Tuesday, March 20, 2018

HIJMS Mikasa - A Significant Ship in the History of Naval Warfare

Probably ranking with its contemporaries in fame and development of technology in naval warships, including the battleship HMS Dreadnought (1906), and Commodore George Dewey’s flagship at Manila Bay, the protected cruiser USS Olympia (1895), is the Japanese battleship HIJMS Mikasa.

Although not homeported in Yokosuka, Japan, the USS Princeton (CV-37, CVS-37 subsequently LPH-5) spent a lot of its commissioned service with the US 7th Fleet, frequently spending extended in-port periods at the United States Naval Base, Yokosuka, in the 1958-1960 timeframe. While stationed in the Princeton at the time, I had the opportunity to visit HIJMS Mikasa several times.

The USS Princeton (then CVS-37) moored at pier in Yokosuka, Japan, and the USS Saint Paul (CA-73), flagship of Commander, 7th Fleet, as seen from the carrier's flight deck.

Here are three of my photographs of Mikasa taken at the time. Unfortunately either I did not take, or cannot find any interior pictures, so that is why I was recently elated over the following photographic essay that was found on the Internet. Hopefully the more recent photographer producing the essay, Geoffrey Morrison, who is a far superior photographer, will not take serious umbrage with my reference to his web site; https://www.cnet.com/news/japans-114-year-old-battleship-mikasa-a-relic-of-another-time/  I am taking the liberty of using three of his photographs, with full acknowledgement and significant gratitude. As the reader can discern, different times (1959 vs 2017), different color paint, same ship.

 The Mikasa, named after a mountain in Japan (aka Mount Wakakusa) was the flagship of Marshal-Admiral The Marquis Tōgō Heihachirō, OM, GCVO at the Battle of Tsushima (Straits) on 27 May 1905. A son of a samurai, he is generally considered internationally as one of Japan’s greatest naval heroes. Marshal-Admiral Tōgō received the totality of his early formal training as a cadet in the training ship HMS Worcester at the Thames Naval College in 1872, graduating second in his class. He participated in the evolution and emergence of the Japanese Navy as an exact model in almost every aspect of the Royal Navy, and a world naval power at the turn of the 20th Century.

As would be suspected the Mikasa was built at Vickers, Barrow-in-Furness, England, launched 8 November 1900, and commissioned 1 March 1902. Basic specifications are from a very early edition of Jane’s Fighting Ships, and a diagram of the arrangement of one of its twin 12in./40 cal. gun turrets are detailed in the next two diagrams. Although with some obvious trepidation, the Royal Navy and Vickers-Armstrong greatly benefited from the the design and technology which was incorporated into the construction of Mikasa. Serving as a prototype and transition, it culminated in the design of HMS Dreadnought, a revolutionary warship, in 1906.

The combination of its main armament of four 12in./40cal. guns in two turrets, combined with its dual armored belts (lower belt 9in. Krupp steel amidships, upper belt 6in., 10in. to 14in. in the barbettes, 8in. to 10in. in the turrets, and 14in. in the forward conning station) afforded Mikasa with a formidable balanced capability to both deliver and sustain the effects of substantial naval gunfire, which at that time were previously unachieved ranges. The guns of the main battery had an effective maximum range of 7.55 naut mi. (14 km.). All of this was integrated with a coal-fired steam power plant capable of providing a top speed of 18.5 knots. At the Battle of Tsushima the Russians recognized and knew it was Admiral Togo's flagship, concentrating their gunnery on the Mikasa, which did incur limited damage and personnel casualties, however throughout the battle it effectively maintained its full offensive capacity. What was even more incredible was the fact that Admiral Togo never left the totally exposed open bridge during the entire battle (without even a helmet or life preserver).

Just a bit of trivia. In the following painting, the single international signal flag for the letter "Z" ("Zulu" in NATO naval parlance) is prominately depicted. The flag is seen in the majority of paintings of Admiral Togo, and usually displayed to this day from one of the foremast yardarms of the Mikasa itself (as seen in one of the previous photographs). It was employed as a prearranged signal by Admiral Togo to mean, "The fate of the Empire rests upon the outcome of this battle. Let every man do his utmost." Analogous to Nelson's signal at Trafalgar, "England expects that every man will do his duty."

As a brief segue, from a weapon systems engineering perspective, it is interesting to research the quality of optics the Japanese had achieved, and incorporated into their main coincidence range-finders for gunnery fire control, i.e. accuracy as a function of range. The Mikasa had 80 centimeter Barr and Stroud FA3 Rangefinders (obviously British manufacture, not Japanese), which were accurate out to 7.3 km. (approximately half the range of its main armament). As can be observed this rangefinder is totally unprotected and highly vulnerable on the aft portion of the open bridge. To a weapons systems engineer this would be identified as an extremely weak, if not critical link. One possible solution would be a second rangefinder installed within the armored conning station, or far aft at the secondary conning station (physically separated) from the bridge. Uncorrected this would obviously be a limiting factor in the ship's overall effectiveness, and combat survivability, as a total weapons system. Investigated whether there actually was another rangefinder at the aft secondary conning station, and there was (but not in the restored ship). It was, however, still totally exposed and unprotected.

