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A History of the Japanese People by F. Brinkley

As the vessels under Rozhdestvensky were called



From the outset, both sides had appreciated the enormous preponderance that would be conferred by command of the sea. It was in obedience to this conviction that the Russian authorities were in the act of taking steps to increase largely their Pacific squadron when the outbreak of war compelled them to suspend the despatch of re-enforcements. They did not, however, relinquish their preparations. Evidently, any vessels sent to the scene of combat after fighting had begun must be competent to defend themselves against attack, which condition entailed strength to form an independent squadron. The preparations to acquire this competence involved a long delay, and it was not until the 16th of October, 1904, that Admiral Rozhdestvensky left Libau with some forty ships. The world watched this adventure with astonished eyes. Thitherto Great Britain, equipped as she is with coaling-stations all round the globe, had been the only power thought capable of sending a large fleet on an ocean voyage. Rozhdestvensky's squadron consumed over three thousand tons of coal daily when steaming at a reduced speed, and how this supply was to be kept up in the absence of ports of call, no one was able to conjecture. The difficulty was ultimately overcome by the very benevolent character which the neutrality of certain powers assumed, and in May, 1905, the Baltic squadron, as the vessels under Rozhdestvensky were called, made its appearance in Far Eastern


It had been supposed that the Russians would seek to envelop their movements in obscurity, but they seem to have appreciated, from the outset, the absurdity of endeavouring to conceal the traces of a fleet of forty vessels steaming along the routes of the world's commerce. They therefore proceeded boldly on their way, slowly but indomitably overcoming all obstacles. It will be observed that the date of their departure from Libau was just two months after the last attempt of the Port Arthur squadron to escape to Vladivostok. Doubtless, this sortie, which ended so disastrously for the Russians, was prompted in part by anticipation of the Baltic fleet's approaching departure, and had the Port Arthur squadron, or any considerable portion of it, reached Vladivostok before Rozhdestvensky's coming, Admiral Togo might have been caught between two fires. The result of the sortie, however, dispelled that hope. Long before Rozhdestvensky reached the Far East, he fell into touch with Japanese scouts, and every movement of his ships was flashed to the enemy. That Vladivostok was his objective and that he would try to reach that place if possible without fighting, were unquestionable facts. But by what avenue would he enter the Sea of Japan? The query occupied attention in all the capitals of the world during several days, and conjectures were as numerous as they were conflicting. But Admiral Togo had no moment of hesitation. He knew that only two routes were possible, and that one of them, the Tsugaru Strait, could be strewn with mines at very brief notice. The Russians dare not take that risk. Therefore Togo waited quietly at his base in the Korean Strait and on the 27th of May his scouts reported by wireless telegraphy at 5 A.M., "Enemy's fleet sighted in 203 section. He seems to be steering for the east channel."

In the historic action which ensued, Rozhdestvensky had under his command eight battle-ships, nine cruisers, three coast-defence ships, nine destroyers, an auxiliary cruiser, six special-service steamers, and two hospital ships. Togo's fleet consisted of five battle-ships (one of them practically valueless), one coast-defence vessel, eight armoured cruisers, ten protected cruisers, twenty destroyers, and sixty-seven torpedo-boats. Numerically, the advantage was on the Japanese side, although in first-class fighting material the disparity was not remarkable. As for the result, it can only be called annihilation for the Russian squadron. Out of the thirty-eight ships composing it, twenty were sunk; six captured; two went to the bottom or were shattered while escaping; six were disarmed and interned in neutral ports to which they had fled; one was released after capture, and of one the fate is unknown. Only two escaped out of the whole squadron. This wonderful result justifies the comment of a competent authority:

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