1. Guns

The majority of the guns in the Russian service are manufactured at Obukoff Works - the balance come from Canet.

The Obukoff Works on the Neva are a State establishment, and under the control of the Navy. They were first started in 1863, and have grown steadily ever since. At the present time they have a capacity for some 800 guns in hand at once, in addition to torpedoes, armor, and machinery. About 3000 men are employed here, - pay ranging from 1s. to 8s. per diem.

Obukoff guns are generally noticeable in that their energy per ton is relatively a little less than that of foreign pieces: they are made very strong, and the Russians are proud of the fact that none have ever burst.

The breech mechanism is an adaptation of the Canet, - the Obukoff gun is altogether more or less after the Canet pattern. The newest 6-in. (Russians use the inch and not the centimeter for designating their artillery caliber) is practically a simplified 15-cm. Canet. This simplicity is essential, as the Russian bluejacket is not easily able to master intricacies of mechanism. It is a singularly workable piece, heavy for its size (it is 45 cal. long), with a single-action self-locking breech. It is doubly impossible to fire the gun unless the breech be locked.

On the following page are the details of Russian guns now mounted afloat. The alphabetical Naval War Game notation, which is generally used in the plans of ships throughout this book, is appended, and for reference and explanation the armor-notation system is adopted to suit rapid comparisons.

The guns being mounted in ships now completing and building are:

A…..12-in. of 40 cal. long.

The Baronovski, 3.4-in., from what I have seen of them, are very unsatisfactory in rapidity. They, though short, fire very accurately indeed.

The 40 caliber 12-in. first appears in the Poltava class; the 10-in. 45 caliber was mounted first of all in the Apraxin. It is also in the Peresvyets and the Rostislav.

The last ship to have the 9.4 was the Senyavin, while the non-Q.F. 8-in. makes its last appearance in the Rossiya.

The projectiles fired are armor-piercing shell and common shell. Solid shot has been abandoned, as on the testing-ground the "magnetic" capped A.P. shell got through as much armor as solid A.P. shot. High explosives have not yet been adopted, and probably will not be until their success has been more fully demonstrated abroad. Experiments are, however, being conducted with a new explosive of fairly high power and singular safety.

The newer guns fire a smokeless powder.

In Q.F. of smaller caliber than the 3-in. 12-pounder, Hotchkiss, Maxim, and the Russian Baronovski Works are called upon. The calibers are the 57mm (6-pounder), 47mm (3-pounder) and 37mm (1-pounder). There are also Nordenfelts and the ordinary Maxim guns. The Baronovski Q.F. is a 63mm (2.5 in.) gun, 17 calibers long, firing a 5 ½ lb. shell with a muzzle velocity of 1220 ft.-seconds. It is a purely Russian gun. The 37mm (1-pounder) are usually revolver guns. The 1-pounder is the smallest shell allowed by the Geneva Convention, and measures only 3 ¾ in. in height. Some while ago one of these 37mm shells, bursting on board a French warship, killed or wounded five men: their utility in action is likely, however, to be limited.

Revolver cannons are also in favor in the Russian Service.

2. Small-arms

The Russian naval rifle is the Mouzin, model 1891, details of which are as follows:-

Caliber, .3in. Number of rounds in magazine, 5. Weight of bullet, 208 grains. Charge, 33 grains. Initial velocity, 2001 ft.-seconds.

This weapon is to be eventually replaced by the Lee straight pull, probably the best rifle going. The 1893 model of this arm is used in the United States Navy; it is remarkable for its high initial velocity - 2550 ft.-seconds. This is 100 ft. better than the Mannlicher, the next best. Its bore is the smallest known - .236 only, which is rather less than the Mannlicher's.

The service revolver is the Smith-Wesson.

There is nothing particular to say about the swords. The dress sword usually worn by officers is a little thing, a species of midshipman's dirk.

3. Torpedoes

The Russian service torpedo is of the Whitehead type, and is made at Obukoff and at the Loesner Factory, St. Petersburg. Between them these two establishments turn out about 50 torpedoes yearly. There are several models: those of 15 and 17.7 in. being the most common. The latter is 19.68 ft. in length, and of about 30 knots speed. The charge is said to be the enormous one of 300 lbs. of gun-cotton, -half as much again as our 18-in. ones carry.

