The Battle of the Sea of Japan – Part 5

The chances of Admiral Rozhestvensky would have been considerably increased could he have added to his fleet the Vladivostok squadron: The “Gromoboi” and the “Rossia” would then have formed part of his armoured squadron, and the “Bogatyr” of his cruiser squadron, in which the latter would have made, with the “Oleg” a splendid pair. But we ought not to conceal from ourselves the difficulty of such a union. To effect a junction it would have been necessary to appoint a secret rendezvous beforehand, and to maintain its secrecy, which would have been rendered very difficult by the freedom with which foreign telegraphic lines were used. 

Moreover, as soon as the Vladivostok squadron came out, Rozhestvensky would have found it almost impossible to let Admiral Jessen know of any changes made, so that it would have been difficult for the latter to find a rendezvous for his squadron. The difficulty of forming a junction would have been increased by the fact that Admiral Jessen would have had to pass the Japanese squadron which lay between him and Admiral Rozhestvensky. He would have incurred the serious risk of falling upon an immensely strong force, being cut off from Vladivostok, and being annihilated. Nor must we exaggerate the importance of a junction of Rozhestvensky with the Vladivostok cruisers. On board the “Rossia”not a single gun was protected by armour, and she was inferior, as regards protection, to every one of the eight Japanese cruisers. The “Gromoboi” in this, was much superior; though even in her there remained unprotected two 8″ and four 6″ guns. Besides, on board the”Rossia,” as in the “Gromoboi” the 8″ guns could only fire on the broadside, whereas on board all the Japanese armoured cruisers these guns were placed in turrets, i.e. they were protected and could fire in different directions while only a few possessed 6″ guns insufficiently protected. Finally, the protection for the hull in the Japanese cruisers was much better, and again, on board our cruisers the armour belt was much narrower and did not extend to the extremities of the ship.

Passing to the general comparison of the total strength of which we and the Japanese could dispose in the theatre of war, we see that as regards displacement the superiority of the Japanese was insignificant – only 6749 tons – representing one vessel of medium size; while if we regarded the “Yashima” as destroyed, then the superiority, to the same number of tons, passes over to our side. We might also have found consolation in the fact that we had a greater number of big guns (1.5 times more if we count 10″ guns as equal to 12″ guns). But nothing else was in our favour.

The Japanese had in 8″ guns 4.6 times as many as the Russians ; in 6″ guns 1.5 times as many ; in 4`7″ guns three times as many; and in 3″ guns 1.4 times as many. On their side was the advantage in speed and consequent choice of range in battle, and the possible opportunity of turning to good account their medium artillery. Their ships in general were better armoured, newer, and more numerous. They were concentrated, whereas the Vladivostok squadron was separated from Rozhestvensky by an enormous distance. To reckon on the possibility of the Japanese detaching a material portion of their force to watch the Vladivostok squadron was out of the question. From a reconnaissance by our torpedo craft it appeared that the Japanese were not troubling themselves with Vladivostok at all. They concentrated all their forces in view of battle with Rozhestvensky. Their destroyer and torpedo flotillas had an immense superiority over ours; their positions were well protected by a line of floating mines, which Rozhestvensky did not possess at all.

In comparing our naval artillery with that of the Japanese we have had occasion to speak of the guns as “new” and “old”; as to which, it must be understood, the latter cannot in any degree be compared with the former. Everyone who is interested in this question and looks into some Year Book in order to see what these “old” and “new” guns are will find that there is no difference between them as regards calibre. They are all 12″ or 6″ guns. The only difference, apparently, is in the length of the gun. That is usually measured by calibres – the equivalent in inches of diameters of the tube. In the “Register” one will see the guns of the “Navarin” put down as 35 calibres long. The length of the old 12″ gun on board the “Imperator Nikolai I” was only 30 calibres. In all the Japanese ships the majority of the guns were 40 calibres in length, and were called “new” In the Russian ships only the 12″ guns were of 40 calibres in length, the others being of 45; while the 3″ pieces were as much as 50 calibres and also described as “new”; but they were not the newest type. There was no difference between these and the Japanese guns. Meanwhile, the “new” Japanese guns differed in length from the “old” Russian ones by 5 calibres, though the majority of the new Russian guns were superior to the new Japanese guns. 

