Last Fight of the Donskoi

South of Matsushima, 28 May 1905, 1900 hours.

At 1700 hours Admiral Uriu had begun to sweep the area south of Matsushima with the Fourth Division. His efforts were rewarded at 1800 hours when he sighted Dmitri Donskoi to the southwest of him heading north-westward at high speed. The sighting was at once reported to Admiral Togo, who immediately sent Asama to support Uriu's cruisers. As the speed of the Russian armored cruiser was about the same as that of the Japanese light cruisers there was little chance of bringing her to action. Admiral Uriu therefore tried to get the Russians to surrender by repeatedly sending by wireless "Donskoi, Donskoi, Admiral Nebogatov surrendered already!" But Captain Lebedev paid no attention and held on his course; but not for long.

In about half an hour Donskoi was seen to edge away to the northward straight for Matsushima and Admiral Uriu began to gain on him fast. The reason was soon evident. Away to the westward Otowa and Niitaka appeared, forcing him off his course. After finishing off Svyetlana they were making their way E.S.E. to rejoin Admiral Uriu when they, too, had sighted Donskoi and had set a course to close with the enemy at 18 knots.

The fate of Dmitri Donskoi was now sealed and her crew was making a desperate effort to run her aground at Matsushima. Shortly after 1900 hours, about twenty miles south of the island Otowa managed to close to within 8,000 yards and opened fire. Niitaka followed in a few minutes, and by 1940 hours all the Fourth Division were able to join at 7,000 yards. Donskoi fought with spirit, but in the storm of steel that was sweeping her from both beams accurate sighting was soon impossible. Fires kept breaking out, and as the Japanese closed the range her punishment became more and more severe. By 2000 hours the Fourth Division's range was down to 4,000 yards and that of Otowa and Niitaka to 3,000 yards. The effect of the concentrated fire was terrible. Besides her own crew Donskoi had on board 270 men from Oslyabya and the destroyer Buini, which had sunk, so that the casualties caused on her crowded decks were unusually heavy. Amongst those killed was her gallant captain. Then her steering gear was disabled, her steam pipes damaged, and it became obvious to the Japanese that she was in serious difficulties. The end could not be far away, and as the sun was setting Admiral Uriu decided to finish the business before dark by running athwart her bows and cutting her off from Matsushima. But he had misjudged the heroic resistance of his enemy, and just as he turned Naniwa to lead round to port a 6-inch shell hit aft and did so much damage that in a few minutes she was listing 7 degrees and had to withdraw from the action. So sharp indeed, was the lesson that the intercepting movement had to be given up and the field left to the destroyers. By 2030 hours it was too dark to see the enemy at all and by the time Asama arrived it was too late to be of any use.

The destroyer attack was no more successful. As soon as the firing stopped the 2nd Destroyer Division tried to run in between Donskoi and Matsushima to finish her, but found that she was already too close to the rocks and had to deliver an unsuccessful attack from seaward. Four other boats of various divisions which had been keeping company with Otowa and Niitaka also tried to attack after dark. Three of them could not find the enemy at all under the shadow of the island and even the fourth, Fubuki, which did manage to close received so heavy and accurate a fire that all her torpedoes missed.

By 0600 hours the next morning all of Donskoi's crew were ashore except a small party told to take her out into deep water and scuttle her. The crew of Donskoi, with bravery, managed to deny the Japanese their final prize.