In the last half of the 19th Century the European powers were increasing their search for new colonies, especially Great Britain and France. They had been eager to
acquire new colonies since the previous century and early in the century British merchants in India had a product that they wanted to sell in the east, opium. The
British demanded that Imperial China open that country for sale of the opium to the Chinese population. Three opium wars were fought between Great Britain and
Imperial China, all of which proved that a large poorly trained army with medieval weapons could not win against modern weaponry operated by skilled personnel.
China moved in an attempt to acquire modern weapons and training. Two battleships were ordered in Germany and when they arrived in China were the strongest
warships in the east. In this effort to modernize China was hampered with numerous peasant revolts, rampant corruption, mutinous warlords and a Dowager
Empress who siphoned of naval funding for personal gee-gaws. However, China was not the only eastern power who came out of a slumber. Since the black
warships of Commodore Perry opened up Japan at the turn of the century, that country had been in a rocketship modernizing the country, army and navy. Japan
had the same peasant revolts of China but didn’t have the Chinese type corruption. Japan did have its own unique problem. When the Samurai class had their special
privileges removed by the Emperor there were samurai riots. The solution was to make the samurai the leaders of the national army and navy. Japan also went to
Europe to buy modern warships.
Japan’s first purchase was a steam ram that had been under construction in France for the Confederate States of America and was named CSS Stonewall. The ship had
a wooden hull with an iron armored belt. The ship was surrendered to the US government at the end of the American Civil War and in 1867 was purchased for the
Shogun of Japan, the military leader as opposed to the Emperor. With an American crew she arrived in Yokohama on April 24, 1868. In 1869 she was handed over to
the Emperor and can be considered the first modern warship in the Imperial Japanese Navy. Originally named
Kotetsu, she was renamed Azuma in 1871. In 1870 the
second warship arrived. This was another wooden hull with iron armored belt design built in Scotland and was named
Ryujo. Neither of these two ships exceeded
2,000-tons. For the third armored ship for the Imperial Japanese Navy, the Japanese entered into a contract with the British firm of Samuda Brothers. Sir Edward Reed,
designer for the Royal Navy, developed the design. It was purchased in the 1875 program in anticipation with war with Korea. Reed had designed the ironclad/battleship
HMS Iron Duke for the Royal Navy. For the Imperial Japanese Navy he designed a scaled down version of the Iron Duke. This time the hull was steel with a 9-inch
armored belt. She was of a design called the central battery ship with four 9.4-inch Krupp BL cannons occupying the corners of an armored redoubt amidship. She was
also called an armored frigate. This was before the time when the term battleship came into use and capital ship designs were all over the map with roadside designs,
central battery designs and turret designs. She was named
Fuso and was the first armored ship built for Japan in England.
                                                                                     
In September 1875 the ship was laid down and was launched April 14, 1877. Completion occurred in January 1878. Her machinery was purchased from Penn and Sons
in Greenwich with two reciprocating engines developing 3932ihp.
Fuso also received a full sail rig with three masts, barque rigged. With her machinery her radius was
estimated to be 4,500nm at 10-knots. Maximum speed was 13-knots. Her displacement was 3,717-tons. In addition to the Krupp 9.4-inch guns, initial armament also
included two 6.7-inch guns, six 3-inch guns and one 4-barrelled Nordenfeld gatling gun. Early in 1894 Before the Sino-Japanese War
Fuso received a refit. The
mainmast was removed along with the sail fit, and fighting tops were added to the fore and mizzen masts. The two 6.7-inch guns were replaced by 6-inch/50 QF guns
and additional 6-inch/50 with shields were added, one on the forecastle and one on the quarterdeck. Eleven 3pdr QF guns and two above water 18-inch torpedo tubes
were added.
