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The Battle of Tsushima.
A historical account of one of the major naval battles of the 20th Century, fought between the Russian and Japanese fleets in 1905.
The war between Japan and Russia, which began in February 1904, was preceded by along period of growing diplomatic tension. In 1902 the Japanese Government had secured a defensive alliance with the British Empire by a treaty which in its third article laid down that if any other state should join in hostilities against one of the allies, while engaged in war, the second contracting Power would come to the assistance of that ally and conduct war and make peace in common. This treaty protected Japan against any such combination as that of Germany, Russia and France, which had in 1895 deprived her of Port Arthur and Wei-hai-wei. But it is a complete delusion to suppose that she was eager for war with Russia. On the contrary her Government sedulously strove to reach a friendly settlement with that Power, and was supported in its efforts by British diplomacy.
The Russian occupation of Manchuria had alarmed Japan and caused disquiet in England. If Russia advanced-as she seemed to intend-and gradually occupied Korea, then the danger to Japan would become extreme. A glance at the map will show that a powerful Russian Fleet, based on the magnificent harbours in southern Korea, and in direct communication with European Russia by the Siberian railway, which was opened to Port Arthur in 1903 and could easily be extended through Korea, would dominate the Sea of Japan and threaten Japanese territory and independence. Port Arthur had passed into Russian hands in 1897 and had been strongly fortified, though if had not been adequate developed as a naval base. Vladistock had been Russian for nearly half a century and was fairly equipped as a naval base and connected with the Siberian railway. Russian control of Korea would plant a first class naval and military Power in a position of overwhelming strength in the Far East, whence it could strike at the very heart of Japan. Just as England had always made it a vital aim in foreign policy to prevent the subjection of Holland and Belgium by any great European Power, so it was a vital aim of Japanese policy to prevent Russian dominance in Korea.
If there was to be a struggle between Japan and Russia before Korea was annexed and absorbed in the Russian Empire, sea power must obviously play a determining part. Without control of sea communication, it would be impossible for Japan to operate on land, and operate on land she must if she was to prevent the Russians from over running Korea. She must therefore have a naval force sufficiently strong to defeat or contain the Russian naval force in the Far East. But this was not all; she must also have land forces to defeat or hold off from Korea the Russian land forces, which could be steadily increased as the Siberian railway brought up reserves from Europe. The capacity of that line, however, was at the date strictly limited; it had only a single pair of rails and there was a break in it at Lake Baikal, across which trains in summer were conveyed in a train ferry. In winter, troops or passengers had to detrain and cross the ice in sledges. The distances were immense-about 5,000 miles from Moscow to Port Arthur-and much of the country through which the railway passed was desolate or unsettled. Most of the supplies for the Russian army had therefore to be drawn from European Russia, though Manchuria was a rich province and produced a good deal of corn.
Japan’s task before entering upon so terrific a struggle with so formidable an antagonist was to maintain the correct balance between her navy and army, so as to avoid any dissipation of force. An insufficient navy would paralyse her army; an insufficient army would render naval success fruitless. The problem was one of extreme perplexity for her government and people, for at this date she was a poor country with strictly limited resources, and the manner in which it was solved reflects the highest credit upon her statesmanship.
A competition of naval armaments preceded this conflict as it preceded the Great War, ten years later. But for some reason, probably muddle headedness, the Russian Government failed to show the concentration of purpose and the power of hard and correct thinking, which marked Japan. In 1902, Japan for the time being held a distinct superiority at sea with six good battleships and six good armoured cruisers. Had she struck then, the Russians at sea could have offered only a weak resistance. Subsequently, the Russian Government hurried ships to the Far East as fast as they were completed, but it failed to expand its dockyards on the Pacific and to press forward its programmes with the energy required, if it meant to challenge war with the Japanese. For example, the battleships BORODINO, OREL and ALEXANDER III, which were launched in 1901-2, might with vigour in the administration have been ready by the close of 1903. At that date England was completing battleships in two years from the date of lying down.
In Russia, there was a dissipation of effort instead of a resolute concentration on the vital object. Though the Russian Fleet in the Black Sea would in war be confined to that sea unless danger of war with European Powers was to be accepted, that fleet was strengthened between 1890 and 1900 with ships, which, with greater foresight, would have been built in the Baltic. The money spent on them was wasted so far as concerned a war with Japan.
Moreover, while Japan maintained a distinct homogeneity in her armoured ships so that they were designed to act together, the Russian Navy was too much a collection of specimens. Its units were generally formidable and they stood up well to severe punishment, but they were of such varied types, sizes, coal endurance, speed and armament as seriously to interfere with their employment in large squadrons. Several small coast defence vessels were built for Baltic operations and absorbed money and energy that would have been better devoted to powerful sea going ships. The armoured cruisers in the Russian Navy were as curiously uneven as the battleships. Side by side with such as the RURIK, ROSSIA and GROMOBOI, was the much smaller BAYAN.
As the risk of war increased, all available Russian armoured ships were not concentrated in the Far East, as they might have been. Such vessels as the SISSOI VELIKY, NAVARIN, NICHOLAS ALEXANDER II, and I were left in the Baltic. Three of them had been in the Far East and were sent back to Kronstadt to be refitted when the work ought to have been done at Port Arthur or Vladistock. Though they were of the second class, their presence in the Far East at the outbreak of war would have added greatly to Japan’s difficulties. Doubtless one of the reasons, which prevented the Russian Government from despatching these ships to the Far East was the insufficient accommodation at Port Arthur, but that was a handicap which could easily have been overcome by developing Dalny.
The following brief statement shows the movement of Russian ships to the Far East in 1903. There arrived at Port Arthur:
In March: fast cruisers ASKOLD and VARIAG.
In May: battleship RETVISAN; cruisers NOVIK, DIANA, PALLADA.
In June: cruisers BOYARIN, BOGATYR, with seven destroyers.
In July: battleship POBIEDA.
In December: battleship TZESAREVITCH, armoured cruiser BAYAN, seven destroyers.
There were also under orders for the Far East in December the battleships OSLIABIA and NICHOLAS I; the protected cruisers AURORA and ALMAZ; the old armoured cruiser DMITRI DONSKOI; and seven destroyers, all of which at the end of 1903 were in Mediterranean. In early December 1903, the Russian Government attempted to buy the two new powerful Chilean battleships, constitution and Liberated which were just approaching completion in England and were on the market. The British Government, however, fearing a disturbance of the balance of naval power, stepped in and secured them for the British Navy where they were renamed the Triumph and Swiftsure. Meantime, deeply concerned at the growing strength of the Russian Fleet, the Japanese Government purchased from the Argentine two good armoured cruisers, the Moreno and Rivadavia, which were building in Italy and were almost complete. They were renamed Nisshin and Kasuga, and were similar in design to that excellent ship, the Colon, which had fought in Cervera’s luckless squadron at Santiago, though they were more modern and equipped with guns of extreme range and power for their size. Not till January 8th 1904, were they able to leave Genoa in charge of two British reserve officers.
At that date Japan did not build armoured vessels and was entirely dependent on foreign yards for them. She was, however, preparing to construct them, and had already established big gun and armour plants, which were of the utmost service in the war, though in 1904 their capacity of output was only small. In January 1905, she laid down the first large armoured ship to be built in a Japanese yard, the Tsukuba and at the close of the war she had four large armoured ships at home on the stocks and two more approaching completion in England. But for the immediate necessities of a war with Russia there was nothing whatever behind the Japanese Fleet as it stood on January 1st 1904. Behind the Russian Fleet on the other hand were numerous new and powerful vessels completing which might sooner or later be expected to join the Russian force in the Far East, and did actually go east, though not until it was too late. Times were therefore a consideration of the first importance in the Japanese operations.
The Russian Staff had discussed plans long before the war and had arrived at thoroughly unsound decisions. In 1901 a naval committee examined the strategic problem and concluded that the task of the Russian Fleet would be to secure command of the Yellow Sea and South Korean waters,” when the Japanese would be unable to disembark troops anywhere. The committee determined to divide the Russian fleet between Port Arthur and Vladivostock. The main body was to be stationed at Port Arthur “to command the Yellow Sea”; a detachment was to be sent to Vladivostock to attack Japanese communications and raid the Japanese coast. There was no idea of concentrating every effective ship for an immediate battle but on the contrary, the scheme involved a dangerous dispersion of force, which would favour the plans of a resolute antagonist, who was fighting for life.
The defeat and destruction of the Japanese Fleet was hardly considered and the main Russian Fleet was apparently to act passively and wait to be attacked. Possibly this plan was inspired by the theory of the “fleet in being” current about that period in England, under which it was assumed that so long as a powerful fleet was in existence, any movement of troops overseas was impossible, or certain to lead to disaster. Events were very speedily to prove this singular doctrine an error of the worst and most mischievous kind. In 1902 the Russian plans were once more scrutinised and maintained intact. In October 1903, when war had drawn perceptibly nearer, Major General Flug, military adviser of the Russian Viceroy, Vice Admiral Alexeieff, was asked by the Russian General Staff yet again to examine the proposed strategy and dispositions of the Russian Fleet in view of the fact that the plan of campaign on land would be largely dependent on operations at sea. He consulted Rear Admiral Vitgeft, Chief of the Russian Naval Staff in the Far East, and was informed by him that “our fleet cannot be beaten by the Japanese Fleet, whether in the Gulf of Korea or in the Yellow Sea”; and that, therefore a landing by the Japanese in the Gulf of Korea or at Newchwang was “absolutely impossible.”
This conclusion of Vitgeft’s with its ill-founded confidence was made the basis of all the Russian plans. It was accompanied by a second and not less disastrous misjudgement of Japan’s military strength. The Russian War Minister Kuropatkin, states that the Russian calculated Japan’s whole available force for land operations at only a little over 400,000 men, which would give no more than 200,000 men in the field. The force actually called up by Japan was 1,542,000 men, nearly four times what the Russian experts estimated. Miscalculations of this kind are deadly in war. It was upon such worthless assurances that the Russian Government relied when it rejected Japan’s proposal for a Japanese protectorate in Korea, in exchange for which the Japanese Government was prepared to recognise Russians special interests in Manchuria.
The British Government warned the Czar privately, through France, that Japans forces by land and sea were efficient and powerful, but the warning was disregarded as an attempt to assist Japan by “bluff”. Kuropatkin was strongly against a war in the Far East, believing it contrary to Russia’s true interests; only unfortunately no one listened to him. He complained justly that instead of developing and strongly fortifying the naval bases of Port Arthur and Vladivostock, the Russian railway administration created at great cost an undefended port at Dalny, and thus eventually presented the Japanese with a magnificent ready-made base.
On January 12th 1904 the Russian Government ordered Alexeieff to prepare for mobilisation and to put Port Arthur and Vladivostock in a state of defence. But on January 28th he was instructed not to oppose a Japanese landing in Korea, provided it was not affected north of Chemulpo. The object of this order was not so much to avoid as merely postponing a collision and gaining time for the Russian mobilisation. On February 3rd the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur assembled outside that base, apparently ready for operations. This news reached Japan, where it caused great disquietude, and on the 4th, after a prolonged sitting, a council if ministers, “Elder Statesmen,” and naval and military commanders decided to break off diplomatic relations on February 6th, and to put the Japanese Fleet in motion, if Russia did not previously accept the Japanese proposals. The Nisshin and Kasuga, then at Singapore, were ordered without fail to leave that port on the 6th. They arrived safely at Yokosuka on February 16th.
So far back as October 1903, Vice admiral Togo had been appointed to command the main Japanese Fleet. He was fifty-seven years of age and in the war with China had distinguished himself, displaying energy and quickness of decision, as captain of the Naniwa. In his youth he had studied his profession in England and had undergone a period of training in the Worcester. He was a most capable leader, served by an excellent staff, and at the date of his appointment he enjoyed special prestige in the Japanese Navy from the high professional qualities, which he had shown in command of the Japanese Permanent Squadron during the Boxer Campaign. In selecting him his government proved itself a remarkable judge of character. He was not a man who would ever blow his own trumpet; his modesty was as striking as his courage and determination; his judgement was rarely at fault. The Japanese Fleet under his orders was constantly exercised and kept in thorough readiness for war; as he had in January and February 1904, to be ready to cover the Nisshin and Kasuga, should the Russian Fleet in the Far East detach any of its ships to seize them. He had with him the following force:
Mikasa (flag), Asahi, Fuji, Yashima, Shikishima, Hatsuse (flag of Rear-Admiral Nashiba).
Chitose (Rear-Admiral Dewa), Takasago, Kasagi, Yoshino
Destroyers and Torpedo Boats
1st Division, Shirakumo, Asashiho, Kasumi, Akatsuki
2nd Division, Ikadzuchi, Oboro, Inadzuma, Akebono
3rd Division, Usugomo, Shinonome, Sazanami
1st T.B Division, Nos. 69, 67, 68, 70
14th T.B. Division, Chidori, Hayabusa, Manadzuru, Kasasagi.
Idzumo (Vice admiral Kamimura), Adzuma, Asama, Yakumo, Tokiwa, Iwate (flag or Rear admiral Mizu)
Naniwa (Rear-Admiral Uriu), Akashi, Takachiho, Niitaka.
Destroyers and Torpedo Boats
4th Division, Hayatori, Asagiri, Harusame, Murasame
5th Division, Murakumo, Shiranui, Yugiri, Kagero
9th T.B. Division, Aotaka, Hato, Kari, Tsubame
20th T.B. Division, Nos 62, 63, 64, 65.
Besides these ships there was an independent third Squadron of old vessels under Vice Admiral Kataoka and an Auxiliary Squadron of armed merchant steamers, colliers, gunboats, mine layers, mine sweepers, repair ships and torpedo depot ships. The fleet was a most formidable force, manned by thoroughly good seamen and commanded by skilled and determined officers, who ten years earlier had had much experience of naval war in the conflict with China. There were in Japan eleven large docks, capable of accommodating battleships or armoured cruisers, and besides large initial reserves of Welsh coal, there was an abundant supply of Japanese fuel, though this was of inferior quality.
The six battleships were typical vessels of that date, each mounting four 12-inch guns for and aft in two barbettes with strong hoods, and from ten to fourteen 6-inch guns behind armour. They were protected on the waterline by thick steel belts with thinner plating above to some height above the water. They were well equipped in every respect and provided with good wireless installations, for at this date wireless had proved its invaluable qualities and was constantly used by the Japanese and in a less degree by the Russians. The six armoured cruisers in Kamimura’s squadron were built in response to the fashion of that time; they were much more than a match for protected cruiser but were weak both in armour and gun power for encounter with battleships. Each carried four 8-inch guns (250-pound shell) mounted in two barbettes fore and aft, with twelve to fourteen 6-inch guns also behind armour. On the waterline they had belts of thin armour. They had trial speeds of 20 to 23 knots and in service could make 18 knots or more.
Of the protected cruisers the Takasago, Chitose and Kasagi mounted each two 8-inch guns (one fore and one aft) and ten 4.7-inch quick firers; the Yashino has already been described as she took part in the war with China, and though a comparatively old ship she was thoroughly efficient in 1904. The destroyers were new boats of British design, many of them built in England; they displaced 275 to 375 tons, steamed 30 to 31 knots, and carried, besides one 12-pounder (increased later in 1904 to two 12-pounders in view of war needs) and five 6-pounders apiece, two torpedo tubes, discharging 18-inch Whitehead torpedoes with 171 to 200 pounds of explosive in them, of which four were carried. The torpedo boats used the smaller 14-inch torpedo with a charge of 79 pounds. The extreme range of the latest torpedoes used in 1904 was about 3,000 yards. All the large Japanese ships carried heavy torpedo armaments, which were of little service in the war, and never affected a hit. The weight devoted to them would be better have been given to guns and ammunition, in the light of subsequent events.
Japanese opinion afterwards held that a mistake had been made in not building fast battleships in place of the armoured cruisers. Four fast ships of the type laid down in the war in the Tsukuba (20 ½ knots, four 12-inch and twelve 6-inch guns) would have been more valuable in the actual conditions of the conflict than the six vessels of the Asama type and would have cost no more. But that, perhaps, could not be foreseen. The Japanese ships had a high degree of uniformity and they represented the best technical judgment of the time. The absence of submarines will be noted. They were then in the experimental stage, and there were no aircraft. This was the last Great War in two dimensions at sea and it marks the end of an age of naval development.
Nature had given Japan one signal advantage, the islands of her empire for more than 2,000 miles from the eastern coast of Asia in an almost unbroken chain, from the south of Formosa to the north of the Kuriles, providing her navy with a series of bases connected by telegraph. Along this chain of positions any enemy approaching from Europe would have to pass with the Japanese Navy on its flank. A Japanese fleet stationed in the Straits of Korea was able by steaming through the Inland Sea of Japan, the entrances to which were defended, to attack a hostile fleet moving up the western or Pacific coast of the Japanese main group. The Japanese Navy had one further advantage over the Russian in that it had behind it a considerable merchant fleet, and foundries and works capable of executing any repairs necessary with great speed.
The Japanese plans provided for the movement of the main fleet to Port Arthur, to seek out the Russian fleet and give battle to it. The advance of the fleet was to be preceded by the destroyers, which were to deliver a torpedo attack, if one were practicable. To seize the Korean capital of Seoul, four battalions of infantry were ordered to embark at Sasebo without mobilising; they went onboard three transports, which were ready for them on February 6th. Thus the intention of the Japanese was to take the offensive at the very outset with the maximum of force available and with the utmost vigour. They did not make the mistake of dividing their forces for the initial blow. Practically the whole modern fleet of Japan was to participate in it-Kamimura’s squadron as well as Togo’s. The Japanese Staff believed in the excellent French maxim: “No one has ever been defeated because he was too strong.” It took immense pains to be superior at the two points where fighting was to be expected, and it disregarded the powerful Russian squadron at Vladivostock. Its alertness is specially to be noted. Not a moment was to be wasted.
The Russian force under the plan of campaign, which Admiral Vitgeft regarded with such complacency, was scattered and divided. The main force was at Port Arthur and was lying outside the harbour after having made a short cruise in the Gulf of Korea. The fast cruiser VARIAG (launched 1899, 6,500 tons, twelve 6-inch and twelve 12-pounders quick firers) and the sloop KORIETZ (launched 1886, 1,200 tons, two 8-inch and one 6-inch old type guns) were at Chemulpo in Korea. The object in keeping them there, close to Seoul, the Korean capital, was to influence the Korean Government against Japan. Four of the best cruisers, including three large armoured cruisers and seventeen torpedo boats, were at Vladivostock. Between this detached squadron and the main Russian fleet at Port Arthur lay the Japanese Fleet, holding the interior lines and able to move against either of the two Russian forces as it chose.
No effort had been made by the Russian Government to put the ablest naval officer it possessed in command of its fleet in the Far East, though so much in war depends on personality. It had a capable and energetic officer in Vice Admiral Makaroff, aged fifty-six, who was left to cool his heels in Russia as Port Admiral at Kronstadt. The Commander of the main fleet was Vice-Admiral stark, aged fifty-eight, one of the amiable, inert, routine dominated officers who so often come to the front in peace and are beloved by Admiralties because they never disturb people about them or above them. He was known in his service as a good seaman. Though seamanship is important, it is not everything in naval war, and there were critics a century and a quarter ago who declared that Nelson did not possess it.
In a semi-independent position 1,100 miles away at Vladivostock with the ships there was Rear Admiral Baron Stakelberg. Stark’s second in command in the Port Arthur fleet was Rear-Admiral Prince Ukhtomsky, who was regarded in his own service as a good second-rate officer. In supreme command of both the Russian Navy and Army in the Far East was Admiral Alexeieff, the Viceroy, aged sixty-one, who had spent his life in the Russian Navy, but at the critical moment was inert and negligent of the duties of the higher command.
The organisation of the Russian fleet was as follows:
Port Arthur : Vice-Admiral Stark,
Commander in Chief.
Petropavlosk (flag), Tzesarevitch, Retvisan, Sevastopol, Peresviet, (flag of Rear-Admiral Prince Ukhtomsky), Pobieda, Poltava.
Askold (flag of Rear Admiral Reitzenstein), Bayan, Diana, Pallada, Boyarin, Novik.
Bditelny, Bezposchadny, Bezshumny, Bezstrashny, Boevoi, Boiky, Burny, Grozovoi, Lieut, Burakoff, Rastoropny, Raz iashchy, Rieshitelny, Serdity, Silny, Skory, Smyely, Statny, Steregushchy, Storojevoi, Strashny, Stroiny, Vlastny, Vnimatelny, Vnushitelny, Vynoslivy
Vladivostock: Rear-Admiral Baron
Gromoboi (flag), Rossia, Rurik
The Russian battleships were generally contemporary in date with their Japanese opposite numbers. The first four and the last carried each four 12-inch guns mounted in pairs in turrets fore and aft with twelve 6-inch quick firers, all behind fair armour and on the waterline they had steel armour belts. Their speed in service was 14 to 15 knots. The PERESVIET and POBIEDA had less protection and lighter armaments-10-inch guns in place of the 12-inch guns, and eleven 6-inch quick firing guns in place of twelve of that calibre. The Russian ships were not like the Spanish ships in the war of 1898 or the Chinese ships in the war of 1894-5, markedly inferior to their antagonists, though the Japanese had the better types. The only armoured cruiser at Port Arthur was the BAYAN, which was distinctly inferior in gunpowder to the Japanese Asama class. The protected cruisers were good vessels of their kind; and the destroyers were modern, if weaker in gun armament than the Japanese vessels of their class, and of much the same size. They had trial speeds of 26 or 27 knots.
The big armoured cruisers at Vladivostock, with the exception of the GROMOBOI, lacked protection for their guns, which were so badly mounted that their broadsides were markedly inferior to those of the smaller Japanese armoured cruisers. Each of them carried four 8-inch and sixteen 6-inch quick firers with a broadside of two 8-inch and six to eight 6-inch. The BOGATYR was an exceptionally good and fast protected cruiser, able to steam 22 or 23 knots with a broadside of eight 6-inch quick firers guns. The total of Russian armoured ships of modern type was eleven against the Japanese fourteen (including the Nisshin and Kasuga). The total broadside of the two armoured fleets, if concentrated, was: Russians, twenty 12-inch; eight 10-inch; ten 8-inch, sixty-five 6-inch; and Japanese, twenty-four 12-inch, one 10-inch, thirty 8-inch, ninety-two 6-inch. The Japanese had thus an advantage in the number of armoured ships and a marked advantage in weight of broadside (with common shell about 37,600 pounds for the Japanese against 26,500 pounds for the Russians). The advantage was increased by the Japanese use of high explosive in their heavy projectiles; thus the Russians entirely lacked and the powder bursting charges of their shells were small.
The choice of Port Arthur as the Russian point of concentration was a mistake, because of the difficult hydrographical conditions. There is only one exit and that a narrow one; the harbour itself is much too small for a considerable fleet; moreover if the Japanese did achieve what Vitgeft had declared “impossible,” and did defeat the Russian fleet, they could without any immoderate difficulty cut Port Arthur off, with the help of a land expedition. At Vladivostock the Russian Fleet would have had at its disposal an immense harbour from which there are several exits; and though that base was situated on a long peninsula, a fleet there was not so much exposed to the risk of being cut off by land attack, because of the bleak, rugged and difficult character of the coast in the neighbourhood.
No doubt its operations would sooner or latter have been controlled by the Japanese Fleet operating in the Japan Sea; but they would not have been so easily controlled as when Port Arthur was made the principal Russian base. Indeed the Japanese Navy Department stated during the war that in its view “naval operations (by the Japanese fleet) off Vladivostock were practically impossible.” On the other hand, fogs would hamper a fleet at Vladivostock and ice and it could not have prevented the Japanese from landing in the Gulf of Korea. The Japanese would have found it hard to blockade Vladivostock-and Togo’s chief fear was always that the Port Arthur fleet would escape thither-but they could have kept their main fleet ready in the Straits of Korea, and there would have been prepared to deal with any Russian movement. One of the many defects of Port Arthur was the fact that it was so deeply embayed; the Japanese, operating from their bases on the Straits of Korea, could with ease intercept a relief force or reinforcements approaching from Europe.
