A special two volume set on the Russian navy at war in the early 20th century
Vladimir Semenoff’s account of the famous naval Battle of Tsushima is a well known and highly regarded book by an author who experienced the conflict at first hand. Although it has been published separately, Semenoff’s account of the battle is just one segment of a far broader narrative—the parts of which were published out of chronological sequence as books and sections of books. The author indicates in his other writings on the Russo-Japanese war at sea where the text on the Battle of Tsushima should appear in the whole. This confused publishing history has made understanding the complete narrative difficult for modern readers. Leonaur’s editors have, for the first time, ordered Semenoff’s text chronologically, as a continuous narrative, in two volumes. Volume one deals with Port Arthur, the Battles of the Yellow Sea and in the Sea of Japan; volume two includes the Battle of Tsushima and events after that famous encounter. This essential account of the war at sea, from the Russian perspective, during the Russo-Japanese War is without equal and is highly recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.
The destroyer action took place about 10 miles from Port Arthur. The Novik and the Askold did not arrive in time in spite of all their efforts. The Steregushtchy had already sunk when our cruisers reached the scene of the action. They at once started chasing the hostile destroyers. In doing so they ran upon the entire hostile squadron, which was steaming towards Port Arthur, and had to turn back. Happily, the two vessels were in full possession of their steaming powers. With our other ships this only figured on paper. The Japanese battleships and armoured cruisers could not catch the two cruisers. Only the “Greyhounds” were able for a while to chase them with more or less success.
We in the harbour heard with great concern that firing was going on out at sea, but both cruisers got back safely.
This return nearly became a triumphal progress. Thousands of men stood crowded on the decks of the ships, on the ramparts of the forts, and along the harbour embankments, and every one anxiously followed the movements of the Novik. The fast little vessel manoeuvred cleverly through the narrow passages in the entrance; but the general attention was not fixed on the ship herself. Everyone wanted to see the proud flag of St Andrew, with an admiral’s distinguishing marks, which the cruiser flew at her masthead.
An accidental success in action would not have had the significance of this moment. The admiral had conquered all hearts at one stroke and could henceforth be justified in speaking of “my” squadron. Everyone was his, body and soul.
To this episode must undoubtedly be ascribed the grand composure with which the squadron underwent the bombardment which followed on the same day. It was perhaps not the only cause, but it certainly contributed towards it by the extraordinarily strong impression it made on the masses. All the same, our situation was by no means a good one.
The Japanese Squadron, before which the Novik and Askold had to fly, steered at first on a westerly course, as if it meant to pass Port Arthur. It soon got out of sight behind Liao-ti-shan Hill. A single cruiser remained off the entrance of the harbour, but outside the range of our forts. Soon after 9 a.m. there arose suddenly between the ships in the west basin a gigantic column of water. A sharp detonation was heard at the same instant, which had nothing in common either with that produced by the firing of a big gun or the explosion of a mine. Immediately everyone left his work and looked around aghast. Again and yet again the same thing happened. All at once it all appeared clear to us. The Japanese battleships, which were circling about 8 or 9 miles from us, were firing at us indirectly across Liao-ti-shan. Not a single fortress gun could interfere with them. Evidently our Ministry of War, as well as that of the Marine, had, before the war, thought such a thing to be impossible. Otherwise some one would surely have built batteries to meet such a contingency, or have made the necessary preparations in the squadron for replying to such high-angle fire.
As soon as the bombardment commenced, Admiral Makaroff ordered suitable measures to be taken in hand at once. But this was no easy task, and could not be done in a few hours. The chart had to be divided off into squares, marks for laying on selected, posts of observation to be established, and a simple system of signalling from them drawn up. For all this several days were required. We could not help asking ourselves: what were we really thinking of before the war? It is curious how history repeats itself. In the Turkish war our infantry had to improvise for themselves wooden sights for the longer ranges and fix them on their rifles. Since then twenty-five years had passed, and again we see ourselves forced to improvise from our own resources additions to our gun sights for firing at very great ranges. Some ships were in any case unable to use high-angle fire. Their mountings were not so constructed as to allow the necessary elevation being given.
The Japanese evidently had suitable mountings and a trained personnel. Their shots were very well placed. A single shell would have sufficed to put any battleship out of action, as the projectiles struck with a very large angle of descent. The 11-inch mortars of the Japanese proved this at the end of the siege.
The hostile battleships manoeuvred without hindrance south of Liao-ti-shan. When each reached the right place, she quietly laid her 12-inch guns, and neither fleet nor fortress could make any reply to their fire.
The only escape from this deplorable situation would have been for us to go to sea. We had been in possession of Port Arthur for seven years before the war broke out. In all this time we did not manage to complete the grand scheme of deepening the inner harbour and the entrance. The big ships could only go in and out at high water. At low water the insufficient depth kept our ships more securely locked in port than the most powerful enemy. On March 9 low water at Port Arthur was at 9 a.m., therefore the Japanese had selected precisely that hour for the commencement of their bombardment.
The reader has surely had the experience at one time or other in his dreams of lying helpless, while a heavy weight was threatening to crush him to death. This crushing weight could easily be thrown off if one had the use of one’s limbs. But one is, as it were, tied down, unable to move a limb, and only one’s thoughts are at work. And even these thoughts are not free. They can only ask: “How much longer can I bear this?” One would like to be rid of them altogether.
Such was our situation during the bombardment on March 9. The word “bombardment” exactly describes it. There was no question of a fight. At other times the defender at a bombardment is able to reply shot for shot, even if in a less favourable situation than the attacker. Here it was, for one of the parties, merely a very convenient target practice, free from all danger. The other party provided the living targets.