Experience on Board the “Zhemtshug”

“All that I wrote previously was penned as my feelings dictated. Perhaps my account erred in respect of the strict order in which these events happened, and was only fragmentary; but in any case, all that I have told you is what actually flashed before my eyes. And now, basing my remarks on direct personal observation before any official descriptions of the fight or telegrams or reflections upon it, etc., etc., appeared, I will try to draw some conclusions and discover the causes of our defeat. On the day of battle the weather favoured the Japanese and was to our disadvantag ; their grey-coloured vessels were scarcely perceptible and were often completely enveloped in mist. It was very difficult to fix the target in the optical prisms. Our great black ships were naturally much more easy to distinguish, and formed a much better mark at which to fire. The weather precluded our being able to see the enemy, who appeared suddenly and at once opened fire. Therefore we did not know from which side his main column would come, and were unable to make the best possible dispositions beforehand. The battleships were ranged in one column under the enemy’s fire, and the “Suvorov” could not steam at full speed, as she had to wait for the rear vessels of the line to take up their positions. 

“We were all Steaming ahead together, without any line of scouts, whilst the enemy had received minute information as to our proximity and formation by wireless telegraphy from a cruiser which had met us in the morning and had been steaming along with us on our starboard beam before the battle. The rolling of our ships also hindered us, but the same thing likewise interfered with the Japanese firing. The advantage of speed was with the Japanese, and this gave them the privilege of being the attacking party. They were always able to steam ahead of our division of battleships and interrupt their course N.E. towards Vladivostok. Besides this, they could so dispose their column that they kept cutting across the head of ours, and could thus concentrate all their fire on our leading battleships. Every attempt to break through brought us nearer the enemy; their fire became more accurate; and it kept forcing the leading ships to fall out of line. If we look at the plans of the different phases of the battle, we shall notice that our vessels and the Japanese kept on revolving as it were round a common centre; the Japanese at a greater radius, we at a smaller. We will suppose that we revolved round our transports, which formed the centre, at a radius of 60 cables, and had the enemy always outside us, they in their turn steaming round at a distance of approximately 40 cable-lengths from us. 

“It is true that our cruisers (though not all of them) ought not to have been inferior in speed to the Japanese, but one must not forget that the latter had been recently overhauled and cleaned, whilst our vessels had made the long voyage from Cronstadt to the Korean Straits without undergoing any sort of repairs. They were thickly overgrown with weeds below the waterline, and their boilers wanted cleaning. They could not therefore develop their proper speed.

“The formation of the Japanese feet was entirely different from our own. They had twelve first-class battleships and armoured cruisers, which together formed one column, with a uniform speed of seventeen knots. These vessels were quite independent and unfettered in their manoeuvres, and did the fighting. The other ships were grouped into different sections of fast cruisers and torpedo-boats. As for old vessels and transports, the Japanese had of course none at all. We saw how all their sections manoeuvre, each according to its own discretion, and at considerable distances one from another. This must have been done without any system of signalling whatever; each was guided simply by the objective of the others, and all followed the general plan. No flags were visible, whilst the wireless telegraph would not work on account of the vibrations in the air caused by the heavy firing. With us, on the other hand, one section was bound up with another, and all the warships generally were mixed up with the transports. Our anxiety on their account hampered us dreadfully. We kept circling round them, so as to screen them from the enemy’s fire. Two of our fast cruisers, the “Zhemtshug” and the “Izumrud” were attached to the column of battleships, but only succeeded in hindering their movements. Long-range firing from our 120 mm guns was useless: you cannot very well fire straight through your own battleships. We had therefore to remain a passive target for the enemy, and risk being sent to the bottom at any moment by being struck full or by a ricochet shot from one of their 8″ or 12″ guns. At the rear end of our column of battleships was the flagship “Imperator Nikolai I”, a battle- ship with a speed of only twelve to thirteen knots. This altogether discounted the chief fighting advantage which the ships at the head of the column possessed, viz. a speed of eighteen knots. 

