Find a Security Clearance Job!


Rise of the Imperial Japanese Navy

The traditions of Japan suggest that the art of navigation was not unfamiliar to the inhabitants of a country consisting of hundreds of islands and abounding in Japanese bays and inlets. Some interpreters of her cosmography discover a great bridge vessels of heaven from which the divine procreators of the islands commenced their work, and construe in a similar sense other poetically named vehicles of that remote age. But though the seas were certainly traversed by the early invaders of Japan, and though there is plenty of proof that in medieval times the Japanese flag floated over merchantmen which voyaged as far as Siam and India, and over piratical craft which harassed the coasts of Korea and China, it is unquestionable that in the matter of naval architecture Japan fell behind even her next-door neighbours. Thus, when a Mongol fleet came to Kiushiu in the 13th century, Japan had no vessels capable of contending against the invaders, and when, at the close of the 16th century, a Japanese army was fighting in Korea, repeated defeats of Japan's squadrons by Korean war-junks decided the fate of the campaign on shore as well as on sea.

It seems strange that an enterprising nation like the Japanese should not have taken for models the great galleons which visited the Far East in the second half of the 16th century under the flags of Portugal, Holland and England. With the exception, however, of two ships built by a castaway English pilot to order of Iyeyasu, no effort in that direction appears to have been made, and when an edict vetoing the construction of sea-going vessels was issued in 1636 as part of the Tokugawa policy of isolation, it can scarcely be said to have checked the growth of Japan's navy, for she possessed nothing worthy of the name.

It was to the object lesson furnished by the American ships which visited Yedo bay in 1853 and to the urgent counsels of the Dutch that Japan owed the inception of a naval policy. A seamen's training station was opened under Dutch instructors in 1855 at Nagasaki, a building-slip was constructed and an iron factory established at the same place, and shortly afterwards a naval school was organized at Tsukiji in Yedo, a war-ship the Kwanko Maru - presented by the Dutch to the shogun's government-being used for exercising the cadets [the term maru subsequently became applicable to merchantmen only.

To this vessel two others, purchased from the Dutch, were added in 1857 and 1858, and these, with one given by Queen Victoria, formed the nucleus of Japan's navy. In 1860, the Pacific wa crossed for the first time by a Japanese warship - the Kwanrin Maru - and subsequently some young officers were sent to Holland for instruction in naval science. In fact the Tokugawa statesmen had now thoroughly appreciated the imperative need of a navy. Thus, in spite of domestic unrest which menaced the very existence of the Yedo government, a dock-yard was established and fully equipped, the place chosen as its site being, by a strange coincidence, the village of Yokosuka where Japan's first foreign ship-builder, Will Adams, had lived and died 250 years previously. This dockyard was planned and its construction superintended by a Frenchman, M. Bertin. But although the Dutch had been the first to advise Japan's acquisition of a navy, and although French aid was sought in the case of the important and costly work at Yokosuka, the shogun's government turned to England for teachers of the art of maritime warfare. Captain Tracey, R.N., and other British officers and warrant-officers were engaged to organize and superintend the school at Tsukiji. They arrived, however, on the eve of the fall of the Tokugawa shogunate, and as the new administration was not prepared to utilize their services immediately, they returned to England. It is not to be inferred that the Imperial government underrated the importance of organizing a naval force.

One of the earliest Imperial rescripts ranked a navy among the country's most urgent needs and ordered that it should be at once placed on a firm foundation. But during the four years immediately subsequent to the restoration, a semi-interregnum existed in military affairs, the power of the sword being partly transferred to the hands of the sovereign and partly retained by the feudal chiefs. Ultimately, not only the vessels which had been in the possession of the shogunate but also several obtained from Europe by the great feudatories had to be taken over by the Imperial government, which, on reviewing the situation, found itself owner of a motley squadron of 17 warships aggregating 13,812 tons displacement, of which two were armoured, one was a composite ship, and the rest were of wood. Steps were then taken to establish and equip a suitable naval college in Tsukiji, and application having been made to the British government for instructors, a second naval mission was sent from England in 1873, consisting of 30 officers and warrant-officers under Commander (afterwards Vice-Admiral Sir) Archibald Douglas. At the very outset occasions for active service afloat presented themselves. In 1868, the year after the fall of the shogunate, such ships as could be assembled had to be sent to Yezo to attack the main part of the Tokugawa squadron which had raised the flag of revolt and retired to Hakodate under the command of the shogun's admiral, Enomoto. Then in 1874 the duty of convoying a fleet of transports to Formosa had to be undertaken; and in 1877 sea power played its part in crushing the formidable rebellion in Satsuma. Meanwhile the work of increasing and organizing the navy went on steadily.

