I shall now consider whether he had the means of preventing the surrender of the “Biedovy”.
“In my opinion” writes Captain Andrzheievsky, “the only thing I could have done would have been to fire on the “Biedovy” and sink her, so as to prevent the Admiral falling into the hands of the Japanese. And this idea did enter my head”. I can by no means agree with this opinion. The course which the commander of the “Grozny” considers to have been the only one open to him, seems to me to be such as only to be taken in the very last extremity; I even hesitate to raise the question, Had the commander of the “Grozny” the right, even in the last extremity, to sink a Russian ship and destroy her crew?
It seems to me that he might have fired on the Japanese torpedo-vessels, in the hope that one of his shells might prevent them from capturing the “Biedovy” and oblige the latter to come to her senses and join in the battle. Moreover, the Japanese themselves would have forced the “Biedovy” to do this, since if the “Grozny” had begun to interfere with their capture of the “Biedovy,”, they would have opened fire on her, without paying attention to the flag of truce. They had a right to ignore the Red Cross flag from the very first, since it had been hoisted irregularly, after the appearance of the enemy. Strictly speaking, the flag of truce did not denote an unconditional surrender, the special sign of which is the lowering of the ensign. It is not clear to me whether this had been done or not. When Niebogatov surrendered, according to evidence from the “Idsumi”, he lowered his ensign, and made by the international code the signal “I surrender”. The flag of truce merely signifies the wish to parley, and the Japanese had a perfect right not to agree to this.
In my opinion the action of the “Grozny”, might have been as follows. On receiving no answer to her question, “Why sail away? Why not stay and fight?” on seeing that the “Biedovy” did not quicken her speed, the “Grozny” might have approached near enough to hail her with a speaking-trumpet, in order to find out what the “Biedovy” was going to do, and to protest against surrender, if there had been time, before the hoisting of the flag of truce. The commander of the “Grozny” could not but have suspected that something irregular was being planned on board the “Biedovy” the moment he received orders to make for Vladivostok. This suspicion ought to have been increased when he received no answer to his question, and the “Biedovy” did not quicken speed. Even at the moment when it became certain that she was about to surrender- and in his opinion the flying of the flags on board indicated this – he might have signalled to her, “I don’t consent to a surrender request the; Biedovy to fight; I shall not go to vladivostok, but shall fight, though alone. I shall not allow you to surrender while I have a gun to fire, but take on myself the responsibility of both boats and their fate.”‘ Had he time to do this?
A plan exists which shows the relative positions of the torpedo- boats according to information received from the commander of the “Grozny”. From this it would seem that. up to the time when the enemy appeared, the “Grozny” was following astern of the “Biedovy” at a distance of about two cables (400 yards), but when the “Grozny”, overtook the “Biedovy” in order to ask what she was to do, the two vessels were in line, about a cable’s length apart. The speed of the two destroyers was from 12 to 14 knots, but the “Grozny” might have steamed much faster in a calm sea. It takes half a minute to steam one cable with a speed of only 12 knots. Therefore the “Grozny” might have approached the “Biedovy” the instant the latter stopped her engines, especially as to meet the Japanese the “Grozny” had to pass the “Biedovy”. I do not imagine that those on board the “Biedovy” would have refused to obey the orders of the commander of the “Grozny”. Yet it seems to me that it was not necessary for him to give orders, but only to bring them to their senses by energetic words. If they had not obeyed his orders at once, or had not obeyed them at all – and I admit it would have been difficult to do so – yet the sight of their comrades fighting alone against two Japanese vessels must have forced the “Biedovy” to open fire.
What would have happened if the “Biedovy” had persisted in her intention to surrender? In this case it would have been the honourable duty of the “Grozny” to fight alone against the two vessels of the enemy, and to have perished rather than have allowed the “Biedovy” , to be captured with the Admiral on board. Certainly in this case the overwhelming chances of victory would have been in favour of the Japanese, yet even they would not have come out of the battle unscathed. It would have been sufficient had the shells of the “Grozny” damaged the Japanese engines, and one successful shot at each boat might have done this. Then the “Biedovy” could have gone off, even if she had not fought. The “Grozny” could only have attained such a result in a battle at close range, when the probability of hitting would have been greatest. In general, the shorter the range the more advantageous would have been the battle for our vessels.
The “Grozny” certainly could not have “stopped her engines and commenced a battle with two torpedo-vessels while keeping in the same place” as her commander writes. I quite agree with him that this would have been nothing less than a deliberate sacrifice. In general it is not possible to keep stationary and fight. In this case it would have allowed the Japanese to manoeuvre beyond the range of the 75 mm. gun of the “Grozny” and to fire torpedoes. Captain Andrzheievsky further writes that he could have defended the “Biedovy” with the last drop of his blood, if only she had not stopped her engines. I take the liberty of pointing out that in the first place there was no necessity for this, and in the second it was not correct from a tactical point of view. It was quite possible for the “Grozny” to keep up speed and manoeuvre in sight of the “Biedovy”. How she ought to have manoeuvred is impossible to point out here. It depended on the action of the Japanese; but the object of this manoeuvring would have been to avoid being in a line between the enemy and the “Biedovy” to avoid the shells from the Japanese torpedo-vessels, and to give the “Biedovy” a free field of fire, so that she might take part in the battle. No one can be certain that those on board the “Biedovy” would not in any case have come to their senses and taken part in the battle, or that in a battle at short range both the Japanese torpedo-boats might not have been damaged and prevented from capturing the “Biedovy” or that the “Grozny”, would have, for no purpose, run the risk of being sunk in a few minutes. No one, I repeat, can be certain of these things, and the battle ought therefore to have been begun in sight of the “Biedovy” and not out of her sight, as was the case, since the commander of the “Grozny” sailed away at the speed of twenty-two knots an hour.