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Russo-Japanese War: Battle of Port Arthur

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Russo-Japanese War: Battle of Port Arthur

Battle of Port Arthur

Photo Source: Public Domain

Conflict:

The Battle of Port Arthur was the opening battle of the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905).

Fleets & Commanders:

Japanese

Russians

  • Vice Admiral Oskar Victorovich Stark
  • 12 warships

Date:

The naval engagement was fought the night of December 8/9, 1904.

Battle of Port Arthur Overview:

As tensions between Russia and Japan came to head in early 1904, the Imperial Japanese Navy began planning for a series of surprise attacks on Russian naval forces. Central to these was a descent on the primary Russian base at Port Arthur in Manchuria. For this, Admiral Togo Heihachiro intended to lead the 1st Division of the Combined Fleet (6 battleships) and the 2nd Division (5 cruisers) in a nighttime assault on Vice Admiral Oskar Stark's Russian Pacific Fleet. Accompanying the two divisions were 15 destroyers and 20 torpedo boats, with four additional cruisers in reserve.

At Port Arthur, Stark possessed a fleet consisting of seven battleships and five cruisers, as well as several destroyers and smaller vessels. In the days before the attack, Togo received a variety of poor intelligence stating that the shore batteries at Port Arthur were fully manned and on alert. This was untrue, and few of the batteries were actually operational. Believing the reports to be accurate, Togo revised his attack plan as he was unwilling to risk his capital ships against shore guns.

The modified plan called for three flotillas of destroyers to strike at Port Arthur, while two others attacked the secondary Russian base at Dalny. Approaching Port Arthur on the night of February 8, the Japanese destroyers encountered Russian patrols around 10:30 PM. Under strict orders not to initiate combat, the Russian destroyers turned to report the enemy contact to Stark. In the confusion of this first meeting, two Japanese destroyers collided and fell behind the rest of the group. Around 12:28 AM, the first four Japanese destroyers successfully entered the harbor without being detected.

Attacking, they caught the Russians by surprise and damaged the cruiser Pallada and the battleship Retvizen, putting both out of action. Subsequent torpedo attacks by the rest of the flotillas were less successful, though they did manage to disable the battleship Tsesarevich. The ineffectiveness of their efforts was mostly due to Stark's fleet now being on full alert and prepared for torpedo attacks. Their mission largely accomplished, the Japanese destroyers withdrew after 2:00 AM. The next morning, Togo dispatched Vice Admiral Dewa Shigeto with four cruisers to reconnoiter Port Arthur.

Approaching the Russian anchorage around 9:00 AM, Dewa closed to 7,500 yards and reported that 3-4 of the Russian capital ships seemed to be listing or aground and that the smaller vessels appeared to be scattered and disorganized. As he had been able to approach so close to the harbor without provoking a Russian response, he assumed that Stark's command had been crippled. He reported this to Togo and the two decided to attack immediately. Unfortunately for Togo, what Dewa had actually seen was Stark's fleet preparing for battle and troops readying the shore batteries.

Though he would have preferred to engage the enemy away from the shore guns, Togo elected to proceed with the hope that the Russians could be crushed. Flying his flag from the battleship Mikasa, Togo approached Port Arthur with the 1st and 3rd Divisions of the Combined Fleet. First encountering Boyarin, they were able to drive the Russian cruiser away. At approximately 11:00 AM, the two fleets opened fire at a range of 8,000 yards. Seeing fire coming from the shore guns, Togo instructed his battleships to fire their 12" guns at the batteries and to use their 8" and 6" guns on Stark's ships.

While neither fleet's accuracy was particularly good, the Japanese scored key hits on the battleships Petropavlovsk and Poltava, as well as the cruisers Novik, Diana, and Askold. Despite this success, the Japanese soon suffered from Dewa's poor reconnaissance as Mikasa was struck by a shell that destroyed the aft bridge. In addition, the battleships Shikishima, Fuji, and Hatsuse all took damage, as did the cruiser Iwate. Fearing he was entering a trap, Togo ordered his ships to reverse course to escape the battle. Though this meant enduring heavy fire from the shore batteries, the Japanese ships succeeded in making the maneuver without losing a vessel. As they turned, Novik attempted a torpedo attack without success and was badly damaged for its efforts.

Aftermath

Largely inconclusive, neither side lost any ships in the Battle of Port Arthur. Russian losses numbered around 150 with seven ships damaged, while Togo's fleet suffered 90 dead and wounded with four ships damaged. War was formally declared between Russian and Japan on February 10, 1904, a day after battle. After making repairs at Sasebo, Togo returned to the waters off Port Arthur and conducted several operations designed to close the harbor through the spring of 1904. His ships also aided in the siege of Port Arthur which commenced on July 30. The Japanese admiral would later earn international fame for destroying the Russian Baltic Fleet at the Battle of Tsushima in May 1905.

Selected Sources

  1. About.com
  2. Education
  3. Military History
  4. Naval Warfare
  5. Naval Battles: 1900-Today
  6. Battle of Port Arthur - Russo-Japanese War Battle of Port Arthur

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