[By Captain Sydney A. Cloman, General Staff, late attache with the Russian Army in Manchuria, in the Journal of the U. S. Infantry Association.] (Ed. note: transcribed version reprinted in The Army and Navy Register, 14 July 1906)

The ukase of the czar, Alexander III, dated March 17, 1891, contemplated an all rail route from the Urals to Vladivostock, but, owing to the fact that navigable water at some places coincided with the projected lines, as, for instance, the Amur river and Lake Baikal these portions of the line were very properly left until after the links connecting them had been completed. Later, because of the convention with China allowing a direct route across Manchuria, construction on the Amur line was stopped and probably, owing to the fact that it is now of purely local importance, will not be resumed for many years to come. The link connecting the mid-Siberian section with the trans-Baikal section was of greater importance.

Lake Baikal, planted squarely across the route of the Siberian railroad, is the largest fresh water lake in Asia and is surpassed in size in the whole world only by Superior, Michigan, Huron and Victoria Nyanza. It has an area of 12,500 square miles and is 400 miles long from northeast to Southwest. Its breadth varies from 18 to 54 miles and its depth varies from 200 feet to 3,185 feet, the latter in the southern part. The surface is 1,561 feet above sea level, and thus its bottom at the deepest is about the same distance below level. The mountains surrounding the lake basin rise in successive ridges to a height of 6,000 feet, giving a most imposing beauty to this region. The lake contains a number of small islands, one of which Olkhon, is considered by the Buriat priests to be the dwelling of the evil spirit and large numbers repair there yearly to offer him sacrifices. The climate is very severe, the summers being short with cold nights and the winters long an intensely cold. For many reasons the basin of the lake is supposed to be an extinct volcanic crater, an the region is subject to frequent earthquakes, one of considerable violence taking place while we were in Irkutsk on July 9, 1905.

When work was begun on the trans-Baikal section of the Siberian railroad it was evident that this gap across Lake Baikal must be closed without delay. The old method of carrying goods and travelers across on small steamers would not suffice for the Siberian railroad, as there must be a trans-shipment at each side and this expense, delay and damage would almost neutralize the advantages of the railroad for through traffic, and through traffic is what this line was built for. There were two solutions proposed: the extension of the railroad around the lake at an estimated cost of 25 000,000 roubles; an the construction of large steam ferryboats capable of breaking through the ice and of transporting an entire train between Baikal station on the west coast and Mysovaya station on the east coast, at an estimated cost, including the wharves, of 15,000,000 roubles. The latter plan was adopted and a steel steamer was built by Armstrong & Company, in England, shipped out piece-meal and set up on the shore of the lake.

This steamer, the Baikal, is made of Siemens and Martin steel, is 290 feet long, 57 feet beam, 20 feet draught, speed 13 knots, and displacement, loaded 4,200 tons. It is provided with three triple-expansion engines with a tota1 of 3, 750 horsepower. Two engines are in the stern and work the twin screw while the other is forward and works the screw that breaks the ice, up to 4 feet in thickness. It is very strongly built, capable of either forward or backward motion and carries 27 cars on 3 tracks, while the cabins accommodate about 150 passengers. A smaller vessel, the Angara, was completed in 1900. It is 195 feet long, 34 feet beam, 15 feet draught, speed 12.5 knots, with engines of 1,250 horsepower. It has been used almost exclusively for the transfer of passengers. For the repair of these vessels a large floating dry dock has been built at Baikal.

The water of the lake is very clear and almost chemically pure, and from this purity and consequent lightness results an extreme agitation of the surface and a depth of ice that has an important bearing on the navigation of the lake and the consequent construction of the railroad around it. During the summer the storms are sudden and severe and many small vessels and freight scows are lost, while in the winter the ice sometimes freezes to a depth of 10 feet--to thick to be broken by the ice breakers Baikal and Angara. At the same time, the ice is broken into enormous crevasses and thrown up into ridges, seriously interfering with the sledge traffic, and hence it has happened that communication between the lake shores has been impossible for some time. This matter is so serious that it would indicate that if a proper study of the conditions had been made the ice breaker system would not have been adopted and this link in the railroad would have been completed with the mid-Siberian.

Preliminary surveys for a Circum-Baikal railroad were begun in 1888 and continued for more than 12 years. Four routes were surveyed and found possible, three being up the Irkut river and its tributaries from points near Irkutsk, and then through the narrow ridge to Kultuk on the south shore of the lake; but the adoption of any of these would force the virtual abandonment of the line already constructed up the Angara to Baikal, and in the end the plan was adopted of building the road along the lake shore, notwithstanding its immense difficulties, and the construction was begun in the spring of 1901.

The chosen direction of the road throughout its length of 244 versts bends around the southern extremity of the Baikal basin, and is divided into two parts the western from Baikal station to Kultuk station, and the eastern from Kultuk station to Mysovaya station.

