Battle of Tsushima pt 1
Tsushima Strait, Eastern Channel, 27 May 1905, 1339 hrs.
"It is absurd to think of steaming victoriously into Vladivostok, or of getting command of the sea! The only possible chance is a dash through, and having dashed through, after two, three, or at the most four sallies, we shall have burnt all our supplies of coal, and have shed our blossoms before we have bloomed. We shall have to prepare for a siege, take our guns on shore, teach the crew to use bayonets."
Navigating Flag Lieutenant Filippovsky aboard Kn. Suvorov
In October 1904, Russia's Baltic Fleet, now renamed the Second Pacific Squadron, was preparing to set out on its long and difficult journey to reinforce the embattled Russian naval forces at Port Arthur.
The difficulties facing Rear Admiral Zinovi Petrovitch Rozhdestvenski were unprecedented. Coal-fired warships were not designed for 18,000-mile journeys without the benefit of extensive dockyard facilities along the way. Their reciprocating engines pounded themselves to pieces over long periods of time, unless run at their slowest speeds, and were prone to breakdowns. Their steam boilers needed frequent cleaning that made the heat of the tropics, especially for the Russian crewman, an unbearable hell.
Raw crews, many of whom had never sailed before and who felt that the war was already lost, manned the ships. Others were plotting revolution. There was a shortage of engineers forcing the commandeering of many from private shipping firms. Most of the Baltic Fleet was made up of men whose love of home was stronger than their sense of duty. Gunnery and ship handling were things of mystery. Nothing went right during two weeks of practice. Ships collided with each other, and the gunners seemed hopeless. Rozhdestvenski's optimism was fading.
Coaling for the long voyage would be another problem. Coal had been declared contraband, something the Japanese government had foreseen and prepared for before the war. For years the Japanese had been purchasing large quantities of the practically smokeless Cardiff Coal. The Russians were not.
Japan's ally, Britain, would not sell Russia even a pound of her fine Welsh coal. Anxious to keep Russia in the war, for as long as possible, Kaiser Wilhelm II eventually agreed to help. With German bases few and far between on the route to the Far East, he arranged for a fleet of sixty colliers of the Hamburg-Amerika Line to supply coal between Libau in the Baltic and Port Arthur. Where there were no friendly or neutral ports, the coal would be loaded at sea directly from the colliers.
On 15 October 1904, the Second Pacific Squadron finally set sail from the Baltic and headed toward their comrades at Port Arthur, it would be May 1905 before they finally arrived.
Kokoku no kohai kono issen ni ari; kakuin isso funrei doryoku seyo
The fate of the Empire rests upon this one battle; let every man do his utmost.
Admiral Togo to the Japanese Fleet, 27 May 1905
After nearly superhuman effort and an unprecedented voyage of 18,000 miles around the world from the Baltic, the now Vice Admiral Zinovi Petrovitch Rozhdestvenski, by May 1905 was steaming through the South China Sea. The Third Pacific Squadron, under the command of Rear Admiral Nikolai Nebogatov, had joined Rozhdestvenski's fleet that month. The reinforcement sent by St. Petersburg was actually more of a hindrance than help. Nebogatov's ships were old, built in the 1880s, and only one of them could be classed a battleship. The rest were coastal defense ships that would slow the progress of the fleet.
With Port Arthur now in Japanese hands the only remaining Russian port in the region was Vladivostok. There were three possible routes that Rozhdestvenski could take, all through relatively narrow straits. The first two, La Perouse and Tsugaru, were at the northern end of the Japanese home islands. A voyage through them meant steaming up the east coast of Japan, and would require another coaling at sea, all the while vulnerable to attack. The third alternative, the Tsushima Strait, would lead his fleet through the heart of the Japanese controlled seas. With the condition of his fleet and the need to make Vladivostok before his coal was gone, Rozhdestvenski made the only choice he could. Tsushima Strait would have to be his chosen route.
