RPN
FROM THE HISTORY OF RUSSIA’S PACIFIC FLEET

JAPANESE ATTACK. ADMIRAL MAKAROV’S DEATH

S.O.Makarov
    On the night of January 26, 1904 theresidence of Vice-Admiral O.V. Stark resounded with bravura music. Theball celebrating the birthday of his wife was in full swing The Russiansquadron, which had returned from a training expedition four days beforewas at the moment anchored non-steaming in Port Arthur’s outer roadsteadwithout anti-mine netting and with all lights on.
       Admiral E. I. Alexeev, the Russian Emperor’s viceroy in the Far East, had ordered the warships to stay in the outer roadstead. Alexeev feared that the Japanese, in case they launch a surprise attack against Port Arthur, would seal off the squadron in the inner roadstead.  This position during severance of Russo-Japanese diplomatic relations was viewed with concern by Russian navymen. Vice-Admiral S. O. Makarov, then still the Commandant of Kronshtadt, sent Vice-Admiral Avelan, Head of Russia’s Navy Ministry, a warning letter of the following contents: “From conversations with people who had recently returned fromthe Far East I realized that the fleet will supposedly be held in the outerroadstead, not the inner roadstead of Port Arthur. The presence of the vessels in the open roadstead would allow the enemy to attack at night”.
       Admiral Makarovfurther noted, as if foreseeing upcoming events, that such a dispositionof Russian warships would allow the enemy to attack the fleet at nighttimewith a large number of destroyers and even steam launches. The result ofthat attack would be very severe for the Russians…The Japanese would notmiss such an excellent chance to inflict damage on the Russian fleet.
       Petrsburg overlooked Makarov’s warning, and the warships carelessly maintained their anchorage on the outer roadstead.
       Startled by thenight cannonade on the 26th-27th January, 1904, Admiral Alexeev, Vice-AdmiralStark and other officers realized at dawn that what they heard was nota “salute” in honor of Stark’s wife. No, it was an attack by ten Japanesedestroyers on the Russian squadron. The Japanese found it very convenientto attack.The Russian warships in Port Arthur stood in four lines in chessboardorder,and some were being loaded with coal, their upper decks brightlyilluminatedwith special candelabra. From time to time, the battleships“Tsesarevich” and “Retvisan”, and the cruiser “Pallada”, wouldswitch ontheir searchlights to view the sea horizon. In short, everythingwas beingdone as if the Russians intentionally wanted to show the Japanesewherethey were anchored.
       True, inline witha special directive, two Russian patrol destroyers, the “Besstrashnyi”and “Rastoropnyi”, were to keep watch, channeling the waters twenty milesfrom the roadstead and returning to the flagship, the battleship “Potiomkin” with reports of their observations. Significantly, unfortunately the commanders of both destroyers and their crews failed to fulfil their tasks. They saw nothing in the night sea, did not discern the Japanese vessels, and “missed” their attack. On top of that, already after a Japanese torpedo explodedat the side of the “Retvisan”, after the Japanese had torpedoedthe “Tsevarevich”,and after they had attacked the “Pallada” and the cruiser had leaned tostarboard, the patrol destroyer “Besstrashnyi” approached the “Petropavlovsk”and its commander cheerfully reported to Stark that no enemy vessels wereobserved at sea.
      Such was the “vigilance” of that commander. In response to his optimistic report he had to hearquite a few caustic remarks from the Vice-Admiral.
      On the morning of January27, the main forces of the Japanese fleet under the command of AdmiralTogo approached the Russian squadron. But by then the Russian sailors had,as it were, come to their senses, and the enemy’s subsequent attacks onRussian warships failed. Then Admiral Togo with his fifteen vessels (sixbattleships, fivearmored cruisers, and four cruisers) retreated with theintention to blockPort Arthur and not allow the Russian squadron to exitto hamper transportationof Japanese troops for landing in Korea.
       In these conditions, instead of passively anticipating Japanese actions, the Russian warshipsshould have attacked the enemy, keep him in suspense, and when convenientto inflict him losses. However, this never happened. On the same day, i.e.on January 27, 1904, the Russian cruiser “Variag” and the torpedo boat“Koreets” were forced to fight the Japanese in a battle described in SectionIX from the history of Russia’s Pacific Navy. At this point, I would onlylike to emphasize that the battle was indeed forced on the Russians.
       The point is thatthe two vessels were sent to their moorage in Chemulpo, Korea by the Russiancommand for insufficiently motivated reasons. Despite the obvious threatof the impending war with Japan, both warships remained in Chemulpo likeunwanted stepsonsinstead of arriving in Port Arthur before Japan’s attack. TheRussian command (Admiral Alexeev and Vice-Admiral Stark) failed togive timelyorders that corresponded to existing circumstances. As a result,the “Variag” and “Koreets” were caught in Chemulpo by superior forces ofRear-Admiral Uriu.
       Likewise for insufficiently motivated reasons, The Russian command separated from the Port Arthur squadron and sent to Vladivostok four most powerful cruisers, “Rossiya, “Gromboi”, “Bogatyr” and “Riurik”. Naturally the absence inPort Arthur of those warshipsand the cruiser “Variag” made itmuch easier for the Japanese to blockadePort Arthur from the sea and to transfer their land forces to the continent.
