The Pacific Fleet


The Pacific squadron safeguarded the security of Russia's eastern coastline as well as the political and military interests of Russia in the Far East. In 1880, relations with China deteriorated because of a frontier dispute at Kuldzha. The whole squadron of thirteen cruisers was concentrated in the Far East under the flag of Vice-Admiral Lesovsky and included, for the first time, the armoured frigates Minin and Knyaz Pozharsky. The warning was successful, and the conflict was settled peacefully.

The Afghan Crisis of 1885 again demanded the stre-ngthening of the Pacific squadron, this time because of possible war with Britain. Russia's newest ships were sent to the Far East and their movements were put under surveillance by a British squadron that included the Sea Lady and the Agamemnon. This latter British ship sailed so closely behind the Russian flagship Vladimir Monomakh that, on one occasion, at the Japanese port of Nagasaki, the Vladimir Monomakh signalled the Agamemnon to maintain proper distance. The British ship failed to acknowledge the signal and moved perilously close to the Vladimir Monomakh. In response, the Commander of the Russian squadron, Rear Admiral Fyodor Crown, sounded a general alarm, aimed the cruiser's guns and demanded that the overzealous Agamemnon clear the seaway so that the Vladimir Monomakh could sail ahead without the threat of being rammed.

In 1887, soon after Admiral Shestakov's arrival in the Far East, Crown's rank as Pacific squadron commander was advanced to senior flag-officer (vice-admiral). Disbursements for the port at Vladivostok increased, and the construction of a dry dock for the largest battleships soon began. From 1887 to 1888 the corvette Vityaz joined the squadron and sailed under Captain Stepan Makarov, whose work in hydrology and oceanography received world-wide recognition.

In the middle of the last decade of the nineteenth century, the situation in the Far East was further aggravated. Japan was amassing storehouses of weaponry and striving to gain a foothold on the Asian mainland. In its brief war of 1894-1895 against China, the Japanese won a decisive victory and demanded a number of territories from the Chinese Empire, especially that part of the Liaotung Peninsula that included the coastal fortress of Port Arthur. Through diplomatic channels Russia, France and Germany protested the expansion of Japan, but Russia was the only nation willing to support its opposition militarily.

Upon receiving orders from Saint Petersburg, Makarov's ships rushed from the Mediterranean toward Japan to strengthen the Pacific squadron. By early May 1895, the combined squadrons under Vice-Admiral Tyrtov were concentrated together in the Chify Harbour near Port Arthur.

The power of the Russian fleet made a significant impression on the Japanese, who renounced territorial claims on the continent. However, the Mikado's government, now acutely aware of Russia's potential as an adversary, immediately started to make preparations for war, ordering the construction of a fleet of battleships at European shipyards.

Between 1897 and 1898, threatened by the Japanese, Emperor Nicholas II approved plans to create a third naval force, the Pacific Fleet.

An unprecedented program of shipbuilding was supported by emergency allocations for the needs of the Russian navy in the Far East, and Russia's naval budget soon exceeded 100 million roubles a year. Three ocean-going battleships similar to the Peresvet and five battleships patterned after the Borodino were built in Saint Petersburg. The ironclad Borodino itself was launched in 1901 at the New Admiralty Shipyard. To accelerate the pace of construction, other orders were placed abroad.

In 1898, part of the Liaotung (Kwantung) Peninsula, along with the fortress of Port Arthur, was leased to Russia by China for a period of 25 years. Port Arthur became the main base for the Pacific squadron. In 1900-1901, Russia, in alliance with Great Britain, Germany, France and Japan, participated in a war against China. The war arose as a consequence of China's desire to remove foreign influences that the Chinese considered responsible for the degeneration of its Celestial Empire.

In June 1900, the ocean-going ships Koreyets, Bobr and Gilyak distinguished themselves in a difficult battle against the Chinese forts in the Taku Harbour. Despite heavy Chinese shelling, which caused fires and casualties aboard their ships, Russian officers and hands used extremely well-aimed return fire to support the Allied infantry as they took the forts by storm.

Admiral Yevgeny Alekseyev, appointed Emperor's deputy in the Far East in 1903, was now in command of the Army and the Fleet. After the victorious operations in China, Russian troops remained in Manchuria. This gave Russia's less responsible military ministers the opportunity to order military infiltration into Korea-officially for "economic" reasons. Russia's actions were opposed by Japan, which, having entered an alliance with Britain, resolved to wage war against Russia. The Japanese Combined Squadrons prepared to cruise to the Yellow Sea and launch a surprise attack on the Russians.

The Emperor and his advisors proved to be poorly directed and acted irresponsibly. The decision to prepare Port Arthur and Vladivostok for war was made ten days before the start of the conflict, and, of the twenty battleships completed, only seven, were dispatched, to the Far East. The remaining ships of Russia's navy remained in the Baltic and Black Seas.