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The Franco-Japanese War

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Ages ago when I was in the Army I had an idea 'What if instead of the Russian and Japanese War of 1905 the Japanese and French went to war. So I put pen to paper...well finger to keyboard and thought this up.


Ladies and gentlemen for your delectation...


The Franco-Japanese War



Somewhere off the coast of Vietnam July 12th 1905.


MN Formidable shook from bow to stern as the old, refitted barbette ship fired a broadside. Two 10.8 inch shells roared out of the muzzles of their guns, her refitted 6.4 inch guns joining in the cannonade as the old ship lead a squadron of equally old ships.

Tensions had been building for months and the old ships assigned to guard this distant part of the French Empire had been reinforced whilst diplomats bustled too and froe and Generals and Admirals on both sides planned and prepared for what many thought and hoped would be inevitable.


The Formidable shook as waterspouts from hostile shells landed off her starboard side. Whilst the secondary guns were firing as fast as they loaded the huge 10.8 guns were much slower. The guns slowly training out to point at their distant targets.


The roar of the guns was accompanied by great gouts of cordite smoke which all but obscured the ship for a moment before she sailed through the smoke at a painful 12 knots, it was all her old engines could do and even then she was rattling and shaking like an arthritic old man.


Looking astern the ragged French column was firing with every gun they had. Rapid firing 5.5 inch guns, slower 10.8 and even slower 13.4 inch guns booming out as soon as they were loaded, flinging tonnes of high explosive metal at their enemies.


The Captain was smiling, even though they were pinned to the coast the volume of gunfire seemed to be keeping their attackers at bay, even if few hits had been observed. Suddenly the Formidable rocked and shuddered as a 12 inch round from the IJN Yashima ploughed into her poorly armoured bow.


The 850lb high explosive shell punched through the unarmoured hull before detonating, ripping a hole in the hull and starting a fire. The Formidable's agony had just started.




As the Greater Powers continued to dismember China, carving the formerly great Empire up like a turkey on Thanksgiving the Japanese Empire 'inherited' Formosa as well as portions of Hainan(1). Whilst tensions grew with the Russian Empire over Korea a new player entered the Board. The Kingdom of Siam. The French had gone to war with Siam in 1893, forcing the Kingdom to give up a huge slice of its territory, later to be known as Laos.


Whilst the British government's paranoia about French ambitions on the Indian sub-continent were heightened by this short 'war' and the land it netted France and both countries had strong interests in controlling parts of Indochina war never broke out between the two great powers. Years later in 1904 the French started putting more pressure on Siam for territory, slowly working to manufacture a crisis.

The King of Siam, fearing that the French would continue to slice off more and more of his country, even take his Crown sought outside help. Britain was content to keep the kingdom as a buffer between French ambition and its holdings, Russia was busy consolidating its holdings in Korea whilst keeping a wary eye on Japan and was an ally of France. Germany had little influence in the region. This left Japan.


Whilst the Japanese initially had little interest in the offers and proposals put forward by the Siamese ambassadors the Army and Navy were intrigued. French strength in the region was weak, the IJN was far stronger than the local French forces and the army was confident it could defeat the French.

Although discussions between the two countries started in 1900 it was not until 1904 that the Siamese government offered to fight alongside the Japanese. The Royal Army would attack and tie down French troops in Siam and along the border whilst Japanese troops stationed at Hainan would be landed to attack French held Vietnam where the Colonial forces were deeply unpopular.

Tempted by the possibility of an easy victory as well as more land gained as well as more than favourable trade agreements with Siam the Japanese were spurred into motion.

The build up of armed forces in Hainan, close to French Indochina was noticed by French diplomats and agents and the build-up was matched in kind. The former backwater squadron based at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam was slowly augmented, but even then it was not with the best ships the French had to offer, as these were kept close to face the Royal Navy.

The Japanese also had problems of their own. Military planners had originally prepared to fight the Russians over Korea, not the French in distant Vietnam. Establishing facilities, moving supplies as well as co-ordinating with the Siamese took time, money and a lot of effort.


As 1904 turned into 1905 the tensions in the region continued to escalate, the Russians, nominally allies of the French were politely reminded that the Japanese were British allies, this polite reminder was backed up by the deployment of Two full squadrons of British Battleships and their escorts to the Far East. Although the slowly thawing relations between Britain and France had lead to the ente-cordial, the French still kept their 6 best ships at home (2)


The French protested to the Japanese about the build-up near their Vietnamese holdings and the Japanese in turn cited self defence due to the French build-up. The French maritime strength in the region was considerable but most of it consisted of older ships.


1st Squadron:

MN Bouvet.

MN Messena

MN Jaureguiberry (Flag)

MN Charles Martel

MN Brennus



MN Dupuy Lome

MN Bruix

MN Chanzy

MN Latouche-Trevelle

MN Guichen


12 Torpedo Boats

6 Destroyers (4 Durandal Class, 2 Framee class)


2nd Squadron

MN Formidable

MN Amiral Baudin

MN Marceau (Flag)

MN Neptune

MN Magenta

MN Hoche



MN D'Estrees

MN Infernet

MN Chateaurenault

12 Torpedo Boats

Coast Defence Ships: All three to be decommissioned - Guarding Cam Ranh Bay

MN Redoutable

MN Courbet

MN Devastation


(1). In this AH the Russians and Japanese were not at odds with each other over Korea. Russia got more holdings in Korea whilst Japan got regions of Hainan.

(2). MN Charlemagne, St Louis, Gaulois, MN Suffren, Villaret (Suffren Class), MN Iena. MN Republique due to finish Trials August/September 1905

(3). The Charles Martel docked in Toloun, prior to refitting before her journey to the Far East with her three near sisters. In the background you can see the mast of what appears to be t he Hoche or the refitted Formidable.


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Prelude and Politics


With the French and Japanese build-up increasing both sides turned to their allies for assistance and help. The British sold rifles to both the Siamese government and the Japanese as well as dispatching 'advisors' at the behest of the Admiralty.

To counterbalance this support the British Government agreed to let the French use the Suez Canal, allowing possibly belligerent ships to sail down it, under escort of course as well as the use of coaling stations along the way, if fighting was to break out.


The British 'advisors' included Captain Scott as well as other naval experts who were keen to study the Japanese gunnery practices as well as introducing their own, bringing with them all the needed training equipment as well as a gentleman from Barr & Shroud to discuss the sales of the new fangled rangefinder's that Scott was so obsessed about.

When knowledge that 'naval experts' had been dispatched from England to Japan the French Government reacted strongly, stopping just short of accusing the English of aiding a possible enemy. Although the public knew little about this diplomatic breech, relations cooled between the two great nations.


The English brushed off the French claims, stating that the Japanese ships were British designed and built and that the Japanese needed assistance and advice in running and maintaining the complex machinery onboard. This 'excuse' was accepted at face value and that was all.

Diplomatic bluster between France and Japan continued to get worse, especially when the Japanese openly admitted to aiding, training and arming the Siamese army to 'aid an oriental nation that has asked for our help, the Kingdom of Siam does not want to be a lamb, devoured by France.'

This curt diplomatic message was taken as a threat and warning by the French Government. More troops were ordered to prepare to move to Indochina, sailing with a considerable number of escorts which would become the 1st Far East Battle Squadron.


The Russian Tsar, keen to expand his country's holdings in the East contacted the French Government about coming to their aid should war break out. But this was parried and foiled by the British Government stating to both Governments that 'In the unlikely event of War in the Far East, if the war was to escalate against British allies and interests in the region, then Britain herself could be compelled to come to her allies aid.'


With that, the formerly cool diplomatic relations between England and France heated up once more. This was only made worse by the dispatching to the Far East both the Duncan and Canopus classes, in their entirety as well as cruiser and destroyer escorts to safeguard British interests in the region. (1)

Indochina was becoming a tinderbox, and all it would need to ignite was a spark.


(1) This act along with the British Declaration as well as their support for Japan would all but destroy the Ente Cordial. Britain and Germany started to move closer together as allies, but what would happen in the future is not what this story's about.




8th of June 1905 Somewhere off the Coast of Vietnam 0430am

The Convoy was plodding along at a painful 8 knots through the dark waters of the Pacific. The steady thrumming of dozens of engines could be heard over the sound of spray and wind. It was fortunately a smooth night, barely a breath of wind stirred the air which saved the embarked soldiers crowded into the transports from the cruelty of sea-sickness but not the oppressive humidity.

Dotted round the 24 strong convoy was Rear Admiral Kamimura 1st Cruiser Squadron. The modern and powerful armoured cruisers Izumo, Azuma Tokiwa and Iwate as well as the older protected cruiser Naniwa, 8 destroyers and 8 torpedo boats forming the escort for this, the first of many planned runs from Hainan. Whilst the Navy crews bemoaned the poor station keeping of the Merchants, their abysmal speed and constant requests for aid they had a job to do.


Escort the transports to Halong bay and assist with the landing by providing gunfire support to the troops as they went ashore. The bay itself was a maze of limestone islands and outcroppings but once ashore the troops would be a mere 160 kilometers from Hanoi, the ultimate objective of the campaign.

The Siamese Army would strike along the borders of Laos whilst the Japanese would strike for Hanoi and claim the city and other regions of Northern Vietnam. Combined with the planned destruction of any French forces in the region it was assumed it would be enough to bring France to the negotiating table.


There was one major flaw to this plan. The French protected cruiser Chateaurenault, a product of the Jeunne Ecole and eyes of the Second Far East Squadron sighted the Japanese formation and correctly assumed their beligerent intent. The eight thousand tonne cruiser, originally designed for commerce raiding was undergunned and poorly protected but she did have one advantage. She was fast.

Forcing her engines the French cruiser turned south and ran at an impressive 24 knots, much to the distress of her Chief Engineer and his work crews the Cruiser set off towards the city of Da Nang and her squadron-mates. Whilst the 1st Squadron was further south in Cam Ranh bay the 2nd Squadron would be France's first line of defence.


The Chateaurenault arrived at Midnight on the 9th passing the word. Giving his simply exhausted cruiser time to re-coal and repair her shaken engines Rear Admiral Marcel raised his flag on the MN Marceau and ordered the fleet to sea as well as cabling the 1st Squadron and the commander of Hanoi's ground defences as well as regional military commands throughout French Indochina.

Sailing at 12 knots it would take time to reach Ha Long bay, but if the Japanese transports and cruisers could be caught pinned against the shore then the older ships of the 2nd Squadron would be able to pound them to pieces in the close confines of the island dotted bay.


This departure was not missed by Vietnamese rebels, nor was it missed by Japanese agents. The Imperial Japanese Navy had also planned ahead. Waiting off the coast of Hainan were the Battleships Shikishima, Fuji, Yashima, Hatsuse the armoured cruisers Nisshin and kasuga as well as four light cruisers and 18 destroyers. Thanks to the modern miracle of Wireless Telegraphy the Japanese under Admiral Tokioki knew the French were coming and planned to intercept them.


The eyes of the fleet - The Battle of Tonkin Gulf - Part 1.


As the sun rose the sky seemed to catch on fire. Glorious rays of red and yellow decorated the sky as the French Second Squadron cruiser along the Vietnamese coast. The squadron had to slow to 10 knots due to the engines of the Formidable, long overdue a full refit were incapable of sustaining 12 knots for more than a hour without damaging the engines workings.

The engines of the other old ships of the squadron were admittedly in little better shape, most of the ships had been re-boilered in 1888 - 1889 but they were still old, unreliable engines, prone to failure and a constant strain on the engineers. The journey north had been smooth and quiet, a blessing for the crew of the MN Hoche. The battleship, despite her alterations in 1888 - 1889 still wallowed like a pig on a smooth sea and the ship had nearly foundered on her trip to Indochina when she ran into a heavy storm. Her captain had reported that she was rolling to a horrifying 22 degrees at one point. That storm had also killed four of her crew, either swept overboard or in one case falling from the huge mast.


The Hoche now plodded along at the rear of the column, seemingly happy with the smooth seas and clear sky that promised a lovely day. The three armoured cruisers and the Torpedo boats in squadrons of four were spread out over a 180 degree arc to the starboard side of the Battleline roughly 10000 yards away. Radio signals flitted back and forth between the cruisers and battleships but so far the horizon was clear.


Leading the French line the MN Formidable was followed by the sister the Neptune and Magenta then the Flag the Marceau. The Amiral Baudin and lastly the Hoche followed the flagship. A formidable group of warships despite their age and relative obsolescence compared to their opponents.

There was one advantage though, the French would be in essence fighting British ships. Every battleship in the Japanese line was modelled and built on the latest British practice when they were laid down. There would be few surprises from the Japanese ships. And the French had a surprise of their own.


For years the French had planned to fight the Royal Navy, and despite the Government and Press's assurances to the contrary, French Admirals knew their ships were outclassed and also outnumbered. Given their potential enemies numerical advantage the French had concentrated on gunnery as well as experimenting with and then implementing long range gunnery.

If a ship could be damaged at long range then it could be finished off by the plentiful torpedo boats the Marine Nationale Favoured. The first experiments with long range gunnery yielded valuable results and as a result of this, every major French warship had the most advanced optical sites available and the gunners were experienced and indeed use to firing out to the phenomenal range of 8000 yards. Even the oldest battleships in the fleet were well practiced at long range fire.


Aboard the Cruisers and destroyers, every pair of eyes that could scan the horizon was. Breakfast had been served at the guns of the torpedo boats. The small ships were products of the Jeunne Ecole, a school of thought that still held considerable sway over the French Admiralty. Although small the ships were crewed by well trained, keen and skilled professionals who knew their job.

As the sun slowly rose higher into the sky, the fleet steaming north as it got hotter and hotter. Inside the turrets and batteries it was unbearably warm. Some gunnery captains allowed the hatches to be opened to try and get some air into the enclosed spaces. The cooks were constantly running cool water to the gun crews despite complaints from the ships quartermasters about the rates of water consumption.


At 10:47am lookouts on the Cruiser D'Estrees's towering masts fighting top sighted smoke on the horizon. The small cruiser and her four torpedo boats accelerated up to 18 knots, the cruisers hull vibrating as she worked up to close to her normal full speed. Radioing the flagship her report the D'Estrees's Captain's eyes were glued to the hazy patch of smoke in the distance. Every gun was manned, deep in the cruisers hull the engineers watched their charges, hoses playing on hot bearings which hissed and steamed when cool water struck them.

Over 16000 yards away the cause of the plume of smoke was surging through the water. Her radio reported had already made a contact report and was racing to investigate the smoke she could see. The IJN Takasago was a new, modern ship, built by Armstrong Witworth and was one of the very successful Elswick type cruisers that had sold so well. Armed with two 8-inch guns and a large battery of quick firing 4.7-inch guns the protected cruiser was a powerful scout. Capable of fighting off anything her size and running from anything bigger, and her main guns gave her a formidable punch.

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MN D'Estrees - Bridge

"That's too much smoke to be a merchant ship..." The Captain said, half talking to himself. "I want to know who and what she is, signal the Flag we are approaching a presumed hostile ship. Signal the torpedo boats, 'prepare to follow us, do not engage unless ordered."

Lieutenants and seamen raced to obey the captains orders, the range was being shouted out at 1 minute intervals as the ships approached each other at a staggering 34 knots.

Every pair of binoculars was trained on the growing cloud of smoke. The tension on the ship rose. Every gun was manned, there was not a sound on deck apart from muttered orders and reports.

"Masthead reporting. Ship in sight, two funnels, military masts. Japanese cruiser Sir!" A young subaltern reported.

"Very well, I want to know what I'm up against. Get up there and tell me what you see. Helm! Bring us about Try to keep us ahead of the enemy ship until we know what we're facing. Radio! Signal the Marcau 'Have sighted enemy cruiser, plan to engage, will withdraw if outmatched."

The small French formation turned hard to starboard, now the Distrees was following her escorts, still powering along at 18 knots. The Japanese ship however was doing 21 knots.

"Masthead reporting Sir, hostile is an Elswick type cruiser, either the Yoshino, Takasago or Takachiho classes."

The Captain was good with recognition and his memory for ships was as good as any newly trained officer. Any of those ships outgunned his small ship and possibly outran it. Walking over to the voice pipe for the engineering he waited for a response.


"Philippe, I am going to need everything she's got, force the engines if needs be, we're being chased by a Japanese cruiser."


"Masthead reporting! More smoke sighted to the North east, same baring as the Japanese Cruiser. Heavy smoke sighted."

'Merde...' The Captain swore softly, his job was to be the eyes of the fleet, was he being chased by one ship or was there a fleet out there? Duty won out over preserving his ship. Besides the range was long and they still had time to get vital intelligence before withdrawing.

"Range to target?"

"13000 yards Sir!"

Nodding the Captain ordered the turn that would bring the Cruiser and her formation round towards the charging Japanese ship. Trying to buy time to see what was beyond the cruiser before turning away once more.

"Guns, begin controlled long range fire with the main armament as soon as the Japanese ship is within range, lets see what these little yellow men are made of.

1) IJN Takasago – A British made cruiser built protected cruiser designed and built by the Elswick firm in the Tyne. The Elswic designs were popular and successful export cruisers, bought by the Japanese and many South American countries. One of which survived until 1948




The Battle of Tonkin Gulf - Opening shots.


Although armed with four 6.4 inch guns the D'Estrees's main weapons were not in turrets but sponsoned out over the hull, giving her a two gun broadside. At the bow and stern was a single 5.5 inch gun giving the small ship a four gun broadside. A mixture of high explosive and solid steel armour peircing rounds were already by the guns ready to be used. The guns were reciving information from voice tubes that connected to both the bridge and the foretop. The four foot rangefinder on the bridge was passing information rapidly to the gun captains as the Japanese and French ships drew closer. The small torpedo boats took cover on the unengaged side of the D'Estrees, at these ranges against a well armed ship they would be of little use other than targets.

Long range gunnery was not perfected by any means, especially for a small, undergunned ship like the D'Estrees. But the sea was calm, the cruiser was not rolling much and her target was approaching without changing course.


"Open fire as soon as the enemy ship is in range, Masthead I want those ships on the horizon identified as soon as possible."


Captain Domercq ordered. He knew his ship was quite outclassed but if he could at least find out what was beyond them on the horizon then he could withdraw to the fleet.

"Enemy in range!"


"Open fire, main battery only!"



The two 6.4 inch guns on the Cruiser D'Estrees fired the first shots of the Franco-Japanese War. Both shells tore though the air, landing a thousand yards short of their target. The clouds of cordite smoke marring the formerly pristeen paint of the French Cruiser.


IJN Takasago- Bridge.


On the Takasago's bridge there was amusement and supprise that the French had opened fire at such long range. Both shells landed well short but the Frenchman was firing again, although firing slowly for her gun size.


"What's she doing? Is she trying to keep us back or are they ranging us?" The Captain muttered to himself.


"Return fire with the main guns. Helm! Bring us closer, we can't let them spot the fleet"


The Takasago heeled slightly as her bow came around, her forward 8 inch rifle tracking before it answered the cannonade coming from the French cruiser.


MN D'Estrees - Bridge

'So it's begun...' Captain Domercq thought, watching the cloud of light grey smoke billowing over the bow of his target. No one even saw the fall of the shot. The D'Estrees shuddered as her guns fired again. The Japanese ship had turned towards them, clearly trying to cut them off.


"Signal the Torpedo boats, scout to the North and report what they see. Do not engage the enemy." He knew that was a risk, the tiny torpedo boats would be extremely vulnerable to the 4.7 inch guns that dotted the Takasago's flanks but if they could get away cleanly and see what was to the North, then it would be worth it.

It took a a minute for the radio message to be received and acknowleged. The small boats started to accelerate, black smoke pouring from their funnels, the waves starting to flow over their turtlebacked bows as the small ships worked up to full speed.


"A hit!" Came the sudden exultant cry and all eyes turned to the Takasago.


The 6.4 inch shell fired from the second mounting on the starboard side of the D'Estrees had been the 12th round fired by the gun in the engagement. The Gun Captain for the mounting had always worked his crew hard and had taken to the principles of long range fire with a vengance. Even so, shooting at a live, manourvering target whilst the ship was at full speed had never been done before.

The high explosive shell had punched through the quarter-deck cleanly before detonating. It ripped a 4 foot by 6 foot hole in the deck and started a small fire but caused no casualties.

Both cruisers were firing as fast as they could load and aim. The 8 inch gun of the Japanese cruiser was booming out a challenge at regular 30 second intervals but the gun crew had never practiced at anything approaching the range they were fighting at. The Frenchman was turning to keep away from them, all the while her two guns were spitting shells at them every 20 seconds. Another shell landed alongside the Japanese ship, the spray soaking her sides but doing no damage.


The Japanese Cruiser turned sharply, exposing her broadside and unmasking her stern gun. The five quick firing 4.7 inch guns along her flank and the aft 8 inch mount opened fire as soon as they could whilst the D'Estrees's two 5.5 inch guns replied as best they could.

The quick firing guns on the Japanese ship did little but tear up the sea between the two ships but the bow 8inch gun was getting into its stride, one shell landing less than 50 yards from the Frenchman's bow, shell splinters pinged off the steel flank of the D'Estrees.


MN D'Estrees - Bridge.


"Helm bring us 4 points to port, that was too close. Any news from the Masthead?"


The cruiser slewed to port, her guns firing as fast as they could now. Long range fire had its uses but now it was weight and volume of fire that would decide this skirmish.


Torpedo Boat 141 - Bridge


The young Lieutenant watched the duel between the D'Estrees and the bigger Japanese ship. He wanted to help but orders were orders. The small ship was rolling as she tor e through the sea as 28 knots.

Ahead a mass of smoke could be seen, he trained his telescope on the horizon and had to suppress a gasp.


"Signal the D'Estrees and the Flagship, heavy masts sighted, multiple enemy warships. Give them our location. Helm, hard to starboard, bring us about!"

The D'Estrees shook as she took her first hit of the battle. A 4.7 inch shell slammed through her high side but failed to explode, coming to rest in a storeroom. It was a lucky shot, the range was still very long, the two Cruisers were turning and moving at flank speed, their machinery's vibrations making them shake from stem to stern. In reply the Takasago had suffered another two hits, one from a 5.5 inch round which failed to explode and just left a hefty dent in the hull the other from a 6.4 inch round which only partially detonated when it hit amidships, although splinters from the blast did injure some of the gunners on a 2lb gun.


Despite the rapid changes of course the Frenchman was making the Japanese ship was getting closer, and both Captains knew that if the Takasago got closer her better, more numerous guns would surely devastate the poorly armed French vessel.


The small torpedo boat squadron was still out of the fight, lurking on the unengaged side of the D'Estrees, accelerating away from the cruiser back to the distant fleet. To the North the smoke of the Japanese fleet could be seen, whilst to the South the thick plumes of coal smoke marking the air signalled the approach of the French squadron.

French Battle Line - 26000 yards away, speed 10 knots.


Aboard the line of French battleships the crews were beat to quarters, bugles blaring, drums rattling as they had aboard the grand ships of the Line in the 1800's. Whilst the French Battleships were quite old they did all have quite advanced features. The Cannet type turrets that dotted their hulls were advanced mountings that allowed all round loading, the French ships were well equipped with rangefinders and knew how to use them, gunnery practice had become a very regular feature of the Marine Nationale.


Deep in the hulls of a dozen ships huge engines drowned out all but orders bellowed into ears. The long distance journey had been done at a steady 10 knots, and whilst that was quite a feat for some of the ships due to their age there were no mechanical issues. Yet. The engine crews knew their charges like the back of their own hands and they watched over them with an expert eye.

Higher up every gun was loaded, ammunition was brought up from the magazines and rounds filled the waiting cannons. The guns moved, elevating and turning, the mounts being tested for mechanical faults. The last thing anyone wanted was a gun that could not turn due to a faulty bearing.


MN D'Estrees Forward Starboard 6.4 inch mounting.


The 50 kilo high explosive shell was hoisted into the breech. Two bags of propellant swiftly followed before the breech as closed. The gun captain adjusted the elevation of the rifled cannon based on information from his own gun sight and on information from the brave soul up in the cruisers foretop and bridge who were directing the fight, giving him an estimated range and speed.

Taking this information with what he could see he was satisfied. He could see the Japanese ship firing at them, the quick firing 4.7s dotting its side spat out a torrent of shells whilst the bow 8 inch fired slowly and methodically, belching its big rounds at them every 45 seconds.


Satisfied he waited for the roll. Too soon and the shell would land short, too late and it would land well over. He had to wait for the centre of the roll. Fortunately the D'Estrees was not rolling heavily.




He pressed the firing button. An electric current arced out into the small firing charge, initiating a small explosion who's heat and force travelled into the propellant charge. This began to burn very rapidly and turn into gas, creating enormous pressures in the firing chamber. These were resisted by the chamber walls and breach, and so the weak point, the shell began to accelerate and spin.

Leaving the muzzle at 830 meters per second the shell screamed from the naval rifle, spinning furiously and beginning its graceful ballistic arc to a height of just under a kilometre before tilting over under the forces of gravity.


If someone had been riding the shell they would have seen whispy clouds part, then the long lean shape of the Japanese cruiser, and finally in the last second of its flight the curved arc of the forward 8 inch mount's shield on the IJN Takasago.


The round punched through the thin shield that was only meant to keep out splinters and light rounds not so heavy a round that now bore through it. The HE shell exploded behind the shield in a white hot flash and blizzard of metal splinters that simply annihilated the feverishly working guncrew. The blast detonated a propellant charge that was being loaded into the gun. This too exploded turning the breech of the 8 inch rifle into a tangle of ruined metal. The dozen men of the gun crew were either cut down by the initial blast or the wall of metal fragments from the blast, bits of them were splashed over the deck and even the superstructure of the bridge. A serious fire broke out, another charge did not explode but burst into flames which consumed the now ruined mount whilst a waiting shell started to heat up.


IJN Takasago - Bridge


The double blast and cloud of obscuring smoke from the forward gun told of a heavy and serious hit. All hands on the bridge could see the fire now raging where the 8inch mount use to be.


"Order the magazine to be flooded immediately! Alert damage control, helm bring us out of the wind, turn us away!"


The speed of the cruiser was fanning the flames, as the magazine was flooded there was no risk of a more serious explosion but the explosion had shaken the Takasago's Captain. His ship was more modern, more powerful, faster and better protected yet they could not damage this impudent little black hulled cruiser. Now with 50% of the main battery destroyed his ship risked being out gunned. Still he had accomplished his goal, the French fleet was somewhere to the south, whilst their forces were coming up at 16 knots with larger, more modern ships from the North.


The badly damaged cruiser turned sharply, her remaining guns barking shot after shot at the departing D'Estrees not one hit home, they simply chewed up the sea a thousand yards short.

The stage was set, now it was time for the bit part actors to clear the stage for the main performance.




The Battle of Tonkin Gulf - Jockeying for Position


Alerted by wireless, Morse and his own eyes the French Commander, Rear Admiral Maras prepared to fight the Japanese. He accepted that his ships were materially weaker than his Japanese foe and even though he outnumbered them, pound for pound, he was outgunned. Four of his ships had a three gun broadside, whilst the other two had a two gun broadside, whilst he was weaker in cruisers and small ships. He could not run either, the Formidable and Amiral Baudin could only really do 12 knots and even then that was for short bursts of a hour, perhaps two before they suffered engine difficulties.

But he was resolved to fight, his crews were well trained, ready and willing to fight, manning their guns, each barrel trained on the distant smoke plume of their enemy. Maras knew English ships, and the Japanese ships were English built, English designed for the most part, at least he knew what he was facing. But how to face them? Both fleets were steaming towards each other, the French ships still close inshore, a mere two miles from the coast of Vietnam itself. It cut down on his manoeuvring but also stopped the Japanese as well, reducing their possibilities to get round his ships too. They could not cross his T if they had to turn sharply away to avoid running aground. If he turned out to sea to try and cross the Japanese T he feared they would use their speed to get around him, parrying his thrust and endangering his command.


Help was coming, the Fleet had been sending out constant wireless and Morse reports on its journey and had received word that the 1st Squadron had departed Saigon and was heading to his location at maximum speed. That was 18 knots, a long hard run for the engines but they could do it. Combined the two squadrons easily outgunned the Japanese vessels. So withdraw it was. Keep the Jap's back with gunfire, the promising report from the D'Estrees about the effectiveness and very surprising accuracy of long ranged gunfire was well received.


Walking across the bridge, his staff in tow the French commander had two options, turn in sequence, but this would cost him speed and time as his line competed its turn to come to its new heading. Speed and time they did not have.


The cruisers and Torpedo boats were coming in like young grazer animals seeking the protection of their larger kin. There was another option, but it was risky. The so called 'battle turn away', each ship would make a simultaneous turn on a signal from the Flagship. The theory was that the line could conduct a complete 180 degree turn away from a superior force without wasting time turning individually. But there were risks. If a ship suffered a mechanical fault in the turn, it could result in a collision, in practice there had been a few close scrapes and that had been at 5 knots, not at 10 knots at battle stations. Logically and tactically it was the best choice but it was still a worry thought.


"Admiral, message from Formidable ENEMY IN SIGHT." The messenger read off the course and heading and a few minutes later the Bridge crew had the Japanese ships marked on a map.. "ENEMY SPEED BELIVED TO BE 15 KNOTS."


It took a few minutes to work out the rates of closure. The speed of the Japanese was three knots faster than his ships could safely do without breaking up the squadron, and it was three knots short of what the British built ships could do at flank speed.


"Very well, Signals Officer, signal all battleships - "BATTLE TURN AWAY - TURN TOGETHER TO COURSE 166 - SPEED 12 KNOTS."


The signal raced up the halliards of the Marceau. The Flags were lashed in tight bundles and closely watched by the other five battleships and repeating destroyers. The Signalman jerked a light line and the tight balls that were the wrapped flags fell loose, streaming, standing out stiffly in the offshore breeze. The other French Battleships and repeating destroyers raced to read the flags, find them in their own lockers, report the signal to their Captains and then acknowledge the Signal by hauling up the exact same flags and breaking out the signals.


