The Tsar’s Last Armada: The Epic Voyage to the Battle of Tsushima [Hardcover ed.] 0465057918, 9780465057917

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The Tsar’s Last Armada: The Epic Voyage to the Battle of Tsushima [Hardcover ed.]
 0465057918, 9780465057917

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\

THE TSAR'S LAST

ARMADA The Epic Voyage

to the

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

BATTLE OF TSUSHIMA

•ous $44.95

ON MAY

1905,

14,

world died. For the a

European power.

first

the

CAN

modern Eurocentric

time, an Asian nation defeated

Russia's total defeat at

Tsushima,

the deciding battle of the Russo-Japanese war, con-

firmed Japan

day the Russian

ruler of the East. In a single

annihilated,

its

and would-be

a rising superpower

as

fleet

ships sunk, scattered, or captured.

was

The

Japanese lost only three destroyers, while the Russians kept only three of thirty-eight ships and lost thousands

of

sailors.

It

employing

all

was the the

first

modern

naval

battle,

new technology of destruction. The

old imperial navy was woefully unprepared.

The

many

defeat at

Tsushima was the

indignities incurred

last

and

by the Russian

had traveled halfway around the world battle,

greatest of

fleet,

which

to reach the

dogged every mile by bad luck and misad-

venture.

The Suez Canal was

controlled by Japan's

ally,

the British, so the fleet was forced to take an absurdly

long detour around the whole of Africa. Their 18,000 mile journey from the Baltic Sea,

all

the

way around

Europe, Africa, and Asia to the Sea of Japan was a remarkable feat of perseverance and seamanship. All the

more

Tsar's

so because the fleet

was burdened by the

incompetent leadership and several

old,

up the

galoshes that he insisted be included to bulk

The

fleet.

obstinant

sailors

were in large part inexperienced and

—indeed many —and

Petersburg

had been drafted from

the officers were generally inef-

jails

fectual products of a nepotistic dynasty. fleet

slow

This ragtag

spent nine months under constant fear of attack,

and passed almost no friendly ports food,

and

fresh water.

It

to supply coal,

achieved a level of

self-suffi-

ciency that no navy attained again until the Second

World War. Admiral Zinovy

Pe*T

Rozhestvensky was

single-handedly responsibi plishment.

He was

an immeasurably

be

fleet's

accom-

mpetent

(continued on back flap)

leader,

Civic Center 952. 031 Pleshakov Pleshakov, Konstantin The Tsar's last armada the epic journey to the Battle of Tsushima

DATE DUE

P\

/«aaA

12 /

-sa

DEMCO.INC.

38-2931

THE TSAR'S LAST

ARMADA

PREVIOUS BOOKS BY

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV The Flight of the Romanovs Inside the Kremlins Cold War

Antare

THE TSAR'S LAST

ARMADA The Epic Journey

to the

BATTLE OF TSUSHIMA

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOY

BASIC

B BOOKS

A Member of the Perseus

Books Group

Copyright

© 2002 by Constantine Pleshakov

Published by Basic Books,

A Member of The

Perseus Books

Group

All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America.

No

part of this

book may be

reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations

embodied rd

Books, 10 East

53

Street,

in critical articles

and

reviews. For information, address Basic

New York, NY 10022-5299.

Designed by Trish Wilkinson Set in 12-point

AGaramond by The

Perseus Books

Group

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Pleshakov, Konstantin

The Tsar's Pleshakov.



last 1

armada

the epic journey to the Battle of Tsushima

:

/

Constantine

st ed.

cm.

p.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 1.

0-465-05791-8

Tsushima, Battle

of, 1905.

I.

Title.

DS517.5 .P58 2002 952.03'i

First

—DC21

2001052532

Edition

02 03 04

/

10 9 8 7 6

5

4

3

2

1

Elza—

did not

For books you did not read, Anton

catch,

and Anya—

-flowers

because of the story I had to

tell,

from Son/Dad



-fish

we

we did not plant in appreciation,

It is

my profound conviction

of the

last

that apart

from the

literature

two centuries and, perhaps, the architecture of

the former capital, the only other thing Russia can be

proud of is victories,

its

Navy's history.

Not because of its

spectacular

of which there have been rather few, but because

of the nobility of spirit that has informed

its

enterprise.

—Joseph Brodsky, In a Room and a Half

Contents

xv

Foreword Acknowledgments

XIX

RACE

PART ONE i

"The

2

"Master the Sea!" January-August 1904

25

3

"Rumors from

69

4

"This

First Ball

Is

of the Tsar," 1890-1904

the Bazaar,"

a Miserable Fleet,"

3

August-October 1904 October 4-23, 1904,

Western Europe 5

"We Have No

9i

Coast Batteries in Dakar!"

