At the end of the 19th Century, Imperial Russian had her own shipyards completely occupied with expanding her navy. To further increase naval strength, the Imperial Admiralty went shopping abroad. In addition to destroyers, larger warships were purchased, Boyarin from Denmark, Askold & Novik from Germany, Tsarevitch from France and Retvizan & Varyag from the USA. William Cramp & Sons of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania not only won the contract to construct the battleship Retvizan, it also won the contract for the Cruiser 1st Class Varyag.

The cruisers of Imperial Russian were subdivided by size. Armored cruisers and the larger protected cruisers were classified as Cruisers 1st Rank, while the smaller unarmored scout cruisers were listed as Cruisers 2nd Rank. Armored cruisers had an armor belt as well as normally an armored deck. On the other hand a protected cruiser had an armored deck but no vertical armor. Varyag was a protected cruiser. Her armored deck started below the waterline and sloped upward. It was designed to protect the buoyancy of the lower hull and to protect it from penetration from shellfire.

Varyag Vital Statistics

Dimensions: Length – 425 feet (oa) (129.54m); Beam – 52 feet (15.85m); Draught – 20 feet 8 inches (6.3m) Displacement – 6,500 tons

Armament – Twelve 6-inch/45; 12-76mm (11 pdr); eight 3 pdr; two 1 pdr; six 15-inch above water torpedo tubes, 22 mines

Machinery – 30 Niclausse boilers, 2 shaft Vertical Triple Expansion engines, 21,000 ihp; Maximum speed 23.2 knots: Complement – 580


Varyag was built to Russian specifications and had a much greater length to width ratio than normal. Her long length should have given Varyag an exceptional turn of speed but she did not live up to her promise. This was due in large part, to the selection of boilers. Although the Russian Admiralty was partial to the French Belleville boiler, Cramp talked them into using another French design, the Niclausse. They were such a disappointment that Varyag was the last Russian warship to carry them. Initial steam trials were promising. In runs off of Boston Varyag kept increasing speed with each run of a measured mile. The highest speed reached was 24.59 knots. Unfortunately, the boilers quickly lost efficiency. Five months after Varyag joined the 1st Pacific Squadron in Port Arthur, her top speed had dropped to around 20 knots in July 1902.

Varyag was designed from the start for operations in the Pacific, as commerce raiding had been envisioned as her secondary mission. She was laid down in October 1898 at Philadelphia and launched October 31, 1899. After trials she was commissioned into the Imperial Navy on January 2, 1901 and left for Russia on March 10. Tsar Nicholas II inspected her on 18 May on her arrival in Russia. In September she was dispatched to join the small Russian Mediterranean Squadron and then in November sent East to Port Arthur, which she reached February 25, 1902. In early 1903 she underwent repair which was completed by September 1903. On December 27, 1903 Varyag was directed to proceed to Chemulpo, a port close to Seoul, Korea.

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For some time tensions between Imperial Russia and Imperial Japan had been rising. After the Sino-Japanese war of 1894, Japan had been in control of Port Arthur. She was persuaded to give up the port, only to see the Russian Fleet move in and convert the port to the major naval base in the Russian Pacific. Japan felt betrayed and tensions mounted thereafter, particularly in regard to Korea. Varyag was sent to Chemulpo to join the gunboat Koreets to make the Russian military presence felt in this crucial theater. Chemulpo had a very strong Japanese presence. There were 400 Japanese soldiers as a garrison for the Japanese legation and 12,000 of the 30,000 Japanese subjects in Korea resided there. By the start of February 1904, the Japanese took control of the telegraphic communications in the port. Varyag was cut from communication with Port Arthur. The captain of Varyag saw trouble brewing and realized his command was isolated. He wished to leave Chemulpo and return to Port Arthur but the Russian civilian minister forbid this. "If nothing else can, the result of this prohibition, which sealed the fate of both Russian vessels, ought to show the impolicy of permitting diplomatic officials to control naval movements." The Naval Annual 1905 at page 124.

