Varyag is certainly one of the best-known warships of the Russian navy that had ever sailed the seas. It had a relatively brief career under the Saint Andrew’s ensign and took part in only one lost battle of a lost war. Yet, for Russians she became a symbol of patriotism in difficult times and the heroic conduct of her crew became a legend.
The Cruiser Varyag in a fly-around 3D animation. Visualisation by Stefan Dramiński
Three protected cruisers of the Diana class were designed and built in Saint Petersburg as a part of the Russian Naval Expansion Plan of 1895. These were: Diana, Pallada and Aurora - famous for her role in the October Revolution. Russians called them the “first rank cruisers”. Their primary feature was a moderate hull protection that consisted of one armoured deck with sloped sides. Such a system protected the magazines, boiler room and engine room from above. Displacement limited to a maximum of 7 000 tons prevented the installation of any vertical armour. These ships were given the typical cruiser tasks including patrolling distant waters, protecting native shipping and commerce raiding. Low maximum speed, relatively small endurance and weak armament did not make the Diana class cruisers suitable for the tasks they were built for and it was known from the start that they would soon need successors. In this way a conception of building three new cruisers was born. They were to be built along the same guidelines as the Diana class, yet with improved construction and performance that would allow them to effectively complete their tasks in the Far East. Taking into consideration the fact that the local shipyards were overloaded with naval construction, it was decided that the ships would be built by foreign ones and the designs would be chosen as a result of a competition announced by the Naval Technical Committee. However, the American shipyard of William Cramp & Sons in Philadelphia managed to outwit the competitors and sign a contract for one protected cruiser before the competition was over (at the same time, on April 11, 1898 a contract for building a battleship was also signed). The delivered specifications for the cruiser were incomplete and a detailed project was supposed to be achieved in the course of a discussion with the monitoring committee that arrived from Russia. The battleship that was being built was named the Retvizan and the cruiser was christened the Varyag. The construction of the two remaining protected cruisers (Askold and Bogatyr) was entrusted to German shipyards chosen at the conclusion of the competition (Germania Werft in Kiel and Vulcan in Stettin respectively).
The name of the ship
Varyag is a Russian name for a Varangian - a member of a warlike tribe inhabiting areas of today’s Russia and Ukraine in the 9th century AD. The name, apart from being used to christen the protected cruiser built at the turn of the centuries, was also given to a few other warships. The first Varyag was a screw corvette built in 1861. The third one, a light cruiser, was supposed to be a representative of the numerous Soviet Sverdlov class. She had already been launched when her construction was cancelled in 1959. The next vessel to receive that name was a Grozny class guided-missile cruiser that managed to stay in active service for 25 years (from 1965 until 1990). The second of the Russian large aircraft carriers, built after Admiral Kuznetsov, was also supposed to be given the name Varyag, but the dissolution of the USSR prevented the completion of the ship. The hull was sold to China in 1998. At present the name is carried by a Russian „Project 1164” guided-missile cruiser Chervona Ukrayina (Red Ukraine) renamed Varyag at the beginning of the 1990s of the 20th century.
Construction and commission
Russian monitoring committee led by Captain of the First Rank (captain) M. A. Danilevski arrived in Philadelphia on July 13, 1898. It soon turned out that the original specifications had numerous flaws and it was impossible to build a ship to them without exceeding the planned tonnage. The shipyard manager Charles Cramp was a real pain for the Russian committee. Using the differences in the Russian and English text of the contract he questioned many of its clauses, demanded extra charges for higher construction costs and insisted on technical solutions he preferred. The question of the propulsion system, more specifically, the type of boilers to be installed provoked zealous disputes. While the committee proposed the reliable Belleville boilers that were already being used by the Russian Navy, Cramp insisted on Niclausse. The whole affair found its way to admiral Vierhovskij in Saint Petersburg, who resolved it in favour of the Americans. It would turn out to be a fatal mistake. At that time other issues were also decided: normal displacement was increased up to 6 500 tons, location of the ammunition magazines was established - one at the bow and one at the stern respectively and the final armament scheme was set.