This ensured that no misunderstanding was possible anywhere in the fleet. The last to acknowledge the signal was the Hoche who was hampered by the smoke from the other ships.

"Signal acknowledged Sir" Reported the Signal Lieutenant, a Midshipman, stationed on the Bridge for just this purpose with a stop watched called out.


"One minute fifteen seconds sir, Hoche last by five seconds."


"Very good." The Admiral took a deep breath and nodded slightly. "Execute!" Immediately the flags came down on the Marceau and this was repeated instantly on every other ship in the squadron. The helmsman of each battleship put the wheel over, watching the compass as reports were sent in, warning of proximity and distance to other ships in the squadron.


IJN Shikishima - Bridge.


All eyes were on the distant French line. The Japanese line had watched the damaged Takasago take up position astern, her bow still smouldering from the fire that had raged there. The assembled officers were treated to the spectacle of the French ships turning together. It was a sign of a well drilled and trained fleet. Taking note of the French formation and estimated speed Rear Admiral Tokioki made his plans.


"Signal the fleet. "MAKE SPEED 18 KNOTS. CONTINUE ON PRESENT COURSE." He planned to outrun these lumbering ugly ships and tear them apart. Long range gunnery or no, his ships were superior, he felt his crews were better trained. The British had taught them well and they had some of the best ships in the world. Time to find out if the Sun would continue to rise in the east as the ship surged forwards at flank speed, followed by her consorts, the big ships hull thrumming as the engines worked themselves to full power, the forced draught fans whining as they forced more air into the boilers buried deep in the hull whilst the stoakers, bent double as they fed the hungry boilers with coal.




1)IJN Shikishima flaghip of Admiral Tokioki, built in England to the latest design’s of successful ship builders. Larger than her French adversaries and better armed and protected the ship and her comrades were a generation ahead of the French vessels in the Far East.




The Franco-Japanese War – Shadow boxing and jabbing.


MN Marceau - 4th ship in the French Line. Speed 11.5 knots.


All eyes were on the Japanese line as it surged forwards. Turrets trained following their targets, officers identified their targets, finding out exactly what they were facing. Four modern battleships and two Italian made armoured cruisers of the latest pattern. The shoal of destroyers accompanying the Japanese fleet kept to the unengaged side of the line, lead by the three light cruisers waited like attack dogs straining at the leash. The Takasago took up position astern of the Kasuga to add her firepower to the battle.


The Japanese could not overhaul and cut off the French line because to turn ahead of them and cross the T would risk running too close to shore and running aground on the many sandbanks and reefs off the coast of Vietnam so Admiral Tokioki opted for a simpler plan. Overtake the French ships until they were broadside to broadside and then close the range, engaging with the main guns then secondary armament. The French ships could not turn away, they would not be able to turn towards and they could not run.


After the war some officers did comment that it was a risky plan, one that would expose the Japanese ships to excessive damage as the range came down before the weaker French ships would be overwhelmed.


Admiral Maras watched the Japanese ships as they formed up near parallel to his line and guessed the Japanese commanders intent.


“Broadside to broadside…does their commander believe we are ships of the line?”


His words eased the tension that was on the bridge and drew some chuckles from those present. “We shall give them a..lesson in long range gunnery and force them back, the 1st Squadron is on its way, we shall catch these little yellow men between two fires and defeat them.”


The Admiral knew his ships guns could reach out accurately to 7000 yard with their main guns, the secondary batteries had a range of roughly 6400 yards but he knew the British made guns on his opponents ships could reach out to at least 12000 yards but no one in the world had ever practiced at such simply gargantuan ranges.

Reports from the D’Estrees had indicated the Japanese cruiser she’d fought had only opened fire after she had and that her gunnery at long range was inaccurate, rapid but inaccurate. He prayed that the big ships of the Japanese fleet had little practice at these ranges.




MN Hoche – Leading the French formation – speed 12.5 knots.


Aboard the MN Hoche the lead ship of the French formation her two heavily armoured canet turrets were training slowly on the leading Japanese ship, a powerful looking three funnelled battleship identified as either the Shijishiama or Hatsuse. The bow of the Hoche was dipping into the swells, her low freeboard, a terrible liability in heavy weather was still suffering in the fairly smooth seas of the Far East. The ships pair of funnels had black smoke billowing from them, blown towards the coast of Vietnam by the offshore breeze.


Captain Gilbert listened as the gunnery officer received estimated ranges from the rangefinders dotting the ships hull. In 1899 the ship had undergone a significant overhaul with much of the mass of her overbuilt superstructure was cut down and removed but her fighting strength was not diminished. Up in her massive, overbuilt, armed and armoured fighting top the gunners on the light weapons dotting the circular structure were almost use to the slow sickening swaying roll of the ship after years aboard.


The 6 foot rangefinder on top was being used to relay ranges down to the trio of main guns, two 13.4 inch gun in their mighty turrets fore and aft and then the midship 10.8 inch gun in its exposed barbette. Her battery of 5.5 inch guns waited, the gun captains checking the guns, the crew and every part of the weapons under their care. Training was one thing but having a hostile ship in your sights was something very new.


MN Formidable – Last ship in the French formation – speed 12 knots.


The Formidable was an old ship, she was meant to be decommissioned within 8 months, her fate was either being cut up or sunk at the next major naval exercise as a gunnery target. Once armed with three 14.6 inch guns she had been rearmed and modernised with two 10.8 inch guns and a battery of three 6.4 inch guns amidships she had been saved from the this fate by this crisis. Remanned and sent off to the Far East with her equally old Sister the Amiral Baudin the ship was still an efficient combat unit despite her age.


“Captain, enemy ships range estimated at 7200 yards, but we’ve had readings between 6000 yards and 8000 yards in the past 10 minutes.”


The Captain nodded curtly, raising his binoculars. “Signal the Flagship –AM ENGAGING THE ENEMY. Main battery. Open Fire!”


IJN Shikishima speed 14 knots – leading the Japanese Line.


Captain Percy Scott watched, quietly awed as the French line seemed to explode. In a near perfect ripple, the last ship fired first, then the next in sequence until the ugly ship in the lead the Hoche fired her three big guns.


‘Amazing, I wonder how they will adjust for the fall of shot? Was the firing sequence to allow each ship to spot its rounds..’


Back home, the First Lord was hammering into the fleet the importance of continuous aim, which had been developed by Captain Scott and the First Lord also had experimented with long range fire at ranges of 5000 yards with experiments planned next year for 7000 yards, but to see the theory put into practice was something new.

He had volunteered to be an observer in this conflict, the Japanese had embraced his Continuous Aim methods and were well practiced in the system and this was now a perfect chance to witness his methods at work in an actual battle.

Scott watched impassively as tonnes of high explosive death screamed towards the Japanese line.




1) The Battleship Marceau, flagship of the 2nd Squadron and flag of Admiral Maras during the battle of the Tonkin gulf. Here we see the flagship sailing into Cam Ranh Bay as tension built between the French and Japanese.



The Franco-Japanese war – Closing the range.


IJN Shikishima speed 16 knots – leading the Japanese Line.


Over a dozen plumes of water surged into the air as the effects of the first French salvo became clear. Not one of the shells came within a thousand yards of their target, one shell from the Neptune fell wildly short, landing only 2000 yards from the French ship, whilst another from the Hoche landed 3000 yards beyond her target.


The effect of the French guns firing itself was spectacular. Most of the guns were old and used older propellants. They all used slow burning ‘coca powder’ a descendant of the old Black powder used in Nelson’s time. Each firing was heralded by a jet of crimson flame followed by huge clouds of thick black smoke. The guns were old, the propellant just as old, but they were still dangerious.

Aboard the Shikishima Captain Scott was amazed, and already taking mental notes for the discussions that were sure to follow regarding what he had seen. He watched a rippling series of flashes travel down the length of the French ships as their quick firing guns joined in the cannonade.


The Japanese ships guns were silent and Scott had to admire their discipline, but then again they were trained under British methods so why should they not be. There was another report but Scott guessed what it was as the French main guns fired once more, 2 minutes after the initial shot.


MN Magenta –Second Ship in the French line Starboard barbette



The huge breech swung open to accept another 340mm shell. The barrel had already been swabbed to make sure it was clear of any of the old propellant left in either the breech or barrel. The remnants of the smoke from the initial firing were being pulled out by the fans and the fact that the whole mounting was open to the sky. Only a thin steel ‘roof’ protected the crew from shrapnel and gunfire and even this left most of the mount exposed.


The huge shell was hoisted up and fed into the muzzle, followed by the 285 kilogrames of propellant required to fire the shell. As the breech was closed and sealed the whole mounting moved elevating to the precise angle as ordered by the gunnery spotters up in the towering mainmast.

Once in position the guncrew scattered to the edges of the huge barbette, turning away from the gun, covering their ears and opening their mouths.

The Gun Captain, content that all was as it should be, pressed a button. Up in the bridge a green light came on indicating the gun was ready. It was followed seconds later by the fore and aft mounts.




The recoil of the cannon firing rocked the mounting filling it black smoke and the stench of propellant. The shell was lost in the general barrage directed at the Japanese ships and the whole process was repeated again.


IJN Shikishima speed 16 knots – leading the Japanese Line.


Both Japanese officers and British observers were quite shocked to see the French shells coming closer. There had already been a hit on the Kasuga from what was assumed to be a 5.5 inch shell that had not burst but there had been no main calibre hits. Yet.


“Admiral, might I suggest you alter course by 10 degrees and open fire. It will give the French something to think about and they are getting awefully close.”


Captain Scotts words were repeated by a Translator although Rear Admiral Tokioki spoke English. As if to underline his words the next French salvo achived a straddle, with huge columns of water sprouting either side of the Japanese line and the Kasuga reported another hit. The Japanese Admiral nodded his consent and the guns fore, aft and amidships roared their first shots at their tormentors.


MN Marceau - 4th ship in the French Line. Speed 12.5 knots.


“Sir! Enemy has opened fire!”


It seemed that half a dozen officers made the report as the event happened. The Admiral had of course watched it happen, his eyes were trained on the Japanese fleet watching for the flash of hits and changes of course.


“Now the fight really beings..”

He thought as the first Japanese broadside landed.




1) - Here we see the MN Neptune on the morning of the battle, this picture was taken from a Dutch merchant ship. You will note the huge towering superstrucure and massive masts with their many teird structures that mounted light cannons and machine guns to both defend against torpedo boats and 'sweep the decks' of other ships within range.

2) - Here we see a dramatacised view of the Japanese fleet opening fire, lead by the flagship Shikishima. The difference between the two nations warships is immediately evident, with the more modern Japanese ships a generation or two in advance of their French rivals.

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The Franco-Japanese War – The first blows.


Aboard the Shikishima Captain Scott had to suppress a gasp as the first Japanese shells landed supprisingly close to their French targets. Columns of water towered above their distant targets, coating the French ships with nothing more dangerious than spray for the moment.


“Like the French we have trained to fight at long range. With potential enemies outnumbering our fleet it was felt that long range engagements would as you say ‘even the score” Admiral Scotts translator and aide on this fact finding mission said in answer to the Englishman’s unsaid question.


IJN Kasuga rear ship Japanese line, speed 18 knots.


The Italian built armoured cruiser was a formidable ship, originally built for Argentina the large cruiser had been purchased by Japan as tensions rose between France and Japan. Armed with a single 10 inch gun forwards and dual 8 inch guns aft the ship had a heavy punch for her size, especially when combined with the 6 inch guns dotting her flanks.

The large cruiser and her sister the Nissin had been seconded to the Battle fleet as ships of the line instead of the usual cruiser roles of scouting and fighting ships of their own weight. Now they would fight battleships as battleships themselves.


The ship shuddered as her 10 inch gun fired, thick chocolate coloured smoke spilling over her bow. The shudders continued as the 6 and 8 inch guns fired. Their target was an ugly brute of a ship, identified as a Admiral Baudin class vessel. The French ship was a huge target, looming out of the water, her high sides wreathed in smoke as her guns fired salvo after salvo.

The sea between the two ships was being torn apart, colums of water, some a hundred feet high were thrown into the air as shells fell short or long.

The Kasuga suddenly rocked to one side, the whole ship shuddering as the first hit of the engagement was scored. A 10.8 inch shell from the stern turret of the MN Formidable slammed into the 5.9 inch thick belt on the Kasuga’s flank and detonated.


The shell weighing 575 lbs was filled with high explosives and savaged the cruisers armour, ripping a 8 foot by 9 foot hole in the Kasuga’s hide, starting a fire for good measure. Moments later the cruiser shook again as two further shells landed. The first a 5.5 inch hit one of the cruisers boats and reduced it to burning matchwood, the second an old solid shot armour piercing 6.4 inch shell hit the cruisers superstructure, ripping through iron, steel and men before coming to a stop, its monumentum exhausted.




Aboard the old French battleship the guncrew’s cheered at their success as three bright flashes on their targets indicated hits. Even the Captain, a dour taskmaster permitted himself a smile. He may be in command of one of the oldest ships in the fleet but the old wolf still had sharp teeth.


The smile faded as a detonation shook his 12000 tonne command, then another, and another. The first was from a 6 inch shell which burst clean on the massively thick 16 inch steel belt of the old ship. The blast and impact dented and scorched the hull but did little damage. But the other impacts were far more worrying. A six inch shell hit well forwards, detonating right on the curved arc of the ships huge ram bow. The explosion annihilated a 3 pound gun mounting and its 4 man crew, starting a fire amongst the waiting ammunition which immediately started to cook off, the small shells blasts causing little damage but helped feed a growing fire.

The last hit was the most serious. A 10 inch, high explosive round slammed into the base of the big French ship’s thick funnel. The blast tore the thin steel to shreds, clogging the uptake with debris as well as starting another fire. Thick black smoke billowed out of the side of the now ruined funnel and the ship started to slow as the engines were partially starved of air.


Further up the two lines of ships other hits were scored. The Hoche was hit by a 12 inch round which did not go off, it left nothing but a dent in her side like a wrecking ball had slammed into her side, the flagship Marceau was hit twice by 6 inch rounds which started fires and killed crew but the French were hitting back. A 13.4 inch shell from the Neptune had hit and destroyed a 6 inch gun on the Hatsuse starting a fire that the Japanese damage control teams were struggling to put out whilst holes in armour indicated other less damaging hits.


MN D’Estrees shoreward of the French line speed 16 knots.


Captain Domercq paced the bridge slightly, on the unengaged side of the towering bulk of the Magenta the small cruiser was of little use. Even the spotters in the mast could see little of the engagement although the little cruiser had been badly shaken by a 12 inch shell that had landed a mere 20 yards away, pelting the ship with fragments and showering her with tonnes of water.

On the bridge a young Leiutenant swore in supprise which drew a few chuckles or reprimanding glances from his older comrades.


“My god indeed Mr Amerak, remember to control yourself please.” Captain Domercq said, not needing to raise his voice. He was just as supprised as the rest of his bridge crew. No one told them the Japanese were this good.

“Any signal from the flagship? We can’t do a thing tethered here.”

“No Captain, nothing yet.”


The ship rattled and then there was an earsplitting BOOM as the Magenta was hit high up on her towering, ugly superstructure. The shellburst started a fire as the ships boats, those not blasted to splinters burst into flames.

Domercq watched the flames roaring out of the wound in the battleships structure before heading over to the voice tubes.


“Engineering, we’ll need full speed soon, can the engines take it?”

“Yes Sir, just give the word.” Came the muffled, tinny reply.


“Very well. Flags, signal the destroyers FOLLOW MY LEAD. SPEED 18 KNOTS.”


MN Infernet 400 meters astern of MN D’Estrees


“Captain Sir, signal from the D’Estrees, it reads FOLLOW MY LEAD, SPEED 18 KNOTS.”


The Captain, a old balding man whose command had patrolled the waters of this region since she had commissioned turned his glasses on the signal.

“Anything from the Flagship?”

“No Captain, the smoke’s obscuring her flags and we’ve received no radio messages.”


“Hmm…probably because the Japanese might be able to listen in. Very well. Acknowledge the signal and repeat it, signal our torpedo boats and the Chateaurenault as well, the Jeune École (3) theory is probably going to be put to the test..”


Astern of the small French cruiser the big four funnelled commerce raider the MN Chateaurenault also acknowledge the signal and started picking up speed. The Chateaurenault was a huge ship, weighing a massive 8200 tonnes but despite her weight she was nimble, a real greyhound capable of 23 knots and her engineering crew cared for their charges like a mother cared for a child.


Despite her size and speed, the big French ship was pathetically under gunned, armed with a pair of 6.4 inch guns and a measly six5.4 inch guns, three on each side.

As the trio of cruisers picked up speed their accompanying quartet of Torpedo boats accelerated too. In all the excitement, no one signalled the Marceau for confirmation, nor questioned the action of the cruiser and torpedo boats. Later this was put down to a mixture of smoke interference, confusion about the signals and a lack of attention due to the ‘excitement’ of being in an engagement as well as being under fire.






MN Formidable rear of the French line – Speed 14 knots and falling.


“Captain Sir, we’re unable to clear the wreckage in the funnel, the fire is too intense and we can’t even get close, I swear that the paint’s burning.” The Damage control officer was smoke streaked, his uniform damp, the former pristine white now smeared with grey and black.


“Understood Michelle, but do what you can, it’s imperative we keep up with the fleet.”

The younger officer saluted as the Formidable’s guns fired another broadside. It took just under 2 minutes to load, aim and fire the 10.8 inch rifles mounted fore and aft whilst the 5.5 and 6.4 inch weapons barked their challenges much more rapidly, the advantage of the light shells, whilst the huge 10.8’s were loaded by nothing but hand power and winches.


“A hit! She’s on fire Sir!”

“Very good guns, keep hitting her.”


IJN Kasuga Speed 18 knots.


The big cruiser was in a bad way. Hit by four 10.8 rounds as well as an even dozen 5.5 inch and 6.4 inch rounds the armoured cruiser had lost three 6 inch guns. Two had been destroyed by direct hits whilst the third had suffered a hit from a shell that had severed a chunk of the barrel. The four big shells had all been High Explosive rounds which had torn where they hit into new shapes as they blasted the hull plating into ruin.


“Captain, the flooding is under control and we’re fighting the fires but we’re taking quite a pounding.”

“The enemy is as damaged as we are Commander, we will hold our place in the line unless ordered to withdraw.” The cruisers captain barked at his second in command, a vicious grin spreading across his face as he saw three bright flashes on his target followed by a much larger flash and blast of smoke and debris amidships.


MN Formidable Bridge.


“What in gods name was that…” The Captain said, picking himself up off the deck. The old ship had rocked under a tremendous blast that seemed to knock the ship sideways and shake her like a terrier with a rat in its mouth.


“My god…Sir! You’ve got to see this!”

The signal Lieutenant called out, looking astern from his position on the bridge. Groggily the Captain walked over, and was presented with a horrific sight. Originally the Formidable had mounted three shielded barbettes, in her 1901 refit the amidships turret had been removed and replaced with a box battery that was the home for six new 6.4 inch guns, now all he could see of this boxy structure was a mass of flames and billowing smoke.


A 10 inch shell from the Kasuga had hit clean on one of the guns as it was being reloaded. The blast destroyed the gun and its eight man crew but more importantly it had detonated the shell and propellant and that of the shells waiting nearby. The blast ripped through the thin bulkheads in the battery, setting off more ready to use ammunition that had been sent up to the guns. The end result was a charnel house of torn steel, fire and obliterated bodies.

All three guns on the port side had been destroyed, the explosion thankfully had not spread into the magazine, but the amidships was now a mass of flames and smoke. Even the mast seemed slightly askew.


“Sir! The blast disabled our radio we can’t…”

The forward gun turret fired, the blast made the Captains ear’s ring, he staggered back inside the conning tower.

“Take the men from the starboard battery, put them with the damage control teams, I don’t care if you have to use bucket chains, get that fire out!”


“Yes Captain!”

“Signal the flagship UNABLE TO MAKE MORE THAN 14 KNOTS.”

“Aye Sir!”





1) Here you see the Kasuga after a gunnery shoot, you can see her single 10 inch gun forwards and her widely spaced funnels and single mast, this symmetry of design was favoured by the Italians who both designed and built the big cruiser, originally laid down for Argentina.


2) This is the armour scheme of the Admiral Baudin class of which the Formidable is a member. Although protected by a full length and full thickness waterline belt the armour scheme didn't protect the big ships upper hull making her very vulnerable to high explosive shells that would hit outside the armoured area.


3) The Jeune Ecole or 'Young School' was a school of thought that dominated French Naval planning for many years. Instead of building large and expensive battleships it emphasised the use of cruiser for raiding a hostile nations commerce and massed swarms of small torpedo carrying torpedo boats to sink any hostile warships attempting to blockade France as well as engaging ships on the high seas. This lead to the French developing the worlds first effective submarine arm as well as viewing the torpedo as a war winning weapon.


4) Here you see the cruiser Chateaurenauilt and her size is immediately obvious as is her handsome profile. Designed as a commerce raider the cruiser was poorly armoured but exceptionally fast, capable of running down any vessel afloat apart from torpedo boats. This picture was taken during one of her cruises in the Meditteranian.


5) Drawn after the war you see here the Formidable on fire and under fire. The image is deceptive as the ships on the right are meant to be Japanese and at this stage of the engagement were not that close.

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MN Marceau Bridge.


Those that could look aft had their eyes on the Formidable, it was clear the old ship was in trouble and the flags that flew on her mast indicated her distress. Admiral Maras was basically running, heading south as fast as his squadron could to try and meet the 1st Squadron that was heading north to meet him. Any drop in speed would delay that rendezvous and expose his old ships to a longer fight, alone.

He could not abandon the Formidable true she was the last ship in his line but she had 650 men aboard her and they could not be sacrificed.


“Damn….Flags, signal the fleet REDUCE SPEED 14 KNOTS. And have we had any word from the 1st Squadron?”

“Not since their last message sir, they are a hundred miles away.”


Maras closed his eyes, doing a quick calculation. If the 1st Squadron could sustain 16 knots and his fleet could sustain 14 knots that still meant it would take nearly three hours for them to meet. Three hours to either survive or drive off the Japanese. As he thought the Marceau rocked slightly as a 6 inch round struck her.


With a sigh he quickly wrote down a message for the radio operator to send.


MN Jaureguiberry Flagship of the 1st Squadron and French Far Eastern Fleet.


“Admiral Sir, a message from the Marceau for you.”


It was quiet on the bridge of the Jaureguiberry. All that could be heard was the low murmur of officers giving orders and the bass thrum of the ships engines and the noise of the forced draught blowers. The whole squadron was managing to do a steady 17 knots, whilst the cruisers, destroyers and Torpedo boats was ahead, surging along at a constant 21 knots. The strain on the engines was great but this was of little matter to Vice Admiral Henri Gilbert. He took the message in his white gloved hand and read it.


‘Am heavily engaged, damaged reduced speed to 14 knots, MN Formidable badly damaged, other ships have sustained damage. Japanese ships hit but not severely. Aid is required. Maras.’

Letting out a soft sigh, Henri considered the 2nd Squadron’s situation. The old war wagons that made up the group were not meant to take on front line, new warships. The deployment of the old ships was meant to have been a show of strength, to bolster French power in the Far East despite grave misgivings about their chances in combat.

Tapping his chin with his thumb, the Admiral nodded for his Signals officer.


“Signal the 2nd Squadron, tell them ‘We are on our way, hold your course and speed.’ And signal Commodore Elras on the Bruix , tell them to go to flank speed, tear their engines apart if needed but they must get to the 2nd Squadron as fast as they can.”



1) The run to the north, a view of the Flagship of the First Squadron the Jauréguiberry making 18 knots as the squadron moved to aid the embattled 2nd squadron.


MN D’Estrees Bridge, speed 18 knots, moving ahead of the French line.


“Sir! The Infernet and Chateaurenault are following us out, with their torpedo boats.”

Captain Domercq chuckled, come hell or high water if he survived this he’d either get court martialled or a medal.

“Excellent, that will make this easier, signal them, the torpedo boats and the flagship. “AM PREPARING TO MAKE TORPEDO RUN ON JAPANESE LINE.”



(2) A weather beaten MN D’Estrees in a more peaceful time. Note the large casemates on the side of the hull just below the funnels, these housed the main guns of the ships whilst the lighter 5.5 inch guns were mounted on shield mounts fore and aft.


The Franco-Japanese War – The ‘Young School’


For many years the Jeune École or ‘Young School’ doctrine had dominated French Naval policy. Realising that they could not outbuild the British they would use the newly designed torpedo on small boats to sink the larger and more expensive battleships of the British Fleet. In modern times the Battleship was back in Vogue but many Officers in command of small ships had been trained to believe the value of the torpedo and torpedo boat and had trained vigorously in their use. Now, it seemed all those years of training and theory was clearly going to be put to the test.


Older Torpedo Boats were not given names, just cold, uncaring numbers. Some young officers had joked that it was easier to string three numbers together than think of dozens of names for the small boats, others glumly thought that it was easier to explain the sinking of Boat number 139 to the press than the loss of the MN Glory.


None of those old boats were here, these small ships were on the more modern and named Torpedo Boats of the French fleet. It really didn’t matter if their ships had a name or not, the men who manned them were consummate professionals, all of who had been trained to believe in the strength of the torpedo and the torpedo boat, now was their time to put years of theory and training into practice.



3) A dramatacised picture produced post war of one of the French Torpedo Boats charging towards the Japanese fleet.


Torpedo Boat Audacieux Speed 21 knots and climbing – 18000 yards from Japanese fleet.


Lieutenant Piccard steadied himself on the rail round the front of the open bridge as the Audacieux bucked through the waves, her teak deck shaking slightly as her engines worked her to her full speed of 26 knots. A mere 113 tons in weight, armed with a trio of 15 inch torpedo tubes and two 47mm quick firing guns as well as a few machine guns the fleet had ‘borrowed’ from the Army depot before sailing the Torpedo boat was an idea ship in the Jeune Ecole’s eyes. Not the lumbering expensive battleships, but fast, small and deadly torpedo carrying craft, with a deadly sting.


Piccard pulled his binoculars up, steadying himself, use to the rolling motion of his command when she was at speed. Ahead he could see the dark hulls of the Japanese warships, their funnels billowing dark smoke whilst lighter grey smoke obscured their sides. Lowering the glasses and looking either side and astern he could see the rest of the Torpedo Boat flotilla and the three cruisers, the sisters D’Estrees and Infernet and the towering Chateaurenault trying to keep up but loosing ground as the small Torpedo Boats surged ahead.


A grin spread across his face as he realised the Japanese destroyers, placed astern of the battleships and armoured cruisers were badly out of position, giving them a free run at the battle line, well..as ‘free’ as running a gauntlet of guns ranging from 12 inches down to 57mm would be. Already he could see the casemate mounted secondary guns swinging towards the charging ships and his own command. One of those 6 inch rounds would annihilate the valiant Audacieux. Piccard gulped down his fear returning to the business of fighting the ship.


As the first guns were fired in their direction the small French ships started to weave and jink, their helmsman throwing the wheel in the direction of the officers on the small platform that was the ships bridge. The torpedo boats spread out slightly, sticking in their four ship squadrons, but giving each other enough room to manoeuvre.


The so called ‘prophets’ of the Jeune École, those who had helped build and train the small ships and had changed French naval policy for the better part of a decade would have been terrified if they knew what their ships and crew were up to now. The Torpedo boat was a dagger, not an axe, and a dagger was best used in the dark, where it could not be spotted. Here in broad daylight, taking part in a naval version of the Charge of the Light Brigade the old Admirals would either be crying or accusing the Officer who ordered the attack of heresy and calling for him to be shot.


Ahead of the charging French ships a column of water was blasted into the air, then another, and another, the shots wild but rapid.


“Heavy work eh Number One?”

“Yes Sir! Not quite like the training eh?”

“Well yo….” BOOOOOOOOM!


Piccard and the young midshipman on the bridge turned to the source of the sound. Boat 079 was gone, the shattered remnant of her bow, rapidly filling as it pointed vertically in the air and a cloud of smoke was all that marked the passing of the ship and her 80 crew.


MN Chateaurenault - Bridge


“My god…guns, open rapid fire, if we can at least distract the Japanese gunners we’ll keep the torpedo boats alive a bit longer.” Captain Vaujean barked, as his crew hurried to obey. Seconds later the bow and port gun barked their challenges and kept throwing rounds at the Japanese fleet. The big cruisers Captain had a reputation for boldness and dash which made him a perfect choice for the fast cruiser who’s main role would be to hunt down merchant ships in a time of war. His thin, immaculately waxed moustache sat atop lips that were almost pouting.


“Signal the D’Estrees and Infernet; OPEN FIRE MAIN GUNS. PROVIDE COVER F..” the signal was not needed as the two smaller but oddly, better armed cruisers opened fire as well, flinging shells at the Japanese fleet like it was going out of fashion.


Grumbling under his breath, Captain Vaujean nodded as he received a report that his ship was at flank speed, 23 knots. Damn good for her age. The forced draught blowers were screaming, the heat in the boiler rooms was over a hundred degrees but still the men were pouring coal into the hungry boilers.


“Sir! Masthead reports enemy is turning out to sea!”

“What!?” Bringing his telescope, an antique of excellent quality up to his eye the irate Frenchman could see the Japanese were turning, opening the distance between them and the onrushing small ships. But this also brought their broadsides to bear and Vaujean had to suppress a shudder as he saw the guns on the lead ship point what seemed right at him.


“Hah! It’s working! The enemy are opening the range, turning away from the battleships! Signal the Marceau tell them what’s going on and tell them we will keep up the attack.”

The radio officer’s reply was drowned out by the sharp crack of the fore 6.4 inch gun and the exultant cry of “Hit!”



