Bay a reinforcement reached the Russian Admiral in the form of a second squadron of new fast battleships from the Baltic fleet, which had not even been completed when the original force first sailed. On the 14th May 1905 this enormous armada set sail for its rendezvous with destiny and the waiting Japanese. The Russians had already completed an incredible voyage, but the ships were now badly in need of a major refit, the crews were stale and tired and the strain of command was already beginning to exert a fatal influence over Admiral Rozhestvenski. The Japanese, on the other hand, had been able to follow the Russian movement from the telegraph of the press agencies, while the precise details were passed on by the friendly British. The Japanese ships had been refitted and replenished, their crews were well trained, rested and, above all, under the inspired leadership of their dynamic commander.

Rozhestvenski’s force made sedate passage northwards passing through the Bashi Channel between the Philippines and Formosa, his more modern and faster warships fatally inhibited by the pace of the older and slower brethren. Although lacking any precise information of the Japanese deployment, location or strength, Rozhestvenski was sanguine enough to appreciate that he must now fight his way through to Vladivostok. Accordingly he detached his auxiliaries from the main force at Shanghai where they were to await events. From Shanghai northwards there were a number of routes the Russians could take to reach Vladivostok, but Admiral Togo was convinced that the Russians must come through the Tsushima passage, for it represented the most direct course, and he deployed his force accordingly. Rozhestvenski was indeed heading for the passage and was timing his run to clear this stretch of water in daylight for he knew that he could not trust the competence of his ships’ navigators to make the passage at night.

On the 27th May 1905 thirty-seven Russian warships steamed through the Tsushima passage at their best speed of eleven knots; the battle force was deployed in two parallel lines, cruisers scouted ahead while the few essential auxiliaries brought up the rear escorted by the older vessels. The Japanese received word of the Russian movements from their scouting cruisers and Togo deployed his force from its anchorage at Masampo Bay in Korea in good time to contest the Russian passage. The Japanese were, on paper, heavily out-numbered but had the advantage of superior fire-power and speed; this allowed Togo to complete the classic maneuver of naval warfare by crossing the ‘T’ with his battleships while his armoured cruisers harried the Russian flanks.

Battle opened at a range of 9,500 yards in the early afternoon and the Japanese broadsides wrought havoc on the Russian battleships in the van of the line who could offer only poor response with their forward firing guns. Most of the many excellent accounts of this engagement are all based on the report of a British naval officer who with the sang-froid typical of his breed, observed events from a deck chair on the Japanese flagship’s quarterdeck! By the late afternoon the Japanese victory was assured. The Russian battleships were either sunk or disabled, their squadron commanders had lost all control, and indeed the wounded Admiral Rozhestvenski was captured as he tried to run for Vladivostok in a fast destroyer after his own flagship had been sunk. As night fell those Russian vessels that had somehow survived the holocaust of fire were harried and pursued by the lighter units of the Japanese navy while the disabled battleships were finished off by Togo’s cruisers. Only one small cruiser, the Almaz, reached Vladivostok with two attendant destroyers while three other cruisers sought sanctuary in Manila.

The maritime powers hastened to digest the lessons of Tsushima and almost all learned the wrong ones. For Russia, humiliation and defeat was even further endorsed as the Japanese revived the old custom of incorporating the spoils into their own fleet. Eastern power had displayed its ability to master Western technology, but few nations seemed to take cognizance of that fact.

Naval Recce



In 1919 the Royal Navy had an urgent need for a three-seat spotter/reconnaissance aircraft. In order to save money, it was decided to adapt the existing Airco DH.9A, for which part completed airframes were available in large numbers following the end of the First World War and the subsequent cancellation of production orders. The initial attempt was carried out by Armstrong Whitworth Aircraft, adding provision for an observer and removing the stagger from the wings to produce the Armstrong Whitworth Tadpole.

Further development, however, was passed on to Westland, who further modified the aircraft to produce the Walrus, with a 450 hp (336 kW) Napier Lion II engine replacing the Liberty engine of the DH.9A and Tadpole. Like the DH.9A, the Walrus was a single-engined, two-bay biplane. It was fitted with an extra cockpit for the observer/radio operator behind the gunner’s cockpit, while the observer also had a prone position for observing in a ventral pannier. The undercarriage was jettisonable and the aircraft was fitted with floatation bags and hydrovanes to aid safe ditching, together with arresting gear to aid landing on aircraft carriers. The wings were detachable to aid storage. The prototype first flew in early 1921, proving to have poor flying characteristics, being described by Westland’s Test pilot, Stuart Keep as “a vicious beast”. Despite this, a further 35 were ordered.

The earliest American and British experiments were conducted using landplanes equipped with flotation bags in case of an emergency water landing. By the time of the Hibernia trials the Royal Navy was using seaplanes, which predominated in shipboard use thereafter until well into World War I. René Caudron and the Farman brothers in France, Glenn Curtiss in the United States, and the Short brothers in Britain all developed practical seaplanes by 1912. They quickly were joined by other designers, especially after the French industrialist Jacques Schneider established the valuable Coupe d’Aviation Maritime Jacques Schneider in December 1912 to encourage the development of seaplanes through international races to be held annually from 1913. Flying boats also developed rapidly, with very practical machines emerging from Curtiss, again, in the United States, Sopwith in Britain, the Franco-British Aviation Company in France, Lohner in Austria, and Oertz in Germany. Seaplanes, aircraft with float undercarriages, nevertheless predominated over flying boats, aircraft with boat-type fuselages, for shipboard operations.

Some further developments were very significant for the emergence of effective aircraft carriers. In 1913 the Short brothers patented their wing folding mechanism. This allowed them to reduce the stowed width of their seaplanes to as little as 12 feet and permitted rapid and trouble-free unfolding before flight, while maintaining structural strength for safe operation. This advance greatly increased the potential aircraft capacity of carriers, since the relative fragility of early machines required hangar stowage while at sea if they were to remain operational. In 1914, working very closely with Commander Charles R. Samson, in command of the Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps (usually known as the Royal Naval Air Service), and Captain Murray Sueter, head of the Royal Navy’s Air Department, Short produced more powerful versions of its folder seaplanes that were equipped to carry and drop torpedoes or bombs. This enabled the Royal Naval Air Service to conduct experiments in using its aircraft offensively. The greater load-carrying capabilities of these seaplanes also permitted experiments with wireless telegraphy communications, long-distance navigation over water, and some early trials of night flying operations.

Early in WWI the Royal Navy in the Canal Zone created two carriers “in theater” from German merchantmen interned at Port Said. Modifications to the Anne and the Raven II consisted of adding a 12-pound low angle gun for self defense and erecting canvas screens to protect embarked aircraft. These vessels initially operated under the Red Ensign with mixed naval and civilian crews and their first aircraft were up to six French Nieuport floatplanes apiece, originally operated by the French seaplane carrier Foudre, flown by French pilots with British observers, an extraordinary arrangement that worked very well in practice. During the summer of 1915 they were at last commissioned as Royal Navy vessels with naval crews and served until the later half of 1917.

The French Navy too created a seaplane carrier locally at Port Said in 1915 from a requisitioned French cargo liner, the Campinas. This vessel was very similar to the two extemporized British vessels and operated as many as ten Nieuport floatplanes. In home waters the French Navy also created a pair of seaplane carriers from cross channel packets. The Pas-de-Calais and the Nord acquired two hangers to accommodate two or three F. B. A. flying boats and were lightly armed. Their main distinction was their propulsion system- they were very unusual among aircraft carriers in being side-wheel steamers.

Navies placed considerable emphasis on the reconnaissance and gunfire observation missions from the outset. The Royal Navy’s first such aircraft was the Parnall Panther, whose design originated late in World War I as a dedicated carrier machine. It featured a wooden monococque fuselage that folded for stowage. Powered by a 230- horsepower Bentley B. R. 2 rotary engine, it attained a top speed of 108 miles per hour and had a maximum range of 350 miles. British carriers then embarked a series of three-seater biplanes from the Fairey Aviation Company, derived from a successful medium-size floatplane design that saw limited service during World War I.