October 23-December

PART TWO 6

16,

1904, African Coast

115

LINGERING

"The Yacht Squadron," October 1904-January

1905,

Red Sea 7

"Nossibeisk,"

151

December

16,

1904-March

3,

1905,

Madagascar 8

"Ten Guns Done

169

Up

in India

Indian Ocean

Rubber," March 1905, 203

XIII

xiv

CONTENTS

9

"A Hole Coated

in Iron,"

March 26-May

1,

1905,

Indochina 10

217

"Be Prepared for Full Steam Ahead," Pacific

*47

BATTLE

"They Are

May 12

All There!" 6:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m.,

261

1905

14,

"Follow the Admiral," 5:30 p.m.,

May

1905,

Ocean

PART THREE

11

May 1-13,

May 14-1

p.m.,

1905

15,

Old

277

Geezer,"

13

"Slutty

14

"Throw

Me

May 16,

1905

May 14-21,

Overboard," 5:30

287

1905

p.m.,

May

14-6 a.m. 299

May-November

15

"Return Soon,"

16

"The Insulted Russian People," November 1905-January

1,

1909

1905

309 3,

321

Notes

339

Select Bibliography

37i

Index

377

Foreword

The modern world was born Correspondence gave way

tury.

added

lights

ousted cable

spirit to the

wood and



sail.

at the turn of the last cen-

to telephone conversation. Electric

most despondent dumps.

The

Steel

and steam

globe became united not by roads but by

international telegraph, the initial prototype of the

Wide Web. No element remained unconquered;

World

planes conquered

space, submarines the deep sea.

There were

also

more

sinister accessories

of modernity. In South

Africa, the British built the first concentration camps. Physicists in Paris

were exploring

in the

radioactivity. Narcotics, until

then available only

Orient and to the unhappy few in the West, began spreading

worldwide. Means of manslaughter torpedoes



—gun

shells,

bombs, mines, and

multiplied in a fierce arms race. Theoreticians of totalitar-

ian terror, like Lenin, developed strategies of political cannibalism. It

was

occurred.

at the turn It

went on

of the for

unprecedented

human

thousands were

killed,

last

century

when

It is

War

twenty months in 1904-1905 and resulted

losses

in

and material destruction. Hundreds of

dozens of ships were sunk, hundreds of

ments were raided, looted, and devastated.

modern

the Russo-Japanese

It

was the

first

settle-

war of the

age.

largely forgotten in the West, ousted

military holocaust

—World War Two. When xv

by memories of another in

2000

a British poet

xvi

FOREWORD

published a long

poem about

the battle of Tsushima, a reviewer in the

Times Literary Supplement wondered

why

the poet had chosen such a

At most, the newspapers might report on an exhibition

subject.

in

Washington, D.C., of the Japanese propaganda woodblock prints lated to that

war or on the

treasure

re-

hunt involving one of the sunken

Russian ships in the Sea of Japan. Shares of a bankrupt South Korean construction

company surged

pany spread

a

cruiser,

rumor about

one week

41 percent in

after the

com-

intent to salvage the Dmitri Donskoi

its

having generously ascribed her with the most impossible hoard

of gold, 14,000 metric tons. The

latter story

is

quite exemplary. Boldly

exploiting the shroud of oblivion surrounding not only the

whole war

cruiser but also the

in question, the

company

ered to check the Dmitri Donskois specifications. In

humble

hadn't both-

fact,

she was a

very old and slow ship, one of the notorious clunkers with which the

Russian

sailors

were so frustrated



a very unlikely candidate to be en-

trusted with transporting a tenth of

all

the gold ever

world, not to mention that even though Tsar Nicholas

mined II

in the

was rather

thickheaded, he would never have ordered the transport of such a large

amount of gold by

ship from

St.

had the Trans-Siberian Railroad But

if

not.

The

at his disposal.

victory of the former

shaped the two countries'

delivered

when he

the rest of the world forgot about the 1904-1905 war, Japan

and Russia did ter

Petersburg to Vladivostok

hegemony

histories.

and the defeat of the

To Japan,

in continental East Asia,

the war of 1904-1905

which

lasted until 1945.

This victory also boosted the Japanese national ego enormously; the sia,

first

lat-

it

was

time an Asian nation had defeated a European power. To Rus-

the defeat brought revolution,

which eventually developed into

the dark tsardom of Bolshevism; peasants and workers rebelled against into the hellish furnace of

the government, which kept sending

them

war without the

of winning

slightest prospect



exhibiting the two worst features of autocracy

it,

while defiantly

ineffectiveness

and

corruptness.

