Battle of Tsushima pt 2
I had probably been unconscious for some time, as the fire had been extinguished, and, save for two or three dead bodies on which water was pouring from the torn hoses, no one was to be seen. Whatever had struck me had come from the direction of the deck house aft, which was hidden from me by a mantlet of hammocks. I looked in the direction where the flag-officers, with a party of poop signalmen, should have been. The shell had passed through the deck house, bursting inside. Of the ten or twelve signalmen, some seemed to be standing by the starboard 6-inch turret, others seemed to be lying in a huddled group. Inside was a pile of something, and on the top lay an officers telescope.
"Is this all that is left?" I wondered, but I was wrong, as by some miracle Novosiltseff and Kozakevitch were only wounded and, helped by Maximoff, had gone to the dressing station, while I was lying on the deck occupied with mending my watch.
"Hullo! a scene that you are accustomed to? Like the 10th August?" said the irrepressible Reydkin, peeping out of his turret.
"Just the same" I replied in a confident tone. But it was hardly so: indeed, it would have been more correct to say-"Not in the least like."
On 10th August, in a fight lasting some hours, the Tsarevich was struck by only nineteen large shells, and I, in all seriousness, had intended in the present engagement to note the times and the places where we were hit, as well as the damage done. But how could I make detailed notes when it seemed impossible even to count the number of projectiles striking us? I had not only never witnessed such a fire before, but I had never imagined anything like it. Shells seemed to be pouring upon us incessantly, one after another.
After six months with the Port Arthur squadron I had grown indifferent to most things. Shimose and melinite were to a certain extent old acquaintances, but this was something new. It seemed as if these were mines, not shells, which were striking the ship's side and falling on the deck. They burst as soon as they touched anything - the moment they encountered the least impediment in their flight. Handrails, funnel guys, topping lifts of the boats' derricks, were quite sufficient to cause a thoroughly efficient burst. The steel plates and superstructure on the upper deck were torn to pieces, and the splinters caused many casualties. Iron ladders were crumpled up into rings, and guns were literally hurled from their mountings.
Such havoc would never be caused by the simple impact of a shell, still less by that of its splinters. It could only be caused by the force of the explosion. The Japanese had apparently succeeded in realizing what the Americans had endeavored to attain in inventing their "Vesuvium."
In addition to this, there was the unusual high temperature and liquid flame of the explosion, which seemed to spread over everything. I actually watched a steel plate catch fire from a burst. Of course, the steel did not burn, but the paint on it did. Such almost non - combustible materials as hammocks, and rows of boxes, drenched with water, flared up in a moment. At times it was impossible to see anything with glasses, owing to every thing being so distorted with the quivering, heated air. No, It was different to the 10th August.
I hurriedly went to the Admiral in the conning tower. Why? At the time I did not attempt to think, but now feel sure that I merely wished to see him, and by seeing him to confirm my impressions. Was it all imagination? Was it all a nightmare? Had I become jumpy?
Running along the fore-bridge I almost fell, slipping in a pool of blood (the chief signalman-Kandaooroff-- had just been killed there). I went into the conning tower, and found the Admiral and Captain both bending down, looking out through the chink between the armor and the roof.
"Sir," said the Captain, energetically gesticulating as was his wont, "we must shorten the distance. They're all being killed-they are on fire!"
"Wait a bit. Aren't we all being killed also?" replied the Admiral.
Close to the wheel, and on either side of it, lay two bodies in officers' tunics-face downwards.
"The officer at the wheel, and Berseneff!" was shouted in my ear by a sub lieutenant -Shishkin-whose arm I had touched, pointing to the bodies. "Berseneff first-in the head-quite dead."
The range-finder was worked. Vladimirsky shouted his orders in a clear voice, and the electricians quickly turned the handles of the indicator, transmitting the range to the turrets and light gun batteries.
"We're all right," thought I to myself, going out of the conning tower, but the next moment the thought flashed across me: "They can't see what is going on on board." Leaving the tower, I looked out intently on all sides from the fore-bridge. Were not my recent thoughts, which I had not dared to put into words, realized?
The enemy had finished turning. His twelve ships were in perfect order at close intervals, steaming parallel to us, but gradually forging ahead. No disorder was noticeable. It seemed to me that with my Zeiss glasses (the distance was a little more than 4,000 yards), I could even distinguish the mantlets of hammocks on the bridges, and groups of men. But with us? I looked round. What havoc! -Burning bridges, smoldering debris on the decks, -piles of dead bodies. Signaling and judging distance stations, gun-directing positions, all were destroyed. And astern of us the Alexandr and Borodino were also enveloped in smoke. No , it was very different to the 10th August.
The enemy, steaming ahead, commenced quickly to incline to starboard, endeavoring to cross our T. We also bore to starboard, and again we had him almost on our beam.
It was now 2.5 p.m.
A man came up to report what had taken place in the after 12-inch turret. I went to look. Part of the shield over the port gun had been torn off and bent upwards, but the turret was still turning and keeping up a hot fire.
The officer commanding the fire parties had had both his legs blown off and was carried below. Men fell faster and faster. Reinforcements were required everywhere to replace casualties, even at the turrets into which splinters could only penetrate through the narrow gun ports. The dead were, of course, left to lie where they had fallen, but yet there were not enough men to look after the wounded.