Unlike other fleets, the Royal Navy also briefly deployed highly specialized gunnery observation aircraft equipped with facilities intended to maximize their effectiveness in this limited role. The first was the Westland Walrus, a much-modified variant of the Airco D. H. 9A light bomber featuring an observation cupola below the fuselage to accommodate the gunfire spotter. Powered by a 450- horsepower Napier Lion engine, it reached a top speed of 124 miles per hour and had a range of 350 miles. Its successors were the Avro Bison and Blackburn Blackburn. Both aircraft featured large cabins with good observation facilities to accommodate gunnery spotters and their equipment. Their Napier Lion engines gave them top speeds of 105 and 122 miles per hour respectively, while their maximum ranges were 360 and 440 miles. By 1931 the Royal Navy determined that the performance penalties of their accommodations and the burden of incorporating such specialized aircraft within the limited size of carrier air groups made further development of this category unnecessary, and the mission devolved on the fleet’s regular reconnaissance aircraft.

The French Navy too introduced dual-purpose observation and reconnaissance aircraft in 1928, when the Levasseur PL. 4 entered service aboard the Béarn. This three-seater biplane, with an all- metal structure, was powered by a 450-horsepower Lorraine 12eb engine, giving it a top speed of 111 miles per hour and a range of 560 miles. Its successor, the Levasseur PL. 10, entered service in 1932. Its 600-horsepower Hispano-Suiza 12Lb engine gave it a maximum speed of 137 miles per hour but its range fell to 450 miles.

The Imperial Japanese Navy gave up deploying carrier-based reconnaissance aircraft when the Mitsubishi C1M left front-line service in 1931. This aircraft was introduced in 1922 as the Type 10 Carrier Reconnaissance Plane, one of a trio of designs by Herbert Smith who came to Mitsubishi from the defunct Sopwith Aviation Company and created the navy’s first machines specifically designed for carrier service. It had a 300-horsepower Mitsubishi Type Hi engine giving it a top speed of 127 miles per hour and a range of 350 miles. Thereafter, until well into World War II, Japanese carriers relied on dedicated reconnaissance support from aircraft deployed on accompanying heavy cruisers and, to a lesser extent, on missions flown by their own attack aircraft.

Dedicated carrier reconnaissance types fared considerably better in the United States Navy. The Chance Vought Corporation produced a series of two-seater biplanes, derived from the successful VE-7 advanced trainer, that formed the backbone of the fleet’s carrier observation aircraft from 1922 until 1934. These machines started as all-wooden airframes and switched to steel tube fuselages in 1927. The original engine was a 200-horsepower Wright J-3 radial that gave the OU-1 a top speed of 124 miles per hour and a range of 400 miles. The improved O2U, powered by a 450-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Wasp radial engine, could reach 150 miles per hour and had a range of 600 miles, while the final SU-4, with a 600-horsepower Pratt & Whitney Hornet radial engine, had a top speed of 167 miles per hour and a range of 680 miles. An early Grumman Aircraft Engineering Corporation product, the SF-1, briefly supplemented these Vought types until 1936. This biplane aircraft, with an all-metal structure and powered by a 700-horsepower Wright Cyclone, featured a retractable undercarriage and could reach 207 miles per hour with a range of 920 miles. The real replacement for the Vought observation aircraft, however, was a series of scout-bombers, introduced in late 1935, that combined the scouting role with the dive bombing mission.

The most important proving grounds for testing tactics were the regular unit, squadron, and fleet-level exercises that all the carrier-operating navies conducted. Such exercises allowed naval aviators to explore new ideas and validated their concepts to squadron and fleet commanders so that the tactical possibilities offered by improved aircraft and weaponry could be incorporated into operational doctrine. In these venues carrier aircraft units demonstrated the efficacy of coordinated torpedo attack, dive bombing against fast-moving warships, tactical search missions, strike operations against shore targets, and distant reconnaissance. They also enabled fleet and squadron commanders to evolve effective combinations of carriers and escorting surface warships, and to develop concepts to integrate fast-moving carrier forces with battle fleet operations. These exercises also revealed the limitations of aviation: the vulnerability of carriers to tactical surprise brought on by deficiencies in search, the impact of weather, and, above all, the magnitude of the task of maintaining an effective defense against an enemy air attack. Navies discovered that it was very difficult to provide adequate fighter cover, since the warning time of an incoming attack was more often than not too short to allow quick launch of defending fighters while it was impossible to maintain a large enough standing covering force without crowding out attack aircraft from the carrier’s air group. This problem would not be solved until the advent of radar and accounts for the emphasis navies placed on striking fast and first with the most aircraft possible, the attendant diminution of fighter strength in favor of attack aircraft, and even the adoption of armored carriers by the Royal Navy.

To address the shortfall in carrier tonnage imposed by the Washington and London treaties, Japanese naval planners added to the fleet a number of modern auxiliaries whose design incorporated specific features allowing their relatively straightforward conversion into full-fledged aircraft carriers if required. A total of seven such vessels were ordered, three submarine depot ships (the Taigei, the Tsurugisaki, and the Takasagi) and four seaplane carriers (the Chitose, the Chiyoda, the Mizuho, and the Nisshin). All but two of the seaplane carriers (which were sunk while operating in their original role) were converted into carriers either before Japan’s entry into World War II or during the conflict.



JS Izumo (DDH-183) just after her launch.


PEARL HARBOR (Nov. 3, 2008) The Japan Maritime Self Defense Force guided-missile destroyer JS Ashigara, DDG-178, makes her way pierside at Naval Station Pearl Harbor.



The current Japanese defense strategy is addressed in the 2005 National Defense Program Guidelines, which affirm that the country’s security depends on its defense forces and its alliance with the United States. Of Japan’s armed services, the maritime self-defense force is the most important, because it is responsible for safeguarding the sea lines of communication upon which the nation depends for its economic well-being.

Any question about this priority was settled by the 1973 oil crisis, an event that conclusively demonstrated Japan’s dependence on the SLOCs. Their defense was confirmed as a strategic priority beyond naval circles.

The mid-1970s Soviet emphasis on strengthening its Pacific Fleet emphasized this priority on a national level.

Tokyo reassessed its maritime priorities following the end of the Cold War. Both the 1995 NDPO and the 2004 Defense Program Guidelines (DPG) sought to delineate capabilities to confront a potential military problem in Northeast Asia. Of particular concern were, and remain, China’s naval modernization, exacerbated by forward-leaning activities in the East China Sea, and North Korea’s nuclear threats.

By the beginning of 2009, the JMSDF had reassessed its growth of the preceding two decades, as part of the drafting of a maritime strategy for the new century. Japanese maritime strategy had been understood and prominent during the Cold War. It is striking that it was only a short two decades after the Cold War’s end that the situation in Northeast Asia developed to the point where Tokyo recognized a need for a new, formal maritime strategy.

The essence of the new maritime strategy is twofold. The first aspect is defense of regional SLOCs, perhaps best defined by a triangle, the points of which are Tokyo, Guam, and Taiwan. This area is not dissimilar to that for which the JMSDF took ASW responsibility during the Cold War. It is not an easily managed responsibility, because it requires proficiency across the spectrum of both coast-guard and naval missions, from surveillance to defense against ballistic missiles.

Second, the JMSDF is tasked with fulfilling responsibilities under the mutual defense treaty with the United States. This relationship continues to provide the basis for Japan’s maritime defense efforts. In addition to expressing support for the U.S. policy reorientation, or “rebalancing,” toward East Asia announced by Washington in 2011, Tokyo’s policy is characterized by “enhancement of its defense posture in areas including the Southwestern Islands.” Japan has expressed concern about the “increasingly uncertain security environment in the Asia-Pacific region,” advocating strengthening “engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Tokyo’s primary national security focus was directed against possible Soviet aggression during the Cold War but now is focused on North Korea and China, the most likely maritime threats to Japanese interests. Cooperation with friendly third nations is being pursued; Tokyo invited Australia and the United States to the Sixth Pacific Island Leaders Meeting in Naga, on Okinawa, in May 2012.20 Such increased international cooperation is envisioned further in the possible defense of common interests with the Republic of South Korea (ROK) and India. Officially unspoken is the possibility of support for operations in support of Taiwan.

