Experiences on Board the “Zhemtshug”

“The days of the “Suvorov” were numbered both her funnels were down, and a thick smoke was trailing over her. I saw her bearing away to port, trying to get beyond the range of fire, whilst the squadron continued the battle away to port. 

“I recollect why the “Zhemtshug” approached the battleship “Imperator Alexander III”, on board which flames had broken out both from the bows and the stern. There were two destroyers by her, and we thought that Admiral Rozhestvensky, who had been taken off the “Suvorov” was on board one of them. We had begun even to lower a boat, but at that moment shells began to fall thick and fast about us, and one of them struck us on the stern. Those on board the destroyers signalled us to go back, and the “Zhemtshug” steamed away from the “Alexander III”. We were then struck a second time. The shot came from the port side and from astern, and hit our fore funnel. When we got so close to the “Alexander III”, we were within 29 cable-lengths of the Japanese battleships. The “Nissin” and “Kassuga” were plainly visible from stem to stern. Judging by the hole made in our fore-funnel, the shot must have come from a 6″ gun. The havoc it made was terrible. The whole right side of the funnel was split open; the plates were torn asunder, pierced with splinters, and bent outwards the splinters smashed the shot-lockers in the starboard-sponson gun, and set fire to the smokeless powder in the four cases inside the lockers, as well as in some others lying on deck. What followed was indescribable. Running, after the shock, from the forecastle to the gangway ladder, I looked upon a seething mass of fire. The flames reached the cutter, which was hanging in the davits, and filled the whole space from amidships to the side. This was the ignition of the smokeless powder in the cartridge-cases. By the light of the flames I could see our wounded writhing in convulsions of pain. By the time the hoses were turned on this spot the fire was already out, but they succeeded at once in extinguishing the woodwork that had caught fire. The powder was alight for only a few seconds. I went down to the deck. Seven dead bodies lay there in strange postures; they had gaping wounds, and the hands and faces were burnt. Amongst them was the chief of a platoon, Midshipman Tavaststern, who had only just been promoted to officer’s rank. One unfortunate man had had the whole of his groin torn away by a splinter, and his left leg was bent backwards in an unnatural position. Another had half his face gone, and an arm and part of his neck wrenched off. The crew stood panic-stricken at this ghastly spectacle. The bodies had to be removed and the spot cleaned. One must wait for fresh men, and then treat the enemy to the same slaughter and destruction as he had dealt to us. The spot was soon sanded over and the guns freshly manned, but we did not so easily get rid of our impressions. It was useless for us to expose ourselves to the fire of the enemy without being able to do them harm in return. The 120 mm. guns of the “Zhemtshug” could scarcely carry 48 cable-lengths, but the fight was continued nearly all the time at just about this distance. 

“On the way to the battleship “Alexander III”, when the “Zhemtshug” steamed past, the transports collected together in a cluster. The auxiliary cruiser “Ural” struck against our stern, wrenched a torpedo-tube loose, damaged her stern gear, grazed and bent our starboard screw, and smashed in our starboard side. The shock forced our screw through the side of the “Ural” and stopped her engines suddenly, which were going at full speed. A torpedo lay on deck exposed, and ready to explode at any moment. Had the stem of the “Ural” touched its head, the results would have been disastrous both for her as well as ourselves. Following in wake of the “Vladimir Mono” in rear of our cruiser column, the “Zhemtshug” and she opened fire together on the enemy’s cruisers. They were moving to port on a cross tack, and our cruisers, screening the transports, maintained the battle against them at a distance of thirty to forty cables. Our fire evidently told, for I could clearly see how the enemy altered their course and increased their distance from us. During this time our battleships had drawn ahead and had re-formed, having the Japanese to starboard. I counted the ships in the column, and assured myself that there were ten, and all sailing in perfect order. This spectacle had a pacifying effect on our overwrought nerves. It meant that only the “Kniaz Suvorov” and the “Oslabya” had gone; that all the others had got under the fires which had broken out on board, and, notwithstanding their damage, were continuing the battle. In front were the “Borodino” and “Orel” ; behind them came Niebogatov’s flagship, “Nicholas I”, three battleships of the “Admiral Ushakov” type, then the “Alexander III”, “Sissoi Veliky”, “Navarin” and “Nakhimov”. The battleships were sailing approximately N. to N.W., and the enemy, holding the same course, and being to starboard of our column, were overtaking it as the battle continued.

