This extraordinary battleship was built in France by Compagnie des Forges et Chantiers de la Méditerranée à la Seyne for the Imperial Russian Navy as part of the build-up of the Russian fleet for the conflict with Japan. She was named after the Tsesarevich (czarevich), the hemophiliac only son of the Tsar and heir to the Russian throne. Whereas most previous Russian battleships had roughly followed the British pattern on a small scale, this one was a full-blown exemplar of 1890s French battleship conventions, with a relatively slim hull featuring deep tumble-home, rising to a tall and narrow superstructure. Compared to contemporary French ships, she was considerably larger at almost 13,000 tons, and carried all her main guns and secondary armament in twin turrets of the Canet type, rather than single-gun mountings as in 1890s French battleships. Like the French ships, though, she was top-heavy and lacking in stability, and had longitudinal watertight bulkheads which made her prone to capsize if holed on either side. After commissioning in 1903, the ship was based in the Russian Far East and fought in the Russo-Japanese War, serving as the flagship of Admiral Wilhelm Vitgeft in the Battle of the Yellow Sea.
Vitgeft had succeeded to command temporarily on the death of Admiral Makaroff, but was to hand over his fleet to Admiral Skrydloff, despatched from Petersburg via the Trans-Siberian line. However, by the time Skrydloff reached the Far East, the Port Arthur branch line had been cut by the Japanese and the good admiral was obliged to continue to Vladivostok. There he spent the rest of the war, emerging twice with the cruiser squadron only to be mauled by Adm. Kamimura's armored cruisers in the Battle off Ulsan. Meanwhile in Port Arthur, there was bad blood between Adm. Witgeft and Viceroy Alexeiev. Yevgeny Alexandrovich Alexeiev (left) was the bastard son of the Tsar's grandfather, Alexander II, and thus the Tsar's uncle. Dissolute and genially corupt, Alexeiv personified all that was wrong with the Russian regime: nepotism, vainglory, incompetence, megalomania, and haughty indifference to the masses -- including his military subordinates. Alexeiev was a perfumed, chapagne-sotted optimist, radiating an oddly compelling, almost hypnotic aura of complacency. He refused to recognize the deteriorating situation as the Japanese clapped an ever closer blockade around his fortress by land and sea; and his staff sycophantically agreed. As Viceroy of the East, Alexeiev had complete command of all the Tsar's armies and naval forces in the Far East, owing no obedience to any government bodies in Petersburg. He frequently and arbitrarily overrode his commanders' orders. This was a matter of style with Alexeiev, who high-handedly meddled in state and military affairs as a matter of course, knowing that his exalted rank and closeness to the Tsar would shield him from any consequences.
Vitgeft refused to take his fleet out, with good reason. Alexeiev had a fit. He "pulled rank" on the Admiral, using his influence with the Tsar to order a sortie with the object of uniting the remaining Port Arthur flotilla with the smaller Vladivostok squadron. On the morning of August 10, 1904, the First Pacific Squadron raised steam and departed Port Arthur, attempting to break through the Japanese blockade. The Russian squadron consisted of the battleships Tsesarevich (flag), Retvizan, Pobieda, Peresviet, Sevastopol and Poltava, along with four protected cruisers and 14 torpedo-boats. The Japanese fleet, commanded by Admiral Togo, was composed of the battleships Mikasa, Asahi, Fuji, and Shikishima, the armored cruisers Nisshin and Kasuga, plus eight protected cruisers, 18 destroyers and 30 torpedo-boats.
By midday, the main body of Japanese battleships attempted to block the Russians' exit route from the Port Arthur approaches. Around 1 p.m. the first shots were fired. During an hour-long exchange, the Russians succeeded in breaking out of the harbor. Admiral Togo began a long-range chase of the Russian fleet, gradually overtaking it from the southwest. At 4:20 the action resumed. With heavy smoke clouds drifting over the scene, the two fleets traded artillery fire from ranges of 9,000 to 10,000 yards and both sides took damage. At 6:00, the battle's outcome was decided when Admiral Vitgeft was killed by a shell splinter on the bridge of the Tsesarevich. Just 12 minutes later, further hits on the Tsesarevich killed the captain and all the bridge personnel and locked the ship's wheel into a hard-left turn. With no one in command and her steering crippled, the flagship fell out of the battle line and steamed in a vast circle, followed by the remaining Russian ships, who were unaware of the catastrophe to their commander. Although the Peresviet attempted to assert control, the remaining Russian ships did not follow her signals, and their formation fell into confusion. Fortunately for the Russians Togo was running low on ammunition, and with darkness approaching the Japanese broke off the fight and retired eastward. Night torpedo-boat attacks on the fleeing Russians were unsuccessful.
