The IJNS Idzumo: Japanese Cruiser on the British Columbia Coast

by John MacFarlane 2017


The Cruiser IJNS Idzumo at Esquimalt BC. (Photo courtesy of the MMBC. )

The armoured cruiser IJNS Idzumo was completed in 1900 by Armstrong Whitworth, in the United Kingdom. She was 132.28m x 20.94m x 7.26m (434’ x 68.6’ x 23.9’) She was powered a 14,500ihp in 2 vertical triple–expansion steam engines. Her armament consisted of 2 × twin 20.3 cm/45 Type 41 naval guns; 14 × single QF 6–inch guns; 12 × single QF 12-pounder 12-cwt guns; 8 × single QF 2.5–pounder Yamaguchi guns; 4 × single 457 mm (18.0 in) torpedo tubes

The events of the Second World War overshadow the fact that Japan was not only our ally in the First World War but actively worked to protect British Columbia from perceived threats from the German navy. There was a squadron of German warships in the Pacific – the SMS Emden, the SMS Nurnberg (3,450 tons and 10 4.1" guns), and the SMS Leipzig (3,250 tons and 10 4.1" guns) the squadron commanded by Admiral Graf von Spee based at Tsingtow China. They had bases and depots and various German–controlled islands in the Pacific then part of the German Empire. Admiral von Spee’s objective was to damage allied trade, warships on the largest possible scale. He recorded in his diary that he desired that the coaling stations on the west coast of North America were an objective both in terms of supplies to be exported but also to deny the Japanese navy access. (He hoped that Japan would enter the War as an ally of Germany.)

The outbreak of the Mexican civil war caused the formation of an international force at Matzatlan Mexico with ships from Germany, the Royal Navy and Japan. Together they evacuated Chinese nationals from Mazatlan and embarked Europeans and American citizens to protect them from General Carranza’s forces. On July 31, 1914 the Canadian collier Cetriana arrived to coal the SMS Leipzig. During the night the Leipzig's guns were cleared for action. To keep the collier’s crew ignorant of events she confiscated the collier;s radio set.

Japan entered the War on August 23rd, 1914 but previous to that she had been placed at the disposal of the RCN. She was intent on finding the SMS Leipzig which made a much publicized visit to San Francisco during this period – her commanding officer declaring that he would "engage the enemy, wherever and whenever he meet him.The number or size of our antagonists will make no difference to us. The traditions of the German navy shall be upheld." Small wonder people in British Columbia were worried.

At the outbreak of war the RCN believed that the SMS Leipzig could be heading for Canada, They thought it possible that the SMS Nurnberg might be in the vicinity of the coast.

In November 1914 the commanding officers of HMS Newcastle and the IJNS Idzumo decided to base their ships in Barkley Sound for operations. This was to avoid publicly transiting the Juan de Fuca Strait between patrol areas and Esquimalt and limit observation by potential enemy agents. A patrol of three Fisheries Patrol vessels manned by members of the RNCVR blockaded the entrance to Barkley Sound for the last six weeks of 1914 to prevent unauthorized vessels from entering the eastern channel.

This vessel was involved in a controversial incident caused by the outbreak of the First World War. On September 18th, 1914 the steel steam schooner Francis H. Leggett foundered in a gale 50 miles south of the entrance to the Columbia River. Her deck cargo shifted as a result of the pounding from heavy seas, she capsized and sank. The Idzumo sighted the foundering steam schooner and sent a brief radio message which was intercepted by the Port of Portland coast radio station as well as the passenger vessel Beaver and the oil tanker Frank H. Buck. The warship was operating under wartime restrictions and was searching for the German raider which was thought to have been in the area. As a result the Idzumo did not report her location and refused to render assistance. Only two people were saved from the wreck by the two vessels that intercepted the radio message.

She assisted the armored cruiser Asama in early 1915 when she struck a rock off Baja California. In 1917, Izumo became the flagship of the Japanese squadron deployed in the Mediterranean Sea. After the war, she sailed to Great Britain to take control of some ex–German submarines and then escorted them part of the way back to Japan. In the Second World War the Idzumo was sunk by American carrier aircraft during the attack on Kure in July 1945. Her wreck was re–floated and scrapped in 1947.

To quote from this article please cite:

MacFarlane, John M. (2017) The IJNS Idzumo: Japanese Cruiser on the British Columbia Coast. 2017.

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