The Kingdom of Korea had always considered itself in the sphere of Imperial China, at least the conservative leadership did. As with China and Japan, Korea had its
share of peasant revolts and if anything, was more xenophobic than either of the two larger empires. However, unlike the other two, western intrusions had been
minimal. The European colonial states considered Korea too poor to expend the effort to open Korea as China and Japan had experienced. However, China and
Japan were definitely interested in Korea. China because Korea had always been a client state and Japan because that modernized country wished to expand and had
acquired the lust to establish colonies just as the western powers had shown. In Korea there were two factions. The conservative faction led by the ruling family
wished to keep things just as they were, free of western intrusion and they looked to Imperial China as their support. On the other hand the progressive faction
wished to modernize the kingdom and looked to Japan for support. The actual genesis for the conflict started in 1876 when Japan recognized the independence of
Korea, denying that the kingdom was under the protection of Imperial China. There had been clashes in Korea between Chinese and Japanese troops. The Chinese
troops had put down revolts in which the progressive faction had managed to kill some Korean government officials and kill some Japanese civilians. On April 18,
1885 the Tientsin Convention was signed in which both China and Japan agreed to remove their troops from Korea. This was a huge diplomatic victory for Japan,
as it had broken the long established status quo of Korea being a protectorate of China. After the signing of this agreement China gained the advantage politically and
economically and Japan decided that it had to do something to prevent the loss of Japanese influence. The Tonghak Rebellion in South Korea in March 1894 gave
Japan the excuse that it was looking for to intervene. The Korean asked China for assistance in putting down the rebellion and with reluctance Chinese troops landed
at Asan in June 1894. In accordance with their agreement China notified Japan in advance of the intervention. Japan responded by landing a brigade at Chemulpo.
The Tonghak leaders, seeing the writing on the wall with Chinese troops coming, agreed to a truce and ceasefire before the Chinese arrived. With no need to
continue their presence in Korea, China informed Japan that she would withdraw her troops if Japan did the same. The Japanese were in no mood to withdraw.
China looked for mediation from the western powers, however, Japanese diplomacy kept the Europeans neutral and the United States was pro-Japan. Safe with
intervention, Japan decided that it was time for military action to decide the fate of Korea. On July 23, 1894 Japanese troops seized the Royal Palace in Seoul,
imprisoned the king and forced him to renounce all feudal ties with China.

As the Korean Royal Palace was being seized the main Japanese Fleet raised anchor at Saesbo to steam to Kunsan on Korea’s western coast. Their main goal was to
stop Chinese reinforcements from arriving by sea. Vice Admiral Ito commanded 15 major warships and 7 destroyers. That evening three fast cruisers under Rear
Admiral Tsuboi were detached from the fleet as a “Flying Squadron” to go ahead of the main body, join with a Japanese cruiser and gunboat at Chemulpo and
further continue around to Korea’s west coast to prevent Chinese reinforcements. On July 25 the Flying Squadron arrived but did not meet the other Japanese ships,
who had never received orders due to the telegraph lines being cut. Admiral Tsuboi made for Pungdo Island in search of the missing ships and at 06:30 spotted the
Chinese cruiser
Chi Yuan and gunboat Kunang I steaming southwest. The engagement was known as the Battle of Pungdo and was totally one sided. The Chinese
made for the open sea but the Japanese cruisers were far faster. Cruiser
Naniwa opened fore at 07:52 at a range of less than two miles (3km) followed quickly by
flagship
Yoshino and cruiser Akitsushima. Both Chinese ships were taking significant damage but finally Chi Yuan reached the open sea and fled west. The
gunboat was taking on water with fires raging and steam dropping so she was reached and was destroyed by internal explosions and the fires. Tsuboi started
pursuit of
Chi Yuan and caught her at 08:10. The Chinese captain saw that he could not flee or fight was on the point of surrendering when the Japanese spotted
smoke on the horizon and turned towards the newcomers. The Japanese mission was to stop reinforcement and Tsuboi guessed that the new ships may be Chinese
troop transports.
Chi Yuan took advantage of the situation to safely break off and make for Weihaiwei. Tsuboi was right. The new ships were the transport Kow
Shing
, a British steamer flying the red duster but leased by the Chinese government to take troops to Korea and the gunboat Ts’ao Chiang. Captain Galsworthy,
captain of the
Kow Shing thought that he was safe under the British colors and was unconcerned with the appearance of the Japanese cruisers. He thought that the
Japanese squadron was after the Chinese gunboat escorting his transport, which was carrying over 1,000 Chinese troops. On demand the
Kow Shing hove to allow
a Japanese search, which quickly revealed the 1,000+ passengers. Because of the Chinese troops Captain Togo of
Naniwa declared the transport seized. The
Chinese refused and prevented the crew from leaving the ship.
