Varyag is certainly one of the best-known warships of the Russian navy that had ever sailed the seas. It had a relatively brief career under the Saint Andrew’s ensign and took part in only one lost battle of a lost war. Yet, for Russians she became a symbol of patriotism in difficult times and the heroic conduct of her crew became a legend.
The Cruiser Varyag in a fly-around 3D animation. Visualisation by Stefan Dramiński
Three protected cruisers of the Diana class were designed and built in Saint Petersburg as a part of the Russian Naval Expansion Plan of 1895. These were: Diana, Pallada and Aurora - famous for her role in the October Revolution. Russians called them the “first rank cruisers”. Their primary feature was a moderate hull protection that consisted of one armoured deck with sloped sides. Such a system protected the magazines, boiler room and engine room from above. Displacement limited to a maximum of 7 000 tons prevented the installation of any vertical armour. These ships were given the typical cruiser tasks including patrolling distant waters, protecting native shipping and commerce raiding. Low maximum speed, relatively small endurance and weak armament did not make the Diana class cruisers suitable for the tasks they were built for and it was known from the start that they would soon need successors. In this way a conception of building three new cruisers was born. They were to be built along the same guidelines as the Diana class, yet with improved construction and performance that would allow them to effectively complete their tasks in the Far East. Taking into consideration the fact that the local shipyards were overloaded with naval construction, it was decided that the ships would be built by foreign ones and the designs would be chosen as a result of a competition announced by the Naval Technical Committee. However, the American shipyard of William Cramp & Sons in Philadelphia managed to outwit the competitors and sign a contract for one protected cruiser before the competition was over (at the same time, on April 11, 1898 a contract for building a battleship was also signed). The delivered specifications for the cruiser were incomplete and a detailed project was supposed to be achieved in the course of a discussion with the monitoring committee that arrived from Russia. The battleship that was being built was named the Retvizan and the cruiser was christened the Varyag. The construction of the two remaining protected cruisers (Askold and Bogatyr) was entrusted to German shipyards chosen at the conclusion of the competition (Germania Werft in Kiel and Vulcan in Stettin respectively).
The name of the ship
Varyag is a Russian name for a Varangian - a member of a warlike tribe inhabiting areas of today’s Russia and Ukraine in the 9th century AD. The name, apart from being used to christen the protected cruiser built at the turn of the centuries, was also given to a few other warships. The first Varyag was a screw corvette built in 1861. The third one, a light cruiser, was supposed to be a representative of the numerous Soviet Sverdlov class. She had already been launched when her construction was cancelled in 1959. The next vessel to receive that name was a Grozny class guided-missile cruiser that managed to stay in active service for 25 years (from 1965 until 1990). The second of the Russian large aircraft carriers, built after Admiral Kuznetsov, was also supposed to be given the name Varyag, but the dissolution of the USSR prevented the completion of the ship. The hull was sold to China in 1998. At present the name is carried by a Russian „Project 1164” guided-missile cruiser Chervona Ukrayina (Red Ukraine) renamed Varyag at the beginning of the 1990s of the 20th century.
Construction and commission
Russian monitoring committee led by Captain of the First Rank (captain) M. A. Danilevski arrived in Philadelphia on July 13, 1898. It soon turned out that the original specifications had numerous flaws and it was impossible to build a ship to them without exceeding the planned tonnage. The shipyard manager Charles Cramp was a real pain for the Russian committee. Using the differences in the Russian and English text of the contract he questioned many of its clauses, demanded extra charges for higher construction costs and insisted on technical solutions he preferred. The question of the propulsion system, more specifically, the type of boilers to be installed provoked zealous disputes. While the committee proposed the reliable Belleville boilers that were already being used by the Russian Navy, Cramp insisted on Niclausse. The whole affair found its way to admiral Vierhovskij in Saint Petersburg, who resolved it in favour of the Americans. It would turn out to be a fatal mistake. At that time other issues were also decided: normal displacement was increased up to 6 500 tons, location of the ammunition magazines was established - one at the bow and one at the stern respectively and the final armament scheme was set.