In June 1923, the Akitsushima
finished her working up cruise. The ship's performance was deemed most satisfactory; her sister ships were more than a year away from completion at the time, but the Admiralty were sure that they'd prove to be a credit to the navy and, perhaps, a replacement for the venerable Izumis
In July, the R & D department unveiled a project they had been working on for several years.
Back in 1906, the German inventor Christian Hülsmeyer had submitted a patent for a system he called a telemobiloscope
: a means by which to estimate the direction and distance of a large object based on the principle of electromagnetic wave reflection. The system was originally primitive and vulnerable to interference from other sources, including ships' wireless sets, which had led to the Germans rejecting it.
The Japanese doctrine, on the other hand, being considerably more focused on firing control supremacy, was ripe ground for the young scientist. Japan had acquired the plans to the telemobiloscope
for a pittance after the project was shelved in Europe and, after the end of the German-Japanese wars had also invited Hülsmeyer as a consultant.
What emerged after nearly ten years of often interrupted research, was the Improved TeleMobiloscope System (ITMS) (より良い遠隔船識別子
- Yoriyoi enkaku-sen shikibetsushi
in Japanese), a prototype of which was presented by the Japanese R & D board to the Admiralty in July 1923. The system included one emitting and two receiving systems, placed some distance apart; with a modified analog plotting table, it was possible to accurately estimate the direction and distance of a specific ship-sized target from a distance of several kilometres.
The Admiralty were impressed. The system clearly had promise; if improved, it could help considerably in acquiring and tracking targets in less-than-optimal conditions.
It was interesting that, during the tests, the new gadget managed to detect the Russian cruiser Pallada
, which had arrived in Sasebo on a goodwill visit. With the Akitsushima
ready, and with morale high after the new R & D advances, the Admiralty was quite dismissive of the Russian ship's capabilities. Almost insultingly so.
In August, the R & D department delivered again. It had always been difficult to coordinate the fire of two or more ships on a target, as it was near-impossible to distinguish between splashes of high-caliber guns and adjust the firing solution accordingly. With the introduction of shell dyes, this problem was eliminated (at least in daytime, clear-weather operations).
In August, the Navy began a major reconstruction program of her light cruiser forces. The Itsukushimas
were majorly rebuilt, with double turrets fore-and-aft, and a much-reinforced torpedo armament, of eight above-water torpedo tubes. The Akitsushimas
were refitted with modern director systems.
This proved to be a mistake.
For in late August, the ITMS prototype was delivered to the Admiralty, several months before the expected date. Now the entirety of the Japanese fleet had to be refitted with this
device to maintain their fire control lead, and the Admiralty had just wasted several million yen refitting ships that would have to immediately
re-enter drydocks when complete.
Several faces met desks.
And rose again, in fright, as the world moved
On September 1st, 1923, what would come to be known as the 'Great Kanto Earthquake' shook the Japanese islands for what many believe was as long as ten minutes. It was followed by a tsunami that ravaged coastal regions. The death count rose to six-digit numbers, in what would be the greatest natural catastrophe of modern Japanese history. Fires burned for two days; in the aftermath, thousands were left homeless and died of typhoid and other infectious diseases. Tokyo was, effectively, flattened
The Imperial family were, thankfully, out of danger, at Nikko; but, to their credit, the Princes quickly returned to the stricken areas to oversee disaster relief.
Japan suffered a mighty blow at the time; however, at the same time, the Kanto Earthquake allowed the rebirth of the stricken areas as truly urban centres. In the years to come, Tokyo was rebuilt, from the ground up, as a modern city, with modern sewage, a transportation system and a planned road network; new construction was also heavily regulated to conform with strict criteria for withstanding earthquakes.
The Navy, once again, made their ships available as disaster relief centres. Thankfully, the light cruisers in drydock had not been seriously damaged by the quake; many Admirals had nightmares of what would have happened had a heavy, capital ship been under construction at the time.
Still, there was little to do but try to contain the damage and nothing of note took place until November, when the Silent Service was reinforced with more modern vessels...
...and US disaster relief arrived, in massive transport convoys. Several submariners of the Japanese Navy couldn't help but take notes...
In December, the US Dreadnoughts USS New York
and USS Texas
arrived in Yokosuka in what was to be known as the 'Christmas visit'. The Japanese Admiralty welcomed the allied ships (one of them a decorated war veteran) and their crews; the visit was a great success in fostering better relations all around, although it was difficult to ignore the way the Nagato
loomed over her US counterparts. In an open-air officer party that she hosted, an American Commander, whose name is lost to history, commented that "She looks like a d--n bear, growling down at wolves." The press jumped at the moniker and Nagato
quickly became known affectionately to officers and laymen alike as the 'Bear'(Ussuri
) of Japan.Picture not relevant in any way shape or form
Taking its cues from the rebuilding frenzy taking place in Japan, the Navy invested in infrastructure. Naval bases in Kamerun, Polynesia, Sumatra and Tanganyika were further expanded; and, in return, Africa's wealth poured
into the stricken Japanese islands.
And again, the US merchant marine came to the aid of the Japanese. New loading methods were introduced and implemented - methods of how to pack that
much more cargo in a limited space.
(Methods that, of course, the Silent Service, being the nasty, piratical, moral-less, brilliant
little people that they were, immediately took to heart for packing more boom into their metal fishes)
A glimpse of the world-wide naval forces in early 1924. Note that Japan leads the minor Powers in budget, but spends almost half of what the US and Great Britain do on her Navy.
In closing, we must mention that February also marked a date of great sadness for the Japanese Navy; and of great import to Japan as a whole.
the old hero of the German wars, was becoming well and truly obsolete. She was now too slow to catch up to the cruisers that had, once, been her prey. She was too undergunned and underarmored to pose a threat to enemy Dreadnoughts. And she was built so cramped that she could only be rebuilt by paying as much as a new capital ship would cost the Navy. Her time was forever past.
It was time to lay the old warhorse to rest. But neither the Navy nor the people of Japan would allow the old ship, the 'Floating Mountain', to be scrapped. On her own, she held more battle stars than the next two ships in the fleet combined; she had kept Japan safe in her moment of need and she would not be discarded. The question was, what to do with her?
A proposal was put forth by the governors of the Osaka prefecture and the Prince Regent gave it his blessing. On the 26th of February 1924, the Ikoma
was formally decommissioned and struck from the Navy's record. She was sold to the Osaka prefecture administration for the nominal fee of twenty-six thousand yen, which would barely cover the fuel costs of sailing her from Sasebo to Osaka.
There, in the shadow of her namesake mountain, the old battlecruiser was placed in permanent drydock, at the center of a newly-planted grove and consecrated as the Honden
of a new Shinto shrine, housing what was formally acknowledged by Imperial writ as the protective and apotropaic Kami
of the ship; a Kami
that was formally adopted
into the Imperial family. The shrine of Ikoma-Jingū
is, today, one of the most well-known landmarks of Osaka, a National Treasure of Japan and receives thousands of visitors every year.
Such was the passing of the Floating Mountain.