The Askold had one of the most distinctive profiles on the high seas, with her five lofty funnels and knifelike form. Built in Germany for the Tsar's navy, she was named for one of the legendary Viking adventurers who founded the Kievan state. Like all major Russian warships she bore on her bows an enormous gilt-bronze double eagle, the emblem of the Romanov dynasty; and another, smaller eagle at the stern. For years Askold was the fastest cruiser on the Pacific station, homeported at the great fortress of Port Arthur until her breakout in the Battle of the Yellow Sea (1904), when she staggered into Shanghai with two of her five funnels shot away and one of her 18 boilers punctured in action with the Japanese.
Askold's No. 1 funnel was actually thinner and very slightly taller than the other four, venting only two furnaces where the other four each carried the exhaust gases from four. Like most steamships of her day, she was coal-fired, with triple-expansion reciprocating steam engines; built like an arrow, she was capable of nearly 24 knots when her three screws were pounding at top speed -- which was often, as she was the Far East fleet's dependable speed queen, often selected to bear despatches. Unofficially, maximum turns on the Askold's props were the only form of revolution approved by the Tsar.
At right, receiving the attention due a key unit of the Pacific squadron, the Askold enjoys a visit of inspection from Russia's Far East C-in-C, General Alexei Nikolaievich Kuropatkin, at Port Arthur in 1904. The full fiasco of the Russo-Japanese War was about to unfold. The Askold was returned to the Tsar's navy following the Treaty of Portsmouth ending the war, one of the few recent Russian warships that had not been sunk or captured by the Japanese. She remained in the Far East as the flagship of the much-reduced fleet, re-dubbed the Siberian Flotilla, until 1915. In that year she was ordered to the Mediterranean to assist in the Gallipoli invasion. She remained in the Mediterranean after that military cock-up wound down, assisting in the almost-equally-scandalous Salonika campaign. After the Bolshevik Revolution of November 1917, she was commandeered by the British Admiralty and taken into the Royal Navy briefly. Though officially renamed HMS Glory IV, she was more commonly known in the service as "Packet of Woodbines," after the British tars' favourite cigarette.
Returned to the Soviet government after its victory in the Russian Civil War, Askold was designated for scrapping without having returned to Mother Russia. Though the workers' state had made warfare obsolete, Lenin was on a quasi-predatory search for all funds to be realized from liquidating Tsarist assets, in search of the capital to begin building communism in the new state. It was optimistically hoped that Russia could serve as the launch pad for worker's revolutions to sweep the globe. But the forces of world capitalism had been alarmed and set out to suppress leftist movements wherever they could. Within the new Russian state, remnants of monarchism and religion were stamped out with equal vigor, and a prolonged era of mutual mistrust and vigilance ensued. Askold did not live to see the ugly infighting of the postwar era: she met her end in Germany in 1922. She had seen as much action in as many colourful places as any of the pre-dreadnought and dreadnought warships tied up awaiting their turn at the torch.
Plan and Specifications
Specifications for the Askold:
Dimensions: 444' x 49' x 20'6" Displacement: 5,910 tons std; 6,500 tons deep laden. Armament: (12) 6"/45 M1892, (12) 3" 12-pdr (75 mm), and (2) 37 mm Hotchkiss 1-pdr guns; (6) 15" torpedo tubes (2 submerged, 4 above water). Armor: 6" conning tower, 3"/2" armored deck, 4" gun shields and funnel uptakes. Net defense: Bullivant system. Fuel capacity: 700 tons of coal; 1,000 maximum. Propulsion: 18 coal-fired Schulz-Thornycroft boilers; (3) vertical triple expansion engines developing 19,650 IHP, shafted to triple screw. Speed: 23.8 kts. Crew: 580. Built at Vulkan Werft, Stettin, Germany.
Dimensions: 135.3m x 15m x 6.25m Displacement: 5,910 tons std; 6,500 tons deep laden. Armament: (12) 152 mm/45 M1892, (12) 75 mm 12-pdr, and (2) 37 mm Hotchkiss 1-pdr guns; (6) 381 mm torpedo tubes (2 submerged, 4 above water). Armor: 152 mm conning tower, 76/51 mm armored deck, 102 mm gun shields and funnel uptakes. Net defense: Bullivant system. Fuel capacity: 700 tons of coal; 1,000 maximum. Propulsion: 18 coal-fired Schulz-Thornycroft boilers; (3) vertical triple expansion engines developing 14,653 kW, shafted to triple screw. Speed: 44 km/hr. Crew: 580.
An Askold Assortment
Orthodox priests pray at the the Askold's launch -- Stettin, April 1900.
Askold - bow view. The thinner No. 1 funnel is very evident from this angle.
After Sunday mass on the Askold's modest quarterdeck.
Askold dressed over all.
Askold goes to war: Sortie to the Yellow Sea battle. Battleship Retvizan at left.
Askold punches her way free of the Japanese at the confused end of the battle.
Stern view, passing her namesake: Askold Island, off Vladivostok.
A silhouette like no other on the high seas: Askold at sea during the run-up to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05.
For all her imperious speed and lofty demeanor, Askold was not the only five-funnel vessel, nor even the one with the greatest number of funnels on the high seas. The French Navy boasted a class of six five-stacker battleships -- the famous Danton class --, not to mention the 6-funnel armored cruiser Jeanne d'Arc (laid down 1896) and the derivative Edgar Quinet class. The reason few battleships had more than three stacks was simple: with their much broader beam, they could fit more boilers across the ship -- three or four instead of two -- and so required fewer boiler rooms lengthwise than a fast, slender cruiser. Italy's Regia Marina (Royal Navy) claimed the honors for the best-stacked capital ship with RN Italia, heavy barbette battleship of 1883, whose six funnels formed a symmetrical arrangement in two groups of three. Below decks, the French cruisers and the Italia had half the boilers on either side of the engine room (or in the case of the Italia, on either side of the main gun barbettes, with the engine room way near the stern.) Somehow, having the funnels in two groups of two or three didn't generate quite the visual and visceral impact as having them evenly spaced in one group, as on Askold.
Askold at Toulon, 1916. Horsepower was a many-funneled thing!
Here's why all that steam was needed: one of Askold's 4-cylinder reciprocating engines at Vulcan Werft, 1900.