Russian cruiser Varyag (1899)

Varyag (also spelled Variag; see Varangian for the meaning of the name) (Russian: кре́йсер «Варя́г») was a Russian protected cruiser. Varyag became famous for her crew's stoicism at the Battle of Chemulpo Bay.

Varyag circa 1904
Russian Empire
Name: Varyag
Builder: William Cramp & Sons, Philadelphia
Yard number: 301
Laid down: October 1898
Launched: 31 October 1899
Commissioned: 2 January 1901
Fate: Scuttled 9 February 1904
Empire of Japan
Name: Soya
Acquired: by Japan as prize of war
Commissioned: 9 July 1907
Fate: Returned to Russia, 5 April 1916
Russian Empire
Name: Varyag
Acquired: 5 April 1916
Out of service: seized by Great Britain February 1918
Fate: Ran aground 1920, scrapped 1925
General characteristics
Type: Protected cruiser
Displacement: 6,500 long tons (6,604 t)
Length: 129.6 m (425 ft 2 in) w/l
Beam: 15.8 m (51 ft 10 in)
Draught: 6.3 m (20 ft 8 in)
Speed: 23 knots (26 mph; 43 km/h)
Complement: 570

Construction and design

In 1897, the Russian Admiralty, as part of a programme to reinforce the Imperial Russian Navy's Far East Fleet, published specifications for a fast protected cruiser, capable of commerce raiding. The ships were required to be armed with 152 mm (6-inch) quick-firing guns, and to have a speed of 23–24 kn (26–28 mph; 43–44 km/h). Russian shipyards were already busy, and the Imperial Admiralty placed an order with the American shipyard William Cramp & Sons of Philadelphia on 11 April 1898 to build a single cruiser, Varyag against this specification.[1] Single ships were also ordered from the German shipyards Germaniawerft (Askold) and AG Vulcan (Bogatyr) against these specifications.[2] Varyag was laid down in October 1898, was launched on 31 October 1899 and commissioned into the Imperial Russian Navy on 2 January 1901,[3] under the command of Captain Vladimir Behr.

Varyag was 129.56 m (430 ft) long overall and 191.90 m (630 ft) between perpendiculars, with a beam of 15.85 m (50 ft) and a draught of 5.94 m (19 ft 6 in) at normal displacement. Design displacement was 6,500 long tons (6,600 t) with full load displacement about 7,020 long tons (7,130 t).[1] Thirty Niclausse water-tube boilers fed steam to two sets of four-cylinder vertical triple expansion steam engines rated at 21,000 ihp (16,000 kW) which drove two 3-bladed propellers.[4]

As a protected cruiser, the main protection consisted of an arched armoured deck which protected the ship's engines and magazines. The deck was 38 mm (1.5 in) thick in the central horizontal portion, and 76.2 mm (3 in) thick in the sloping sections towards the ship's sides.[5] The ship's conning tower was protected by 150 mm (6 in), with 38 mm (1 12 in) protecting the ammunition hoists and 76 mm (3 in) for the bow and stern torpedo tubes.[6] The ship's main armament was twelve Obukhoff 152 mm (6-inch) L/45 guns, with two guns side by side on the ship's forecastle, two side-by-side on the quarterdeck, and the remaining eight on sponsons on the ship's upper deck.[6] These guns could fire a 50 kg (110 lb) shell to a range of 9,800 m (10,700 yd), and at a rate of 6 rounds per gun. 2388 rounds of 152 mm ammunition were carried. Twelve 75 mm (2.95 in) L/50 QF guns defended the ship against torpedo boats, and could fire a 6 kg (13 lb) shell to a range of 7,000 m (23,000 ft) at a rate of 10 rounds per minute. Close-in defence was provided by four Hotchkiss 47 mm revolving cannon on fighting tops, with four more on the upper deck, backed up by two 37 mm guns and two machine guns. Two Baranowski 64 mm landing guns were also carried for on-shore use by the ship's marines.[7] Six 381 mm (15 inch) torpedo tubes were carried, two on each beam and one in the bow and stern.[3]

During her construction, an assistant physician, Leo Alexandroff, left the ship's advance party on 20 April 1899, and applied for U.S. citizenship. He was arrested for desertion. His case reached the United States Supreme Court, which ruled in Tucker v. Alexandroff that the ship, though not accepted for service in the Imperial Russian Navy, was a warship under the terms of the 1832 treaty between Russia and the United States.[8]


During the Battle of Chemulpo Bay at the start of the Russo-Japanese War, Varyag (under the command of Captain of the First Rank Vsevolod Rudnev) found itself in battle, engaged with the heavily superior Japanese squadron of Admiral Uriu, (one armoured cruiser, five protected cruisers and eight destroyers) in a heroic attempt to break out from Chemulpo (Incheon) harbour 9 February 1904. Chemulpo was in neutral Korean waters. Admiral Uriu gave the Russian ships in harbor a written ultimatum to sail by 12:00 noon or be attacked in the harbor itself. Captain Rudnev sortied, accompanied by the gunboat Koreets; having lost 31 men dead, 191 injured (out of 570) and outgunned, both ships returned to harbor by 1:00 p.m., the crew decided not to surrender, but to sink the ship. The crew was saved by transferring them to the British cruiser Talbot, the French cruiser Pascal, and the Italian cruiser Elba; the captain of the US gunboat Vicksburg declined doing so as a violation of U.S. neutrality.[9][10]

In 1907, Vsevolod Rudnev (by that time dismissed from Russian naval service in the rank of rear admiral) was decorated with the Japanese Order of the Rising Sun for his heroism in that battle; although he accepted the order, he never wore it in public.