The

naval battle at the Tsushima Islands in the Korea Strait, sepa-

rating Japan

from mainland Asia, was the pinnacle of that war.

It

FOREWORD

stands

among

the top five naval battles of

human

those of Lepanto, Trafalgar, Jutland, and Midway. led the Japanese fleet at Tsushima,

mously praised

as

books but

on the

scribe

also

him and

his battleship, the

ing through the Sea of Japan

ing through the Korea sailors are lying

on the

still

reverently de-

put wreaths on the waves when pass-

tered hulls of battleships, cruisers,

came

in history

Mikasa. As for Russians, ships travel-

bottom

At some point, an author

sites

unani-

is still

The remains of thousands of Russian

Strait.

sea

The admiral who

—not only

where numerous

Internet,

history, equal to

Togo Heihachiro,

an unsurpassed military genius

xvii

and torpedo

The

bat-

boats.

how and why

invariably asked

is

interested in the subject.

and around the

there, within

origins of

my

he be-

interest are pretty

conventional. Thirty years ago, as a boy growing up in the coastal

town of Yalta on the Black

Sea,

I

discovered an old

mother's closet. Like everything else in that it

smelled of cherry preserves and dust.

It

had been published

It

it

struck

as

my grand-

incomplete.

It

space,

was a book about Tsushima.

and contained wonderful

in the 1930s

me

in

murky comfortable

of ships, layered with sheets of thin, sheer paper.

Even then

book

pictures

read and re-read

I

it.

was a Soviet account of the

event with obvious political biases, which are too boring to be dis-

cussed here.

Much

later, after

having moved to America,

I

started

checking other volumes; even those that had been conscientiously

done were

still

weak, relying exclusively on printed sources. Gradually,

my research commenced. The Russian and

British archives that

the story of Tsushima with plete, yet,

I

know

that

and without Japanese

have used allow one to

I

some hope of being

my research

is

deficient.

archival evidence

it is

I

objective

a

not possible to write any-

Western perspective,

Russian, British, French, and hopefully, nothing

Two more

German

eyes

and com-

do not read Japanese,

thing truly comprehensive about the war. So this

Tsushima told from

tell

as

it

is

the story of

was seen through

—nothing more, but

also,

less.

disclaimers are due.

contradict each other. However, in

By

definition, historical sources

modern

naval battles, destruction

is

xviii

so

FOREWORD

overwhelming and instantaneous that witnesses

reliable.

At the time of Tsushima, no black boxes

day do not carry them there

is

either.

existed; navies

un-

of to-

Therefore, for practically any evidence,

counterevidence. In the process of selecting the probable from

common

the improbable, a writer can be guided chiefly by also,

are particularly

perhaps, by what he has learned about his characters.

emphasized that no matter

Tsushima

will always

how

rich the archives

may

sense It

—and

should be

be, the story

of

remain subject to interpretation.

Readers familiar with the military history of the twentieth century

may be

confused about certain dates in

this narrative. Until the

Bolshe-

vik Revolution of 1917, Russia had used an old calendar; in the twentieth century

it

lagged thirteen days behind

its

more advanced Western

counterparts, hence the disparity in dates. However,

be extremely awkward to switch to the Western

I

thought

style; this

resulted in phrases like, "on Christmas Day, January 7."

scribed in this

book was

it

would

would have

The

Russia de-

a very peculiar country, but not to that extent.

Acknowledgments

For the sources for this book, my thanks go primarily to

two very

different archives: the Russian State

Naval Archives in

St.

Petersburg, a hassle-free vault bravely struggling with poor financing

and outmoded equipment and run by very understanding and caring people,

and

and the Public Record Office

efficient that

ments

also

it

in

London, which

surpasses any imaginable peer.

My

is

so

modern

acknowledg-

go to the Bakhmetieff Archives (Columbia University,

York), the State Archives of the Russian Federation (Moscow),

New

and the

Russian State Military History Archives (Moscow).

