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Elektroboot submarines (1935 – 1955)

October 17, 2011
Above: Elektroboot the smooth lines of  U-2540, now a tourist attraction
Until the birth of  Elektroboots, submarines had essentially been “submersibles”, i.e. warships with the temporary ability to submerge.
Elektroboot U-boats were the first true submarines, i.e. warships specifically designed to operate entirely submerged, rather than a temporary means to launch an attack or evade detection.

There was nothing in the Allied arsenal that could match what was thought to be the parameters of the new type of German U-boat then thought to being built in considerable numbers. Naval intelligence and encounters by Allied shipping revealed there to be a new and substantially faster U-boat (the Type XXI), that could remain fully submerged for unheard of lengths of time.

Suddenly the counter-measure days of simply  ‘sitting on top’ of a U-boat until it ran out of breathable air were gone. The speed advantage a surface escort vessel had in chasing after a submerged U-boat was also reversed – these new high-speed U-boats could outrun some escort warships. And why, according to some prisoner of war, were the hulls covered with rubber sheeting ? Type XXI submarines were also far more ‘acoustically quiet’ than the Type VIIC U-boats, making them harder to detect when submerged (see U-480 below).

This was all rather baffling to the Allied Intelligence Services at the time. For those in military circles there were more questions than answers – and if counter-measures were to be devised those answers could not come quickly enough.

Today the streamlining of a hull is the expected norm and may even be regarded  as unexciting and commonplace but the streamlined of  U-boat  designs  of 1942 were far from ‘the norm’ and alternately agitated and excited Allied military planners to the point of ringing alarm bells.


The gifted rocket designer Hellmuth Walter, better known for his rocket-powered aircraft (most notably the Me 163 Komet) [1], had been advocating the use of hydrogen peroxide. This work had begun before 1939 and most of his early efforts were directed towards hydrogen peroxide for use as a submarine propulsion alternative to the reliance on the diesel-electric combination.

The first submarine – the first Elektroboot – using Walter’s hydrogen peroxide propulsion system was known as V80. Built at Kiel during 1939 – 40 it was driven by a single turbine (20,000 rpm), she was 77 ft in length and had a crew of 4.

Left: Illustration of V80

The V80 was built purely for research purposes and thus unarmed. V80 had a short life. She was taken out of service at the end of 1942, and was scuttled at Hela in March 1945, but not before successful sea trials and she had shattered the underwater speed recordata speed of 28 knots. The illustration tends to suggest this speed was achieved by streamlining and not the propulsion system alone.

Another Elektroboot was the Type XXIII submarines. Unlike the V80, which was only experimental, this class of U-boat (254 tons) was built in significant numbers and became operational. Their length (114 ft) was so small by contemporty U-boat standards that they could carry only two torpedoes (which had to be loaded externally).

Right: U-2367, a Type XXIII designed for coastal  duties

To maximise production ‘parallel construction’ began at shipyards as far apart as France, Italy, German occupied USSR and Germany itself. The specifications demanded that it be transportable by rail are therefore not that surprising.  Time pressures and restricted resource meant that it was partly based on the Type II coastal U-boat already in service and the proposed Type XXII which is also listed in the table below.

Designed as a small coastal submarines the Type XXIII operated in the shallow waters of the North Sea, Black Sea and Mediterranean Sea.  In the closing pages of the war five Allied ships were sunk by Type XXIII boats with no losses to the attacking U-boats.

Sixty one boats of the Type XXIII were completed: seven Type XXIIIs were sunk before reaching full operational status; thirty one were scuttled at the end of the war; twenty were surrendered to the Allies and only three survived the war (U-2326, U-2353 and U-4706).

The fate of the 7 that were sunk is as follows:

  • U-2331 – Oct 10 1944, disappeared while on training in the Baltic; cause unknown
  • U2342 – Dec 26 1944, hit a mine in the Baltic
  • U-2344 – Feb 18 1945, sunk after collision with U-2366 while on training in the Baltic
  • U-2359 – May 12 1945, sunk by British aircraft in the Kattegat
  • U-2338 – May 4 1945, sunk by British aircraft in the Baltic
  • U-2367 – May 5 1945, sunk after collision with another U-boat in the Green Belt area
  • U-2365 – May 5 1945, sunk by British aircraft in the Kattegat

Ocean-going Elektroboots

The second of the elektroboots to see active service was the Type XXI. At 2,100 tons and with speed of 17 knots, and with a range of 15,500 nautical miles, these U-boats presented the biggest danger to the Allied shipping lanes (see U-2540 featured at the top of this page). It also made them the focus of a stampede between the “Allies” to capture as many intact examples as possible when Germany surrendered (May 1945).

Production began in 1943 using eight prefabricated hull sections which  were then taken to the shipyards for final assembly.

Left: A model of U-3017, a Type XXI U-boat operated by Royal Navy as HMS N41

This method could have resulted in a turn-around time for each new vessel of only 6 months but  the assembled U-boats were plagued with quality assurance problems which required extensive post-production repairs. The average completion time was 18 months. Mass production of the new type did not really get started until 1944. Had they been available 2 years earlier and in numbers over 20 they could have influenced the end of the war.

Nonetheless, 118 Type XXI were under construction by the end of the war and several were actually commissioned and operational. For instance, U-2511 and U-3008 were completed in time to go on war patrols. – but they were the only Type XXI to do so.

Features of the new Type XXI included;

  • greater battery capacity
  • improved dive times
  • the ability to ‘sprint’ into position for an attack submerged (older type U-boats had to sprint into position of the surface making them vulnerable)
  • the new hull design also reduced the boat’s radar ‘visibility’ when surfaced
  • a hydraulic torpedo reloading system allowed all six bow torpedo tubes to be reloaded faster than a Type VIIC could reload one tube
  • Type XXI could fire 18 torpedoes in under 20 minutes
  • very sensitive ‘passive’ sonar  were fitted to Type XXI
  • it had better ‘facilities’ than previous U-boats, including a freezer to keep food fresher for longer
  • deck furniture and fittings were retractable.

It is extraordinary to think that U-2540, a Type XXI U-boat (once of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine) was, in 1957, raised from the seabed just off Flensburg Firth and recommissioned into the West-German Bundesmarine in 1960. She was used for research purposes and provided the basis for the later Type 205 and Type 206 submarine used during the Cold War (notable for their non-magnetic hulls). The U-2540 was only finally de-commissioned in 1980 and can now be seen as the only floating example of a Type XXI U-boat at the German Maritime Museum, Wilhelmshaven.

The cleaner lines of the Elektroboot German U-boats are best shown off in the above picture of a model Type XXI when compared with the Gato class, right. (A better picture resolution and appreciation of lines in question are better afforded by well photographed models than by trying to compare actual boats at sea or in harbour).

Right: Gato class note deck furniture

Contrasting American and Britsh submarines of the period, the aerodynamics are positively futuristic. By way of comparison Ameria entered the war with the Gato class fleet submarine built from 1940 – 1944 (2,424 tons with a range of 11,000 nautical miles).

The scale model is ideal to illustrate the obstructions and drag-inducing  paraphenalia on the on the deck and around the conning tower.

The benefit of streamlining had not been realised when the Balao class – the succeror to the Gato class – was inaugriated (1942 – 1946). Below is an unaltered pre-‘GUPPY’ replica of a Balao class (2,424 tons, range 11,000 nautical miles).

Left: Balao class, note deck detail

After the war and as a result of acquiring and appraising Type XXI U-boats, the US embarked upon the Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program – an upgrade of its subamines fleet. Known by the acronym “GUPPY”, post- GUPPY boats were distinctly more aerodynamic.

Right: The Balao class USS Greenfish after GUPPY alterations

The huge transformation of the Balao class submarines is best conveyed by the example of USS Greenfish (SS-351). Pictured above is the wartime profile of a typical Balao class submarine and to the right a Balao class after its streamlined ‘makeover.’ The USS Greenfish was commissioned in 1946 in pre-GUPPY form and returned to the shipyards in 1948 for the first of its  alterations.

Below is a Table of all known Type XXI U-boats. Those U-boats numbers shown in black are known to have been completed, i.e. commissioned. Those with red numbers are U-boats ‘ordered’ and which may encompass those which were a). partially built, b) had only their keels laid or c). were simply paper orders, i.e. orders approving construction.


 Left: U–2513

U-2513 was handed over to the American Navyin May 1945. It undertook no war patrols. First surrendered in Norway it then sailed to Lishally (Londonderry), Northern Ireland (7th June).  In August 1945, the U-boat was transferred to the United States Navy. A year later, August 1946, U-2513 began an extensive overhaul at Charleston S.C. where she departed on 24th Sept. She then began six months of duty which included both evaluation tests of the U-boat’s design and duty in conjunction with the development of submarine and antisubmarine tactics. The Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program  (GUPPY) would be initiated because of the results of these tests. Pres. Truman was the only US President to set foot on and experience a dive in a U-boat (U-2513).


Post-war modernisation of US submarines under the Greater Underwater Propulsion Power Program proceeded in seven stages: GUPPY I was to reduce hydrodynamic drag; GUPPY II, was to fit the recently perfected snorkel, GUPPY IA was a cheaper alternative to the GUPPY II; Fleet Snorkel again related to the snorkel; GUPPY IIA was similar to GUPPY IA. These were then followed by GUPPY IB, and GUPPY III – and in the rather odd order shown here.

HTP power

The promise of an alternative propulsion system free of any reliance on the need oxygen was very appealing. There is no doubt that the Americans and British were determined to exploit this possible Holy Grail for themselves while denying the latest German submarine technology to the Russians. For their part the Russians had a correspondingly selfish  attitude to the ‘spoils of war.’

In practical terms the Russians had captured a considerable number of unfinished Type XXI U-Boats in the shipyards in Danzig, and had as a result gained access to the plans for, and a full-scale model of a Type XXVI U-Boat (U-4501 through to U-4600). These variants would have been a larger and longer range version of the Type XVIIB U-Boat shown below.

Both the Type XXVI and the Type XVIIB were to be fitted with the HTP, or high test peroxide, power plant. In 1944 it was not fully appreciated just how dangerous this system could be in a confined space – a realisation that came only after hostilities ended and testing began.

Derivatives of hydrogen peroxide power are not limited to submarines as the earlier reference to the Me 163 Komet indicates. One form, HTP or high-test peroxide,  is a high (85% to 98%) concentration solution of hydrogen peroxide, with the remainder predominantly made up of water. In contact with a catalyst, it ‘decomposes’ into a high-temperature mixture of steam and oxygen, with no remaining liquid water.

Although extremely combustible it is still used today as a propellant for rockets and torpedoes, and has more publicly seen in Vernier engines, i.e. the thrusters used for spacecraft to adjust their position.

However, in 1945 the emphasis was on submarines. Germany’s northern ports fell under the British occupying force  jurisdiction and a variety of U-boats were discovered – the Type receiving the highest priorities were the Walter powered boats, e.g. Type XVIIA and Type XVIIB.

Left: a Type XVIIA  underway

The Type XVIIA came as two variants’, one the Wa 201 was 128 ft long, and the second (Wk 202) was 120 ft long (the types were later followed by the Type XVIIB).

  • U-792 was a Wa 201 variant, launched on 28 Sept 1943 and commissioned on 16 Nov 1943. She was 128 ft long, and displaced 309 tons. She was wrecked, 3 May 1945 and later broken up
  • U-793 was also a Wa 201 variant; launched on 4 March 1944 and commissioned on 24 Apr 1944.
  • U-794  was a Wk 202 variant of 120 ft long, displacing 259 tons, she was launched on 7 Oct 1943 and commissioned on 14 Nov 1943.
  • U-795 was a Wk 202 variant, 128 ft long, launched on 21 March 1944 and commissioned on 22 Apr 1944.

Other Elektroboots

Three intactType XVIIBU-Boats (U-1405 to U-1407) fell within the British Sector after May 1945 with 2 or 3 more, U-1408 to U-1410 partially finished. These U-boats displaced 337 tons, were 136 ft in length 136 ft and, powered by the fabled HTP [high test peroxide] system had the astonishuing submerged speed of 25 knot.

Anglo–American plans suffered a setback when U-1405 to U-1407 were scuttled by their crews following the German collapse at the end of the Second World War.

Right: U-boat, U-1406, a Type XVIIB allocated to the US being dismantled after World War II

All three were raised and salvaged in June 1945. U-1407,which was allocated to Britain, was repaired d and together with its inventor Prof. Hellmuth Walter, transported to Vickers in Barrow-in-Furness for further assessment and refit.  There Vickers under the supervision of Prof Walter, fitted her with a new and complete set of machinery (also captured in Germany). She was first known as HMS N41 but was later re-commissioned into the Royal Navy as HMS Meteorite.

U-1405 (pictured above) was raised, and transported to theUSand then broken up sometime after 18 May 1948.

The fate of U-1406 is not known with certainty to the author but U-1407 was transported to Britain and served as HMS Meteorite until 1949

Of the remainder, U-1408 to U-1410 were incomplete when the war ended and the  contract for U-1411 to U-1416 was cancelled before construction began

No good representational pictures are freely available of the Type XVIIB save for the one above chosen for its depiction of the complete hull.

Other Developments

Germany also experimented with deadening the echo reply of ASDIC used by Allied warships. Some sources have disparaged these attempts at coating the entire hull in rubber sheeting as ineffective but recent evidence, circa 2004, [2] indicates it was in part so effective that the methodology has been adopted by other sea powers since 1945. A television programme regarding the wreck of the U-480 underscored she might have had some success due to this cloaking device prior to her sinking, not off the Isles of Scilly (south west England), as originally thought, but deep in the English Channel later in 1945.

The rubber sheeting is in fact a series of tiles glued to the specially prepared hull of a submarine. Termed Anechoic Tiles each tile has a series of perforations matching the signature – in the case of U-boats – the wartime frequencies used by ASDIC. The anechoic tiles both absorb the sound waves of ‘active sonar’ (pinging) and lessen any sounds made by the vessel, e.g. its engines. The latter reduces the range at which it can be detected by passive sonar.

Experimenting with rubber coatings first began with U-11 in 1940 followed by U-67 in 1941. The 4-millimetre thick rubber coatings were variously applied to the entire hull, the conning tower but not the deck and permutations thereof. Two notable problems were that the coating could become detached creating sonar attractive turbulence in the water and secondly it was found to have decreased the speed of the boat.

It was not until late 1944 that the problems with the tile adhesive were mostly resolved – a process that took several thousand hours of hull cleansing, gluing and riveting on the U-boat. The first U-boat to test the newer type adhesives was U-480, a 757 tons Type VIIC U-boat.

Other U-boats that received the same rubber tiles included:

U-485, U-486 (a Type VIIC), U-1105 (a modified Type VII-C/41), U-1106, U-1107, U-1304, U-1306, U-1308 (the last Type VII/41 built) and three small Type XXIII ‘elecktroboots’; U-4704, U-4708 and U-4709.

After the war the technology was not utilised again until the 1970s when the Soviet Union ressurected the technique for its slightly noisy subs. Modern Russian tiles are about 100 m/m thick, and apparently reduced the acoustic signature of Akula class submarines by between 10 and 20 decibels, (i.e. 10% to 1% of its original strength).

By 1980 both the US and Britain were applying anechoic tiles to their submarines perhaps indicating that the gains outweighed the drawbacks of weight, cost and any increased ‘drag’.

Research Programme in the 1950s

The recovery of U-1407 was the impetus for a British research programme which resulted in the construction of two experimental submarines, HMS Explorer and HMS Excalibur (ordered in 1947 and completed in 1954 and 1958). She displaced 1,000 tons submerged and was 178 ft in length. They were built for speed trials and both were unarmed. The HTP engines were essentially steam turbines, with the steam being generated by the interaction of HTP with diesel oil and a catalyst.

Both boats suffered from many teething troubles to the extent that her first captain never took her to sea and the duo were comically referred to as “HMS Exploder” and “HMS Excruciator” (both were decommissioned in the 1960s). [3]

Historically, HTP is significant, if not a milestone, as the first attempt at AIP (Air Independent Propulsion). AIP is a generic tem for closed loop engines. It is a term that encompasses technologies such as oxygen substitution or Stirling Engine, which allows a submarine to operate without the need to surface, use a snorkel, or access atmospheric oxygen. Coincidentally, these technologies also significantly reduce the noise level of the submarine and thus their rate of detection.

The Soviet Union built a single, semi-successful example of a Walter-cycle submarine known in the West as “the Whale,” but their most serious efforts were focused on a  closed-cycle diesel plant based on the German Kreislauf system. Together with their own pre-war researches this eventually led to the 650 ton (540 ton ?) Soviet Quebecclass of 1956.

Left: Soviet Quebecclass, length 183 ft

This class of submarine used ‘stored liquid oxygen’ (LOX) to sustain the closed-cycle operation for diesel engines. An experimental prototype submarine, the M-401, was launched in May 1941 but the conflict with Germany (June 1941) suspended the programme.  The exhaust gases from the diesel engine were compressed and the carbon dioxide extracted and dumped overboard, before the purified gases were mixed with stored oxygen and fed back into the engine (closed loop).  The M-401 made 74 cruises in the Caspian Sea including 68 dives and covered 360 nautical miles, so in that regard it was successful.

This led to 30 boats based on this system being built between 1953 and 1957. However, their safety record was so very poor that they were known by their crews as “the cigarette lighters” and withdrawn from service by the early 1970s.

Submarines fitted with nuclear reactors sounded the death knell for HTP power. When the US Navy began building nuclear powered submarines nations using the HTP technology abandoned their projects. In Britain the HTP project was abandoned, and Explorer and Excalibur were scrapped

The Dream Lives On

Despite the advent of nuclear power as the preferred propulsion system for submarines there remains a niche market for AIP (Air Independent Propulsion). Diesel-electric powered submarines need some device if they are to evade detection by searching anti-submarine vessels using electronics for ASW (anti-submarine warfare).

Everyone is familiar with films depicting the ‘ping, ping’ of a surface vessel using ‘active’ SONAR (Sound Navigation and Ranging), to seek out a submarine. This depends on emitting a stream of pulse and waiting for the sounds to be reflected back to the search vessel.

The second form of SONAR is passive sonar which emits no signal but listens for the sound made by vessels, e.g. its engines vibrations or propeller noise.

Both forms of sonar are used as ‘acoustic location’ devices and to measure the echo characteristics of “targets” in the water, e.g. speed, depth, range etc.

The acoustic frequencies used in sonar systems vary from very low (infrasonic) to extremely high (ultrasonic).

Contrary to popular perceptions of the ‘silent deep’, the ocean is, for acoustically sensitive equipment, a very ‘noisy’ environment. In addition to background noise, water has differing densities depending on depth and global geography. Submarines can ‘hide’ in this denser water. A heavier-than-water submarine could hide even more easily (all submarines are currently lighter-than-water).

‘Acoustic countermeasures’ available to a submarine can include sound-absorbing materials to cloak or nullify surfaces thatmight ‘reflect’ when underwater. This was first seen in U-boats of World War II and then Russian Juliett class and Kilo class (see Chinese subs URL ?).

‘Electronic countermeasures’ available to a submarine include noisemakers to disrupt/confuse the pursuer.

For this assortment of countermeasure to be successful, however, the conventionally powered diesel-electric boat has to remain submerged. In spite of advances in battery life AIP systems are still required. They are capable of propelling a craft along at 5 knots while running almost silently and using up little or no oxygen.

From earlier articles on this blog site it will be apparent that‘cavitation’ and the give-away noise it produces has presented all Navies with a problem. One way around thathas been sophisticated propeller designs but another is to abandon the propeller altogether.

Quiet Electric Motors” as used in modern submarines are not super-suppressed normal AC motors complete with brushes and armatures that are noise dampened – in fact they QEM has no moving parts at all. Alternately termed Integrated Motor Propulsion (IMP) and Magneto-Hydrodynamic Drive (MHD).

The ‘magnetohydrodynamic drive’ is more often associated with a form of submarine propulsion utilising a Kort nozzle or a Pump-jet. It works on the basis of an electric current being passed through seawater in the presence of an intense magnetic field. This interacts with the magnetic field of the current through the water. The effect is for the seawater to repel pushing the water out towards the stern thus accelerating the vehicle in the opposite, i.e. forward, direction.

MHD is attractive because it has no moving parts, which means that a good design will render the submarine ‘silent’ – and reliable, efficient, and inexpensive (especially so if it also creates drinking water and oxygen as by-products). [4]

Magnetohydrodynamic drive is analogous to the impulse drive which featured in the TV science fiction series Star Trek (the ‘impulse engines’ giving sub-light speeds).

Integrated Motor Propulsor (IMP) is similar to MHD but appears to be more readily found as the motor for torpedoes. The IMP is described as a ‘hybrid propulsion system’ which incorporates a radial-field electric motor (as does the MHD) but directly into the torpedo propeller jet. It is claimed this completely eliminates an internal motor which would normally require seals to prevent the ingress of water and torpedo failure. [5]

Bolting the drive unit onto the back of the torpedo body and replacing the normal propeller is said to increase its ‘stealth’ potential. The closed-cycle propulsion is said to be quiet, wakeless, and depth-independent.

In a cost conscious time, with its rechargeable energy source, it will help reduce naval exercise expenses by providing more affordable training opportunities because of its lower ‘total ownership costs.’

Ten years ago (202) Germany launched a Type 212A submarine and soon after launched a second for the German Navy (2003). [6]
U 31 and U 32 are Type 212A submarines, displacing 1,830 tons and are 183 ft long. Both are powered by a single diesel engine and an electric motor driven by two ‘fuel cells.’ Hull surface are covered in a special, non-reflective paint that absorbs ultrasounds coming from the sonars of other submarines. Type 212 features a cavitation-free propeller and have a submerged speed of 20 kts. [7] U 32 was the first non-nuclear submarine to stay submerged for two weeks.

Sweden’s Gotland class submarine (1,500 tons) was the first AIP submarine to enter regular service in 1996 with a speed of 20 kts when submerged. It features a “X” rudder said to give it greater manoeuvrability especially when close to the sea bead. (see S1000 China page). “Several weeks” is the underwater endurance claim for the Gotland class.

“Fuel Cells” are another form of AIP. In simple terms, a fuel cell is an electro-chemical conversion device that combines hydrogen and oxygen to produce water, electricity, and heat. The fuel cells on the U 32 are placed on the outside of the hull and are designed so thatin case of a disaster they explode on the outside thus minimising the risks for the crew.

Decades ago the principle of electricity and water was used for welding high melting point metals like platinum.  An electric current was used to separate hydrogen and oxygen and the resulting gases used to fuse the metal. Fuelk cells are not that dissimilar.

Fuel cells are already seeing a number of promising applications in the space and automotive industries – many believe thatfuel cells offer the best potential for developing more efficient AIP systems in the future.

There are several alternative configurations for fuel cells, but the system that has attracted the most attention for submarine propulsion, is the “Polymer Electrolyte Membrane” (PEM) fuel cell. It has a low operating temperatures (80° Centigrade) with relatively little waste heat.

        • In a PEM device, pressurized hydrogen gas (H2) enters the cell on the anode side, where a platinum catalyst decomposes each pair of molecules into four H+ ions and four free electrons.
        • The electrons depart the anode into the external circuit – the load – as an electric current.
        • Meanwhile, on the cathode side, each oxygen molecule (O2) is catalytically dissociated into separateatoms, using the electrons flowing back from the external circuit to complete their outer electron “shells.”
        • The polymer membrane thatseparates anode and cathode is impervious to electrons, but allows the positively-charged H+ ions to migrate through the cell toward the negatively charged cathode, where they combine with the oxygen atoms to form water.

Left: Schematic diagram of the chemical reactions

Thus, the overall reaction can be represented as 2H2 + O2 => 2H2O, and a major advantage of the fuel-cell approach is that the only “exhaust” product is pure water. Since a single fuel cell generates only about 0.7 volts DC (direct current), groups of cells are “stacked” together in series to produce a larger and more useful output. The stacks can also be arrayed in parallel to increase the amount of current available.[8]

The greatest challenge for fuel-cell AIP systems lies in storing the reactants. Although oxygen can be handled with relative safety as LOX, storing hydrogen onboard as a liquid or high-pressure gas is very dangerous. One solution is to carry the hydrogen in metal hydride accumulators,atlow pressure and ambient sea temperature. (A metal hydride is a solid compound of hydrogen and metallic alloy.
Rockets and Missiles

Hydrogen peroxide – and its derivative fuel mixtures – met with more success when applied to aircraft and space. A good deal of sensational progress was made during the 1950s when the advantages of this technology were applied to aircraft, satellite launch rockets and missiles. For a brief timeBritainhas its own satellite and space exploration programme.

With Russia and the USA capturing or ‘attracting’ all the scientists after the war Britain developed its own rocket expertise based on kerosene / hydrogen peroxide engines. These rocket engines were very successful, inexpensive and very efficient – if not ingenious.

The exhaust from kerosene / peroxide burn-off is predominantly water. This results in a very clean exhaust (second only to cryogenic LO2/LH2) and a distinctive clear flame. The low molecular mass of water also helps to increase rocket thrust performance. Other characteristics of this approach yield “regenerating cooling” of the engine nozzles before combustion (reducing wear and failure rates). The result was a rocket motor without the usual major engineering problems and compromises.

The following table shows some of the British rockets designed and built in the 1950s.

Blue Streak, which promised so much, became the basis around which the European efforts into space exploration began. Beginning with the European Launcher Development Organisation (ELDO) in 1964; this then merged, in 1975, into the European Space Agency (ESA).

On the manned aircraft front, the Saunders-Roe SR.177 and Saunders-Roe 53 were contenders for large contracts requiring an all-weather supersonic interceptor. Jet engines were still in their infancy and ‘thrust levels’, compared with today, were very modest, e.g. Rolls Royce Avon 6.500 lb.

The experimental SR.177 and ST 53 had two distinct engines; a jet turbine and a separate rocket engine using a hydrogen peroxide / kerosene mixture and was much faster than any of its rivals (among them the English Electric Lightening), for the NATO contract.

 Lockheed F-104 Starfighter coup was called the “Deal of the Century” and would later cause major political controversy in Europe. Germanyalone agreed to buy over nine hundred (916) F-104 aircraft. When F-104s started falling out of the sky investigations revealed that Prince Bernhard of the Netherlands (among others) confessed to taking bribes of more than US $1 million from Lockheed to buy the F-104. West German Minister of Defence Franz Josef Strauss was almost forced to resign over the issue for the same reasons. The deal was so profitable to Lockheed that they were happy to pay out millions of dollars as “sales incentives.”

The changes needed to make it suitable for European action rather than Colorado or Californian conditions had ‘unbalanced’ the plane and put heavier loadings on the stubby winglets and altered the ‘stall’ characteristics.

Of Germany’s 916 Starfighters (F-104), about 270 crashed, i.e. just under 30% of the total force; almost half were fatal (110 pilots were killed). Canada, which operated its F-104 in Northern Europe, had an even higher attrition rate, losing over 50% of its fleet of 200 single-seat F-104s.

Deadly Legacy

Used at sea and in the air – in both manned, e.g. Me Komet 163 and unmanned craft, e.g. the V2  – the methodology of using hydrogen peroxide (and its limitations) were well-known by the 1950s – but its adaptability ensured it was never forgotten or ruled out for many solutions.

From 1955, with the sinking of HMS Sidon, to the sinking of the Russian submarine the Kursk, Aug 2000, hydrogen peroxide, in one form or another, has been used as a propellant for high speed torpedoes.

Both boats appear to be victims of internal explosions caused by torpedoes powered by HTP. Fortunately, HMS Sidon was surfaced and tied up in dock when loading her torpedoes. [9]  Nevertheless, her explosion and rapid sinking claimed 13 lives. Had she been at sea and/or submerged the death toll might has been as total as the Kursk’s.



Britain’s latest submarince, HMS Astute, incorporates a hull covered with accoustic tiles. The original German version was made up of one metre square tiles perforated with with 2 m/m and 4 m/m holes (tile thickness unknown). Modern Russian tiles are about 100 mm thick (approx. 4 inches). HMS Churchill was the first UK submarine to be treated with acoustic tiles in 1980. One can deduce that most or all of the Royal Navy’s submarines have been similarly treated since then. It is thought that the most modern tiles utlise both oval and circular holes to extend their ‘cloaking’ and sonar defeating potential, however, other technical details are not available. The early German version had problems with regard varying sonar reflecting characteristics at different depths – so one asumes that is a ‘wrinkle’ that has now been cured.

Addendum :

Enigma machines – 3 of these German encoding machines were captured during World War 2. The first came from U-110 a captured Type IXB U-boat, by the Royal Navy in the North Atlantic near Ireland, in May 1941. The second cane fromU-559 (a Type VIIC U-boat) on 30 Oct 1942, engaged 70 miles north of the Nile Delta. Both U-boats surfaced briefly and sank shortly afterwards.

The third Enigma machine was captured from U-505, a Type IXC U-boat, by the United States Navy off the coast of Rio de Janeiro on June 4th 1944. On this occasion the U-boat was not successfully scuttled and she was taken in tow to the Bahamas. This Enigma machine had the latest variations and an extra layer of cipher protection.

However, all of the above were the Naval version as opposed to the Army version. The first Army version was captured by the Polish intelligence service in 1928. Although an early version, Polish intelligence had broken the Enigma code by 1932. It was brought to England in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, and although it reportedly lacked some components, i.e. internal rotors, it formed the basis of the work for code-breaking at Bletchley Park until U-110’s capture.

[1] Using a hydrogen peroxide derived fuel the ‘Me 163 A’ set a new world speed record of 624.2 mph in Oct 1941.

[2] US “Naked Science” television episode “Stealth Submarine”. U-480 was found in 1997. After sinking possibly 3 warships it is thought sitting in wait on the bottom but with strong Channel currents, she drifted into an Allied minefield.

[3]  See


Soviet Nuclear Submarines

October 17, 2011

Soviet nuclear submarines (1958 – 2011)

Submarine powered by a nuclear reactor are called ‘nuclear submarines’. They offer advantages in performance, i.e. speed, and endurance, and are able to remain submerged almost indefinitely.

They are self-sufficient in water production and breathable air. Their only main limiting parameter is carrying enough food.

Once fuelled the current generations of nuclear submarines never need to be refueled for 25-year, which is usually their useful lifespan. The American short hand for nuclear powered submarines is ‘SSN’ where ‘SS’ stands for submarines and ‘N’ for nuclear.

Nuclear submarines stand at the pinnacle of ‘air-independent’ propulsion systems which has been the Holy Grail since submersibles were invented. Yet for all that, in common with their hydrogen peroxide predecessors, they have severe weaknesses. The most serious drawback of which is radiation, leaks which occur from time to time, are invisible to the human senses and are often fatal.

The Cold War superpowers, Russian and the US, suffered radiation leaks, fires and contamination among their nuclear submarines. Some boats actually sank. Of the two powers,Russia appears to have had the most hazardous boats or the worse streak of bad luck.

Nuclear powered Soviet submarines had a variety of roles. Firstly they were a deterrent to the threatof American ICBM. A sub set of this role was the launching of nuclear tipped cruise type missies. Secondly they were capable of sinking enemy (America/ the West) warships in the conventional way with torpedoes or with short range missiles. Thirdly, some had an ASW role, i.e. attacking enemy submarines.

The following table shows the chronological order in which nuclear powered Soviet submarines (SSN) became operational.

The radiation accidents and fires on board nuclear powered Soviet submarines (mentioned above) may have lead to the retention and expansion of conventionally powered boats, i.e. diesel electric. For instance, missing from the table is the Juliett class submarines which were commissioned from 1963 to 1994, or the advanced Kilo class first commissioned in 1980. [1]

While some of the boats in the table above had to surface to fire their missiles, the diesel electric Golf class of submarines could fire while still submerged (see

The Atomic Age

In the post-war years, i.e. 1945 onwards, the capabilities and huge amounts of power that could be unleashed indefinitely by harnessing atomic power for, say, electrify generation, became commonplace in the public’s mind.

It was in this era that serious consideration was given to how anatomic reactor could be ‘miniaturised’ to fit inside a submarine or a surface warship.

The United States launched the world’s first military nuclear submarine, the USS Nautilus, in 1954.  With atomic power the USS Nautilus could remain underwater for up to four months without resurfacing (displacement 3,520 tons; length 320 ft; speed 23 kts).

Right: USS Nautilus she was decommissioned in 1980

Soviet Russia’s first military nuclear submarine was Project 627, known in the West by the NATO code of November class submarine. All Soviet heavy submarines are built with a double hull structure, or “casing”, but American submarines usually are single-hulled.

Double hull boats have an external hull which forms the actually areodynamic shape of submarine, sometimes called a casing or ‘light hull.’ The outer hull can be made of made of steel thatis only 2 to 4 millimeters thick steel since the pressure on both sides of the casing is the same. The light hull can be used to mount equipment, which if attached directly to the pressure hull could cause unnecessary stress, i.e. water leakages, especialy at depth of when being depth charged.

The double hull approach also saves space inside the pressure hull, as the ring stiffeners and longitudinals can be located between the hulls. These measures help minimise the size of the pressure hull, which is much heavier than the light hull. Another advantage is when the submarine is damaged, the light hull can take some of the impact damage and does not compromise the boat’s integrity, as long as the pressure hull is intact.

The boat’s strength – required for deep diving – is provide not by the hydrodynamic outer shell  but by the internal prssurised hull which is cylindrical.

1. November class submarine

Launched in 1957 and commissioned in 1959, in it is thought that14 boats of this class were built and 7 are known to have “retired”  (displacement submerged 4,750 tons; length 354 ft; speed 30 kts).

The design was aerodynamically very good – essentially a tube, or torpedo shape, tapering towards the propellers. Yet despite this it was comparatively noisy when compared to the US’s Thresher class boats.

Surprisingly, some rate Soviet reactors in the November class as superior to American ones in their compactness and power-to-weight ratio. However, despite special low-noise variable-pitch propellers, vibration dampening of main equipment, and anti-sonar coating of the hull the vibrations of Soviet reactors were much more pronounced than from US reactors.

Left: Model displaying the chin sonar dome on November class boats

The first submarine of this class was first underway using nuclear power on 4 July 1958. This generation of Soviet submarines did not enjoy adequate sonar equipment, the hydro-acoustic equipment on the November class was not intended for submarine hunting, and had relatively limited capabilities.

Poor reliability of the first Soviet nuclear-powered submarines coupled to general machinery of the steam generators malfunctions led to their short service life.

2. Hotel class submarine

Project 658 was the designation to a new submarine which would become known in the West as the Hotel class. Originally put into service in around 1959, it was operational by April 1961. It was an evolution of Project 627 which later produced the November class. The Hotel class can be said to have been a November class modified by the addition of the missile compartments from a Golf class submarines (see

Hotel class boats had more reliable electro-hydraulic command control surfaces for high-speed underwater operations. With small horizontal hydroplanes for better maneuverability this combined to reduce ‘noise’.

From any standpoint the Hotel class was, in profile, a very conventional submarine (see below).

Once again the infancy of the ‘atomic age’ led to a large number of accidents during its construction and its service life (earning it the nickname “Hiroshima” by sailors).

Submerged it displaced 5,080 tons, was 374 ft long and had a speed of 26 kts.  Hotel class were decommissioned in April 1990.

3. Echo class submarine

These submarines were armed with nuclear cruise missile and served with the Soviet Navy  during the 1960s and 1970s.

Their Soviet designation was Project 659 for the first five vessels, Echo I, and Project 675 for a further 29 known as Echo II by NATO.

Echo I displacement 4,999 tons submerged and Echo II 5,852 tons submerged. Echo I was 364 ft 10” long and Echo II  was 378 ft 7” long.

Of the 5 Echo I which were completed, 4 were commissioned between 1961 and 1963 and 4. had been decommissioned by 1989. In the 1960s Echo I were fitted with 6 x “Shaddock-A” anti-ship cruise missiles which could be conventional HE or nuclear tipped. Between 1969 and 1974 and as the Soviet SSN grew the cruise missiles were removed (in effect they were re-engineered to November class submarine specifications).

The Echo II class (Project 675) saw 29 boats built (18 at Severodvinsk and 11 at Komsomolsk) between 1962 and 1967.

Right: Echo II

The Echo II class was an anti-ship missile carrying submarines armed with eight “Shaddock-A” anti-ship cruise missiles mounted in pairs above the pressure hull.

Although all eight missiles could be fired in 30 minutes, the ship had to surface and the missile was elevated to about 25 to 30 degrees. Stallion SS-N-16 missiles were also thought to be fitted to this class.

The Echo II class also had fire control and guidance radar but would have to wait on the surface for 30 minutes until the missile mid-course correction and final target selection had been sent unless guidance had been handed over to a third party.

Most of the 29 Echo II class had been scrapped by the 1980s with the last one in 1994.

Left: Firing a cruise type missile (Shaddock ) from an Echo II class.

It may seem odd by today’s expectations but the nuclear powered Echo II class was superseded by the diesel-electric Juliett class.


4. Yankee class submarine

This class of boats was designated both as an attack submarines and configured to fire  ballistic missile. It was the first Soviet boat to have the type of lines we have today come to expect of modern submarines. The divorce from the Walter designed U-boats had clearly begun. Surface wave handling had given way to other priorities.

At 9,300 tons submerged, Yankee class boats were 433 ft in length and plentiful (34 were  launched). The Yankees were the first class of Soviet subs to have comparable ballistic missile firepower to their American counterparts.

There were eight different versions of the Yankee class, all of which are no longer in service. The ships were armed with 16 ballistic missiles during the Cold War, and served in the Soviet front lines: in the 1970s up to three Yankees were continually stationed in a “patrol box” east of Bermuda and off the US Pacific coast.

Right: Yankee class profile

Most Yankee class boats were commissioned between 1967 and 1971 with a few more additions until 1974; decommissioning began in 1985 and continued through to 2010. Only one (K- 219) is known to have sunk in Oct 1986 (pictured below). The 20 year old craft had a history of minor clitches and already had one flooded silo bay welded shut.

Yankee I (Project 667A), ballistic missile submarines in service in 1968 – carried 16 x SS-N-6 missiles and 18 x Type 53 torpedoes (34 craft were built). They were the first Soviet SSBNs to carry their ballistic missiles within the hull (as opposed to the sail).

Yankee II was a single-ship class, this was a Yankee I submarine (K-140) converted to carry 12 x SS-N-17 missiles, which was the Soviet Navy’s first solid-fuelled SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile). The existence of this individual prototype led

Yankee Notch (Project 667AT / Grusha-class): This variant was an attack submarines which first appeared in 1983. Four Yankee I boats were rebuilt to this configuration. They incorporated a “notch waisted” center section, which replaced the old ballistic missile compartment,

Left: Yankee Notch at sea

Yankee Sidecar (Project 667M/Andromeda-class) was yet another single-ship variant. Also known as Yankee SSGN, this was (in this case K-420) class, converted into an SSGN. It appeared in 1983, carrying 12 x SS-NX-24 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles

There were one or two more Yankee class that were prototypes or used as test beds.

5. Victor class

Strictly speaking Charlie class submarines came after Victor class (Charlie class in 1973, Victor class 1967), however, the first variant, Victor I, was operational before and the last variant, Victor II,  and the Victor III  were in production and operational (1995) long after the Charlie class had been decommissioned.

The rationale of the Victor class design was for a vessel primarily to protect Soviet surface fleets and to attack American ballistic missile carrying submarines.

Designed as the successor to the November class, the Victor class which came into service in around 1967 and displaced 6,085 tons submerged. For the first time this class featured a tear drop shaped hull we have come to expect in the most modern of submarines.

Left: Victor I

The Victor I class had the Soviet designation Project 671. It had two small, two-blade (not multi-blade) propellers fitted on the stern planes for slow-speed operation. Project 671 (Victor I) boats were retrofitted to handle the TEST- 68 wire-guided torpedo weapons

The initial type had a “crush depth” of 1,700 feet and capable of 32 kts this made it an ideal hunter-killer. Contemporaneous of the American Sturgeon class, Victor Is were significantly faster but had much higher noise levels, despite having a noise absorbing coating.

Victor IIs, of which only 7 were built, were a little longer (20 ft) and should have been heavier but counter-intuitively they are listed as having a displacement of 5, 800 tons (Victor Is 6, 085 tons). They entered service in 1972 and were equipped with the new “Kolos” non-acoustic detection system. However, production stopped when the Soviets, via their spy network, learnt that Victor IIs were being easily tracked by the West.

Victor II class were enlarged from the Victor I  to provide additional weapons capabilities and improved fire-control system. The new generation of 65 cm (Type 65) heavy torpedoes were longer than earlier models, and required power assistance to handle them in the torpedo room. The Type 65 had a range of 50,000 yards and were designed to be used against large enemy vessels, e.g. aircraft cariers, that would not be expected to sink if hit by one normal sized (53 cm / 21”) torpedo.

All Victor Is and Victor IIs  had been decommissioned by 1996. Some Victor IIIs had also been decommissioned by this date but several (about eight) are believed to be still active.


5.a. Victor III class

Victor IIIs entered service in 1979, were capable of 30 kts and displaced 7,000 tons. They are shown as a sub-set (5 a) due to the activities of John Walker and the Soviet espionage service (see below). The Victor III class, are immediately identifiable by their distinctive, almost iconic, rear sonar “pod.”  Design improvements using ‘clusterguard anechoic’ coatings [2] helped to decrease radiated noise levels for the Victor IIIs. Anechoic tiles or coating not only reduce internal noises conducted into the sea which can then be heard from afar but blurs sonar detection apparatus (for other references to ‘anechoic’ tiles see also ). Twenty five were produced with the last one being completed in 1991.

The Victor III was much quieter than the earlier versions – unusually so – and the reason soon became apparent. Among the US Naval fraternity the Victor III class, is sometimes called the Walker class since many of the improvements in quieting the boat design and in providing them with more effective sensors were the product of the activities of the John Walker (USN) spy ring in the 1970s and 1980s. [3] This same spy ring also passed on thousands of de-encrypted naval messages. [4] 

Left: Victor III at sea

Victor IIIs were 325 ft long and displaced 7,000 – 7,250 tons but in all other respects were very similar to all other Marks. However, it was the Victor III class’s ‘pod’ that caused consternation for a long time among analysts in the fevered atmosphere that was the Cold War. The pod was later identified as a hydrodynamic housing for a passive sonar array that could be unreeled and towed to gather data and then reeled back in. NB. The system was subsequently incorporated into the Sierra class and Typhoon class of SSNs.

6. Charlie class submarine 

Soviet SSN designers seem to alternate between having missiles housed forward of the conning tower or astern and inevitably, e.g. the Victor class, there were again derivatives of this submarine class too.

Charlie Is (Project 670) had two banks of four missile tubes angled upwards on each side of the bow and outside the pressurised hull. The tubes were covered by large outer doors and the design was to incorporate the P-120 Malakhit (NATO code Siren) medium range anti- ship missile (two of which carried nuclear warheads). Siren allowed the submarine, to launch a missile up to a maximum depth of 150 feet. The illustration shown here displays the missile doors in the bow.

However, due to problems in development the twelve Charlie I submarines had to fitted with the shorter-ranged P-70 Ametist (NATO ‘Starbright’) and it was only Charlie Iis that were armed with the Siren missile.

NB. Both the Ametist and Siren missiles could be fitted with nuclear warheads and are therefore designated SS-N. Stallion SS-N-16 missiles were also fitted.

The first Charlie I was launched in 1967 with another 10 followed over a period of five years. The displaced 4,900 tons submerged. In 1972 to 1979, six improved units called the Project 670M SKAT-M (NATO Charlie II class) were built.

The Charlie I class was de-commissioned from 1990 to 1992 and Charlie II were de-commissioned between 1991 and 1998 (Victor I and II classes were de-commissioned in 1996 but Victor IIIs are still operational today).

Charlie IIs had a displacement of 5,100 tons when submerged, and were 340 ft long with a speed of 24 kts. They were first commissioned from 1973 to 1980 and all 6 were de-commissioned from 1991 onwards.

The Indian Navy leased K-43, a Charlie I (renamed as the ISN Chakra) from 1988 to 1992 which was manned by Indian sailors. After the 3 year lease ended, K-43 was returned to the Russian Pacific fleet.[5]  This arrangement provided India with valuable experience of a nuclear powered submarine and guided missiles – ISN Chakra was armed with eight SS-N-7 known as Ametist (NATO code Starbright), anti-shipping missile.

Charlie class submarines are unique among Soviet combat nuclear submarines in having only a single reactor and a single propeller shaft – all other Soviet submarine classes feature two reactors and two propellers. American combat nuclear submarines tend to have only 1 reactor but their speed significantly exceeds the Charlie class’s 24 kts. [6] The very last Charlie class was retired in 1998. Charlie class submarines were superseded by the Papa class, circa 1969.

7. Delta class submarine 

What must surely be the most visually distinctive Soviet submarine ever produced is the Delta class – but it also had a worrisome arsenal.

Right: Delta class submarine 

In the 1960s the Soviet Navy wanted a new submarine-launched nuclear missiles thatcould threaten targets in North America – preferably one without the launch platforms The submarine) needing to pass over the US’s deep sea sensors (SOSUS is a chain of underwater surveillance / listening posts across the northern Atlantic Ocean). [7]

Delta class submarines were armed with the R-29 Vysota nuclear ballistic missile (NATO code ‘Sawfly’) which had a range of 4,780 miles (twice that of the preceding missile type). The need for constant patrolling off the American coast (see Yankee class) became redundant – Delta’s could sit under theArctic or far out in the Pacific and still reach their targets.

