The Russian Cruiser Askold

In the late 1890s the Russian Empire sought to strengthen its presence in the Far East, China and Korea.

Faced with a growing threat posed by the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Russians saw an urgent build-up of their naval forces in the region as an utmost priority. On February 20, 1898 Emperor Nicholas II approved a supplementary shipbuilding program “for the Far East”, which would see the construction of six 5,000 – 6,000 ton cruisers, in addition to ships already being built under the 1895 program. The task to formulate technical requirement for the new vessels was delegated to the Maritime Technical Committee (Russian: MTK).

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Design stage

The requirements drafted by the MTK were based on the key premise: the future cruiser was to be more powerful and faster than her Japanese counterparts built in England, or their British equivalents. The required speed was set at 23 kt. The ship was to be armed with 12 152 mm main guns, license-built at Obukhov plant based on the original design of the French engineer Canet. Secondary battery was to consist of twelve 75 mm guns, in addition to small caliber weapons. The ship was expected to have a range of 5,000 NM at cruising speed. Due to small displacement, heavy armament and the need to carry substantial fuel reserves, the new ship would have no armor belt, but only armored main deck.
In early April Russian and foreign shipyards received invitations to bid for the contract. However, the contract to build Varyag – the first ship of the series (which tentatively consisted of three vessels) was awarded outright to William Cramp & Sons Co. from Philadelphia. In July 1898 Kiel-based Germania (part of Krupp) was selected to deliver the second cruiser (future Askold). After the tender was closed, two more bids came in, one of which came in from Vulcan Stettin. The Vulcan’s design was viewed as superior to the Germania’s bid and the shipyard was awarded the contract to build the third cruiser in the series – Bogatyr. The best ship to emerge from the competition was to become the lead ship of the new class of cruisers.

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Construction and trials

The contract was formally signed on August 4, 1898. The shipyard received 3.78 million rubles to build the warship within 23 months of signing the contract. The shipyard’s management took it upon themselves to deliver “the best Russian cruiser” built by a foreign shipyard. Unfortunately, in their quest for speed (the ship was to be capable of top speed of 23 kt – quite an impressive figure in those days) the engineers ended up with the hull design that was too narrow and too light.

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The construction began on October 24, 1898, even before the technical drawings could be formally approved. On December 21, 1898 the cruiser was named after the legendary 9th century Varangian prince of Kiev, Askold. On January 11, 1899 the ship was officially entered into the navy register as a 1st class cruiser. The ship was launched on March 2, 1900 and on April 11, 1901 she put to sea for the first time. During sea trials, on September 6, the ship displacing 5,950 tons reached the average speed of 23.39 kt over four 2-mile runs. On September 15 the ship underwent official 6-hour speed trials off the island of Bornholm. During the first run she achieved the average speed of 23.59 kt, while the second run produced the average of 23.83 kt (maximum speeds achieved during the tests were 23.98 and 24.01 kt, respectively, with machinery delivering 21,000 and 20,885 shp). The tests reveal severe vibrations in the stern section of the hull, which subsided once the structure of the hull had been strengthened. Machinery trials were performed on November 3 in the waters of Bay of Kiel. At 128 rpm the powerplant produced 23,500 shp. After 2 hours and 20 minutes of travel at full speed, the acceptance committee ended the test. The ship was officially accepted on January 6, 1902 and on January 12, with a band playing and guns firing ceremonial salutes, the Russian Imperial Navy ensign was raised for the first time.


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Overview of the ship’s particulars
Architecture and hull

The main differences between the new Russian cruiser and Varyag included covered 152 mm guns, more reliable Thornycroft-Schulz water-tube boilers and three-shaft propulsion system, not to mention her rather unique external appearance. Askold’s characteristic five smoke stacks earned her the nickname “packet of Woodbines” – slim cigarettes popular among British sailors. The cruiser’s long and narrow hull had a length to beam ratio of 8.7. The short and heavily loaded bow section often led to the ship’s “digging” into the water when sailing into the waves. Crew’s living conditions with the confines of the slim hull left much to be desired, especially in combat conditions when the ship’s company was typically more numerous. The hull was divided into thirteen water-tight compartments. Askold featured three decks: upper (9.5 mm in mid-section and 7 mm at each end), battery deck (6 mm) and armored deck. Cofferdams (0.8 m wide) extended along the entire length of the hull and reached up to 1.2 m above the waterline. Double bottom ballast space was lined with a 13 – 50 mm layer of Portland cement. Coal bunkers were placed between bulkheads 50 and 97, both below and above the armored deck, for enhanced protection.

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Askold’s main battery consisted of twelve 152 mm/45 Canet guns, mounted on the upper deck and forecastle. With a standard loadout the battery was designed to provide fire for up to three hours at 180 rounds per gun. The ammunition supply consisted of 564 AP shells, 564 HE rounds, 624 cast-iron shells and 372 segmented rounds. Secondary battery consisted of twelve 75 mm/50 Canet guns placed on the battery deck. The guns’ loadout was sufficient for a 2.5 hour barrage at 650 rounds per gun. The ammunition supply included 1,500 AP shells, and 2,116 cast-iron rounds. Askold also carried eight 47 mm/43 Hotchkiss guns (six in fixed mounts and two removable weapons), in addition to a pair of 37 mm/23 Hotchkiss guns that could be mounted in picket boats. Complementing the ship’s armament were two VS Baranovsky 63.5 mm/19 ship-borne assault cannons on wheeled mounts. The ship’s landing party had at their disposal two 7.62 mm Maxim machine guns.

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