The Battle of the Yellow Sea (Japanese: 黄海海戦 Kōkai kaisen; Russian: Бой в Жёлтом море) was a major naval engagement of the Russo-Japanese War, fought on 10 August 1904. In the Russian Navy, it was referred to as the Battle of 10 August. The battle foiled an attempt by the Russian fleet at Port Arthur to break out and form up with counterparts from Vladivostok, forcing them to return to port. Four days later, the Battle off Ulsan similarly ended the Vladivostok group's sortie, forcing both fleets to remain at anchor.
The Imperial Russian Navy's First Pacific Squadron, commanded by Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft, had been trapped in Port Arthur since the Imperial Japanese Navy's blockade began on 8 February 1904 with the Battle of Port Arthur. Throughout late July and early August, as the Imperial Japanese Army laid siege to Port Arthur, relations between Admiral Vitgeft and Russian Viceroy Yevgeni Alekseyev increasingly soured. Viceroy Alexeiev, a former Admiral, favored an aggressive sortie so as to enable the First Pacific Squadron to link up with the Vladivostok Squadron and thereby create a naval force powerful enough to challenge the Japanese fleet. Admiral Vitgeft believed in a fleet in being, which simply stayed at anchor, while at the same time contributing some of his weaponry to the land battle as the safest course to follow. Although passive, Vitgeft's preference was actually more in keeping with the Russian Navy's doctrine, which was building up strength (waiting for the arrival of the Baltic Fleet, also known as the 2nd Pacific Squadron), and then engaging the Japanese navy in decisive battle.
Alexeiev appealed to St. Petersburg, and Tsar Nicholas II replied that he fully shared the Viceroy's opinion. Faced with an Imperial writ and threat of legal action, Admiral Vitgeft was ordered to sail for Vladivostok immediately. By 06:15 hours, on 10 August 1904, Admiral Vitgeft, flying his flag in the battleship Tsesarevich, began leading his battleships from the harbor.
At 09:55 hours his fleet had cleared the harbor's entrance, and as Admiral Vitgeft's Pacific Squadron completed their exit, he wisely made a feint to the south-west to conceal his actual intent, whereby he succeeded in delaying Admiral Heihachiro Togo's concentration of his forces. Although Vitgeft's move had bought him time, Togo had nonetheless previously issued orders for his warships to assemble near Encounter Rock, in the event Admiral Vitgeft was to take that route. By 1100 hours, however, it was clear in which direction Vitgeft's fleet was sailing: they were headed for the open sea. The Russian squadron consisted of the battleships Tsesarevich, Retvizan, Pobeda, Peresvet, Sevastopol, and Poltava, protected cruisers Askold, Diana, Novik and Pallada, and 14 destroyers.
At about 12:25 the battleship fleets sighted each other near Encounter Rock at a range of about 11 miles. Vitgeft's battlefleet was headed southeast at 13 knots, while Togo, on an intercepting course, came from the northeast at 14 knots. His fleet consisted of Japan's four surviving battleships Mikasa, Asahi, Fuji, and Shikishima, the armoured cruisers Nisshin and Kasuga, as well as eight protected cruisers, 18 destroyers, and 30 torpedo boats. During this time, Admiral Dewa's four cruisers came into view, fast approaching from the south at 18 knots, and Togo attempted to squeeze Admiral Vitgeft's fleet between the two advancing columns.
Just after 13:00, Togo attempted to cross Vitgeft's T and commenced firing his main batteries from the extreme range of more than 8 miles. Vitgeft, with the battleship Retvizan, returned fire, but the range was excessive for both sides and no hits were scored. Togo had miscalculated his speed when trying to cross the enemy's T, and Vitgeft simply made a quick turn to port, maintained his speed, and increased his range from Togo's fleet. Within minutes, Admiral Vitgeft was again headed for the open sea, and Admiral Togo's pincer gambit had failed, as Admiral Dewa's cruisers had to turn quickly to avoid Togo's battle line, and thus broke contact without having fired a shot. As Togo observed Vitgeft's battle line swiftly move past his own in opposite directions, he quickly ordered each warship to turn about individually, which put his cruisers into the lead, but now parallel with Vitgeft's battle line.
