Part 5: Hard learned lessons and war between neighbors, 1890-1895.
The naval buildup continued through the 1890s as the very last wooden hulled ships were stricken and new ships were purchased abroad. The British-built Estoque class of 1892 were the first feeble attempt at moving beyond a coastal defense force. These ships were essentially large gunboats but designated as unprotected cruisers. Fitted with British machinery of fine quality and excellent 6-inch and 4.7-inch QF guns they were a step ahead in capability for the growing navy. Their lack of armor protection was obviously a serious drawback, but in service the Estoques were good boats, with good seakeeping and crew accomodations were vastly improved over the cramped coastal cruisers. Despite both ships of the class were in Lisenia at the outbreak of hostilities with China, they were considered unfit for service due to the lack of trained crews.
In 1892, the very profitable trade with China was derailed by the seizure of Lisenian goods on the port of Canton by local authorities over heated tariff discussions. Throughout the past decade, this trade had been essential towards helping the Lisenian economy grow. Intense pressure mounted on the government to force favorable terms out of the Chinese officials in charge of tariffs. When negotiations came close to breaking down, the government responded by dispatching a small flotilla to the port as a show of presence. The government's nascent attempt at gunboat diplomacy failed miserably when one of the gunboats was heavily damaged by Chinese coastal guns, and after an artillery duel lasting several hours, the Lisenian mission in Canton was attacked by a local mob. Public opinion was enraged but the National Congress backed down from further action after seeing the dilapitated army was in no state to take on the Cantonese warlords, and the small navy had no way of transporting troops to the port and defending them en route. To make matters worse, desperate appeals for support were only met favorably by Japan and the United States, but no helpw as forthcoming. With tails between their legs, the Lisenian delegation was forced to comply with the (now even higher) tariff demands in order to continue trade.
The troubles in China would not go away however, and Lisenian leaders saw an opportunity to reestablish their presence in China with the outbreak of the First Sino-Japanese War. Prior to the start of hostilities, Japanese and Lisenian officials had met repeatedly to discuss various issues related to China. The Lisenian government, despite being wary of the close relationship between Japan and one-time enemy Great Britain, and worried over Japanese actions in Korea, agreed to closer economic cooperation between the two countries. Only a few months later, Japan invaded parts of Manchuria and Korea. While remaining officially neutral, Lisenian leaders were secretly in negotiations with Japan and closely watching the conflict in an attempt to delay siding with the eventual victor.
On 23 March 1895, following serious deliberation and a secretly signed agreement with Japan, an expeditionary force of 500 naval infantry, accompanied by a naval squadron (less than half the fleet was fit for combat), joined the Japanese invasion of the Pescadores islands. The cruisers San Lorenzo
joined the bombardment of Chinese forts, and later supported the troop landing. The Lisenian marines, fighting under overall Japanese command, fought in the attack on Makung, giving a good account of themselves despite their wholly obsolete equipment, inexperience and the language barrier. Their fighting spirit was well-received by the Japanese, as opposed to the poor showing by the naval units, whose presence was regarded as a liability by the IJN. Indeed, after the fighting was over, the poor standard of gunnery and seamanship came as a shock to the naval hierarchy.
Despite having played only a minimal part in the war, Lisenian leaders had hoped to reap a handsome reward from the peace treaties. Most of all, they hoped to gain control over a few Chinese ports to trade in. They were disappointed when Japan instead offered new trade accords and the use of ports in Korea and Manchuria. More importantly, the taking of Taiwan by Japan opened a new market for Lisenian goods, so the end result was not a total disappointment to the government.
The true disappointments came once the guns had fallen silent and the difficult task of reviewing the navy's performance in the war began. The IJN's barely disguised ridicule of the Lisenian squadron's actions was a huge embarrassment to the navy. All of its modern vessels, having been built for coastal defense, were lacking in combat ability on the open sea, and training standards would obviously have to be raised. Impressed with the Japanese conduct of the war, the government allocated more funds to the military to improve its efficiency.
The most visible result of the naval program was the Tigre
class protected cruisers, ordered again from British yards. The first ship was delivered immediately after the end of the war, and represented a leap forward in capability. With the Tigre
and sister ship Salta
, the Lisenian navy gained truly useful warships, with good armament (six 6-inch guns, six 4.7-inch guns and four submerged tubes for Whitehead torpedoes), speed and protection. The introduction of these new ships forced the navy to increase recruitment, as the larger crews stretched the resources of the limited budget, and as such, it was not uncommon for ships to be placed in reduced readiness until enough trained men were available.