The person who launch

this project

speaker, a seasoned friend,

Edwina

is

is

to be credited for having

John Curtis

North

encouraged

me

to

Perry, a delightful writer, a splendid

hand, and a soul mate. Another dear

Pacific

Cruise, provided invaluable linguistic support;

among

other things, she edited the model chapter of the manuscript so that publishers wouldn't stumble

on

my

very imperfect English. Stephen

Jones, not only an accomplished historian but also an expert yachts-

man, advised me on the arcane Egorova supplied

me

rituals

of the British Navy. Katia

with an invincible

logistical lance, striking

through the armor of the most obnoxious bureaucrats in Russia. Lev Bronislavovich Doubnitsky, a.k.a. Colonel, Valera Petrov, Marty and

Susan Sherwin, Katia Ozhegova, Mikhail Moliukov, Sasha Sumerkin, Slava Mogutin, Lenya Kolpakov, Sasha Zotikov, Valera and Galia

XIX

XX

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Maximenkov, Lenya Serebriakov, Joyce

Seltzer, Bill

Taubman, Elfed

Roberts, Marina Solovieva, Volodya Larin, and Volodya Solomentzev

helped cushion the emotional strain of writing by giving

my self-esteem

reserved friendship. Jerry Bauer enhanced

me with

My end up

a dashing photographic

me

their

un-

by supplying

image of myself.

Gerry McCauley, made sure the manuscript would not

agent,

At Basic Books,

in a dustbin.

Don

Fehr demonstrated strong

me through the stressful months of reSarah McNally, saved me from the limbo

faith in the project, thus carrying

search

and

writing.

My editor,

of uncertainty with her intense interest in the manuscript; her editorial assistance

genuine

York

(I

was extraordinarily

helpful. Equally important to

hope) enthusiasm for the

show her some

office to

Mad

photograph of

story.

When

New

Dog, the ferociously handsome Admiral Zinovy is

the man!"

think a non-native English speaker owes the audience a refresh-

ing ethnic touch, so

Russian

twist.

discouraged

I

am

most

and made

I

want

to

end

my

acknowledgments with a very

extremely grateful to those people

me from

project, or in will

walked into her

her

pictures for the book, she looked at the

Petrovich Rozhestvensky, and exclaimed, "So this I

I

me was

writing this book.

cases, both.

me work harder.

who

They did not

Thank you

—your

like

persistently

me, or the

hostility fortified

my

w

li

The First Ball of the

Tsar,

1890-1904

A telegraph's stillness

incessant clicking intruded into the frozen

of the northern gloom.

ominously on the operator's

and

table.

disbelief. In all likelihood,

of the

The

thin, tattered tape started uncoiling

The man must have

he was the

tsar to learn the dreadful,

first

read

it

in panic

person in the vast empire

top secret news. Dispatched by the

Viceroy of the Far East, Admiral Alexeev, from Manchuria several hours earlier,

the telegram brought

Petersburg.

Humbly

TO

word of a

great disaster:

HIS IMPERIAL MAJESTY

reporting to

YOUR IMPERIAL

MAJESTY. Around mid-

night January 26-27th, Japanese torpedo boats undertook a sudden attack

on our squadron stationed

at the

outer roadstead of the Port

Arthur base. The battleships Retvizan and Tsesarevich and the cruiser Pallada have been ruptured; the degree of

mined. Will report

details to

damage

is

being deter-

YOUR IMPERIAL MAJESTY later.

General-Adjutant Alexeev

That

night, January 26, 1904, the sovereign

long-anticipated

New

was not

at

home. The

Year season of balls and entertainments had



CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

and Tsar Nicholas

recently begun,

was presiding over an

II

elite

audi-

ence, listening to an opera at the Imperial Mariinsky Theater.

The Mariinsky looked impress,

it

an oversized gilded cake. Designed to

like

symbolized the empire's wealth, might, and grandeur. Like

a nesting doll or a Faberge egg, the big cake contained a smaller one

the royal box. Elaborately ornate and conspicuously large,

an august podium for the

and

tsar

The at

Romanov

his family sat there for

it

served as

dynasty. Like precious jewels, the

everybody to see



to adore, or to hate.

sovereign was not popular in the capital, and the looks he received

Mariinsky were mostly cold,

condescending. But that

hostile, or

night the tsar was enjoying himself thoroughly.

The

shining lake of diamond-encrusted evening dresses and gold-

embroidered military uniforms bobbing beneath the royal box was unsettled this night. Admirals, generals, ministers, industrialists, bankers,

foreign ambassadors, spies,

and

and children kept turning

their wives

to the royal box, scrutinizing the impervious

handsome

Everybody was agitated and anxious. Three days mission had

left

their archives.

peace



so be

the Russian capital, having

The

it,

tsar

was known

made

The Mariinsky company was having

is

Japanese

earlier the

a point of burning

to have said,

but the current uncertainty

face of the tsar.

really

"War



so be

it,

bothersome."

a hard time.

Completely

ig-

noring the performance, hundreds of eyes scanned the gilded box

where the autocrat of the one-sixth of the Nicholas

II, sat.

