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.
What was there left for us to do in these circumstances? Only one thing—to do our duty to the last, to comply with our orders “to obtain the mastery of the sea,” to continue the voyage, even without the prospect of gaining any success with our own forces. The only hope we had was the help of God. Perhaps a fog, a fresh breeze, might help us to slip through unobserved. Perhaps God might strike confusion into the ranks of our bold and active enemy.
In this war, however, God’s blessing was with the Japanese at every step. Independently of their admirable preparations, their organisation, equipment, etc., fortune was ever on their side. The Petropavlovsk struck the same kind of mine as the Pobieda, but the former was hit abreast of the mining room which exploded, the latter abreast of a full coal bunker; the former went to the bottom, the latter only heeled over 4° and steamed with her own engines into port to be repaired. Eventually several officers were also saved from the Petropavlovsk, including the Grand Duke Cyril and the captain of the ship, who had both been close to the admiral just before the catastrophe, but Makaroff went down. . . . And on August 10 was not the shell which killed Admiral Vityeft a chance shot? Certainly the Mikasa suffered also, and even considerably, hardly less than the Tsesarevitch, but Togo never got a scratch!
And in the same battle both topmasts of the Peresviet were shot away, so that Admiral Prince Uktomsky was unable to hoist any signal visible to the whole squadron. Is not that also a piece of luck? Or can one say that these were especially good shots, that it was all intentional? No; in this war the old Russian cry of “God is with us!” did not come true. God was with “them.” The hopes of a lucky chance, of favourable weather conditions, which might permit us to slip past unobserved, of inattention on the part of the enemy, were very slender. And there was nothing else. I think I can confidently assert that in the fleet there was hardly anyone (except, perhaps, the quite inexperienced youths) who counted upon success in an open, decisive battle.
On the contrary, there were some who maintained that the Japanese, who were perfectly convinced of their own superiority, would not only not disturb us, but would even assist us in reaching Vladivostok, as they intended blockading us there, so that when that fortress was taken the ships of the Second Squadron would become gratuitous prizes, in the same manner as had been so brilliantly successful at Port Arthur with the First Squadron. Taking this standpoint, the captain of the Oleg, at a conference with the admiral, offered to bet a large sum of money that if we went on to Vladivostok and the Japanese had realised our intentions, they would not fight us, even if we met accidentally.
The admiral did not take up the challenge, as he said it would be sheer robbery on his part. He strongly held the opposite view. He believed that the Japanese would do everything in their power to prevent our reaching our only base, where we should be able to rest, to effect repairs, and put everything to rights, and where we could leave behind all impedimenta and reorganise the fighting fleet, after which the struggle with us would be far more dangerous. As they were far superior to us in fighting strength and organisation, a decisive battle on the way to Vladivostok seemed inevitable. It only remained to choose the route by which it would be easiest, with the help of God, to get through, and where, in the event of such help not being forthcoming, we should find ourselves in the least unfavourable situation.
I beg my readers’ pardon, but I am obliged to dwell a little longer on this point, and to go into it yet more fully. Too much nonsense has already been written on this subject by gentlemen who have autocratically proclaimed themselves authorities in the art of naval warfare.
The route to Vladivostok lay in any case through the Sea of Japan, which at that time was entirely in the hands of the enemy, since the Vladivostok ships gave no sign of life, and could not give any. This was known to us for certain. Four roads lead into the Sea of Japan (if Tartar Sound, with its insufficient depth, is not counted): the Straits of Korea—between the southern extremity of Korea and the Japanese Archipelago, divided into two parts, eastern and western, by the island of Tsu-shima; the Tsugaru Straits—between the islands of Nippon and Yezo; and the Straits of La Pérouse—between the islands of Yezo and Sagalien.
The only prospect of success lay in the following chances: viz. , either our appearing suddenly or bad weather coming on, which we might use either to hide our movements (fog) or to avoid battle (gale of wind, heavy sea or swell). Which road were we to choose?
The Tsugaru Straits could not be considered at all. Evidently (I will be honest) even the foolish “strategists” did not take it into consideration. It is a strait which is only 9 to 10 miles wide at either entrance, measured from point to point, and if one only takes the width of the available waterway, that is, the space between the shallow waters along the two shores, the fairway is occasionally reduced to only 7 miles in width. There is a strong current. In a word, even in times of peace not even a single ship, leave alone a fleet, would risk, except in case of pressing necessity, passing through in foggy or thick weather, in which the coast-line (by day) or the lights (at night) would be obscured. To this must be added the fact that on the north shore (Yezo) the Japanese military port of Mororan was situated, whilst the naval base of Aomori lies on the southern shore (Nippon). To choose this route would simply have meant committing suicide.
The Straits of Korea, to the westward of Tsu-shima, if not really a strait, was something of the kind, for along a distance of 40 miles the mainland and the islands of the South Korean Archipelago near by approached the island of Tsu-shima within 25 miles. So far as I recollect the “strategists” did not consider this route either.
There remain two routes—the Straits of Korea, east of Tsu-shima, and the Straits of La Perouse.