Naniwa opened fire at close range. The Chinese troops panicked. Many jumped in the water or took
to ship’s boats where they fought each other for a position. Some troops still on the transport fired into their compatriots in the boats all the while the
Naniwa
continued to fire at the transport with her main guns, and the boats and troops in the water with her light guns and machine guns. The transport sank after 37
minutes and the Japanese started rescue operations but only for the Europeans.
Yoshino and Akitsushima took up the pursuit of Chi Yuan and Ts’ao Chiang. The
gunboat surrendered without a fight to
Akitsushima but as Yoshino caught Chi Yuan, the Chinese cruiser steamed through shoals. Without maps of the area, the
Yoshino broke off pursuit.
When Chi Yuan limped into the Chinese naval base of Weihaiwei in Shantung province, across the Yellow Sea from Korea, Admiral Ting Ju-chang, commander of
the Peiyang Fleet, learned of the Japanese attack on the Chinese ships. This was at 06:00 July 26, 1894. There had been no declaration of war but the admiral rightly
considered the Japanese attack to be an act of war. The admiral with eleven warships and seven torpedo boats steamed out of Weihaiwei later that day bound for
Korea. He arrived the next morning but didn’t find any Japanese warships. The following day his squadron returned to Weihaiwei. He had searched around
Chempulpo, the major port near Seoul and did not know that the Japanese had made the port of Kusan on the far southwest corner of Korea a temporary base. He
coaled ships and on the 29th left again for Korea and stayed in the waters off Chemulpo without going south along the coast. This lasted until August 3 but yielded
the same fruitless results. The Peiyang Fleet was the main national fleet and was by far the most powerful as it contained two German built battleships, the
Ting
Yuan
, the flagship, and the sistership Chen Yuan, each of 7,220-tons displacement and the two most powerful warships in the east. Upon returning to Weihaiwei
Admiral Ting received orders forbidding further excursions into Korean waters. He was required to confine his fleet to defense of the Shangtung peninsula, which
contained the major Chinese naval bases of Weihaiwei and Port Arthur. Things changed in September when Admiral Ting was ordered to escort five troopships for
landing near Phyongyang. Before departing word was received that Phyongyang had fallen to the Japanese. Admiral Ting decided to take the troops to the mouth of
the Yalu River, the bounndry between China and Korea and a logical defensive line against the Japanese. On September 16 the fleet landed the troops and at 09:20
September 17 the Peiyang Fleet weighed anchor. At 11:28 smoke was sighted to the south-west. Admiral Ito learned on September 15 that the Peiyang Fleet was not
at Weihaiwei and combined with other information concluded that the Chinese were conducting operations along the northern coast of Korea. On September 16 Ito
steamed out of port northwards in a search for the Chinese Fleet.. He had his strongest and fastest ships as a Flying Squadron, which steamed ahead of the main
body. The
Fuso was fifth in line in the main body. She was slow, her main guns were old but she was the only Japanese warship with an armor belt. Admiral Ting
had a poor battle plan, which was bound to be become disorganized in battle. The Japanese ships were organized and had a sound battle plan. They would use their
far higher speed to cross the front of the Chinese Fleet, envelope the right wing and then steam behind the Chinese forcing the Peiyang Fleet to reverse course.
Admiral Ito correctly assumed that the Chinese ships were incapable of performing this maneuver. The Flying Squadron would perform the envelopment while the
main body engaged the two Chinese battleships. The decisive naval battle of the war was about to begin. The Battle of the Yalu would destroy the Chinese fleet as an
effective force and with it the loss of Korea. China would become a treasure house for all colonialist countries, including Japan.