That night the

attention of sunflowers

tsar

was

on an immense

earth, Tsar

like the sun, field.

and Emperor

commanding

He was

the

finally savoring

the taste of power, opiate and sweet.

After the opera, not in a hurry to get home, he accompanied his

mother

to her palace, the Anichkov,

ger Empress was anxious perils

and had

The Dowa-

and once again warned her son about the

of his reckless Far East venture. Polite and noncommittal, the

tsar listened to

everything she had to say and then

Throughout the whole day he had been It

late tea there.

in

took him just a few minutes to reach

ulent Winter Palace

on the Neva

River.

left

quickly.

an excellent mood. his

main

residence, the op-

The magnificent Nevsky

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Prospect, straight as an arrow

and barren on

a cold winter night, pro-

vided a convenient shortcut between the two royal homes. In the ter Palace the tsar

He was

was handed the

relieved.

to an end. Also,

The

viceroy's telegram.

uncertainty of the past few weeks had

he could

now

Win-

feel

good and

come

self-righteous; the Japa-

nese had attacked without warning, proving that his utter contempt

toward the "macaques" was well deserved. "God

will help us!" the tsar

said hopefully.

Before going to bed, he sent copies of the telegram to the foreign

and war

ministers.

necessary.

The

fast asleep,

The

had orders

courier

minister of foreign

affairs,

wake up the

to

dignitaries if

Count Lamsdorf, was indeed

but the minister of war, General Kuropatkin, was nervously

two hours

earlier, at

10:30 p.m., he

had received unconfirmed news about the attack from a

private source

shuttling between various parlors;

in Port

Arthur and was

The

desperate to verify

next morning brought

nese had

it.

more news from Manchuria. The Japa-

bombarded Port Arthur. The Russian and Japanese

engaged in their It

now

first battle,

had

and four Russian ships were damaged.

was the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War. The

war manifesto, blaming Japan

tsar issued a

having "challenged" Russia. "Pursu-

for

Our heart,"

ing peace, so dear to

fleets

the tsar solemnly declared, in the best

tradition of autocrats speaking in august plural,

"we have done every-

thing to maintain tranquillity in the Far East." Necessary to satisfy the public taste for justice, this statement

The

sovereign's policy in

At in the

the

3:30 p.m.

all

the

they gravely

to the palace chapel

Romanovs

made

their

where a

present in

Palace.

St.

pacifist.

Petersburg assembled

Led by the head of the

way through

the dense, cheering

special mass, a prayer for victory,

Younger people had never heard fore. Nicholas's father,

insiders smile sarcastically.

Manchuria had been anything but

Golden Hall of the Winter

tsar,

made

this beautiful

Tsar Alexander

III,

family,

crowd

was sung.

but belligerent tune be-

had secured an unprece-

dented twenty-five-year peace for Russia. The chapel was packed the rest of the palace, mostly with

army and navy

moved, they cried a deafening "Hurrah!"

officers.

to the dynasty

like

Thrilled and

and

its

imperial



6

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

cause.

The Romanovs,

to the

Golden

Hall,

appropriately enthusiastic and pleased, returned

where Grand Duke Alexei, one of the patriarchs of

commander of the

the clan,

pompously read

self-importance than ever, cable reporting

more

to

now

awed

even more

full

of

relatives the recent

casualties in Port Arthur.

In the next few days, strations.

Imperial Navy, and

Petersburg saw multiple patriotic

St.

For a while, people

rallied

around

their

monarch

demon-

—some-

thing not seen during the nine years of Nicholas's reign. Even students,

notorious pro-revolutionary troublemakers, marched to the Winter

"God

Palace to sing

Save the Tsar." Nicholas and his wife, Alexandra,

watched them from the window and, deeply touched, bowed. In the days of January 1904,

last

and the ruled was being

it

looked

filled

began looking brighter for the Nicholas

At

felt

that the

like the sore

gap between the rulers

with patriotic sentiment. Things

finally

Romanov monarchy.

wave of patriotism was

And

his personal success. all

those haughty

know-it-all advisers skeptical of his Far Eastern policy

who had been

last,

people were with him.

humiliating

him

for years

with their seemingly overwhelming expert-

had been proven wrong. The

ise,

be earned in the

Pacific.

the ill-wishers,

tsar

had always

felt his

glory

would

Now the moment had come.

Passing in a carriage by the house of Sergei Witte, the former minister

of finance,

the tsar looked ily

up

at his

antiwar warnings several months

window. To

his delight,

Witte was

earlier,

there, sulk-

watching the triumphant sovereign, the true heir of Peter the Great.

The his

fired for his

tsar

put on his best

new nonchalant

enemy disappeared from

victorious look, as the face of

sight.