At about 13:25 hours, and again at a range of over 8 miles, Togo's battleships opened fire on Vitgeft's flagship and the Retvizan, hitting the latter 12 times. By about 13:30 hours the Russian flagship had returned fire, knocking out Togo's wireless communications with two 305 mm (12 inch) shell direct hits at this extreme range. For nearly half an hour the two battleship fleets pounded each other, slowly closing their range, until by 14:05 hours they reached about 3.5 miles, at which time both fleets let loose with their secondary 155 mm (6 inch) guns. As the fleets continued to pound each other with all available guns, Togo's flagship was beginning to feel its wounds, and he tried to turn his vessel a bit, due to the hits she was taking (she ended up being hit 20 times), and urgently tried to have his cruisers engage the Russian battleline. But with his radio shot out, he had to rely on flag signals and radio relays from accompanying warships.
The Japanese cruisers had re-established contact with the Russian battleline, but were quickly driven off by their 305 mm gunfire. Both battlefleets were maintaining about 14 knots, but again, Vitgeft had managed to get past Togo, and the Japanese were forced to commence a stern chase. By 14:45 hours the Japanese flagship had closed to within about 7 miles of the trailing battleship Poltava, which had been unable to maintain its fleet's 14 knots due to engine troubles. Mikasa and Asahi soon began to pound the Poltava, scoring several hits. However, Admiral Ukhtomsky in the battleship Peresvet observed the plight of the Poltava and ordered his division to fall back and help the Poltava, and they began concentrating their gunfire onto the Mikasa and Asahi. With Admiral Ukhtomsky's division firing, coupled with Poltava's rejoining of the fight, Mikasa and Asahi began taking too many hits, and upon the urging of his chief of staff, Togo used his superior speed to break contact, race ahead of Vitgeft's fleet, and try to re-establish contact again under more favorable conditions. By 15:20 hours the range was opened and the firing ceased.
As the battleships had broken contact, Admiral Dewa with his cruisers attempted to get into action, when suddenly the Russian battleships opened up on him. At about 15:40 hours one 305 mm shell hit Dewa's cruiser, the Yakumo from a range of over 8 miles; which was well out of range of his 203 mm (8 inch) guns. Admiral Dewa decided that his four Japanese cruisers had no business tangling with any Russian battleships.
By this time, only Togo's 6 warships (4 battleships and 2 armored cruisers) were chasing Vitgeft's 10 warships (6 battleships and 4 cruisers). With darkness only 3 hours away, Admiral Vitgeft believed that he had outranged Admiral Togo, and would lose him totally when darkness came. Togo knew this too, and ordered a 15 knot speed to catch up to the tail end of Vitgeft's fleet. By 17:35 hours Togo's warships had closed to within 3.5 miles of the again lagging battleship Poltava, and opened fire upon her. Admiral Dewa also showed up with his cruisers, and Togo ordered all battleships and cruisers to shell the Poltava, hoping to at least sink one Russian battleship. However, the Russian commander, Captain Ivan P. Uspenskiy of the Poltava would not go down meekly, and his crewmen scored several hits on Admiral Togo's flagship. At this time, the Shimose shells loaded inside the 305 mm guns became incredibly unstable and began detonating inside the gun barrels; knocking out of action one 305 mm on the Shikishima at 17:45 hours, and two 305 mm barrels on the Asahi at 18:10 hours. By 18:30 hours, Togo only had 11 of his original 17 305 mm guns still in action.
Although the range had dropped to about 3 miles, the secondary batteries of 155 and 203 mm guns were still ineffective, and Poltava and Peresvet, although heavily damaged, were still with the Russian battleline. By 18:30 hours, Togo was still having trouble controlling his battleship's gunfire; Shikishima and Asahi were blasting away at the crippled Poltava, Fuji was shooting at Pobeda and Peresvet, while the flagship Mikasa was duelling with the Russian flagship Tsesarevich. No IJN warships were shooting at the Russian battleships Retvizan and Sevastopol, which allowed them to freely blast away at the Mikasa. With darkness only 30 minutes away, the Japanese flagship Mikasa almost no longer combat effective, and Russian gunfire seemingly becoming more accurate and effective with each cannon shot; the flagship signaled to the Asahi to take over (known as a battle handoff) the shooting upon the lead Russian battleship. Within 10 minutes of being relieved by the Asahi, Admiral Togo got his lucky break, when at 18:40 hours Asahi fired a 305 mm salvo into the Russian flagship Tsesarevich, instantly killing Admiral Vitgeft and his immediate staff, and jamming the flagship's steering wheel. The explosion had wedged the wheel into a port turn, sharp enough so that Tsesarevich heeled over 12 degrees. Retvizan, which was unaware of the situation on the flagship, followed in her wake. By the time Pobeda arrived at the turning point, Tsesarevich had swung around 180 degrees and was heading back into her own line. With no signal to indicate what had happened, the other ships were unaware that Tsesarevich was not only out of control and without its admiral, but was actually without anyone at all in command.
