The Naval Situation in the Fezian Sea from 1895 to 1912
Traditionally the navies of both Fezia and Rusland within the area of the Fezian Sea were small, coastal defence forces. Neither side showed any inclination to blockade the enemy coastline or to conduct offensive activity away from the sight of their own side of the sea. Even when officially at war the sea was used as a medium for transport on very few occasions and even then on a limited scale. Each side had a 'navy' comprising for the most part small gunboats or torpedo craft - what in later parlance could be best ve described as a 'mosquito fleet'.
This all changed however when the Ruslanders decided that they had a claim on the island of Naverona.
The saga of the various bombardments of the tiny and uninhabited island of Naverona have been recounted on Bob Cordery's blog here - Return to Naverona but a little known fact is that the two ships involved actually came from the Northern Rusland fleet. They had sailed from their base in the Baltika Sea - officially on a flag showing visit to their Forbodian allies - and just happened to be in the area. The opportunity to tweak Fezian noses was too good an opportunity to miss and so the two attacks were made. After much Fezian complaining the two Rusland ships returned from whence they came but the impact of their attack had greatly unsettled the Sultan. He resolved to furnish Fezia with a navy that would guarantee her safety from Rusland aggression and so began the extensive naval rearmament in the two decades leading up to the First Great World War.
Initially Fezia merely wanted to protect her coastline and the all-important coal carrying trade from potential Rusland invervention. With this in mind the Sultan and his adviasors decided that a force of coastal defence battleships would be more than sufficient to deter any Rusland aggression. An order was placed for four Wien class coastal defence battleships built by the Etruscians to a largely Teutonian design. Initially Fezia had no plans about using these ships offensively - they were merely to keep Rusland honest - but it was not long before the Rusland navy decided to introduce similar vessels into its own service, thereby maintaining the status quo. As luck would have it, the Northern Rusland navy had three such vessels newly in commission and so these were immediately ordered to the Fezian Sea. They were of course, coastal defence battleships of the Admiral Ushakov class. Rusland also quietly ordered a Wien class vessel for themselves thereby ensuring that the ship numbers for the respective navies remained constant.
It was not long however before Fezia, under Rusland provocation, decided that he naval impasse needed to be tilted in their favour and so the decision was made to increase the strength of the navy to include some blue water elements. This raised the bar considerably and certainly for Fezia caused all manner of difficulties. To start with she had little experience of deep water operations and also her industrial capacity was simply not up to the task of building major warships without massive investment and foreign expertise. The Sultan decreed that this would be the way forward and so immediately sent his agents far and wide to invite tenders for warship contracts. Initially Rusland was alarmed at this but the universally lukewarm response to the Fezian advances (mainly due to her abysmal credit) soon calmed the international waters. The Fezian initiative was not wholly unsuccessful though as she was able to buy from Gallia a battleship of the Tsarevitch class which instantly tilted the balance of naval superiority in the Fezian Sea in her favour.
Rusland was in an unenviable position. She was unable to send any further vessels from her Northen fleet as the situation with Teutonia was still very tense. Following the Fezian lead the Czar ordered his chief naval minister to open extensive negotiations with Britannia for warships. Word of this soon reached the Sultan and so the Britannian naval attache was summoned to the Topkapi palace to clarify their position with regards to Rusland. The Sultan was given a polite but firm refusal in respect of any changes in the foreign policy of Britannia in respect of her relations with another sovereign power - essentially it was none of the Sultan's business whom Britannia dealt with. To say the Sultan was unimpressed was an understatement. He was apoplectic with what he saw as 'Perfidious Albion'. He immediately ordered his agents to tear up any contracts they had with Britannia (if anything Britannia was relieved by this - Fezia was notorious for slow payments, if they paid at all) and set to work to engage with any other industrial power that could furnish what he, and Fezia, required.
Rusland has been quietly observing this spat and resolved to make the most of the Fezian fall from international grace. She offered to pick up the Fezian contracts but was told that these vessels had now been earmarked for the Royal Navy. However, in order to ensure that Rusland's business stayed with Britannian shipyards negotiations were opened at the highest level to put a treaty of mutual support and friendship (falling just short of a formal alliance). Britannia would be able to supply battleships in due course but with her shipyards full of orders under way for her own navy it would not be immediately - in fact around two years to be exact. To sweeten this pill Britannia reduced the overall cost of the units involved and furthermore - and this would be of supreme importance in the long term - would undertake to oversee the setting up of a modern shipbuilding facility capable of building and servicing battleships at the main Rusland Fezian Sea naval base of Savestopal. The deal was quickly made and the press gleefully reported the details of the agreement.
Teutonia viewed this development with dismay as she had always assumed that Britannia and Rusland would never see eye to eye - especially over the ongoing tension in Gaziristan. However, it did not take long for the Kaiser's advisors to point out that making friendly overtures to Fezia would serve to both neutralise Rusland and threaten the Britannic Chindian Empire. A naval mission, with financiers and industrialists was hurriedly assembled and sent to the Sultan - together with a gift of a pair of brand new Gazelle class light cruisers. The sultan was delighted and almost immediately plans were laid to overhaul every aspect of the Fezian navy and its capacity to build and repair modern warships. An ambitious ten year plan was put in place by which time Fezia would be building her own warships and to the latest designs.
Naval supremacy was now firmly in the hands of Fezia but Rusland still had some international cards to play. The naval high command decided, with Britannian backing, that acquiring some new and powerful armoured cruisers would negate the Fezian light cruisers and serve to counterbalance the effects of the new Fezian battleship. Ironically it was Etruscia that provided these - four ships based on the Giuseppe Garibaldi design. Two were immediately available and the latest two were some 9 months from completion. The first of these was the sister ship to the Iberian Cristobal Colon whilst the second was a direct copy of the Garibaldi herself. The two later models were based on the Nisshin class. In one fell swoop parity in the Fezian Sea was virtually restored.
For a period of around eighteen months there was little or no activity in the Fezian sea other than drills and manoeuvres.
Fezia was concerned about the appearance of these new and powerful cruisers but had no immediate answer from her own shipyards. In the interim the Teutonian naval mission was authorised by the Kaiser to loan some vessels to Fezia until such a time as she was able to replace them from her own resources. In reality these were quietly handed over for good as the Teutonians had no further use for them. The ships passed over were the two Scharnhorst class armoured cruisers and arguably the most powerful ship of its class afloat, the Blucher. The Sultan was delighted for all of a week when word reached him that Rusland had just taken delivery of the two Nisshin class cruisers and, some months earlier than expected, two battleships modelled on the Fuji class. The Sultan was displeased but once again, the Kaiser came to the aid of his ally with the loan of three battleships of the Pommern class. Rusland was not concerned by this turn of events as they were due to receive a pair of battleships based on the Shikishima class fairly shortly.
Events in respect of naval design had served to apply the brakes to any further ship additions simply because whilst all this was going on (and in fact some five years previously) HMS Dreadnought had been launched and so the ships being hurried out to the Fezian Sea were largely obsolete. As long as both sides had similar vessels in use then the design differences were largely irrelevent. Once the dreadnoughts began rolling down the slipways though, it would be an entirely different matter. With the quiet urging of both Britannia and Teutonia both sides applied themselves to their respective dreadnought building programs. It was not expected that either side would have any of these ships in service for at least another two years but the impact of the same when ready would be decisive. The race towards war was well and truly on.
Part 2....The Balkrunian War of 1912