Monday, 11 January 2016

Identifying the three Japanese warships featured in Antoine Vanner's 'Britannia's Spartan'

Whereas it did not require much detective work on my part to identify the prototypes upon which fictional HMS Leonidas and the Chinese Hi Ying and the Fu Ching featured in Antoine Vanner's BRITANNIA'S SPARTAN: THE DAWLISH CHRONICLES: JUNE 1859 AND APRIL - AUGUST 1882 were based, the same is not quite so true of the three fictional Japanese warships, Kirishima, Haruna, and Tatsuta. The only really helpful clues that I found was that:
  • They were armed with guns manufactured by the Krupp Company;
  • Kirishima, Haruna both had one funnel but the Tatsuta had two;
  • They were all built in the UK.
I began to look for other clues. The names Kirishima and Haruna were given to two of the Kongō-class battle cruiser/fast battleships built during the early years of the twentieth century, but had not been used by the Imperial Japanese Navy before then. The same was not true for the name Kongō, which had previously been given to an ironclad corvette/armoured cruiser.

The particulars of Kongō (and her sistership Hiei) are as follows:
  • Displacement: 2,248 tons
  • Length: 220' (67.1m) overall
  • Beam: 41' (12.5m)
  • Draught: 19' (5.8m) maximum
  • Propulsion: 1 x Two-cylinder double-expansion horizontal return connecting-rod steam engine driving one propeller, 6 cylindrical boilers, 2,450 IHP
  • Speed: 13 knots
  • Complement: 234
  • Armament: 3 × 6.8-inch Krupp RBL guns; 6 x 5.9-inch Krupp RBL guns; 4 x 4-barrel 1-inch Nordenfelt MGs; 2 x 5-barrel 0.45-inch Nordenfelt MGs; 2 x 14-inch torpedo tubes (for Schwartzkopff torpedoes)
  • Armour: Belt: 3" to 4.5" Iron
  • Notes: Also carried 2 x 75mm boat and landing guns
These ships were designed by one of the foremost naval architects of his day, Sir Edward Reed. The Kongō was built by Earle's Shipbuilding & Engineering Co., Hull, England and Hiei was built by Milford Haven Shipbuilding & Engineering Co., Pembroke, Wales.

These facts certainly seem to suggest that the fictional Kirishima and Haruna are based on the Kongō-class ironclad corvettes/armoured cruisers ... but I am not totally convinced that I have identified the prototypes correctly, and I may well continued my search for better matches as and when I can.

The name Tatsuta was first given to an unprotected cruiser that was built by Armstrong, Mitchell & Co., Elswick in 1893. She was an interesting ship in that she had been built as a replacement for the two-funnelled Chishima, which had been sunk in 1892 after she had been in collision with the P&O ship Ravenna in the Inland Sea. Although the Chishima had two funnels, neither she nor the real Tatsuta are anything like the fictional warship described in the book. Despite extensive research, I cannot find a protected cruiser that was either in service or being built at the time that the book is set that fits the description of the Tatsuta.


  1. Have you consultanted Crouching Tiger, Tumbling Bear? This work is a well written account of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-05. I read this while teaching in Japan and was fortunate enough to visit a Shinto Shrine in Toyama, Japan where a monument was to The Battle of Tsushima and the war in general.

  2. Irishhighlander,

    I have a copy of that excellent book, but used the relevant copies of Conway's and Janes' for my research.

    I would love to visit Japan to see the Mikasa.

    All the best,



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