FROM THE HISTORY OF RUSSIA’S PACIFIC FLEET

TROUBLED TIMES

      I would think that theperiod in the history of Russia’s Pacific Fleet that began in 1904-1905and ended only by 1932 could be called “troubled times”. That period beganwith the death of Admiral S. O. Makarov, the exploits of the “Variag”, “Steregushchii”, “Riurik” and “Besstrashnyi”. Despite all the matchlessheroism and selflessness of the officers and men involved, they eventuallyled to their defeat.
      The defense of Port Arthur ended in the same tragic way. That heroic epopee, which lasted 329 days,took the life of 28,000 Russian sailors, soldiers and officers. The enemylost much more—112,000. But again, the outcome of all the battles was the surrender of Port Arthur to the Japanese. The defeat is moreover perceived as bitter because the Russian sailors again displayed in battles genuinemiracles of heroism, staunchness and courage.
      Two companies of sailors(many of who had left their ships to fight on land), when repulsing Japaneseattacks in the area of the Green Mountains, were encircled. They held oneof the heights for two days, repulsing Japanese attacks in the area ofthe Green Mountains. When they had spent all their shells and bullets,the seamen swamped the enemy with stones. But soon there were no stonesleft either. Then they hurled several old cumbersome cannons on the Japaneseto break the encirclement.
     During the defense of Port Arthur, particularly fierce battles occurred near Mt. Vysokaya, where the Japanese lost up to 5,000 men. Notwithstanding the losses, the enemy continued toadvance. After numerous attacks, they succeeded in capturing a big concretedugout. There the Japanese found safety and could accumulate forces. Despiteall efforts, the Russians failed to dislodge them. This stronghold wasvery important, since it offered a view of the entire inner roadstead ofPort Arthur. On the night of September 10, 1904, Lieutenant N. Podgorsky,Torpedo Officer from the cruiser “Bayan”, together with torpedo-men A.Butorin and V. Fomichev and private G. Trudanov, threw down on the dugoutseveral specially made six-pound pyroxylin mines. Powerful explosions resounded,and the Japanese, suffering major losses, abandoned the dugout in panic.
      But on November 23, 1904,the enemy succeeded in capturing Mt. Vysokaya. This cost him 8,000 lives.But then the Japanese, correcting the fire of their heavy artillery fromVysokaya, began firing at Russian warships lying in the inner roadsteadof Port Arthur. During November 23-25, the Japanese sunk the battleships“Poltava”, “Retvisan” and “Pobeda” and the cruiser “Pallada”. The battleship“Peresvet” was severely damaged, and its crew on the order of its commanderscuttled it. On November 26, the cruiser “Bayan” was put out of order.
      On December 2, Lieutenant-General Roman Isidorovich Kondratenko, organizer and inspirer of Port Arthur’s defense, was killed in action. On December 20, Adjutant-General A. M. Stessel, Commandant of Kwantung Fortified District and Commander of Port Arthur’s defense, signed the capitulation of his garrison, still able to fight the enemy.
On the eve of the surrender, Russian seamen were exploding their warships and destroying warehouses and armaments so they do not fall into enemy hands. The battleship “Sebastopol” and the torpedo boat “Otvazhnyi”were scuttled in the outer roadstead, and the cruisers “Dzhigit” and “Razboinik”at the entrance fairway. The destroyers “Statnyi”, “Smelyi”, “Vlastnyi”, “Serdityi”, “Boikii” and several launches broke through the Japanese blockadeto make it to Chinese ports. Banners, flags and secret documents were dispatchedfrom Port Arthur on board the destroyer “Statnyi”.