Varyag was later salvaged by the Japanese and repaired. She served with the Imperial Japanese Navy as the protected cruiser Soya.

During World War I, Russia and Japan were allies and several ships were transferred by the Japanese to the Russians. She was repurchased by the Imperial Russian Navy at Vladivostok on 5 April 1916 and renamed back to Varyag. In June, she departed for Murmansk via the Indian Ocean, arriving in November 1916. She was sent to Liverpool in Great Britain for an overhaul by Cammell Laird in February 1917, and was due to re-enter service with the Arctic squadron of the Russian Navy. However, following the Russian October Revolution on 7 November 1917 crewmen who had remained onboard hoisted the red flag and refused to set sail. On 8 December 1917 she was seized by a detachment of British soldiers. Assigned to the Royal Navy in February 1918, she ran aground while under tow off of Ireland, but was refloated and used as a hulk until 1919. She was then sold to a German firm in 1920 for scrap, but on 5 February 1920 ran aground on rocks near the Scottish village of Lendalfoot (55°11′03″N 04°56′30″W) in the Firth of Clyde, while being towed to Germany. She was scrapped in place from 1923-1925.[11][12]


The stoicism of Varyag's crew at Chemulpo has inspired the Austrian poet Rudolf Greinz to write a poem dedicated to Varyag. The Russian translation of this poem was put on music by A.S. Turischev. The result was the 1904 song that remains popular today:

(German original)
Auf Deck, Kameraden, all' auf Deck!
Heraus zur letzten Parade!
Der stolze Warjag ergibt sich nicht,
Wir brauchen keine Gnade!
Rudolf Greinz

(Russian poetic translation)
Наверх вы, товарищи, все по местам!
Последний парад наступает.
Врагу не сдается наш гордый “Варяг”,
Пощады никто не желает.

Get up you comrades, take your places,
The final parade is at hand.
Proud "Varyag" will not surrender to the enemy,
No one wants their mercy.

On Sunday 30 July 2006 (Russian Navy Day), a memorial plaque to the cruiser was unveiled at Lendalfoot in a ceremony attended by senior Russian politicians and navy personnel, veterans and local dignitaries.[13][14]

On 8 September 2007 a monument in the form of a large bronze cross was unveiled as an addition to the Lendalfoot memorial, in a ceremony attended by former Nato Secretary General George Robertson, British and Russian navy officers and diplomats.[15] The “Cruiser Varyag” Charity Foundation had organised a competition in Russia for the design of the monument,[16] and RT International described it as "the first monument to Russian military glory in the UK".[17]

In 2010, as a gesture marking the 20th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Korea and Russia, the flag of Varyag was restored. The Japanese Navy recovered the flag when the ship was salvaged; and the Incheon Metropolitan Museum acquired them after Japan's defeat at the end of World War II. The return of the flag takes the form of a two-year renewable loan because of the Korean law protecting cultural assets.[18]

In 2018, the Russian heavy metal band Aria in their album "Proklyatie Morey" ("Curse of the seas") included the song "Varyag", which recounts the engagement.


  1. Smigielski 1979, p. 155
  2. Smigielski 1979, pp. 160, 166
  3. Smigielski 1979, p. 163
  4. Smigielski 1979, pp. 155, 159
  5. Smigielski 1979, p. 161
  6. Chesneau & Kolesnick 1979, p. 195
  7. Smigielski 1979, pp. 160, 162
  8. Tucker v. Alexandroff, 183 U.S. 424.
  9. Port Arthur: Prologue materials of publishing house "Alexander PRINT"
  10. Report from Robert S. McCormack to Secretary of State John Hay, May 11, 1904, in Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1904, Government Printing House, Washington
  11. Kowner, Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War, p. 407-408.
  12. "Variag: Lendalfoot, Firth Of Clyde". Canmore (in Afrikaans). Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  13. Resting place of Russian cruiser Varyag South Ayrshire Council News
  14. "Ayrshire memorial to Russian boat". BBC NEWS. 30 July 2006. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  15. "Clyde memorial for Russian ship". BBC NEWS. 8 September 2007. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  16. "Russia's legendary cruiser remembered in Scotland". RT International. 11 August 2007. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  17. "Scotland perpetuates memory of Russian warship". RT International. 9 September 2007. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  18. "Korea to Return Flag of Sunken Russian Warship," Chosun Ilbo (ROK). November 11, 2010; retrieved 11 Nov 2010.


  • Buxton, Ian (2001). "Question 36/99: Imperial Russian Cruiser Variag". Warship International. XXXVIII (4): 337. ISSN 0043-0374.
  • Chesneau, Roger; Kolesnik, Eugene M., eds. (1979). Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1860–1905. London: Conway Maritime Press. ISBN 0-85177-133-5.
  • Kowner, Rotem (2006). "Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War". Scarecrow. 620pp. ISBN 0-8108-4927-5
  • MPHK Catalogue of collectible silver coins 2012-13 p.38
  • Smigielski, Adam (1979). "Imperial Russian Cruiser Varyag". In Roberts, John (ed.). Warship Volume III. London: Conway Maritime Press. pp. 154–167. ISBN 0-85177-204-8.
  • Wetherhorn, Aryeh (2001). "Question 36/99: Imperial Russian Cruiser Variag". Warship International. XXXVIII (4): 337–338. ISSN 0043-0374.
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