Experiences on Board the Transport “Korea” from the Letter of an Eye-Witness

“About three o’clock the battleships turned to starboard, probably wishing to protect us from the Japanese cruisers. The latter then turned back. Our battleships advanced to meet the Japanese battleships. The Japanese cruisers, seeing that the battleships were approaching, turned back again and joined the new force of their own cruisers. Our cruisers advanced to meet them for the first time, in regular order. We found ourselves between the Japanese battleships and our own. Nevertheless, we managed to extricate ourselves from this position before the beginning of the cannonade between the battleships. The “Irtish” received some damage, but it was still possible to steer her. The “Kamtchatka” remained in the same place. About six o’clock the signal was given from the “Suvorov,” steer course N.E. 23; speed, 8 knots.’ Our battleships obeyed Approximately at the same time the “Alexander III” which was burning, turned turtle. For a while she floated keel uppermost. The “Navarin” approached her. A fire broke out on board the “Suvorov”. From the “Oleg” the signal was given, “Steer more to starboard”. Meanwhile the Japanese battleships had turned back, with the object of obstructing the “Suvorov’s” course. The latter was thus obliged to turn westward.

 “The sun was setting. The “Suvorov” steered towards it. The sun’s rays were reflected from our battleships. A concentrated fire was now directed against the “Suvorov”. About seven o’clock a shell exploded on the after bridge and a fresh tremendous fire broke out; but she continued to fire. She was attacked by a torpedo-boat, but the boat was sunk by a well- placed shot. All of a sudden the battleship began to heel over. There came a discharge from all her big guns, and in an instant she was lost to view. The “Suvorov” was no more. It is impossible to tell you what we felt. At first we believed that all on board the “Suvorov” had perished, together with the Commander-in-Chief, and to lose him seemed to us an immense misfortune, an unjust decree of fate, after all the terrible trials he had undergone. But later on, it began to be rumoured that just before she sank one of our torpedo-boats had got alongside the “Suvorov”  and we hoped – how fervently we hoped – that the Admiral had been saved! 

“During the whole of this nearly year-long cruise we had seen what manner of man he was. Possessed of an iron character and a deep love for his native land, he laboured ceaselessly, giving no rest to body or mind. Almost the whole night through he would be on deck, on duty on the bridge, and keeping an eye on the fleet. It may be said that the Admiral kept the watch. He entered into every minute detail, excited himself, suffered. He wrote severe, but at the same time, clear and intelligible orders, energetically stimulating all to devote themselves lovingly to their duty; and he made them work. Everyone worked as they did nowhere else. He took care of the most insignificant little craft as if it had been the apple of his eye; in fact, he led the whole squadron into battle complete and perfect, notwithstanding all the heavy burdens of the cruise. The sailors loved the Admiral, because they saw his labours and his difficulties. We were convinced that Admiral Rozhestvensky, for his part, had done all that could be done by a man of uncommon powers. In our feet an eminent commander is recognized by all; and therefore all fully understood why the loss of Rozhestvensky must be reckoned as a great misfortune.

“Had this fleet not been led by Admiral Rozhestvensky, but by an admiral like those of the naval wars of former times (I do not include among them the late Admiral Makarov), then very probably, although of course one cannot speak with certainty, our ships would never have arrived in the Korean Straits, and Admiral Togo would not have prepared so enormous and strong a squadron.

“The loss of the “Suvorov” and with her the supposed death this of our chief, had, of course, a fatal influence. Probably this circumstance was the real cause why the cruiser “Oleg” with Rear-Admiral Enquist, suddenly turned to port and bore S.W. She was followed by the “Aurora”, “Zhemtshug”, “Anadyr”, “Svir” and “Korea”. To the “Svir” and “Korea” nothing remained but to endeavour to extricate themselves from their critical position. Unless they could do so they would have been immediately destroyed by the Japanese torpedo-craft which were bearing to starboard and ahead of us. On the other hand, by remaining they would have only hindered the battleships and hampered the speed of the squadron. After a little time the cruisers turned to starboard. The “Oleg” opened fire on the torpedo- vessels and they all speedily disappeared from our sight. We decided that Admiral Enquist had gone to join the main fleet. It had become fairly dark. Not wishing to fall in with the torpedo-boats bearing S.W., we turned southward and wanted subsequently to steer to S.E., towards the coast of Japan, in order to reach Vladivostok; but there loomed the Japanese cruisers. There remained only one way out, viz. to go to S., and as quickly as we could (11 knots) we steered straight southward. From the Japanese torpedo-vessels, which had been bearing to S.W., there suddenly glimmered signal lights, and in a short time we perceived that we were being chased. They tried to locate us by means of the search-light, whose rays approached ever nearer and nearer. At this time the armed transport “Anadyr” showed on our starboard beam, and the search-light nearly reached her first. The “Anadyr”, however, manoeuvred on to our port beam, but the rays of the search-light followed her. Then she repeated the manoeuvre, crossing over to our starboard beam, and the search-light once or twice lay along our course. At last, the light reached to within one or two cables of the “Korea”. We thought that they would immediately discover us, but finally the light went out, and we continued our voyage on the same course. A few hours of suspense passed, and then we satisfied ourselves that the danger was over. 

“Astern the cannonade was still but the shots were heard more and more going on; rarely. Some were audible up to twelve o’clock at night. It was clear that our remaining ships had sailed off; but how would it be in the morning? we wondered ; would there be any be in ammunition left after the prolonged battle? Our torpedo-vessels took no part in the battle, but kept near the cruisers. 

“Thus ended this terrible day. What were the results of it? For our squadron they were lamentable. We lost the battleships “Suvorov”, “Alexander III”, “Orel”, “Oslabya”, the auxiliary cruiser “Ural”, the “Kamtchatka”, the transport “Irtish”, and the tug “Rus”. Our cruisers, and perhaps the remaining battleships also, were damaged, although they continued to answer the helm and to keep their course very well. Our torpedo-boats were all safe. The number of the killed, wounded, and drowned must of course have been enormous. On board the “Korea” only one had a slight injury. We had no killed It was impossible for us to discern the losses of the Japanese. Almost all our attention was absorbed by our own ships. Moreover, a fearful smoke hid the enemy’s vessels, and finally those Japanese ships which withdrew from the battle were able to get off unperceived, thanks to the favourable position of their feet. We saw that out of eight Japanese battleships seven remained, and that three of their cruisers were on fire. The battleship which had been engaged by the “Vladimir Monomakh” did not reappear. Evidently she had suffered damage. A few of the Japanese torpedo-vessels were sunk. 

“We still possessed a comparatively strong force. But most unfortunately this was weakened, as we afterwards learned, by the arrival at Shanghai of three cruisers, the “Oleg”, “Aurora”,  and “Zhemtshug”, which, contrary to the order of Admiral Rozhestvensky, “Remember that only by keeping our forces together can we force our way to Vladivostok” had not remained with the feet, but appeared on the third day off Shanghai. How can this proceeding of Rear-Admiral Enquist be explained?

“Of course, this remaining force could not have made head against the Japanese forces, but it might nevertheless have done great damage to the enemy’s fleet; especially if Admiral Rozhestvensky were still alive and unwounded”.

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