The programme of naval expansion commenced under the premiership of Ito Hirobumi had almost come to an end; only one vessel remained to be delivered, a ship which would be called the Mikasa. Built in England by Vickers of Barrow, completed on 1 March 1902, Mikasa represented an abiding Japanese predilection: for her time, she was the biggest, strongest battleship in the world.” (The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, at page 54

In 1542 Antonio de Mota of Portugal made landfall in Japan , the first westerner to do so. Traders and missionaries followed from almost every country in Europe . Japan in the late 16th century was in the midst of a series of feudal wars that pitted regional Daimyos against each other. In this scenario of incessant war any western invention that would provide a military edge was quickly purchased from the Europeans. The matchlock was purchased in quantity and then produced by Japanese workmen. Matchlock units equipped with that fire piece could be rapidly formed from peasants with little training. Unlike the bow, which required lengthy training to master, a peasant armed with a matchlock could be lethal to the most skilled Samurai right from the start. Matchlock armed peasant units ravaged Samurai cavalry charges in battles. Western weapon’s technology had dramatically changed the face of Japanese warfare. By 1615 the long civil war was over and power was concentrated in the hands of a Shogun. In theory the Shogun was subservient to the Emperor but in reality the Emperor was merely a figurehead with all the real power with the Shogun. The Tokugawa Shogunate decided to try to put the genie back in the bottle. Now that the Shogun had supreme power all of the matchlocks were recovered and destroyed. The rightful order would be restored. Peasants would go back to being peasants and the samurai would go back to being the guardians and lords of Japanese society.

In 1637 Japan sealed her boarders against further ideas, infection if you will, from the west. All foreigners were kicked out, except the Dutch, who were allowed a small trading enclave on the tiny island of Deshima , near Nagasaki . Foreign ships could not land on Japanese soil and Japanese ships could not leave the coast. Nothing larger than a coastal fishing boat could be built. It was a capital offense to try to build an ocean going vessel. The Shogun put Japan in a time capsule, which would not be opened for over two hundred years. While in the rest of the world the pace of new discoveries accelerated, Japan was locked into the technology of the early 17th century.  Arts flourished but technology and military skill were stagnant. All of this ended with a national shock in 1853.

On July 14, 1853 four long black ships appeared off of Yedo. They were huge, armed with cannon and could move without wind. Sparks and smoke issued from tall black pipes as if they were sea dragons come to ravage the coast. The city went into panic. These ships were two steam frigates and two steam sloops under Commodore Matthew Perry of the United States . He came to Japan to seek a treaty that would protect shipwrecked American crews, obtain coaling facilities and if possible, obtain trading rights. Although Perry did not use force, the power of his warships was latently manifest. In isolated Japan the Shogun had never heard of the United States or of steam warships. These ships were far more powerful than anything that could be envisioned before their appearance. The Shogun signed the treaty and the two-century tranquility of Japan was forever shattered. Ironically, this triggered another civil war in Japan . The Emperor was against opening Japan to foreigners and did not want his people learning foreign ways.

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Although Perry did not use force, the application of naval power by the west was not long in coming. In 1863 an English citizen named Charles Richardson was visiting Japan from China when he encountered mounted samurai. When he did not dismount for the samurai, they killed him for his effrontery to them. Britain demanded that his killers be handed over to them and that the Japanese pay an enormous indemnity. When this was denied a British squadron under the command of Rear Admiral Kuper opened fire on Kagoshima on August 14, 1863. The primary target were the coastal batteries but a fire soon destroyed half of the town and the Japanese shipping at the port was sunk as well. Thousands of Japanese were killed and many thousands more made homeless. To many Japanese it had become to be clear that the threat to the nation lay overseas and as long as Japan lacked modern weapons and warships she would remain helpless against such power. One of the Japanese who held such a view was a man who had been a young 16-year-old gunner in a coastal battery at Kagoshima . During the battle he had helped load stone shot into the ancient Japanese guns. At the time he had worn traditional samurai armor with the two swords. He had seen first hand how helpless the Japanese guns were against the power of the Royal Navy. The name of that young man was Togo Heihachiro.

Even before the end of this new civil war, different Japanese factions investigated the expense of purchasing a modern steam warship. In deed many factions acquired ships but by 1868 the civil war had ended. The Imperial faction had won and the Shogun and supporting samurai had lost. Ironically the old emperor had fought against the influence of western technology and thought. Upon attaining victory, he died. The new emperor embraced the modernization of Japan and so began the Meiji Restoration. A Japanese navy was instantly created through the confiscation of the various polyglot ships acquired by the factions during the civil war. By 1872 a naval academy, arsenal, naval dockyard and naval hospital had been created.

In 1871 a dozen young naval officers in the new Imperial Japanese Navy had been sent to Great Britain to be trained. One of them was now Ensign Togo . In 1873 Japan laid down her first naval vessel for the new Imperial Japanese Navy, the wooden Seiki, although in May 1865 the warship Chiyoda was completed at Tokyo for the Shogun.  At the time there was no iron industry in Japan , so for ironclads the Japanese Navy would have to go shopping abroad. From the start the favorite location to purchase new adornments for His Imperial Majesty’s Navy was Great Britain . In 1877 Japan ’s first ironclad warship, the Fuso, was launched on the Thames . Togo had been ordered to observe her construction the previous year. She would be only the first of a long line of British made warships for the Japanese Navy. In 1878 Togo returned to Japan aboard Fuso’s sister, the Hiei. The first Japanese built armored ship was the Hashidate of 1891.   