On February 8th 1904, a military council was held in St. Petersburg, in which the risk of a Japanese attack on the Russian Fleet was considered. The Russian Military Attache at Tokyo had already pointed out that the Japanese ultimatum meant war, and that operations were to be expected immediately. After the council the Czar telegraphed to Alexeieff instructions that the Japanese were to be allowed to open hostilities, as it was not desirable that Russia should attack. If they landed troops in Korea south of 38 degrees north latitude, the Russians were to offer non-opposition, provided the Japanese did not attack. If they came north of 38 degrees the Russians were to attack without waiting for the Japanese to fire first.
These instructions, given much too late, directed a purely passive attitude. But they did not completely tie Alexeieff’s hands. The least he ought to have done was to order the extremist vigilance on the part of the fleet. Though present himself in Port Arthur, and therefore aware of the Sanger, he only ordered the military garrison to be on the watch, and would not allow Stark to take precautions against a sudden attack. Stark on his part yielded without a struggle to Alexeieff and issued a most dangerous order to the VARIAG and KORIETZ at Chemulpo, telling them on no account to leave that port without further instructions-which never reached them. He asked Alexeieff for permission to put his fleet in condition to meet an attack, and was told that this was “premature.” A strong admiral would have acted without asking.
On February 8th, however, he appears to have made the signal
“Prepare to repel torpedo attacks.” This
was taken in some of the ships as a mere manoeuvre; torpedo nets, carried at
that date by all large ships, were not got out, nor were the heavy guns loaded.
Two ships were told off for searchlight duty, and two destroyers were
ordered to steam twenty miles to sea, scout, and if they observed anything
suspicious, return and report to the admiral.
Nothing could have been better calculated to assist an alert assailant.
In single line ahead, squadron after squadron at considerable intervals, the Japanese Fleet steamed out from Sasebo amidst extraordinary enthusiasm, and concentrated in the afternoon of February 7th at a rendezvous off the southwest of Korea. Rear Admiral Uriu was there detached with the 4th division, reinforced by the powerful armoured cruiser Asama and the 9th and 14th torpedo Boat Division, to deal with the Russian ships at Chemulpo and cover the three transports, which were to land their troops. He was thus given overwhelming strength against the VARIAG and KORIETZ, a wise proceeding, as this was to be the first engagement between modern Japan and a white adversary. On the way to Chemulpo the Takachiho rammed a huge whale, which was taken by all as an omen of victory.
Soon after daybreak of February 8th, Uriu was off the archipelago west of Chemulpo and there the Chiyoda met him. She had been in Chemulpo watching the Russians till the previous night, when with all possible circumspection she weighed and put to sea with the report that they were still in the harbour. The Chiyoda and Takachiho were sent forward by Uriu in advance, with the 9th torpedo Division to cover the landing of troops, which was to take place immediately. Behind came the Asama and the other vessels.
At about 4.30 p.m. as the Japanese vessels entered the long inlet, they saw the KORIETZ coming out, on her way to Port Arthur with despatches. She attempted to pass to port of the two leading Japanese cruisers, but observing that they kept their guns trained on her and that the torpedo boats were ready to attack, she turned to go back to her moorings but not before the torpedo boats had fired two torpedoes at her, to which she replied without effect from one of her guns at 4.40 p.m. of February 8th. The Japanese did not further molest her. They sent in their transports covered by the Chiyoda, Takachiho and the 9th Torpedo Boat Division. The Asama, clear for action, lay near the Russian ships, but well outside torpedo range.
During the night the Japanese troops disembarked and left by rail to seize Seoul. The Russian warships looked on, paralysed by the order not to attack or oppose a landing south of 38 degrees, and at 6 a.m. of February 9th the Japanese warships and transports left the harbour, only the Chiyoda remaining till 9 a.m. to deliver certain important letters from Uriu. The first, addressed to the commanders of the neutral warships present, informed them that war had begun between Russia and Japan, asked them to move their vessels to a safer position, and stated that the Russian ships would be attacked if they did not leave by noon. The senior neutral officer, Captain L. Bayly, of the British Talbot, dies not seem to have understood the political position or the real situation in Korea, as he forwarded a protest to Uriu against the proposed violation of Korean neutrality. With this protest, Commander E. B. Barry, of the United States gunboat Vicksburg, refused to have anything to do. The failure of the British Admiralty, probably because of the want of a staff, to orienate its commanders as to their duties towards the British Ally, Japan, was the cause of their error of judgement on Captain Bayly’s part. Uriu paid no attention to the protest. The second letter was sent by the Japanese consul to Captain Rudneff of the VARIAG, and told him that if he did not come out he would be attacked.
Rudneff, who was a gallant officer, had been placed in a hopeless position by the errors of his superiors. He decided to go out, though the VARIAG’S speed, owing to the state of her boilers, was only 14 knots, and there was no chance of escape. The KORIETZ’S commander also decided to leave the port, and about noon he weighed and stood towards the Japanese squadron, which lay some distance of the harbour in line. The Asama was easternmost; with in order from east to west astern of her the Chiyoda, Naniwa, Niitaka, Takachiho and Akashi. Three torpedo boats of the 14th Division were to leeward of the Japanese cruisers.
The VARIAG follows the KORIETZ and soon outstripped that small vessel which, in the approaching action, did little more than demonstrate by firing several rounds from her old guns quite ineffectively. On the Japanese side the Asama did most of the fighting, attacking the VARIAG, while the Chiyoda fired at the KORIETZ, and the other Japanese vessels from time to time joined in, when their guns would bear. The Asama’s crew had all the confidence which good armour protection gives. The Russian ships had no protection other than gun shields, and the VARIAG’S armoured deck. In broadside power the Russians were at a signal disadvantage against the Asama alone:
The Russian 8-inch gun in the KORIETZ was of such ancient types and such range that it was of no value.
At 12.20 (Japanese time) p.m. of February 9th the Asama opened fire with her 8-inch guns at 7,700 yards, bringing her broadside to bear, and began to hit with the third shot which shattered the VARIAG’S upper bridge, set the charthouse on fire, and killed a junior officer and four seamen. Both Russian ships replied but the KORIETZ speedily stopped her fire as her shells fell short, and returned to the harbour. The VARIAG’S shooting was poor and her projectiles uniformly missed the Asama. The Japanese fire grew in precision as the ships slightly closed, and clouds of smoke rose from the VARIAG. After about fifteen minutes of firing, during which the Asaja had not been struck once, thus verifying the principle that a deadly fire on the enemy is the best possible protection for a crew, she had destroyed the fighting capacity of the VARIAG. Five 6-inch and nine smaller guns in this ship were put out of action; both range finding stations were wrecked; the leads of the steering engine were shot away; and a shell bursting near the foremast wounded Captain Rudneff, killed 2 men at his side, and wounded many others; another shell put two more 6-inch guns near the conning tower out of action. The VARIAG had to be steered with her engines. She was enveloped in steam and smoke and the other Japanese cruisers were now firing at her as the range had dropped, so that a veritable storm of projectiles splashed about her.
To escape this punishment and put out the fires, Captain Rudneff attempted to reach shelter behind Todolmi Island, which rises over 200 feet from the water. Owing to the breakdown of his steering gear he all but ran his ship aground, and had to go astern with his engines, while the Japanese were coming up behind him. At this moment a heavy shell on the port side hit the VARIAG, two feet above the waterline. The hole was a large one and through it water poured, filling one of the stokeholds and giving the VARIAG a marked list to port. In danger of sinking she made for Chemulpo harbour, with the Asama following her and firing at her, but at 1.15 p.m. from risk of hitting the neutral ships which were in line with the Russian cruiser, the Asama suspended her fire and her pursuit, and anchored and waited till 4 p.m. to complete her work.
The VARIAG and KORIETZ both anchored off Chemulpo, the KORIETZ untouched by the Japanese fire and without any casualties. The VARIAG was much shattered. Ten of her twelve 6-inch guns, all her 12-pounders, and all her 3-pounders were out of action, though it does not appear that all had been disabled by the Japanese fire. Below the waterline or on it she had four bad hits. Her upper works and ventilators were riddled, and her men put out at least four serious fires. Of her crew with a nominal strength of 580, 31 were killed, 91 severely, and over 100 slightly wounded, giving a total loss in excess of 222.
Yet the actual number of hits, when the vessel was afterwards carefully examined, proved to be only three 8-inch and eight 6-inch or 4.7-inch in addition to very numerous hits from fragments of shells, which burst on striking the water and caused her considerable loss. The deadlines of fire with high explosive projectiles against a protected cruiser were thus illustrated. The Japanese fired twenty-eight 8-inch and 248 6-inch and 4.7-inch shells, so that their percentage of hits with the 8-inch weapon was a little fewer than eleven, and with the smaller guns slightly over three. The good percentage of hits with the heavy 8-inch gun was in accord with United States experience at Manila and Santiago. The VARIAG fired 425 6-inch, 470 12-pounder and 210 3-pounder shells, and made no hits at all, an astoundingly bad performance. The KORIETZ fired forty-nine rounds from the heavy guns (8-inch and 6-inch) also without a hit. It should be noted that this action was one in which a vessel of inferior class was overpowered by one of the superior class and in this respect it resembled Sinope, Santiago and the Falklands.
Both the VARIAG and the KORIETZ were sunk by their crews after the action to avoid another Japanese attack. The VARIAG’S crew was transferred to neutral ships and subsequently interned or sent back to Russia on giving parole, but the Vicksburg declined to take any part in thus removing combatants from the reach of the Japanese. A Russian steamer in the port, the SUNGARI, was also sunk to prevent her from falling into the hands of the Japanese.
The Russians fought gallantry and it was not Captain Rudneff’s fault that he was so disastrously inferior in force. The folly of making weak detachments and leaving them unsupported when relations are critical was the lesson of this encounter. The Japanese did their work well and quickly; they made no mistakes, and were above all wise in taking care to have an enormous superiority for the first engagement of the war. The VARIAG was refloated in 1905 and was subsequently reconstructed and added to the Japanese Navy.
That same morning events of immense importance had taken place at Port Arthur. In the evening of February 8th the Russian Fleet was at anchor outside that harbour in three lines running from east to west, the inmost of five battleships, the middle line headed by the TZESAREVITCH and RETVISAN battleships, followed by three cruisers to the west; the outer line of four cruisers headed by the PALLADA which was easternmost. Most of the destroyers were in the harbour; of the ships outside some were coaling. The powerful batteries ashore were quite unready for action; the guns were coated with grease for the winter and the recoil cylinders of the five 45-calibre 10-inch weapons on electric cliff, the best guns in the defences, were not filled. The destroyers RAZTOROPNY and BEZSTRASHNY were scouting seawards; otherwise, as the result of Starks feebleness and Admiral Alexeieff’s fatuous orders, both fleet and fortress were ill prepared to meet attack.
Togo, after detaching Uriu to deal with the VARIAG, led his main force, consisting of the six battleships, five armoured cruisers, four fast protected cruisers, and the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Destroyer Divisions towards Port Arthur, capturing on the way the Russian steamer ARGUN. To guard the Straits of Korea a force of old ships and torpedo craft was left under Vice Admiral Katoaka, whose command was independent of Togo. The destroyer Akebono on the run west collided with an auxiliary vessel, and sustained enough damage to prevent her from taking part in the intended attack on the Russian fleet. In accordance with orders, which had previously been drawn up, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Destroyer Divisions, now only ten boats strong, proceeded towards Port Arthur. The other two divisions headed for Dalny to attack the warships, which were supposed to be there. The Japanese had received information from Chefoo on February 5th that three of the Russian ships had proceeded to an unknown destination, but a later report threw doubt on this. In actual fact there were no Russian warships at Dalny, and the force sent to that point was wasted. But that could not be known beforehand; it was a reasonable supposition that some part of the Russian Fleet would be at Dalny, and a sound plan of action had to calculate on this.
At 10.30 p.m. (Japanese time) the glare of Russian searchlights at Port Arthur could be seen and twenty minutes later two vessels were sighted. They were two Russian destroyers, which saw the Japanese and at first took them for Russian boats. When the mistake was detected, the Russians, in consequence of their orders, did not venture to open fire. The Japanese turned away from them and extinguished the screened lights astern, which were carried for station keeping. It was a very dark and cloudy night and the attacking flotillas at this point fell into some disorder. The Oboro ran into the Ikadzuchi and damaged her own bow so much that she lost her speed and had to drop out of the formation, while the Inadzuma in the same division lost contact with her leader. The 3rd Division got out of touch with the other boats, so that the destroyers available, which they had now fallen to nine in number, delivered their attacks separately and disjointedly. At 11.08 p.m. the 1st Division could make out the Russian Fleet and saw that its searchlights were working. The Japanese slowed and waited. At 12.20 a.m. of the 9th, as the searchlights now showed only intermittently and the moon had not yet risen, the 1st Division attacked, turning to port and running from east to west along the Russian line, while each of the four boats fired two torpedoes, and then turned away and disappeared in the darkness. Only when the first torpedoes had been fired at 12.28 a.m. and were exploding were the Russians certain that the destroyers were hostile; they had been mistaken by the ships at first for the two Russian boats which were cruising outside the anchorage, and not till then did the searchlights come on.
Of the eight torpedoes discharged the Japanese saw three explode on striking ships. The range appears to have been rather above than less than 800 yards, though the Japanese intention was to close 500. Immediately after the 1st Division came the attack of the 2nd, which had shrunk to a single boat, the Ikadzuchi. She fired one torpedo and turned to the south. The Russian fire had become violent, but all the projectiles from the ships passed over the Japanese boats. The 3rd division, seeing the glare of searchlights and the flash of guns, steamed towards the scene of action and was joined by the Inadzuma, which had lost contact with her own 2nd Division and took the place of the Sazanami in the 3rd. The latter boat had missed herm Division in the confusion and darkness. The three destroyers of the 3rd Division passed along the Russian outer line from east to west and fired six torpedoes before turning away. Their attack was over at 12.45 a.m. Some time later when the other boats had vanished, came the Sazanami by herself, and at 1.25 a.m. fired two more torpedoes into the Russian Fleet. Last of all, quite isolated, the damaged Oboro reached Port Arthur at 1.45 a.m. fired one torpedo at the BAYAN, and returned untouched.
Astonishing as it may sound, the Japanese boats, which took part in the most daring attack, sustained no loss or damage whatever. But because their attacks were not delivered simultaneously, they lost greatly in effectiveness. Most of the Russian officers agree that had the whole Japanese destroyer force assailed the Russian Fleet in one body, the fleet would have suffered a great disaster. Possibly the reason why the Japanese did not plan such an attack with the nineteen destroyers, which they could have employed, was that their previous experience in manoeuvres and exercises had shown that, with a large number of destroyers, confusion and collisions in the flotillas were to be feared. A very high degree of training and seamanship would be required to handle such a mass of small fast craft, but the fact remains that the Japanese were well-trained and thorough seamen. They had a great chance; never was a torpedo attack delivered in such favourable conditions; but the opportunity was not utilised so completely as might have been expected in view of the immense importance of a signal success.
Yet the actual results obtained were serious enough for the Russians. Torpedoes on the port side struck the cruisers PALLADA and the battleships TZESAREVITCH and RETVISAN. The PALLADA’S wound was amidships, abreast of a coalbunker, and though extensive did not endanger the ship. The RETVISAN’S hit was forward and tore a great hole, which measured 220 square feet. The TZESAREVITCH was hit aft, flooding her steering compartment and shattering her armour deck, but though the explosion was abreast of a magazine, the charges in the magazine were not detonated. The damaged ships forthwith attempted to enter the harbour, when the RETVISAN and TZESAREVITCH grounded at the entrance, barring the passage for large ships, and could not be got off. The PALLADA grounded on the west side of the entrance. Meanwhile the Russian cruiser NOVIK had got up steam and stood out to sea in pursuit of the Japanese destroyers. She saw nothing of them and quickly returned.
The Japanese had thus with eighteen torpedoes made three hits and had temporarily damaged and put out of action three ships. The injury inflicted by the torpedoes was much less than might have been expected, but the Japanese were distinctly unlucky. They were not probably blinded by the glare of the searchlights and almost certainly they underestimated the distance when they fired, and thus they failed to make the attack a decisive one. It was speedily proved that a ship damaged near a harbour can nearly always be repaired; and the Japanese belief at the time that the three Russian ships hit were permanently out of action was not verified by events. The Russian casualties as reported by Alexeieff were 2 killed, 29 drowned, and 8 severely wounded. But the moral effect of the onslaught on the Russian Fleet was grave. Confidence had vanished; officers and men knew that by gross mismanagement and neglect of precaution on the part of Alexeieff and Stark they had been completely surprised. Such was the depression that, according to Alexeieff and other Russian naval officers, had the Japanese at daylight attacked in real earnest and had it been possible for them to land a division, Port Arthur would have fallen.
The Japanese destroyers returned to their base on the Korean coast without informing Togo of the exact result of their attack, so far as they could ascertain it. In the light of events this was a mistake. One of the good Japanese cruisers with powerful wireless could have kept touch with the flotilla and transmitted the information it brought to the Japanese commander. The impression among the Japanese torpedo officers was that the confusion and disorder in the Russian Fleet were extreme, so that everything was to be gained by a bold, determined attack on the part of the Japanese armoured ships, when they arrived. No time ought to have been lost; the swifter the attack the greater the prospect of decisive results. Before daylight arrived Togo sent on the fast cruiser division under Dewa to be off Port Arthur and reconnoitre it at 8 a.m. and himself steamed towards Encounter Rock, twenty-one miles southeast of Port Arthur, with the six battleships and five armoured cruisers. Dewa approached close to the anchorage of Port Arthur without being fired on, and made out three ships with heavy list lying close to the entrance. His appearance gave the batteries and ships warning that a fresh onset was impending, and about this time the heavy guns at electric cliff were got ready for action. Had the Japanese observed Nelson’s motto, “lose not an hour,”, Togo’s fleet might have closed before these powerful long range weapons could have been fired.
Dewa reported with admirable judgment: “The greater part of the enemy’s fleet is in the anchorage; I have closed to 7,700 yards, without any firing. Several enemy ships seem to have been damaged by our torpedoes. I hold it would be advantageous to attack the enemy.” About the same time one of his fast cruisers seized the Russian steamer MONGOLIA, which, in apparent ignorance that war had begun, was nearing Port Arthur.
At 11 a.m. of February 9th (Japanese time) Togo increased speed and led his fleet to Port Arthur, signalling that he intended to attack the enemy’s main fleet. Three hours of daylight had, however, been lost; during those three hours the Russian Admiral Stark was ashore, conferring with Alexeieff, and an early attack would have found the Russians without their commander-in-chief. But when the Russian cruisers reported that the Japanese main force was approaching, the Russian Chief of Staff on his own responsibility very wisely ordered the fleet to weigh and form single line ahead. The three damaged vessels were still aground near the entrance and it was impossible for any of the Russian battleships to get past them, so that no course remained except to fight under shelter of the batteries. The Russians were still in considerable disorder of the batteries. The Russians were still in considerable disorder when the Japanese heavy ships sighted them. There was a slight mist veiling the coast, but the wind was light and the sea smooth. Togo took his place on the Mikasa’s fore bridge; the Japanese ships hoisted their great battle-flags; and the signal went up: “The issue of victory or defeat depends on this first battle; let every man do his duty.” He led his eleven ships in single line ahead towards the Russians, and at 11.55 a.m. at a distance of over 9,000 yards the fore-turret of his ship fired the first shot with a 12-inch gun. As the note of the gun rang out the Russian ships and batteries opened.
Steaming past the Russians from east to west, Togo’s ships delivered a slow, carefully directed fire on the hostile fleet. Range diminished somewhat so that the 6-inch guns and 12-pounders came into action. The Asahi fired at the PERESVIET; the Fuji and Yashima made the BAYAN their target; the other Japanese battleships fired chiefly at Russian battleships. As the Japanese ships came in line with the southern promontory of the Kwangtung peninsula they turned to port, southwards, the protected cruisers under Dewa keeping out of dangerous range from the forts, but shelling the Russian Fleet with their powerful quick firer batteries. Of the Russian ships only three showed any inclination to come out. They were the BAYAN, ASKOLD and NOVIK, and the BAYAN and ASKOLD did not move far. The NOVIK on the contrary steamed boldly towards the Japanese, closed to about 3,500 yards and fired a torpedo, which missed.
The defilade of the Japanese Fleet past the Russian ships was over in about fifty minutes, when the Japanese passed out of range and both sides ceased fire. The Japanese sustained a number of hits from heavy projectiles, most of them apparently from the long-range guns of electric cliff. At 12.11 a Russian 10-inch shell struck the Mikasa and exploded just under the mainmast, wounding seven officers and men on the after bridge. Another brought down the great Japanese battle flag, and when the flag was hoisted again, a third shot tore off a large part of it. The Fuji was struck on the forward bridge by a shell from the batteries which killed her gunnery officer and wounded 4 men, and then exploded in the fore funnel which it shattered, killing another officer and wounding 5 men. A 12-pounder projectile entered the after conning tower and rebounding from its armour wounded an officer and destroyed the wireless apparatus.
The Hatsuse was twice hit and lost 7 killed and 9 wounded. The Shikishima was struck by a 6-inch shell, which exploded in her forward funnel and wounded 17 officers and men. The Adzuma had her battle flag shot away; the Iwate was hit in her stern battery and had 10 wounded. The Yakumo was struck near her forward range finder and an officer at it was wounded. Of the protected cruisers, splinters from a Russian 12-inch shell, which exploded as it touched the water short of her and did her some slight damage, struck the Takasago. The total loss returned by the Japanese ships was 53. The Asahi and Yashima had no hits at all to record, among the armoured ships. The damage done was quite insignificant and did not in any respect affect the fighting qualities of the ships.
In the Russian Fleet the loss was heavier and the injuries severer, but none of Stark’s battleships or cruisers were put out of action. The NOVIK suffered the most; the powerful Japanese armoured cruiser Yakumo that hit her amidships with an 8-inch shell attacked her, and she was also subjected to a heavy fire from other of the Japanese armoured ships. That she escaped destruction is not a little surprising. The Iwate and Tokiwa attacked the ASKOLD; the BAYAN was fired at by most of the Japanese vessels and had fifteen hits; and the DIANA was a good deal knocked about. All had been hit on or below the waterline. The POBIEDA was hit fifteen times, but for the most part on her armour, which was not perforated. The PERESVIET had three hits. The PETROPAVLOSK was hit on her plating abreast of her fore funnel, and the POLTAVA was struck on the bow. The Russian casualties were 21 killed and 101 wounded in the ships and 1 killed and 4 wounded I the forts, while a few civilians were wounded in the town.
A close and determined attack delivered by such gunners and such seamen as the Japanese, who could and did face severe losses unshaken, would certainly have annihilated the Russian Fleet and ended the naval war by one triumphant stroke, had the attack been begun at daybreak. The one effective battery, of five 10-inch guns on electric cliff, would then have been unable to fire and the Old Russian 11-inch howitzers were not bettered prepared. “The boldest measures are the safest,” Nelson had said. Togo was not, like Admiral Sampson in the war with Spain, held back by orders from his government, forbidding him to risk his ships. He had full authority and discretion to use them as he thought best. His decision was governed by the fact that the Japanese Navy had to encounter an adversary at sea of approximately twice its own strength-for in addition to the Russian Fleet on the spot in the Far East, there were numerous Russian ships in Europe which might sooner or later have to be met in battle. Togo’s plan was to defeat the Russians in detail, and to avoid any unnecessary risk. He would not have hesitated to challenge the Russians in battle if he had been able to deal with them on the open sea. But he did hesitate when he found them under the protection of land batteries, which, from all the information at his disposal, would be extremely formidable.