Charge of battleship Retvizan
Prince Pavel Ukhtomsky of the battleship Peresvet soon realized that the flagship was out of action, and attempted to gain control of the Russian squadron. But a Japanese shell, falling wide, cut the foremast of Peresvet, preventing the signal flags from being hoisted as usual; they had to be hoisted along the bridge instead. Being thus almost hidden from view, the signal apparently was only seen on Sevastopol, no other Russian capital ships followed Ukhtomsky's lead.
At the same time Captain Eduard Schensnovich commanding the battleship Retvizan, immediately turned his battleship towards Togo's battleline, charging directly into it with all weapons firing, despite being down by the bow from battle damage. Togo's battleline shifted their fire onto Retvizan as the range dropped to less than three miles. There were so many shell splashes surrounding the charging battleship, that Japanese gunners were unable to adjust their fire. However, as Togo's battleships were running low on 305 mm shells, and many of his main guns were out of action, he decided to play it safe, and with the Russian squadron scattered, he turned the fight over to his cruisers and destroyers.
As Togo's ships began their turn, they fired a final salvo, hitting the enemy battleship with several shells, one of which seriously wounded Captain Schensnovich in the stomach. The Retvizan laid smoke and also began to turn away, but the battleship had effectively ended the duel between the opposing pre-dreadnoughts, and had saved the flagship from destruction. There was little choice but to give up the attempt to reach Vladivostok and to return to Port Arthur. Even this proved impossible to coordinate, and many ships wandered off on their own.
Two hours later, the bulk of the Russian fleet returned to the relative safety of Port Arthur. Five battleships, a cruiser and nine destroyers made it back. The damaged Tsesarevich and three escorting destroyers sailed to Kiaochou, where they were interned by German authorities. The cruiser Askold and another destroyer sailed to Shanghai and were likewise interned by Chinese authorities. The cruiser Diana escaped to Saigon, where it was interned by the French. Only the small cruiser Novik sailed east around the Japanese home islands to try to reach Vladivostok. However, on 20 August 1904 pursuing Japanese cruisers forced the ship aground at Sakhalin, where it was destroyed by the crew after engaging the Japanese at the Battle of Korsakov.
The Battle of the Yellow Sea was naval history's first major confrontation between modern steel battleship fleets, so with the exception of Admiral Togo's 20 minute duel with Russian Admiral Stark's battleships at Port Arthur on 9 February 1904, both Vitgeft and Togo were new to fighting modern steel battleship fleet actions.
Although Admiral Stark had been replaced by Admiral Stepan Makarov shortly after the Port Arthur battle, Makarov in turn was replaced by Vitgeft, following Makarov's death in April 1904, when his battleship Petropavlovsk blew up and sank in the Yellow Sea, after striking mines. Had Admiral Stark remained in command at the time of the Yellow Sea battle, Admirals Togo and Stark would have met on equal terms, both retaining about equal combat experience in battleship fleet actions. But the naval force that Togo was to meet at Tsushima the following year was not the same type of battle fleet that he engaged at the Yellow Sea either. Though Admiral Vitgeft was new, many of his men were not, most of them were veterans of Far East duty, with some of them veterans of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China. Thus, when Togo fought Vitgeft's fleet in the Yellow Sea in August 1904, he quickly found that they knew how to sail, and they were good gunners.
Rangefinders and gunnery
During the late 1890s, it was thought that around 3 to 4 miles would be the norm for battleship engagements. Although 305 mm/40 caliber guns were quite capable of reaching out to the ranges that the Yellow Sea battle had opened up with (8 miles), the lack of effective range-finders and gun sights forced practical 305 mm (12 inch) gunfire to be held within a 3 to 4 mile range. During the battle, Russian battleships had been equipped with Liuzhol Rangefinders with a range out to 4,000 meters, while Japanese pre-dreadnoughts had been equipped with the latest (1903) Barr & Stroud coincidence rangefinders, which had a range of 6,000 meters. Notwithstanding all of the above, the world was quite surprised after the opponents opened fire upon one another while still over 8 miles apart.
The Yellow Sea engagement lasted some 6 to 7 hours, with about 4 of those hours being direct combat. During those nearly four hours of fighting, roughly 7,382 rounds were expended by both sides, ranging in size from 155 to 305 mm shells. Of those 7,382 shells fired, approximately 5,956 had been from 155 mm guns; 3,592 from the Imperial Japanese Navy, and 2,364 from the Imperial Russian Navy. 307 203 mm shells had been fired by the IJN, and none by the Russian fleet. Admiral Vitgeft's fleet had expended 224 254 mm shells compared to Togo's 33 shells. The long range gunnery duel that had commenced at a range of over 8 miles, and which began with 305 mm main gun fire, ended with 305 mm gun fire near darkness, during which time 862 305 mm main gun rounds were fired; 259 from the Russian battleships, and 603 from the Japanese battleships.