As the two fleets approached each other, the Peiyang Fleet was line abreast while the Japanese was in line ahead. At 12:30 the range between the two was only eight
miles and the Japanese column turned 30 degrees to port to make for the right end of the Chinese line. It wasn’t exactly capping the T, as the Chinese were not in a
column but it did present Japanese broadsides to Chinese forward only fire. At 12:50 range was down to slightly over 3 miles (5.4km) and the
Ting Yuan opened
fire. Instead of being in the armored conning tower of his flagship, Admiral Ting was on an open flying bridge over the main guns. He was too close to the 305mm
guns of the big guns when they fired. He was blown off the bridge and sustained minor physical injuries but was concussed. Command was transferred to the
captain of the ship. Chinese fire was inaccurate. The Japanese increased speed and the Flying Squadron withheld fire until the range was down to 3km and the
targets were the small Chinese cruisers of the right wing. The Japanese fire was accurate from the beginning at by 13:00 the cruiser
Ch’ao Yung was on firing and
started listing to starboard to sink soon thereafter in shallow water. Ten minutes later the cruiser
Yang Wei was burning furiously and ran aground in an attempt to
flee..By this time the Flying Squadron had started their wheel around the right flank of the Chinese formation to continue the turn in behind the Chinese line. The
main battle line opened fire about three minutes after the Flying Squadron. Their primary targets were the two Chinese battleships. The main body followed the path
of the Flying Squadron around the right wing of the Chinese formation. After getting in the rear, the main body turned back to attack the rear of the Chinese
battleships. The cruiser
Hiei was the last ship in the main body and also the slowest. She could not keep up with the other ships and fell behind. Instead of going on
to the right wing,
Hiei turned towards the Chinese and sailed through their formation. She was heavily damaged in doing this but survived. By this time the Peiyang
Fleet was in total chaos. They broke formation as only the two battleship executed the 180 degree turn (the cruisers turned 90 degrees) and it was every man for
himself. Two Chinese cruisers fled immediately. The Flying Squadron encountered four Chinese cruisers but two of them remained to the rear. The main body kept
up the engagement with the two battleships. The two cruisers that engaged the Flying Squadron were
Chih Yuan, which sank at 15:30, and King Yuan which after
fighting alone for over an hour capsized at 16:48.
Fuso with the main body, later joined by by the Flying Squadron fired away at the two battleships. They destroyed
light structures but couldn’t penetrate the armor. Eventually the Chinese moved away and Admiral Ito broke off because of lack of ammunition. During the time of
the engagement
Fuso received only minor damage. Two crewmen were killed outright and twelve were injured, although three of the wounded later died of their
wounds.
Fuso continued the rest of the Sino-Japanese War with the main body escorting troopships and shelling fortifications at Port Arthur and the capture of
Weihaiwei. After the war in November 1897 she was at anchor at Shikoku island and during a gale her anchor chain broke. The ship drifted across the harbor and
into the ram of the cruiser
Matsushima. Reflecting the fact that rams were a greater threat to friends rather than enemies, Fuso had to be beached on a reef. Fuso
was refloated and taken to the Kure Dockyard for repairs and her second complete refit. This refit removed her ancient Krupp main armament. Her armament now
consisted of two 6-inch/40, four 4.7-inch/40 and eleven 3pdr, and three above water torpedo tubes.
Fuso was confined to coastal defense during Russo-Japanese
War. In 1908 she war confined to harbor service until decommissioned and scrapped  in 1910.
Combrig has recently released the central battery ironclad Fuso in 1:700 scale in her 1900 after her final refit. I would have preferred the kit to have been in her 1894
fit at the Battle of the Yalu but this does not hinder the fact that the
Fuso an interesting and historically important ship, as the first English built ship for the Imperial
Japanese Navy. Warship Illustrated 1972, Volume 3, has profiles of  
Fuso in her 1878 and 1894 fit. From the profile it appears possible to use the Combrig kit as an
easy conversion to the 1894 fit. You’ll need barrels for the 9.4-inch guns and machine guns if you wish. Of note, the kit does not come with any brass photo-etch
fret so I recommend getting some 3rd party photo-etch inclined ladders, vertical ladders, and railing. The
Fuso also had narrow ratlings but Atlantic Models and
North Star Models have ratling frets. The hull casting is crisply molded with only light sanding along the waterline needed. The small hull packs a lot of detail but the
deck planking lacks butt end detail. The hull sides are dominated by the overhanging armored central battery, which were plated over in the 1900 fit but still had the
9.4-inch guns in 1894. The ports for the above water torpedo tubes are present, which would have to be removed for the 1894 fit. The portholes are deeply drilled
and the upper level of the hull has a line of square window shutters with a porthole in the center of the window hatch. Vertical strakes along with open side scuttles
in the forecastle deck bulkhead are present at the bow, There are two anchor hawse fittings on each side of the bow.  It appears that the
Fuso had these hawse
fittings one level lower as built but upon her first refit they were raised a level. Three twin bollard fittings with the correct hour glass profile are on each side of the
deck. The two cable reels cast integral to the hull are very nice, especially since they are cast as part of the hull. In front of the forward deckhouse is a deck plate
with what appears to be ventilators and there is an open deck access in front of that. Just forward of the aft deckhouse are two skylight fittings, one with a crown
and one without. The aft deckhouse does have window detail. The quarterdeck has the base plate for the aft 6-inch gun, deck edge open chocks and a couple of
conical fittings, which appear to be skylights.
