The Mikasa was the last of the four Japanese battleships (Shikishima, Hatsuse, Asahia and Mikasa) which were constructed under the terms of the 1896 ten-year naval expansion programme. Built by Armstrong of Elswick, Mikasa was laid down on the 24 January 1899 and launched on 8 November 1900.
Whilst outwardly similar to the Asahia the Mikasa was a considerably more combat–worthy ship, largely due to the use of Krupp cemented armour instead of the Harvey Nickel steel armour which had been used on her contemporaries. This greatly improved protection without an increase in armour thickness and also made for a lighter vessel. The most notable improvement however lay in the ship’s armament. The four 12 inch guns of the main battery could be worked by electric, hydraulic or manual power and could be loaded at any angle of elevation or bearing, thus allowing an increased rate of fire to three rounds per gun every two minutes. The secondary battery of fourteen 6-inch guns remained unchanged but was better protected with thicker armour.
At the outbreak of the Russo-Japanese War (1904) Mikasa was the flagship of Vice-Admiral Togo; Commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s combined fleet. In the Battle of Port Arthur (9th February 1904) she led the 1st Division of the Japanese Fleet in its surprise attack on the Russian Fleet anchored at the harbour. Hit three times by return fire from the Russian coastal forts (one of which shot away her colours), Mikasa suffered 17 casualties before Admiral Togo ordered the fleet to retire (which would earn him some criticism at home). During the climatic Battle of Tsushima she attracted much of the Russian fire, but came through the ordeal exceptionally well thanks to her superb armour and sturdy construction. However on the 12th of September 1905 Mikasa sank as a result of a magazine explosion whilst at anchor at Sasebo. Refloated in August 1906 she was recommissioned with new main and secondary batteries in 1907.
In 1921 Mikasa was reclassified as a Coast Defence ship, but after running aground off Vladivostok she was finally retired in 1923. Thereafter she was retained as a national monument at Yokasuka, although her condition deteriorated considerable during World War II. Restoration put in hand in the late 1950s halted the decline and she is now on permanent display- the last surviving battleship of her era.
At the commencement of the Japanese attack on the US fleet at Pearl Harbor (7 December 1941) the Aircraft Carrier Akagi raised the same flag that the Mikasa had flown during the battle of Port Arthur nearly forty years earlier.
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