On January 11, 1899, by the order of the Russian Naval Board, the cruiser was christened Varyag. Due to the never-ending discussions concerning the details of the ship’s construction the official ceremony of laying down took place only on May 10. When the construction was already in full swing, suddenly a problem arose. The armour plates were of inferior quality and new ones had to be ordered. The consecutive delay was caused by the summer strikes in the shipyard. The repeatedly rescheduled hull launching ceremony that took place on October 19, was graced by the presence of count A. P. Cassini, the ambassador of Russia to the United States. In December a ship with the armament arrived from Russia. Work on the upper deck started at the beginning of 1900. In May masts, guns and funnels were in place. However, it was already clear that the completion date, set earlier for the end of June, would not be reached. Thus the Russian side tried to obtain compensation specified in the contract signed with the shipyard. Yet, Cramp managed to avoid the penalty, as in his opinion the delays were the result of factors beyond his control (imprecise design that needed constant changes and strikes).
In the second half of May preliminary machinery and artillery tests were conducted. At the beginning of July the Varyag was dry docked for a few days in order to prepare her for the long anticipated sea trials. On July 12 the cruiser achieved the speed of 24.59 knots with a maximum of 16 198 ihp at the measured mile (higher than was required by the specifications). Three days later, twelve-hour-long machinery tests were carried out with an unfortunate result - the high pressure cylinder of the port side engine was destroyed. It was being repaired for the long two months. After successfully carried out sea trials, on September 22, the shipyard handed the cruiser over to the Russians. However, she was still far from being ready for transatlantic voyage. The emerging defects were successively being repaired until December, when the future crew of the cruiser arrived from Russia. Finally, on January 2, 1901 Varyag was officially commissioned into the Imperial Russian Navy. On March 20, she left Philadelphia heading for Kronstadt.
The preliminary design estimated that the hull weight would be 2 900 tons. The ship was characterized by a very good stability and seaworthiness (the freeboard was relatively high as the hull was 10.46 m tall).
In accordance with the conception of a protected cruiser, Varyag’s armour was limited to one deck made of soft homogeneous steel plates, placed at 6.48 m above the keel (on the account of machinery size, above the engine room this value grew up to 7.1 m). The armoured deck was slanted at the sides with the lower edge of the slope terminating at 1 m below the waterline. The 3/4” (19 mm) and 11/2” (38.1 mm) plates were used, riveted into double layers of 11/2” (38.1 mm, the armoured deck) and 3” (76.2 mm, slopes). They were delivered by the Carnegie Steel Company from Pittsburg. All the areas of vital importance including engine and boiler rooms as well as the magazines tightly grouped at the bow and stern, were under the protective deck. Such an arrangement was supposed to provide protection of the ship’s heart, yet it left everything above it unprotected. The design intended no vertical armour. It was somehow compensated by placing the coal bunkers at the sides, both above and below the armoured slopes. They were to absorb the impetus of a possible hit. Out of necessity there were openings in the armoured deck for flues, ammunition hoists and engine room skylights. These places were protected by additional armour. The conning tower situated in the lower part of the fore superstructure with round walls made of 6-inch armour as to increase a chance of deflecting an incoming projectile, was the best protected part of the ship. Like the majority of warships built in this time period, Varyag had practically no vertical underwater protection of the hull and thus was vulnerable to torpedo explosions, but she had a double bottom, the thickness of which doubled in the area of the magazines. The strengthened stem created an underwater ram, a feature of many warships built in that era.
Ship’s particulars (1901)
Normal displacement approx. 6 500 t
Full load displacement 7 100 t
Length overall 129.56 m
Length on waterline 127.8 m
Beam 15.8 m
Draft at normal displacement 5.94 – 6.02 m
Armament 12×152.4 mm (12×I);
12×75 mm (12×I);
8×47 mm (8×I);
2×37 mm (2×I);
2×63.5 mm (2×I);
2×7.62 mm (2×I);
6×381 mm TT (6×I);
2×254 mm TT (2×I);
35 or 22 mines.
Armour deck: 38.1 mm;
slopes: 76.2 mm;
conning tower: 152.4 mm.