The class evolved over time into the Delta II which was a “stretched” Delta I that could carry 16 rather than 12 ICBN  missiles – all with multiple warheads.

The family of Delta class (from Delta I to Delta IV) is primarily a nuclear deterrent and it has evolved with time to meet changing requirements.

  • Delta I – submerged: 10,000 tons, length 456 ft, speed 25 kts. First introduced in 1973 all 18 built have been retired.
  • Delta II – submerged: 10,500 tons, length 508 ft, speed 24 kts. All 4 built have been retired.
  • Delta III – submerged 18,200 tons, length 544 ft, speed 24 kts. Of the 14 built commissioned between 1976 and 1982, five are still active.
  • Delta IV – little data is available. Of the 7 begun from 1984 to 1990, all are still active.

Since its introduction in 1973 the Delta class was the mainstay of the Soviet strategic submarine fleet and remains today a key part of Russian defence.

The much larger Typhoon class submarines had been earmarked to replace Delta class. However, the high running costs Typhoons and the enforced retirement of the Typhoons′ R-39 ICBM missiles under the START I Treaty, meant that some Delta III’s were reactivated in the early 2000s as replacements. By 2004 all R-39 missiles had been withdrawn and destroyed.

Each succeeding Delta class had better noise reduction. The Delta III, at 544 ft and 18,200 tons, was a leap up in firepower. It was the first Soviet boat that could launch any number of missiles in a single salvo, also the first submarine capable of carrying ballistic missiles with multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRV). The Delta III was also equipped with a new ‘battle management system’ (the Almaz-BDR) for the fire control of torpedoes in deep-water, a new sonar system, and also had a new ‘inertial navigation system.’

The submarine design of Delta IVs is similar to that of Delta II and Delta III. It is probably bigger again than Delta III but the operational diving depth of the submarine is said to be 320 metres (approx 1.050 feet) and unlike all other Delta class boats it surface speed is as fast as its submerged speed, i.e. 24 knots.

8. Papa class submarine

Soviet submarine K-162 was at 44 kts the world’s fastest submarine – and remains faster than many others today. Her estimated test depth was 1,312 ft. and endurance 70 days. 

Papa class submarine were designed as nuclear-powered attack submarine and the first to be constructed with a titanium hull.  She would prove to be a single-boatsubmarine type which the Soviet named Project 661. The boat is best known in the West by its NATO reporting name Papa class. K-162 was renamed K-222 in 1978.

Commissioned in Dec 1969 she was de-commissioned in 1984 and placed in reserve. She was deleted from the Navy list in 1989 and her Russian Navy flag was lowered only in 1999. She was finally scrapped in 2010.

She is regarded as a predecessor to the Alfa and Sierra classes, and may have tested technologies which were later used in those classes.

As an extremely fast attack submarine K-222 was armed with 10 x SS-N-7 Starbright (П-70  ‘Amethyst’) missiles in individual tubes forward of the sail, between the inner and outer hulls, which were both of titanium alloy. Similar in design to the Charlie class submarine, K-222 was designed to intercept and attack aircraft carrier groups. In common with the Charlie class and the later Oscar class submarines, her cruise missiles could only be reloaded in port, making her one of the Soviet Navy’s “one shot” boats.

The single Papa class submarine displaced 7,100 tons when submerged, was 350 ft 9” long and had two water-water reactors, designed to be as compact as possible. Unusually, there were no diesel generators – the ‘emergency power’ source was the boat’s powerful batteries.

Her sensors and processing systems included the MGK-300 “Rubin” sonar system, the “Ladoga-P-661” torpedo fire control system and the “Sygma-661” navigation system. Her radar systems were RLK-101 and MTP-10, a Nichrom “Friend or Foe” detection system and there is mention of a “radio intelligence station”.

Offensively she was armed with ten SS-N-7 nuclear tipped cruise missiles in individual tubes, and carried 12 torpedoes to be fired through four 533-mm (21”) torpedo-tubes.

9. Alfa class submarines

Alfa class submarines replaced the Victor class and at 41 kts were the fastest class of military submarines built. They were the result of the Soviet Navy’s Project 705 where a uniquely powerful lead cooled fast reactor was the power source, this greatly reducing the size of the reactor compared to conventional designs.

The trade-off was that the reactor had a shorter lifetime and had to be kept warm when not being used. As a result, the Alfas were used as interceptors, mostly kept in port ready for a high-speed dash into the North Atlantic. Only the prototype, K-222, known to NATO as the “Papa’ class, exceeded Alfa class submarines speed when submerged.

Right: Alfa class submarine

Of all Soviet designs the Alfa is perhaps the most brooding, the most menacing looking. Alfa class boats displaced 3,200 tons submerged and were 265 ft long. Visually, Alfa class and Victor class can be distinguished in the area where the latter has amore blended-in junction between conning tower and hull. All Victor class craft have a pronounced 90 degree junction.

The hulls were made of titanium and at a time when acoustic detection was being complemented by MAD (magnetic anomaly detector) in both sea and air borne mode, a very low magnetic reading was invaluable.

Such was the insanity of the era thatbarely 3 years after being commisioned, in 1971, the first of the Alfa class submarine were being decommisioned. Seven were built (between 1969 and 1981) and there appears to be no subsequent variant or derivation for this class.  Most Alfa class were decommissioned in 1990 with only 1 being scraped later in 1996. According to U.S. Naval Intelligence, the tactical speed was similar to Sturgeon class submarines, i.e. 26 kts submerged.

In terms of straight line-speed the Alfa was therefore a slippery customer. This was only bolstered by its extremely good manoeuvrability which not only exceeded all other submarines in service at the time but also most of the torpedoes that were available. Acceleration to top speed took one minute and reversing 180 degrees at full speed took just 40 seconds. The ability to thus successfully evade torpedoes launched by other submarines required the introduction of faster torpedoes such as the American ADCAP and the British Spearfish.

According to U.S. Naval Intelligence, Alfa class submarines were designed for burst of speed up to about  tests 43 – 45 kts (approx 52 mph) and was capable of a sustained speeds of 41 – 42 kts (still faster than any Western boat.

Project 705 boats (Alfa class) were intended to be experimental platforms, a demonstration of prowess to the West and to test all innovations and rectify their faults. These would later be found in new generations of larger, quieter boats that eventually became the Typhoon class submarines.

Alfa class derivatives, such as Project 705D, were armed with long-range 650 mm torpedoes and Project 705A carried ballistic missile variant which was designed be able to defend itself successfully against ‘attack’ submarines.

Although Soviet titanium technology was superior to the West’s, the cost of each hull meant fewer could be built. One suspects that the brittle nature of titanium lead to the rapid withdrawal of the early versions.


10. Typhoon class submarines

The full enormity of the Typhoon class submarines is hard to grasp – it was, and remains today, the largest submarine ever built. The photo below of a Typhoon class (NATO code) tied up along side another large Soviet submarine and the personnel on the jetty give some idea of its bulk. [8]

Every Soviet submarine type has a ‘project’ number, however, there is some confusion in some citations regarding the Typhoon – some ascribe Project 941  to this massive submarine and others Project 971. The displaced tonnage difference is so great between 941 and 971 that it cannot be the same boat. This commentary, after checking with the available  NATO list (see Appendix A) ascribes the Typhoon as Soviet Project 941.

First commissioned in 1981, just 6 of the Typhoon class submarines were built and were being deployed shortly thereafter. Typhoon class submarines displaced 47,000 tons when submerged, were 574 ft long and had a submerged speed of 27 kts. The photo below shows the human scale of the missile silo hatches.

The last Typhoon class commissioned was in 1998. Only one has been scrapped (2003) but 4 have been ‘laid up’ or are inactive (2004 – 2006).

Soviet military planning for these vessels was to allow them to waits for weeks or months at a time under the Arctic  ice and to launch their nuclear armed ballistic missiles undetected by deep sea sensors of SOSUS.

Ice and icebergs also provided perfect cover from prying sensors of ‘attack’ submarines which would not be able to get a clear or identifiable signal.

Armed with the three stage intercontinental ballistic missile, the R-3, Typhoon class submarine was able to fire from within the Arctic Circle and hit any target within the continental US. Theoretically, Typhoons were also able to fire their long-range nuclear missiles while moored in harbour.

Unlike most Soviet submarines types there appears to be no variants or derivatives of the Typhoon class but it is thought that the remaining Typhoons  has been used for proving prototypes etc.

The death knell for these leviathans was the ‘arms reduction talks’; the impact of the START I Treaty on ICBM missiles and particularly the Typhoon’s R-39 missiles and the huge running costs of the craftat a time of the economic disintegration of the USSR.

Two vessels were decommissioned in 1997, and in 2002 only two remained in service although it has been reported thatthree of the class will remain active in order to test the R-39M or the new Bulava SLBM, contravening the “Co-operative Threat Reduction Program.” The Typhoon class will be eventually replaced with the Borei class submarines

11. Akula class submarine

By 1986 the Soviet Navy was deploying the NATO code Akula class boat which the Soviets dented as Project 971. The Russian name  “Щука-Б” (i.e. Shchuka-B) translates as “pike” (the fish). To clear any lingering confusion with the Typhoon class (Project 941), its Russian name was Акула” (meaning “Shark”).

Visually as this photo shows the NATO code Akula class boat has a faired-in or blended junction where the hull meets the conning tower. By contracts the Typhoon class has a “spare tyre“waistline around its conning tower.

Right: Akula class (not Typhoon)

The hull is more circular in cross-section as befits an attack submarine and is more similar to the Alfa class than the Typhoon class,  which has, of necessity, a wider and flatter hull for missile storage.

Akula’s are nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN), of which there are four sub-classes. The original seven “Akula I” submarines which were commissioned between 1984 and 1990 and displaced 12,770 tons when submerged.  Six “Improved Akula” submarines (the second sub-class) were commissioned between 1991 and 2009 and one type “Akula II” (of 13,400 ton) was commissioned in 1995. Only 2 Akula II” have been completed (1995 and 2001) with production on 3 more suspended. A further possible derivative, at 13,800 tons is an Akula III, allegedly commissioned in 2001, in all eight Akula class were operated byRussia and one by the Indian navy. Five more have been retired.

Akula class are 335 ft long, feature a seven-bladed propeller and use a steel hull. Initiated in 1976 it became evident that the existing industrial infrastructure was inadequate to mass produce expensive titanium hulls (see above). The steel-hulled submarines of Akula class (NATO code) were easier and cheaper to built than the Sierras, and are essentially successors to the prolific Victor class. Today, they make up about half of Russia’s dwindling fleet of nuclear-powered attack submarines. [9]

The Akula class of boat is fitted with two OK-300 retractable electric propulsors (pump jets) for low-speed and quiet maneuvering at 5 knots. On the surface this class can achieve 10 knots but submerged 28 knots.

Improved Akulas, and Akula IIs have an additional six 533 mm (21 inch) torpedo tubes mounted externally, capable of launching possibly up to 6 ‘noise’ simulation decoys each. The external tubes are mounted outside the pressure hull in one row, above the torpedo tubes, and can only be reloaded in port or with the assistance of a submarine tender. (With submarines capable of ever greater depths – the “crush depth” of Akula class is 1,970 – 2,160 feet – is this one way to avoid complications when firing a torpedo in the future ?)

Another slight oddity is the use of 650 mm torpedo bays when the world navies have long standardised on 533 mm (21 inch). Type 65s are heavyweight torpedoes are designed to deliver a decisive blow against very large shipping targets, e.g. American carriers of 100,000 tons. Their range is 50,000 yards (28 miles)at 50 kts (or 100,000 yards (56 miles),at the slower speed of 56 km/h, approx 28 kts).

The Type 65 torpedoes uses contra-rotating propellers and is powered by HTP (high test Peroxide), mixed with kerosene and compressed air fuel. (Ref. diesel electric subs ;  torpedoes ;  WWII subs ).

It was HTP in torpedoes aboard the Kursk – an Oscar class SSN, K 141 – that Russian officials believe was responsible for the explosion Aug 2000 which sank the Kursk, K 141, in theBarents Sea and killing all hands (118 men).

Anti-aircraft defence on the Akula class is provided by between 1 and 3,  SA-N-10 Igla-M surface-to-air missiles. These are for surface use only as they are stored and fired from the conning tower (US, sail). They are are said to be as light and portable as the shoulder mounted US Stinger missile, if not slightly more advanced.

Six Akula and Akula IIs are all thought to be in service. They are quieter than the original batch and the improvements included not only better silencing but improved automation (crew numbers). The improved quietness may be partly due to sophisticated propeller technology they were able to secure from the West. [10]  Akula class submarines have an upgraded passive sonar and detection system, the MGK-501 Skat-MS. The Akula have the SOCKS hydrodynamic sensors, which detect changes in temperature and salinity.

Akula is the quietest Russian nuclear submarine ever designed, and the low noise levels came as a surprise to Western intelligence. Noise reduction efforts include rafting the propulsion plant, anechoic tiles on the outside and inside of the hulls and possibly other measures such as active noise cancellation. Nonetheless, the American Improved Los Angeles class retained a decisive edge in silencing compared to the Akuka I.

Akula II s incorporated an improved double layer silencing system for the power train. Noise emissions are comparable to the (US)  Los Angeles class at low speeds but the ‘Improved Los Angeles’ design retains an acoustic advantage according to Russian sources at medium or high speeds. [11]

The Russian Akula class probably has a speed advantage (28 – 35 knots submerged), but  Russian sources say they are at a distinct disadvantage in sensors, with a sonar suite which are roughly one-third as sensitive as the Los Angeles class.  Russian sensors and fire control can track only two targets simultaneously as opposed to the multiple target tracking capabilities of the American system. According to some reports, the Akula-II class has a 3.7 metre (11 ft) longer hull to accommodate a quieter propulsion system.

All Akula or an Improved Akula etc boats were all commissioned between 1985 and 1992. The prototype, K-284, was launched in Dec 1984 and commissioned in 1985. She was decommissioned in 1995 to avoid the expense of a reactor refueling.

Double Bluff ?

All of the Improved Akula class of boats were commissioned after the arrest and conviction of theWalker spy ring in theUS. It seems possible that a nation capable of blending unique metal alloys to withstand the high temperatures of IBM rocket jets – temperatures unknown to theUS – could build and improve sound deadening techniques acquired from theUS. There is, in some quarters, a notion that Russian submarines are deliberately ‘noisier’ than their counterparts in the West for precisely the reason that in a time of war they would suddenly become so quiet that tracking hunter killer submarines from the West would acoustically lose them.

This bluff could be applied to all or many other Russian submarines, particularly when the diesel electric powered Kilo class is a class leader is quietness (see

Whereas it is common in the West to highlight Russian malpractices, shortcomings and incompetence, “Running Critical: the silent war” by Patrick Tyler points to alarming short cuts in the American programme. When the “much vaunted” Los Angeles class was launched a series of design and construction problems were hidden.

The US Navy’s overriding concern in 1969 was to have a submarine thatcould keep up with its Carrier Task Force. Thresher class boats (28 kts) could achieve this but their replacement the Sturgeon class could not (25 kts). When a Soviet November class sub kept pace with an American nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the USS Enterprise in 1968, the pressure mounted exponentially.

It proved impossible to achieve 30 knots unless the hull of Los Angeles class was lightened. The resulting effect was that Los Angeles class of which 64 were built, had an operational depth of only 950 feet – 350 ft less than the Sturgeon class and no where near the 3,000 ft of some Soviet submarines. Jane’s Fighting Ships, 2004-2005 Edition puts the maximum diving depth at 1,475 feet – but this is still short of several Soviet types. [12]

The official speed of the Los Angeles class is only 20 knots submerged. The Elektroboots of WWII had a submerged speed of 17 knots (Type XXI, see U-2540) and other U-boats could achieve 25 kts by 1944 (e.g. Type XXIIIA).

Construction problems began with General Dynamics Electric Boat Co which won the contract to build the first 7 of the panned 12 Los Angeles class boats. Doubling the workforce led to skills shortages among welders. A welding inspection found that welds had been claimed / certified that did not exist (Electric Boat Co). Supposed to be welded. This forced General Dynamics to open up the hulls of 6 nearly completed boats to verify all welds.

Shoddy workmanship (or lust for profits) aboard the USS New York City lead to such a great misalignment on the forward loading hatch that Mark 48 torpedoes could not be loaded.

USS La Jolla built by Electric Boat Co in 1981, had an engine room foundation that was put in backwards and which had to be removed later. She is still in service.

The USS Philadelphia (1977 – 2919) was so badly put together she was literally manufactured twice over with huge quantities of parts ripped out and replaced.

With this in mind one wonders how much “spin” has been fabricated by the American military to cover substandard submarines of limited capability. And one has to question whether Soviet submarines are really as antiquated, lacking in sophistication, noisy and as ill-thought out as we have always been lead to believe ?

“Survivability” of a submarine in a conflict situation is critical and the adoption by the Americans of a single skin hull design has to be questioned. Double hulls allow for a degree of damage before a catastrophic flood of water and loss of all hands.

12. Sierra class submarine

Project 945 known in the West as Sierra class (NATO code) was the Soviet Union’s successor class to the ill-fated Alfa class submarine The Sierra class entered service in 1987 just two-years after the all steel Akula class (see Alfa class titanium hulled submarine circa 1970s above).

The hull is made from the light but strong metal titanium which allows it to withstand the hull pressures of diving to “unprecedented depths“, i.e. greater depths than normal. [13] Their submerged speed was 34 kts. Greater depths had the advantage of reducing the level of noise radiated and increases ‘resistance’ to torpedo attacks. The first Sierra class was launched in 1983 but laid up in 1987. They were 335 ft. long (Sierra II 364 ft) and displaced 8,100 tons. The last to be commissioned was in 1993. Three remain active and 1 has been retired.

Two Sierra I class were built before 2 Sierra II class were launched. Sierra II had a 16 ft longer conning tower. Sierra I class boats had a crew escape pod that can be seen protruding slightly on the port side of the conning tower. Sierra II class boats had 2 escape pods either side of the conning tower necessitating the masts to be offset to the starboard to make room. Sierra IIs were 364 ft. long and displaced 9,100 tons.

Were these pods for sailor safety, or likely to be used because of the boats unsafe characteristics, or were they an  experiment for adoption in later classes ?

Designed as an attack submarine the Sierra class was to engage surface task forces and launch cruise missilesat coastal facilities. With a ‘crush depth’ of 3,000 feet it could out-perform boats from the West and speed awayat between 34 and 38 knots.

The Sierra class (Project 945) was generally comparable in performance to early American Los Angeles class boats, though with an arguably superior non-acoustic detection system and integrated acoustic countermeasures system.

Left: Sierra class

The shortcomings and pitfalls gained from the Alfa class (Project 685) resulted in a much larger torpedo room with capacity of up to 40 torpedoes and noise levels were reduced by “Cluster Guard” anechoic tiles on the outer hull. One source states that the  Sierra class is “. . . so quiet that they cannot be detected by NATO’s tracking system SOSUS” (

Although the actual number of boats launched is thought to be only about 4 many more were planned. The mounting military costs of the late 1970s and cash shortages in the 1980s curtailed the project.

13. Mike class submarine

In the 1980s Project 685 was a response to a challenge to develop an advanced submarine thatcould carry a mix of torpedoes and cruise missiles with conventional or nuclear warheads. The Mike class turned out to be another single example class of submarine, the K-278. [14]

Project 685 was developed to test out technologies for the Soviet 4th generation of nuclear powered attack submarines. Unusually for Soviet submarines, only one pressurised water reactor was fitted (intelligence analysts had expected the adoption of the high performance liquid-metal lead-bismuth reactors.

She was in fact fitted with an OK-650 reactor which is also installed on Project 971 (Akula class), Project 945 (Sierra class), and in pairs on the Project 941 (Typhoon) SSBN.

Commissioned in Dec 1984, K-278’s displacement was 6,400 – 8,000 tons when submerged. Her length was 385 ft.   Although primarily intended as a developmental model, she was fully combatcapable. In trials she reached a depth of 3,345 feet and reached 30 kts.

The Mike class K-278 had a double hull, the inner one being composed of titanium, which gave her an operating depth far greater than thatof the best American submarines. The pressure hull was composed of seven compartments with the second and third protected by stronger forward and after bulkheads creating a “safety zone” in case of an emergency.

The short life of K-278 (1984 to 1989) was due to a fire which broke out in the aft engineering compartment on its first operational patrol (April 1989). K-278, named Komsomolets, was able to surface after the fire started and remained afloat for approximately 5 hours before sinking. Of the 42 crewmembers that died, only 4 were killed by the fire and smoke, while 34 died of hypothermia, drowning in the frigid waters waiting for rescue that did not arrive for 18 minutes.

Right: Mike class

An escape capsule was fitted in the sail above these compartments to enable the crew to abandon ship in the event of an underwater emergency (see Sierra class).

See Appendix B for a list of US and Soviet submarine sinkings. Unfortunately, very few photos of the Mike class submarine are available.  

One lesson learnt was that although the escape capsule was used by the last five crew members still on board as she went down, the capsule did not survive the rough seas before it too sank – four of  the five died.

It would appear that for all the precautions every Navy takes they are forever neutralised and confounded by events leading to lives being lost in catastrophes that should that had been planned for and then ruled   out of the equation.

14. Oscar class submarines

The 1970s saw a veritable explosion in Soviet submarine designs but the 1980s saw them all curtailed or cancelled. The first Project 949 submarine known as Oscar class in the West was commissioned in 1980. A second was commissioned in 1983.

They were reportedly between 19,400 and 22,500 tons (submerged), 508 ft long and had a submerged speed of 32 kts. It is the world’s 4th largest submarine ever built and in the Russian Navy second only to the Typhoon class (for a visual comparison see photo of Typhoon above).

A total of thirteen Oscar class submarines were constructed, 11 of them were the slightly larger Oscar II or Project 949A Antey. Oscar II are about 30 feet longer. Oscar II when submerged displaced up to 24,000 tons.

Over 20 Oscar class had been planned but the financial problems that followed the fall of the Soviet Union forced the Russian navy to “retire” many older submarines classes. Although the Oscar class survived and received the priority to proceed, the programme did not escape cutbacks.

Oscar class boats evolved from having two 4-bladed propellers to the Oscar II which had twin 7-bladed propellers which would probably make them acoustically quieter.

The role of the Oscar class was to deliver multiple missile blows on groups of ships and coastal installations, including the use of nuclear warheads on both shipping and land based targets. The conning tower is reinforced to enable it to break through the ice in theArctic to fire its missiles.

The gap between the inner and outer hulls is said to be 3.7 metres (approx. 10 feet). This is thought to give the Oscar significant reserves of buoyancy and improved survivability against conventional torpedoes (

It is fitted with the normal 21” torpedo tubes but also 650 m/m (25½“) tubes through which weapons such as the cruise missile, the SS-N-15 Starfish, can be fired. The Starfish has a solid fuel rocket motor and can deliver its payload to a target 28 miles away.

The payload carried by Starfish ranges from a simple depth charge to a 200 kiloton nuclear warhead.  It is the same missile system carried by the Akula class, the Typhoon, Delta, Kilo, and Borei classes.

The Oscar class submarine is also equipped with two dozen Stallion SS-N-16 missiles (with a range of 550 kilometres) three times as many anti-ship cruise missiles as earlier Charlie and Echo II class submarines.

Twenty four P-700 Granit (SS-N-19, NATO Shipwreck) cruise missiles can be carried by the Oscar class. The P-700 was designed in the 1970s to replace the P-70 Ametist and P-120 Malakhit, both effective missiles but with too short a range in the face of improving weapons of US Navy carrier battle groups.

Shipwreck missiles can be termed a “smart” cruise missiles. When fired in a ‘swarm’ (group of 4 – 8 ) it has a unique guidance mode. One of the weapons climbs to a higher altitude and designates targets for the others to attack. The missile responsible for target designation climbs in short pop-ups, so as to be harder to intercept. Networked in flight, should the designating missile be destroyed one of the other missiles in the swarm alters mode and assumes its role (

The missiles are also able to differentiate targets, detect groups and prioritise targets automatically using information gathered during flight and types of ships and battle formations pre-programmed in an on-board computer.

They will attack targets in order of priority, highest to lowest: after destroying the first target, any remaining missiles will attack the next prioritised target.

The dimensions of the P-700 Granit (NATO, Shipwreck) is; length: 32.8 ft; diameter: 33.5 inches; weight over 6 tons, speed Mach 1.6; and a range of 342 – 388 miles. With a diameter of 33.5 inches the 650 mm (25”) tubes cannot be use to launch this missile so another mechanism must be fitted (unless the submarine version is slimmer ?). One source answers the question:

The [Shipwreck] missiles, which are launched while the submarine is submerged, are fired from tubes fixedat an angle of approximately 40 degrees. The tubes, arranged in two rows of twelve each, are covered by six hatches on each side of the sail, with each hatch covering a pair of tubes. The launchers are placed between the inner pressure hull and the outer hydrodynamic hull.

This leaves the torpedo tubes to fire both torpedoes and shorter range anti-ship missiles – a combination of some two dozen weapons are carried. [15]

The SOSUS array of seabed detectors, mentioned earlier, was extended between the 1960s and 1980s to provide a more comprehensive cover especially for the Pacific Ocean. However, one suspects that the Arctic would not be so well covered and therefore it was used by Soviet boats to enter the Pacific Oceanand observe American and NATO exercises.

For example, the Tomsk travelled into the Pacific under the Arctic ice after being commissioned in Feb 1997, and joined the Pacific Fleet in 24 Sept 1998. The Pacific Fleet totalled seven Oscar II, with four others in the Northern Fleet.

Another Oscar II, class submarine, K-442, shadowed several US aircraft carriers off Washington state in July 1997.

Project 949A, i.e. Oscar II class submarines, have a total of at least ten separate compartments, which can be sealed off from each other in the event of accidents.  In common with the larger Typhoon class ballistic missile submarine, the Oscar class boats are reported to have an emergency crew escape capsule located in the sail.

The tragic sinking with all hands of the Kursk on Aug 12th 2000, an Oscar II class submarine was therefore all the more shocking than one would have expected. Sailors had always been told that the Kursk (like the Titanic ?) was unsinkable. [16]

A Russian Navy spokesman said the video taken of the hull some days after the sinking showed extensive damage from the top to the back fin. It showed the periscope was also still up, indicating the ship sank so fast the crew did not have time to react.

The Kursk, K-141, sank about 100 miles from the Russian port of Murmansk during naval exercises and amid a flotilla of about 30 Russian ships. She sank so quickly and catastrophically that distress buoys were not able to be launched “the majority of the crew died during the first seconds of the disaster.” [17]

This pictorial representation (left)shows the damage initially done by the explosions thought to be caused by Mark 65 HTP torpedoes and the equipment needed in the early stages of recovery. The greaterst danger posed to divers were the unexploded HTP torpedos still in the torpedo room. Fortunately, the submarine was not carrying any nuclear weapons at the time, and there is apparently no immediate danger of radiation leaks.

The submarine was said to be lying at45 or 60 degrees but the final angle at which she lay was no more than 20 degrees from vertical and ata depth of a little more than 100 metres (305 feet). This depth and the angle were said to be well within the operating limits of the British LR5 submarine crew rescue craft.

Left: K141 recovered and in dry dock

One year after the sinking, July 2001, divers began the dismantling of the bow compartment prior to the hull being raised.

The picture of the Kursk in dry dock is after she has had the torpedo compartment cut off with underwater torches and the bodies recovered (for more details see Recovery workers found notes on a crewman’s body; they showed that 23 sailors (out of 118 aboard) had waited in the dark with him.

The devastation wrought on a warship by a torpedo explosion underlines the lethality of weapon systems today. War Games played by general and admirals may keep them busy but the price paid by ordinary soldier and sailors is so great that it intimidates a “first strike” mentality if ones own losses are not to be horrendous.

15. Graney class submarine

No definitive or comprehensive range of pictures exist of Project 885, a hunter killer submarine otherwise known as Yasen class – and designated by NATO as Graney class. For all the column inches this boat has generated specific hard facts are hard to find. However, if the model and press launch pictures are to be believed than the Yasen class represents a departure from normal Russian practice. Firstly, it appears to have only one propeller which remained coveredat the boats launch and secondly it would appear that its ballistic missiles are stored aft of the conning tower.

A photo of the single propeller is shown below. The third photo in this section is of an American Polaris ballistic missile submarine of the Lafayette class (USS Sam Rayburn), and show how the silo hatches might be arranged now that that it appears missiles are to be stored aft of  the conning tower.

The Yasen class is thought to be based on the Akula class and Alfa class submarines and is projected to replace Russia’s Soviet-era attack submarines. Ten Yasen class are planned by 2020 with one already undergoing sea trials (2011) and a second is to be commissioned in 2015.

Yasen class submarines are listed as having a submerged displacement of 11,800 tons, is 390 ft in length and a submerged speed of 28 (or 35) kts.

It is known that construction programme, started in Dec 1993, has suffered as series of stoppages due to finance and ‘technical problems’. The first of the Yasen class, K-329, was scheduled for launch in 1998 but by 2004 work was only ‘resuming’ and ‘moving forward.’

In part this was due to the priority given to the new SSBN Borei class which will carry ballistic nuclear missiles. Nevertheless, work on a second Yasen class submarine (the Kazan) began in July 2009.

Left: USS Sam Rayburn

Graney class submarines are made of low magnetic steel, with a spherical bow sonar. Precise details are not available as the first voyage of K-329 took place in Sept 2011 but educated guesses have been made about its improved quietness, new generation of reactor and its range or armaments. Some consider by that the Graney class will be only slightly quieter than the improved Akula class. [18]

These are likely to include the  Shipwreck missile (see P-700 Granit above), and the supersonic anti-ship cruise missile, the P-800  which has a range of about 200 miles. There is a likelihood that a long-range cruise missile will be developed with a range of up to 3,100 miles, thus out-distancing the 1,000 mile range of the current P-700 Granit .[19]  One source estimates that 24 cruise missiles will be carried together with munitions for its eight 650 m/m torpedo tubes.

Yasen class submarines will operate a VLS, or vertical launch systems, which allows surface and submarines to launch a variety of pre-loaded missiles. These can be “hot” launch using the missile’s own exhaust, or ‘cold’ launches – each have their own advantages.

The schematic  illustration (above) is of a Russian hot launch system depicting the use of exhaust gases and the relief valve into the sea.

16. Borei class submarine

Russia’s new inter-continental ballistic missile firing submarine is the 557 ft long Borei class. The class is intended to replace the Delta III, Delta IV and Typhoon classes now in Russian Navy service.  Of the 8 planned 2 have been completed and are undergoing sea trials.

Advances include a compact and integrated hydro-dynamically efficient hull for reduced broadband noise and allegedly, the first ever use of pump-jet propulsion on a Russian nuclear submarine. Visually, it is closer to the profile of an American boatthan any previous Russian hull design. The cost is thought to be around  US $ 890 million.

The length of the submarine is 557 ft 9 ins. (170 m), and reputedly has a submerged displacement: 24,000 tons) and has a sped of 30 kts. It has not two (as is normal) but only one reactor feeding into a single shaft and propeller – though this is said to be a pump jet than a conventional multi-bladed propeller.

Work on Project 935 began in 1996 but delayed because of missile design changes. In fact, work on the original missile was abandoned, and a new missile called the Bulava was designed.

As a result the submarine needed to be redesigned to accommodate the new missile, and so the project name was changed to Project 955. Those photos that are available (see below) appear to show missile silos aft of the conning tower (US: fin or sail) a change also seen in the Graney class (above).

Bulava missile replaces the R39 solid fuel SLBM which first came into service in 1983. Weighing 84 tons it was 52 ft (16m) long and had a range of 5,120 miles (8,250 km). [20] The new 3 stage Bulava has a range of 6,120 miles (10,000 kms), weighs 36 tons and is about 11 m long without the warhead – this might add another 5 metres to its length. Bulava missiles do not fall within the scope of the new START treaty leaving the Russian Navy free to deploy them.

The first batch of Borei class is expected to carry 16 missile silos and a later generation is planned to be armed with 20 silos. Layout of silos hatches will therefore be similar to those shown on this American Lafayette class submarioens (left).

It is a ‘smart’ weapon which will be the future cornerstone of future Russian military thinking. For example, the missile possesses defence capabilities which include an ability to undertake evasive manoeuvring, mid-course countermeasures and emitting decoys. The Bulava’s technology allows it to carry up to 10 hypersonic, individually guided warheads each with a yield of 100 – 150 kilo tons.

Intriguingly it is said to be fully shielded against both physical and ‘electromagnetic pulse’ damage – something I heard first suggested as theoretically possible some decades by Ivor Catt, a leading authority in electromagnetism. Some believe that‘electromagnetic pulse’ warfare and counter-measures will overtake lasers and electronics on the battlefield – pulse technology rendering the other two inoperable.

Appendix A

List of ‘NATO’ reporting names for submarines


A. Hunter/Killer Submarines  – Nuclear Powered

“November” (Project 627)

“Echo” (Project 629T) (refitted from Project 629 boats)


“Victor-I” (Project 671)

“Victor-II” (Project 671RT)

“Victor-III” (Project 671RTM)

“Alfa” (Project 705)

“Mike” (Project 685)


“Sierra-I” (Project 945)

“Sierra-II” (Project 945A)


“Akula-I” (Project 971)


“Yasen” (Project 885)


B. Ballistic missile submarines – Nuclear Powered

“Hotel I” (Project 658) 8 boats

“Hotel II” (Project 658M) 7 boats (refitted from Project 658 boats)

“Yankee I” (Project 667A) 34 boats

“Yankee II” (Project 667AM) 1 boats (refitted from Project 667A)

“Delta I” (Project 667B) 18 boats

“Delta II” (Project 667BD) 4 boats

“Delta III” (Project 667BDR) 14 boats

“Delta IV” (Project 667BDRM) 7 boats

“Typhoon” (Project 941) 6 boats

“Borei” (Project 955, Borey) 1 in trials, 2 boats under construction, 8 planned


C. Guided missile submarines – Nuclear Powered

“Oscar-I” (Project 949)

“Oscar-II” (Project 949A)

“Yankee-Sidecar”(Project 667M)

“Yankee-Notch”(Project 667AT)

“Charlie-I” (Project 670)

“Charlie-II” (Project 670M)

“Echo I” (Project 629)

“Echo II” (Project 675)

“Papa” (Project 661)


D. Diesel/Electric powered – Hunter/Killer Submarines

“Zulu” (Project 611)

“Whiskey” (Project 613)

“Quebec” (Project A615)

“Romeo” (Project 633)

“Foxtrot” (Project 641)

“Tango” (Project 641B)

“Kilo” (Project 877)

“Export Kilo”

“Improved Kilo” (Project 636)

“Petersburg” (Project 877)

E. Diesel/Electric powered – Ballistic Missile Submarines

“Zulu V” (Project AV-611) 5 boats

“Golf I” (Project 629) 22 boats

“Golf II” (Project 629A) 14 boats (refitted from Project 629 boats)


F. Diesel/Electric Propelled – Guided Missile Submarines

“Whiskey Long Bin” (Project 665)

“Juliett” (Project 651)

“Whiskey Twin Cylinder” (Project 644)

Appendix B

 List of sunken nuclear submarines

United States

1/. Thresher (SSN-593), the first submarine in its class, sank April 10, 1963. Lost with all hands

2/. Scorpion (SSN-589), a Skipjack-class submarine, sank May 22, 1968. Lost with all hands

USSR and Russian Federation

1/. K-27: The only Project 645 submarine, a November class but equipped with a liquid metal cooled reactor, was irreparably damaged by a reactor accident (control rod failure) May 24, 1968.

2/. K-8: A Project 627 November class submarine was lost April 11, 1970 (52 crewmen died).

3/. K-219: A Project 667A Yankee I class sub was damaged in a missile explosion then sank suddenly while under tow October 3, 1986 (6 crew members killed).

4/. K-278 Komsomolets: the only Mike class sub built sank due to a raging fire April 7, 1989.

5/. K-141 Kursk;  Oscar II class sub sank in theBarents Sea on August 12, 2000

6/. K-159: The hulk of the decommissioned Soviet-era November class submarine sank August 28, 2003





[1] Kilo class submarines have been successfully exported to many countries.

[5] India paid Russia to complete two Akula-II class (NATO code Typhoon) submarines, – one is known to be K-152 – which were supposed to be handed over in August 2010, but this has been delayed for unknown reasons until end of 2011. Meanwhile India has designed and built her own nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (with help from who ?), i.e. the Arihant class. INS Arihant, the lead boat, was launched for sea-trials on 26 July 2009 and the Indian Navy plans to have six SSBN’s in service.

[7] This was a surveillance programme that was begun in 1949.

[10] “Quieter Soviet subs least $30 billion”, Navy News & Undersea Technology (14 March 1988).

[12] Commodore Stephen Saunders, Royal Navy

[14] Designed, as had many Soviet boats, by the Rubin Design Bureau.

[17]  See  The Kursk was commissioned in 1994.

[20] Under the terms of the Start I and Start II treaties, from 1996 a number of R-39 missiles were destroyed. All R-39 missiles were decommissioned by 2004.

Torpedo technology

October 13, 2011

Torpedo technology  is  giving old submarines a new lease of life.


Right: a modern torpedo can travel at 200 MPH

Naval planners must have been rocked on their heels when in 1998 it emerged that Russia had developed a torpedo that could travel at more than 200 miles per hour.

Russia’s ‘Shkval’ torpedo puts in jeopardy the safety of every billion dollar submarine and aircraft carrier. It made a mockery of the millions assiduously spent each year improving submarine protection and countermeasures.

  • ” . . . [ the Shkval ] torpedo travels at a speed of 200 knots, or five to six times the speed of a normal torpedo, and is especially suited for attacking large ships such as aircraft carriers.” [1]

The speed of the airborne anti-ship Exocet missile that posed such a danger during the Falkland’s War, was in a stroke transferred to below the waves.

Below is a picture of what the 200 MPH ‘Shkval’ torpedo looks like. Immediately one can see there is no conventional propeller or guidance fins (although fins are said to be fitted).

It is in fact rocket powered and a propeller would be superfluous. – they could never produce enough ‘push’ to reach the speeds claimed for the ‘Shkval

In that scenario it would make more sense to swivel the thruster unit than reply on fins cutting through highly disturbed water.

The weakness of propellers – whether used in air or water – is ‘cavitation’, thatis, sucking through so much material (air or water) that a low pressure gap, or void, is produced in front of the propeller blades and the blades are unable to gain a useful purchase for the next rotation.

Hawker’s high speed Typhoon and Tempest of WWII were the first propeller driven aircraft to face cavitation. This has the effect in the case of an aircraft of limiting maximum level flight speed and to increase speed a dive is required.

This option is available to submarine but not to any other warships, however, if it dives it theoretically gains only a little more speed and will soon reach its maximum diving depth and it is distance not depth that is required .

The speed of an aircraft is limited by its inability to clear air molecules out of its path. A bullet fired from a pistol into water will rapidly slow down by water’s ‘resistance.’ This same resistance (sometimes termed ‘drag’), applies to ships and submarines.

Between the late 1980s and 2000s experiments to reduce the ‘drag’ of torpedoes and submarines were made by several naval nations as well as overcoming the properties of ‘cavitation’ (the US is known to have devised a highly efficient propeller for its nuclear powered submarines). [2]

By the end of the Cold War submarines and torpedoes had reached the maximum boundaries of their underwater speed potential. The British made Spearfish torpedo was one of the fastest of the time, reaching speeds of speed 80 kts.

These boundaries were set by the Law of Physics. An object can only be moved through a body of water or air to a point where ‘resistance’ overwhelms the propulsion. Speed cannot be increased any further due to the molecules compressing in front of the advancing object and finding themselves unable to get out of the way quickly enough (this makes the fuselage of supersonic aircraft heatup).

Russian Breakthrough

The ingenuity of the Russian design team was to invert the boundaries set by nature and the laws of physics and convert them from a detracting negative parameter into a positive one.

Since cavitation is unavoidable they used it to reduce drag. The new technique is called “supercavitation.”

The principle used owes something to phenomenon of the Bermuda Triangle where it is thought that massed bubbles released from the ocean bed render the surface water unable to support the weight of a passing ship and it sinks suddenly and without warning.

A stream of bubbles is produced inside the Shkval torpedo and pumped ahead of the torpedo warhead, water resistance then diminishes and the torpedo speed is increased. This is called ‘supercavitation.’

Left: the all important nose design.

However it should be noted that the 6,166 tons Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Henry Larsen, an ice-breaker built in 1987, features high pressure side  jets located along and below the water line. This ‘air bubbler’ system of jets reduces hull friction during ice-breaking operations, it is also used to break up the ice and can be used as side thrusters for manoeuvring (

To work at it’s most efficient the whole of the torpedo is surrounded in a jacket of air bubbles. The result is comparable to a sledge speeding along on snow. Pictured above is the silver nose of the Shkval which allows air to be exhausted forwards and vented around the sides.

With ‘supercavitation’ the torpedo is, in effect, flying in a gas bubble created by deflecting water away from the torpedo using its specially shaped nose cone. The gases for the bubbles come from its engine and a reserve tank.

Early designs may have relied solely on an inertial guidance system and or acoustic signatures, but later models are believed to have an auto-pilot guidance system or “control wires” from within the firing submarine. The choice of a ‘homing’ option as used on most torpedoes is unlikely as they are ‘blockable’, i.e. can be electronically jammed.

From Problem to Headache

At the speed that the Shkval travels, it could literally punch a hole in the hulls of most U.S. / NATO / ASEAN ships, with little need for an explosive warhead.[3]

Originally the Shkval was designed as a rapid countermeasure against torpedoes launched by undetected enemy submarines (i.e. US). The problem for Russian naval forces was the quieteness, performance, stealth and sonar sophistcation of the West’s submarines. This disadvantaged Russian skippers and put them forever on the back foot.

The design requirement was for “a new weapon system capable of combating the threat posed by nuclear powered submarines. American boats had better sonar and were significantly quieter than Russian-made submarines and detection of an incoming stealth torpedo gave little time to take evasive action.

One solution was a very-high-speed torpedo to kill the in-coming ‘enemy’ torpedo. This  solution was the one arrived atby the Research Institute of Applied Hydromechanics in Kiev, Ukraine – a weapon to counter any possible or potential incoming torpedo that was detected. By launching a very-high-speed torpedo at an enemy submarine’s torpedo (or the submarine itself), would force the enemy submarine to evade, and in the process obliging it to cut the guidance wire(s) to its own torpedo. [4]

Although announced in the West the 1990s the VA-111 Shkval is rumoured to have been  in prototype form, or even operational, as early as 1977. The Russian Pacific Fleet held the first tests of the Shkval torpedo in the spring of 1998. In early 1999 Russia began marketing a conventionally armed version of the Shkval high-speed underwater rocket at the IDEX 99 exhibition in Abu Dhabi.

The following 2 cutaway diagrams show how the high speed Shkval torpedo is thought to be configured. The first shows the bubble flow emanating from the side of the nose but not directly in front of the torpedo body.

The second (below) differs in that externally riggers or skids are itemized and it appears to show the bubble jacket engulfing the nose immediately ahead of the torpedo body. The bubble jacket can be seen inthe artist’s impression at the begining of this article.

Richard Fisher, a defence analyst and senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation believes China has already purchased the Shkval rocket torpedo: [5]

  • The Shkval was designed to give Soviet subs with less capable sonar the ability to kill U.S. submarines before U.S. wire-guided anti-sub torpedoes could reach their target.”
  • “The Chinese navy would certainly want to have this kind of advantage over U.S.submarines in the future”

Surrounding the body of a torpedo with bubbles while  increase its speed by lowering resistance renders the propeller inefficient as the sheer quantity of bubbles reaching the propeller  would cancel out any gains.

To overcome this the standard gas powered motor is replaced by a rocket.  It guidance fins would be replaced by additional nozzles to adjust depth and direction.

Right: steering nozzles on the Shkval

Powered by a rocket motor the torpedo literally becomes an underwater missile, capable of reaching its target before the threatened ship has time to respond to the threat. .

Such a high velocity weapon would be well suited not only in its original guise for as an ‘anti-torpedo torpedo’ but close-range submarine encounters and also general anti-submarine and anti-surface ship warfare. It would also be well suited as a defence against high-speed surfaceattack craft.

Alternative Paths

America had been focusing its work on the ‘stealth’ capabilities of torpedoes. The MK48 Mod 6, while a quiet weapon, still alerts a target when it begins active pinging at the “enable” point. To solve this problem advanced passive homing techniques, covert active waveforms with LPI (Low Probability of Intercept) and LPR (Low Probability of Recognition) properties, and associated signal processing were being pursued.

One ‘stealth’ option is the Integrated Motor Propulsor (IMP). This is a closed-cycle propulsion motor which is quiet, wakeless, and depth-independent. The IMP has few moving parts and depends on a radial-field electric motor fitted not internally butatthe rear to propel water away.

Right: diagram of an IMP

The heart of the Integrated Motor Propulsor is a radial-field, rim-driven electric motor integrated directly into the tail-cone propulsor assembly. This eliminates the need for a separate internal electric motor, facilitates a simpler interface with the rest of the torpedo, and creates opportunities for reduced length, greater reliability, and lower noise.

