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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

Three Japanese squadrons of destroyers


Port

Arthur, where the bulk of the Russian Pacific squadron lay, is somewhat difficult of ingress and egress. On January 31, 1904, the operation of extracting the ships and parading them outside was commenced, being brought to a conclusion on February 3rd, whereafter the squadron steamed out to sea, and, having made a short cruise off the coast of the Shantung promontory, returned to its position on the following day. The fleet taking part in this manoeuvre consisted of twenty-six ships, and the whole Russian naval force then in eastern Asia comprised seven battle-ships, four armoured cruisers, seven protected cruisers, four gunboats, six sloops, twenty-five destroyers, two mining transports, and fourteen first-class torpedo-boats.

The Japanese, on their side, had six battle-ships, eight armoured cruisers, thirteen protected cruisers, fourteen small cruisers, nineteen destroyers, and eighty-five torpedo-boats. This enumeration shows a numerical superiority on the Japanese side, but in fighting capacity the two fleets were nearly equal. For, though the Russians possessed seven battle-ships to six Japanese, the latter had better gun-protection and greater weight of broadside fire than the former; and though Japan could muster eight armoured cruisers against Russia's four, the latter were supplemented by five protected cruisers which ranked far above anything of the same class on the Japanese side.

THE FIRST NAVAL OPERATION

style="text-align: justify;">When the Russian ships returned on the 4th of February from their cruise off the Shantung promontory, they took up their stations outside Port Arthur, all the harbour lights and beacons being left in position, and no special precaution being taken except that a patrol of three torpedo-boats was sent out. Yet the Russians should have appreciated the presence of danger. For, on the 6th of February, Japan had broken off the negotiations in St. Petersburg, and had given official information of her intention to take measures for protecting her menaced interests. That signified war and nothing but war, and the "Official Messenger" of the same evening published the intimation, which was immediately communicated to Admiral Alexieff at Port Arthur.

The Russian fleet was then divided into three squadrons. The largest body lay off Port Arthur, and two very much smaller squadrons were posted, one at Chemulpo on the west coast of Korea, and another at Vladivostok. It is obvious that such division of the fleet on the eve of hostilities should have been carefully avoided. The ships should all have been held together with an extensive network of scouts so as to enable them swiftly and strongly to fall upon any Japanese transports carrying troops to the mainland, or to meet effectually and crush any attempt of the Japanese squadrons to obtain command of the sea.

On the night of February 8th-9th, three Japanese squadrons of destroyers, aggregating ten vessels, steamed across a calm, moonlit sea and delivered a torpedo attack on the Russian squadron at Port Arthur, the result being that the battle-ships Retvisan and Tsarevitch together with the cruiser Pallada were holed. These battle-ships were the most powerful vessels in the Russian squadron, and the Pallada was a first-class protected cruiser of 6630 tons' displacement. The Japanese destroyers had left Sasebo on the 6th of February and they returned thither uninjured, having materially weakened the Russian fleet. On the day following this surprise, Admiral Togo, the Japanese commander-in-chief, engaged the remains of the Russian squadron with the heavy guns of his battle-ships at a range of eight thousand yards, and succeeded in inflicting some injury on the battle-ship Poltava, the protected cruisers Diana and Askold, and a second-class cruiser Novik. The Russians ultimately retreated towards the harbour with the intention of drawing the Japanese under closer fire of the land batteries, but the Japanese fleet declined to follow after them, and, instead, steamed away. Three days later (February 11th) another disaster overtook the Russians. The Yenisei, one of the two mining-transports included in their fleet, struck a mine and sank so rapidly in Talien Bay that ninety-six of her crew perished. The Japanese had no part at all in this catastrophe. It was purely accidental.


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