Machinery 30 Niclausse boilers;
2 vertical triple expansion steam engines;
Maximum power Approx. 16 000 ihp
Maximum speed 24.6 knots
Normal coal capacity 720 t
Maximum coal capacity 1350 t
Endurance (at 10 knots with normal coal capacity) 3 270 nm
Endurance (at 10 knots with maximum coal capacity) 6 100 nm
Complement approx. 560 officers and seamen
According to the original design, the main artillery of the Varyag was to be composed of two 8-inch (203 mm) guns on single mounts, supplemented by 10 6-inch (152 mm), twelve 75 mm, six 47 mm guns and six fixed torpedo tubes. However, it soon turned out that such a configuration exceeded the intended limit of 440.5 tons for the armament. Thus the heaviest 203 mm guns were abandoned and the main artillery was standardized to twelve 152 mm/45. This weapon was designed by Canet, a French company which sold the licence to the Russians in 1891, after a successful presentation made for their delegation. The cannon had an excellent rate of fire, mainly due to the use of fixed ammunition. A relatively short barrel durability was its main fault and thus during the Russo-Japanese War many pieces suffered barrel bursts. Despite that, it was considered a successful design and until 1901 more than 200 were produced and mounted on almost every major Russian warship. It was decided that the Varyag would have her guns placed on single mounts. To conserve weight the splinter shields were not installed (the smaller calibre guns had no shields as well), which left their crews completely exposed to enemy fire. The main artillery guns were grouped together in the batteries at the bow and stern in the following order:
• On the forecastle: starboard No. 1, port No. 2 (135° arc of fire towards the bow and 45° towards the stern);
• On the upper deck parallel with the fore superstructure: Nos. 3 and 4 (90° arc of fire towards the bow and 60° towards the stern);
• On the upper deck parallel with the first funnel: Nos. 5 and 6 (60° arc of fire both towards the bow and the stern);
• On the upper deck in front of the aft mast: Nos. 7 and 8 (60° arc of fire both towards the bow and the stern);
• On the upper deck behind the aft mast: Nos. 9 and 10 (60° arc of fire towards the bow and 90° towards the stern);
• On the quarterdeck: Nos. 11 and 12 (45° arc of fire towards the bow and 135° towards the stern).
Guns Nos. 3 to 10 were mounted in sponsons and partially protected by the bulwarks. During the acceptance tests it turned out that the shockwave created by a salvo from Nos. 3 and 4 guns firing ahead slightly damaged the deck equipment and guns Nos. 1 and 2. As a result, additional protective bulwarks were constructed on both sides from the fore superstructure towards the bow.
6’’/45 Pattern 1892 gun
Calibre 6'' (152.4 mm)
Gun weight approx. 6 tons
Gun length oa 6.858 m
Gun recoil 375 mm
Projectile length AP: 495 mm
HE: 457 mm
Projectile weight AP: 41.4 kg
HE: 41.4 kg
Bursting charge weight AP: 1.365 kg
HE: 2.713 kg
Propellant charge weight 12 kg
Ammunition stowage 199 rounds per gun
Elevation -6° to +20°
Loading angle -3° to +3°
Rate of fire Approx. 7 rounds per minute
Twelve 75 mm/50 guns, also based on Canet’s design, constituted the cruiser’s secondary battery. Two guns on single mounts were installed in casemates on both sides of the bow. (Nos. 13 and 14 with 95° arc of fire towards the bow and 60° towards the stern). A midship battery of 8 guns (Nos. 15 to 22 with 60° arc of fire both towards the bow and the stern) mounted under the boat davits was partially protected by the bulwarks. The last pair of single mounts (Nos. 23 and 24 with 60° arc of fire towards the bow and 95° towards the stern) was installed in the stern casemates on both sides, near the captain’s cabin.
75mm/50 Pattern 1892 gun
Gun weight approx. 900 kg
Gun length oa 3.75 m
Gun recoil 200 mm
Projectile length AP: 203 mm
Projectile weight AP: 4.9 kg
Propellant charge weight 1.5 kg
Ammunition stowage 250 rounds per gun
Elevation -15° to +20°
Rate of fire approx. 12 to 15 rounds per minute.