The Franco-Japanese War – Fort Bayard


Fort Bayard, a major French port, formerly a part of China until the end of the Opium wars and the defeat of the Boxer Rebellion saw the port city allocated to France. Decades later the port city would be called Zhanjiang but now its name held. A major coaling point along the Chinese coast and too close to the Japanese lines of communication and advance to be ignored the decision was taken to take the port and city by force. The first step was a blockade. The Battleships Mikasa and Ashahi supported by some of the older units of the Japanese fleet, most of which were veterans or prizes from the Sino-Japanese war less than 10 years ago would bombard any defences and ensure that no French warships contested the landing or movement of any troops. The two ultra modern battleships were there as insurance, if a French warship was in the port, it would be destroyed, if not , the old ships could maintain the blockade whilst the two new ships sailed to meet the fleet and take their rightful positions in the line.


Kwangchow Bay formed the centerpeice of the French colony. The huge natural harbour was home to two French shipping companies as well as the distribution center for coal mined from the surrounding region. As such, it was well defended. The 1st Tonkinese Rifles Regiment, 3000 strong in their distinctive dark blue ‘pyjamas’ and rounded hats as well as Two full Regiments of French Troops, one of which had recently arrived in the region formed the main fighting strength on the ground. Supporting the infantry was 36 of the brand new 75mm guns, one of the best artillery pieces in the world.


Coastal defence was covered by old guns from equally old ships re-purposed for use from land. Six of the old 14.6 inch guns from the Formidable and Amiral Baudin had been removed prior to their refits. Now mounted behind earth and stone bulwarks the guns had a commanding view of the port. They were supported by six 5.5 inch guns spread out in two batteries of three guns each. But the Fort didn’t just rely on its guns or infantry. An underhanded, downright ungentlemanly weapon was also deployed to the Far East. The Submarine.





MN Castor speed 4 knots. 10 meters beneath the surface.


The tiny submarine was crawling along at near full speed. The low hum of her electric motor competed with the murmur of the crew in their tiny steel bubble of air. The humidiy inside the small vessel was nigh unbearable. The cooling fans working overtime to circulate air. The 13 man crew on the submarine were also students of the Young School. The Submarine being seen as a cheap and effective counter to battleships and other ships.


Commander Masden peered through the eyepiece for the ships periscope and could see the surface world. The sun was bright in the sky and it was almost cloudless. But this scene was fouled by smoke trails, from both ship funnels and the burning buildings in Fort Boyard. A group of Japanese warships had appeared two hours ago and had started bombarding the port. The Castor part of a four boat squadron was the only one able to get to sea and had been inching towards the Japanese ships that were almost leisurely flinging shells at the town and its defences.


Two merchant ships were burning and sinking in the harbour, hit by shells meant to destroy warships they had literally come apart at the seams. The coastal defences were firing back, but with little success. The big guns had yet to hit anything whilst the small 75mm guns that had been so touted in the press had done little but scorch the paint it seemed. So it was up to the tiny 70 ton submarine to do something meaningful.

Crawling forwards, her periscope just peeking out of the water the submarine inched her way towards a hostile ship. An old looking, high sided brute that was belching shells at the costal batteries and was lumbering towards the Castor.


IJN Chen En Speed 10 knots. – Bridge.


The old Ironclad shook as her port turret roared, two 10 inch shells soaring off to the gun batteries that were blazing away somewhat impotently at them.

“It’s like trying to hit a sparrow with a boulder..” The Captain muttered, watching as two plumes of dirt were thrown skyward from the impact of the shells, both well short of their targets. His old command, captured from the Chinese in 1894 was due to be retired and should have been plodding round the waters of the home island, but the call had gone out for every ship to be able to fight, so here the old war prize was. Whilst the main fleet was far to the west engaged with the foe, the dregs of the fleet were here, securing the port. Already the Mikasa and Ashahi had departed, their engines powering them through the seas when it was found that there was no warships in the port.



“Another hit sir, one of those light guns, small but rapid fire, the damage control team is already checking it.”


The old Commadore nodded, he dearly wished he was aboard one of the Battleships, but orders and His Emperor wished him here, so here he was.

“Signal the Itsukushima order her to support us, she’s got quicker firing guns than we have.”

“Aye Sir.”


The bridge shook as the Chen En’s starboard turret fired. The blast and concussion rattling the armoured conning tower, making everyone’s ears ring. Most of the ships officers despised their command. She was old, slow, uncomfortable in anything but a flat calm and her turret layout meant that every time she fired, she risked damaging herself and her crew. No the old prize was not a happy ship. The sooner she was scrapped the better some officers had grumbled in letters to loved ones.





MN Castor


“Be ready to fire on my order…she’s coming right at us.”

The low bass thrum of the warships engines seemed to make the very air vibrate. Condensation dripped like rain from pipes along the sides of the hull. The stattaco roars of the ships guns seemed to make the tiny Castor convulse as the shells roared almost directly overhead.


“Target is 500 yards away….FIRE!”


An electric switch was thrown. Outside the hull the two 17.7 inch torpedos sprung to life, their small screws spinning, propelling the weapons out of their rack like mounts. Both weapons had been checked in the frantic preparations prior to leaving the port as shells rained down around the small 13 man crew of the modern submarine. Both weapons tore from their housing at 20 knots. At this range as long as both weapons ran true, there was no hope for the lumbering Japanese warship. A few tons lighter the submarine suddenly lurched up, the top of her bow broaching the water as the crew fought to control their command.


IJN Chin En – Bridge.


The old commodore saw the black shape surge from the water and then sink back down again. He looked and looked again, but it was gone, leaving only bubbles and disturbed water. Another officer saw it.

“What on earth was that..”


“I don’t know..a porpoise perhaps, or a small whale scared by the gunfire?”

“Perhaps Sir, what ever it is, its gone now.”


The commodore nodded as the ship fired once more, the blast causing him to swear under his breath. Just as his ears stopped ringing the 7000 ton battleship seemed to jump into the air, rocking madly, listing immediately. The Helsman screamed as he fell, his arm caught in the old style wooden wheel as he was thrown from his feet, his shoulder dislocating. The Commadore stood up, wiping some blood from a cut on his head where he had fallen.


“Abandon ship! Get the men out!” He cried out as the air was filled with the sound of claxons and bells sounding. The old ships hull had been torn open by the impact of one torpedo. The other had hit but not gone off. But the blast of one of the weapons was enough to doom the battleship. Compartments flooded, filling with water, drowning those not fast or lucky enough to escape. As hundreds of tons of water poured into the ship she lurched. Watertight subdivision was something for the future, and the old ship was not built to take such a hit. Closed hatches slowed the water but didn’t stop it as the Chin En lurched again, heeling further over. On the surface the old cruiser Itsukushima was coming to the ships aid as the crew spilled out of the ships hatches on her decks.


On the bridge the Old Commadore helped the injured helmsman to his feet, guiding him to the hatch and freedom from the armoured tube. The ships captain had been aft when she had been hit, no one had seen him since. The hatch slammed shut and was closed. The Commadore remained on the bridge of his ship, he realised he was not alone, a young Midshipman, his aide was there as well, the young Officer had been a runner and messenger and now looked as scared as the Commadore felt.


“Karaza, you should go. There is still time my boy.”

The young man, pale faced and wide eyed stood smartly to attention before shaking his head.

“With regret Sir, I must disobey you, my place is at your side..”


The old man smiled before saluting back. “Well then, we will go to our honoured Ancestors together then.” He knew he could have ordered the man to leave but he was honoured by the youth’s loyalty. He was still smiling when the ship bucked as her buoyancy failed and she rolled onto her side, he didn’t feel the cold water flowing in through the narrow vision slit, the fall against the side had knocked him out.

Onlookers were horrified as the old ship suddenly rolled over, the gleaming red underside of the Chin En exposed to the sun before she vanished for ever in a rush of bubbles, steam and debris. The old ship had just entered history as the first ship ever to be torpedoed and sunk by a submarine.




1) The Castor and two of her sisters tied up in a French port before their long trip to the far east in they were carried by the unique Depot Ship Foudre which had been specially altered for the task to carry the submarines extra weight instead of the Torpedo Boats she normally carried.


2) The Chin En prior to heading for Fort Bayard. The large black area on her upper hull is cordite and smoke ‘damage’ from a recent gunnery practice shoot.


3) The crew of the Castor take time to pose for the camera. This picture and the story of the sinking of the ‘Mighty Chin En’ was told throughout France and across the world, Naval officers sat up and took notice of the ‘underhanded’ submarine. In England Admiral Fisher chuckled when he heard the news and spent many a long night at the Admiralty, the wheels of his mind turning.

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MN Chateaurenault - Bridge


The big cruiser shook as she fired every gun that could bare, accuracy was all but forgotten as the vibrations from the ships hammering machinery shook the gunlayers optics almost to bits. Every ship in the Japanese line was firing on the charging French warships. One torpedo boat had already been sunk and the Chateaurenault herself had taken three 6 inch hits and had been drenched in tons of water from near misses and her hull scarred by flying splinters.

“Gun’s direct the main battery to target the cruiser at the stern of the formation, she looks damaged, secondary guns are to engage targets of opportunity.” Captain Vaujean barked out orders, raising his voice to be heard over the constant boom of heavy gunfire and the rapid cracks of lighter cannons firing as fast as they could.


Through one of the shattered windows on the bridge the cruiser’s Captain could see the Torpedo boats surging forwards through a forest of water sprouts of every size. The three French cruisers were doing everything in their power to distract and harm the Japanese warships and for their part it was working, but the damage they had suffered was building. The Infernet was aflame amidships, one of her funnels was simply gone, but her guns still fired as the water around her boiled with shot.


“Helm bring us to 074! We’re going to support the Torpedo boats.”


MN Audacieux Speed 27 knots.


Leutenant Piccard ducked as another shell roared overhead, exploding in the wake of the frantically swerving Torpedo boat, making her lurch forwards like she had been kicked in the [edited]. The small ship was firing back with her rapid firing 47mm guns and the rat-a-tat-tat of the two ‘borrowed’ machine guns could be heard, a softer note compared to the boom of heavy naval artillery.


“Six thousand yards to target!” A young man at the rangefinder called out. Still too far to launch torpedoes, they had to get to within at least four thousand yards to stand a chance. The volume of gunfire was forcing the Torpedo boats down the Japanese line away from the flagship towards the middle of the line. The small ship rocked and there was a loud CRACK as a 2lb shot punched through the hull leaving a small hole, but struck nothing important.


“Signal the squadron, launch at three thousand yards. Engage closest target!”

“Sir! The Infernet has been badly hit!”


Posted Image


Leutenant Piccard turned to look at the last position of the cruiser, bringing his binoculars up to his eyes. He could not help but gasp. The little cruiser, originally designed to hunt down merchant ships in time of war was aflame. Thick black smoke was pouring out of rents in her hull. One funnel had been smashed by a heavy hit and was laying drooped over her deck like a felled tree, the smoke and flames from the boilers still coming out the hole in the deck. The cruiser was still firing every gun she had but the flaming cruiser was clearly becoming a target as Japanese gunners sensed a kill.


“Five thousand yards to target!”

“At last…prepare to fire!”


IJN Fuji Fore turret.


The whole turret rotated forwards as the breeches of the two 12 inch naval rifles swung open. The two shells, each weighing 850 lbs were already on the loading trays. They were rammed home into the breaches of the guns, promptly followed by the cordite propellant, each weighing 174lbs before the ramps disengaged and the breaches were sealed. This complete the whole turret weighing 187 tons swung slowly back to its target, the burning French cruiser that was getting uncomfortably close. This whole process took three minutes before the gun’s roared and the whole process begun once again.


The two shells tore out of the barrels at the speed of 716 meters per second but the range was so short that it didn’t matter. The first shell slammed into the sea 40 meters short of the Infernet, the plume of water it threw up helping to quench a fire started by a more accurate shell. The second was much more effective.




The shell slammed into the unprotected hull just below the forward starboard 6.4 inch gun, tearing through iron and steel before hitting something solid enough to set it off. This being the thin armoured tube that brought shells up from the magazine located deep in the bowels of the ship. The fuse set off the shell containing 85 lbs of high explosives which obliterated the shell. The blast tore a huge hole in the side of the French cruiser flank, ripping deep into the hull, Flames and fragments tore down the ammo tube as a bag of propellant was coming up. The result was catastrophic.


The propellant charge detonated, setting off the one that followed it and the next. To obervers on the Japanese battleship it looked like a large explosion was followed by a series of smaller ones, like fire crackers going off. That was until the blast hit the magazine.


25 tonnes of propellant and shells ignited, burned and detonated within the space of a few seconds. The explosion ripped through bulkheads, boilers and men, ripping the side of the ship open. The water poured into the sundered hull, flooding ruined compartments, drowning men where they stood, those that had survived the blast that is. Every compartment of the ship was compromised by the blast that tore the guts out of the Infernet and this just helped the water pour into the doomed cruiser.


Posted Image



Unbalanced by the tonnes of water flooding into her hull the Infernet started to roll to starboard, her crew that could escape spilling out of hatches and doors in their rush to get off their sinking ruined vessel. The hull visibaly buckled and bent as the ship rolled over before disappearing beneath the sea in a cloud of steam, smoke and bubbles, leaving only debris and a few dozen men desperately clinging to debris. She had sunk in less than a minute, not enough time for the crew to get off.


MN Marceau – Bridge – speed 12 knots.


Admiral Maras and everyone on the bridge lowered their heads for a moment in respect for the crew of the lost cruiser. The moment passed and was shattered by the blast of the battleships three 13.4 inch guns firing a full broadside.

“Sir..enemy formation now belived to be ten thousand yards away. The torpedo attack has opened the range between us.” The gunnery officer said, his voice quiet, as if consoling the Admiral that the loss of the cruiser was not in vain. Maras nodded curtly, bringing his binoculars up again, watching the chaotic melee that was the torpedo boat attack.

“Their sacrifice has brought us time…time we had best use.”


1) A 6.4 inch gun on the Chataurenault firing. You will note the open gunshield, common on warships of this era and they were horribly vulnerable to splinter damage with the gun crews suffering terrible casualties as a result.


2) The fore guns of the Fiji firing over the bow at the attacking French torpedo boats and cruisers, it's unknown if this was the shot that killed the Infernet. One thing to note is the volume of smoke produced by the gunfire, this was a major problem for both sides as excessive volumes of smoke would and indeed did obscure targets.


3) The pyre of the Infernet, three survivors were found clinging to wreckage after the battle, one died of his injuries and shock.



The Great North Run


MN Pothuau - speed 12 knots.


The Pothuaualong with her bigger, older sister the Dupuy Lome and consort cruisers Bruix, Chanzy, Latouche-Trevelle and Guichen were cutting through the waves in a somewhat ragged line astern spread over five miles, as the cruiser element of the First Squadron strove to lend aid to the embattled Second Squadron.


The cruisers were a mixbag of designs, mostly from the Junne Ecole era that had dominated French naval planning for many years, originally built as commerce raiders, not like later armoured cruisers which in reality were mini-battleships. The Bruix, Chanzy and Treville were sisters, all armed with two 7.6 inch guns and six 5.4 inch guns, three per side. The Pothuau was a one off design, a follow on to the famous Dupy Lome, armed with two 7.6 inch guns and ten 5.5 inch weapon whilst the Dupuy Lome had two 7.6 inch guns and six 6.4 inch weapons, making the oldest ship ironically the most well armed.




Although her crew were proud of the ship, all would willingly agree the Pothuau was an ugly looking ship. Designed with her big 7.6 inch gun turret far forwards, just behind her viciously curved ram bow the ship had a 'fierce face' a look that was apparently meant to inspire fear in her opponents.


Unfortunately the Pothuau's look tended to inspire ridicule with her long beaked ram bow and curved sides she was a very ugly warship and she was being worked hard.

The order to increase speed to flank speed to intercept the First Squadron was greeted with trepidation on board the Pothuau. Officers looked at each other with arched eyebrows, the ratings exchanged meaningful glances. But the responsibility was with the captain of the ship, after a moments consideration he gave the order " Increase speed, revolutions for twenty knots."


The engine telegraphs rang down below. The necessary orders were given and the engines increased revolutions. The additional power was felt up on deck.

Vibration increased markedly. "Captain sir," called a rating at the voice pipes, "Senior Engineer on the voice phone."


Down below the problem was not so much with the boilers. The boilers were both inefficient and unreliable, but there were enough of them so that the 50% of steam generating capacity required for 20 knots could easily be met by those boilers that worked effectively at any one time.




The problem was not with the condensers, all though the condensers aboard the Pothuau were as or more unreliable as any other condenser in any steam ship in the world.

The problem was with the two huge vertical compound engines.


Triple expansion or the earlier compound engines were finicky beasts under any conditions. They were mostly poorly balanced and caused a lot of vibration. The rotating parts were exposed and needed constant lubrication by attentive engine room hands. The tremendous forces generated by the three cylinders, the primitive state of lubrication and the low tolerances originally built into the engines meant that considerable play was developed in mechanisms and controlling rods of each engine whenever it was operated.


The resulting play meant that at regular intervals the engines had to be stopped and the play in the mechanisms adjusted. The engines were heavily worn, and had required stopping every few hours for adjustment on most long cruises.

They had found by long experiment that at a fleet speed of twelve knots, the Pothuau could alternately stop and adjust each engine or make serious repairs. The ship carried a complete machining workshop, new small parts could be machined as required, although this took time. With the current maximum power on the other engine it was enough to maintain 12 knots running with a single shaft.


The engine room crews had been frantically working to bring the port engine back to operating condition, the starboard engine had been running two hours. But with the telegraph insisting on 18 knots, both engines had to be brought on line. Vibration was excessive from both engines, but the starboard engine was definitely the worst of the pair. The chief engineer made for the voice pipe to the bridge.

The captain bent down into the voice pipe and announced "captain here".


"Sir," announced the chief engineer. " I can guarantee this speed for one hour, but it is my estimation that the starboard engine will fail after another hours running."

The captain sighed - the Admiral aboard Jaureguiberry knew the situation as well as he did. There was little point complaining. The captain bent again to the voice pipe. 'Carry on Simone, do your best. It is essential that we make contact with the First Squadron."


MN Pothuau - A hour and twenty one minutes later


The most experienced and proficient men of the engineering crew were clustered around the starboard vertical compound engine. Its vibration had reached a new level of intensity, startling even the men most experienced with the abysmal performance of these old engines. Heads were being scratched. All were in general agreement that unless the starboard engine could be stopped and the shaft bearing of the high-pressure cylinder adjusted, the engine would soon fail catastrophically. The chief engineer was only just resolving to call the captain when all hell broke loose in the port engine room, on the other side of the amidships bulkhead.


In the port engine room the bearing between the piston and the shaft of the LP (low pressure) cylinder was so loose that it was quickly being hammered out of shape by the impact of the shaft with each rotation. By some accident of harmonics, this damaging action was producing remarkably little vibration, and was unattended. But the critical point was now reached, the union between the moving parts was now so loose that on the next rotation it jammed entirely, sealing the LP cylinder in place, locking the shaft and allowing the HP (high pressure) cylinder to wrench the entire drive shaft in two with a scream of sundered metal.


The controlling mechanisms were so disordered by this dislocation that the steam vales at the head of the LP cylinder were forced open and closed at the same time, warping them. To add the coup de grass, the locking of the drive shaft placed it in tension with the bulk of the shaft to the screw. The gigantic momentum of the propeller shaft won the struggle and the drive shaft of the port engine was hopelessly wrenched in two for a second time in as many seconds. The port engine was completely wrecked.


The captain, feeling the immediate loss of thrust beneath his feet was making for the engine room voice pipe just as the chief engineer, after a brief and horrified look at the remains of his port engine had come to the voice tube to report.

“Engine room to Bridge.”

The captain answered, “Please report.”

“Sir, the port engine has failed catastrophically.” A pause, “it will never turn again,” answered the chief engineer.


1) Here we see the Poruthau in dire need of a lick of paint after her journey from Brest to the far east. This image shows of her rather distinctive profile and her snout like ram bow.


2) Although not onboard the Poruthau this drawing shows the interior of a warships boiler room although probably drawn after an inspection or at low speed. The real thing was far worse especially for crews in the far east where the heat in the boiler rooms did kill the hard working stokers through heat exhaustion, especially when running at full speed.

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The Franco-Japanese War Disaster and loss.


MN Audacieu Speed 28 knots.


“Three thousand yards sir!”

“Fire the Torpedos! Full spread!”


The Torpedo Officers were highly trained professionals, they aimed at their targets, adjusting as best they could for speed, angle, range and course before depressing the firing trigger. The three Torpedo’s were shot out of their mountings by a blast of compressed air, all three hit the water and accelerated away from the Torpedo boat which was now frantically turning away. The surviving torpedo boats and those that could also fired their weapons, the eight ships that fired putting 19 of the underwater weapons into the sea, speeding towards their targets.


Of the nineteen weapons speeding towards the Japanese fleet, three would suffer trim problems, sinking into the ocean or breaking up when they broached the surface, one’s engine failed on launch and the weapon sunk like a stone. Two turned in wild circles, their gyro’s knocked out of balance by the shock of near misses or the impact with the sea.


The remainder continued on their course, speeding towards the turning Japanese line which had seen the weapons launched and was taking evasive action, putting their helms hard over, presenting their sterns to the torpedos. If they were far enough away they could simply outrun the torpedo by managing to stay ahead of the weapons until they ran out of fuel and sank

Of the thirteen torpedoes charging through the water, only three would find targets. But three was enough.


MN Audacieu Speed 28 knots – Bridge.


All the crew cheered widly as three clearly seen plumes of water lept into the air on the Japanese ships.

“Superb work! Now lets get the hell out of here!”




Three Torpedoes, 17.5 inches in diameter slammed into their targets. The hulking battleship Fuji absorbing two hits, and the damaged armoured Cruiser Kasuga took the third. The cruiser was unlucky, she managed to dodge two torpedoes but turned into the third whilst the third struck her just aft of the forward 10 inch turret.


It was a cruel blow, ripping open the hull and immediately starting to flood the forward boiler room. The Boiler room was divided in two as was the most modern practice on new ships, by a solid watertight bulkhead. This trapped the water on one side of the ship, making her start to list.


The whipping effect of the blast tore steam lines and fittings loose throught the cramped and crowded boiler rooms. The aft boiler room, although not flooded immediately became a hazardous place to work in due to jets of escaping, high pressure steam. The loss of engine power slowed the ship and she turned out of the line to save being run down by her sistership. As the ship heeled over, the holes in the hull started admitting more water into the big armoured cruiser, increasing her flooding beyond the capabilities of her damage control parties to contain. Her turrets fell silent as they lost power as the ship slowly coasted to a halt.


The Fuji was more lucky. The first torpedo struck just 20 feet from her bow, blowing a hole in the hull, flooding compartments and causing considerable damage to the foreward part of the ship, even knocking the forward 12 inch turret out of alighment as it turned to reload, jamming it in place. The second torpedo, running shallow slammed into the thick 18 inch belt on the battleship’s waterline. Although the explosion was considerable, the armour absorbed the hit like it had taken a round from a shell. Although there was shock damage it was not considerable and the damage was negligible. Damage control teams raced forwards to control the flooding as the ship slowed, her forward bulkheads straining under the weight of the water.


The damaged battleship’s bow dropped lower into the water as she flooded but the reduction in speed helped ease the strain. Further astern the situation on the Kasuga was going from bad to worse. Water was pouring through ventaltion pipes, taking the path of least resistance and flooding other sections on the damaged cruisers side. Water cascaded down from the roof in magazines, the empty canteen and other sections. Unchecked, unstopped the flooding continued unabated.


IJN Kasuga – Bridge


“Sir, the flooding is beyond our ability to control. We’re buying time, but nothing more. I suggest you order abandon ship she could go down any time..” The most senior surviving damage control officer reported to the ashen faced Captain of the brand new cruiser.


The low groan of straining metal could be heard over the conversation as bulkheads strained against the inflow of water, the low rumbling sound was accompanied by the cries and yells of orders as crew ran too and fro trying to keep the ship afloat and bring the injured to the deck in case the worst happened.


“Sir..we have a few boats still intact, we’re patching those that we can, the Atisuki is standing by. With your permission we can get the injured off.”

The Captain remained silent, nodding slightly. His permission given the bridge became filled with the hubbub of orders being given as the battle changed from saving the ship. To saving lives.


IJN Fuji


The flooding on the Fuji was not as bad, she could still fire her guns but she was well below fleet speed and was hauling out of the formation her bow dipping into the sea. Quick and efficient damage control managed to stop the flooding reducing the intake of water to a trickle containing it to the bow section, not affecting more of the big warship, yet. But now she faced a long and slow trip home. The damaged Takasago joined the listing Battleship as well as four destroyers, but the rest of the small ships now, belatedly began their persuit of the fleeing French Torpedo Boats, thick black smoke pouring from their funnels as they worked up to full speed.


MN Chateaurenault - Bridge


All eyes were on the ships that had been Torpedoed. It was immediately obvious that the cruiser was in serious trouble, whilst a battleship was dropping out of the line.

“I think that’s enough for one day….” Captain Vaujean muttered softly, lowering his telescope then bringing it up again. “Enemy Destroyers are coming through the gaps in the Japanese line. Guns! Target the destroyers, Helm bring us back towards the fleet, flank speed. It’s getting somewhat hazardous after all..” That little comment drew some laughs from the nervous bridge crew.

As the ship heeled sharply, guns tracking their new targets the big Cruiser shook as a trio of shells ripped through her sides. Two six inch rounds and an eight inch shell ripped the hill plating into new shapes, the blast starting fires deep within the hull of the big but poorly protected French cruiser.


The next shell that hit did far more damage. A big twelve inch round from the Hatsuse made an unearthly roar as it thundered through the air. The round clipped the top of the first funnel, punching through the thin steel, not diverting its course enough to matter. But it was enough to jolt the fuse of the shell and half a second later the 85lbs of Shimose explosives turned the 850lb shell into a blizzard of flame and screaming metal. Right behind the bridge of the Chateaurenault.


Captain Vaujean died with a smile on his face, he felt nothing, nor even knew of the blast that took his life, demolishing the thinly armoured conning tower like a wrecking ball hitting a shed. Bereft of a guiding hand the big cruiser began steering erratically, becoming the target for more Japanese gunners.


Posted Image



(1) An image of a torpedo being launched during a practice or exercise. The early torpedo's were quite unreliable weapons, even a heavy impact on launch could throw their giro off, leading to the torpedo going anywhere but where it was meant to go.


(2) MN Chateaurenault under fire, this picture was taken from one of the Japanese destroyers.(This is actually a US Destroyer from WW2 being shelled by Japanese cruisers, its VERY hard to find pictures of four funneled ships under fire.)


The Franco-Japanese War. Even Titan’s fall.


IJN Kasuga – speed 0 knots.


The big cruiser was still hanging on, her bulkheads were groaning under the weight of water pressing against them as the Takasago and three destroyers stood by the clearly doomed cruiser, taking off as many men as they could. The evacuation was proceeding in an orderly fashion, until there was a BANG from within the hull as a bulkhead gave out under the strain placed on it. Now unimpeded, water poured into the cruiser. Shuddering violently the seven thousand ton cruiser started to roll. Water pouring over her decks as she started to slide beneath the waves. For those watching from nearby ships it was a dismaying sight, men tumbled down her sides only to be sucked underwater from the pull of the ship as she took her final plunge. One enterprising sailor ran on the hull, keeping pace with the slow roll of the ship as she bared her red painted belly to the sky. Of six hundred men who served aboard the cruiser, two hundred and twenty one had been saved. The rest had gone down with their ship, or been killed as she sank. The Captain was not amongst the survivors.


IJN Fuji – Speed 14 knots and falling.


Deep in the hull of the Battleship the flooding was not quite under control. There was a low, deep CRUNCH from somewhere within the hull as something gave. That something was the shored up bulkhead just before the forward Turret. The speed of the ship, combined with the weight of the water broke the strained bulkhead, water poured through, flooding new compartments, one damage control team was drowned in the sudden inrush of water, bashed against steel and iron bulkheads and fittings. The speed of the ship was not helping, at 14 knots the bulkheads and shoring’s were being sorely tested by the weight of water pushing against them and it was winning. Water flowed into the region round the forward turret, flowing into the magazine despite frantic efforts to seal off the forward part of the ship. As the battleship’s bow dipped further into the water this brought shell holes and splinter damaged parts of the hull into contact with the water, permitting even more water to flood into the ship.

The situation was dangerous, not critical…yet.


MN Formidable


Aboard the Formidable the fire blazing amidships was all but out of control. Still holding her place in the line the French ship was rocked by blasts as shells and propellant stored in the upper deck battery cooked off. The explosions were ripping more holes in the old ships hull despite frantic efforts of the damage control teams and any personnel who could help with the bucket chains.

“Sir..its only a matter of time until it reaches the magazines. The rear turret has had to be abandoned due to the smoke and fire. We’re buying time..little more.” A smoke stained lieutenant reported, his once pristine uniform smudged with soot and ash.


The Captain nodded grimly. Signal the Flagship by radio ‘Fire out of control. Will withdraw from line and try to beach ship to save crew.’

The signals officer hurried off as the deck shook as another blast rocked the old battleship. “Eduard, get all the men that are not fighting the fire onto deck once we’re out of range, we’ll try to save as many as we can. See if there are any boats intact.”


As the signal flashed over the radio, the old battleship, trailing a plume of thick black smoke turned hard to starboard, her engines pushing her out of the line and out of the line of fire towards the presumed safety of the Vietnamese coast four miles away.


IJN Fuji – speed 6 knots and falling.