In the light of after knowledge and later events, if the Japanese had felt strong enough to attack, an easy victory awaited them, and they would have been saved stupendous efforts and fearful sacrifices. The Hatsuse and Yashima would not have been lost; the long and terrible drama of the assaults on Port Arthur and 203-Metre Hill with their grievous bloodshed would have been averted; and Nogi’s army would have been available at the battle of Liaoyang. But throughout the war Togo had to employ his fleet with an eye to an ulterior object of the first importance, covering the disembarkation and communications of the Japanese Army. And though history shows that the ideal way of securing such an object is by destroying as quickly as possible the organised force of the enemy, in actual operations the ideal plan has often to be sacrificed in view of practical difficulties.
Immediately after the surprise at Port Arthur the Russian Government did what it ought to have done before the war-it appointed its ablest officer-Vice Admiral Makaroff-to command in the Far East. He could not arrive till March 8th, and he brought with him a number of skilled naval constructors and artisans. Meantime on February 9th the NOVIK was docked for repairs, and both the PALLADA and TZESAREVITCH were towed off the shoals and taken into the harbour. The RETVISAN was still aground but it was possible to get past her, if with difficulty. The rest of the Russian Fleet remained outside and its cruisers and destroyers scouted to some distance.
On February 11th the Russian mine layer YENISEI struck one of her own mines while she was laying a field in Talien Bay and went down in twenty minutes with the loss of 93 officers and men. Her crew behaved with signal gallantry. The light cruiser BOYARIN with four Russian destroyers, having gone out to deal with Japanese destroyers, which were supposed to have sunk the YENISEI, herself struck a drifting mine off Talien Bay and was so damaged that she became a total loss. During the next few days the Russians laid great minefields off the Kwangtung peninsula, though the neighbourhood of Port Arthur was left clear.
The Japanese with the four boats of the 4th Destroyer Division made a second torpedo attack in the night of February 13th-14th. The weather was so bad that only two of the four reached Port Arthur. These approached separately and fired torpedoes without any result. Of the big Russian ships the RETVISAN alone was outside she was still aground at the entrance. The Russian destroyers were scouting off the port, but the Japanese suffered no damage or loss. On February 14th Togo learnt that the transport of Japanese troops in force to Chemulpo in Korea was beginning, and to cover it determined to strike again at Port Arthur. Five block ships, which were old merchant steamers specially prepared, were to attempt to block the entrance, precisely as Hobson had attempted with the Merrimac to shut Cervera in at Santiago; after which Togo meant to carry out a long-range bombardment.
In the night of February 23rd-24th the blocking operation was essayed. It was proceeded at 1.50 a.m. of the 24th by an attack delivered by the 5th Destroyer Division on the Russian vessels outside the harbour-the RETVISAN and some of the Russian destroyers. No damage was done. At 4.15 a.m. the block ships in line ahead steamed northwards under the shadow of the 1,500 feet mountains of Laotishan, but they were seen at once by the Russians and the half dozen searchlights ashore picked them up and blinded the navigating officers. Three of the five went aground three miles south of Port Arthur. The other two were most gallantly handled but were not more successful; one of them, repeatedly hit, grounded at the west entrance to the harbour without blocking it, and the other struck some object to the east of the entrance and was then destroyed. The 14th and 9th Torpedo Divisions under a violent fire picked up all the survivors who could be reached in a heavy sea; the loss of life seems to have been small despite the magnificent bravery displayed by the Japanese and only 10 officers and men of the 77 engaged perished.
The Japanese failure was due to the blinding effects of the hostile searchlights and the heavy and fairly accurate Russian fire. Two of the blockships had their steering gear put out of action and one had the leads to the explosive charges destroyed by hostile projectiles. The RETVISAN’S guns were particularly effective at close range. The conditions were then totally different from those at Santiago, and more closely resembled those at Zeebrugge, which remains the model of a skilfully organised and gallantly conducted blocking enterprise, the blocking of a naval base is an extraordinarily difficult operation.
In the morning of the 25th, Dewa’s four fast cruisers caught the BAYAN, ASKOLD and NOVIK some distance out from Port Arthur and almost cut them off. At 11.31 a.m. the Japanese armoured ships in line ahead arrived off the port and opened at extreme range on these cruisers and the RETVISAN. The Japanese closed slowly, and then shelled the interior of the harbour with indirect fire. A considerable number of hits was made; the ASKOLD was struck by a 12-inch shell which put two guns out of action; and the BAYAN was slightly damaged. The Russian Fleet had 22 men severely and 41 men slightly wounded, and in the batteries and town 3 were killed and 18 wounded. The Japanese had no loss. They cut off and sank in Pigeon Bay the Russian destroyer VNUSHITELNY, which had one of her crew killed. The rest of her men escaped ashore. On March 4th two Russian destroyers ran ashore in a snowstorm and though they were got off, sustained a good deal of damage.
In these operations Togo used an advance base in southwest Korea, where colliers, supply ships and repair ships were assembled. It was well placed strategically; less thank 400 miles from Port Arthur and on the flank of the sea routes leading to the place. Extreme secrecy was maintained about the dispositions of the Japanese with a skill, which was shown by the British Navy in the war against Germany, so that the Russians never knew the exact strength of whereabouts of their antagonists. When the ice broke and the Japanese army moved north in Korea, Togo used the Pingyang estuary (Daidoko in its Japanese name) were he was only 195 miles from Port Arthur or a base behind the Sir James Hall Islands, 180 miles from Port Arthur.
On March 8th Makaroff took over the command of the Russian Fleet, and about the same date the RETVISAN was floated, towed into the harbour, and there fitted with a cofferdam. A similar cofferdam was under construction for the repair of TZESAREVITCH; the use of this device by the Russians was highly ingenious and altogether effective.
Makaroff immediately after his arrival ordered strong detachments of destroyers to go out from Port Arthur nightly. On March 9th, Togo with the bulk of his fleet, including Uriu’s old cruisers, proceeded towards Port Arthur, sending the 1st and 3rd Destroyer Divisions, eight destroyers strong, in advance, to drive back the Russian torpedo craft. Arriving off Port Arthur the 1st Division fought a fierce action with four Russian boats, in which each side suffered considerably. The destroyers closed to about fifty yards, but neither antagonist could disable the other; the Japanese lost 6 killed and 8 wounded, and the Russians 2 killed and 22 wounded. About daybreak the 3rd Division sighted two Russian destroyers returning to Port Arthur and cut off one of the two, the STEREGUSHCHY. The boat was disabled and overpowered with a loss to the Japanese of 1 killed and 7 wounded, but an attempt to tow her off failed and she sank. Most of her crew perished, though the Japanese in the water picked up about a dozen men or rescued from onboard her; 40 of her men lost their lives.
While this action was proceeding in sight and within range of the forts, Makaroff himself in the Novik, followed by the ASKOLD, came out to aid the STEREGUSHCHY, only to be immediately driven off by Dewa’s fast cruiser division. In these destroyer operations there was always the possibility that the Russian cruisers would sally forth to support their destroyers, and the battleships to support their cruisers, so that on each occasion there was a prospect of a battle. The Japanese were never caught off their guard; they invariably brought up their more powerful ships in succession behind their destroyers, so as to aid their small craft t the utmost. They always concentrated their maximum force when a collision was possible-a thoroughly sound principle.
Dewa’s cruisers remained off Port Arthur while Togo with his six battleships steamed to the south of Laotishan and thence, at a ranged of 14,000 yards, carried out an indirect bombardment of Port Arthur, firing 150 rounds of 12-inch shell from 10.08 a.m. to 1.40 p.m. of March 10th. The tide was out so that the heavy Russian ships were confined to Port Arthur. The RETVISAN was twice struck, one projectile damaging her cofferdam, but otherwise she suffered little injury, though she had 2 men killed and 13 wounded. The SEAVSTOPOL and ASKOLD had a few casualties, yet were little the worse. The net result of the operation was once more to prove the ineffectiveness of indirect fire without good observation; aircraft would have enabled the Japanese to do much more execution. While the heavy ships were bombarding. Uriu with his old cruisers destroyed the Russian signal station on South Sanshantau, at the entrance to Talien Bay.
On the following morning Makaroff put to sea with the Port Arthur ships and exercised them in tactics. In these exercises the SEVASTOPOL rammed the POLTAVA but no very serious damage was done. Makaroff at once took extensive precautions against further Japanese attempts to block the entrance. He sank two merchant ships and fixed between them a timber boom which would render approach from the south difficult, and he placed gunboats, moored to buoys, in the entrance as a second line, while as a third line the ASKOLD and BAYAN were stationed inside the harbour so as to sweep the channel.
In the night of March 21st-22nd, eight Japanese destroyers attacked, but were driven back by the fire of the batteries at Port Arthur. They ascertained, however that the Russians were now thoroughly on their guard. Next morning Togo was off the port in force and detached the Fuji and Yashima to bombard the harbour with their 12-inch guns, firing indirectly while the fast cruisers observed. The bombardment lasted about an hour and did practically no damage, though a shell, which burst in a shore barrack, killed 6 men and wounded 8.
The Japanese ships were themselves the target of indirect fire from the
Russian forts and ships, and several shells fell uncommonly near them.
The efficiency of the Russians under Makaroff was evidently increasing.
As the bombardment was closing Makaroff led out the Russian battleships,
but refused to be tempted away from the shelter of the batteries, with only six
armoured ships against twelve Japanese. When
the Japanese had retired he laid twenty-four mines immediately south of
Laotishan, and established batteries of medium guns on Laotishan, to command the
waters from which the Japanese battleships bombarded.
On March 26th Makaroff took his whole fleet southwards on a cruise for exercise, and there was another collision, between the SEAVASTOPOL and PERESVIET, which resulted in the removal of the SEAVASTOPOL’S captain from the ship. In the night of the 26th-27th a fresh attempt was made by the Japanese to block the harbour with four prepared merchant ships, manned by forty-two officers and men, escorted by the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Destroyer Divisions (twelve boats) and the 9th torpedo Boat Division. The four block ships were taken in with extreme bravery and all were sunk in or near the entrance despite the heavy Russian fire and glare of the searchlights, yet they did not block the gullet. The crews were picked up by the Japanese torpedo craft with a loss of 4 killed and 12 wounded. On the Russian side the destroyer SILNY was engaged with the Japanese and was badly hit with a loss of 7 killed and 13 wounded. She ran ashore and though afterwards got off, was not fit for service for four weeks.
At daylight Makaroff led his fleet out of harbour and the Japanese saw that their enterprise had miscarried. They were now experiencing the results of their failure to destroy the Russian fleet on February 9th. Makaroff during the next few days was constantly outside the harbour and caused Togo all the graver anxiety because of the movement of troops from Japan to the Korean ports. It became necessary to watch Port Arthur continuously. Kamimura, with his armoured cruisers and eight protected cruisers, was ordered to observe the 120 miles of water between Shantung and Korea, in wireless communication with Togo’s battle fleet at the Hall Islands. Preparations were made to establish an advanced base at the Elliot Islands, seventy miles from Port Arthur, and also once more to attempt the blocking of the entrance. To delay and hamper the Russian Fleet orders were given to lay a number of mines off Port Arthur. This was the first such operation on the part of the Japanese Fleet in these waters and it was of historic importance. The idea was to gain time, when Makaroff put to sea, and thus enable Togo’s heavy ships to arrive.
On april 11th the new armoured cruisers Nisshin and Kasuga joined Togo’s fleet-a welcome reinforcement. Violent snowstorms and heavy seas prevailed during the early April, but in the evening of April 12th, which was dark misty and snowy, eight destroyers and four torpedo boats with the minelayer Koryo Maru steamed in towards Port Arthur. They did their work well; the mines were laid close to the shore, within the three mile limit, in the waters through which the Russian Fleet usually steamed. The Japanese craft were seen from the shore despite the thick weather, but were taken from Russian destroyers and therefore were not disturbed. At daybreak the Japanese 2nd Destroyer Division caught the Russian destroyer, STRASHNY, at sea and after a fierce action with her set her on fire, hit and exploded a torpedo in one of her tubes and sank her, with a loss themselves of 5 wounded. In the STRASHNY all onboard perished, except 5 men, picked up later by the Russians. The Japanese chased another Russian destroyer, the SMYELY and pressed her hard.
Makaroff had noted the movements of strange craft near the entrance to Port Arthur and had decided to order the sweeping of the waters where they had been at work. But at daybreak anxiety for the safety of his destroyers, STRASHNY and SMYELY, led him to send out the BAYAN to their support and prepare at once to follow her with the rest of his fleet before such precautions had been taken. She left the harbour followed by the DIANA and ASKOLD, but had not got far when Dewa steamed in to cut her off with his three fastest cruisers (Chitose, Takasago, Kasagi) reinforced by the Tokiwa and Asama, and quickly drove her back, though now the Novik had also come out. She was fired at and hit but not seriously damaged, and she reported to Makaroff that there were still possibly men alive floating on wreckage where the STRASHNY had gone down. With his flag in the PETROPAVLOSK he came out of the harbour followed by the POLTAVA, and without further thought about sweeping for mines, preceded by the BAYAN, he led his ships towards the Japanese and opened fire at 7,000 yards about 9 a.m. of April 13th. The Japanese cruisers increased speed and went away, drawing him fifteen miles south of Port Arthur, when Togo’s battleships emerged from the mist, heading to cut the Russians off. Makaroff on this fell back and succeeded in regaining the shelter of Port Arthur batteries, where the rest of his battleships joined him.
There was much smoke near the harbour and the weather was misty, but as Togo defiled past the fortress just out of range, he saw that the Russians were steaming slowly to the northeast under the coast. At 10.32 a.m. (Japanese time) the PETROPAVLOSK was close to Lutin Rock when there was a sharp detonation like the discharge of a 12-inch gun, followed by a much more violent explosion which shot up clouds of dense brown smoke, and the Russian flagship broke in the middle, each and standing up from a whirlpool of steam and smoke. Two more explosions followed from the boilers and the other magazines, and then, two minutes after the first detonation, the PETROPAVLOSK vanished forever.
A Japanese caused mine, the first explosion, which fired eighteen, mine charges in the PETROPAVLOSK’S mine room; the final explosion was that of the magazines. Destroyers and small craft hurried towards the water where she had sunk. Ten officers-among them the Grand Duke Cyril-and 120 men were picked up, but Makaroff was never seen again, and with him perished the painter Verestchagin, 32 officers and over 600 men. His loss was a terrible blow to the Russian Fleet; he was an officer of genius and energy and had he lived Togo’s task would have been far more difficult. “With him,” wrote Captain Bubnoff, an officer in the Russian destroyer force, “all hope of rendering the squadron efficient was buried.”
When the PETROPAVLOSK vanished, Ukhtomsky, the second in command, hoisted the signal, “Follow men,” and led the fleet westwards to a point near the entrance to the harbour. The line was turning near the Tiger Peninsula when there was a violent explosion under the POBIEDA, which immediately listed to starboard. She had struck a mine amidships, abreast of a bunker, which was full of coal. Three of her compartments were breached and a group of boilers was put out of action, but she still floated. Panic broke out in the Russian squadron. Supposing that Japanese submarines were at work, the crews fired wildly into the water. With some difficulty order was restored and Ukhtomsky led his shaken force into the harbour. The repairs of the POBIEDA were at once taken in hand, but the Russian battleships had sunk to three (PERESVIET, SEVASTOPOL, POLTAVA), though the RETVISAN and TZESAREVITCH were now fast going forward. Alexeieff took over the command of the Russian Fleet for the time being with Vitgeft as his second in command.
On the following day, April 14th, the Japanese destroyers were off the port but found no ships outside, and that morning another long range bombardment was carried out from the southwest of Laotishan by the Kasuga and Niishin. The Russians replied with indirect fire, in which the SEAVASTOPOL put one of her own 12-inch guns permanently out of action, and with a few shells from their new batteries on Laotishan. The bombardment was result less except that it produced nervous tension in the Russian Fleet and caused 12 casualties ashore.
The Japanese Staff now determined on yet another attempt to block Port Arthur, in order to cover the landing of the 2nd Japanese Army, which was to begin near Yentai (or Yentoa) Bay, fifty-three miles northeast of Port Arthur at the earliest possible date. Thirteen prepared merchant vessels were to be employed. Several of them carried guns and searchlights, and duplicate circuits were fitted in all to explode the charges for sinking the ships, which were manned by 37 officers and 207 men-all volunteers. The strength of the Russian defences had by this date been greatly augmented and numerous mines had been laid so that the difficulty of the enterprise was enormous. In the night of April 27th-28th the Japanese destroyers reconnoitred the entrance to Port Arthur; on May 2nd the block ships proceeded on their desperate undertaking, which was however, to be deferred if the weather was unfavourable.
That evening the weather conditions changed and a violent wind began to blow. An order was issued to postpone the attempt, but it failed to reach eight of the block ships, and these proceeded towards the entrance. As in the previous operations extraordinary heroism was shown. Four of the eight got close to the entrance and were sunk there; the other four were sunk further out but in such positions as to cause some obstruction though not completely to close the passage. The mines, the booms, the searchlights and the tremendous fire on the Japanese vessels prevented any complete success. Of the 158 officers and men who manned the eight block ships actually sunk, only 63 were rescued alive by the Japanese torpedo flotilla, and of these 63, 20 were severely wounded. The Russians captured 16 men; the other 79 perished. In the Japanese torpedo flotilla two vessels were damaged with a loss of 2 killed and 3 wounded. When daylight of May 3rd dawned it was thought that the attempt had been completely successful, and Togo reported to that effect to Tokyo.
The transports of the 2nd Army left at once for Hall Islands, where a strong Japanese squadron met them to convoy them to Yentai. Booms had already been laid between the islands of the Elliot group, and the eight miles of water between the chief island and the coast of the Kwangtung peninsula had been obstructed with minefields, dummy mines, nets and booms in short sections. Togo made the Elliot Islands his advanced base, and on May 5th a Japanese naval brigade, over a thousand strong, disembarked on the muddy shore west of Yentai, to cover the landing of the army. The intention was to disembark a sufficient force to advance rapidly on Dalny and seize that excellent base for further operations against Port Arthur. So good were the Japanese arrangements that on the first day of the landing, 9,500 troops were placed ashore, despite a heavy sea. The smaller Japanese gunboats supported the troops, but the Russian, beyond firing a few shots, offered no resistance. On May 14th the advance of the Japanese on land finally cut off Port Arthur.
On learning of the Japanese landing, Alexeieff left Port Arthur on May 5th, placing Vitgeft in command of the fleet. Before he departed he summoned the Russian destroyer officers and told them that as they had twelve boats in effective condition they ought to attack the Japanese transports, which were within easy reach. They were against an attack unless the larger Russian ships supported them, and they pointed out that if they were not covered by their own heavy ships the Japanese war vessels escorting and guarding the transports would certainly attack them and they would be destroyed. On the following day Vitgeft called a council of officers who decided that a sortie in force would mean the annihilation of the fleet in view of the Japanese mines and the small number of Russian ships serviceable; and that for the destroyers alone to go out would probably be fatal to them.
Down to this point fortune had generally favoured the Japanese, but it was now to turn against them. The wastage of the Port Arthur Fleet had so far been most serious. Of its seven battleships one (PETROPAVLOSK) was sunk, and three (POBIEDA, TZESAREVITCH and RETVISAN) were temporarily disabled. Two of its best cruisers (VARIAG and BOYARIN), one of its minelayers (YENISEI), and there of its destroyers (VNUSHITELNY, STEREGUSHCHY and STRASHNY) were at the bottom. Against these losses the Russians had nothing to show; the Japanese had not had a single vessel sunk. But now the Japanese losses began. On May 12th, torpedo Boat No 48 while mine sweeping in Kerr Bay struck and mine and sank with a loss of 7 killed and 9 wounded. On May 14th, the small cruiser Miyako (1,700 tons) struck a mine in the same waters while covering mine sweeping operations and sank with a loss of 2 killed.
During that same day the Russian minelayer AMUR took advantage of a fog, which kept the Japanese small craft some distance from Port Arthur, and stole out to sea. She had received reluctant permission from Vitgeft to lay mines ten to fifteen miles south of Laotishan, outside territorial waters, in an area where the Japanese battleships constantly appeared. She laid forty mines accordingly with a total disregard for neutral safety and thus inaugurated a new and barbarous form of sea war down to that date mines had been employed freely by each side, but always in territorial waters. Now the Russians placed them in one of the great highways of international traffic, without any warning or notice.
Early in the morning of May 15th, Dewa with the Chitose, Yoshino, Kasuga, Yakumo and Fuji steaming in line ahead as he neared the Elliot Islands, on his course from Port Arthur, ran into a dense fog. About 1.40 a.m. the Kasuga increased speed, fearing to lose contact with her next ahead, and ran violently into the port quarter of the Yoshino. The Yoshino so heavy a list to port that nothing could be done to salve her; immediately after the order had been given to “abandon ship” she capsized, and Captain Saheki, her commander, with 31 other officers and 287 men went down in her, maintaining perfect discipline to the last. Only 100 officers and men were saved; and the Kasuga sustained serious damage. Thus Japan had lost one of her best fast cruisers and damaged another.
At 10.50 a.m. that fatal May 15th, the Hatsuse, Shikishima, Yashima, Kasagi and Tatsuta, covering the close watch of Port Arthur, entered the Russian mine field, and the Hatsuse struck a mine astern. Her steering compartment filled but she was in no immediate danger. A few minutes later the Yashima struck a mine on the starboard side. Both damaged ships were taken in tow when at 12.33 p.m. the Hatsuse struck a second mine. There was a terrific report and a dense cloud of yellow smoke rose from her; in two minutes she sank, taking with her to the bottom 36 officers and 457 men. Admiral Nashiba, her captain, and 214 officers and men were rescued. Her magazine had been exploded by the mine, exactly as had the PETROPAVLOSK’S.
There was still hope of saving the Yashima, but first the Russian destroyers had to be driven off. They had come out, hearing the explosions, and approached within 7,000 yards of the Kasagi, when she opened a violent fire on them. Upon this they turned and retired. The Yashima was towed to near Encounter Rock, and there she was anchored with a terrible and steadily increasing list. The order was given to abandon her, and after the crew had sung the nationals anthem and given three cheers, they left her. A little later she capsized. Yet another disaster was to come that day. Nashiba transferred his flag to the despatch boat Tatsuta, which in thick fog at 6.25 that evening ran on the rocks in the Elliot Islands, and was so seriously damaged that, though she was got off, it was weeks before she was again fit for service.
Thus in one single day the Japanese strength of battleships, which in the first instance was none too great, had diminished by one third, from six to four ships. The blow was the more stunning because it fell so suddenly and because there seemed no real security against its repetition. It was, indeed, a fearful penalty that the Japanese Navy had to pay for the loss of its great opportunity on February 9th, when it had had the chance of annihilating the Russians at a single blow. To postpone the decision in war in nine times out of ten to incur increased risk. The Japanese censorship kept the loss of the Yashima secret, and though the Russians were aware that another important Japanese vessel besides the Hatsuse had gone down, they were not quite certain as to its exact identity. Thenceforward Togo used his four precious battleships with even caution and as far as was possible kept them out of the ever spreading mine zone. In three days the Japanese Navy had lost 34,000 tons of modern ships. The effect of the Japanese disasters was far reaching, as the Russian Government after abandoning the idea of sending a reinforcing fleet from the Baltic to the East, now resumed its plan, and Togo had fresh anxieties and perils to face.
Even then the misfortunes of the Japanese did not end. On May 17th, while on blockade duty, the destroyer Akatzuki struck a mine and 23 officers and men her perished as she went down. Very early that same morning on the way to Kinchau Bay the Akagi in a dense fog rammed and sank the despatch boat Oshima (620 tons). The spirits of the Russians in Port Arthur revived at the Japanese calamities and the Russian destroyers constantly came out at night and laid fresh mines. The Japanese warships on their part, in the night of May 19th-20th, laid a minefield in the Port Arthur roadstead, and during the closing weeks of May gave valuable aid to the 2nd Army. A squadron composed of the old armoured ship Heiyen with the gunboats Akagi, Tsukushi, and Chokai and four torpedo boats was sent round the Kwangtung peninsula to Kinchau Bay, but in the battle of Nanshan on May 26th owing to the ebbing of the tide, it had to suspend its fire soon after 5 p.m. and the Russian fell back because of an order from Stoessel, the commander at Port Arthur. In this battle the Russian gunboat BOBR (one 9-inch and one 6-inch gun) and two destroyers gave valuable support to the Russian right from Talien Bay, where the Japanese Navy could not reach them because of the minefields. The ebbing tide forced them also to withdraw in the afternoon.
On May 26th Togo proclaimed the blockade of the whole Liaotung peninsula, and on the 29th Japanese troops seized Dalny with its docks, wharves, cranes and appliances needed for landing a powerful siege train. It was to be the base of the new 3rd Army operating against Port Arthur, while Talien Bay, as soon as it could be cleared, was to become the base of the 2nd Army. The Japanese destroyers and torpedo flotillas henceforward used Dalny as their headquarters, and its value to them was immense. The excellent dock there was in constant employment. Japanese warships watched the west coast of the Liaotung peninsula and shelled trains on the railway as far north as Kaiping. A systematic blockade of Port Arthur began. Meantime off Port Arthur day after day skirmishing proceeded between the Japanese and Russian destroyers and small craft, and the Russian destroyer VNIMTELNY was lost on May 26th through running on a rock. The 3rd Army was not yet strong enough to attack the fortress, and on June 13th yet another disaster befell the Japanese owing to the loss of eighteen 11-inch howitzers of the siege train in the Hitachi Maru, sunk by the Vladivostock squadron. They were of vital importance in the Japanese plans and with them went all possibility of swiftly storming Port Arthur.
When Vitgeft was pitch forked into command of the Port Arthur Fleet he told his captains: “I expect you to assist me with words and deeds: I am no leader of a fleet.” Early in June a Russian naval council, which he had convoked, decided to attempt a sortie as soon as the RETVISAN, TZESAREVITCH and POBIEDA were ready for sea. On the 15th the fast destroyer LIEUTENANT BURAKOFF was sent off to Newchwang with a message for Alexeieff. She passed through the Japanese flotilla and returned on June 17th with orders to Vitgeft to go out at once. Tide conditions and the need thoroughly to sweep the exit prevented a sortie for some days and the 22nd was fixed. But on that date the POBIEDA’S captain was taken very ill and had to be replaced, so that the Russian ships could not leave till June 23rd. Vitgeft’s intentions were to go out, remain a night at sea and then next day attack the Japanese base in the Elliot Islands. He had available the battleships TZESAREVITCH (flag), RETVISAN, POBIEDA, PERESVIET, SEVASTOPOL, POLTAVA; the armoured cruiser BAYAN; the cruisers DIANA, PALLADA, ASKOLD and NOVIK; two old gunboats and sixteen destroyers. The Japanese did not know that the three damaged battleships had been repaired and thus they were about to experiences a most disquieting surprise.
The Russians began to move out at 5.40 a.m. (Japanese time), when the NOVIK and other vessels were sighted by the vigilant Japanese destroyers. The Shirakumo steamed with the news to Dewa, who was cruising with the Yakumo and Chitose off Encounter Rock, and he gave the alarm by wireless to Togo at the Elliot Islands: “Enemy fleet is leaving the harbour.” Togo had with him his four battleships; the “greyhounds”, Takasago and Kasagi; the Itsukushima, Hashidate, Yaeyama, Akashi, Suma, Akitsushima and Idzumi cruisers; the 2nd, 3rd and 5th Destroyer Divisions and three Torpedo Boat Divisions. The two (greyhounds) he sent off to Port Arthur to watch, and he himself without the slightest hesitation weighed and put to sea at 9.50. As wireless alarms were taken in, from all quarters Japanese ships began to close upon Port Arthur, in one determine, carefully concentrated movement. The old Chinyen and Matsushima hurried seawards from Kerr Bay; the armoured cruisers Asama, Nisshin, Kasuga, and the light cruiser Chiyoda, steered towards the Russian base. Every ship that could float and fight was now concentrating.
Togo ordered his light craft to do their best to delay the Russian movements. Owing to the difficulty of sweeping up the Japanese mines, which he had been laid in such abundance, hours passed before the Port Arthur Fleet was ready to put to sea. The Japanese destroyers of the 1st and 4th Divisions meanwhile engaged the sweepers and did the Russian destroyers engage themselves. These, in a confused encounter, they drove back, but were themselves driven off by the NOVIK. At 3.30 p.m. Vitgeft dismissed the sweepers and one flotilla of destroyers, and after reorganising his line ahead so that the battleships, were at its head in the order given above, steamed slowly southeast. The great strength of the Russians startled the Japanese, but the Russians were even more alarmed to see the horizon covered with Japanese warships converging upon them with the utmost audacity.
Togo’s plan was to draw the Russians well to the south, and having got them far out to attack them, and during the night after the battle to send in his torpedo craft against them. He was without four of his best-armoured cruisers under Kamimura, which were watching the Vladivostock force. If he meant battle seriously, it was a great mistake on his part to delay the Russian movements by his destroyer operations earlier that day. The further Vitgeft was from Port Arthur, the more certain his destruction must be if battle was once joined and the Japanese attacked with determination; moreover the easier would it be to bring up Kamimura’s squadron. On Vitgeft’s part the only sound proceeding in view of the Russians strategically position was to force a close engagement, if he could at once, and inflict the maximum of loss on the Japanese before his ships went to the bottom. He might thus with good luck have prepared the way for a favourable peace, if the Japanese destroyers of the 1st and 4th Divisions meanwhile engaged the sweepers and were themselves engaged by the Russian destroyers. These, in a confused encounter, they drove back, but were themselves driven off by the NOVIK. At 3.30 p.m. Vitgeft dismissed the sweepers and one flotilla of destroyers, and after reorganising his line ahead so that the battleships were at its head in order given above, steamed slowly southeast. The great strength of the Russians startled the Japanese, but the Russians were even more alarmed to see the horizon covered with Japanese warships converging upon them with the utmost audacity.
Togo’s plan was to draw the Russians well to the south, and having got them far out to attack them, and during the night after the battle to send in his torpedo craft against them. He was without four of his best-armoured cruisers under Kamimura, which were watching, the Vladivostock force. If he meant battle seriously, it was a great mistake on his part to delay the Russian movements by his destroyer operations earlier that day. The further Vitgeft was from Port Arthur, the more certain his destruction must be if battle was once joined and the Japanese attacked with determination; moreover the easier would it be to bring up Kamimura’s squadron. On Vitgeft’s part the only sound proceeding in view of the Russian strategically position was to force a close engagement, of he could at once, and inflict the maximum of loss on the Japanese before his ships went to the bottom. He might thus with good luck have prepared the way for a favourable peace, if the Japanese were so much weakened as to feel themselves unable to deal with a Russian reinforcing fleet.
What actually happened was that when at 6.30 p.m. Vitgeft saw the four Japanese battleships lying across his course with four powerful armoured cruisers and a multitude of smaller craft in support of them, his heart failed. He was a brave enough man, but had not that firm moral courage which is required of a great leader in circumstances so grave. He turned from the Japanese and steamed back to Port Arthur as twilight fell. Far off the heavy Japanese ships vanished and the torpedo craft gathered round the Russians. As yet, Vitgeft’s fleet had not fired a shot except in getting out of harbour and now as it fled it was covered by clouds of smoke and by the rising mist of evening. Darkness had fallen by the time the Russians were back in the roadstead, but as the evening advanced the mist disappeared, and it was clear and calm with the moon in the first quarter
At 9.38 p.m. the Japanese torpedo attacks began. Forty-four destroyers and torpedo boats, all of good type manned by magnificent seamen and commanded by resolute and skilful officers, delivered them. The circumstances were on the whole most favourable. The light was sufficient to reveal the position of the Russian ships and the fleet had landed many of its smaller guns (twenty-six 6-inch and thirty 12-pounders) to assist in the defence of Port Arthur. It was a favourite dogma of torpedo theorists in days before the war that such a multitude of torpedo vessels could destroy a small force of armoured ships if the torpedo flotilla could only deliver its assault in the darkness. But the attacks, which continued all night and were pressed with the utmost fury, brought the most insignificant result. Not a single Russian ship was hit; in the confusion of one of the attacks, however, just as the Russians were anchoring in the roads, the SEVASTOPOL struck a mine and was a good deal damaged, though without any risk of her loss.
Russian eye witnesses ashore declared that the Japanese came in very close and displayed superlative bravery; their torpedoes were fired at ranges which were generally below 1,000 yards, but in a few cases reached 1,500 or 2,000yards. The Japanese escaped with insignificant losses. One of their torpedo boats, the Chidori, was truck by a Russian torpedo but not much damaged, as she got back to the Elliot Islands; and shells hit one destroyer and three torpedo boats. Their total casualties were 3 killed and 5 wounded. The failure of the attack could scarcely have been more complete, and it was probably due in large part to the fact that surface torpedo craft need to be supported by more powerful ships and can do little until the artillery in the hostile heavier vessels has been crippled in battle. The Russians picked up ten unexploded torpedoes on the coast.
On the following day the Russian Fleet returned to the harbour and the work of repairing the SEAVASTOPOL was begun. The Japanese resumed their close watch on Port Arthur, and made several unsuccessful torpedo attacks on the PALLADA, which remained behind booms in the roads. They were not able to prevent the Russian warships from coming out from time to time and shelling the positions of the 3rd Army under cover of the minefields. On June 28th torpedo Boat No. 51 in dense fog ran ashore and was lost with 13 men on her way to the Elliot Islands. All the waters round the Kwangtung peninsula were now highly dangerous; hundreds of mines had been laid and many of these had broken adrift and were floating. On July 5th the old Japanese gunboat Kaimon, while co-operating with the army, struck one of these mines and sank with a loss of 21 men.
On June 29th the fast Russian destroyer, LIEUTENANT BURAKOFF, ran out of Port Arthur to Newchwang and some days later returned with orders for Vitgeft, directing him to keep his ships coaled and ready and, if Port Arthur ceased to be safe, “to put to sea in good time and make for Vladivostock, if possible, avoiding an action.” Alexeieff, to evade responsibility, ambiguously worded this order and the naval council at Port Arthur had a pretty problem in interpreting it. They decided to stay, for as Vitgeft pointed out, the Japanese were not in the least likely to let him go without an action.
If Alexeieff meant business he ought to have ordered the fleet to go out and fight, doing the utmost damage to the Japanese. There was great delay in his communications with Vitgeft owing to the fact that Port Arthur had been cut off and the Russians in Manchuria were not apparently in wireless touch with the fortress. On July 28th at Alexeieff’s order the question of a sortie was once more considered and rejected by the Port Arthur officers, but after further discussion the controversy was closed by an order from the Czar to the fleet to go out. Vitgeft was told by Alexeieff to “take the squadron out of Port Arthur,” and to remember “the exploit of the VARIAG.”
Meantime the light craft of both fleets had been frequently engaged, the
Russian ships attacking the Japanese troops on land, and the Japanese vessels
endeavouring to drive back the Russian ships.
On July 24th the LIEUTENANT BURAKOFF east of Port Arthur, in
Takhe Bay, was torpedo by two Japanese picket boats and sunk; and another
Russian destroyer, the BOEVOI, was badly damaged.
On July 26th the Japanese light cruiser struck a mine off
Takhe Bay but was salved and taken to Dalny with a loss of 7 killed and 27
injured. Next day the Russian
armoured cruiser BAYAN struck a mine which flooded her foremost stokehold, and
laid her up just as the SEVASTOPOL was ready for sea. On August 7th,
the Japanese 3rd Army on land had closed sufficiently upon Port
Arthur to permit the long Japanese 4.7-inch guns to shell the interior of the
port, aided by observations from a captive balloon.
The TZESAREVITCH was hit and her wireless operator killed; Vitgeft was
slightly wounded by a splinter. The
bombardment continued and on the 9th the RETVISAN was several times
hit, once badly below the waterline, filling a compartment with 400 tons of
water.. Three men were killed and her captain wounded.
On August 9th the Russian Fleet completed its preparations for going to sea. The Japanese large ships seemed to have vanished. About 6 a.m. of August 10th the fleet began to leave the port. Vitgeft, on whom the presentiment of death weighed, bade his friends farewell with the words: “we shall meet in another world”; and at 9.30 (Japanese time) the last ship was clear. Except for the absence of the BAYAN, the force was identical with that which had made the sortie on June 23rd. The Russian vessels were painted a dark blackish brown colour, which distinguished them from the grey Japanese. The weather was fine and still; a light mist veiled the sea to the east, but through it as the fleet steamed out, the dim forms of Japanese ships came into view watching far away.
Togo had long expected a sortie and when at 6.35 a.m. the alarm came, given by the 2nd Destroyer Division off Port Arthur, he was ready with his four battleships north of Round Island. Again as on June 23rd the Japanese ships began their concentration, and the Kasuga and Nisshin took their places in Togo’s line of battle. Again, as on that earlier day, Kamimura was absent with four powerful armoured cruisers, watching the Vladivostock force, so that Togo’s armoured strength was eight modern ships (four battleships, and four armoured cruisers) besides the old Chinyen, against six Russian armoured vessels, all battleships. Of protected cruisers the Russians had four modern vessels against nine Japanese vessels of the same class, six of which were modern. The Russians took out with them eight of the destroyers, against which the Japanese had seventeen destroyers and twenty-nine torpedo boats.
At 12.30 p.m. Togo, with his six armoured ships in single line ahead, southeast of Encounter Rock, sighted the Russian Fleet thirteen miles away, steering southeast. Vitgeft’s line was thus formed: TZESAREVITCH (flag), RETVISAN, POBIEDA, PERESVIET (flag of Rear Admiral Ukhtomsky), SEVASTOPOL, POLTAVA, ASKOLD (flag of Rear Admiral Reitzenstein), PALLADA, DISANA. To part (left) of this line were the NOVIK, eight destroyers, and the hospital ship, MONGOLIA. The Japanese ships hoisted their great battle flags, but TOGO, wanting to draw the Russians farther out and probably also to give time for the Asama and Yakumo to arrive, did not as yet engage. He turned his ships together eight points away from the Russians, thus coming into line abreast. Vitgeft altered course to follow him whereupon at 1.15 Togo turned his ships once more together eight points bringing his fleet back into ahead on the old course, across the course of the Russians, with the Nisshin under Kataoka in his van, and simultaneously all his six vessels opened an extremely slow fire at a range of 14,000 yards. The Russians about this time were going dead slow to allow the POBEDIA, which had engine trouble, to get back into station.
Vitgeft turned away to Port; apparently mistaking various debris, which was floating in the water for mines, laid by the Japanese (though they made no use of mines in the engagement) and then again turned sharply to starboard. Meantime Togo about 1.30 turned simultaneously sixteen points to starboard, inverting the order and direction of movement of his line of battle, and bringing the Mikasa once more to its head. He increased speed and tried to “cross the T” of the Russian line. Vitgeft met this by turning away to port and the two fleets passed one another going fast at a range of over 7,000 yards on opposite courses before Togo turned once more “crossing the T” of the Russian rear. At this moment Reitzenstein, the Russian cruiser commander, in the ASKOLD signalled to the Russia cruiser which were in the rear of the Russian cruisers which were in the rear of the Russian line and were now getting Togo’s fire, to take station to the lee and port side of the Russian battle line. The cruisers only received a few hits, none of them serious, and Togo’s manoeuvre brought no result though about the battleships the sea boiled with falling projectiles. The 6-inch guns joined in when the range fell; hitherto only the heavy guns had been in action.
These complicated manoeuvres had now brought Togo astern of the Russians in a disadvantageous position, so that the Mikasa was abreast of the centre of their line, to starboard. She was being hit rather frequently, three times in fifteen minutes, but the Russians were steadily edging away and increasing distance, till at 3.20 firing ceased on both sides, just as Dewa in the Yakumo with the Kasagi, Takasago and Chitose opened long range fire on the Russian cruisers from the port side, also attacking the POLTAVA which had dropped astern. He soon suspended this fire and steered to join Togo’s fleet. Thus the first stage of the battle-a scrambling, long-range engagement in which each side had shown anxiety to save its ships- was over.
The Mikasa had suffered one severe hit from a 12-inch shell on her mainmast which killed 8 men and wounded 5; the Nisshin had had two hits with a loss of 3 killed and 13 wounded; and the Yakumo, Dewa’s flagship, struck by a shell from the POLTAVA, which exploded on her main deck, had 22 killed or wounded. The fact seems to have been that in this long range firing, which is much less trying to the nerves and sense of discipline than a close and fierce encounter, the Russians shot as well as the Japanese. Hits were rare and were mainly a question of luck; and thus in the light of subsequent knowledge, Togo’s plan of engaging in long bowls, instead opf avoiding risk risked everything. Terrible as his anxieties were, he forgot that he who seeks first to avoid damage to his own ships will almost certainly fail to damage the enemy. For the Russian battleships at this point were scarcely scratched, and as greetings interchanged with the Russian cruisers showed, their crews were in excellent spirits.
The day was advancing; the Russian Fleet was all this time pressing at some 10 to 12 knots to the southeast and toward the coast of Korea; and if those brown ships could once get well east of the Japanese Main Fleet there was nothing so far as Togo knew-to prevent them from reaching Vladivostock. Kamimura’s squadron would be far too weak for that purpose and might itself be destroyed on the way. Togo increased speed as the afternoon went on, and about 5.30 was forty-five mniles north of Shantung promontory, by which time he had once more brought his ships within range of the Russians and to starboard of them. Their rear ship, the POLTAVA, was far astern, and at her he opened fire at a range of 8,000 yards. The engagement became general; steaming on parallel courses with distances, which slowly sank, each side battered the other, and still there was no decision or sign of one. Rear Admiral Dewa in the Yakumo (Captain Matsumoto) moved in 500 yards nearer the Russians than the rest of Togo’s line and engaged his old antagonist, the POLTAVA, as at long range the Yakumo’s fire was not satisfactory. The other Japanese cruisers took position astern of Dewa, but well to the disengaged side of the battle line. The armoured cruisers Asama, which had been coaling at the base when the alarm was sent out, was now racing up astern to co-operate with Togo.
When the gunnery action opened for the second time the Mikasa ans Fuji fired at the TZESAREVITCH; the Asahi, Shikishima, Nisshin and Yakumo at the POLTAVA; and the Kasuga at the SEVASTOPOL; so that there was a concentration of attack on the Russian ships at the two ends of the line, but from time to time targets were changed. For considerable periods of the engagement some of the Russian battleships were left disengaged, a state of affairs which favoured good shooting on their part and strengthened confidence in the disengaged ships, as the instance of the Derflinger at Jutland subsequently showed. Moreover, with frequent shifts of target accurate shooting at long range is much more difficult. The Russian fire was concentrated on the Mikasa and the number of hits made on that ship must have caused Togo renewed disquietude, in view of Japans small battleship force. Many hits could be seen from either fleet; “our gun layers,” says Semenoff, “were not shooting worse than the Japanese.” At the game of long bowls there was no great difference between the fleets.
About 6 p.m. the PERESVIET’S main topmast was shot away and a few minutes later her foretopmast went; her fore turret was struck and put temporarily out of action. The POLTAVA astern showed a good deal of external damage, but she had suffered no essential injury from the constitution of fire. About this time the Japanese had a whole series of fresh misfortunes. The Mikasa had serious trouble in her after turret; one of her 12-inch guns was damaged, probably by a premature and the turret fro some time was out of action. Lieut-Commander Prince Fushimi of the Imperial family was severely wounded, and 1 man was killed and 19 wounded. The Asahi had a breakdown in her after turret and one of the Shikishima’s 12-inch fore turret guns was also disabled by accident. Thus of the sixteen modern heavy (12-inch) guns in the Japanese fleet fiver were now out of action, and the position of the Japanese was growing critical. The long-range fight had turned against the better seamen and gunners. In the Russian fleet two turrets were temporarily out of action in the PERESVIET (two 10-inch) and RETVISAN (two 12-inch guns).
Such were the conditions when two Japanese hits altered the fortune of the day. At 6.37 two Japanese 12-inch shells, admirably aimed by gunners with iron nerves, struck the TZESAREVITCH. One hit her foremast and burst on it, sweeping the less of the fore bridge and tearing Vitgeft, who was standing there with a group of officers and signalmen, to pieces. His chief of staff, Rear-Admiral Matusevitch , who was near him, was severely shaken and wounded, while 2 other officers and 15 men were killed or wounded. A second shell burst against the projecting steel roof of the conning tower; splinters and the blast swept the interior, killing or disabling everyone inside and jamming the helm hard to starboard, so that the ship turned suddenly to port, heeling violently with the helm at an extreme angle, and continued turning, with her brain out of action.
She was followed by her next astern, the RETVISAN, for some minutes until it became clear that she was either sheering out of the line or was out of control. She cut through the Russian line between the fourth ship, PERESVIET, and fifth ship, SEAVASTOPOL, both of which had to alter course. The whole Russian group of battleships fell into the extremist confusion. No battle orders had been issued; no one knew who was in command; and Ukhtomsky, Vitgeft’s junior admiral, was in the PERESVIET whose topmasts and signalling appliances had been shot away. Togo closed to slightly over 4,000 yards and increasing his proportion of hits at once, poured in a heavy fire upon the RETVISAN and PERESVIET, as the mob of Russians began to head northwest in the general direction of Port Arthur. The Japanese were in admirable order as if at exercises, though the Mikasa’s damage showed, and the older Japanese cruisers were now coming up athwart the Russians. It seemed as if nothing could save the Port Arthur fleet. At this juncture, however, Ukhtomsky succeeded in making his other ships see his signal, “Follow me,” and turned toward Port Arthur. For some minutes the Russian destroyers, apparently not observing the signal, had continued to steam eastwards towards the Japanese and it is probable that Togo thought they were intending torpedo attack, and therefore increased his distance from the Russian battleships. What is indisputable is that as night was falling he let them go, and about 7.50 p.m. the main battle was broken off. Presumably he feared the risks of a night action.
Of the Russian Fleet the five battleships RETVISAN, PERESVIET, POBIEDA, SEVASTOPOL, and POLTAVA, with the protected cruiser PALLADA, and three destroyers returned to Port Arthur. The night was dark and cloudy, and though the Japanese destroyers and torpedo boats attacked repeatedly, they failed with their torpedoes as completely as ion June 23rd, though on this occasion the upper works of the Russian ships had been much knocked about. They succeeded, however, in cutting off the Russian destroyer BURNY and forced her to run ashore on the Shantung coast. The Japanese had torpedo Boat No 38 hit and damaged by a torpedo-possibly one of their own-with 9 casualties. Of the other Russian ships, most sought on various excuses to reach neutral ports instead of proceeding to Vladivostock, as they were ordered; and despite the Japanese destroyers and torpedo craft they got away in the darkness. The TZESAREVITCH with the NOVIK and three destroyers reached Kiaochau, at which German port the TZESAREVITCH was interned with the destroyers. The NOVIK coaled and alone made a gallant attempt to reach Vladivostock. The ASKOLD and GROZOVOI (destroyer) reached Shanghai; and the DIANA steamed to Saigon where the French interned her.
As for the NOVIK, after shipping as much coal as she was allowed to take onboard, she steamed out into the Pacific, to run round Japan by the eastern coast. She was sighted on her voyage, and the cruisers Tsushima and Chitose were sent to cut her off. After looking for her in Tsugaru Strait, they learned that she had been seen off Kunashiri, which indicated that she was bound for Soya Straits, further north. There, on August 20th, the Tsuchima found her coaling at the Russian port of Korsakovsk in the island of Sakhalin. The NOVIK came boldly out to fight, late in the afternoon of that day. She had a broadside of four 4.7-inch guns (180 pounds); the Tsushima one of four 6-inch guns (400 pounds). The action opened at 6,000 yards and closed with the Tsushima’s retreat. The Japanese cruiser had been hit on the port water line by a 4.7-inch shell which filled two compartments and gave her a serious list, compelling her to withdraw and effect repairs, but she had no casualties. The NOVIK was badly wrecked, with five hits on the waterline, and 4 killed and 13 wounded. She had to creep back to Korsakovsk, where the Chitose found her next day, abandoned and scuttled in shallow water, and fired a few shell into her. She was afterwards salved and repaired by the Japanese.