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On the afternoon of February 8 Koreets was dispatched to Port Arthur with dispatches but stopped at the harbor mouth when the Japanese Cruiser Asama blocked her path. The Koreets reported that the Japanese fired three torpedoes at her and admitted to firing two shots at the Japanese, the first shots of the Russo-Japanese War. Koreets rejoined Varyag in Chemulpo. Chiyoda, Takachiho, Akashi with five torpedo boats entered the port at 5:30 PM and took up positions around the two Russian warships. Under protest from HMS Talbot, which was in Chemulpo, along with the French cruiser Pascal, the Italian cruiser Elba, the USS Vicksburg, along with a US hospital ship, the Japanese said that they would not fire upon the Russians if they did not interfere with landings scheduled to start that night. At 8:00 PM Japanese landings started which were completed by midnight.

On the morning of February 9 the captain of Varyag received a note from the Japanese that the Russian ships would be attacked at 4:00 PM at anchor unless they left before noon. Varyag and Koreets weighed anchor at 11:45 AM and proceeded down the channel towards the Yellow Sea. Eight miles away, the cruiser squadron of Admiral Uriu awaited the Russian duo. The Japanese squadron was comprised of Asama, Naniwa, Chiyoda, Takachiho, Akashi, and Nitaka, plus torpedo boats. The Japanese stated that Varyag opened fire in the action that ranged from 5,250 yards to 6,000 yards. The Russian said the action was at 9,840 yards. The official telegram on the action from Admiral Uriu stated that firing lasted for 35 minutes but neutral observers reported that effective firing only lasted for fourteen to fifteen minutes. The Japanese Squadron concentrated on Varyag and disregarded Koreets. Varyag was hit 10 to 12 times, developed a list to port and returned to the anchorage, unable to get past the blockading squadron. Varyag suffered 41 dead and 62 wounded out of a crew of 535. At great many of these causalities were from the gun crews of the unshielded 6-inch deck guns of Varyag. Her top speed during the action was 16 knots, which was more evidence of the poor state of her boilers. There were no reported Japanese casualties.

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Finding himself in a completely hopeless situation, blockaded by overwhelming Japanese power, cut off from any support, the captain of Varyag ordered his cruiser and the Koreets to be destroyed. Koreets was blown up and Varyag scuttled. On August 8, 1905 Varyag was refloated by the Japanese. She was repaired and renamed Soya, to become a training ship for midshipmen. During World War Two, she along with other ex-Russian prizes, were offered for sale back to Russia. She was repurchased by Russia in March 1916, along with the battleships Poltava and Peresvet. Renamed Varyag, she was recommisioned in the Imperial Russian Navy on March 27, 1916. She still had her old Niclausse boilers but only 22 of the 30 were operational. After some minor alterations, Varyag left for Murmansk on June 18, via the Indian Ocean. She arrived in Northern Russia on November 17, 1916. The British firm of Cammell Laird was contracted to refit Varyag and the old cruiser left for Britain on February 25 to arrive at Liverpool on March 4, 1917. Because of existing war orders Varyag was forced to wait before she could go into the yard. The crew was dispersed to man other purchased vessels, except 50 care-takers. With the October Revolution these care-takers raised the red flag of revolt aboard their ship in Liverpool. On December 8, 1917 a party of armed British sailors stormed the ship and took down the red flag. Taken over by the Royal Navy, she was beached under tow on February 15, 1918 off of the Irish coast, refloated yet again and served as a hulk until 1919. In 1920 she was sold for scrap, grounded again, this time off of the Scottish coast and scrapped in place from 1923 to 1925. (History from Imperial Russian Navy Cruiser Varyag by Adam Smigielski Warship Volume III and The Naval Annual 1905,)

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Further Reading

Imperial Russian Navy Cruiser Varyag by Adam Smigielski in Warship Volume III Fourteen pages, ten photographs, three drawings, including a two page plan and profile, three tables. A good overall view of the Varyag. The article is strong on the building and ship characteristics but battle history is an overview.

The Naval Annual 1905 Excellent contemporary description of the action at Chemulpo, complete with map.

Varyag by V.I. Kataev. This soft cover volume of 185 pages is all on Varyag. Plenty of photographs as well as good drawings. The volume comes with three page fold out exterior and interior builders profiles. Written in Russian.

The latest edition of the Russian series Morskaya Kollektsia is on the Varyag. I don’t have a copy yet but given the quality of this series, this title should be a detailed and comprehensive resource for the cruiser.


Resin Casting
The Box 261 1:350 scale model of Varyag comes very quickly on the heels of their first release of the Japanese armored cruiser Kasuga (Click for review of the Box 261 Kasuga). Obviously with the masters were being constructed around the same time and the same casting facilities and techniques used for Varyag as were used for Kasuga, most of the same strengths and weaknesses of the first kit are also present in the Varyag.

