The Sad Eagle: Oryol

Oryol: Eagle in Russian. Assigned to Second Pacific Squadron in 1904. Surrendered at Tsushima. Refitted by Japan. Commissioned in Japanese Navy as Iwami in 1907. Rated as a coastal defense ship in 1912. Served in Pacific during World War I and Russian Revolution, participating in siege of Tsingtao and Japanese Russian Intervention. Training ship in 1921. Stricken 1922. Sunk as a target or scrapped in 1924.

Oryol (Russian: Орёл, “Eagle”; also Orel, Orël) was a Borodino-class battleship built for the Imperial Russian Navy in the first decade of the 20th century. The ship was completed after the start of the Russo-Japanese War in February 1904 and was assigned to the Second Pacific Squadron sent to the Far East six months later to break the Japanese blockade of Port Arthur. The Japanese captured the port while the squadron was in transit and their destination was changed to Vladivostok. Oryol was badly damaged during the Battle of Tsushima in May 1905 and surrendered to the Japanese, who put her into service under the name of Iwami.

Reconstructed by the Japanese in 1905–1907, Iwami was reclassified by the Imperial Japanese Navy as a coastal defense ship in 1912. She participated in the Battle of Tsingtao at the beginning of World War I and supported the Japanese troops that landed in Siberia in 1918 during the Russian Civil War. Iwami was used as a training ship beginning in September 1921. The ship was disarmed in 1922 to comply with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty and sunk as a target ship two years later.


Construction began on Oryol (Eagle) on 7 November 1899 at the Baltic Works in Saint Petersburg. The ship was laid down on 1 June 1900 and launched on 19 July 1902, in the presence of the Emperor.[6] While fitting out in Kronstadt in May 1904 in preparation for the installation of her armor, some temporary sheathing was removed that allowed water to enter and sank the ship five days later. The water was pumped out and the ship refloated without incident. She was completed in October 1904 at the cost of 13,404,000 rubles.

On 15 October 1904, Oryol set sail for Port Arthur from Libau along with the other vessels of the Second Pacific Squadron, under the overall command of Vice Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky.[10] Rozhestvensky led his squadron down the Atlantic coast of Africa, rounding the Cape of Good Hope, and reached the island of Nosy Be off the north-west coast of Madagascar on 9 January 1905 where they remained for two months while Rozhestvensky finalized his coaling arrangements. The squadron sailed for Camranh Bay, French Indochina, on 16 March and reached it almost a month later to await the obsolete ships of the 3rd Pacific Squadron, commanded by Rear Admiral Nikolai Nebogatov. The latter ships reached Camranh Bay on 9 May and the combined force sailed for Vladivostok on 14 May. With all of the additional coal and other supplies loaded for the lengthy voyage, the ship was 1,785 long tons (1,814 t) overweight; most of which was stored high in the ship and reduced her stability. The most important aspect of this, however, was that the additional weight completely submerged the ship’s main armor belt.

Tsushima Strait

Rozhestvensky decided to take the most direct route to Vladivostok using the Tsushima Strait and was intercepted by the Japanese battlefleet under the command of Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō on 27 May 1905. At the beginning of the battle, Oryol was the last ship in line of the 1st Division, which consisted of all four Borodino-class battleships under Rozhestvensky’s direct command. The ship fired the first shots of the Battle of Tsushima when the ship’s captain, Nikolay Yung, ordered her to open fire at a Japanese cruiser that was shadowing the Russian formation at a range of 9,000 meters (9,800 yd). Rozhestvensky had not given any pre-battle instructions to the fleet covering this situation, but he ordered Yung to cease fire after 30 rounds had been fired without effect.

Oryol was not heavily engaged during the early part of the battle, but she was set on fire by Japanese shells during this time. About an hour after the battle began, the Japanese cruiser Chihaya fired two torpedoes at a ship that may have been Oryol, although both torpedoes missed. The Russian formation had become disordered during the early part of the battle and Oryol was second in line after her sister Borodino by 16:00. The Japanese battleships generally concentrated their fire on Borodino during this time and sank her around 19:30. Oryol was hit a number of times as well, but was not seriously damaged.

