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""Kongo" in RN service" Topic

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Action Log

13 Jul 2012 5:01 p.m. PST
by Editor in Chief Bill

  • Removed from British Wargaming board

1,419 hits since 13 Jul 2012
©1994-2018 Bill Armintrout
Comments or corrections?

Sgt Troy Inactive Member13 Jul 2012 4:14 p.m. PST

A couple of "what ifs"
If Kongo had been loaned to the RN in 1915 would she have gone to the Battle cruiser fleet? what would have been her new name? I'm thinking of bringing her into my own BCF.


Shagnasty Supporting Member of TMP13 Jul 2012 4:36 p.m. PST

She would probably be manned by Japanese. They weren't the sort to "loan" ships.

Brown Fez Inactive Member13 Jul 2012 4:51 p.m. PST

Indeed. The historical precedent would seem to suggest that. The IJN did indeed supply a number of destroyers to work with the Mediterranean Fleet in 1917. They were Japanees manned.

Personal logo Doms Decals Sponsoring Member of TMP Inactive Member13 Jul 2012 5:02 p.m. PST

I'd be inclined to agree – probably more likely to actually operate in concert than hand over a ship. As for use, 1st Battlecruiser Squadron would be the obvious place for her – the design was essentially a Lion class made bigger badder and better.

She could probably even play with the QEs in the 5th Battle Squadron at a pinch, but would definitely be the weaker link there, rather than the strongest one if playing with Lions and Tigers….

Mal Wright Fezian Inactive Member13 Jul 2012 7:23 p.m. PST

The Japanese were asked to loan Kongo and they were prepared to do so with a Japanese crew. The IJN expected to gain valuable lessons operating with the Grand Fleet. It was also considered a chance to raise their status among white European Nations, that they, the Japanese, were so highly thought of as to be asked to help protect Britain from the High Seas Fleet. In other words they saw it as being granted equality in a very racist period of history.

However the British government (Not the Royal Navy) were concerned about so many 'Asiatics' on leave in British ports and apparently also believed it would be quite unacceptable to Scottish Protestants. They had previously considered and rejected bringing in lots of Chinese to work on the docks and labouring jobs to help the war effort, but rejected it for the same reason. (Lots of Chinese subsequently went to do menial work in France, sometimes in extremely dangerous situations for non-combattants).

The decision was touch and go for a while. The British public remembered 'The brave little Japanese' from the Russo Japanese war only ten years earlier, when they had fought 'The evil Russian bear'. The IJN was highly thought of in an era when the public were much more aware of naval matters than today, and had joined in 'the battleship race' against Germany with enthusiasm. But the reality of having the 'brave little Japanese' on Scottish or English soil, rather than thousands of miles away in the mysterious east, was a completely different matter. Conservative politicians and religious leaders spoke against it in what would today, be considered open racism.

So having already given in to the wild fears about unarmed Chinese workers 'attacking decent white women in the streets', the idea of having a group of Japanese on leave in UK ports….as 'equals' was decided to be just too much. The era was still far too racist for that. (Although much less so in France where various colonial and Asiatic troops were commonly seen.)

As a result Japan would not lend the Kongo as they considered it a humiliation and an insult to have to hand the ship over to a British crew, repatriate their own people back to Japan, and the further insult that the British would give the ship a 'temporary' name while serving in the RN. (I believe she was to be renamed HMS Asia) To haul down the Imperial ensign from a new ship after it had been raised, and also remove the Imperial symbol from the bow was a grave insult that it seems the RN did understand, but which the British Government did not.
The British Government offered to replace the ship if it was sunk in RN service, but failed to understand that the important issue was that the Japanese were only too happy if it was sunk in 'glorious battle' as long as it went down against overwhelming odds with the Imperial ensign flying heroically as it slipped beneath the waves!

It was 1917 before the Japanese answered further calls for help in European waters. However then they only sent an old cruiser as flagship for a squadron of destroyers. These operated out of Bari and Taranto with occasional detachment to Malta. Their duties were mostly convoy work, but were part of the force available to fight the Austrian fleet had it ever come out. While in the Adriatic area the Japanese squadron often operated with Australian destroyers stationed there.

The relationship between the the IJN and the RAN was much closer because for most of WW1 the Japanese, as allies, sent warships to patrol Australian waters against German raiders. This they did, of course, under their own flag and with their own crews.