The 2011 DPG thus has long been under development and has led to increased, more open Japanese interest in security arrangements with other Asian nations, from South Korea to India. Interacting with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has been an objective of Tokyo since the 1977 Fukuda Initiative, whereby the then–prime minister announced a policy of increasing ties with Southeast Asia. By 2008 Japan was ASEAN’s second-largest trading partner.

Closer relations with India in the maritime security sphere were signaled in 2009, when an Indian navy task group conducted an exercise with the JMSDF in Japanese waters. In late 2011 the Japanese and Indian defense ministers agreed on further cooperation between their two navies.

Japan is pursuing similar, closer security relationships with both Vietnam and Australia. Tokyo and Hanoi signed a Memorandum on Defense Cooperation Enhancement in 2011. This agreement is aimed specifically at keeping “in check China’s growing assertiveness in the South China Sea and East China Sea.”

Prime Ministers John Howard of Australia and Shinzo Abe signed a Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation in March 2007; this was reinforced in 2010, when the two governments signed an Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement, which pledged closer military cooperation and provided for the “reciprocal provision of supplies and services between the Self-Defense Forces of Japan (JSDF) and the Australian Defense Force (ADF).” These agreements with Hanoi and Canberra demonstrate Tokyo’s increasingly active foreign policy. This development reflects Japan’s attempts to overcome further the still-present memories of World War II, concern about Chinese and North Korean activities, and perhaps a perceived weakening of U.S. military capability in East Asia.

These foreign-policy initiatives and the new defense guidelines will become effective only if the JMSDF is funded for the modernization and expansion required if the nation is to maintain its status as a major Asian maritime power. This funding is at issue, particularly for two reasons.

First, the 2011 Fukushima disaster is leading Japan rapidly away from reliance on nuclear power, a change that will increase the nation’s reliance on the seaborne import of fossil fuels from the Middle East. Second, Japan faces growing naval prowess on the part of South Korea and China, two countries with which it has sovereignty and maritime-resource disputes. A corollary to this second reason may be the shrinking U.S. fleet, with attendant major defense-budget reductions looming in Washington, a popular focus on economic problems, and the strong links between the U.S. and Chinese economies. This situation has the potential to turn American public support away from a Cold War–era defense treaty seen as no longer necessary.

Tokyo has set out in the DPG three security objectives: (1) to prevent external threats from harming Japan; (2) to contribute to improving international security so as to prevent threats from emerging; and (3) to contribute to global peace and stability and to human security.

The guidelines lay out steps to reach these objectives, including cooperation with the United States and with the international community. Defense will continue to form “the basic principles of defense policy,” as will the “three non-nuclear principles.” These were stated by Prime Minister Sato in 1967 and formally endorsed by the Diet in 1971; they are that Japan will neither possess nor manufacture nuclear weapons and will not permit their presence in Japanese territory. The objective of more participation in international peace cooperation activities is stated, as is an active role in nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation efforts.

The “security environment surrounding Japan” is described as comprising a “number of so-called ‘gray zone’ disputes,” which are characterized as “confrontations over territory, sovereignty and economic interests” that do not pose a danger of escalation into wars but that are “on the increase.” The security environment is further marked by a “global shift in the balance of power,” as a result of “the rise of emerging powers and the relative change” of U.S. influence.

Although invasion of Japan’s home islands is not considered a viable threat, the guidelines identify issues of concern. These are “sustained access to cyberspace,” terrorism, piracy, North Korean nuclear and missile threats, China’s military modernization and lack of transparency, and increased Russian military activities.

The guidelines’ section on issues of concern is followed by a discussion of four “basic policies to ensure Japan’s security.” First are the nation’s own efforts, including improved capability “to collect and analyze information, while strengthening the information security system.” Second is the effort to enhance rapidity in decision making, to ensure a “coordinated and integrated response to contingencies.”

Establishment of an organization similar to the U.S. National Security Council is a third issue; the fourth is participation in international peacekeeping activities “in a more efficient and effective manner,” with “consideration of the actual situations of UN peace-keeping operations.” This caveat indicates the ongoing domestic political discussion about the depth of Japan’s participation in international security affairs. Most interesting of all is the shift in basic defense philosophy expressed in the resolution that Japan will build a “dynamic defense force,” superseding the current “basic defense force concept.” The decision means deploying military capability for purposes beyond the needs of deterrence, enabling the country to play “a more active role” in international security activities.

“Cooperation with its ally” is then emphasized, because the alliance with the United States is “indispensable in ensuring Japan’s peace and security.” Cooperation will include continuing strategic dialogue and collaboration, with a new emphasis on cyberspace security. Increased regional cooperation is noted, with specific mention of South Korea, Australia, India, and the ASEAN nations, as part of creating “a security network” in the Asia-Pacific region.

China, the European Union (EU), the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and other European countries—even Russia—are mentioned as possible partners in addressing “global security issues.” This broadening of intended international cooperation seems to reflect two decisions: first that a more proactive posture is required to ensure Japan’s security, and second that U.S. military capabilities, especially in the maritime realm, are in decline. The first point reflects loosening of constitutional and psychological limits imposed in the post–World War II period.

Domestic political concerns are again addressed, in the point that “Japan will reduce the burden on local communities where U.S. military bases are located.” This step is couched in terms of maintaining the U.S. contribution to deterrence, the subject of the fourth major point. This is deterrence to ensure “security in the sea and air space surrounding Japan,” to include “responding to attacks on Japan’s offshore islands,” while trying to increase a stable security environment in the Asia-Pacific and globally.

The guidelines discuss the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF), but not in detail. They note the importance of enhancing capability but acknowledge a “drastic review” of the defense budget. This has meant a continued stagnation of that budget, just as the nation is trying to improve military efficiency through increased joint capability and focusing on defense of offshore islands. A list of steps to increase efficiency—to “maximize defense capability”—is provided, but even if such general measures are taken, the thrust of Tokyo’s determination to reduce military expenditures cannot be overcome by more verbiage.

In sum, Japan’s 2010 DPG and 2011 DPG reflect a perception that the nuclear threat that was the focus of the Cold War has ended, replaced by conventional security threats. China is the center of this concern, with North Korea its acolyte. The latter’s ballistic-missile tests in 1998, 2006, 2009, 2012, and 2013 have reinforced this perception of Pyongyang. The guidelines’ emphasis on building a dynamic instead of a defensive force indicate an intention to enhance the JSDF’s proactive capability, especially with respect to the Senkakus and Takeshima; this capability is also reflected in the aim to exercise a greater international role, a notable change from the 2004 DPG’s focus on deterring external threats from reaching Japan.

Tokyo’s concerns about China as a military threat to Japanese security interests are clear. They are most evident in the goal of increasing the ability to defend the Senkakus, but they are also notable in the complaint about Beijing’s lack of transparency regarding the composition and missions of its military. Tokyo’s concerns are based on experience, such as the fact that in fiscal year 2010, 80 percent of the emergent flights by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) were in reaction to Russian or Chinese incursions into the nation’s airspace.

Concerns with China’s growing military strength and naval operations have increased in recent years. In mid-2011 the Japanese government expressed its unease with “China’s growing assertiveness and widening naval reach in nearby waters.” This sentiment was repeated in Japan’s 2011 defense guidelines and has been followed by direct actions.

Japan is renaming many of the privately owned and other, previously unnamed, land features in the East China Sea, sovereignty over much of which is disputed by Beijing. Also, additional monitoring facilities are reportedly planned. This move is intended to strengthen Tokyo’s sovereignty claims over not just the Senkakus but also the Shirakaba/Chunxiao gas fields in the area.

North Korea’s threatened development of nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching Japan certainly concerns Tokyo, but China’s increased military capability and pugnacious attitude is viewed as even more threatening. A third, if less intense, threat is perceived from Russia, with the considerable reduction of Moscow’s military forces in Asia offset by its refusal to discuss returning to Japan control of the southern Kurile Islands it occupied at the end of World War II.

These various threats are not simply perceptions. North Korea in the past few years has engaged in hostile activities, including sinking the South Korean corvette Cheonan in March 2010 and shelling the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong six months later. Numerous incidents involving North Korean and Chinese fishing boats have also occurred, during which neither Pyongyang nor Beijing has evinced interest in compromise.



