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”.
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.
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
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
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”;
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
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.
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.
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.