The Battle of the Sea of Japan – Part 4

Concerning speed, I consider it necessary to premise that from the rates obtained at trial and more especially the contract rates – it must not be understood that the original speed could be maintained in action. Nothing diminishes so rapidly in a ship on service as her speed. The diminution of speed is far from being uniform in all vessels. Those in which everything is sacrificed to speed – where everything else is treated as a secondary consideration in order to obtain it, whose engines and boilers are very complicated and delicate, requiring the care of watchful and experienced men – will, with selected coal and the assistance of engineers and stokers from the works, attain surprising speed on their trials; but they are liable to a great decrease on service. Speed may also be greatly minimised by the condition of the sea. 

Moreover, the smaller the vessel the greater the speed. Speed is likewise diminished by bad coal, even though a larger quantity of it may be consumed. Besides, it must not be thought that the contract rate, or the trial rate, even if it were preserved, would be the ordinary speed of the ship. To attain the highest speed, most strenuous efforts are required from the men in the engine-room, together with a great consumption of coal, – which increases much faster than the rate of speed. This explains the long voyages performed by ships at the so-called “economical rate” when the greatest distances are travelled on a given amount of coal, irrespective of speed. Ships can only travel at full speed for from 12 to 24 hours, not more; often for not nearly so long. For instance, the cruiser “Novik” whose highest speed was 25 knots, could only keep up that speed for 24 hours with her stock of coal, during which time she travelled 660 miles. At her “economical rate” (12 knots), she might do 2370 miles, but for that would require eight times 24 hours. The battleship “Poltava” at full speed (16 knots) could cover 1750 miles. in 45 days, but only on the improbable supposition that the crew, boilers, and machinery generally, could keep up the effort throughout. With a speed of 10 knots she could cover 3750 miles in the course of 152 days.

Contract-built vessels undergo a speed trial at the works. Neither the contract speed nor that obtained at formal trials must be expected during war service. The greatest speed in practice, which we will call the war speed – which the vessel can only maintain for a short time, e.g. during battle. The speed at which a passage of importance may be made, without regard to expenditure of coal, and simply with a view to rapidity, we will call the maritime speed. With the ordinary consumption of coal and at the ordinary rate of travelling, a ship can go with half her boilers at work. 

Now with regard to the artillery. Lighter guns have no importance, except for defensive purposes and in connexion with repelling torpedo-boats. Even for that purpose, however, the late war has shown that they are too weak, and that nothing lighter than 3″ guns should be carried.

In the “Novoye Vremya” No. 10,475, appeared a table of our naval strength and that of the Japanese at the theatre of war, from which we may draw some interesting conclusions. 

Having compared the two battleship squadrons of Admiral Rozhestvensky, before his junction with Admiral Niebogatov, with the two armoured squadrons of Admiral Togo, we see what an immense preponderance of strength there was on the side of the Japanese. The roughest mode of comparison is to compare the displacement of the ships composing the squadrons, or simply to ascertain by addition the combined weights. Such a calculation would show the Japanese to have been 1.48 times as strong as ourselves. But here no account is taken of the particular value of individual ships, the differences in their artillery, armour protection, speed, number of torpedo-tubes, and, above all, most recent improvements. 

The more modern the construction, the more effective the matériel. For instance, the “Navarin” had ordinary steel armour, while the “Sissoi Veliky” “Oslabya” and four Japanese battleships and two of their armoured cruisers had steel armour tempered on the Harvey system. The Russian armour-clads of the type of the “Suvorov ” the “Mikasa” and the six large Japanese armoured cruisers carried side armour steel-tempered according to the improved Krupp system. The difference is this. If any kind of shot at a given distance pierces through a plate of ordinary steel say ten inches thick – with a plate of better material it might not break through at all. To find out what thickness of plate it could break through, perfected by the system of Harvey or Krupp, it would be necessary in the first place to multiply the ten inches by 19.22 and again by 8.13. 