Japan had come a long way in a very short period of time. In 1853 Japan had only fishing boats and lived with early 17th century technology but in a short 40 years developed a highly efficient modern navy. By 1894 she possessed a significant modern navy but she did not have the most powerful ships in the east. Imperial China possessed two battleships. Built in Stettin Germany the Ting Yuen and Ching Yuen each mounted four 12-inch guns and displaced 7,335-tons. This was almost 500% heavier than Japan ’s heaviest ship, the Yoshino. Japan had no battleships. However, the Imperial Japanese Navy possessed two characteristics of far greater significance than weight of shell or displacement of ships. Personnel from highest commander to the lowest rating had high morale. They believed in their cause, their ships and the skill of the crews. The skills of the Japanese officers and men was astronomically higher those of their Chinese counterparts. It basically came down to philosophy. Although China had modern warships built in the West, Chinese commanders thought that there was nothing to be learned from Western naval methods. Japan on the other hand eagerly sought training in western military and naval methods. The Imperial Japanese Army studied the methods of the German Army and the navy studied the methods of the Royal Navy.

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While Japan had adopted western technology and training, including western style uniforms, China was the opposite. There was no unified navy. There were actually four fleets and each fleet commander had to look after his own forces and acquire his own ships. Originally the Chinese northern fleet, the most powerful, had intended to acquire three battleships. This had been reduced to two in order to provide funds to build a marble ship for a lake on the grounds of the Imperial Palace . The Chinese fleets did not invest in a naval infrastructure. There were no shell factories to provide modern shells for the guns of their purchased ships for training or war. Some of the shell heads were made out of concrete, rather than steel. Even Chinese naval dress reflected the ancient Chinese past with commanders wearing long robes and hats adorned with peacock feathers.

The cause of the Sino-Japanese War was Korea . China regarded the Korean Peninsula as belonging in her sphere of influence, if not an actual tributary state. Japan wanted to maintain Korea as a buffer between China and herself. Under treaty each nation was obligated to inform the other of movement of troops into the peninsula. China started moving troops into Korea without notifying the Japanese government and that heightened tensions. The situation became a powder keg just waiting for a match. When that match came it was an accident. Two Chinese cruisers were met outside of a Korean port by a squadron of three Japanese cruisers. The lead Chinese ship started to steam directly at the Japanese squadron, as if to launch torpedoes. The Japanese opened fire and the Chinese quickly followed. The two Chinese warships made off and were followed by two of the three Japanese ships. The cruiser Naniwa, under the command of now Captain Togo , remained outside of the port. Presently another ship came along. This one flew the red duster of the British merchant marine but was loaded to the gills with Chinese troops. When Togo signaled the ship to follow him, she refused. It was later said that the English captain and crew were threatened with beheading by the Chinese general on board if they complied with the Japanese. After repeated warnings Naniwa opened fire and sank the merchant ship, even though she flew a British flag. The Japanese rescued the British crew but not the Chinese soldiers. To the contrary, there were some reports that the Japanese fired upon the Chinese in the water. Reaction from the British was fury at the sinking of one of their ships but this quickly dissipated when the British crew of the ship told their story. A formal declaration of war came a month later between China and Japan. The war was mostly a land campaign but there was one major engagement between the Japanese and Chinese fleets. The Chinese fleet totally lacked naval skills but the value of the battleship was shown. During the Battle of the Yalu the two Chinese battleships were peppered with Japanese shell strikes in the 100s but continued to steam, since the machinery and armament was protected by heavy armor, which was not penetrated. The smaller Chinese ships were sunk and no Japanese vessel was lost. The Chinese battleships finally reached Port Arthur. Captain Togo, still in command of Naniwa, was in the cruiser van and engaged the smaller Chinese ships during the battle.

At the conclusion of the Sino-Japanese War in 1895 Japan controlled the Liaotung Peninsula of China. This length of land is on the west side of the Yellow Sea across from the west coast of Korea . The peninsula possessed a significant natural port, which would come to be known to the world as Port Arthur . Under pressure from the western nations Japan withdrew her forces from the peninsula and it reverted to Imperial Chinese control. At least this was the status until 1900 when Russia used the pretext of the Boxer Rebellion in China to gobble up Manchuria, including the Liaotung Peninsula . Port Arthur was quickly made the main port for the Russian Pacific Squadron. Japan felt angered and betrayed that she had been forced to give up the territory only five years earlier. Now here was one of the countries who had exerted that pressure occupying that same land and refusing to withdraw. Then Russia started exhibiting an interest in Korea . Japan had already gone to war once over Korea and would not shirk from doing so again. The Japanese government, army and navy started to prepare for war.

Even before the Battle of the Yalu the Japanese government recognized that the navy needed battleships to be competitive with Imperial China and especially Russia . Only a month before the Battle of the Yalu the first Japanese battleship was laid down at Thames Iron Works. This was the Fuji and her sister Yashima was laid down in December 1904 at Armstrongs. Both were launched before the next class of two was started. This Shikishima class included Shikashima laid down in March 1897 and Hatsuse laid down in January 1898. There were two more British built battleships to be laid down in this first expansion. Asahi was laid down in August 1898 and the sixth and last was Mikasa built by Armstrong and laid down January 24, 1899. Mikasa was similar to the preceding Asahi but there were improvements. Mikasa could use hydraulic, electrical or manual systems to load the four main 12-inch guns at any angle. The fourteen 6-inch casemate guns were given greater production. Mikasa was launched November 8, 1900 and completed on March 1, 1902. At trials she exceeded her estimated speed and horsepower. The builder’s estimate was 18 knots at 15,000 I.H.P. while the actual figures were 18.6 knots at full power with 16,400 I.H.P. An additional bonus came in the form of low coal consumption. In the newly built battleships for the Royal Navy, only HMS Vengeance was more frugal in coal consumption.