The Brederode off Hellevoetsluis. This famous ship was built in 1644. Vice Admiral Witte de With commanded the Brederode for most of her career, with the exception of 1650–1654. From early 1652 until August 1653 the Brederode was Lt Adm Tromp’s flagship, but by July 1654 the Brederode was again Witte de With’s flagship. The first significant operation that involved the Brederode was the convoying of a large fleet of Dutch merchant ships through the Sound without paying the toll to Denmark, a mission that succeeded. The next major operation was not until the relief expedition sent to Brazil in late 1647 and that returned in the latter part of 1649. The undertaking was doomed to failure from the start, as the ships were unsupported and without the resources and political leadership necessary to rescue the Dutch situation in Brazil. For that operation, Witte de With seems to have commanded his own ship, with Jan Janszoon Quack as his lieutenant. After Witte de With was imprisoned on returning from Brazil, the Brederode was given to Lt Adm Tromp for use as his flagship. The original plan had been to send the Brederode to the Mediterranean in 1652, but Tromp’s illness kept the ship in home waters until the point when there seemed to be an imminent threat of war with England.


The Dutch warship building industry had considerable advantages over its competitors in neighbouring countries, notably England and France. It could build ships more cheaply and more rapidly, thanks to superior technology (such as wind-powered sawmills) and to the presence in the immediate vicinity of the shipyards of both a large skilled workforce and naval supplies of all sorts. Raw materials could also be obtained relatively easily. The Dutch obtained oak for warship hulls from Poland, as well as from Westphalia, Brandenburg, and other parts of Germany, with the timber being shipped via the Maas and Rhine to Dordrecht in the south or to Zaandam, Edam, Hoorn and Enkhuizen in the north. Pine for masts and yards came from Scandinavia, Pomerania, Prussia and Poland; iron from Spain, Sweden and the Harz mountains; hemp from Russia or Riga; tar from Russia and Sweden, particularly Vyborg; pitch from Stockholm. Sailcloth was traditionally imported from Brittany, but from about 1660 onwards it was produced locally, in the villages adjacent to the shipyards along the River Zaan.

Bythe end of the seventeenth century, though, the Dutch were falling behind their rivals. Stubborn adherence to old methods meant that, until nearly the end of the seventeenth century, ships were still being designed principally by rule of thumb – on ‘the eye and the judgement of the master shipbuilder’, as one contemporary put it – rather than employing plans and models that could permit the production of repeat designs. Amsterdam and Rotterdam built ships in entirely different ways, and to an extent to different dimensions: Amsterdam ships were built in the Scandinavian fashion, with the lower part of the hull built ‘shell first’, while those in Rotterdam were built ‘frame first’, with planking then added to the frame (although it is unclear when and why both shipbuilding centres adopted these different methods). All Dutch warships were characterised by relatively high, square sterns, elaborately decorated with symbols of national or provincial loyalties, such as the emblem of a lion rising from the sea that adorned Zeeland ships.

Size of Warships

The size of Dutch warships was constrained above all by the shallow waters off the Dutch coast and in the approaches to the republic’s harbours. This also dictated hull form: Dutch ships were flatter-bottomed, and thus had a shallower draught, than their contemporaries in other countries. Until the 1590s, the republic operated ships that generally displaced less than 100 tons, and had few of more than 200. Seventeen much larger ships, planned to blockade Spanish ports, were built between 1599 and 1601, including two that displaced well over 1000 tons (or, by the measurement in use at the time – for which, see below – about 500 lasten). This experiment with very large ships was repeated in the early 1620s, but the ships in question were transferred to the VOC and no more vessels on a similar scale were then built for the Dutch navy until the 1650s and 1660s. Instead, the Dutch concentrated on smaller units, displacing roughly 300-700 tons, which were more suitable for convoying.91 The contrast with England was marked: When average sizes are considered, the discrepancy is even more marked. In 1620, the average displacement in tons of English warships of over 100 tons was 830; the equivalent figure for Dutch warships was 270. The gap closed in later years, but even by 1650 the figures were 680 and 470 respectively, and when the first Anglo-Dutch war began in 1652, the British state had at least eighteen warships that were larger than anything the Dutch could send to sea. The comparatively small nature of Dutch warships is well illustrated by Maarten Tromp’s two famous flagships: the Aemilia, from which he flew his flag during the Battle of the Downs, mounted 57 guns, while her slightly larger replacement, the Brederode, had a gundeck length of about 40 metres, mounted between 53 and 59 guns, and had a crew of 270. By contrast, the English Sovereign of the Seas, as first built in 1637–8, was over 51 metres long on the gundeck, was initially fitted for 102 guns, and, when she faced the Brederode, had a nominal crew of 700.

Increasing the size of Dutch warships encountered both geographical and political obstacles. When the decision was taken to order large new ships in 1652, Maarten Tromp proposed building vessels of at least 150 feet in length, but the Amsterdam Admiralty objected to anything longer than 140 feet, claiming, entirely spuriously, that this was the maximum size that could traverse the Pampus shoals which restricted access to its own harbour. Consequently, the new rounds of warship building which commenced in 1654–5 concentrated on larger ships, initially to ‘Charters’ of 130, 136 and 140 feet in length; the only exceptions that were permitted, following tortuous debate in the States-General at the end of 1652, were the 150-foot-long Eendracht, the new fleet flagship, and the Groot Hollandia, flagship of the Admiralty of the Maas. Even so, the great majority of these new ‘large’ ships were actually of a size roughly equivalent to the Fourth Rates under the British flag, with the two fleet flagships being about the same size as small Second Rates; there was still no equivalent at all of the vast First Rates that existed across the North Sea, like the Sovereign and the Naseby (later renamed Royal Charles) of 1655.

By 1664–5, however, Amsterdam’s objections had been over-ruled by experience, and orders were being placed for ships of between 145 and 170 feet, much closer in scale to those available to King Charles II and his Royal Navy. During the 1660s the Dutch added ten ships displacing 1400-1600 tons and mounting 72–84 guns, such as the Amsterdam-built Dolfijn of 1667, and another twenty of 1100 tons, mounting 60–74; it was a remarkably large and rapid programme of construction, which finally put the republic’s battle fleet on the same footing as those of its rivals. The dramatic change in Dutch warship size can also be seen when comparing average sizes, where the republic had lagged so badly for so long. In 1670, the average size of the 129 largest warships of the Dutch navy, measured by average displacement in tons, was 790, while the figure for Charles II’s navy was only marginally ahead at 810 (although both were now eclipsed by the French navy, which was dominated by large prestige vessels and had an average displacement of 950 tons). All of these larger vessels built for the Dutch navy from the early 1660s onwards were ordered by, and to the specification of, the States-General; however, the individual admiralties also continued to order smaller warships on their own accounts. Regardless of where they were built, the increase in size led to tremendous increases in cost, with obvious implications for the finances of the Admiralties and of the republic as a whole. A typical warship of 1632 cost some 19,000 to 22,000 guilders; the Eendracht, the flagship blown up during the Battle of Lowestoft in 1665, cost 60,000 guilders.


The constraints of Dutch coastal waters meant that even the largest of the new ships built in the 1660s were still only two-deckers carrying 80 guns, well short of the 100 or more on the largest English (and, increasingly, French) ships of the line; the Dutch finally began to build three-deckers with a complete upper gun deck in the 1680s. But simple numbers of guns provide a deceptive picture, for Dutch ordnance was also on a very different scale to that available to its enemies. In 1666, for example, the largest British ships carried cannon-of-seven which fired 42-pounder shot, while many others carried 32-pounder demi-cannon. By contrast, the Dutch had very few guns that fired more than 24-pound shot, so their broadsides were inevitably weaker than those of their opponents (even when one takes into account the fact that the two countries had different pound weights, as described below). Thus the new British 64-gun Third Rates Rupert and Defiance could fire at least 1334 pounds of shot, probably rather more, whereas the five Dutch 70-gunners built at roughly the same time could fire only between 924 and 1054 pounds. This was partly a result of the Netherlands’ inability to produce sufficient ordnance, notably the brass guns favoured by the English, and partly a deliberate consequence of different tactical conceptions. English shipwrights and admirals favoured packing in as many guns as possible with minimal freeboard, while the Dutch preferred higher freeboard, greater manoeuvrability, and a continued emphasis on boarding over artillery duels. The British regularly brought Dutch prizes into their own navy, but the Dutch found some of the larger prizes that they took during the Anglo-Dutch wars unsuitable both for service in their own waters and for their conception of how to fight a naval war: the Royal Charles, famously towed away from Chatham during the Medway raid in 1667, was simply laid up at Rotterdam until broken up in 1673. However, the Swiftsure, taken during the Four Days’ Battle of 1666, carried a large number of the brass guns which the republic lacked, so she was swiftly commissioned into the Dutch navy as the Oudshoorn.