The end when it came, was sudden and unexpected. All British built and designed Battleships had a longitudinal bulkhead which was designed to slow and stop flooding and the Fuji was built to a modified British design, nigh identical to the Royal Sovereign class in most respects, including the bulkhead. But the Bulkhead now proved to be the thing that finally killed the Fuji. By trapping water on one side of the ship it made the battleship list over more and more. Shell holes and damage from splinters and near misses helped water pour into the ship, adding more weight, making her list even more. Still moving at six knots the ship groaned as she filled with water on her starboard side. The groan was the only warning that 90% of the crew got before she suddenly lurched, burying her casemates in the sea. Tons of water poured in and the ships precarious stability failed completely.




To the horror of those looking on the big ship rolled over distressingly fast. Taking little more than 2 minutes to roll over, taking with her 600 of her 762 man compliment. The lucky survivors were mainly from the unengaged portside battery and the masts. The Fuji slipped beneath the waves, propellers still turning and within the space of 20 minutes the Japanese had lost a battleship and armoured cruiser. The situation for the French fleet was looking up. Until the MN Neptune all 1100 tons of her suddenly disintegrated in a ball of flame and debris, the blast being heard miles ashore.





MN Marceau speed 14 knots.


“Hard to port! Steer us round the wreckage, signal the fleet ‘TAKE EVASIVE ACTION!’


Admiral Maras yelled, snapping the stunned helmsman out of his daze as the ship steamed towards the wreckage that had once been the proud, if painfully ugly Neptune. The ship, a near sister of the Marceau had been under fire from the Yashima but had not suffered much damage to see a ship with a compliment of 640 simply annihilated was terrifying. Still the Marceau answered the helm, steering round the wreckage of her sistership and squadron mate. There were no survivors.




1) The last view of the Fuji as she rolls over, this was taken from the IJN Nisshin.


2) The funeral pyre of the Neptune taken by the same person who took the image of the Fuji capsizing. (yes I know its a picture of the Queen Mary's blast but its a fine image none the less)


3) The Neptune's aft 13.4 inch barbette with members of her crew, this image shows the exposed main guns to perfect effect, the weapons had thin bullet proof shields above them in combat but other than that were totally open to the elements. You also get a fine sense of the size of the ships superstructure as well as being able to see two of the 47mm anti-torpedo boat quick firing guns and above them a pair of hand cranked gatling guns which would be the ships last line of defense.


IJN Hatsuse– Gun 9, starboard broadside.


Enoki Tanzan, at 24 years of age was a petty officer and captain of a six inch gun. He was also a man who cursed the day that Captain Tama decided to implement continuos aiming aboard the cruiser. Enoki hated the dotter, an abominable machine that confused and upset him, of all the gun captains he was the second worst at dotter training, it had almost cost him his job. Guns and the Captain had decided to give him another month to learn the co ordination of eye and strange rhythm with the laying wheel.  Tazan loved his job with a passion, he was a fine and instinctive seaman, and he led his gun or boat crews with an easy confidence. That damned dotter was the only blot on his copy book.


Seeing the ugly shape of the Shimose shell rammed home, he waited for the same man to ram the charge. Already two loading numbers of his gun crew were down at the gun, and an ammunition handler had copped it too. Enoki turned his attention to his gun telescope, the ship was rolling slowly, he was tempted to just fire on the roll like he used to do with his casemate gun aboard Tone. But the habit of discipline and the long months of training took over and he spun the laying wheel, putting his telescope firmly on the midships turret gun of the enemy, the away roll started and Enoki turned his wheel the other direction, the target remained in his telescope and he slowed his turns as the away roll slowed. The roll back started and he got it right, changing the direction of his wheel and keeping the target firmly in sight. Would you believe it!




The breach clanged shut and Enoki heard “READY!”, he hit the firing switch and the shell was on its way, seconds later, the target was still in sight, but covered in a screen of smoke. A hit! Continuous aim seemed to work, but not the damn shells. Moments later, his target emitted a long flash and fired back at him with no obvious result. There was a bustle behind him and he turned to see a party of men arrive at the gun. There were four of them, each carrying a common shell. Looking along the deck, he could see other, similar groups making their way to the other guns.


“What’s going on?”

One of the men, a leading stoker answered. “Orders, Tanzan. Change to common shell, and these two men here to join your gun crew.”


It wasn’t every day that a gunner took gunnery orders from a stoker. But he smiled nevertheless. One of the men that were to stay was a gangling hand his own age. Not particularly bright, and a wild man when drunk Tsukawaki had been disrated twice and was now only an able seaman. But his long gangling arms and spare frame were ideally suited to loading drill, his normal gun was 6, Fukunaka Tomoaki's piece. And Fukunaka Tomoaki's crew had won almost every gunnery prize the ship had given in this short commission.




Tanzan turned back to his wheel and spun it till he got the enemy ship back into his telescope, a steady spin backward and forward kept her there, after all it was only a gentle 10 degree roll here on a calm day in the Gulf.

“Ready” He fired and the shell hit was a far more satisfying burst of black smoke and yellow flame. Good old common shell. A few more seconds and he heard once again.




This time it was a miss, he was slightly behind the roll with the laying and the shell hit the water in front of the target. But he was back on now.



Another hit, just above the enemy gun, another yellow blast.

“Ready” that was the last shell of the four.


Just short – a pity only four shells had come up with that group of men…



What the hell, lay and fire once again.



Another shot, and a hit, above his target, knocking down ventilation cowls aboard the enemy and another fire. Enoki turned his head to see where the other shells had come from. He caught the retreating forms of two stokers jogging back to the ammunition hatch and two making their way to his gun. There was another two shells in the racks.

Tsukawaki had rammed the next shell as Enoki looked around his immediate surrounds, suddenly the charge was in and the breech was closed.



The gun crew, especially Tsukawaki gave him a look more eloquent than speech. Don’t worry about us, just fire this damn gun!

Enoki turned back to the task at hand, getting the laying back on, FIRE! A miss, a little to hasty, but he had the rhythm again now.



And so he and his crew would continue, as long as there was an enemy in their sights and ammunition to fire they would do their duty for their ship and the Emperor without hesitation or pause even as their arms burned from effort and their eyes stung from the stench of Cordite.


1) A postcard produced in England at the outbreak of war by a company in Portsmouth showing a 6 inch gun crew reciving training. The RN had been the IJN's tutor, with many Japanese Officers learning their roles at British naval establishments as the two countries cemented their alliance.


2) Its very hard to find a good picture of a dotter but this is one of the pioneering systems aboard Captain Scott's ship HMS Scylla in which the Captain developed and tested many of the systems that would lead to modern gunnery practices aboard ships lasting until the introduction of radar aimed weapons. You can see the wheel on the side which alters the guns elevation as the one on the back which helps turn the gun. Turning these together to keep the sight on target was the essence of Continuous aim.

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The Franco-Japanese War - earth, water and fire.


The Hoche was burning. Three hours of the long running fight had seen losses on both sides. The Japanese had lost a battleship and the whole French fleet had watched an armoured cruiser fall onto her side. In return the French had lost the brutally ugly Neptune to an explosion that annihilated the 12000 tonne battleship in an ear-splitting blast as well as the old Formidable which had sheered out of the formation ablaze amidships, running for the coast of Vietnam to try and beach herself and save as many crew as possible.


The ugly, ungainly Hoche the grand hotel of the French fleet, a ship flawed from the moment she had been laid down was still fighting despite five 12 inch rounds as well as an even dozen 6 inch rounds detonating on her flank or in her hull. The midships 10.8 inch barbette had been knocked out when debris from a hit on the high superstructure had fallen on the exposed gun, disabling its training gear, severing the steam pipes and starting a small ammunition fire. The single charge of powder had gone off with enough force to wreck the mounting but not threaten the ship.



But her fore and aft 12 inch guns, protected by the steel and iron of their turrets continued to belch our rounds every three minutes at the Japanese line just over 5000 yards away now. Amidships her remaining 5.5 inch guns fired as quickly as they could, pumping out a shell as soon as it was loaded and aimed, the gun crews from the starboard battery helping to feed the guns and keep them in action when a shell entered the battery and cut down the men.


MN Formidable Speed 10 knots. – Midships near the fire.


“Keep at it men! We’re getting it under control! Henri! Back on your feet man, an officer should inspire his men, keep at it, just a bit longer and we’ll be safe!”

Captain Bergeron yelled through the semaphore, his once immaculate uniform torn, smoke and bloodstained as he directed the upper deck bucket teams to fight the roaring blaze amidships. Below decks the stokers kept feeding the old ships boilers despite the fire over their heads.


The ships guns had fallen silent and every member of the crew was fighting to keep the old ship afloat.

Those not fighting the blaze were working with damage control parties to plug holes or shore up bulkheads. The Formidable had been hit multiple times close to the waterline, her iron belt had kept out some of the rounds bit it was not enough, water flowed through breaches in the sides giving the ship a 8 degree list which had forced the main guns turrets to push against their runners, jamming them in place.


Ahead a mere four and a half miles away was the coast of Vietnam. The ships navigator, despite splinter and shrapnel wounds was still on the bridge, his head bandaged up like an Egyptian Mummy directing a young midshipman as the ship ran for her life. If she could be beached she could later be salvaged, the same if she sunk in shallow water and the Formidable was sinking despite the heroic efforts of the crew, the ships bulkheads had corroded with age and her water tight integrity was not in line with the rest of the fleet and of course there was the fire amidships. Although the 6.4 and 5.5 magazines had been flooded and secured there was still detonations from shells in the wrecked box battery amidships.


“Captain! Mr Brochard recommends we start pulling the crew onto the upper decks, we’re approaching shoal waters and with the increased draught due to the flooding he says there’s a risk we could strike bottom.”

A runner said quietly as the Captain stopped urging the exhausted crew on. The Captain nodded. “Head below decks, inform the Chaplain and doctor and let them know we will be moving the injured first”.

Fillipe Bergeron had to raise his voice as another blast rocked the amidships blaze, this time from a trio of 47mm shells cooking off. The runner saluted smartly before running off into the smoke and the bowels of the ship. Walking to the small conning tower just aft of the funnel Captain Bergeron reached the speaking tubes.


“Jaque, it's time to start getting your men out of there, we’re not far from the shore, you’ve done an excellent job but it’s time to go. Reduce speed to five knots and keep the engines ticking over with what ever steam’s left, I don’t want any more dead men or heroes in the engine room understood?”


“Yes sir, she’ll get you as close as she can. The engines have not failed us yet!”


The chief engineer replied, exhausted and almost numb from the brutal pace the ship had to keep as well as exhausted from constantly maintaining the old ships engines. The port engine had almost failed twice but was still turning even if it was vibrating heavily, the stokers were working in hellish heat in guts of the ship, air conditioning was many decades away but still they shoveled coal into the hungry furnaces of the ship who were now finally being relieved of duty, clambering up ladders and gantries, their skin as black as the coal they had been shoveling.


MN Hoche speed 14 knots.


An 8 inch round punched through the thin hull plating the metal barely slowing the solid armour piercing round. It ripped through the ship until it met something suitably solid and quite unique in all the worlds warships.

Ripping through the wall of the officers wardroom the round slammed into one of the marble wall panels , the tip of the shell deforming in a microsecond, the armour piercing nose flattening out as it met unyielding stone with its iron backing. The marble cracked but the shell ricocheted round the Wardroom, smashing the piano, chairs, tables and ripping a chunk out of the wooden floor before coming to a halt in the Officer’s bar. It would make a fine trophy if the ship survived.



IJN Shikishima Speed 18 knots.


Not for the first time in the day Rear Admiral Tokioki cursed softly. The French line was still maintaining its position and formation despite the pounding it had received. With one ship sunk and another withdrawing flames could clearly be seen from fires raging on the decks and in the hulls of the ugly French ships but still they fought. And now the wind had shifted, blowing funnel and gun smoke towards his ships, shrouding the Frenchmen in a crude smoke screen.

"Sir, report from the Magazine Officers, we're down to about 35% of our ammunition and we are suffering from the repeated firings."


The Admiral nodded, he'd studied gunnery extensively and knew that repeated firings of the main guns would slowly wear down the rifling of the massive 12 inch cannons fore and aft, this in turn would increase the amount of gas vented wastefully as the shells propellant ignited, reducing range and affecting accuracy. And with his main battery now down to 60 shots for each turret the chance of a decisive action was growing thin. With each shot fired there would be less pressure behind the shells as the erosion in the barrels got worse.


A pyrrhic victory at best could be claimed. One battleship sunk, one withdrawing two cruisers destroyed and eight torpedo boats sunk, but for the loss of one priceless Battleship and armoured cruiser, losses the Imperial Navy could not afford.

Suddenly shouting and cheers broke the Admiral from his thoughts, he turned his binoculars on the French line and was greeted with a sight that was both horrific and amazing. A modern battleship capsizing.




1)The Hoche after her 1900's refit with most of her ghastly superstructure cut away and removed to make her a more seaworthy ship and capable of sailing in anything more than a flat calm. It was in this condition that she fought the Battle of the Tonkin Gulf.


2) The Hoche's Wardroom in more peaceful times. French battleships were often extravagantly outfitted in terms of Officers accommodation and many featured such things like Champagne cellars and extensive oak fittings, all of which added weight. In the Hoche this reached its peak with her having marble fittings, leading to her being nicknamed the floating hotel.


3) Another ship disappears beneath the warm waters of the Tonkin Gulf.


The Franco-Japanese War - A step back in time (mainly because I forgot to post this bit...)


The shot that had killed the Neptune had come from the Hatsuse a long range shot as the ship was turning to re-gain her position in the line. The 12 inch round had struck the Neptune’s amidship 13.4 inch barbette and detonated on the thin shield over the gun and its crew. The blast killed or wounded all the gun crew, disabling the gun but far worse was the flames that ignited a ready to use bag of nitrocellulose propellant that was waiting at the top of the small tunnel that the ammunition was winched up.. The propellant didn’t burn, it exploded with considerable force, flames and white hot shrapnel lanced down the passageway igniting the next bag. An unstoppable sequence was started with the lucky hit. The sequence ended a few seconds later when a blast of flames and ruined metal tore into the crowded ammunition chamber for the huge gun several decks above.


Instead of having large magazines where all ammunition was drawn from the Neptune and her three half sisters had a larger number of smaller magazines, each of the huge 13.4 inch rifles had a magazine for itself whilst the battery of 5.5 inch weapons had a magazine for every four guns. Each of these magazines was unshielded, not protected by blast or fire proof doors. It made loading the magazines quick and efficient. But now, in battle, horrifically vulnerable.

Tonnes of propellant and ammunition were waiting to be used, and the flames bathed the silken bags in its embrace. The unstable propellant didn’t take long to be set off. The blast ripped the side of the ship out. The heavy barbette above, now unsupported by the hull folded down, ripping away in a howl of tearing metal but the Neptune’s agony had just started.


The explosion gutted the interior of the ship, reaching one of the 5.5 inch gun magazines which detonated seconds later almost in sympathy. The maelstrom of destruction did not stop as the Neptune blasted herself apart. Flames and debris travelling down the length of the ship as she literally came apart at the seams. With her hull fatally compromised the flames were finally smothered by water pouring in through the hull. The crew at their action stations didn’t stand a chance. Those not killed in the blasts were trapped by the inferno that consumed the lower decks whilst those on the upper decks were thrown against bulkheads and gun mountings as the ship lurched over as she flooded.






As the Neptune’s agony ended, another ship was in her death roes. MN Chateaurenault bereft of the guiding hand of her bridge and victim of three 12 inch hits as well as numerous other smaller shells was still steaming. Her third funnel was missing, whilst the first was missing the top six feet, the rest of the iron and steel tube resembled a siv due to splinter damage.


The cruisers struggling engines still pushed her forwards at 12 knots as she sought the safety of the distant French line, still under fire and still on fire from the hits she’d sustained. But despite the terrible damage she’d sustained, the big cruiser was still fighting. Her remaining guns barking out in defiance at any Japanese ship that could be seen. What could not be seen through the smoke was the four Japanese Destroyers coming up astern of the cruiser, whilst the others had headed off in persuit of the withdrawing French Torpedo Boats this quartet had been detached to deal with the badly damaged French cruiser.


As damaged as she was she still had a bite. The bright flash of a 6.5 inch shell detonating on the flank of the Yashima was proof of this. The few remaining quick firing guns were training on the advancing Japanese destroyers whilst the guncrews of the remaining 5.5.inch weapons stacked ammunition by their guns.


The crews were exhausted, sweat and smoke streaked but they stood by their guns like the professionals they were. But the damage was telling, flooding was giving her a 9 degree list and speed was down to 12 knots.

Six inch guns were slowly knocking the cruiser into a floating scrap pile, her few remaining guns fired back defiantly but splinters were causing horrific casualties amongst the brave men manning the weapons as the cruiser absorbed hit after hit.


Down in the boiler room a round slammed into one of the huge iron boilers. The boiler was thick and strong, but the steam lines weren't, fragments ripped the lines in a dozen places. The men not killed by the fragments were scalded by the steam, hellish at 150 psi and 300F.


Four Japanese destroyers charged the crippled Chataurenault their little 6lb guns firing to try and suppress the guns training on them. Cutting through the waves at 26 knots the small ships were difficult targets to hit yet one boat suffered repeated hits from a pair of Nordenfelt machine guns and one repeating cannon firing a stream of 1lb shots. Lacking any form of armour the destroyer was riddled with small caliber gunfire that reaped a fearsome toll on the exposed crew and the small ship, now under the command of a Sub-Lieutenant sheered away trailing smoke, her crew decimated, now struggling to get their ship to safety.


But as the French gunners concentrated their fire on one vessel, its squadron mates turned sharply, compressed air launching their torpedoes from the single tubes on their decks. Bereft of her helm and most of her engine power there was little chance they would miss, but still they did with most of the six torpedoes launched. The one that hit was more than enough though for the battered cruiser.




Mercifully the Chataurenault sank slowly, settling on an even keel, giving her brave crew enough time to abandon ship, the survivors were picked up later by the Japanese who had been impressed by the ship and its crews defiance against impossible odds.


1) A drawn image of the Neptune exploding, drawn after the war by a crewman onboard the Marceau


2) The Chateaurenault going down, her wreck and many others from this battle were discovered by Dr Ballard in 2001, the French cruiser lays on her side in fairly good condition

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Guns and Gravel


IJN Shikishima speed 18 knots


The twenty eighth round from heavy guns was loaded and aimed at the enemy. Everything was in readiness and the crew in the gunhouse cringed for the twenty eighth time as they readied for the concussion, but with much less conviction than at the start of the battle. Their hearing was rendered less sensitive by the repeated firings, in some cases the change would be permanent.


The firing circuits closed and the turret officer looked out of his sighting hood as the guns were fired. The normal roaring blast followed from the left hand gun, but only a tearing wrenching noise and a subdued blast from the right hand gun. A cloud of debris was visible from the sighting hood, flying out in the direction of the enemy. What appeared to be the shell fell into the sea 300 yards away. The turret officer came back into the gunhouse and to the stunned faces of the guns crews, he gestured to the captain of the right hand gun and the two of them went out the hatch in the rear to inspect the guns.





There was chaos at the muzzle of the right hand gun. The paint along both barrels was blistered and blackened of course, and guns were hot. But looking in the muzzle there seemed to have been some sort of tearing impact just before the muzzle, as if the bore of the gun had somehow shrunk and constricted the shell. More than six inches of the liner was protruding from the muzzle, and a good foot of the liner on one side was gone completely, blown out to sea it seemed by the shell. The left hand gun had slightly less than an inch of liner showing.

As far as they could tell from a minute’s inspection the left hand gun appeared un injured. The burst of a French quick firing shell against the armour amidships convinced them it was time to go back into the gunhouse.

Orders were given to rope of the right hand gun and to bring the left hand gun back into action. The turret officer scribbled a note to be taken to the Captain, he called for a runner but at almost the same time a runner arrived from the bridge with a message from the captain demanding an explanation. The note was handed over and the gunhouse crew got back to work.


This incident was an example of a Steel choke. As in most guns, the continual drag of the projectile driving bands caused the liners of these guns to be gradually stretched forward. The resulting projection at the muzzle could be simply cut off, but in addition the liners began to form a ridge in the bore near the shoulders of the outer tube the actual muzzle of the gun. This ridge, sometimes known as "copper choke" as it tended to accumulate copper from the projectile driving bands, narrowed the bore and could cause enough drag to initiate the projectile fuze, with the result that a premature detonation would occur either within the bore or shortly after the projectile exited the muzzle as happened here.


MN Formidable speed 5 knots


The Formidable was slowly coasting to a halt, her propellers were barely turning now, carried forwards by her own momentum and the tide.

Most of her crew were on the upper deck, crowded round the forward turret, its black form dented and scarred but not penetrated by Japanese shells. The ship was a mess, shell splinters had torn up the wooden and steel decking, the funnel was tilting at a jaunty 20 degrees and resembled a siv whilst the ships Doctor and his orderlies, accompanied by the ships priest saw to the wounded, their uniforms stained with blood.


Fortunately the radio still worked and messages had been sent ashore requesting aid, the town of Dien was not too far away and that had a working radio reciver, aid would come, it was just a matter of time until it did.

The Formidable lurched slightly as her jutting ram bow slid into the mud and sand of a sandbank little more than half a mile from the shore, the ship raised up slowly, the damaged stern sinking lower into the water, the Captains walkway disappearing under the waves.


The battered French ship ground to a halt, bow on to the shore with only a slight list. Captain Bergeron walked amongst the exhausted crew, offering words of encouragement and praise that were truly heartfelt. Against a more modern opponent in an outclassed ship they had fought hard and fought well.

Officers directed the men to patch the damaged boats that could be recovered or to build some rafts to transfer the wounded.

The evacuation took almost two hours, by which time it was becoming urgent to get off the ship. The heat of the fire amidships was causing the iron and steel hull to start to buckle and sag, the Formidable's keel was bent out of shape from the heat and the weight of her resting on the sandbank, even if she was salvaged she would have to be scrapped now.

As the crew swam or rowed ashore a detachment of Colonial troops were waiting ashore.


http://www.scubadivi...m el Sheikh.jpg


Of the 650 crew aboard, 583 survived. Captain Bergeron was later promoted to Rear Admiral and went on to command the 2nd Cruiser Squadron in the European War of 1916.


1) A 12 inch salvo being fired, this image was taken pre-war during a gunnery shoot.

2) One of the Formidable's twin propellers. The ship eventually slipped off the sandbank due to her structural damage and the sea, rolling onto her starboard side, totally submerged. in 30 meters of water. Declared a war grave after the war the ship was never salvaged and the French established a coastguard station ashore to make sure she was not looted by salvagers. She is now a popular diving spot and is in excellent condition.


The Franco-Japanese war: A Civil(ian) interlude


SS La Bretagne, 120 miles East of the Vietnamese coast.


Captain Artois was patiently attending to his morning rounds of the first class passengers. The liverish irascibility in the moustached gentleman opposite him was easily explained by what the stewards had told him was a bottle and half of port the previous evening, combined with the ships current, lively motion. He was about to nod his head in acknowledgement to whatever nonsense the man was sprouting when a bridge runner approached and whispered in his ear.

“Excuse me, gentlemen,” Artois nodded to the passengers. “The management of the ship demands my presence on the bridge.”


The captain turned away smartly and strode briskly towards the ladder to the bridge. Behind him he could hear pompous voices, exclaiming “The Bridge, of course,” and “yes, the bridge.”

He reached the bridge platform himself and strode to the opened window’s. “Where away?” he questioned gruffly.


“Five degrees of the starboard bow, captain,” answered the third mate and officer of the watch. ‘A thick cloud of smoke sir, and perhaps a mast.”


Rene scanned the seas ahead, spotting the smoke easily and soon the mast as well. He continued to watch as the mast rapidly popped above the horizon. Ten minutes later and a warships bridge had popped above the horizon. Then a long gun, and a high foscle. Another few minutes and the passing ship was hull up. There was stiff breeze blowing, 30 knots or more, they had passed through a cold front in the early hours of the morning. Now the wind was weakening, but the waves and occasional squals hardly bothered the 495ft long 7,112 ton La Bretagne.





Captain Artois finally let out a long whistle and announced, “An impressive looking ship, one of the Imperial navy's new ones I assume.” The bridge team was bolstered by some off watch officers, all anxious to look at a passing ship in order to break the monotony of a long ocean passage. There were smiles all around as the Japanese ship closed to within 1000 yards. The smiles disappeared all around as suddenly the large gun on the Japanese ships bow was fired and a shell rose from the water 200 yards forward of the bow.


The Japanese ship made a quick turn and in two minutes it had come right round to a parallel course, 1000 yard away to starboard. A Japanese seaman appeared on the bridge wings with two large semaphore flags. The seaman began a series of flag combinations until a man from the La Bretagne was sent for their own flag sets, and finally they were able to reply. The message was passed in international code, but even then it took three or four minutes to pass and decode.


“French Passenger Ship, French Passenger Ship. This is Cruiser Chitose, Cruiser Chitose. A state of war exists between Japan and France. A state OF WAR. Heave too and prepare to abandon ship.”


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Rene was conscious of the eyes of all his officers upon him. He knew he could speed away from the Japanese ship, he would take some damage, but his ship was fast, and could make 17 knots, watch after watch for days. He might run her under the horizon in a day, at the cost of an initial pasting by the Japanese vessel. He cursed to himself, it was a huge decision to make.


Rene looked out over the bridge and the foscle deck below. Second class passengers were taking their morning exercise in the space. Many of the passengers were staring out over the rail at the Japanese ship, pointing and laughing. But right forward, beneath the foremast, two little girls in pink pinafores were busy playing hopscotch. The first girl threw her stone, oblivious to the ships pitching motion. The second girl watched, intent, alert to the slightest irregularity with the throw or the jump. The first girl completed her hops, retrieved the stone and returned, triumphant.


Captain Artois adopted a melancholy countenance. It was not his role in life then, to fight the Republic's enemies. His role was to transport her subjects and her treasures, with the greatest safety and economy. “All stop,” he ordered, just as the Japanese ship prepared to fire a second shot across the bow. They did so anyway, despite the stopped engines. “All hands – prepare the boats! Stewards to adopt positions for abandoning ship.” “Await orders before notifying passengers.” Greatest care had to be taken to make the necessary preparation without alarming or panicking the passengers on board. Thank the lord they were not one of the great Atlantic liners, crammed with steerage passengers and without enough boats to accept all the souls aboard. His passengers would be crowded, but they would probably all reach the coast tomorrow afternoon, even in the ships boats.

Minutes later, the captain was on the main deck, searching out stewards to marshal the passengers and to check the spaces below. The Japaneseship fired a third gun, signifying her impatience. Suddenly the captain was accosted by a huge fat woman. The woman pinned him against the bulkhead with her great bosom, and began a tirade.


“Captain, I must say, whatever is this nonsense about abandoning the ship?” “ I simply cannot pack in less than half a day, and besides which, what purpose would be served by abandoning the ship, here in the middle of the great sea?”

“My regrets, ma’am, but it appears that we are at war with Japan. The Japanese cruiser demands we abandon ship, I believe they mean to sink us.”


“The Japanese? War with the Japanese you say! It is all the fault of the government and that appalling Mr Rouvier. My good father would never vote for him. My husband, unfortunately though…”

“Ma’am I must insist you realise me this instant, and follow the Stewards directions to the boats.” He stamped his foot. “ I really must insist for your safety.”


“Control your passions, Captain, you may not stamp your foot at me, the directors will hear of this, I do say. Go and parlay with the Japanese Captain. They will give way to reason. They may be barbaric but they must understand fashion. They will not expect me to abandon my best India luggage!”


“Ma’am, will you obey the directions of the stewards and abandon ship?” A great grin spread over the face of the Captain.

“I most certainly will not, a most preposterous suggestion.”


The captain was glad of his musings on the ditching of passengers the previous morning after another evening of dinners. He hailed two passing seaman, working at provisioning the boats. “You men there, Jaque, Bruno . Go to the bosuns stores and return, bring me 100 feet of best one inch manila and two planks, as quick as you like.”


The seamen grinned broadly and scampered off. Some of the passengers, equally loath to leave their cabins, and full of wild schemes to negotiate with or defeat the 'yellow peril' had gathered to watch the altercation. Suddenly them men were back and the captain was issuing orders. “Right, Bruno, a running bowline there. Yes, that’s right, over her head, don’t mind if she screams or hollers.“ The fat lady aimed a viscous kick at the shins of Jaque, but the seaman was nimble and dodged the blow. “That’s right, Jaque, put one plank along her spine and the other along her front. Bruno, start taking turns around her.


The work was quickly done, the men were good at rope work. Soon the recalcitrant evacuee was trussed head and foot, with a neat top not at her head for her to be lowed down with. The only hitch came when the two seamen proved too few to lift the bundle. Another two men were called and the lady, trussed up like a moth in a spiders web man handled her to the gangway and then lowered the woman like a sack of potatoes to the boat below. Most of the other passengers, silenced by this example, finally understood the gravity of the situation when the ships officers were issued with revolvers.


The evacuation proceeded in an orderly fashion for the next hour, with the Japanese even giving the French liner one of their bigger ships boats.


The Passengers slowly rowing towards the coast could only watch as the Japanese cruiser put a pair of torpedoes into the La Bretagne one forward, one aft. The ship took fifteen minutes to sink, and there were no casualties.

The assemblage of lifeboats was found four hours later by a passing Russian cruiser the Varyag and her escort the old gunboat Koriets that had been on a visit to French holdings in the region.

The stunned Russian Captain thus found out from a huge mass of passengers and ships crew that France and Japan were indeed at war.


1) The La Bretagne on a trip to San Francisco after being taken off the Atlantic trade in 1902.


2) IJN Chitose shortly after being comissioned, the Chitose was a modern and powerful light cruiser and went on to claim six more French merchant vessels before rejoining the fleet.

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orces in the Region and current losses:


The forces of the French Republic


Naval forces

1st Naval Squadron.



MN Bouvet .2 x 12 inch guns, 2 x 10.8 inch guns 8 x 5.5 inch guns.

