Alasora Class Cruiser
The Franco-Merina War demonstrated the Royal Merina Navy’s fragility. A force of torpedo boats could not best a conventional fleet, as proponents of the Jeune École had once argued. The naval leaders of Imerina began looking elsewhere for solution. A new plan soon emerged. Six cruisers would be commissioned over a period of 18 years. Two third-class cruisers were ordered from Armstrong Whitworth in 1893. They were built to the same design: a modified version of the Royal Navy’s Pearl
class. Each ship was to be armed with eight QF 4.7-inch (120 mm) guns, six Hotchkiss 3-pounder (1.9-inch, 47 mm) anti-torpedo boat guns, and four 18-inch (357 mm) torpedo tubes. A maximum speed of 18 knots (21 mph, 33 kph) was expected in calm weather. There were few delays during construction and both cruisers were commissioned in 1896. They received names associated with the sacred hills of Imerina: Alasora
. King Radama II attended the commissioning ceremony of Alasora
. It was one of the king's last public appearances.
accomplished much during their early service. Budget limitations restricted training and the old monitor Ambohimanga
was always on hand when smaller vessels did require another ship to train against. Both ships did participate in torpedo boat training after the scrapping of Ambohimanga
in 1900, but their adventures at sea remained limited. The death of Radama II and the ascension of Ralambo II in 1904 changed things. Alasora
was selected for a royal tour of Africa, which included a detour to London. While she visited a number of ports along the African coast, the crew of Namehana
began training in earnest. The Royal Merina Navy felt vulnerable with one of its cruisers absent and had authorised the expenditure of additional funds. With the arrival of the more advanced Ikaloy
class in 1905, both ships underwent a minor refit. The most important change was the installation of wireless telegraphy equipment. The ship could now communicate with the headquarters of the Royal Merina Navy while at sea. A rangefinder was also installed, and two of the Hotchkiss 3-pounder guns were removed. Namehana
experienced a fire during her refit and did not return to service until 1907. Both ships regularly engaged in training after the refits, allowing the larger and more costly Ikaloy
class cruisers to remain in port.
A second, more extensive refit, was planned for late 1914. It would have included the replacement of worn propulsion machinery and a number of other changes. The existing 14-inch torpedo tubes, for example, would be replaced with larger tubes for the more common 18-inch (457 mm) torpedo. There were even plans to install torpedo nets. This refit was expected to occur after the arrival of Radama I
, a new battlecruiser which had been ordered in place of the two first-class cruisers of the original six-cruiser plan. Unfortunately, the new ship never arrived. Winston Churchill ordered the seizure of the near-complete ship at the end of July. To make matters worse, if war was imminent in Britain, it was imminent in Imerina. The Treaty of Tolagnaro committed Imerina to any war involving Britain and a competing power in Africa. Thus, Alasora
received a minor refit. The only significant changes were the replacement of the remaining Hotchkiss 3-pounder guns with more powerful 6-pounder (2.2-inch, 57 mm) guns, and the installation of a larger rangefinder. On the advice of a British officer seconded to the Royal Merina Navy, the dark grey scheme of the worn by all warships of Imerina was replaced with a lighter grey resembling that adopted by the Grand Fleet. This became the standard Merina scheme of the war, but was soon dropped after its conclusion.
Despite their rushed refits, Alasora
missed out on the Royal Merina Navy's battle against the German cruiser SMS Königsberg
. They were, in time, able to escort convoys between Imerina and the African coast. This granted the two Ikaloy
class cruisers, then dividing their time between escort duty and patrols off the Rufiji Delta, additional opportunities for rest and maintenance. Alasora
continued to escort ships after Königsberg
was sunk by British monitors, but it soon became clear that Königsberg
had been the only threat in the region. Thus, for the rest of the war, one ship would remain in port while the other was at sea. After the war, both ships were placed in reserve after the war to preserve their machinery. With Radama I
still in British hands, the future of the Royal Merina Navy was uncertain. The cruisers had been ordered with an expected service life of 27 years, but the hole left by Radama I
had to be filled. In then end, Radama I
entered service with the Royal Merina Navy in 1921. This allowed Alasora
to be decommissioned as planned in 1923.