There are no spare men on board a warship, and a reserve does not exist. Each man is detailed for some particular duty, and told off to his post in action. The only source which we could tap was the crews of the 47 millimeter, and machine, guns, who from the commencement of the fight had been ordered to remain below the armored deck so as not to be unnecessarily exposed. Having nothing to do now, as all their guns, which were in exposed positions on the bridges, had been utterly destroyed, we made use of them, but they were a mere drop in the ocean. As for the fires, even if we had had the men, we were without the means with which to fight them. Over and over again the hoses in use were changed for new ones, but these also were soon torn to ribbons, and the supply became exhausted. Without hoses how could we pump water on to the bridges and spar-deck where the flames raged ? On the spar-deck, in particular, where eleven wooden boats were piled up, the fire was taking a firm hold. Up till now, this "store of wood" had only caught fire in places, as the water which had been poured into the boats prior to the commencement of the action was still in them, though it was fast trickling out of the numerous cracks momentarily being made by the splinters.
We, of course, did everything possible: tried to plug the holes, and brought up water in buckets' I am not certain if the scuppers had been closed on purpose, or had merely become blocked, but practically none of the water we used for the fire ran overboard, and it lay, instead, on the upper deck. This was fortunate, as, in the first place, the deck itself did not catch fire, and, in the second, we threw into it the smoldering debris falling from above-merely separating the burning pieces and turning them over.
Seeing Flag Sub-Lieutenant Demchinsky standing by the ladder of the fore-bridge, with a party of forecastle signalmen near the starboard forward 6-inch turret, I went up to him. Golovnin, another sub-lieutenant, who was in charge of the turret, gave us some cold tea to drink, which he had stored in bottles. It seems a trifle, but it cheered us up.
Demchinsky told me that the first shell striking the ship had fallen right into the temporary dressing station, rigged up by the doctor in what seemed the most sheltered spot on the upper battery (between the center 6-inch turrets by the ship's ikon). He said that it had caused a number of casualties; that the doctor somehow escaped, but the ship's chaplain had been dangerously wounded. I went there to have a look at the place.
The ship's ikon or, more properly speaking, ikons as there were several of them, all farewell gifts to the ship, were untouched. The glass of the big ikon case had not even been broken, and in front of it, on hanging candlesticks, candles were peacefully burning. There wasn't a soul to be seen. Between the wrecked tables, stools, broken bottles, and different hospital appliances were some dead bodies, and a mass of something, which, with difficulty, I guessed to be the remains of what had once been men.
I had not had time properly to take in this scene of destruction when Demchinsky came down the ladder, supporting Flag Lieutenant Sverbeyeff, who could scarcely stand.
He was gasping for breath, and asked for water. Ladling some out of a bucket into a mess kettle, I gave him some, and, as he was unable to use his arms, we had to help him. He drank greedily, jerking out a few words - " It's a trifle -tell the Flag Captain-I'll come immediately-I am suffocated with these cursed gases-I'll get my breath in a minute." He inhaled the air with a great effort through his blue lips, and something seemed to rattle in his throat and chest, though not, of course, the poisonous gases. On the right side of his back his coat was torn in a great rent, and his wound was bleeding badly. Demchinsky told off a couple of men to take him down to the hospital, and we again went on deck.
I crossed over to the port side, between the forward 12-inch and 6-inch turrets, to have a look at the enemy's fleet. It was all there, just the same-no fires -no heeling over-no fallen bridges, as if it had been at drill instead of fighting, and as if our guns, which had been thundering incessantly for the last half-hour, had been firing-not shells, but the devil alone knows what!
Feeling almost in despair, I put down my glasses and went aft.
"The last of the halyards are burned," said Demchinsky to me. "I think I shall take my men somewhere under cover." Of course, I fully agreed. What was the use of the signalmen remaining under fire when nothing was left for them to signal with!
It was now 2.20 p.m.
Making my way aft through the debris, I met Reydkin hurrying to the forecastle. "We can't fire from the port quarter," he said excitedly; "everything is on fire there, and the men are suffocated with heat and smoke."
"Well! come on, let's get some one to put the fire out."
"I'll do that, but you report to the Admiral. Perhaps he will give us some orders."
"What orders can he give?"
"He may alter the course. I don't know!"
"What! leave the line? Is it likely?"
"Well! anyway, you tell him."
In order to quiet him, I promised to report at once, and we separated, going our ways. As I anticipated, the Admiral only shrugged his shoulders on hearing my report and said, "They must put the fire out. No help can be sent from here."
Instead of two dead bodies, five or six were now lying in the conning tower. The man at the wheel having been incapacitated, Vladimirsky had taken his place. His face was covered with blood, but his moustache was smartly twisted upwards, and he wore the same self-confident look as he had in the wardroom when discussing "the future of gunnery."
Within the hour, the battle was decided. Four Russian battleships were put out of commission by the concentrated fire of Admirals Togo and Kamimura's divisions. The Russian ships scattered, and the battle quickly degenerated into a melee. The shelling continued till 1920 hrs, when Admiral Togo ordered his flotillas to finish off the rest.
Candida pro causa ense candido - With pure arms for a pure cause
Motto of Marshal Mannerheim