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At the end of 1903 Vice Admiral Togo was given command of the Combined Imperial Japanese Fleet. The word combined indicated concentrated for war. With negotiations with Russia at an impasse, the Japanese government decided that it was time for war with Russia. “Aboard Mikasa Togo had read out the Emperor’s order to his assembled squadron and divisional commanders, and then added: ’I intend, with you officers, to crush the enemy, and thus set His Majesty’s heart at rest.’ And some of the officers had wept, bursting with pride and pleasure, and fear for their ancient empire.” (The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, at page 64) The Japanese planned a surprise night time torpedo attack on the Russian squadron at Port Arthur.

Since the initial attack had been at night, Admiral Togo could not be certain of the amount of damage inflicted on the Russian ships. Rear Admiral Dewa Shigeto with four cruisers was dispatched the next morning to get reconnaissance of the previous nights handiwork. When Dewa saw that some Russian ships were immerging from Port Arthur, he signaled Togo aboard Mikasa. Togo closed with the Russians. “At 11:45 a.m. they had the Russians in range, and a signal fluttered up the Mikasa’s mainmast, a signal which, had it been visible and translatable to them, the few English people in Port Arthur would have found very familiar: ‘Victory or defeat will be decided by this one act. Let every man do his utmost.’ With slight variations, this signal was to be repeated at moments of crisis throughout the Imperial Navy’s life, and it never really lost its power to put sailors on their mettle. Seeing it for the first time that day, one officer on Mikasa felt as if his soul had suddenly been pickled in red pepper.” (The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, at page 66)

This became a pattern of operations for Admiral Togo. He would have Dewa and his cruisers patrol off of Port Arthur but the Japanese battleships would not be seen. Togo kept them out of sight of the Russians. Mist was common in the area and Togo liked to conceal his battleships in the mist. On April 12 the Russians under the brave and capable Admiral Makaroff took the bait. The Russians sortied with their battleships with Makaroff on board the Petropavlovsk . Dewa turned away from the Russian formation, which included five battleships, and the Russians followed. Hidden in the mist Togo closed with his six battleships and six more cruisers. Then 15 miles from Port Arthur the mist lifted. “For the first time the two Admiral’s sighted each other’s fleets at sea. The trap had failed: against this superior force, Makaroff turned for home, and what should have been a battle degenerated into a chase as the fleets steamed towards the distant shore. On the bridge of Mikasa, Togo grimaced in disappointment and stared at the fleeing enemy – then suddenly everyone on deck saw Petropavlovsk heel over sharply. Seconds later they heard a dull explosion.” (The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, at page 73) Petropavlosk had hit a mine and in less than two minutes had gone down taking Admiral Makaroff with her. For the Russians it was a double disaster. They had lost one of their battleships but even worse was the loss of their best commander. “Aboard Mikasa, staff officers suggested that a message of condolence be sent to the bereaved squadron, but Togo vetoed it. Their intention, he said, had been to sink a Russian capital ship, ‘and having succeeded beyond expectation, it would be insincere to offer condolences in a simulated spirit of chivalry.” (The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, at page 74)

The successor of Makaroff as commander of the Pacific Squadron was Rear Admiral Vilgelm K.Vitgeft. Back in October 1903 from the safety of St Petersburg, Vitgef had said, “Our fleet cannot be defeated by the Japanese fleet, whether in the Gulf of Korea or the Yellow Sea .”  Now in command of those same forces, one of the first things that he said to his subordinates upon arriving at Port Arthur was “Gentlemen, I expect you to assist me with words and deeds. I am no leader of a fleet.” His plan for the squadron was to do nothing and stay in port. The squadron couldn’t be defeated in the Yellow Sea, if the squadron didn’t steam in the Yellow Sea. Finally he was ordered to break out of Port Arthur by the Viceroy in Vladivostock. On June 23, 1904 the break-out started at 04:00 but it took over twelve hours to clear a lane through the minefield. At 16:30 Vitgeft took six battleships, five cruisers and seven destroyers out of the safety of Port Arthur. By 18:00 the Japanese fleet was sighted. The break-out continued until 18:45 when Vitgeft turned his command back to Port Arthur. All of his ships made it back safely, except the battleship Sevastopol, which hit a mine and came back damaged.