Notwithstanding the above ingenuity, the ability to ‘kill’ a target before it can react provides a distinct advantage. Speed kills, and to date speed has the edge over stealth.


Supercavitation properties of the Russian Shkval are bringing forth countermeasures. The aim is to maximize the safety and survivability of the warship. Shkval demands that self-defence systems and anti-torpedo platforms are able to detect and then destroy the incoming torpedo.

Supercavitation is said to be a ‘noisy’ method of achieving high speeds. Arguably it is easily detectable but given the circumstances when it would be used, i.e. against an incoming torpedo, the enemy submarine must already knows of your presence so it is not a high price to pay.

Early versions are thought to have had a range of just over 1 mile (2 km).  Newer versions are thought to have a range of around 7 km to 13 km (4 miles and 8 miles). [6]

If supercavitation increases ‘noise’ underwater there is a  possibility of compromising its homing abilities. Early aircraft radar sets were found to interfere with their own ability to receive the ‘ping’ back and the progress of Tigerfish, the Mark 24 torpedo was delayed for many years because of the electronic contradictions of trying to use both digital and analogue systems in the same ‘fish.’

Based on technology reportedly under developmentat ONR (Office of Naval Research), a 6.25 inch-diameter self-protection weapon is under study for the defence of surface ships and submarines. The defence platform of this self-protection weapon also uses supercavitation technology.

In effect an underwater field piece, the Advanced High Speed Underwater Munition (AHSUM) programme has already demonstrated the effectiveness of such high-speed underwater bullets. Fired from an underwater gun, these projectiles have successfully broken the speed of sound in water (1,500 meters per second), bringing their future application much closer to reality. [7]

Supercavitation bullets are also being experimented with by the Navy for use in mine-clearance but fired from a helicopter. The Rapid Airborne Mine Clearance System (RAMICS) targets minesatshallow depths and delivers bursts of armour-piercing rounds from the air, through the intervening water, and into the mines. Merging RAMICS with AHSUM could provide the Navy with a multi-purpose round capable of engaging a range of mine-like targets from above or beneath the ocean surface.

Torpedo as Game Changer

The primary weapon for the Chinese Type 039 diesel-electric submarine (NATO Song class) is the 21 inch (533 mm) Yu-4 torpedo which is a development of the Russian SAET-50 passive acoustic homing torpedo capable of 40 knots. This, together with Yu-4 range of 15 km, is about the industry standard for ‘the average’ torpedo.

Torpedoes have been seen by many as unglamourous and something of a backwater , little changed since their invention in the 19th century. In part this is correct but in many other ways it is totally wrong. Torpedoes can now pick up and follow the wake of a ship. The 53-65KE wake-homing torpedo, designed to attack surface targets, is described as ‘unique.’ It weighs 2,200 kg with 200 kg explosive charge and has a range of up to 40 km. Anti-submarine torpedoes can have an active sonar system which homes in on an enemy submarine, e.g. TEST-71MKE. Torpedoes can be fitted with TV guidance systems which allow the operator to manually switch to an alternative target, and allows for manoeuvring in two axes.

High speed torpedoes are not new. The Japanese Type 93 of World War II, usually referred to as Long Lance” was 24 inches in diameter, 27 ft long torpedo and had the incredible range of over 40,000 yards (22 miles) [8] and a speed 52 kts (approx 60 MPH).

During World War II torpedoes used byGermany and the Allies (US and UK) were comparable in speed and charge. The Germans developed electric powered torpedoes (G7e) in an effort to reduce noise and the tell-tale trace of bubbles from the compressed gas motor (G7a). However, the electric version was slower and had a shorter range.

Post war efforts saw hydrogen-peroxide introduced by many navies as a means of increasing a torpedo’s speed. Known in the RN as “fancies” they could be unpredicatable, ie explosive, while being stored or moved (ref. HMS Sidon, 1955). 

With the advent of supercavitation a completely new benchmark has been set for high speed torpedoes. It has dramatically moved the goal posts in an environment more accustomed to  incremental change. It has had an extraordinary effect ondiesel-electric submarines such as the Song class or similar on the cusp of obsolescence submarines of every nation, e.g. India, Iran. No longer can diesel-electric submarines be written-off as too noisy or not fast enough.

They are already able to carry the Yu-6 wire-guided torpedo which can be used for targeting submarines and can enhance that ability by adopting Shkva type torpedoes which can be fired from the existing 21 inch tubes.

From the same tube as the boat’s torpedoes it is possible to launch the YJ-8 (an anti-ship missile), and a subsonic Cruise-type missile with a 165 kg warhead.

Suddenly, being a noisy Foxtrot, Tango or Kilo class submarine is no longer the disadvantage it once was. Sophistication has lost out to quantity – and many NATO countries have only 4 to 6 ‘modern’ ie sophisticated, submarines (many other supposedly out-of-date boats having been scrapped due to their  perceived obsolescence).

China’s nuclear powered attack submarines, Type 093-class (NATO code Shang) are similar to Russia’s ageing Victor III class first produced at the Leningrad shipyards in the 1970s. Each Chinese Type 093 weighs more than 6,000 tons and is over a football field in length. Chinese type 093 submarines are armed with eight 21-inch torpedo tubes that are large enough to fire the super-fast Shkval.

In the opinion of Richard Fisher, a defence analyst and senior fellow atthe Jamestown Foundation: [9]

  • “The Type 093 is projected by the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence to have a performance similar to the Russian Victor-III nuclearattack submarine. By one estimate, four to six Type 093s should enter service by 2012,”

Armed with the Shkval torpedo these leviathans could be as dangerous as any small and agile craft. Currently, there are no effective countermeasures to the Shkval in service, according to weapons experts. Therefore, concludes Fisher, its deployment by Russian and Chinese naval forces has placed the U.S. Navyat a considerable disadvantage.

One source (John Macneill on a ‘scientfic’ blog ist, (www. popsci, June 1st. 2004) writes of a US Navy water-tunnel tests where it is claimed the astonishing speed of Mach 1 was achieved for a submerged projectile (ie 5,082 feet per second). [10]

Life just gets faster

With no US version of a Shkval type supercavitation torpedo on the horizon, naval check and counter check is dead in the water. It will be somewhere after 2015 that a US Shkvaltype can be expected to become operational.

Regardless of whether the claim of a speed of Mach 1 is entirely true or not, the next step is patently obvious. Whatcan be done with the body of a torpedo to increase speed can also be done to the hull of a submarine.

The speed gap between the present day 200 mph Shkval torpedo and 700 mph torpedo will probably throw up all sorts of hydro-dynamic peculiarities.

The speed gap between conventional torpedo and a supercavitation torpedo is about 5 times, i.e. 40 knots vs. 200 knots

Imaginative means of propelling a torpedo had been devised and tested. The Spearfish (1992) was intended to catch high-speed, deep-diving threats such as the Soviet Alfa class submarine.  Its high speed of 80 knots was achieved by the use of a gas turbine engine (21TP04) driven by a “Otto fuel II” with hydroxyl ammonium perchlorate as the oxidizer.

The American Mark 48 first became operational in 1972 and uses a ‘swashplate’ piston engine or barrel engine. The engines ‘radial’ layout makes it ideal for fitting to a tubular torpedo. For a brief explanation of how a barrel engine creates rotation to the propeller, see Appendix A.

Right: schematic of ‘swashplate’ piston engine

The Mark 48 is also driven by Otto fuel II – described as a smelly, reddish-orange, oily liquid. Otto fuel II is a monopropellant that decomposes into hot gas when ignited without the need of oxygen. Otto fuel II is therefore similar in some ways to its hydrogen-peroxide predecessor cited earlier but without the unstable and explosive characteristics. The thrust generated is conducted to a propulsor, i.e. ducted jets, giving the Mark 48 a top speed of about 55 kts.

China’s Yu-6 torpedo is based on the American Mark 46 lightweight ASW torpedo (and standard NATO issue since 1967 ! ), sold to China during the Bush administration of the 1980s. China has probably reverse engineered some of the imported batch (as it has done so often with Russian technology) and produced their own derivatives (see Project 109). The speed Yu-6 is 65 kts (inattack mode) based on US torpedo which is said to be good for 40 kts.

China’s Yu-7 torpedo is based on the American Mark 48 heavyweight submarine-launched torpedo. At least one Mark 48 torpedo was reportedly recovered by “Chinese fishermen” in the late 1970s or early 1980s (“Chinese fishermen” crop up in numerous international incidents making one wonder if they are naive / unlucky itinerant Chinese fishermen, or PLAN).[11]

Future Developments

Torpedoes may one day be propelled by a magnetohydrodynamic drive (MHD) . The fundamental concept behind MHD is thatmagnetic fields can induce currents in a moving conductive fluid, which in turn creates forces on the fluid and also changes the magnetic field itself. Using membranes, an electric current is passed through seawater in the presence of an intense magnetic field. The seawater (as plasma or ions) would interact with the magnetic field of the current through the water. Compared with the position of the motor, the seawater is then the moving, conductive part of the engine pushing water out the back and accelerating the vehicle.

The significant advantage is that there are no mechanical moving parts although it has to e accepted thatatthis point in time only some ‘working prototypes’ exist. [12]  Its stealth capabilities are known but the penalty is low speeds and critics point to the huge electro-magnetic field created that would make the drive easily detectable. To date only the Mitsubishi Group of Japan in the 1990s have built a MHD powered ship, the Yamato 1, a small craft capable of 8 knots.

Re-wrting Future Order of Battle

Every recent shooting war or conflict has involved the transportation of men and material over great distances. In the past paratroopers would trail blaze, followed up by conventional ground troops, but then paratroopers found they needed more mobility, Jeeps, Land Rovers etc. Still later light tanks, compact and light enough to be parachuted in to consolidate and protect ground forces evolved, examples include the T92 Light Tank at 18 tons, the M551 Sheridan at 15 tons and most recently the LAV-25, an eight-wheeled amphibious reconnaissance vehicle.

“Air assault” was the evolution of this trend where helicopters would ferry in ground-based forces and their hardware to seize and hold key terrain. The philosophy behind Air Assault and its predecessor, paratroopers of World War II, was ‘surprise’ and hopefully in large enough numbers to succeed.

Weight, and the restrictions it imposes on transport aircraft and helicopters, means thatair assault forces are usually lightly armed, though some may have an occasional armoured fighting vehicle as reinforcement. Most heavy lift helicopters able to lift Light Tanks are linited in their range.

Invariably, assaulting troops are highly dependent on aerial re-supply and aerial fire support provided by the armed helicopters or fixed-wing aircraft. The opposing side, meanwhile, have the ability to shoot down any aircraft providing ‘cover’ or re-supplying troops.

The ‘surprise’ element could equally be achieved silently by the use of ‘cargo’ submarines.

A non-military submarine cargo vessel has already been proposed by the Rubin Design Bureau (Saint Petersburg,Russia). The proposal would utilise a laid up Typhoon class submarine (48,000 tons) having its missile removed and replaced with cargo holds. The projected cargo capacity of this configuration is 15,000 ton). The arithmetic is simple; ; adequate quantities of 60 ton main battle tanks, huge supplies of food water plus ammunition and  infantry could be transported unseen to the coastline under dispute.

Right: Typhoon class

The Lockheed C-130 Hercules is the ubiquitous military transport aircraft used throughout the West. However, it is limited on what weight it can carry, is highly visible on radar and its four-engine turboprop give it a top speed of around 320 knots.

The idea of moving huge supplies is not new; in the World War I Germany built two submarines as ‘blockade runners’ to the USA, the Deutschland and Bremen, to acquire key resources.

The disadvantage, of course, is thatunderwater troop deployment does not get fighting forces into a country likeAfghanistan. The limitation is one of coastal or deep river landings only. However, submarine troop deployment could be done so quickly and in such strength (15,000 tons of materiel) as to be overwhelming.

If we assume the submerged speed of most nuclear powered submarines is 25 knots, a four or 5 fold increase would make them capable of 100 knots. Hydro-dynamic peculiarities would make this theoretical speed unlikely due to the need for a conning tower (sail) and periscope. A submarine, while it might have clean, aerodynamic lines is not quite as aerodynamic as a torpedo. A submarine without a periscope or conning tower could, theoretically, have a speed comparable to the “Shkval” torpedo (230 MPH).

However, assuming these drawbacks could be overcome and do not vanquish the advantages posed by supercavitation, our perceptions of troop mobility/deployment might have to be revisited. Even without further advances and the realisation of Mach 1 and Mach 2 underwater speeds, slow vulnerable air transport might lose its allure as the universal choice.

The ramifications might be played out in the “order of battle”, ie identifying the strength and disposition of personnel, equipment, and units of an armed force participating in the field.

“Air-portable” may become a relic.


Russian foreign policy has either to be influenced by its Trade Ministry actively selling arms to countries despite the danger thatthey might become future rivals to Russia or its enemy, or Russia’s foreign and diplomatic service is prompting its Trade Ministry to export to whoever has the money.

This can only indicate that Russia has deliberately renounced militant action and military force as a means of resolving international differences of opinion. It no longer sees itself as a world power or a contender for superpower status or a counter to the influence of the US in the political or military spheres.

Perhaps the memories of the economic strain placed on the entire economy during the Soviet era have reshaped their perspective. Russia seems anxious to become the West’s supplier of oil and gas – a very strategic weapon to be able to wield. It is bent on building up it technical excellence and importing expertise where it is lacking. The aim, one suspects, is to make Russia self-sufficient, a net exporter and to build-up gold and foreign currency reserves that will enable it to ride out any economic storm – or even replace the dollar.

The lesson for Germany has been that wealth, power and influence does not have to be bought in blood or paid for by years of deprivation. Germany in the latter part of the 20th century has achieved as much power and influence by economic strength as was ever envisaged under the Third Reich using military might. Has Russia drawn it own conclusions about this ?

Russia’s attitude towards NATO is not one of passive disliking it but is one of continually carping, finding fault and denigrating its involvement in places such as Libya.

It currently advocates disengagement to the extent that it mimics the US between the two World Wars eschewing “all foreign entanglements.” The cost of ‘engagement’ and moderating volatile situations, e.g. Libya, is certainly an expensive exercise.

One suspects that Russia would have preferred to let Kaddafi win in Libya as its position at the UN was clear and on Syria it is one of disengaging and ensuring other nations keep out of Syria’s “internal affairs.”

One has to wonders how successful this policy will be in the long run ? As the death toll continues to mount in Syria the numbers of deaths in Libya (whatever they may be) have at least ‘peaked’ – we hope. Yet Russia preaches non-involvement.

Instead, it is happy to sell the bullets to those who want to settle dispute by conflict and violence. Putin’s Russia may prove to be not so very different from the Stalinist era when wars were fought by surrogates, organised and made possible by Moscow.

Appendix A

 Swash plate drive 

Trying to understand how a swash plate engine works is very difficult.  Swash plate engines are sometimes referred to as Stirling engines,  barrel or radial engines.

Most internal combustion engines with which people are familiar are to be found in motor cars. They can be 4 cylinders in-line driving a single crankshaft, or in a Vee configuration with two banks of cylinders driving a single crankshaft. The crankshaft in these engines is always linear, i.e. in a straight line and links piston 1 through to piston 4 (or piston 8 in the case of a V8 engine).

In a swash plate engine the crankshaft is circular – not linear. The pistons are attached to swash plate engine with load-bearing shells, i.e. bearings, just as in a normal car engine where pistons are attached to the crankshaft.

With the help of this illustration it is hoped to show the similarities and the diffennrce and thus how its works. The piston stokes are reciprocal, i.e. up and down successively – just as they would be in a car engine.

1. The red arrow points to the rotating gives drive to either the wheels or a propeller.

2. The green arrow points to the set of pistons that are fully extended (the power stroke).

3. The blue arrow points to pistons that are at their fully shortened, i.e. the exhaust stroke, in readiness for the compression stroke (see green arrow).

4. The bronze coloured circular plate oscillates as the pistons extend and shorten (green and blue arrows).

5. The lilac coloured arrow (verticle dotted line)  points to the disk which rotates with the shaft. It glides over the bronze coloured disk which is fixed in its position by the pistons.

The position of the cylinder bores marked by the green and blue arrows remain static within the engine while the pistons thrust up and down. In this illustration the  pistons move left to right inducing a circular motion on the swash plate and shaft (red arrow).



[2] Torpedoes – lightweight and shallow water, ‘smart’ technology  etc

[4] The GSKB-47 was ordered to merge with NII-24 Research Institute

[5] Richard Fisher, a defense analyst and senior fellow at the Jamestown Foundation.

[6] In 2000 Edmond Pope a former U.S. Naval intelligence officer was tried, and convicted of espionage related to information he obtained about the Shkval weapon system. President Vladimir Putin pardoned Pope on humanitarian grounds because he had bone cancer in Dec 2000 (Ref. Lockerbie bomber release on humanitarian grounds).

[7] Bernard Myers, Deputy Technical Director at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) and Jontay Jeong, from the Torpedo Countermeasure,

[8] At sea level the horizon is appprox 20 miles away.

[12]  US Engineer Steward Way, “Run Silent, Run Electromagnetic”. Time. Sept 23rd 1966.,9171,842848-1,00.html . See also film “The Hunt for Red October” ref “caterpillar drive”, an undetectable “silent drive” intended to achieve stealth in submarine warfare.

Other references:


China’s Submarine Fleet

October 7, 2011

 A short chronological introduction 

To trace the developments of China’s submarines fleet we first have to trace the history of Russian submarines. This is another area where Russia has been so ideologically bound up with ‘socialism’ in the past that it has compromised its present day security by blindly sharing/selling its technology.

Pictured above is a Whiskey class Soviet submarine, designed in the mid 1940s and built between 1940 and 1958. This particular vessel (Sub P112) was sold recently (2011) for US $ 550,000. This article covers only conventional diesel-electric boats.

Early Years

Pre-war Russian submarines spanned vessels varying in displacement from those of a little over 200 tons to over 1,000 tons. Evidence exists to suggest that the Soviet Union and Germany were as early as the Weimar Republic (banned under the Versailles Treaty) co-operating on submarine design and construction.

Between 1929 and 1945 Russia had approx. 270 submarines, most were designed for the Baltic and coastal waters (see Table below).

Thus China’s submarine fleet only began in 1954 with the gift of Soviet vessels. However, before then Russiawas to enjoy a technological boost in 1945 with the surrender of Germanyand the articles in the Potsdam Agreement that gave it access to German technology on land, sea and air.

A single Type XXIII U-Boat was allocated to the Soviet Union under the terms of the Agreement but Russia was well placed to salvage other U-Boats from Baltic and Eastern Europe countries overrun by the Red Army.

Left: Type XXI U-boat (U-2540) sometime after 1945.

Of particular interest to Britain and America and therefore to Russia were the Walter designed U-boats – the Type XXIII  and Type XXI  known as the Elektroboot U-boats  – with their streamlining, higher underwater speeds and long range. Type XXIII  and Type XXI were futuristic and even today it would not be unresonable to believe that these craft could have been built 10  or 15 years ago. By enlarging this image (click on picture) it is fascinating to think that these clean and attractive lines were first propounded over 70 years ago.

The latter, Type XXI, could travel submerged for two or three days before recharging batteries (a 5 hours process using a Snorkel). There are more details of U-boat variants can be found at Appendix A below.

Post 1945

At the end of World War II, the Soviets obtained several Type XXIs, from which they were able to obtain certain key technologies. These technologies assisted in the design of the Zulu class and Whiskey class (NATO codes). Further improvements on the design led to the Romeo class.

The Type XXI and XXIII U-boats revolutionised Russian post-war submarine design. The Type XXI U-boat was almost as fast submerged (13 knots) as it was on the surface (15 knots) and some U-boats designs using the Walther hydrogen peroxide system (an unstable gas), were actually faster submerged than on the surface (15 knots vs 17 knots).

The Romeo class of Soviet diesel-electric submarine (Project 633) can trace its origins and streamlining to the World War II Elektroboot and to the Walter designs (as indeed, can the streamlined USS Nautilus, SSN-571).

Right: Romeo class Soviet Sub and Chinese Type 033

Russia produced 133 Romeo class conventional attack submarines – 29 are still in use but not operationally. ‘Attack submarines’ are designed and deployed to sink other submarines and not merely to target surface ships (eavesdropping is another of their other roles).

Nations that also took delivery of this 1,800 ton class were former Warsaw Pact members and several Middle Eastern countries, e.g. Iran, Syria, Egypt, and Algeria. Approx. 75 of these 1,830 ton Soviet-built subs have been scrapped.

The bulbous nose (bow) seen on the Romeo class pictured above housed the Soviet built Hercules or Tamir-5 high-frequency sonar for active / passive search and attack. Later variants are also fitted with Sintra DUUX 5, a low frequency sonar for passive ranging and intercept. Yet later variants were reported to have had weapon systems removed to accommodate surveillance and electronic intelligence (ELINT) equipment for special reconnaissance missions. [1]

Nuclear Option

Following the 1954 gifts from Russia, Chairman Mao visited Jiangnan shipyard (i.e. Shanghai) in Jan 1956 where the PRC’s very first submarine was being built from a Soviet kit. China would eventually go on to build 21 of these Soviet “Whiskey” class boats which were the predecessors of the Romeo class.

Left: Soviet “Whiskey” class

Soviet “Whiskey” class submarine displaced 1,350 tons submerged, had a range 13,500 nautical miles and so were ideal for the vast distances of the Pacifice.  Between 1949 and 1958 a total of 236 Whiskey class submarine were built incorporating many variants, e.g. Mark 1 to Mark V. It was succeeded by the Romeo class with a similar range, i.e. 13,500 naut. miles.

The Whiskey class and Romeo class must be seen as the transitional designs – the stop gaps – from World War II technology to the demands made by the Cold War of a nuclear missile strike capability.

It is remarkable to read, in Chinese sourced military and political journals in the late 1950s (and from US / CIA sources), of the apparent interest in nuclear powered ships especially submarines atthis early stage. This can only be a reflection of the progress made by the US Navy (USS Nautilus, SSN-571), and the ambitions of theUSSR.

The suspicion is thatthe first fully submerged circumnavigation of the globe by the atomic powered submarine USS Triton, in May 1960, made have riveted attention to the potential that nuclear propulsion held. (USS Triton maintained a steady submerged speed of 21 knots for nearly three months).

The party line in China appears to be that nuclear propulsion for submarines was adopted as a national priority by Mao himself. This may be true but Mao as a visionary and still a strategist in all things at the age of 63 is stretching credibility (Mao was born in 1893). Two years later, in 1958, an ailing Mao announced the “Great Leap Forward”, anattempt to increase agricultural and industrial production by Stalinist ‘collectives’ but which failed hopelessly and resulted in famines.

Shortly afterwards Mao retired from the post of Chairman of the People’s Republic of China and was  replaced as head of state by Liu Shaoqi – though Mao continued to wield political influence e.g. sponsoring the Cultural Revolution.

Ego clash

China’s long march towards naval self-sufficiency and her longer term aim of greater parity with the navies of the West halted when Mao metaphorically burnt China’s bridges with Russiain the Sino-Soviet split. Mao became openly critical of Nikita Khrushchev’s interpretation of the direction of world communism and how socialism should develop in theUSSR.

Personality and the cult of personality was the Achilles heel of China. From the 1960s to the late 1970s China was held back first by the nihilistic behaviour of the Red Guard and then the destruction influence of the ‘Gang of Four’ (circa 1973). Only with the death of Mao (1976) did China gradually return to some semblance of a normal state. [2]

While all this was going on Chinabegan producing Soviet-designed Romeo class submarines in significant quantities between 1965 and the early 1980s. Eventually the PLAN had more than 60 of these boats in service. It has been estimated that more than 100 the Type 033 were built by the PLAN and some exported.

NATO’s codename of Romeo class diesel-electronic submarine was known to the Russia’s as Project 633. They were armed with conventional torpedoes and the transfer of technology to China began in Feb 1959.

Project 629 submarines, known to NATO as Golf class were diesel-electric powered submarine but carried missiles. [3]  The illustration below shows the missiles were housed in the conning towr (referred to in american literatire as the ‘sail’), part of the boat

The two submarine types were to be built in Chinaas Type 6633 (later known as Type 033) and Type 6631 (later known as Type 031) respectively.

Left: Golf class

To clarify – Type 033 is the Chinese designation and carried torpedoes and Type 031 carried both torpedoes and missiles (Type 6622 / Chinese 033  = Romeo class and 6631 = Golf class, respectively).

Note too how submariens of this era still retained the bow indicating much of their operatinal time could be expected to be spent on the surface. With the advent of nuclear power the beed for a surface ship bow disappears.

Defence source point to Chinese 033 as enhanced Romeo class insofar as the 033 had better sonar and a longer range. Both the 033 and 031 projects suffered from the Sino-Soviet split in as much that although China managed to launch its fist Romeo type sub in 1965 it was not serviceable until 1970.

Left: Artist impression of a Golf class firing a missile

In terms of an offensive platform it is regarded as a ‘noisy’ vessel, of an ageing design, incapable of operating safely in deep water, e.g. Pacific and suitable only for coastal defence and patrol duties. By the end of the 1990s chain has decommissioned all the craft although 4 were sold to North Korea.

The original plan was for the production yards to use Soviet-supplied kits initially, and then gradually increase the indigenous elements untilChinacould build the submarines independently.

Developments in the 1970s

In the 1970s, approximately 20% of China’s defence budget was allocated to naval forces resulting in a dramatic growth in the Navy. The conventional submarine force increased from 35 to 100 boats, but the longer term ambition was still one of a submarine powered by nuclear technology.

The true extent of how daunting this challenge represented only became fully clear to the Chinese when Moscow refused Peking’s specific request to share nuclear propulsion technology. The rejection was made on the grounds that it would be ‘premature’ for the PLAN. A valid point consideringChina’s lack of experience with underwater craft and the deadly accidents caused by bad luck and casualness.

Notwithstanding this, the rejection was taken as an affront and foreshadowed the imminent souring of Sino-Soviet relations. [4]  The 20th century should be remembered (among other things) for the homicidal, sociopathic political leaders it managed to produce. Mao was no different to many others and he “reacted indignantly” to Russia’s refusal saying:

  • “We will have to build nuclear submarines even if it takes us 10,000 years.”

Mao got his way, and a famine-ridden, near-bankrupt country – forced to import grain from Canada and the West – embarked in July 1958 on a voyage into the unknown and the unknowable. Mao got the Politburo to approve an ambitious plan to develop not only SSN submarines, i.e. nuclear-poweredattack submarines, but simultaneously an SLBM system (submarine-launched ballistic missile).

Of the two developments the SLBM is the most threatening because of its capacity to deliver a ‘stand-off’ nuclear warhead launched from a submarine hidden in the oceans.

That said, the danger is less acute today then in Mao’s day. Comparatively speaking, he was a lose cannon (in the same way as the behaviour of North Korea’s leader is today viewed as dangerous).  He was quite prepared to kill hundred of millions of his own citizens in an ideological ‘nuclear exchange’ (war) with the US and Russia. If it meant the end of the US and capitalism the price of self-destruction was , in his mind, worth it.

Era of Growth

The 1970s and 1980s saw China build up its Romeo and Ming class submarine fleet. The Ming class (or Type 035), was first commissioned in 1974, and was based on the Romeo class (aka Type 033).

To illustrate how one class has superseded another, the Table below traces operational types since 1990. The Ming and Romeo class, once the most numerous had by 2009 been overtaken by the Song class at 19 boats.  

At least 17 Ming class hulls (2,113 tons) are still in service, with the latest versions

adopting modern sonar systems purchased from the French (see DUUX-5). The latest Ming class hulls are also thought to have tested out AIP (Air Independent Propulsion).

AIP is a generic tem for closed loop engines. It is a term that encompasses technologies such as oxygen substitution or Stirling Engine, which allows a submarine to operate without the need to surface or use a snorkel to accessatmospheric oxygen. These technologies significantly reduce the noise level of the submarine and thus their rate of detection.

Right: Ming Class (Type 035 B)

Ming class submarines have reportedly been exercising more frequently and making recent incursions into Japanese waters. 

There are at least four known variants of the Type 035 built between 1969 and 1979. The early variants were said to be trouble-prone and were retired in the 1980s.  However, production resumed in 1987 with the improved Type 035G and a total of 12 boats built between 1988 and 1995.

The production line used for the Type 035 was re-opened due to the delay in the development of the new-generation Type 039 (to be known as the Song class). An additional 6 boats were built between 1997 and 2001.

On one occasion a Ming surfaced briefly within Japanese waters before submerging again and another – an enhanced Ming class, designed Song class – surfaced briefly near the USS Kitty Hawk when she was on manoeuvres.

In 2003, a Ming class (No. 361) was lost with all hands. It was speculated that 361 was testing an AIP system, and that a failure caused the near-instantaneous death of the all crewmembers (as they were found dead in their quarters with the submarine intact). But it is one theory among several.

Ming class submarines have an ‘acoustic signature’ in the higher reaches which makes them an easy target for modern antisubmarine warfare (ASW) systems. Today (2011) it is better suited to coastal defence, regional patrolling and surveillance duties. Combat missions and deep ocean patrols are better suited to the more capable Type 039 (Song class) and Kilo class.

Notwithstanding  these grave shortcomings the advances made in weapons systems, as we shall see below, have breath new life in whatwould be obsolete craft.

Modern Age

The Kilo class represented a huge leap forward in the PLAN submarine fleet. In the 1980s the Kilo was acknowledged to be one of the world’s quietest class of submarines and NATO’s rating reflected this. China’s first Kilo class was operational in 1982.

In 2002, a $2 billion deal was signed for eight more Kilo 636 submarines these were fitted with the capability of launching the Russian made Novator 3M-54E Klub S (a cruise-type missile) capable of engaging land and sea targets at 220 km. By 2006 China had 12 Kilos operational.

Despite the purchase of the Kilos, the PLAN has continued to develop indigenous designs. The Song class (Type 039) is another conventional diesel-electric submarine which was first launched in 1994 with sea trials in 1995 and operational in 1999.

It is the first Chinese submarine to use the modern teardrop hull shape – a design said by some to have first been used byBritainin the R-class hunter-killer submarines designed in 1917.

Left: Song class (039)

The Song class, at 2,500 tons, is said to represent a major milestone to indigenous submarine designs, being comparable in its capabilities to contemporary Western built submarines.  Note the loss of any bow profile on this generation of boat.

First commissioned in 1998 it featured Western influences with a German propulsion system, in the shape of a seven bladed ‘skewed’ propeller and noise-reduction rubber tiles. Song submarines are armed with torpedoes and a sub-launched variant of the YJ-8 anti-ship missile. Earlier Russian and Chinese submarines had to surface in order to launch missiles.

Visually the Song class looks very much like a Kilo class submarine which also features the water-drop (teardrop) shape, a double hull with a T-shape stern rudder and a single large shaft.

Kilo class submarines have a pair of bow planes located close to the midship on the upper hull in front of the sail. With a reserve buoyancy of 32%, the submarines consists of six watertight compartments separated by transverse bulkhead in a pressured double hull, which increases the survivability of the submarine, even with one compartment and adjacent ballast tanks flooded.

Left: Kilo class (3,950 tons submerged)

The command and control and fire-control systems are located in the main control room which is sealed off from other compartments.

The rational is forChinato build a modernised underwater force thatis capable of supporting its military actions againstTaiwanand to deter any unwelcomed intervention, i.e. by the U.S. Navy.

Of the 49 Kilo class subs ever built over 40 are still in service. and 17 of the approx. 3,000 ton vessel are thought still to be operated by Russia. Kilo class have “Pump Jet Propulsion” to help overcome cavitation (a problem first faced by high-speed propeller aircraft like the Typhoon in WWII).

The Kilo class is being succeeded by the Lada class (2,700 t) submerged; which began sea trials in 2005. This latest diesel electric offering small size and low noise with powerful torpedo and missile armament and the use of hydrogen-oxygen fuel cells generating electricity. The hull, as have other Soviet designed craft, is covered with rubber anti-sonar protection tiles to reduced the risk of detection.

The Kilo class can be fitted with a launcher for eight Strela-3 (NATO codename: SA-N-8 Gremlin) surface-to-air missiles, but those in service with the PLA Navy are not equipped with this system.

The eight newer Project 636M submarines are equipped with the Klub-S missile complex, which can fire the Novator 3M-54E anti-ship cruise missile. The missile has a maximum range of 220 km and a 450 kg high-explosive warhead.

Type 041, known by the NATO code as the Yuan class is expected to adapt an AIP system to achieve maximum quietness in operational mode.

The Yuan could be armed with advanced Russian and/or Chinese made torpedoes and cruise missiles.

 This class of SSK (hunter killer sub) is an improved Song class and is expected to have capabilities which surpass the Kilo and Song class SSK currently being operated by the PLAN.

Right: Yuan class

Series production of the Yuan class began late in 2007, with at least two boats identified so far. The Yuan came as a surprise to US military intelligence, as the submarine’s existence was entirely unknown until internet images emerged.

The last of the conventionally powered boatto be mentioned before moving on to submarines using nuclear propulsion is the new Russian Lada class.

Left: Lada class in dry dock

To date China has not asked or taken delivery of this new type. Only one is thought to be operational and so new is it thatnone have been exported although an export model is available. The ‘export’ model is known to the Russians as the Amur class submarine. It comes in a variety of displacements from 700 tons to 2,600 tons.

Essentially the Lada class is a highly improved version of the earlier Kilo class and externally looks very similar. In comparison to double-hulled Kilo class, surface displacement has been reduced by 1.3 times – from 2,300 down to 1,765 tons. The submerged speed has been increased from 19 to 21 knots.

Submarines of Russia’s Project 677 (NATO code Lada) appear to be a series of Russian diesel electric subs developed in 1997.

Right: Lada class

Launched in Oct 2004, sea trials began in Nov 2005 and by April 2010 the submarine was reported to have finished its testing. Another three Lada class submarines are believed to be under construction.

There are plans to launch between four and six of them by 2015 and ultimately the Russian Navy plans to have a total of eight Lada class submarines in the near future.

The Lada class boat is designed for anti-submarine and anti-surface warfare, defense of naval bases, seashore and sea lanes, as well as for conducting reconnaissance. It boasts the latest generation of Russian missile, torpedoes and sonar systems.


Political Intrigue ?

Russia sells warships and exports military hardware as regularly and as casually as Germany exports Mercedes Benz and BMW cars. The Amur class submarine is a case in point. There is a size and price to suit every pocket. Third world countries – as they used to be known – can now indulge in a little sabre rattling with their neighbours (Pakistan) or even with the accepted muscle on the block, i.e. the US.

For all its moral protesting at the role of  NATO in Libya, it is Russan made AK47s, RPG s, rocket launchers, artillery pieces and tanks that are being used in large numbers by the rebels against the former corrrupt government of Kaddafi.

India is a case in point. India “leased” a Russia Charlie class nuclear powered missile armed submarine in 1988 for 3 years (fee undisclosed). India paid US$ 2 billion for the completion of two 12,000 ton Akula class submarines which were 40 – 60% completed.

Left: Akula class nuclear powered

But whereas Russia’s Akula class could be equipped with 28 nuclear-capable cruise missiles with a strike range of 1,620 naut. miles, the Indian version was reportedly armed with the 162 naut mile range 3M-65 Klub nuclear-capable missiles.

In parallel with China’s path to increased military might Indiahas cultivated a home grown design and builds capability for nuclear powered ballistic missile submarines. The product of this, the 6,000 ton Arihant class is expected to be commissioned starting in 2012 (INS Arihant was launched in July 2009).

All around the Indian Ocean and stretching into the Pacific from Iran to Malaysia and on to Haiwai, nations are acquiring lethal technology from the USA, China or Russia.  Of itself this can be said to be normal but whereas prior to 1945 one could assume that the barrels of most country’s guns would point in unison the same cannot be said today.

At another level the intrigue gets more interesting. Russian and Italy has signed a partnership agreement to build the S1000 class submarine. Externally this looks similar to the Lada and Amur class submarines. In the last few weeksItaly has surprisingly negotiated with China for the financing of its billion Euro national debt. Will Russia or will Italy supply China with is next generation submarine ?

Righr: S1000 class

One would expect the sale to be made by Russia but could the Italians be seduced by an overture and perhaps include some Western sonar technology ?

The existing illustrations of the S1000 class appear to give it a conventional north south crucifix rudder assembly but on others it is shown turned 45 degrees to give an ‘X’ configuration.

Submarines China did not get

Zulu class submarines (left) were the Soviet Union’s first post-war attack submarines. At  2,387 tons they were a contempaory of Whiskey class andUS ‘GUPPY’. They were as capable as the American GUPPY fleet-boat conversions (see feature below).

Zulu class boats had a ‘step’ at the top leading edge of the conning tower. Later Romeo tyoes had an inward step at the foot of the leading edge of the conning tower (see Romeo above). Zulu class boats shared a similar sonar arrangement as the Whiskey class and both were heavily influenced by the German Type XXI U-boat of the World War II era. In all 26 boats were built overall entering service from 1952 to 1957

Unfortunately, Zulu class vessels suffered from structural weaknesses and harmonic vibration problems that limited their operational depth and submerged speed. It was replaced by the Foxtrot class (2,475 long tons )

Right: Foxtrot class

This was designed to the earlier built between 1957 and 1983 and thought its hul was better its three propellor design made it ‘noisier’ than other designs. The Foxtrot class was one of the last conventional designs before the adoption of the teardrop shaped hull.

Characteristic of almost all Soviet boats built since 1945 are the windows in the conning outlined in white paint thatappear half way up the conning tower (US = sail).

Left: Foxtrot class at sea

The next Soviet submarine, chronologically, was the Tango class (3,800 tons submerged) of which 18 were operational from 1972 (the last one was retired in 2010).

Tango_class_2013Tango class had far more battery capacity, far higher than previous conventional Russian submarine classes.

Right: Tango class

Designed to ambush and attack Western nuclear powered submarines at shipping ‘choke points’, e.g  Gibraltar, Suez, Skagerrak and Kattegat, it has suitable sonar equipment and because all of its hull was rubber coated it was nicknamed “rezinka” (rubber).

China lacks sincerity

Peking always insists its military modernisation poses no threat to anyone. Yet it denies and prevents Taiwan the right to modernise and enlarge its naval and air forces.

If Peking were sincere in it friendship to its nairghbours it should raise no objection – in the same way that Britain does not object to France building submairnes and aircraft carriers. Taiwan and China are separated by 90 miles of water yet Britain and France are separated by only 22 miles of water.

The US defence budget has been – and remains – the biggest in the world at  around $700 billion pa, but in the current economic climate for how much longer ?

China’s defence budget is the second largest and the rate of increase may well go up this year. China and Russia appear, so far, to be insulated from the global monetary upheavals and banking turmoil.

There have been three major modern wars in other parts of the world which have have hardened the resolve of  China’s armed service leaders to catch up militarily.

The Taiwanese Navy currently operates four submarines; two are the Hai Lung class submarine – the Hai Lung (Sea Dragon) 793 and Hai Hu (Sea Tiger) 794. They were acquired from Holland and commissioned in 1987 and 1988 respectively.  Two former U.S. Navy Guppy II-class vessels which were delivered in 1973 – the Hai Shih and Hai Bao – are also still in service, but only for training purposes. All 4 of Taiwan’s submarines operate out of Tsoying Naval Base in Kaohsiung. Taiwan is interested in acquiring additional vessels but has been unsuccessful as a result of the political pressure (black listing, orders cancelled, etc) put on potential exporters by mainland China.[5]

Taiwan’s submarines are aimed at providing a capability to deter Chinese naval blockades and to ensure that its sea lanes remain open, thus protecting the trade on which the island depends. In addition, Taiwan’s submarines could be used to block Chinese ports but are unlikely to be capable of countering Beijing’s superior submarine fleet.

Since the acquisition of the two Dutch made “Hai Lung” vessels commissioned in 1987, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense has been unsuccessfully exploring ways to procure new diesel submarines. [6] 

In April 2001, the George W. Bush administration offered Taiwana substantial arms package which included eight diesel-electric submarines. However, the United Stateshas not produced diesel versions since the 1950s. [7]

‘Special requirements’

In an article recently published in a Chinese Communist Party publication, General Jiang Luming, head of the military economics unit at China’s National Defence University, called for “maximising national interest” by doubling China’s military funding to 2.8% of GDP, which he said was the average of 132 countries since the end of the Cold War.

He said this was needed to meet “special security requirements” – an apparent reference to preparing for eventual re-unification with Taiwan, safeguarding key interests overseas and off-shore, and China’s position as a post-socialist country flirting with capiltalsim but without any military allies in the region.

That deficit is presently being actively addressed. Since May 2008 a series of visits between the Russian and Chinese heads of state and senior ministers have taken place. In the West this might be seen as just a necessary courtesy but the Chinese mindset places greater store on the meaning of words, sentience and overt act of “friendship”, e.g. state visits.

Russia’s President Medvedev flew to China in Sept 2010 for a ceremony marking the completion of an oil pipeline thatwill transport Russian oil directly intoChina.

China’s realises that its economic growth will make it dependant on Russian oil should its sea-lane supplies be put under threat. Chinese leaders are therefore expected to focus heavily on energy, including a potential gas-supply deal and a $5 billion joint-venture oil refinery in China’s eastern city of Tianjin.

Russia’s Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin (and President designate), visited Peking (Beijing) in Oct 2011 signing trade agreements and coming understandings about the future balance in economic matters.

Red Shift Eastwards

A “Red Shift” is unmistakable as global military and political power moves ever Eastwards. For the present day and into the future Russia and China are the new “heavyweights” in currency markets, sovereign debt, trade, and political dominance. They represent an Eastern axis in which might be difficult to counter. Russia’s only lament is that its ‘normal’ trade with China, excluding military contracts, is 2% compared with China’s trade with the US.

A sign of this increasing political dominance came in August this year (2011) when the reclusive North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Il, travelled not to the Kremlin but to Siberia (Russia’s Far East) to meet with President Dmitry Medvedev. It was Kim’s first trip to Russia in 9 years and a further sign of Pyongyang’s increasing efforts to reach out for economic assistance and diplomatic support.

With North Korea’s economy in dire straits North Korea is seeking to improve its trade relations with its neighbours, i.e. China and Russia. North Korea will probably want to talk about a Gazprom pipeline through its territory into South Korea (Gazprom has the monopoly of all Russian gas). North Korea could earn between $500 million and a $1 billon in transit fees if it allowed the pipeline to go ahead. A pipeline that would bring in both revenue and fuel to North Korea’s gutted economy is a 20 year old dream for Pyongyang.

However, Russia is not overly eager given Pyongyang’s history of aberrant and brinkmanship behaviour which could sour relations between Russia and South Korea, its ultimate customer.  Russia will also want to know the true intentions of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and might use energy and food shortages in North Koreaas a bargaining lever.

In the alternative – though this option is doubtful -Russia might consider, should North Korea behave in a dependable way, to lease a port or port facilities in waters free of ice (a newPort Arthur).

How this will go down with the Chinese in what they see as their exclusive territorial waters is problematical. As always, North Koreawill be forced to balance its foreign relationships and avoid causing offence to either Russia or China or both.


Appendix A

U-Boat developments (1939- 1945)


It is difficult to believe at this point in history that German navy, under Karl Donitz, began World War II with only 5 operational U-boats in the Atlantic. In part this is due to the more overwhelming fact that during the war the Kreigmarine took delivery of over 1,500 boats – mostly in the early and middle war years.

In tandem with the know-how of building U-boats at an ever-increasing rate, the Third Reich engineers pioneered radical concepts in engines and hull design. For instance, by 1944 it was possible despite air raids for U-3017, a Type XXI, to have its keel laid down on Sept 2nd 1944 and to be completed and launched a few months later on Nov 5th 1944.  By 1942 German engineers had devised ways of doubling the underwater speed of a U-boat to over 10 knots.

U-3017 was ccommissioned on Jan 5th 1945 and used as a training vessel in Norway. She was handed over to the Royal Navy in full working order in May 1945.

Fortunately for the outcome of the Battle of the Atlantic, many of these designs did not come to fruition for a variety reasons; some proved impractical; some fell victim to internal squabbles; and some for external reasons, e.g. limited funding / materials by 1943. Towards the end of the war some German shipyards in both the East and West had to be abandoned to the approaching Allied forces.

The following list is a Table of U-boats projects that were designed and sometimes tested but never completed or put into production. 


Appendix B


Cloak and dagger

The noble cause of defending democracy anmd saving the world from tyranny was quickly forgotten after May 1945 and the utterly abandoned  as the squabble for the spoils began. The scene must have been reminiscent of the Carpet Baggers pillaging the Southern States after the American civil war.

The Cuningham Papers” give us an insight into the brutal duplicity required and the newly emergent fear of having to deal with “the Russkies.” Admiralty Directive dated 13 August 1945 to Vice Admiral Geoffrey Miles and Rear Admiral William Parry, the British Representatives on the Tripartite Naval Commission, made it very clear that the Russians were to be denied access to the Walterwerke in Kiel – the very factory where Dr Helmut Walter researched and developed a whole series of new and advanced technologies related to the use of gas turbines for military purposes.

Both the British and American authorities were determined that such technology should not fall into Russian hands. The Postdam Agreement had been signed but sincerity and trust is obviously absent even in this short quote: [8]

  •  “ . . . In particular, the Russians are not in any circumstances to be allowed access to the research laboratory, establishments or equipment of the Walterwerke.”
  •  “ . . . .  The disposal of the latest types of U-Boat, fitted with hydrogen peroxide propulsion units, presents a problem of special importance and some difficulty. The most valuable boats are U-1406 and U-1407, which are fitted with the unit type 18X, and are capable of being completed within a reasonably short time. In addition, there are four badly damaged boats fitted with a smaller unit, type 17, namely U-792, U-793, U-794 and U-795.”  

