THE SEA FIGHT IN THE WATERS OF JAPAN
 ON the memorable Saturday of May 27, 1905, in far eastern waters in which the guns of war-ships had
rarely thundered before, took place an event that opened eyes of the world as if a new planet had
swept o its ken or a great comet had suddenly blazed out in the eastern skies. It was that of one of
the most stupendous naval victories in history, won by a people who fifty years before had just
begun to emerge from the dim twilight of mediaeval barbarism.
Japan, the Nemesis of the East, had won her maiden spurs on the field of warfare in her brief
conflict with China in 1894, but that was looked upon as a fight between a young game-cock and a
decrepit barn-yard fowl, and the Western world looked with a half-pitying indulgence upon the
spectacle of the long-slumbering Orient serving its apprenticeship in modern war. Yet the rapid and
complete triumph of the island empire over the leviathan of the Asiatic continent was much of a
revelation of the latent power that dwelt in that newly-aroused archipelago, and when in 1903 Japan
began to speak in tones of menace to a second leviathan, that of Eastern Europe and Northern Asia,
the world's interest was deeply stirred again.
Would little Japan dare attack a European
 power and one so great and populous as Russia, with half Asia already in its clasp, with strong
fortresses and fleets within striking distance, and with a continental railway over which it could
pour thousands of armed battalions? The idea seemed preposterous, many looked upon the attitude of
Japan as the madness of temerity, and when on February 6, 1904, the echo of the guns at Port Arthur
was heard the world gave a gasp of astonishment and alarm.
Were there any among us then who believed it possible for little Japan to triumph over the colossus
it had so daringly attacked? If any, they were very few. It is doubtful if there was a man in Russia
itself who dreamed of anything but eventual victory, with probably the adding of the islands of
Japan to its chaplet of orient pearls. True, the success of the attack on their fleet was a painful
surprise, and when they saw their great ironclads locked up in Port Arthur harbor it was cause for
annoyance. But if the fleet had been taken by surprise, the fortress was claimed to be impregnable,
the army was powerful and accustomed to victory over its foes in Asia, and it was with an amused
contempt of their half-barbarian foes and confidence in rapid and brilliant triumph that the
Muscovite cohorts streamed across Asia with arms in hand and hope in heart.
We do not propose to tell here what followed. The world knows it. Men read with an interest they had
rarely taken in foreign affairs of the rapid and stupendous successes of the little soldiers of
 Nippon, the indomitable valor of the troops, the striking skill of their leaders, the breadth and
completeness of their tactics, the training and discipline of the men, the rare hygienic condition
of the camps, their impetuosity in attack, their persistence in pursuit; in short, the sudden advent
of an army with all the requisites of a victorious career, as pitted against the ill-handled myriads
of Russia, not wanting in brute courage, but sadly lacking in efficient leadership and strategical
skill in their commanders.
Back went the Russian hosts, mile by mile, league by league, steadily pressed northward by the
unrelenting persistence of the island warriors; while on the Liao-tung peninsula the besieging
forces crept on foot by foot, caring apparently nothing for wounds or death, caring only for the
possession of the fortress which they had been sent to win.
We should like to record some victories for the Russians, but the annals of the war tell us of none.
Out-generalled and driven back from their strong position on the Yalu River; decisively beaten in
the great battle of Liao-yang; checked in their offensive movement on the Shakhe River, with immense
loss; and finally utterly defeated in the desperate two weeks' struggle around Mukden; the field
warfare ended in the two great armies facing each other at Harbin, with months of manoeuvring before
Meanwhile the campaign in the peninsula had gone on with like desperate efforts and final success of
the Japanese, Port Arthur surrendering to its
 irresistible besiegers on the opening day of 1905. With it fell the Russian fleet which had been
cooped up in its harbor for nearly a. year; defeated and driven back in its every attempt to escape;
its flag-ship, the "Petropavlovsk," sunk by a mine on April 13, 1904, carrying down Admiral Makaroff
and nearly all its crew; the remnant of the fleet being finally sunk or otherwise disabled to save
them from capture on the surrender of Port Arthur to the besieging forces.
Such, in very brief epitome, were the leading features of the conflict on land and its earlier
events on the sea. We must now return to the great naval battle spoken of above, which calls for
detailed description alike from its being the closing struggle of the contest and from its
extraordinary character as a phenomenal event in maritime war.
The loss of the naval strength of Russia in eastern waters led to a desperate effort to retrieve the
disaster, by sending from the Baltic every war-ship that could be got ready, with the hope that a
strong fleet on the open waters of the east would enable Russia to regain its prestige as a naval
power and deal a deadly blow at its foe, by closing the waters upon the possession of which the
islanders depended for the support of their armies in Manchuria.