Russia purchased the right to manufacture gyroscope torpedoes. A "business" description of the gyroscope or Obry apparatus (so called after its Austrian inventor) is as follows:-

"By the use of this apparatus any deflection of the torpedo out of its original line of fire is prevented, such deflection being produced either by the method of discharge or by some defect appertaining to the torpedo itself. The apparatus consists of a gyroscope, which is set in action at the moment of discharge of the torpedo. The action depends on a rapidly revolving wheel, suspended in gimbal rings in such a manner that all sources of friction are absent, and the axis of the wheel tends to maintain itself in the original direction in which the rotary motion was communicated to it; thus the initial direction of the torpedo is maintained throughout the run. The gyroscope acts on the slide valve of a steering engine, and, on any angular movement of the torpedo from the initial direction, the slide valve is acted on, working a piston connected to vertical rudders pivoted in the tail, and so immediately steers the torpedo back again in the original direction of the line of fire. The higher the rate of revolution of the wheel, the greater the tendency for the apparatus to remain in correct adjustment. Motion is given to the wheel at the moment of discharge by the rapid unwinding of a torsional spring, which spring has to be so held every time before the torpedo is fired. The apparatus weighs between 8 and 9 lbs., is placed in the buoyancy chamber of the torpedo, and is so arranged that it can readily be abstracted for examination or adjustment. It can be taken from one torpedo and readily placed in another. The course of the torpedo with the apparatus in action is of a lateral wave form, with ordinates at the maximum of about 2 meters in length. To obtain good results, careful adjustment, which is done on a special table, is needed. By the use of the Obry gyroscope, torpedoes can be set to run accurately up to 2000 yards, though at lower rates of speed. The accuracy of a torpedo is so enormously increased by this apparatus that the well-known difficulty and delay in preparing torpedoes for service, viz., their adjustment at a range, is obviated. The present cost of these instruments is £50, including royalties."

A gun will carry somewhere about 25,000 yards, but the odds are heavy against its hitting at even 5000. In the same way, the 2000-yard range of the Obry-fitted torpedo is more of the possible than the probable. Without the apparatus, about 500 yards is the very maximum distance at which a torpedo is expected to hit the target, and the war chances are about 3 to 1 against it then. With the gyroscope there are chances of hitting up to 2000 yards. The apparatus needs considerable care and skill in its use, and plenty of "looking after" at times when it is not in use, else it may prove a boomerang. Still, there is no question but that it is a great improvement on previous methods.

The Russians have not yet discarded torpedo nets. They have still the old pattern, but will probably be introducing the Gromet with its finer mesh ere long. Russian ships invariably stow their torpedo booms the reverse way to the usual, - the booms lying forward instead of aft. This is noticeable in all the illustrations of their modern warships.

Russian torpedo officers, it may be observed, are mostly very efficient. Curiously enough, though Russia did more than any nation to introduce the torpedo, she is nearly always assumed to be behindhand in this matter.

Submerged tubes in the Russian Navy are more or less of the Schneider Canet design, and in the majority of ships bear 20° abaft the beam. It is rumored that in some of the new ships they are fixed 20° before the beam, but this requires confirmation. The bow tube in the Knyaz Potemkin Tavritchesky is a new Elswick design.

Above-water tubes (training) are being removed, but those fixed a the bow and stern are retained in the very latest types.

It is worthy of note that, as remarked on a previous page, most above-water tubes are placed outside the redoubt without armor protection. The tubes that have been or are being removed are those behind armor. Presumably some recent experiments in the Baltic are the cause of this.

4. Gunnery Matters

A short while ago the Russian gunnery practice squadron fired before the Kaiser and German officers. They hit the target every time, both at fixed and moving targets at long ranges, a feat that made a remarkable impression upon the Germans. Probably these were special gun crews, and the gunnery average cannot be assumed equal to this result, but the old theory that "Russians cannot shoot" is a dangerous one to hold.

Gunnery returns are impossible to obtain, and Russian officers are absolutely reticent about their shooting. But it is clear that immense efforts are made to secure efficiency in this direction, and from what is not said rather than from what is, I am inclined to fancy that Russia is behind no nation in gunnery at present. Whether her guns will hit as well in war as in peace, war alone can show, but her men are very unlikely to get excited in battle, and she has an immense advantage in the fact that officers will aim the guns in battle. So many officers are carried that this is possible.

Speculations on the matter are idle, but the general air of confidence characteristic of Russian naval officers when gunnery is on the tapis, may very well afford matter for serious thought.

5. Armor

Till recently Russian armor came from Carnegie's works in America and from the Creusot firm. Of late it has been "made in Russia," but actually Krupp at Essen did much of the making at first. Now there are well established works at Ijoia, where 5000 men are employed, at the Obukoff gun factory. Works also is done at the Putiloff and Alexandrovsky steel works; there is plant, too, at the Baltic works.