This apparently contradictory statement needs explanation. It is this: that from the first introduction of rifled cannon, in order to ensure higher velocity to the projectile, the length of the gun was continuously increased. On firing, while the missile was passing down the barrel to the muzzle of the gun, a larger quantity of powder had time to be ignited, the charge also acting more slowly and less destructively upon the gun. Consequently, with the same strength of material it was found possible for the gun to be made relatively lighter. From 17 calibres at first, its length has reached 50 calibres. Meanwhile, progress was being made in other directions. Rapidity of firing had become the main object, and all kinds of experiments were made in facilitating and simplifying the firing of guns in regard to loading, aiming, and the supply of ammunition. Smokeless powder was experimented after, because thick smoke interfered with rapid firing by obscuring the target, and so on. Thus, at the beginning of 1890 in Russia (and several years earlier abroad), after the time when the heavy gun had reached 35 calibres, naval artillery suddenly made a stride forward in all the different directions spoken of. Smokeless powder was invented, the quality of gun-metal considerably improved, rendering it possible to lighten the gun considerably; and means were also discovered to increase in a great degree rapidity of firing. High explosives were used in ammunition, and the guns also were lengthened up to 40 and 45 calibres. 

For instance, the 12″ gun of the length of 30 calibres (“Imperator Nikolai I”), with an initial velocity of 1870 ft. per second, weighed 3140 poods. With the lengthening of this gun to 35 calibres (“Navarin”), its weight increased to 3433 poods, and its initial velocity to 2090 feet per second. From the year 1894 our ships began to be armed with the 12″ gun, 40 calibres in length, when the initial velocity increased to 2600 feet per second, the weight of the gun being diminished to 2614 poods. The projectiles used in all these guns were of the same weight, 810 lb. At that time the 6″ guns, 35 calibres in length (“Navarin”, “Imperator Nikolai” and !Nakhimov’), firing with smoke-giving or “black” powder, weighed 390 poods, had an initial velocity of 2117 feet per second, and required between every shot 1 to 2 minutes’ interval. These guns were heavy and slow to handle. A similar gun of 45 calibres’ length fires with smokeless powder, weighs 355 poods, its shot weighs 101 lb.; it has an initial velocity of 2600 feet per second, can be trained easily in all directions, and, firing with great rapidity, can discharge from two to four shots in a minute. 

It was precisely at this period of great changes that the Japanese began to build their feet, and they eagerly adopted everything that was new and perfected so that all their ships were armed with modern quick-firing artillery. Also, in some of those built earlier, the old artillery was speedily replaced by new. This accounts for their having no old guns. We, in this respect, were much behind them. Though we began to mount new guns in our ships in 1894, at the beginning of the war (i.e. ten years afterwards) there were only two ships, and those of no special military value – the “Vladimir Monomakh” and “Dmitri Donskoi” – on board which they had begun to change the artillery, while in the whole group of armour-clads, newer than the two cruisers just mentioned, the guns were of the old type (“Imperator Nikolai I”, “Imperator Alexander II”, “Navarin” five Black Sea battleships, “Nakhimov”, “Pamiat Azova” and “Kornilov”). With this obsolete artillery three of the ships (“Imperator Nikolai I”, “Navarin” and “Nakhimov”) started for the theatre of war. 

All the great improvements of which I have spoken in connexion with artillery reforms had been adopted by the Japanese. Their rapidity of firing was as great as ours, and the initial velocity of their guns was dependent, not only on their length, but also on the quality of the powder and the size of the charge. The smaller length of gun carries less weight and allows more artillery to be mounted. For instance, in the German feet they adhere in the most persistent manner to the 6″ gun (with a length of 40 calibres) and to a 3″ gun (which, till quite lately, had a length of only 30 calibres, though now these guns have been a little lengthened, but only to 35 calibres, whereas our 3″ guns had a length of 50 calibres). Such comparatively short 6″ and 3″ guns have been placed by the Germans on board some of their newest battleships, while for those they are proposing to build they have ordered new guns of 6.7″, but only 40 calibres long.

Among the various deficiencies in the matériel of our fleet pointed out in the Press, attention has been directed to the bad quality and insufficient quantity of our ammunition; and not without reason. Especially has our feet suffered continually from want of ammunition. New ships have been constructed and armed with the latest guns, but shells for these guns were omitted – “No hurry for shells; they can wait!” Things came to such a pass that on one occasion we were straining every nerve to get ready a squadron of ships for a definite purpose which for its successful realisation required a sudden onslaught. Everything had to be ready for the squadron to sail fully prepared to fight, twenty-four hours after receiving orders. Everything was ready – but for about half the necessary shells. That would be hard to beat, one would think. It was just this attitude to its work in hand, long characteristic of the Ministry of Marine, a continual unpreparedness of the fleet for battle, that led to the Second Squadron being incompletely provided with ammunition when on the point of starting. There was on board sufficient for one engagement, and about 15 to 20 per cent in reserve. For one fight that was more than enough, especially for the heavy guns, probably there would have been enough for two engagements; but practice firing was out of the question. For practice, it is true, a very limited quantity of shells had been provided, but only for the 3″ guns, so that it was impossible to practise with all the guns, and, moreover, owing to the limited range of these small guns, practice-firing at long range (just what was most necessary) could not be carried out.