Battle damage and casualties
The nearly seven hours of naval combat coupled with the estimated 7,382 fired shells, had produced:
|Tsesarevich||13 305 mm gun hits and 2 203 mm hits||12 crewmen killed and 47 crewmen wounded|
|Pobeda||11 large caliber hits||4 crewmen killed and 29 crewmen wounded|
|Peresvet||39 hits||13 crewmen killed/69 crewmen wounded|
|Poltava||12 to 14 hits, 203 to 305 mm guns||12 crewmen killed and 43 crewmen wounded|
|Retvizan||18 hits from 203 and 305 mm guns||6 crewmen killed and 42 crewmen wounded|
|Sevastopol||Struck by several shells||1 crewman killed and 62 crewmen wounded|
|Mikasa||Hit 20 times and aft 305 mm turret knocked out of action||125 casualties|
|Asahi||1 305 mm hit near the waterline and both aft 305 mm gun barrels burst||2 crewmen wounded|
|Shikishima||1 forward 305 mm gun barrel burst|
|Yakumo||1 305 mm hit|
for a hit rate of 1.7%.
Captain Eduard N. Shchensnovich, who had bravely charged his battleship into Admiral Togo's battleline, thus ending the battleship fleet duel, and saving the Russian flagship from destruction, later died from his wounds received from that action in April 1910, at the age of 58.
The strategic objective was obvious for both sides: breakthrough to Vladivostok with at least a substantial part of the force (including capital ships) for the Russians, preventing this for the Japanese (with the added twist of preventing heavy damage or loss of their capital ships, which Japanese yards could not yet rebuild). Thus, strategically the battle had been a Japanese victory, since the Russian fleet never again attempted to break out into the open sea. By December 1904, the land battles had converged around Port Arthur itself, and heavy artillery would soon be brought to bear on the Russian warships remaining inside Port Arthur; sinking or damaging all of the survivors of the Yellow Sea battle.
Tactically, the issue is less clear. For the Japanese, the goal would most likely be destruction of the Russian squadron (or at least the capital ships) there and then, again without incurring too many losses of their own. This was not achieved. Whether the tactical outcome is considered a draw or a Russian victory depends on what the Russian tactical goal was: causing more significant damage to the Japanese than vice versa, which was not achieved, or forcing the Japanese to withdraw while preserving the Russian squadron as a "fleet in being", which was achieved.
- Semenov (1907) p. 49 & 62
- Forczyk p. 46
- Forczyk p. 48
- Forczyk p. 50
- Forczyk p. 51
- Forczyk p. 52
- Forczyk p. 53
- Forczyk p. 53, 54
- Forczyk p. 36
- Forczyk p. 56 & 57
- Forczyk p. 50, 72
- Forczyk p. 73
- Forczyk p. 37, 53
- Forczyk, Robert (2009). Russian Battleship vs Japanese Battleship, Yellow Sea 1904–05. London, UK: Osprey. ISBN 978-1-84603-330-8.
- Kowner, Rotem (2006). Historical Dictionary of the Russo-Japanese War. Scarecrow. ISBN 0-8108-4927-5.
- Nish, Ian (1985). The Origins of the Russo-Japanese War. Longman. ISBN 0-582-49114-2
- Sedwick, F.R. (1909). The Russo-Japanese War. The Macmillan Company
- Corbett, Sir Julian. "Maritime Operations In The Russo-Japanese War 1904–1905" (1994) Originally a classified report, and in two volumes. ISBN 1-55750-129-7
- Semenov, Vladimir, Capt. "The Battle of Tsushima" (1912). New York, E. P. Dutton & Co. (Note-Captain Semenov had been present at both battles)
- Semenoff, Vladimir, Capt. The Battle of Tsushima (1907). London, John Murray, Albemarle Street, W.
- Naval War College (1906). International law topics and discussions, 1905. Washington: Government Printing Office. p. 162. http://books.google.com/books?id=Mf7fAAAAMAAJ. Retrieved 2011-10-01.
- Russo-Japanese War Research Society
- Russian Navy history of war: http://flot.com/history/steemfleet/index.htm
- article in Russian Language - http://ship.bsu.by/main.asp?id=3905#3905
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