Defense of Port Arthur       Thus, the inefficiency of Russia’s military command resulted in the lossof the Port Arthur naval squadron and in the surrender of the fortressof Port Arthur to the Japanese.
    The fate of troubled times and misfortunes continued to pursue the Russian fleet in the Pacific. When Port Arthurfell, the Russian government pinned all its hopes on the 2nd Pacific squadronled by Vice-Admiral Z. P, Rozhdestvensky. After a very difficult 220-day18,000 -mile voyage, the 2nd Pacific squadron on May 14, 1905 ent4eredthe narrow Strait of Tsushima. Eight battleships, three coastguard battleships,one armored cruiser, eight cruisers, one auxiliary cruiser, nine destroyers,four transports, two tugboats and two hospital ships comprised the squadron,which totaled 38 units. Admiral Rozhdestvensky decided that all of themwere to sail to Vladivostok.
       However, by thattime the Japanese managed to overhaul their vessels, modernize their armaments and control of firing techniques by several ships firing simultaneouslyat the same target. In short, they engaged the Russian squadron in a muchmore efficient state.
      The ensuing battle wasa one-sided affair. Ninety(!) Japanese battleships, armored cruisers, conventionalcruisers, and large and small destroyers concentrated all their firepoweron the Russian vessels exhausted by the superlong voyage, storms and tropicalheat. Having sighted the Japanese, the Russian ships opened fire first.The enemy responded with crushing fire, concentrating it on the Russianflagmen. Shortly the “Suvorov” (Rozhdestvensky’s flagman) was damaged,and the “Oslablia” (Velkersam’s flagman) capsized and sunk. Rozhdestvenskywas seriously wounded, and the squadron, from that moment actually deprivedof command, continued to wage an unequal battle, each warship on its own.
A dark foggy night set in, and numerous Japanese destroyers attacked the Russian warships. Russian officers and sailors again foughtto the last without sparing their blood and life itself to save their ships. But far from all succeeded. And then, preferring death to falling prisoner to the Japanese, they remained on their sinking vessels and shared theirfate.
      When destroyer “Buinyi” approached the battered flagman “Suvorov” to pick up the wounded Rozhdestvenskyand his staff officers, lieutenants Bogdanov and Vyrubov, both officersfrom the “Suvorov”, and the still able-bodied sailors asked the destroyercommander to move away from the doomed battleship as soon promptly. Noone wanted to leave the flaming ship. So the valiant Russian seamen wentto the bottom together with the “Suvorov”, repelling enemy attacks to thelast. Captain V. N.  Miklukho-Maklai (brother of renowned travelerand explorer of New Guinea), commander of battleship “Admiral Ushakov”died together with his warship. When all possibilities for resistance wereexhausted, he ordered to open the Kingston valves. Actually, he could havesurvived, but refused to abandon the bridge and sank with his ship.
       The crews of otherRussian warships, who died heroically then displayed the same greatnessof spirit and indomitable courage in the Battle of Tsushima. Those wereseamen from the battleship “Sysoi Velikii”, the cruiser “Dmitri Donskoi”, the destroyer “Gromkii” and other warships.
    Yet, the battle was lost. Troubledtimes set in both on the Russian navy and in all of Russia, for that matter,to involve rebellions, mutinies, and uprisings.  As a result, forseveral years the Pacific Fleet ceased to exist as an efficient combatunit for several years. Only by 1910, its might began to increase in theSiberian naval flotilla, whose main base was in Vladivostok. At that time,the flotilla included the cruisers “Askold”and “Zhemchug”, a brigade ofmine-layers (two divisions of destroyers) thirteen submarines, the torpedoboat “Manchzur”, two minelayers, and also transport and auxiliary vessels.Naturally, this was in no comparison with the armadas lost in the Russo-JapaneseWar. But anyhow…
During World War One, some Siberia Flotilla warshipswere transferred to other fleets, whose crews had also heroically foughtin the Arctic and Mediterranean theaters. The warships that remained inVladivostok accompanied transport convoys with military equipment fromthe United States to Russia.
       After October 1917,when Russia became the scene of a long fratricidal civil war, the PacificFleet virtually ceased to exist. It lost almost its entire ship personnel.Some of the men were transferred abroad. Other vessels were anchored tobecome inefficient due to collapse of the industrial and repair base. Thiscollapse finally culminated the troubled times on Russia’s Pacific Fleetthat had set in after Port Arthur and
Tsushima. Hope of its resurrection began to glimmer.
       The dispatch vessel“Admiral Zavoiko” (now Pacific Fleet memorial vessel “Krasnyi Vympel”) was its harbinger. On March 20, 1923 “Admiral Zavoiko” moored in Vladivostokto subsequently (already as “Krasnyi Vympel”) to be for more than one yearalmost the Pacific Fleet flagman. A funny thing happened on this ship in1924, on the seventh year of Soviet government in Russia.
     Overcoming accumulations ofice, the dispatch vessel broke through into Provideniye Inlet. Soon fourEskimos brought a slotted boat to its side. An obese, ruddy and fully uniformedCossack sergeant with shoulder straps and medals climbed aboard. The windwaved his broad and big beard and smoked red moustache. Being used to feelinghimself the master in this remote area, the sergeant imperiously declaredto the watchman that he wants to see the captain.
     “And who are you?”, asked thewatchman.
“Shut up! I”ll speak only to the captain. All othersdisperse!
Then and there the captain appeared.
 “What’s that red flag you are flying on the stern,Mr. Captain?”, asked the sergeant angrily, and yelled:
 “Mutineers! I’ll arrest you all!
 “The guy is a lunatic”, commented the sailors grinning.
 “Arrest him”, the captain calmly ordered the watchman,and that was it.

   In the late twenties-early thirties, newtorpedo boats, pocket submarines, and hydroplanes finally began to appearin the Pacific Fleet. They were transported to the Far East across thewhole country on platforms carefully covered with canvas. Troubled timesin the history of Russia’s Navy were ending.

On photographs: cruiser “Askold”, which broke throughthe Japanese blockade of Port Arthur to Vladivostok; defense of Port Arthur; Vice-Admiral Z. P. Rozhdestvensky; Adjutant-General  A. M. Stessel; dispatch vessel “Krasyi Vympel”.

A.V. BORODIN, Leading Editor, Institute of History,Archeology and Ethnography of the Peoples of the Far East, Far East Branch,Russian Academy of Sciences, Colonel (Retired), Pacific Fleet veteran.

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