Range approx. 7 800 m
The Varyag was also armed with light QF 3-pounders (47 mm) and QF 1-pounders (37 mm). Just like the larger calibre guns, the Hotchkiss pieces were designed by a French company. Despite their enormous popularity in many of the world’s navies they were not well designed. After the lessons learned during the Russo-Japanese War the guns were being withdrawn from the service in the Tsarist navy. Varyag’s two single 47 mm guns were on board of the steam cutters (Nos. 25 and 26), the next pair was on the upper deck atop the main artillery No. 5 and No. 6 gun positions (Nos. 27 and 28) and the last four were in the fighting tops, two in each one respectively (Nos. 29, 30, 31 and 32). Two single 37 mm guns were mounted on both sides of the poop. Moreover, there were two 7.62 mm Maxim machine guns which could have been installed on portable mounts, if required. In addition to those, there were two 63.5 mm Baranovsky landing guns, which were removed from their wheeled gun-carriages and installed under the wings of the fore superstructure on special naval mounts (Nos. 35 and 36).
Hotchkiss QF 3 pounder gun (47 mm)
Gun weight 235.5 kg
Gun length oa 2 m
Projectile length HE: 136 mm
Projectile weight HE: 1.5 kg
Bursting charge weight HE: 20 g
Propellant charge weight 0.75 kg
Muzzle velocity 700 mps
Ammunition stowage 625 rounds per gun
Elevation -23° to +25°
Rate of fire approx. 20 rounds per minute
Hotchkiss QF 1 pounder gun (37mm)
Gun weight 32.8 kg
Gun length oa 1.485 m
Projectile length HE: 167 mm
Projectile weight HE: 0.505 kg
Bursting charge weight HE: 15 g
Propellant charge weight 0.08 kg
Muzzle velocity 442 mps
Ammunition stowage 1292 rounds per gun
Rate of fire approx. 20 rounds per minute
Six fixed 15’’ (381 mm) torpedo tubes supplemented the artillery. All of them were mounted above the water line (although according to the preliminary design two were supposed to be underwater) with armoured covers. The first one was in the stem. Four torpedo tubes were on the sides, right behind main artillery No. 3 and No. 4 guns and parallel to the aft superstructure. The last one was in the stern beneath the stern walk. The torpedoes were launched with compressed air (fore tubes) or powder charges (aft tubes). The Varyag also had two smaller calibre 10’’ (254 mm) torpedo tubes which could have been installed on board of the steam cutters. Moreover, the cruiser carried a supply of 35 moored contact mines (22 according to other sources) which were being laid using special rafts.
The ammunition was stored in 18 magazines, grouped together at the bow and at the stern. It was transported up by means of electric powered ammunition hoists (which could also be manually-operated) and so each of the twelve 6 inch guns had its own hoist that could carry 4 rounds at a time. The 75 mm ammunition was transported by 3 hoists, 47 mm by two (installed inside both masts) and the remaining hoists were used for 63.5 and 37 mm rounds. The Varyag’s ammunition stowage was as follows:
• 152 mm – 2388 rounds (199 per gun),
• 75 mm – 3000 rounds (250 per gun),
• 47 mm – 5000 rounds (625 per gun),
• 37 mm – 2584 rounds (1292 per gun),
• 63.5 mm – 1490 rounds (745 per gun),
• 15'' torpedoes – 12 (2 per tube),
• 10'' torpedoes – 6,
• mines – 35 or 22 moored contact mines.
A system of electric transmitters was used to relay the information concerning the type of ammunition and firing parameters from the conning tower to the magazines and guns crews respectively. Three small rangefinders placed in the fighting tops of both masts and in the fore superstructure helped to determine the distance to a target.
The maximum speed and relatively high range required to fulfil cruiser tasks had to be provided by a strong machinery. Under pressure from the shipyard’s owner, Charles Cramp, it was decided to use the Niclausse boilers. They were characterized by light weight and good performance, but unfortunately were also prone to frequent failures. During her career the Varyag had to spend long periods of time on repairs. Thirty boilers were arranged in three boiler rooms (10 in the fore, 8 in the midship and 12 in the aft). They were divided into 4 units, each of them with a separate funnel (first funnel was slightly narrower than the remaining three). The total heating surface was 5 786 m2 and the working pressure was 18 atmospheres. The boilers contained 110 tons of water and the spare 120 tons were kept in the double bottom. The coal bunkers were situated on the sides of the boiler rooms and the coal was transported to the furnaces by means of carts. Coal was dumped through the oval scuttles in the upper deck.