The shore of the western part of Lake Baikal from the source of the Angara to Kultuk is a rocky ridge from 900 to 1,800 feet above the lake level. The outline is very broken with a series of bays separated by a raw of steep capes and cliffs. The construction of a railroad on the western section was fraught with many technical difficulties. Following the outlines of this broken rocky shore; bending the ridges with curves of limited radius, the line in many other places cuts through the capes and cliffs by tunnels, and crosses the ravines, mountain torrents and bays on extensive bridges and viaducts. In order to protect the roadbed from the action of the surf, a minimum height above the lake level of 80 feet was adopted. The rock work amounted to as much as 190,000 cubic yards per mile. It was thought when this route was adopted that the rock was so solid that only about one-third of the total tunnel length would have to be masonry lined, but it was found that while much of the rock was granite, it had been so affected by volcanic and earthquake conditions as to be wholly unreliable; for instance, rain water was found in some places percolating through 400 feet of rock. This western section, 80.5 versts, or about 58 miles in length, has 38 tunnels of a total length of over 4 miles. There are also 14 masonry galleries or artificial tunnels to protect the trains and roadbed from falling rocks and landslides, and about 190 other pieces of constructional work, one being a long steel bridge carrying the road across an arm of the lake.

On the eastern section things are very different. The mountains here are much higher than the western, but they are further removed from the lake, along which runs a broad, flat strip of land, lending itself to railroad construction with much less trouble. There is only one tunnel in this whole section about 250 feet long; but, on the other hand, there are many torrential streams that have to be crossed by bridges up to 500 feet in length. The technical difficulties were still very considerable, there being as high as 90,000 cubic yards of earth work, of which 36,000 cubic yards were in rock, per mile of railroad. The length of this section is 163 versts, or about 108 miles, and the bridge work consists of 10 stone culverts, 189 bridges, with spans of 70 feet and less (total, 2100 feet), and 35 bridges with spans of from 71 feet to 500 feet (total, 5,551 feet).

In view of the fact that the Circum-Baikal railroad is the connecting link between the Siberian and the trans-Baikal railroads, its train capacity was intended to be at least the equal of these, and it was originally designed to accommodate seven trains a day each way. Later, because of the war, sidings were put in every eight miles or less, and it can now easily accommodate three times that number. The water supply is also arranged for the latter number. The maximum gradient on the open line is 8 per thousand, and in tunnels 4 per thousand. The minimum curve radius is said to be 1,050 feet, but at places on the western division it certainly seems to be much less. All tunnels are wide enough to allow double track although but one is laid; the gauge is the ordinary Russian gauge of 60 inches, and the rails are 72 pounds. The bridges are of stone with upper works of steel, and the viaducts partly of stone alone and partly of stone and steel. The road was constructed entirely by contract, no section of less than 1,000,000 roubles being let. The system of inspection was very close, and the road was completed at a much earlier date than at first seemed possible. The chief engineer was Savrimovitch.

While this road was being built it was decided to construct a new harbor for the ice breaking steamers at Tankoy. This has reduced the distance to be covered by them about one-half, and increases the number of trips per day from 1.5 to 3. The total first cost of the road, including this harbor, was 58,625,745 roubles, or an average of about 329,000 roubles per mile. However, repairs and alterations since have increased this to about 60,000,000 roubles, and various improvements, such as retaining walls and masonry galleries, were still being added when we last passed over it in October, 1905.

The station and other houses are mostly of brick, and on the western section at some places they are built on benches cut in the hill above, because the narrow strip along shore is fully occupied by the roadbed. The stations and sidings in October, 1905, were as marked on the sketch. [Ed. note: there was no sketch provided in The Army and Navy Register reprint] The way in which reinforcements and supplies were conveyed across this gap in the early stages of the war while at the same time the Circum-Baikal link was rushed to completion in September, 1904, was a veritable triumph for Prince Khilkoff, the minister of ways and communications, who had received his training on the Pennsylvania Railroad. The methods were essentially American and in reply to our congratulations on his success, he said: "I can only answer you, gentlemen, as I do all others who speak thus kindly--I learned my trade in America."

In brief, upon the outbreak of hostilities, orders were issued that every possible effort be made to complete the railroad around the lake, and this stress never relaxed until it was completed. In the meantime, in 10 days, from February 9 to February 19, a track was laid on the ice from Baikal to Tankoy, at a cost of 250,000 roubles. Troops arriving from the west were detrained at Baikal, provided with warm clothing, and marched across to Tankoy when they were again entrained. Stations were arranged every 4 miles, where the troops could obtain hot tea and soup, and the distance was made in one day (Ed. note: the distance is roughly 30 miles!). The supply trains were across on the track laid on the ice, thus avoiding the unloading and loading of freight, and at the same time transferring some much needed rolling stock to the east side of the lake. From the 2nd to the 24th of March, 1,693 box cars, 262 flat cars, 411 troop cars, 21 passenger cars and 65 locomotives were thus transferred. The number of troops is uncertain, but was in the neighborhood of 115,000. The track had to be taken up early in April, and from then until the last of the month the two ice breakers transferred troops, supplies and rolling stock when possible under the weather conditions. By the last of April the railroad had been opened to Kultuk, 55 miles by post road from Irkutsk. Troops were then detrained at the latter place, marched overland to Kultuk and were there entrained for the Far East. Soon afterward, the ice disappeared entirely, and the ice breakers, supplemented by 4 lake steamers hired for the purpose, closed the gap until the difficult section from Kultuk to Baikal was completed, on September 26, 1904.