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Then Vitgeft refused to budge until Tsar Nicholas II issued his personal order for the squadron to break out. As the Russian squadron raised anchors early on August 10, Vitgeft signaled, “The fleet is informed that his Majesty has ordered us to proceed to Vladivostock.” The ships he led were six battleships, four cruisers and eight destroyers. The cruiser Novik and the destroyers were the van, the battleships led by the flagship Tsarevitch were the main and the rest of the cruisers were the rear of Vitgeft’s formation. The result of this sortie was the Battle of the Yellow Sea. Togo in Mikasa had only four battleships but had more cruisers and smaller craft. Again only Japanese cruiser could be initially seen. Togo’s plan was to lure Vitgeft sufficiently far from Port Arthur so that he couldn’t get back but not so far that he could successfully get past the Japanese forces. The battle lines made contact at 11:30. After an hour Togo was about to cross the Russian T. “Togo believed firmly that the flagship should always lead. Mikasa accordingly, was at the head of the Japanese line, when Vitgeft unexpectedly swung away to port, a move which left Togo with two choices. Either he could about-turn all of is ships together, which would place Mikasa in the rear, or he could keep her in the van by turning the fleet in succession, all ships following him” (The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, at page 78) Togo turned in succession but that used time. When completed only the sterns of the Russian cruisers at the rear could be seen. Vitgeft had his chance to escape. Instead of chasing directly after the Russians, Togo had his fleet turn to starboard, which increased range. By 15:00 firing ceased and the Russians though that they had successfully broken free. In reality Togo was using his superior speed to pass the rear of the Russian formation without interference, only to change course back to port to regain contact with the Russian battleships. By 16:30 he again had contact with the Russian battleships. Both commanders ordered their cruisers to the unengaged side of the battle line, so it came down to two lines of battleships, Vitgeft with six and Togo with four slugging it out. The Japanese were out numbered but had a huge advantage in morale. They also had an advantage in that their shells produced huge amounts of smoke when they struck but the Russian shells produced little smoke when they struck. “Every Japanese hit, with clouds of brownish-black gas and smoke, was visible from any deck – ‘it gave one in the first moment the impression that it had produced some catastrophe,’ said a Russian – but the Russians could not see their own hits. In fact their shooting was far better than the Japanese had been expecting, and Mikasa came in for much of it – there were hits below decks, on the after funnel, on the water-line, and one so close to the bridge that ‘a junior officer had the honour of receiving in his body a fragment which would otherwise have killed our Admiral.” (The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, at page 79)

With only half an hour remaining before darkness and a successful break out, at 17:45 two Japanese 12-inch shells struck the command area of Tsarevitch. The foremast was brought down, the conning tower shattered; “And, when the smoke cleared, a single piece of one leg was all that could be found of Admiral Vitgeft.” The squadron’s second in command was also killed in this strike. Tsarevitch, her wheel jammed hard over by dead bodies, circled and some battleships followed her in the circle, thinking it was an intentional maneuver. The Russian squadron was in total confusion as there was no signal from Tsarevitch. Finally it dawned on Rear Admiral Prince Ukhtomski in Peresviet that he was in command. Rather than continue the break-out almost achieved, he signaled “Follow me” and promptly headed back to Port Arthur. Not all of the Russian ships did so. On their own initiative several captains continued with their escape from the trap of Port Arthur. Tsarevich and three destroyers made it to the German port of Tsingtao, cruiser Diana to Saigon, cruiser Askold and a destroyer to Shanghai, and Novik which made it to Sakhalien until caught, and one destroyer which was driven ashore. One of the six battleships, three of the four cruisers and five of the eight destroyers made it out, although one cruiser and a destroyer were lost before making a safe port. The odds favored the other five battleships if they had continued the break out but the Russian admirals were psychologically defeated even before they raised anchor that morning.

After the Battle of the Yellow Sea the Russian Pacific Squadron stayed bottled up in Port Arthur, depending upon the Russian Army to keep the Japanese Army away. There were no more attempts to escape and it became only a matter of time. In October the Russians sent forth the bulk of their Baltic fleet as a relief expedition. Finally in December 1904 the Japanese seized high ground overlooking Port Arthur. They installed 11-inch siege mortars and started shelling the Squadron. The First Pacific Squadron scuttled itself as Port Arthurfell. However, Admiral Togo still had to worry about the Russian Baltic Fleet, called the 2nd and 3rd Pacific Squadrons, slowly approaching the Pacific. With the fall of Port Arthur this force would steam to Vladivostock. The Japanese home islands blocked their way. There were three approaches that could be taken. Two would be to steam to the east of Japan and then use the straits between Honshu and Hokaido or Hokaido and the Kuriles. Both straits were narrow and both options would lengthen the voyage. The shortest and least constrained route to Vladivostock would take the Russian fleet through the Straits of Korea near the small island of Tsushima .

Of course the Japanese had some time to rest and refit before the arrival of the next Russian force. During this time Togo tried to acquire more information about Russian plans, however nothing developed. He chose to place his force off the island of Tsushima and wait for the arrival of the Russians. “As he smoked his pipe, silent and alone in his cabin on Mikasa, Admiral Togo’s anxiety was prompted not by the thought of battle, but by the worry that a battle might not take place.” (The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, at page 86) If the Russians did not do as expected and went east around Japan, he would be poorly placed to intercept them. Depending upon how far north they reached before being discovered, it was possible that the Russians could make Vladivostock without interception. Japan had paid a tremendous price in blood to seize Port Arthur. They had lost twice the number of soldiers than the Russian Army had in the siege. A strong Russian naval force at Vladivostock might require an even bloodier siege. An even worse factor was the Japanese economy. The Japanese government was quickly running out of money. Japan simply could not afford a long protracted war.

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Togo had placed out pickets in a hope to ascertain the Russian presence. Finally one of them picked up something. At 02:45 on 27 May 2005 the converted merchant cruiser Shinano Maru observed recognition lights of a strange ship. This proved to be the Russian hospital ship Orel and at 04:45 ten Russian warships were seen. The wireless operator quickly clicked the sequence of code that the Russians had been found in square 203. “Twenty minutes later, relayed from the Third Squadron, the message arrived aboard Mikasa. The conquest of 203-Metre Hill had ensured the fall of Port Arthur. It had to be a good omen, even though it was mere coincidence. In the suddenly electric mood on the flagship, an officer remembered one thing in particular: Togo laughed, as cheerful as a child. Moments later his own message was flashed to the Minister of the Navy in Tokyo, terse and supremely confident: ‘The Russian fleet has been sighted. I am going to attack it and annihilate it. ” (The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, at page 88)