Indeed, the more modern the ship the more perfect the construction of her armour. But there are sometimes extraordinary deviations from this rule, as when in the building of a ship the architect is pursuing a chimera. For instance, in the “Navarin” and “Sissoi Veliky” the extremities of the ships were not protected by armour, a system that was long ago pronounced a source of danger. These extremities might certainly be pierced at the water-line by shots from medium quick-firing artillery pouring in a continuous stream of projectiles, which would render the ship water-logged and unmanageable.

In the “Sissoi Veliky” of later date than the “Navarin” there were fewer vulnerable points. The same defects, though in a smaller degree, were admitted to exist in the “Oslabya” notwithstanding her comparative modernity, and the thickest part of her armour belt was so narrow that when she had taken everything on board-with that plentifulness for which our ships are so remarkable she sank so deeply that her armour was submerged. The armour, moreover, was comparatively thin, and did not cover the extremities of the ship. This is how it came about. The idea was to make this ship something between a battleship and an armoured cruiser; and, as was to be expected, she became neither one nor the other; only united in herself the defects of both. We may add here, by the way, that of the thirteen Japanese armoured vessels, two the “Fudji” and the “Yashima” – launched in the year 1896, had neither of them armour extending to the extremities. The general defect of all the ships we have been considering, with the exception of four Russian ironclads of the “Suvorov” type, is that of being unprotected or only partially protected by 3″ guns; and it was precisely in order to protect them that their guns were placed so little above the water-line, and consequently firing became difficult in rough weather through the gun positions getting swamped.

Moreover, the more modern the ship, the better are her artillery arrangements. Constant progress in that direction has brought us to this point: that a vessel can develop strong fire, not only from starboard and port, delivering what are called “broadsides” -but straight ahead and straight astern, from bows and stern. In this respect the most perfect of our battleships appeared to be the four of the “Suvorov” type. But all our other ships were inferior in this to those of the Japanese. It is now seen that all these qualities, some of which are very important, are entirely lost sight of when ships are compared in the mass through their tonnage. Equally difficult would it be to arrive at any definite judgement as to the value of gun power by simply counting the pieces of this and that calibre.

Of the new 12″ guns, one ship with another had about twenty; Rozhestvensky enjoyed the advantage of having extra ones – four old-type 12″ guns, eight (also old) 6″ guns – these making up all the artillery of the “Navarin” The Japanese had no old-type guns, but three new 10″ as well as the 12″ guns. The Japanese had on board their battle-fleet thirty 8″ guns, of which, on Rozhestvensky’s side, there was not one. The preponderance of the Japanese in 6″ and 3″ guns was enormous. Of the former they had 105 more than Rozhestvensky had – 2.6 times as many: of the latter eighty-four more – 1.8 times as many. 

Of course, the greater the range at which fighting takes place, the more important is the part played by guns of large calibre. Their shot, being heavier, can keep precision for a longer time, and pierce armour which shot of medium calibre cannot reach. This was clearly shown in the battles of 10 and 14 August, when the part of big guns was played by the 8″ guns. The Japanese did not wish to come to close range, and this they had the choice of doing, since they had the superiority in speed. Consequently, our ships had to fight for the greater part of the time at a distance of fifty to sixty cables – five to six miles. But, compared with guns of medium calibre, big guns present serious disadvantages. In the first place, they are comparatively not numerous; there are usually four guns of large calibre to thirty to thirty-six of medium calibre, of which about half are 6″ ones. Secondly, their fire is much slower. Therefore, though they strike with more precision, the number of their hits is insignificant. The shot of the medium artillery is discharged in such quantities thanks to its rapid firing (e.g. while a 12″ gun fires only one shot, the 8″ gun fires four, the 6″ gun from eight to twelve, and the 3″ from sixteen to twenty) and to their greater number – that they literally send forth showers of shells, which, however, fall somewhat at random, and, on striking the armoured parts of a vessel, do not penetrate. But some ships, especially the Russian “Oslabya” “Sissoi Veliky” and “Navarin” were in many places not protected at all, and thus damage was inflicted on them. For example, it was by such firing that Admiral Withoeft was killed, an event which had a fatal influence on the issue of the August battle. 

