was built in the Cramps shipyard in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA,
which also produced the battleship Retvizan for the Tsar. She is
seen above at Kronstadt shortly after delivery in 1902. Varyag was
part of the huge naval buildup leading to the Russo-Japanese War. At
the very beginning of that conflict, the new cruiser was bested in
battle and scuttled by her crew to avoid capture. The ship was
subsequently salvaged by the Japanese and sailed in their fleet as
HIJMS Soya for many years.
With her length and arrow-like form, Varyag was intended as a
commerce raider, swooping down on her prey with overpowering speed.
She was originally intended to be boilered with Belleville
water-tube boilers, but the builders lobbied hard for using the
Niclausse water-tube type instead. The Tsar's admirals had cause to
pull out their hair over that decision, for the ship never lived up
to expectations in terms of speed: designed for 25+ knots, with
20,000-HP engines, she seldom exceeded 23. The ship's engines and
boilers were not improved by more than a year's immersion in sea
water off Chemulpo, Korea. In the vessel's refit following salvage,
an extensive rebuild was necessary. The Japanese started by
replacing the Niclausse boilers with Miyabara.
The vessel's name describes the Varangians -- legendary traders,
mercenaries, and pirates who controlled the water routes through the
eastern fringes of Europe from Finland down to the Black Sea by a
series of forts in the 9th and 10th centuries. Of Viking and Slavic
stock, they controlled much of the trade with Constantinople in the
waning years of the Byzantine Empire, and provided much of the
military muscle that sustained the Kievan state ("Rus"). These burly
warriors and watermen were among the original founders of the
Russian state. In medieval times and, indeed, all the way down to
the 1917 Revolution, Russian nobles calculated their rank by the
proximity of their descent from Rurik the Viking -- a legendary
Varangian whose descendents founded the Kievan state. A number of
powerful warships were named for Rurik in the later Russian Navy.