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Shipbuilding - Meiji Restoration

Of the shipyards started by the Shogun and some of the Daimyos, those at Yokosuka, Yokohama and Ishikawajima were transferred to the Navy Department at the Restoration, while the yard at Nagasaki passed to the Industrial Department, under whose superintendence merchant-ship building was commenced. A new shipyard in Kobe was also started shortly afterward, by the last-named department. Again, in 1876, the site of the Ishikawajima Engine Works was leased to a private individual, Mr. T. Hirano, a native of Nagasaki, who was trained at the Nagasaki works. He soon started shipbuilding and engine works under the name of the Hirano Shipyard which was after ward renamed "The Ishikawajima Shipbuilding and Engineering Company." This was really the first private yard of the modern type founded in Japan.

There were, besides, a few yards converted from those building ships of the native type, and also a few started by foreigners in Kobe and other places. Provided with these facilities, ships of western type began to be constructed, and gradually increased in number; they were mostly of wooden build, and of very small dimensions, suitable for coasting trade only. In those days, steamers were quite new to the general shipowners and sailors; the superiority of sailing ships of western type over the ordinary Japanese junks being only too evident, most of the vessels built in the early years were sailers.

The first screw war vessel, the Chiyodapata, was built at Ishikawajima, a small island at the mouth of the River Sumida in Tokio, in 1866, by men educated at the Nagasaki Engine Works; she was the first ship built solely by Japanese hands. After the Restoration, in 1867, the Japanese Navy was organised, mainly with ships confiscated from the Shogun and the other Daimyos (heads of the different clans); it embraced nine or ten ships, ranging in displacement from 200 to 1 000 tons, mostly wooden gunboats or sloopsof-war. The Government then commenced to develop the navy by building new ships, abroad as well as at home.

The first warship built in Yokosuka after the dockyard there had passed into the hands of the Imperial Government, was the Seiki, a wooden gunboat of 900 tons displacement, launched in 1876; this was followed successively by the Amagi, Banjo, Kaimon, Tenriu, etc., of somewhat similar type. The central-battery ironclad Fuso, and the armored composite corvettes Kongo and Hiyei, were the first ships ordered from England, and were all launched in 1877. The composite sloops, Katsuragi and Musashi, of 1476 tons displacement, still on the active list, were launched inYokosuka in 1885 and 1886, being the first and last of this type built in Japan; the Yamato, a sister ship, had been ordered from Mr. Kirby's yard in Kobe, and was the first warship built under contract in Japan. The Takao, a small cruiser of 1 750 tons, designed in 1886 and launched in 1888, was the first iron warship built in Japan.

At about the same time, three iron gunboats of 615 tons were built, the Alago in Yokosuka, the Maya in Kobe, and the Cholcai in Ishikawajima (a private yard). These, with the Akagi, the first steel gunboat, of the same displacement as the Ataga class, launched in 1888, formed an epoch in the history of Japanese warship building. The principal vessels constructed in Yokosuka, before the late war with China, were the Yayeyama, a despatch vessel of 1 600 tons displacement and 20 knots speed, launched in 1889, the fastest ship in the Japanese Navy at that time; the Akitsushima, a protected cruiser of 3 100 tons and 19 knots, launched in 1892; and the Eashidate, a cruiser of 4 300 tons, launched in 1891, the latter forming a triplet with the Itsukushima and Matsusliima, built in France, and then the most powerful ships in the navy.

The Naval dockyards at Kure and Saseho were newly opened a few years before the war of 1894, nnd equipped with shipbuilding and repairing facilities, but no work of importance was turned out before the war. The Japanese Navy, at the time of the war, consisted of four armored ships of small ana inferior classes, seven second-class cruisers, fifteen small cruisers and gunboats, and two torpedoboats, aggregating about 55 000 tons in displacement, of which fourteen ships were home built.

Japanese Navy after the Chinese War

After the war with China, Japan took active steps to embark on an enormous naval extension program, with a total expenditure of about 22,000,000 sterling, extending over ten years. The ships built under this program, with those already building or contracted for at the time of the war, include:

  • 6 First-class battle-ships: 4 of the Shikishima type, 15 000 tons and 16 knots, and 2 of the Fuji type, 12 500 tons and 18 knots;
  • 6 Armoured cruisers, of the Asama type, 10 000 tons and from 20 to 23 knots;
  • 3 Second-class cruisers, of the Chitose type, 4 500 tons and 23 knots;
  • 5 Third-class cruisers: 2 of the Tsushima type, 3 400 tons and 20 knots, the Otowa, 3 000 tons and 21 knots, and 2 of the Akashi type, 2 700 tons and 20 knots;
  • 2 Despatch vessels; the Miyako, of 1800 tons, and the Chihaya, of 1 250 tons;
  • 3 Shallow-draft gunboats;
  • 20 Torpedo-boat destroyers;
  • 63 Torpedo-boats of various sizes.
Of these 108 vessels, totaling about 180 000 tons in displacement,only a few were built in the Naval dockyards. Torpedo boats, 63 in all, were built in Yokosuka, Kure, Sasebo and other yards.

In connection with the program, very large extensions have also been carried out in the naval dockyards at Yokosuka, Kure and Sasebo, by building graving docks, erecting new shop3, and by adding machinery of the most modern description. A new dockyard was also started in Maizuru, and small repairing works in other minor naval ports. The Japanese Navy thus possesses all the necessary equipment and facilities for building warships of any description whatever.

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Page last modified: 04-08-2012 19:03:23 ZULU