This supplementary fleet, under Admiral Rojestvensky, set sail from the port of Libau on October 16,
1904, beginning its career inauspiciously by firing impulsively on some English fishing-boats on the
21st, with the impression that these were
 Japanese scouts. This hasty act threatened to embroil Russia with another foe, the ally of Japan,
but it passed off with no serious results.
Entering the Mediterranean and passing through the Suez Canal, the fine fleet under Rojestvensky,
nearly sixty vessels strong, loitered on its way with wearisome deliberation, dallying for a
protracted interval in the waters of the Indian Ocean and not passing Singapore on its journey north
till April 12. It looked almost as if its commander feared the task before him, six months having
now passed since it left the Baltic on its very deliberate cruise.
The second Russian squadron, under Admiral Nebogatoff, did not pass Singapore until May 5, it being
the 13th before the two squadrons met and combined. On the 22nd they were seen in the waters of the
Philippines heading northward. The news of this, flashed by cable from the far east to the far west,
put Europe and America on the qui vive, in eager anticipation of startling events quickly to
Meanwhile where was Admiral Togo and his fleet? For months he had been engaged in the work of
bottling up the Russian squadron at Port Arthur. Since the fall of the latter place and the
destruction of the war-ships in its harbor he had been lying in wait for the slow-coming Baltic
fleet, doubtless making every preparation for the desperate struggle before him, but doing this in
so silent and secret a method that the world outside knew next to nothing of what was going on.
 The astute authorities of Japan had no fancy for heralding their work to the world, and not a hint
of the movements or whereabouts of the fleet reached men's ears.
As the days passed on and the Russian ships steamed still northward, the anxious curiosity as to the
location of the Japanese fleet grew painfully intense. The expected intention to waylay Rojestvensky
in the southern straits had not been realized, and as the Russians left the Philippines in their
rear, the question, Where is Togo? grew more insistent still. With extraordinary skill he had lain
long in ambush, not a whisper as to the location of his fleet being permitted to make its way to the
western world; and when Rojestvensky ventured into the yawning jaws of the Korean Strait he was in
utter ignorance of the lurking-place of his grimly waiting foes.
Before Rojestvensky lay two routes to choose between, the more direct one to Vladivostok through the
narrow Korean Strait, or the longer one eastward of the great island of Honshu. Which he would take
was in doubt and in which Togo awaited him no one knew. The skilled admiral of Japan kept his
counsel well, doubtless satisfied in his own mind that the Russians would follow the more direct
route, and quietly but watchfully awaiting their approach.
It was on May 22, as we have said, that the Russian fleet appeared off the Philippines, the greatest
naval force that the mighty Muscovite empire had ever sent to sea, the utmost it could
 muster after its terrible losses at Port Arthur. Five days afterwards, on the morning of Saturday,
May 27, this proud array of men-of-war steamed into the open throat of the Straits of Korea,
steering for victory and Vladivostok. On the morning of Monday, the 29th, a few battered fragments
of this grand fleet were fleeing for life from their swift pursuers. The remainder lay, with their
drowned crews, on the sea-bottom, or were being taken into the ports of victorious Japan. In those
two days had been fought to a finish the greatest naval battle of recent times, and Japan had won
the position of one of the leading naval powers of the world.
On that Saturday morning no dream of such a destiny troubled the souls of those in the Russian
fleet. They were passing into the throat of the channel between Japan and Korea, but as yet no sign
of a foeman had appeared, and it may be that numbers on board the fleet were disappointed, for
doubtless the hope of battle and victory filled many ardent souls on the Russian ships. The sun rose
on the new day and sent its level beams across the seas, on which as yet no hostile ship had
appeared. The billowing waters spread broad and open before them and it began to look as if those
who hoped for a fight would be disappointed, those who desired a clear sea and an open passage would
No sails were visible on the waters except those of small craft, which scudded hastily for shore on
seeing the great array of war-ships on the horizon.
 Fishing-craft most of these, though doubtless among them were the scout-boats which the watchful
Togo had on patrol with orders to signal the approach of the enemy's fleet. But as the day moved on
the scene changed. A great ship loomed up, steering into the channel, then another and another, the
vanguard of a battle-fleet, steaming straight southward. All doubt vanished. Togo had sprung from
his ambush and the battle was at hand.
It was a rough sea; and the coming vessels dashed through heavy waves as they drove onward to the
fray. From the flag-ship of the fleet of Japan streamed the admiral's signal, not unlike the famous
signal of Nelson at Trafalgar, "The defense of our empire depends upon this action. You are expected
to do your utmost."
Northward drove the Russians, drawn up in double column. The day moved on until noon was passed and
the hour of two was reached. A few minutes later the first shots came from the foremost Russian
ships. They fell short and the Japanese waited until they came nearer before replying. Then the roar
of artillery began and from both sides came a hail of shot and shell, thundering on opposing hulls
or rending the water into foam. From two o'clock on Saturday afternoon until two o'clock on Sunday
morning that iron storm kept on with little intermission, the huge twelve-inch guns sending their
monstrous shells hurtling through the air, the smaller guns raining projectiles on battle-ships and
cruisers, until it seemed
 as if nothing that floated could live through that terrible storm.