2

Nicholas had

first

earlier, in 1881.

home,

heard about the wonders of Asia twenty- three years

He had

as heirs to the



even military

school.

been thirteen and doing studies with tutors

throne were disqualified from attending any

at

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

The

year 1881 had been a terrible one for the family.

Tsar Alexander

II

was

Nicholas was present

by

a terrorist's

at the terrifying

body

seen the convulsing

1,

bomb. The adolescent

death of his grandfather and had

The ensuing long

lying in a puddle of blood.

was accompanied by the stench of quickly decomposing

state funeral

torn flesh.

killed

On March

Though

the

boy was not

was nonetheless shaken by the

particularly sensitive or fragile, he

violent, cruel,

and undeserved death of

Tsar the Reformer. Further aggravating his depression, his father, the

new

Tsar Alexander

from the

III,

moved

capital to the remote, gray,

the suburbs.

The new

tsarina,

away

the family, for security reasons,

and gloomy Gatchina Palace

in

Maria Fedorovna, watched her children

with anxiety. She vowed to use every possible chance to brighten up their lives.

Always abreast of the

latest trends,

be

it

fashion, jewels, or

geography, she invited Nikolai Przhevalsky to Gatchina in

May 1881.

In 1881 Przhevalsky was the rage of the day. Explorer of Central Asia, Tibet,

ernment

and Western China

as a

spy

—Przhevalsky would disappear

into the mountains

known gence.

flowers

and

for

the Russian gov-

months

—and

time

pieces of invaluable strategic intelli-

of the senior players in the Great

Game

between Britain and Russia over Central Asia,

covert operations, secret expeditions, treacheries, bribery,

A man

at a

deserts to collect specimens of previously un-

and animals

He became one

fierce struggle

—and employed by

like Przhevalsky



the

full

of

and murder.

was exactly the kind of person who could

impress an adolescent screened by privilege and a loving family from the real world. Adventurous, chivalrous, and reckless, Przhevalsky was the perfect rial

age

model of the

—men

great explorers

like Cecil

that Przhevalsky

Rhodes and Lawrence of Arabia. The

had chosen

to the general public than

and manipulators of the impe-

for his exploits

richer culturally than Rhodesia.

His journeys were spectacular, and so was his

was even more appealing

South Africa or the Middle East; Tibet and

Mongolia were wilder than Arabia and

and

area

numerous accomplishments. In

his presentation

1881 he

was

of himself

at the

manhood and behaved

like a self-assured conquistador, a

mad, the demon of the

steppes.

peak of

modern no-



CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Of course, ing,

new specimens of plants and

twelve

least

named

home

to ancient

kingdoms and improbable

was quite familiar with teenagers; preparations for

preferably a sixteen-year-old, to lure into adventure

and dry plants

—and

conti-

He

beasts.

months

wilderness normally started with a discreet search for a

skin animals

at

animals after himself), dar-

and industrious, he had acquired a unique knowledge of

nental Asia, also

Przhevalsky was unique. Boastful (he had

in the

young male,

and

to teach to

to share his tent at night.

Przhevalsky 's charms worked on the young and shy heir to the throne. Nicholas immediately

more importantly,

fell

for this powerful character and,

for the lands described in his thrilling tales.

ever, his fascination

How-

with Asia would probably have remained unful-

hadn't coincided with a nationwide drive toward the Pacific.

filled if it

Russia was born in the western corner of the great Eurasian forest.

As

seventeenth century, a squirrel could easily have traveled

late as the

from the

Baltic Sea to the Pacific

Though

the ground.

Ocean without

perfect for beasts, the forest rejected

Transportation there was virtually impossible.

and

The

forest

humans.

was too dense

of treacherous swamps. Here and there inaccessible mountains

full

The famed

fortified

it.

East and

West

than a

ever having touched

Silk

Road

—never dared go



the only land artery connecting

north; a desert

is

a

much

better avenue

forest.

In the absence of roads, Russians used rivers. Exceptionally bad navigators, they sailed primitive boats, often carved

trunk of a gigantic ter.

Thick

lifeless

rivers into

smooth highways

less

Permafrost kept bodies of dead

there

bet-

all rivers

by

flowed north to

inhabitable their shores were.

an uninterrupted shield of ancient

it

much

for sleds pulled

aggravate matters, 90 percent of the forest grew

because

a single

Arctic Ocean, and the further they went and the wider they

became, the

To

turned

normally oak. In winter they fared

However, with very few exceptions

horses.

the

ice

tree,

from

was

hostile to

life.

was one more challenge

ice

coated by a thin layer of weak

mammoths

No

on permafrost

agriculture

to a traveler:

soil.

intact for millennia exactly

was possible

there.

ongoing hunger.

