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Sunken Treasure of Admiral Nakhimov

On 14 October 1980, a press conference held by 83 year old Ryoichi Sasakawa, the Chairman of the Japanese Shipbuilding Industry Foundation at the Tokyo Press Club. Next to him was a small grey ingot, made of platinum. It was stated that the ingot had been salvaged from the Russian armed cruiser, Admiral Nakhimov. The cruiser sunk on 28 May 1905 by the Japanese fleet during the Russo-Japanese war. It was reported to be only a tiny part of treasure worth £1,000 million, however the total value of the sunken treasure to be expected to exceed £1,700 million. There was mention of 5,500 boxes, each containing 5,000 British gold sovereigns, together with 30 platinum bars and 48 gold bars. The Admiral Nakhimov immediately became the richest treasure ship of all time, however Sasakawa offered to turn it over to the Russia, in return for the Kurile Islands to Japan, which they had seized at the end of the Second World War.

The Admiral Nakhimov

Admiral Nakhimov, an armed cruiser of 8,524 gross tons, 333 feet long, with a crew of 567. Built in 1885 and then largely reconstructed in a British shipyard in 1899, the Admiral Nakhimov was one of the more interesting naval ships in the late 19th century. She was modeled after the British Royal Navy Imperieuse class cruisers. The Nakhimov was considered a more successful design and equipped with 203 mm guns, which were lighter and their number could be doubled.

The story of the Admiral Nakhimov treasure began in February 1904 when, provoked by recent Russian territorial expansionism in the east, Japan carried out a surprise torpedo attack on the Russian Far Eastern Fleet in Port Arthur. On October a Russian reinforcement fleet that included four new Borodino-class battleships was ready to depart from the Baltic Sea. Tsar Nicholas II hoped that deploying a strengthened navy would reassert Russian control over the eastern seas. One of the older ships was the Admiral Nakhimov. Her main armament consisted of eight 6-inch guns and ten 4.7-inch guns, but it did have a top speed of 17.5 knots, and it was for this reason that it had been selected for a special mission.

On 20 October 1904, under Admiral Rozhdestvensky command, the Russian fleet entered the North Sea. The competence of its command quickly came into question when, on 22 October, Russian guns opened fire on the hull fishing fleet in the mistaken belief that they had run into Japanese torpedo boats. The result was the sinking of four innocent trawlers. In the general confusion the Russians even managed to fire on their own ships. It was not a good omen. However the fleet passed through the English Channel without further incident.

On 27 May 1905, the Russian fleet was in the Tsushima Strait between Korea and Japan, en route to Vladivostok, when it sailed within range of the guns of the Japanese Imperial fleet, lying in wait for them under the command of Admiral Heihachiro Togo. The Japanese fleet was smaller than the Russians but it had better design, equipment and superior maneuverability thanks to British technical assistance. Within twenty-four hours the Russians had lost all eight of their battleships and four cruiser, the Admiral Nakhimov was among those ships damaged during the battle. She began sinking, gradually but inexorably. At daybreak, the remaining crew abandoned ship in the less badly damaged boats; they were soon picked up and made prisoner by the auxiliary cruiser Sado Maru. They were able to watch from the deck of their captors' ship as their old ironclad was swallowed by the sea, just east of Tsushima Island. The wreck site has been confirmed at 34° 34'N, 129° 32'E. Although their ship was lost in action, 626 of the crew were rescued; only 25 were lost.

Stories of fabulous sunken treasure aboard the Admiral Nakhimov began to surface soon after the battle, but salvage was not technically feasible at that time.Almost twenty years later, an ambitious teacher in the Japanese Naval School, by the name of Suzuki, began to interested about the Admiral Nakhimov treasure. In 1932 he met Hishida, his old friend in a Tokyo restaurant. That meeting was to change Suzuki’s life. Over thirty years he would spend the rest of his days, in an unending quest for the Admiral Nakhimov treasure. He never give up because his belief was based on the information provided by his friend Hishida. Hishida told Suzuki that another friend, Tanaka, had recently been approached by two Russian survivors of the battle, the 2nd Paymaster of the Admiral Nakhimov, Suzanov, and Rear-Admiral Natralof from the Russian flagship Suvovov, with a proposal for salvaging the gold and platinum on board the Admiral Nakhimov. There were various further items of supporting evidence. The Japanese government had received reports on 25 October and 19 November, from their embassies in Paris and Berlin respectively, that the Russians had succeeded in selling foreign bonds for 700 million French francs and 800 million German marks, all of which had apparently been converted into pound sterling and placed on board the Admiral Nakhimov.

Suzuki convinced that he knew exactly where the gold has been stowed. He had made the acquaintance of a tortoiseshell merchant called Eiso Ezaki, from Nagasaki City. Ezaki moved extensively in Russians circles, had friends in high places and had even constructed a model of the Admiral Nakhimov out of tortoiseshell for the Tsar. According to Ezaki the gold was stowed in the aft section of the third deck.

In August 1932 a team of 100 men began the search for the Admiral Nakhimov, deploying eight boats and dragging wires between them. On 16 January 1933 their efforts were finally rewarded. A large iron and steel vessel, fitting the dimensions of the Admiral Nakhimov, was discovered six miles east of Kami Tsushima on Tsushima Island. Salvaged operations began almost immediately and continued until September. It became clear that the Admiral Nakhimov was not going to be an easy ship to penetrate. The team did not have the necessary financial resources, nor did it have adequately trained divers. When japan entered the Second World war, operations were suspended and all the divers and crew were conscripted into the Japanese navy. All work on the Admiral Nakhimov was stopped.

In February 1944 the Japanese government itself ordered Suzuki to recommence operations for salvaging the gold on the Admiral Nakhimov and financed the operation to the tune of $500,000. However after the war Suzuki was advised not to restart operations until peace treaty with the United States had been signed. This meant a further delay until 1953. Then, Suzuki started again on his quest for the Admiral Nakhimov treasure, this time in a joint venture with an American corporation, the Pacific Far East Salvage company Inc. The American investors, like most of the others who met him, found Suzuki a thoroughly convincing and impressive character. They soon agreed to participate. However they found no treasure at all, sadly in june 1954 the superintendent of the divers, Mr. Yoichiro Oshii, lost his life during the project.

By 1955 the Americans were beginning to lose confidence in the project. Doubt centered not so much on the original existence of the gold on board the ship as on question on stowage. New theories beginning to proliferate. Perhaps the gold was not stowed at the aft of the third deck. Perhaps it was in the magazine room beneath the aft gun turret. The Admiral Nakhimov project was once again suspended, and although Suzuki continued to resurrect the project to his dying day, he had run out of willing financiers.

The question remains, did Sasakawa genuinely recover the enormous quantities of gold that he claimed, suggesting that Suzuki had been correct all along, or was the press conference nothing more than a massive publicity stunt as some have suggested? As always with treasure ships, the truth is difficult to get at. Interestingly, a book by Sidney Tyler entitled “The Japan Russia War “ and published in the US in 1905, long before treasure stories about the Admiral Nakhimov began to circulate, mentions Russia losing $75 million in gold. Unfortunately, he does not state which ship the gold was supposed to have been on.

Lost Treasure Ships of the Twentieth Century by Nigel Pickford;;;

Pic Source:
Lost Treasure Ships of the Twentieth Century by Nigel Pickford page 36

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  1. it would be interesting to see if Russia will return the island to japan.


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