Five years ago (1899), I saw men on board the completing Sevastopol filling up cracks in armor joints with wood and putty - the imported armor had got strained in transport and the plates would not meet properly. Ten years ago somebody stole some of the money, and many of the armor plates were imitations made of wood.

Today (1904) Russian armor appears quite well constructed, well put on, and I have sought in vain for putty cracks and imitation plates. The Pobyeda, the latest Russian built armor ship, is of excellent workmanship throughout, and so far as inspection can prove the armor was put on with equal excellence.

6. Engineering Matters

Until comparatively recently the machinery for Russian warships was chiefly supplied by English firms - Maudslay, Sons, & Field; Humphrys & Tennant; and hawthorn Leslie having been much employed in the past. Now all this is changed; not by any reason of any dissatisfaction with the material supplied, but for a variety of other causes. One of them is a patriotic idea about "everything made in Russia," though the making in Russia often means the employment of French or Belgian firms established there; the normal Russian is no Archimedes. The ubiquitous German, too, is of course inevitable - but mostly Belgians are the fore. These enterprising people have, on the whole, drawn more advantage from the Franco-Russian Alliance than their neighbor; people in Russia take them for French, and contracts are apt to fall their way in return for what the alliance has brought to Russia. At the same time nothing is more remarkable than the really excellent workmanship of all "made in Russia" machinery. Few people have any conception of the strides that Russia has made in this direction.

Russian contracts are peculiar: they invariably cost more than any other, because the slightest superficial and harmless flaw voids the contract for anything ordered by Russia. The same causes, however, that prevented Russian ships being built in England prevented engines being constructed in this country. I was told in Russia, not once but a dozen times, that the "Strike Clause" was the stumbling-block, Russia insisting on its absence and British firms (knowing all too well what its absence might mean in these days of agitation) insisting on its maintenance. The agitator helped the British mechanic to kill his goose so far as Russia is concerned.

The water-tube boiler found an early champion in Russia, which quickly adopted the Belleville, and subsequently the Belleville fitted with economizers. One objection to the water-tube boiler is or was that it smokes unless carefully handled. Russian fuel, however, always gives much smoke, so the matter is of less consequence.

Welsh coal is stored in Russia; this, of course, is smokeless, but its presence is not always to be relied upon given certain eventualities. In addition, much liquid fuel is used, especially in the Black Sea, and with this there is plenty of smoke as a rule; but, latterly, this has been greatly reduced, and I do not think that Russian ships can be considered particularly smoky now-a-days compared to other foreigners.

With liquid fuel the Russians appear to have obtained more success than any other nation; the Rostislav, burning it, made 18 knots easily on trial. A new system of using liquid fuel was tested in 1899 in the Baltic on board the torpedo boat Moonsund, fitted with locomotive boilers, and on board the Pernou, which has water-tube boilers. The fuel is mazut or astatki (a heavy residual oil of Russian petroleum). The system consists in forcing the oil through spiral tubes. At the orifice each tube is fitted with a perforated disc that forms the oil into a very fine spray. The system is the invention of an engineer officer named Shensnovitch, and has so far proved very successful. It is an adaptation of an Italian idea. The main objection to the Russian fuel is that it has a particularly offensive and all pervading odor. The distinctive smell of it permeates the ship.

I have already mentioned the excellence of modern Russian machinery - that is to say, all constructed since the year 1900 or thereabouts. It is usually relatively heavy for the work that it will be called upon to do, and constructed to last.

All the engine-rooms of new ships that I have seen are very roomy, quite different to the cramped spaces in British ships. There is plenty of room to get at everything - everything also is well kept. I have not noticed any signs of slovenliness, such as were plentiful only half-a-dozen years ago: between 1899 and 1903 there is a great gulf in this respect.