The first steam war-ship constructed in Japan had been a gun-boat (138 tons) launched in 1866 from a building-yard established at Ishikawajima, an island near the mouth of the Sumida river on which Tokyo stands. At this yard and at Yokosuka two vessels of 897 tons and 1450 tons, respectively, were launched in 1875 and 1876, and Japan now found herself competent not only to execute all repairs but also to build ships of considerablesize. An order was placed in England in 1875, which produced, three years later, the Fuso, Japan's first ironclad (3717 tons) and the Kongo and Hiei,steel-frame sister-cruisers of 2248 tons. Meanwhile training, practical and theoretical, in seamanship, gunnery, torpedo-practice and naval architecture went on vigorously, and in 1878 the Japanese flag was for the first time seen in European waters, floating over the cruiser Seiki (1897 tons) built in Japan and navigated solely by Japanese.

The government, constantly solicitous of increasing the fleet, inaugurated, in 1882, a program of 30 cruisers and 12 torpedo-boats, and in 1886 this was extended, funds being obtained by an issue of naval loan-bonds. But the fleet did not yet include a single battleship. When the diet opened for the first time in 1890, a plan for the construction of two battleships encountered stubborn opposition in the lower house, where the majority attached much less importance to voting money for war-ships than to reducing the land tax. Not until 1892 was this opposition overcome in deference to an order from the throne that thirty thousand pounds sterling should be contributed yearly from the privy purse and that a tithe of all official salaries should be devoted during the same interval to naval needs.

Had the house been more prescient, Japan's position at the outbreak of war with China in 1894 would have been very different. She entered the contest with 28 fighting craft, aggregating 57,600 tons, and 24 torpedo-boats, but among them the most powerful was a belted cruiser of 4300 tons. Not one battleship was included, whereas China had two ironclads of nearly 8000 tons each. Under these conditions the result of the naval conflict was awaited with much anxiety in Japan. But the Chinese suffered signal defeats off the Yalu and at Wei-hai-wei, and the victors took possession of 17 Chinese craft, including one battleship. The resulting addition to Japan's fighting force was, however, insignificant. But the naval strength of Japan did not depend on prizes.

Battleships and cruisers were ordered and launched in Europe one after the other, and when the Russo-Japanese War came, the fleet promptly asserted its physical and moral superiority in the surprise of Port Arthur, the battle of the 10th of August 1904, and the crowning victory of Tsushima.

At the close of 1908 there were four naval dockyards, namely, at Yokosuka, Kure, Sasebo and Maizuru. Twenty-one vessels built at Yokosuka since 1876 included a battleship (19,000 tons) and Naval an armoured cruiser (14,000 tons) ; seven built at Kure Dockyards. since 1898 included a battleship (19,000 tons) and an armoured cruiser (14,000 tons). The yards at Sasebo and Maizuru had not yet been used in 1909 for constructing large vessels. Two private yards - the Mitsubishi at Nagasaki and Kobe, and the Kawasaki at the latter place - had built several cruisers, gunboats and torpedo craft, and were competent to undertake more important work. Nevertheless in 1909 Japan did not yet possess complete independence in this matter, for she was obliged to have recourse to foreign countries for a part of the steel used in ship-building. Kure manufactured practically all the steel it required, and there was a government steel-foundry at Wakamatsu on which more than 3 millions sterling had been spent in 1909, but it did not yet keep pace with thecountry's needs. When this independence was attained, it was hoped to effect an economy of about 18% on the outlay for naval construction, owing to the cheapness of manual labour and the disappearance both of the manufacturer's profit and of the expenses of transfer from Europe to Japan. As of 1910 There were five admiralties - Yokosuka, Kure, Sasebo, Maizuru and Port Arthur; and four naval stations - Takeshiki (in Tsushima), Mekong (in the Pescadores), Ominato and Chinhai (in southern Korea).

The navy was manned partly by conscripts and partly by volunteers. About 5500 were taken every year by 1910, and the ratio was, approximately, 55% of volunteers and 45% of conscripts. The period personnel. of active service is 4 years and that of service with the reserve 7 years. On the average 200 cadets are admitted yearly, of whom 50 are engineers, and in 1906 the personnel of the navy consisted of the following: Admirals, combative and non-combative 77; Officers, combative and non-combative, below the rank of admiral 2,867; Warrant officers 9,075; Bluejackets 29,667; Cadets 721; Total 42,407. The highest educational institution for the navy is the naval staff college, in which there are five courses for officers alone. The gunnery and torpedo schools were attended by officers, and also by selected warrant-officers and bluejackets, &dNaval who consent to extend their service. There was also a mechanical school for junior engineers, warrant-officers and ordinary artificers. At the naval cadet academy - originally situated in Tokoyo but by 1910 at Etajima near Kure - aspirants for service as naval officers received a 3 years' academic course and 1 year's training at sea; and, finally, there was a navalengineering college collateral to the naval cadet academy.

Since 1882, foreign instruction had been wholly dispensed with in the Japanese navy; since 1886 she had manufactured her own prismatic powder; since 1891 she has been able to make quick-firing guns and Schwartzkopf torpedoes, and in 1892 one of her officers invented a particularly potent explosive, called (after its inventor) Shimose powder.

Join the mailing list