Gunboats were specialized warships of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Of the three major areas of design of all warships, speed, armor and armament, only armament was emphasized. The name says it all. Gun because of the emphasis on the armament and boat because of the generally small size. The ships were designed to show the flag, generally on colonial stations far from the main fleets. Designed to overawe small powers, subdue natives and enforce imperial policies, the gunboats of all the powers were the tools of the Age of Imperialism.
With one of the largest empires in the world and a rapidly expanding fleet, Imperial Russia at the end of the 19th Century had a need for gunboats. The first two were the Sivuch and Bobr laid down in 1883 and completed in 1885. The next two were slightly larger and heavier. Koreits and Mandjur are listed as being in the same class but there were significant differences between the two, one of which was the much more pronounced ram bow of Koreits. In 1885 Koreits was laid down at Bergsund in Stockholm, Sweden. Launched in August 1886, she was completed in 1887. Because of her mission of operating far from the coal supplies of major naval bases, Koreits was barquetine rigged with a full set of sails. In theory she could use her sails if no coal was available for steaming. In reality she performed poorly under sail.
True to her gunboat design she lacked armor, was slow at 13.3 knots maximum speed but packed a lot of armament on her 1,270 tons. Koreits had two eight-inch/35 guns with splinter shields forward on sponsons overhanging the bow, a six-inch/35 aft, four 4.2-inch/20 guns mounted two per broadside, two 3 Pdr QF, four 1 Pdr QF and one 15-inch above water torpedo tube. All in all, almost a cruiser’s armament packed into that 1,200 tons. In February 1904 the Koreits found herself in the wrong place at the wrong time, at the main port for Seoul, Korea, Chemulpho now called Inchon. The port was characterized by remarkable shifts in tidal levels and a long narrow channel leading from the port to the open waters of the Yellow Sea.
"The Japanese had managed to get control of the Korean telegraphic communications, and for some days before February 8, 1905, (sic) had stopped the transmission of telegrams likely to be prejudicial to their interests. In this sensible proceeding, as well as in their complete and admirable reticence, they gave a lesson to future belligerents." The Naval Annual 1905 at page 123. The port of Chemulpho was the port for the Korean capital of Seoul. Of the 30,000 Japanese citizens in Korea at the time, 12,000 resided in the port. The Japanese Imperial Army had maintained a garrison of 400 men at Chemulpho for some time. However, Imperial Japan was not the only country that had interest in the Korean peninsula at the start of the 20th Century. For Imperial Russia the Korean peninsula separated her Russian Pacific Frontier of Vladivostok with her Manchurian base at Port Arthur.
Tensions between Japan and Korea had been building since the Sino-Japanese War of 1894. In November 1894 Japan in her victory over China, had seized Port Arthur, a natural port on the Liautung Peninsula of Manchuria, west across the Yellow Sea from Korea. In the Peace Treaty of Shimonoseki China had ceded the port to Japan. However, Japan quickly felt political pressure from Russia, France and Germany to renounce ownership of the ceded territory. All three demanded that in the order to respect Chinese territorial integrity, Japan must renounce the territory, which Japan did. Germany quickly seized Kiao-chow but Russia went further, she seized Port Arthur and most of Manchuria. Soon the best of the Imperial Russian Navy became the First Pacific Squadron based at Port Arthur. The Russian First Pacific Squadron was roughly equivalent to the Imperial Japanese Fleet.
It is interesting to contrast the British view of the two protagonists as contained in The Naval Annual 1905 as it reported on naval actions of the Russo-Japanese War. "The desire to expand, indeed the necessity of expansion, had been felt in Japan of late years as much as in occidental countries; and here was an area close by her doors and almost inviting the action of her expanding energy. Sentiment has also to be taken into account. For centuries the Japanese had regarded Korea as standing in a special relation to themselves." Page 100. Translation – Japanese Imperialism in Korea is natural. "That Russia was urged by an irresistible desire to expand is one of the commonplaces of recent history. Her expansion has usually taken the form of occupation of territory on her frequently advancing frontiers, and it has been common to apply to it the epithet ‘political,’ as though to show that it is not commercial or industrial." Page 101 Translation – Russian Imperialism in Korea is sinister. Of course the British Empire was the most successful product of imperialism. Almost all major nations were imperialistic at the time with the established powers of Britain, France and Russia and the new powers of Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States, all interested in events in China and Korea.
"On January 27 the Japanese Minister in St. Petersburg learnt that it had been decided by the Russian Government not to yield on the Manchuria question. War then became inevitable." The Naval Annual 1905, at page 103. Undoubtedly the decision for war occurred before January 1904. The entire Japanese Fleet was mobilized by December 1903 and the main force assembled at Sasebo. "On February 5, the government in Tokio, telegraphed to its representative in St. Petersburg that further prolongation of the situation was inadmissible and directed him to inform the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs that there was no alternative other than to terminate the present futile negoiations." The Naval Annual 1905 at page 111. This message was handed to the Russians on February 6, 1904. Does this sound familiar? It should as it was very similar to the statements in the message to be given to the United States Secretary of State on the morning of December 7, 1941. On that same day, February 6, 1904, the Japanese Fleet "United Squadron" steamed out of Sasebo with battle plans set. The Japanese would launch a surprise attack upon the Russian Fleet at their main base of Port Arthur. Instead of the Aichi Vals and Nakajima Kates used at Pearl Harbor 38 years later, the main weapons in the attack on Port Arthur would be torpedo boats and torpedo boat destroyers but the mission was the same, to cripple the opposing fleet with the initiation of hostilities.