In the post war era the Japanese found themselves given a very racist back seat at the Versailles Treaty negotiations and in subsequent disarmament talks, were also insulted by being considered inferior to European nations. Politicians of the British and American governments were particularly keen to limit Japanese naval power. It seems only a few British and French Admirals understood that it was really all about pride and acceptance of the Japanese as 'equals' that made them so difficult to negotiate with.
American Admirals and their politicians were particularly against acceptance of the Japanese as equals in anything.

Within a decade Japanese radicals had established a military controlled government and sought to reach equality by force of conquest and establishment of colonial possessions just as the Europeans had done. The West had made an enemy of a nation that had offered to help in good faith at its own expense, and merely sought to be recognised as equals, in return.

Hence the story of the request by the RN to 'borrow' the KONGO reverberrated for many years.

It was a very different time and people thought with quite strong and opposing views to the way the modern world would behave in nation to nation discussion.

taskforce5813 Jul 2012 7:31 p.m. PST

Thanks Mal, for an interesting read.

mollinary13 Jul 2012 11:07 p.m. PST


A fascinating story, and one of which I was completely unaware. The Japanese position seems eminently reasonable whichever way you look at it! Many thanks for sharing.


Sgt Troy Inactive Member14 Jul 2012 6:05 a.m. PST

Thank-you all for your replies, Mal in particular. considering the language problems that would probably have arisen, I'll cancel my plans, although it might be interesting to simulate in a game! The Japanese must have looked at Britain as a sort of model, a maritime nation with an extensive empire. They must have, quite reasonably, seen no reason to accept anything less than a position in the world equal to the "Great Powers" if they could develop equal military and industrial might. Unfortunatly coming so late in the game they found that western nations regarded her "scramble for empire" unacceptable. Self interest being more important than racism. The idea that the "asiatics" couldn't be trusted is pure racism, ironically, I would have thought that the behaviour of the Japanese sailors would have been impaccable given they were representing the Nation and Emperor, which might well have demolished some of the more entrenched attitudes.



Personal logo 22ndFoot Supporting Member of TMP14 Jul 2012 11:09 a.m. PST


Thanks for your insight. Could you provide some sources for your very detailed note? I was aware of a lot of this sort of sillyness from the US when Great Britain and Japan entered into their naval treaty but wasn't aware of this request or situation. The Japanese served very creditably alongside the Royal Navy's Med fleet and were very highly thought of but, as you say, this was the navy and not its political masters.

Thanks again.

Agesilaus Inactive Member14 Jul 2012 11:47 p.m. PST

Thanks Mal,
It only makes sense. The Kongo was a near sister of the Tiger and would have filled the gap in the battlecruiser line left by the loss of the Queen Mary at Jutland.
It's a shame that the British had such hangups about the Japanese. The French had destroyers built in Japan and many Japanese destroyers with Japanese crews served in the Med.

Personal logo 22ndFoot Supporting Member of TMP15 Jul 2012 8:33 a.m. PST

There is a very interesting, if rather dry, book on the subject, The Anglo-Japanese Alliance, 1902 1922 by Phillips Payson O'Briens. According to O'Briens, it was Woodrow Wilson who was instrumental in rejecting Japans's racial equality proposals. Equally, it was Britain's increasing alliance with, or deference to, the US which, to Japanese eyes, caused the loss of faith in the treaty.

Britain's hang-ups about the Japanese paled into insignificance against those of the US and some of the Commonwealth countries however, it would appear that by the mid-1930s, some those hang ups might reasonably be descibed as justified.

Mal Wright Fezian Inactive Member15 Jul 2012 9:07 p.m. PST

Could you provide some sources for your very detailed note?

Crikey! That research was twenty years and two strokes ago! But at the time, as I still do now, I dont just read the actual naval books on a subject. As part of my research I will refer to political books, industrial records and so forth. Some of my information of the shortage of dye for camouflage colours and uniforms comes from cross referencing to other books that discussed war production, not just the war itself.
In the above instance I was studying the Russo Japanese war and the lead up to WW1. I would have trawled through a couple of hundred books in that time, some of which would include the personal memoirs of people of the time. Memoirs can be very helpful sometimes because even though you may need to read a whole book to get ONE single GEM, its worth it and I am patient enough to do that. One book I read was from the parliamentary library here and was the memoir of someone who was in the British diplomatic corps prior too and during WW1. I believe some of it came from him, especially his frustration that the RN understood what the Japanese wanted, but Whitehall just saw them as 'Damn Asiatic upstarts'. But there is also mention of 'The Kongo incident' in one of the RN histories of WW1.