In certain respects this battle of august 10th or of the Yellow Sea was a curious anticipation of Jutland. The Russian Fleet when caught at a signal disadvantage, after the Japanese had sustained serious damage in the preliminary stage, was forced back into port without being annihilated. Togo, unlike Nelson, shrank from continuing the action till his enemy was destroyed. As his margin of advantage was so small and precarious, Togo’s decision was justifiable, but in the light of events its seems that the really well led, but thoroughly disciplined and seamanlike navy, such as the Japanese undoubtedly was, had little to fear, and three was nothing to prevent Togo from maintaining a range of 2,000 yards, which should have been decisive and attended by no excessive risk. If Togo had closed, it is as certain as anything in human affairs can be, that he would have ended there and then the history of the Port Arthur fleet and prevented the despatch of any reinforcing fleet to the East by Russia.
Never again did the Port Arthur fleet attempt to offer battle, but it continued in existence, a constant menace. It had now shrunk from seven battleships to five, with one armoured cruiser and one protected cruiser (out of the original eight). Its other ships were at the bottom or interned. Its destroyer flotilla had fallen twenty-five to twelve effective boats. Its spirits was broken and its men were taunted with cowardice by the garrison, not very justly, seeing that its calamites were mostly due to political mismanagement. But it still floated.
The Japanese armoured ships in line, excluding the Asama, fired some 5,000 projectiles from guns of 12-inch to 6-inch calibre (about forty rounds per gun) and made about five or six percent of hits. The Russians fired 3,400 projectiles from 12-inch to 6-inch guns (about thirty-five rounds per gun) from their six armoured ships, and made thirty-two direct hits on Japanese ships, apart from hits on yards and rigging and apart from hits by the splinters inflicted by nine other heavy shells. Thus they registered more than one percent of hits. The Japanese projectiles were mostly high explosive and for that reason nearly burst on striking armour without perforating.
The TZESAREVITCH had fifteen hits by 12-inch shell, but was in all vital respects intact, though her after funnel was shattered and much picturesque damage had been done to her upper works. She had one hit below the waterline that forced in an armour plate and filled a small compartment with 150 tons of water. One 8-inch shell pierced the thin armour of a 6-inch turret. The RETVISAN had two hits on the waterline, one of which is believed to have penetrated, and she had numerous hits elsewhere, but her damage was mainly superficial. Thirty-nine projectiles hit the PERESVIET; two 12-inch shells hit her fore turret and jammed it, and one of her 10-inch guns was permanently out of action by a 6-pounder shell. She received several waterline hits, one of which forward caused her to ship 160 tons of water, and compelled the flooding of a compartment on the other side to bring her to an even trim. Splinters from a 12-inch shell damaged steam pipes in her central engine room, and when she returned to Port Arthur she was exceedingly deep in the water.
The SEVASTOPOL was on fire seven times and was hit on her armour three times below the waterline, and each time the armour was so shaken that there was leakage. Four heavy shells struck her thin 6-inch armour; two high explosive shells burst leaving only the trace of the hit, but two armour piercing projectiles did considerable damage and destroyed an electric shell hoist. The unprotected portion of the ship was much knocked about, but the injuries were not really serious. The POLTAVA was hit by a heavy shell under her fore turret and by a second just forward of her after turret. The POBIEDA had numerous hits but, like all the other Russian ships, had suffered no vital injury. The ASKOLD, DIANA, PALLADA and NOVIK escaped with superficial injury and damage to funnels.
Of the hits on the Russian ships ten percent, were on or near the waterline; and of the twelve Russian heavy gun turrets six were not hit, one was hit on the roof, three were hit and protected by the armour, and two were hit and put out of action. In the Japanese armoured ships ten percent of the Russian hits were on the waterline and ten percent, on the heavy guns positions. Armour on those positions stopped one direct hit and fragments of two other projectiles. The average of casualties caused by 6-inch shells was about the same per shell as that caused by 12-inch and 10-inch shells. The Mikasa showed twenty-two heavy hits and suffered much severer loss than any other ship in either fleet. The Asahi had a hit below the waterline. Details of the damage to their ships were suppressed by the Japanese, but were confidentially disclosed to the British Navy. Externally, the Mikasa had a battered appearance. On the second stage of the battle the muzzle was cut off the right 12-invh guns in her turret and the left gun was also out of action. By the efforts of the personnel all vessels in the Japanese Fleet were ready to engage again in forty-eight hours after the battle, when provisional repairs had been carried out. But the defective or damaged guns could not be so quickly repaired.
The following are the official figures for the loss in the two fleets in the main battle:
Three Japanese armoured ships, beside the Asama, which was only slightly engaged, escaped without any loss, and the Fuji was never hit. The large proportion of Russian wounded is curious.
A comparison of forces for the larger ships seriously engaged (armoured ship and s and the larger protected cruisers) give the following results: -
The broadside from the Japanese armoured ships consisted of sixteen 12-inch, one 10-inch, fourteen 8 –inch of ships of fifteen12-inch, eight 10-inch and twenty-nine 6-inch shells. From the protected Japanese cruisers (Chitose, Kasagi, Takasago) it consisted of six 8-inch and fifteen 5.7-inch shells; from the Russian protected cruisers pf seventeen 6-inch and four 4.7-inch projectiles. In addition to the above ships the Japanese had a mass of older vessels present, which occasionally fired, but took little part in the battle. The utter inefficiency of the powerfully armed Russian protected cruisers is significant.
When the Port Arthur Fleet steamed southeast on August 10th, the destroyer RIESHITELNY was ordered to proceed to Chefoo, which despatches, and then to steam to Kiaochau and disarm. She reached Chefoo though chased by two Japanese destroyers, Asashiho and Kasmuri, which waited for her to come out, but when she did not, went in and after a parley with the Russian commander, carried her off. The reason for this action was that the Japanese doubted whether China was a strong enough neutral to disarm and detain her; and if not completely disarmed, the RIESHITEELNT would have been a grave danger in the rear of the Japanese squadron before Port Arthur. The action taken in her case by the Japanese was precisely similar to that taken by the British in 1915 in the case of the German cruiser Dresden.
It is now time to turn to the doings of the Vladivostock squadron, composed of the three armoured cruisers, ROSSIA (flag), GROMOBOI and RURIK, which with the fast protected cruiser BOGATYR. This force (under Captain Reitzensteinat the outset and afterwards under Rear Admiral Yessen) had orders to raid the Japanese coast and line of communications, with the object of compelling the Japanese Navy to make detachments. The Japanese strategy against it was simple and sound. From time to time when the situation at Port Arthur allowed, strong Japanese forces made demonstrations against Vladivostock, challenging the Russians to fight. But for the most part the Japanese relied on the menace to hold the Vladivostock force in check. They maintained two squadrons of protected cruisers under Kataoka with a number of torpedo craft, in the Spirits of Tsushima. On February 9th the Russians put to sea and steamed to the neighbourhood of the Straits of Tsugaru, where they sank a small Japanese vessel, returning on February 14th.
On February 24th they made a second sortie and steamed to Gensan in Korea, returning without having accomplished anything. They had a good opportunity of striking, the 6th consisting of the Idzumi (Rear Admiral Togo), Suma and Akitsushima, had been sent off to Shanghai on February 17th to secure the effective disarmament of the Russian MANDJUR, which was lying there; and though the Idzumi and Suma were back early in March, the Akitsushima had to remain at shanghai till the end of the month before her object was attained. Learning that the Vladivostock ships had been seen off Gensan, the Japanese Staff decided to demonstrate in force off Vladivostock, and sent there on March 2nd Kamimura with a powerful force composed of the Idzumo, Asama, Yakumo, Iwate, armoured cruisers, and Kasagi and Yoshino, protected cruisers. They found the coast frozen up, except for a channel through the ice cut for the Russian ships, and after firing a few shells on March 6th at the forts at extreme range, returned. So effective was this demonstration that the Russian Squadron was ordered by Alexeieff not to go more than a day’s run from Vladivostock, and it ceased for several weeks to exert any menace.
On April 16th, Kamimura was ordered to carry out another demonstration and took with him five armoured cruisers as before (exchanging the Asama for the Kasuga), five protected cruisers, a despatch boat, ten torpedo craft and mine layers, and steamed to Gensan, arriving there on April 22nd. He left behind him there the steamer Kinshu Maru with four torpedo boats and proceeded on the 23rd for Vladivosdtock; but ran into fog which grew thicker as he steamed north, till in the afternoon of the 24th he turned. By a curious coincidence the Russian cruiser ROSSIA, GROMOBOI and BOGATYR, with two torpedo boats under Rear-Admiral Yessen, had left Vladivostock the previous day and on the 24th had detected the wireless signals of Kamimura’s squadron near at hand, when Kamimura was going in the opposite direction, north.
Yessen stood onto Gensan and there destroyed a small Japanese steamer on the 25th. He caught and sank a second small steamer to the north and about midnight of the 25th-26th came upon the Kinshu Maru. Owing to rough weather the four Japanese torpedo boats had left her to take shelter. She had onboard 124 Japanese infantry; and the Russians gave them an hour to surrender. They refused for the most part, and when the period of grace expired the Russians fired a torpedo to which the Japanese replied by discharging their rifles until finally the Kinshu Maru was sunk by a second torpedo. Of those onboard forty-five reached the Korean coast. According to the Japanese official account the Japanese were prepared to surrender and there was a misunderstanding. In any case the gallant behaviour of the Japanese soldiers made a deep impression at the time.
Kamimura on april 26th, on his return to German, learnt that the Russians had been off that port and at once hurried back towards Vladivostock to try to intercept them. He was too late, but he laid a number of mines off Vladivostock before he withdrew. He had been most unlucky; a little later, however, the Russians in their turn were visited with misfortune when, on May 15th, the BOGATYR ran aground near Vladivostock and was so much that though she was got off she took no more part in the war. On June 12th, the ROSSIA (flag) GROMOBOI and RURIK, now under Vice Admiral Bezobrazoff, left to attack Japanese communications in the Straits of Korea and during the morning of the 15th appeared west of Shimonoseki in foggy weather. The Japanese protected cruiser Tsushima on patrol duty sighted them at 7.40 a.m. and despite attempted jamming of her signals by the Russian ships, gave the alarm by wireless. She then attempted to maintain contact, but from time to time lost the Russians in rain and of though she heard at moments the sound of firing.
What had happened was that the Russian cruisers had struck the Japanese line of communications and the service of transports going and coming from the Yellow Se. The Idzumi Maru with invalids coming from Dalny was first sighted, and when the attempted to escape was fired upon and sunk. The Russians took 105 prisoners from her and 7 men were killed and 25 wounded in her. Next the Russian squadron came upon the large steamer Hitachi Maru, with 1,000 troops and eighteen 11-inch howitzers for Port Arthur onboard the all precious Japanese siege train-and immediately fire upon her as she attempted to escape. Of her officers several were killed, including three Englishmen who stood gallantly to their duty to the last; of the troops onboard many committed suicide, but the ship did not sink till 3 p.m. though she had been attacked at 10 a.m. In all, Japanese fishing vessels saved her 189 men of those onboard. About the same time the Russians, who gave those onboard forty minutes to quit the vessel, sighted the steamer Sado Maru with 600 non-combatants and 400 soldiers and crew onboard. This was reasonable, as the risk to the cruisers grew with each minutes delay; the non-combatants had quitted her when the time expired and two torpedoes fired at her. Without waiting to see whether she went down the Russians steamed off, but the Sado Maru still floated and was ultimately salved.
Kamimura was at Tsushima with the four armoured cruisers, Idzumo, Adzuma, Tokiwa and Iwate, the Naniwa protected cruiser, and eight torpedo boats, when he received the alarm and issued a general order for the stoppage of traffic. He steamed towards the scene of action and at once ran into thick fog, in which he groped in vain for the Russians. Finally he proceeded northwards to try to cut them off, but failed as Bezobrazoff had steered for the Tsugaru Straits, making a wide detour and seizing en route the British steamer Allanton with a cargo of Yezo. Thence the Russians safely returned to Vladivostock on June 20th. This cruise was the only one, which had any serious effect in the war, as the loss of the heavy 11-inch howitzers in the Hiotachi Maru was a great disaster. While the Russian cruisers were at sea three Russian torpedo boats raided the northern coast of Japan and captured or destroyed four small vessels.
Special precautions were taken after this unfortunate affair to protect the Japanese transports, though it was not possible to give them convoy. Indignation against Kamimura in Japan was general, and he was certainly not a lucky commander, but his task was one of extraordinary difficulty, and he discharged it faithfully and zealously. The Russians with the armed steamer LENA and eight torpedo boats, as well as the armoured cruisers, left Vladivostock on June 27th to raid Gensan, and there destroyed two little Japanese vessels, but lost one of their torpedo boats, which was damaged by running ashore. The three cruisers then turned south and on July 1st were close to the Straits of Tsushima when, at 6.40 p.m. Kamimura with his four armoured cruisers and five other cruisers sighted them and gave chase. Night fell before he could close and attack them, and in the darkness they vanished. They regained Vladivostock on July 3rd, seizing on the way the British steamer Cheltenham that had Japanese railway material onboard. On July 17 yet another sortie was made, this time under Yessen. The three cruisers steamed through the Tsugaru straits on July 20th and were north of Tokyo Bay on the 22nd.
They cruised in that neighbourhood till the 25th when, short of coal, they returned having captured nine vessels, five of them neutrals and having sunk seven if their captured. Among the vessels sunk were the British steamer Knight Commander with railway material for Japan, and the German steamer Thea with a cargo of fish. The Russian returned to Vladivostock on August 1st by the Tsugaru Straits. Kamimura, during this sortie, was ordered to keep his force between the Vladistock and the Port Arthur ships, and in case the Vladivostock ships attempted to join the Port Arthur force, to fall back before them on the Yellow Sea and finally give battle when off shunting. This enabled Togo to reinforce him, or him to reinforce Togo as conditions might require and was thoroughly judicious strategy.
On Vitgeft’s departure from Port Arthur the REISHITELNY by a telegram from Chefoo warned the Vladivostock ships that he was on his way to Vladivostock by the Straits of Korea. Yessen received the news on August 11th and next day left with the ROSSIA, GROMOBOI and RUEIK for the Straits, unaware as yet that the Port Arthur fleet had been beaten and forced back. At Daybreak of August 14th he was thirty-six miles northeast of Tsushima when Kamimura’s four armoured cruisers were sighted, having just returned from a cruise off Quelpart, where the Japanese admiral had gone to try to intercept fugitive ships from Port Arthur. Kamimura had with him the Idzumo (flag), Adzuma, Tokiwa and Iwate (flag of Rear-Admiral Mizu), and expected to come upon the Russian squadron from Vladivostock. At 4.25 a.m. lights were seen to the south of him, and he steered towards them. As the morning mist lifted the forms of Yessen’s ships emerged where the lights had been. The day was clear and there was a gentle south wind. At 5 a.m. Kamimura was six miles from the Russians and on their line of retreat to Vladivostock. He gave the alarm by wireless, increased speed, and hoisted the battle flags in the four ships.
Yessen has been criticised for not timing his arrival in the Straits during the hours of darkness. But if he wanted to meet Vitgeft it was advisable for him to be there when it was light, when the range of vision was considerable, as no rendezvous with the Port Arthur force had been concerted. When he saw the Japanese squadron, he realised that the sortie from Port Arthur had failed and that, as his enemy was between him and Vladivostock, he had little chance of escaping without a battle; he was so inferior in force that he could do nothing but try to bolt. About 5.20 Kamimura’s squadron opened fire at a range of 9,200 yards. Both squadrons were going almost due east; the Japanese east south east to close the range; and the Russians were to starboard and slightly astern of the Japanese. The course of the two squadrons was thus slowly converging, and as the range fell, first the Japanese 6-inch guns and then the 12-pounders came into action. The Russians replied with energy. The broadsides of the two squadrons were as follows:
The Japanese, owing in part to the superior disposition of their guns, had an enormous advantage in weight of metal, and they were also much better gunners. An artillery fight in such conditions could have only one result. The Idzumo and Iwate fired at the RURIK; the Adzuma at the ROSSIA; and the Tokiwa at the GROMOBOI. At 5.52 the range had fallen to 5,500 yards, and the RURIK was fast dropping astern.
At this point of the action the Russians turned away to starboard. Fires could be seen burning fiercely in all the three Vladivostock cruisers. Kamimura was going about a knot faster than they, as they were handicapped by the slop RURIK, and it was because he gained upon them and headed them off that they turned. If he had eased down, maintained a position on their beam and slowly closed in, probably all would have been over quickly. His predominance in gun force was marked, the ascendancy he had already gained was so evident, that a Russian victory was out of the question. He knew that Togo had defeated the Russians in the Yellow Sea three days earlier without losing a single Japanese ship, so that he could afford to take reasonable risks. But he preferred cautious tactics. Yessen’s position was becoming so desperate that at 6 a.m. the ROSSIA and GROMOBOI turned sixteen points to starboard, away from the Japanese, inverting the direction of their movement, and thus as they returned enabled the RURIK, which was far astern, to fall into station.
The Japanese did not follow Yessen’s move for some minutes, and then turned to port, away from the Russians, opening the range to about 9,000 yards. Kamimura thus gave his shaken a respite, for fire had to be suspended for some minutes until the Japanese, steering a northwest course generally parallel to the Russians but slightly converging on them, were again able to open. At this moment the RURIK’S steering gear broke down, and out of control, with her rudder jammed over to port, she turned to starboard towards the Japanese and was subjected to their concentrated fire at 6,000 yards. She continued, and with her tiller and steering engine compartments filling from shot holes, nothing could be done to right her.
At 6.43 Yessen turned the ROSSIA and GROMOBOI to give her aid; though in the circumstances the sounder course would have been for him to do what Hipper did at the Dogger Bank and leave her to her fate, as then he would have been certain of getting away with the two faster Russian cruisers. The Japanese followed Yessen’s movements and for some minutes engaged him at 6,000 yards. After this for an hour the range was opened and closed again, varying between 7,000 and 5,000 yards as each side marched and countermarched about the damaged RURIK. The ROSSIA was now badly on fire and most of her guns were out of action; the GROMOBOI appeared to be much damaged; and the RURIK as she circled was slowly sinking with her stern heavily down.
The Japanese had not escaped unscathed; an 8-inch shell had caused a violent explosion and great conflagration in the Iwate. About 7.20 the Japanese poured a concentrated fire into the RURIK at ranges from 4,200 to 6,000 yards and put all her guns except two or three out of action; and at 8.22 a.m. Yessen turned away finally northwards, abandoning the RUBIK. His own flagship, the ROSSIA was shrouded in dense smoke from a great fire in her hull. Kamimura followed the ROSSIA and GROMOBOI, as in the last series of manoeuvres he had allowed them to get to the north of him, though he had the advantage in speed. The old Japanese cruisers Naniwa and Takachiho had arrived and with their batteries (each five 6-inch quick firers on the broadside) were firing vigorously into the RURIK.
The closing act of the engagement was a running combat at long range between Kamimura’s four armoured cruisers and the two damaged Russian ships. The Russians appear to have steamed almost as fast as the Japanese, and Kamimura made no very determined effort to close with them. At 9.30 the Adzuma, second in his line, had trouble with her engines and for some time dropped astern; twenty minutes later the Russians ceased fire and thereafter only discharged an occasional shot. In the Japanese ships the gun crews began to show exhaustion an the rate of fire diminished markedly. At 10 Kamimura was informed that ammunition in the Idzumo was running low, and as the ROSSIA and GROMOBOI were maintaining their speed, he decided to turn and devote the rest of his munitions to the destruction of the Rurik, not being satisfied that the two old Japanese cruisers would be able to deal with her. It was a mistake, for an hour after he had turned he received a wireless message to the effect that she had sunk at 10,42 a.m.
Thus the engagement was in many respects similar to that fought in 1915 on the Dogger Bank. The oldest ship in the weaker squadron was destroyed; the better and more modern ships were able to escape. In either case too much attention was given to the destruction of a vessel, which was completely beaten. Kamimura’s tactics were severely criticised at the time, but he was so good, resolute and energetic an officer that he must have supposed it his duty to fight at long range. Once more the comparative uselessness of the torpedo at that date was illustrated. One was fired by the RURIK at the Iwate without effect; had the weight which in Kamimura’s squadron was devoted to eighteen tubes and their 18-inch torpedoes been given to ammunition, the whole Vladivostock squadron might have been destroyed. But as it was, the fighting temper of the Russian crews was so shaken never again did they venture to try conclusions with the Japanese. The losses were:
The Idzumo received over twenty hits; the Adzuma ten; the Iwate two hits by 8-inch shells and three others by guns of smaller calibre; and the Tokiwa three. The Naniwan and Takachiho each sustained one hit; so that perhaps the total made by the Russians was between forty and fifty, from the 2,000 rounds of 8-inch and 6-inch ammunition which they are estimated to have discharged. This gives a percentage of 2.5 and in view of their great gunnery inferiority and the considerable range points to respectable shooting. The heavy losses of the GROMOBOI and RURIK were probably due to the absence of protection for most of their broadside guns, and to the fact that the gun crews for the smaller weapons were kept at action stations. The hits on the Russian ships which survived were thirty-one on the ROSSIA’S hull, including four on her armour, and eleven near her waterline; and twenty-seven on the GROMOBOI, including four on her armour and six near the waterline. It is calculated by Sir R. Custance that the total of all hits on the ROSSIA and GROMOBOI, including those on masts, yards, boats and funnels, was ninety apiece with 150 on the RURIK. The Japanese fired 958 8-inch and 4.528 6-inch projectiles, which gives six percent of hits, or just double the percentage obtained by the Russians.
The damage inflicted on the ROSSIA and GROMOBOI was such as could be easily repaired. Captain Klado, who saw them, states. “At first sight all produced the impression of a dreadful wreck, but after a minute examination I was forced to declare that in reality there was no damage of a very serious character. A month after the battle all repairs were completed and that, too with the poor resources which Vladivostock possessed.” In the ROSSIA all but four of the guns of 8-inch and 6-inch calibre were irreparably damaged in the GROMOBOI, which had better armoured protection, three were disabled. The Iwate was greatly damaged by a hit from an 8-inch shell, which she sustained and which caused all her heavy casualties (77). It entered by the roof of a 6-inch casemate, detonated a large quantity of ammunition, and put three 6-inch guns permanently out of action besides wrecking the neighbouring part of the ship. It was probably the most deadly shot of the naval war.
By breaking off the two actions of August, Togo and Kamimura transgressed
the “cardinal rule of warfare that once battle is accepted no effort should be
spared to make the decisive.” In
Kamimura’s case the transgression had no grave consequence.
The total mischief done by the Vladivostock squadron during its period of
activity was to sink or capture thirteen Japanese and six neutral steamers, and
damage one Japanese transport. Only
in the case of the Hitachi Maru and the siege train was serious trouble caused
to the Japanese. Moreover, the
Russians had extraordinary good luck; twice at least they were saved by fog when
Kamimura was close to them.
The destruction of the Port Arthur fleet had yet to be accomplished. It was left to the Japanese army, and as far as was practicable the powerful Japanese warships were spared the work of cruising in the mine down waters around the Kwangtung peninsula, though they were held ready at the Elliot Islands base. Torpedo craft and old vessels watched the fortress, but all possible care could not prevent the occasional loss of vessels. On August 25th, during the first assault on Port Arthur, the Kasuga and Nisshin shelled at long range the Russian works on the extreme east flank of the Port Arthur front. On September 2nd the destroyer Hayatori struck a mine and sank rapidly with the loss of 20 of her crew; on September 18th the old armoured ship Heiyen struck a mine amidships and was lost with 197 officers and men, only four of those onboard escaping with their lives. On September 28th however, Japanese naval guns, which had been disembarked, opened from the batteries on the Russian ships, and made several hits on them.