At short range the superiority of the big guns over the small ones disappears. The light guns can now reach their mark as well as the big ones; their capacity for piercing armour, however, remains of course less, but is still very considerable – i.e. increases not only absolutely but relatively, and the advantage derived from their greater numbers and greater rapidity in firing still remains. The 12″ gun finds its most serious opponent in the 8″ gun, with which all the Japanese cruisers were supplied, just as their battleships were supplied with big guns, in pairs, placed in two turrets on the forecastle and quarter-deck, so that they could fire from both ends. 

We will see how far the 8″ gun can carry, and what it is able to pierce. It represents the latest development in a class of weapon destined to play an important rôle in long-range battles. Of course, it has less penetrative power than either the 12″ or 10″ gun. That power, however, declines very gradually from the 12″ and 10″ to the 8″ gun; whereas the decline, when one passes from the 8″ to the 6″ gun, is very considerable. Besides, as the calibre of the gun diminishes the propellant power of the charge increases. In our Russian Naval Artillery the charge of the 12″ gun contains 1 per cent. of its own weight in explosive matter, i.e. about 8 lb., while a charge of the same kind for the 8″ gun would contain in explosive matter I.7 per cent. of its own weight, i.e. about 3.7 lb. ; and since the 8″ gun, in the same space of time, projects from three to four times as many missiles as the 12″ gun, it would fire into a vessel from 11 to 15 lb. of explosives to the 8 lb. of the 12″ gun. This figure, however, must be correspondingly reduced, as there would be parts of the enemy’s vessel which a 12″ gun could penetrate, but, at a certain distance, not the 8″ gun. In any case, these guns represent great striking force, and Togo had on board his battleships thirty such guns, while Rozhestvensky had not one.

It seems to me that all the foregoing considerations distinctly prove that to compare vessels by their displacement is a very crude method„ and one goes astray in attempting to balance all their qualities. That is why I have tried to estimate them by what is called their “battle-strength” which again is far from being the exact measure of their strength. To sum up all its elements would be too complicated; but some of these may be indicated: the quantity and system of armour plating, rapidity of firing, speed of vessel, and so on. As to judging feets by their tonnage or displacement, Togo’s feet was said to be I.48 times as great as that of Rozhestvensky; i.e. before Niebogatov joined him. But on examining the matter in detail I found that the superiority of the Japanese in tonnage was far greater.

Comparing the adversaries by their military coefficients, Togo was I.8 times stronger than Rozhestvensky. This plainly shows how terribly in need of battleships Rozhestvensky was, and the importance attached to his junction with Niebogatov. 

A comparison of Togo’s battleships with the united warships of Rozhestvensky and Niebogatov ought perhaps to have set our minds at rest. It certainly appeared that Togo was only 1.2 stronger, and without the “Yashima” not more than I.1 stronger. But when the test of military coefficients was applied the strength of the Russian combined fleet became much less. Togo is shown to be I.45 times stronger than ourselves ; or I.37 times without the “Yashima” Let us consider which of the different conclusions is the more probable.

Niebogatov brought Rozhestvensky eleven new 10″ guns; a contribution of great importance. This made the heavy artillery of his feet nearly 1.7 more powerful than that of the Japanese – admitting, of course, that the 10″ guns were equal to 12″ guns. Without counting the “Yashima “‘ it made his heavy artillery twice as powerful as that of the enemy. But the rest of Niebogatov’s artillery was insignificant : twelve 4.7″ guns on board four vessels; and the guns of the “Imperator Nikolai I” which were all old. The principal weakness of Admiral Niebogatov’s ships, however, lay in their armour. In all the battleships the armour was of ordinary steel, except the “Admiral Apraxin” which had Harveyed armour. The guns of medium calibre in all four vessels were without protection. The armour on the hull of the “Imperator Nikolai I” was satisfactory, extending from prow to stern. On board the other three the armour was more than weak. Therefore, at a long range all these three battleships might seriously suffer from the fire of medium-calibre artillery. Finally, compared to the Japanese, their speed was extremely moderate; so that, whenever the Japanese might wish to approach them, Rozhestvensky’s superiority through his heavy guns would be greatly diminished. Also the “Imperator Nikolai I” obsolete artillery would affect matters considerably. To this must be added that the three armoured coast-defence vessels, in consequence of their small size, were unsuited to the open sea. In battle this would be evinced in a marked manner, and also in rough weather. While all the other ships would be freely using their artillery the action of these small vessels would be impeded by their gun positions getting full of water  the accuracy of their firing being affected, moreover, by the heave of the sea. Fine weather on a day of battle cannot, of course, be counted on; but in consequence of their higher speed, the Japanese could enter into or retire from battle independently of weather, just as it suited them. 