Through the night of 26-27 May, the Russian fleet, steaming at 9 knots finally began to penetrate the Tsushima Straits. Admiral Rozhdestvenski's fleet, steaming with lights dimmed, pushed deeply into the straits and passed through the Japanese outer patrol line. Unfortunately for the Russians the hospital ship Orel, stationed several miles to the rear of the fleet, was lit up like a Christmas tree in observance of international law. Shinano Maru, one of the Japanese auxiliary cruisers that had been out on the outer patrol line was returning to her day station when she sighted Orel. Captain Morikawa, commander of Shinano Maru, correctly identified the Russian vessel and after radioing his report, "Enemy's smoke in sight", at 0445 hrs dashed off to the north in pursuit of the now visible Russian fleet.
Shortly after 0630 hrs Mikasa joined the fleet in Douglas Inlet having left Sylvia Basin upon receipt of the sighting report. A few minutes later a report came in from Idzumi, which had been shadowing the Russians since dawn. The Russians were heading for the Eastern Channel. Togo led his ships to sea, heading round to the north of Tsushima Island and then southeast toward Okinoshima, the place where nearly a year ago the Russians had sunk the Japanese military transports. Togo wanted to intercept the Russians at this spot where the spirits of the unburied Japanese dead would inspire his men to fire with a vengeance.
At around 0950 hrs Admiral Kataoka leading the Fifth Division, who had been steaming in search of the Russian fleet, could dimly make out in the mist what seemed to be over a dozen ships in two lines ahead. Gradually closing to five miles he kept a parallel course on their port bow, followed by Rear Admiral Togo leading the Sixth Division. By 1015 hrs Admiral Kataoka realized that he was in the presence of the Russian main body, he hoisted his battle flags and proceeded to lead the enemy toward Admiral Togo's battle line.
When Admiral Dewa leading the Third Division arrived at around 1114 hrs, he closed the range to the Russians to such an extent that Rozhdestvenski, who had earlier formed his fleet into a single line of battle, split his First Division off in a failed attempt to ward off what he assumed was an attack. Rozhdestvenski had attempted to take his First Division to starboard of the main line and form line abreast in order to confront head-on the Japanese cruisers coming in from his port bow. Poor ship handling or missed signals threw his division into disarray and stymied his plan forcing his division to now race to get back into position ahead of the rest. While this was happening other Russian ships opened fire on Dewa's cruisers. Dewa turned to port and pulled ahead of the Russians, disappearing into the mist.
At 1247 hrs Admiral Togo was about 10 miles to the northwest of Okinoshima. Having never been informed that Rozhdestvenski had at one point formed his fleet into single line ahead, Togo was acting under the false presumption that if he now turned west and then south he would be able to engage the Russian fleet's weaker port column. It was purely owing to the Russians poor seamanship that when the two fleets engaged they were still in two columns, as Togo believed. Togo also believed that the Russians were further to the east and that they should appear before him off his port bow. Then at 1339 hrs with the mist clearing the enemy fleet came into sight, only they were to the southwest off his starboard bow.
Admiral Togo may have been surprised by the Russian's position, but he quickly reacted. Togo ordered his ships to starboard and crossed the Russian's path as if to attack the port column, which his scouts had reported to be the weaker of the two, on an opposite course.
Then to the amazement of the Russian commanders and sailors alike, Togo led his fleet in a great U-turn, coming up on a parallel course with the Russians on their port side. The following account is by Vladimir Semenoff, taken from his book "The Battle of Tsushima":
"Now the fun will begin," thought I to myself, going up to the after-bridge, which seemed to be the most convenient place for carrying out my duty of seeing and noting down everything, as from there I could see both the enemy and our own fleet. Lieutenant Reydkin, commanding the after starboard 6-inch turret, was also there, having dashed up to see what was going on, as the fight was apparently to commence to port, and his turret would not be in action.
We stood side by side, exchanging now and again abrupt remarks, not understanding why the Japanese intended crossing to our port side, when our weak spot-the transports and cruisers covering them-was astern, and to starboard of us. Perhaps, having commenced the fight while steering on the opposite course, and having taken advantage of their superior speed, they calculated on rounding us from the stern, in order to fall at the same time on our transports and weak rear! If so, a raking fire would present no difficulties.
"Hullo! Look! What are they up to?" said Reydkin, and his voice betrayed both delight and amazement.
I looked and looked, and, not believing my eyes, could not put down my glasses. The Japanese ships had suddenly commenced to turn "in succession" to port, reversing their course!