 ” . . . It is desired to exclude the Russians from acquiring any of these special types of U-Boat. The Russians are, however, almost certainly aware of the existence of one or both types, and have a right under the [Potsdam] Protocol to inspect the boats. The exercise of this right, if a request is made, should be permitted, but inspection should be confined to the boats themselves and restricted to the minimum. You should report immediately any enquiries made by the Russians concerning these types [of U-Boat], and pending further instructions your case should be:

  1. to maintain that U-1406 and U-1407 are the only boats of this type available for disposal within [the] Protocol.
  2. to insist in concert with your USA colleague, that U-1406 and U-1407 are to be allocated to the USA and UK respectively.

The refusal of any of the U-792 to U-795 class to the Russians may be a delicate matter, but has great importance, since the acquisition of one of these boats might lead the Russians to put forward a claim under . . . .  the Protocol to examine and take equipment in the Walterwerke establishments for the purpose of providing spares for the U-Boats to be delivered to them. Further consideration is being given to the question of the disposal of these special types of U-Boat and establishments in relation to the Russians. Meanwhile, you should, if possible, avoid discussing the subject with the Russians.”

There is no doubt that the Americans and British were determined to deny the latest German submarine technology to the Russians if at all possible – while exploiting it for themsleves.

In practical terms the Russians had captured a considerable number of unfinished Type XXI U-Boats in the shipyards in Danzig, and because they had also gained access to the plans for, and a full-scale model of, the HTP-powered Type XXVI U-Boat  [U-4501 through to U-4600], which would have been a larger and longer-range version of the Type XVIIB U-Boat.

Post Script

Three intact Type XVIIB U-Boats (U-1405 to U-1407) fell within the British Sector after May 1945 with 2 or 3 more, U-1408 to U-1410 partially fininished. These U-boats were powered by the fabled HTP [high test peroxide] system.  Unfortunately, U-1405 to U-1407 had been scuttled by their crew following the German collapse at the end of the Second World War.

Right: U-boat, U-1406, a Type XVIIB allocated to  US being dismantled after World War II

 U-1407,which was allocated to Britain, was raised and salvaged in June 1945 and together with its inventor Prof. Hellmuth Walter, transported to Barrow-in-Furness. There Vickers under the supervision of Prof. Walter, fitted her with a new and complete set of machinery (also captured in Germany). She was re-commissioned in the Royal Navy as HMS Meteorite.

LaterHMS Explorer  and HMS Excalibur entered RN service as experimantal HTP powered craft (see


[4] See

[5] Communist China came close to cutting diplomatic ties with Holland after the sale of 2 submarines

[6] Improved Dutch Zwaardvis class

[8] See 

‘Shi Lang’ – a new page opens

October 4, 2011

Robert Whiston FRSA   Sept 29th 2011

China’s new aircraft carrier; a new future or a new threat ? 

China’s new 60,000 ton aircraft carrier is one of the worst kept naval secrets. Believed to be christened the Shi Lang she has returned to her home port of Dalian after reportedly ‘successful’ sea trials (Aug 2011)

The transformation of an apparently introverted China now positively contemplating the projecting of its power –not to mention political will – around the Pacific region is unsettling to its neighbours.

Right: the ‘Shi Lang’

At another level it is comparable to the destabilising effect China’s phenomenal economic expansion has had at the expense of formerly affluent Western economies.

The two challenges this development poses, 1/. militarily and 2/ politically, will be not only be addressed by others but China knows that they will be countered in part if not in whole. The openness of Western of economies has made all things possible for China. Without open ‘markets’ to sell into, China risks returning to an introspective economy with a far lower world status.

Quantifying those challenges requires a separate analysis of both the military and political implications.

Aircraft carriers have become the prime vehicles par excellence of foreign diplomacy on the geo-political stage. The only incongruity is that as a fledgling super power it has takenChina so long to match its economic prowess with a comparable and offensive military capability.

Left: the ‘Shi Lang’ viewed from the starboard bow. Note new radar arrays and deck fittings

Diplomatically, the consistent build-up by Chinais unlikely to captivate the affections of China’s neighbours – but since 1949 (HMS Amethyst, 1949 etc) when did Peking ever care about what its neighbours thought ? It has always shown itself to be so single-minded as to be dubbed ‘the-bully-on-the-block.’

Part 1

The Military Dimension

Aircraft carriers are not vehicles for defensive postures. They are designed for offensive operations, long range interdiction, crippling strikes upon enemy forces and the denial of military assets.

A key decision by Russia usefully contrasts China’s thinking for the decades ahead. Russia has changed its military strategy and pays more attention to nuclear submarines. [1] Effectively, it has abandoned the aircraft carrier as an instrument of war, even though it has a longer sea border than China.

Perhaps Russia’s military thinking hypothesised that any conflict it engaged in with the West would not only bring it into conflict with enemy aircraft carriers but enemy land based aircraft. The only regions where this would probably not occur would be South America and parts of Africa. However, to get to those regions a Russian fleet would have to transit through dangerous waters to and from its home base.

The effect of this new development has been to excite the Chinese public’s imaginations, prompt a re-assessment by foreign governments and even trigger a rethink in carrier design (which, it has to be admitted, has been very conservative, and one-dimensional for the last 40 years).

What look like outrageously futuristic designs (see below) are appearing on a variety of internet sites.

The hardware

China’s new aircraft carrier, the ‘Shi Lang’ started life as the 60,000 ton Russian aircraft carrier Varyag. At 60,000 tons Shi Lang’ is in some ways comparable to carriers such as the recently retired USS Kitty Hawk. However, the Russian design remit was always radically different to how the West intended to use its carrier task forces.

Many commentaries have scoffed at China’s decision and have attempted to downplay the ship, pointing to her chequered history and pedigree. But this detractration is to miss the point. China bought the Varyag without engines, armaments, radar systems etc etc. She was literally a floating hull with a rusting deck and China has no carrier experience. It makes sense to buy one from a country which has some experience in that branch of ship technology.

Left: Varyagat the time of her auction.

The measure of the situation is best gained when all the absent fighting equipment is fitted. Will China build her own engines – and how reliable will they be – or buy them in ?

Missiles and aircraft suitable for a carrier already exist or are on order. France has previously supplied radar systems and we must assume China will obtain phased arrays (required for multiple sea and air targets) on the open market.

Varyag was an Admiral Kuznetsov class multi-role aircraft carrier belonging to the Soviet Union. She was laid down in Dec 1985 and launched in Dec 1988; however she was never fully completed. [2] Some of her original specifications are listed in the Table below:

The Varyag was purchased in April 1998 by the Chinese ‘Chong Lot Travel Agency’ for US$ 20 million at auction.

The Chong Lot Travel Agency’ is a company widely believed to be a front for Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Chong Lot stated that the ship would become a floating entertainment centre and casino in Macau, and under the sale conditions thatshe would never be refitted for combat. The tow from the Ukraine to Dalian, China, began in 2000 but was delayed by the Turkish authorities for over 16 months. Varyag finally reached China in March 2002. [3] Dalian is better known in the West as ‘Port Arthur.’

The Admiral Kuznetsov is the sister ship of the Varyag. She, in contrast to the Varyag, has been on continuous duty since her launch in 1985 (becoming fully operational in 1995).

Initially Western analysts anticipated that the Admiral Kuznetsov would have a Combined Nuclear And Steam (CONAS) propulsion plant similar to the Kirov class missile battlecruisers (24,300 tons, 32 kts). However, Admiral Kuznetsov as completed was conventionally powered by eight oil-fired boilers and four steam turbines, each producing 50,000 hp (37 MW), driving four shafts with fixed-pitch propellers. Her maximum speed is 29 knots (54 km/h), and her rangeat maximum speed is 3,800 miles (6,100 km). At 18 knots (33 km/h), her maximum range is 8,500 miles (13,700 km).

Confusingly the Admiral Kuznetsov has been give n a series of names including “Riga”, “Leonid Brezhnev”, and “Tbilisi. Another Russian aircraft carrier the Kiev was sold in 1996 to a Chinese leisure company, and has been part of Binhai Aircraft Park, a military theme park in Tianjin since May 2004. [4]

There can be little doubt that China’s naval architects and engineers has learnt a great deal from the hulls of other carriers it has purchased in the past 20 years, e.g. the  Minsk.

Russia’s ‘aviation cruisers’

Russia positioned its aircraft carriers’ role to be significantly different to the mode adopted by the West. The term used by Russian naval architects to describe their new genre of Russian warship was “heavy aircraft-carrying cruiser.” The intention was to support and defend strategic missile-carrying submarines, surface ships, and maritime missile-carrying aircraft of the Russian fleet.

Left: Admiral Gorshkov (Kiev class)

Some ‘aviation cruisers’ such as the Kiev class (pictured left) forsook the bow launch capability to make space for ship-to-ship and ship-to-air missiles. This was intended to by-pass the Treaty banning aircraft carriers from passing from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean which adversely affected Russian naval capabilities. The pretence was that they were really ‘heavy crusiers’ that happened to also have the capability of launching aircraft.

Arguably ‘to support and defend strategic missile-carrying submarines’ – of which China now has many – is also the role the Chinese will prefer to employ for their new carrier.

That might require the fitting of missiles on the ski jump bows but early reports indicate that the ski slope at the bow has unobstructed bows (see Admiral Kuznetsov below). If the ‘Shi Lang’ has adopted a deck layout similar to the Admiral Kuznetsov  then it must be to maximise the use of fixed wing aircraft.

Left: the Admiral Kuznetsov

Other carriers linked to China include the former Soviet aviation cruiser Minsk which was towed from a South Korean scrap yard to a Chinese port in 1998, and HMAS Melbourne (RN Majestic class) sold in 1985. 

The Minsk is typically another Soviet carrier that has now ‘somehow’ ended up in Chinese waters. She had operated in the Pacific Fleet but had to be retired as a result of a major accident which could only be repaired at Chernomorski facility, located in the newly-independent Ukraine. In 1995 Minsk was sold to a South Korean businessman, and later resold to “Shemzhen Minsk Aircraft Carrier Industry Company Limited”, a Chinese company. The company went bankrupt in 2006.

HMAS Melbourne (700 ft, 20,000 tons) was decommissioned in June 1982 and sold for scrap metal (in Feb 1985), to a Chinese shipbuilding company. However by Jan 2001 reports began surfacing that she had been used to train Chinese pilots to land on her angled flight deck.

For a comparison with World War II carriers, see Appendix A.

Deceit and subterfuge

The prices paid for these allegedly defunct aircraft carriers appear to fluctuate wildly. The Minsk was eventually sold for US$ 16 million, while the Varyag sold for US$ 20 million. Another source puts the price paid for the Varyagat US$ 200 million.

HMAS Melvourne, launched in 1945, was sold in 1985 to China for only Aus$ 1.4 million. Were these ships being sincerely bought and sold for their scarp value then the Varyag at US$ 20 million being three times the weight of HMAS Melbourne should have sold for less than Aus$ 6 million.

The building costs of modern warships – even state-of-the-art frigates – is today extraordinarily expensive, so the building of an aircraft carrier should be almost prohibitive. The path China has chosen is interesting for the sums involved (HMS Ark Royal at 22,000 tons cost an estimated £333 million in 1985).

In October 2006 the Russian on-line daily newspaper Kommersant revealed that Russia’s state-run weapons exporter ‘Rosoboronexport’ was completing negotiations with China to deliver up to 50 Su-33 fighter aircraft. The purchase price was reportedly US$2.5 billion.

At about the same time China agreed to spend $100 million to buy two Su-33 fighters from Komsomolsk-on-AmurProduction Association for ‘trial and evaluations,’ with delivery expected in 2007-08 (

March 2009 saw a very different picture. The daily newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets reported that Russia was refusing to sell China Su-33 jets, citing past “piracy of the design” for its SU-27 fighters.

Russia believed its SU-33s were being ordered merely so they could be cloned by the Chinese. This would kill-off any future sales to China, leaving China free to export globally a cheaper version of Russian technology.

Russiais now facing the same problem that bedeviled companies in the West decades ago, the unlicenced reproduction and replica industry in Far Eastern countries, e.g.Taiwan.

Andrei Chang, a China military analyst at KanwayInformationCentersaid:

  • “Chinawill not acknowledge to the Russians thatthese are copies, they say it is an independent domestic production designed solely by themselves.”

China ‘owns’ a Su-33 prototype, which it purchased from the Ukrainian Research Test and Flying Training Center at Nitka. In 2001, a Chinese delegation convinced Ukrainian officials to sell the T10K prototype said Chang. However, the ‘intellectual property rights’ for the aircraft belong to Sukhoi, not to the Ukraine government (

Available aircraft

Communist China has relied onRussiafor much of its armaments since 1949. It has purchased outright war materiel or manufactured items under licence, e.g. land mines, T-34 and T-54 tanks, and AK 47.

During the Korean War the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) ostensibly operated the Soviet-built YAK 9 and the MiG-15 (known as the J-2 in Chinese service). Declassified materiel has since revealed that many J-2 aircraft were actually flown by Russian pilots.

Over the years the trade with China has been very profitable to Russia, especially during the Cold War when opportunities for trading world wide to gain hard currency were limited.

Inevitably China became more sophisticated in its production techniques and more advanced in its home grown technology. The economic bargain China struck with the West in later years has meant it too now has the hard currency to purchase the technology and leap frog ahead.

Espionage has always played a pivotal role in Russia’s scramble to match the West during the Cold War and of the ill-fated Concordski supersonic airliner is a prime example. In the far less public arena of military equipment and technological breakthroughs similar stories are harder to find.

Russia was always anxious to acquire new technology for trifling amounts paid to greedy/disloyal staff working on sensitive projects in government facilities. One suspects thatChina has followed suit with the notorious Harold Holt saga (1967), and John Anthony Walker  (1985), and naturalised Americans Dongfan “Greg” Chung (2009) and Chi Mak (2009) to name but a few. [5]  But Russia could not have been prepared for the degree to which it would be duped by its brother-in-arms’, Comrade China.

Spying is always a two way street as the CIA’s 1968 Report into the potential of China’s ICBM and submarines programme reveals. China’s missile development was a detour prompted by the Sino-Soviet split (1960 – 1989) which cut it off from its normal source of armaments.

At the beginning of China’s aircraft carrier programme (circa 1998) negotiations began with Russia for the purchase of suitable aircraft. Russia operated the Su 33 (NATO code Flanker-D) on its aircraft carriers, but had sold a number of MiG-29K (NATO code Fulcrum-D) to India for their recently acquired former Soviet carrier.

China appears to have purchased a prototype from the Ukraine (from whom it also bought the Varyag) and then cancelled/reduced its order made with the Russians.Russia believes China has since blatantly copied the Russian designed aircraft. Currently a production line is building the Su-33 known as the J-15 to the Chinese.

As mentioned above, previous contract for 200 Soviet-designed Su-27 was cancelled by the Russians when they discovered that China was reverse engineering and building its own aircraft.

China has batted away Russian grumbles and official complaints by claiming the J-15 is a product solely of Chinese technology.

For the Shi Lang, China will most likely employ its new J-15 ‘Flying Shark’ which is a carrier-based heavy fighter-bomber The J-15 has an airframe closely resembling that of the Russian Su-33, but, say the Chinese, it has more advanced and indigenously made avionics.[6]

Left: Su-33 preparing for take-off on Admiral Kuznetsov
Visually, modern Russian and Chinese aircraft such as the J-15 and Su-33 resemble those designed in America- the F-14 Tomcat, F-15 Eagle and F-16 Hornet.

As for potential mission applications, the J-15 (i.e., Su-33) is a large aircraft and probably has a normal take-off weight similar to that of theUnited States’ now-retired F-14 Tomcat.

If the J-15’s avionics suite can support a groundattack mission, it will have two primary uses in a future Chinese carrier group, with a third role of providing air cover as necessary during future operations to protect and/or evacuate Chinese citizens threatened by violence overseas.

As currently configured, the J-15 (see below) is described by some military experts as “no great leap forward,’ but is nevertheless triggering concern in the region because it indicates rapid improvements in Chinese naval aviation, and suggests Chinese determination to extend its regional blue water presence. The J-15’s initial role will be linked to, and limited by, its first operational platform: a ‘starter carrier’ to project a bit of power, confers prestige on a rising great power, and master basic procedures.The significance of these aircraft bears directly on China’s deep water and territorial waters ambitions. Sometimes referred to as a ‘blue water’ presence nations with global aspirations, e.g. the US, or regional, e.g. Japan in the 1930s and China today, need to enforce their resolve with a credible intimidatary weapon system.

Future planning for a blue water’ presence requires that land and carrier-based aircraft, together with the ships, will be on stream and in sufficient numbers by a given date. Future planning also dictates that in the next 20 years replacement aircraft and shipping (and not forgetting submarines) will include a generational up-grade, e.g. China’s J-20 stealth fighter (for international stealth fighters comparisons see Appendix B).

The US had the world’s first and only operational stealth fighter in 1981, the Lockheed Martin F-117 (retired in 2008).  It has been playing down the images that appear to show a Chinese working prototype that resembles the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightening II due to come on stream soon and enter service in the next few years.  The F-22 Raptor is a true interceptor/fighter whereas the role filled by the F-117 was skewed to one of ground-attack and tactical bombing.

US-based Defense News carried a report (in 2011) citing an English-language military trade journal that China is developing a short-takeoff, vertical-landing Jump Jet equivalent to the Hawker Harrier.

A version optimised for small aircraft carriers is a logical progression but there is confusion surrounding what is thought to be the designated J-18. Some reports describe it as a variant of the Su-33 or Su-27 but these at 66,000 lbs are more than three times the dead weight of a Harrier, so take-offs look problematical.

However, Richard Fisher, from the International Assessment and Strategy Center in Washington,D.C., told the publication:

  • ‘. . . given the PLA’s naval power projection ambitions, it is probable there is (a) VSTOL (vertical or short take-off and vertical-landing), or STOVL (short take-off and vertical-landing)  fighter programme.” [7]

Part 2

The Political Dimension

For its large size China has a relatively small coastline, 14,500 kilometers, one certainly much smaller than Russia’s. Russia has a coastline to the west, the north, and the east. China has only one coastline which faces East, stretching from the border with North Korea and Japan in the north, to Vietnam in the south (the East China Sea, Korea Bay, Yellow Sea, and South China Sea).

Russia has settled borders and enjoys friendly relations with its neighbours. This is not true of China. North Korea can best be described as violatile and Japan is ever mistrustful of China.

Russia knows where it stands with regards its sea and coastal borders but China appears to exhibit greed in claiming the maritime rights of neighbouring countries. It even has strained relations with North Korea.

Left: Chinese coastline showing the three naval command and control regions.

China has not only diplomatically fallen out with all its immediate neighbours around the South China Sea but in the seas to the north. She appears to be basing her maritime claim to everything on the frontiers as they appertained duing the Imperial era of China. This can only be compared with Israel’s irrational claim to the whole of Palestine and Jordan based on the Bible and the “the word of God.” 

China has spent the past 30 years building up both its surface and submarine fleets learning from the Russian and then designing and building warships for themselves, e.g. Romeo and Kilo class subs.

China began building 84 Romeo class diesel-electric submarines in 1982. In 1995 China’s PLA Navy ordered about 4 Kilo class vessels and in 2002, she signed a US$ 1.5 billion deal with  Russia to purchase eight more Kilo (Project 636) submarines (see also and

This has not gone unnoticed by Taiwan, Philippines, Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, Australia, and all the other adjacent nations. Russia cannot be ruled out of the equation as a nation who could ultimately be threatened by China. With Vladivostok being the home of the Russian Pacific Fleet and abutting both Korea and China, Russia has reason to be concerned about national security in the future. Vladivostok  is closed by ice from Jan to March and militarily undefendable by land forces.

How prophetic these 2010 words musing have proven to be (ref. ‘China’s Sunken Warships – Part 4′) :-

  • “ . . . This commentary on China’s Sunken Warships began with Part 1 looking into China’s maritime fleet and gunboats in the ‘inter-war years’. And yet, almost unnoticed, we are, in 2010, in another ‘inter-war’ period; we have another military build-up underway this time Asiatic; and a Western world that is again weary of war (and its expense). Russia, by contrast, has government coffers bulging from the profits of oil and gas sales and a cavalier attitude to the future consequences of its present sales of hardware.”
  • “. ..   These developments have to be seen against the backdrop of China’s seizure of the Paracel Islands from Vietnam in 1974. In fact, from 1974 to 1999 ‘shoot-outs’ with the military forces of its neighbours, e.g. Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines have been a recurring theme over disputed islands including the Spratly Islands near Brunei in  the South China Sea.”

Russian has profited enormously from ‘playing the game’, i.e. by not being greedy and not being cast in the role of bully on the world stage. It has made friends with its neighbours and as a result has been able to negotiate for the building of oil and gas pipelines through neighbouring countries to its biggest customers in Europe. Russia blossoms economically from not only indigenous oil and gas reserves but arms sales.  In addition, it is not dependable on trade with the West.

China is comparable in some ways with pre-war Japan – it is totally reliant on oil imports and has perhaps lost billions of dollars it invested in Libya under Kaddafi. China appears not to care about the efficacy or morality of any regime with which it does business and it is closely with dubious African states, e.g. Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe. China’s indigenous reserves of raw materials are insufficient for world demand or to sustain its own growth; it has food problems exacerbated by a burgeoning a middle class; it has a sex imbalance – the by-product of a one child policy. It will have to look outwards to survive and feed its people. It will have to become more efficient agriculturally or  ‘buy’ land overseas for cultivation.

It does not have – as Japan did in the 20th century – a nation it can blackmail into funding its naval build up, nor does it have European colonial countries it can conquor and redirect raw materials to its homeland industries.

Blue Water Strategic Thinking

Russia has changed its military strategy to pay more attention to the construction of nuclear submarines. [8]  This begs the question ‘why ?’

Its reluctance at the UN during the Libyan and Syrian uprisings are perhaps indicative of its current foreign policy, namely, let the West shoulder the expense and not to become entangled in anything unless it is on its boarders, e.g. Accetia, or the Baltic states .

‘The Economist’ may very well be underestimating the determination of the Chinese in their search for oil in much the same way that much of the media  underestimated Hitler was in the 1930s. [9]

  • “ . . . Unlike the Soviets, the Chinese appear not to be trying to match the size and capability of America’s huge fleet. Officials describe the aircraft-carrier programme partly as a prestige project.China has been acutely conscious of being the only permanent member of the  United Nations without a carrier. Its rival India has long had one. Thailand has one too. Japan, another rival, has a carrier for helicopters that could be adapted for fighters.” 

‘The Economist’ may very also be wrong when it states that “The Chinese carrier’s actual deployment might yet be years away.”

However, to be truly a blue water fleet China’s task forces have to break-out or through the string of  islands that form a chain along its continental shelf. At present China is geographically hemmed in – it is land-locked in all but name as the various maps here demonstrate. The location of China’s coastline has the effect of funneling all shipping movments into a cone shape. She is limited, unlike the US and Russia to operating naval forces from one east facing coastline. This is characteristic of the dilemma faced by Germany in both World Wars, ie a small North Sea coast and the Baltic Sea easily bottled up by minefields.

In 1985, the Communist Party approved a PLAN proposal of an “Active Defense” posture.

The following is a paraphrase of the strategydefined as:

  • “Overall, the military strategy is defensive; we willattack only after being attacked at whicvh pointy the operations will be offensive.”
  • “Any counter-offensive undertaken will be limitless and have no boundaries”
  • When offensive operations are initiated they will beata time and in conditions that favour our forces.”
  • “We will eliminate the enemy’s forces and focus on the enemy force weaknesses.”

General Xu Guangyu, who used to serve in the PLA’s headquarters before his retirement has said ‘an aircraft carrier is a symbol of the power of your power of your navy.’ [12]

  • “China should at least be on the same level as other permanent members of the UN Security Council who have carriers.”
  • “It’s also a symbol of deterrence. It’s like saying, ‘Don’t mess with me. Don’t think you can ‘bully me.’ So it’s normal for us to want a carrier. I actually think it’s strange if China doesn’t have one.”

Active Defense replaced the previous strategic concept of Coastal Defense which owed much to the borders wars withRussia with the PLAN supporting Army operations.

After 1985, with Deng in charge of the economy, China had an epiphany – it realised as Japan had come to realise in the 1930s that it was wholly reliant for continued growth on the sea lanes that furnished it with food, raw materials and energy. Modernisation, expansion and better living standards would not be possible unless securuity of the seas was acheieved.

But it is the obligation placed on the PLAN to “protect the nation’s territorial sovereignty” that will most likely ‘light the regional blue touch paper.’  [11]

China’s “green water” ambitions will bring it into potential conflict from the Aleutians in the north down to the Kuriles linking Japan’s archipelago to Russia, the Ryukyus archipelago linking Japan to Taiwan, the Philippines, and Borneo.

Her “blue water” aspiration is more eastward, absorbing island chains running from the north at the Bonin Islands and moving southward through the Marianas, Guam, and the Caroline Islands. Is this a repeat of Japan’s calamitous Imperial expansion when nationalistic ambition overtook actual capability ?

Gen Xu now advises China’s government on its military modernisation programme. Seven nations currently operate carriers – it used to be eight, but the UK has just withdrawn its last one from service and will have to wait several years for a new one to be built.

Protecting Assets

Natural gas and oil deposits are the assets China has in mind to protect. These deposits are scattered all across the South China Sea and, in a recipe for conflict, China is claiming 100% of them for herself.

The lessons of the Falklands War / conflct have not been lost on the Chinese. In order to replicate Britain’s action in successfully rebuffing an invasion by a ‘lesser power’ but in the South China Sea, China would need an aircarft carrier.

China will also recall the part played by India’s single aircraft carrier, the INS Vikrant, during the Bangladesh War of independence in 1971 in neutralising Pakistan’s airforce, despite carriers tasks forces from the US and the UK and submarines from China and Russia being in the  vicinity (INS Vikrant – formerly HMS Hercules, a Majestic Class ‘light aircraft carrier’ (19,000 tons) launched in Sept 1945 and sold to India in 1957).

INS Vikrant and its aircraft not only blockaded the coast of what was then called “East Pakistan;” it also launched air strikes against air bases that destroyed the ability of the Pakistani air force to intervene in the fighting. Pakistan’s inability to use its Navy to support its Army or Air Force was a major factor in its defeat in 1971, and in the emergence of the new nation of Bangladesh. Since then, India has made major investments in its naval aviation (

A second carrier, HMS Hermes, was  sold to India in 1987 and became the INS Viraat. Refitted in 2009 there were reports that the ship (originally launched 1953) might be kept in service until 2020. India has the advantage of not being circumscribed by outlying island chains or close neighbours. It has an East and West facing coast with an infrastructure between the two.

Concurrently, India’s leaders in New Delhi decided to buy a rebuilt Soviet-era aircraft carrier from Russia. In the longer term the Indian Navy too is building a carrier of its own design in a shipyard in Bombay (Mumbai).

From the “PLA Daily” we learn something of the Chinese thinking:

  • “ . . . The deterrent of this kind of capacity plays a significant role in protecting both the high seas and coastal waters.”
  • “ . . . As for the question of whether China dares to use the aircraft carrier when its territorial waters are being infringed, the answer is obvious.
  •  “ . . . Essentially, it is a kind of naval vessel or super battleship that is ready for fulfilling its military missions and maritime battles. If we do not have the courage or will to use it to solve territorial disputes, why would we have built it ?”
  • “. . . .China needed to build an ocean fleet to safeguard its maritime interests when putting forward the strategy of peaceful rise. China’s construction of aircraft carriers aims to better protect its maritime interests. In fact, whether or not China has aircraft carriers will not affect its determination to assure its territorial integrity or its capacity to fight any country with ill maritime practice. China will have greater confidence and determination after owning aircraft carriers. China will unswervingly safeguard its maritime interests without aircraft carriers.
  • “ . ..  The aircraft could be simply regarded as a mobile maritime airport. Essentially, it is a kind of naval vessel or super battleship thatis ready for fulfilling its military missions and maritime battles. If we do not have the courage or will to use it to solve territorial disputes, why would we have built it ? Are we spending countless money and occupying quite a part of the national budget to build it only for admiring it or scaring the countries that provoke China?  If it is necessary, China will use the aircraft carrier and other kinds of battleships to solve disputes. That is natural and logical.

Some of this is pure theatre but the article concluded, somewhat ominously:

  • “Furthermore, a single aircraft carrier has absolutely no fighting power and needs the protection of a huge fleet. … . . . Whether or not China has aircraft carriers [plural] is vitally important to a country like China with a vast maritime territory. Without aircraft carriers, China will neither control the air nor maintain effective presence in regions that are far away from its coastal territory. [13]

Maritime Claims

The maritime claims referred to in the above quote are depicted below. China’s illegal claim is marked by the red dotted line and the legally entitled sovereign waters of adjoining countries are marked in dotted blue lines.

China claims a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea, a 24-nautical-mile ‘contiguous zone’, a 200-nautical-mile ‘exclusive economic zone’, (all distances permitted to all countries under a UN treaty), and a 200-nautical-mile continental shelf or the distance to the edge of the continental shelf.

China’s claim is nothing short of a land grab – a land grab for oil and gas reserves under the sea. China lays claim to all of the SpratlyIslands, the Scarborough Shoal and all of the Paracels Islands.

China has already come to blows with its neighbours over its greedy claims for their land (1974). 

In early June 2011 there was an incident, near the SpratlyIslands, between an oil-and-gas exploration ship chartered by the Vietnamese and a Chinese fishing vessel. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman complained that Vietnam was “. . . conducting unlawful oil and gas surveys around the Wanan Bank of the Spratly archipelago.” InVietnam, there was a public demonstration outside the Chinese embassy. But as the map above shows the only true rightful claimants are the Philippines and Brunei.

The truth is China has a rightful claim to only 2 or 3 of the many islets. If she insists on claiming them all including those reserved for Taiwan she opens herself up to accusation she once leveled at America and America’s allies, namely “lackeys and running dogs.”

Ties between China and Japan have been strained by a territorial row over the Senkaku  group of islands but referred to as the Diaoyu islands by China (see map below). [14]

The lack of mature behaviour expected of a great nation is typical of  China’s previous approach to anyone who doesn’t agree with them

China is not averse to cancelling orders and blocking contracts between unrelated countries, e.g. Holland and the  US supplying  Taiwan (and Japan) with more modern submarines. 

Again, as political tensions between China and Japan escalated over the Senkaku  group of islands ( Oct 2010) Japan’s two largest airlines found that 11,000 trips on flights to China had been cancelled. All Nippon Airways received 7,500 cancellations and Japan Airlines (JAL) about 3,600.

To gauge what some of these disputed small islands look like – often only rocky outcrops – see picture below.  The Senkaku islands in Japan’s territorial waters. The only other closest country that might reasonably claim theses islands is Taiwan.

Some of the world’s largest reserves of oil and gas have been detected in the South China Sea- but they lie in a neighbouring country’s maritime limits.

Left: Senkaku islands

If China is not to ‘seize up’ it needs those reserves under the Spratly and the Senkaku islands.

Part of the reason for this Chinese angst is that bothRussia and America have well established natural resources (oil and gas) within their own hinterland and or secure access to those overseas. China does not have secure access or a hinterland with oil and gas deposits.

Lastly, China is an atheist country surrounded by fervent Muslim and Catholic nations. Maritime guerilla warfare against these widely dispersed islands could and would severe oil and gas supplies to mainland China. Aircraft carriers would lose their advantage to the more modern silent running subs – the more so when stealth aircraft and or heavier-than-water submarines make their appearance.

More spending – new empire ?

Peking (Beijing) insists its military modernisation poses no threat to anyone – but is that promise of no hostility the same as not wanting to threaten or induce duress ? Chinese communiques are deft in the application of words.

The problem is that is smacks of the infamous Japanese “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere” which brought only puppet governments to dance to Tokyo’s tune and death and starvation to much of Asia’s people

Doris Naisbitt is someone well versed in the nuances of China and offers a different interpretation of China’s actions. As Director of the Naisbitt China Institute in Tianjin, and an author, she is firmly of the opinion that China is simply striving to carve itself a niche on the world stage proportionate to its size, economy and population. In an interview with Russia Today she said: [15]

  • “ . . . Chinese people who were born in the 1990s and did not witness the hardships of their parents, “really demand to do whatever they want to do.”
  • “.. . . China wants to restore the position that the old Chinese Empire once held, but “they are not fighting to dominate the world”

Naisbitt believes that if China wanted to dominate the world in any way, it would have to follow the American example and massively export its ‘culture’ because it is cultural dominance in the world thatgives a nation power and control – and not solely military might.  

  • “These days wars cannot be won – so why would China start a war that would be destructive for itself ?”

The difficulty is that for China to aspire to its position it held at the time of the old Chinese Empire nessitates treading on the rights – not to mention the toes -of all its neghbours. It would be comparable to Britain demanding the return of all her former  North American colonies.

Naisbitt concludes that as yet cultural dominance, e.g. Rock ’n’ Roll, Rolex watches, Chanel perfume, Coca Cola, Gucci handbags, Armani clothing etc. is one of the things that China really has to establish. They need to create cultural brands of their own; their own international consumer brand names which will be sort after in the 21st century.

Wars on land may not be won decisively anymore – as Afghanistan and Iraq are everyday proving – but naval engagements have a pedigree of being decisive and completed in a matter of hours – not drawn out over weeks or months.

Analysts speculate that the conflict between the UK and Argentina nearly 30 years ago pushed the late leader Deng Xiaoping to slash spending for one million army personnel  in order so as to use the then limited military budget to improve hardware.

China’s official military budget quadrupled between 1999 and 2009 as the country’s economy grew.  Last year China announced a smaller-than-usual 7.5% increase to $76.3bn, causing quite a backlash amongChina’s hard-line generals

But they are yet other signs of the shifting balance brought about by the rise of the country’s economic power. In a recent article published in a Chinese Communist Party publication General Jiang Luming, head of the military economics unit at China’sNational Defence University, called for “maximising national interest” by doubling China’s military funding to 2.8% of GDP, which he said was the average of 132 countries since the end of the Cold War.

He said this was needed to meet “special security requirements” – an apparent reference to preparing for eventual reunification withTaiwan, safeguarding key interests overseas and offshore, and China being a socialist country without any military allies.

The US defence budget is still the biggest in the worldataround $700bn, but China’s is currently the second largest and while American spending may be slowing down or declining there is little prospect of that happening in China for the foreseeable future (and for as long as China sees itself as requiring ‘Special requirements’).

The aircraft carrier has great economic symbolism – comparable to the Dreadnoughts of the late 19th century. At a time when China was launching its carrier, the United States was announcing the trimming in size of its carrier fleet in order to save money. One Chinese news media, the Xinhua News Agency took the opportunity to chide “has-been”America for spending reckless amounts on defense. The message was that it was paying the price for ‘meddling’ internationally while disregarding whether the economy could support such a policy.China, sitting on top of $2 trillion in reserves, now has the fiscal right to build military luxuries denied to others.

An Alternative View

Rick Fisher, a senior analystatthe International Assessment and Strategy Center, which is a think tank in Virginia, US. He has spent 20 years studying China’s military and sees the emerging situation through American eyes, concluding that China has big ambitions:

  • “The aircraft carrier is part of China’s fulfilment of its 2004 historic mission that the People’s Liberation Army will increasingly defend the Communist Party’s interests outside of China.”
  • “By the 2020s China wants a military that will be globally deployable and will be able to challenge American interests where they need to be challenged.”

In an effort to improve long-strained military relations between the US and China the Pentagon arranged for Chen Binged, the Chief of the General Staff of the PAL, to visit and was shown the comprehensive global reach of the US military.

Afterwards Chen Bingde tried to quell American anxieties by saying China would never seek to match US military power (China’s military is generally believed to be 20 years behind America’s in its development). China, he said, is no where near as advanced asAmerica.

  • “This visit to America, I saw America’s military power, I feel stunned, not only do we have no ability to challenge America, but also the American warships and aircraft, America’s strategy, it’s a real deterrent for us.”

This is reminiscent of the attempts made by Britain towards the Nazi regime in 1938 – 39 to avoid war. A German delegation was shown over the latest fighter aircraft and the advanced gyroscopic “reflector” gun sight was explained to them. This was probably one of the first “heads-up” display and it soon appeared on German fighter aircraft (and variants will still being used until the mid 1970s).

Triggering the flash point

 China’s decision to take the time and spend the money needed to win for themselves the benefits of sea-going airpower has implications for the East Asian region and for its relations theUS. It has no heritage of being a sea power or having a positive naval strategy. The proceeding series “China’s Sunken Warships” leave the indelible impression that a naval tradition and an institution has yet to be chiseled out of the raw stone face.

Today, US aircraft carriers are used forattacking targets far inland over Afghanistan and Iraq hundreds of miles inland. China may not actually use her aircraft carrier regionally but chose to safeguard her economic investments further afield, e.g. in Africa, from competitor nations.

An aircraft carrier is not required for an amphibious assault onTaiwan–China’s long held dream of re-unification. The distance from the invasion ports in the mainland to the landing beaches is about 100 miles; land-based aviation would be more than enough forChinato gain the required air superiority (Normandy invasion, June 6th, 1944).

However, the on-going dispute over the Spratly, Paracels  and Senkaku islands could each trigger an over-kill response. Apart from these flash points, the trigger states will most probably be the Philippines,  Taiwan and Vietnam.

However. China is still planning its own rapid expansion with the focus on weapons designed to blunt US military power.

Political Re-aligment

Diplomatically the intimidation felt by former adversaries, e.g.Vietnam and North Korea may well force a realignment of alliances with America.

Smaller regional countries will offer bases and services to the US in exchange for air cover and maritime protection from Chinese infringements. Many of these Treaties already exist. These bases, unlike carriers, will not be sinkable.

China may not be welcome at the G20 summits and may lose its status to trade with the West free of import levies.

Claiming a 24-nautical-mile contiguous zone, plus a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone, and with both sides armed with ICBM armed submarines runs the risk of another Cuban Crisis poker game.

  • If political reality fails to kick in and there is an armed engagement of whatever description American can live with a win, draw or loose, but China cannot.
  • If a naval engagement cannot be averted and if China scores a victory over the USA then to who will it sell it products ?
  • If China draws or looses it will be a permanent set-back and the loss of face (psychological damage) will be incalculable.
  • China must be aware of the various scenarios having lived through the worst of them at the hands of the Japanese (and prior to that the European colonialists).

Unlike Japan in the 19th and 20th century, China cannot learn it naval tactics and drills from the best in the business. Russia has only a patchy history of navel success.

Taiwan, which has had tolerate Chinas blackmailing and direct interference with would-be arms suppliers has not surprisingly taken advantage of the launch of the Shi Lang by revealing a carrier-killer missile, the Hsiung Feng III. [16]

The prospect of a missile-riddled aircraft carrier ablaze and sinking has not escaped the Communist Chinese either. While they have invested heavily in submarines, China is believed to be close to deploying the world’s first “carrier-killer” ballistic missile, designed to sink aircraft carriers while they are manoeuvring at sea up to 1,500km (930 miles) offshore.

Combining stealth fighters, advanced carrier-based aircraft and submarines all of which can target US bases, US ships and US carriers in Asia the region is set to become a much more dangerous place for carrier fleets to operate either close to China’s coast or close to a friendly country’s coast. [17]



Appendix A

Relative carrier sizes in World War II (sample only)

HMS Victorious was an Illustrious class carrier ordered under the 1936 Naval Programme. She was launched in 1939 and operational in 1941. When the USS Hornet was sunk and the USS Enterprize badly damaged at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands the US Navy had only one fleet carrier, the USS Saratoga to deter the Imperial Japanese carrier fleet.

Left: HMS Victorious alias  USS Robin leaving Subic Bay Philippines 

In late December, 1942, HMS Victorious was loaned to the US Navy after an American request for carrier reinforcement and renamed USS Robin. She then took part in operations during 1942- 43 in the south west Pacific. This was followed by operations in the Arctic and against the Tirpitz (1944).

She had previously contributed to the sinking of the Bismark (1941) and Atlantic convoys. After her redeployment to the Eastern Fleet based at Colombo (Ceylon) she returned, in 1945, to the northern Pacific for the final assault on Okinawa, Japan.  There she was badly damaged but not sunk (steel flight deck).

 Right: April 1945  HMS Victorious ablaze after Kamikaze attacks

Other British carriers in action at Okinawa were: HMS Formidable, HMS Illustrious, HMS Indefatigable, and HMS Indomitable and though most were also hit by Kamikazes the steel flight deck minimised damaged.   (


Appendix B 

Stealth aircraft are the newest generation of aviation innovation. America’s Raptor F-22 (see also F-35 a joint strike aircraft project with Britain and other allies).





[2] Global Security. Org

[3] An international treaty prohibits aircraft carriers from sailing between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean i.e. through the Bosporus straits. For this reason the Russian refer to their ships as heavy cruisers which also carry aircraft.

[4] In 2011 the former-Kiev underwent a multi-million dollar refit inChina to include a casino and luxury hotel.

[5] See ‘Quiet Electric Drive’ (QED) and ‘magnetohydrodynamic drive’ (MHD) – stealth propulsion for surface and submarine warships. See also closed cycle engines.


[7]  ‘Defense News’ echoed Chinese blog comments that the new fighter (apparently designated J-18), is ‘similar to the Russian Su-33 carrier-based fighter.’ That seems unlikely, as the Su-33 weighs 66,000 pounds fully loaded, three times as much as the world’s only successful jump jet, the Anglo-American AV-8 Harrier.

[8]  and “Misinformation persists over China’s aircraft carrier”, PLA Daily Aug 2011

[9] See “Name and purpose to be determined”, Aug 13th 2011

[10]Again, for more detail see “and “Misinformation persists over China’s aircraft carrier”, PLA Daily Aug 2011 (no single aircraft carrier likely) and 

[11] For detailed strategic implications see Report to Congress and

[12]  June 2011

[13] “Misinformation persists over China’s aircraft carrier”, PLA Daily Aug 2011 (Single aircraft carrier seems unlikely). 


[16]  Aug 2011.

[17]  See

China’s Sunken Warships – Part 5

June 2, 2010

Robert Whiston FRSA.  June 2010

Alphabetical Index of Ships


This list contains some 800 names of Chinese warships and some merchant ships associated with the campaigns in China. Included are prize ships seized by the Japanese.

The fate of each ship can be accessed by referring to the Table in the column adjacent.

NB. Duplicate names will appear as a result of one or more ships bearing the same name at the same time or at a later date or, being identified as belonging  to a specific fleet. Duplicatons can also arise where a ship’s name appears on a varierty of types of ship, e.g. “Anbei” (cargo ship and warship) shown in Tables 3, 29, and 32.

In this instance, Tables 3, 29, and 32 can be viewed by turning to Parts 1, 2 or 3 etc. to see which Part contains the Table.