MN Messena2 x 12 inch guns, 2 x 10.8 inch guns 8 x 5.5 inch guns.

MN Jaureguiberry (Flag) 2 x 12 inch guns, 2 x 10.8 inch guns 8 x 5.5 inch guns.

MN Charles Martel 2 x 12 inch guns, 2 x 10.8 inch guns 8 x 5.5 inch guns.

MN Brennus 3 x 13.4 inch guns 10 x 6.4 inch guns.



MN Dupuy Lome

MN Bruix

MN Chanzy

MN Latouche-Trevelle

MN Guichen

MN Porthau - Suffered catastrophic engine failure - returning to port at best speed.


12 torpedo boats and 6 destroyers.


Currently the Battleships are 90 nautical miles south of the 2nd Squadron and Japanese fleet, speed 16 knots. The cruiser are 54 miles South, speed 18 knots, both formations are heading north towards the battle.


2nd Squadron


MN Formidable - Run ashore after severe fire and flooding.

MN Amiral Baudin - Capsized due to severe flooding, heavy loss of life.

MN Marceau (Flag)Moderate damage, all guns still in action.

MN Neptune - Sunk due to magazine explosion - severe loss of life

MN Magenta - Moderate damage and fire, all guns still in action.

MN Hoche - Moderate damage, one 10.8 inch gun disabled.




MN D'Estrees - Light damage

MN Infernet - Sunk due to magazine explosion - severe loss of life

MN Chateaurenault - Sunk - Torpedoed after being disabled by gunfire - moderate loss of life.

12 Torpedo Boats - 8 sunk in torpedo attack due to flooding and gunfire damage.



Heading south speed 14 knots.


Forces of the Japanese Empire


Bombardment and convoy escort groups.

IJN Mikasa - sailing south east from Fort Bayard

IJN Asahi - sailing south east from Fort Bayard

1st Cruiser squadron

IJN Izumo

IJN Azuma

IJN Tokiwa

IJN Iwate

IJN Naniwa

Location - awaiting arrival of Mikasa and Asahi before departing to refuel.


Main fleet.


IJN Shikishima - Light damage, ammunition at 35%

IJN Fuji - Capsized following torpedo damage- heavy loss of life.

IJN Yashima* - light damage ammunition at 35%

IJN Hatsuse - Moderate damage - ammunition at 20%

IJN Nisshin - heavy damage, speed reduced.

IJN Kasuga - Capsized following torpedo impact - heavy loss of life.

One light cruiser damaged due to small ammunition fire.

Three other light cruisers unengaged.

18 destroyers - 6 damaged, 2 sunk due to gunfire and one collision.



Ground Forces



French Republic


Forces at Fort Bayard:

1st Tonkinese Rifles Regiment - 3000 men.

24th Rifle Regiment (french troops) 2500 men

12th Legion, French Foreign Legion - 1200 men.

Forces in Northern Vietnam

2nd and 4th Tonkinese Rifles - 6000 men

7th Chasseurs - 2200 men

132nd Rifle Regiment - 2000 men.

9th Legion, French Foreign Legion - 1200 Men


Japanese Empire

18000 men landed in Hai-long bay heading towards Hanoi.

9500 men landed west of Fort Bayard, currently organising for an attack and siege.

Kingdom of Siam

12000 men massing to move into southern regions of Vietnam.


British Empire


Due to the instability in the region and a perceived threat from local uprisings in the region the Royal Navy has deployed to Singapore the Canopus and Duncan classes of Battleships, twelve battleships in total as well as six armoured and six protected cruisers and destroyer escort.


These forces were taken from the Mediterranean fleet and are under the command of Rear Admiral the Lord Charles Beresford with his flagship the HMS Cornwallis. His appointment to this command is in part due to his ongoing dispute both private and public with the First Lord of the Admiralty, Admiral Fisher.

The British government has called the deployment of so many warships to a formerly backwater region a stabilising influence, whilst other's are viewing it as a threat and declaration of support for the Japanese Empire


The Russian Empire


The First Pacific Squadron under Admiral Markarov is still based at Port Arthur and the Russians are watching developments eagerly. Construction is still proceeding on the Trans-Siberian railway, there are no plans to reinforce the squadron although the Vladivostok based cruisers Riurik, Rossia and Gromboi are due to arrive within the week.




MN Marceau Speed 14 knots.


"Sir! Range to enemy vessels now estimated at 5000 yards! Speed constant at 16 knots."


"Understood." Admiral Maras could say little more. With four ships against three the Japanese commander clearly wished to finish the battle in a close quarters slugging match. He knew with a sinking heart that his damaged ships would be overwhelmed in such a battle. His squadron had fought bravely and well against a more powerful foe but now it was clear the battle was coming to an end.

Unless.. "no, far too risky.." The Admiral muttered to himself as a thought came to him. Instead of passively accepting his fate and the fate of his ships he had an option open.



The Captain, his face dominated by an impressive waxed moustache approached the Admiral. "Sir, this is..a rash course of action I must protest." He said quietly.

"Your protest is noted Captain but if we can hurt the Japanese more we can still do more for our country than just letting ourselves be sunk."


The Captain was silent for a moment before nodding. "Send the signal!"


It took several minutes for the signal to be raised, many of the ships halyards and ropes had been damaged or burnt but the flags were raised none the less.

"Signal acknowledged Sir, the Hoche repeated it by signalling lamp due to damage to her upperworks."


"Very good. Execute!"

The flags came down and the wheels on the three damaged french ships was put hard over, their bows starting to turn towards the enemy.


IJN Shikishima Speed 16 knots.


"Sir! Enemy is turning towards us!"

"Dear god, are they trying to ram us?" Captain Scott blurted out, grabbing a pair of binoculars turning them towards the remnants of the French line. Sure enough the three battered Frenchmen were turning towards the Japanese line, the unengaged starboard barbettes vomiting smoke and fire as they fired for the first time in the battle.




MN Hoche

The blast of the starboard 13.4 inch gun trained forwards did considerable damage to the ship. One of the undamaged ships boats was torn from its davit and smashed to kindling against the hull, a ships cat, cowering on deck was picked up bodily by the blast and hurled 50 meters overboard.


A crew member on a 47mm gun, incautiously sticking most of his torso outside of the casemate for a better view of the action was struck heavily by the blast and rendered insensible. He was prevented from falling out by the other members of his gun team who hauled him inside and left him against the bulkhead until he recovered.


IJN Shikishima


"Signal all ships! MANOUVER INDEPENDENTLY TO AVOID HOSTILE VESSELS. Flags and radio now!" Admiral Tokioki said sharply, trying to keep a sense of panic out of his voice.

"Sir! Masthead reports heavy smoke on the horizon!"


The cruisers of the 1st Squadron had arrived, whilst the battleships were thirty minutes behind them, all be it now at 16 knots due to engineering wear and tear, the brutal 6 hour run at flank speed was affecting the ships quite badly.




1) Hit! A drawing post war showing the Shikishima taking a 13.4 inch shell hit that exploded outside the armour doing little damage but looking very impressive.

2) A beautiful model of the Battleship Massena one of the four very similar French battleships of the First Squadron as she appeared during the war. You get a fine sense of the somewhat strange layout of the French ships, with their tumblehome hull and turret layout that started with the Marceau and her sisters.

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While i applaud the effort you've put into this...this...is a wall of text of epic proportions.. :Smile_ohmy:

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IJN Shikishima - Bridge


"Range 4300 yards to enemy ships, masthead reporting heavy masts on horizon, assuming they are French warships."

Admiral Tokioki didn't swear, that would not do. With reinforcements on the way and his squadron damaged and running low on ammunition he knew he must preserve the Empires fleet for each loss was a strategic loss that could not be replaced.


He knew he had shamed himself, he had failed his Emperor in being unable to defeat some older, weaker vessels.

"Signal the destroyers to make smoke and signal all ships to disengage, speed 18 knots, course 049."

"Sir..we are disengaging from the enemy?"


The bridge went silent as the Captain requested a repeat of the order.

"You heard me Captain, I will not be responsible for the loss of the majority of our surface fleet"

Admiral Tokioki's voice was calm, almost resigned.


"Now carry out my order."

The Captain could only nod to the Signals Officer, unable to give the order to withdraw himself. The flags went up and the ships began their turns, destroyers dropping crude smoke floats and adding rope and hemp into the furnaces, making their funnels churn out thick black smoke.





The Japanese flagship began her turn and on the bridge Rear Admiral Tokioki had the pleasure of watching one of those ugly French monstrosities get smothered in shells as seven heavy shells struck the Hoche over the space of 10 seconds.

Two struck near the base of the bridge, both 12 inch rounds, detonating deep in the ships superstructure. One shell struck square on the huge foremast below the fighting top with its light guns and range finders, blowing away most of the structure and starting an erratic swing that changed to a toppling fall as the ship pitched in the waves.

An 8 inch shell struck the 3 inch iron internal bulkhead It failed to detonate and the inert shell, partially penetrated the armour before breaking up and initiating a hail of spall, splinters and fragments that burst across the gun battery.





A 12 inch shell struck the hull and detonated on impact, venting most of its fury on the hull plates, ripping them into new shapes. Another 12 inch round burst clean on the 14 inch thick armoured conning tower and didn't penetrate, but it didn't need to penetrate to have horrific effects on the men inside the iron and steel tube.

The last 12 inch round came aboard and struck the elongated, almost horizontal upper belt armour. The shell glanced off this and was guided upwards, penetrating the narrow plating beneath the starboard 13.4 inch casemate armour and bursting on its underside.




The blast of this shell was constrained by the heavy armour and compartmentation behind the protection and most of its force vented out and down vertically through the shells entry point, tearing a huge nine foot by six wound in the hull plating.


The French ship staggered to port, like a punch drunk boxer who had taken one too many blows to the head, rolling as her helm without guidance kept her in a sharp turnthe lurching motion of the ship helping the main mast topple over with a scream of tearing steel dragging most of the bridge structure with it, crashing to the foredeck, wrapping itself round the battered and dented forward turret.


MN Marceau -Bridge


There were cheers on the bridge of the damaged French flagship as the entire Japanese line turned away, wreathed in thick black smoke.

"They are running sir!"


"Sir! Message from Admira Gilbert 'Hold on, we are nearly there!'"

"Sir! Masthead reporting smoke to the south, what appears to be heavy masts!"


The cheers were silenced as the Hoche all but disappeared behind plumes of water and the flashes of impacts, emerging from the smoke at 10 knots and falling the ship was obviously out of control with fires raging forwards but her guns were still firing their defiance.


"Flags..Signal all ships 'Come to course 164 and the location of the first squadron."

As the flags officer ran off to eagerly obey his orders Admiral Maras sat down heavily 'Perhaps it wasn't my time to die after all..'

"Guns..stand down the port battery, have the damage control teams reinforced...well done Gentlemen, well done."


1) A naval smokescreen, although this is a German laid one you can see how it would affect visibility.

2) Part of the burned out port barbette on the Hoche there were no survivors from the gun mounting.

3) the effect of the 8 inch round on the Hoche

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he Grover Incident. - A diplomatic storm.


The SS Grover was a fairly modern merchant vessel, her machinery could propel her at a steady 12 knots for watch after watch with few reliability issues. Because of her speed and size at 9400 tonnes the freighter was often used by the British army to transport goods and men overseas without having to requisition a Cuanard vessel or, the least desiable option, cramming troops onto a warship.

When she was laid down the Grover was in part subsidised by the Government and in part this meant that Her Majesty's Government could call upon the ship in a time of crisis, indeed on her bow, amidships and stern were sections of the deck that could be quickly fitted with four inch quick firing guns to turn the nimble freighter into an armed warship and even raider in time of war. Her commander was a retired Royal Navy Captain and many of her crew were either reservists or long term seamen, there was not a man aboard with less than six years experience at sea and the Captain, Richard Hough run a tight ship.






Unfortunately the ship was also well known in other Admiralties, both Britain and France had extensive webs of spies at ports up and down the Mediterranean, the African coast and in India. Malta was a hotbed of spies and informants with ladies of pleasure being well paid to get information from sailors who had loose wallets and looser lips.


Thanks to this web of spies and informants the French knew the Grover was regularly chartered by the British Government, they even knew her ports of call, mainly through idle gossip and some very well concealed bribes.

Churning through the waters 400 miles from Singapore the Grover was making good time, having departed Colombo after taking on coal for the trip to Singapore where she would offload her goods and take on passengers for her journey home via India, mostly Officials and military personnel being rotated through or going home on leave.


On her outward bound voyage the freighter was carrying 2100 of the new Short Magazine Lee-Enfield Rifles to replace the older Magazine Lee-Enfield's used by British troops in her Far Eastern postings as well as 8 tonnes of ammunition to be taken to depots ashore.

This information had been discovered by a Madame Clarice during a stay in Alexandria before the ship sailed through the Suez Canal. But she had not got the full information, that it was for British troops.

With war now in the east the little freighter became an object of interest in the French intelligence service. They knew the rifles were destined for the Far East, but where? Unable to get any concrete information from English sources the French were left to use their intuition. They had to guess.


Unfortunately the train of thought was the wrong one. Lacking solid information it was decided that the Rifles and the ammunition had to be for the Japanese or even the Siamese who the English had long used as a buffer between French Indo-China and their holdings. Acting off this 'intelligence', based on intuition and recent sales of weapons to Japan and the Far Eastern kingdoms a junior French officer passed the information on and it went up the chain.

It was decided that the rifles could not be allowed to arrive and the ship was to be intercepted, her cargo removed or the ship turned around. Public opinion was strong in France for action against the British, with their actions against the Boers getting them much public criticism and support for the Boers and their cause with some in the press calling for action against England and support of the Boers.

That groundswell of public support never went away and the French felt confident enough to order the Protected cruiser Davout to intercept the ship and once confirmation that the rifles were for the Japanese, seize them or have the Grover return to port.


SS Grover - 10 knots - 0643 AM


"Captain Sir, smoke astern of us lots of it." the Officer of the Watch called out as the Captain walked the foredeck.

"A ship in distress perhaps? "


The captain stroked his white beard, something he'd worn since fighting at the bombardment of Alexandria onboard the Inflexible. "Perhaps, helm bring us about, steer us towards the smoke."


SS Grover- 10 Knots - 0759 AM


"What do you make of her Mr Mullen?"

"Not one of ours Sir, can't see her flag, but by her lines I'd say she's French, probably on her way to Singer's for a visit?"

"Aye, most likely, ugly little thing, Helm, bring us back to our original baring and course, speed 10 knots of you please."


Little more than thirty minutes later most of the crew who were off duty and awake were on the railings watching the small French cruiser overhaul them from astern, her jutting ram bow slicing through the glassy smooth seas, thick black smoke pouring from her funnels.


There appeared to be some commotion aboard the French ship and a signal lamp started to flash.

"Mr Burnes translate that please!"


The translation was not long in coming, the signalling officer had to call it out twice he was so surprised at what the Frenchman was asking, it was a contravention of international maritime law.

'English Freighter, English Freighter, this is Marine cruiser Davout. Marine Cruiser Davout. Halt engines and prepare to be boarded. Request you have manifesto and documents for cargo ready for inspection.'


"That arrogant frog swine! Who the hell does he think he is if he can stop a ship on the open seas!" Captain Hough roared, partially at the small French cruiser alongside his ship, partially to himself. "Bloody pirate! Signal him back that we will not stop."


The signalman flashed back the captains curt reply. "Sir reply says 'English vessel halt your engines and prepare to receive boarders. Note our Starboard side.'


It was not hard to notice the two barrels of the two 5.5 inch guns in their casemates in the hull turning to point at the British freighter. His face glowing a warm brick red Captain Hough ordered full stop and the manifest to be brought to him personally. "If I had my four inch guns I'd blow that brigand out of the seas...." the Captain hissed as the Grover coasted to a halt, the French ship a thousand yards off her port side, lowering her boats into the water whilst the British ships crew looked on muttering.





"If they think they are getting piped aboard..."


"Should just ram the bugger, she'll take it better than that Frog.."


Two French boats full of sailors rowed over to the tall British freighter, rope ladders were lowered to let them get onboard and no one failed to notice the French were all armed. A smartly dressed officer was the first aboard the Grover and he was immediately met by Captain Hough.


"You had better have a damn good explanation for this Sir."

"Mon Capitan, our apologies, but we must inspect your manifesto. France is at war with Japan. We know you are carrying arms, we just wish to be sure they are not for Frances enemies."


"Stopping a ship on the high seas, stopping a British ship...its inexcusable!"

The young man took the captains angry words without even blinking.


"Your manifesto of goods please Captain." He simply replied, stepping aside as armed French sailors came aboard the Grover, all of them standing smartly against the railings. The atmosphere on deck was tense but calm as the French officer read slowly through the manifest of the freighters goods, all was going well until an off duty stoker who had indulged in his personal supply of the ships still's alcohol, strong enough it could possibly be used as paint thinner opened a hatch with too much vigour as a French sailor was moving past it.


The heavy iron bulkhead caught the young man, a boy of 17 holding a rifle as big as he was it seemed right across his shoulder, throwing him sideways. into and over the rope railings with a panicked yelp and the loud CRACK of his rifle firing into the air as he fell.


No one knows who moved first, the French blame the British and vice versa but the gunshot and the sight of a French sailor being apparently deliberately pitched over the side started a short lived brawl on the Freighter's deck. Two English sailors were shot, both not fatally whilst one Frenchman was badly injured as the French beat a hasty retreat and the crew of the Grover cheering their success ran below decks to get the engines turning once more whilst the Frenchman had to wait to recover her boats, the officer still holding the ship's cargo manifest as he slid down the rope ladder.


News of the incident was telegraphed to England as soon as the Grover reached Singapore. Lord Beresford was made aware and immediately ordered the fleet to be ready to sail whilst destroyers started patrolling off Singapore, looking for potential threats, whilst the telegraph reached England four days later.


For the British people, the 'Grover Incident' as Fleet Street at once named it, contained all the necessary ingredients for a national feast of furious outrage. To a country at the very peak of its power and wealth, with ancient maritime traditions, dependent on the sea for its trade, possessing the greatest merchant and naval fleet the world had ever know, the stopping of one of its ships in international waters and the injury caused to British sailors was intolerable.

There was always distrust of the French, England's almost hereditary enemy and now to the British public the French were not only bulling the British but the brave little Jap! And by golly, was giving him a taste of his own medicine!

Trafalgar Square was filled with protesting crowds, the French Ambassador was booed as he left his Embassy to offer France's most profuse apologies.


There were deputations to the Houses of Parliament, the Admiralty and Downing Street demanding action be taken, that the Navy do something and it was finally time to see some return for the millions spent on the great battleships of the British fleet.


In the backwash of the anger came condolences for the 'injured and distressed' crew of the Grover, including donations for the injured sailors and a tactful note of sympathy from the Mayor of Tokyo.

Six days after the incident Britain became suddenly aware that the incident had developed into a serious crisis. The Times newspaper loudly thumped that 'The mind of the Government, like the mind of the Nation is made up! Justice was demanded for this insult and slight to national honour, immediate justice backed by all the power of the Empire!'.


Sir Charles Harding, the British Ambassador in Paris handed in a strongly worded note of protest requesting that the French officers responsible for the shootings be arrested and tried under military law as well as demanding to know why a British freighter had been stopped on the high seas.


The media frenzy died down over the next few days but within the Admiralty, the First Lord of the Admiralty, 'Jacky' Fisher had sensed an opportunity. A chance to sharply tug the French tail and rid the fleet of two extraneous vessels that were proving quite a handful due to their unique nature.




HMS Swiftsure and Triumph originally built for Chile, purchased by the Royal Navy as tensions mounted in the Far East were odd vessels in many regards. Mounting unique gun calibres and armed with 10 inch and 7.5 inch guns the Battleships were fast, very fast, and armoured like an armoured cruiser. But although not long in service, both were proving unpopular due to their unique ammunition requirements as well as being built lighter than normal Royal Navy vessels.


It was deemed that the two ships would be sold to anyone willing to pay for them. Naturally this information was passed to the Japanese Ambassador that two pristine vessels were up for grabs. Admiral Fisher would be only too happy when the twins were gone, it was the first time he'd 'come up for air' since receiving Captain Scotts telegram detailing the battle he'd witnessed and the First Lord was deep in discussion with many naval experts designing what would be a giant leap in battleship design, a ship he called Dreadnought.


1) SS Grover at Alexandria

2) MN Davout having her bilges cleaned shortly after the incident.

3) HMS Switfsure at gunnery practice, note the length of her secondary armament, the seven 7.5 inch guns dotting the ships flanks that quite regually in rough weather dipped their barrels in the sea.

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e end of the beginning or the beginning of the end.


The Battle of the Tonkin Gulf did not end with a roar, but a muted whimper, for the first time in hours the sound of naval caliber gunfire did not fill the air. The exhausted and battered survivors of the Second Squadron were in no fit state to persue the Japanese as they withdrew at 18 knots whilst the French reinforcements in the shape of the armoured cruisers of the First Squadron could not engage the Japanese ships unsupported.

So the French cruisers simply steamed closer to the battered battleships to offer what aid they could and help locate survivors.


The crippled Hoche completed four full circles at a steady 10 knots before control was finally restored and she staggered back onto her original course. On gun decks, in gun turrets and deep in the bowels of the French and withdrawing Japanese ships, the crews slumped at their posts, exhausted from working so hard in the heat of the day but they could not rest, they had to ensure the survival of their ships and tend to injured crewmates.

Of the three surviving French battleships the Marceau had taken the least damage but her upper works and hull were a shambles thanks to the culmative effects of five 12 inch, three 8 inch and eleven 6 inch hits. Over eighty crew were dead with twice that injured, some severely. The survivors had to put out fires, man pumps and stem any flooding.




The Magenta had suffered three 12 inch hits but a staggering twelve 8 inch and ninteen 6 inch rounds, but fortunately none had been below the waterline. But the end result of this barrage of lightweight shells had been a hull that looked like it had been hit by a monsterious pair of metal jaws.


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The ships upperworks and hull were a shambles, fire had gutted most of the superstructure and the small caliber hits had caused fearsome casualties to the crew but the deluge of light shells had not caused crippling damage, the port barbette was dented and scarred from hits but none had penetrated. The carnage on the gundecks for the 5.5 inch guns though had been horrific. The crew were reduced to washing the remains of some of their colleagues off the decks with hoses once the fires were under control.


The Hoche was a floating wreck from the attentions of eleven 12 inch rounds, one 8 inch and 4 six inch rounds that had gutted her port barbette, smashed her foreward turret, collapsed her mainmast and destroyed the bridge just as a few examples. There was also a heavy hit on the bow that was taking on water, one of her funnels had partially collapsed, dragging its partner with it until they both hung at a 25 degree angle, the smoke from the boilers spilling out of the vent and the rents in the metal.


Two armoured cruisers now stood alongside, transfering the wounded off and sending damage repair teams over to the crippled warship, her commander, a Senior grade Lieutenant directing the damage efforts personally was determind to keep the ship that had fought so bravely from sinking.

Reducing speed the French ships wallowed south at a mere six knots, escorted all the way by the warships of the First Squadron who had rendered the mauled survivors a salute before taking up position to guard them against attacks and provide more crew to assist with the repairs.


Three days later the First and Second Squadrons sailed into Cam-ranh Bay and the port facilities there. The battered Hoche tying up alongside the dock, whilst the Marceau went into drydock to repair her underwater damage.

Whilst the Marceau and Magenta could be repaired by the dock workers and ships crews the Hoche would need a trip home. The Admiral of the Docks suggested the ship be declared a total constructive loss as she was simply beyond economic repair, but Admiral Gilbert would have none of it.


It would have been a blow to morale to the crew and fleet who had fought so hard to get the Hoche home. Indeed she had nearly foundered twice on the journey home. To have all that hard work dismissed would have damaged morale which had suffered due to the sheer number of casualties suffered.


The Hoche was patched up as best as possible, her port barbette was wrecked but the gun remained in place and the forward turret made operational again but the ship was made Guardship of the bay.

The Imperial Japanese navy suffered less casualties thanks to the fact that none of their vessels exploded, unlike the French who lost a battleship and light cruiser when massive blasts tore them asunder but their ships had still taken a pounding.


The more modern battleships had held up well, their Krupps armour resisting the heavy 13.4 inch shells and keeping their machinery and turrets safe but their upperworks were a shambles. The surviving battleships steamed to Hainan and the fairly simple facilities there to repair and refit whilst the Mikasa, Asahi and the five cruisers of Rear Admiral Kamura's 1st Cruiser squadron would patrol and seek out any French warships and engage them.




Rear Admiral Tokioki accepted the blame for the loss of the Fuji and Kasuga but was ordered by Admiral Togo and his Emperor to continue his service to the Nation having performed well in a poor tactical situation and had claimed three French warships and driven the rest to port.


Captain Scott spent a full week writing a detailed report, interviewing gunners and engine room personnel and touring the damaged ships before cabling England via Singapore.

In later years the 'Scott Memorandum' as it would be called would be seen by some as a very polite 'I told you so' and it did not impress all who read it. Captain Scott had been an apostle of gunnery, pushing constantly for more gunnery practice and the adoption of long range gunnery in the fleet which until, after his constant urgings and the coming of Admiral Fisher, Royal Naval gunnery was developed around fighting at about 2000 yards. This was slowly changing with the fleet now regually practicing at 5000 yards but it was still inaccurate and too short ranged for Scott and Fisher's liking.


Having witnessed a battle taking place at 7000 yards with guns being consistenly laid accurately was a revalation and he had gleamed valuable information about the effectiveness of torpedo boats and gun calibers.

Within naval circles the almost standard 6 inch gun was viewed as the main weapon of a warship due to its rate of fire. The quick firing 6 inch guns could smother a target and kill crew and disable weapons whilst the slow firing and less accurate 12 and 11 inch weapons prevalent in the worlds warships would deliver occasional heavy hits. But in a long range engagement the heavier 12 inch shells were not only more accurate but harder hitting and this had been proven at the Tonkin Gulf.


Small torpedo boats and destroyers had been a success although they had paid a high cost to put their torpedoes into two ships. The small and fragile Torpedo boats were still viewed as being inferior to the larger destroyer type vessel and continued production of destroyers was urged.

The 128 page document once fully compiled detailed the minutea of the battle, from the signals sent to damage control methods and ideas on gunnery. The most salient points being the following.


1) Heavy guns at long ranges were more valuable than lighter shells.

2) Long range gunnery and the use of range finders was clearly vital, the ship that struck first and struck often would win a battle and long range gunnery would enable this.

3) Heavy caliber shells were easier to spot at longer ranges.

4) Damage control and internal subdevision needs to be revised, longitudal bulkheads were possibly a threat to ships stability.

5) Propellant and ammunition should be properly protected and the layout of turrets should be examined to prevent possibly fatal explosions.

6)The use of radio and the marconi system to replace flags is highly recommended. The new systems are faster, clearer and less vulnerable to damage.


In the Admiralty in London this document was eagerly embraced by the First Lord who had always expounded that the fleet needed to be better trained and prepared. Orders were drafted and sent out and wheels started turning. The same happened in France and Japan as both sides immediately began planning their next moves.


1) The effect of a 12 inch HE round detonating above the main belt on the Marceau.


2) Part of the gundeck on the Magenta, the section was hit by four 6 inch rounds that penetrated the hull and detonated inside causing carnage amongst the gun crews. Sadly the guns have been removed for repairs.


3) Some of the damage on the IJN Yashima's superstructure round her funnels, most of this damage was caused by 5.5 inch shells and one 13.4 inch round that bounced off up the hull its fuse detonating it above the ship just forward of amidships.



Fort Bayard - The Siege begins.

The Canon de 75 modele 1898 was a modern military wonder, the first light artillery piece in the world that had a recoil system like a naval gun, a hydro-pneumatic recoil that kept its wheels and tail where they were when it fired instead of having to be re-positioned and re-sighted. This combined with its light, easy to handle shell gave the gun a ferocious rate of fire that with a good crew could exceed 30 rounds per minute.

Facing the oncoming Japanese forces was one reinforced battery of guns with eighteen guns in total as well as the Tonkinese Rifle regiment and the Foreign Legion troops as the 'backbone', more troops could not be spared from the city but they were occupying superb defensive ground a sharply rising hill overlooking one of the main routes to the port town. Once the naval bombardment had started the French Commander, Brigade General Corel had ordered defensive positions to be dug on the outskirts of the town to protect it against a landward attack.


This in itself had been a challenge, using not only his troops but masses of Chinese labourers to dig shell pits and simple trenches. He doubted he had the men to face the Japanese in an open battle, but a defensive battle always favoured the defender in terms of casualties, if he could bleed and stop the Japanese forces then he could buy time for relief to arrive.


The Japanese forces once ashore had spent three days organising their forces, unloading supplies and equipment as well as digging defences round their camps ashore and they were facing their own problems. The sheer distances involved and the lack of shipping meant that the Imperial Japanese Army could not send the full strength of its forces without seriously straining the merchant marine upon which the Home Islands so heavily depended. So they sent what they could with the promise of more reinforcements once the shipping was available.

It took three days to unload and organise the 9500 men as well as the heavy mortars and light artillery pieces to be used in the siege, on the fourth day, two days after the Chin-en had been torpedoed and sunk the massed Japanese troops began to advance.


Outlaying villages and settlements were taken with no losses, they had been abandoned by their residents and for the most part were intact and used as welcome shelter by the troops. The first battles were between French outposts that had been established as 'trip wires' to alert them of the Japanese approach. Most of the French troops put up some resistance and then withdrew as per their orders but other chose to stay and fight, often to the bloody end.


But still the Japanese came on.

Private Thanh leaned against the shallow embankment of mud at the top of the trench he and his fellow Tonkinese Rifle's troops occupied looking down one of the hills which lay beyond Fort Bayard. He adjusted his bamboo hat, thankful for his loose fitting blue/black leggings and top, not envying the French troops he had seen with their close fitting very smart but no doubt warm colonial uniforms.

