The Many Names of Armoured Cruiser "BUGSUK"
By Thomas "Alikchi" Howell
At the turn of the century, nearly all the world’s navies were experiencing a massive increase in both growth and funding. In Europe, the Great Powers competed for prestige, and the effects of that competition were felt all around the world. As the value of the warship in international affairs increased, export orders rose, and soon Britain, America, Italy, and other seagoing nations were laying down ships of all types for smaller navies worldwide.
In Italy, the firm of Ansaldo would have perhaps the greatest relative
success with their Garibaldi-class armoured cruiser, often described as
"a cross between a battleship and a cruiser". Although it had a
relatively small displacement, it had the firepower and toughness to engage and
defeat everything but battleships and the speed to avoid action with the same.
The Garibaldis were a highly sought-after design as a result, and ten of
the cruisers were purchased by four different countries.
The ship now known as PRS Bugsuk was laid down for the Regia Marina
(Italian Royal Navy) in 1902 as the Roca, along with her sister ship Mitra.
Ansaldo did their work slowly but surely, taking two years to complete the 7,600
ton ships. So slowly, in fact, that before they were even launched, the Regia
Marina decided that the funds spent on the two cruisers could be better used
elsewhere. Argentina was nearly at war with Chile at the time, and Italy quickly
took advantage of the Argentine Navy’s need, selling Mitra and Roca
while they were still building. The Argies renamed them Rivadavia and Mariano
The two cruisers completed in January 1904. By then, the likelihood of war in South America had decreased, and the Argentines in turn dropped their purchase, seeking yet another buyer for the brand new cruisers. Ansaldo’s workers had already modified the cruisers to two separate buyers’ specifications, resulting in a uniform armament of 8-inch guns for Mariano Moreno and a split armament of one 10-inch and two 8-inch weapons for Rivadavia.
Argentina found their buyer in Japan, which was currently engaged in a naval
arms race with Russia in the Far East. Two modern and powerful armoured cruisers
would give Japan an edge over Russia in that ship type. Rivadavia became Kasuga
and Mariano Moreno became Nisshin.
Nisshin, now formally Japanese, sets out from La Spezia on her long journey to Japan.
After the sale was completed, Royal Navy ships escorted the two cruisers to Japan (in order to protect them from shadowing Russian ships). The arrival of the two vessels in Japan, indeed, helped to increase tensions between the two powers. Within months, Russia and Japan were at war.
Early in the war, the IJN lost two of its six battleships to a Russian minefield – a disaster for a navy that was already mostly outnumbered. Admiral Tôgô Heihachirô was forced to place Kasuga and Nisshin in the battleline to replace the two lost capital ships.
On August 10, 1904, the Battle of the Yellow Sea occurred, as the Russian
squadron in Port Arthur tried to escape the Japanese blockade. Both armoured
cruisers stood by their places in the battleline - Nisshin received
significant damage but stayed in the fight, and was repaired in time for the
decisive battle – Tsushima, May 1905.
Nisshin steaming towards battle against the Russians.
At Tsushima Nisshin was under the command of Vice-Admiral Misu, second in command after Admiral Tôgô. Kasuga led her into battle. Early that afternoon, Nisshin opened fire on the Russian fleet at a range of 7,000 yards, firing slowly but accurately. At 14:40 Nisshin took a Russian 12-inch shell that cut one of her forward 8-inch guns in half. Between 14:57 and 15:05 the Japanese fleet reversed course to block Russian northward movement, which put Nisshin as first ship in the battleline. Two more 12-inch shells hit in rapid succession, and the fight wore on throughout the rest of the day. In the end, Nisshin took three further 12-inch shells and one 9-inch; by nightfall, she was left with only one of four original 8-inch guns operating.
Nisshin and her sister served on through the First World War, overseeing the capture of several German Pacific colonies and transferring to the Mediterranean in 1917. Nisshin and a force of 8 light destroyers home-ported in Malta, with the objective of protecting Allied shipping from U-boat attacks.
