An Officer’s Letter

The following letter from one of the officers at St. Olga’s station, formerly on board the “Izumrud”, throws some further light on the events of the day.

“All the terrible sorrow and misfortune which we were destined to witness remains before our eyes. Comparatively little fell to our personal share. We are all fairly well; but how we survived the destruction of our vessel I will not dare to describe. I fear they will welcome us with mud at St. Petersburg, saying it was quite simple to go to Vladivostok. Perhaps this was possible, though it is certain that at Cape Povorotny we were pursued. They seized a lighter, with an officer, which put to sea on 30 May; but I would rather undergo almost anything than have seen four Russian vessels surrendered to the enemy by Niebogatov! Had any one made such a suggestion the day before, he would have been called a lunatic. We were not cut off from him, and at that moment were keeping in line with him. When he lowered his lfag we broke away and sailed off, eluding pursuit, although making straight for the Japanese shore. We were convinced that it was our turn to die when the Japanese surrounded us with all their fleet. If we had left Niebogatov half an hour sooner we should have reached Vladivostok. I am not clear in what respect the censor mutilated the report of our captain, but from the published telegram it might be concluded that we fled from the squadron. It might also conceal the fact that our vessels surrendered….. We have spent a few days uselessly here, detained on some commissions. Tomorrow we shall begin our journey to Vladivostok, the whole band of us taking more or less time, but not less than a month. The journey is four hundred versts, with little rivers to ford, and no bridges. At another time it would be exceedingly interesting. It is a wonderful country. Maybe Vladivostok will be besieged, or the matter will have reached the peace stage when you receive this letter. If we do not arrive there, we shall go into the country inland.

“You have no doubt heard a great deal about the horrors of 28 May. These pictures of sinking vessels and men haunt one like a nightmare – the “Alexander III” turning upside down and still continuing to float; people in the bottom of her  people drowning on all sides, with no possibility of helping them. Our small boats were shattered. For a few minutes after we approached we became the target for seven cruisers which drew near; some of them were armoured. How it happened that not a shot struck us I cannot conceive. They began to take up positions within a few fathoms of us, splashing us all over, while fragments of shells exploding in the water wounded some of the men. One successful shot would have been enough to deprive us of the power of getting to our vessels (battleships), of which there were then nine out of twelve. We were two miles from the rearmost vessel (the “Nakhimov”), and before we succeeded in reaching her the “Borodino” was destroyed. In a twinkling all was over; a fire, a cloud of smoke, and then – nothing! 

“Night came on. Torpedo-attacks for some hours in succession – the penetrating beams of the search-lights –  the boom of cannon – the distant shouts of the Japanese when the illumination revealed someone to them! – here was an inferno in panorama! The “Nakhimov”, “Navarin”, and “Sissoi” were no more. We did not see their destructio ; but the dawn told us thereof – that dreadful morning of 29 May. 

“When we reach Vladivostok, perhaps peace will be already concluded – shameful, dreadful peace. But where can we go now, with this sense of disgrace at beholding, with our own eyes, four flags lowered?

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