His company commander a Frenchman called Jean was walking up and down the trench talking to his men in both French and rather good Vietnamese, a vital aspect when placed in command of Colonial troops.

"Remember! Aim low, we're firing downhill so people tend to aim high, don't! Aim low, keep calm and keep firing. We will stop them here, and where ever the Japanese may be. Think of the civilians in the town, think of your honour!"


The man next to Thanh grinned. "Honour...is that all he can think about? I'm thinking about the fact that I need to go to the toilet..."

Both Vietnamese axillaries chuckled "Hush he'll hear you and you'll be on fatigues..."

"Better cleaning the kitchen than here eh?"

"Good point..."


Again both men grinned broadly under their bamboo hats. Neither wanted to be here but it was their job, the Tonkinese Rifles were not drafted or forcibly conscripted, far from it, they had all volunteered. The French treated them well, fed and paid them far more than they could earn honestly in most cases. The life was hard, but so was the life of any Infantryman in any army.


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The Japanese assault when it came was a series of probing attacks to find the French defences and the an attempt to punch through them. The 75's opened fire at their maximum range of 5 miles, the light guns barking out rounds like it was going out of fashion the constant loud CRACK of their firing filling the air.

The ground shook as Japanese artillery returned fire but it could not match the 75's rate of fire but the Japanese had numbers on their side and despite the mauling from the artillery they came on into the teeth of the French defences.

"Company! Stand to!"


At that shouted command the two hundred men in Private Thanh's company stood, aiming their heavy rifles down at the Japanese troops who were darting forwards, using what cover their was, firing up the hill with rifle and maxim guns, the heavy rounds lashing the defensive lines.

"At three hundred meters...FIRE!"


Private Thanh's rifle bucked in his arms with a loud CRACK and he quickly operated the bolt, took aim and fired again and again and again, only stopping to load eight more rounds into his Lebel 1886 rifle and start the whole process again.


The air was filled with gunfire, the deep thud of artillery shells landing close, the rattle of machine gun and Gatling gun fire and the screams of wounded men. One artillery shell landed less than forty meters away in the trench, obliterating five men, wounding ten others. The French brought their artillery in closer, the shells landing short of the defensive trenches and starting to move or 'walk' down the hill towards the Japanese troops. The forward trenches were a seething cauldron of fighting men, the Japanese assault troops charging with bayonet's fixed were being held by the Foreign Legion troops in the front line, but only just.


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For the young Vietnamese rifleman the experience was numbing, before joining up the loudest nose he'd ever heard was the lowing of cows or the blacksmiths, the rifle was loud but this, it was numbing, totally numbing, a horrific experience that seemed to go on and on when the battle itself lasted little more than a hour.

Realising that throwing men at the French defences was futile and they would need to be worn down the Japanese withdrew in good order, taking their wounded with them having suffered roughly 600 casualties, causing 400 in return.

Both sides had learned things from what was little more than a large skirmish, and both sides knew that the battles to come were not going to be easy or quick.


1) Exhausted Tonkinese Rifles troops after the battle.


2) The famous French 75mm cannon, the premier light artillery piece of the Franco-Japanese War and the Great War of 1916-1919, not replaced until the late 1930s but still used in French territories as well as fortifications along the German and Belgian borders.



A Royal (Navy) Interlude


The large office was filled with a battling mixture of pipe and cigar smoke as a dozen men of differing ranks and professions discussed the future that was slowly taking shape before them. Spread across a large oak table was paper with designs, notes annotations, deletions, suggestions, quotes, points, memos and more. But slowly consensus were reached, ideas became agreements and the future was taking shape.


"So we are agreed Gentlemen, Turbine's as propulsion regardless of it being a newly developed form of propulsion." The first speaker was a man at the peak of his power in Naval circles, a man who had joined the navy as he said 'friendless and pennyless' and now was responsible for the transformation of the Royal Navy at almost every level, a man who had nearly died of maleria and who had charmed the late queen in his youth and was a confidant of the King. He navigated the halls of the Admiralty and Politics like a rampaging bull, driving through his reforms through sheer willpower and brute force.


"Yes First Lord, if we build these ships with the current engines they will be obsolete within five years, the Cuanard line is building two turbine powered vessels and everything we've seen and tested of Parson's engines show they are more efficient, reliable and powerful than any planned expansion engine." This speaker was an older gentleman who occupied the esteemed role of the Director of Naval Construction.

Other Officers represented the various branches of the Royal Navy, Gunnery and Engineering being the most represented although the Navy's 'messiah' of Gunnery was currently in the Far East his reports were on the table or in their hands.


"With the hull design and with Mr Parson's engines should be in theory capable of reaching 21 knots, but of course tests will be run at Haslar to verify this and adjustments made as needed and of course as per your requests" The DNC continued, puffing contentedly on his pipe as the First Lord smiled at him.


"Sir, if I may..." This speaker was a younger man, newly promoted into his rank a the Director of Naval Ordinance, mild mannered and popular with his men the DNO waited for a nod from the first lord.


"Go ahead John"


"Sir, your request for frontal fire..I have been discussing this with Mr Watts and my colleagues and we have reached a consensus regarding not only this design but that of the large armoured cruisers too."


The First Lords eyes narrowed slightly and there was a noticable tightning of his lips. He was not use to having someone try to change his mind when it was already made. There was a few glances from the other officers as the DNO withstood the full scrutiny of his First Lord's gaze.


"Please go on, but you know my thoughts on the matter."


The DNO chuckled softly. "Yes Sir, you did threaten to resign at one point last week.."

"I may still do so.."




The DNO gestured to the plans spread over the table, choosing the one that was most popular and was being used as the main design. "We and I feel that if we remove the fifth turret and move all the turrets inboard along the centerline weight will be saved as well as space and thus money and time, and weight saved can be applied to the armoured belt and internal works without raising the beam of draught severly. The Americans and French have carried out tests on turrets firing over one another and their tests and our own investigations show that the so called 'superfiring' arrangement is viable."


"I have to agree with the Admiral, whilst the blast of a 12 inch rifle will be formidable we can move the sighting hoods forwards or mount telescopes, further forwards in the turret thus reducing the blast effects on the lower turrets gunnery officer and those inside." The DNC added, pulling his pipe from his mouth. The First Lord also noticed that there were nods of agreement from other men in the room.






"How long would a redesign of the turrets take?" They all knew the First Lord wanted this ship laid down fast.


"Flattening the turret roof and adjusting the fittings.." The DNC did a few calculations, muttering quietly to himself as he did so. "Perhaps a month, but we can still use the turrets from the Nelson and Agamemnon and other mountings can be adjusted in the factory."


"And regarding the large armoured cruisers, we again recommend centerline fire but if we may be so bold..remove one turret and use the weight on extra armour protection."


"Speed is armour for those vessels, they will be able to run from anything they can't fight."


"True First Lord but it stands to reason that other nations may build contemparies to them and possibly build them with thicker armour which would put our vessels at a disadvantage."


"You're refering to the Germans, they do build ships with weaker guns but thick hides."


"Yes First Lord and they do build fine vessels, a German or possibly French equivalent could be a threat if our ships have less armour."


"I know that..Mr Watts, your thoughts please and I know that John has been speaking with you about this."


Philip Watts smiled, took a puff on his pipe as he shuffled through the plans on the table before he found the one he wanted. "I will admit that Mr Jellicoe approached me regarding this and I have prepared a reply."


He cleared his throat, ignoring the glare from the First Lord.


"By removing one turret and associated ammunition and sundry items we will save enough to have a nine inch thick belt without affecting speed, size or range as well as 11 inch faces for the turrets."


"These ships are designed for the chase, even with the turrets centerlined you will only have four guns ahead and two astern."


"First Lord I must emphasise that a six gun ahead shoot will only be available on very limited azimuths and with the current turret layout there would be risk of significant blast damage, more-so on a broadside where a six gun broadside would be the norm and an eight gun broadside would cause shock and blast damage to the turret on the opposite beam due to the positioning of the muzzles of the cross deck turret. With this design weight would also be saved due to the shortening of the ship, reducing weight to roughly 18000 tonnes fully loaded which would save money and time."


The First Lord looked each of the assembled officers in the eye. "Are you all in agreement with this?"


"Yes First Lord we are."


"You're all bloody muiteneers...and I thought Beresford was bad.." There was a moment of silence before the First Lord chuckled. "Fine. Can't dismiss the lot of you now can I...I want to see those plans on my desk no later than tomorrow afternoon after Mass in Westminster. Now onto the fate of the Lord Nelson and Agamemnon. Do we complete them or cancel them on the stocks?"


"Well considering these ships we are planning here will make them obsolete at a stroke it seems rather pointless to continue their construction, we can use the steel put aside for them in the construction of the Dreadnought and...considering the sale of the Swiftsure and Triumph to Japan, we may well have enough money to make a sistership for the Dreadnought."


That made the First Lords eyes light up, it was going to be a long meeting. One of many.


1: The First Lord of the Admiralty Sir John Fisher.


2: The DNC Sir Phillip Watts, director of naval construction for the Royal Navy.

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he Swiftsure Affair and the end of the Ente Cordial approaches.


Excerpt from the Times newspaper.


'Today the Government and First Lord of the Admiralty announced the sale of HMS Swiftsure and HMS Triumph to the Japanese Empire for an estimated one million six hundred thousand pounds. Both vessels had left Portsmouth two weeks ago and it is now apparent they had sailed for Japan with the deal being reached between both Governments being agreed upon shortly after the incident with a British freighter in the Far East.

The French Ambassador has lodged a formal complaint saying that the sale of these warships will help kill his countrymen in battle and that the British Government was spilling French blood with the sale of these ships.'

Excerpt from the Naval Times.


...not since the re-organisation of the fleet in 1904 has the Admiralty announced such a planned reduction in the size of the Royal Navy. Construction has begun on new warships laid down at the Royal Dockyard Portsmouth and at a private yards of the Armstrong company which promise to be bigger and more powerful than anything built before although details are few and far between. Lord Fishers fleet reductions includes retiring the entire Majestic class of Battleship with them being put up for sale as well as many protected cruisers. We will have more information for our readers in next months publication as well as the thoughts of the fleet.

Excerpt from The Republic a Paris news paper.


How long will our Government cower before the British? How long will they allow Albion to sell arms and now warships to fight our brave soldiers and sailors in the Far East? Why is our Government allowing this? It is our opinion that this is not acceptable to behave so timidly in a time of crisis for the Republic, for her soldiers, sailors and honour!


Rome - French Embassy.


"Sir we have a telegraph for you, the one you was expecting."

"Thank you Eduard, if you could bring it in and leave me be."


"Yes Mr Ambassador."


The diplomatic functionary left the letter on a table by Ambassador Brussard's chair and he did not move until the young man had left the office. Putting down his cigar the Ambassador opened the letter and started to read.

Commence discussions with Italian Ambassador - Discuss possibility of closer relationship between our countries - Highlight possible sale of British warships to Turkish and Greek governments as possible threat to Italian holdings - Highest urgency required - Awaiting response.


The Ambassador sighed slightly, he knew it had been too quiet this year, he stood and opened his office door.


"Eduard! Please arrange a meeting with the Italian Ambassador at their earliest convenience and please make sure my suit is freshly pressed."


"Too quiet indeed...." Ambassador Brussard muttered to himself as he staff sprung into action.


Marine National Cruiser Dupy De Lome - speed 12 knots.


"Looks like the intelligence we recived was correct Sir...masthead is reporting smoke on the horizon." The big cruisers captain said, his eager smile seeming to dissapear into his formidable and highly waxed moustache.

"Very well Captain, signal the squadron. 'Increase speed to 18 knots.' and Captain..raise the battle flag."

"At once Vice Admiral!"

Astern of the cruiser the Bruix and Chanzy picked up speed, the sound of bugles and drums calling their crews to action stations sounding over the waves.

Twenty miles to the East a similar call to action stations was being carried out on the IJN Azuma, Izumo and Tokiwa and Iwate, four of possibly the best armoured cruisers in the world at sea at that time.


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"Sir, smoke on the horizon, if our agents did their work then we should have tempted out some of the French ships."

"Very well captain, we will withdraw if we are confronted with battleships but will engage if its anything else."


1) The British build Izumo seen here on a postcard was a very capable warship armed with four 8 inch guns and fourteen 6 inch guns, capable of 18 knots the cruiser and her close sisters were formidable opponents for any vessel their size afloat.



The Franco-Japanese War - Time moves on.


September 01st 1905 - Vietnam.


The MN Cruiser Dupy De Lome struggled to anchor off the seaside town of Hoi An, the cruisers two comrades, the Bruix and Chanzy had both been sunk in a close quarters brawl with four much larger and more modern Japanese cruisers. The Lome was a total constructive loss, having been hit by a dozen 8 inch rounds and half a dozen 6 inch rounds. This defeat forced the French to suspend cruiser actions due to a lack of light vessels and the need to maintain a strong scouting force for the fleet.


September 08th - The United Kingdom.


The first official details of HMS Dreadnought and Devastation are made public and the details send shocks through the international naval community. In France the Danton class, the next line of Battleship to be launched is recongised as being rendered obsolete by the British vessels but the whole class of five ships is too far along with everything being paid for and construction already underway. It is quickly decided to remove the broadside dual 9.4 inch turrets on their flanks (three on each side) and replace them with single 12 inch turrets giving them an odd, seven gun broadside. Unfortunately there is not enough 12 inch gun barrels and construction will be delayed due to this bottleneck.

The Americans proceed with their South Carolina class battleships and plan on laying them down. Naval commentators deem the American ships to be 'inferior copies' of the English ships due to their triple expansion propulsion.


September 12th 1905. - The Far East.


The IJN Tango and IJN Suwo are comissioned into the Imperial Navy, formerly the HMS Swiftsure and Triumph the two fast battleships with their new crews are immediately sent to the Far East to join Admiral Togo's fleet. The Japanese have largely repaired the damage done to their ships in the Battle of the Tonkin gulf and are undertaking extensive gunnery practice and tactical manouvers.

The French have also repaired the ships they can although the Hoche is reduced to guardship status and will not sail with the fleet.

Siamese attacks against fortified towns with japanese 'advisors' at company level see success not only in the south but also in the more heavily defended north all be it at a high expenditure in men and material which the Siamese army can not afford.


September 14th 1905 Fort Bayard - China.


A French counter attack against the Japanese lines besiging them at Fort Bayard is less than successful and results in heavy casualties for both. Of concern for the French commander is the rapidly dwindling supply of ammunition for the 75mm guns and there being little prospect of ships breaking the blockade without major intervention of the fleet in the south.


September 28th 1905 - England.


The German Ambassador met with the British Forign Minister to discuss relations between the two countries and also announced that the Kaiser would like to visit his Cousin and London. Whilst this was immediately seen as a charm offensive by the Germans and Kaiser in particular it is welcomed both by the Royal Family and Parliment considering the current state of relations between England and France and the need for allies on the continent.

In the Far East the French fleet is ordered to break the blockade of Fort Bayard with all the forces it has and to drive the Japanese fleet from the region or destroy it. A convoy of merchant ships will be dispatched once the blockade is broken to resupply the embattled town and land additional troops ashore with the plan of breaking the seige.


Japanese troops advancing towards Hanoi from Hai Long Bay are delayed by both their supply chain and feirce resistance from both French and local troops with several short sharp engagements being fought but no large scale battles as the French lack the numbers and the Japanese the ability to bring their opponent to battle on their terms.



The Second Fisher 'purge' of the Navy 1906 - 1908


After the massed decommissioning and scrapping of 90 obsolete warships in 1904 Admiral Fisher continued to remove old warships from frontline service and the reserve fleet.

The entire Royal Sovereign Class of eight battleships, was decommissioned, their guns going to coastal defences at Malta and Gibraltar, considerably improving the defences of the two colonial outposts. Also joining them was the Edgar class armoured cruiser, although prized for being good steamers and economical their guns were obsolete and their armour inadequate. Their near sisters the Royal Arthurs also joined them, nine cruiser in total.


Old protected cruisers, mainly used on distant stations were also put on the block, the huge but under gunned Diadem class protected cruisers, fairly new vessels were also put up for sale to be scrapped, their guns given over to the army and in coastal batteries around Portsmouth and Plymouth, another fifteen cruisers.

In a bold and somewhat controversial move the Majestic class of battleships, all nine of them were put up for sale, with four of the 'youngest' being offered to Greece to replace the two archaic battleships in service and join the new Italian armoured cruiser being built.


Heavily criticised in naval journals and the press the 'purge' was seen by many to be a weakening of national strength at the worst time due to the ongoing war in the Far East and tensions at home with France.

The First Lord weathered the storm, countering each argument and criticism loudly and often with his own arguments that the old ships were nothing more than a drain on national strength and that the Royal Navy still possessed the greatest fleet in the world and that his cuts did not affect the two powers standard. The Two Power Standard was one of the cornerstones of British policy and strength, it declared that the Royal Navy would have warships enough to face two other 'hostile powers' at the same time and by hostile powers it meant France and Russia or possibly Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.


Fisher loudly, in both parliament and in the press, declared that the cruisers that the navy was loosing would not be missed as new warships would replace them, more modern and faster than the old ships of Victorian era. He also revealed what he considered his Masterpiece. The Large armoured cruiser, a vessel he proudly declared would be able to sweep any foreign armoured cruiser from the sea and 'set about them like an ant eater on a nest of termites'.

The Invincible class large armoured cruiser was a monster vessel and capable of reaching a staggering 25 knots and was armed with 6 x 12 inch guns whilst being protected by 9 inches of the most modern Krupp's style armour over their vitals. Three were laid down within weeks of each other, joining the Dreadnought and Devastation on the slips but the two huge battleships were the primary focus. Fisher wanted them both completed within a year.



Also announced was the cancellation of HMS Lord Nelson and her sister ship the Agamemnon as well as the entire Defence class of armoured cruiser as both were rendered obsolete. Fisher was already planning more of his new Dreadnoughts once the first two were completed and trials finished.


Overseas reactions were mixed to the latest developments from the United Kingdom. The French already reacting to the development of the Dreadnought and her sister also began designing a large 'Marine Cruiser' armed with 9.4 inch guns and with engines capable of driving them at 25 knots as well as smaller cruisers armed with 6.4 inch and 5.5 inch guns, all of which had exceptionally long cruising ranges, far outside of what was needed for work in the usual French waters of the Mediterranean and French Atlantic coast.


The Germans, their slips filled with the mostly completed Deutschland class Battleship had to wait before laying down their reply to the Dreadnought and Invincible but this delay for both France and Germany would give the British a significant lead in the new arms race.

The Americans continued slow work on their South Carolina class and ignored the fast armoured cruiser entirely, continuing to make their large, weatherly armoured cruisers with a goal of them being part of the battle fleet rather than raider hunters.


The sale of the four Majestic's to the Greeks most certainly ruffled the Turks feathers because it brought parity between the two fleets, the Turks looking at purchasing some German battleships once the Deutschland class was completed. Italy also looked on at the Dreadnought and came up with their own solution, the unconventional Dante Alighieri, which would give them a fast, well armed but somewhat lightly armoured Dreadnought once she was completed.

In September 1906 the Kaiser arrived in England, sailing up to London in the armoured cruiser Furst Bismarck. Although relations between him and his cousin the King of England had never been warm the two Monarchs put on a show for the public as well as their governments, attending parades, regattas and reviews. During this time together the two Monarchs were able to bury some of the hatchets they had in discussions over a brandy and cigar long into the night, the British Government also with an eye on the French and Russians sent out diplomatic 'feelers' for the two countries to begin working closer together.


The Germans fearing encirclement by their enemies welcomed these cautious approaches by the British Government and the Kaiser was even able to rein in his more pompous and boisterous nature in his addresses to the government and his Ministers and less belligerent in his tone towards the English which helped sooth nerves in the Houses of Parliament.


1) HMS Invincible after being launched. The ships had two turrets forwards and a single one aft, much like the OTL Renown class.

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Planning the Apocalypse.


IJN Mikasa Admirals stateroom.


The assembled officers came to attention as Admiral Togo entered the stateroom with his staff. The senior officer looked around, noticing the eagerness on his Captains and Admirals faces.

"At ease my friends, it is too hot a day to be stood at attention." The Admirals face broke into a hint of a smile before his cheif of staff unfurled a large map of the Vietnamese coast.


"We have certified intelligence that our French friends are finally coming out of hiding with the intent to lift our blockade of Fort Bayard and bring us to battle. We will indulge them the latter part of their plan but they will not break the blockade."


"With our ships fully refitted and repaired and our crews as ready as they are going to be I plan to meet them here." Togo pointed at an area on the map that was little more than fifty nautical miles from Fort Bayard. The Captains and commanders of the Japanese fleet leaned forwards and there was murmurs of discussion.


"I know it is close to their objective but I want to draw them in by not offering resistance until this point. Our stokers will be rested whilst theirs will be tired from their journey North. A scouting line of armed merchant cruisers and light cruisers will deploy further south as our eyes. Commadore Yugari, you and your cruisers are not to engage, if the French chase you, disengage, let them keep coming North and keep us aware of their location. Rear Admiral Kamimura your cruisers will follow my battleships but you have license to use your speed and own initiative as the situation develops, I will assign the Tango and Suwo to your division, their crews are familiar with their ships and their gunnery has improved immesurably."


"Thank you Sir, I am impressed with the British ships, they are as fast as my cruisers, possibly faster if we push the engines and their firepower will be most welcome."

Admiral Togo nodded curtly. "Have no doubt gentlemen that the entire fate of this war and possibly our Empire rests on this battle. Our ground forces fight well but are being delayed by dogged French resistance and the terrain whilst Vietnam seeths with insurrection and discord. We have superior ships, superior weapons and superior men. You have trained for this and we are all ready for this. The Emperor expects victory and I demand it!"

Admiral Togo snapped to attention, saluting the portrait of the Emperor that dominated the rather spartan stateroom, followed moments later by the assembled officers and ratings doing the same.

"Return to your ships and raise steam, we will wait like the spider for the fly to fall into our web."





MN Jauréguiberry - Admirals stateroom.


The rather oppulent stateroom was filled with Officers and stewards bringing the senior ranks their lunch, accompanied by some Champagne from the Hoche's wine cellar (1) when Admiral Gilbert arrived looking rather grim.

"My friends please remain seated, we'll discuss this over the fine meal my Chef has prepared for us. I have with me a report from Fort Boyards Commondant. The supply situation is grim and we need to sail sooner than was planned. Thanks to the heroic efforts of their crews and the dock workers the ships of the Second Squadron are repaired and ready for sea, we only need to wait for the Marceau to have her port main gun replaced but that should be done within the next twenty four hours."


"The situation is less than desirable on land, Vietnamese resistance to our rule has increased dramatically and whilst our army fights on and fights well, we are loosing control of the country, whilst there has also been uprisings in Cambodia in support of their monarchy. Gentlemen a victory is needed and I intend to give us one. The relief of Fort Bayard and the destruction of the main body of the Japanese fleet is our objective. Once the Japanese are dealt with we will have the seas clear for a convoy to get to Bayard. Although we have not recived heavy reinforcements from home due to tensions with England I have good news none the less."


"The Dupleix, Desaix, Sully and Kleber will be arriving here some time tomorrow morning."






That annoucement got the officers talking. The Dupliex class was one of the Marine Nationale's newest and the Sully was one of the powerful Amiral Aube class.

"News of their departure was kept secret to all but a few in the Admiralty and the Government and will form the vanguard of the fleet."


That got more nods of agreement, the modern cruisers were capable of a very impressive 21 knots of speed, faster than anything but the destroyers and torpedo boats and fast enough to run down any Japanese scout short of a modern light cruiser.


"We have all seen how the Japanese fight and I have little doubt they know we are coming. We will be bold, resolute and decisive, we will force the engagement upon the enemy and either drive them back to their lair or sink them all. A victory will signal the world that we are in control and that our colony's will not fall to the Asian hordes. With the destruction of the Japanese fleet we will send a strong message to the insurgents that the French Republic has a long reach and strong arm."





The two most powerful fleets in the region were set on a collision course, both sides sought to bring the other to battle, at risk was the control of Indo-china, national prestige and honour and the lives of many thousands of sailors as well as the millions ashore affected by the war. The correlation of forces was impressive to say the least.

The Imperial Japanese Navy had five first class battleships with 24 x 12 inch guns, two second class battleships with 8 x 10 inch guns and a squadron of seven formidable armoured cruisers with 28 x 8 inch guns, six protected cruisers with 6 and and eighteen destroyers.


The Marine Nationale was deploying everything that could fight in the theater save the positively ancient coast defence ships guarding Cam Rahn Bay. A grand total of eight battleships, the Captain of the Hoche having all but begged Admiral Gilbert to allow his ship to accompany the fleet being the eighth ship carrying a total of 8 x 12 inch guns, 10 x 10.8 inch guns and 13 x 13.5 inch guns between them. A mixbag of cruisers four very modern ones and four older ones the oldest being completed in 1898 with a mixed armament of 9.4, 7.6, 6.4 and 5.5 inch guns and finally fifteen torpedo boats and six destroyers.


Both fleets represented a staggering collection of naval power, the Japanese deployed most of their fleet for the showdown with the French whilst the French forces represented roughly fifty percent of their entire surface fleet's main combattants. These mighty armadas would come together in the greatest naval battle seen since Trafalgar whilst the whole world looked on as the Asian 'minnow' took on the French 'Titan'.


1) An image taken from the bridge of the IJN Tango showing the Japanese battleships of Admiral Togo's fleet in line astern formation sailing on the day of the battle.


2) The Sully, taken shortly after the big cruiser and her squadron mates arrived. The Sully was the squadron's flagship.


3) The Jauréguiberry Flagship of the French fleet in the Far East and one of the most popular ships in the French publics eye. This image was taken as the briefing onboard was taking place.

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Cam-rahn Bay 0800 AM 16/12/1905


Local fishermens boats were cleared out of the area as smoke belched from hundreds of funnels in the already humid but clear morning in southern Vietnam. Destroyers and Torpedo boats were the first vessels to move through the torpedo booms now being moved by small steam cutters. The unmistakable clank-clank-clank of anchors being raised echoed over the water along with shouted orders and the bass thrum of ships engines building power. Joining this melody of mechanical sounds was music. The Marseillaise was being played by ships bands as well as other rousing tunes including Ride of the Valkyries which boomed out from the foredeck of the positively ancient Ironclad battery ship Redoutable, one of the oldest ships in the French fleet and guardship of Cam-Rahn Bay.



The equally old ship Courbet the former Flagship of the Far Eastern command, smoke belching from her two funnels nosed out past the boom before pulling aside to let the battleships pass.



The French fleet took a hour to sail out of its anchorage positions, with Torpedo boats taking point the little cruiser D'Estrees, one of the brave ships that had faced down the Japanese in the Tokin Gulf, who had led the torpedo attack on the Japanese line lead the cruisers Latouche-Trevelle, Guichen, Pothuau with her engineering crew already declared miracle workers for getting able to move with the fleet already clustered round the engines and finally the old d'Entrecasteaux as the reformed and re-titled 2nd Cruiser squadron spread out in an arc five miles wide, every gun manned, every eye alert for hostile ships.


Behind them came the four cruisers of the 1st Squadron, led by their flagship the Sully the Dupliex, Desaix and Kleber kept steaming ahead at a stately 8 knots, their ram bowns barely stiring the waves. The cruisers were huge, each one was longer than any of the French Battleships by a good 10 meters, towering imperiously over the waves. Follwing astern, bands playing, waves hissing down their flanks came the battleships lead by the burly looking Brennus her burnished copper figurehead gleaming in the morning sun, astern of her was Jaureguiberry proudly flying the flag of Vice Admiral Gilbert, commander of the Fleet. Then came Bouvet, Messena and the Charles Martel the ships hulls gleaming as if ready for an inspection, flags and pendants fluttering in the offshore breeze.


Following the main warships came the proud survivors of the Second Squadron, lead by their Flagship the Marceau then her sister ship the Magenta and finally thumping dutifully along in the rear the battered Hoche the shrapnel holed drapeau Tricolore, the same flag flown at the Battle of Tonkin Gulf where the Hoche had nearly been lost proudly flying from her jackstaff.


This was not a subtle departure but a bold one. The French knew there was spies in Cam-Rahn and they knew they reported to their Japanese masters. The French, by leaving in this manner were throwing down the Gauntlet in a bold challenge to the fleet of Imperial Japan to come and face them in battle.

Once free of the bay the fleet formed up into its cruising formation, each battleship eight hundred yards astern of the next, the cruisers in their squadrons on the seaward side of the fleet six miles out whilst the destroyers and torpedo boats awaited orders, were between the two groups, at three miles from the main body, the whole formation moving north at a steady 10 knots with the boilers building enough steam for flank speed should it be called.



At their speed, so not to risk the engines it would take five days to reach Fort Bayard and with luck, destroy the Navy of Japan.

It took two days for news of the French departure to reach the Japanese who then relayed this information to Admiral Togo who immediately led his fleet to sea with far less pomp and circumstance on the afternoon of the 18th, but there was no French spies to warn their fleet of his departure, but they knew they had to be coming.

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1) The MN Redoutable on the morning of the French fleets departure.


2) MN Courbet clearing the anti-torpedo boom. Both she and her near sister the Redoutable stayed behind.


3) The French fleet at sea, taken from a Torpedo boat.


4) The Nissin, one of Rear Admiral Kamimura's squadron building up steam to leave.

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The Franco-Japanese War - High Noon in the Far East.


Forty miles north west of main French Force - 0843 AM


The MN D'Estrees was churning through the waves at 14 knots and climbing as she closed in on a merchant vessel that was acting strangely. The ship had been seen a hour beforehand and instead of remaining on its course had sheered sharply away and increased speed. Now at twelve thousand yards the national flag of Japan could be seen clearly on her masts and flagstaff.