Chinese Ships and Warships 

Listed alphabetically

1. ? Table 20  
2.  ? Table 20  
3.  An Dong Table 3  
4.  An Feng Table 2  
5.  Anbei Table 3  
6.  Anbei Table 29  
7.  Anbei Table 32  
8.  Andong Table 29  
9.  Andong Table 32  
10.   Argus Table 20  
11.   Ataka   Table 31  
12.   Atami  Table 31  
13.   Baomin Table 15  
14.   Barge No. 3 Table 3  
15.   Barge No. 4 Table 3  
16.   Barge No. 6 Table 3  
17.   Barge No. 7 Table 3  
18.   Caojiang Table 14  
19.   Chang Feng Table 2  
20.   Chang Feng Table 20  
21.   Chang Ning Table 2  
22.   Changning Table 26  
23.   Chao Ho Table 3  
24.   Chao Ho Table 20  
25.   Chao Yung  Table 4  
26.   Chaoho Table 3  
27.   Chaowu Table 16  
28.   Ch’ao-wu Table 16  
29.   Chaoyong Table 4  
30.   Chaoyong Table 12  
31.   Chao-yong Table 12  
32.   Chen Table 27  
33.   Chen Chou Fang Table 3  
34.   Chen Chung Table 5A  
35.   Chen Chung Table 16  
36.   Chen Nan Table 5  
37.   Chen Pei Table 5  
38.   Chen Pien Table 5A  
39.   Chen Pien, Table 16  
40.   Chen Puxing Table 2  
41.   Chen Shan Table 2  
42.   Chen Tsi Table 5  
43.   Chen Tung Table 5  
44.   Chen Yuan Table 4  
45.   Chen Yuan Table 12  
46.   Cheng Sheng Table 3  
47.   Ch’eng-ch’ing Table 16  
48.   Chengqing Table 16  
49.   Chengqing Table 16  
50.   Chengsheng  Table 27  
51.   Chenhang Table 16  
52.   Ch’en-hang Table 16  
53.   Chen-wei Table 16  
54.   Chenzi Table 3  
55.   Chenzi Table 27  
56.   Chi Fo Pu Table 2  
57.   Chi Fu Po Table 2  
58.   Chi Fu Po Table 3  
59.   Chi Fu Po Table 3  
60.   Chi Fungo Table 2  
61.   Chi Jih Table 3  
62.   Chi Yuan Table 4  
63.   Chi Yuan Table 5  
64.   Chi Yuan Table 12  
65.   Chi Yuan. Table 5  
66.   Chi Yuen Table 4  
67.   Chi Yuen Table 12  
68.   Chi-an Table 16  
69.   Chiang Chen Table 2  
70.   Chiang Chen Table 20  
71.   Chiang His Table 2  
72.   Chiang His Table 20  
73.   Chiang Hsi Table 2  
74.   Chiang Hung Table 2  
75.   Chiang Hung Table 20  
76.   Chiang Kun Table 2  
77.   Chiang Kun Table 20  
78.   Chiang Kung  Table 2  
79.   Chiang Li Table 2  
80.   Chiang Li Table 20  
81.   Chiang Tai Table 2  
82.   Chiang Yuan Table 2  
83.   Chien An  Table 2  
84.   Chien An Table 3  
85.   Chien Chung Table 2  
86.   Chien Hung Table 2  
87.   Chien Ju Table 3  
88.   Chien Kang Table 3  
89.   Chien Kang Table 3  See also IJN ‘Yamasmi’
90.   Chien Kung Table 2  
91.   Chien Wei Table 2  
92.   Chien-sheng Table 16  
93.   Chih Yuan Table 4  
94.   Chih Yuen Table 4  
95.   Chih Yuen Table 12  
96.   Chin Yen Table 20  
97.   Ching Po Table 20  
98.   Ching Yuan Table 4  
99.   Ching Yuan Table 5  
100.    Ching Yuan Table 5  
101.    Ching Yuan Table 12  
102.    Ching Yuen Table 4  
103.    Ching Yuen  Table 5  
104.    Ching Yuen Table 12  
105.    Ching-ch’ing Table 15  
106.    Ching-yuan Table 14  
107.    Chin-ou Table 14  
108.    Chong Ning Table 2  
109.    Chongning Table 2  
110.    Chongning Table 26  
111.    Chou Ho Table 3  
112.    Chu Chien Table 2  
113.    Chu Chien Table 20  
114.    Chu Kuan Table 2  
115.    Chu Kuan Table 20  
116.    Chu Kwan Table 2  
117.    Chu Tai Table 2  
118.    Chu Tai Table 20  
119.    Chu Tong Table 3  
120.    Chu Tung Table 2  
121.    Chu Tung Table 20  
122.    Chu Yew Table 3  
123.    Chu Yiu Table 2  
124.    Chu Yiu Table 20  
125.    Chu Yu Table 20  
126.    Chu Yu Table 2  
127.    Chuen Hsing Table 21  
128.    Chuguan Table 23  
129.    Chung Kai Table 3  
130.    Chung Shan Table 21  
131.    Chunghsing Table 21  
132.    Chuqian Table 23  
133.    Chutai Table 23  
134.    Chutong Table 3  
135.    Chutong Table 23  
136.    Chuyou Table 23  
137.    Chuyu Table 24  
138.    Cui Tao Table 2  
139.    Cui Zhidao Table 2  
140.    Da Tong Table 3  
141.    Da Tong Table 3  
142.    Da Tong Table 22  
143.    Dalong Table 28  
144.    Datong Table 3  
145.    Datong Table 22  
146.    De Sheng Table 3  
147.    Dengyingzhou Table 14  
148.    Desheng Table 23  
149.    Ding Hai Table 3  
150.    Dingan Table 3  
151.    Dingan Table 22  
152.    Dinghai Table 24  
153.    Dingyuan Table 4  
154.    Dingyuan Table 12  
155.    Epsilon Table 5  
156.    Ermanno Carlotto Table 20  
157.    Eta Table 5  
158.    Fei Hung Table 3  
159.    Fei Hung Table 20  
160.    Fei Hung Table 20  
161.    Fei Peng Table 3  
162.    Fei Ying   Table 2  
163.    Fei Ying Table 21  
164.    Feihung Table 3  
165.    Fein Hung Table 3  
166.    Feipeng Table 29  
167.    Feipeng Table 32  
168.    Feiting Table 16  
169.    Fei-t’ing Table 16  
170.    Feiyun Table 16  
171.    Fei-yun Table 16  
172.    Fen Hsing Table 21  
173.    Fu An Table 3  
174.    Fu Hsing Table 21  
175.    Fu Lung (S10) Table 5  
176.    Fu Ning Table 3  
177.    Fu Po Table 2  
178.    Fu Po Table 3  
179.    Fu Po Table 20  
180.    Fu Yu Table 3  
181.    Fuan Table 3  
182.    Fuan Table 29  
183.    Fuan Table 32  
184.    Fu-ching  Table 16  
185.    Fu-hsing Table 16  
186.    Fujing Table 16  
187.    Funing Table 3  
188.    Funing Table 26  
189.    Fupo Table 16  
190.    Fu-p’o Table 16  
191.    Fusheng Table 16  
192.    Fu-sheng Table 16  
193.    Futami Table 31  
194.    Fuxing Table 16  
195.    Ganlou Table 3  
196.    Ganlou Table 27  
197.    Gong Sheng Table 3  
198.    Gong Sheng Table 3  
199.    Gong Sheng Table 27  
200.    Gongan Table 3  
201.    Gongan Table 3  
202.    Gongping Table 28  
203.    Gongping Kungping Table 28  
204.    Gongsheng Table 3  
205.    Gongsheng Table 27  
206.    Guam Table 20  
207.    Guang Hua Table 3  
208.    Guangan Table 3  
209.    Guangan Table 29  
210.    Guangan Table 32  
211.    Guangbing Table 18  
212.    Guangding Table 18  
213.    Guanggeng Table 18  
214.    Guangheng Table 18  
215.    Guanghua Table 29  
216.    Guanghua Table 32  
217.    Guangjia Table 18  
218.    Guangjin Table 3  
219.    Guangjin Table 29  
220.    Guangjin Table 32  
221.    Guangkui Table 18  
222.    Guangli Table 18  
223.    Guangli Table 28  
224.    Guangli Kwanglee Table 28  
225.    Guangxing Table 18  
226.    Guangyi Table 18  
227.    Guangyuan Table 18  
228.    Guangzhen Table 18  
229.    Guangzhen Table 18  
230.    Hai Bung Table 2  
231.    Hai Chao Table 3  
232.    Hai Chao Table 22  
233.    Hai Chen Table 3  
234.    Hai Chen Table 3  
235.    Hai Chi Table 3  
236.    Hai Chi Table 3  
237.    Hai Chi Table 3  
238.    Hai Chou Table 3  
239.    Hai Chou Table 3  
240.    Hai Chou Table 22  
241.    Hai Fu Table 2  
242.    Hai Ho Table 2  
243.    Hai Hola Table 3  
244.    Hai Hsing Table 21  
245.    Hai Hsing Table 21  
246.    Hai Hsing Table 31  
247.    Hai Hsing. Table 21  
248.    Hai Hu Table 3  
249.    Hai Hu Table 29  
250.    Hai Hung   Table 2  
251.    Hai Jiang Table 3  
252.    Hai Lung Table 3  
253.    Hai Ning Table 3  
254.    Hai Nju Table 3  
255.    Hai Ou Table 2  
256.    Hai Peng Table 2  
257.    Hai Ping Table 21  
258.    Hai Rong Table 2  
259.    Hai Rong Table 3  
260.    Hai Rong Table 21  
261.    Hai Rong   Table 22  
262.    Hai Tien Table 3  
263.    Hai Tien Table 3  
264.    Hai Wei Table 3  
265.    Hai Wei Table 29  
266.    Hai Yen Table 2  
267.    Hai Ying Table 3  
268.    Hai Yung Table 3  
269.    Hai Zhou Table 3  
270.    Hai Zhou Table 3  
271.    Hai Zhou Table 22  
272.    Hai Zhou Table 29  
273.    Haian Table 14  
274.    Hai-an Table 14  
275.    Haichao Table 3  
276.    Haichen Table 24  
277.    Haichou Table 3  
278.    Haichou Table 22  
279.    Haihu Table 3  
280.    Haihu Table 3  
281.    Haihu Table 29  
282.    Haihu Table 32  
283.    Haijiang Table 29  
284.    Haijiang Table 32  
285.    Haining Table 3  
286.    Haining Table 26  
287.    Haiou Table 29  
288.    Haiou Table 32  
289.    Haiqi Table 24  
290.    Hairrong  Table 22  
291.    Hairui Table 3  
292.    Hairui Table 29  
293.    Hairui Table 32  
294.    Haiwei Table 29  
295.    Haiwei Table 32  
296.    Haizhou Table 3  
297.    Haizhou Table 29  
298.    Haizhou Table 32  
299.    Haon Table 3  
300.    Hasidate Table 31  
301.    Hau Ku Table 2  
302.    Henghai Table 16  
303.    Heng-hai Table 16  
304.    Hira Table 31  
305.    History 102 Table 2  
306.    History 181 Table 2  
307.    History 181 Table 2  
308.    History 223 Table 2  
309.    History 34  Table 2  
310.    Ho Oah Table 3  
311.    Hoi Fu Table 3  
312.    Hozu Table 31  
313.    Hsiang Li Table 3  
314.    Hsien Ning Table 2  
315.    Hsien Ning Table 21  
316.    Hsing ming Table 28  
317.    Hu Chung Table 2  
318.    Hu Chung Table 20  
319.    Hu E Table 2  
320.    Hu Ngo Table 2  
321.    Hu Ngo Table 20  
322.    Hu Peng Table 2  
323.    Hu Peng                 Table 3  
324.    Hu Peng Table 20  
325.    Hu Shan Table 3  
326.    Hu Sun Table 3  
327.    Hu Tsuin Table 3  
328.    Hu Ying Table 2  
329.    Hu Ying Table 20  
330.    Huafu Table 28  
331.    Huafu HwaFoo Table 28  
332.    Huai’an Table 28  
333.    Huang Table 4  
334.    Huang Table 12  
335.    Huang Zhenbai Table 2  
336.    Huantai Table 15  
337.    Huan-t’ai Table 15  
338.    Huaxin Table 28  
339.    Hue Table 23  
340.    Hupeng Table 2  
341.    Hupeng Table 23  
342.    Hushan Table 29  
343.    Hushan Table 32  
344.    Husimi Table 31  
345.    Husun Table 3  
346.    Husun Table 23  
347.    Huwei Table 16  
348.    Hu-wei Table 16  
349.    Huying Table 23  
350.    I-hsin Table 16  
351.    Iota Table 5A  
352.    Iota Table 16  
353.    Jen Sen Table 3  
354.    Jen Sheng Table 2  
355.    Jiahe Table 28  
356.    Ji’an Table 16  
357.    Jian Kang Table 2  
358.    Jian Ru Table 3  
359.    Jian Wei  Table 3  
360.    Jian Wei Table 3  
361.    Jiang Cheng Table 3  
362.    Jiang Gong Table 3  
363.    Jiang Gong Table 29  
364.    Jiang Kun Table 3  
365.    Jiang Ning Table 3  
366.    Jiang Ping Table 3  
367.    Jiang Xiang Ao Table 2  
368.    Jiang Zhen Table 3  
369.    Jiangcheng Table 29  
370.    Jiangcheng Table 32  
371.    Jiangda Table 3  
372.    Jiangda Table 29  
373.    Jiangda Table 32  
374.    Jianggong Table 29  
375.    Jiangkun Table 23  
376.    Jiangli Table 3  
377.    Jiangli Table 24  
378.    Jiangning Table 2  
379.    Jiangning Table 26  
380.    Jiangping Table 29  
381.    Jiangping Table 32  
382.    Jiangxi Table 3  
383.    Jiangxi Table 23  
384.    Jiangyuan Table 23  
385.    Jiangzhen Table 23  
386.    Jiankang Table 2  
387.    Jiankang Table 22  
388.    Jianru Table 3  
389.    Jianru Table 29  
390.    Jianru Table 32  
391.    Jiansheng Table 16  
392.    Jijuan Table 4  
393.    Jijuan Table 12  
394.    Jingjuan Table 4  
395.    Jingjuan Table 5  
396.    Jingjuan Table 12  
397.    Jingqing Table 15  
398.    Jingyuan Table 14  
399.    Jinma Table 3  
400.    Jinma Table 29  
401.    Jinma Table 32  
402.    Jinou Table 14  
403.    Ka Ho Table 28  
404.    K’ai-chi Table 16  
405.    K’ang-chi Table 16  
406.    Kangji Table 16  
407.    Kappa Table 5A  
408.    Kappa Renamed Table 16  
409.    Katada Table 31  
410.    Kean Table 22  
411.    Kiang Chen Table 2  
412.    Kiang Heng Table 3  
413.    Kiang Hsi  Table 3  
414.    Kiang Kun Table 3  
415.    Kiang Li Table 3  
416.    Kiang Li Table 3  
417.    Kiang Yuan Table 3  
418.    King Yuan Table 4  
419.    King Yuan Table 5  
420.    King Yuan Table 12  
421.    King Yuen   Table 4  
422.    King Yuen Table 12  
423.    Kotaka Table 31  
424.    Kuan Chuan Table 2  
425.    Kuang Chia Table 4  
426.    Kuang Chia Table 12  
427.    Kuang Ping Table 4  
428.    Kuang Ping Table 12  
429.    Kuang P’Ing Table 5  
430.    Kuang Yi Table 4  
431.    Kuang Yi Table 5  
432.    Kuang-chen Table 18  
433.    Kuang-chen Table 18  
434.    Kuang-chia Table 18  
435.    Kuang-heng Table 18  
436.    Kuang-hsing Table 18  
437.    Kuang-i Table 18  
438.    Kuang-keng Table 18  
439.    Kuang-k’uei Table 18  
440.    Kuang-li Table 18  
441.    Kuang-ping Table 18  
442.    Kuang-ting Table 18  
443.    Kuang-yuan Table 18  
444.    Kung Chen Table 2  
445.    Kung Sheng Table 21  
446.    Kung Sheng Table 26  
447.    Kung Sheng. Table 2  
448.    Kunxing Table 28  
449.    Kwan Chia Table 4  
450.    Kwan Chia Table 12  
451.    Kwang Ping Table 4  
452.    Kwang Ping Table 12  
453.    Lai Yuen Table 4  
454.    Lai Yuen Table 12  
455.    Lee Jeh Table 2  
456.    Lee Swei Table 2  
457.    Lei-chen Table 18  
458.    Lei-chung Table 18  
459.    Leidui Table 18  
460.    Leigan Table 18  
461.    Leihu Table 18  
462.    Lei-hu Table 18  
463.    Leikan Table 18  
464.    Lei-kan Table 18  
465.    Lei-k’an Table 18  
466.    Leikun Table 18  
467.    Lei-k’un Table 18  
468.    Leili Table 18  
469.    Lei-li Table 18  
470.    Leiliang Table 18  
471.    Lei-liang Table 18  
472.    Leilong Table 18  
473.    Lei-lung Table 18  
474.    Leisun Table 18  
475.    Lei-sun Table 18  
476.    Lei-tui Table 18  
477.    Leizhen Table 18  
478.    Leizhong Table 18  
479.    Li Chen Table 3  
480.    Li Chieh Table 3  
481.    Li Chien Table 2  
482.    Li Jie   Table 2  
483.    Li Jie Table 2  
484.    Li Sui Table 2  
485.    Li Sui Table 2  
486.    Li Yuxi Table 2  
487.    Li Yu-xi Table 2  
488.    Lian Xi Table 3  
489.    Lian Xi Table 3  
490.    Liang Jian Table 3  
491.    Lichen Table 29  
492.    Lichen Table 32  
493.    Lieng Ching Table 2  
494.    Ling Miao Table 3  
495.    Liu Gongdi Table 2  
496.    Longxiang Table 14  
497.    Lui Hsing Table 21  
498.    Lung Tuan Table 20  
499.    Lung Wei Table 5  
500.    Lung-hsiang Table 14  
501.    Luzon Table 20  
502.    Maiko Table 31  
503.    Maoli II Table 28  
504.    Min Sheng Table 3  
505.    Mindanao Table 20  
506.    Ming Chuen Table 3  
507.    Ming Huen  Table 2  
508.    Ming Sen Table 3  
509.    Minquan Table 23  
510.    Minsheng Table 3  
511.    Minsheng   Table 23  
512.    Muyou Table 28  
513.    Nai Shing Table 2  
514.    Naishing Table 3  
515.    Nanchen Table 16  
516.    Nan-ch’en Table 16  
517.    Nan-jui Table 16  
518.    Nanrui Table 16  
519.    Narumi Table 31  
520.    Nianba Table 3  
521.    Ning Hai Table 2  
522.    Ning Hai Table 20  
523.    Ning Hai Table 21  
524.    Ning Hai  Table 22  
525.    Ninghai Table 22  
526.    Ningjing Table 28  
527.    No 1  Mas 226 Table 2  
528.    No 107 Table 31  
529.    No 2   Mas 227 Table 2  
530.    No. 1 Table 2  
531.    No. 101 Table 31  
532.    No. 102 Table 31  
533.    No. 103 Table 31  
534.    No. 104 Table 31  
535.    No. 105 Table 31  
536.    No. 106  Table 31  
537.    No. 108 Table 31  
538.    No. 109 Table 31  
539.    No. 2 Table 2  
540.    No. 3 Table 2  
541.    No. 4 Table 2  
542.    Oahu Table 20  
543.    Okitu Table 31  
544.    Otter Table 2  
545.    Panay Table 20  
546.    Pao-min Table 15  
547.    Ping Table 4  
548.    Ping Table 12  
549.    Ping Hai Table 2  
550.    Ping Hai Table 21  
551.    Ping Hai  Table 22  
552.    Ping Yuan Table 4  
553.    Ping yuan Table 12  
554.    Ping Yuen Table 5  
555.    Pinghai Table 22  
556.    Pingxi Table 3  
557.    Pingxi Table 29  
558.    Pingxi Table 32  
559.    Pingyuan Table 4  
560.    Pingyuan Table 12  
561.    Puan Table 3  
562.    Puan Table 27  
563.    Pu-Star Table 2  
564.    Qihong Zhang Table 2  
565.    Qihong Zhang Table 21  
566.     Qing Tian Table 3  
567.    Qingtian Table 3  
568.    Qingtian Table 27  
569.    Ren Sheng Table 2  
570.    Ren Sheng Table 21  
571.    Rensheng Table 2  
572.    Rensheng Table 21  
573.    Rensheng Table 26  
574.    Ruikang Table 28  
575.    Sayi Day Table 2  
576.    Seta Table 31  
577.    Shi 102 Table 21  
578.    Shi 102 Table 30  
579.    Shi 102 ? Table 2  
580.    Shi 181 Table 2  
581.    Shi 181 Table 21  
582.    Shi 181 Table 30  
583.    Shi 223 Table 2  
584.    Shi 223 Table 21  
585.    Shi 223 Table 30  
586.    Shi 253 Table 2  
587.    Shi 34 Table 21  
588.    Shi 34 Table 30  
589.    Shi 34 Table 2  
590.    Shi Guanbing Table 2  
591.    Shi-rong Table 2  
592.    Shu Hsing Table 21  
593.    Shun Sheng Table 2  
594.    Shun Sheng Table 21  
595.    Shun Tien Table 20  
596.    Shunli Table 3  
597.    Shunsheng Table 26  
598.    Song Jiang Table 3  
599.    Songjiang Table 29  
600.    Songjiang Table 32  
601.    Su Table 27  
602.    Sui Jiang Table 3  
603.    Sui Ning Table 3  
604.    Suijiang Table 29  
605.    Suijiang Table 32  
606.    Suining Table 3  
607.    Suining Table 26  
608.    Suma Table 31  
609.    Sumida Table 31  
610.    Sumida Table 31  
611.    Suning Table 26  
612.    Suzi Table 3  
613.    Suzi Table 27  
614.    Swift Boat No. 1 Table 2  
615.    Swift Boat No. 1 Table 2  
616.    Ta Tung Table 3  
617.    Taishun Table 28  
618.    Tatara Table 31  
619.    Teh Sheng Table 3  
620.    Teng-ying-chou Table 14  
621.    Theta Table 5  
622.    Ting Pien Table 20  
623.    Tingshen Table 3  
624.    Tingshen Table 3  
625.    Tiong Sing Table 5  
626.    Toba Table 31  
627.    Tong Ji Table 3  
628.    Tong Ji Table 3  
629.    Tong Ji Table 22  
630.    Tong Ji Table 22  
631.    Tongan Table 3  
632.    Tongan Table 24  
633.    Tonghe Table 28  
634.    Tonghua Table 28  
635.    Tongji Table 3  
636.    Tongji Table 22  
637.    Tongli Table 28  
638.    Tonhji Table 3  
639.    Tonhji Table 22  
640.    Ts’ao-chiang Table 14  
641.    Tse Chiang Table 3  
642.    Ts’e-hai Table 14  
643.    Ts’e-tien Table 16  
644.    Tsi Yuen Table 4  
645.    Tsi Yuen  Table 5  
646.    Tsi Yuen  Table 12  
647.    Tsingtau Table 2  
648.    Tu Tung Table 22  
649.    Tung An Table 3  
650.    Tung Chi               Table 3  
651.    Tung Chi Table 3  
652.    Tung Wah Table 28  
653.    Tunri Table 3  
654.    Tunri Table 27  
655.    Uji Table 31  
656.    Uzi Table 31  
657.    Vaterland Table 2  
658.    Vigilante Table 20  
659.    Wake Table 20  
660.    Wanhsing Table 21  
661.    Wanzai Table 28  
662.    Wei Hai Table 3  
663.    Wei Ming Table 3  
664.    Wei Sheng Table 3  
665.    Wei Yuen Table 5  
666.    Wei-ching Table 14  
667.    Weijing Table 14  
668.    Weining Table 26  
669.    Weisheng Table 23  
670.    Wen 171 Table 2  
671.    Wen 171 Table 21  
672.    Wen 171 Table 30  
673.    Wen 42 Table 2  
674.    Wen 42 Table 21  
675.    Wen 42 Table 30  
676.    Wen 88 Table 2  
677.    Wen 88 Table 21  
678.    Wen 88 Table 30  
679.    Wen 93   Table 2  
680.    Wen 93 Table 21  
681.    Wen 93 Table 30  
682.    Wen Hsing Table 21  
683.    Wu Feng Table 2  
684.    Wu Feng Table 29  
685.    Wu Sheng Table 3  
686.    Wu Sheng Table 27  
687.    Wu Shirong Table 2  
688.    Wufeng Table 3  
689.    Wufeng Table 29  
690.    Wufeng Table 32  
691.    Wusheng Table 3  
692.    Wusheng Table 27  
693.    Xian Ning Table 2  
694.    Xianning Table 2  
695.    Xianning Table 23  
696.    Xie Yanchi Table 2  
697.    Xin Ping’an Table 28  
698.    Xingsh Table 28  
699.    Xinming Table 28  
700.    Xixing Table 3  
701.    Xixing Table 29  
702.    Xixing Table 32  
703.    Yan 161 Table 2  
704.    Yan 161 Table 21  
705.    Yan 161 Table 30  
706.    Yan 164 Table 2  
707.    Yan 53 Table 2  
708.    Yan 53 Table 21  
709.    Yan 53 Table 30  
710.    Yan 92 Table 2  
711.    Yan 92 Table 21  
712.    Yan 92 Table 30  
713.    Yang Min Table 20  
714.    Yangwei Table 4  
715.    Yangwei Table 12  
716.    Yangwu Table 16  
717.    Yang-wu Table 16  
718.    Yat Sen Table 2  
719.    Yat Sen Table 3  
720.    Yensheng Table 2  
721.    Yensheng Table 26  
722.    Yi Ning Table 3  
723.    Yi Shen Table 3  
724.    Yi Sheng Table 2  
725.    Yi Sheng Table 3  
726.    Yi Sheng Table 21  
727.    Ying Rui Table 22  
728.    Ying Swei Table 3  
729.    Ying Swei Table 3  
730.    Ying Swei Table 20  
731.    Ying Yuen Table 4  
732.    Ying Yuen Table 12  
733.    Yingrui Table 22  
734.    Yining Table 3  
735.    Yining Table 26  
736.    Yisheng Table 2  
737.    Yisheng Table 26  
738.    Yixian Table 2  
739.    Yixian Table 22  
740.    Yixin Table 16  
741.    Yong Feng Table 2  
742.    Yong Ji Table 3  
743.    Yong Ji Table 22  
744.    Yong Jian Table 3  
745.    Yong Sheng Table 3  
746.    Yong Xiang Table 3  
747.    Yongbao Table 16  
748.    Yongfu Table 3  
749.    Yongfu Table 29  
750.    Yongfu Table 32  
751.    Yongji Table 3  
752.    Yongji Table 22  
753.    Yongji Table 28  
754.    Yongjian Table 2  
755.    Yongjian Table 22  
756.    Yongsheng Table 3  
757.    Yongsheng Table 21  
758.    Yongsheng Table 26  
759.    Yongsui Table 23  
760.    Yongxiang Table 24  
761.    Yu Chang Table 3  
762.    Yu Yuan Table 5  
763.    Yu Yuen Table 5  
764.    Yuanchang Table 28  
765.    Yuankai Table 14  
766.    Yuan-k’ai Table 14  
767.    Yue 22 Table 2  
768.    Yue 22 Table 21  
769.    Yue 22 Table 30  
770.    Yue 253 Table 2  
771.    Yue 253 Table 21  
772.    Yue 253 Table 30  
773.    Yue 371 Table 2  
774.    Yue 371 Table 21  
775.    Yue 371 Table 30  
776.    Yung An Table 2  
777.    Yung Chi Table 2  
778.    Yung Chi Table 21  
779.    Yung Chi Table 21  
780.    Yung Chi Table 31  
781.    Yung Chien Table 2  
782.    Yung Feng Table 2  
783.    Yung Feng Table 2  
784.    Yung Feng Table 20  
785.    Yung Feng Table 21  
786.     Yung Hsiang Table 2  
787.    Yung Hsiang Table 20  
788.    Yung Shen Table 3  
789.    Yung Sheng Table 2  
790.    Yung Sheng Table 21  
791.    Yung Sui Table 2  
792.    Yung-pao Table 16  
793.    Yungsheng Table 26  
794.    Yushun Table 28  
795.    Yuyuan Table 14  
796.    Yu-yuan Table 14  
797.    Zehai Table 14  
798.    Zeng Wei Table 3  
799.    Zeng Wei Table 3  
800.    Zeta Table 5  
801.    Zhaohe Table 3  
802.    Zhaohe Table 24  
803.    Zhen Hai Table 3  
804.    Zhen Hai Table 3  
805.    Zhen Hai Table 21  
806.    Zhenbei Table 6  
807.    Zhenbei Table 13  
808.    Zhendong Table 6  
809.    Zhendong Table 13  
810.    Zhengning Table 26  
811.    Zhenhai Table 3  
812.    Zhenhai Table 24  
813.    Zhennan Table 6  
814.    Zhennan Table 13  
815.    Zhenpang Table 6  
816.    Zhenpang Table 13  
817.    Zhenwei Table 16  
818.    Zhenxi, Table 6  
819.    Zhenxi, Table 13  
820.    Zhenyuan Table 4  
821.    Zhenyuan Table 12  
822.    Zhenzhong Table 6  
823.    Zhili Table 3  
824.    Zhili Table 29  
825.    Zhili Table 32  
826.    Zhixin Table 3  
827.    Zhixin Table 29  
828.    Zhixin Table 32  
829.    Zhiyuan Table 4  
830.    Zhiyuan Table 12  
831.    Zhong Kai Table 3  
832.    Zhong Shan Table 22  
833.    Zhong Yuan Table 3  
834.    Zhongkai Table 29  
835.    Zhongkai Table 32  
836.    Zhongshan Table 22  
837.    Zhongyuan Table 29  
838.    Zhongyuan Table 32  
839.    Zhu Jiang Table 3  
840.    Zhujiang Table 29  
841.    Zhujiang Table 32  
842.    Zi Qiang Table 3  
843.    Ziqiang Table 22  

Addendum – Aug 2012

The following lists of ships have recently come to my attention. Some names may look familiar and may be found in preceeding Tables, however, the laid down and launch dates and the tonnage etc, appears to exclude some/all of them from ships with identical names shown in previous lists. Dates shown with a Question mark indicate uncertainty as to whether the date refers to the laid down date, launch date or date of completion/commisioning.

TABLE 1:  Warships Built for Export: 1st January 1905 – August 1914.

Table 2 :

China’s Sunken Warships – Part 4

April 15, 2010

Death Wish  or Discretion ?  (Part 4)


1. China’s ‘Four Fleet’ Policy – 1). Beiyang Fleet, 2). Nanyang Fleet  3). Fujian Fleet, 4). Guangdong Fleet 11. Modern  21st Century China
2. 20th Century Sino-Japanese Conflict 12. Farewell to Purdah ?
3. Nationalist Navy 1930 – 1945 13. Naval Command Structure
4. China’s Coastal / Coast Guard Fleet 14. Aircraft Carrier Developments
5. Survey Ships 15. Submarines
6. China’s Merchant Marine 16. Predicting Future Flashpoints
7. Fleet free of KMT control 17. Paracel and Spratly Archipelagos
8. Captured Japanese Shipping 18. Legitimacy of Claim
9. Blockade as a Weapon 19. Diplomacy
10. Cargo Ships Raised 20. Conclusion


Having spent some time exploring for the occidental mind the historic causes and dark recesses of oriental tensions between China and Japan, its is now possible to better understand why that antipathy remains to this day.

The apparently meteorite rise of Japan’s navy after World War One was, literally, at China’s expense; the land grab of the 1930s was at China’s expense; and the modernisation and  economic development of China we see today was deferred by the devastation inflicted by Japan during the 1930s (see Part 3).

However, the abuse of China by Japan and China’s natural distrust arising there from is routed further back in history – to the actions of the colonial powers which forced a weak China to open up its markets.

And in an example of the wheel of life turning full circle, we have to recall that in an earlier age China used its power and might to intimidate neighbours and adjacent nations.

However, a stronger China in the 19th century would have been able to demand less onerous terms and form alliances beneficial to itself and not merely beneficial to the other party. Japan did this when faced with the ‘Tripartite Entente” nations of France, Germany and Russia over the latter’s desperation to secure Port Arthur (see Part 3, Treaty of Shimonoseki 1895). Japan only agreed to vacate Port Arthur if China paid her an additional indemnity of 30 million taels, or 450 million yen.

By 1907 Japan, which already had close ties with Britain, had forged the Franco-Japanese Entente and French government backing for a $1,000 million to convert out of its high interest loans. Newspapers of the day report how France was already privately worried about Japan’s obvious ambitions on French Indo-China.

The French foreign ministry recognised in private papers just “. . . how impossible it would be to defend Indo-China against Japanese aggression.”  It was a worry that persistently stalked the corridors of the French foreign office. From that we can gain an appreciation of how Japan was viewed not just by China but her neighbours and even colonial powers – she was the world’s loose cannon.

What was to befall the Allied powers in Dec 1941 had already fallen on China a century earlier and again as recently as 1931.

In every naval campaign China had rarely come out ahead and had usually been defeated. Only in the Sino French war were there signs of Chinese’s military successes – but they were not naval. The assessment of historians is that China lacked by the mid 19th century both Admirals with panache, audacious commanders and vessels of comparable technology. But to be fair, this was recognised by the Emperor and his ministers as reported in the following chapter. (See also for instance, “Naval Warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1860-1895”, by Benjamin A. Elman, UCLA, History Department). [1]

1. China’s ‘Four Fleet’ Policy

In previous chapters (Part 2 and 3) some time has been spent examining the Beiyang Fleet (the Northern Seas Fleet) and in passing mention has also been made of the Nanyang Fleet (the Southern Seas Fleet), but in the 19th century the Qing Dynasty of China had 4 distinct navies;

The hypothesis was that the Beiyang Fleet or Northern Seas Fleet would be the poised to defend northern China, the Yellow Sea and Korea, and the Nanyang Fleet – the Southern Seas Fleet, based in Shanghai – the south. The Fujian Fleet and the Guangdong Fleet completed the four but it is not clear what regional responsibilities they had, ie was it eastward looking, or coastline protection or internal rivers ? We do know that China had a severe piracy problem.

All the fleets became involved in ship buying without overall coordination and the type of equipment and training of the sailors received depended on which fleet employed them.

The name of the politician Li Hongzhang is a recuring thread in this commentary and it was he who regarded one naval command as not being feasible and lent his support to the adoption of  the four distinct fleet policy. In a politically unstable country such as China, riven with factions, it might has been ‘politic’ to divide and rule the navy which if unified might one day have challenged the Dynasty or lead a military coup.

China of the 1870s had the following 4 navies:

1. the Beiyang Fleet;

2. the Nanyang Fleet;

3. the Fujian fleet, and

4. the Guangdong Fleet.

From 1863 the Emperor spent extensively on ‘foreign built’ naval craft. The Keansgoo (1863) was a ship built expressly for the Emperor and during her sea trials was declared the fastest vessel of her time.

China recognised by the 1870s that they needed a modern fleet, especially after the disaster of the Opium War.  For many years the navy had been sidelined in favour of the Army and the two major Chinese shipyards at Shanghai and Fuzhou (alt. sp. Foochow)  simply could not produce the modern, technologically advanced ships needed.  Ships with Western technology would have to be purchased abroad. So in 1875, four gunboats from Britain were ordered.

China’s experiment with foreign built navy lead to the creation of the Lay-Osborn flotilla. Over the next 35 years China built up her steam powered navy (1870 – 1905), and nor was she reticent in embracing new design concepts  (see Table 18 for list of new steam powered warships). China’s navy adopted many innovative designs which can be confidently called cutting edge technology for their time (and by their very nature not fully tested or proven in combat).

From 1876 China began taking possession of Rendel gunboats, then the fastest and most heavily armoured ships afloat with the largest and most powerful guns. [2]

These were followed by her acquisition of Rendel cruisers (sometimes referred to as Elswick cruisers), mounting 10” breech loading guns on a relatively small hull.

Elswick cruisers (built at Elswick / Vickers shipyard from 1868 onwards) were designed by Rendel and were fast for their era. They were the precursor of the much larger battlecruisers of 50 years later, and they took account of the new developments in explosive shell technology. Thus they became known as ‘protected cruisers’.

In a ‘protected cruiser’, the armour was arranged on their decks inside the vessel, to protect the boilers and steam engines (which were below the waterline) and not just the hull.

A typical Rendel cruiser made for the Chinese would be between 1,350 and 2,930 ton and capable of 16 knots (see Part 3, Table 4. First Sino-Japanese War). Many countries expressed interest in this new type of warship and they were sold to several countries including Japan, e.g. the Izumi 1884. Eventually the displacement of protected cruisers increased beyond the 4,000 ton mark and 7,000 tons was not unusual.

Caveat: It should always be born in mind that the displacement (tonnage) listed in these Tables may represent the net, gross or displacement tonnage of ships. As one source puts it, these measures “were used indiscriminately in the past”For example, the 194 ft ‘Lui Hsing’ is alternatively listed as 449 tons, 724 tons and 1,500 tons. This is as true for Part 4 as it is for Tables in all the previous Parts in this commentary. This make ship identification even more problematical.

1). Beiyang Fleet

Table 12. Warships of the Beiyang Fleet

(circa 1894)

Name Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second ary Fate
Dingyuan (flagship), 1882, Stettin Germany Ironclad Battleship   7,670 tons 14   4 x 12”, 2 x 6”   Torpedoed & scuttled 1895
Zhenyuan (aka Chen Yuan) 1882, Stettin Ironclad Battleship   7,670 / 7,430 tons 14 / 12   4 x 12” 2 x 6”   Captured 1895
King Yuen,(sp ?), aka Ying Yuen & King Yuan   1887, Armstrong / Stettin ? Armoured cruiser   2,850 tons 10   2 × 8.3”, 2 × 5.9”, 8 × m/guns,  4 x 18” torpedo   Sunk Sept 17, 1894
Lai Yuen   1887, Vulcan, Stettin, Built in Germany. Armoured cruiser   2,830 tons 10       Damaged / Sunk 1895
Chih Yuen *1887 / Chi Yuen ? / Jijuan ? Protected Cruisers   2,300  tons 15   2 x 8”, 1 x 6”, 4 x 3”, 6 x 2” 4  x 14” torpedo   Sunk Sep 1894 /1895 /  ? Nov 1904
Zhiyuan *Alterative for Chih Yuen ? 1887 Elswick. Protected Cruisers   2,355 tons 18   3 x 8.3”, 2 × 5.9”, 8 x 2.2”, 4 x 18” torpedo   Not known
Ching Yuen (sp Ching Yuan ?) aka Jingjuan 1887 Elswick Protected Cruisers   2,850 /  2,355 tons   14 / 18   3 x 8.2”, 2 x 5.9”, 8 x 2.2”, 4 x torpedo   Sunk 1895
 ? 1887 Elswick Protected Cruisers   2,850 / 2,355 tons 14 / 18   3 x 8.2”, 2 x 5.9”, 8 x 2.2”, 4 x torpedo   Sunk 1895
Tsi Yuen  / aka Chi Yuan.   1883, Stettin Torpedo Cruiser   2,440 tons 15   2 x 8”, 1 x 6”, 4 x 3”, 6 x 2”, 4 x 15” torpedoes   Captured March 1895
Chaoyong   1881,  Birkenhead Torpedo Cruiser   1,350 tons 15   2 x 12”, 4 x  4.7” quickfire, 2 x 1”, 3 x torpedo tubes ( Alternative 2 x 10”, 2 x twin 9 lbs, 4 x 11mm gatling gun, 4 x 37mm, 2 x quad  Nor- denfeldt). Sunk 17 Sept 1894
Huang No data found – –       – –   – –
Kuang Ping   see Kwang Ping below         – –   – –
Kwang Ping ## 1895 Torpedo Cruiser – – 1,000 tons     3 x 4.7”   Captured at  Weihaiwei
Ping (Ping yuan ? ) 1889, Navy Yard at Foochow Torpedo Cruiser – – No data found     – –   – –
Yangwei # Identical to Chao-yong / 1881, Birkenhead, Torpedo Cruiser   1,350 tons 5  ?   2 x 10”, 4 × 4.7”, 2 × twin  9 lb, 4 × 11 mm Gatling guns, 4 × 37mm Hotchkiss  2 × 4 barrelled Nordenfelt   -­ –
Pingyuan 1888 Foochow Arsenal, Coastal warship   2,100 2,150 / tons 6 / 10   1 x 10”, 2 x 6”, 8 x machine guns, 4 x 18” torpedo   Captured in 1895 at Weihaiwei
Kwan Chia (Kuang Chia ? ) Corvette   1,290  tons   10 / 14   1 x 6”, 4 x 5”,  6 x 37mm   Total loss 1894
Others See Table 5, Part 3             – –


1A). Beiyang Fleet Gunboats

There are reports that Nanyang Fleet was originally to have had the four of the new steel Rendel gunboats, the Zhendong, Zhenxi, Zhennan and Zhenbei (completed in 1879), but Li Hongzhang a highly placed statesman liked them so much that he diverted them to the Beiyang Fleet.

As ‘compensation’, the Nanyang Fleet were given the Longxiang, Huwei, Feiting and the Cedian. These were four iron Rendel ‘alphabetical’ gunboats (alpha, beta, gamma etc) that had been in service at the port of Tianjin since 1876 (Tianjin is the nearest port to Peking – about 50 miles south – and is marked as ‘Taku’ on the Gulf of Chihli (see map in Part 3, “1st Sino-Japanese War”).

Table 13. Gunboats of the Beiyang Fleet   
Name Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second ary Fate
Zhenzhong 1879, Laird, Birkenhead  – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
Zhenpang 1879, Birken-head  – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
Zhendong 1879,  Birken-head   – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
Zhenxi, 1879,  Birken-head   – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
Zhennan 1879, Birken-head   – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
Zhenbei 1879,  Birken-head   – – 440 tons 10 kts   – – Two 22-lb guns (1 x 35-ton Armstrong ?) – –
 Total 6                


2). Nanyang Fleet

Based at Shanghai, the Southern Seas Fleet (Nanyang) was, until 1885, the largest of China’s four regional fleets.

In the early 1880s its best ships were the modern composite cruiser Kaiji, completed in 1884 at the Foochow Navy Yard, the composite sloops Kangji and Chengching, also recent products of the Foochow Navy Yard (1878 and 1880).

The 2,630-ton wooden steam frigate, Yuyuan, was built at the Kiangnan Arsenal in 1873.

However, because there was no unified command structure every time China found itself at war with, say, Russia, Japan or a European power, the full force of the enemy tended to fall on one of the four navies. As a consequence China’s four navies were not used to their full advantage and slowly decimated.

The Nanyang Fleet, established in the 1870s, suffered some losses in the Sino-French War (August 1884 – April 1885), but escaped largely intact in the Sino-Japanese War. It was formally abolished in 1909.

Table 14. Warships of the Nanyang Fleet

(Southern Seas Fleet, based in Shanghai)

As composed in August 1884

Name(Wade Giles / Pinyin) Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second ary Fate
Ts’ao-chiang / Caojiang (wooden gunboat) 1869, Kiangnan Arsenal Dockyard   640 tons 9   4 x 6.3” Vavasseur gun   Captured by Japan, 25th July 1894.  renamed ‘Soko’
Ts’e-hai / Zehai (wooden gunboat) 1869, Kiangnan Dockyard   600 tons 12   15 x 4.7” guns   – –
Wei-ching / Weijing (wooden gunboat) 1870, Kiangnan Dockyard   1,000 tons 12   – –   – –
Hai-an / Haian wooden steam frigate 1872, Kiangnan Dockyard   2,800 tons 12   2 x 8.2”,  4 x 5.9”, 2 x 4.7” Krupp cannon   – –
Ching-yuan / Jingyuan (wooden gunboat) 1872, Foochow Navy Yard(Chih Yuan Class ?)   572.5 tons 8   2 x 6.3” Vavasseur, 2 x 40 lb guns   Sunk 9th February 1895 (Sino – Japanese war?)
Yu-yuan / Yuyuan (wooden steam frigate) 1873, Kiangnan Dockyard   2,800 (2,630) tons 14   2 x 8.2”, 4 x 5.9” Krupp cannon, 20 x 4.7” guns   Sunk by torpedo, 14 Feb 1885 Battle of Shipu (Sino- French war)
Yuan-k’ai / Yuankai (wooden sloop/ transport) 1875, Foochow Navy Yard   1,250 tons 10   1 x 6.2”, 4 x 40-lb guns    
Teng-ying-chou / Dengyingzhou (wooden transport) 1876, Foochow Navy Yard   1,258 tons 10   1 x 6.2”,  4 x 4.7” guns    
Chin-ou / Jinou (Experimental Ironclad) 1876, Kiangnan Dockyard – – 195 tons – –   1 x 6.7” Krupp MLR    
Lung-hsiang / Longxiang(iron Rendel gunboat) 1876, Mitchell & Co.   319 tons – –   1 x 11” 26.5-ton Armstrong MLR, 2 x 12 lb Galting ? Alpha, renamed Lung Hsiang, discarded 1895
Fei-t’ing / Feiting (iron Rendel gunboat) 1876, Mitchell & Co.   400 tons 9   1 x 12.5” 38-ton Armstrong gun, 2 x 12-lb guns, 1 x Gatling Gamma renamed Fei Ting. Discarded 1905
Ts’e-tien / Cedian (iron Rendel gunboat) 1876, Mitchell & Co.   – – 319 tons   – –   – – 1 x 12.5” 38.5-ton Armstrong gun, two 12 lb guns   – – Delta, renamed Tse Tien.  Discarded 1905
Hu-wei / Huwei (iron Rendel gunboat) 1876, Mitchell & Co.   – – 319 tons   – –   – – 1 x 26.5-ton Armstrong gun   – – Beta, renamed Hu Wei, discarded 1895
Ch’ao-wu Chaowu (composite sloop) Wei Yuen Class ? 1878, Foochow Navy Yard   – – 1,250 tons 11   – – 1 x  7.4”, 4 x 40 lb guns   – – – –
K’ang-chi / Kangji (composite sloop) 1879, Foochow Navy Yard   – – 1,200 tons – –   – – 1 x  7” MLR, 6 x  4.7” MLR   – – Sunk, by friendly fire, 14 Feb 1885 Battle of Shipu, near Ningbo (Sino- French War)
Ch’eng-ch’ing / Chengqing (composite sloop) 1880, Foochow Navy Yard   – – 1,200 tons – –   – – 1 x 7”  MLR, 6 x  4.7” MLR   – – – –
K’ai-chi / Chengqing (composite cruiser) 1884, Foochow Navy Yard   – – 2,153 tons 15   – – 2 x 8.2”  6 x 4.7”Krupp cannon, 4 x Norde-nfeldt – –
Nanchen / Nan-ch’en (steel cruiser) 1884, Howaldt, Kiel, Germany   2,200 tons 15   2 x 8” Armstrong 8 x 4.7” quickfirers   – –
Nanrui / Nan-jui (steel cruiser) 1884, Howaldt, Kiel, Germany   2,200 tons 15   2 x 8” Armstrong, 8 x 4.7” quickfirers   – –
Total 20  –   –   –   –   –   –  Captured 1 Sunk 2 Sunk 1
Iota Renamed Chen Chung. To which fleet do  Iota & Kappa  belong  ? 1880 Flatiron – Alphabetical class  – –  – –  – –  – –     – – Did Japan take advantage of Sino-French War ? Or is the date wrong and this is a Weihaiwei prize ? Captured 12th Feb  1885, then became Japanese Chin Chu
Kappa Renamed Chen Pien 1880 Flatiron – Alphabetical class  – –  – –  – –  – –   – – Ditto the above.   Captured 12th Feb  1885, then became Japanese Chim Pien


The minor clash with France illustrates how China’s four navies were not used to their full advantage and thus as a fighting threat slowly ground down.