With confirmation that the Russians would attempt to use the Straits of Korea, Togo maneuvered his ships for contact. “Now the Japanese Admiral was standing on the forward bridge of his talisman ship the Mikasa, scanning the mist through binoculers. At 1:20 they met Admiral Dewa’s squadron. Dewa was advancing ahead of the Russians..(The Tsar’s Last Armada, 2002, by Constantine Pleshakov, at page 265) Togo charted a course to cross ahead of the Russian line in the classic crossing of the T. During this time the Japanese ships were vulnerable. “It had taken the Russians a few minutes longer than the Japanese to make out their enemy fleet. In those minutes Togo had altered course, and the Russians first sight of Mikasa was as she steamed nonchalantly across Rozdhestvenski’s T. The battleships in her wake held station so well it looked as if they were chained together; and as the Russian officers and gun crews watched, a signal flag fluttered up to Mikasa’s yardarm – the Z flag, quartered in red, black, yellow and blue. It was another memory of Nelson, a slight variation of the signal at Port Arthur, and the most celebrated signal in Japanese naval history: ‘The fate of the empire depends on this battle. Let every man do his utmost.” (The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, at page 91) The Japanese battle line would have to make a series of turns. With a turn in succession at a given point, the Japanese ships were vulnerable to massed fire at the turning point. The Russians thought that way too, as the turning point was within their range. “How rash!’ said an officer on Suvoroff in amazement. ‘Why, in a minute we’ll be able to roll up the leading ships!’ Another officer, a veteran of Port Arthur, felt his heart beating faster than it had ever done during the siege, and prayed – ‘If we succeeded! God grant it! Even if we didn’t sink one of them, if we could only put one out of action!And, three minutes later, the firing began. ” (The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, at page 91)

Togo charged towards the Russians, as before leading in the Mikasa. “…the first shell dropped only twenty yards astern of Togo’s flagship. Others, equally close, succeeded it. The Japanese position became critical. For those aboard the Mikasa, ‘minutes were like hours.’ The Japanese flagship had come under fire that grew hotter and hotter as she passed into the fire range of each successive Russian ship. The sole object of the Russian fire, the Mikasa did not return a single shot. Togo wanted to accomplish the regrouping of his formation first.” (The Tsar’s Last Armada, 2002, by Constantine Pleshakov, at page 269) Although the sea around Mikasa was alive with splashes, only 19 hits were achieved in this period in which the fire of the Russian fleet was concentrated solely on Mikasa. “At 1:52, the Mikasa replied. Minutes earlier she had raised a signal: ‘The empire’s fate depends upon the outcome of this battle. Let everyone do his best.” (The Tsar’s Last Armada, 2002, by Constantine Pleshakov, at page 270)

Togo had succeeded in crossing the Russian T. At first the fire of the Japanese gunners was off the mark but they quickly zeroed in. As with the Russian, fire was concentrated on the flagships leading the line. The Japanese battleships concentrated on Kniaz Suvorov and the armored cruisers on Oslyabya. Little time passed before the Russians were smothered in the Japanese fire and the speed and accuracy of the Russian fire disappeared. From then on the Russian ships were mere targets in a Japanese shooting gallery. As one Russian battleship dropped out to die in the sea, Japanese fire shifted to the next following ship.

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The final surrender of the surviving Russian ships by Admiral Nebogatov, commanding 3rd Pacific Squadron and now senior officer, was taken aboard the Mikasa. “Approaching the charmed Mikasa, Nebogatov could only see a couple of minor holes. The Russians did not know that the Mikasa had actually been hit thirty times, that eight people had been killed, and that her bridges had been seriously damaged. Apparently, they were blinded by the striking contrast between the Mikasa and their own ships.” (The Tsar’s Last Armada, 2002, by Constantine Pleshakov, at page 284) The Battle of Tsushima had been a battle of annihilation. Togo had done what he had promised in his message to the Navy Minister. Of the 38 Russian ships in the battle, 19 were sunk, 2 scuttled themselves, 7 were captured, 6 were interned in neutral ports, one fled all the way back to Madagascar and only three mage it to Vladivostok. The Japanese losses were three torpedo boats. Personnel losses were just as lopsided Russians losses were 4,830 dead, a huge uncounted numbered wounded and 5,917 captured. Japanese losses were 117 dead and 583 wounded. Peace came on September 5, 1905 with the Treaty of Portsmouth. The treaty was not popular in Japan. Russian agreed to leave Manchuria. Russian agreed that Korea was in the sphere of influence of Japan. Russia ceded the southern half of Sakhalien Island to Japan. The one thing Russia would not do was to pay $600,000,000 in reparations. Tsar Nicholas would rather go on fighting than pay the money. Japan was facing bankruptcy, they could not afford to continue the war, so the treaty was signed. This created riots in Tokyo and many in the army and navy thought that this was a dishonorable peace because they did not get the money.

Togo picked the day on which to return to Tokyo. He picked October 21, 1905  the 100th anniversary of Nelson’s great triumph at the Battle of Tralfagar. It was a fitting choice as the two battles each represented the greatest naval victories of their particular ages. Just as Trafalgar was the greatest victory at the height of the age of sail before the advent of steam, so too was Tsushima the greatest victory at the height of the steam age battleship before the submarine and airplane diminished its prestige. The Emperor reviewed the Combined Fleet on October 23. The one ship that was the most prominent in the success at Tsushima was not present at the Imperial review. Mikasa was not there. She was on the bottom of the harbor at Sasebo with her decks awash in the dirty water of the harbor. Early in the morning of September 12, 1905 Mikasa had blown up at anchor, killing or wounding 590 of her crew. Admiral Togo was not aboard. At first it was reported that unstable ammunition had exploded and ignited a magazine. Then the story was that drunken sailors had accidentally created the explosion. However, there was a third theory that the loss was deliberate sabotage in protest to the terms of the peace treaty. Mikasa was raised and given newer model 12-inch and 6-inch guns but her time in the spot light had passed. In 1922 she was disarmed but was not scrapped. After World War Two she was make a Japanese national memorial.

