Third Naval expansion (1880–1893)


By following the British cooperation programs, advanced warships such as the Fusō, Kongō and Hiei were built in British shipyards specifically for the Imperial Japanese Navy.

 In 1883, two large warships were ordered from British shipyards. The Naniwa and Takachiho were 3,650 ton ships. The naval architect Sasō Sachū designed these on the line of the Elswick class of protected cruisers but with superior specifications.An arms race was taking place with China however, who equipped herself with two 7,335 ton German-built battleships (Ting Yüan and Chen-Yüan). Unable to confront the Chinese fleet with only two modern cruisers, Japan resorted to French assistance to build a large, modern fleet which could prevail in the upcoming conflict. This is referred as the influence of the French “Jeune École” (1880s). The French doctrine was favoring small, fast warships, especially cruisers and torpedo boats, against bigger units. The decision to be closer to France was based on the fact that Japan was uneasy with being dependent on Great Britain, at a time when Great Britain was very close to China.

The Dingyuan/Ting Yuen photographed in 1884 in Germany, waiting for delivery

The Dingyuan/Ting Yuen photographed in 1884 in Germany, waiting for delivery

The Meiji government issued its First Naval Expansion bill in 1882, requiring the construction of 48 warships, of which 22 were to be torpedo boats. The naval successes of the French Navy against China in the Sino-French War of 1883–85 seemed to validate the potential of torpedo boats, an approach which was also attractive to the limited resources of Japan. In 1885, the new Navy slogan became Kaikoku Nippon (Jp:海国日本, lit. “Maritime Japan”).[32]

In 1885, the leading French Navy engineer Emile Bertin was hired for four years to reinforce the Japanese Navy and to direct the construction of the arsenals of Kure and Sasebo. He developed the Sanseikan class of cruisers; three units featuring a single powerful main gun, the 320 mm (13 in) Canet gun.Altogether, Bertin supervised the building of more than 20 units. They helped establish the first true modern naval force of Japan. It allowed Japan to achieve mastery in the building of large units, since some of the ships were imported, and some others were built domestically at the arsenal of Yokosuka:

This period also allowed Japan “to embrace the revolutionary new technologies embodied in torpedoes, torpedo-boats and mines, of which the French at the time were probably the world’s best exponents”.[34] Japan acquired its first torpedoes in 1884, and established a “Torpedo Training Center” at Yokosuka in 1886.

These ships, ordered during the fiscal years 1885 and 1886, were the last major orders placed with France. The unexplained sinking of Unebi en route from France to Japan in December 1886, created embarrassment however.

Japan turned again to Britain, with the order of a revolutionary torpedo boat, Kotaka which was considered the first effective design of a destroyer, in 1887 and with the purchase of Yoshino, built at the Armstrong works in Elswick, Newcastle upon Tyne, the fastest cruiser in the world at the time of her launch in 1892. In 1889, she ordered the Clyde-built Chiyoda, which defined the type for armored cruisers.

Chiyoda (千代田?) was a protected cruiser of the Imperial Japanese Navy, which served in the First Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War and World War I.

Chiyoda (千代田) was a protected cruiser of the Imperial Japanese Navy, which served in the First Sino-Japanese War, Russo-Japanese War and World War I.

Between 1882 and 1918, ending with the visit of the French Military Mission to Japan, the Imperial Japanese Navy stopped relying on foreign instructors altogether. In 1886, she manufactured her own prismatic powder, and in 1892 one of her officers invented a powerful explosive, the Shimose powder.


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