In the boiler rooms the same great space is accorded, and there is a marked cleanliness here where one would least expect to find it. One very cardinal error is embodied - the boilers are put fore and aft instead of athwartships as is the usual custom with water-tubes. In consequence, when the ship is rolling (and a ship rolls a great deal more than she pitches), there would look to be considerable risk of the water running out of tubes. Such at least is the usual opinion. It is only fair to state that a Russian engineer with whom I discussed this point was in no way disposed to admit it as counterbalancing the other advantages that it gave. He pointed out also that the Belleville (the only water-tube so carried), being fitted with check valves, and so forth, may be used with perfect safety in this fashion. As Russian ships undoubtedly roll a great deal, and as they have also had no troubles with any of these ships with fore and aft boilers, his contention would look to be correct. Curiously enough, the existence of these safety devices to make it impossible for the circulation to go the wrong way is the chief objection raised by those who object to the Belleville boiler. Theoretically, perhaps, it is disadvantageous, but in practice it appears as wise as the fitting of safety valves. This particular type has, however, come in for so much abuse at the hands of those who uphold the obsolete cylindrical boiler that probably few, if any of the objections, are worth attention. At any rate, they secure none in Russia.

For the manufacture of Belleville boilers there are now four establishments. They are made at Kronstadt both by the Societe Anonyme Franco-Russe and by the Chantiers de la Baltique, and at Nikolaieff by the Chantiers de la Nikolaieff and another firm. All these hold patents for manufacture. I imagine that the Belleville Company are represented by a supervisor from the French headquarters of that firm, but it is not possible to obtain information upon this point, though I have endeavored to do so. The matter is of very great importance, because there seems to be little question but that the original failure of the Bellville in the British Navy, though attributed to the general inefficiency of manufacture due to the great engineers' strike, was actually caused by the introduction of "improvements" by those who were at that period naturally without any practical knowledge of the water-tube system. The steaming efficiency of the Russian fleet depends on whether or not the same kind of thing goes on in Russia. If it does, we may probably assume that Russian ships are unable to make their speeds for long; if, on the other hand, the boilers are constructed strictly according to specifications, the odds are that Russian warship speed cannot be neglected in the future as it has been possible to neglect it in the past.

So much has been written against the Belleville boiler that it is extremely difficult to assign its exact value as a war factor. If practical naval opinion be taken, then it is apparently the best type in existence; if, however, the opinion of civilian theorists is allowed weight, it embodies almost every possible defect. Presumably the naval engineer, as the practical man, is the best judge; but the matter, in this country at least, is so complicated by side issues that it is difficult to arrive at the true facts of its worth.

The history of the Belleville in the British Navy is approximately as follows:-

Innumerable troubles were being experienced with cylindrical boilers owing to the increased pressure that naval practice was demanding. Matters were so acute that Admiral Sir John Fisher, the then Controller of the Navy, and Sir John Durston, the Engineer in Chief, dispatched a number of naval engineer officers to inspect the working of various water-tube boilers in the French Navy and elsewhere. After studying the evidence, they finally, with the concurrence of the chief constructor, Sir William White, decided to experiment with the Belleville, and a gunboat was fitted with this type. The experiment was so successful that the boiler was appropriated for all new ships. It appears to have been specified that it was essential for the efficiency of the British fleet to adopt one type only, lest multiplicity of types should cause disaster in war time by rendering it impossible to interchange engine-room compliments.

This decision in favor of water-tubes was a blow to all industries manufacturing the old "tank" type of boiler, and the representatives of the old type found a champion in Sir William Allan, the head of a great cylindrical boiler-making concern. The old fight for the retention of the muzzle-loader was repeated in a fight for the retention of the old type boiler. A side issue of considerable importance is the unpleasant fact that Admiral Sir John Fisher and Sir William White, being at the top of their professions, had powerful enemies who did not hesitate to make capital out of the proceedings.

The Bellevilles of early British ships were of an elementary type, badly constructed on account of the engineers' strike, "improved" by amateurs, and handled by unskilled men. The inevitable happened - break-downs occurred. No doubt many of these were exaggerated, and some perhaps never happened; but there is no question but that trouble was experienced for at least a year. Every one remembers the historical case of the Europa.

Finally a Boiler Committee of mercantile marine experts, with one naval engineer member, was appointed to inquire into things. These, except the naval officer, quickly condemned both the Belleville and the cylindrical. The naval engineer signed a minority report in favor of the Belleville. The majority verdict found favor with the nation as the best way out of an awkward situation, and if, as is possible, all water-tube boilers are about equal, it may be commended accordingly, and the protests of naval engineers written down as mere professional jealousy.

Meanwhile, however, ships fitted with the improved Belleville were completed for sea, and in all these a uniform success was secured. This gave rise to a counter agitation, which at the moment of writing (end of 1903) has just assumed an acute stage. Speeds greatly over the contract were attained by ships in service like the Drake, Spartiate, Vengeance, Good Hope, and Andromeda. Finally, the Europa was sent on a 25,000 miles cruise. The Civilian Boiler Committee said she could not accomplish it; the naval party in the service claimed that she could. The latter proved correct - this one time failure, the Europa, doing the whole trip without a single defect, and - though she proved inferior to other Belleville ships in economy of coal - she beat easily every record of any other type of boiler.

