As the 19th century turned into the 20th, the greatest export item any country could produce came in the form of warships. The world’s leader in the warship export market was Armstrongs of the United Kingdom. William Cramp, who envied the world leading position of Armstrong stated that the British company didn’t sell warships, it sold navies. Cramp with his yards in Philadelphia became the primary US builder of export warships with a contract for the Retvizan, battleship, and Varyag, protected cruiser, for the Imperial Russian Navy.
In Italy Edoardo Masdea, Inspector of Engineering for the Royal Italian Navy completed a design for an armored cruiser, which would become one of the most successful classes of export warships of the era. On a very small displacement, Masdea designed an armored cruiser that many considered a cross between a battleship and a cruiser with the ability to stand in the battle line and the speed to avoid action with battleships. The armor belt was only 6-Inches in thickness but covered a far greater percentage of the hull than other armored cruiser designs. Japan would put the first theory to the test. That cruiser class was the Garibaldi.
The last two of the seven in the class to be laid down were Mitra and Roca, and started in the spring of 1902. In 1903 Argentina was at war with Chile and was looking for reinforcements for her navy through the world’s export warship market. The Italian Navy saw the chance to make some fast Lira and sold the newly launched Mitra and Roca to the Argentines, who promptly renamed the pair Rivadavia and Mariano Moreno. Both ships completed on January 7, 1904. By then the war between Argentina and Chile had ended and Argentina looked around for a new buyer for these brand new cruisers. She didn’t have to look far.
In the Far East Japan and Russia were in the middle of a naval building race. At the end of the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 Japan had a commanding position in the western Pacific. The western powers made inroads upon the Japanese gains, especially Russia. Imperial Russia had moved into Manchuria and taken over the key Chinese port of Port Arthur in 1897, west across the Yellow Sea from the Korean Peninsula. This was after Japan had agreed earlier to vacate possession of that very same port in the interests of promoting Chinese stability. As Russia purchased warships from Germany, Denmark, France and the United States, as well as having all of her own shipyards engaged in warship production, by 1904 most of the new units were sent to join the First Pacific Squadron in Port Arthur. Japan was not idle. Her own yards were busy and her primary supplier of export warships were the yards of Great Britain. She still needed more to keep pace with Russia and was eager to acquire the two new cruisers being peddled by Argentina. Rivadavia became Kasuga and Mariano Moreno became Nisshin.
The Nisshin was the last of the Garibaldis to be laid down in May 1902 and the last to be launched on February 9, 1903. The class was unusual in that they did not have a uniform main armament. Some had single 10-Inch guns in turrets fore and aft, others had a mixed armament of a single 10-Inch gun in one turret and another turret with twin 8-Inch guns. A third variation was a uniform armament of 8-Inch guns, twin gun turrets fore and aft. Two of the Garibaldis received the four 8-Inch gun variation, San Martin of the Argentine Navy and Nisshin.
Dimensions: Length - 357 feet wl
(108.8m), 366 feet 6 inches oa (111.73m); Beam - 61 feet 6
inches (18.9m); Draught - 24 feet (7.32m)
Armor: Belt - 6-Inch to 2 3/4-
Inch; Battery - 6-Inch; Conning Tower -
6-Inch; Barbettes - 6-Inch to 4-Inch; Deck -
1 1/2-Inch to 1-Inch;
When the Russo-Japanese War started early in 1904, the Japanese battleline consisted of six modern battleships. This was slightly fewer than the number of Russian battleships at Port Arthur but Japan had a significant edge in armored cruisers. The equation significantly changed on May 15, 1904. On the worst day of the war for the Imperial Japanese Navy, two Japanese battleships, one third of the battleline, were lost to a Russian minefield, as well as Kasuga accidentally ramming and sinking the cruiser Yoshino in the fog. Due to necessity the Nisshin and Kasuga were placed into the battleline with the four remaining battleships.
On August 10, 1904 Nisshin and Kasuga were the fifth and sixth ships, after the battleship Shikishima in the Japanese battleline. On that day the Russian squadron at Port Arthur tried to break out and the Battle of the Yellow Sea occurred. Nisshin received significant damage but stayed in the fight.
At Tsushima Nisshin was the 6th in line, following Kasuga. She was the flagship of Vice-Admiral Misu, second in command after Admiral Togo. With Togo in the lead ship, Mikasa, and Misu in the last ship, Nisshin, the Japanese would always have one of the two admirals in the van during the battle. On May 26, 1905 around 14:15 Nisshin opened fire of Oslayaba, lead ship in the second column of the Russian fleet at a range of 7,000 yards. The Japanese line was making 15 knots, 5 knots faster than the Russians, and fired slowly but accurately. The range was mostly between 5,500 to 6,500 yards but was frequently obscured by fog and smoke.
At 14:40 Nisshin received her first hit as a Russian 12-Inch shell cut in half her right 8-Inch gun of the forward turret. Between 14:57 and 15:05 the Japanese fleet reversed course to block Russian northward movement, which put Nisshin as first ship in the battleline. At 15:00 a Russian 12-Inch shell punched through the armor belt of Nisshin one-foot below the waterline and flooded a coal bunker. Another 12-Inch shell hit the belt about three feet above the waterline but did not penetrate. At 15:06 the Russian cruiser Jemtchug charged the Japanese line for a torpedo attack but was driven off by fire from Nisshin, Kasuga and Iwate at 3,300 yards, before launching torpedoes.
The next 2 ½ hours involved Russian efforts to break through the Japanese line in conditions of ever decreasing visibility. At 15:30 the Japanese line again reversed course, placing Nisshin at the rear again. Another 12-Inch hit was made on Nisshin but without any significant damage. At 16:05 Nisshin was hit again. A 9-Inch hit on the fore turret sent shell splinters into the conning tower, wounding Admiral Misu. By 17:07 the Japanese line was firing into the light of the setting sun and the Russian line had better visibility. Nisshin was hit again at 17:20 by another 12-Inch shell, which cut in half the left 8-Inch gun of the aft turret. She was now down to half her main armament. As daylight was dying Nisshin was hit yet again at 19:00 by a 12-Inch shell with her left 8-Inch gun of the forward turret being cut in half. She now just had a single 8-Inch gun operable, the right gun of the aft turret. After nightfall the action of the main Japanese line concluded. Nisshin had expended 181 8-Inch shells during the battle. Her rate of expenditure obviously decreased significantly as she lost first one, then two and finally three of her four 8-Inch guns.
Of the battle damage received by the Japanese main battleline, Nisshin received the second most hits after Mikasa. Mikasa received over 40 hits, of which 10 were from 12-Inch shells. Nisshin was hit 13 times, including six 12-Inch and one 9-Inch hits. Fuji was hit twelve times with two 12-Inch hits. Shikashima was hit nine times with one 12-Inch and one 10-Inch hits. Asahi was hit six times and Kasuga was hit three times with one 12-Inch hit. Given the number of hits on the Nisshin and the fact that she stayed in line throughout the battle, it can certainly be said that she had validated the hopes of the designer, a cruiser able to stand in the line of battle. During the 1920s Nisshin was partially disarmed and used as a training ship. In 1936 she was expended as a target.
The performance of the Japanese armored cruisers during the Battle of Tsushima and that of Nisshin in particular was such that it lead to a burst of construction of armored cruisers in the world’s navies and the battlecruiser designs that were shortly to follow. (Bulk of the history of Nisshin comes from The Battle of Tsushima by N.J.M. Campbell in Warship: Volume II; Conway’s All the World’s Fighting Ships 1860-1905; The Naval Annual 1905)
Preview of the Combrig 1:350 Scale Nisshin