Battle of Port Arthur

Port Arthur, Liaotung Peninsula, 9 February 1904, 1110 hrs.


Since no arrangements had been made to preserve communication with the destroyer flotilla attacking Port Arthur, the results of the first attack were quite unknown. By 0500 hrs on the morning of the 9th, the now reconcentrated destroyer flotillas were clearing Round Island and heading for Asan. Admiral Togo was some 20 miles to the northward of Chifu with the rest of the Japanese fleet. It was now time for the main battle fleet to play its part. Togo altered course for Liau-ti-shan. At 0800 hrs Admiral Dewa was sent ahead with his four cruisers to look into the Port Arthur anchorage. His only instructions were that if he met a strong Russian force at sea he was to try and draw it towards Togo's heavy divisions, which would steer for a point south of Encounter Rock (about 20 miles S.E. of Port Arthur).

At 0900 hrs Admiral Dewa was near enough to Port Arthur to make out the Russian fleet through the morning mist. There were 12 battleships and cruisers, three or four of which seemed to have a bad list or to be aground. Also there were some destroyers, gunboats, and mining vessels outside the harbor entrance, apparently huddled together in no particular order. Dewa held course till he was within 8,200 yards of the harbor, but no notice was taken of the Japanese cruisers. Closing to about 7,500 yards he leisurely made his reconnaissance. Still, not a shot was fired nor any movement made that he could see. Convinced by what he observed that the destroyer attack was a success and that the Russians were thoroughly demoralized he sped off to report to Togo. Since Dewa had pushed no nearer than 3nm it is no wonder that his conclusion was wrong. The Russians had steam up and were lying ready for action with battle flags flying.

Unaware that the Russian fleet was ready for battle and that some of the forts were manned and ready. Admiral Dewa urged his Commander-in-Chief that the moment was extremely advantageous for the First and Second Divisions to come up quickly and bombard the enemy outside the port.

Such an attack was not part of Admiral Togo's plan. His armored ships were only to hazard the Russian land batteries in the event the destroyer attack failed. "But Admiral Togo," says the Japanese history, "when he received the Third Division's report of the reconnaissance thought to himself if the enemy are in this state it will be worth while attacking them, even if I expose my fleet to the fire of the forts." Accordingly Admiral Togo ordered the Third Division to take station at the rear of the line, and with his own division in the van led on for Port Arthur.

Upon approaching Port Arthur the Japanese came upon Boyarin, which was on patrol. Boyarin fired on Mikasa at extreme range, then turned and fled in order to raise the alarm. At 1110 hrs when five miles from Golden Hill, the Japanese column turned to port on a heading of 270, and the flash of cannon signaled the opening of the action. The Russians replied from about 8,000 yards as they turned to a heading of southwest.

As the fleets approached each other on slightly converging courses the firing was very heavy. The Japanese concentrated the fire of their 12" guns on the land batteries while using their 8" and 6" against the Russian ships. Shooting was poor on both sides, but the Russians seemed to be more accurate.

As the Japanese got the range, hits began to come quickly, and the dense smoke from the firing of the guns soon made it difficult to distinguish one Russian ship from another. It soon became evident that the Russians were not as demoralized as Admiral Dewa had believed. The Russian forts were now in range and their fire increased rapidly in intensity. In the first five minutes of the battle Mikasa was hit by a ricocheting shell, which burst over her, wounding the Chief-Engineer, the Flag-Lieutenant, and five other officers and men, while wrecking the after bridge. It was the first battle damage suffered by the Japanese with more soon to come. The Russian's fire, which at first had been wild, was growing more and more accurate.

At 1220 hrs Mikasa was nearing Liau-ti-shan and Admiral Togo decided to turn eight points in succession to course 180. It was a critical moment and the Russians were fully aware of their chance. As Mikasa put her helm over the whole of the western batteries concentrated their fire on the turning point, while the rest directed their fire at the armored cruisers. Despite the heavy concentration of shells the First Division completed the evolution without damage and rapidly withdrew out of range. But several hits were made on Admiral Kamimura's armored cruisers as they reached the turning point. At this time Novik closed to within 3,300 yards of the Japanese armored cruisers and fired a torpedo salvo into the mass of ships. All of them missed and Novik received a severe hit below the water line, which forced her to beat a hasty retreat.

So far little damage had been done, but to expose the unarmored ships of the Third Division to the ordeal that Togo and Kamimura had just been through, was more than Togo cared to do. Their peril was so great that, instead of permitting them to go on, the Admiral signaled that they were to turn together out of action.

So after about 40 minutes the engagement ended. The Japanese suffered no more than 90 killed or wounded, and no ship was seriously damaged. The Russians had 150 killed or wounded, and Bayan, Askold, Diana, and Novik were damaged. Novik, whose brilliant intrepidity had brought her the severest punishment of them all, was repaired in ten days. It was obvious that Admiral Dewa, having failed to press his reconnaissance closely enough, had quite underestimated the Russian power of resistance, and that Admiral Togo's objection to engaging the enemy under their land batteries was fully justified.