 The shaky position of the Russian squadron begantosharply change for the better when on February 24, 1904 Vice-AdmiralStepanOsipovich Makarov, the new Russian fleet commander arrived in PortArthur.Makarov instantly took decisive measures to strengthen the defenseof thenaval base and to boost the combat activity of the squadron. Havingstudiedits state and the situation on the war theater, Makarov set thefollowingtasks before the Russian fleet: to speed up repairs of damagedwarships, totake all measures not to allow the Japanese to land in LiaotungPeninsula,and to gradually expand the action zone of light naval forcesagainst theenemy. It was also intended to attack the main Japanese forcesat sea, andfor the Vladivostok cruiser detachment to actively operateon sea communicationsin the Sea of Japan to thereby partially distractthe enemy’s forcesfrom Port Arthur. Makarov undertook frequent sortiesby the squadron to streamlinejoint navigation and combat maneuvering bywarships. Besides, he also strivedto enable the  entire Port Arthursquadron to emerge from the inner basinto the outer roadstead or to enterthe inner harbor in just one high tide.
      Admiral Makarov paid special attention to organizing intelligence. Almost every night, the Russian naval command would send torpedo boats to learn the exact positions  ofJapanese forces near Port Arthur.
      On the orders of the fleet commander, on the evening of March 30, 1904 eight Russian destroyers sailed to reconnoiter the sea. The night was dark and it rained heavily. At about 10 P.M. the destroyer “Strashnyi” lost sight of the Russian vessels sailingahead. Its commander Captain K. K. Yurasovsky tried to find the detachment, but failed. In the dead of the night, the Russian destroyer met a groupof six vessels. Yurasovsky thought they were Russian ships, and joinedthem,and till dawn all of them jointly sailed in single column in thevicinitiesof Port Arthur. On the morning of March 31, the “Strashnyi”hoisted the Russian naval ensign. That is when the fatal mistake came tolight, and a desperate battle of one Russian destroyer with six Japanesewarships ensued.
       Already at the verybeginning of the unequal combat, an enemy shell hit the “Strashnyi’s” chargedtorpedo tube to cause a powerful explosion. Commander Yurasovsky and manysailors were killed. Lieutenant E. A. Maleev was now in command. Despite all the damages and heavy list, “Strashnyi” continued to fire at the enemyfrom all its guns. Then enemy shells hit the Riussian destroyer and killedEngineer-Mechanic P. M. Dmitriev and several sailors. All survivors headedby Lieutenant Maleev continued to fire until the last gun was disabled. Then, after being hit hard below the waterline, the “Strashnyi” was engulfedin the depths with proudly flying ensign.
       Before that, Admiral Makarov sent cruiser “Bayan” to the “Strashnyi’s” assistance. The “Bayan”crew began to pick up drowning sailors from the “Strashnyi”. But then Japanesecruisers hastened to the scene of the battle. Admiral Makarov on boardhis flagman, the battleship“Petropavlovsk”, headed the squadron to confrontthe enemy. Thebattleship “Poltava”, and the cruisers “Novik”, “Askold”and “Diana” followed in its wake. At 8.40 A.M., the silhouettesof sixJapanese battleships—the “Mikasa”, “Fuji”,“Asahi”, “Hatsuse”, “Shikishima”and “Yashima”and two armored cruisers, the “Kassuga” and “Nissin”appearedin the rainy mist accompanied by light cruisers. This created tangiblesuperiority of the Japanese.
       To avoid unjustified losses, Makarov decided to engage the enemy under the protection of shore batteries. The Russian warships began to rearrange for battle. Soon, according to eyewitnesses  (V. Semionov, chief officer of cruiser “Diana”; EnsignV.
Shmitt, Junior Flag Officer of Fleet Commander; and others), events followed in the following sequence.
      9.43 A. M. An explosionresounded at the starboard of the “Petropavlovsk”. Instantly a huge column of black-brown smoke and flames appeared over the battleship two timessurpassing the height of the warship itself to subsequently envelop theentire battleship. Then one more explosion resounded under the bridge,even stronger than the previous one. A mass of fire with yellow-green andbrown smoke abruptly erupted from the middle of the “Petropavlovsk”. Theforce of the explosion tore off the forecastle, the foremast, the bridge,the funnels and part of the shell. The full weight of the mast fell onthe demolished bridge withAdmiral Makarov. Signaler Bochkov tried to savethe Admiral. But the shipwas sinking, and he was washed overboard.
       After the secondexplosion the battleship abruptly listed to starboard, and then the aftlifted to expose the propeller, still moving in the air.
       9.45 A. M. Whenthe dome of smoke and flames lifted upwards, half of the ship’s body wasalready under water, and the aft, lifting high and engulfed in flames,was rapidly submerging into the sea, full of fragments and drowning men.
       According to theconclusion of the naval technical committee, the battleship exploded ona whole packof Japanese mines.
       Admiral Stepan Ossipovich Makarov died together with ten of his staff officers, eighteen officersand six hundred and twenty sailors. Vassily Vassilievich Vereshchagin,well-known Russian painter of battle-pieces, went to the sea bottom togetherwith him.
       Vice-Admiral Makarov was in command of the fleet for only thirty-six days. Yet, during thatshort period he, an outstanding sea captain and scholar, managed to doa lot ofuseful things to bolster the defense of Port Arthur and enhancethe fightingefficiency and battle readiness of Russian ships. A navymanand hero, he lefta profound trace in the minds of Port Arthur’s defenders,and his deathwas an irreparable loss for Russia.

Shown on pictures: Vice-Admiral S. O. Makarov; Russian painter of battle-pieces  V. V. Vereshchagin

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), Russia’s Pacific Fleet veteran.

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