The end of the 19th Century and start of the 20th were golden times for the armaments industry. Every industrial nation and many that just wanted to join the club were in an armaments race. It was a seller’s market. There was no bigger market than the construction of warships. Armstrong of Great Britain was the leader in the built to order field of construction of warships for other countries. However, they were not alone. France, Germany and the United States had firms building major warships for foreign buyers.
The Italian firm of Ansaldo developed a very profitable design, the Garibaldi Armored Cruiser. The design was so respected that between 1894 and 1902 ten cruisers of the design were purchased by four different countries. Designed by Edoardo Masdea, the cruiser was almost a hybrid between a cruiser and a battleship. At 20 knots maximum speed the design was slightly slower than contemporary cruisers but was very heavily armed with a respectable degree of armor. All of this was accomplished in a very low displacement and moderate dimensions. Countries would not have to construct new dry docks for these cruisers. The first five were ordered by the Italian navy but almost as soon as one was ordered, another country would buy the cruisers. Argentina bought four and Spain one. The Argentine ships were Garibaldi formerly Giuseppe Garibaldi I laid down in 1894; San-Martin formerly Varese I laid down in 1895; General Belgrano formerly Varese II laid down in 1896; and Pueyrredon formerly Giuseppe Garibaldi III laid down in 1896. The one Spanish purchase was Cristobal Colon formerly Giuseppe Garibaldi II laid down in 1895. The Italian Navy kept the next three ordered; Giuseppe Garibaldi, laid down in 1898; Varese laid down in 1898; and Francesco Feruccio laid down in 1899.
The last two built to the design were improved models, heavier than the rest and both laid down in 1902 for Italy as Mitra and Roca. In 1903 Argentina was at war with Chile and wished to augment her navy, so she purchased the ships after they were launched and renamed them Rivadavia and Moreno. However, when January 1904 rolled around and the two cruisers were completed, Argentina was no longer at war and didn’t need them. I didn’t take long to find a buyer. In the Far East the Russo-Japanese War would start that month. Both countries knew war was coming and both were scouring the world’s warship markets to acquire last minute additions. Japan purchased the two cruisers from Argentina and renamed them to Kasuga and Nisshin.
The ten Garibaldi Class armored cruisers had main armament fits to three different fits. Twin eight-inch (203mm) turrets fore and aft (San-Martin, Nisshin); single ten-inch (254mm) turrets fore and aft (Garibaldi, General Belgrano, Cristobal Colon, Pueyrredon) or one single 10-inch turret (254mm) forward and a twin 8-inch (203mm) aft (Giuseppe Garibaldi, Varese, Francesco Feruccio, Kasuga) Although the Spanish Cristobal Colon was designed for two single ten-inch gun turrets, the guns were never mounted in the turrets. She sailed with the Spanish cruiser squadron with only her ten 6-inch (152mm), six 4.7-inch (120mm) and ten 57mm and was sunk with the rest of the squadron at the Battle of Santiago de Cuba in July 1898.
Both the Kasuga and Nisshin were completed January 7, 1904. Japan had to get a crew to Italy to man them and then sail them back to Imperial waters, using the homeward cruise as a shakedown. Japan certainly needed them, as they arrived from Europe in April 1904. On May 15, 1904 two of the six first line Japanese battleships (Yashima and Hatsuse) were lost in a minefield laid by the Russian minelayer Amur. The 10-inch (254mm) gun of Kasuga had sufficient elevation to make it one of the longest ranged guns of the fleet. After shelling Port Arthur also on May 15, she was steaming to her base in a fog when she collided with the protected cruiser Yoshino (4,150 tons), which turned turtle and sank. "Only one lifeboat got clear: it contained twelve ratings and a portrait of the mikado, which they had been anxious to save. Thirty-two officers and two hundred and eight-seven ratings lost their lives. The Kasuga herself was so badly damaged that she required a month’s refit in a Japanese dockyard." Admiral Togo by Georges Blond at page 179. May 15, 1904 was clearly a very bad day for the Imperial Japanese Navy.
When Kasuga rejoined the fleet in June, she and Nisshin joined the four first line battleships, Mikasa, Asahi, Shikishima and Fuji as the six-ship main battle line. Throughout the spring and summer of 1904, the Russian 1st Pacific Squadron at Port Arthur made numerous sorties. On June 23 the Russian Squadron had turned back to Port Arthur after encountering Togo’s battle line with no losses on either side. In August they made an attempt to break through the Japanese blockade to reach Vladivostok. This resulted in the Battle of the Yellow Sea on August 10, 1904. In the battle the Russian commander Admiral Vitheft was killed and his flagship Tsarevitch badly damaged. Admiral Togo’s flagship Mikasa was also badly damaged. Tsarevitch, the cruisers Askold, Novik and Diana and a handful of destroyers and torpedo boats managed to break through the Japanese cordon and reach neutral ports, but the rest of the disorganized 1st Pacific Squadron returned to Port Arthur, never to sortie in force again. Kasuga fired 33 ten-inch shells during the battle.