There is a poetic, yet ironic, symmetry about the Battle of Tsushima. It is almost the exact halfway point from the birth of the Imperial Japanese Navy, founded slightly less than 40 years earlier, to its death 40 years in the future. In the battle there were present the two officers that were central to the rise and fall of the Imperial Japanese Navy. At the head of the battle line was the Mikasa with Admiral Togo aboard. Both the ship and the man symbolize the rise of the Imperial Japanese Navy to a world power. At the end of battle line aboard the armored cruiser Nisshin was a young officer who was knocked unconscious by a Russian shell explosion and lost two of his fingers of his left hand during the battle. If Admiral Togo was one bookend in the life of the Japanese Imperial Navy, this officer was the other bookend. He would be the central figure in the events that would lead to the fall and destruction of the navy. His name was Takano Isoroku but he would be better known for his later adopted name of Yamamoto. Japan would go on to build capital ships far more powerful than the Mikasa. The battleship reached its peak with the Yamato, flagship of Yamamoto, and yet it is the Mikasa, of all of the ships to serve in the Imperial Japanese Navy, that is still preserved today. It is fitting that this ship is still with Japan, as it represents in the truest form the rise of the navy from nothing to world power. (History from: The Fighting Ships of the Rising Sun, 1983 by Stephen Howarth, The Naval Annual 1902, 1902, edited by T.A. Brassey, .” (The Tsar’s Last Armada, 2002, by Constantine Pleshakov)

The Hasegawa Mikasa
It has been a long time since a Japanese model company tackled a 1:350 scale warship kit, not since Tamiya produced the Fletcher. However, the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Tsushima Hasegawa pulled out all of the stops to produce a 1:350 scale model of Admiral Togo’s flagship, the Mikasa. To cut to the chase, the Hasegawa Mikasa is a superb model kit. It is one of the best, if not the best, injected ship models that I have seen in any scale. Not that the kit is perfect, it is not, but the modeler gets a lot for the money with the Mikasa.

B Sprue - Gun Deck & Ventilators
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A Sprue - The Mikasa is a full hull kit divided along the centerline. The hull halves are the only two parts on A sprue. The hull halves are not identical, as the starboard side has two anchor hawse with two accompanying anchor billboards. The port side only has one hawse and billboard. There are a couple of under water features on the hull that are somewhat different than those found on other battleships of the period. The ram is much more pronounced than most and the rudder is placed within a semi-circular cutout at the end of the keel. The bilge keels are well formed but appear to be a little thick in cross section. There are also under water torpedo tube openings forward and aft on each side. However, it is not the under water portion of the hull that stresses the very high detail of this kit. The above water portions of the hull sides abound in detail. The overall length of the hull is 380mm. When multiplied by 350 this equates to a ship 133m in overall length. According to Conway ’s All of the World’s Fighting Ships 1860-1905, the Mikasa was 131.7m overall. This amounts to a variance of slightly under 1% with the Hasegawa kit being slightly larger than 1:350 scale.

Normally, most detail in any ship model is found on the deck with hull sides a distant second place. The above water hull sides with the Mikasa are rich with detail. As with most English battleship designs, there is a slight tumblehome to the hull. Coupled with curve of the tumblehome, this design incorporates indentations for casemate guns as well as casemate positions that curve beyond the hull. The secondary gun positions are on the main deck with the most forward and aft positions placed outboard of the hull to provide forward and aft on fire. The balance of the 6-inch battery are in three slightly indented positions amidship. Each position is portrayed with gun doors swung open with the end positions swung horizontally and the middle positions swung up at a 45 degree angle. With each position there are two doors, one large and one small. Highly indented positions for QF guns are found at the bow and stern on both sides. Other QF positions are found in a battery above the 6-inch casemate guns. These positions also have open doors. The billboards overhang the hull sides and angle up to the deck, which adds to the interest of the hull. Further relief on the sides come in the form of various horizontal and vertical strakes. There is a horizontal strake just above the waterline that runs from underneath and behind the hawse openings to almost the stern on each side. A less prominent horizontal strake is found just below the secondary battery. This serves as the base for the anti-torpedo net shelves. Four prominent vertical strakes are found on each side, two long and two short. The doors to the stern walk feature discernable hinges and dogs. Portholes have eyebrow detail but are filled in. You may wish to drill out these portholes. Slightly above waterline are discharge vents and positions for the base of the net booms. That is not all of the hull detail, as there are hull rungs, plating and other detail to be found in abundance. Another very nice feature added by Hasegawa are five internal hull braces. These fit into openings inside of the hull sides and serve several purposes. First it adds rigidity to the hull sides and spaces the sides the correct distance for a proper fit of the decks. The supports also serve as a base for the amidship boat deck.