As for the quality of our ammunition, in the manufacture of shells we show a marked divergence from the practice of other countries. In our shells the quantity of explosive used is far smaller than elsewhere. Shells employed in naval warfare are of two kinds- armour-piercing and merely explosive, differing in the quantity of explosive used. The shell containing most explosive has thinner walls and explodes readily on coming in contact with armour plate. On the other hand, when such a shell strikes parts protected by thin armour or completely unprotected, it inflicts greater damage, owing to its heavier charge. Such a shell is called a “non-piercing” one. 

As a matter of fact, we have no real non-piercing shells at all. Again, our shells are charged with pyroxylene, while English shells are charged with lyddite (the same as melinite), with greater explosive intensity. It may be argued as an offset that our shells are likely to be better for armour-piercing than the English ones, but this, in the case of big-calibre shells, is a disputed point. The proportion of the explosive used in the filling of the English shells is so great that, apart from the force of impact, the violence of the explosion contributes to the destruction of the armour. Moreover, English naval artillery is furnished with special shells for piercing the thickest plating· These shells have no charge, and are unknown in our country. Lastly, in our fleet, cast-iron shells are, unfortunately, still in use, though totally unsuitable for fighting ; and, what is still worse, such shells are supposed to form a third of the whole stock carried by a ship in time of war. 

Admiral Rozhestvensky’s squadron carried this proportion of cast-iron shells. Now, according to English official data (Hand- book on Ammunition, issued by authority of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty), all shells on board English men-of- war are of steel. In general, our naval artillery suffers from many defects, and in the fleet it is believed that the blame rests entirely upon the gunnery department of the Technical Committee. This department shows a criminal negligence in not introducing into our Navy improvements in artillery which have long since been adopted in western countries.

Why this is the case I will not explain here. I desire to discuss the question of telescopic sighting. Telescopic sighting consists in using a binocular, or telescope, by which the objective can be clearly distinguished. The importance of this is evident when it is necessary to fire at a distance of 60 to 70 cables. With the naked eye absolutely nothing could be distinguished at so great a distance. This important matter was ruminated over for an unheard-of period, and in a quite objectless manner, by our unlucky Ministry, with the result that they were only just in time to supply Admiral Rozhestvensky’s fleet with these sights. 

Indeed, when the war broke out, not one of our ships possessed a telescopic sight. In the course of conversation with gunnery officers belonging to the ships that fought in the action of 10 August, 1904, I was informed that, owing to the want of telescopic sights on board their ships, they had to shoot very much at random. Indeed, so necessary were these sights, that they had to be improvised with the means at hand. They had been requisitioned for Port Arthur times out of number, even before the war, but the demand was as a voice crying in the wilderness. Such was the negligence displayed in this matter that the turrets of our newest ironclads, of the “Suvorov”’ type (which ships, by the way, had not then been launched), were not fitted to take telescopic sights, and that, too, in spite of the fact that such sights had already been invented and tested several years previously – they were tested in 1901 – and it had virtually been decided that such sights were indispensable in modern warfare.

This fact had been completely forgotten, and it was not till after the feet left Libau that efforts were made, with the aid of the ship’s engineers, to construct openings in the upper part of the turrets to suit telescopic sights. 

Owing to the lack of appliances on board, this labour was like making bricks without straw. When Vigo was reached, three weeks after the fleet left Russia, the work was still going on. 

Again, take the method of firing guns of medium calibre; our attitude in this question has been, and still is, no less pitiable. In our Navy a gun is fired by pulling a metal lanyard, which is liable to break and is continually coming away. The result is that there is often a delay in the firing; in other words, the discharge does not take place at the moment when the gunner releases the hammer by a jerk on the lanyard, but somewhat later. The worst of it is, you never can tell just how much delay there will be. Sometimes it is less, sometimes greater; every now and then the instrument misses fire altogether. This delay in the discharge considerably impairs the accuracy of the shooting, and the greater the speed of the ship, and the greater the rolling, the greater will be the error caused by the delay, as the gun will point either too low or too high. At a distance of only forty cables an error of one-twelfth of a degree in direction means that the shell would miss a ship, and moreover, during the rolling the vessel shifts its angle of inclination at the rate of 21° in a second. In the battle of Tsushima there was just this heavy rolling to contend against. Efforts have for a long time past been made to fire by means of electricity, in order to minimise delay. In the English fleet such a means has long been in use; and we find it expressly mentioned in the official publication I have referred to above. Our own officers on board the “Rossia” who were present at the naval review held on the occasion of the Jubilee of the late Queen Victoria, made a report on this appliance. 

This was years ago, and yet we still go on using the same old lanyard, which has been condemned by gunnery officers in every report on gunnery practice. One could point out plenty more of such things, but it would take too long in the telling.

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