On 14 December 1913 the Kongō class battlecruiser, Haruna, of the Imperial Japanese Navy was launched. During the ship’s active service in World War I she patrolled the Chinese coast, as one of the most heavily armed ships in the navy.
The Haruna in the 1930s.
The Kongō class battlecruisers though a fundamental part of the Imperial Japanese Army, were designed in Newcastle (yes that Newcastle) by a man named George.
Sir George Thurston was for many years the chief naval architect for Vickers Ltd (which became then Vickers-Armstrong). The company which over its history is responsible for all manner of items from artillery and submarines, to parts of the metropolitan railway infrastructure (that’s the classy bit of the London underground boys and girls). They had at one point the legendary Barnes Wallis designing airships for them, and were responsible for the design of the Mark III Valentine tank which served for both the British and Red Armies (disappointingly it was not festooned in hearts or Hallmark cards). Vickers and Vickers-Armstrong were also some of the most significant employers in the UK, particularly in the North of England and Southern Scotland with shipbuilding taking place in Newcastle, Clyde and Barrow in Furness.
Valentine tank of desert service.
But back to the ships…The Japanese ordered the battlecruisers in 1910 to be the capital ships (the most important vessels) of the Navy and by 1915 they, including the Haruna, were all in service. At 27.5k tonnes , armed with up-to 40 guns of one type or another, and a quarter of a kilometre long, they were imposing vessels which could travel at 26 knots through the water to whomever was on the wrong end of their ire.
There were four ships in the group, the first Kongō was built in the UK and then driven (for want of a more appropriate term-help me out here!) to Japan, whilst the remaining three were built wholly in Japan. And though Yokosuka Naval Yard may not be a name familiar to all, Mitsubishi and Kawasaki, who built the Kirishima and Haruna respectively, undoubtedly are.
Corresponding to the British Vickers-Armstrong, which at its height was involved in many different types of British manufacturing, the Japanese heavy weights Kawasaki and Mitsubishi do far far more than motorbikes and televisions. Much like Vickers, both companies have their roots in shipbuilding, though now Kawasaki (川崎重工業株式会社) are far more famous for their noisy bikes and industrial boring machines (that is machines that make holes, rather than those that make conversations tedious-they’re called Blackberries) and for us train fans they are one of the many Japanese companies that make Shinkansen carriages…Whilst Mitsubishi (三菱グループ) are known more now for their ugly cars and giant turbines, and are also Japan’s largest bank…
Iwasaki, founder of Mitsubishi
In the interwar years the ships were refitted, making them heavier, but also sturdier and more war capable…which came in handy for the upcoming hostilities…
During the war though, despite some notable successes, the ships did not fair too well.
The Kongō was sunk in 1944.
The Hiei had a rudder failure and had to be scuttled.
The Kirishima capsized losing 212 sailors.
And the Haruna survived the longest, and was looking to make it through the second world war, until she was bombed nine times in July 1945, and somewhat unsurprisingly sank.
And whilst Vickers-Armstrong may not be what they once were (just ask most of Newcastle and Glasgow) they do sort of still exist, albeit now they are now part of BAE Systems Submarine Solutions (no, we don’t know what would possess anyone to name a weaponry company as mealy mouthed as that either) and are currently building the latest addition to the Royal Navy’s submarine collection in Barrow-in-Furness.
George Thurston died in 1950, after a lengthy career designing bits of almost everyone’s military forces, in Torquay.
Do we have any Japanese battle fans reading? What periods are you interested in? Any shipping fans too?