The inference of political intrigue in the battle of the boilers is unpleasantly suggestive; however, the subject need not be pursued here further than is necessary to point out that in Russia no such problem arose, and consequently the serious situation of a whole navy given over to experiments with nearly every type of water-tube boiler as the British fleet now is, has been avoided. To take one boiler type only may, despite the increased efficiency of such a course, embody risks; to fit a fleet recklessly with half-a-dozen different types is, however, as nearly fatal as anything can be.

Russia, like us (and other nations), sent out engineer officers to inspect various types of boilers; unlike us, she was content to allow the Navy to have the final voice in the matter. We left it to politicians and laymen.

No difficulty in working the Belleville appears to have been experienced by the Russian engine-room complements. The reason of this lies mostly in the extremely methodical way in which the Russian Admiralty braced itself to change from the old style to the new.

In the first place a large number of engineer officers were sent to France to undergo a practical course while the boilers for their ships were being constructed by the Belleville firm. They thus acquired a technical knowledge of the why and wherefore of things that else they would never have possessed probably.

Secondly, a new rating of mechanics - on a par with our E. R. A.'s - was introduced. These men have special pay, get leave when other men do not, and are allowed various other privileges. They prove of great value on board.

Thirdly, stokers were carefully instructed in the art of stoking water-tube boilers. It is a decided art, it being necessary to distribute the coal evenly and moderately a little at a time upon the fires, with only half the doors open at a time. Quantity is the fatal error, too much coal being as bad as too little. With the old type boilers, the more coal that was thrown on the better in reason was the result. Hence the need of training. In the British Navy the raw stoker is first trained on the old type of boiler, then put to unlearn it all for the water-tube. Russia teaches the scientific method to start with.

As every type of water-tube boiler needs a different kind of knowledge and working, Russia has built the transport Okean, fitted with Belleville, Niclausse, Yarrow, and some other type boilers, and men are, so far as possible, drafted according to the boiler that they have been trained on.

In one or two Russian ships the Niclausse boiler has been adopted, the two American built ships being so fitted by Cramp's, who are the U.S. Agents of the Niclausse. A disastrous explosion in one of these ships, the Retvizan, brought the Niclausse type into some disfavor, though it was subsequently shown that the type was not to blame for the occurrence. It was also alleged that the boilers having been constructed in America some error had been made in following the specifications. The American Maine is so fitted by the same firm, however, and she on some rather extensive trials did very well, so the question as to whether American innovations on the construction were in any way responsible in the case of the Retvizan is not clear.

Personally I am not disposed to credit the dissatisfaction statements, and gather that the set back to the Niclausse in Russia is not the result of any defects, real or imaginary, but due to Russian desire not to multiply types.

Water-tube boiler types in the Russian Navy for ships (other than torpedo-boats and destroyers), built, building, and reconstructed, are approximately as follows:-


So much re-boilering has gone on of late that there may be a few more ships with Bellevilles.

The Normand and Thornycroft boilers are somewhat similar in many ways, except that the Normand has small tubes only. These are objected to on the score of difficulty in sweeping. They are the Bogatyr. The Novik has the Thornycroft, as also Askold. The Niclausse ships are the Retvizan, Varyag, Khraby, and the Alexander III building is also reported to be so fitted. Of these Varyag did very well indeed on trials. The Belleville is in every other ship from and including the Rossiya onward, also in all the re-boilered ships.

The cylindrical boiler is practically extinct. Save for the three Poltavas and three Apraksins, no ships of importance in the Russian fleet now carry it, and in the course of a few years it is likely to disappear from these.

In concluding this sketch of engineering in 1903-04 in the Russian fleet, mention should be made of a recent instance of the great improvements in steaming.

The Sissoi Veliky, which was only designed for 16 knots after three years' commission in the Far East, made 15.3 knots on her paying off trial. The Navarin, a ship nearly fifteen years old, designed for a 16 knots that she never made, reached 14.9, or, according to some accounts, 15.1 knots, and the old cruiser Korniloff about 17 knots. These figures, more than anything else, go to show how immensely Russian naval engineering has improved during the last few years. Five years ago none of the ships could get within a knot of these more recent speeds. The matter demands earnest attention.

source: The Imperial Russian Navy, Fred T. Jane, 1904