Until about 1648, the most common shot weights employed by the Dutch were of 5, 10, 15 and 20 pounds. Thereafter, the standard weights were 3, 4, 6, 8, 12, 18, 24 and 36 pounds, although these figures are deceptive. For one thing, the Dutch ‘pound’ was not equivalent to that used for English ordnance: the Amsterdam pound was 494.1 grams, compared with its English equivalent of 453.6. Moreover, many guns were captured from foreign ships or purchased abroad: hence, perhaps, the 5-pounders carried prior to 1648 (possibly English-made sakers) and the 7-pounders carried by Zeeland hired ships in 1652, which were originally captured from the Spanish. As noted above, the Dutch were heavily dependent on importing ordnance, with many iron guns being supplied from the foundries at Finspång in Sweden that were run by the Walloon expatriate Louis de Geer. Shortages led to desperate expedients, such as stripping coastal fortifications and city walls of their artillery in order to fit out the ships. It also meant that, until the 1670s, the Dutch were rarely able to arm their larger ships with uniform tiers; instead, they mounted a smaller number of the largest guns on their lower decks, mixed with some of the next highest shot weight.

The Middelburg, Veere,Dordrecht and Vlissingen, all built by the Zeeland Admiralty in 1654-5, were designed to carry four brass 24-pounders, ten iron 18-pounders, four brass 12-pounders, eight iron 12-pounders, ten iron 8-pounders, and eight brass 6-pounders. The practice of mixed batteries (which, it must be said, was not exclusive to the Dutch) continued in some cases until the end of the century, with, for example, the Beschermer of 1691 carrying a mixture of 36- and 24-pounder guns on her lower gundeck.

Frigates, Galleys and Other Types of Warship

By the 1620s, the Dunkirkers were introducing relatively small, low-hulled, but broad and fast, warships that were given the name ‘frigates’. The Dutch swiftly emulated these, although the definition of the word ‘frigate’ changed over the years (as it did in Britain). By the late seventeenth century, the term was being applied to ships of between 20 and 36 guns, with one continuous gun deck; these were distinguished from the ships of the line with two or three gun decks, which were divided into four Charters that corresponded approximately to the Royal Navy’s First to Fourth Rates. The Dutch made some use of galleys during the Revolt, and in 1600 built the Black Galley of Dordrecht, a relatively large vessel with nineteen oars to each side and fifteen guns; this became famous, even in England, after taking part in a successful attack on Antwerp (7 November 1600). The republic’s galleys were discarded either before or at the truce in 1609, although one seems to have still been in existence at Schiedam into the 1630s. Other types of vessel included the hoy, the fluyt (which proved unsatisfactory when employed as a warship), the crommesteven (‘cromster’ to the English; a ketch, used extensively in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries), and the jacht, or yacht, which was used as a despatch boat and for other purposes. The Dutch also made considerable use of fireships. Tromp used them to good effect at the Battle of the Downs in 1639, where they fired the Portuguese flagship Santa Teresa. The most spectacular success came during the Battle of Solebay in 1672, when the fireship Vrede of the Maas Admiralty fastened herself to the Royal James, flagship of the Earl of Sandwich, Vice-Admiral of England. The great ship was destroyed, and Sandwich and somewhere in the region of four or five hundred men perished.

Peter the Great’s Southern Fleet


By spring 1699, the fleet was ready. Eighty-six ships of all sizes, including eighteen sea-going men-of-war carrying from thirty-six to forty-six guns were in the water. In addition, 500 barges had been built for carrying men, provisions, ammunition and powder. On May 7, 1699, this fleet left Voronezh and the villagers along the Don saw a remarkable sight: a fleet of full-rigged ships sailing past them down the river. Admiral Golovin was in nominal command, with Vice Admiral Cruys in actual command of the fleet. Peter took the role of captain of the forty-four-gun frigate Apostle Peter.

One day as the long procession of ships moved downriver, Peter saw a group of men on the bank preparing to cook some tortoises for dinner. To most Russians, eating tortoise was a repugnant idea, but Peter, ever curious, asked for some for his own table. His comrades dining with him tasted the new dish, not knowing what it was. Thinking it was young chicken and liking it, they finished what was on their plates, whereupon Peter ordered his servant to bring in the “feathers” of these chickens. When they saw the tortoise shells, most of the Russians laughed at themselves; two were sick.

On arriving at Azov on May 24, Peter anchored his fleet in the river and went ashore to inspect the new fortifications. There was no doubt that they were needed: Again that spring, a horde of Crimean Tatars had swept eastward across the southern Ukraine, approaching Azov itself, burning, raiding, leaving behind desolate fields, charred farms, villages in ashes and the population stricken and fleeing. Satisfied with the new defensive works, Peter moved on to visit Tagonrog, where dredging and construction were under way for the new naval base. When the ships had assembled there, Peter took them to sea, where they began to drill in signaling, gunnery and ship-handling. Through most of July the maneuvers continued, culminating in a mock sea battle of the sort Peter had witnessed on the Ij in Holland.

The fleet was ready, and now Peter faced the problem of what to do with it. It had been built for war with Turkey, to force a passage onto the Black Sea and to contest the right of the Turks to control that sea as a private lake. But the situation had changed. Prokofy Voznitsyn, an experienced diplomat, had remained in Vienna to salvage what he could for Russia from the negotiations which the allied powers, Austria, Poland, Venice and Russia, were about to begin with the partially defeated Turks. The problem was that, as the peace treaty would probably only confirm surrender of those territories actually occupied, Peter wanted the war to continue, at least for a while. It was, in fact, in order to press the war and seize Kerch, achieving entry onto the Black Sea, that he had labored so hard all winter to build his fleet.

When the peace congress finally met at Carlowitz, near Vienna, Voznitsyn urged the allied emissaries not to make peace until all of Russia’s objectives were met. But the weight of other national interests was against him. The Austrians already stood to regain all of Transylvania and most of Hungary. Venice was to keep its conquests in Dalmatia and the Aegean, and Poland would keep certain territories north of the Carpathians. The English ambassador in Constantinople, instructed to do everything possible to broker a peace and free Austria for the impending contest with France, persuaded the weary Turks to be generous; grudgingly, the Turks agreed to cede Azov to Russia, but refused absolutely to yield any territory not actually conquered, such as Kerch. Voznitsyn, isolated from his allies, could do nothing except refuse to sign the general treaty. Knowing that Peter was unready to attack the Turks on his own, he proposed instead a two-year truce, during which time the Tsar could prepare for more extensive offensive operations. The Turks agreed, and Voznitsyn wrote to Peter suggesting that the time also be used to send an ambassador directly to Constantinople to see whether Russia might gain by negotiation what she had so far failed to gain—and seemed uncertain of gaining in the future—by war.

All this happened during the winter of 1698–1699 while Peter was building his fleet at Voronezh. Now, with the fleet ready at Tagonrog and yet with the new Turkish truce making active use of it impossible, Peter decided to accept Voznitsyn’s suggestion. He appointed a special ambassador, Emilian Ukraintsev, the white-haired chief of the Foreign Ministry, to go to Constantinople to discuss a permanent treaty of peace. There was even in this plan a role for the new fleet: It would escort the Ambassador as far as Kerch, from where he would sail to the Turkish capital in the biggest and proudest of Peter’s new ships.