Personal logo 22ndFoot Supporting Member of TMP16 Jul 2012 7:02 a.m. PST

Thanks, Mal. I should say I wasn't doubting you, just curious to read up on some of the stuff myself.

Kind regards,

kabrank24 Jul 2012 6:25 a.m. PST

Hi Mal

It would be nice if more people researched topics like you.

Great to get an integrated picture of what and why.

Mal Wright Fezian Inactive Member02 Aug 2012 6:59 p.m. PST

Thanks, Mal. I should say I wasn't doubting you, just curious to read up on some of the stuff myself.

I often marvel at the stuff stored inside my head too! Especially as some is so clear, yet incidents around the two strokes are hazy.

I get very annoyed when I read 'new' books on a subject and find that the author has merely repeated some incorrect story some other author published, rather than research it himself.

An example is the disasterous battle of Savo Island. Now according to Morison, the Author of the US Naval History of WW2, the Japanese force was sighted by an Australian recon aircraft in the morning but it did not bother to report until it got back to base and only then after the crew had refreshed themselves by having tea!
Morison was always reluctant to place any blame at the feet of the American leadership hero's when he was writing in the post war era.
In actual fact, signals records tell a different story. The Australian aircraft was under radio silence so the Japanese would not be aware if anything was sighted. Having seen the Japanese task force and realised the grave significance of it, the aircraft broke off its mission and returned to base urgently. On arrival the sighting was sent by urgent message to Townsville where it was received by a US Army Airforce HQ. That was within 30 minutes of the Australian aircraft landing and within 2 hours of the sighting.
The US HQ also realised how important it was, but had no means of direct communication with the naval forces off Guadalcanal. So they sent it as an urgent message to the HQ of General McArthur in Melbourne. His HQ was responsible for all communicaitons with the US Navy.

SIGINTELL therefore shows that the message was received most urgently by the HQ in Melbourne and within plenty of time for it to be sent on to the US Naval forces off Guadalcanal. BUT THERE THE DELAY OCCURRED. Why is not known. But it was not passed along.

As a result the task force off Savo Island was ambushed in total surprise and a disaster resulted.

It was not the fault of the Recon aircraft crew.
They did not 'take tea'first before reporting.
Their HQ passed it along urgently.
The US HQ in Townsville received it and the records show that they passed it along urgently.
SIGINTELL shows it was received an acknowledged in MacArthurs HQ in Melbourne.
The warning was not passed along FROM THERE.

Its not even hard to research it or find out the SIGNINTEL. Yet author after author has failed to place the blame solidly on MacArthur's HQ for not passing it on. Instead they just lazily read Morrison and repeat his version.

1968billsfan Supporting Member of TMP28 Dec 2012 2:21 p.m. PST

….so. What did they have for tea?

Charlie 1228 Dec 2012 7:49 p.m. PST

Mal's anaylsis is spot on. A very different time.

Interesting add-on is the report from the RN Adm in charge of the Med convoys regarding the performance of the IJN DDs (saw this in a USN Naval War College pub). He had high praise all across the board for the Japanese destroyermen. BTW, the article went into the activities of the IJN during WWI. If anyone is interested, I'll see if I can dig it out when I get back home and post the reference.

Archeopteryx Inactive Member18 Jan 2013 10:32 a.m. PST

I thionk this is the real story

Britain's fears over Japanese opportunism began to be proved valid in early 1915. On 18 January of that year the Japanese government presented to the nominal President of the Republic of China, Yuan Shikai, a secret list of 21 demands, which effectively would have established a Japanese protectorate over all of the Dragon Throne. Over the next four months, Japanese and Chinese politicians struggled over the document, and with eventual publication followed by a final Japanese ultimatum, the Yuan regime agreed to watered-down terms. The United States, still neutral at the time, expressed dismay over Japan's apparent renunciation of the Open Door policy for China, while the British Foreign Office was extremely disappointed with what it readily declared opportunistic Japanese moves.

To make matters worse, German Admiral Paul von Hintze, the German Minister to Beijing, began to openly woo the Japanese with promises of aggrandizement in Asia, if they would switch sides in the current European war. While the Japanese government of Ōkuma did not overtly act on the German offers, they dutifully passed word of them on to their Entente partners, which did little to reduce tensions in the alliance. Instead, it fanned the fears of those in the British government that the Japanese were playing both sides, which to some extent, Tokyo was.