"Sir the guns are manned and we are ready to engage."


"My thanks' Jean-Paul, open fire with the main battery as soon as we are in range."

"With pleasure Sir!"


Captain Domercq smiled as the new Gunnery Officer took his post, relaying instructions to the men in the spotting top and in the guns on the bow and waist of the ship through the gleaming brass speaking tubes. The previous gun Captain, a long time friend of the Captain had been killed be a near miss that had lashed the bridge with shell splinters. The D'Estrees showed that her crew had learned from that experience though. Round her bridge and near the shield of the 5.5 inch gun on the bow were stacks of sandbags piled high enough to lean on to provide extra protection against bullets and splinters. All the magnificent oak and teak fittings onboard had been stripped out and where there had once been beautifully painted but horribly flammable wood there was now bare metal, not even painted.


The survivors of the Formidable had passed on the horror stories about the fires that had consumed their ship and one culprit was easily found. Paint. Over their long careers ships built up layers of paint and this was never removed, just painted over when needs be, it added weight but was also flammable in the extreme, especially when exposed to the hair trigger activated Shimose filled high explosive shells the Japanese used which exploded with a tremendous blast of heat.

Measures had been taken to reduce the build up of paint in critical areas, on the voyage north the French crews had been busy with chisel and scour to scrape away paint from gun mountings and vital areas. This combined with the stripping out of as many flammable items as possible and the addition of sandbags did nothing for the looks of the French vessels but it did decrease the risk of fire and casualties.


"Sir we're at flank speed, reading 18.4 knots."


That got smiles on the bridge, the boilers and hull had been cleaned and although the noise from the forced draught blowers was extremely loud for those amidships the ship was now almost at the speed she had hit on her trials when launched in 1899. The minutes ticked by slowly, the merchant had to be doing 14 knots but it was not enough.


"Target in range!"

"Very good. Open fire!"

The three booms of the guns that could bare echoed over the waves, the D'Estrees surging through the clouds of thick chocolate coloured smoke as her gunners reloaded and began their cannonade with shells tearing towards the merchant ship at 30 second intervals.

Captain Domercq watched the shells slowly walk towards their target some short, others long and wide but slowly getting closer before there was a bright flash on the ships stern.


"Very good, we'll have more of that please."

In the next four minutes the Japanese merchant vessel was hit by at least two dozen 6.4 and 5.5 inch rounds which punctured her hull and set her ablaze. A few shots from guns on the Merchants foredeck indicated to the French that this was a Japanese Merchant cruiser and not some defenceless merchant ship and a more than legitimate target.

"Sir Masthead is reporting smoke to the north, lots of it."

'Not again...' Captain Domercq thought quietly to himself. "That must be the Japanese, how pleasing they have accepted our invitation." He smiled with more self assurance than he felt before nodding.

"The merchant raider is going to sink, let's see whets out there, reduce speed to 12 knots but have the boilers ready for flank speed and send out a radio report of what has happened and what we are doing."

"Twelve knots aye Sir!"

The Tokyo Maru had been one of a line of merchant vessels and light cruisers that had been tasked with watching for the French fleet, during the long stern chase she had been sending out contact reports, she too had seen smoke on the horizon, smoke from the French fleet as it thumped steadily north at an almost leisurely 9 knots. With that report and reports of radio traffic, Admiral Togo had a good idea where his opponent was and now ordered his fleet to battle stations.

On every Japanese ship the alert bells rang, accompanied by bugles, trumpets and drums calling the men to action. On dozens of ships the great breeches of the heavy naval rifles swung open to accept the heavy shells whilst meals were prepared for the crew, rice balls and chicken dumplings for all, even the engineers got a hot meal deep down in the bowels of the ships.

Up on the exposed bridge Admiral Togo and his staff watched the fleet get ready. His flagship the Mikasa was second in line behind the Asahi with the rest of the battleships following astern at intervals of two hundred yards. Then came Admiral Nishimura's armoured cruisers and the two new ex British Battleships this impressive force was flanked by destroyers, torpedo boats and light cruisers, almost the entire might of Imperial Japan's surface fleet sailing together in formation towards the enemy.




Little over sixty miles to the south west the same situation was playing out on the long line of French warships. The four most modern French armoured cruisers formed up in a squadron on the starboard wing of the battle line to be used as a fast squadron and divert Japanese firepower, shielding them was all six of the French Destroyers whilst the smaller torpedo boats stayed with the Battleships.


The older and weaker armoured cruisers fell in astern of the battle ships but had licence to act as their squadron commander saw fit and could leave the line at any time without direction from the Flagship that was sailing second in line behind the brutal looking Brennus who was training her hydraulically powered turrets to test them. The massive structures were copied in later vessels and were typically French and unique amongst the world's navies. The turrets were actually lifted slightly up off their barbette to turn by massive hydraulic jacks which were on the rollers. This allowed the turrets to turn into position before lowering them into place. It was slow and complicated but very reliable.




MN Jaureguiberry French flagship - speed 12 knots and climbing.


"Signal the formation to increase speed to 14 knots and to open fire when the enemy is in range. Repeat on both wireless and flag if you please."

"Yes Sir!" barked the signals officer who wheeled on his subordinates to give the orders.


"Guns are manned and ready, no faults reported from all ships Sir."


Admiral Gilbert nodded as the reports flooded in. Two minutes after ordering the fleet speed increased it was relayed to the formation and carried out.

"Fleet speed now fourteen knots sir, Commodore Burrant is requesting freedom of manoeuvre and action."

"Signal the First Cruiser squadron that they may disregard the manoeuvres of the Flagship."


Shortly after being signalled the black smoke pouring from the First Cruiser Squadron'sfunnels increased in volume as boilers built up steam for 21 knots with the four big ships capable of forcing their engines up to 23 knots for short periods of time if needs be and the steam was there if needed.


"Sir! Signal from D'Estrees. Enemy in sight. Many warships at grid 056, estimated speed 18 knots."


"Many warships? How bloody many..." The Admiral growled softly more to himself, the Signals officer a long time member of Admiral Gilbert's staff knew the look on the older man's face and hurried off to the small wireless shack at the back of the bridge to ask for more information. Five minutes later he got it.


"Sir the D'Estrees reports that the entire Japanese battle line is there including the new British vessels, Captain Domercq also reports that two Japanese cruisers are attempting to intercept him."

That was a polite version of the request for enemy numbers, Captain Domercq's reply had been a bit more pithy and curt and not suitable for the Admiral or his staff to hear.

"Very well...Gentlemen it is time we withdrew to the conning tower." Admiral Gileberts words were an order, not a request and he and his staff descended the flight of stairs to the small heavily armoured bridge where the Admiral would conduct the coming battle




Once inside the small iron and steel tube little more than 12 feet across but with walls 18 inches thick the Admiral removed his jacket and hat as he scowled at the plotting tables. The assumed location of the Japanese ships were plotted along with their presumed course.

'They are sailing south west, we are sailing north....a turn south west to match their course would offer some advantages but expose our rear...but if I turn east....'


"Flags, Signal the fleet to come to course zero five eight bearing North East speed fourteen knots."

"Course 058 speed 14 knots aye Sir!"

The die was cast, now it would be a case of who would blink and turn. If everything went as planned.


1044 AM MN Brennus foremast and fighting top.


Gunner third Class Jaque Endres held onto the steel ring round the edge of the fighting top that towered over the squat Brennussome twenty feet below. His gun a 2lber revolver was loaded and ready to fire and the heavier 6lber was fully manned nearby. Jaque took his binoculars and scanned the horizon. There was a distinct smudge there, funnel smoke. Lots of it and they were sailing towards it. As he went to lower the glasses there was a glint of sunlight on metal from the smudge and slowly, very slowly the glint became a faint shape, an outline.

"Paul! Put that bloody thing out and signal the bridge! Enemy in sight!"




1* The Tokyo Maru in better times before the war.

2* A post war drawing of Admiral Togo on the bridge as the Imperial Fleet steams towards the enemy.

3* An image taken from inside the Brennus' forward turret.

4* The interior of the conning tower of the MN Bouvet which would be nigh identical to the Jaureguiberry's. You can see the main wheel for steering the ship, one of three that could be used. The other was a more traditional spoked type up on the main bridge and the other was astern in the emergency control station. A fourth wheel was mounted just above the rudder controls and the ship could be steered from there in emergencies.

5* MN Brennus at sea, here you can see her foremast and the fighting tops. Although all ships of the era had guns in their masts, no other navy built such huge, multi-tiered masts like the French.


he Franco-Japanese War - Fire, fury and thunder.


The combined might of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the French Far Eastern Fleet were steaming towards each other at a combined speed of 32 knots, a rate of closure that was unthinkable. Both fleets had plenty of sea room to manoeuvre but it was a case of seeing who would blink first. The first to turn could both set the way the battle developed and how it would in turn proceed as the opposing fleet could manoeuvre to counter the movements of the other fleet. It was a huge game of 'chicken' with the lives of thousands of sailors at risk.


MN Brennus -Bridge.


"Range estimated at 18000 yards Sir and closing!"

"All gun positions fully manned and loaded Sir, A turret is training on targets!"

"Engine room reports boilers have enough pressure for flank speed Sir!"


The Captain of the French battleship watched the oncoming line of Japanese Warships sailing steadily closer. "Any messages from the Flagship?"

"None Sir."


"The Admirals playing his cards close to his chest..." the senior officer muttered. His ship was one of the most stoutly built in the Pacific Fleet hence her being at the head of the French line but if the Japanese turned his ship would be the target of their guns, only able to fire with the forward turret and what 6.4 inch guns could be brought to bear.

"Alert me as soon as there is a message from the Flagship, helm standby to execute manoeuvres."



MN Jaureguiberry - Bridge.


Admiral Gilbert had a plan, it was risky but he hoped it would force the Japanese to react to his manoeuvres giving him the initial advantage. In a few minutes the fleet would turn sharply to port, each ship following its lead to turn on the same spot and carry on their new course as a fleet. This would expose the ships full broadsides and allow the full weight of fire to be brought to bear. Of course there was risks, turning in succession made the turning point the place to aim as every ship would be moving on the same spot one after the other. Until they completed their turn they would only be able to return fire with their forwards firing guns whilst they masked the ship behind them preventing it from firing.

The order would be sent by both radio and flags all they needed was a bit more time to get within range.


"Range now estimated 12000 yards sir!"



'Good! By the time they realise what we're doing they will be in range of our broadsides.'


IJN Mikasa - Bridge.


"Execute the turn now!"

Ahead of the fleet flagship the Asahi started her turn, heeling sharply to starboard in moments the Mikasa would begin her turn on exactly the same spot as the Asahi had turned.

"Sir! The enemy fleet is turning!"


Admiral Togo turned his binoculars on the leading French ship. She was a brute of a vessel, a low hull topped by purposeful looking turrets and a powerful looking superstructure. The French flag was flying from a huge jackstaff on her stern and the Admiral had to admit she was a proud sight. And she was turning to port. As he was turning his fleet to starboard. Both fleets would be on the same course and heading. Side by side at roughly eight thousand yards.


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A slight grin spread across Admiral Togo's face, either by accident or design the two fleets had begun their turn within a minute of each other. He could see the big French cruisers jostling off the beam of their battleship line and he could guess their intention.


"Signal Admiral Kamimura to have his cruisers engage the French ones and engage the rear of their line as planned."

Although he was splitting his force he knew that the Tango and Suwo would remain with the main fleet, the large armoured cruisers under Kamimura were more than sufficient to destroy their French opponents.


IJN Nissin aft control station.


Midshipman First Class Isoroku Takano bit down the nerves he was sure everyone was feeling as the Nissin and her squadron mates turned sharply out of the line towards the French cruisers. To see the might of the Imperial fleet at sea in battle was an amazing thing for the young Officer. He'd been at sea less than a year, all the while on the Nissin. The crew were keen to avenge the loss of the Kasuga, the Nissin's sister ship sunk in the Tonkin Gulf months ago. Differing from her sister the Nissin had a more uniform battery of four 8 inch guns and fourteen 6 inch guns dotting her flanks, much like her squadron mates.




All eyes snapped round as a twin thunder crack of gunfire rolled over the waves as the Asahi opened fire. The leading French ship's forward turret belched smoke and flame as she returned fire as she swung round to open her broadside, the two fleets mirroring each other's moves almost perfectly.

Admiral Kamimura split his seven ship strong squadron into two slightly staggered groups, the first consisted of his flagship the Iwate then the Idzumo and Nissin were ahead and off to the port side of the rest of his squadron, separated by six hundred yards of distance, this gave him freedom to manoeuvre without having to turn his whole squadron as one.





The seas were now quite gentle, and the motions of the three ships, cutting through the high seas were exhilarating. The ships gently overtook the easterly heading seas, giving the hulls a graceful, swooping motion with a period of more than a minute. As the ships gradually overtook the swell in front, the preceding swell would lift the stern, dipping the bows and sending a cloud of fine spray on either side of the ship. Aft, where the vibration of the engines and the whine of the blowers drowned out all other sounds, leaving just the slow and graceful pitching motion. Forward, the sound of the bows cutting the spray could be heard, a gentle, rhythmic and pleasing tone that fitted well with the bright and clear sky overhead.


Aboard the Iwate the signals team went to work, the flags rose, were acknowledged, and after a proper interval executed. Almost immediately the forced draught blowers of the Nissin increased their noise, ears would be ringing among the stokers. Soon the note of the engines increased, the relatively vibration free Nissin started vibrating in earnest and the ship picked up her skirts and ran.

Spray was really flying now as they over took the seas more quickly. The sense of speed was exhilarating. Only a steam locomotive, most likely an express could go faster than this, and there was little that could catch them at sea as the cruisers peaked at 20 knots.


The hiss of the sea, the growl of the forced draught blowers sucking in more air to the boilers many decks below was now being drowned out as the battle was joined. Thunder boomed as tons of steel flew between the opposing fleets whilst the cruisers and destroyers look set on their own personal clash well away from the main event.


MN Brennus - Main fleet action.


The rending tear of a shell hitting home was audible over the rapid drum roll of the battleships 6.4 inch guns firing but not the thunderclap roar of the three 13.4 inch guns. Thick chocolate brown smoke billowed over the ship but it was swept away by the breeze as the Brennus dipped her bow into a wave throwing up a sheet of light spray.


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The two formations were on a converging course, closing the distance at a few hundred yards every minute and it made finding the range a bit difficult. If a ship was straddled, near missed, by hostile shells the captain would order a slight change of course to throw off the hostile gunners. If viewed from above the two converging fleets would look like smoke wreathed snakes slowly moving forwards. Bright flashes on the hull indicated a hit whilst often a burst of sickly yellow and white smoke indicated where a shell had hit armour and either failed to penetrate or the shell had failed when it hit the armour.


Hidden by the smoke and noise was of course the human effort. It was not only a battle between ships but between their crews. In the turrets and casemate batteries and engine rooms the crews worked in cramped, hot metal boxes, man handling the shells and charges to fire their guns as quickly and efficiently as they could. The sailors had to ignore the hits that tore nearby men they knew, ate and bunked with into unrecognisable bundles of crimson and cloth and kept at their post.


In the bowels of the ships the heat was almost hellish, without such things as air-conditioning the men feeding coal into the open boilers were often stripped down to their trousers whilst runners brought them water from the galley. The engineering crews were busy with their temperamental charges, running hoses over hot bearings, orders having to be bellowed through cupped hands to be heard over the rumble of the engines, the howl of the forced draught blowers and the rumble of gunfire.


"Hit...and another! Two hits on lead battleship sir!"

The captain went to reply when the ship shook from a heavy round punching deep into the superstructure before exploding.

"Damage report!"


"One 6.4 is out of action, the gun took a hit, there's a fire in the upper works and light flooding."

"It will only get worse..." The captain muttered as another wrenching scream of metal indicated an armour piercing round striking home.


he Franco Japanese war - The grind




The d'Entrecasteaux was in a bad way, the old cruiser was onfire astern, her aft 9.4 inch turret a smoking tomb for the crew, her middle funnel had been blasted overboard but she was still firing what 5.5 inch guns she had left in action and her 9.4 inch forward turret belched out a challenge every three minutes. The end came when three 8 inch rounds, no one knows who fired them the kill being shared between the Nissin and Iwate, struck the old cruiser on her waterline forward, aft and amidships.


Water surged in, forcing the battered d'Entrecasteaux to heel sharply to port as tons of water unbalanced her. The roll was so sudden that the lower 5.5 inch gunports were dunked into the water, the ship righted herself, water surging through her boiler rooms before she rocked back again.






An almighty blast rocked the cruiser as one of her boilers exploded as cold seawater came into contact with its interior. Those unfortunate enough to be in the boiler room were either torn apart by scything iron fragments or literally boiled alive by superheated steam.

Steam, smoke and debris was blasted from her two remaining funnels to rain back down on the ship in a shower of hot metal and scalding water but she was already doomed. Dipping her gunports into the water allowing tonnes more water to flow in unimpeded the d'Entrecasteaux flopped onto her side, exposing her crimson underside to the sky. All this took about three minutes and there was barely three dozen survivors who were later found in a lifeboat that had fallen off the ship, blasted free by another hit nearby.


Even as cheers sounded on the Nissin she was rocked by two hits that mangled hull plates and killed men.

Aboard the large French Cruiser Dupliex the guncrews worked feverishly to reload the six 6.4 inch guns that could bare on the wall of targets they had to choose from. Whilst the Battleships fought for supremacy their respective cruiser squadrons were involved in their own brawl and the Dupliex was at the center of it, lashing out with her guns as soon as they were loaded. The complicated controlled fire no longer used with volume of fire taking precedence.

As soon as the breeches clanged shut the guns were in motion as the turret tracked and prepared to fire. The steam powered turret jerked as it stopped training and the gun captain took one last look from his sight before the two 7 tonne rifles roared and bucked spitting their shells towards the foe before the breeches swung open almost impatiently to take the next shell.


The 6.5 inch common shell seemed little different from any other projectile in the shell room. The shell room crew were awaiting the transit of the guns back to stop so that they could hoist the two new shells up. Finally the guns were ready, the hoist was fitted to the first shell and they were ready to haul it to the gun. Able seaman Roger LeClerk was considered simple by some of the crew and unstable by others. This mostly stemmed from his habit of keeping to himself, and laughing in solitary amusement at odd, untimely moments. For some reason he decided to step forward to the shell cradle and take out a chalk. He wrote “Postage Paid” on the shell while the rest of the crew watched, incredulous. Then he was done.




He walked away from the shell cradle and put his chalk in his pocket. The shell was hoisted away and the crew looked at him, wanting some sort of explanation. LeClerk just smiled to himself and turned. He declined to explain the joke.

In the turret, the shell came up, was placed in the cradle and rammed into the left hand gun. Another shell came up and joined it. This one was rammed into the right hand gun and then the guns were rotating toward the target. The bearing was now opening on the other side of the enemy line and the commander of the forward barbette decided to fire once again at their earlier target, the Nissin. The guns were aimed, right at the stern of the Japanese Cruiser. Guess the roll and FIRE – a huge roar from the two guns, choking fumes blowing off to the east. Damn – was he a fraction early that time, just on the up roll?


The shells soared upwards out of the guns, headless of their destiny. One shell was bound for the sea, 200 yards short of the Nissin and 100 yard to the left. The other shell was destined to destroy a ship, the chalk marks on its surface already mostly illegible, the result of the guns firing.


IJN Nissin

Midshipman Isoroku Takano ducked as shell fragments lashed his position and it was that which saved him. There was a BANG of a hit near his position astern and then a flash of light and with it the scream of metal and men. A seaman in Isoroku's position howled as the metal plate he was resting his head against for a better view was super heated as the aft turret's magazine ignited. Fortunately the propellant didn't explode otherwise the Nissin would have disintegrated. At deck level the air was oven hot and Takano knew he'd be alright if he didn't breathe. There was a deep rending groan as the abused hull gave way, the superhot blast had torn the guts out of the cruiser, snapping her keel, sundering her hullplates. The Nissin's stern simply fell off the big cruiser and water surged in.


Totally devoid of any watertightness the Cruisers aft dipped down and the bow started to rise. Fast.


With her watertight integrity utterly compromised the Nissin rolled sharply, throwing Takano against the steel interior of the aft conning tower, the impact dazed him but the shock of water hitting him jolted him to full conciousness. The Nissin was already on her side and sinking fast, from inside the hull came the groan and crunch of shifting machinery and the muffled cries of trapped men. He could have gone down with his ship, but instinct took over, he didn't want to die. Clambering on the body of the other sailor in his part of the aft control station he had time to grab the hatch lever, ignoring the rapidly rising water and the blistering of his hand from the flash heated steel he thanked the Kami and ancestors when he found it was not jammed shut.


The change in air pressure and blast had snapped the other restraints that held the hatch secure but before he could open it the Nissin completed her roll. The whole ship shook as the fore 8 inch turret fell out of its mounting and drifted into the deep.


Water now poured up from the viewing ports in a torrent that blasted the mercifully unlocked hatch open with a surge of air bubbles and water that threw Takano from his post, dislocating his shoulder on the steel hatchway as the young Officer was dragged out of the wreck that had been his home for many months and propelled towards the surface.




1* The d'Entrecasteaux in far happier times.

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The Franco-Japanese War - Fire fire burning bright.


The shimose filled shells fired from the 12 inch guns of the Japanese battleships were proving to be poor penetrators of heavy armour. When they struck armour that resisted them they were not penetrating rather their sensitive fuses were triggering right away in bright yellow/white flashes that tore at the superstructure and mauled the upper works, looking very impressive but doing little material damage, the naval equivalent of a door ding so to speak.

But the bright flash and ear splitting blast had a side effect that was lethal. The shimose explosive was a form of pyric acid and burst with an incredibly high ammount of heat. Although the French had the threat of fire demonstrated to them in the Battle of Tonkin gulf where the surviving ships all had significant fire damage and had taken steps to reduce the risk of fire it was not enough.


Like many major European navies of the time the French prized the looks of their warships, even if many other countries though that the early battleships were hidious to behold (and they were right) they were still proud of them. At Toulon it was common to see crews suspended over the sides paiting their ships in their distinctive black and off yellow livery until they gleamed. The paint used was oil based, applied in layer after layer over the ships long years of service and now that paint was burning with ghostly, almost lambent flames.


Anything that could burn would burn if a Shimose shell hit near it, rope, the sandbags placed to protect the crews from gunfire, the wooden plating on decks, lifeboats, anything.

Aboard the almost steam punk looking MN Massena three shells from a single broadside slammed home amongst the ships towering upperworks amidships, rocking her so hard that many thought she'd been torpedoed with the three near simultanious blasts. The explosions ripped the hull plates up, warping them into unnatural states as if the ship had been mauled by a bear and almost immediately thick black smoke issued forth from the impact sites.


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In the midship 10.8 inch turret the turret crew felt the tripple impacts, looking around with fearful eyes but carried on their duties readying the gun to fire again, they'd already scored several hits with both HE shells and the trusty solid steel AP rounds against their target and were in the process of loading another.


Several decks up the crew were having a hard time fighting the fire that had broken out. French warships like the Massena were designed with 'cellular protection', recognising that not every part of the ship could be armoured, behind the hull plating was a warren of smaller rooms, used as stores it was hoped that these small rooms would absorb the blast of a shell hit and whilst be wrecked, it would not matter if some buckets and brooms were reduced to matchsticks. And in this regard it was working, the damage whilst impressive to look at was in no way structually fatal to the Massena. But the matchsticks the brooms had been reduced to now ignited, along with the paint itself and because of the damage to the hull it was not possible for the crew to reach the heart of the fire that was hungrily consuming all it could.


MN Massena - Starboard side 10.8 inch turret.


The use of high explosive fillers in very large shells had its own dangers, as the men of the Massena were about to discover. Hydraulic winches hauled up the great 274mm shell, as it weighed 262 kilograms. The shell carried within it 11 kilograms of Melinite filler. The British, the designers of the Japanese Navy, did not allow the filling of shells larger than 6in with their high explosive, Lyddite. They feared the terrible forces within the gun would detonate such a large mass of explosive, whilst the Imperial Japanese Navy ignored these conservative teachings, finding no fact behind British fear.


The shell reached the loading tray and the long powered rammer forced it forward into the breech, till its band engaged the rifling. The rammer withdrew, and the propellent men loaded the three 20 kilogram “ballistite” bags into the chamber behind the shell. All was done, and another winch lowed the great screw breach of the M 1887 274mm gun into place where it was fitted to the chamber and then sealed. The gun was then able to be trained by its captain, in this case no little deflection was required in azimuth or elevation before the gun was aimed squarely at the midships casemates of their target.


The wing gun had been in local firing mode for the last three rounds. It was not fitted with a gun telescope, so the captain checked the alignment along simple notch sights, not much different to those on a rifle. The elevation was only 10 degrees at this range, a few degree above the loading angle. The gun captain flicked the firing circuit closed and the men of the turret cringed, turned away and blocked their ears. The gun captain awaited the roll of the ship, watching a pendulum hung near the gun for that purpose. There it was, he pressed the firing button and the 34,960kg rifle roared and bucked as the ballistite ignited and began pushing the shell down the barrel.


Inside the shell the melinite filler was 7 years of age and had begun to deteriorate. The material had sweated, and a dubious liquid filled cracks between the solid mass of the burster. In some places small crystals had began to grow again within the liquid. All of this was invisible as it took place within the shell. The sudden acceleration as the shell was fired created pressure inside the charge, and the now unstable mass suddenly detonated, creating its own internal force to add to the propellent gasses. First the shell expanded, and this is a very bad thing for s shell to do inside a gun. The shell locked itself in place, half way up the gun. The rapid stop accelerated the burst of the faulty shell, and it also jammed off the escape of the propellent gases. The next thing to fail was the chamber wall at the rear of the gun, cracking and venting hot gases into the turret space.


But by now the explosion of the shell was beginning to blow apart the gun barrel, half way along its length. In less than a second it was done. The guns crew were incinerated and blown apart, the gun barrel wrecked and the fighting value of the Massena was reduced by a significant few percent.

Flames from the blowback flashed outside the aiming ports and hatches of the turret and continued to burn, adding to the blaze amidships that was now clearly visible for all to see.


Using primative hand powered pumps, bucket chains and what ever hoses had not been shredded by splinters the crew fought the fire as best they could, but it would not be enough, in less than ten minutes the inevitable happened.

One of the smaller upper magazines for the tertiary guns, its metal cooking with the blaze above and outside and lacking any form of flooding means or procedure, the small group of six men who passed the 47mm and 76mm shells stored within up the hydralic winches long since passed out from the heat and smoke inhalation, unable to do anything, trapped in their steel box were fortunately killed quickly and painlessly as the propellant bags stored against the wall started smouldering and then ignited.


The explosion was not a ship killing blast that would rip the Massena apart, more like a very large number of fireworks going off inside a wooden shed. The repeated explosions, sounding all the world like a very loud firecracker blasted an almost 12 foot square hole in the hull, filling the passage ways with smoke and feeding the blaze that was now out of control amidships. Yet the Massena held her position, her fore and aft 12 inch guns barking out twice a minute, her lighter guns firing far quicker even as her upper decks amidship became a hell of flame and smoke.





The Japanese ships were suffering as well, the Shikishima had one funnel blasted almost entirely away by a 12 inch round and was sporting numerious holes along her side, the Mikasa had lost three 6 inch guns to a hit on the battery that had ignited the ready to use charges and caused a nasty fire that was still being battled. The new Tango was also suffering for her relatively light, armoured cruiser scale protection but had not suffered too serious damage but it was building with guncrews concentrating at the task at hand as they aimed and fired whilst the ruins of flesh that had once been shipmates were hurredly shoved overboard when they had been cut down by splinters and fragmentation.

The two fleets were throwing everything they had at one another, like two boxers standing toe to toe trading punch after punch, it was a gruesome, terrifying and yet somehow spectacular affair.


1*The Messana pre-war, in this somewhat garish image you get a good impression of the battleships flat, towering sides, unique amongst the Marine Nationale for a good reason, the Messana was a brutally ugly ship with her flat sides, comically oversized vents and ugly bow.


2* The IJN Tango firing a broadside, the ex British, ex Chilian battleship and her sister now legally purchased by the Japanese was immediately liked by her crew despite her light build and relatively thin armour.

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Little ships - big bite.


Through the thunder and roar of heavy caliber gunfire, the scream of shells roaring through the air, funnel and gun smoke darted the two fleets destroyers and torpedo boats. Tiny craft, some little more than a hundred tonnes armed with tiny guns and obsolete 14 inch torpedoes, others two hundred tonnes plus with the brand new 18 inch torpedoes from Elstwick and Fuime.






Both the Marine Nationale and Imperial Navy viewed torpedoes as offensive weapons, a decisive weapon to be used to destroy and cripple the largest of warships. But by their nature, destroyers and torpedo boats were in essence, disposable. Cheap to build, crew and operate it was expected that they would have a short but violent life.


Torpedo boat 182 was a shattered wreck, raked by 2, 6, and 12 pound shot as well as machine gun fire there was not a single man alive on her upper decks, her commander dead at the helm, her engines still powering her through the waves in wide circles, helm jammed hard over. Her end came when a trio of six inch shells, aimed at another target, landed nearby. Stoving in her hull, opening her innards to the warm sea.


The Japanese Destroyer Akatsuki whilst wheeling and dodging the gunfire directed at her had slammed hard into the French Destroyer Harpon, the two ships, equal to the other in size and armament, their bows a tangled ruin of wood and metal blazed away at point blank range with everything they had. On the bow of the Harpon came the cry of "Repel boarders!" as a small impromtu boarding party from the forward gun and bridge clambered across the ships conjoined bows, pistols, rifles and in the Commanders case, Katana in hand.





