Friday, May 16, 2008

The Mikasa

Far from just being the pride and joy of a dynamic, if recent, Japanese naval history, the Mikasa is, sadly, the only ship that has survived Japan's imperial past to be preserved today as a museum in Yokosuka, near the U.S. Naval station. The Mikasa's glory long preceded the Pacific War, going back to Japan's debut as a top tier naval power during the Russo-Japanese War. During that time, she was the flagship of the Japanese Navy's combined fleet and led the charge to one of the most lop-sided naval victories in history, the Battle of Tsushima (1905).

Admiral Togo on the Mikasa right before the Battle of Tsushima
The Japanese, headed by the Mikasa, sank 35 of Russia's 38 ships while losing 3 torpedo boats. The victory was the result of having first class vessels and superior discipline. Japan and England were, at that time, closely allied against Russian expansionism. The command structure of the Japanese Navy was fashioned on the Royal Navy model. Comparatively, the Russian force, though greater in numbers, was comprised of ill trained landlubbing conscripts. Russia's Baltic Fleet showed tremendous stamina in trekking 18,000 miles to intercept the blockading Japanese fleet to free the Far East Fleet trapped in Port Arthur, but that was the extent of Russian naval prowess. The Russian defeat, combined with the 1905 revolution that almost toppled the czar, caused a rash of naval mutinies (the most famous being on the Battleship Potemkin). Despite the war being a total disaster for them, the Russians nevertheless managed to bloody the Japanese on land enough to allow Teddy Roosevelt to mediate a peace settlement. Meanwhile, the Japanese ended up gaining world-wide recognition for their military forces (particularly the navy) despite being exhausted by the war. Work on the Mikasa started in 1899 and was finished in 1902 by Vickers Co., a British shipyard. Her design preceded the larger dreadnoughts, but can be seen as part of that same move to larger, more heavily armed vessels. During the Battle of the Yellow Sea (August of 1904), the Mikasa withstood 20 hits and was fully operational within a few days. During the Battle of Tsushima, she withstood 30 hits without sinking. Shortly after the Battle of Tsushima, while harboured in Sasebo, the Mikasa did sink after her magazine exploded. She was raised and repaired and returned to service, though her position as a flagship was shortlived with the introduction of larger more powerful vessels. The Mikasa survived the scrapheap after the Washington Naval Conference of 1922 under the stipulation that she would be a memorial ship. During WWII, the Mikasa was routinely bombed by the USAAF as she sat in Yokosuka (not sure if she was in the same spot as she is now). After the war, the Mikasa was stripped down and remained in disrepair until, with the backing of Admiral Nimitz, she was resurrected into the museum ship she is today. A good portion of the ship that is open to the public is preserved, more or less, as she was while in service. However, much of the ship is not open. The lower decks and the engine rooms are a mystery. What is open has been largely converted into exhibit rooms. There is even an auditorium showing an abbreviated (15 minute) version of Battle Anthem - a Japanese historical retelling of the Battle of Tsushima.
Floor plan of the Mikasa as it is today

The entrance

A model of the Mikasa

The Admiral's saloon

A gun placement in that same room

The admiral's balcony - aft

Admiral Togo

The captain's bathroom

Manning one of the guns.

The 12" guns

Another view

To the bridge.

A 6" gun

Looking over the bow

A signal light.

Another 6" gun

At peace in the harbor

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