On August 5, twelve large Russian ships, all commanded by foreigners except the frigate whose skipper was Captain Peter Mikhailov, sailed from Tagonrog for the Strait of Kerch. The Turkish pasha commanding the fortress whose cannon dominated the strait which linked the Sea of Azov with the Black Sea was taken unawares. One day, he heard the salvos of Peter’s saluting cannon and rushed to his parapet to see a Russian naval squadron on his doorstep. Peter’s request was that a single Russian warship, the forty-six-gun frigate Krepost (Fortress), be allowed to pass through the strait bearing his ambassador to Constantinople. The pasha at first un-muzzled his guns and refused, saying that he had no orders from his capital. Peter riposted by threatening to break through by force if necessary, and his men-of-war were joined by galleys, brigantines and barges carrying soldiers. After ten days, the pasha consented, insisting that the Russian frigate submit to an escort of four Turkish ships. The Tsar withdrew, and the Krepost sailed through the strait. Once on the Black Sea, her Dutch captain, Van Pamburg, put on all sail and soon left his Turkish escort behind the horizon.

The moment was historic: For the first time, a Russian warship, bearing the banner of the Muscovite Tsar, was sailing alone and free on the Sultan’s private lake. At sundown on September 13 when the Russian man-of-war appeared at the mouth of the Bosphorus, Constantinople was surprised and shaken. The Sultan reacted with dignity. He sent a message of welcome and congratulations and dispatched caiques to bring Ukraintsev and his party ashore. The Ambassador, however, refused to leave the ship and demanded that it be permitted to sail up the Bosphorus and carry him directly into the city. The Sultan bowed and the Russian warship moved up the Bosphorus, finally anchoring in the Golden Horn directly in front of the Sultan’s palace on Seraglio Point in full view of the Elect of God. For nine centuries, since the middle days of the great Christian empire of Byzantium, no Russian ship had anchored beneath those walls.

The Turks, staring out at the Krepost, were disquieted not only by the appearance but also by the size of the Russian ship—they could not understand how so large a vessel could have been built in the shallow Don—but were calmed to some extent by their naval architects, who pointed out that the vessel must be very flat-bottomed and would therefore be unstable as a gun platform in the open sea.

Ukraintsev was handsomely treated. A number of high officials waited at the dock when he came ashore, a splendid horse was provided for him and he was escorted to a luxurious seaside guest villa. Thereafter, in accordance with Peter’s orders to display to the fullest Russia’s new naval capacity, the Krepost was opened to visitors. Hundreds of boats came alongside and crowds of people of all classes swarmed aboard. The culmination was a visit by the Sultan himself, who, with an escort of Ottoman captains, inspected the ship in great detail.

The visit went peacefully, although Van Pamburg, the exuberant Dutch captain, once almost brought ruin on himself and the larger diplomatic mission. He was entertaining Dutch and French acquaintances on board and kept them until after midnight. Then, as he sent them ashore, he decided to salute them by firing all forty-six of his guns with powder but no shot. The cannonade directly beneath the walls of the palace awakened the whole city, including the Sultan, who thought it must be a signal for a Russian fleet to attack the city from the sea. The following morning, the angry Turkish authorities ordered the frigate seized and the captain arrested, but Van Pamburg threatened to blow up his ship when the first Turkish soldier set foot on it. Subsequently, with apologies and promises not to repeat the offense, the incident was smoothed over.

Meanwhile, however, the Turks were in no hurry to accommodate Ukraintsev. Not until November, three months after the Russian envoy’s arrival in Constantinople, did they even consent to open negotiations. Thereafter, Ukraintsev held twenty-three meetings with his Ottoman counterparts until in June 1700 a compromise of sorts was reached. In the beginning, Peter’s hopes had been ambitious. He demanded the right to keep Azov and the fortresses captured on the lower Dnieper, all already in his possession by conquest. He asked permission to sail Russian commercial (but not war) vessels on the Black Sea. He asked the Sultan to forbid the Crimean Khan to make further raids into the Ukraine, and to cancel the Khan’s right to ask for annual tribute from Moscow. Finally, he asked that a Russian ambassador be permanently accredited to the Porte, as Britain, France and other powers were so represented, and that Orthodox churchmen have special privileges at the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

For months, the Turks gave no definitive answers as wrangling, disputes and delays arose over even the smallest details of the proposed agreement. Ukraintsev sensed that the other diplomatic representatives in Constantinople—those of Austria, Venice and England as well as France—were determined to impede his mission in order to prevent Russia and the Ottoman Empire from becoming too intimate. “I get no sort of assistance and not even any information from the Emperor or from Venice,” Ukraintsev complained in a report to Peter. “The English and Dutch ministers range themselves beside the Turks and have better intentions toward them than they have toward you, Sire. They hate you and envy you because you have begun to build ships and have inaugurated navigation at Azov as well as at Archangel. They fear this will hamper their maritime trade.” The Tatar Khan of the Crimea was even more anxious to prevent an agreement. “The Tsar,” he wrote to his master, the Sultan, “is destroying the old customs and faith of his people. He is altering everything according to German methods and is creating a powerful army and fleet, thereby annoying everyone. Sooner or later he will perish at the hands of his own subjects.”

On one point the Turks were adamant and needed no bolstering from West European ambassadors or Tatar chieftains: They refused absolutely Peter’s demand that Russian ships of any kind be allowed access to the Black Sea. “The Black Sea and its coasts are ruled by the Ottoman Sultan alone,” they told Ukraintsev. “From time immemorial no foreign ship has sailed its waters, nor ever will sail them.… The Ottoman Porte guards the Black Sea like a pure and undefiled virgin which no one dares to touch, and the Sultan will sooner permit outsiders to enter his harem than consent to the sailing of foreign vessels on the Black Sea.” In the end, Turkish resistance proved too strong. Although generally defeated in the war, the Turks now faced only a single enemy, Russia, and they could not be forced to give up more than they had already lost in battle. Peter, too, was anxious to conclude the negotiations, as he had more tempting prospects to the north in the Baltic. The agreement, called the Treaty of Constantinople, was not a treaty of peace but a thirty-year truce which abandoned no claims, left all questions open and assumed that on expiration, unless it was renewed, the war would begin again.

The terms were a compromise. Territorially, Russia was allowed to keep Azov and a band of territory to the distance of ten days’ journey from its walls. On the other hand, the forts on the lower Dnieper, seized from the Turks, were to be razed, and the land returned to Turkish possession. A zone of unpopulated, supposedly demilitarized land was to stretch across the Ukraine from east to west, separating the lands of the Crimean Tatars from Peter’s domain. The demand for Kerch and access to the Black Sea had previously been dropped by the Russians.

In the non-territorial clauses, Ukraintsev was more successful. The Turks promised informally to assist Orthodox Christians in their access to Jerusalem. Peter’s refusal to pay further tribute to the Tatar Khan was formally accepted. This infuriated the incumbent Khan, Devlet Gerey, but the ancient aggravation was finally ended and never reintroduced, even after the disaster that befell Peter eleven years later on the Pruth. Finally, Ukraintsev secured for Russia what Peter considered a major concession: the right to keep a permanent ambassador at Constantinople on equal footing with England, Holland, Austria and France. This was an important step in Peter’s drive to have Russia recognized as a major European power, and Ukraintsev himself remained on the Bosphorus to become the Tsar’s first permanent ambassador to a foreign power.

Ironically, the signing of a thirty-year truce with Turkey largely negated the great effort which had gone into the fleet built at Voronezh. Long before the thirty years had passed, the crews would have been dispersed and the timbers of the ships rotted away. At the time, of course, in Peter’s mind the truce was only a postponement. Although his primary attention was beginning to turn to the Great Northern War with Sweden, the projects in the south, at Voronezh, Azov and Tagonrog, only slowed and did not come to a halt. Never in his lifetime did Peter give up the idea of an eventual thrust out onto the Black Sea; indeed, to the anger and despair of the Turks, the shipbuilding at Voronezh continued, new ships sailed down to Tagonrog and the walls of Azov grew higher.

As it happened, Peter’s fleet was never used in battle and Azov’s walls were never attacked. The fate of ships and city was decided not in a battle at sea, as Peter had hoped, but by the struggle of armies hundreds of miles to the west. And in this struggle, the ships did serve their master. When Charles XII, invading deep into Russia, bid for a Turkish alliance in the months before Poltava, the fleet at Tagonrog was one of Peter’s strongest cards in persuading the Turks and Tatars not to intervene. In those critical months in the spring of 1709, Peter urgently strengthened the fleet and doubled the number of troops at Azov. In May, two months before the climactic battle at Poltava, he went himself to Azov and Tagonrog and maneuvered his fleet before a Turkish envoy. The Sultan, impressed by his envoy’s report, forbade Devlet Gerey, the Tatar Khan, to take his thousands of Tatar horsemen to Charles’ side. This effect of the Voronezh fleet alone justified all the effort expended on it.