Hitting anything from a destroyer was a matter of luck and weight of fire, accuracy from a bobbing and weaving vessel surging through the sea in excess of 25 knots was nigh impossible and hitting the small, elusive targest was nearly as hard. The water round the two sides small ships boiled with shell and bullets slamming into the water. Battleships in addition to their main and secondary guns mounted dozens of small caliber quick firing weapons, the biggest being guns that could fire a 12lb shot at the rate of fire of 12 - 14 shells per minute, and there was many of them on each capital ship as well as smaller, even faster firing guns.


In light of such ferocious defensive fire it seemed impossible that any of the small torpedo boats and destroyers could press their attack home but they did despite the incredible odds they faced.

The Bouvet took a hit from a 15 inch weapon that was running shallow, the torpedo exploding on her 18 inch thick belt, buckling it but doing little damage, the Asahi took a hit in her bow, the blast mauling her ram, splitting seams and starting flooding which her damage control teams immediately began fighting.


The cruiser Otowa, barely a year old and one of Japans first home built capital ships intersposed herself between a group of French torpedo boats and their target the distant Misaka. Her 6 and 4.7 inch guns tore two of the small ships apart before she was hit by three torpedoes at equal positions forward, amidship and aft. All but torn to peices by the 18 inch rounds she flopped onto her sides, her hull torn open and gutted, capsizing and sinking in less than a minute in a cloud of smoke and steam.


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MN D'Estrees - Speed 21 knots.


Captain Domercq ducked as the light cruisers conning tower rung as another light shell struck it, shaking his head to clear the ringing in his head he looked through the narrow view ports at a scene that would have matched Dante's Inferno. His brave little cruiser was firing every gun she had into the mad swirling melee of destroyers and torpedo boats, the helmsman throwing the ship from side to side, the iron and steel hull groaning in protest at the abuse it was taking.

Smoke poured from the rents in her hull where she'd been struck but the D'Estrees was living up to her new reputation as a lucky ship as nothing overly heavy had hit her. Yet. The IJN Tango her target momentarily obscured by smoke spotted the darting French cruiser and in moments the white hulled vessel became the target of the port sides seven 7.5 inch guns. Water sprouts bloomed round the French cruiser, one AP round tore through her bow snapping an anchor chain with a ferocious CRACK, the anchor gouging the hull as it fell away into the deep.





"Merde! Hard to starboard, get us out of their line of fire, course 0167!"


"Course 167 aye Sir!" The helmsman yelled in response, he was the 2nd man at that position, the first had been struck down by splinters that had come through the view port, his life ending with a wet thunk. The Cruiser answered the helm smartly as another salvo drenched the ship in tonnes of water, washing away some of the debris from earlier hits. The Tango's gunners, happy the threat had been driven off resumed firing on the French battle line as the D'Estrees now found herself speeding towards the two groups of armoured cruisers that were pouding each other at little more than five thousand yards.


"Jaque! Time to earn your pay, launch your weapons as soon as you have a target!" Captain Domercq grabbed the torpedo officers shoulder as he spoke, the young man, his face marred by a acne and a rather pathetic attempt at a moustache nodded, bending over his sight, the two under water tubes for the 15 inch torpedoes flooding, their doors opening in preperation to fire.

"Range...6500 yards, get us within 3500!"


The navigator went pale, ahead the unegaged guns on two Japanese armoured cruisers were clearly turning towards the charging D'Estrees.

"We'll be alright...steer us right at them and turn when he says, you're keeping us alive lad, keep at it."


"Aye aye Sir!"


1* An illustration from a British periodical after the war that tries to capture the intensity of the battle from the reports of those that were there.


2* A French destroyer identical to the Harpon.


3* The last image of the IJN Otowa taken three days before her destruction.


4* One of the 7.5 inch shells that failed to find a target in the D'Estrees. Others were much closer.

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Fire and Water


MN Massena


The mighty 859lb, 12in shell exploded deep underwater, against the hull on the starboard bow, just bellow the armoured belt. Eighty four pounds of Shimose powder detonated and the force of the blast tore through the hull plating beneath the armour shelf for a length of 25 feet. Water surged into two forward compartments opened by the blast and they started flooding quickly.

On the bridge and in the conning tower the blow was hardly noticed amid the tumult of Japanese quick fire hits, Japanese large calibre hits and their own fire. No body realised that their ship had already started an irrevocable 12-minute death ride to the bottom of the sea.


In the flooded compartments forward the water reached and then was contained by the water tight doors that controlled access to the compartments, exactly as the ships designers had intended. So the water continued to rise and fill the compartments until it reached the ventilation pipes near the deck above. These quickly filled with water and allowed the swift passage of their accommodating but still deadly cargo.




IJN Shikishima lower 6in casemate.


Cordite charges and shells were stacked high in the rear of the casemate. The officer of this battery prided himself on rapid fire, anything to please the Admiral. He had brought up extra stocks of 6in HE shells and charges, to draw down on if the ammunition supply from the magazines fell behind the rate of fire. The ammunition passage was wide open now, blast curtains pulled aside. A chain of men, stewards and cooks for the most part, were employed bringing up charges in a long train from the amidships magazine.


The 12in AP shell came aboard from the forward gun of the Jaureguiberry, it pierced the six inch Krupps armour of the casemate, bursting inside with a white hot heat. The blast quickly took up amongst the charges waiting at the rear of the casemate, these burned quickly, flashing up (the amidships 6in magazine adjoined a boiler room, and was regularly much warmer than other spaces in the ship).


The flash carried to the ammunition passage, badly burning the handling party and flashing off three of those charges. The blast travelled still further and found a stack of charges at the break of the lower deck, these too flashed – and the blast made its way to the cordite room on the deck bellow. Fires were burning amongst the charges and noxious fumes were filling the space. The leading seaman commanding the magazine party hardly noticed the severe flash burns on his hands and face. He did notice the hatch above slam close, that was quick work by those men. He moved to the flooding valve to the magazine, and turned it. He could hear the sound of water somewhere in the space. He experienced at about the same time the first wave of pain from his burns and difficulty breathing the fume filled air.

The cordite fires burned out as the magazine space filled with water.





MN Massena


On the empty lower mess deck forward nobody was around to notice the geysers of water that suddenly gushed through the ventilation pipes overhead. The four compartments quickly began to fill.

It was a different story in the forward lower 305mm shell room. The space was packed with men hauling the massive shells to the hoists. These men reacted with alarm when water started gushing from the ventilation pipe work and water quickly began pooling on the floor of the shell room.


The men above, hearing the commotion then called to their petty officer. This man looked down through the hatch and ordered that the hatch be closed. This was greeted with despair in the shell room and discipline broke down completely. A few men tried to block up the ventilation pipes, but the water was flowing too strongly. The electric lights failed in the space and some of the men climbed the ladder in the dark to begin pounding on the hatch with their fists.

In the space above the shell room, the party was horrified, listening to the frantic pummelling upon the hatch at their feet. Their power failed also and darkness descended upon them. A runner had been sent to the damage control station for instructions. The pummelling bellow was suddenly muffled and then continued weekly for a few more seconds. The men looked up at each other, shocked by the thought of what had happened below. And then, suddenly, not yet satisfied, water began pouring out of their ventilation piping.




1* An armour plan of the Massena showing what parts of her hull are armoured. The darker the colour the thicker the armour, up to 18 inches in some locations.


2* Here you see the armour scheme of the Shikishima and the different practice of English ship designers who chose to have thinner armour but spread it out more so more of the hull was protected.


3* A 12 inch naval gun similar to those fitted on the Japanese battleships.

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Confusion in the smoke of Battle


MN Jauregiberry - Speed 18 knots.


On the bridge there were cries of alarm and dismay as the Massena, obviously in a bad way and listing suddenly rolled onto her side at an appaling speed, sinking rapidly by the bow. The Massena was the second ship in the line, followed by the flagship and the rest of the battle fleet. On instinct the helmsman immediately put the helm hard to port to avoid running into the Massena as she plunged bow first into the sea. The sudden, unexpected turn by the flagship resulted in pandemonium in the French line as ships manouvered to follow the Flagships turn whilst also striving to return fire.


At the rear of the line the towering Marceau already struggling with engine problems and flooding thanks to a nasty hit amidships was starting her turn when a 4.7 inch round slammed into the armoured conning tower. The shell had absolutely no chance of penetrating the 12 inches of iron and steel but fragments and splinters from the impact tore round the confined space like a swarm of murderous hornets, ricocheting off the interior of the conning tower, wounding Rear Admiral Maras in his shoulder but more importantly killing the helmsman who fell without a sound a dagger of hot iron buried in his skull, dragging the wheel to Starboard as he fell.

The French formation was now splitting into two separate groups, one lead by the Brennus with the Jauregiberry, Bouvet and Charles Martel was steaming away from the Japanese line whilst the Marceau, Magenta and Hoche begun turning towards their foe.


IJN Mikasa


Admiral Togo grinned fiercely as he watched the French formation fall apart. He did not bother thinking why, he knew an opportunity when he saw it and quietly thanked the Kami for this chance. Shooing off a Corpseman who was trying to wrap a bandage round his leg, injured by shell fragments a few minutes earlier the Commander of the Imperial Japanese navy knew what was needed.

"Commence battle turn! Tango to lead formation heading 257!"


The signals team hurried to obey and communicate the admirals wishes. The ships Captain, the man who commanded the ship, nodded in agreement. The Japanese had learned from the Tonkin Gulf, Togo had the fleet practice simultaneous turns as the tactic was obviously viable. Now with the Tango leading and his fleet curling round they would double back on the isolated rear squadron and armoured cruisers whilst the leading French warships would either have to commence a turn in sequence or turn independently. No matter what they would be out of position to help the rearmost ships and when they came back around they would be outnumbered.

"Signals acknowledged Sir! Asahi requests permission to drop out of formation to contain flooding."


Togo nodded before shouting "Execute turn!"


MN Marceau - Speed 14 knots.


Admiral Maras knew his ships were in terrible trouble, a new helmsman was already bringing them back to their original course but he could see the Japanese turning as one before him, bringing their unengaged and undamaged sides round to face him. He watched smoke and flame ripple down the side of the Japanese line as it seemed that every gun they had fired at him.

He wasn't that wrong. The three old battleships were closing on a steady, constant baring at little more than 5000 yards. Although the main guns turrets were still rotating the secondary and tertiary guns let fly with everything they had.





The sea round the Marceau seemed to boil from the sheer volume of near misses from guns ranging from 6lber's up to 7.5 inch guns. Bringing her broadside to bare the older ship fought back with everything she had but the sheer weight of shot simply overwhelmed her. Cutting down crew, punching hole after hole in her upper works and hull, starting fires and disabling guns.


In roughly thirty seconds she was hit by over a dozen shells of 6 and 7.5 inch caliber that walked up and down her side and along the waterline. Her thick belt stopped any shells from punching through to her vitals but the Marceau's upperworks were reduced to a shambles. Her funnel, perforated by splinters was belching smoke, the uptake half choked with debris.

Protected by their barbettes the three 13.4 inch guns returned fire whilst the 5.5 inch weapons along her waistline went into overtime but the damage was building. The uneven fight came to an end as the Japanese battleships main guns finished their rotations and opened fire.


Staggering out of formation, blazing from bow to stern the Marceau was wrecked by the volume of gunfire directed at her. Obviously out of action the Japanese shifted fire to the Magenta whilst torpedo boats and destroyers surged forwards to complete the execution. The tide of the battle had shifted and shifted decisively.




1* The Marceau's 'birth' pictured shortly before her launch.

2* Thestern of the Marceau pictured many many years later.

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As the Japanese battleships concentrated on the older ships in the trailing French squadron their formation began to bend, bulging round the French ships as their captains and helmsmen adjusted course to keep the maximum number of guns pointed at the listing Marceau and her two squadron mates. Only one ship did not follow this trend, the damaged Asahi was pulling out to starboard, her guns falling silent as her crews helped to control flooding and fight fires.

The big and very new battleship had been hit an even dozen times by heavy shells and her Captain had long since given up trying to count the number of lesser hits. Most of the heavy hits were High explosive shells that had torn her superstructure to peices and caused lots of external damage but little severe damage whilst the few armour peircing rounds had struck non critical areas or failed to penetrate the battleships heavy armour, leaving gouges and dents instead of dangerious penetrations.


The most worrying damage was the flooding forwards from a torpedo hit in the Asahi's armoured bow. The bow of battleships was still heavily built and armoured to be used as a ram even if the last case of a warship ramming another was back in 1866 and because of this heavy build the bow had taken the 15 inch torpedo hit rather well.


But flooding, forced on by the battleship maintaining her high speed had spread beyond the damaged sections forwards and water was now spilling into the forwards submerged torpedo room and that was a problem. The underwater space was the largest section save the engine rooms that were not fully subdevided by bulkheads. Damage control teams had already set up bulwarks and were working with bucket chains and hand held pumps to combat the flooding whilst the ships speed dropped. Up on the bridge the Captain was already thinking he'd need to reverse the ship out of the combat area to save pressure on her strained forward bulkheads.


Then shell sprouts started growing round the damaged battleship as the leading elements of the now sundered French line came about and back into battle, every gun that could be brought to bare on the clearly damaged Japanese battleship. The Japanese had made a terrible mistake, they had become fixated on reducing the three older warships trapped in their midst whilst the more modern leading squadron had dissapeared in gun and funnel smoke.

The French ships had completed their turn and had come about, covered by the man made and improtu smoke screen, whilst almost every Japanese eye and gun was pointed at the much closer and easier targets now being battered to bits not 3000 yards away.





The forward turret, trained to port was hit by an armour peircing 13.4 inch shell from the Brennus, the solid round was barely slowed by the 8 inch thick armour on the turrets side, the shell ripping through the Krupps steel in a hail of red of fragments and splinters that butchered the crew of the right hand gun before the remains of the AP shell slammed into the 12 inch rifle and almost wrenched it off its mounting. Red hot splinters ignited a ready to use charge and an inferno consumed the turret as all three charges for the right hand gun burst into flames.


Fortunately for the Japanese battleship the flames ran into the flash proofing barrier that protected the forward magazine from a catastrophic explosion but the Asahi's agony was only just beginning.

Under fire from the Brennus, Jaureguiberry, Charles Martle and Bouvet the Asahi was simply swamped with gunfire that overwhelmed and crippled her before she could properly reply. Wreathed in flames and smoke the Asahi staggered off to the north clearly disabled and sinking.


The story of the Asahi's demise would not be learned until the next day when a Japanese destroyer found survivors clustered together on what ever would float drifting on the waves. The crew fought to keep their ship afloat but with her radio smashed and flags and lanyards consumed by fire the ship could not signal for aid. Post war interviews and debreifings indicate that over half the battleships crew was killed or injured in the short five minute long bombardment she was subjected to by the French battle line.




MN Brennus - Foretop


Gunner Jaque Endres had stripped down to his vest his sweat soaked top thrown over the side as he lugged some shells for his 47mm gun from the small elevator at the top of the mast, stacking them by his gun in a lull in the fighting. Looking through the small telescope fitted to the top of his gun the sailor let out a curse that would have made the most crass dockhand blush at what he saw.


Through the smoke he could see what remained of the second squadron. The Marceau was clearly capsizing, the red of her lower hull was visible even from this distance, glistening in the sun. The ugly Magenta was aflame, seemingly from bow to stern whilst the poor old Hoche was wallowing like a pig, her foremast gone, upperworks belching smoke but still, somehow gamely in the fight what few guns remained in action spitting their defiance.

The death of the Second Squadron was terrible to behold but the old ships had clearly fought well before being overwhelmed.




* 3

One Japanese ship, a low and lean battleship was a smoking wreck and clearly withdrawing. Shaking slightly the gunner made his report through a voice tube as the French and Japanese lines drew together once more for what would surely be the final clash.


1* A dramatacised and incorrect drawing in a Russian news paper showing the damaged Asahi.


2* From an English magazine this shows a French battleship under fire.


3*IJN Tango withdrawing from battle, the ship would sink thirty minutes after this picture was taken

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Smoke from gunfire, funnels and fires hung over the waves creating artificial cloud banks but the breeze was strong enough to dissipate most of them as the two fleets reformed and moved to engage. On the bridge of the Jaurgeuiberry Admiral Gilbert listened to the damage reports from his flagship and his squadron, glancing at the plotting board with the estimated positions of the scattered cruisers, destroyers and torpedo boats under his command.





The armoured cruisers were still caught up in their own bone grinding brawl, the Kleber was gone, her stern torn off by a torpedo hit before she capsized and sunk. The Sully was aflame from multiple hits whilst in return they had managed to sink the Nissin and Adzuma but although outgunned the surviving three cruisers were still in the fight.


The plucky D'Estrees was somehow still afloat, harrying the Japanese cruisers like a terrier attacking a bear but her luck could not last and nor could her strained engines.

Of his surviving battleships the Brennus was in the best condition, her heavy armour had protected her vitals and guns whilst the Bouvet, Jaureguiberry and Charles Martel all had varying degrees of damage with the Martel suffering the worst with one main gun disabled and a funnel fallen.


Of the Second squadron only the Hoche had replied to his signals, the ship was still afloat, under the command of some 3rd Lieutenant from the gunnery branch but he reported that the old ship was crippled and at risk of sinking. The brief glimpses of the ship through the gunsmoke had revealed that her upper works had been torn to pieces and consumed by fire, her towering foremast was laying over her bow, bridge gone, a terrible sight indeed.

Ahead the Japanese were firing again and the Jaureguiberry roared back, blasts of flame and plumes of chocolate coloured smoke billowing from her guns as she returned fire as the range dropped once more.

The Conning tower of the Jaureguiberry was a cramped circular fortress, barely ten feet in diameter and with a low, armour plated roof, the only austere officers accommodation on the whole ship and no place for any claustrophobe. Entry was by means of an aperture, protected by a blast shield and heavy door which led out onto the platform connecting with the bridge above and the lower fighting position below.






All the apparatus and controls to direct this one ship and the whole fleet were contained within this cramped space, in which sixteen men were expected to carry out their duties. Engine room telegraph, wheel and compass, speaking tubes, electric controls linked to the gun batteries, duplicated telephones, range finder readouts, signalling apparatus and a navigators chart table, this was the fleets precious brain, all protected by a seven foot deep circular hoop of armour 10 inches thick.


It was through one of the narrow slits in the armoured walls that Admiral Gilbert watched the Japanese fleet slowly turning, bringing more guns to bare. He had barely looked away when a six inch round struck clean on the conning tower with a tremendous BANG!


The shell had no hope of penetrating the armour, its explosive fury vented outside in a bright flash, but the force of the blast knocked out the Signals Officer whilst splinters spalling away from the blast screamed round and round the steel cell like trapped, distraught bees, killing and wounding before they lost their momentum.


The helmsman fell at the wheel, the senior gunnery officer fell screaming, jagged lumps of hot metal embedded in his arm. The Admirals chief of staff was wounded in the face whilst somehow Admiral Gilbert barely recived a scratch, but the 'brain' of the fleet had been scrambled, the splinters had not only killed or injured men but had severed signal cables and smashed speaking tubes.

As medics and replacement crew filled in to replace the injured or killed Admiral Gilbert was faced with a painful reality. His force was scattered and the Japanese line appeared to be intact although damaged. His ships were all knocked up badly, gun barrel erosion was affecting accuracy and range and many had been killed.


He pulled his Chief of staff aside, the man's head wrapped in a bloody bandage.

"Clapier..your assessment?"


"Not good Sir, we can't carry out this level of battle for..." His next words were drowned out by the roar of the forwards turret firing. The Chief of staff knew what his commander was asking of him. "Sir if we are to survive and preserve the fleet there is no shame in withdrawing. We can still order the cruisers to extradite themselves, the Japanese fleet won't be able to catch us as our machinery is still intact and we can withdraw to the Fort."

The Flagship rocked from a hit somewhere amidships but Admiral Gilbert nodded. "I agree...we can still fight and to sacrifice the crew here..."


Posted Image



The pair strode back into the conning tower, both studiously ignoring the bloodstains on the deck. "Navigator, set course for Fort Bayard, signal the squadron to follow..."

There was a moment of silence, but only a moment before officers went to their duties whilst outside amongst the gunfire, smoke and splinters to repair the damaged halyards.


IJN Mikasa - Speed 14 knots.


"Sir enemy appears to be changing course!"

"Sir, the magazine officers report we are down to one quarter of our shell payload for the main guns and roughly the same for the secondary guns."


Admiral Togo nodded curtly, observing the French fleet through the smoke with his binoculars, although he didn't show it, he was concerned. Yes they had sunk four battleships but they were for the most part obsolete with only one modern ship sunk, for that he had lost two priceless battleships and a pair of armoured cruisers, with considerable damage suffered to the remainder of his squadron.

His cruisers were fighting well, but Admiral Kamimura was dead, the Idzumo had taken a hit on the bridge that had left it a blazing wreck, killing the Vice Admiral and his staff, the cruiser fight had then descended into a uncontrolled brawl.


Posted Image



"Sir! The enemy fleet appears to be trying to withdraw, heading towards Fort Bayard."

"They run from our guns, can we catch them?"

The Admiral didn't even lower his binoculars as he spoke, he was not a loving man, his men respected him for his strength, not his compassion. "Sir the Flagship can do fourteen knots, with our uptakes damaged and flooding still being contained I would not risk anything higher and even then fourteen knots is only if needs be..."

'I've won my victory, the French can not repair at Bayard, they will be trapped and destroyed, now I must preserve the fleet.'

"Bring the fleet to 090, finish off the French cripples, order the cruisers to keep at the enemy cruisers and stop them from withdrawing."

"Sir the enemy battleships..." the Captain said quietly.

"Those are my orders Captain."

"Aye Sir, course 090, recommend speed be reduced to twelve knots."

The Admiral nodded his consent and it was done.



MN D'Estrees


To Captain Domercq it seemed his little, battered command was held together by sheer willpower, there was a hole in the bow you could fit a sizable cart through, the second funnel had been chopped in half, the quarter deck's once pristeen teak was a splinter torn ruin and there was at least a dozen holes along the light cruisers flank but she was still fighting. The radio, one of the few things still working had picked up the order to withdraw but Domercq could see ahead the three remaining French armoured cruisers were trapped, surrounded on three sides by the looming Japanese vessels. One ship, a big three funneled bugger was clearly the lead ship even with her blackened forward structure but he could not hurt her.


With three guns left in action, all torpedo's launched in futile attempts to harm the enemy there was little the small protected cruiser could do. Unless...


"Range to lead enemy cruiser?"

"Roughly four thousand yards sir, smoke's masking her unengaged six inchers from us thank god!"

"Enemy course?"

"Heading 176 and holding steady."


"Gentlemen we are ordered to withdraw but the 1st Cruiser squadron is heavily engaged...I propose that we attempt to ram the leading enemy cruiser to try and buy them time. Once we ram we will abandon ship, the name D'Estrees will not be forgotten for this act of bravery. Do I have your consent?"


There was no hesitation amongst the injured officers in the conning tower. "Yes Captain, you do."

Domercq grinned fiercely before heading to the helm, if he was going to do this, he was going to do it himself. The wheel was half gone, a shell had clipped it, killing the original helmsman as it passed through the conning tower to explode outside.


"Full ahead!"


IJN Idzumo speed 16 knots.

The surviving officers in charge of the big armoured cruiser were guilty of one thing, target fixation. They had an enemy under their guns, they were hitting and hitting hard, all eyes were on the three French cruisers as they twisted and turned trying to withdraw.


Only when the D'Estrees surged through a smoke bank at a hull rattling 21 knots was she noticed but by then it was too late. From the rear helm position on the big Japanese cruiser orders were frantically shouted to turn away and for the guns to engage. The six inch guns dotting the unengaged side of the Idzumo as well as the light anti-torpedo boat guns didn't need the prompting but the damaged cruiser didn't answer the helm well and started to wallow into a turn.

The D'Estrees' bow was built like a cleaver or axe, although lacking the more traditional ram shape, it was backed by a solid lump of iron 18 inches thick along the very edge of the bow. In rough weather the heavy lump of a bow made the ship yaw badly enough to give even seasoned sailors sea sickness but now it was going to do what it was designed to do.


A further four six inch rounds slammed into the D'Estrees, sweeping her bow 6.4 inch over her side in a bright flash but the little Protected Cruiser was not going to be deterred.

The bow of the cruiser impacted with her much larger target just aft of her forward turret at 20 knots. The bow and its backing plate met the six inches of Krupp's armour of the Idzumo's belt, both giving way in a scream of sundering metal. The hull of the D'Estree's buckled and warped, bulkheads and doors popping or ripping open as the bow buried itself eight feet into the side of the Japanese armoured cruiser. The forward motion of the Idzumo combined with the impact forced the smaller cruiser's keel, the vital backbone of the ship to bend which normally would mean a ship would need to be decomissioned and scrapped.





The D'Estrees flopped sideways against the Idzumo, her bow a tangled flooding mess of torn and sundered metal the small ship immediately flooding forwards whilst her crew poured up onto her midships to abandon ship. The damage to both ships was critical. The smaller ships bow was crumpled and her spine was broken whilst the Idzumo now had a eight foot deep gash and when the two ships broke apart the hull plating had been torn open better than any shell or torpedo could hope to do. The impact and flooding knocked out power on the larger Japanese cruiser and she immediately began to list, clearly sinking.





The D'Estrees flooding by the bow, drifted astern of the Idzumo their hull plates grinding together, shells still falling round her, her crew throwing anything that would float overboard before sliding down her sides as she sunk slowly into the warm water. The Japanese cruisers had to wheel to avoid their stricken squadron member and that confusion was what the three French armoured cruisers needed, running for all they were worth, guns still firing they managed to extradite themselves from the gunfight and head into the vastness of the sea, shrouded by gun and funnel smoke. It wasn't until three hours after withdrawing that the damaged ships could begin to count the cost of wounded and dead.

The battered French battleships and their few surviving destroyers managed to reach Fort Bayard at 1800 that evening. All the ships were damaged, all had casualties and all had fought bravely. But defeat was still a defeat. Four battleships, two armoured cruisers, three protected cruisers and eighteen destroyers and torpedo boats were gone, their survivors mercifully being rescued by the Japanese who were still on station. In return they had claimed two battleships, three armoured cruisers, one protected cruiser and eleven torpedo boats and destroyers.


The battered cruisers of the 1st Squadron returned to Cam'Rahn bay two days later, their crews and coal almost totally exhausted. Telegrams wired to France told of the battle, of the bravery of the crews and their commanders, of enemy ships and friendly ships sunk. In France before a sober Parliment the French Premier announced the result of the battle and offered his resignation, accepting full blame for the defeat. The political winds of change in France were blowing but not before the French Ambassador met with the Japanese to begin discussions for a settlement to the war that had cost both nations dearly.








Vietnam was turning into a place of civil strife with both French 'oppressors' and Japanese 'liberators' being attacked by rebel groups demanding independence. Siamese attacks in the south had halted, their armies bled by dogged French resistance. In the region of Cambodia, opinion against colonial rule was strongly in favour of independence and freedom and neither the French or Japanese had enough troops on the ground to squash the uprisings.

The Treaty of Moscow, held in late 1906 gave the Japanese control of Fort Bayard as well as basing rights in Cam'rahn bay as well as two smaller French holdings in China. In return the French were 'allowed' to keep Vietnam although major fortifications would have to be destroyed and the number of troops reduced. Both French and Japanese troops fought separate campaigns to quash the Vietnamese uprisings, an easy task as they were uncoordinated and unplanned.


Cambodia wasa different matter though, better organised and led by the former King the Cambodians were granted autonimy from Vietnam with both warring countries immediately recognising the new nation.

The Japanese, near bankrupted by the cost of the war brought their fleet and army home to begin rebuilding and repairing whilst the French government fell, followed by the one that followed it a few months later whilst the Officers Corps of the Army and Navy began their own plans to bring stability to the country.


In England the War was seen as a great success with 'the brave Jap tiger' chasing the French from the region. The shocking defeat of a major world power by an Asian power was unprecidented and caused more than a little bit of racism and fear of the 'yellow peril' as it was called. The Royal Navy was greatful for the information supplied by observers and the Japanese and incorperated it into the next line of Warships already on the drawing board much to the First Lord of the Admiralty's delight.


Tensions remained high in the region until 1910 when the Vietnamese uprising was finally crushed.




New alliances were formed, others died and the drums of war, fueled by calls for revenge and action would pound again. But that's another story. For another time.


1* A French torpedo boat exploding, there were no survivors.

2* An example of a conning tower with its blast shield before being fitted on a battleship.

3* A very tired MN Jaureguiberry post war after sailing home.

4* A very dramatic image drawn post war showing the end of the Marceau

5* IJN Mikasa under fire.

6* The armour scheme and layout of the MN D'Estrees

7* the Bow of a merchant ship after a collision at sea, this kind of damage was similar to the damage done to the bow of the D'Estrees.

8* French officers meet to discuss the defeat in the Far East.

9*The elite members of the Imperial Club show little enthusiasm for their new member. The cartoonist pokes fun at the Japanese's inappropriate mix of old and new attire: full western frock coat combined with traditional wooden geta on his feet, umbrella held awkwardly under the arm; buck-toothed grin and slitted eyes are easily identifiable racist stereotypes.




Thats all folks! I know its a massive wall of text but I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it and i'd appreciate any feedback!

Edited by sharlin648
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Beta Testers
1,141 posts
3,937 battles

have a read and lemme know what you think, I originally put it on the alternatehistory.com board and it was rather popular there, just hope folks here enjoy it too.


Also sorry its a massive wall of text!

Edited by sharlin648

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Alpha Tester
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Interesting.  Check the off-topic section, as a few of us play some "alternate reality" war games, based on the Seekrieg rules.  I have two games going on about a convoy leaving Scotland to Norway, in April 1918.  I haven't produced any AAR yet, as the games just started; but plan to, as soon as the games develop.  So far, the Germans have not found the British convoys ... yet.

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