The effect of the early completion of this link upon the result of the may be judged from the following considerations:

1. It has been admitted by the Japanese that their calculations regarding the railroad went all agley.
2. It is not known authoritatively what these calculations were, but information that is almost certainly authentic indicates that they considered a maximum during the war of 6 trains a day both ways. Several side considerations also point to this number or near it.

To exceed this number four things would be required:

1. Put in extra sidings along the entire route.
2. Increase the rolling stock.
3. Complete the Khingan tunnel.
4. Complete the Circum-Baikal link.

It was manifestly impossible to double the road throughout during the probable duration of the war, not only because of the immense amount of labor and supplies that would be necessary over nearly 5,000 miles of open country, but because the many hundred bridges were on a single track. Hence, extra sidings were begun at once, on a systematic plan. It is evident that for through trains the railroad would only be as strong as its weakest link, so sidings were constructed along the whole line at distances of from 3 to 8 miles. These were all long enough to allow the trains to run in pairs, and as the war progressed their construction was continued, not only building them at shorter distances, but paralleling the ones. The old 45-pound rails that had been pulled up in 1898-1900 and heavier ones were used when possible, and the Siberian rivers were utilized to some extent in delivering new material along the route.

Increasing the rolling stock was easily done by transfer from roads in European Russia and later by purchase in Europe. At the outbreak of hostilities the rolling stock consisted of 618 locomotives, 340 passenger coaches and 5,317 freight cars. By January 1, 1905, 855 locomotives and 26,895 freight cars had been transferred to it from Russian roads, and 773 locomotives and 11,433 freight cars had been ordered from manufacturers, the locomotives to be delivered at the rate of 120 per month beginning in January, 1905. Many of these went to replace the draught on the lines in European Russia, but we saw many of French, Swiss and American manufacture along the Siberian road in the summer of 1905. As this draught on the Russian lines did not exceed 5 per cent of their total holdings in cars and locomotives, it probably caused no embarrassment whatever, as the regular traffic would decrease more than this because of the war. As the number of trains were gradually increased, further draughts were doubtless made, but these could be replaced by the new stock then being delivered. The ordinary Russian military train averages 25 to 30 cars. The time from Moscow to the army was from 30 to 40 days, and during about 10 days it was necessary to use two locomotives to each train; therefore the rolling stock actually en route for 4, 6, 14 and 20 trains per day each way would be approximately as follows:

4 trains, 400 locomotives, 8 000 cars.
6 trains, 600 locomotives, 12,000 cars.
14 trains, 1,400 locomotives, 28,000 cars.
20 trains, 2,000 locomotives, 40,000 cars.

The facilities for repair of rolling stock in Siberia are very limited, and hence a heavy reserve must be kept all along the line. Furthermore, extra trains were kept near the front to be used in case of emergency, and the Russians use freight cars on side tracks to an unprecedented extent as barracks for railroad workmen and officials. Taking into consideration the necessary switch engines, etc., it is evident that at least 30 per cent would have to be added to the locomotives, and 20 per cent to the cars to obtain the amount of rolling stock in use at the different stages of the war. This is the route: Moscow--Harbin--Army; the reinforcement for the comparatively few military trains from Harbin to Vladivostock could doubtless be largely supplied from the rolling stock laid up by the decreased local traffic on the Ussuri section during the war. From all this it may be seen that the want of rolling stock caused no embarrassment or delay.

The Khingan tunnel through the range of the same name on the Chinese eastern railroad was well on its way toward completion when hostilities broke out. In the meantime the trains were broken into sections of 12 cars and taken over the range on a zig-zag way, four tacks up and four down, the locomotives alternately pushing and pulling. This zig-zag way would be an insuperable obstacle to increased traffic, but as every detail of this road has been under Japanese surveillance for years, they must have known that the tunnel could be completed in a few weeks.

Hence everything points to the fact that the Japanese did not consider it possible for the Russians to complete the Circum-Baikal link within the probable duration of the war. The fact that this was done and that early in 1905 they were able to run 14 pairs of trains per day, with a further claimed increase to 20 pairs in September, must have had a profound effect upon the negotiations that ended the war.