B, C & D Sprues - There are three main deck pieces, forecastle, quarterdeck (C Sprue) and boat deck (B Sprue). The fore and aft decks are separated from the boat deck by bulkheads and superstructure even though the boat deck part is on the same level as the fore and aft decks. All three decks have plenty of detail. The forecastle has decking with different textures. Of course most of it is wooden planking although butt ends of the planks are not depicted. However, there are grid steel plates used for the base of the anchor runs. There are a number of deck coamings for deck access nd each of these has at least one raised porthole for lighting the deck below. Anchor windlasses are separate parts but the deck hawse for the chains have additional detail. The barbette is unique and very prominent. It features detail on the forward face and on the rear face for aft barbette. Lastly there are indentations on both sides where the billboards rise from the hull sides.

C Sprue - Forecastle & Quarterdeck
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The detail on the quarterdeck is similar. Barbette detail for the aft turret is the same as found in the forward position. On the quarterdeck there are a series of skylights, fitting plates and assorted access coamings. The hatches on these coamings come with wheels or latches/dogs. The greatest concentration of deck detail actually is on the amidship gun deck. Seventeen fittings have skylight portholes and one of these fittings is very large with ventilation grills. On this deck you’ll find access hatches with the latch style lid. The sides of the deck have coal scuttle openings, which are well defined. Even in 1:350 scale coal scuttles are normally portrayed as simple circles on the deck. With this kit the scuttle lid is separate from the coal chute rim. Unfortunately much of this detail will be obscured by QF decks which is one level higher on each side. However, the QF decks do not run the width of the ship and therefore the interior of the main/casemate deck can be seen at an angle. D Sprue contains mostly the bulkheads for the fore and aft control positions as well as fittings for fore and aft bridge decks. The control position/pilot house bulkheads all have square windows but they are not opened up on the parts. However, Hasegawa has made it easy to open these up. The plastic is very thin where the windows are located, as it appears that Hasegawa made this an easy option in the design.

E Sprue -  The two largest items on this sprue are the two QF decks that are amidship over the 6-inch battery. These two parts are very well done with clear panel lines and metal grid deck pattern. The undersides have support beams and the support posts that connect these parts to the main deck. There are six parts for the torpedo net shelves. Unlike British or German net shelves, which were solid, Mikasa appears to have been built with an open tubular shelf. Reminiscent of the pattern of a ladder, the structure pattern is present on the parts. Hasegawa has now released a photo-etch set that contains these same parts in open pattern brass. The stern walk and railings also represent open lattice or grid patterns, which in plastic are closed in. The rest of the sprue is devoted to the running gear and boats. The running gear consists of the shaft support struts and four bladed propellers. The boats have nice interior detail and chocks integral to the boat, although the chocks are on the thick side. The steam launch with separate deck even has a well detailed steam boiler.

E Sprue - Ship's Boats, QF Platforms, Net Shelves, Running Gear
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F Sprue This sprue is devoted to the superstructure. What is most striking are the individual panel lines for the steel plates that comprised the superstructure bulkheads. There even appears to be some rivet head detail on these bulkheads. The larger superstructure have solid bulkheads, rather than just railing. The inside of those bulkheads have support bracing on the parts. Also on this sprue are the various decks to the superstructure, such as main superstructure decks, fore and aft bridges, and pilot house decks. Most of these decks have underside bracing, which is shown on the parts, where visible. The last major area covered on this sprue will probably not be used by most modelers. Hasegawa provides separate injected plastic railings for the various upper platforms of the superstructure. Unfortunately, these are solid. The good point is that these are separate parts and not part of the bulkheads that would have to be removed for photo-etch. I am somewhat mystified that Hasegawa included them at all, as even the most novice adult modeler would probably not want to attach solid railing, which was prevalent in Revell kits of the 1950s. The most logical explanation is that it was for the younger modeler but the Mikasa retail price is probably higher than most young modelers can afford. In any event, DO NOT USE these plastic railings. Use photo-etch, which will be available specifically for this kit from a number of different sources. Even if you are not going to use photo-etch, your Mikasa would be better without these, unless they were used as canvas dodgers over the railing.

F Sprue - Superstructure
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G & K Sprues
There are actually two each of the G and K sprues, which are attached to each other. The G sprues contain various items but are dominated by the main armament. The 12-inch gun turrets have a very nice shape. They have large aprons with all of the tie down strips represented on the parts. Each turret has a sharply facet face, rounded sides and rear and a prominent faceted crown with rivet pattern along the outside edge and three sighting hoods. The unique feature about these turrets appears to be ventilation louvers on the top. I cannot think of anything else these could be, and if correct, the turrets of Mikasa would have been very vulnerable to plunging fire. Of course when Mikasa was designed, 3,000 to 7,000 yards was considered battle range. Engaging targets at 10,000 yards was unheard of, so protection against plunging fire was not of that great of significance. Each turret comes with a separate base and gun cradles. The gun barrels are very nicely done, capturing the band lines and flare at the muzzle. They are not open at the muzzle, so you may wish to use a pin vice to open up the bore. This sprue also contains optional stack caps. One version comes with the grate as part of the cap and the other is just the cap with no grate, which allows the use of photo-etch. It is another thoughtful touch from Hasegawa. Other parts included on the G sprues include upper deck 6-inch gun casemates with open shutters, two more ship’s boats including the largest steam launch, davits, winches, propeller shafts, grid decks for fighting tops, yardarms and base parts. The decks to the fighting tops present another example of parts that would best be replaced by photo-etch. The two K sprues are attached to the G sprues. These are small sprues of only three parts each. The parts are tall ventilator shafts rising from the boat deck.

