Fascinating story of the 1906 visit to Birkenhead by the Japanese Battleship “Katori”

The Imperial Japanese Navy placed an order for a battleship in 1903 or 1904 with “Vickers, Sons & Maxim” (currently known as “VSEL”) of Barrow-in-Furness. “Katori” was launched in 1905 ready for fitting out.

In 1906, it made its way from Barrow to Birkenhead for “hull cleaning” prior to sea trials on the Clyde. The postcards that feature in this article show “Katori” in the West Float Graving Dock Number 3 in Birkenhead. “Katori” arrived at the mouth of the Mersey on Wednesday 11th April 1906 at about 5pm. However, a thick mist descended and the Mersey Pilot requested that the ship drop anchor and wait for the mist to lift.

On Thursday, 12th April 1906 just after 9am, it weighed anchor and proceeded down the Mersey, towards Birkenhead. On arriving at its destination shortly after 10am, it did not drop anchor but was held in place by the steam-tug “Blazer”, just off Woodside Landing Stage, where large crowds had gathered. Shortly after noon, the ship was maneuvered to the West Float Graving Dock Number 3. Incidentally, this is the only surviving graving dock in the Great Float, located in a North-easterly direction from Ilchester Road/Buccleuch Street.

When in operation, “Katori” would have a complement of 864 crew, but on the visit to Birkenhead, there were 300 men on board under the command of Captain Sakamoto. During the afternoon of Thursday 12th April, 100 of the men traveled to Port Sunlight in “wagonettes” to see the village and to tour the soap works.

The next day, Friday,13th April was Good Friday and the ship was open to the paying public for viewing. From noon until 4pm, every tramcar was packed and six-thousand people paid a shilling to visit the ship and in doing so, raised £250 (over £30,000 in today’s money) for charity – some must have gained entry for free!

During the day, crew members roamed around the town, one “enjoying himself immensely” riding a ladies’ bicycle and others giving an impromptu demonstration of the martial art of Jujutsu. They distributed “visiting cards” to the locals and bought many picture postcards of local scenes. On Saturday the 14th, some of the sailors visited Liverpool and amongst other things, took a trip on the Overhead Railway, which must have afforded them a good view of the miles of docks which would have no doubt interested them very much.

There is nothing recorded of the crew’s activities on Sunday 15th, so presumably, they were hard at work. However, their work was rewarded on the Easter Monday, 16th April when some of them were part of a crowd of 12,000 that watched Everton beaten by Man City 3-0 at Goodison Park in the league. (It’s a shame they couldn’t have waited until the 21st April, which saw Everton beat Newcastle 1-0 in the FA Cup Final in front of a crowd in excess of 75,000.)

There was some confusion earlier on the same day when thousands of visitors arrived expecting the ship to be open for viewing as it was on Good Friday, but upon reaching the vessel were told that it was not. Some of the sailors took advantage of the offer of free entry to the Argyle Theatre on Wednesday 18th. Upon completion of the work being undertaken at Birkenhead, “Katori” departed for the Clyde on Thursday 19th April 1906.

“Katori” was disarmed and scrapped in 1923–1925 in accordance with the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922.

Thanks goes to the Facebook Group Birkenhead in Pictures & Postcards for the text and images.

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