On October 1st 11-inch howitzers, which had been taken from the Japanese coast fortification, joined in this attack from the siege batteries, but the Russians replied by shifting their vessels to anchorages, which were not within view of the Japanese. Now and again there were alarms of Russian sorties, and on October 11th, nine Russian destroyers steamed out southwest of Port Arthur and shelled the Japanese troops from the rear. On October 26th the precious battleship Asahi had a very narrow escape. Near the Elliot Islands she struck a floating mine, but it exploded abreast of her armour and did little damage. She had, however to be detached for repairs, and the incident strengthened Togo’s anxiety for the immediate capture of Port Arthur. This was the more necessary as a large Russian reinforcing fleet under the Rojestvensky was now very slowly moving towards the east.
In Port Arthur the naval command had been placed in the hands of Rear admiral Viren, an energetic and gallant officer, who decided that a sortie was impossible owing to the short age of ammunition, the number of guns that had been landed, and the loss of important ratings among the Russiancrews. But for the help of the Russian Navy, there can be no doubt whatever that the fortress would not have been able to hold out. On November 6th the Japanese gunboat Atago was wrecked, but without loss of life. As the Japanese had no military balloons available, Nogi commanding the 3rd Army, determined at whatever cost, of life to storm 203-Metre Hill, which gives good observation over Port Arthur harbour and would enable the Japanese heavy guns to complete destruction of the Russian Fleet. The assault began on November 27th and continued thenceforth almost without intermission. This fearful encounter closed in the afternoon of December 5th, when a Japanese naval observation point was at last established on the summit and the fire of the 11-inch siege howitzers was turned on the Russian ships. Thus land power was used to do the work which sea power might have accomplished in the battle of August 10th. One after another the Russian ships were sunk by concentrated attack till only SEVASTOPOL was left. She steamed outside the harbour and anchored close in shore, behind boom defences and various obstructions, where the Japanese guns could not get at her; and she had with her gunboat OTVAJNY and three destroyers.
Between December 9th and 16th she was attacked night after night by thirty Japanese torpedo boats, which fired between them ninety-torpedoes at her. Of these only four took effect, and none of them inflicted disabling injuries on her. The Russian destroyer SERDITY was out of action by one hit, and three others caused bad leaks in the SEVASTOPOL’S hull. The Japanese casualties were two boats (Nos 42 and 53) sunk, 34 killed and 17 wounded. The attacks, though delivered with extreme courage, were thus amazingly unsuccessful, and it has been suggested that she might have been boarded and cut out with less loss of life. Her captain, Essen, into deep water, finally took the SEVASTOPOL when the surrender of Port Arthur took place, on January 2nd, and was there sunk. Of the Russian destroyers six were sent out before the fall of the fortress and reached neutral ports where they were disarmed and interned. In these last weeks of the naval war in the Yellow Sea the old Japanese cruiser Saiyen on November 30th ran on a mine and sank with the loss of 38 officers and men; and the fine cruiser Takasago in the night of December 12-13th was mined and sunk with a loss of 274 officers and men. Two days earlier the Akashi struck a mine but, though she was for some hours in extreme danger, she was got safely into Dalny and there repaired.
As the net result of the Port Arthur campaign a Russian force of seven battleships, one armoured cruiser, five protected cruisers, twenty-nine destroyers, minelayers, and torpedo gunboats, with numerous other small craft was destroyed, captured or driven into interment, and lost to Russia either finally or for the term of the war. In addition, the Vladivostock squadron had one of its cruisers and four torpedo boats sunk, while two more of its cruisers had been rendered under serviceable, the GROMOBOI having run on a rock and sustained great damage just after her repairs had been completed, following the engagement in the Japan Sea. The Japanese loss down to this point had been two battleships, two protected cruisers, two destroyers, four torpedo boats, and six old vessels, gunboats and small cruisers. All the damaged ships at Port Arthur fell into Japanese hands and preparations were at once made to raise certain of them and recondition them. But this would necessarily be a work involving time and there was no prospect of their playing any part in the war.
The Japanese warships, so soon as the operations at Port Arthur released them from duty, were sent back to the Japanese dockyards for thorough overhaul and repair, that they might be ready to meet the Russian Baltic Fleet. On December 25th, Togo left the Elliot Islands base, placing Vice Admiral Kataoka in command of a force of seven cruisers, three auxiliary cruisers, five destroyers, one torpedo boat division and nine armed vessels to give any aid to the army that was needed. The reconditioning of the battleships and armoured cruisers was taken in hand with the extremist energy. Machinery and boilers were overhauled and worn guns were replaced. After the armoured ships followed the cruisers and torpedo craft. The whole shipbuilding power of Japan was exerted to the utmost, and the work went rapidly forward. Meantime Togo in Tokyo conferred with the Supreme Command, which was in the hands of Admiral Count Ito, and settled the plan of operations.
The Staff decided to concentrate the main force in the straits of Korea and they’re to await the Russians. To prevent vessels from leaving or reaching Vladivostock Rear admiral Mizu was sent to the Straits of Tsugaru with the Adzuma and Asama, and on January 5th took over command there, having also under his orders two old vessels and the 4th torpedo Boat flotilla. As he was wanted for service in the main fleet Rear Admiral Shimamura replaced him on January 22nd. The Japanese watch was extended to the Soya Straits so that access to Vladivostock now became impossible without an action. This was the first long-range blockade of the type subsequently carried out by England against Germany.
To ascertain whether the Russians were preparing secret bases and to intimidate them, on December 2nd the Japanese auxiliary cruisers Hongkong Maru and Nippon Maru steamed to Singapore, Batavia and Cambodia, returning to Sasebo on January 18th 1905. About the same time the protected cruiser Niitaka examined the south coast of China and visited Luzon, returning to Sasebo on January 11th. Finally on February 27th Vice Admiral Dewa with the fast protected cruisers, Kasagi and Chitose, the auxiliary cruisers, American Maru and Yawata Maru, and the special service ship Hikoyama Maru, once more examined the southern China coast, Hainan and the Annamese coast, actually visiting Kamranh and Van Fong Bays which a few weeks later were used by the Russians. On March 15th he was at Singapore and thence returned having discovered no trace of Russian colliers or store ships.
These movements alarmed the neutrals supplying the Batlic Fleet with coal and provisions and thus added greatly to the difficulty of the Russian task. Dewa regained Masampo, in the extreme south of Korea, which was now the main base of the Japanese Fleet, on April 1st. At Masampo the Japanese were completely lost to the world, though reports that they were there reached Rojestvensky. The place was a carefully isolated as was Capa Flow, and Sylvia Basin and Douglas Inlet afforded vast sheltered sheets of water, which formed one of the best harbours in Asia.
Their Togo proposed to wait the arrival of his adversary. His fleet had received three new destroyers completed by the Japanese yards; one refitted Russian destroyer (in the RIESHITELNY, renamed Akatzuki) and one torpedo boat, besides the light cruiser Otowa, completed at the end of 1904. The Akashi was still absent undergoing repairs, but rejoined before the battle was fought. All the other effective Japanese units were now ready and were probably in better condition than at the outbreak of war, as many minor improvements had been carried out, and provision was made for carrying a large additional supply of ammunition in most of them. The fleet was frequently exercised by Togo who arrived on February 21st, until in manoeuvres and long range firing its war seasoned crews showed extraordinary proficiency.
In April, Vladivostock was thoroughly mined, so as to permit all possible force to be withdrawn south for the struggle with the Baltic Fleet. Only half a dozen vessels of insignificant military value were left to watch the Tsugaru Straits. The Japanese believed in concentration and they had good reason to disregard the few Russian ships left at Vladivostock. On May 23rd the GROMOBOI, which had gone out to test her wireless, struck a mine and sustained great damage. No attempt was made by the Vladivostock cruisers to give Rojestvensky any support. After the North Sea incident the Japanese Press very cleverly spread reports suggesting that the Japanese Navy was preparing torpedo attacks against the Russians even at remote points.
As for the Russian reinforcing fleet, which was generally known as the Baltic Fleet, though its official title was the Second Pacific Squadron, the first portion of it left Libau on October 15th 1904, under Vice Admiral Rojestvensky, who was fifty-seven years of age, and was regarded as one of the best officers in the Russian Navy. He had with his seven battleships (KNIAZ SUVAROFF, IMPERATOR ALEXANDER III, BORODINO, OREL, OSLIABIA, SISSOI VELIKI, and NAVARIN); two old armoured cruisers (ADMIRAL NAKHIMOFF and DMITRI DONSKOI); four light cruisers (AURORA, SVIETLANA, JEMCHUG, ALMAZ); seven destroyers, and nine auxiliary and store ships. The Russian Government with the German Hamburg-Amerika Company had concluded a contract, by which that company undertook to coal the Russian ships. Before he left the Baltic, Rojestvensky showed extraordinary nervousness about the possibility of Japanese torpedo attack, and on passing through the Great Belt he ordered the channel to be swept for mines, though owing to the inexperience of his crews the order could not be properly carries out.
His ships seem to have made it a practice to fire at any craft, which they saw and which looked at all like a torpedo vessel. When off the Skaw they shelled Norwegian steamers but without hitting them. During daylight on October 20th, the Russian auxiliary steamer KAMCHATKA fired at the Swedish steamer Aldebaran, the French sailing ship GUYANE and the German trawler Sonntag. In the night of October 21st-22nd Rojestvensky’s fleet steamed right into the midst of the British trawler fleet on the Dogger Bank, the presence of which was well known and noted in the Sailing Directions, and about 1 a.m. opened fire, professing that there were Japanese torpedo boats among the trawlers. The fire was maintained for several minutes. One trawler, the Crane, was sunk, and five more were hit. Two British fishermen were killed and 6 were wounded. What caused the more astonishment and indignation was that, when the Russians were aware they had made a mistake, they gave no aid to the trawlers and did not send in a ship to a British port to report the mistake and apologise for it. Thus they violated one of the great customs of the sea. In their confusion the Russian vessels turned their guns on one another, and the AURORA was hit five times and had her chaplain mortally wounded.
The danger to non-combatants of a fleet, which thus fired recklessly on vessels that it happened to meet when it was thousands of miles from any possible adversary, was most serious. But the British Government was anxious to avoid a breach with Russia, and in the end, after a promise had been given by the Russian authorities that there would be no more of these attacks on neutral shipping, the matter was referred to an International Commission. This sat at Paris from December 1904 to February 1905, and issued a “white washing” report exculpating Rojestvensky, but regretting that he had not informed the British Government of his mistake. The Russian Government paid compensation to the amount of £65,000 to the victims and their relatives.
Meanwhile, Folkersam, with a section of the Baltic Fleet, had coaled in the Channel outside territorial waters, off Brighton, while Rojestvensky with the battleships put into the Spanish port of Vigo, where he was permitted to take 400 tons of coal onboard each of his larger ships. This was a questionable proceeding on the part of the Spanish authorities, but the voyage of the Baltic Fleet would have speedily closed had neutrals observed the principles of international law and refused to allow their waters and ports to be used as bases for hostile operations by either of the belligerents. From Vigo Rojestvensky went to Tangier. There, according to a previously arranged plan, the fleet was to divide, the heavier ships, which were too deep in the water to use the Suez Canal, proceeding by the Cape to Madagascar while the lighter ships under Rear admiral Folkersam steamed by Suez to the same point. Rojestvensky systematically used neutral waters for coaling, filling up his bunkers at Dakar and the Gaboon River. When neutrals object5ed or Japan protested to them, he made a show of yielding to their complaints or declared that his ships were really outside territorial waters. The French authorities were easy going enough in the dealings with him, but even so, he repeatedly disregarded their requests, and if Japan had been disposed to press matters the French Government would have found itself involved in serious difficulties as the result of his conduct.
Rojestvensky was allowed to use French harbours in Madagascar and Cochin China as if they had been Russian naval bases and to spend weeks there. Nothing of the kind had even been seen before in modern naval war. The rule usual at that date-that a neutral should not permit the stay of a belligerent vessel for longer than twenty-four hours in his ports-was regularly transgressed by the Russians and by the neutral Powers dealing with them. In fact the Baltic Fleet ships scarcely ever remained less than forty-eight hours in a neutral port; on the coast of Madagascar they were in French waters for nearly three months and on the Cochin china coast for nearly a month.
After Rojestvensky’s and Folkersam’s squadrons followed a detachment under Captain Dobrotvorsky of two cruisers (OLEG and IZUMRUD), five destroyers (of which three from various defects had to be left behind on the voyage to Madagascar) and three auxiliary cruisers or armed ships. The whole force effected its concentration at Nossi Be in Madagascar on March 16th 1905, long after Port Arthur had fallen.
In mid January 1905, the Russian Government itself seems to have realised that it was setting Rojestvensky and his fleet a task which they could not perform. It therefore telegraphed a statement of its views to him. It held that in consequence of the fall of Port Arthur the Baltic Fleet would have to perform a mission of the highest importance to secure command of the sea and cut the communications of the Japanese armies in Manchuria. If Rojestvensky thought his force too weak to fulfil this task then all available ships would be sent to reinforce him. He was asked to state his opinion, and he did so in the following uncompromising message:
“I have not the slightest prospect of recovering command of the sea with the force under my orders.
“The despatch of reinforcements composed of untested and in some cases badly built vessels would only render the fleet more vulnerable.
“In my view the only possible course is to use all force to break through to Vladivostock and from the base to threaten the enemy’s communications.”
In conclusion he told the Russian Government that the long stay in Madagascar had injured the health and spirits of the crew, and added that his own health was bad and that he wished to be relieved. As the Spanish Government had neglected Cervera’s warnings, so the Russian Government ignored Rojestvensky’s advice. It was afraid to abandon an enterprise, which had been undertaken when conditions were totally different.
So long as Port Arthur held out and paralysed an important part of the Japanese Navy, it was reasonable to send out a reinforcing fleet. But when Port Arthur fell and the whole strength of the Japanese could be turned against the reinforcing fleet, Rojestvensky’s mission became a desperate one. The only base remaining to Russia in the Far East was Vladivostock. This place the Russian Staff before the war had regarded as being unsuited for the operation of a large fleet. It was probably wrong in that view, but since February 1904, many things had changed. The destruction of the Port Arthur Fleet had freed the hands of the Japanese. They had no more Russian reinforcements from Europe to fear. If they met the Baltic Fleet in battle they had no doubt as to the result. If it got past them in fog they could contain it as they had contained the Vladivostock cruisers earlier in the war, and paralyse its action without any great difficulty. There would have been no need to besiege and storm Vladivostock as they had besieged and tried to storm Port Arthur.
Moreover, the pressure on the Siberian railway was such, in view of the large Russian armies in the East that no supplies of Rojestvensky’s fleet could be sent by this route to Vladivostock. Just as the arrival of Cervera’s squadron at Santiagoactually increased the difficulties of the Spanish Army in Cuba, so the arrival at Vladivostock of Rojestvensky’s large and ill found force would have increased the troubles of the Russian armies in Manchuria. The problem of supplying coal was insoluble. The Russian Government ought to have recognised these facts and have recalled the Baltic Fleet in January. If Rojestvesnky had been a stronger man he would have acted on the principles lay down by Napoleon and have resigned sooner than lead his officers and men to certain defeat and useless slaughter. His voyage to the Far East became more than ever purposeless after the Russian defeat on land at Mukden, the General result of which was known on March 10th.
Ignoring Rojestvensky’s warnings, the Russian Government in January 1905, determined to send out yet another squadron under Rear Admiral Nebogatoff, composed of old vessels-the ancient battleship NICHOLAS I, the old armoured cruiser VLADIMIR MONOMAKH, and the small coast defence ships GENERAL-ADMIRAL APRAXIN, ADMIRAL SENIAVIN and ADMIRAL USHAKOFF, with seven auxiliary vessels. This force left Libau on February 15th 1905 with orders to proceed by the Suez Canal and join Rojestvensky off Madagascar. For that its movements were too slow.
The concentration of the maximum force for a great battle is always a sound principle, and even old ships may be of service. The Japanese old vessels played an important part throughout the war, but then they were manned with admirable crews and commanded by experienced officers. Nebogatoff’s squadron, as it was said at the time, was an archaeological museum, and its officers and crews were of very poor quality. The men for the most part were peasants without any training. Rojestvensky, who was the best judge or Russian requirements, was strongly against the despatch of this squadron, and flew into a passion when he knew that it was coming out to embarrass him. His long stay at Madagascar was not due to any wish to wait for such ships as was commonly supposed at the time. It was due to the breakdown of the coaling arrangements. His German colliers declined to accompany his warships or supply them in open sea, where there was growing risk of Japanese attack as the Baltic Fleet moved east. Fresh contracts had to be made and weeks passed before these were completed.
Without waiting for Nebogatoff or informing him of his own plans, Rojestvensky on March 16th left Nossi Be. Nebogatoff at that date was still at Suda Bay in Crete, and Rojestvensky probably hoped that the Russian Government, as Nebogatoff’s force was officially described, would recall the Third Pacific Squadron. Rojestvensky himself, with the main Baltic Fleet, crossed the Indian Ocean, coaling from time to time at sea en route. It was a remarkable performance with such indifferent crews, some of them mutinous, to cover the distance of over 4,700 miles from Madagascar to Cochin China without putting into any base. He steamed through the Straits of Malacaa, passing Singapore three weeks after Dewa had appeared there, and reached Kamranh Bay, without anymore-serious misadventures than occasional breakdowns.
There were constant alarms of the Japanese. Mysterious wireless message-probably atmospherics-were said to have been taken in by the Russian instruments; balloons were seen; lights were made out; and hostile torpedo craft were several times reported. Yet in actual fact at no time were the Japanese near. At Kamranh and Van Fong Bay (which is near Kamranh) Rojestvensky waited for Nebogatoff with the tacit permission of the French naval authorities. At last, on May 9th, Nebogatoff effected his junction, and after filling up with coal on May 14th on the Cochin China coast, the force of fifty vessels set out on the last lap of its voyage, avoiding the routes usually followed by shipping, and on May 20th passed out into the Pacific north of the Philippines.
On May 22nd the armed steamers KUBAN and TEREK were detached to demonstrate on the east coast of Japan and draw on the Japanese fleet-a task, which they never seriously attempted to carry out. They vanished and took great care to keep away from the Japanese. On May 20th, the British steamer Oldhamia had been seized, though she carried no contraband, and she was sent off with these two steamers. On May 23rd the fleet coaled for the last time, each ship so adjusting her fuel storage as to have her normal quantity of coal at noon on May 26th when Rojestvensky expected to fight a fleet action. The reports that the Russian ships were enormously overloaded with coal were untrue. On that day of coaling Folkersam died. He had long been in bad health; and his flag captain in the OSLIABIA was instructed to keep his flag flying and to lead his squadron.
On May 25th the fleet was off the Saddle Islands, not far from the mouth of the Yangtze, and there six transports were detached to steam to Shanghai, after showing themselves off the islands, and to take refuge in the port. The two armed steamers RION and DNIEPER went with them and had instructions to proceed towards Port Arthur, in order to draw off the Japanese. This demonstration had not the slightest effect on the operations. Like the KUBAN and TEREK, the RION and DNIEPER were mainly anxious to get away from the neighbourhood of the Japanese.
Rojestvensky had four courses open to him when he left the Cochin China coast. He might have seized a base in the Pescadores or at some point on the Chinose coast and there have waited for the Japanese. But the Russian Government appears to have been warned that any violation of Chinese neutrality would bring into operation the British alliance and lead to the British Navy taking action. And in a temporary base Rojestvensky’s final destruction would have been certain, though he might have caused the Japanese considerable trouble before he was destroyed. Moreover he had no troops with him and no fortress material or trenching tools. A second course was to steam up the east coast of Japan and enter the Japan Sea by the Tsugaru Straits; a third course was to enter that sea by the still remoter Soya Straits. Both these straits were reported, however to have been heavily mined and they were difficult in foggy weather, which is normal in their vicinity in May and June.
It was quite possible for the Japanese fleet with its marked superiority in speed to reach them from its secret bases (the exact location of which the Russians did not know) before Rojestvensky arrived, if he did not appear in the Straits of Korea. He rejected both these routes because of difficulties of navigation and coaling and because he thought it impossible to reach Vladivostock without battle. The last course, which remained, was to proceed by the Straits of Korea, divided as they are by the island group of Tsushima into two wide channels. Of the two Rojestvensky selected the eastern one. The distance from it to Vladivostock was about 600 miles as compared with 450 miles from the Tsugaru Straits and 510 from the Soya Straits. He determined to time his arrival in the straits for noon on May 27th, fearing torpedo attack if he endeavoured to pass in the night. In this he made an important mistake. All the evidence if this war showed that the risk of torpedo attack at night at that date on an intact fleet was not excessive.
Rojestvensky up to the last seems to have hesitated between two alternatives-evading the Japanese and fighting them. He formed up his fleet in close order, compactly, so that it might have a chance of getting through the Straits of Korea unobserved if the weather was thick and the Japanese scouting negligent. But if he meant fighting a decisive battle, this close order was most dangerous because it would allow the Japanese cruisers to reconnoitre him, without his being able to ascertain their preparations and dispositions. It would give them the initiative. His dispositions may be explained by the fact that his cruisers were few and for the most part poorly armed, while he knew the Japanese cruisers to be numerous and powerful. Further, the wireless installations in most of his ships were so bad that they had not been able to transmit messages correctly over quite short distances. He kept with him several transports, which his fleet would need if it ever reached Vladivostock, though they must necessarily be a source of great anxiety in battle. The preferable plan would have been to station them a considerable distance astern till the result of the fighting could be ascertained. Rojestvensky issued full battle orders, though owing to Nebogatoff’s late arrival he had no opportunity of discussing his plans with the officer. His battle orders are open to criticism on the ground that they prepared for defeat rather than victory. Thus instructions were given for the transfer of flag officers from disabled flagships and for assistance to be rendered to disabled ships. The organisation of the fleet was not a good fighting one. The twelve battleships and coast defence were to act in one long unmanageable line ahead or line abreast under Rojestvensky. The eight cruisers under Enquist were to form another line ahead or line abreast and either to support the battleships of protect the convoy. The destroyers do not appear to have been ordered to attack; they were virtually to act as tenders to damaged vessels. Instructions were given for fire control, and the importance of careful shooting was emphasised. Rojestvensky himself appears to have had no clear idea of what he meant to do. His leadership was of a passive character, and he thought rather of parrying the enemy’s moves than himself of thrusting. It is possible that his best course would have been to try to force a close action as quickly as possible when with his superior number of heavy guns he would at least have had a chance of inflicting severe loss on the Japanese. The manoeuvring and shooting of his fleet may have been too poor for such a plan, but it could not have given worse results than actually followed. The speed for battle was fixed at 9 knots, so as to leave a good margin for the older ships, which were foul and unable from their defective boilers to steam fast. Thus the SISSOI VELIKI could at the best only steam 13 ½ and the NICHOLAS I 13 knots. As the fleet approached the Straits of Korea strict orders were issued not to use wireless, so that the Japanese should not have warning of its coming.
From the Saddle Islands to the mouth of the Straits of Korea is some 400 miles. On May 25th, Rojestvensky steamed slowly towards the straits with a strong wind blowing and heavy sea running. He had plenty of time on his hands and his speed varied between 5 and 8 knots. The very slowness of his movement puzzled the Japanese, who new that the Russian transports had arrived at Shanghai in the afternoon of the 25th and expected the Baltic Fleet to appear in the straits on the 26th at latest. In precisely the same fashion the leisureliness of Bruery’s movements disconcerted Nelson in 1798, and Cervera’s slow progress towards the West Indies in 1898 surprised Sampson. As night of the 25th fell over the grey stormy sea the Russian ships to take in wireless signals in a strange language and knew that invisible antagonists were not far away. The 26th broke Rojestvensky had several hours to spare if he was to pass the Straits at noon on the 27th and some time was therefore passed in battle Manoeuvres. During the morning of that day Japanese wireless Installations could be heard transmitting and by nightfall seven distinct installations were operating and from the character if the Message taken in, it was clear that Japanese scouts were near.
In all Russian ships the night was spent with half the crews ready at the guns to meet torpedo attack and the remainder dressed, ready if the alarm was given. The vessels were prepared for battle
Coaling Bases used by the Baltic Fleet.
