The Young Choung-class ironclads (Menghean: 영정급 철갑함 / 永靖級鐵甲艦 Yŏngjŏng-gŭb Chŏlgabham
) were a pair of ironclad warships built for the navy of the Namyang Government during Menghe's Three States Period. They were ordered in response to a new generation of heavy oceangoing ironclads entering service in Sieuxerr and Anglia and Lechernt. Although built overseas in Hallia, the Young Choung
and Young Ahn
are still remembered as Menghe's first battleships. In the Romaja transliteration system used today, their names are rendered Yŏngjŏng
respectively; at the time of their commissioning, the Stuart-Lavender system for romanizing Menghean was still in use.
Displacement: 3,452 tons (full)
Length: 67.5 m overall
Beam: 14.9 m
Draft: 5.63 m (full)
Propulsion: one-shaft steam engine, 4,180 shp
Speed: 12.2 knots
Complement: 212 officers and men
4 x 220mm muzzle-loading gun
In the first half of the 19th century, Menghe experienced a series of humiliating naval defeats against the Western colonial powers. During the Uzeri Rebellion of 1822-1824, Myŏn Dynasty forces clashed with the Anglian Royal Navy at the Battle of Sơn Hái Point and the Battle of the Baekyong Gulf, suffering heavy losses which left the country's southern ports open to attack. Thirty years later, during the Brothel War of 1851-1853, Sylvan warships inflicted an equally severe defeat at the First Battle of Hwangsa Bay, annihilating the light coastal junks of the Myŏn Navy and sailing up the Ŭm River to bombard Sunju. This engagement witnessed the trapping and destruction of the entire South Sea Fleet, which had been built up at great expense following the clashes with Anglia in the 1820s.
The Brothel War and the unequal treaties that followed finally tipped the balance of power in the Imperial Court in favor of the pro-modernization faction. In 1856, the last Myŏn emperor issued the Imperial Rescript on Modernizing the Navy, which formally endorsed the goal of building a modern war fleet armed with the latest Western technology. Funds for the fleet modernization program, however, were short in coming, and many Western powers were wary of selling arms to a country that could use them to restrict future trade. A handful of sail-driven frigates were delivered in the early 1860s, but armor-plated and steam-driven warships were already poised to render this small fleet obsolete.
The year 1866 saw the commissioning of heavy oceangoing ironclads in Anglia and Lechernt and Sieuxerr. Rumored to be immune to existing ships' cannon fire, these enormous warships could also deploy on long voyages overseas, unlike the small coastal and river monitors of inter-Casaterran wars. Menghe once again faced the prospect of possessing a war fleet which would be unable to inflict serious damage on colonial navies. Yet Menghe was in no position to respond quickly to the new threat: General Kim Ryung-sŏng had launched a major insurrection the previous year, and his forces were now marching on the capital at Junggyŏng. The country's already strained treasury was directed to the purchase of flintlock rifles and cannons, and two brand-new frigates in Anchŏn Harbor were scuttled to prevent the rebels from capturing them.
It was only in 1871, after repeated rebel offensives on land stalled out, that naval modernization could resume. After the last Myŏn emperor's suicide, pro-modernization thinkers and officials had established an anti-rebel rump state known as the Namyang Government, or more formally the Emergency Provisional Government. Though their main goal was the defeat of the Sinyi rebels and the reunification of Menghe, Namyang politicians also had to contend with the threat of foreign intervention. In 1872, Namyang leaders were finally able to secure funding for two ironclad warships. Because Menghe's economy was not yet industrialized, and its domestic steelworking sector was highly immature, both ironclads were to be designed and built in Hallia, which refrained from engaging in either of the two previous foreign interventions in Menghe. They were laid down in 1872 and 1873, and delivered in 1875.