This state of affairs was mollified somewhat on 19 October 1915, when the Japanese announced their commitment to the September 1915 declaration of Great Britain, France and Russia, that all nations would commit to not seeking a separate peace during the war. However the price of Japan's concurrence was an agreement that Tokyo would not be required to send troops to Europe. Japan's assistance through the rest of 1915 and on into 1916 was quite limited; towards the end of that year Admiral John Jellicoe noted in passing to his subordinate Sir David Beatty that Japanese conduct in the war to date was not "entirely satisfactory," and mused that their Far East allies were harboring the idea of creating a "greater Japan which will probably comprise parts of China and the Gateway to the East, the Dutch East Indies, Singapore, and the Malay States." He further stated that, "apart from the selling of guns and ammunition to the Russians and ourselves, Japan is not taking a full share of the war," which accurately depicted the growing resentment in Great Britain of Japan's unwillingness to join operations in the European theater.

Jellicoe's desire: The Japanese battle cruiser Kongo.

In early 1917, the British once again pressed the Japanese for assistance, in this case, more escorts and patrols for the Indian Ocean (several German raiders were known to be out), and destroyers for ASW patrol in the Mediterranean. The requested ships were eventually supplied, and performed outstanding service. However, the price of this assistance had been secret Allied assurances that Japanese claims to her war spoils taken from German across the Pacific and in China would be supported. Later in the year, Tokyo firmly rejected the sale or loan of two or more of their modern Kongo-class battle cruisers, equivalent to the British Tiger, for service in the North Sea. Lord Curzon caustically observed in October 1917 during a meeting of the War Cabinet that "Japan had far from pulled her fair weight in the war," and any aid provided was "qualified at each stage by a most scrupulous regard for her own interests," sentiments that were by no means unique within the circles of the British government and military.


Archeopteryx Inactive Member18 Jan 2013 10:48 a.m. PST

In contrast to this lucrative charter and construction work, persistent British attempts to purchase
Japanese warships as replacements for Royal Navy losses irritated the Japanese government and
stung Japanese pride. Fearing further raids on the English coast by swift units of the German
navy, Admiral Jellicoe proposed in mid-1917 that Great Britain purchase two battle cruisers from
the Japanese. He doubted that the Japanese could be persuaded simply to deploy ships to join the
Grand Fleet--adding, in a revealing slight, "Even if they did, it is doubtful whether they would be
a match for German battle-cruisers when fully manned by Japanese."The government in
Tokyo rejected either selling the warships or sending them to serve with the Grand Fleet.
However, the service later rendered by the Japanese flotilla in the Mediterranean may have
caused Jellicoe to reappraise his low estimate of Japanese capabilities.


I think Athur Marder covers this event too in his book 1917: Year of Crisis.

Charlie 1218 Jan 2013 4:19 p.m. PST

I believe some of those comments are from the post war pro-British side and not necessarily the last word. to say the Japanese had their own agenda is true, as did all the Allies. It seems in the post-war writings the Japanese view was always discounted. More resent analysis is far more balanced.

Archeopteryx Inactive Member23 Jan 2013 4:48 a.m. PST

Coastal? What analysis -please reference? There is one brief reference to this event in Evans and Peattie's Kaigun which is very recent, which backs up the view that the Japanese wanted to keep the Kongo's in Japanese waters (and references Japanese sources).

CampyF Inactive Member26 Jan 2013 3:40 p.m. PST

Of course, the results of Jutland may have caused the Japanese to feel that loaning ships to the RN might not be a safe investment.

Chouan Inactive Member06 Feb 2013 8:31 a.m. PST

I'd be very interested in evidence for the racism that you describe affecting Naval policy.
When the Japanese Naval vessels were being built on the Tyne, for example, there was a significant number of Japanese officers and ratings standing by. There doesn't seem to have been any outcry at the time. There was already sizeable arab population in South Shields, mostly ships' firemen from Aden, with no governmental concern expressed. There was a sizeable Japanese community in Middlesbrough and elsewhere on Teesside, mostly derived from Japanese officers and ratings standing by the delivery of Merchant vessels being built at South Bank and Haverton Hill, who married local girls and set up home in the area. Again, very little concern shown by the government of the time about the risks of an alien invasion.
There was a similar Yemeni or Adeni community in S.Wales, especially in Cardiff, again mostly ships' firemen who had married locally.
This isn't to say that there weren't racist views expressed at the time, but I'm doubtful of the view expressed that the Admiralty took decisions because of the possibility of Japanese seamen being in social contact with British women when it had already been going on for years.
For further details of Middlesbrough's Japanese community, see link

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