The night was dark and misty with a range of visibility that did not exceed 4,000 yards, but the Russian ships carried navigation lights (though not topmast lights) and it was these which betrayed them-supposing always that they wanted to reach the straits undetected. At 2.45 a.m. (Japanese time) on May 27th, the auxiliary cruiser Shinano Maru (Captain Narukawa cruising forty miles west of the go to Islands, sighted lights moving eastward, and closing somewhat, as the night was misty, observed three lights white, red and white-suspended one under the other on the mizzen mast of a vessel. Thismoon had just risen, but Narukawa could not clearly make out what the ship was, and therefore he increased speed the better to scrutinise her, and passed her on the port side. At 4.30 he ascertained that she resembled an auxiliary in the Baltic Fleet, and drawing still nearer to her saw that she carried no guns. He drew the correct conclusion that she was a Russian hospital ship.
The stranger apparently took the Shinano Maru for a Russian ship and made a flashlight signal, which indicated to Narukawa that there were other Russian vessels in company. He could not yet see where they were, and he steamed direct towards her to examine her. At this moment, a.m. there appeared through the mist not a mile away the shapes of at least ten warships, and the smoke of many others could be made out. The Shinano Maru had located the Russian fleet, and she instantly gave the alarm by wireless; “Enemy is in square 203.)” IT should be said that for quick and accurate signalling the Japanese had divided up the map into numbered squares, a plan that was followed by the Germans in 1914. As a scouting feat Narukawa’s work was ideal. He further reported that the Russians were steering for the eastern channel of the Korea Straits, but then for some time his observations were interrupted. The Russians vanished in the mist and not till 6.5 was contact with them recovered.
What is astonishing is that the Russians took no steps to deal with this audacious auxiliary cruiser which was armed with nothing more formidable than two 6-inch guns, fore and aft, and that when the first appeared, her appearance was not even reported to Rojestvensky. From about 5 a.m. onwards the Russians could tell from the character of the wireless messages, which were passing from the Japanese that they were discovered and that the Japanese scouts were closing in upon them. But the URAL, which carried a powerful wireless installation, was not allowed to jam the Japanese signals. The attitude of the Russians was one of complete inertia. The Shinano Maru seems to have sighted the hospital ship Orel, which should have been well to the rear of the Russian formation, but actually appears to have been ahead of station.
Togo had been waiting with growing anxiety at the absence of all definite news about Rojestvensky’s fleet as day-followed day. He was beginning to fear that the Russians might after all be steaming round the east coast of Japan in which case it would be necessary for him to proceed north and place his forces between them and Vladivostock. As his fleet was good for 14 knots and the Baltic squadron for not more than 10, could be certain of reaching Vladivostock before them even if he waited for the news of their appearance in the Tsugaru or Soya Straits. It would, however, have been impossible to destroy the Russian force had the battle been fought close to a Russian base. But the sound judgement, which he had displayed, was now at last to be brilliantly vindicated. The need of extreme vigilance had been impressed on the Japanese scouts and cruisers in the Korean straits and excellent dispositions had been made to carry out the watch there.
In the night of May 26-27th the outermost line of patrol was formed by six vessels, thus disposed from north to south Skitsushima, four auxiliary cruisers of which the Shinano Maru was the third, and Idzumi. Behind this line was Dewa with his four fast cruisers (Kasagi, Chitose, Niitaka, Otowa) of the Japanese 3rd Division. The 5th Division under Kataoka (Itsukushima, Chinyen, Matsushima and Hashidate) with the Suma and Chiyoda of the 6th Division was at Tsushima. Togo with the main battle force, organised in two divisions (the first of the four battleships with the armoured cruisers Kasuga and Nisshin, and the second of the six armoured cruisers of the Idzumo class under Kamimura) was in Douglas Inlet at the entrance to Masampo harbour. He had also with him a large number of torpedo craft and the 4th Division under Uriu. At 5.05 a.m. of May 27th Togo received the wireless message from the Shinano Maru and by it and subsequent messages which showed that all the Russian Fleet was located, all his doubts were removed. He had correctly divined his antagonist’s plan with that genius which the great commander shows. The tidings that the Russians were in square 203 seemed to the Japanese an omen of victory, for they had not forgotten that the storming of 203 Metre Hill had brought the fall of Port Arthur. The enthusiasm in the fleet was indescribable, and Togo telegraphed to Tokyo this message:
“I have just received the news that the enemy’s fleet has been sighted. Our fleet will forthwith proceed to sea to attack the enemy and destroy him.”
At 6.34 the Mikasa led the procession of some forty vessels to sea for the final battle, while every few minutes reports came in from the Japanese scouts and cruisers as to the formation and course of the Baltic Fleet. When Togo emerged on the straits he found there mist which limited visibility to a range of 10,000 to 12,000 yards. The wind was from the west-southwest, with force Four to Five (moderate to fresh), and so heavy a sea ran that torpedo boats could not keep station. The torpedo boats were therefore ordered to shelter under the coast of Tsushima till the moment came for them to strike. Togo himself with five destroyer divisions (twenty-one destroyers) and two armoured divisions steamed round the north of Tsushima towards Okinoshima, a little island which rises to a height of 800 feet, near the centre of the eastern channel. His plan was of the simplest-to fall on the head of the advancing Russian armoured ships, while his cruisers, operating separately, fell on the Russian rear. The reports from his scouts gave him a good general idea where he would sight the Russians, but their exact formation could not be definitely ascertained till the moment before battle was joined Cruiser work perhaps was never better done. After the daylight fighting, the Japanese torpedo craft were to assail the Russian Fleet and drive home any advantage gained.
The two fleets, which were about to meet, were not unevenly matched on paper. In each the principal fore consisted of twelve ships, which were placed in line. The Russians had in addition two armoured cruisers of ancient type, and the Japanese the old battleship Chinyen that carried antiquated 12-inch guns with a short range and low rate of fire. The four Russian battleships of the 1st Division, the vessels of the SUVAROFF class, were more modern than the four Japanese battleships, and carried an almost exactly similar armament, though the Russian 6-inch guns were forty-five calibre long and the Japanese only forty. As against that, the Japanese 6-inch shell weighed 100 pounds, and the Russian only ninety. The Japanese 12-inch shell was also much heavier than the Russian, weighing 850 pounds against 732. In armour protection there was little to choose, but the four best Russian battleships were about 800 tons deeper in displacement than their designed draught, owing to modifications during construction. This was not a serious matter and had no influence on the result of the battle, as they stood punishment surprisingly well.
The fifth ship in the Russian line, the OSLIABIA, was a sister of the PERESVIET and POBIEDA in the Port Arthur fleet, and was good modern unit. The other seven Russian ships in line, however, were much older than the Japanese vessels, which opposed and were generally armed with short-range guns of relatively slow firing type. The painting of the Russian ships was bad; the hulls and upper works were black and white the funnels were a bright salmon yellow and stood out plainly against the mist, whereas the Japanese ships with their uniform tiny tint of grey exceedingly hard to distinguish. The older Russian ships used somebody producing powder in their guns, which was a great handicap on their shooting. The Russian shells contained a much smaller charge of high explosive (nitro-cellulose) and this of lower power than the Japanese shells, which in the case of the 8-inch and 12-inch guns contained Shimonse, a variety of liddite or picric acid. A large proportion of the Russian shells for effective; the fuses had been improved since the battles of August 1904, but they are said to have been some premature bursts in Japanese guns.
Each side took armoured cruisers with thin water line belts into the line of battle. The Russians had the old NAKHIMOFF the Japanese their eight modern armoured cruisers, two of which manoeuvred with the four battleships. The following figures give a classified comparison of the two fleets.:
The Japanese had an advantage in number of guns; the Russians in heavy weapons (forty-one of the Japanese seventeen) and weight of metal discharged in one round. But in actual fact when the range had been obtained the Japanese had an advantage in weight of metal fired in a given time of at least three you one owing to the better training and long experience of their gunners. The heavy sea running gave the better seamen an additional superiority.
In speed the Japanese Fleet as a whole could steam at least 15 to 16 knots. Without difficulty, as its shi[s were clean and in good order.
In cruiser and torpedo craft the two fleet compared as follows:
The Russian inferiority in cruisers and torpedo craft was thus marked. The Japanese cruisers or vessels in the cruiser formations mounted on the broadside seven 12-inch or 12.6-inch guns of old type, 8-inch, thirty-one 6-inch, and forty-eight 4.7-inch, against the Russian twenty-two 6-inch and twenty-one 4.7-inch guns, so that they had an enormous artillery preponderance. The Japanese destroyers carried a far more powerful gun armament than the Russian destroyers (two 12-pounder and four 6-pounders apiece against one 12-pounder and five 3-pounders.) The smaller guns have not been mentioned; in the encounter between armoured ships they played a relatively insignificant part. In total displacement the Japanese had a superiority of twenty-nine percent, with 202,000 tons against the Russian fleet’s 156,000.
The Shinano Maru’s alarm was followed by a concentration of Japanese cruisers to watch the Baltic fleet. The mist still veiled from the ships every sign of land so that the Russians were a little uncertain as to their position. Rojestvensky, a wireless signals were coming in all round now recalled the ALMAZ, SVIETLANA and URAL which were in advance of his line and sent them to protect his transports in the rear. About 6.30 a.m. he learnt that four Japanese cruisers were passing astern of his fleet, there were the “Greyhounds” of Dewa’s division which missed the Russians in the moist and went off much too far to the south, losing all touch. At 7 a.m. the Russians saw the Japanese cruiser Idzumi to starboard, steaming side by side and 10,000 yards off. She was allowed to watch the Baltic Fleet undisturbed. About 9 a.m. Katoka with the Itsukushima, Chinyen, Matsushima, and Kataoka with the Itsukushima, Chinyen, Mat Suchima and Hashidate appeared to port and joined in the surveillance without being molested. Dim forms of other Japanese ships could have been seen to the North, and Rojestvensky evidently thought the Japanese main force was approaching from that quarter. At 10 a.m. he changed from hi cruising to his battle formation. So far his ships had been steaming in two columns, Nebogatoff with eight ships to port, and himself 1,000 yards to starboard with eight battleships in the second column. Between the two were the transports. Now he formed his twelve armoured ships in line ahead, placing the transports, destroyers and cruisers to starboard, which he expected would be the sheltered side.
About this time Dewas cruisers appeared, having returned from the South, and closed on Rojestvensky’s port beam to 9,000 yards. The OREL at 11.40 trained her guns on them and by accident fired a shot from a 12-inch weapon, when Nebogatoff’s ships also opened. Thirty rounds were discharged before Rojestvensky stopped the firing by signal. The Russian crews were sent to dinner and the Japanese cruisers drew off. The mist had slightly thickened and at this moment no Japanese vessels were in sight. Rojestvensky determined to use the opportunity to change his formation, in the hope of springing a surprise on Togo, whom he believed to be fast approaching from the north. The Russian admiral therefore attempted to deploy his line ahead into a line abreast, but when he was in the midst of this evolution, the mist lifted, the Japanese cruisers once more came into sight, and he knew that all his labout was vain. He annulled the order fro deployment so as to get his ships back into line ahead as quickly as possible, but as the result of his action about 1.45 the Russian Fleet was in two separate lines ahead, Rojestvensky with his four battleships to starboard, and to port eight armoured ships headed by the OSLIABIA with Folkersam’s flag, slightly overlapping Rojestvensky’s division. The Russians were steaming 9 knots, except Rojestvensky’s division, which was going 11 to take station ahead of the OSLIABIA and the rest of the line.
The Japanese main force saw the Russian battleships some minutes before it was seen by the Russians , probably owing to the difference in painting. It was 1.39 p.m. and the sea was even heavier than it had been in the early morning so that the ships rolled considerably. Togo was steaming 14 knots on a course opposite to that of the Russians who were a little on his starboard bow. He turned at 1.40 steering across their apartment course, and now the Russians sighted his ships. The Japanese ships seemed to be keeping perfect order, so that as a Russian officer afterwards said they might have been changed together, with such exactitude and precision did they move. Actually, however the last three or four ships were astern of station. Togo led his twelve ships over to the port side of the approaching Russians and then turned once more as if he meant to pass the Russian fleet on an opposite course. At this moment the Japanese battle flag were hoisted and Togo made the signal: 2The future of the Empire depends on the issue of the battle; let every man for his utmost.”
He was to port of the Russians and it looked as if the two fleets were to pass on opposite courses at a distance of 6,000 yards, when at 2.5 he turned suddenly and sharply sixteen points to port, and thus reversed the direction of his movement so as to steam on a course parallel to his opponent. As his line of twelve ships would have to pass in succession over the same point of water, and as during the process of turning, they would blanket one another fire and give the Russian gunners an admirable target, this was an exceedingly perilous manoeuvres. It was executed because, as has already been said, the precise Russian formation could only be determined when contact between the two battle fleets was established. To pass on opposite courses means indecisive action; to fight on parallel courses means decisive battle, if the distance is shortened sufficiently to give the guns a good chance. Good gunners make the best shooting when the enemy is kept at a constant range, whereas when the range is rapidly changing, hitting is a matter of chance. At this supreme moment Togo acted in the spirit of Nelson’s saying, “nothing great can be achieved without risk.” He was determined that the battle should be decisive, and he put behind him the cautious manoeuvres, which had permitted the Russians to escape on August 10th.
The Russian line was in considerable confusion. Rojestvensky’s division, steaming 2 knots faster than the rest of his line, had not been able once more to take station at its head, when as the Mikasa led on the turn, a flash of flame burst from the SUVAROFF’S fore turret and the Russians fired the first shell at the Japanese armoured ships at a range of 7,000 yards at 2.08 p.m. The three leading Russian ships and the OSLIABIA joined in with their heavier guns and columns of spray rose about the Mikasa. She held her fire till 2.10 when she replied at 6,600 yards, shooting very slowly and deliberately till she got the range, and behind her as one after another the other Japanese ships steadied on the new course they opened as well. The Japanese concentrated their fire on the SUVAOFF and OSLIABIA in these initial moments of the battle; the Russians fired at Mikasa. The confusion in the Russian line increased. The OSLIABIA had to stop avoid collision with the OREL, and the ships to the rear of the Russian line had to reduce speed or stop as the consequence of Rojestvensky’s unhappy mistake in trying to alter his formation at the last moment and in the presence of a formidable enemy. The Japanese were now drawing into one long line somewhat ahead of the Russians and moving generally parallel to them, and the rearward Russian ships were unable to engage. Not until ten minutes after the first shot was Nebogatoff’s flagship, which came eighth in the Russian line, able to open fire. The Japanese quickened to 15 knots to effect a concentration on the five leading Russian ships.
The OSLIABIA attacked by the Shikishima, Fuji, Kasuga, Nisshin, Idzumo, Tokiwa and Yakumo, had her fore turret put out of action (after it had only fired three shots) by a shell which struck it on one of the ports just below the 10-inch gun, jamming the gun at its extreme elevation and lifting the top of the turret. A great fire broke out onboard her, and two shells struck her waterline near the bow blowing a huge hole in her. She began to list to port and her bow sank deeper into the water. The Iwate and Asama appear to have fired at the SISSOI VELIKI, which followed the OSLIABIA in the Russian line, and the smoke of a fire could be seen rising from the SISSOI’S hull. On the SUVAROFF, the Mikasa, Asahi and Adzuma concentrated their fire, and after eight or ten minutes began to hit continually; as the range sank to 5,500 yards they increased the rapidity of their shooting. “Never before had I witnessed such a fire,” said an officer on Rojestvensky’s staff in the SUVAROFF; “I had never even imagined thing like it. Shells seemed to be pouring upon us incessantly, one after another. It seemed as if these were mines, not shells which were striking the ship’s side and falling on deck. They burst as soon as they touched anything.” Violent fires broke out onboard the Suvaroff. The Japanese must from time to time have shifted targets and attacked the ALEXANDER III, second ship in the Russian line, as she too was soon ablaze and shrouded in dense clouds of brown smoke.
Togo had as yet no cause for satisfaction. Already about 2.30 the first ship in either was quitting the line. This was the Asama, which came last, but one in Kamimura’s squadron, and with the Iwate had received the concentrated fire of the Russian rear. At 2.28 a 12-inch shell hit her and disabled her steering gear, causing such serious leaks that she had to sheer out and make temporary repairs. Two other heavy hits upon her followed. Two 12-inch and two 6-inch shells, which caused 54 casualties, had heavily hit the Mikasa, though to the observers in the Russian ships she showed no external signs of damage. Togo himself throughout the battle remained in the open, outside the conning tower, on the upper bridge, as also did Beatty at Jutland. Togo was now working slightly to starboard so as to cross the course of the Russians and rake their ships, the range varying from 5,000 to 6,000 yards. As the fire of the Japanese became more and more effective, the difficulties of the Russians increased. About 2.30 Rojestvensky had a chance, which he failed to use. The Japanese were then distinctly ahead of his line, and he might have turned to port and have passed astern of them when, if his orders had been quickly and efficiently carried out, he might have greatly improved his position. None of his ships had yet fallen out and he had twelve armoured vessels in line against eleven Japanese. But with singular passivity he lost his one chance. He turned to starboard, instead of to port, and by doing so threw his guns off the target for some minutes.
The Mikasa, up to this point, had sustained ten hits from the heavy projectiles, but from 2.30 onwards the Japanese poured a storm of shells into the OSLIABIA and SUVAROFF, both of which ships were ablaze with explosions, and wrapped in smoke and flame. Masts and funnels vanished in that terrific fire; the OSLIABIA’S bow sank more and more; at 2.45 Togo knew that the battle was won. His eleven ships still in line were drawing across the Russian course and the artillery fight had reached its full height. The Russian ships were falling into disorder and losing formation; to the Russians the Japanese Fleet looked “just the same-no fires- no heeling over-no fallen bridges-as if it had been at drill instead of fighting.” Rojestvensky had been wounded and most of the officers and men in the SUVAROFF’S conning tower had been killed or wounded. The casualties in the Russian flagship were exceedingly heavy, when at 2.50, the steering gear was wrecked by a Japanese shell and the SUVAROFF, no longer under control and with only one mast and one funnel standing turned out of the line and thenceforward circled round and round for an hour or so.
About the same time the OSLIABIA in similar plight also left the line. A whole series of shells struck her waterline armour. Two hits in succession on one plate loosened it and flung its fragments into the sea, when a third projectile struck in the same place and penetrated the ship. About 3 p.m. her forecastle was almost completely submerged; the water rushed in with a roar, and she turned slowly over to port, lying for a perceptible time on her side with the shattered remnant of her funnels just clear of the sea before she vanished forever. The Russian destroyers picked up 385 of her crew; the other 515 perished in her. The SUVAROFF’S upper works were completely wrecked, and Russian observers in other ships reported that her unarmoured hull forward was torn away so that she looked like a monitor. The after turret was struck and blown high in the air, probably by the explosion of a large quantity of ammunition; and the ship herself was burning furiously, though from one or two guns her undaunted crew gallantly maintained a spasmodic fire.
When the SUVAROFF fell out of the line, the ALEXANDER III took the lead and for some minutes continued on the course Rojestvensky was steering, but then turned sharply to port, northwards, followed by the Russian line in an attempt to pass to the rear of the Japanese. Observing this manoeuvre Togo turned the six armoured ships of his division simultaneously sixteen points, reversing the order of his line and the direction of his movements, and placing himself across the course of the Russians, forced them to turn back once more to the southeast. Kamimura with the five armoured cruisers (the Asama had completed repairs, but had not yet been able to get back into line) did not follow the battleships but kept on the old course for several minutes before turning. At 3.6 the despatch vessel, Chihaya, which accompanied him on the lee side of his line, was sufficiently close to the Russians to discharge two torpedoes at the BORODINO, which seem both have missed at 2,750 yards. At this close range the effect of the Japanese artillery fire on the leading Russian ships was terrific. The ALEXANDER III “seemed completely enveloped in flames and brown smoke, while round her the sea literally boiled. Then we saw a whole series of shells struck her fore bridge and port 6-inch turret, and turning sharply to starboard she steamed away.” Togo had brought his division across her bows while Kamimura was firing into her. About this time the 5th Destroyer Division attacked the SUVAROFF and claimed to have hit her with two torpedoes, though Russians onboard her state that she escaped.
At 3.7 several of the Japanese ships discharged torpedoes at the Russians without any definite result, and five or ten minutes later in the dense clouds of smoke from shells and burning ships and from the brown powder in the older Russian guns the Japanese lost sight of their enemies. At 3.34 as Kamimura hunted in the smoke and mist for the Russians, he came upon the SUVAROFF and shortening the range to 2,000 yards, attacked her furiously, sweeping away what remained of her upper works and putting every gun but one out of action. The Yakumo fired a torpedo at her, but must have missed. The Chihaya then closed to 1,800 yards and fired two torpedoes at her, which appear to have exploded without sinking her. She was left a complete wreck without masts or funnels, with a list to port, with flames issuing from the wounds in her side, “burning like a volcano.”
The Russian fire had died down during this stage of the battle and the Russian Fleet had broken up into little groups, which were attacked by the Japanese whenever they were sighted. About 4 the ALEXANDER III was hit repeatedly and flames could be seen rising high between her funnels; she left the Russian line in which the BORODINO then took the lead Togo’s division, at a range of about 1,000 yards where every projectile would hit, steamed past a Russian battleship, which may have been either the SUVAROFF or ALEXANDER III, and poured into her a fearful fire, to which her crew heroically replied with a few shots.
The Japanese commander in chief at 3.40 had turned his ships simultaneously, inverting the order of his line and the direction of movement for the second time, and had thus brought the Mikasa back to the head. He once more sighted the SUVAROFF in the smoke and again pounded her; smitten with shell and hit by torpedoes she still floated, and the Mikasa fired yet one more torpedo at her without effect. About 4.35 Togo turned north in line abreast, probably to ascertain the condition of his six ships and to get them out of the way of a destroyer attack, which he ordered his flotillas to execute. The smoke was so dense and the visibility so bad that it was difficult to distinguish ship from ship. The torpedo attacks were all delivered against the SUVAROFF and do not seem to have seriously affected her wreck.
When Togo went north, Kamimura operated independently and hunted for the Russians in the obscurity. Togo’s division met and sank the URAL, torpedoing her after they had fired into her. They next encountered a number of Russian destroyers which seemed to intend an attack, where upon Togo stood away from them and did not again sight any considerable force of Russian ships till 6 p.m. In this interval Rojestvensky, who had been three times wounded and whose condition was serious, was removed from the SUVAROFF with his staff to the destroyer BUINY. She came alongside and took him off with great difficulty. The intention was to transfer his flag to one of the battleships which still remained effective, but he was suffering from concussion and from a wound in the skull and could only murmur: “Nebogatoff-Vladivostock-course north, 23 degrees east.” The destroyer BEZUPRESHCHNY was despatched to inform Nebogatoff that the command had developed on him. She died not carry out her commission as she should have done and he only learnt that the fleet was to make for Vladivostock. The destroyer BIEDOVY was sent to save the remnant of the SUVAROFF’S crew, as that ship was no longer able to fight, but the destroyer could not locate her in the smoke and mist.
Togo came upon the Alexander III about 6 p.m. when she was found leading the Russian line. She had apparently put out her fires and made hasty repairs, but she was now very low in the water. The Japanese guns speedily drove her from the line once more, ablaze with an immense hole on the waterline forward. Again she made hasty repairs and returned to the line, falling into it near its rear, but hardly has she done this when she hoisted the distress signal and sheered out with masts and funnels shot away-a complete wreck. As she left the line, she turned slowly over to port showing the red paint on her bottom and then capsized, floating for some minutes bottom upwards with a considerable number of men crowding on her hull, before she finally disappeared, taking down with her all her crew of 830 except four men. The BORODINO and OREL were at this time at the head of the Russian line, to the west of the Japanese, with the setting sun behind them, and at a range of 6,000 yards or more they were constantly hit, but were fighting most gallantly. The mainmast in the BORODINO fell; the flames from a great fire in her rose high and reddened the sea with their glare.