The general superiority of all the Japanese armoured vessels over ours, not yet mentioned, was due to their better seaworthiness and smaller susceptibility to rolling. 

Certainly, I once more repeat, all these details cannot be put forward as showing completely the sum of the military coefficients. But the most important ones stand out, and to this mode of comparison I give the preference. Those not content with my method may be recommended to try another. 

In addition to his squadron of armoured cruisers, Admiral Niebogatov brought one weak cruiser, the “Vladimir Monomakh” There would be no use, therefore, in comparing our cruisers individually with those of Japan, even after the junction of Niebogatov with Rozhestvensky. The influence of these squadrons on the general result of the fighting would be insignificant. But in the preliminary stages they might have played an important part as scouts; also in accompanying and aiding attacks of the torpedo vessels, upon which fell the duty of endeavouring to weaken the enemy by harassing operations before the development of the general action. 

In order to repulse the Japanese squadrons and to anticipate their attacks, the Russian Admiral ought to have sent out his cruisers, which, to be successful, ought to have possessed sufficient strength to drive back the intruding enemy. Not only should they have possessed greater strength, but also greater speed, as in consequence of the superiority of their torpedo fleet and the better information that reached them, the Japanese were sure to take the initiative. Rozhestvensky ought to have had a greater number of cruisers, since it was impossible for him to divine whence the enemy’s attack would be delivered. Unfortunately, the superiority in cruisers was altogether on the side of the Japanese. Against our four cruisers of the first and second class they had seven of the second class. Against our three third-class cruisers they had eight, and three despatch-vessels against our one. To this it must be added that the work of the scouting service was much aided by torpedo craft, in which the Japanese had a crushing preponderance. On board the Japanese cruisers there were 8″ guns, while we possessed none; and the difference between the 6″ guns of the Russian cruisers and the 4.7″ guns of the Japanese was not so great in battle between ships unprotected with armour. 

The “Oleg” was stronger than the “Tshitose” and the “Takasago”  owing to part of her artillery being protected by stronger shields. But in the “Aurora” there was no such superiority, and her speed was inferior to that of the Japanese cruisers. The employment of Japanese armoured cruisers for scouting purposes was always very possible, since in approaching our main force in small numbers, and even singly, they exposed themselves to no great risk, especially in the daytime. The Russians had no such cruisers with which to drive them off; and from the battleships they could easily escape, thanks to their superior speed.

Our cruisers “Zhemtshug” and “Izumrud” had excellent speed, which might have proved of great use in pursuing the enemy’s torpedo craft. But if the latter were covered by any one of their third-class cruisers, then our cruisers would have had to meet them, one against one, with much stronger artillery on the enemy’s side. It was precisely in such circumstances that the “Novik” (of the same type as the “Zhemtshug” and the “Izumrud”) perished, fighting against a cruiser of the type of the “Tsushima” whose artillery armament was nearly twice as strong as hers. 

In comparing our cruiser squadron with that of the Japanese (by estimating the displacement and the strength of the artillery) it is seen that in the first case the Japanese were I.6 times stronger  while in the number of our 6″ and 3″ guns we hardly yielded to them at all. But they had seven 8″ guns, of which we had not one and as to the number of 4.7″ guns they had 5·6 times as many as the Russians. In like manner they carried on board their cruisers nearly three times as many torpedo-tubes as we had in ours.

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