For those readers who may be serious (really serious) naval engineering historians, naval architects, or otherwise interested, the following article was published in the British professional magazine, ENGINEERING: in 1902 (Apologies for the physical size, but it can be somewhat enlarged using the Zoom In feature on your computer for reasonably clear readability). As an alternative, and a more cursory assessment, please see the video referenced in the link listed below. 

As part of the terms of the Unconditional Surrender of Japan ending World War II, the Soviet Union wanted the Mikasa totally destroyed, as it served as an ugly and severely humiliating reminder of the Russo-Japanese War. It was already encased in, and filled with concrete, having been sunk as the result of a major magazine explosion in 1905 (days after the Battle of Tsushima), subsequently raised and used for a short period as a coastal defense ship, then retired as a memorial ship.  In addition to his wisdom in maintaining the status of Emperor Hirohito, General of the Army Douglas MacArthur allowed the Japanese to preserve the Mikasa, albeit the ship obviously remained encased and filled with concrete. It still resides at the United States Naval Base, Yokosuka, Japan (a former major base of the Imperial Japanese Navy).

The following is a brief narrative of Marshal-Admiral Tōgō’s decisive victory over the Russian fleet at Tsushima:

“Leading the Japanese fleet to sea, Togo approached from the north with his ships in a line ahead formation. Spotting the Russians at 1:40 PM, the Japanese moved to engage. Aboard his flagship, Knyaz Suvorov, Rozhestvensky pressed on with the fleet sailing in two columns. Crossing in front of the Russian fleet, Togo ordered the fleet to follow him through a large u-turn. This allowed the Japanese to engage Rozhestvensky's port column and block the route to Vladivostok. As both sides opened fire, the superior training of the Japanese soon showed as the Russian battleships were pummeled.

Striking from around 6,200 meters (Editorial note: relatively point-blank range considering Mikasa's armament, but not considering its range finding limitation), the Japanese hit Knyaz Suvorov (also 12in./40cal. main armament), badly damaging the ship and injuring Rozhestvensky. With the ship sinking, Rozhestvensky was transferred to the destroyer Buiny. With the battle raging, command devolved to Rear Admiral Nikolai Nebogatov. As the firing continued, the new battleships Borodino and Imperator Alexander III (both with 12in./40 cal. main armament) were also put out of action and sunk. As the sun began to set, the heart of the Russian fleet had been destroyed with little damage inflicted upon the Japanese in return.

After dark, Togo launched a massive attack involving 37 torpedo boats and 21 destroyers. Slashing into the Russian fleet, they relentlessly attacked for over three hours sinking the battleship Navarin and crippling the battleship Sisoy Veliki. Two armored cruisers were also badly damaged, forcing their crews to scuttle them after dawn. The Japanese lost three torpedo boats in the attack.

When the sun rose the next morning, Togo moved in to engage the remnants of Nebogatov's fleet. With only six ships left, Nebogatov hoisted the signal to surrender at 10:34 AM. Believing this a ruse, Togo opened fire until the signal was confirmed at 10:53. Throughout the rest of the day, individual Russian ships were hunted and sunk by the Japanese.”

“The Battle of Tsushima was the only decisive fleet action in hisory fought solely between steel battleships. In the fighting, the Russian fleet was effectively destroyed with 21 ships sunk and six captured. Of the Russian crews, 4,380 were killed and 5,917 captured."

"Only three ships escaped to reach Vladivostok, while another six were interned in neutral ports. Japanese losses were a remarkably light 3 torpedo boats as well as 117 killed and 583 wounded. The defeat at Tsushima badly damaged Russia's international prestige while signaling Japan's ascent as a naval power. In the wake of Tsushima, Russia was forced to sue for peace.”

Marshal-Admiral Togo's victory at Tsushima certainly ranks with that of Vice-Admiral Lord Horatio Nelson against the combined French and Spanish navies at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, as well as that of Admirals Chester Nimitz, Jack Fletcher and Raymond Spruance, against the Japanese navy at the Battle of Midway in 1942.

With full acknowledgement and expressed gratitude to the World of Warships, the following is a short, but highly informative video about HIJMS Mikasa.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

An Interesting Makarov Pistol - Open to Conjecture

Hopefully the readers of this blog can provide further insight in identifying the origin and history of the following semi-automatic pistol that was purchased at the Orange County Gun Show, in Anaheim, California, in 1988.