                                     
For such a small hull, there quite a number of smaller resin parts, which come cast on a wafer or on separate runners. The resin wafer has the thinner parts,
primarily decks. The raised forecastle deck appears to have two lines of plank-end detail. Also present are the base for the forward 6-inch gun and two smaller twin
bollard plates. Three pieces are for flying decks, one running across the width of the ship aft of the stack and the other two, one on each side of the stack. The
support frame for the stack flying bridges is also on the wafer.  Three winged bridge decks are on the wafer, with two forward, one below and one above the
conning tower, and one aft on top of the aft deckhouse. These are shown with what appears to be splinter shield bulkheads but actually represents canvas covered
railing, For more detail, you can remove the solid bulkheads and replace with photo-etch railing. You’ll need to lightly sand the wafer parts for clean up. The other
four parts on the wafer are the two mast platforms and the two fighting tops. Fourteen resin runners have the rest of the parts. One has the single stack with cap
apron and hollow at the top, two large J style ventilators and conning tower. Two runners have the armament. One is for the light 3pdr QF with six detailed guns
with shields. Six more are the main armament. Two are the six-inch guns on center line and four 4'7-inch guns on the open decks above the central battery.  The
guns have excellent detail and the differences can be seen in their profiles. The two 6-inch guns have slightly longer barrels, lower gun shield and back platforms.
Another runner has the greatest number of very fine parts, including two anchors, eight fighting top supports, anchor cat davits, boat davits, small ventilators,
binnacles and aft binnacle platform. Another four anchors are on two separate runners, as the ship had anchors at the bow and amidship. Another runner has the four
searchlights. Six runners have the ship’s boats with four runners containing a single boat and two runners having two boats. The boats range in size from small
dinghies to a whaler with one steam launch with separate stack. The boats have very good detail with planking and thwart detail. The last runner contains very thin
boat chocks, which are attached one at a time. All of the parts on runners are flash free but resin pour stalks will have to be smoothed. Two parts were broken in
transit, one davit and one ventilator but they broke close to the bases, so they don’t present a problem. Instructions are in three pages. Normally a model this size
would have only two pages of instructions with
Combrig. A parts laydown, specifications and history on one page on side and assembly on the second side. The
Combrig Fuso has made a further step from the past. Page one is still in the same format but there are two pages of assembly. Other new 1:700 scale releases go
even further. The
Takao, cruiser 1889 fit has three pages of assembly and the cruiser Niitaka 1904 fit has six pages of instructions with four of these being
assembly drawings. You won’t confuse these with the detail of
White Ensign Models instructions but this is a big leap forward from past Combrig instructions.
Incidentally, the instructions have the only plan view that I found of the
Fuso, inspite of looking at multiple references. Still things are missing. There is nothing on
boat chock or boat placement so you’ll have to use the plan and profile views in the instructions.
The Combrig 1:700 scale Fuso, central battery ironclad, is clearly an unusual subject. Built on the Thames, she was the first English built capital ship for the Imperial
Japanese Navy. As the only Japanese warship with side armor, she was part of the main body of the Japanese Fleet at the Battle of the Yalu, in which she engaged two
Chinese battleships. This is a low cost resin model, suitable for beginners, but with high quality resin parts.
Steve Backer
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