Never in the history of naval warfare had so frightful a cannonade been seen. Its effect on the
opposing fleets was very different. For months Togo had kept his gunners in training and their
shell-fire was accurate and deadly, hundreds of their projectiles hitting the mark and working dire
havoc to the Russian ships and crews; while to judge from the little damage done, the return fire
would seem to have been wild and at random. Either the work of training his gunners had been
neglected by the Russian admiral, or they were demoralized by the projectiles from the rapid-fire
guns of the Japanese, which swept their decks and mowed down the gunners at their posts.
This fierce and telling fire soon had its effect. Ninety minutes after it began, the Russian armored
cruiser "Admiral Nakhimoff" went reeling to the bottom with the greater part of her crew of six
hundred men. Next to succumb was the repair-ship "Kamchatka." Badly hurt early in the battle, her
steering-gear was later disabled, then a shell put her engines out of service, and shortly after her
bow rose in the air and her stern sank, and with a tremendous roar she followed the "Nakhimoff" to
Around the "Borodino," one of the largest of the Russian battle-ships, clustered five of the
Japanese, pouring in their fire so fiercely that flames soon rose from her deck and the wounded
monster seemed in sore distress. This was Rojestvensky's flag-ship, and
 the enemy made it one of their chief targets, sweeping its decks until the great ship became a
veritable shambles. Admiral Rojestvensky, wounded and his ship slowly settling under him, was
transferred in haste to a torpedo-boat destroyer, and as evening came on the huge ship, still
fighting desperately, turned turtle and vanished beneath the waves. As for the admiral, the
destroyer which bore him was taken and he fell a prisoner into Japanese hands.
Previous to this three other battle-ships, the "Lessoi," the "Veliky," and the "Oslabya," had met
with a similar fate, and shortly after sundown the "Navarin" followed its sister ships to the
yawning depths. The fiery assault had quickly thrown the whole Russian array into disorder, while
the Japanese skillfully manoeuvred to press the Russians from side and rear, forcing them towards
the coast, where they were attacked by the Japanese column there advancing. In this way the fleet
was nearly surrounded, the torpedo-boat flotilla being thrown out to intercept those vessels that
sought to break through the deadly net.
With the coming on of darkness the firing from the great guns ceased, the Russian fleet being by
this time hopelessly beaten. But the torpedo-boats now came actively into action, keeping up their
fire through most of the night. When Sunday morning dawned the shattered remnants of the Russian
fleet were in full flight for safety, hotly pursued by the Japanese, who were bent on pre-venting
the escape of a single ship. The roar of
 guns began again about nine o'clock and was kept up at intervals during the day, new ships' being
bagged from time to time by Togo's victorious fleet, while others, shot through and through,
followed their brothers of the day before to the ocean depths.
The most notable event of this day's fight was the bringing to bay off Liancourt Island of a
squadron of five battle-ships, comprising the division of Admiral Nebogatoff. Togo, in the
battle-ship "Mikasa," commanded the pursuing squadron, which overtook and surrounded the Russian
ships, pouring in a terrible fire which soon threw them into hopeless confusion. Not a shot came
back in reply and Togo, seeing their helpless plight, signalled a demand for their surrender. In
response the Japanese flag was run up over the Russian standard, and these five ships fell into the
hands of the islanders without an effort at defense. The confusion and dismay on board was such that
an attempt to fight could have led only to their being sent to the bottom with their crews.
It was a miserable remnant of the proud Russian fleet that escaped, including only the cruiser
"Almez" and a few torpedo-boats that came limping into the harbor of Vladivostok with the news of
the disaster, and the cruisers "Oleg," "Aurora," and "Jemchug," under Rear-admiral Enquist, that
straggled in a damaged condition into Manila harbor a week after the great fight. Aside from these
the Russian fleet was annihilated, its ships destroyed or captured; the total loss, according to
Admiral Togo's report, being eight battle-ships,
 three armored cruisers, three coast-defense ships, and an unenumerated multitude of smaller vessels,
while the loss in men was four thousand prisoners and probably twice that number slain or drowned.
The most astonishing part of the report was that the total losses of the Japanese were three
torpedo-boats, no other ships being seriously damaged, while the loss in killed and wounded was not
over eight hundred men. It was a fight that paralleled, in all respects except that of dimensions of
the battling fleets, the naval fights at Manila and Santiago in the Spanish-American war.
What followed this stupendous victory needs not many words to tell. On land and sea the Russians had
been fought to a finish. To protract the war would have been but to add to their disasters. Peace
was imperative and it came in the following September, the chief result being that the Russian
career of conquest in Eastern Asia was stayed and Japan became the master spirit in that region of
Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics