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Death of a Brave Lady
Southwest of Matsushima, 28 May 1905, 0930 hrs.
As the painful process of handing over what remained of the Second and Third Pacific Squadrons was proceeding, other Russian warships that had not been intimidated by what Admiral Nebogatov had referred to as Togo's "wall of iron" were displaying a fighting spirit very different from that of the main squadron.
The wounded Svyetlana, which at sunrise was running to the north at best speed, was being pursued by the Otowa and Niitaka. Both these Japanese vessels were her superior in strength. By 0800 hrs they had Svyetlana in sight and could see that Buistri had joined her. The Japanese cruisers could make 18 knots; while the crippled Svyetlana, with 400 tons of water in her bow compartment, could barely do 15. It soon became clear that an action was inevitable. At 0800 hrs, Commodore Shein assembled his officers in the wardroom and asked for their opinions. All were for fighting to the last round and then scuttling the ship. The Commodore agreed, and turned Svyetlana toward the Korean coast where he hoped to be able to beach his vessel and save his crew.
Svyetlana's engine room staff was already exhausted, but they pulled together so well that the Japanese were still 10,000 yards astern after an hour of pursuit. But they could not go on forever. By 0930 hrs the range was down to 9,000 yards, and Svyetlana fired the first shot, but the range was still too great, and it was not till 0940 hrs that Otowa replied with her 6-inch guns. Niitaka soon followed but ceased fire as her shots were falling short. Otowa, however, found the range, and at about 1000 hrs scored a 6-inch hit on the stern of Svyetlana. It appeared to have damaged her steering gear as Svyetlana began to zigzag to starboard and port, but according to Russian accounts she still had control, and these movements were intended to ruin the Japanese aim. But in spite of the Russians efforts the range diminished rapidly and the hits came faster and faster. The Japanese cruisers had been joined by Murakumo, of the 5th Destroyer Division, which, having failed to deliver an attack the previous night, was making for Admiral Togo's rendezvous, and by staying ahead of the Japanese cruisers was able to prevent Buistri from joining the battle. By 1020 hrs Niitaka was able to reopen with her 6-inch battery at a range of 8,000 yards, and by 1035 hrs had closed the range enough to open with her 12-pounders. Svyetlana was soon a mass of flames and smoke. Her ammunition was running out fast, her port engine was disabled, and it was obvious to Commodore Shein that the end was near. "The cruisers," wrote one of her officers, "came closer and poured in a terrific fire, every shell took effect, the whole hull trembled from the incessant explosions of bursting shell Fires broke out; all the cartridges were expended, and in compliance with an order given earlier, the engineer opened the after valve and all the watertight doors."
As the cruisers ceased fire Buistri made her escape to the north. Niitaka and Murakumo followed after her immediately. Otowa, keeping clear of the torpedo-arc of Svyetlana, continued to pour in a destructive fire at ranges as low as 1,000 yards. Under this hail of shells the brave Russian crew prepared to abandon the burning ship. With admiration the official Japanese History describes her end: "Although there was nothing to be done the crew determined to die and refused to hoist the signal of surrender. Bathed in a shower of shell they waited for the ship to sink. The captain was killed, the commander mortally wounded; the ship gradually heeled over; most of the crew jumped into the sea. By 1050 We saw she was on the point of sinking, and Otowa ceased fire." This was occurring at the same hour that Admiral Nebogatov was hoisting the Japanese flag.
Buistri unable to escape her pursuers, beached herself on the coast of Korea near Chukupen Bay. Her crew managed to get ashore and hide out in the mountains for a short time, but eventually surrendered themselves to the Japanese garrison at Chukupen signal station.
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