French explorers had by the 1880s pushed up to and then north of Hanoi following the Red River. This was the mountainous Chinese province of Yunnan on China’s southerly perimeter. The French, ambitious for empire, sought to consolidate on these explorations by claiming what is now the whole of North Vietnam and naturally China objected.

This gave rise to the undeclared war known as the Sino-French War 1884 – 1885, (10 years before the First Sino-Japanese War).

A French fleet of approx 15 ships was dispatched and laid siege to Formosa / Taiwan (see map). In Aug 1884 the Fujian Fleet was all but erased by Admiral Amédée Courbet’s Far Eastern Squadron at the Battle of Fuzhou – a mainland port opposite the island of Taiwan (formerly Formosa) on Aug 23rd 1884.

Nine of the eleven vessels of the Fujian Fleet were destroyed in less than an hour. The French knew that the type of vessel available to the Fujian Fleet could be overcome.

However, when the French – their fleet increased to approx 20 ships – also inflicted losses on the Nanyang Fleet at the Battle of Shipu near the port of Ningbo (Feb 1885) and suffered no losses themselves, the Nanyang Fleet, and China, suffered a significant humiliation.

Left: Chinese coast showing Hong Kong, Shanghai and the island of Taiwan.

The Nanyang Fleet suffered the loss of Yuyuan and Chengqing in Feb 1885 and then the fleet was trapped in port by the French. The Kaiji, Nanrui, Nanchen, Chaowu, Yuankai and two ‘alphabetical’ gunboats were blockaded in Zhenhai Bay from March 1885 for the rest of the war. The French lost no ships and had very few killed or injured.

Following the fiasco of the French victory over the Fujian Fleet 6 months earlier (Aug 23rd 1884), the account given by Europeans at the Battle of Shipu, near Ningbo, epidermises Chinese divisions and lack of confidence in their own ability.

Two ships from the Beiyang Fleet, the relatively-modern cruisers Chaoyong and Yangwei were originally earmarked in Feb 1885 to bolster the Nanyang fleet. They were under the command of the German ‘guest-admiral’ Siebelin, but the politician Li Hongzhang again intervened in naval affairs. He diverted them back into Korean waters claiming that tension between China and Japan over Korea was increasing.

According to L. C. Arlington, an American naval officer serving as a ‘foreign adviser’ aboard the Nanyang Fleet’s frigate Yuyuan, the Chinese sortie out of Shanghai to relieve the French blockade of Formosa (Taiwan) was made in a mood of deep despondency. The Chinese captains had no confidence in their ability to meet the French in combat and were determined to avoid battle if they possibly could.

Constantly stopping en route, the Chinese captains were reluctant when in port to clear the sides of local small craft that came along side despite warnings from advisors. It was this failure that allowed the French to use a very small launch to deliver a torpedo that sank the Yuyuan. [3]

Table 15. Warship Additions to the Nanyang Fleet 

(Southern Seas Fleet, based in Shanghai)

Post  Sino-French War, ie 1885

Name Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second ary Fate
Pao-min / Baomin 1885, Kiangnan Dockyard. Steel cruiser   1,477 tons 16   2 x 200 lb, 6 x  70 lb guns    
Ching-ch’ing / Jingqing 1886, Foochow Navy Yard. Composite cruiser   1,477 tons 15   2 x 15-cm, 5 x 4.7” Krupp cannon    
Huan-t’ai / Huantai 1887, Foochow Navy Yard. Composite cruiser   1,477 tons 15   2 x 15 cm, 5 x  4.7” Krupp cannon    


The loss to the Nanyang Fleet of Yuyuan and Chengqing in Feb. 1885 eroded its advantage (approx. 20 ships) over the Beiyang Fleet i.e., Northern Seas Fleet (approx. 16 ships).

By 1894, on the eve of the Sino-Japanese War, the Beiyang Fleet is stated as having a comfortable superiority over the Nanyang Fleet both in numbers of ships and quality. Nevertheless, the Nanyang Fleet continued to acquire new ships after the Sino-French War, some of reasonable quality (Table 15).

3). Fujian Fleet

The news of the destruction of the Fujian Fleet (Aug 23rd 1884) ) in the opening month of the undeclared Sino-French War was greeted by an outbreak of patriotic fervour in China. Chinese citizens vented their humiliation by attacks on foreigners and foreign property. There was considerable sympathy for China in Europe, and the Chinese were able to hire a number of British, German and American army and navy officers as ‘advisers’.

Nine Chinese ships were sunk in less than an hour, including the corvette Yangwu, the flagship of the Fujian fleet. As the Table below reveals, most to Chinese ships were around the 1,391 tons mark and some only 200 tons.

The obliteration of the  Fujian Fleet was entirely avoidable and could certainly have been ameliorated. Orders, direct from the Empress Dowager Cixi, to the commanders of China’s other three regional fleets were ignored. The admirals of these 3 fleets simply declined to send ships to reinforce the Fujian Fleet. This was treason and it would come back to haunt the Beiyang fleet in the Sino Japanese War when yet another one of China’s four fleets would  be all but wiped out.

Ranged against them were the French ironclad battleship’s Bayard, La Galissonnière, Turenne, Triomphante, and Atalante.

Right: La Galissonnière, 1880.

Visually, La Galissonnière, was very similar to the other ships mentioned above, albeit that the Bayard was 5,800 tons and the La Galissonnière was only 2,363 tons. Both were much larger vessels than anything in the Fujian Fleet.

The speed, 15 knots, of the La Galissonnière, and her fire power 15 x 5.5 inch guns and 8 x 1 pounder revolvers must, in conjunction with the other French ships, have simply overwhelmed the Chinese fleet (later her 5.5 inch guns replaced by Quick Firing Conversions).

The Bayard, too was a wooden hull ship with full rigging but had side armour creating a displacement of 5,800 tons. She was armed with 4 × 9.5” guns in single mount barbettes, 6 × 5.5” deck guns and 1 × 6.4” gun in the bow plus 6 × 2.5” guns.

Table 16. Composition of the Fujian Fleet

Battle of Fuzhou, Aug 1884

(listed according to date of construction)

Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Fu-hsing / Fuxing 1870, Foochow Navy Yard   515 tons – –   3 guns   Sunk
Chen-wei / Zhenwei 1872, Foochow Navy Yard   572.5 tons 10   6 guns   Sunk
Fu-p’o  / Fupo 1870, Foochow Navy Yard   1,258 tons – –   5 guns   Escaped to avoid capture
Fei-yun / Feiyun/ described as a Scout-transport 1872, Foochow Navy Yard   258 / 1,258 tons 13   5 Prussian breechloaders   Sunk 23rd August 1884. (look at tonnage ?).
Yang-wu / Yangwu 1872, Foochow Navy Yard   1,393 tons 15   13 British muzzle-loaders   Sunk
Chi-an  / Ji’an / Scout-transport 1873, Foochow Navy Yard   1,258 tons 12   5 guns   Sunk
Yung-pao  / Yongbao 1873, Foochow Navy Yard   1,391 tons – –   3 guns   Sunk
Ch’en-hang  / Chenhang 1874, Foochow Navy Yard   1,391 tons,   – –   3 guns   Sunk
Chien-sheng  / Jiansheng 1875, Laird, Birkenhead   250 tons – –   – –   Sunk
Fu-sheng  / Fusheng 1875, Laird, Birkenhead   280 tons – –   – –   Sunk
I-hsin  / Yixin 1876, Foochow Navy Yard   No data available – –   – –   Escaped to avoid capture  
Heng-hai  / Henghai 1885, Foochow Navy Yard   No data available – –   – –    ?
Fu-ching  / Fujing 1893, Foochow Navy Yard   2,200 tons 17   2 x 8” Armstrong guns, 8 x quickfirers   Available in  1893 ie after war.  


After the victory over the Fujian Fleet (Aug 23rd 1884) the French squadron was joined in Oct 1884 by several cruisers. From the Middle East came the Rigault de Genouilly; the Nielly and Champlain were sent from the Indian Ocean station.

At the end of November 1884 a fourth cruiser, Éclaireur, arrived from the Pacific station.

In January 1885 the squadron was joined by the cruisers Duchaffaut from New Caledonia and Laperouse (2,240 tons) from France. At the end of March 1885 yet another cruiser, the Kerguelen, was transferred from the Pacific station to join the squadron.

By the summer of 1885 French naval forces in the Tonkin Gulf region had been reinforced again by the cruisers Fabert and La Clocheterie, and the seagoing gunboat Jaguar, previously based at Along Bay as part of the Tonkin flotilla.

Table 17. French Order of Battle – Summer 1885
Battleships / ironclads Bayard, La Galissonnière, Turenne, Triomphante, Atalante.
Cruisers (1st Class) Duguay-Trouin, Villars, d’Estaing, Laperouse, Nielly, Magon, Primauguet, Roland.
Cruisers (2nd Class): Champlain, Châteaurenault, Éclaireur, Rigault de Genouilly
Cruisers (3rd Class): Kerguelen, Volta, Duchaffaut. (Fabert, La Clocheterie ?)
Others Jaguar, Torpedo boats, auxiliaries etc


No information can be found on the cruisers Fabert and La Clocheterie, so determining whether they were cruisers of the 1st Class or 3rd Class category is uncertain.

Only the 17 knot Fu-ching (Fujing) armed with 2 x 8” Armstrong guns and 8 x quickfire guns could have put up any real opposition to the French, but this 2,200 ton ship was not available the Fujian Fleet until 1893, i.e. after the Sino-French war.

Out of the melee of sinking ships only two ships of the Fujian Fleet, the Fu-p’o (Fupo) and the I-hsin (Yixin) avoided being sunk by escaping up river away from the French.

4). Guangdong Fleet

The Guangdong Fleet was the smallest of China’s four regional fleets during the second half of the nineteenth century. It played virtually no part in the Sino-French War, but some of its ships saw action 10 years later in the Sino-Japanese War.

All the ships shown in the table below were commissioned after the Sino-French War ( August 1884 – April 1885).

By common consent among established authorities of the Guangdong Fleet, its exact composition of ships has yet to be determined. Available records do not give a complete account of the ships at its disposal so the following table has to be treated as tentative and or provisional.

Table 18.  Composition of the Guangdong Fleet 1885

Acquisitions made by the Guangdong Fleet after the Sino-French War, 1884–85

Name (Ppinyin / (Wade Giles Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second ary Fate
Leihu / Lei-hu (steam torpedo boat) 1884, Stettin, Germany   64 tons   Steam 2 x bow torpedo tubes, 1 x Hotchkiss  Bow  Torpedo – see HMS Speedy photo below Arrived in Canton China in 1885.
Leilong / Lei-lung (steam torpedo boat) 1884, Stettin, Germany   64 tons   Steam 2 x bow torpedo tubes, 1 x Hotchkiss   Arrived in Canton China in 1885.
Leidui / Lei-tui (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leigan / Lei-kan (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leikan / Lei-k’an (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leikun / Lei-k’un (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x  bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leili / Lei-li (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leiliang / Lei-liang (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leisun / Lei-sun (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leizhen / Lei-chen (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Leizhong / Lei-chung (steam torpedo boat) 1885, Schichau, Germany   26 tons    Steam 1 x bow torpedo tube   Arrived in China in 1886.
Guangheng / Kuang-heng (comp-osite shallow draft gunboat) 1886, Canton   300 tons     1 x 5.9” and 1 x 3.5” Krupp breechloader, 3 x Nordenfeldts    
Guangli / Kuang-li (comp-osite shallow draft gunboat) 1886, Canton   300 tons     1 x 5.9” and 1 x 3.5” Krupp breechloader, 3 Nordenfeldts    
Guangyuan / Kuang-yuan (compos ite shallow draft gunboat) 1886, Canton   300 tons     1 x 5.9” and 1 x 3.5” Krupp breechloader, 3 Nordenfeldts    
Guangzhen / * Kuang-chen (composite shallow-draft gunboat) 1886, Canton   300 tons     1 x 5.9” and 1 x 3.5” Krupp breechloader, 3 Nordenfeldts    
Guanggeng / Kuang-keng (wooden gunboat) c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard   320 tons     2 x 4.7” 1 x 3.9”, 2 x  Hotchkiss    
Guangxing / Kuang-hsing (wooden gunboat) c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard   320 tons     2 x 4.7” 1 x 3.9”, 2 x  Hotchkiss    
Guangzhen / * Kuang-chen (wooden gunboat) c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard   320 tons     2 x 4.7” 1 x 3.9”, 2 x  Hotchkiss    
Guangkui / Kuang-k’uei (wooden gunboat) c.1887, Foochow Navy Yard   320 tons     2 x 4.7” 1 x 3.9”, 2 x  Hotchkiss    
Guangjia / Kuang-chia (composite cruiser 1887, Foochow Navy Yard   1,296 tons, 15   1 x 5.9”,  4 x 4.7” Krupp breechloaders    
Guangyi / Kuang-i(steel torpedo gunboat) 1892, Foochow Navy Yard   1,000 tons     3 x 4.7” Krupp quickfirers    
Guangbing / Kuang-ping (steel torpedo gunboat) 1892, Foochow Navy Yard   1,000 tons     3 x 4.7” Krupp quickfirers    
Guangding / Kuang-ting (steel torpedo gunboat) 1892, Foochow Navy Yard   1,000 tons     3 x 4.7” Krupp quickfirers    
Total 24                


Having stated that it is difficult to establish the numbers and types in the Guangdong Fleet during the 1870s and early 1880s the local British authorities in Hong Kong did make an attempt. They estimated about fifteen small war vessels built and stationed at Canton, adjacent to Hong Kong, between 1865 and 1885, and the home port of both the Guangdong and Fujian Fleets.

The fleet is also believed to contain at least 7 vessels purchased from overseas in line with the Emperor’s intention to modernise the navy. The identity of these vessels is not entirely certain, but probably included the wooden steamships Feilong, Tianjin, Zhenhai, Anlan and Zhentao. These 4 ships are not found in any listing and so have not been included in the Table in this commentary until they can be independently cross-referenced.

The Guangdong Fleet is also accredited with the composite gunboats Guangdong, and Shandong, completed at Dumbarton in 1868. Also around this time a ship by the name of Feilong was lost in a typhoon in 1874, and an outdated Zhenhai was condemned in the same year. [4]

To add to the confusion the Guangdong Fleet took delivery in 1881 of a 440-ton steel Rendel gunboat built by Armstrong and Co. also named Zhenhai. This was probably a case of simply reviving the name of the ‘steamer’ Zhenhai, condemned in 1874 (see Para above).

The acquisition of the Rendel designed gunboat came at about the same time as  Li Hongzhang ordered  with six gunboats of similar design for the Beiyang Fleet (a sweetener for being the Cinderella Fleet, one is tempted to think?).

Interestingly, several British gunboats of the Dapper, Gleaner and Albacore class (see Table 19 below), are reported as being sold off by the British in in Hong Kong the late 1860s. The Dapper Class were wooden hulled gunboats of 232 tons, steam and sail powered, but fitted with screw propellers.

Several of these former British gun boats are believed to have served in the Second Opium War (1856–1860). If, as seems likely, two of them were acquired by the Guangdong Fleet it implies a possibility that there were others and that they were allotted to the Guangdong Fleet or other Chinese fleets. These former British gun boats will be listed in a separate Table below.

One of these former British gunboat directed to the Guangdong Fleet was probably Suiqing (also spelt Sui-ching or Sui-tsing), she is described as being subsequently lost at sea in 1886.

An insight into the overall lack of competent ships and seamanship is gleaned from instructions to the Guangdong Fleet in May 1882.

The French seizure of the citadel of Hanoi in April 1882 provoked the Qing government into wanting to ‘show the flag’ and send a signal to France that China viewed French colonial expansion in the Tonkin Gulf region with grave concern.


Left: Map of Tonkin Gulf, Red River and Hainan island.

In a letter concerning the deployment of the fleet, the Guangdong authorities, based near Hong Kong, mention that the only reasonably large ships at their disposal were the Haijing, (which literally translated means ‘forbidden ocean’), Qingha, and Dongyong (ref. Lung Chang). Unfortunately none of these 3 ships can be located or identified using the internet. (e.g. NB. Hong Kong, which is just off the adjacent map, can be found by drawing a straight line from Da Nang, touching the southerly coast of Hainan and continuing North West.

Two ships of the Fuijan Fleet, the Feiyun and Ji’an (or Chi-an), were seconded to the Guangdong Fleet at about this time. They remained in service with the Guangdong Fleet until August 1884, ie at the time of the Sino-French War. Both are listed as “sunk”

Given Guangdong’s proximity to Tonkin (northern Vietnam), where the main clashes in the Sino-French War took place, the Guangdong Fleet might have been expected to play a prominent part in the war. In fact it remained in harbour throughout the nine-month war. In March 1885 French warships imposed a blockade of the Cantonese port of Pak-Hoi (see map, east of Hong Gai). No attempt was made by the Guangdong Fleet to break this blockade

Despite these sertbacks, the Guangdong Fleet grew significantly during the second half of the 1880s, acquiring a force of gunboats and other ships. Some of these ships were built in China, either at the Canton Dockyard or the Foochow Navy Yard, while others were purchased from Germany. The locally-built warships normally contained the character guang for Guangdong) in their names.

The first additions to the fleet were the gunboats Guangheng, Guangli, Guangyuan and Guangzhen. These were shallow draft gunboats built at the Whampoa dockyard and were designed to guard the approaches to Canton.

One composite cruiser and three steel torpedo boats were built at the Foochow Navy Yard for the Guangdong Fleet between 1887 and 1892, named respectively Guangjia, Guangyi, Guangbing and Guangding (‘Guangdong A, B, C and D’). [5]

The Foochow Navy Yard also supplied the Guangdong Fleet with four shallow-draught  wooden gunboats at about the same period: Guanggeng, Guangxing, Guangzhen and Guangkui. Their tonnage is variously given as 320 tons or 560 tons.

In the post Sino-French War period two 64-ton first class steam torpedo boats, Leihu and Leilong were completed for the Guangdong Fleet (see Table 18 above). Built at the Vulcan works at Stettin in 1884, their delivery to China was delayed by the European powers for a year because of the outbreak of the Sino-French War. They arrived in Canton in late 1885.

A year later, in 1885, nine 26-ton second class torpedo boats were completed for the Guangdong Fleet this time from the Schichau works in Germany and arrived in China in 1886. Like their larger predecessors built at the Vulcan works in Stettin, they all contained the character Lei in their names. The Leidui, Leigan, Leikan, Leikun, Leili, Leiliang, Leisun, Leizhen, and Leizhong. are all listed in the Table above.

In an attempt to clarify matters, and for future study, listed below are all the gunboats referred to earlier as disposed of by the Royal Navy with a Hong Kong / Guangdong connection. Some will have been broken up for scrap, some converted into commercial vessels, but some may have been re-named and re-used as warships, e.g. HMS Snap, which became the Japanese warship Kaku-ten-shan – some may even have been refloated or never actually scrapped when sold as ‘scrap’.

Table 19. Royal Navy Ships Sold or Disposed of in Hong Kong

(circa 1860 – 1890)

Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Type / Class Fate
HMS Starling 1st Feb 1855,  W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Dapper Class Sold in Hong Kong Dec 1st. 1871
HMS Snap 3rd Feb  1855,  W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Dapper Class Sold in 1868, then resold to  Japanese as the warship Kaku-ten-shan. In 1872 became merchantman Snap
HMS Weazel   19 March 1855. W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Dapper Class Sold at Hong Kong on 18th Nov. 1869
HMS Banterer (see below, HMS Speedy launched 1883) 29 Sept 1855,  W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Albacore Class. See also Part 3, Sect 8. Grounded in action at Taku Forts on 25 June 1859. Refloated and sold at Hong Kong on 30th Dec. 1872
HMS Bustard 20 Oct. 1855, W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Albacore Class Fitted for foreign service. Sold to Cheeong Loong at Hong Kong on 18th Nov. 1869.
HMS Hardy 1 March 1856, Charles Hill & Sons, Bristol           Albacore Class Sold at Hong Kong on 9 February 1869
HMS Bouncer 23 Feb 1856, C J Mare & Company, Leamouth           Albacore Class Sold at Hong Kong on 1st Feb 1871
HMS Forester 23 January 1856R & H Green, Blackwall Yard           Albacore Class In Hong Kong 1868 became yard craft YC7 Was lost there in a typhoon 2nd Sept 1871
HMS Opossum 26 February 1856, Money Wigram & Son, Northampton           Albacore Class 1876 became a hospital hulk, then a mooring vessel in 1891. Renamed Siren in 1895 and sold at Hong Kong in 1896
HMS Haughty   9 Feb 1856, W & H Pitcher, Northfleet           Albacore Class Sold at Hong Kong on 23 May 1867
HMS Flamer 10 April 1856Fletcher & Fearnall, Limehouse           Albacore Class 1868 coastal defence. 1871   Hospital ship. Blown ashore and wrecked  during typhoon  22 Sept 1871. Sold
HMS Drake 8 March 1856, Pembroke Dockyard           Albacore Class Sold at Hong Kong on 9 February 1869
HMS Clown 20 May 1856, William Cowley Miller, Toxteth Dock, Liverpool             In 1867. became coal lighter YC1. Renamed YC6 in Dec 1869. Wrecked in typhoon  2 Sept 1871
HMS Watchful 4 June 1856T & W Smith, North Shields             Sold at Hong Kong on 1 February 1871
HMS Woodcock 6 June 1856, T & W Smith, North Shields             Sold at Hong Kong on 1 February 1871
HMS Algerine # see below 24 February 1857W. & H. Pitcher, Northfleet   .       Algerine  Class gunboat Sold in  HK 2nd April 1872, became the merchantman Algerine. Scrapped 1894
HMS Slaney 17 March 1857W. & H. Pitcher, Northfleet           Algerine Class gunboat Wrecked in a typhoon in the Paracel Isles 550 mls south of HK on 9 May 1870
HMS Esk 28 April 1877 Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Company, Jarrow           Medina class gunboat Sold in HK April 1903
HMS Tweed see below 23 August 1877 Palmers Shipbuilding & Iron Company, Jarrow           Medina class gunboat Sold at Hong Kong on 21 November 1905
HMS Rifleman 10 August 1846 Portsmouth Dock yard Wooden Screw         Rifleman class gunvessel Survey ship in 1862. Sold in HK on 18 Nov 1869
HMS Mullett (or Mullet) # 3 February 1860, Charles Lungley, Rotherhithe 145 ft 570 tons 10 Steam   1 x 68-pdr MLSB, 2 x Two 24 lbs howitzers, 2 x  20 lbs breech-loaders. Replaced by 7” 110 lb breech-loader Philomel-class wooden screw gunvessel. They were  a larger version of Algerine Class  of the 1850s Sold at Hong Kong for mercantile use on 25 April 1872, renamed Formosa. Became Melbourn e converted to ammunition dump ship ie magazine ship.
HMS Cormorant 9 February 1860, Money Wigram & Son, Blackwall Yard           Cormorant class gunvessel Sold 7 June 1870 at HK for £3,365.
HMS Myrmidon 5 June 1867Chatham Dockyard           Cormorant class gunvessel Survey ship in 1884. Sold at Hong Kong in April 1889
HMS Swift 29 Nov 1879 Thames Ironworks & Ship building Company, Leamouth           Linnet class ‘composite’ gunvessel Sold at Hong Kong in 1920 for mercantile use, renamed Hoi Ching. Sold 1902 ?
 # HMS Mullet, see ‘Algerine’ photo below  Total  25              


One source places HMS Dapper herself (launched March 1855, 232 tons) as a training hulk in 1855 and as a cooking depot by 1897. The inconsistency is that if she was launched in 1855, why was she a training hulk in the same year yet reportedly not scrapped until 1922 ?

What might some of the ships sold off in Hong Kong have looked like ? It might be difficult in the 21st century to imagine them, i.e. the Dapper, Gleaner, Linnet and Albacore class as few photographs exist. Where pictures are available of such ships they are, in the main, of the next generation, ie post 1880.

Right: HMS Albacore (1883).

The HMS Albacore as she looked in the 1880s is shown here. She is typical of gun boats at the end of the 19th century. Sold in 1906 she was a 4-gun screw gun-boat, launched at Birkenhead in 1883. Capable of 11 knots,  she was 135 ft long, displaced 560 tons and had a 770 horsepower engine ( ).

The next generation HMS Albacore (the seventh ship to bear the name) was a turbine powered “torpedo-boat destroyer”, built speculatively in 1909 at Palmer’s of Jarrow. She was of 440 tons, 8,000 horsepower, 221 ft, long and had a speed of 30 knots (the HMS Albacore pictured above looks unlikely to be able to achieve 30 knots).

It is unlikely that the navy would sell off 20 year old ships and that the HMS Albacore that was probably sold in Hong Kong was a forerunner to the one pictured above. That being the case it is more likely to resemble HMS Algerine (see below). Gunboats launched in the 1860s could look as old-fashioned as Capt. Cooke’s Beagle.  Most of the available pictures of ships launched in the 1860s are not of high enough resolution to reproduce here.

The picture (left) is of HMS Algerine, circa 1880, used here because she resembles many ships then on active service in the 1860s. While retaining an all wooden hull appearance, ships of her era were switching to ironcladding and even all-iron construction. This is best exemplified by the launch in 1861 of the revolutionary all-metal HMS Warrior at 9,210 tons.

HMS Algerine is listed as a 3-gun, screw gun vessel, built at Belfast in 1880 (1879). She was 774 tons (835 tons ?), had a 750 horsepower engine, and a speed of 10 knots.  Her length was 157 ft. The “Algerine” was sold in 1892 and replaced in 1895 with the launch of another HMS Algerine which served in Canada.

The 1895 HMS Algerine was a 6-gun, twin-screw gunboat of 1,050 tons, a 1,400 horsepower engine, and a speed of 13 knots. Her length was 185 ft.

The contrast in design between HMS Algerine (1880) and HMS Speedy launched in 1893, (see also Part 3), shows the pace of technological change.

Right: HMS Speedy (1883) an Alarm class torpedo boat. Note bow torpedo tube

This transition period was remarkable both for its speed and the technology involved. Gone are the masts and rigging as a supplementary form of propulsion to be replaced by token / ceremonial masts which were not to fulfil an equally useful purpose until the introduction to the fleet of ‘wireless sets’ in 1900. Nelson-style guns in casements were replaced by rotating gun turret each capable of 180 degrees arc of fire.

Ships like HMS Speedy and HMS Tweed (right) mentioned in Table 19 above, still had open bridges and helms but these were positioned amidships. HMS Tweed, a Medina Class gunboat, was launched in 1876 (or 1877), and sold in Hong Kong in 1905.



2. 20th Century Sino-Japanese Conflict

The inter-war years again saw China as a graveyard for ships and at times the trend seems never ending. In previous Parts of this commentary it has become abundantly clear that the maritime ‘death toll’ in ships didn’t end in the 19th century but continued into the 20th century (Part 1 Table 2 China’s Warship Fleet, 1918 – 1945).

Despite internal turmoil, e.g. Boxer Rebellion, China had, before and after the 1911 Revolution, ambitious plans for a stream navy.

In Part 3 it was stated that China’s Beiyang Fleet was judged to be the “Best in Asia” and during the late 1880s was the 8th largest in the world. (See  One aspect that perhaps should have been expanded upon in Part 3 was that Japan had, by 1914, developed close ties with Britain and modeled its navy on Britain’s. Historically, Britain had learnt by the 18th century that meritocracy with stiff exams to be passed before any promotion and not nepotism, was the surest way of founding a strong navy where success was most likely to be achieved.

Despite economic constraints and military setbacks the Manchu (Qing) dynasty continued naval procurement. The Chinese Revolution of 1911 that ende China being ruled by an Emporer, inevitably setback this programme but as the Table 20 below shows an extensive programme of ship building was nonetheless maintained in the period from 1905 to 1914.  The period immediately after World War I saw no ship building in China.

However, it was not until the Nationalist government took over in 1928 that real efforts were made to bring these plans to fruition. In the final analysis, lack of money restricted any substantial build up of naval forces. Credit must go to David Chessum for compiling the list of ships shown below as Table 20 (

Table 20. Warships Built for Export – for China and in China

Part 1 and 2, (1905 – 1939)

Part 1. Jan 1st 1905 – Aug 1914 
Name Type Client Country Built Yard Tonn’ age Laid Down Launch Comple’d
Chao Ho Light Training Cruiser China UK Armstrong-Whitworth 2,750 7.11.10 23.10.11 21.2.1912  delivered
Ying Swei Light Training Cruiser China UK Vickers, Sons & Maxim Ltd 2,750 1910 14.7.11 12.11.12delivered
Fei Hung # Cruiser China USA New York SB Co 2,600 14.6.11 4.5.12 11.1913 Bought by  Greece, Helle
Chang Feng Destroyer China Germany Schichau, Elbing 390   6.11 delivered
Fei Hung # Destroyer China Germany Schichau, Elbing 390   1912 delivered
Fu Po Destroyer China Germany Schichau, Elbing 390   1912 delivered
Lung Tuan Destroyer China Austria-Hungary Stabilimento Tecnico Triestino 400   1913 1914  Taken over by Austria, Warasdiner
Ching Po Destroyer China Italy Ansaldo, Sestri Ponente 400 1911 6.12.12 21.7.1913 delivered
Chiang Chen Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 565 1907 18.9.1907 07 delivered
Chiang Hung Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 565 1907 2.6.1907 07 delivered
Chiang Li Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 565 1907 18.8.07 07 delivered
Chu Chien Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   31.7.06 delivered
Chu Kuan Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   14.8.07 delivered
Chu Tai Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   25.9.06 delivered
Chu Tung Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   12.6.06 delivered
Chu Yiu Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   1.4.07 delivered
Chu Yu Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki Yd, Kobe 752   21.2.07 delivered
Yung Feng Gunboat China Japan Mitsubishi, Nagasaki 780   1912 delivered
Yung Hsiang Gunboat China Japan Kawasaki, Kobe 780   20.3.12 delivered
Hu Chung Torpedo Boat China Japan Kawasaki 96   1.11.06 delivered
Hu Ngo Torpedo Boat China Japan Kawasaki 96   10.6.06 delivered
Hu Peng Torpedo Boat China Japan Kawasaki 96   10.6.06 delivered
Hu Ying Torpedo Boat China Japan Kawasaki 96   17.11.06 delivered
Chiang His River Gunboat China Germany Germania 140   1911 delivered
Chiang Kun River Gunboat China Germany Germania 140   1912 delivered
Part 2. Jan 1st 1919 – Sept 3rd 1939
Ning Hai Light Cruiser China Japan Harima 2,500 1930 1.10.31 delivered
Chin Yen River Gunboat China Japan Harima 270   35 delivered
Shun Tien River Gunboat China Japan Harima 270   34 delivered
Ting Pien River Gunboat China Japan Harima 270   35 delivered
Yang Min River Gunboat China Japan Harima 270   34 delivered
? Submarine China Germany Flenderwerft, Lubeck 275   – – Taken over by Germany, U120
? Submarine China Germany Flenderwerft, Lubeck 275   – – Taken over by Germany, U121
Argus River Gunboat France China Arsenal de Toulon, China 178   23 delivered
Vigilante River Gunboat France China Arsenal de Toulon, China     23 delivered
Ermanno Carlotto River Gunboat Italy China Shanghai Dock & Engineering Co 180   21 delivered
Tutuila  River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 370 17.10.26 14.6.27 2.3.1928 delivered
Wake ex-Guam River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 370 17.10.26 28.5.27 28.12.1927 delivered
Oahu  River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 450 18.12.26 26.11.27 20.10.28 delivered
Panay  River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 450 18.12.26 10.11.27 10.9.1928 delivered
Luzon  River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 560 20.11.26 12.9.27 1.6.1928 delivered
Mindanao  River Gunboat USA China Kiangnan Dock and Engineering Works, Shanghai 560 20.11.26 28.9.27 10.7.28 delivered

Ships in the Table above appear to be of modest size, re: tonnage and this could reflect the overriding need for river policing or monetary constraints preventing investment in larger ships, e.g. frigates, destroyers and light cruisers of 1,000 to 3,000 tons (see Ning Hai).

Details are sketchy of the Chinese naval programme in the late 1920s but the following data (Table 21), has been put together from available sources. Ships launched prior to the inter-war period are included where they have undergone substantive refitting and retro-fitting of new equipment, e.g. Ren Sheng 1911, retrofit 1928, or may have received modifications, or cannot be found, e.g. Fu Hsing. Though listed in commentaries of the 20th century, the only ship of that name found is the one listed as being sunk at the Battle of Fuzhou 1894 (Fujian Fleet, see Table 16 above).

Table 21. Ships Launched by China

 (built pre 1939)  

Name Cross-Refer’ce Launch Displce-’t / tons Length (ft) Fate
Lui Hsing None 1902 1,500 194 ft Name not found
Fu Hsing None 1914 6,800 ? 269 Name not found
Hai Hsing # formerly Yung Chi (China)  None. See Table 31 1924 1,960   See below (1915)
Hai Hsing # formerly Yung Chi (China)   See Table 31 1915 860   Sunk. Refloated by Japan. Used on Yangtze. Survived war.
Chuen Hsing None 1927 1,960 ? 260 Name not found
Fen Hsing None 1933 500 ? 170 Not found
Hai Ping None 1933 450 ? 138 Name not found (but Ping Hai can be found)
Fei Ying   [quot. ‘old gunboat’] Reclassified as destroyer  1930.     Name not found
Wanhsing   Not found       Scuttled 29 Aug 1937
Wen Hsing None 1934 340 ? 143 Name not found (NB but a Wanhsing scuttled Aug 1937
Shu Hsing   1934 235 136 Name not found
Ping Hai Table 22 1936 2,448 360 ft Sunk
Ning Hai Table 22 1932 2,448  360 ft Sunk
Hai Rong Table 22 Sister ship ?     Sunk
Hsien Ning  None 1928  418 tons    
Chunghsing   Not found   2,748   Sunk 18 Aug 1937
Kung Sheng Table 26 1911 Converted to gunboat June 1928     Sunk
Yi Sheng Table 26 1911ditto Jan 1928 350   Sunk
Shun Sheng Table 26 1911 ditto Dec 1929 380   Scuttled
Yung Sheng / Yongsheng Table 26 1908 ditto Mar 1928 280   Sunk by Japanese planes
Chung Shan formerly Yung Feng     1910 780 ton gunboat, 14 kts   Sunk at Battle of Wuhan 1938
Ren Sheng / Rensheng Aka Yensheng  Table 26 1911 ditto Mar 1928 260   Sunk
Yue 22 # Aka Qihong Zhang ?  Table 30 1936 54 tons 92 ft Sunk by Japanese planes
Zhen Hai Table 30 Converted in 1924 2,708    
Yue 371  Table 30 Purchased Circa 1936 54 E-boat Survived the war.
Yue 253 Table 30 Circa 1936 54 E-boat Survived the war.
Yan 161 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 tons MTB Scuttled 1944 [?]
Shi 34 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Sunk
Shi 102 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Sunk
Shi 181 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Sunk
Shi 223 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Sunk
Wen 42 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Scuttled
Wen 88 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Scuttled
Wen 93 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Sunk
Wen 171 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Scuttled
Yan 92 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Captured
Yan 53 Table 30 Circa 1936 14 MTB Scuttled


What may also be surprising is that having discarded the Four Fleet policy as ineffective in 1909, the same policy re-emerges by the time we reach 1931.

It has been possible from trawling the Internet and specialist websites to locate the names and some data of Chinese warships (see Parts 1, 2  and 3), but it is the resurgence inside China that has proven the key to a better understanding of what exactly happened to which ships.

Renewed interest in its naval history – no doubt connected to China’s outstanding economic performance in the past two decades – has produced a wealthier generation with access to Western technology (the internet) and enough leisure time to ask questions and make enquiries that life in a rural setting would formerly have prohibited. It is from these sources inside China that we learn that the sequence of events regarding ships of the Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang days.

As a prelude to the presenting of new tables another small detour, this time into the founding of the Republic and the Nationalist government of Chiang Kai-shek, will be advantageous.

Quickly stated, the Qing or Manchu Dynasty ended in 1912 followed by a warlords phase followed then by the founding of a Republic which was nominally unified under the Kuomintang (KMT). China was in the early stages of industrialisation and modernisation but this progress was retarded as the country was caught up in the conflicts between the Kuomintang government and the Communist Party (CCP), overcoming the remnants of the War Lord system and the Japan’s invasion.

In addition to these forces pulling in different directions, there was the perennial Chinese problem of corruption in government and among the civil service. ‘Cliques’ besieged good governance just as they had during the Manchu Dynasty. Perhaps this is why the naval forces were again divided into four components.

‘Nation-building’ efforts were sporadic in the years leading up to 1931 and were stopped completely with the full-scale invasion by Japan in 1937.

By this time Chiang Kai-shek was the leader of the ‘Kuomintang’, which is better known in the West as the Nationalist government. What is not so well known is that Chiang Kai-shek, like Mao Tse-tung (aka Mao Zedong), was a revolutionary and in 1916 a prominent member of the pro-democracy ‘Chinese Revolutionary Party’. Chiang Kai-shek was schooled at the Baoding Military Academy (China) and then served in the Imperial Japanese Army from 1909 to 1911. He knew nothing of the west and in common with the last of the Qing dynasty his deeply held Confucian views led him to see nothing useful there to absorb. Later in his career, in 1924, Chiang Kai-shek was appointed commandant the Whampoa Military Academy which has always played an important role in Chinese history. It was this power base that enabled him to eventually assume the mantle of Chinese leader.

However, he was leader of a China still plagued by truculent and obdurate War Lords and military campaigns in the 1920s to neutralise their influence nearly bankrupted the country. It was for this reason – and the tribute of millions of taels paid over by the Qing dynasty – that resulted in a meagre and obsolete navy.

The ships listed in the tables below may appear plentiful but their age, speed and size indicates they were no match for the more modern Japanese navy. The decision, therefore, to sacrifice them as blockships becomes ever more defensible. The tactic of fighting and then withdrawing ever deeper into the interior of one’s own country was a tactic used by the Soviets in 1941.

3. Nationalist Navy 1930 – 1945

The following observations/comments and tables are derived from Chinese sources; the list of ships in the Nationalist Navy at the outbreak of the war  is based on two documents in Kangri Zhanzheng Zhengmain Zhanchang (vol. 3) pp 1735-40 and 1894-96.

1st Fleet

The largest and strongest Chinese fleet in the inter-war years was the 1st fleet staffed by naval officers from Fujian province. This reputedly fell under the contoll of the Min clique.

 2nd Fleet

Little is known at the time of writing about this particular fleet. What can be deduced is that the gross tonnage of the 2nd Fleet was smaller than the other fleets and its ships very much smaller, ie none of 1,000 tons and most around 700 tons.

3rd Fleet

The second largest fleet was the 3rd fleet, or Manchurian Navy, was based in the Northeast (circa 1933). Once again, another Chinese fleet stayed in harbour as the Japanese took over Manchuria in 1931-1932.

4th Fleet

This was the Cantonese Navy equipped only with some river gunboats and armed ships

Central Navy

Referred to sometimes as the “Central (national) Navy”,  this division was run by Chiang Kai-shek’s own clique and reportedly had “dozens” (?) of brand new MTBs from UK and Germany (this may be an exaggeration. It is likely, given the sales figures and sinkages, to be  in the region of 12).

From internet posts it appears that the Central Navy might in fact be a combination of the Chinese 1st and 2nd fleet that had no loyalty to Chiang Kai-shek. It is mentioned only rarely and never with no hard evidence(

When the minister of navy, Chen Shaokuan, defied orders to send Hai Chen and Hai Chi (described as cruisers), to Nanking a brief skirmish between Chinese warships broke out near Hong Kong (June 21st 1935, 9:00 am). The Hai Rong, not part of the Central Navy, exchanged salvoes with her sister ship Hai Chou which was.

Left: Chen Shaokuan

Chen Shaokuan sent the newest cruiser, Ning Hai, to Shanghai under escort with three old cruisers Hai Rong, Hai Chou, Ying Rui, (and Yat Sen ?). The ships are listed in Table 22 below.

 After protracted negotiations, Chen Shaokuan accepted Chiang Kai-shek’s order and allowed the two cruisers to sail to Nanking, and withdrew his own cruisers.

Right: Hai Chou being refitted.

Rumours at the time suggested that the Chinese 1st and 2nd fleets, the Central Navy, were gathering on the Yangtze River mouth to detain them.

Chiang Kai-shek sent several air force squadrons to escort them into Nanking harbour on July 18th 1937, where the joined the 3rd fleet.

Right: Hai Rong, 2,950 tons

Reportedly their crews never met or said a word to members of the Central Navy when on shore leave.

This is given as the reason why Chen Shaokuan insisted that Hai Chi and Hai Chen must be scuttled too, when the Highest Military Committee told him to scuttle his ships to block the Yangtze River in 1937 (see Table 22 below).

Right: Hai Chi. 2,980 tons, light cruiser / destroyer.




China’s 1st Fleet

Table 22. China’s 1st Fleet

Chinese Frigates, Destroyers and Gunboats – Inter-War years

(probably incomplete)

NB. In places the spellings on this table reflect the modern form adopted by China today, e.g. Ninghai rather then the traditional Ning Hai and Haichou rather than Hai Chou.
Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Ying Rui / Yingrui ?  – – – – 2,460 tons  – –  – –  – –    – – Sunk by aircraft 23  Oct 1937
Jiankang Coastal Patrol Boats   390 tons  – –  – – Four mines, twin m/guns 2 x 18“ torpedoes See Part 1 Sunk 26 Sept 1937
Kean  – –  – – 1,290 tons  – –  – –   – –   – – Survived the war
Da Tong / Datong ? /  Tu Tung Sloop  – – 1,050 tons  – –  – –  – – Unconfirm – Cruiser / sloop. Two entries. Part 2 Table 3 Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin blockship. Raised in 1959,
Zhong Shan / Zhongshan ?   1910 Formerly Yongfeng ? Japanese Mitsubishi Shipyard 200 ft 844 / 836 tons 13   – –   – – Cruiser / sloopPart 1 Sunk Aug 1937 / 24th Oct 1938 by aircraft at Jinkou.
Ziqiang   – –   – – 1,050  tons   – –   – –   – – Unconfirmed  – Cruiser / sloop Sunk Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as block ship
Tong Ji / Tongji ? See also Tonhji See below 252.7 ft 1,900  tons 10.5   2 x 6”  starboard 5 x  4.7” Krupp guns 3 x 6 lbs (57 mm),   8 x 1 lbs (37 mm) guns. Training ship. Part 2 Table 3 Sunk 12 Aug 1937 block ship at Jiangyin ?
Tong Ji / Tongji ? Training ship    – – 6,000 tons   – –   – –    – – Is this a separate ship and a different navy ? Raised Feb – May1962
Hai Rong / Hairrong (See Ping Hai class ? Part 1 & 2) 1897German built 328 feet 2,950 tons 19.5   3 x Krupp 5.9“ single-loaded 8 x 4.1”, 2 x  40mm AA guns fitted mid 1930s. 6 x 1 lbs (37 mm) 3 x 14” torpedo tubes with under-water launch tube. Sunk Sept 1937  at Jiangyin as blockship. Raised 25 Apr 1959
Ning Hai / Ninghai 1932 360 ft 2,448 / 2,600 tons 23 Oil 3 x double 5.5”, 6 × 3 “AA guns, 4  or 10 x m/guns 4 x 21” torpedoes2 x FloatplanesSee Part 1 Sunk Sept 23 1937 by Japanese planes at Jiangyin & again 1944
Ping Hai / Pinghai 1936 360 ft 2,448 tons / 2,600 tons 23 Oil 3 × double 5.5” (suspect) 6 × 76 mm (3 “) AA guns No Float planes Part 1 Sunk Sept 22 1937 by Japanese planes at Jiangyin & again 1944
Yong Ji / Yongji   – –  – – 860 tons   – –   – –   – – Part 2 Table 3. See Table 28 Damaged Oct 21st 1938. Sunk by aircraft Oct 1938
Hai Chou  / Haichou [dubious]Sloop aka Hai Zhou / Hai Chao British built. Used as Revenue Cutter/ 1916 Belfast / ex-HMS Pemstemon 328 ft (255 ft) (2,950) / 1,250  tons 19.5    – – 1 x 4.7”,  3 x Krupp 5.9“ single-loaded 8 x 4.1” 6 x 1 lbs (37 mm) 3 x 14” torpedo tubes with  under-water launch tube / Laid up mid-1930’s, Raised 1964. Part 2 Table 3 Damaged by shore battery. Sunk Sept 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship. Raised in 1964
Yixian     – –   – – 1,500 tons   – –   – –   – – See Part 1 Sunk by aircraft 26 Sept 1937 at YonganZhou ?
Yongjian     – –   – – 860 tons   – –   – –   – – Same ship as listed in Part 2 Table 3 ? Sunk by planes Aug 1937 at Shanghai
Dingan    – –    – – 1,140 tons    – –    – –    – – Transport ship. see Part 2 Sunk by aircraft Dec 17, 1942 at Chuan Jiang
Total 15             Survived  1  Sunk 14


Extensive delving into every possible file and record freely available on the internet brought forth this telling comment;  “ . . . . the Chinese navy was too weak and negligible to be a “fleet in being”, and  it was divided into several cliques.”