“Our cruisers were also of different types. The “Dmitri Donskoi” and “Vladimir Monomakh” both of slow speed, hampered the swifter vessels, the “Oleg” and “Aurora”. The transports were a sore hindrance to all of our ships. They were continually hit by chance shots, and were of course unable to take any active part in the battle. Whilst the Japanese were always in single line, each vessel separated by a long distance from another, so that shots that were short or went wide did no harm to anything, our columns were one behind the other ; with the result that some of the shots aimed at the battleships that missed them yet hit the transports.

“We had got so accustomed to looking to Admiral Rozhestvensky as the supreme chief of all our division, and as the one single source from which all orders were to come, that when he was incapacitated we were left without any leader at all, and there was no individual who could take on himself the responsibility of conducting the fight. Admiral Felkersham was dead. The leading battleships honourably sustained the fight, but their course was compulsorily determined for them by the more speedy vessels of the enemy, who poured in a constant fire upon them. The place where the battle occurred was very suitable for the Japanese. The Korean Straits are so narrow (twenty-five miles) that all the enemy had to think of was how to block our passage towards the north-east.

“The coasts on each side are of such a character as of themselves to make the passage difficult; whilst the knowledge that their own ports were only twenty to twenty-five miles away, i.e. at a distance of not more than one to two hours’ steam, made the Japanese confident as to the issue of the battle. As for us, Vladivostok was a long way ahead, and there was no place of refuge astern. The opinion so often expressed that the Japanese would not go out in search of us was abundantly justified here. We might have got right up to the Korean Straits without taking any precautions at all, for the Japanese were awaiting us at home and gave us battle on their own threshold. Why should they go all the way to Madagascar or to the Sundi Islands, when we ourselves could not help coming to them? It is so much better and more convenient to fight at home. They had stripped their decks of everything that was superfluous, including their ships’ boats, leaving all such things on shore; and owing to this they suffered less than we did from splinters during the battle. Their fire was much heavier and more accurate than ours. Its accuracy can be illustrated by what I am about to relate. We were struck by the fact that their shots, at the commencement of the action, went too far. Then all at once several hit the “Suvorov” and then again shots fell short. What the Japanese did was this. They trained and aimed all their guns for a fixed range. Let us suppose it to be forty cable-lengths. Having done this, they did not alter it, but opened a heavy fire with all their guns on our leading ship, their vessels all the time coming nearer. It is then evident that at the moment when the distance that separated them from us was actually forty cables, a vast number of their shots told.

“In this way they secured for themselves a good interval of time, during which the fire from each of their vessels in turn was sure to have effect. But if the aim is constantly being changed, and still more if the ship is rolling and the target scarcely visible, it is very difficult, as it seems to me, to ascertain from the tops the real distance of the aim at the moment of discharge.

“Summing up all the foregoing facts, we can draw the following conclusions :

  1. Vessels ought to be painted a uniform grey all over. 
  2. Vessels which belong to the same column ought to be swift and of the same type. Speed, which is one of the most im- portant elements in war, gives to its possessor the opportunity of compelling the enemy to move in such a way as shall be favourable to him, i.e. the possessor of speed.
  3. Columns are composed of vessels of different types. These should be well separated from one another, each should have her own independent commander, and they should not be bound up in any way together, except as touching the general scheme and ultimate goal of the operations.
  4. Under no conditions whatever should slow-going transports have any place in a war fleet. 
  5. Torpedo-craft should also comprise an independent section, and should not get into close proximity with their own battleships so as to be entangled with them, and thus risk being hit by chance shots from them. Besides, the period of their activity should only begin when darkness falls. 
  6. Our system of firing should be completely altered.

“Firing at very long range is not effective, since it is impossible to see where the shots fall, and the range-finders do not give satisfactory results. 

“It is possible to die like heroes in any battle, whether on 28 May or at any other time; but this is not the object of fighting. It is indeed a sorrowful thing that our country’s fleet has perished owing to causes which are intelligible and might have been removed. The issue of the war is decided, and so many human lives have been sacrificed. It is indeed a wretched humiliation for all these things to have taken place to no purpose.

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