On May 26, 1905 the combined Russian 2nd and 3rd Pacific squadrons was sighted trying to pass the western straits of the island of Tsushima in an effort to reach Vladivostok. The Japanese had known they were coming and had been scouting for them. Togo put to sea, again with his four modern battleships, plus Kasuga and Nisshin comprising his main battle line. Kasaga was in the thick of the battle, concentrating on the lead Russian battleship. Mikasa and Asahi fired first at Kniaz Souvorov, and rest including Kasuga at Oslyabya, which was leading the second Russian line. As Souvorov and Oslyabya fell out of line, Imperator Aleksandr III, then in turn Borodino became the prime targets of the battle line. At 14.33 Kasuga was hit by a 12-inch shell but her fighting strength was unaffected. Mikasa, the main target of the Russian fire was hit 48 times and suffered the greatest number of Japanese casualties but Nisshin initially at the end of the battle line was also hard hit. During the battle the Japanese line reversed course and Nisshin became the lead ship, followed by Kasuga. At 14:40 a 12-inch shell cut in two the right forward 8-inch gun on Nisshin. The six-inch armor belt was penetrated by a 12-inch round at 15:00, one foot below the waterline at a coal bunker. Another 12-inch shell hit the belt three feet above the waterline but failed to penetrate. Around 15:45 Nisshin was hit by another 12-inch shell. At 16:05 Nisshin was hit with a 9-inch shell on the forward turret and splinters wounded Vice Admiral Misu, who flew his flag in Nisshin. At 17:20 another 12-inch shell hit Nisshin, which tore off the barrel of her left aft 8-inch gun. At 19:00 Nisshin lost her third 8-inch gun as another 12-inch shell took off half of the left fore 8-inch gun.
With three of the four first line Russian battleships sunk on the 27th, a series of torpedo boat actions occurred during the night. In the morning of the 28th the balance of the Russian Fleet was reacquired. These were the older battleships, plus the badly damaged Orel. "At ten thirty-four the Kasuga, followed at once by all the other Japanese battleships, opened fire." Admiral Togo at page 231. The firing lasted for nine minutes before the Russian Admiral signaled that he wished to negotiate. Cease-fire was called and by 10:45 the Japanese had encircled the remnants of the Russian fleet, which surrendered to end the unequal contest. During the course of the battle Kasuga had fired 50 ten-inch shells and 103 eight-inch shells. Nisshin expended 181 eight-inch shells. In the course of the battle Kasuga had been hit by one 12-inch, one 6-inch and one unidentified type of shell, none of which affected her efficiency. Nisshin was a different story. She was hit by six 12-inch, one 9-inch, two 6-inch and four unidentified type shells. In spite of losing three of her four 8-inch guns and the forward turret being hit by a 9-inch round, neither turret was put out of action.
The value of the Japanese armored cruisers in the war was noticed elsewhere. The fact that Kasuga and Nisshin had been placed with the battleships in the main Japanese battle line since June 1904 and had sailed through three separate actions in the battle line without receiving critical damage, boosted the prestige of the armored cruiser as a type. A renaissance of building giant armored cruisers swept the naval powers of the world. In Great Britain First Sea Lord Jackie Fisher took the type a step further. If armored cruisers could survive in the battle line mounting cruiser armament, think of how much more value they would be if they mounted battleship armament. The performance of the Japanese armored cruisers, especially the Kasuga and Nisshin, formed one of the factors for a new type of warship, the battlecruiser. Within a few years of Kasuga leading the charge towards the Russian battleships on the morning of May 28, 1905, the first of this new type, the HMS Invincible would sail into the spotlight. At first called armored cruisers, then dreadnought armored cruisers and finally battlecruisers, the type would be the most glamorous type of the world’s warships until discredited at Jutland, eleven years after Tsushima.