Most of the Russian fleet (five battleships, a cruiser and nine destroyers) succeeded in regaining the safety of Port Arthur before dawn, but the damaged Tsesarevich and her three escorting destroyers ran for Qingdao in the German colony of Shandong, on the opposite shore of Bohai Gulf. There they were interned for the duration of hostilities. An excellent series of photos of the ship's battle damage was taken at this time; click here to view. The five-funnel cruiser Askold escaped to Shanghai and was interned there, surviving to fight in WWI. The cruiser Diana also ran for it, reaching Saigon and safety three days later. The Russian ships trapped in Port Arthur languished there, rusting, their battle damage unrepaired: a premonition of defeat. As the Japanese siege tightened the besieging army took the high ground around the city and erected large guns there. The Russian vessels in the shallow anchorage were all shelled and sunk, to be salvaged after the fall of the city and mustered into the Imperial Japanese Navy. At right, Tsesarevich after her postwar refit. This shot shows the great girders between the funnels in their true function, as boat davits, here in the swung-out position; they were very high in order to swing boats clear of the ship's bulging flanks to launch, as seen here. Enlarge image Creating a virtual "boat hangar" on the upper deck, served by these huge davits, was a system inherited from the French and dating to the ironclad barbette ship Marceau of 1881.
At the end of the Russo-Japanese war, Tsesarevich returned to the Baltic where she saw action in WWI, fighting German König class dreadnoughts in the Battle of Moon Sound, October 16-17, 1917, together with her near-sister, Slawa, which was scuttled by her crew after sustaining heavy damage. After the springtime Russian Revolution Tsesarevich was renamed Grazhdanin ("Citizen"). She was hulked in 1918 and broken up in 1924 in Germany.
Plans and Specifications
Specifications for the Tsesarevich:
Dimensions: 388'9" x 76' x 28'(401' OA length). Displacement: 12,915 tons. Armament: (4) 12"/40 cal. (2x2), (12) 6"/45 (6x2), and (10) 3" 12-pdr guns; (6) MG; (4) 18" torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp Cemented type. Belt: 10"/6"; upper belt: 8"/6"; main turrets: 10"; barbettes: 10"/8"; conn: 10"/5"; secondary turrets: and barbettes 6"; deck: 4"/1". Fuel capacity: 800 tons normal, 1350 tons maximum. Propulsion: 20 coal-fired, Belleville water-tube boilers; (2) 4-cyl triple-expansion steam engines developing 16,300 hp, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 18.5 knots. Crew: 803.
Dimensions: 118¼m x 23m x 8.5m (OA length: 122.2m) Displacement: 12,915 tons. Armament: (4) 305 mm/40 (2x2), (12) 152 mm/45 (6x2), and (10) 75 mm 12-pdr guns; (6) MG; (4) 45 cm torpedo tubes. Armor: Krupp Cemented type. Belt: 250/150 mm; upper belt: 203/150 mm; main turrets 254 mm; barbettes 250/200 mm; conn 254/125 mm; secondary turrets and barbettes 150 mm; deck 100/25 mm. Fuel capacity: 800 tons normal, 1350 tons maximum. Propulsion: 20 coal-fired, Belleville water-tube boilers; (2) 4-cyl triple-expansion steam engines developing 12,155 kW, shafted to twin screw. Speed: 34.26 km/hr. Crew: 803.
A Tsesarevich Picture Gallery
A beautiful watercolor of Tsesarevich from her time at Port Arthur; Golden Hill in background.
A side view of Tsesarevich, the light modeling her bodacious curves - c. 1910-12.
Tsesarevich riding at anchor in Toulon after completing. Note fighting tops similar to the contemporary French Navy design. The Russian ship did not copy the earlier armored masts with internal elevators as in the Charles Martels. The tops were removed altogether in modernization of the vessel before WWI, leaving her with a clean pair of crosstrees on skyscraping pole masts.
Tsesarevich -- stern view. Those curves would have been the envy of the can-can dancers at the Moulin Rouge! All major warships of the Imperial Russian Navy in this period bore gilt double eagles at bow and stern. This photo appears to be from her time interned in German-held Qingdao. Shot holes pepper both stacks.
The Baltic Fleet battleship division maneuvers circa 1911, led by Tsesarevich and Slava, the two Andrei Pervozvannys following.
Elevation and deck plan of Tsesarevich, 1899.