The Founder of the Royal Navy




The Mary Rose is a Tudor ship, built in 1510. In service for 34 years. Sank in 1545. Discovered in 1971. Raised in 1982. Now in the final stages of conservation, she takes her place in a stunning and unique museum.

To send expeditions to France Henry used the first-rate naval force that he created. Several historians have credited him with founding the Royal Navy—an honour he supposedly shares with Alfred the Great. But the navy Alfred helped found consisted basically of floating castles. Broad in the beam, they were unable to sail much into wind, but waddled lubberly downwind. In battle they almost drifted into each other: sailors fought hand to hand, trying to defeat the enemy by boarding. Height was so vital that at the expense of sea-worthiness ships had high castles at either end from which archers could fire down upon the enemy (hence the word ‘forecastle’).

During the late fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries shipbuilders developed what Geoffrey Parker, a leading military historian, has called ‘one of the greatest technological achievements of medieval Europe’. They constructed long, relatively narrow vessels with three masts that could sail faster (since speed is proportionate to length), and point further into wind, their deep hulls being able to grip the water. Such ships could carry enough stores and cargoes for long voyages. After the invention of hinged gunports, they mounted heavy cannon on their lower decks, lowering their centre of gravity and thus making them more seaworthy. In the 1540s William Levett, rector of Buxted, Sussex, developed a process of casting iron cannon from high-phosphorous ore in vertical moulds barrel up, which allowed impurities to rise to the top, thus strengthening the end of the cannon where the initial explosion took place. At a third of the cost of the old bronze weapons, iron cannon could be fired much faster with a higher muzzle velocity, which enhanced the impact of their rounds. Since cutting a hole in the bow or stern of a vessel dangerously weakened her hull, cannon ports were built into the side. Attempts to widen the ports so cannon could be slewed for and aft were of limited use, so over the next four centuries ships fought broadside to each other.

These new ships were so expensive that only wealthy states could afford them. Having inherited seven ships from his father, Henry built eighteen more in the first six years of his reign, including the Great Harry, a monstrous vessel of over a thousand tons, with 43 heavy and 141 light guns. After peaking at twenty-five ships in 1520, the size of the Royal Navy fell to eleven in 1540, and then increased to thirty-two in 1545, reaching thirty-seven five years later. These were modern vessels, averaging 459 tons. Equally important, they were supported by a sophisticated series of bases at Portsmouth, Deptford and Woolwich, which were administered by the Office of Ordnance, founded in 1544, and the Navy Board, established two years later.

While these administrative changes were most important, giving the Royal Navy a permanent bureaucratic foundation, they must be seen in context. Compared to the French or Spanish, the English navy was small. It lacked a blue-water capability since its primary mission was coastal defence and supporting amphibious operations: the first time an English ship sailed south of the equator was in 1555. The navy carried troops to France, and supported English invasions of Scotland. But it was not strong enough to be relied upon to defend England from invasion. To complement the navy’s coastal defence role Henry spent £375,500 building twenty-four forts stretching from Calais to Berwick, from the Thames around the south coast to Milford Haven, which were ‘larger in scale than anything attempted until the twentieth century’.

Without doubt the greatest ship Henry built was the Mary Rose. Unlike previous fighting ships, Mary Rose had a high length to width ratio, its length giving it a much faster maximum theoretical sailing speed. Its heavy iron cannon were located low down, lowering the Mary Rose’s centre of gravity, enabling her to sail faster in a beam or head wind. This advantage was lost when refits of 1529 and 1536 added an additional upper deck, making her top heavy. Ropes between the cannon and the side of the hull absorbed the recoil when the guns were fired through raised ports, which were supposed to be lowered in heavy seas to keep water out. Open gunports, plus the new higher centre of gravity, proved the Mary Rose’s undoing. On 19 July 1545 the French attacked Portsmouth, and the Mary Rose was ordered to make sail to repulse them. As she was making a sudden turn, the top-heavy ship heeled over, and was hit by a sudden gust. It was enough to allow water to flood into the gun ports, whose lids were lashed open in anticipation of action. Discipline broke down. Captain Sir George Carew shouted he had lost control of his crew. As the ship rolled, chaos turned into panic, and more water flooded aboard. Guns, cannon balls and stores fell free, worsening the list. Within moments, in front of a horrified crowd that included the king, she capsized, taking as many as seven hundred men to the bottom of the Solent. (There she remained until 11 October 1982, when she was raised to be exhibited in Portsmouth Dockyard as one of the most important ships in the Royal Navy’s history.)

Henry’s wars and massive military expenditures left one lasting legacy— a financial one—that showed the king up as ‘a rank amateur with money to burn’. It could be argued that Henry’s continental wars may have delayed English colonization of America and conquest of Ireland by half a century. Without doubt they cost a great deal in men and money. The king made extensive use of expensive foreign mercenaries—six thousand in 1513 and again in 1522, and ten thousand in 1544. Between 1510 and 1523 Henry summoned seven parliaments, all to vote taxes for war. The last request, misleadingly known as the ‘Amicable Grant’, engendered a taxpayer revolt that forced the king to back down. During the French and Scots wars of the 1540s, three-quarters of the aristocracy—virtually all the able-bodied—saw service. During the last five years of his life, Henry spent roughly £2 million on war. He raised this gigantic sum by debasing the coinage (which helped produce massive inflation), by selling a third of the land he had confiscated from the monasteries during the Reformation, and by resorting to forced loans and gifts: he ‘borrowed’ church plate, which he promptly melted down for silver coins. ‘God help us,’ exclaimed Sir Thomas Wriothesley, the councillor responsible for raising all this money, ‘it maketh me weary of my life.’



Novík was a destroyer of the Russian Imperial Navy, commissioned in 1913 where she served with the Baltic Fleet during World War I. She joined the Bolsheviks in November 1917 and was later renamed Yakov Sverdlov.


Hostilities came too soon for the Imperial Russian Navy, which had a target of 1917 to achieve a fully operational state. The nine years that followed the end of the disastrous war with Japan had been a long haul for the Baltic Fleet. Dispatched as reinforcements to the Far East, its most modern ships had been sunk or captured at Tsushima. While it did not experience violence on the scale of the mutiny in the battleship Potemkin and other Black Sea units in 1905, the rump of the Baltic Fleet was wracked by the popular upheavals of the day. Rebuilding was slow. Many of the units interned in Far Eastern ports during the war made their way back to the Baltic by 1906, but Russia’s financial situation and the disruption following the aborted revolution of 1905 practically paralyzed the shipyards for years. The battleship Slava, completed too late in 1905 to deploy, was the only modern capital ship in the Baltic until the return of Tsesarevich the following year and the completion of Imperator Pavel and Andrei Pervozvanny at the end of 1910. These ships had been modified in the light of war experience, but their pre-dreadnought design meant that they were no match for the first line of the High Sea Fleet. The cruiser force was in similar shape. Although completed in France and Russia between 1908 and 1911, Admiral Makarov and her two sisters were obsolete by the time of their commissioning. The only really useful heavy unit was the powerful armored cruiser Rurik, commissioned in Britain in 1908, but she was outclassed by the German battle cruisers, which possessed not only much more powerful broadsides, but also several knots’ speed advantage.

There was a building program under way, but its shape and size had taken years to settle. Even when funds became available as the economy expanded rapidly after 1906, the naval effort was divided between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea, since Russia had to consider both theaters. Indeed, the Turkish threat became progressively more serious after 1910 as the Turks embarked on their own effort to acquire dreadnoughts. The first four battleships, which were to be the core of the future Baltic Fleet, were not laid down until 1909. Two, Sevastopol and Poltava, were complete but not yet fully operational. The second pair was not far behind, but all would require several months’ work before they were ready for combat. Four battle cruisers were at a less advanced stage of construction and the first could not be available until at least 1915. She would never be completed.

