Experiences on Board the Transport “Korea”. Extracts from a Private Letter.

“Being uninitiated in matters naval I will not venture to indicate the true causes of our enormous losses, but as a simple eye-witness of what has taken place I will merely permit myself to give expression to some thoughts which suggested themselves to me on that account. First of all it must be stated that we did not expect so huge a force on the Japanese side. We reckoned that their main forces consisted of at most four battleships (it was even said that they only had three), and seven large cruisers. During our advance we were assured herein by foreigners also. Suddenly we had before us nine battleships, fitted out with 12″ guns, twelve large cruisers, provided with 10″ guns (whereas we had only 10″ guns on board some of our battleships), four (according to other accounts more) smaller cruisers, and a great number of torpedo-boats (as against nine of ours). It turned out, then, that they had a very considerable advantage over us, both as regards the number of their ships as well as in gun power. Their vessels were all fast, which was indispensable here. The Japanese battleships are of the type of our ironclad “Sissoi Veliky”, but much longer and altogether bigge ; they certainly proved of far greater stability in battle than our huge battleships of the “Suvorov” type, which, in spite of their size and other qualities, soon turned turtle. Moreover, the Japanese were at their own base. At this place they probably carried out all their manoeuvres, being well aware that we should be obliged to pass by it. We were on the defensive, while they were attacking; they had every opportunity for encircling us, while it was impossible for us to escape from that ring unless we succeeded in completely routing their forces. We had no place whither to remove those of our vessels which, even though slightly damaged, it was impossible to keep in the line of battle, such ships being obliged either to destroy themselves or wait until the enemy would either riddle them with shells or capture them. The Japanese vessels were clean, with little extra weights. Ours had become overgrown with seaweed during the long voyage, and were much too top-heavy for fighting. Our battleships, headed by the “Suvorov”, fought desperately and manoeuvred in an excellent manner. The “Suvorov” even while perishing, continued firing.

“I do not know whether it was in accordance with the tactics laid down by Rear-Admiral Enquist, that his division of cruisers should not be formed into a regular column directed against the Japanese cruisers, but instead should crowd around the transports, whence they should repel the cruisers by firing. It seemed to us that this was disadvantageous, both to themselves as also to the transports and the battleships. As regards the quality of the firing of this and that side, it must be owned that, to judge by the injuries sustained by our squadron, which we were well able to see, the Japanese firing was excellent. It is difficult to form an exact opinion of the shooting of our ships, since we are unable to obtain a true estimate of the Japanese losses. This fact, too, must not be overlooked, viz. that we had to deal with a foe already experienced in naval warfare, whereas our sailors were all novices in this respect. Personally I should have liked to say a great deal more concerning this, but will refrain.

“This battle has proved how very insignificant is the rôle of torpedo-boats as a fighting force in a fleet engagement. The submarines were absolutely unable to participate here. There still arises this question : how was it that the Japanese came to possess so many armour-clad warships?

“But to return to my narrative. Having escaped from the danger of being pursued by the Japanese torpedo-boats we successfully passed through the Korean Straits, after which we began to keep closer to the Japanese isles, so as to avoid meeting any Japanese vessel that may have been coming from Port Arthur or Shanghai.

“On the following day we noticed the “Anadyr” on our left, at a distance of about five miles, while on the right and in front was the steamer “Svir”. From here we intended to proceed to Vladivostok round Japan, but it appeared to us somewhat risky to venture into the Pacific Ocean with shot-holes in our ship. As the rolling was rather severe, we were in constant fear of the temporary stoppage of the leaks not being able to hold out. Thereupon we decided to go to Shanghai, where our transports and their administrator were already. We took the middle course between the usual route to Shanghai and Hong Kong· On the morning of the third day we saw at a distance a Japanese passenger steamer. The “Anadyr” and “Svir” were no longer visible. At night we of course proceeded without firing· On the evening of that day, at half-past eight, we approached Shanghai, but from S. E. Towards evening we illuminated the whole steamer, intending to enforce thereby the recognition of the neutrality of our vessel. We could not call out a pilot, and therefore were again obliged to keep out at sea until morning. We went another twenty miles farther S.E. Here the rolling was worse, and the wind still increased. 

“About midnight the captain spied in the distance a cruiser which, as he afterwards found, turned out to be a Japanese. We sailed round her three times, having nowhere to go, and the Japanese cruiser evidently took us for some vessel, not Russian, that was awaiting the morning in order to enter Shanghai. About three o’clock we took a course for Shanghai, Steering with the utmost speed. At 6 a.m. on 30 May a pilot came on board and took us into the river Yang-tse-kiang, where our transport ships, the “Yaroslavl”, “Voronezh”, “Vladimir”, “Livonia”, “Curonia” and “Meteor” were lying. No news of the battle had as yet been received, as the cable from Japan to Shanghai had been cut. After our arrival a Chinese naval officer appeared on board our ship, to see where we came from and with what freight. The captain answered all these questions very shrewdly. The shot-holes, however, were noticed. On this and the following day many small steamers and barges filled with people kept hanging around us to take a glance at “the merchant ship which had gone through such a battle”. Only our representative Russian authorities seemed to take but little interest in the newly-arrived Russian vessel. The commander of the transports, Captain Radlov, was not to be found, and we were obliged to seek him out. It appeared that the staff of the transports had removed their quarters to the town and were living merrily at the Hôtel des Colonies,’ only from time to time visiting the vessels. 

“Three days passed, and still we did not know what would become of us. The Chinese authorities advised us to go higher up the river, as our presence here was not devoid of danger from the Japanese. Notwithstanding this, however, we stayed where we were, being refused entry into the dock. The “Svir” had arrived before us; on that very morning she went up to the “Yaroslavl”, where the commander of the transports was supposed to be, but to the question as to whether he was on board, received a reply in the negative. From the “Svir” we also learned that Rear-Admiral Enquist was in Chinese waters, and had now gone on board the “Aurora”. The Admiral questioned the “Svir” as to whether she had any information as to the whereabouts of the fleet. The “Oleg” asked her for fifty tons of coal, but where they went to is not known. 

“The “Askold” with Admiral Reitzenstein is also at Shanghai. The crew are evidently enjoying themselves excellently under this arrest; balls, picnics, and boat parties, afford distractions in their home-sickness! They also receive especially high salaries in their capacity of naval officers, and so what occupation could please them more? When we were at Kamranh we heard that the crew of the “Diana” held under arrest there had also established themselves happily. 

“Here, dear friend, you have the final act of our epic expedition”.

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