Open main menu

Chinese ironclad Zhenyuan

Zhenyuan (Chinese: 鎮遠; Wade-Giles: Chen Yuen) was a German-built Chinese Beiyang Fleet turret ship of the 19th century. Her sister ship was Dingyuan. Built with 356-millimetre (14 in) thick armour and modern Krupp guns, they were superior to any in the Imperial Japanese Navy at the time.

IJN Chen yuen(Chin'en).jpg
Zhenyuan in Japanese service as Chin'en.
Name: Zhenyuan
Ordered: 1882
Builder: Stettiner Vulcan AG, Stettin, Germany
Laid down: 1 March 1882
Launched: 28 November 1882
Completed: 1884
Commissioned: 1 March 1885
Fate: Prize of war to Japan, February 17, 1895
Name: Chin'en
Acquired: February 17, 1895
Struck: 1912
Fate: Scrapped, 1914
General characteristics
Class and type: Dingyuan-class ironclad
Displacement: 7,670 long tons (7,793 t) (deep load)
Length: 93.9 m (308 ft)
Beam: 18.3 m (60 ft)
Draught: 6.1 m (20 ft)
Installed power:
Speed: 15.4 knots (28.5 km/h; 17.7 mph)
Range: 4,500 nmi (8,300 km; 5,200 mi) at 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph)
Complement: 363

As built:

2 × twin 305 mm (12 in) breech-loading guns
2 × single 150 mm (6 in) breech-loading guns
6 × single 37 mm (1 in) guns
3 × torpedo tubes

As Chin'en:

2 × twin 305 mm (12 in) breech-loading guns
4 × single 152 mm (6 in) QF guns
2 × single 57-millimetre (2.2 in) guns
8 × single 47-millimetre (1.9 in) guns
2 × single 37 mm (1 in) guns
3 × torpedo tubes


Zhenyuan displaced 7,670 tons loaded and had a speed of 15.4 knots (28.5 km/h; 17.7 mph). At 10 knots (19 km/h; 12 mph), she had a range of around 4,500 nautical miles (8,300 km; 5,200 mi). Her armament consisted of four 12-inch (300 mm) 25 calibre Krupp breech-loading guns in two barbettes one either side with a secondary armament of two 5.9-inch (150 mm) 35 calibre Krupp breech-loaders placed fore and aft. To this were added six 37 mm guns and three above the waterline torpedo tubes. The total complement was around 363 officers and ratings.

Zhenyuan was built by Stettiner Vulcan AG, in Stettin, Germany (now Szczecin, Poland). The keel was laid in March 1882, she was launched on 28 November 1882 and started her sea trials in March 1884.

Service lifeEdit

Zhenyuan captured in Weihaiwei

Chinese serviceEdit

Zhenyuan was based out of Lüshunkou, the chief naval station of the Beiyang Fleet. In 1886, she participated in show of force, touring Hong Kong, the Japanese port of Nagasaki, Korean ports of Busan and Wonsan, and the Russian naval base of Vladivostok together with Dingyuan and four cruisers. While in Nagasaki on 13 August 1886, a number of drunken sailors from Zhenyuan became involved in a brawl in a local brothel, during which a Japanese police officer was fatally stabbed. Attributing the issue to lax discipline, Qing Admiral Ding Ruchang suspended shore leave for a day, but allowed 450 sailors to go ashore on 15 August. Contrary to an agreement with local authorities, many were armed. Anticipating trouble due to increasing anti-Chinese sentiment by the local population, the Japanese police deployed additional men, but were unable to prevent a riot from erupting between stone-throwing locals and the men from Zhenyuan. In what came to be called the Nagasaki incident, six sailors were killed and forty-five wounded, along with five Japanese policemen killed and sixteen wounded. In handling the diplomatic incident, Qing military advisor Captain William M. Lang took a hard line against Japanese authorities, refusing to make any apologies or reparations, and reminding the Japanese of the overwhelming firepower of his fleet and threatening war. However, the incident was resolved through diplomatic efforts.