Hence,

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Other unavoidable hazards

snowstorms, floods, and predators

like

of the immense wilderness. As a

also prevented the penetration

between 900 and 1600, the Riurikovichi, the only barely glimpsed Siberia. For

first

result,

Russian dynasty, had

people knew, dragons might have

all

inhabited the lands to the east of the Ural Mountains.

The Romanovs broke that the

new

just lucky.

tsars

bears, tigers,

oped

were particularly ingenious or insightful

The ascendance of the

new

incided with a

starvation

the spell of the forest. However,

also

they were

the throne in 1613 co-

provided great tools for hunting, and

just a faint ghost.

in Portugal

Romanov to



was not

technological age. Firearms solved the problem of

and wolves. They

became

first

it

The

science of cartography, devel-

and Spain two centuries

earlier,

finally

reached

Moscow. Meanwhile, merchants from London and Hamburg were bringing fine gems, luxurious

silks,

and China. Suddenly Russians

state

had

lated

to be

realized that only a vast expanse

them from

man's-land separated

conquered in the

by generally peaceful

and precious porcelain from India

east

tribes.

—only The

The

barrier that

had

a single

barren space, sparsely popu-

great Eurasian forest

longer just a place where people killed squirrel and

became the

Not

the treasure trove of Asia.

of no-

mink

was no

for their furs;

it

of the East.

to be crossed to reach the riches

sending people over the Urals. Eventually they

tsars started

reached the uninhabited Pacific coast, the immense foggy wasteland stretching between

China and the

The Chinese were riches,

unwilling to populate these areas,

but cold, barbaric, and distant.

Accustomed selves,

Arctic.

to severe climate

they began settling

The

full

Russians decided otherwise.

and being children of the

down

in Siberia

of natural

forests

and the Far East

them-

at the south-

ern border of the permafrost. Their settlements were few and small,

sometimes populated by

and kept tion, the

secret

from

authorities.

However,

Old

in the absence

Believers,

of competi-

empire was slowly but surely absorbing Siberia and the north-

western coast of the roads.

religious dissenters, the sullen

The

tsars also

Pacific,

building military settlements, churches, and

ordered the construction of prisons.

Few could

cape from Siberia, and the land received a new, sinister fame.

es-

io

CONSTANTINE PLE8HAKOV

By

become deeply enough

the mid-nineteenth century, Russia had

involved in the Pacific to provoke the British-French fort in the

fleet to

attack a

Kamchatka Peninsula during the Crimean War. The

attack

symbolized a greater trend. Western powers had made up their minds to

check Russian expansion in the

The the

tsars

were becoming greedy. They dreamed of taking over

Ottoman Empire and

turies earlier, Russia

reaching the Mediterranean Sea. Ten cen-

had received

phabet from Byzantium, and as its true heritage, stolen

War of

area.

it

religion, culture,

and even

former Byzantine lands

vile Turks.

However, the Crimean

in Russia's

complete defeat, and

now

The

idea

a victorious

war

expansion to the Mediterranean Sea looked problematic.

was not completely abandoned (Russia fought against Turkey in 1877-1878), but



costly

its al-

all

regarded

by the

had resulted

1853-18 56

its

it

was looking too

risky

—and too

to undertake.

The Great Game two spheres of

in Central Asia

influence, British

definite future in

had

also

come

to an impasse.

and Russian, were

The

sealed for the in-

an acceptable stalemate. British and Russian

officers

were willing to watch each other through binoculars, but not through a

rifle's

target-finder.

Given these circumstances, there was only one

outlet left for Russia's expansion



the Pacific. If Russia was not

lowed to conquer Constantinople on the Bosporus, create a

new Bosporus

One

it

was going

al-

to

in the Far East.

of the best harbors in the northwestern corner of the Sea of

Japan was renamed the Golden Horn by Russian

settlers.

The

original

Golden Horn, the gorgeous harbor of glamorous Constantinople, was securely fenced gland,

from them by the concerted

efforts

of Turkey, En-

and France.

In i860, a military outpost was founded there. vostok,

which means "Rule the

ian naval base in the Pacific.

East."

On May

Soon

it

19, 1891,

It

was named Vladi-

became the main Russthe heir to the throne,

Nicholas, visited the town and inaugurated the construction of the

Great Trans-Siberian Railroad, which would connect Vladivostok to the imperial capital.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

was a Romanov tradition to send an heir to the throne abroad

It

on

ii

coming of age

his

so that he could see the

world and the world

could see him. All of Nicholas's ancestors had gone to Europe. Tsar Alexander

ever, his father,

III,

How-

decided that Asia had become im-

portant enough to be the stage of the future

tsar's

debut.