Knowing that it was futile to confront the large navies of the major Casaterran powers on the open ocean, and still held back by shoestring budgets, Namyang emissaries requested that their Hallian contractors design coastal defense ships. According to the Namyang Government's naval construction plan, one ironclad would be stationed in Sunju to patrol Hwangsa Bay and the Ŭm River Delta; the other would be stationed in Chasŏ to patrol the wide Meng River Estuary. Because both of these rivers deposited large amounts of silt, the new ships needed a relatively shallow draft, which would also allow them to access berths slightly upriver. Yet they would also have to be able to sortie modest distances out to sea and reinforce one another's stations.
Following Casaterran naval theory second-hand, Namyang representatives shared the conclusion that ramming was the only reliable means of sinking ironclad warships, especially oceangoing ironclads of over 4,000 tons. Accordingly, the new Menghean ironclads would be built around forged steel rams, and equipped with steam engines to accelerate more easily toward the target.
Gun armament consisted of four 22-centimeter muzzle-loading cannons located in a central armored battery on the deck. A rotating turret was considered, but rejected, for two reasons. First, a turret could break down during routine service, and because Menghe's machine-working sector was still underdeveloped, spare parts would have to be imported from abroad. Second, the turret drive could jam as a result of ramming, shell impacts, or sustained firing. Instead, the four guns were mounted on tracks inside the armored battery. The aft gun pair could traverse 30 degrees to either side. The forward guns were on longer rails, and could either traverse across the same range through broadside ports, or traverse to fire directly forward through an additional pair of firing ports. This arrangement allowed the ship to fire on an enemy vessel while attempting to ram, or fire to either side if a ramming attempt missed. As built, the ships carried no other armament.
At the time of the ironclads' construction, the Namyang Government's zone of control did not include any coal mines, and its navy was entirely reliant on imported coal. In virtually all peacetime operations, including the delivery voyages across the northern part of the Meridian Ocean, the Young Choung class ironclads relied on sail power alone, reserving steam power for battles and drills.
The two Young Choung-class ironclads never had the opportunity to face off against the Casaterran oceangoing ironclads they were designed to face. The Namyang Government maintained good relations with most foreign powers during the remaining years of the 19th century, in part because of its shrewd diplomacy and generous trading concessions. Young Ahn did take part in a number of naval campaigns against Sinyi forces during the 1880s, where she mostly encountered wooden ships. From 1890 onward she remained in Chanam to protect the Meng River Estuary.
Part of this unimpressive service record stemmed from the ships' unimpressive characteristics. Though ordered as part of an effort to modernize the Menghean Navy, they were already nearing obsolescence at the time of their delivery, and subsequent Namyang battleships overshadowed them. The design's emphasis on ramming, itself a questionable tactic, was undermined by their modest speed: newer enemy warships could outrun them with ease. Both the armored battery and the crew quarters were cramped, wet, and uncomfortable, and the six large gun ports created serious holes in the armor. Despite efforts to reduce draft, Young Ahn
ran agound on a sandbar in 1879, and Young Choung
ran aground in 1876, 1882, and 1884; the estuaries where they operated were poorly charted and constantly changing with erosion and deposition, a phenomenon which ultimately may have been more effective at preventing ever-larger Casaterran ships from threatening the ports they defended.
was refitted in 1882, her rigging replaced by two freestanding masts and her raised quarterdeck fitted with four quick-firing guns to fend off torpedo boats. Young Choung
underwent similar refits at some point in the late 1880s. Despite plans to convert the two ironclads into central battery ships with high-velocity breechloading guns, the Namyang Government left the main armament as it had been.
After the formation of the Federative Republic of Menghe in 1901, the Young Choung-class ironclads fell out of active service and were converted to storeships. Young Choung
was gutted by fire in 1905 and written off as a total loss; her charred hulk sat at the docks in Sunju for several years before a scrap buyer was found. Young Ahn
was decommissioned in 1908, and after a fervent last-ditch effort by the Menghwa Historical Society failed to raise enough funds to pay for her preservation, she was sold for scrap in 1911.