Nisshin herself, however, saw no further combat in Japanese service. The rise of the battlecruiser made her type "superfluous" in a modern navy. In addition, the tonnage constraints of the post-war Cleito Naval Treaty meant that retaining Nisshin prevented the IJN from building a more modern cruiser in her stead. It was for these reasons among others that Nisshin was transferred to the Japanese puppet state of Chosen ((Korea)) in 1922.
Chosen renamed their new vessel Ulsan, but did little with her. Indeed, Chosen lacked the facilities to properly maintain the vessel, and she had to be sent to Japan for routine repairs. Her uneventful service in Chosenian service lasted only four years, until 1926.
At that point in time the Armada de Filipinas (Filipino Navy) was beginning to examine its options in regards to a heavy cruiser design. The AdF faced threatening French forces based in Indochina and a large Dutch fleet in the Netherlands East Indies. Of greatest importance was getting a large cruiser design into the water now, rather than later. Therefore, an offer was made to Chosen (through Japan, of course) to buy the venerable cruiser. The idea was that in a few years, native Filipino heavy cruisers would be available, and Nisshin/Ulsan could be put in reserve for emergencies, or perhaps used in an escort role.
When the AdF received their new cruiser in 1926, they were appalled by the condition she was in. Much of the equipment had not been updated since construction, and there was even some battle damage from Tsushima that had not been fully repaired! The engines were almost completely worn out – she could only make 16 knots, instead of her nominal 19. After a year and a half of service patrolling the South China Sea in an anti-piracy role, it was seen that a complete refit would be necessary.
Her 203mm guns were removed from their barbettes and new 210mm guns put in
their place, along with new rangefinders, hoists, and other modern gunnery
equipment. Her 6" secondary casemate mounts were refurbished and replaced
with native Filipino 6.1" weapons. The 74mm quick-firing guns were ripped
out and new 100mm anti-aircraft guns dotted throughout the superstructure.
Internal magazines were rearranged. The old boilers were discarded and replaced
with new two-shaft diesel motors that increased the speed to 21 knots. The bow
at the waterline was angled into a "clipper bow", and the two funnels
replaced with one central stack. With space freed up on the upper deck, a
floatplane and catapult for said aircraft were added. Finally, the torpedos were
upgraded in caliber to 24", and multiple 25mm and 13.7mm AA mounts placed
strategically on the deck.
Bugsuk after 1928 rebuild.
Japan, for her part, scoffed at the extreme effort the Filipinos were putting
into refitting such an old and supposedly worthless ship. But Bugsuk –
for that was her new Filipino name – was to perform sterling service in the
years to come. Resuming her anti-piracy mission in early 1929, she chased an
elderly ex-Iberian pirate cruiser into Chinese waters, instigating a diplomatic
incident between Chiang and the warlords of the south.
In September 1929, Generale Greco of the Filipino Army launched his coup on
the election day of Presidente de Varga. Most of the ‘Young Army’ backed the
socialist-communist oriented coup, but the Armada stayed loyal to the
government, now headed by Juan de la Vega. Bugsuk was witness to the
assassination of de Varga and directly covered the escape of then-Almirante de
la Vega via the waterfront. She sustained medium damage in a prolonged
engagement with the army-manned gun battery El Fraille, but was in good
enough condition to smash several Revolutionary MAS boats out of the water in
December. By late February, she was covering the counter-landings on Luzon.
After the end of the war, Bugsuk continued to provide sterling service. Repaired and refitted, she resumed her fishery patrol and escort mission, also participating in the American Fleet Problem X in 1930, where she "sunk" the Canadian cruiser Manitoba. Returning to the Philippines in 1931, she experienced an unfortunate fire in one of her 155mm casemates in July, while testing out the new Model 1931 610mm torpedo. Currently, Bugsuk is languishing in the port of Butuan, awaiting the government’s decision on whether to repair her or scrap her. Either way, Bugsuk has led perhaps the most interesting career of any vessel now in Filipino service.
Addendum - Pertinent Information on PRS BUGSUK