The Battle of the Sea of Japan – Part 10

In concluding with this surrender, on which it is so difficult to stay my pen as it affects us all so painfully, I will mention one more fact.

When Admiral Rozhestvensky was equipping his squadron and selecting his commanders, he found that two of those presented did not possess the required qualifications. I do not wish to say that these were bad officers, but their reputation in the fleet, as incapable of commanding a ship of war, was notorious. I leave aside how they attained this rank; that would lead me too far in regard to where lurks the chief cause of all our disorders and defeats. I will simply note that it was from this fact that these commanders were refused by Rozhestvensky. Yet both these men were appointed captains in Niebogatov’s division; i.e. the Ministry sent to Rozhestvensky’s help the very commanders whom he himself had refused to receive a few months earlier. Of course, as was bound to happen, both these captains surrendered their ships, with all their officers alive and well. This fact needs no comment, and is characteristic. Everybody in the fleet was stirred by it, though no one possessing authority found it necessary to protest against it; though there had been ample time to change these commanders. I know of many similar occurrences during this war. Men known to be utterly incompetent have been appointed and maintained in responsible positions, and for the most part out of what is supposed to be good feeling, from no desire to offend. It has been forgotten how much Russia suffers thereby.

The destructive influence upon the personnel of the reception accorded the different events of this war, has shown itself in the clearest manner among the weaker men of the officers of our fleet. I have, however, said nothing of the strong, and in showing respect to these I wish to conclude my preliminary notes on the battle in the Straits of Korea. May the greatest glory, honour, and gratitude be accorded to them because they did not give way under the most trying conditions; and that they, without receiving direction from outside, found these powers in themselves! There were many more of these strong men than of the weak. On board the battleships destroyed on 28 May, firing never ceased until the moment they sank, when every moment it was expected on board that they would capsize. They went down with the captains and their staff on the bridges, officers in the turrets, engineers and stokers below, whence there was no possibility of escape. Down below the waterline, probably in semi-darkness, they saw the water enter, pouring out of one compartment into another, and contended with it to the last moment. Honour and glory to them! They all perished because they did not desert their posts. This was the spectacle on board the ships destroyed by the torpedo-attack at night, ships already utterly enfeebled, their men having beheld the awful fate of their comrades who perished by day. Very few were rescued from these vessels.

But yet all these vessels fought and perished without losing hope of success, or of at least inflicting damage on the enemy. They had not yet seen all the terrors: knew nothing of the shameful surrenders. They still remained side by side with their own comrades, did not recognize their complete isolation, and were never deprived of hope. Under such terrible conditions strong men were found on board the little “Admiral Ushakov” and in the cruiser “Svietlana”, still more insignificant in point of strength. The “Admiral Ushakov’ paid no attention to the warning of the Japanese that she was isolated, and that all her companions were annihilated or had surrendered. She entered upon a desperate struggle and fearlessly and proudly sank beneath the fire of an enemy excelling her in strength many times over. 

The little “Svietlana” (that half cruiser, half yacht, a caprice of our luckless naval constructors) on that same 28 May, received a hole in the bows below water, and consequently was deprived of the power of moving. What happened to her during the night is unknown. Next day she was found alone, forced against a hostile shore by two Japanese cruisers, and perished in a desperate struggle, neither lowering her fag nor yielding to the enemy her mutilated body, deprived of the means of resistance.

Once more, glory and honour to all for this proud and strong spirit! I do not believe that out of a personnel which has such distinguished men among its great mass one cannot form, not only excellent sailors, but fighting sailors. The assertion is false that we cannot possess a fleet because we cannot form a good personnel. We can have one, but for this it must be recognized that the chief factor for a fleet to be formidable is the personnel. Also, that this must be diligently trained, educated, and cared for more than anything else. With us for a long time the personnel has been cared for least of all. It has not been educated, but allowed to remain ignorant. Generally speaking, it has been terribly neglected, and its spirit overborne by soulless formalism and the futilities of etiquette. The result has been – the annihilation of our fleet in the Sea of Japan!

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