The Battle of the Sea of Japan – Part 8

The desire to give battle in the Straits might also enter into Togo’s plans, and the meaning of this is only too clear, as I hope to show. I have already said that in a naval engagement it is convenient to possess the possibility of movement in any required direction, and above all to be able to engage at the most convenient range for oneself. If your antagonist desires to draw near and it is more advantageous for you to give battle at a long range, the only way of preventing him is to draw off in the direction opposite to that from which your antagonist is approaching. Should the enemy have the superiority in speed, it is at least necessary to adopt such tactics as will, so far as possible, prevent his approach to the range most favourable for him. I have previously discussed in detail the most advantageous ranges. In passing through a strait, however, both of whose coasts were in the hands of the enemy, and studded with bays in which his torpedo flotilla and submarines might be concealed; one also, as in this case, which offered the best chances of reaching Vladivostok with any damaged ships, Admiral Rozhestvensky was seriously hampered in manoeuvring. He could only steam ahead along the Strait, while Togo might manoeuvre therein as he pleased. The Strait was also more convenient for the operations of the many Japanese torpedo craft and submarines. In a naval battle it is desirable to take up a definite position in relation to the enemy, having regard to the position of the sun, the direction of the wind, and the trend of the coasts, if the battle be fought in their neighbourhood.

It is most convenient to have the sun astern, especially in the morning or evening, when it is not high above the horizon, for then it shines directly into the eyes of the enemy’s gunners and greatly hinders their aim, while for us, on the contrary, the target is excellently lit up. In a naval battle, which, properly speaking, is an artillery duel, this is a very valuable consideration. Indeed, during the battle of 14 August, 1904, Admiral Jessen was guilty of a gross error in manoeuvring when he allowed Admiral Kamimura to take up a position between himself and the sun. It is true that to escape the harmful effect caused by the sun’s rays shining straight into the eyes of the gunners the latter put on yellow-coloured glasses (and there was an ample supply of such glasses on board Admiral Rozhestvensky’s feet), but these only partly minimised the trouble. It is, in any circumstances, more difficult to sink an approaching ship when there is a brilliantly shining sun astern of her. It is also very important to take advantage of the direction of the wind, since the advantages are particularly great when the breeze is so strong as to cause a fairly rough sea. In this case it would be more convenient to steer one’s fleet in line abreast against the wind, and allow the enemy to follow astern. In so doing the enemy’s bow-chase guns will be exposed to a head sea and the spray, and their action consequently hindered, whilst our stern-chase guns would fire in perfect freedom. The enemy would also suffer from leaks in the bows of their vessels from shot-holes readily admitting water; whereas our leaks in the stern would be far less dangerous, and it would be much easier to repair them as opportunity offered. 

Finally, if an engagement takes place near the shore, it is best to take up a position between land and the enemy, so that vessels’ outlines may be concealed against the loom of the land. Otherwise a ship stands clearly out on the line of the horizon, and this has a distinct influence on the coup d’æil of the gunners. Moreover, the greatest errors in “placing” shots arise from an erroneous estimate of the foe’s range. When there is a clear horizon astern of the enemy, it is very easy to judge this distance correctly; when the shore is at his back this cannot be done. 

It is evident that in order to get the full benefit of these advan ages in position of sun and shore, and the direction of the wind, it is necessary to be able to manoeuvre freely in any desired directions, and in the Tsushima Straits (the same, of course, holds good for the Straits of Tsugaru and La Perouse) this would have been impossible for Rozhestvensky, but much easier for Admiral Togo. This all appears perfectly logical. The outlet from Takesiki port towards the island of Tsushima is in the direction of Broughton’s Gulf, so that in this channel, submarines and torpedo-boats threatened our squadron from two sides, but in the Korean Gulf only from one side. Arriving off the island of Tsushima unobserved – this, it would appear, was the acknowledged fact, judging by telegrams – Rozhestvensky would leave all the Japanese ports and the part of the Japanese coast indented with bays behind him. In Broughton’s Gulf, on the other hand, there was none of this. 

Finally, he might receive news to the effect that Togo was still at Masampo, and, in addition, starting from the island of Tsushima (i.e. from the opposite point which he was already unable to pass unperceived), where the Korean Gulf widens and Broughton’s Gulf contracts. Consequently the liberty of manoeuvring at war speed became more and more limited in the latter instance, while in the former it was possible to more readily conceal oneself from shore.

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