“It was about six o’clock in the evening. The cruiser “Svietlana” had become separated from the other cruisers and transports, which by this time were crowded together on the port beam of our battleships and out of range of the enemy’s fire, and held a course parallel to the battleships. We followed in her wake. The sun sank lower and lower, and it began to get dark. The flames of the fires on board some of the battleships stood out in clear bright patches.

“Suddenly we noticed that the leading ship began to heel over on her starboard side, and in a few seconds the red painted part, normally below the waterline, was visible; the battleship still floated for a few moments on her side, and then disappeared beneath the waves. The end of the “Borodino”  was heroic. Never leaving the line, notwithstanding all the damage she had suffered and the fires which had broken out on board, she still struck back at the enemy’s vessels. Already heeling over to starboard, she kept on firing, and at the very moment of turning over on her side, she got away a shot from her after-turret. The red disc of the sun had sunk to the verge of the horizon. The atmosphere had now become clearer, and we could plainly see that well away forward to the N.W., and astern of the enemy’s battleships stretched a line of nine Japanese torpedo- boats, approaching to cut across our course. It was at this moment, I remember, that the signal was hoisted, – I do not know on board which ship first, for it was repeated by all – “The Admiral transfers the command to Niebogatov”, and “Bear N.E. (to Vladivostok)”. The battleships continued the fight. Darkness had fallen. The “Svietlana” then signalled, “I see torpedo-boats across my course”, evidently the same that we had noticed earlier, and turned S.W. to avoid them. Complete disorder now reigned amongst our cruisers, transports, and torpedo-boats. The “Svietlana” was evidently disabled, for she was down by the bows, and began to circle round on the same spot. The “Zhemtshug” tried to keep in her wake, but afterwards abandoned the attempt. The transports and torpedo- boats were driven together, passing us at full speed. We noticed the “Oleg” (flying Admiral Enquist’s flag), the “Aurora”, and after her the “Dmitri Donskoi”, and the “Monomakh”. 

“It is very difficult to describe in detail what occurred in the dark. The “Zemtshug” followed in the wake of the “Oleg” and the “Aurora”, and lost them, owing to the fact that these vessels were steaming in pitch-darkness, without lights. We turned towards the N.W., got within range of our retreating battleships, and finally picked up the “Oleg” and “Aurora” once more. They had been following in each other’s tracks all the time. The last ships I was able to make out near us in the darkness were the transport “Irtish”, the cruiser “Vladimir Monomakh” which had outstripped us, and a few torpedo-boats. AlI our men, while maintaining outward calm, were fearfully shaken and fatigued, both physically and morally, by the events of the battle and its impressions. The sight of the burning and sinking battleships could not but have its effect on their minds. 

“We continued our course in complete darkness, at first at full speed of 140 revolutions (17 to 18 knots), and afterwards at 16 knots, behind the black silhouetted outlines of the “Oleg” and Aurora”. There were some other vessels still following us. A few shots were fired somewhere to starboard; some one showed a lantern, and then all was again plunged in darkness. Suddenly, abaft our port beam, we noticed a whole row of white lights, which rapidly approached us, and the flare of a green rocket which some one sent up. This was the Japanese torpedo-attack. 

“At 8.15 p.m. a curious three-masted steamer, with a thin funnel and showing no lights whatever, appeared on our port beam, cutting athwart our course. Fate alone preserved us from colliding with her. From six o’clock in the evening until midnight I had been standing on watch on the bridge; at last I was relieved, and, throwing myself without undressing into my hammock, I fell into the soundest sleep.”

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