Kasugaand Nisshin were partially disarmed in the 1920s and served as training ships. Nisshin was expended as a target in 1936 but Kasuga managed to survive World War to be scrapped in 1948. Of the ten Garibaldi Class armored cruisers, the Argentine Pueyrredon had the longest life. She served over half a century before being scrapped in 1954. Edoardo Masdea and Ansaldo had indeed designed a fine class of cruisers. (History From Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860-1905, The Battle of Tsu-Shima by N.J.M.Campbell inWarship, Volume II, Admiral Togo by Georges Blond, and Armored Cruiser Type Garibaldi, Morskaya Kollektsia 3-1995 by V.L.Kofman)
In May 2003 a new company producing model warships was noticed. Box 261 had a web site that announced their first model, a 1:350 scale model of the Japanese Armored Cruiser, Kasuga. Nobody had heard of them before. They seemed to have emerged from nowhere. Were they real and more importantly, was there really a resin model of this armored cruiser in 1:350 scale? The answer to both questions is a resounding yes! Box 261 is a new firm producing resin and brass warship models in 1:350 scale. Box 261 is located in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine and judging by the Kasuga and their next two planned releases, the Imperial Russian protected cruiser Varyag and Imperial Russian gunboat Koreets, they are concentrating on 1:350 models of warships of the Russo-Japanese War.
The Box 261 Kasuga comes in a large box (15 ¾ Inch (40cm) by 11 ½ Inch (30cm). The model arrived from Kiev with no damage sustained during shipping. On opening the box you will notice that the Kasuga kit comprises a two piece hull, separated at the waterline, a number of plastic bags holding the smaller resin parts, another bag which holds two frets of photo-etched brass and a very professional 9 page set of instructions.
The two halves match each other very well. There was no discernable overlap of either top or bottom. For those who wish to build the Kasuga as full hull, this tight fit will make attaching the halves of the hull an easy process. There will still be a seam that will require minimum filling and light sanding but this should be fairly easy. Both the upper and lower hull halves have minimal clean up. If you are building the upper hull will be ready to go with about two or three minutes of sanding along the waterline. The hull design is very similar to the 1:350 kits from Combrig, with hollow interiors but the hull sides are a little bit thicker on the Box 261 Kasuga.
The detail on the decks and superstructure is excellent. Since the model is cast in a very light cream colored resin, a lot of the detail is not noticed on first glance. For some reason the light coloring camouflages the detail that is present on the casting. In comparing the hull with the plan of the Kasuga published in Armored Cruiser Type Garibaldi, Morskaya Kollektsia 3-1995, the model appears to match the plan very well. The only noticeable variance was the shape of the sponsons for the six-inch deck guns. The sponsons on the model were more rounded than those on the plan, which were more angular. Deck openings for the ladders leading into the interior of the ship are portrayed with closed covers. The deck scribing is very fine with two breakwaters. There is an abundance of coamings, deck plates, skylights and other deck fittings, all of which are finely executed. Of special note is the inclusion on the hull casting of the circular coal scuttles amidships, which will really add interest and life to the finished model. The large anchor gear deck plate the same plate lines and details as found in the published plan of the ship. The deck detail is excellent.
The hull sides detail is not quite as crisp as that of the deck. Casemate gun openings could be more angular with more definition for the three center positions on each side. They appear to be a little bit rounded in the corners. Hull strakes should also be more squared. Port holes are very shallow. That is no problem if you ink them in but if not, they will need to be drilled deeper with a pin vise. Each side of the hull has two small anchors that don’t match the fineness of the detail of the deck. However, each side of the hull has a number of nicely done doors, hatches above water torpedo position doors.
Smaller resin parts range from good to excellent. The single mast of the cruiser is very well done with a nice separate mast top. The mast is perfectly straight with nice fittings detail. The turrets for the eight-inch and ten-inch guns are also nice with cleanly defined sighting hoods. There are quite a number of J shaped ventilator funnels in various styles, which are excellent. They are hollowed out with no nicks or voids on the edges of the openings. Gun barrels for the 10-inch, 8-inch, and 6-inch guns are good. They’re nicely defined and as with the mast perfectly straight. The 76mm guns come in two types, completely open guns and some with gun shielding. The guns with shielding are cast with the shield and breach block but you have to add the barrels. Box 261 has provided funnels of a unique design. Both funnels on Kasuga had very unique bands, two per funnel. One is half way up the funnel where the diameter of the funnel decreases and the other is at the top. Box 261 provides resin rings to replicate this feature rather than cast them integral to the funnel. I have not seen this approach before and it gives this feature a very strong definition. What is not immediately obvious, is that the top and bottom of these rings are not symmetrical. The bottom is flat and the top is rounded. Make sure the flat surface of these rings faces down when assembling this feature. I didn’t notice the difference until I was examining the photographs of the dry fitted parts. The fore and aft bridges are good but could be a little thinner, through some light sanding. Ship’s boats are average. The parts fit very well together. Deck houses and funnels just click into place and the funnel bands fit perfectly over the funnels.