G & K Sprues - Main Armament & Fittings
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L & M Sprues There are four each of L and M sprues attached to each other. The largest parts on the L sprues are the internal braces for the hull. Otherwise the sprues are made up of numbers of various items but dominated by secondary guns. The secondary guns are nicely done with considerable breach detail. They are placed four on each L sprue for a total of 16. The next largest parts are two J cowl ventilators and two of the smaller ship’s boats. The ventilators have good detail with a base and cowl flange and the cowl hollowed out to a good degree. Other parts that are on this sprue are more davits, open chocks, QF guns, supports, booms, anchors, assorted fittings and inclined ladders. The included inclined ladders are solid and are without hand rails. Junk them and use photo-etch. Each of the M sprues have five parts, one short ventilator shaft and four QF guns in two different sizes. All of these parts have good detail.

L & M Sprues - Secondary & QF Guns, Fittings
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Q Sprue Funnels and masts dominate this sprue. The funnels are very nice with a high level of detail. Each funnel is comprised of two halves and a base. Since there will be seams with the joining of the two halves, some sanding and cleanup will probably be necessary. The funnel bases come with locator holes for the various steam pipes and fittings. Both funnels sit atop deckhouses. Unfortunately Hasagawa included solid aztec inclined ladders on the sides of the stack-house bulkheads. Use a hobby knife to remove them, smooth with sanding and use photo-etch in their place. The inclusion of these aztec steps must be an oversight considering that Hasegawa made other such solid ladders and railing separate parts. It is a pity that sanding will probably remove some of the fine panel lines and detailed located on the bulkheads close to the aztec steps. The masts are the best of their type that I have seen in any medium. There are fittings galore on the two masts with climbing rungs, steel reinforcing bands, boom pivots and bolts and other miscellaneous fittings. There is a solid plastic platform for the forward face of the first funnel. The design clearly shows that this was an open grid design so that is another item to be replaced with photo-etch. Other parts consist of bow chrysanthemum, rudder and internal hull braces booms and other small fittings.

Q Sprue - Stack Assembly
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Decals & Anchor Chain The Mikasa comes with medium size sheet of decals. Most of the sheet concentrates on labels for the stand. Decals are provided in gold and in black, in Japanese and English that state, “Mikasa, the Battle of the Japan Sea”, which was what the Japanese called the Battle of Tsushima. However, the model will use the extensive draught markings provided on this sheet. There is a second sheet that contains the flags of Mikasa. You have an option of two styles, a static straight out style or more natural furled in the wind style. Each style has large battle flag, ensign, jack, vie admiral’s flag and Togo’s famous “Z” flag. One other nice touch by Hasegawa is the inclusion of metal anchor chain.

Decals & Chain
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Battle of the Japan Sea Bonus Items As mentioned, this version of Mikasa commemorates the Mikasa at the Battle of Tsushima. Since the ship is so totally associated with Japan ’s greatest naval hero, Admiral Togo, the initial release of the model for the 100th anniversary of Tsushima contained three bonus items associated with Admiral Togo. The first bonus is a pewter or white metal figure of Admiral Togo in 1:54 scale. The figure is well done with one exception. In addition to the torso part, there are separate well-defined head, and separate hands with binoculars and sword. However, it appears that the figure’s left leg, which is flexed, is slightly longer than the straight right leg. The second bonus is a large size full color print of Admiral Togo on the bridge of Mikasa during the battle. The third bonus is a large metal coin commemorating Admiral Togo. This comes in either white metal or yellow metal. On one side it portrays the Admiral with the Japanese national flag, naval ensign and Z flag with all writing in Japanese. The reverse side features the same flags but the national and naval ensign flags are crossed. Also it has the imperial Japanese chrysanthemum that was found at the bow of Mikasa. The writing on this side is in Japanese and English. It appears that Hasgawa has released another version of Mikasa entitled “Mikasa, Battle of the Korea Sea”. This is the Japanese name for the August 1904 battle with the Russian 1st Pacific Squadron, commonly called the Battle of the Yellow Sea. Although I have not seen this version, I understand that it is the same model but without the Admiral Togo bonus materials mentioned in this paragraph.

Bonus Items
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Instructions Hasegawa provides comprehensive instructions for building this model.  There are two large sheets of fold out instructions that show the assembly of the ship in 28 steps. Each step has a drawing that portrays attachment of parts or subassemblies. All parts are shown with a clear drawing and in text with their sprue number. The instructions are so clear that it is hard to see how someone can go wrong. Just follow the sequence, except for parts that you wish to replace with photo-etch. Also provided is a gray tone profile and plan painting scheme drawing, line drawing profile and plan with rigging and a bow on line drawing showing rigging.

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This is a superb injected plastic kit. Detail is exceptional, however, the kit cries out for photo-etch instead of the thick solid plastic pieces provided for railing, open metal platforms and inclined ladders. However, it is clear that Hasegawa planned to allow replacement of these parts from the start as they have come out with photo-etch for the kit and also Gold Medal Models and White Ensign Models will also be releasing sets for the kit. Do yourself a favor and use photo-etch on this model, it deserves it. The Mikasa at Tsushima represents the Imperial Japanese Fleet at the height of its glory, under greatest hero of the Japanese Navy. The ship and the battle are the halfway point between the birth and the death of that navy. It may be said that “Victory Disease” began with this victory. Although Japanese battleships grew far bigger, none were as historically significant as the Mikasa. As the first 1:350 scale Japanese injected plastic kit in some time, the Hasegawa Mikasa certainly upholds the Japanese reputation for high quality, fine plastic models.

The Hasegawa Mikasa is available from So pick up your voice tube and whistle-up the Captain to raise steam for your Mikasa to reach you at flank speed.