Steam produced by the boilers drove two vertical triple expansion steam engines of 16 000 ihp total. In fact they were designed for higher power, but it was never achieved due to the low conductivity of the steam pipes. Each engine had one high pressure, one intermediate pressure and two low pressure cylinders. The shaft rotated at maximum 160 rpm. It was initially planned to install two four-bladed propellers, but finally the three-bladed ones were used (4.4 m diameter). They propelled the Varyag to a maximum speed of slightly over 24.5 knots (instead of 23 knots planned). The normal coal capacity was 720 tons. At the economic speed of 10 knots the range was 3 270 nautical miles. At the maximum coal capacity of 1350 tons, it increased to 6 100 nautical miles.
The Varyag had many electrically driven devices on board, therefore, she needed dynamos providing them with sufficient amount of power. Two of those were installed below the armoured deck at the masts bases (132 kW each) and the third was in the living quarters (66 kW), They produced 330 kW of power at 105 volts DC. Additionally, there were two small 2.6 kW dynamos for operating the boat davits.
Under the armoured deck, the fire-fighting system was composed of water hoses led to all cartridge chambers, the boiler room and the engine room. The coal bunkers were equipped with special sensors and if necessary, steam was used to extinguish the fire. All lower deck quarters had pumps for removing water and were well-ventilated with air exchanged several times an hour.
A single rudder with the surface of 12 m2 guaranteed the appropriate manoeuvrability. It was being operated from the armoured conning tower, glazed navigation room above it or the control room below the deck. Two master compasses were outside, on the roofs of the fore and aft superstructure. Out of necessity elements in direct proximity were built of nonmagnetic materials (bronze, brass).
The Varyag had a modern internal communication system that included a network of telephones, voice tubes and a staff of messengers. There were also various alarms, bells and electric indicators. The radio station and signal flags were used for communication with other vessels.
A considerable number of life boats, also used for communication purposes, was carried on board including:
• two armed steam cutters (stored on both sides of the second funnel);
• two 16-oared launches (between the third and the fourth funnel);
• two 14-oared launches (right behind the fourth funnel);
• two 6-oared whaleboats (on the sides of the aft mast);
• two 6-oared yawls (between the fore superstructure and the first funnel);
• two 4-oared launches (on the inboard side of the 16 oared boats).
Apart from the two smallest launches all the other boats were lowered or raised by their own davits. The midship davits could be collapsed outboard.
Two 4.77 tons Hall anchors were at the bow in closed hawsepipes. Two spare anchors were stored on the starboard, right behind gun No. 13 and on the face of the armoured conning tower. They were operated by two electric windlasses and the forecastle anchor derrick. There was an additional steam windlass on the quarterdeck. A few smaller anchors were carried on the sides behind gun positions No. 14, No. 7 and No. 8.
Protection against torpedo attacks while at anchor was supplied by special iron nets hung from the sides on eleven spars that could be swung in and out. Six searchlights with 750 mm mirror diameter enabled the cruiser to fight in low visibility conditions. They were installed on the wings of the fore and aft superstructure (2 on each) and on both mast platforms (1 on each).
At the beginning of her career, the Varyag’s complement consisted of 21 officers, 9 non-commissioned officers and 550 sailors. During the war with Japan it was slightly reduced to 558 (21 officers, 4 non-commissioned officers, 529 sailors, the chaplain and 3 civilian workers).
• Hansgeorg Jenstschura, Dieter Jung, Peter Mickel, Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy 1869–1945, Naval Institute Press 1977.
• W. I. Katayev, Krejser Varyag, Morskaya Kollektsya 3/2003.
• Maciej S. Sobański, Wariag - krążownik opiewany w pieśni (Varyag – a cruiser glorified by a song), “Okręty Wojenne” (Warships) - issues No. 67 and 68.