If the reader recollects what has been said previously on the subject of turns, he will easily understand that this maneuver made it necessary for all the enemy's ships to pass in succession over the point on which the leading ship had turned; this point was, so to speak, stationary on the water, making it easy for us to range and aim. Besides -even with a speed of 15 knots, the maneuver must take about fifteen minutes to complete, and all this time the vessels, which had already turned, would mask the fire of those which were still coming up.
"How rash!" said Reydkin, who could not keep quiet. "Why, in a minute we'll be able to roll up the leading ships!"
"Please God, we may!" thought I.
It was plain to me that Togo, seeing something which he had not expected, had suddenly changed his mind. The maneuver was undoubtedly risky, but, on the other hand, if he found it necessary to steer on the opposite course, there was no other way of doing it. He might have ordered the fleet to turn "together," but this would have made the cruiser Iwate the leading ship in action, which he evidently did not wish. Togo accordingly decided to turn "in succession," in order that he should lead the fleet in person, and not leave success at the commencement of the action to depend upon the presence of mind and enterprise of the junior flag-officer. (The Iwate flew Rear-Admiral Shimamura's flag.)
My heart beat furiously, as it had never done before during the six months at Port Arthur. If we succeeded! God grant it! Even though we didn't sink one of them, if we could only put one out of action! The first success- was it possible?
Meanwhile Rozhdestvenski hastened to avail himself of this favorable opportunity.
At 1.49 p.m., when the maneuver had been performed by the Mikasa and Shikishima (two only out of the twelve), the Suvorov fired the first shot at a range of 6,400 yards, and the guns of the whole fleet thundered forth. I watched closely through my glasses. The shots which went over and those which fell short were all close, but the most interesting, i.e. the hits, as in the fight of 10th August, could not be seen. Our shells on bursting emitted scarcely any smoke, and the fuses were adjusted to burst inside after penetrating the target. A hit could only be detected when something fell - and nothing fell! In a couple of minutes, when the Fuji and Asahi had turned also and were following the first ships, the enemy began to reply.
The first shells flew over us. At this range some of the long ones turned a complete somersault, and could clearly be seen with the naked eye curving like so many sticks thrown in the air. They flew over us, making a sort of wail, different to the ordinary roar.
"Are those the portmanteaus?" asked Reydkin, smiling.
"Yes. Those are they."
But what struck me most was that these " portmanteaus," curving awkwardly head over heels through the air and falling anyhow on the water, exploded the moment they touched its surface. This had never happened before.
After them came others short of us- nearer and nearer. Splinters whistled through the air, jingled against the side and superstructure. Then, quite close and abreast the foremost funnel, rose a gigantic pillar of smoke, water and flame. I saw stretchers being carried along the fore-bridge, and I leaned over the rail.
"Prince Tsereteli!" shouted Reydkin from below, in reply to my silent question, as he went towards his turret.
The next shell struck the side by the center 6-inch turret, and there was a tremendous noise behind and below me on the port quarter. Smoke and tongues of fire leapt out of the officers' gangway; a shell having fallen into the captain's cabin, and having penetrated the deck, had burst in the officers' quarters, setting them on fire.
And here I was able to observe, and not for the first time, the stupor which seems to come over men, who have never been in action before, when the first shells begin to fall. A stupor which turns easily and instantaneously, at the most insignificant external shock, into either uncontrollable panic which cannot be allayed, or into unusually high spirits, depending on the man's character.
The men at the fire mains and hoses stood as if mesmerized, gazing at the smoke and flames, not understanding, apparently, what was happening. I went down to them from the bridge, and with the most commonplace words, such as "Wake up! Turn the water on!"- got them to pull themselves together and bravely to fight the fire.
I was taking out my watch and pocket-book to make a note of the first fire, when something suddenly struck me in the waist, and something large and soft, though heavy, hit me in the back, lifting me up and hurling me on to the deck. When I again got up, my note-book and watch were in my hands as before. My watch was going; but the second hand was slightly bent, and the glass had disappeared. Stupefied by the blow, and not myself, I began carefully to hunt for it on the deck, and found it unbroken. Picking it up, I fitted it in to my watch-and, only then realizing that I had been occupied with something of no importance, I looked round.
Candida pro causa ense candido - With pure arms for a pure cause
Motto of Marshal Mannerheim