The pistol is a Chinese made Pistol, Type 59, essentially identical to the standard Soviet manufactured Pistol, PM, 9x18mm, Makarov, in the same caliber cartridge, and probably manufactured by Norinco (China North Industries Group Corporation). The weapon is unique in that it is in pristine condition (apparently unfired), and is solely marked with the matching pantographed serial number, ZZ270071 on both the slide and receiver frame. There are no other markings visible on the weapon’s exterior. All exterior surfaces have been measured by micrometer in order to preclude any possibility of grinding, polishing and re-bluing. The back surface of the trigger, i.e. towards the magazine has the numbers '071' roughly scratched on it. The the back surface of the magazine has the numbers '597-2' roughly scratched, and barely discernible. No numbers are discernible on any other visible exterior surfaces of parts. Have not further field stripped the pistol in order to protect it's pristine finish. Essentially while displaying all the characteristics of Chinese origin, it is effectively "sanitized". At time of acquisition in 1988, the seller alluded to it having been allegedly captured in Grenada in 1982 by an 82nd Airborne Paratrooper, and brought back as a souvenir. An alternate conjecture was it was manufactured by the Chinese, and shipped to the Afghanistan Resistance (Mujahedeen) during a period when relations with the Soviet Union were "extremely strained". Personally consider both of these scenarios highly dubious due to the virtually new condition of the weapon. Note that the holster and leather lanyard are contemporary Soviet Army standard issue, and did not come with the pistol. The holster being marked as made in 1979, the year in which the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.

For purposes of direct comparison the following is a photograph of a Soviet manufactured PM, 9x18mm Makarov made in 1967. Note difference in size and shape of the thumb-rest grip pad.

There was an article in “Firepower Magazine” (now defunct), January 1989 on pp.58-63 discussing specific reference to both Russian and Chinese (Type 59) Makarovs as “war trophies”, as unique and demanding a premium in value. Another interesting factor is that the pistol was purchased in 1988, a full year before any commercial Norinco models were imported into and available in the United States.

The author also remembers seeing a contemporary article in The National Rifleman magazine showing a photograph of a Norinco Makarov with a serial in the ZZ2700xx range, but with many additional markings.

Over a span of time the following additional information has been gained:
Chinese Military Serials range from;
2017738 to 2034952 series
4043024 to 4062625 series
Chinese Export (Commercial or Otherwise) Serials range from;
(CSI) ZZ270428casco,nc to ZZ273503
Not import marked ZZ270093 to ZZ270514+ (2724xx)
 (Beta) A00392 to A24594
(Beta) B00142 to B11309
Triangle zz(Casco) 260046 to 260128

Military model features serial numbered safety. Grips are star/shield or Eighth, First emblem. Marked with Triangle 66 and 59SHI. Only 2million and 4million range reported in some two dozen examples.

Export models are star in circle grip. ZZ first observed in 1988, no factory symbol (triangle). Both import marked and unmarked examples recorded.

A and B prefix from Beta arms. Imported approx. 1992 to 1995. Triangle 56 factory symbol and thumbrest grip.

The pistol was shown to Fred A. Datig, an acknowledged expert and author on Makarovs, at the time, and he was unable to render any definitive judgement. See: The History and Development of Imperial and Soviet Russian Military Small Arms and Ammunition 1700 -1986, Vol. 16, Soviet Russian Postwar Military Pistols and Cartridges 1945 -1986,  Fred A. Datig, 1988, Handgun Press, Glenview, IL, ISBN 0-945828-03-9, pp.30-32, 46 and 67.

Further research on the Internet has provided a 14 April 2012 gun forum thread initial entry as follows:

"Yesterday I received a Chinese Makarov and holster I purchased on the net. The pistol is 100% Mint/New as is the holster. Beautiful blueing, with the only markings being the serial number, (ZZ prefix), on the slide and frame, nothing else. The grips are non thumb rest, being I guess what I would call: Import Chinese Military with the center star, (NOT SHI or POLICE!). This style of grip has a higher hump at the top that the Russian/Bulgarian style of grip. Now for the unusual, #1, No markings whatsoever other than the serial number on the slide or frame, #2 the sear, hammer, safety, trigger bar, firing pin, and the trigger itself has the three last digets of the serial number. The trigger has the number on the back side of where you would place you finger. Both magazines also have the last three numbers, & 1 & 2."

All of these three digit numbers were applied by electro-pen including the magazines. (Chinese Military Magazines are stamped I think).
The trigger bar number is on the back side of the bar rather than being on the front side as a DDR. And our Senior and more Advanced Collectors will have to tell me if they have ever noticed a firing pin with the last three digits of the pistol's serial number." 

The consensus of opinions responding in the forum thread was that the weapon had been originally imported into Canada before 1988, subsequently Canadian Gun Laws changed regarding minimum barrel length, and it was transported to and sold in the United States by a private party. Canadian Gun Laws currently stipulate; Civilians are not allowed to possess automatic firearms, except those registered before 1978(50), handguns with a barrel of 105mm or less in length, and specifically modified handguns, rifles or shotguns(51). The Makarov has a barrel around 90mm, slightly longer, which would make it illegal to own. An alternative possibility, but extremely remote, was an individual who had heard of one ZZ Prefix being purchased in Pakistan via Afghanistan. This was written about in a 1988 firearms magazine.