Thursday, 14 May 2009

55 Days at Sea: China's Navy and some scenario ideas....

China had over thirty vessels sunk or captured at the two engagements of Wei-hai-Wei and the Yalu during the Sino-Japanese War, with the powerful, modernised Beiyang fleet being totally neutralised. It was, then, merely the rump that remained in 1900, and I can find references to only the following vessels being extant or in service at the time of the Boxer Rebellion:

Modern Second Class Protected Criuser: Hai Tien, Hai Chi
Protected Cruiser: Hai Yung, Hai Chou, Hai Chen
Screw Frigates: Kai Che, Fu An, Tung Chi
Torpedo Gunboat: Kuang Ting
Coastal Gunboat: Fei Ting
Torpedo Boast Destroyer: Hai Hola, Hai Lung, Hai Nju, Hai Ying and the Fei Ying
Four torpedo boats of either 128ft or 138ft, and 4 old 'Rendel' Gunboats.

(Note: there are a number of ways of transliterating Chinese into English, Pinyin being one of them, which can lead to a number of confusing spellings to the Western eye; Tientsin becomes Tainjing, Chen Yuen can be written as Ding Yuan - where possible, given my limited knowledge, I've stuck with spellings that were current in contemporary documents/histories.)

Thomas Brassey's Naval Annual of 1898 (or at least a snippet I've seen of it) mentions the following structure post the conflict with the Japanese:

Beiyang Fleet: 3 Cruisers, 1 Torpedo Cruiser, 1 Torpedo Gunboat
Nan Yang Fleet: 6 Cruisers, 1 Small Cruiser, 4 old Gunboats, 4 Modern Torpedo Destroyers, 4 Torpedo Boats.

This obviously does not tie in exactly with what I've outlined above, and of course it is hard to guess which vessel is what, given the differences in defining vessel class and type between the contemporary experts like Jane and Brassey, historical writers, and their modern counterparts; at least I don't know enough yet to sort the wheat from the chaff!

I know that there is a book available, "The Chinese Steam Navy 1862-1945" by Richard N. J. Wright, that would no doubt put all my speculation to rest, but unfortunately for the life of me, I haven't been able to get hold of a copy in the UK, so my best guesses are currently reigning supreme!

As to how to portray these disparate and enigmatic vessels on the wargames table, here I have hit another slight hitch, in that although Navwar has an excellent range of Chinese vessels available, rather than offering them singly like the ships of other nations, they are bound together in special, somewhat expensive packs. 
Typically, these are divided up in such a way as to mean that for the majority of the survivors of the Sino-Japanese War, you would require 3MCHN2 "Post Foochow to the Yalu 1894" yet for other vessels crucial to our period of 1900, including the Hai-Hola class TBDs, you need the next pack, 3MCHN3 "Post Yalu until 1937".
All well and good, you might think, but priced at £15 each, and containing together some sixty-odd ships, I couldn't justify the expense for the handful that I would actually need.....oh well!

So, scouring the catalogue for look-alikes, I'm afraid the pickings are rather thin. There is of course, the battleship Chen Yuan, lurking amongst the Japanese list in her captured form, N5116, the Chin Yen, but as she was long-since captured and her sister-ship sunk, by 1900, not much help there. The Torpedo Gunboat or 'small cruiser', the Kuang Ting, however, luckily bears a passing resemblance to the Austro-Hungarian N8140 Panther Class, at least by removing a funnel, so we have one likely candidate: 

Next up the Hai-Holas, and here we can at least employ a similar TBD, in that they are known to have been two-funnel vessels with two tubes amidships, so N1528 the British 'D-Class', does the job nicely, please note the newly available Chinese flags now on sale from Brigade Models:

Finally we have those N9036 Armed Kwantung Junks again, strictly merchant vessels, I suppose, but for the heck of it I added the National flag, had to press them into service to add to the mini-flotilla!

I was particularly keen to add the Protected Cruiser, the Hai Yung, as she is depicted in that Russian text on the Taku Bombardment web-page, but so far no luck with a stand in- any suggestions greatly received! 

Now for some scenario ideas, that I will be developing in future posts; it is important to note the following quote from Section 79 of the "Notes on China, War Department, Washington, August 1900":

"In view of the overwhelming superiority of the Foreign Fleets in Chinese Waters, the Chinese Navy will not be a factor in the operations now in progress..."

Oh ye of little faith! - 

June 1900: The Sneak Attack: The Foreign Cruisers Orlando, Newark and Zenta lie at anchor off the Taku Bar, when from the north, two Kwantung Junks appear and approach in an apparently friendly manner, traders, you might think, that's until four sleek torpedo craft angle out from aft and begin their attack runs!

Ship to Shore: The Italian contingent has been outraged by their treatment at the hands of the Austro-Hungarians, particularly as the captain of the Calabria was made to sit under a painting of the Battle of Lissa at a recent dinner. Seething tensions are the result, and when a flashing Aldis lamp signal from the Kaiser und Konigin Maria Theresa to the shore is mistaken for the winking blast of 6pdr quick firers by a sleepy watchman, all hell breaks loose...

Battle Royale: Recriminations abound after the debacle that saw the failure to capture the Taku Forts, with each nation blaming the other; when false news that the Legations have fallen to the Boxers, and that Seymour's expedition was sabotaged by the desertion of a certain European power causes open conflict. A rumour that Russia has concluded a separate peace with China is all that is needed to light the fuse:
Britain, Japan, France and Italy square up to Russia, Germany, Austro-Hungary and China, with the U.S. sandwiched in-between! 

Should be fun, I'll keep you posted of how it all develops....


  1. I have a copy of the chinese steam navy.

    what are you after and I'll look it up.

    LOVE your scenarios!

  2. Hi Bob, ooh, ooh, that's much appreciated, as I said, can't seem to track down a copy here in the UK!

    Could you have a look and see if there is a list of ship names for the vessels that were available to the Chinese in circa 1900? It would be great to tie down exactly what was around, maybe you could compare it to the vessels named in a previous post on this subject on the Blog and let me know?

    Furthermore, I don't suppose you could look up the armour in inches (Belt, Deck or Turret) on the following:

    Cruisers Hai Yung, Hai Tien, Fei Ting, and the Torpedo Boat Destroyer Fei Ying?

    That would be just brilliant, many thanks, SteelonSand.

  3. Just reading your fantastic blog (I'm a sci-fi buff, but ventured into the naval blogs as I'm a fan of naval also)...

    I know it's a bit dated to be commenting on a blog from May 2009, but hope it's of use.

    Just looked (hard to resist a challenge) and are currently selling hardcover copies of the book for GBP 27.50 and copies exist through other associated vendors via Amazon.

    Good luck!

  4. Ah-ah! Thank you very much, Richard, both for your comment and the heads up re- the Chinese Steam Navy - I'll rush on over to Amazonia now!

    Plenty more to come pre-dreadnought and sci-fi wise, so feel free to drop back again whenever you like.