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As with Kasuga, the Varyag kit has very nice deck detail. With well scribed deck planking, coal scuttles, gun base plates, deck house detail, bulk head detail, bollards and various other fittings, the deck detail is one of the strong attractions of this kit. Also, as with Kasuga, the hull side detail is not as sharp or clearly defined as the deck detail. However, having said this, the side detail of Varyag does appear to be sharper and better than on the Kasuga. Although not excellent as is the deck detail, the hull sides do have good detail. The sternwalk is cast integral to the hull with the underneath supports. Gun sponsons, above water torpedo ports, climbing rungs, horizontal and vertical strakes all add a delightful clutter so characteristic of ships of the period. Port holes are still too shallow. One design choice made by Box 261 will be enjoyed by some modelers and will be modified by other modelers. Varyag has ten torpedo net booms on each side and they are cast integral to the hull. Now it is very common to see these booms cast with the hull in 1:700 scale models but at 1:350, many modelers will want to remove the cast on booms and replace them with plastic or metal rods. This is especially true since the Box 261 Varyag appears to come with nicely cast separate baseplates for these booms. I say appears, because this is an advanced copy of the kit that came with all resin pieces and photo-etch but not the instructions, which were not ready at the time it was shipped. As with Kasuga this is a two piece hull with separate waterline and below water halves. The two halves fit well and will require only a minimum of filling and sanding to complete a full hull model. For some reason Box 261 chose to cast the lower hill in black resin, which has no affect in assembly, except for perhaps the need for an additional coat of paint for the underwater portion of the hull.

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There are even more smaller resin pieces for Varyag than for Kasuga. As you can see from the accompanying photographs, most are good to excellent. High points are the boom baseplates, all of the armament from 6-inch down to the small QF guns, J shaped funnel ventilators, aft deckhouse, anchors, conning tower and masts with fighting tops. The ventilators have a nice depth to their openings. The four funnels are cleanly defined but could have more depth at their openings. Fore and aft bridges are still a trifle thick and could use some judicious sanding on their bottoms. The ship’s boats do show improvement over those included in Kasuga. The thwarts to the rowboats seem better defined. The steam launch is very nice with three coal scuttles per side. Since the steam launches of the time were also coal powered, the inclusion of these small scuttles is a very small but nice extra detail. I noticed one problem with the smaller castings. The fore mast runs through the pilothouse, through the bridge to the main deck. The part of the mast between the bridge and main deck is visible. Although the mast locator hole is present on the top of the pilothouse, it doesn’t go all of the way through, nor is the passage hole present in the bridge. However, this is a simple correction. Just use the existing hole on the pilothouse as the starting point and drill through the combined pilot house/bridge block, checking alignment as you go.

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The same metal alloy used in the Kasuga photo-etch is also used with the Varyag. The kit comes with a copper colored fret. Since the two kits are being released so close to each other, I would expect the frets to be about the same in quality. However, it seems that the Varyag fret does have more detail with some parts being really outstanding. From the nameplate with the ship’s name in Russian with the classification in English, through the ship specific parts to the common railing, the fret is well designed with an eye towards detail. The very long stretch of catwalk amidships will be a significant feature of the model. This has a three-dimensional treadway pattern.

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There are quite a number of superstructure and platform supports, which are all finely done with the appropriate delicate appearance. The kit comes with excellent ratlines for the masts, which is the first time that I have seen this feature included in a fret with a kit. The stern railing and a number of perforated small platforms are also top drawer items. The railing ends with individual stanchions rather than having a bottom gutter. The fret comes with three long runs of drooped two bar railing and two more of straight railing. All in all, this photo-etch is a very credible product and seems to be better in detail than that of the preceding release.

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As mentioned earlier, the instructions for Varyag were not ready when this sample was shipped, so I am unable to comment upon them. However, given the excellent and well designed and printed instructions that come with the Box 261 Kasuga, I would anticipate that the instructions for Varyag will be as good, if not better and a first class effort.

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I liked the Box 261 Kasuga. I think that it is a very good first effort by them in the 1:350 market. However, I think the Box 261 Varyag is even better. Side detail appears to be better defined and the photo-etch fret appears to be more defined and detailed. If you like the Box 261 Kasuga, you will love the Box 261 Varyag.