The egos and rivalries of the various cliques governing their particular part of China gave rise to expression of pettiness that this example epitomizes: it is said that on Sept 25th 1937, when it was decided that two antique cruisers of the 1st fleet (the Min clique) should be scuttled, the navy commander Chen Shaokuan (head of Min clique) demanded that the other two cruisers which did not belong to his clique should be scuttled too.

China’s 2nd Fleet

Table 23. China’s 2nd Fleet

Chinese Frigates, Destroyers and Gunboats – Inter-War years  

(probably incomplete) 

NB the spellings reflect the modern form adopted by China today, e.g. Chutai rather then the traditional Chu Tai and Weisheng rather than Wei Sheng
Name pinning ? Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns  Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Chutai   – – – – 745  – – – – – – – – Sunk Oct 1937 by Japanese planes near Jiangyin ? / June 1st 1938 damaged
Chuyou – – – – 745 – – – – – – – – Survived the war / sunk Sept 29 1937
Chutong – – – – 745 – – – – – – – – Damaged 24th Oct  1938.Survived the war
Chuqian – – – – 745 – – – – – – – – Survived the war
Chuguan – – – – 745 – – – – – – – – Survived the war
Jiangyuan – – – – 565 – – – –     Damaged Oct 5th 1937 / Oct 21st 1938 Survived the war
Jiangzhen   – – – – 565          Damaged July 20th 1938 Scuttled Oct 26, 1938
Yongsui       600           Survived the war 
Minquan     460         Survived the war
Minsheng       500         Damaged July 20th 1938. Sunk July 1938 by planes at Yueyang. / Scuttled Oct 26th  1938
Xianning     420         Sunk July 1st 1938 at Wuwen 
Desheng    – –   930        Seaplane tender: Sunk Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship 
Weisheng    – –   930        Seaplane tender: Sunk Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship 
Jiangkun   – –   140          Sunk Aug 24th 1941 by Japanese planes at Taiziwan 
Jiangxi       140         Sunk Aug 24th 1941 by Japanese planes at Taiziwan
Hue       96         Sunk Oct 1937 by Japanese planes at Shiyugang
Husun     96         Damaged 4th Sept 1940. Survived the war
Huying     96         Sunk Aug 1938 by Japanese planes at Lanxi
Hupeng     96         Sunk Oct 3rd 1937 by Japanese planes near Jiangyin
Total 18           Survived 8 Sunk 10 


China’s  3rd Fleet

Table 24. China’s  3rd Fleet 

Manchurian Navy 

Chinese Frigates, Destroyers and Gunboats – Inter-War years

(probably incomplete) 

NB the spellings reflect the modern form adopted by China today, e.g. Haichen rather then the traditional Hai Chen and Dinghai rather than Ding Hai.
Name Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns  Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Haiqi *  Cruiser   4,300          Sunk Sep 1937 Jiangyin block
Haichen *  Cruiser   2,950         Sunk Sep 1937 Jiangyin block. Raised in 1960
Zhaohe #  Cruiser / destroyer   2,460         Sunk by Japanese planes nr Humen
Chuyu     745         Sunk Dec 1937 Tsingtao Qingdao, blockship
Yongxiang     860         No  details found
Jiangli     565         No  details found
Tongan       390          Sunk Dec 1937 Tsingtao Qingdao, blockship
Zhenhai    Frigate ?   1,400          Sunk Dec 1937 Tsingtao Qingdao, blockship
Dinghai     900         Sunk Dec 1937 Tsingtao Qingdao, blockship
Total   9             Survived Not known Sunk 7 + ? 
* These are described at  as “the Haiqi, Haichen, and “Chenghe” classes of naval destroyers. . . .”but at 4,300 and 2,950 tons these are more likely to be seen as light cruisers. NB. In an excerpt from, “Tragedy of Chinese Revolution” (a ROC publication), the Haiqi, Haishen, and Zhaohe [#] are cited as active in the conveying of important politicians, e.g. Sun Yat, circa 1922.


In Shandong province it is reported that 12 ‘aged’ warships and 1 merchant ship were scuttled by the Chinese 3rd Fleet on Dec 12th 1937 as blockships.

Four of them are listed as sunk in Liugongdao, Weihai, and another 9 were scuttled in Qingdao. Later, more than 20 ships were scuttled in Qingdao to block the harbour.

The tactic of blocking waterways to frustrate the fingers of Japanese advance will be covered in a separate section later.

China’s  4th Fleet

Table 25. China’s  4th Fleet

Cantonese Navy

Chinese Frigates, Destroyers and Gunboats – Inter-War years

(probably incomplete)

NB At this point in time nothing is known of ships that were allotted to the 4th Fleet in the Inter-War years. It is described bysome sources as “weak” and equipped with “some river gunboats and armed ships”;
Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Secondary Fate
 – – – –   – – – – – – – – – – – –  – – 
Total Unknown – –  – – – – – – – – – –   – –

The vessel, Zhen Hai, became a Seaplane tender for the Cantonese Navy one Chinese source says. The ship was formerly a German transport ship seized by China after World War One. It became the freighter “Hsiang Li” and was then purchased by a Manchurian warlord, Zhang Zuolin, in 1923 together with another freighter “Guang Li” (built in Japan). They were then converted into training ships. The former German transport ship Hsiang Li was renamed Zhen Hai (a name that crops up repeatedly), and the Guang Li was renamed the “Wei Hai”.

Specifications of Zhen Hai: 2,708 tons , 1,200 hps steam engine, coal powered, 12 knts , 2 x 4.7” Armstrong naval gun, 4 x 3” field guns and was  converted in 1924 to carry two Schreck FBA-19 planes as a seaplane tender. Reputedly scuttled in Tsingtao harbour on Dec 26th 1937 and alternatively, in another account sunk in the Pearl River during an IJN air raid on Sept 25th 1937.

4. China’s Coastal Fleet  (Coast Guard)

Table 26. China’s Coastal Fleet  (Coast Guard)

Chinese Gunboats and Coastal Ships  – Inter-War years 

(probably incomplete) 

NB the spellings reflect the modern form adopted by China today, e.g. Shunsheng rather then the traditional Shun Sheng and Weining rather than Wei Ning.
Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displa’’ment Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns  Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Shunsheng   1911  Shanghai Ruirong Shipy’d Retrofit Dec 1929  Kiangnan Shipy’d. – – 380  – – – – – – – – – Sunk Nov 1938 Hunan Yingtiantan as  blockship
Jiangning – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Sunk Oct 1937 by Japanese planes Paozizhou
Haining – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Sunk July 24th 1938 by planes at  Dingjias- han
Suning – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Sunk June 1st 1938 by planes nr. Fuzhou
Weining – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Survived the war after being captured by Japanese
Funing – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Sunk May 1938 by Japanese planes nr Fuzhou
Suining – – – – 300 – – – – – – – – – Damaged Oct 5th 1937 Sunk July 13th 1938 by planes at Huangshigang
Chongning – – – – 300 – – – – – – [ See the Changning below] Damaged June 29th 1938Sunk July 3rd 1938 by planes at Tianjiazhen
Yining   – – – – 300  – – – – – – – – – Damaged June 25th  1938.  Survived the war
Zhengning   – – – – 300  – – – – – – – – – Sunk May 1938 by Japanese planes nr Fuzhou
Changning – – – – 300 – – – – – – ChOngning is a different ship. Damaged 25th June 1938 Sunk July 1st   1938 by planes at Wuwen
Yisheng 1911 Yangzi shipy’d  Retrofit Jan 1928 Kiangnan Shipy’d as River gunboat   350 – – – – – – – – – Damaged March 27th  1938. Sunk Nov 11th 1938 by planes at Ouchikou
Rensheng / aka Yensheng ? / Kung Sheng ? 1911 Retrofit 1928 as above   260 – – – – – – – – – Sunk Nov 11th 1938 by  planes at Ouchikou
Yongsheng / Yungsheng ? – – – – 280 – – – – – – – – – Sunk Nov 11th  1938 by planes at Ouchikou
Total   15           Survived 2 Sunk 13
A citation for a “Yungsheng” states it was built at the Kiangnan Shipyard in 1908, and retrofitted in March 1928.


 5. China’s Survey Ship Fleet


Table 27. China’s Survey Ship Fleet 

Type of Chinese Vessel Used Unknown – Inter-War years 

(probably incomplete) 

NB As in previous Tables the spellings will reflect the modern form adopted by China today rather then the traditional. 
Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns  Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Ganlou   – –   400  – –       Sunk Sept 3rd 1940 by planes at Taiziwan
Tunri   – – – – – –  500 – – – – – –  – – – – – –  Sunk Aug 26th 1937 by Japanese gunboats nr Jiangyin
Qingtian   – – – – 280         Sunk Oct 3rd 1937 by planes nr Jiangyin
Chengsheng  (1875 ?)(Laird, Birken-head, Iron Rendel ? )    280 / (256) tons     (1 x 10”, 1 x 16 or 18 ton MLR, 2 light guns ?)   Scuttled Oct 22nd 1938 in Shandong after the armament removed.
Gongsheng / Gong Sheng   But listed elsewhere as a gun boat ?   280         Sunk Oct 22nd 1938 by planes nr Guangzhou
Miscellaneous       – – – – – –   
Wusheng / Wu Sheng  Gunboat/ sloop   740         Sunk 12 Aug 1937 Jiangyin blockship. Raised in 1960.
Chenzi     90         Sunk Aug 1937 Jiangyin blockship
Suzi     90         Sunk Aug 1937 Jiangyin blockship
Puan     2,305         Sunk June 1939 Shanghai blockship
Unconfirmed     – – – – – –     
Chen   – –    – –  – –     Torpedo boat ? Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Su  – –   – –  – –     Torpedo boat ? Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Total 11           Survived 0   Sunk 11


6. China’s Merchant Marine

Table 28. China’s Merchant Ship Fleet 

Inter -War years  

(probably incomplete) 

NB As in previous Tables the spellings will reflect the modern form adopted by China today rather then the traditional.
Name Launch/ Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns  Torpedo / Secondary Fate
Jiahe / Ka Ho  – – – – 1,733  tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Xinming / Hsing ming  – – – – 2,133 tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Tonghua / Tung Wah  – – – – 1,176 tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Yushun  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Taishun  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Guangli / is this the Guangli Kwanglee ?  See Guangli Table 18 above – – 2,359 tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Xingsh  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Huaxin  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Huai’an – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Tongli  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Ningjing – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Kunxing – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Xin Ping’an – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Maoli II – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Yuanchang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Muyou – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Huafu / Huafu HwaFoo  – – – – 2,833 tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Dalong – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Tonghe – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Ruikang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Gongping / Gongping Kungping  – – – – 2,705 tons – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Wanzai – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as blockship
Yongji See Table 22 (but Oct 38 v Aug 1937) – – – – – –   – – – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as block ship
Total 23           Survived 0  Sunk 23 
Plus 185 sampans, junks, & 8 pontoons confiscat ed from local Japanese shipping firms – – – – – – – – – –  – – Sunk 12 Aug 1937 at Jiangyin as block- ship 

 7. Fleet free of KMT control

Table 29. Ships in the Guangdong Fleet

 – reputedly not under direct KMT control.

Source: “Pictoral History of the Chinese Navy : Ancient times to 1955”, Vol. 3. p. 790
Name Launch / Laid down Length Displacem’t Speed (kts) Engine Main Guns Torpedo / Second’y Fate
Fuan  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Yongfu – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Hairui – – – – 1,200  – – – – – – – – – –
Haihu / Hai Hu See note below  – – 680 – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 nr Humen
Guangjin  – – – – – – – – – – – – – – No data
Wufeng /  Wu Feng  See Table 32 – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Jiangda – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Jianggong – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Oct1937 near Punyu
Jianru – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by planes Sept 1937 nr Humen; Salvaged but sunk again by planes in Oct 1938 near ?
Zhixin – – – – 140 – – – – – – – – Sunk Oct 1938 by Japanese shore batteries.
Zhongkai – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Zhongyuan – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Anbei – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Pingxi – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Guangan    – – 80 – – – – – – – – – –
Guanghua – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Feipeng – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Hushan – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Songjiang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Zhujiang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Jinma – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Zhili – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Jiangcheng – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Lichen – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Haiou – – – – – –  – –  – –  – –  – – – –
Jiangping – – – – 40 – – – – – – – – – –
Suijiang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Xixing – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
Andong – – – – – – – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Haijiang – – – – – – – – – – – – – – No data
Haiwei / Hai Wei  – – – – 200 – – – – – – – – Sunk by Japanese planes in Sep 1937 near Yamen
Haizhou / Hai Zhou aka Hai Zhou British built sloop Used as revenue cutter – – 1,250 tons – – – – 1 x 4.7” – – Seriously damaged. Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Total 32 ? Actual No. not known             Sunk 14

Internet sources refer to the “Hai Hu” (Haihu, or Sea Tiger) as being sunk in Hwangpu (near Guangzhou), by Japanese carrier aircraft (possibly from the Hosho and Ryojo). Reportedly these carrier aircraft also sank the Cantonese torpedo boats “No.1”, “No.2” and “No.4” on Oct 23rd , and sank “No.3” on Oct 25th .

Cantonese gunboats “Jiang Gong” (see Table 29 above), “Gong Sheng” (see Table 27 above), “Zhong Kai” (Chung Kai ?), “Zhong Yuan“, “Fei Peng“, “Hu Shan” (all listed in Table 29 above), were also sunk by IJN carrier aircraft in late October.

Table 30. Chinese Torpedo Boats Sunk

1937 – 1945

Name Tons Fate
Shi 34 14 Sunk Sept 29th 1937 / Damaged Oct 12th 1937.
Shi 102 14 Sunk Aug 16th 1937 by Japanese cruiser Izumo
Shi 181 14 Sunk Nov 11th 1937 / Damaged Oct 12th 1937.
Shi 223 14 Sunk 17th July 1938 in an accident
Wen 42 14 Damaged July 17, 1938. Scuttled in Guangxi in Sept 1944 ?
Wen 88 14 Damaged July 17th 1938. Scuttled in Guangxi in Sept 1944 ?
Wen 93 14 Sunk by Japanese ships in July 1938
Wen 171 14 Scuttled in Guangxi in Sept 1944?
Yan 53 14 Scuttled in Guangxi in Sept 1944?
Yan 92 14 Captured in Oct 1938 by Japanese vessels at Sanshui
Yan 161 14 Damaged Aug 1st 1938. Scuttled in Guangxi in Sept 1944 ?
Yue 22 54 Sunk in Aug 1st / Oct 1938 by Japanese planes (German made E-boat ?)
Yue 253 54 Survived the war
Yue 371 54 Survived the war
Total 14 (10 MTB, 4 E-boats). Only two,  E- boats, survived war.  1. The note accompanying this list reads “Four torpedo boats, all sunk by Japanese planes near Humen in Oct 1937.”2. Note: ‘July 17th 1938, Shi 253 damaged.’


Left: German built E-boat, (1936) Nationalist Navy, Yue 371, Yue 22,Yue 253 and Yan 161. See Table 30 above. 





No commentary of China’s warships in the Inter-War period would be complete without mentioning the puppet government in Manchuria known as Manchukuo. Manchuria and the eastern part of Inner Mongolia had been seized by the Japanese in 1931 and, no doubt to avoid looking like latter-day colonialists; they set up a puppet regime. The Japanese installed Puyi, ‘the Boy Emperor’ and China’s last Emperor as the nominal Regent and Emperor. The film “Empire of the Sun” captures some of the atmospherics of the time.

The Manchukuo Imperial Navy (Mǎnzhōu Dìguó Hǎijūn) was effectively an extension of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) and not Chinese at all.

Right:  An unidentified ship of the Manchukuo Imperial Navy.

Japan reportedly used her older ships to enlarge the strength of the Manchukuo Navy. However, the picture of the ‘A’ turret on the ship (right) looks modern for 1937 and is reminiscent of the British 4.7” twin Mk XVI (late 1930s). Is the Manchukuo ship above displaying the same closely positioned twin barrels ?

Right: British 4.7” Twin Mk XVI guns (late 1930s).

Manchukuo was a largely land-locked state, so the leadership of the Japanese Kwantung Army group (also referred to as ‘Guandong’ and ‘Kantōgun’ army’), in control of Manchuria saw little to be gained other than symbolic of the legitimacy of the new regime, by creating a naval force (see also Part 2). Their military priority was for land forces and the command over the land that would bring.

 Left:  An unidentified ship of the Manchukuo Imperial Navy (between the Chinese hieroglyphics are Roman numerals – possibly 1,340 for tonnage,  4.7” for the Armstrong guns, launched (?) 1916).

 When the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Manchuria in 1931, they were accompanied by a detachment from the Imperial Japanese Navy to provide coastal defense. However, the main naval requirement in Manchuria was for the defense of its extensive border river system with the Soviet Union (Russia).

Immediately after the 1931 invasion the Northeastern Navy Vice-Minister Shen Hung-lieh and Fleet Commander Hsien Kung-che of the Chinese Nationalist Party or Kuomintang, deserted their posts.

Local Kuomintang (KMT) commander, Captain Yin Tsu-Ch’ien met with Japanese forces and agreed to turn over his fleet of five river gunboats to the Imperial Japanese Navy in Harbin (Feb 15th 1932). This flotilla formed the core of the River Defence Fleet with Japan providing several additional vessels for the long border river system and the Soviet Union threat (coastal defense for Manchukuo was in the hands of the IJN’s 3rd China (North) Fleet. Additional information on some of the ships involved is detailed below.

The enlarged flotilla was to become known as the “Sungari Fleet” and was active only on the Singari, Amur and Ussuri rivers from 1933 onwards. It proved hopelessly inadequate and incompetent. The Japanese instituted numerous training programs in an attempt to raise its capabilities with reserve or retired Japanese officers called-up and assigned to the Sungari Fleet. Chinese cadets were sent to study navigation and gunnery at the IJN.

The flagship of the fleet was the 20 year old destroyer Hai Wei, formerly the Kashi, a Momo class destroyer of the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Left: Kashi’s sister ship Hinoki pictured on patrol at Wuhan, China, 1923.

Kashi was a Momo-class destroyer; launched 1917, 1,080 long tons, 275 ft, capable of 31.kts, and with a distinctive curved lower bow. Armed with 3 × QF 4.7” guns Mk 1 – IV,  she also had 2 × 6.5mm machine guns and 6 × 21” torpedoes. Her engines were heavy oil-fired steam geared turbines. She was transferred to Manchukuo in May 1937 as the Hai Wei; returned to IJN June 1942 renamed Kali, when she was returned to Japanese service; sunk in air attack off Okinawa Oct 1944.

As part of a campaign to ‘pacify’ the resistance to the newly established puppet state of Manchukuo in the Northeast, the Pacification of Manchukuo, plans called for integration between Chinese and Japanese troops. Japanese land forces secured victory in 1941 but the Sungari Fleet made no contribution of note. Indeed, it was still unprepared and disorganised by the time of the Soviet invasion of Manchuria in Aug.1945 but by that time the Japanese had already begun (1938) recalling their ships for duties around the home land. As Japan recalled naval personnel, in 1942, many ships were left idle and inoperable.

Manchukuo did not escape Japanese slavery. A 2007 study by four historians Zhifen Ju, Mitsuyochi Himeta, Toru Kubo and Mark Peattie into Japanese war crimes concluded that more than 10 million Chinese civilians were mobilised during Hirohito’s “Showa Period. Literally translated this means the “period of enlightened peace” and was about as enlightened and peaceful as Japan’s later subterfuge of the disgracefully deceitful ‘Greater Asian co-prosperity sphere‘ (see below).

Japan at this time was the producer and supplier of 90% of the world’s illicit opium and was drummed out of the League of Nations because of it had broken its formal promise to not trade in narcotics. 

The Manchukuo’s government was abolished in 1945 after the defeat of Imperial Japan at the end of World War II.

 Table 31. Japanese Operated Gunboats inc. of non-Japanese origins (coastal and river usage) 

Used by: 1. Japan, 2. Manchukuo Navy or 3. Nanjing puppet state 

Name Launch  Laid- down Type Displac ment Length feet Speed  kts Engine HP Main Guns Guns Service location   Fate
Toba 1911 Gunboat 215 tons 180 16 1,400 2 x3” 25 mm Served on Yangtze during WW2
Hai Hsing formerly Yung Chi (China)  See Table 21               Sunk by Japanese aircraft, but refloated. Given to Nanking Gov’t. Served on Yangtze. Survived war
Ataka   1921 Gunboat 956 tons 235 16   2 x 3” 1 x 4.7” Served on Yangtze.  Flagship.
Seta 1922 Gunboat 305 tons 180 ft 16 2,100 4 x 3”   Served in China
Hozu 1922 “Seta” Class 305 tons 180 ft 16 2,100 4 x 3”   Served in China. Damaged by Chinese aircraft Nov 1944 / 45
Hira 1922 “Seta” Class 305 tons 180 ft 16 2,100 4 x 3”   Served in China. Crippled by Chinese aircraft Nov 1944
Katada 1922 “Seta” Class 305 tons 180 ft 16 2,100 4 x 3”   Served in China
Atami  1929 Gunboat 223 tons 149 ft 16 1,300 2 x 3.1” 6 x m/guns Not known
Futami 1929 “Atami” Class Gunboat 223 tons 149 ft 16 1,300 2 x 3.1” 6 x m/guns Yangtze River
Kotaka 1930 Gunboat   98 ft         Served on Yangtze
Husimi 1930 Gunboat 350 tons 159 ft 17 2,200 4 x 3” 1 x 25mm Yangzte. Damaged     by Chinese aircraft Nov 1944.(‘Nan Chang’ post WWII)
Sumida # 1938 Husimi class 350 tons 159 ft 17 2,200 4 x 3” 1 x 25mm Yangtze. Damaged by Chinese aircraft Nov 1944. (‘Kiang Si’ post WWII)
Sumida # 1903 Gunboat 105 tons 144 ft 13 550 2 x 2.3”   Yangtze. Scrapped 1935.
Okitu 1927 (1921 ?) Gunboat 700 tons 204 ft 13 1,.500 4 x 3.1” 4 x 25mm Formerly Italian ‘Lepanto’. Scuttled in 1943 but refloated by Jap, used as minelayer. Post WWII renamed ‘Siang Ning’
Narumi 1921 Gunboat 180 tons 160 ft 14 1,100 4 x 3”   Formerly Italian ‘Ermano Carlotto’ Scuttled 1943 refloated by Jap. Given to China renamed Kiang Kun’ 1945.
Maiko 1911 Gunboat 180 tons 120 ft 11 250 1 x 57mm   Former Portuguese g/boat ‘Macau’. Sold to Japan in Aug 1943. Renamed Wu Feng after WW II.
Tatara # 1927. Kiangnan Engineering and Dock Works. China Gunboat 370 tons / 350 147 /  159 ft 15 1,950 hp steam 2 x 3”, 8 x .30 cal  1 x 25mm, 1 x 13mm ? Formerly USS Guam renamed USS Wake in Jan 1941. Scuttled at Corregidor 5/42. Refloated by JapServed on Yellow River / Scuttled in Manila as blockship 3/45.Given to ROC 1945 renamed ‘Tai Yuan’. Captured by Communist China 1949. Scrapped 1960s.
Suma 1916 Gunboat 645 tons 237 ft 14 2,000 2 x 6”, 2 x 12 lbs  6 x 7.7mm Maxims Formerly HMS Moth scuttled 12/1941in HK. Salvaged in 1942. Used on Yangstze. Sunk 1945.
Uji  (aka Uzi)  1902 Gunboat 620 tons 180 ft 13 1,000 4 x 3”   Scrapped 1936. A 2nd Uji laid down circa 1939.
Hasidate 1939 Gunboat Hasidate Class 1,110 255 ft 19 4,600 1 x 12cm 4 x 7.6 cm 1 x 25mm Sunk 1945 but a 1947 date also recorded
Uji  (or Uzi) 1939 Gunboat Hasidate Class 1,110 tons 255 ft 19 4,600 1 x 12cm 4 x 7.6 cm 1 x 25mm Damaged by mine 1945. Given to China re-named ‘Chang Chi’
No. 101  1918 / 1920  Destroyer Formerly HMS Thracian. 1,075 tons 276 ft  36 27,000 3 x 4”, 1 x pom-pom 4 x Lewis guns, 2 x 21” torpedo tubes, 2 x fixed 14” TT Captured at HK Dec 1941. Returned to RN Sept 1945. Scrapped 1947.
No 107   Not known Former US tug              Not known
No. 106  1929 formerly Hr. Ms. Banckert Admiralen-class Destroyer             Scuttled 2/3/42. Refloated by Japanese. Scrapped 1949.
No. 109  Not known formerly Dutch custom patrol boat             Not known
# One report states ‘captured at Shanghai’. (, see also ).NB. Ships used after 1945 were those ‘given to China’ means to the Nationalist, i.e. ROC, Gov’t.** When recovered, half scuttled from docks near Tokyo by HMS Undine, she was fitted with centimetric radar (3 to 30 GHz) – then a very secret form of advanced British radar shared with the America. Lagging 5 years behind the Allies this was Japan’s own efforts the FD-2 and FD-3 (1.3 GHz) and compete with centimetric magnetron. See also Long Lance torpedo.


Given the smallness of the Manchukuo Navy we have, pro rata, a greater number of  photographs but sadly, less cataloguing of the names of the ships – a reversal of the situation in Nationalist mainland China where many of the names are known but few photographs survive.

Above: Former Dutch destroyer Banckert refloated and renamed No 106 by Japamese

Unfortunately, only information regarding ships plying the Yellow River and the Yangtze information is readily to hand . There is precious little is available concerning the Singari, Amur and Ussuri rivers of Manchuria.


Right:Suma, formerly HMS Moth pictured in 1942 under Japanese control.



Left: An unidentified ship of the Manchukuo Imperial Navy.





Right: An unidentified ship of the Manchukuo Imperial Navy.





Left:Okitu formerly the Italian gunboat Lepanto.





Right:Toba a Japanese built gunboat (1911) which served on the Yangzte (see table above).




Left: Japanese destroyer “No. 101” formerly HMS Thracian (1920, S-class). Refloated by Japanese in 1942 and later used for Long Lance and Radar trial ship (1944-45).



Japanese ‘numerical’ ships taken from other navies included:-

No. 101 – Destroyer, formerly HMS Thracian, (3 x 4” guns).

No. 102 – an ex-US destroyer of the Semmes Class (1,215 tons, 4 x 4” guns).

No. 103 – an ex-US minesweeper, Bittern type (840 tons, 2 x 3” AA).  Launched in 1919, damaged while at Cavite Navy Yard. Later scuttled in Manila Bay Philippines.

No. 104 – ex Dutch customs and fishery protection vessel (1,011 tons, 2 x 75 mm).

No. 105 –  this is obscure bt thought to be a former US gunboat captured from Spain in 1898.

No. 106 – Dutch destroyer, Banckert, see above.

No. 107 – US tug, see above. 

No. 108 – ex Dutch customs and fishery protection vessel (1,011 tons, 2 x 75 mm).

No. 109 – ex Dutch customs boat (623 tons).

Japanese Navy Suffers First Rebuff

When Pearl Harbour had been attacked, the Special Naval Landing Force troops stationed in Shanghai arrived on the USS Guam and captured it. Its crew had no time to detonate the pre-placed charges. Guam and the HMS Peterel were acting as communication stations manned by a skeleton crew and their main armaments (3” guns) had been removed.

However, when a detachment of Special Naval Landing Force troops arrived to board the British gunboat HMS Peterel moored nearby they received a quite different reception. Informed by the Japanese that their nations were now at war and Peterel must surrender, Lieutenant Polkinghorn, its CO and a RN Volunteer Reserve, played for time by inviting the Japanese officers to come below decks to ‘discuss the matter’. This would have allowed time for the demolition charges to be set off and the code books burned in the boiler room. However, the Japanese officers declined so at gun point Lieutenant Polkinghorn ordered them to “Get off my bloody ship.”

Within minutes HMS Peterel was illuminated by searchlights, Japanese ships and the coastal battery opened fire at point blank range. Hopelessly out-gunned HMS Peterel returned fire, albeit with small arms, with the 9,900 ton Japanese  cruiser Izumo (sp. Idzumo) – armed with 4 × 8” and  14 × 6” rapid fire guns. A nearby destroyer and two gunboats, Seta and Atami also open fire on HMS Peterel. Several Japanese were killed in the fire fight.

On fire and severely damaged by enemy fire, HMS Peterel rolled over and sank. This proved insufficient for the Japanese who continued by machine gunning the surviving sailors as they swam away from the wreck. HMS Peterel became the first British warship sunk in combat by the Japanese navy.

The only reason this did not become yet another Japanese War Crime is due to the action of people born with a higher and a more humane temperament. Rescuers in rowing boats, who also came under Japanese gun fire saved some of the crew. Of the crew of 21 (some say 22), 18 were killed and 12 survived the attack (Alt. 6 of  HMS Peterel‘s crew of 21 men were killed). Some, including Lt. Polkinghorn, were wounded.  They took refuge on a Panamanian merchantman, SS Marizion, which was officered by Norwegians. The Japanese then violated more international law, by boarding the SS Marizion, and seized the survivors as prisoners-of-war, a step that would condemn them to 4 years in a Japanese prisons camp on starvation rations.

Stephen Polkinghorn, Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in 1945.  ( and


The opening shots of the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937 – 45), are measured from the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, 7th July 1937. By July 12th the Imperial Japanese Navy had put into action plans for the evacuation of residents from the Yangtze River area. Many of the ships listed in Table 31 were used for this operation. Japanese citizens and residents were guarded by the forces of the 11th Gunboat Division. This division was composed of the flagship Yaeyama, Hozu, Futami and Kotaka in Hankow, Katada, Sumida and Kuri in Shanghai, Tsuga in Nanking, Hasu in Wuhu, Atami in Kiukiang, Seta in Changsha, Toba in Ichang, Hira in Chungking (see Table 31 above), and a detachment of 292 personnel of the Shanghai Special Naval Landing Unit in Hankow.

These ships were used to evacuate about 30,000 people including Japanese, Koreans and Formosans (of which 26,600 lived in Shanghai and 1,700 in Hankow). More details can be found at

Only 4, the Yaeyama, Kuri, Tsuga, and Hasu are not listed in the Table above. The ‘China Incident’, a contemporaneous official memorandum written in July 1937 speaks of the Yaeyama being flagship of Rear Admiral Tanimoto Umataro, Commander of the 11th Gunboat Division. The name Yaeyama has appeared previously (Table 4) as a 1,600 ton, 20 knot, well armed ‘protected cruiser’. This craft was official listed as “scrapped” in 1911, so the commentary must refer to the later Yaeyama completed in 1929.which was a minelayer of 1,384-tons (she was sunk 24 Sept 1944). One sources claims that the Yaeyama was originally a Chinese warship captured and renamed by the Japanese but this has to be discounted. The Kuri, Tsuga and Hasu were all 1,050 ton Momi-class destroyers, with the same length and beam as the Momo class.

8. Captured Japanese Shipping

It would be wrong to assume that 100% of the maritime losses of the Japanese invasion were Chinese. Despite the impression given by all the preceeding Tables Japan did suffer ships being sunk and captured during the war. Table 31 lists several warships damaged or sunk by Chinese aircraft and mines.  

Japan had until April 1938 enjoyed both naval and air superiority, however, on 29th April, 1938 when the Japanese air force launched major air strikes on Wuhan to celebrate Hirohito’s birthday this superiority was questioned. The Chinese had anticipated such a raid and one of the most intense dog fights (air battles) of the Second Sino-Japanese War ensued. The under-funded Chinese air force shot down 21 Japanese planes for the loss of 12 Chinese aircraft.

The Chinese Air Force (CAF) frequently took the fight to the enemy. On Aug 14th 1937 Chinese aircraft attacked IJN flagship Izumo and the Japanese fleet at anchor in Shanghai. Caught up in the attack was the British cruiser HMS Cumberland and the USS Augusta – no one on board either ship was killed (

Six captured Japanese cargo ships were used in Shanghai when the Chinese blockaded the Huangpu River, ie the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. All the other captured Japanese shipping found to date is of the lesser military importance category and could el have been abandoned by the Japanese after their use. Those found so far are:

  1. Tai An, a pontoon, raised in 1960, site: Changshanjiao, Jiangyin.
  2. Han An, a wooden pontoon, raised in 1964, site: between northern and southern bouys of Jiangyin block line.
  3. Fu An, pontoon, raised in 1960, site: Changshanjiao, Jiangyin.
  4. Ji An, barge, 150 tons, raised on Dec 1 1953, site: Changshanjiao, Jiangyin.
  5. Zhen An, pontoon, raised in 1964, site: between northern and southern bouys of Jiangyin block line.
  6. De An, pontoon, length 91.4m, width 15.98m, draught 3.65m, raised between Nov 12 and Dec 30 1958, site: Changshanjiao, Jiangyin.
  7. Sha Shi, pontoon, raised in 1968, site: Changshanjiao, Jiangyin.
  8. Yong Qing, one barge/pontoon were not salvaged.

9. Blockade as a Weapon

Scuttling ships is normally categorized as a negative or self-defeating action, denying an enemy the use of the ship as a war asset. The scuttling of the German Grand Fleet and U-boats at the end of World War I and a repeat at the end of World War II are examples that come readily to mind.

However, it would appear that the Chinese used the scuttling of ships as a pro-active, positive means to counter the Japanese. One of the maps first displayed in Part 3 illustrates how the Japanese invasion of China was principally along its waterways. For clarity, that same map is reproduced here, in Part 4, but as a larger image.

Below: Extent of Japanese Army invasion/occupation by 1940 (shaded Lilac). Note the advances are mainly along rivers (depicted as blue lines).

As a result of these measures some scuttling became better known / famous in China than others, for example, the blockade at Kiangyin is a famous one but is probably little known outside China.

In an effort to be as comprehensive as possible, in what is a relatively little known topic in the West even today, a commentary on the history of the Chinese Nationalist Navy and the Sino-Japanese War would not be complete without an attempt to catalogue the scuttling and blockades.

The following list of river blockades set up by the Chinese Nationalist Navy are in no order of merit or relative importance.

1.  Huangpu River, Shanghai, – 3 block lines of blackships consisting of 1 navy transport ship, 6 captured Japanese cargo ships and 14 Chinese merchant ships, they were scuttled between August 14th and 17th, 1937.

2.  Wulong Shan near Zhenjiang, Yangtze River, Jiangsu province: Built in Aug and Sept 1937, it consisted of 4 merchant ships, 1 pontoon, and ten of sampans. The provincial government of Jiangsu also sunk numerous sampans in inland rivers.

3.  Madang Yangtze River, located in Hubei province: constructed in Dec 1937, and made up of 4 merchant ships and 5 pontoons. The blockade was lengthened between March and June 1938, using 9 more ships, 8 junks and the scuttling of more than 600 small sampans.

4.  Tianjiazhen, Yangtze River, in Hubei province, 10 ‘concrete ships’ were scuttled in July 1938 – the  original plan was to scuttle 12 merchant ships.

5.  Gedian, Yangtze River, again in Hubei province, more ‘concrete ships’ were scuttled in Sep 1938.

6.  Shishou, Yangtze River, in Hubei province – 20 small merchant ships (total tonnage 1,645 tons ?) were scuttled in Nov 1938, with more pontoons scuttled there in 1939.

7.  Xiang River, 7 ships and several junks were scuttled in Nov 1938 to prevent Japanese gunboats entering Dongting Lake.

8.  Shandong province, 12 “aged warships” and 1 merchant ship were scuttled by the Chinese 3rd Fleet on Dec 12 1937. 4 of them were sunk in Liugongdao, Weihai, and other 9 were scuttled in Qingdao. Later more than 20 ships were scuttled in Qingdao to block the harbor.

9.  Jiangsu province, Chinese engineers demolished the harbour at Lianyungang in Sept 1937. Also scuttled there were 6 merchant ships (total tonnage 10,747 tons ?). In 1938, the watercourse which links Guan River and Lianyungang was also blocked by 3 ships (more than 9,000 tons).

10.  Zhejiang province, the mouth of Yong River which leads to Ningbo, the biggest industrial city of Zhejiang province, was blocked in 1939 by 6 ships, 3 small landing crafts, 8 junks. Two other merchant ships were scuttled there in July 1940.

11.  Fujian province, the mouth of Min River was blocked between Sept 1937 and Sept 1938 by over 60 ships including cargo ships, patrol boats, junks and pontoons. The Jin River and some armlets were also blocked.

12.  Guangdong province: the mouths of Pearl River were blocked by 12 retired warships, 17 merchant ships and 135 junks.

13.  Ships scuttled in the most well known blockade, namely that at Jiangyin (Kiangyin) on Aug 12th 1937, included the following ships:  Cruisers / sloops: Datong, Ziqiang.  Training ship: Tongji. Seaplane tender: Weisheng,Desheng. Gunboat: Wusheng. Torpedo boat: Chen, Su. Merchant ships: Jiahe, Xinming, Tonghua, Yushun, Taishun, Guangli, Xingshi, Huaxin, Huai’an, Tongli, Ningjing, Kunxing, Xin Ping’an, Maoli II, Yuanchang, Muyou, Huafu, Dalong, Tonghe, Ruikang, Gongping, Wanzai, Yongji.

These ships were scuttled together with 185 sampans, junks, and eight pontoons that were confiscated from Japanese shipping companies.

10. Cargo Ships Raised

A surprising number of ships were raised / refloated during the conflict. Part of the attraction is that fresh water is not as corrosive as salt water to a ship’s machinery.

It has been noted in earlier Tables that some vessels had been raised from rivers in the 1950s and 1960s. We might assume this was to allow freer navigation and a greater use of the rivers. China’s prosperity and increase in commerce in the last 10 years would almost necessitate higher volumes of river traffic and focus attention on underwater debris from 70 years ago. 

Unlike India, which gained 40,000 miles of railways during colonial years, the hinterland of China and its inner-most provinces have been starved of transport investment. By contrast India can as a result of sustained investment beginning in 1853, daily move 20 million passengers and more than 2 million tonnes of freight, again daily.

The following is a list of cargo ships raised by the Chinese, but it is unclear whether these ships were raised after 1945, or includes some refloating before 1945, or includes only these raised from 1960 onwards (for warship examples see Tables above e.g. Hai Chi, 2,980 tons, raised in 1959/1960; Hai Rong raised on Apr 25th  1959; Hai Chou, raised in 1964).

Table 32.  Cargo Ships Raised  
Name Tons Cause & Date of Sinking
Hairui 1,200  
Haihu 680 Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Wufeng   Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Jiangda   Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen
Jianru 140 Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen; salvaged and sunk again by Japanese planes in Oct 1938
Zhixin 140 Sunk by Japanese shore batteries in Oct 1938
Zhongyuan   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Zhongkai   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Anbei   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Feipeng   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Guangan 80  
Hushan   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Andong   Sunk by Japanese planes in Nov / Dec 1938
Haiwei 200 Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Yamen
Haizhou   Sunk by Japanese planes in Sept 1937 near Humen

11. Modern 21st Century China

Mainland China’s path to economic wealth is well underway. It has been made possible by a period uninterrupted by the adventurous or buccaneering behavior of other nations.

The foresight at the end of the 20th century to bring to China an urban, industrialised and middle class society is the key reason its wealth will be long term.

Of all the key components it is the middle class that will prove the most pivotal. Africa, for so long the world’s “basket case” in economic terms now has leaders openly promoting a middle class in their countries. Russia, which for centuries had a two tier society – and arguably still has one with the excess of the oligarchies created in the Pres. Boris Yeltsin years – is edging closer to a middle class as a catalyst for the economy.

China has entered the 21st century poised to enjoy the fruits of industrialisation, however, it has also realised that economic wealth is only guaranteed by military strength and in particular naval power.

The development and sea change in Russia and China can be said to be analogous with England in the 1580s and the change from Elizabeth 1st (Tudor dynasty) to the Stuart reign.

Elizabethan England (1558–1603), saw a flowering of English poetry, music and literature but also economic strictures, redeemed by an effective navy able to prevent a Spanish invasion. What England did not enjoy was a comparable economic flowering. That had to wait until the ascension of the Stuart kings who benefited from the pioneering voyages and the commercial exploitation of lands found in the Elizabethan era. The voyages of Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake, the circumnavigation of the globe between 1577-81, and Martin Frobisher’s Arctic exploits etc. made economic growth in the Stuart era a reality.

It laid the foundations of an expansive and outward looking 18th century world power that earned its wealth from global trade. In sharp contrast to the mercantilism of Britain was the “Bullionism” regime of Spain. It seems too obvious to state that if a country, i.e. Spain, imports at relatively little cost large amounts of gold and precious metals which are the basis of any currency’s strength, an upsurge in prosperity should follow. In fact, Spain saw a sharp economic decline and entered a period of high unemployment that dogged it into the 20th century.

Powerful state monopolies, a reliance on raw materials, and de-industrialisation can be said to describe the China of the post 1945 era but it is actually the diagnosis ascribed by economists to Spain of the 17th century, where the omitted element of religion – a suppressive church in the case of Spanish is replaced by a suppressive ideology in the case of China.

12. Farewell to Purdah ?

China has now emerged from its period of purdah, its self-imposed seclusion, and the question must be what form of country will it become, given that it is destined to be a world power in the very near future ? Just as importantly,  what will be ‘the world view’ its political leaders will adopt ?

It is not an open or free, or as ‘readable’ as the countries in the West and in government circles there are alarming signs of a lingering distrust of foreigners and liberal thought. Nevertheless, looking forward we have to ask, what mistakes of history (theirs as well as other world powers), will they repeat ?

‘Trade’ for China is today not confined to an internal market or to other Communist countries and it trade routes are no longer it huge river system. It trades on a global scale. It trades on a global scale. Its initial world trade grew at a time when a proportion of its GDP did not have to be diverted into a naval build up. It could depend on the maritime forces of other nations to maintain freedom of navigation for all and protect China’s sea routes in the process.

 However, as those sea lanes have become ever more vital to China’s prosperity and as China has increasingly come into direct competition for raw materials with the nations it formerly depended upon to protect its maritime fleet, more money has been diverted into navel matters and not, as was traditionally the case, to its huge standing army.

The extent to which China is dependant on Middle Eastern oil is as great as Japan’s reliance in the 1920 and 1930s. The map below depicts her long vulnerable lines of trade and hence China’s need to be self-reliant in defending them. 

Below: China’s economic lifeline, her Middle Eastern oil supply route.

China’s insatiable demand – some would say uncontrollable demand – for oil has sucked supplies away from the West and artificially driven up prices. In other raw materials, i.e. traded commodities, China has now come into direct competition nations which afforded protection for its merchant marine. In other raw materials, i.e. traded commodities such as chrome, zinc, tin, etc, China has now come into direct competition with companies of many nations which traditionally mined refined and marketed these raw materials. If other nations feel, rightly or wrongly, that China is shutting them out of certain markets and commodities, strained relations if not reprisals must be expected. It is then that the value of a merchant marine and a navy to protect it becomes essential.

China’s overall world trade and vulnerability is best shown in the following global map of the busiest international shipping traffic in a single 12 month period. 

Below: Map of World Shipping Traffic Density, in a 12 month period.

Yellow lines indicate where shipping traffic is at the level of 2,500 to 5,000 journeys pa. The oil trade, depicted in the previous map, is shown as yellow in the map above. The other yellow routes through the Mediterranean, through the English Channel into the Baltic and to St Petersburg can be a mixture of all nation’s shipping but the route across the northern pacific to the USA will be predominantly Chinese and Japanese.

Chinese warships are already part of the international fleet stationed off the coast of Somalia to deal with the menace of pirates. Will they go the way of Germany and Italy in 1936 ? (see 

History is said to repeat itself but the mutterer never states that it is rarely in the same form. Thus we have an international fleet imitating measures put in hand for Spain in 1936 and we have pirates which were a major problems in Chinese coastal waters during the 18th and 19th century.

An example of history repeating itself but never exactly in the same way can be seen when comparing the Suez Canal Crisis of 1956 and the US in Dec 1999 when it seized the Panama. Both were highly important for a). their strategic potential and b). to ensure freedom (and not extortion) of international navigation Canal. The common consensus at the time was that ownership would be better exercised by non-excitable, vengeance minded and volatile governments.

Britain invaded Egypt when Nasser nationalised the British owed asset but had to withdraw on the cusp of victory when the US speculated in the money markets against Sterling. The US were prepared to sell-out their wartime alley (and where they had bases to attack Russia) and their sole reliable Middle Eastern ally, Israel.

When the vital interests of the US were at stake they were prepared to violate the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaty which gave Panama control over its own canal (see US Canal Zone). On the eve of full Panamanian control, scheduled for 2000, the US had second thoughts and invaded to protect its asset in Dec of 1999. With no world power in a position to oppose it Pres. George Bush suffered only international criticism. General Noriega, then Pres of Panama was a U.S. intelligence asset (i.e. working for the CIA) and his connection with drug money profits was tolerated not least of all by the head of the CIA in the 1970s, and later in the 1980s US President, George Bush.