About 7 p.m. the Japanese battleship turned away north and the Fuji fired a last 12-inch shell at the Russian battleship, which hit and detonated the BORODINO’S magazines. They exploded with two heavy reports when she capsized and, after floating bottom upwards, went down. Of her large crew only a single officer survived. He crawled out of a gun port, climbed upon the bottom, and was picked up by a Japanese fishing vessel hours later. The SUVAROFF sank about the same time and took down with her all who remained alive onboard after five hours of terrific bombardment by the Japanese fleet, endured with devotion, which is beyond all human praise. Her destruction was effected by the Japanese 11th Torpedo Boat Division, which made “at least three hits” with 14-inch torpedoes. In a dense cloud of yellowish black smoke she capsized and floated bottom upwards for a short time; at 7.20 p.m. her bow stood right out of the water and then vanished forever. Such was the end of one of the most determined fights ever made by armoured ships.
The Asama rejoined Kamimura’s division at 5.5, but that armoured cruiser was 5 feet deeper in the water than her proper draught, and could maintain only a moderate speed. About this time the division went to the aid of the Japanese protected cruiser, which were heavily engaged with a mass of Russian ships and with Nebogatoff’s armoured vessels, and drove the Russians off westwards. It caught and shelled the auxiliary ship KAMCHATKA; at 8,000 yards it fired into the NAKHIMOFF; and it also gave the SUVAROFF several salvoes. At 7.30 it proceeded north to join the battleship force under Togo and leave the field clear for the torpedo craft.
During the daylight battle the Japanese ships had been active in carrying out Togo’s plan, by which they were to fall on the Russian cruisers and auxiliaries, passing round to the Russian rear. The high sea hampered Dewa’s fast cruisers, but with Uriu’s and Kataoka’s divisions they engaged the OLEG, AURORA, DMITRI DONSKOI and NAKHIMOFF. The Kasagi received a bad hit in a bunker 12 feet below the waterline and was compelled to haul out, leaking severely and in some danger, in order to effect repairs which were not completed till the following day; she was accompanied by the Chitose, to which cruiser Dewa transferred his flag as soon as the Kasagi had reached the Japanese coast. These ships between them sank the auxiliaries RUSS and KAMCHATKA, and set the OLEG and JEMTCHUG badly on fire. The younger Togo’s division of cruisers cut off the Russian hospital ships and left the Japanese auxiliary cruisers to secure them.
Thus the daylight battle ended with the loss to the Russians of four of their best battleships and the auxiliaries KAMCHATKA, RUSS and URAL, with very considerable damage to the battleships OREL, NAVARIN, and SISSOI VELIKI, and with slight damage to the NICHOLAS I and to the armoured cruisers NAKHIMOFF, VLADIMIR MONOMAKH and DMITRI DONSKOI. The NAVARIN had received four hits on or below the waterline in addition to many others on her upper works and she was leaking heavily and exceedingly low in the water. The SISSOI VELIKI had a large hole forward through which the water poured in, and she too, was in a grave difficulties. The Russian ships, which had suffered least, were the three small coast defence vessels in Nebogatoff’s division, as the Japanese evidently concentrated their attack on the most powerful Russian units.
So far as the Japanese armoured ships were concerned, the fighting was over; for though one or two of them were in action next day they received no further hits and sustained no fresh casualties. Only one Japanese vessel was temporarily out of action, the Kasagi; though the Naniwa had to sheer out of line and repair a shot wound which prevented her from rejoining her squadron till late in the night. The following table shows the number of hits reported by the Japanese and the loss in their twelve important armoured ships:
Casualties in Japanese Cruisers
In the Chinyen and Itsukushima there were no casualties. One of the Chitose’s 8-inch guns was put out of action by a heavy shell.
In the Mikasa the most serious damage was caused by a 12-inch shell, which burst prematurely in the right gun of the fore turret, putting the gun out of action, though the left gun in the turret could still be worked. Superficially the damage to the ship looked extensive; actually it was not very serious. Of her wounded many afterwards died. Half a dozen of her smaller guns were disabled, having the muzzles shot off, but most of her battery remained effective. The main conning tower was struck and damaged and Togo had a very narrow escape outside it. The injuries of the Shikishima, Asahi, Fuji and Kasuga were slight, but the Nisshin which came last in the division had been the target of many Russian guns and had three of her heavy guns out of action through direct hits, and other hits on her turrets and funnels. The fore bridge was shattered, and a splinter from a shell wounded Admiral Mizu.
The Iwate was badly holed on the water line, as was the Asama, but though the Iwate came second in the armoured ships in the number of hits she was the only vessel, which had none killed. The total number of Russian hits on the twelve Japanese vessels in line was 138, and of these fifty-five produced 309 casualties out of a total of 459 casualties in these ships given in the Japanese returns. In addition to the direct hits there were many by splinters. The low Japanese loss is fresh proof of the projection which good gunnery gives. The large number of wounded is remarkable and is difficult to explain.
Shortly before the ALEXANDER III went down, Nebogatoff hoisted the signal “Follow me,” and took the lead in the Russian line with the NICHOLAS I, behind which ship came the OREL, APRAXIN, SENIAVIN and at a considerable interval, USHAKOFF. Astern of this last ship again, at a considerable interval, were the NAVARIN, SISSOI and NAKHIMOFF. The IZUMRUD took station to port of the NICHOLAS I. To port of this line of battleships were the transports and Enquist with the cruisers OLEG, AURORA, JEMRCHUG, DONSKOI and VLADIMIR. All about the Russian formation gathered the Japanese torpedo craft as the night fell, and Nebogatoff noting Japanese vessels ahead of him-as he thought dropping mines-turned away southwest and steered on that course till 8.20 p.m. when he turned northeast for Vladivostock, hoping to escape his adversaries. Enquist did not observe this last change and with the OLEG, AURORA and JEMTCHUG continued on a southwest course, and finally parted company with the Russian fleet. He made first for Shanghaiand proceeded thence to Manila where his ships were interned. Russian critics have blamed him severely (and with some reason) for thus bolting from the battle.
About 8 p.m. began the long series of Japanese torpedo attacks which continued almost without intermission for three hours, and were delivered twenty-one destroyers, which mainly attacked the Russian van, and thirty-seven torpedo boats, which attacked from the east and south. The stormy southwest wind had fallen considerably by the evening, but Togo states in his official report that a “very heavy sea” was running which greatly impeded the torpedo craft. The night was fairly clear. The Russian battleships were steaming at 12 knots, which was the most they could do; in their attacks the Japanese small craft pressed furiously in on them with such determination and carelessness of danger that there were several collisions. At first the Russians vanished from view, but then certain of them turned on their searchlights and thus betrayed their whereabouts. The NAVARIN was compelled to stop to place a collision mat over her worst wounds, when she was caught, four times torpedoed, and sunk with all the 622 men onboard except three who were picked up sixteen hours later in the water by the Japanese small craft.
The SISSOI was torpedoed in the stern and sank very slowly; early next morning she went to the bottom off Tsushima just as the Japanese auxiliary cruisers were about to take possession of her. The NAKHIMOFF was torpedo forward and, leaking badly, made for TSUSHIMA, off which islands she went down next morning; her crew opened her Kingston valves when Japanese cruisers and destroyers appeared, and thus prevented her capture. A destroyer, which steamed close up to her, and was left badly down in the water, hit the VLADIMIR MONOMARKH; her crew next morning opened the Kingston valves when the Japanese approached and sank her. Thus in the night attacks the Russians had two battleships sunk and two armoured cruisers so damaged that they were easily disposed of next day. The number of Japanese torpedoes fired was enormous probably well over one hundred-but only seven hits were made. Nebogatoff’s five leading ships escaped undamaged through the long series of onslaughts because they did not use their searchlights or show any lights. The Japanese loss was small; Torpedo Boats No 34 and 35 were sunk by gunfire and No 69 sank after a violent collision with the Akatzuki. Collision, but not very seriously, and five other destroyers damaged the Yugiri, Harusame and Sagi and torpedo boats were put temporarily out of action. The total casualties in the torpedo craft, including loss in the daylight fighting, were only eighty-seven.
These night attacks inflicted the severest strain on the Russian crews in the ships which escaped injury. The gunners in the Russian Fleet had in most cases now been for twenty-fours at their guns and for about six hours had been engaged in one of the fiercest naval battles which history records, whereas during the night Togo was able to rest the crews of his armoured ships. At the close of the daylight engagement, when he steamed north, he was about thirty-five miles north of Okinoshima and he fixed Matsushima as his rendezvous, over 200 miles north of Okinoshima. He steamed towards it all night at about 14 knots and was about thirty miles southwest of it at 5 a.m. of May 28th. No Russian ships were then in sight, but almost at once he received from his 6th Division (the younger Togo) a wireless report that a group of Russian vessels had been discovered sixty miles further to the south, going northwards. The Japanese battle divisions steered towards them and sighted them at 9.30. They were the NICHOLAS I, OREL, APRAXIN and SENIAVIN with the cruiser IZUMRUD, and they were speedily surrounded by all Togo’s force and three divisions of Japanese cruisers. The Japanese fired a few shots, when, realising that the position was utterly hopeless, Nebogatoff hoisted the international signal of surrender. The IZUMRUD, his only fast ship, made off as quickly as she could at 10.34.
The arrangements for handing over the other four ships were quickly made and he was transhipped to the Mikasa but before he quitted the NICHOLAS I, he made this short speech to his crew:
“I am only an old man of sixty, whose life is of trifling importance, but you are still young and charged with the duty of restoring the fame of the Russian Navy. I accept entire responsibility for this surrender.”
He said to Togo that he shrank from causing the death of 2,000 men under his orders in a useless resistance. Thus four ships, though one of them, the OREL was severely damaged were added to the Japanese strength forthwith.
The IZUMRUD was chased but shook off pursuit, only to run on the rocks of Vladimir Bay, northeast of Vladivostock, where she became a total loss. She lost 10 wounded in the battle. The USHAKOFF, which was some distance astern of Nebogatoff, was chased and attacked by the Iwate and Yakumo. Her Captain called a council of war, which decided to fight to the last and sink the ship, and this resolve was speedily put to the test. At 4 p.m. the Japanese armoured cruisers opened long range fire on her to which she could make no effective reply; in about half an hour they had so damaged her on the waterline that from her heavy list the guns could not be trained; and the Kingston valves were opened. The ship sank under the Japanese fire, which continued, to the end at 6 p.m. Of her crew of 422, 339 were rescued by the Japanese. This was the last of the twelve ships in Rojetvensky’s line of battle to be taken or destroyed.
Of the other Russian ships the auxiliary cruiser IRTISH, badly damaged in the battle of the 27th, ran ashore near Minoshima Island to save her crew who were taken prisoners. The cruiser SVIETLANA was sighted early on the 28th by the Otowa and NIITAKA south of Matsushima Island and was at once chased. The SVIETLANA opened fire at 9.25 a.m. but the Japanese did not reply till 9.40; at 10 they hit the Russian cruiser in the stern and disabled her steering gear, so that she moved wildly, and at 10.40 almost ceased firing. She was in a sinking condition, but she did not go down till 11 a.m. The Japanese rescued 291 of her crew of 402. The Otowa was hit twice and had 5 killed and 23 wounded. Early that morning the Japanese cruiser Chitose and destroyer Ariake sighted and sank the Russian destroyer BEZUPRECHNY none of whose crew of sixty-two was saved. After their action with the SVIETLANA the OTOWA and NIITAKA drove ashore on the Korean coast and destroyed the Russian destroyer BUISTRY, most of whose crew reached the land; about the same time further south the Shiranui destroyer chased and fought a fierce action with the GROMKY in which Torpedo Boat No 63 joined on the Japanese side, and the GROMKY was so damaged that she sunk after she had surrendered and had been taken in tow by No 63. The Shiranui’s loss was 6 wounded, the GROMKY’S 8 killed and 15 wounded.
The destroyer BUINY, in which Rojestvensky and his staff had embarked, was in company of the DMITRI DONSKOI and the destroyers BIEDOVY and GROSNY when day of May 28th broke. She was short of coal and had been damaged in action, and Rojestvensky was transferred from her to the BIEDOVY, while her hull was finished off with a shell from the DONSKOI. The BIEDOVY and GRONSY then went off north but were sighted that afternoon southwest of Matsushima by the Japanese destroyers Sazanami and Kagero. At 4.50 p.m. the BIEDOVY, intact and without having suffered any loss, surrendered. Rojestvensky, who was unconscious, had no part in this act. The GROSNY made off towards Vladivostock and managed to escape, though the Kagero chased her for some distance.
As for the DMITRI DONSKOI, the Otowa and Niitaka sighted her just as Uriu with his four cruisers was attacking her. With these six ships she fought from 6.30 p.m. till darkness, losing one third of her crew. During the night the 2nd Japanese Destroyer Division unsuccessfully attacked her, and despairing of escape, her captain landed her men on the island of Matsushima, and left a small party to scuttle the ship next morning (May 29th). In the action with her the Naniwa was again hit on the waterline and in some danger. The Russian cruiser ALMAZ and destroyer BRAVY reached Vladivostock by keeping close to the Japanese coast, after the battle of May 27th. The destroyers BODRY and BLESTIASHCHY fled southwards on the 27th; and next morning the BODRY had to take onboard the BLESTIASHCHY’S crew as that vessel was in a sinking condition. The Bodry was left in a desperate position, short of fuel, drifting about the Yellow sea. A British steamer found her on June 4th and towed her into Shanghai, where also the auxiliaries SVIR and KOREA arrived to be interned. The transport ANADYR fled from the Straits of Korea southward and was not again sighted till on June 27th she turned up at Madagascar.
Thus the Russian Fleet of thirty-eight vessels was in the naval sense annihilated, and two of its three admirals captured. The fate of its ships was as follows:
Line of Battleships (12)
Osliabia, Alexander III, Borodino Suvaroff, sunk in daylight battle, May 27th; Navarin, sunk in night 27th-28th; Sissoi, Nakhimoff, Usha Koff sunk on 28th; Orel, Nicholas I, Apraxin, Seniavin, surrendered 28th.
Vladimir, Monomakh, Dmitiri Donskoi, Svietlana, sunk on 28th; Izumrud, ran shore on Siberian coast; Oleg, Aurora, Jemtchug, interned at Manila; Almaz, reached Vladivostock.
Buiny, Buistry, Bezupreshchny, Gromky, Blestiashchy, sunk 28th; Biedovy, surrendered 28th; Bodry, interned at Shanghai; Grosny, Bravy, reached Vladivostock.
Kamchatka, Ural, Russ, sunk 27th’ Irtish, run ashore 28th; Korea, Svir, interned at Shanghai; Anadyr, escaped to Madagascar.
Hospital Ships (2)
Orel, Kostroma, captured 27th (Kostroma, afterwards released).
Of the whole fleet only three vessels, of insignificant force, reached Vladivostock; thirty-four were sunk, captured or driven into internment, and one returned to Russia. Against this was a Japanese loss of three torpedo boats sunk and eight torpedo boats and destroyers temporarily disabled. The casualties on the two sides were:
In addition 1,862 Russians were interned in neutral countries. The Russian loss was the heaviest known in naval war since accurate records were kept; the Japanese figures are official and for these I have to thank the courtesy of the Japanese Staff.
The result astonished the world, which had never expected the Japanese to win with such consummate ease and without the loss of a single important ship. So terrible was the blow to Russia that thenceforward her government thought only of ending a war, which had proved utterly disastrous to Russian interests, but before peace was concluded, by skilful operations in June and July 1905 the Japanese took possession of Sakhalin and closely blockaded the mouth of the Amur and the Siberian coast.
The Japanese victory at Tsushima was due to good tactics, good gunnery and skilful leadership. There was no want of courage on the part of the Russians; they held out to the last, though they displayed throughout the battle no initiative or enterprise. In the long range firing which took place before the fleets closed they did almost as well as the skilled Japanese gunners, which is in accord with experience in other actions of this war. The highest skill in gunnery in only effective at extreme ranges when it can make many hits within a short period of time.
When projectiles fall in a shower on a ship’s hull, they completely paralyse the crew, and prevent good shooting, the repair of damage, and cool manoeuvring. When there are considerable intervals between hits- as is generally the case at extreme range-men can recover themselves and do not lose self-control; leaks can be stopped and fires put out easily. Semenoff, who fought on August 10th in the DIANA and at Tsushima in the SUVAROFF, was struck by the extraordinary contrast between the Japanese fires in the two battles. In the first hits were occasional and the Russian morale was not much shaken; in the second they were continual and paralysing in their effect.
The Russians fought without leadership. Rojestvensky proved himself a brave man, but a most unskilful commander. He made a disastrous mistake in not taking up his battle formation sufficiently early in attempting to alter it at the last moment. He allowed Togo to control his movements. How far his repeated wounds were responsible for his complete breakdown as a leader is not clear, but from 3 p.m. onward on May 27th he was so much injured as to be incapable of continuous thought. Togo and Kamimura showed leadership of a high order, and their subordinates displayed the very energy and initiative, which the Russians lacked. Togo’s determination to close to decisive range was worthy of himself, as also was his boldness in turning under the Russian guns at the outset. His judgement after the day battle, in placing his fleet upon the Russian line of advance to Vladivostock, at Matsushima, was equally admirable. He correctly appreciated the difficulty of handling a large force of ships effectively in battle by giving Kamimura complete control of one powerful division, just as Nelson gave Collingwood complete control of the leeward division at Trafalgar and Kamimura used his opportunities magnificently.
Nebogatoff was bitterly criticised for his surrender and was for it afterwards condemned to death by the court martial, which tried him. The sentence was not carried out, and he was ultimately pardoned after three years imprisonment. His evidence showed that his ships were in a wretched state. The despatch of his squadron was in his own judgement inadvisable, because of the lack of trained ratings, but it was the result of Admiral Birileff’s advocacy in persuading the Russian naval authorities that the guns in the Japanese Fleet were worn out-a lamentable delusion. Crews were therefore obtained for this make believe squadron by sending onboard the shi the worst characters that came from prisons, disciplinary battalions, and even from hospital. Among them were many who had never even seen the sea, while his petty officers were poorly instructed in the first instance, and had been so long in reserve that they had forgotten all they once knew.
Owing to the excessive load of Nebogatoff’s ships the armour belts of the USHAKOFF class and NICHOLAS I were under water. The guns were mostly of old pattern and low range, while the shells lacked power when they exploded. As for the Orel, the whole class to which she belonged was so unstable that Rojestvensky’s technical advisers warned him that before action they must be lightened as far as possible, in order to avert the danger of their capsizing. In the APREAXIN the 10-inch guns were extremely unsafe, and showed weakness at the end of the first day’s battle. In the SENIAVIN when practice was carried out in the Bay of Biscay the concussion opened many seams and caused bad leaks. The Russian gunners were generally inefficient, and could be given proper training because ammunition was short in the fleet.
The captains, who surrendered with Nebogatoff, with the exception of the OREL’S commander, were sentenced to ten years imprisonment for their conduct, but they did not serve that term. There is a strong sentiment in all navies against surrender, which is a modern product, as in the old wars it was regarded as in no way dishonourable to strike after a gallant and determined resistance. Nebogatoff’s position was hopeless; he was outnumbered and outranged, and if he had directed his ships to resist, they would have been shot to pieces without being able to reply to the Japanese. As he stated, he gave the order to open fire, but was told by his gunnery staff that it was useless because the range was too great. Perhaps the best comment on his conduct is the opinion of a British admiral, renowned throughout the British service for his signal, which was given me in the hours when we watched the surrender of the German Fleet on November 21st 1918. I asked him whether he thought the German Fleet ought to have perished in a last great battle. He said, “No, enough blood had been shed; no man doubts their courage and their situation is hopeless.”
Rojestvensky insisted on being tried by the court martial, which dealt with the officers who had surrendered the BIEDOVY, when he was onboard. He was severely wounded, as also was Semenoff, one of his staff, but three unwounded members of the staff were found by the court to be guilty and were condemned to be shot. Among them was Rojestvensky’s flag captain, Clapier de Colomb, the others being Colonel Filipoffsky and Lieutenant Leontieff. The ground for their condemnation was that they had not even shown sufficient energy in moving to another battleship when they left the SUVAROFF, and that their plea that their surrender was only made to save a life precious to Russia in Rojestvensky, was a mere excuse to save their own skins. The BIEDOVY’S commander was also sentenced to be shot. The sentences were not carried out, but were modified to a short term of imprisonment. Rojestvensky was acquitted.
One of the many surprises of the battle was the amount of pounding which the Russian battleships withstood. About 100 hits from projectiles of 6-inch and upward were required to sink each of them. The decisive range at this date was between 4,000 and 6,000 yards, yet the SUVAROFF was afloat for some five hours, during part of which time she was attacked at 2,000 yards by concentrated fire of several Japanese ships. At Jutland the British battle cruiser Indefatigable blew up only fourteen minutes after fire had been opened in a duel with a single German ship, the Von der Tann. The Queen Mary blew up in thirty-three minutes in a duel with the Derfflinger and Seydlitz at 15,000 yards. The first Russian ship to sink, the OSLIABIA, withstood the concentrated fire of five to seven Japanese ships for fifty minutes. According to all the Russian evidence most of the damage to the Russian ship was caused by the heavy shells (12-inch and 8-inch) and the effect of three 6-inch projectiles was relatively small. A point on which Russian survivors insisted was the importance of armour; where hits were made on the waterline on armour plating., the holes were round and easy to plug; where there was no armour it was almost impossible to deal with them. That several of the Russian ships ultimately capsized were only to be expected after the terrific punishment they had undergone. The waterline hits in the Russian ships were numerous and most dangerous.
The insignificant effect of the torpedo attacks in the battle, though these were delivered with such extraordinary daring, was in general accord with the experience of this war. The battleships NAVARIN and SISSOI, which were finally disposed of with the torpedo, had both been badly hit in the gun encounter and may be regarded as beaten ships. The number of torpedoes fired at SUVAROFF was astonishing. Yet the indirect influence of the torpedo was important. The night attacks wore out the crews in the surviving Russian ships, and the risk of Russian attacks led Togo on August 10th to decide against a night action when his enemy was in confusion. Again, Rojestvensky’s decision to pass through the Straits of Korea in daylight was due to his fear that the Japanese torpedo craft would fall on his mass of ships and cause heavy loss if he attempted the passage at night, when, with a little luck, he might possibly have got through undiscovered. The caution shown by the Japanese heavy ships in approaching Port Arthur during the hours of darkness was in part due to the menace of the torpedo. The plan of steaming without lights and refraining fro using searchlights was adopted by Nebogatoff with great success; it prevented the Japanese from finding his ships.
In the course of their operations and blockade of the Russian ports the Japanese seized sixty-one merchant vessels, twenty-three of which were British. In no case did they sink their prizes at sea; they brought them in for proper trial and condemnation, according to the established law of the sea. The Russians seized or sank fifty-seven vessels, many of the small Japanese craft, but twenty-five of them Brtish, including the Hull trawler which they sank. Their proceedings were not in accordance with the established customs and law of naval war; they sank (in addition to the trawler) three British steamers without proper trial and condemnation, and in all three cases it would seem doubtful whether the ships had contraband onboard. This determination of neutral vessels at sea was a novel and indefensible procedure and gave the Germans excuse for their U-boat methods twelve years after. The stoppage of the British mail steamer Malacca on July 13th 1904, in the Red Sea by a Russian cruiser, which had left the Black Sea as a merchantman, was an act, which it is impossible to justify. The Malacca was seized in neutral water; she was remote from the scene of hostilities; she had ammunition onboard for the British Navy at Hong Kong. Yet she was not released till July 27th, and then only after sharp diplomatic protest had been made.
The Japanese blockade of Vladivostock was so thorough that all sea traffic to that place stopped, thus adding greatly to the Russian difficulties.
On August 9th peace negotiations opened at Portsmouth in the United States, but they did not end till September 5th, when the treaty which bears the name of that place was signed, giving Japan all that she had fought for with such heroism.
from Battleships in Action
Artwork of the Battle of Tsushima
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