Russia’s limited ability to produce modern warships had been recognized by the order of two light cruisers from German yards, but these were now lost to the Imperial Russian Navy and would soon enter German service. None of the four light cruisers under construction in the Russian Baltic shipyards would be finished before the end of the war. The submarine force consisted of only eight obsolescent and unreliable boats in the frontline brigade and three even more elderly craft as training units. The Bars class were building, but their completion would be delayed because much of their machinery had been ordered from Germany. In fact, the only product of the new fleet plan already in service was the fast destroyer Novik, forerunner of what was intended to be a large class of the fastest and most heavily armed destroyers in the world.

The deficiencies reflected the difficulties of reforming the navy. Despite the starkness with which the service’s inadequacies had been demonstrated during the Russo-Japanese War, its reorganization was protracted and too dependent on individual personalities. While many, particularly in the junior ranks, were determined not to repeat the mistakes of 1904–5, there remained highly conservative vested interests, both within the navy and in the civil bureaucracy and a system dominated by committees whose accountability was, at best, ambiguous. Soon after the end of the Russo-Japanese conflict, the younger officers set up “study groups” to agitate for reform, paralleling a similar Young Turks movement in the army. They gained an important ally in the tsar himself. Nicholas II had received some naval training, including a period at sea, and his understanding of naval matters was more sophisticated than many of his advisers. The antique office of General-Admiral, usually occupied by a member of the royal family, was replaced by a minister of the navy shortly after the battle of Tsushima. With the tsar’s approval, a Naval General Staff was formed in 1906 to conduct long-range planning. The Naval General Staff’s numbers rapidly expanded from fifteen to forty. Its activities eventually subsumed much of the efforts of the study groups, probably because it involved the same officers.

At the same time, political developments following the establishment of the Russian parliament, the Duma, in 1906 put a spotlight on naval and military reform. From 1907 liberal elements within the Duma became increasingly vocal, but it was not until 1911 as a result of their pressure that the energetic Vice Admiral Ivan Grigorovich took over the navy portfolio and momentum developed for real reform elsewhere in the naval administration. In that year the Naval General Staff was placed under the minister, which meant that the navy’s planning and administrative elements were under one authority. Similarly, although he was a key figure within the Baltic Fleet as a junior flag officer from 1906 onward, it took the accession of Vice Admiral Nikolai von Essen to the post of commander in the Baltic in 1908 to bring about really substantial improvements within the fleet itself. One of the relatively few senior officers to distinguish himself in the war with Japan, von Essen’s dynamism put new life into his people and ships.

There were other factors. Apart from the tsar’s continuing strong personal support, the Duma found the navy’s officials much more cooperative than those of the War Ministry and was thus more inclined to provide them money. Grigorovich himself proved particularly adept at working with the Duma’s financial committees. By 1911 the navy was receiving more funding for new ships than was the army for its reequipment. The funding was not only official: in this more hopeful environment, popular support also grew. A National Committee was formed that raised enough subscriptions to pay for a substantial number of extra destroyers and submarines.

The Russian navy and its design elements were not unsophisticated. It is arguable that the technical and innovative capacities of its expert personnel were considerably greater than the ability of Russian industry to support their intent. This forced the Russians to purchase much of their equipment overseas, which allowed them to acquire emergent technology, such as the new fire control systems being developed in Britain, and combine it with their own devices, but left them hostage to situations in which a supplier such as Germany became an enemy. The effect in 1914 on the shipbuilding program would be devastating. It was also awkward for torpedoes, since substantial Russian purchases were made from the Whitehead factory at Fiume (modern Rijeka) in Austria-Hungary, and much of the Russian local effort to that point had been the licensed assembly of components. Nevertheless, Russian torpedo and gunnery standards were not behind those of their adversaries and some of their thinking, such as automatic torpedo salvo firing and triple torpedo tubes, the provision of higher gun elevation to extend the range, triple turrets, and the quality of weapon design were in the forefront of development. The Russians were also acutely aware of their industrial vulnerability and had made substantial efforts to establish local armament works, including a cooperative venture with the British firm of Vickers, as well as improving their shipyards. This work had consumed almost as much money as the shipbuilding programs themselves.

The Baltic Fleet had its own difficulties. There were formidable challenges for training in the eastern part of the sea. The key challenge was environmental. As the Baltic iced up from December—and sometimes earlier—navigation became impossible and remained so until at least April. This meant that the ships had to remain at their bases, with limited opportunities for practical training, a situation exacerbated by the cold and hours of darkness. Admiral von Essen did his best to train all year round, operating in ice-free waters to the west for as long into winter as he could, but it was no easy matter. The problem was partly solved, particularly for basic training, by the dispatch of squadrons to cruise in southern European waters over the winter months, but this alternative was not available to the torpedo craft and submarines, which were lucky to experience a seven-month window of operations annually. Even the long daylight hours of summer caused problems, since they limited the ability of the torpedo forces and the offensive minelayers to practice in tactically realistic settings. Climate had another effect, since the more temperate Black Sea was a better location for experiments. This meant, among other things, that the bulk of the early aviation effort was not available to the Baltic Fleet, although an aviation element was formally established in the Baltic in 1912.

Many of the ratings had limited education and this, combined with the lack of modern equipment in the fleet, created difficulties in developing collective expertise. There were too many conscripts and the annual turnover of ratings represented another challenge for the maintenance of unit efficiency. Efforts to encourage junior sailors to reengage and to recruit boy seamen as future long-service petty officers helped, but were not enough. There also remained great gulfs between officers and sailors, and there is evidence that the gap widened in the decade after the 1905 disturbances, perhaps because of mutual uncertainty and suspicion. The events of 1905 had highlighted the potential of the navy as a seedbed of dissidence to the revolutionary forces in Russia and there was constant concern as to the possibility of internal subversion. Although many of the younger officers possessed a much more professional outlook than their predecessors and their training curriculum had greatly improved since 1905, the system of discipline remained harsh and the disparity between the living conditions of the wardroom and the lower deck was extreme—the sailors appearing to exist on “bowls of soup and black bread.” Just as in the other navies, relationships in the small ship and submarine forces were much closer than in the battleships and cruisers, but a British submarine officer in 1914 was horrified to see “the [Russian] officer of the watch spit in a rating’s face when he was brought up as a defaulter.”

The key Russian advantage was in mine warfare. Russian mines caused the majority of Japanese losses in 1904–5. Von Essen had been appointed to command the Baltic mine and torpedo craft force in 1906 and continued to oversee its improvement after he assumed leadership of the whole Baltic Fleet. Systematic development of new and increasingly effective mine types continued until the outbreak of war, together with regular purchases of additional war stocks—5,000 in 1912 and 4,200 in 1914, of which 1,800 were intended for the Baltic. By the outbreak of war, there were some 7,000 mines available in theater. Von Essen was not satisfied with a purely defensive role and agitated for years for minelaying raids into the southern part of the sea to be an integral component of the fleet’s operational concept. This had yet to be formally incorporated into the war plans, but high hopes were held for the offensive capabilities of the new large destroyers, such as Novik, that combined the capacity to lay mines with a formidable gun and torpedo armament, as well as the new submarines.

There was another strength. The Russians had already developed relatively sophisticated techniques in signals intelligence, with ships’ radio personnel being trained in interception and simple analysis. Basic direction finding and interception had been practiced during the prewar maneuvers. Realizing its vulnerability, the Russians, like the British but unlike the Germans, were relatively circumspect in their own employment of wireless. Organizational capacity for higher-level work came in the form of the Observation and Communications Service established by Captain A. I. Nepenin, who was to be one of the key figures in the Baltic conflict. This was intended as a control and observation system to link the coastal defenses at the entrance to the Gulf of Finland with the seagoing units, particularly the minesweepers, but it also included a signals intelligence element to support the higher command. This would prove extremely useful when the major German code books passed into Russian hands after the grounding and capture of the light cruiser Magdeburg.

Much would depend for the Russians on the success of their land campaigns. The defensive mindset of the Russian high command in the theater could be overcome only if there was reasonable confidence as to the security of Saint Petersburg. This had yet to be achieved and the absence of that security would restrict fleet operations for months to come.