By Nov of 2004 the Panama Canal had earned for its government a record $1 billion in revenue for that year, and in Dec 2008 the first Russian warship sailed through the Panama Canal (after World War II the canal had been made off-limits to Soviet warships during the Cold War).

So how well equipped and how well prepared is China to manage these history making events and protect its trade routes and sources of wealth ? Gone are the days of focusing on hostile neighbours like Japan. Past too are, or should be, the bravado shows of juvenile military might against the government in Formosa. aka Taiwan.

China is faced with the American conundrum – having eschewed pretences of empire – she now has the task of requiring and then acquiring a deep sea fleet capability. Britain together with other European powers never distained from transforming their historic colonial gains into fuel re-supply bases; a problem for America that was overcome by Allied co-operation during World War II (indeed, America is still ensconced in some former British overseas bases to this day).

But whereas the US has had friendly relations with many countries over many decades, who will give the Chinese overseas bases to operate from when they have a chequered history (sponsoring North Korea and Iran) in international relations ? China has fallen out and upset everyone of her close  neighbours. And who will give the Chinese overseas bases to operate from when to do so could well bring the host country under enormous pressure from America or other global players ?  

In an interview posted on China’s Ministry of Defence website in Dec 2009, a Chinese rear admiral has already urged China to set up navy supply bases overseas. Since 2008, when China had to pay a ransom to free a ship held for nine weeks by Somali pirates (this only encourages more attacks), China has been part of the international patrols operating off the Somali coast and in the narrow Gulf of Aden, escorting Chinese and foreign ships through waters menaced by pirates. The need and solution of operating deep sea naval patrols has thus been identified at the highest level.

The US has the single selling advantage that countries hosting its naval base are welcome to trade with America. Selling into China will be as frustrating as selling into Japan was 30 years ago. In the case of Japan it didn’t matter so much as they had constitutionally foresworn militarism after 1945, but China is different.


13. Naval Command Structure

Numerically, as we can see from the table below (Table 30), China is quite capable of fielding enough ships to protect her regional interests.

Presently, China has divided her maritime resources and responsibilities into the 5 areas show on the adjacent map.

Her maritime resources (fleets) are based at Qingdao in the north Dinghai and Zhen Jiang. They are now called the North Sea Fleet, the East Sea Fleet and the South Sea Fleet. The People’s Liberation Army Navy, or PLAN, is 225,000 men strong. Each fleet is composed of surface forces, submarine forces, naval aviation, and coastal defence forces.

The South Sea Fleet also has two marine brigades, totalling some 10,000 men. The type of ship China possesses are all of the relatively small variety – with the exception of her nuclear powered submarines.

Were China to have no aircraft carriers we could conclude that in the short term at least she has no territorial ambition or need to project her foreign policy. But she already has plans for 3 and while details are shrouded and official denials plentiful it would seem they would be much larger than Japan’s wartime Hiryū (17,300),  Shōkaku (25,675 tons) or Zuikaku (29,800 tons) and probably larger even than Akagi at 36,500,tons.

However, geographically China is at a disadvantage if she is to have a world presence, which aircraft carriers would imply. Unlike America she does not straddle two oceans. Her long coast line may give her home waters superiority but south of Malaya and north to Alaska the outlook begins to look threadbare. The further east and west one looks the worse it becomes. Money hungry Africa is the obvious solution for the setting up of refueling, resupplying and repair bases (as per the Axis proposals for a base in Vichy French Madagascar).

So far as is known, modern China’s navy (i.e. the People’s Liberation Army Navy or PLAN) is roughly of the dimension shown in Table 30.

Table 33. People’s Liberation Army Navy


 (Communist China)

Type  No. Planned No.Active No. in Reserve   
Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarines 2 5
Nuclear Attack Submarines 4 – 6 5 2
Conventional Ballistic Missile Submarines 0 1
Conventional Attack Submarines  1 47
Total Submarines  7 – 9 58 2
Principal Surface Combatants 
Aircraft Carriers 3 0
Destroyers 26
Frigates 1 51
Total Principal Surface Combatants  4 77
Coastal Warfare Vessels 
Missile Boats 132 110 – 120
Torpedo Boats 20 150
Gun Boats 160 100
Submarine Chasers 75 20
Total Coastal Warfare Vessels  ~387 ~380 – 390
Amphibious Warfare Vessels 
Landing Platforms 1 1
Landing Ships 83
Landing Craft  370 – 480
Total Amphibious Warfare Vessels  1 ~454-564
Mine Warfare Vessels
Mine Warfare Ships 27 42
Mine Warfare Drones  4 26
Total Mine Warfare Vessels  31 68
Total Auxiliary/Support Vessels  ~153
Total – All Vessels  12+ ~1160 – 1270 450+
Total Combat Vessels  12+ ~633 420+
Source: “Total Combat Vessels” counts only submarines, principal surface combatants, coastal warfare vessels, mine warfare ships, landing platforms and ships. These are vessels that would normally be commissioned and excludes landing craft, mine warfare drones and auxiliary/ support vessels. All numbers are approximate. 


Below: A Communist Chinese Xia-class (Type-092) ballistic missile submarine at Hainan.

China’s existing Xia-class submarines (Type-092) are soon to be replaced by the new Jin-class (Type-094). China’s new Jin-class was first spotted in Feb 2008 at the new base on Hainan Island. However, niether the Xia-class or the  new Jin-class (Type-094) have ever conducted a deterrent patrol.  

China already has a submarine base in the Bolshoi Sea (opposite Port Arthur) but appears to be putting a lot work into a second facility at Yulin, on Hainan Island.

This new super-base has a new submarine de-magnetisation facility.

Left: Satellite photo of the new Yulin base and caverns on Hainan (North is left).

Ocean floor topographical maps (below) show perhaps why China is seeking more defensible submarine pens – the Continental shelf extends far out into the Yellow Sea making all submarines leaving the Bolshoi Sea base more detectable and vulnerable.

The benefits of a 2nd base at Hainan become clear when the adjacent sea floor is examined. Submarines can more quickly reach the safety and anonymity of deeper depths sailing due East.

Intelligence reports show a JL-2 missile was test launched from Bohai Bay in May 2008, but currently it is unclear from what platform (ship or sub).

China currently has the most active cruise missile programme. One highlight of her efforts is the development of an anti-ship variant of the CSS-5 ballistic missile. This anti-ship missile has a considerable range – some 1,500 km.  Its final stage is designed for manoeuvrable re-entry, making its target more difficult to anticipate, and thus complicating defence against the missile.  Such a missile could enhance the Chinese ability to attack ships at sea, including, for example, American aircraft carriers in the Taiwan Straits.


More detaila can be found at: and


14. Aircraft Carrier Developments

Rumours abound – and have done so for some years – of China acquiring an aircraft carrier or a small fleet of carriers.

As the years go by fewer and fewer countries are building or replacing aircraft carrier. Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands had by the middle of the 20th century all given up the use of aircraft carriers.

Among Far Eastern countries only Australia operated a conventional aircraft carrier after 1945, HMAS Melbourne (RN Majestic class). [6] Decommissioned in June 1982 she was sold in Feb 1985, to a Chinese shipbuilding company for scrap and reportedly broken up. But in January 2001 reports surfaced that she had been used to train Chinese pilots to land on her angled flight decks. [7] Undoubtedly the hulks of other carriers have also been studied by Chinese’s naval architects. For example, the former Soviet aviation cruiser Minsk was towed from a South Korean scrap yard to a Chinese port in 1998, and in 2001 the former but not fully completed Soviet / Ukrainian carrier Varyag was bought for US$20m and towed from the Black Sea to China to be a “floating casino” – a ruse likely to  fool very few.[8]

Some of the subsequent signals of intention are as follows: [9]

1. October 2006 – the Vice Chairman of the Science and Technology Committee in the PLA’s General Armament Department stated: “The Chinese army will study how to manufacture aircraft carriers so that we can develop our own… aircraft carriers are indispensable if we want to protect our interests in the oceans.”

2. October 2006 – a Russian press report suggested early-stage negotiations were underway for China to purchase up to 50 Russian Su-33 carrier-borne fighters, a variant of the Su-27 already transferred to China. Contract value approx.  $2.5 billion.

3. March 2007 – a Chinese Admiral of the PLAN was quoted as saying that the Chinese shipbuilding industry was actively conducting R&D into aircraft carrier construction and could be ready to build such a vessel by 2010.

4. 2007 – Liu, Wei-Wei; Qu, Xiang-Ju of the School of Aeronautics Science and Technology, Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics, China, published a paper “Modeling of carrier-based aircraft ski jump take-off based on tensor” in the Chinese Journal of Aeronautics [vol. 18, n 4, pp 326-335]. However, there are unconfirmed reports that the Chinese had built a ski jump nearly identical to that of the  Varyag at Yanliang [Janliang] Airfield, which is China’s main aviation test facility.

5. 2008 – the “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China” stated “evidence in recent years increasingly suggests China’s leaders may be moving forward with an aircraft carrier program. For example, beginning in early 2006 and with the release of China’s Eleventh Five Year Plan.

6. 2008 – it is reported that Russia has been providing assistance for several years in the construction of three Chinese-designed aircraft carriers. Some analysts have thus predicted that China could have an operational carrier by 2015, while others have considered 2020 to be a more realistic timeframe. [10]

Again relying on Russian sources, it would appear that China’s entry into the aircraft carrier arena will be ambitious and historic with plans for an aircraft carrier of between 40,000 to 60,000 tons. This is half the size of the USS Nimitz (101,000 tons) and down from the 78,000 tons spoken of in 2005.

The danger with aircraft carrier is that they can breed intolerance and superiority among the nations that possess them. For instance, it is not uncommon for the US Navy to described any one of its carriers as “”4.5 acres of sovereign and mobile American territory”, with al the implications for others that such a thought conveys.

The latest news (March 30, 2010), is that the former Russian aircraft carrier, Varyag, has been renamed Shi Lang. After 7 years of tinkering with the half finished aircraft carrier and the construction of a radar mast, she was moved, early in 2010, into dry dock for the fitting of engines and ‘heavy equipment’. [11]

15. Submarines

China alone in Asia operates 8 – 10 nuclear-powered submarines, and among Asian countries has the largest submarine force of 50 – 60 diesel-electric submarines. The former nationalist government now based on Taiwan (ROC), has purchased some conventional diesel-electric submarines from the West. Taiwan’s ability to deter aggression by re-equipping herself is thwarted time and again by Communist China’s bullying tactics of retribution against potential third party suppliers. The purchase of Zwaardvis class submarines in 1988 was perhaps Taiwan’s last successful attempt. [12]

There is a strong suspicion in the case of Communist China (PLAN) that espionage and bribery to  American personnel may have secured blueprints of technology worth millions of dollars and enabled her to build SSBNs well ahead of her true potential – although China is deeply enmeshed with Russian military sales. In a case brought in May 2007, against Chi Mak, 67 a Chinese-born engineer but a naturalised US citizen, the FBI revealed that Chinese spies had become the most active agents in the US. In the previous two years, the FBI has arrested nearly 30 Chinese nationals or Chinese Americans in cases involving US technology

Right: the Hai Lung Class (an improved Dutch design Zwaardvis class submarine), 2,376 tons, speed, knots: 12 surfaced, 20  submerged).

China also has a nuclear ballistic missile capability which makes all the charades, manoeuvrings and brinkmanship all the more dangerous.

In 2002 China bought 8 more Kilo-class submarines (China had already purchased 4 Kilo-class subs from Russia a few years earlier). Design in 1982, the 2,300 ton Kilo class (NATO code) submarines have been widely exported to India, Iran, Indonesia, Poland, Romania, Algeria etc.

Officially they are described as having one fixed-pitch propeller; a surface speed of 10 – 12 knots with a submerged speed of 17 – 25 knots; and a range but only using a snorkel device of 6,000 – 7,500 miles at 7 knots; a submerged range of 400 miles at 3 knots or only 12.7 miles at 21 knots, all of which, if true, together creates a vessel of somewhat limited capabilities.

Left: a Russian ‘Kilo’ class diesel-electric submarine.

China also bought two more Sovremenny-class destroyers, adding to a pair China already had and new deliveries of S300 PMU2 anti-aircraft missiles, plus 40 Su-30 MKK fighter-bombers,with air-to-sea missiles. The NATO code for the Su-30 is ‘Flanker’ and in profile is reminiscent of the American F-15 Eagle with its twin tail fins.

The US$4 billion Chinese contract made Russia its biggest military arms trading nation. In 2002 China was the world’s biggest weapons importer, underscoring its antipathy towards Taiwan. In 2002 China was the world’s biggest weapons importer, underscoring its antipathy towards Taiwan and potential for military supremacy across the Taiwan Strait.   Yet for all this expenditure China has military blind  spots. 

Left: the streamlined hull of a Kilo class submarine, typical of the modern vessel.

A senior U.S. defence official said in 2002 that, “China still cannot find ships at sea,” and that “. . . over-the-horizon targeting escapes them” – a capability of ocean surveillance the US built up in the 1960s, adding that “China has all the tools to build its own but it has not” (yet ?- Ed).

The predicament in which Taiwan finds herself is amply demonstrated by the following list of her submarine capabilities and the age of her submarine stock – some of which are 60 years old and 40 years past their safe diving limit (Table 34).

Table 34. Taiwan Navy


Submarines on Active Duty
Name (Number)  Class  Base  Builder / Country  Laid down  Launched  Commissioned 
Hai Hu (794) Hai Lung Tsoying Wilton Fijenoord, Netherlands Dec 1982 Dec 1986 April 1988
Hai Lung (793) Hai Lung Tsoying Wilton Fijenoord, Netherlands Dec 1982 Oct 1986 October 1987
Hai Pao (792) Guppy II Tsoying Federal SB & DD Co, USA Aug 1944 July 1945 April 1946
Hai Shih (791) Guppy II Tsoying Portsmouth Navy Yard, USA July 1944 Nov 1944 March 1945
Sources: A.D. Baker III, Combat Fleets of the World 2000-2001 (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute, 2000) and Stephen Saunders, Jane’s Fighting Ships: 2002-2003 (Coulsdon, Jane’s Information Group, 2002).

Were America or Europe to provide nuclear powered submarines to any of the  squabbling countries in the South China Sea basin, world public opinion would rightly judge them as grossly irresponsible and childishly reckless.  The assessment would be that the West was threatening world stability and being inflammatory through client states (vassal state).

Yet this is precisely the course of action adopted by Russia. Even to contemplate balancing the equation by the West providing Taiwan or, say, the Philippines or Vietnam, with an equal number of submarines is unthinkable. To then make those submarines nuclear powered would be viewed as an act of madnessor and to make them ICBM carriers would be greed overwhelming sober consideration. Recalling the Sino-Soviet conflicts of the late 20th centruy, how confident is Russia that this brotherly co-operation will last ?

Yet as we shall see from the following sections, that may be the only, albeit hideous, course of action open to the West if bloodshed is not to erupt on a regulator basis in that region. China’s Pavlovian-like instincts may kick-in with the effect of meting out what was meted out to her in the past. The prospect of China creating compliant vassal states around her is attractive and certainly one she would not pause or blink twice to achieve. But was it ever thus ? Russia and America have both sought, in their time, to surround themselves with compliant states.

Japan, which does not possess any ‘offensive’ military equipment and has had a pacifist Constitution since 1945 is, nonetheless, able to inspired fear inside China’s government. Unlike the Chinese defence budget, Japan’s defence expenditures has not seen any increases in recent years, yet China is reportedly convinced that Japan is upgrading its military capabilities beyond the level necessary to protect its territory. Even if that were true, it should have occurred to the Chinese mind that their behaviour might be prompting it. It is perfectly reasonable for Japan in the face of overt missile testing in China and Korea to seek anti-missile missile systems – which appears to be what is upsetting the Chinese ( ). If China persists with this paraniod-like behaviour Russia and Russian ambitions may come under closer scrutiny by China.

Is China ‘testing’ the reactions of the West or simply unaware of her actions on others ? On March 14th 2009, US warships had to set course for the South China Sea as a ‘standoff’ developed between a US purpose built surveillance ship, USS Impeccable (5,300 tons), operating in international waters and five Chinese trawler-type boats.

China accused the US ship of ‘spying’ – and it probably was, but all countries do a little eavesdropping and at 100 miles off-shore and in international waters there is nothing a nation can do about it. Why ‘simple’ trawler fishermen should interest themselves in towed sonar arrays and throw grappling hooks to damaged or recover them is not explained by the Chinese. (See also USS Pueblo incident, North Korea, Jan 1968 and Gulf of Tonkin Incident 1964).

The disagreement between the US and China centres on the interpretation of the UN’s “exclusive economic zone” (EEZ) which allows countries to claim, for example, mineral rights and to enforce its law on trespassers. However, China ignores other countries claims for EEZ, see below, and America is not a signatory which dose not aid clarity. The US believes the Convention grants free navigation, within a country’s exclusive economic zone for all countries’ military and civilian aircraft and ships, China does not see it that way.

Only a month earlier (Feb 2009), several Indian newspapers reported the allegations made in the Chinese press that an Indian Kilo-class submarine had tracked a small group of Chinese warships en route to join the anti-pirate efforts off the Somalian coast. Reputedly an Indian naval source was cited as admitting their submarine had tracked the Chinese warships; “Every nation does it,” but denied it had been ‘forced to the surface’ as the Chinese (characteristically) had claimed.

These two incidents demonstrate just how ‘overly-sensitive’ the Chinese government is to the activities of others, and reflects the essentially secretive nature of its government yet is content to disregard the sensitivities of other governments.  For example, recent  reports (May 2010), suggest that the submarine HMS Poseidon which sank in 1931 near Wai Hei Wai and is deemed a war grave, was salvaged without notice circa 2005, simply to test the skills of China’s naval special forces and newly formed underwater recovery units.

Indeed, the US Navy was surprised to find a Chinese Song Class diesel-electric attack submarine (length 160 ft) surfacing in the middle of one of its exercises in the Pacific Ocean (but near Taiwan) in Oct 2006. It had successfully tracked the USS Kitty Hawk and came within viable range for launching torpedoes or missiles at the carrier. Arguably, the Chinese craft was perfectly placed to gather intelligence on the US ships taking part in the exercise. When asked for an explanation Peking pleaded ignorance of the event and dismissed the affair as coincidence. (The USS Kitty Hawk was decommissioned in 2009 after 49 years of service). During 2008, Chinese attack submarines sailed on more patrols than ever before, according to information obtained by Federation of American Scientists from U.S. Naval Intelligence (see graph below).

Chinese Submarine Patrols  1981 – 2008

 (declassified by U.S. Naval Intelligence).

In the medium to short term the two countries who will find themselves in an embrace of long-term rivalry are China and the United States. It was over the South China Sea, between Hainan and the Paracel Islands that a slow, propeller driven American spy plane was harassed in 2001, by Chinese jet fighters. It ended with one of the nibble Chinese jet fighter crashing mid-air into the lumbering 4 engined surveillance plane killing its pilot. None of the American crew were killed but the damaged plane was forced to land at Hainan resulting in the detention of its crew and no doubt  its classified surveillance equipment was examined in detail by Chinese electronic engineers of its surveillance equipment. China could not accept that it had over-reacted and insisted that a letter of apology be received before the crew could be returned to America. This is the propaganda oriented conduct of the old China under Mao.

Hainan Island has become China’s underground submarine base. Reportedly, the island’s caverns are capable of hiding up to 20 nuclear submarines – safe from spy satellite intelligence gathering. However, they are not so safe when they leave their U-boat type pens with ships such as the USS Impeccable able to trace, track and encode each individual submarine’s sonic signature (see Chinese born engineer Chi Mak, above).

16. Predicting Future Flashpoints

In the affairs of nations conflict is almost inevitable. Among advanced countries only Switzerland ever seems to successfully avoid war and conflicts.

This commentary on China’s Sunken Warships began with Part 1 looking into China’s maritime fleet and gunboats in the ‘inter-war years’. And yet, almost unnoticed, we are, in 2010, in another ‘inter-war’ period; we have another military build-up underway this time Asiatic; and a Western world that is again weary of war (and its expense). Russia, by contrast, has government coffers bulging from the profits of oil and gas sales and a cavalier attitude to the future consequences of its present sales of hardware.

Some years after China first started buying Russian made military hardware we find that its activity is adversely affecting its neighbours. By 2009 Vietnam felt compelled to buy 6 Russian-made Kilo submarines for US$2 billion to counter China’s hostile posturing in the South China Sea. [13]Vietnam buys submarines to counter China” and ‘Hanoi seals arms deal with Moscow amid China’s naval build-up, and cosies up to US Defence.’

It has come to light that India, which also operates Russian Kilo class submarines, has been quietly advising Hanoi – not known for its submarine heritage. At the same time Vietnam is forging a military relationship with its former enemy, the US, which has increased its navy strength in the South China Sea.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), based in London, estimates China’s spending on its armed forces might already be around US$90 billion per year.Japan, a country far richer than Vietnam, is spending roughly US$42 billion on defence annually simply because it too is anxious about China’s rapidly growing defence budget, which is growing at an annual rate of 17%.  The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), based in London, estimates China’s spending might already be up to US$90 billion on its armed forces per year.

 These developments have to be seen against the backdrop of China’s seizure of the Paracel Islands from Vietnam in 1974. In fact, from 1974 to 1999 ‘shoot-outs’ with the military forces of its neighbours, e.g. Brunei, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines have been a recurring theme over disputed islands including the Spratly Islands near Brunei in  the South China Sea.

 China and Vietnam have clashed militarily on three occasions: in 1974 Chinese troops invaded the Paracel Islands and drove out the South Vietnamese forces; in 1979 the Chinese army launched a punitive attack against North Vietnam in response to Hanoi’s invasion of Cambodia (China was supporting the inhuman Khmer Rouge regime); and in 1988 communist Chinese and communist Vietnamese naval forces clashed over ownership of the Spratly Islands.

Since 1949, when Mao’s army could claim to have won the war against the non-communist forces on the mainland, China has been no different than any Republic or Colonial power in securing off-shore islands its sees as rightly belonging to China. Islands that ROK forces held were slowly overrun by the Chinese communist Army, eg Hainan.

The Battle of Wanshan Islands, an archipelago near Hong Kong, lasted from May 1950 to Aug 1950 and saw Communist forces successfully occupy the islands (they had more than twice the numbers of ships and army forces).

The Dachen Islands (or Tachen Islands) lie a few miles off the coast and half way bertween Taipai and Shanghai. They were controlled by the Republic of China (the non-communist government which had been based in Taiwan since 1949). The situation for those on Dachen deteriorated until by Feb 1955 the American Navy organised an evacuation by the U.S. Seventh Fleet of 25,000 civilians and military personanel in what is now referred to as the First Taiwan Strait Crisis (14,500 civilians, 10,000 Republic of China servicemen, and 4,000 guerrilla fighters, along with 40,000 tons of military equipment and supplies from the island).

Chiang Kai-shek grudgingly allowed the island to fall to the Communists so that the other offshore island groups, Kinmen and Matsu, could be successfully defended with American help.

The reason behind these Chinese adventures is belief in oil lying beneath the continental shelf. In 1968 oil and natural gas reserves were confirmed and later estimated to be the fourth largest reserve in the world, i.e. on a scale comparable with Kuwait.

A look at a map of the region shows China’s claim of sovereign territorial waters (shown here in red) running from Korea to North Borneo. It begins to explain why clashes occur with its nearest neighbours’. Save for a wafer thin watery border around Vietnam, the Philippines and North Borneo (now Sarawak and Sabah), everything else, China believes, belongs to her.

Right: China’s claim of sovereign territorial water in the South China Sea (marked in red).

China’s territorial ambitions know no bounds and she is claiming islands that belong to Japan far to the north of the Paracel Islands. Peking’s dispute with Tokyo hinges on an estimated natural gas reserve of 200 billion cubic metres centred on the Xihu Trough in the East China Sea. Here the EEZ claims of China lie alongside those of Japan but the joint boundary line is not recongised by China which has been extracting gas since 2006. The gas and oil fields involved are Chungxiao; Shirakaba; Duanqiao; Kusunoki; Tianwaitian and Kashi. Far Eastern commentators see no compromise in the offing because Tokyo and Peking are basing their territorial claims on two different international agreements.

The flashpoint, if there is to be one, will be over a developing nation’s raw materials. China has already shown itself to be obdurate regarding attemots by Western government to rectify tyrannical governments and replace dictators, e.g. Mugabe. It has also shown itself to be more than willing to bully and even fire live rounds at its neighbours. Therefore, the two most likely candidates for a flashpoint will be in Africa (and most probably with the West), or in the islands in the South China Sea – most probably with less powerful nations seen as easy prey. The latter is also more likely as it is closer to home, would not require aircraft carriers to project power and intimidation of smaller navies would be unlikely to result in a humiliating black-eye or the prestige-crushing loss of a capital ship with all the implications that would have for the stability of the Chinese government, e.g. the sinking of the Belgrano in 1982 and the collapse of the Military Junta in Argentina.

Left:ARAGeneral Belgrano, (12,200 tons) pre-1982.

If the local skirmishes escalated into a higher levels of conflict, the positioning of the islands dotted around the South China Sea might enable China to exclude outside assistance or interlopers to what they would see as an internal or domestic dispute. However, this would also run the risk of having her trade routes compromised or even cut-off in retaliation. The traditional ‘great powers’ with their ocean-roaming navies would have to decide whether to render that outside assistance or not. They may conclude that to contain the conflict geographically would be the preferable option, in which case the question has to be answered what military hardware should now be supplied before China embarks on such a campaign.


17. Paracel and Spratly Archipelagos

For various and hugely powerful cultural reasons the occidental perception of the Pacific is of a vast ocean sparsely populated and dotted with occasional coral reefs. A Westerner’s mind also sees the South China Sea in the same light – a tranquil corner of a troubled world dotted here and there with uninhabited and desert islands. While this is true, it is also misleading. The Asiatic nations surrounding the South China Sea basin are being intimidated by their giant neighbour China. Claims by the smaller countries of island lying off their coastline are being denied by China which is claiming everything in sight.

The reaction of the developed world has been, unaccountably, to treat China with kid gloves, fearing that which she might be capable of, rather than what she is actually capable of. This fear is based on China’s frequent threats of trade embargoes, threats of future sanctions and the cancelling of large orders she has placed, e.g. Dutch Fokker aircraft order cancelled when submarines bought by Taiwan.

The kow-towing by the West is not doubt sincerely intended to bring China ‘on side’ and join other responsible governments in sanctions against ‘rogue states’, e.g. North Korea, Iran, and the Khmer Rouge (now extinguished).

But what has the West to lose really ? Is it likely that China will pick a ‘fighting war’ in the next 10 years with the West ? That’s a very dim prospect. The ‘non-Chinese world’ has bases all around China and a combined fleet of 20 aircraft carriers to seal off the seaward side.

It is surely China who is risking more ! She has new cities of glass and chrome. China would become reduced again without world trade and her shipping arteries can be choked-off at a moments notice. The West is more frightened of shadow cast by China than the actual hardware casting the shadow.

Which brings us to the Paracel and the Spratly Archipelagos. This is a sphere of influence as important to China as the Caribbean is to the US.

Right: Map of the Spratly Islands (circled).

The compelling aspect, at least to an occidental mind, is that these islands were never inhabited, owned or even occupied by any one nation. They have been left uninhabited and in a limbo from the end of the French colonial period and even the Treaty of San Francisco never dealt with them, save for Japan agreeing to give up her claim to them.

In the case of the Spratlys, today a variety of governments are ‘dug in’, reluctant to give ground and hopeful of being awarded the entire island group. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, China and Brunei have all laid claim to the islands (some are only reefs in reality) and many are occupied sporadically or by a token force.

Claiming the various islands within the Spratly group began in the 1930s when France first occupied the archipelago. It was not until 1946 that Taiwan took possession of the Itu Aba island – the largest Spratly Island – and a former Japanese submarine base. [15] Currently, 45 islands are occupied by claimant countries.

The discovery of oil deposits under the South China Sea lead to this sudden interest in the area. Vietnam, which assumed the titles and claims of the departed French administration, had incorporated the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands as a bureaucratic tidying-up exercise for signing contracts with foreign oil companies. But for whatever reason, oil or sovereignty, early in 1974 Communist China attacked the Paracel Islands from sea and air and captured them.

The Paracel Islands lie to the north of the Spratly Islands, near China’s island province of Hainan. Having lost them in the 1970s, the new unified government that was once North Vietnam wants them back.

By not handing them back, China hopes to legitimise her claim to all of the South China Sea and its mineral resources, but in so doing risks being seen as imperialist as the obsolete Emperor dynasties and colonial powers it replaced.

Another reason for retaining the islands is that in 2009 China planned to have completed an underground submarine base on Hainan Island (a modern day U-boat pen facility). With relations warming between Vietnam and America the Paracel Islands would make an excellent listening and tracking site for the US.

In the realm of strategic relevance one also has to consider that the Spratly Islands sit astride the world 2nd busiest tanker routes and one of the world’s top 10 shipping lanes.

Domestically produced oil is available to China from oil rigs located off-shore from Hong Kong and the Pearl River with more blocks coming on-stream. The potential of the northern gas and oil reserves near Japan have already been mentioned as have those in the south around the Spratly Islands.  

Left: View from Pratas Reef, an atoll structure.

However, further out (some 200 miles south east of Hong Kong) is Pratas Reef – a Taiwanese atoll manned by ROC military personnel. This has not only a strategic dimension but represents a possible claim for oil and gas reserves for Taiwan.

Bi-lateral talks have never been China’s strongest suite. In the 1980s discussion with the Philippines over Chinese encroachment of its islands near Palawan ended in deadlock.

Talks with Taiwan have since 1949 always gone no where china wants Taiwan to buckle to its ‘One China’ ideal. Vietnam has been mistreated and bullied and the list of snubs stretches on into the late 1990s. When Hong Kong was handed over to Chinese control – Red Army troops couldn’t keep to a timetable or protocol and nearly arrived at the quay before the future King of England had stepped aboard HMS Britannia. So, diplomatically, the Chinese have shown themselves to be uncouth and gauche, at worst, or naïve and ungroomed, at best.

18. Legitimacy of Claims

China claim to the whole of the South China Sea is wholly unrealistic. The 1960s saw the End of Empire for the European powers – a closing off of an historical chapter that may never come again now that the globe is fully mapped.

Former imperial powers have brought both benefits and drawbacks to the land areas they occupied – as China knows full well.. Some imperial powers have encouraged native economies to thrive, become self sufficient and cradled infant forms of local democracy. But these same imperial powers have made some awful blunders – some reckless and poor long lasting decisions. The merit, even in these, is to learn from them. India, Malaya and Singapore are doing exactly that – Pakistan, Indonesia and China are not.

For China to base her claim on imperial dynasties going back a 1,000 years is as absurd as France reclaiming Algeria or Britain reclaiming its lost colonies in the north Americas. It is anachronistic that China should renew its so-called historic claim to the South China Sea on its imperial predecessors and in the process completely ignores the existence of Vietnam.

Many nations and people may dream, once in a while, of turning back the clock to happier days but most sanely realise this can only ever be a dream – a wistful wish. It only becomes dangerous when national politicians and people act upon such dreams and try to make them become a reality. Yesterday’s glories cannot be preserved in aspic. World events have moved on and new countries have been created.

Such is the case with China. She is basing her claim to the Paracel Islands and all the South China Sea islets on a document issued by, of all people, the former colonial powers, e.g. France, Japan and Britain.

Is it not an irony that China has to cite the Japanese Foreign Ministry which issued a protest declaration to the French at a time when the Second Sino-Japanese War was underway ? French troops, which had long colonised Vietnam, occupied the Paracel Islands on July 3, 1938 after setting up a weather station there in 1932 and on the Spratly Islands in 1937.

The Japanese note read:

“The statement of Great Britain and France made respectively in 1900 and 1921 already declared that the Paracel Islands were part of the Administrative Prefecture of Hainan Island. Therefore, the current claims made by An’nan [Vietnam Gov’t – Ed] or France to the Paracel Islands are totally unjustifiable.”

The modern day chronology of the Paracel Islands is this:

  • 1932 – French Indochina in conjunction with the Nguyen dynasty of Vietnam annexed the islands and set up a weather station on Pattle Island.
  • 1938 – .French troop “invade” the small and barren atolls of the Paracel Islands and set up a radio and weather station.
  • 1939 –   Japan invades and occupies the islands, on the pretense that they are “Chinese territory.” But as Japan invaded both China and Vietnam it is a moot point.
  • 1945 – ROC, i.e. Nationalist China reaffirms its ownership as Chinese sovereignty and sovereignty over all the other islands in the South China Sea. Nationalist China sends a patrol force to the islands, but this move was challenged by the French who by now were back in Indo-China.
  • 1949 – Communist China wins control of mainland and forces Nationalist China to decant to Taiwan. Communist China not recognised as a legitimate country by Western powers.
  • 1954 – North Vietnam becomes independent self-governing state.

It is grossly unfair to neighbouring countries that China should insist on a bulbous 1,000 mile ‘territorial waters’ limit that is all-devouring. It is as unworkable and as undesirable as the original 3-mile-limit. To seek to confine countries like the Philippines, Malaysia and Vietnam to a small limit of 50 to 100 miles is unconscionable.

Geographically, the Spratly islands are far too south to be reasonably called Chinese ands are more likely to be deemed Vietnam’s or as belonging to the Philippines and North Borneo.

The starting point for all should be the acceptance of the by now standard limit of 12 nautical miles (22 km) from the coastline. Everything else can be negotiated and traded. There should be no ‘linkage’ with any other island group, e.g. attempting to link the Paracel with the Spratly islands.

A competent analysis of the Spratly Islands situation has been prepared by the University for Peace which is an agency /facility of the United Nations and is based in Costa Rica.

They point out the significance of the Spratly Islands and acknowledge that the origins of the various claims are historically complex. However, the international community has addressed the problem and devised what is called “Exclusive Economic Zones” (EEZ). This is now established by the United Nation’s Convention as part of the Law of the Sea. Essentially, claims to off-shore islands and continental shelf rights based on proximity are more likely to be accepted. [15]

The map (left) depicts the new international rulings. A 12 mile territorial waters boundary is mandatory with a further 12 miles allowed for a ‘Contiguous zone’.

A maritime contiguous zone permits countries to enforce its laws and control by prevention or punishment infringements of it customs, fiscal, immigration, and or pollution / sanitary laws. It is linked to the subject of high seas freedom of navigation, over-flights, and related freedoms, such as the conduct of military exercises. The EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) allows countries to legitimately claim a 200 mile zone exclusively for its own economic use /benefit.

Beyond the 200 mile limit the waters are deemed ‘international’ with no question of sovereignty being entertained. For the claims of the smaller countries to succeed they must show that they are within the 200 mile limit which only Sarawak and the Philippines can show (see map Sect. 16). The claims of Taiwan, Malaysia and Vietnam may well fail because of this.

19. Diplomacy


What should be happening is a repetition of the peaceful division of the North Sea between Norway and Britain. Not only is oil flowing to both but it has been concluded in a spirit of co-operation and mutual respect. The whole task has been able to progress at a much faster pace.

Unfortunately, China’s bully boy behaviour appears to be infectious. Russia has now succumbed to graceless moves by adopting a hard stance (no doubt for internal public consumption) with regard claiming Arctic oil reserves. It was never an issue before so why make it one now ?

Open enmity exists between Russia and Belarus, once the closest of allies in the former Soviet Union days, which threatened the heating for millions of homes in Western Europe in Jan 2007. 1 How the world has changed. The First and the Second Opium Wars were initiated after the Chinese arrested a handful of European nationals. Now, when millions are put in jeopardy, there are no military consequences. [16]

The squabbling will cost both countries dear. Who is wrong is immaterial – Russia by doubling the price unilaterally or Belarus for allegedly siphoning-off and re-exporting petroleum products or its imposing of a transit tax ? The source is now tainted and shown to be politically vulnerable. Future European fuel planning will be based on reliability and it will be downgraded with other suppliers (not dependent on Russia) given priority.

France and Germany are the two EU counties most dependent on Russian gas. Locked into Russian contracts they have a storage capacity (in 2009) of 80 days compared to Britain’s 15 days, which buys from several large suppliers on the open market. The unit price of gas to French households is lower than in Britain which has to pay “spot market” prices. However, its vulnerability, including economic blackmail, is low whereas France’s is high. [17]

Diplomacy is nothing without trade and meaningless without a military infrastructure. However, resorting to military measures negates diplomacy and is the hallmark of failed diplomacy or incompetent diplomats. This was not quite true in the days of 19th century gunboat diplomacy when the two could work hand-in-hand.

In a capitalist market, as China will surely discover, reserves of any mineral are worth only what people are willing to risk to pay – and only in anticipation of receiving it. Vulnerability of supply, be it by political, military and or economic forces, lowers the unit value.

Non-receipt means nil value to the producer and customer nation alike. Being a tainted source doesn’t zero the value of the resource, it merely drops the unit value.

Chinas present position is the inverse. She is so desperate for enough oil to meet her internal consumption that, like Japan in 1940, she will risk almost anything and pay almost any price. But were she to secure at some time in the future, all of the South China Sea oil reserves she would still not realise its full theoretical / paper value, though she would be able shore up her industrialisation and buoyant economy.

The last 50 years has seen both Russia and China recognise and financially support newly emergent states of questionable legitimacy – some of which have not been recognised by the West. It was said, that these newly independent states were ‘free at last’ of American (or British) imperialism, and were no longer ‘running dogs’ or ‘lackeys’ of the West – a turn of phrase that brings bewilderment rather than edification to the Western mind.

It is therefore hypercritical for both countries to now impose sanctions on new states it does not agree with, as in the case of China or falls out with, as in the case of Russia, e.g. Ossetia, Georgia, Ukraine, Belarus. This is not to underplay or ignore the less than pristine record of the West which has supported some very unsavoury regimes. However, that was in the second half of the 20th century and the Cold War. The world scene is now very much different, and it is to be hoped that countries that are about to become the new world leaders will watch, learn and inwardly digest the mistakes of their predecessors.

Peking, for instance, has repeatedly warned Vietnam and the Philippines against continuing oil exploration deals with overseas firms when China is physically and legally in no position to oppose such contracts. And even if it were, the self-determination clause of the UN and Communist China’s rhetoric would forbid the prolonging of low living standards among working people of its Asiatic neighbours. Are there echoes there of Japan’s deceitful ‘Greater Asian co-prosperity sphere’ scam (see Part 3) ?

Perhaps the Chinese and Russian attitudes are born of their common Marxist roots where the preeminent ideology was that the “state owned the Means of Production.” Somehow, and this is sheer speculation, that mindset might have found its way into international relations and the goods and services it provides for payment, i.e. foreign trade. Any blockage, dispute or disagreement immediately becomes an affront to the state requiring decisive action.

20. Conclusion

Legacies matter no less in the East, vis-à-vis Sino-Japanese relation, than they do in the West which, in the case of America, is obsessed (to an evangelical level) to see liberal democracies everywhere, e.g. Iraq and Afghanistan.

These latent cultural ideals and historic legacies guide future conduct and in every government there are always two competing wings fighting for supremacy. In the case of the US they are usually referred to as ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’. The evolution of policies and the people behind them, be it in China or the US, is critical if predictions are to be made.

“Every generation learns what it needs to know and then the next generation forgets it.”

Whereas British foreign policy once predominated in world affairs it is now American foreign policy. American politics have been shaped for some years by the political philosophy of the Neo-Cons, i.e. Neo-conservatists. Briefly stated, Neo-conservatism sees virtue in using American power (economic and military) to bring about social change in other countries, e.g. liberalism, democracy and human rights. In other words, the opposite to US isolationism of the 1930s. Or put another way, a variation or extension of British foreign and colonial policy in the 20th century as seen as an interpretation of a Whig version of history which was so prevalent up until the 1930s (See also Roger Scruton’s “A Dictionary of Political Thought” 1982). The Whig version of history can be defiend as an acceptance of the past as an inevitable progression towards a better future of greater liberty and enlightenment, culminating in modern forms of liberal democracy and constitutional monarchy. In general, Whig historians stress the rise of constitutional government, personal freedoms and scientific progress (all of which are food and drink to American culture).

Neo-Cons are more normally associated with right wing views and the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan so it is surprising to learn that the Neo-Cons route into the corridors of power started on the left of politics (a good historical account is given at

In the eyes of the outside world, the upshot, it can be argued, is neo-colonialism, i.e. the right to police, aid and interfere in the way other people behave or govern themselves. Examples of this could be said to be aspects of the Bosnian War and American ‘leverage’ used during the Reagan administration to oust (by resignation) Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines after public uproar at yet another rigged election there.

Neo-Cons were borne from a generation that believed that the principles of liberalism had failed to live up to the ideal and “no longer knew what it was talking about” – in other words, had lost its sense of direction.

While supporting free market economics the neo-conservatives nonetheless embraced the ‘welfare state’ and were willing for the state to interfere when overriding social purposes were at stake. The main characteristics of neo-conservatism are; 1). a tendency to see the world in binary good/evil terms, 2). low tolerance for diplomacy, 3). readiness to use military force, 4). emphasis on US unilateral action, 5). disdain for multilateral organisations, 6). focus on the Middle East, 7). an ‘them and us’ mentality.

As a consequnce it has always been the European view that American foreign policy lacks respect for others, lacks continuity, lack finesse and is clumbsier than it should be. It is easy to see how this philosophy might have appealed to Pres George W Bush in the 2000s.

Some of these characteristic traits echo those of China, and while the world can get by with one superpower having this mental outlook two or more superpowers with very similar outlooks and egos present something of a problem for the rest of humanity.

The problem is containable when an administration is short term, i.e. changed by election every 5 – 8 years. However, China’s method of appointing a chosen successor and ‘grooming’ him in the ways of the Party spells rigamortise and trouble in the years ahead. If this process were to be changed in the future the dangers would subside substantially.

In conclusion, it would have been most rewarding if it could be said that China could be depended upon to assume the mantle of a world leader in 20 years time in a quiet, smooth and dignified manner.

The prospect of it gliding effortlessly to centre stage and being a fair arbiter in world affairs is seductive but unlikely to happen.

The biggest compliment one could have paid to a future China was that it would, to paraphrase and American saying, ‘speak and walk softly but carry a big stick’.

Until China adjusts to this new role the intervening years will see instability and countries choosing to defer disarming. The US might possibly lose global leadership status though not global military power. America has to balance out the rise of China. China’s neighbours need to strike up a new accord or an ‘entente’ with America / the West to create this balance and mutually defend themselves against aggressive overture.

As NATO declines in military importance a South East Asian equivalent may have to replace it. The sheer geographical size and demographics of China makes it impossible for the rest of Asia, including Japan and India, to match it in gravitas and capacity in the next 20 or 30 years. However, China’s vulnerability to a decline in trade should not be overlooked, now thats it urban population is hooked on capitialism and mainlining on consumerism –

China is already a disruptive influence on world trade and the bending of economic laws to satisfy one nation’s desires, especially in Africa, cannot be expected to continue without consequences – unintended or otherwise.

A country governed by politicians who perennially exhibit an inferiority complex, irrationality and paranoia is by definition a dangerous state.


[1] “Naval Warfare and the Refraction of China’s Self-Strengthening Reforms into Scientific and Technological Failure, 1860-1895”

[2]  “The Rendel gunboats – Flatirons”, By Richard M. Anderson.

[3] L. C. Arlington – The Chinese flotilla sailed south slowly and hesitantly, never out of sight of land, and with frequent halts to exercise the ships’ guns. Before the flotilla reached the Taiwan strait Admiral Wu had already despaired of completing his mission. He proposed instead merely to announce that the Chinese flotilla was on its way to Formosa, in the hope that this false rumour would force the French to raise the blockade of Formosa and concentrate their warships for defence. The Chinese flotilla turned around and headed back to Sanmen Bay, close to the Chinese port of Ningbo

[4] “China‘s Struggle for Naval Development, 1839 – 1895” by John Rawlinson, (Harvard, 1967).

[5] Guangdong Fleet, 19th century

[6] India operates an ex-RN ski-jump flight deck aircraft carrier (IRS Viraat, formerly HMS Hermes of Falkland’s War fame). She is due for scraping and 3 carriers are being built by India. Thailand has a modern helicopter carrier.

[7] The world’s aircraft carriers. Global Security. Org

[8] China’s carrier ambitions –  Russian carrier Minsk and Ukrainian carrier Varyag

[9] All the citations listed (1 – 6) are sourced from Global Security. Org

[10] Aircraft Carrier Project, Phase 2 – New Construction. Carrier plans code named “9985 plan” or “Project 9935,” would have had a 48,000 ton displacement (or possibly 78,000 ton), equipped with Russian engines and radars.

[11] “Varyag On The Move Again” . Photo of Varyag, dated March 2010:   

[12]  Taiwan – political pressure placed on potential exporters by mainland China.

[13] “Vietnam buys submarines to counter China” ‘Hanoi seals arms deal with Moscow amid China’s naval build-up, and cosies up to US Defence.’ South China Morning Post Dec 2009. 

[14] The management of the Spratly Islands conflict: and

[15] United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

[16] Gas supplies turned off

[17] Much is made, for political reasons, of the 20th century Holocaust but historically the Taiping Rebellion (1850 – 1864) saw 20 million dead.

[18]  “Russia turns off Europe’s gas taps – again”, Jan 2009 Money Week a financial magazine (see also The Independent’s Jeremy Warner).