During the First Sino-Japanese War, Zhenyuan was commanded by Philo McGiffin and saw action at the Battle of the Yalu River, of 17 September 1894, during which she suffered severe damage.[1] Repaired at the dockyards at Lüshunkou, she was ordered to transfer out of that port to Weihaiwei in Shandong Province immediately prior to the Battle of Lushunkou, as Viceroy Li Hongzhang could not afford politically to lose any more ships to the Imperial Japanese Navy. However, when entering Weihaiwei harbor, Zhenyuan struck a rock and had to be beached, as the only repair facilities were at Lüshunkou. Her captain, Commodore Lin Taizeng (the grandson of Imperial Commissioner Lin Zexu), committed suicide by overdose of opium over the incident.[2] Captured by the Japanese after the Battle of Weihaiwei on 17 February 1895, Zhenyuan was taken as a prize of war.

Japanese serviceEdit

Rebuilt in 1896/7 and commissioned under the name Chin'en (the Japanese rendition of the ship's original Chinese name), Zhenyuan was the only battleship in the Imperial Japanese Navy until the commissioning of Fuji. She served during the Boxer Rebellion of 1900 in escorting Japanese troopships to the Asian mainland.

In 1901, she was renovated by replacement of her two old 6-inch (150 mm) Krupp guns by four rapid-fire 6-inch Armstrong cannon. One gun remained in a small nose gun turret; however, her rear turret was removed, with the stern gun mounted behind a gun shield. The remaining 6-inch guns were retained in the massive turret behind the bridge. She also received two 57-millimetre (2.2 in), eight 47-millimetre (1.9 in) and two 37-millimetre (1.5 in) rapid-fire guns, and improvements to her boilers brought her speed up to 10.5 knots (19.4 km/h; 12.1 mph). However, on 27 May 1903 during a training exercise, an explosion in one of her main guns killed her gun crew of 12 crewmen.

Considered obsolete by the time of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904, Chin'en was rated as a second-line battleship, and served escort duty as well as participating in the Blockade of Port Arthur. She was damaged on 10 August 1904 taking two hits from the Russian fleet. During the Battle of Tsushima, she was relegated to the IJN 5th Fleet, and was successful in attacking Russian troop transports.

Japanese Chin'en at Naval Review.

On 12 December 1905, Chin'en was re-classed as a 1st class coastal defense ship, but in May 1908 was de-rated to a training vessel. She was struck from the navy list on 1 April 1911 and became a target ship. She was damaged by a salvo from the cruiser Kurama in 1911 and rendered inoperable. She was sold for scrap on 6 April 1912, and scrapped in Yokohama in 1914.


  1. ^ McGiffin, Philo N. "The Battle of Yalu, Personal Recollections by the Commander of the Chinese Ironclad 'Chen Yuen.'" The Century Magazine, Volume 50 Issue 4 (Aug 1895):585-605.
  2. ^ Paine, S.C.M. (2003). The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perception, Power, and Primacy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 197–213. ISBN 0-521-61745-6.

Further readingEdit

  • Chesneau, Roger and Eugene M. Kolesnik (editors), All The World's Fighting Ships 1860-1905, Conway Maritime Press, 1979 reprinted 2002, ISBN 0-85177-133-5
  • Paine, S.C.M. The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-1895: Perception, Power, and Primacy, 2003, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MA, 412 pp. ISBN 0-521-61745-6
  • Qing Feng, "The Turret Ship Chen Yuen" in Bruce Taylor (editor), The World of the Battleship: The Lives and Careers of Twenty-One Capital Ships of the World's Navies, 1880–1990, Seaforth Publishing, 2018, ISBN 0870219065
  • Wright, Richard N. J., The Chinese Steam Navy 1862-1945, Chatham Publishing, London, 2000, ISBN 1-86176-144-9

External linksEdit