Oryol took the lead after Borodino was sunk; she was joined by Nebogatov’s Second Division after Tōgō ordered the Japanese battleships to disengage in the gathering darkness. Nebogatov assumed command of the remains of the fleet and they continued towards Vladivostok. The ships were discovered by the Japanese early the following morning and attacked by Tōgō’s battleships around 10:00. The faster Japanese ships stayed beyond the range at which Nebogatov’s ships could effectively reply and he decided to surrender his ships at 10:30 as he could neither return fire nor close the range. The ship was formally stricken from the Navy List on 13 September 1905.

During the battle, Oryol was probably hit by five 12-inch, two 10-inch (254 mm), nine 8-inch (203 mm), thirty-nine 6-inch shells, and 21 smaller rounds or fragments. Although the ship had many large holes in the unarmored portions of her side, she was only moderately damaged as all of the four (one 12-inch and three 6-inch) shells that hit her side armor failed to penetrate. The left gun of her forward 12-inch turret had been struck by an 8-inch shell that broke off its muzzle and another 8-inch shell struck the roof of the rear 12-inch turret and forced it down, which limited the maximum elevation of the left gun. Two 6-inch gun turrets had been jammed by hits from 8-inch shells and one of them had been burnt out by an ammunition fire. Another turret had been damaged by a 12-inch shell that struck its supporting tube. Splinters from two 6-inch shells entered the conning tower and wounded Yung badly enough that he later died of his wounds. Casualties totaled 43 crewmen killed and approximately 80 wounded.

Borodino class

In 1904 Moscow dispatched the 2nd Pacific Squadron, commanded by Admiral Zinovi Petrovich Rohdzsvenski, from the Baltic to the Pacific, halfway around the world, to salvage the desperate situation in the Pacific. Rohdzsvenski’s main units numbered eight battleships, three armored cruisers, and three hopelessly obsolete armored coast-defense warships. The core of the Russian fleet was represented by the four new battleships of the Borodino class (Borodino, Alexander III, Orel, and Kniaz Suvarov). The Russians again appeared to have a strong edge in numbers, but they were, in truth, inferior in just about every other way, particularly guns, armor, and speed. And Rohdzsvenski’s fleet was also outclassed in the intangibles that really counted: leadership, morale, and training. By the time it met the Japanese, the Russian fleet was completing a debilitating seven-month epic of endurance. Instead of training, the crews had exhausted themselves in repeated coaling stops and were suffering from low morale and heat exhaustion.

The highly regarded 12,700-ton Retvisan, built by William Cramp of Philadelphia, was the first Russian battleship protected by Krupp armor. The 12,915-ton Tsesarevich, built in La Seyne, was used as a prototype for four warships of the 13,520-ton Borodino class. The Borodinos were built in Russian shipyards, along with a third ship of the Peresviet class and the 12,580-ton Potemkin. The eight battleships of the 1898 program all were in service by the beginning of the war with Japan in 1904. While focusing on capital ships Russia remained a leader in mine warfare, in 1898–99 constructing the world’s first purpose-built minelayers, the 3,010-ton Amur and Yenisei. Russia also purchased the submarine Protector, launched in 1902 by the American Simon Lake, built additional submarines in St Petersburg designed by Lake, and ordered three more from Germania of Kiel.

The Borodino-class battleships were based upon the earlier battleship Tsesarevich, which had been built to a French design at La Seyne and fought as the Russian flagship at the Battle of the Yellow Sea in 1904. The Russian Navy agreed to buy Tsesarevitch under the conditions that they could construct 5 more of them and modify them to meet the standards of the Russian Navy; thus Oryol, Kniaz Suvorov, Borodino, Aleksandr III, and Slava were built in Russian yards. Only Slava was not finished in time to participate in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. As previously mentioned all of the class were of a tumblehome hull design as were many of the French Pre-Dreadnoughts of the period. Dupuy de Lôme, the leading French naval architect, was a proponent of the idea as it increased fields of fire for the main and secondary gun batteries, as well as improve seaworthiness and create greater freeboard. Another advantage of the tumblehome design was that it provided for sloped armour – giving a thicker vertical belt at any given point due to the slope of the armour plate.

Along with the lead-ship of the class, Tsesarevich, the vessels suffered from instability having a high centre of gravity (made worse by overloading). The centre line bulkhead led to a danger of capsizing and a narrow armour belt became submerged due to overloading. As such, some naval architects regard these as some of the worst battleships ever built.