A cruiser squadron consisting of Asama, Naniwa, and Takachiho under Rear Admiral Uriu was tasked to escort transports carrying 12,000 troops to Chemulpho in order to occupy Seoul. They would be joined by the cruiser Chiyoda, which was already at Chemulpho. Also riding at anchor at Chelulpho were the HMS Talbot, French cruiser Pascal, Italian cruiser Elba, USS Vicksburg with a hospital ship and two Russian ships, the protected cruiser Varyag and the gunboat Koreits. The commander of the Varyag commanded the Russian force. He was very much aware that the political situation was dangerously deteriorating and had been trying and trying to receive permission to up anchor and leave his unenviable tactical situation, as he was completely isolated from any support. However, the Russian foreign officer in Chemulpho denied his request to leave.
"The omission of the naval authorities at Port Arthur to recall their outlying vessels as a mere matter of ordinary precaution on relations becoming strained may have been due to the strongly held belief that Japan would not dare go to war. It is, however, only fair to those authorities to say that impolitic dispersal of men-of-war in distant seas is usually adopted in deference to the demands of diplomatists and counsels whose ignorance of naval strategic requirements is profound. It is not every admiral who has sufficient strength of character to resist demands of the kind.’ The Naval Annual 1905 at page 124. The Russians finally received permission for the Koreits to leave to carry dispatches to Port Arthur. It was too late as on the night of February 7 Chiyoda put to sea to join Uriu’s squadron.
On the afternoon of February 8, Koreits steamed down the channel to reach the Yellow Sea. Three miles down the channel Koreits met the four Japanese cruisers with their accompanying torpedo boats. "The officers of the Korieits state that, so little did they expect war, that their ship saluted the Japanese admiral’s flag. The salute was not returned, and the flagship Asama placed herself so as to bar any further advance of the Korieits. On this the latter cleared for action. Four torpedo-boats now approached as though about to attack her. They discharged, according to the Russians, three torpedoes at her. Two went wide; one ran straight, but dived beneath her. The Korieits admittedly fired two shots, the first gun-shots fired in the war." The Naval Annual 1905 at page 124.
There were three versions of who and why was first to fire, two Russian versions and one Japanese. The first Russian version was that Koreits did not fire until after the second torpedo was launched at her. The second version was that both Russian shots were fired by a man who misunderstood an order. The Japanese version was that Koreits cleared for action and fired first. It really is academic as the Japanese action of blocking the Koreits was an act of aggression with Japanese attack plans about to be executed. The Koreits turned around and rejoined Varyag at Chemulpho. At 5:30 PM Chiyoda, Takachiho, Akashi and five torpedo-boats entered the anchorage and took up positions around the two Russian ships. After a note of protest from the commander of HMS Talbot the Japanese agreed not to take any further action against the Russians as long as they did not interfere with Japanese landings from the transports, Tairu, Otaru and Heijo. Landings started at 8:00 PM and were finished at midnight. The Japanese attack on Port Arthur was early in the morning of February 9.
Later that morning the commander of the Varyag received a note from the Japanese that the two Russian ships would be attacked at 4:00 PM unless they left by noon. The captains of the British, French and Italian ships signed a note of protest about violation of Korean neutrality but shortly after Admiral Uriu received it the Russians upanchored at 11:45 AM and started down the channel. The Japanese force, eight miles down the channel, now consisted of Asama, Naniwa, Chiyoda, Takachiho, Akashi, Niitaka and torpedo boats was ready. Action was between 5,000 to 6,000 yards, according to the Japanese, 9,000 yards according to the Russians. After 35 minutes action was broken off and the Russians returned to Chemulpho. Observers stated that the real action only lasted 14 to 15 minutes.
Japanese fire was concentrated on Varyag and disregarded Koreits. In fact officers of Koreits reported that their ship was only slightly touched once and received no damage. "The Korieits had already recognised the hopeless character of the struggle in which she was engaged and had steered for the anchorage." The Naval Annual 1905 at page 126. At 4:30 PM Korieits blew herself up. "The Sungari was set on fire and sunk, and the Korieits was blown up, her hull breaking into three pieces and the fore part turning bottom up." The Naval Annual 1905 at page 127.
The Box 261 Koreits
The hull casting really shines in the deck detail. The detail is very strong and there is plenty of it. From the Mae West forward sponsons to the six-inch base plate at the stern, there is all sorts of detail that jumps out at you. Both of the eight-inch mounts as well as the six-inch have circular base plates with very prominent bolt heads. On each side of the deck there is a row of crisp coal scuttles. There is also an abundance of various deck houses and coamings. Clean up consists of the removal of a small casting runner, attached to the keel. A quick sanding and maybe a little filling a a couple of pits on the bottom of the hull, if you feel like it, and your ready to go.
One odd feature is the presence of rows of fittings along the bulkheads. They appear to be rows of belaying pins as found in sailing ships. Given the full sailing rig carried by the Koreits, that is probably what they are. However, it is odd to see belaying pins on the same model with coal scuttles and a smoke stack. The two eight-inch and single six-inch guns have excellent detail with clearly defined banding. However, the 4.2-inch and QF guns are somewhat lacking in detail. Masts are well defined with very nice reinforcing band detail. A complete outfit of ship’s boats to rest on boat skids or swing on the davits rounds out the smaller resin pieces.
The Box 261 Koreits is available from Pacific Front and other retailers.