Defeat at Port Arthur


Among the fatal consequences of defeat in the Yellow Sea was the further loss of the Vladivostok cruiser squadron in the Korean Strait battle on 1 August 1904. Under the flag of Rear Admiral Yessen, the Rossiya, Gromoboy and Ryurik, were sent to meet the squadron, which had already returned to Port Arthur. Near Tsushima Island they were forced into an ill-matched battle with six Japanese cruisers under Vice-Admiral Kamimura. The Rossiya and Gromoboy suffered 485 casualties and endured heavy damage. Admiral Yessen himself aban-doned the Ryurik because it was so badly damaged, especially its helm, that the ship could not be kept on course during the five-hour battle. The Rossiya and Gromoboy managed to break away from the enemy and headed for Vladivostok. The Ryurik's commander, Captain Yevgeny Trusov, and her senior officer, Commander Nikolay Khlodovsky, were, however, among the fatalities. Subsequently, Lieutenant Konstantin Ivanov took command of the ship and, refusing to retreat, continued to fire at the enemy for as long as possible. When all resources of resistance were exhausted, Ivanov ordered the sea cocks to be opened, and the Ryurik sank under the ensign of St. Andrew.

Because the Rossiya and Gromoboy had been taken out of service for repairs, the naval squadron at Vladivostok, was by 1 August, significantly weakened. Shortly before the battle, the Russian cruisers had made sorties into the Pacific, where they had either sunk or captured ten enemy transport vessels. Among the Japanese battleships, however, only the cruiser Ivate was seriously damaged. When Russia's auxiliary cruisers Petersburg and Smolensk were recalled from the Indian Ocean to the Baltic, it was already apparent that the Japanese had secured their sea lines.

During the autumn of 1904, in the Baltic Sea, the second squadron, formed soon after the death of Makarov, prepared itself under Rear Admiral Rozhestvensky, to help the Pacific Fleet. The departure was delayed because construction of its new vessels, Borodino-class battleships, was not yet completed. Only on 2 October 1904, did the main forces of the second Pacific squadron leave Libau.

The ships that had remained in the Far East were combined into the first Pacific squadron. Following the lead of Sevastopol, its sailors used all their forces to defend the fortress of Port Arthur. Officers and deck hands carried guns and shells ashore from the ships and joined the assault battalions. The battleships stationed near the coast bombarded enemy positions and battle lines with turret guns. Fighting with the regular troops, the sailors withstood four assaults. The battles for Vysokaya [High] Mountain, from where the inner roadstead of Port Arthur was clearly visible, were especially brutal.

The duties of the Russian ships at Port Arthur consisted of laying mines at night and reconnaissance by day. Russian mines sank the Japanese cruiser Takasago, one destroyer and two coastal vessels. The new Commander of the Russian fleet, Rear Admiral Robert Viren, regarded sea battles with the Japanese as hopeless. On 19 September the latter's 280-mm guns upon opened fire on Port Arthur's inner roadstead. Having seized Vysokaya Mountain, the Japanese were able to fire on the Russian ships with greater accuracy. On 22 November a heavy-calibre shell detonated an ammunition magazine and destroyed the battleship Poltava. During the next four days the Retvisan, Peresvet, Pobeda and cruisers Pallada and Bayan sank under the fire of large-calibre Japanese guns. Due to the persistence of her commander, Captain Nikolay Essen, who had finally received permission from Admiral Viren to lead his ship into the outer roadstead, the Sevastopol was the only battleship to survive.

For six nights, together with the gunboat Otvazhny and seven destroyers, the Sevastopol fended off enemy mine attacks. Many Japanese destroyers were damaged and two-N-53 and N-42-sank to the bottom. This time the Sevastopol was also damaged. She, nevertheless, fired back on the Japanese positions until the last day of the defence when she was scuttled by her commander.

On 20 December 1904, Port Arthur capitulated. Only six destroyers and three small torpedo boats had broken through to neutral ports. News of the sinking of Russia's ships and the fall of the fortress reached the squadron of Admiral Rozhestvensky at Madagascar. There it was joined by both the cruiser detachment of Captain Leonid Dobrotvorsky and auxiliary cruisers. The squadron had received its new assignment-to achieve supremacy on the sea on its own. On 2 February, four battleships and a cruiser, under Rear Admiral Nikolay Nebogatov, were sent from Libau to strengthen Rozhestvensky's forces. On 26 April 1905, the Russian ships converged on the coast of Indo-China.

The entire fleet assembled under the flag of Vice-Admiral Rozhestvensky: eleven battleships, five large and three small cruisers, nine destroyers and numerous transports. To muster so large a force 2,000 miles off the coast of Japan was a feat in itself.

The squadron planned to break through to Vladivostok and there deal with its strong adversary. The Japanese fleet numbered five battleships, ten large and ten small cruisers, 21 destroyers, 43 torpedo-boats and other vessels. Admiral Rozhestvensky chose the shortest route for the break-through the Korean Strait. On 14 May 1905, Russia's second Pacific squadron was sited approaching the Strait by the scout ships of the Combined Squadrons under Admiral Togo.