Nicholas traveled from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean

on

a Russian naval ship. Dignitaries in each country

on

his route

went

out of their way to pay courtesy to the Russian prince, but the more they

more confined and bored

tried, the

and formal

Official dinners

longed for

talk did

the twenty-two-year-old

not interest him in the

felt.

least.

He

adventures, ones like those described by Przhevalsky

real

ten years earlier, but the best Nicholas could find were imaginative prostitutes



no doubt, but hardly an adventure.

a spicy treat,

In his letters

home, the

heir tried to demonstrate an interest in

state matters, naturally

expected from him.

He

of Britain, and

letters to his father,

the emperor, from India

distrust

looked almost

like

shared the

Romanov

spy reports, monitoring the movements and morale

of the enemy's troops. Then adventure arrived. Nicholas had reached Japan and was visiting the town of Otsu. Suddenly, in the ian heir.

sword.

The madman

To

disturbed samurai threw himself on the Russ-

street, a

ferociously hit Nicholas

on the head with

the consternation of those in his entourage, Nicholas's blood

"shot out like a fountain."

The

heir panicked

and thought he was go-

ing to perish under the attack of the lunatic. Help

Russian

a

officers,

friend, Prince

came not from the

but from a Greek Romanov. His young cousin and

George of Greece, sent the

madman

to the

ground with

a single powerful stroke.

The wounded head soon

healed, but the world press, to the utter

embarrassment of the Japanese dent.

The Russian

heir

now

felt

hosts,

immediately publicized the

hatred and vengeance toward the land

of the rising sun. Unable to regard the Otsu incident tunate episode, he

jumped

inci-

as just

an unfor-

to conclusions about the nature of the Jap-

anese people and their intentions toward their northern neighbors that

he held for the

rest

of his

life.

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

12

Angry Nicholas head was

still

bandaged

of an old

"like that

general's," in his

wound, he was more determined than

In spite of his

from Japan. His

arrived in Vladivostok directly

own words.

ever to launch the

Trans-Siberian Railroad immediately. In a letter to his father, he called the public

seemed

mood

on May

in Vladivostok

to realize they

were present

19 "feverish." All the people

at a historic event; the

Trans-

Siberian Railroad was to be the longest in the world. Nicholas himself

inaugurated the used

as a

with malicious

steel artery

weapon

against the Japanese

joy;

he knew

it

could be

whom he now profoundly hated.

Although the railway construction was underway, Nicholas had everybody

cross Siberia like

did in those days

else

young and sturdy

experience for even a

the natural hardships of the journey,

—by

officer. Yet,

to

horse, a tiring

notwithstanding

and perhaps even due

to

them,

the heir couldn't help being impressed by the gigantic Asiatic sector of his empire. Pathetically

underdeveloped and undisturbed by urbaniza-

tion, Asiatic Russia treasured

do

man was

Whereas the

ton Chekhov circled pulse



to discover

A journey but

it

cally

new

though

like a sleeping

a kiss. Nicholas decided he

was

rich

taking almost the same journey at about

An-

Both were driven by the same im-

clockwise. frontiers.

was very untypical

for a Russian prince,

for a Russian writer. Before

and

diverse,

Chekhov, Russian

had never crossed the

Urals. Ironi-

enough, none other than the same engaging Przhevalsky had

the hero in real

life,

interest in Asia.

Not

Chekhov had been

privileged

(Chekhov was born

also seeking challenge

set off

on

enough

to

meet

a "passionate reader" of the fa-

adventurer's books as a boy. Belonging to the

the future tsar

was

was

heir circled Eurasia counterclockwise,

to the Far East

awakened Chekhov's

mous

it

was even more so

literature,

It

so.

Another young the same time.

riches in silence.

awakened by

princess, waiting to be

the prince to

its

same generation

in i860, Nicholas in 1868),

and adventure

Chekhov

in the East. In April 1890,

a four-thousand-mile land journey toward the Pacific.

lasted three

months and

left

him coughing

as

he It

blood. In July he reached

Sakhalin Island, the Russian Far Eastern outpost, used by the tsars as a

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

natural

jail

for felons



a Russian Australia or Devil's Island.

He

13

stayed

there until October, collecting material for his barely readable, but ex-

tremely consequential book The Island of Sakhalin, in which he wrote

about prisons and the treatment of convicts.

Chekhov returned pore, Ceylon,

heading

to Russia via Vladivostok,

and Suez and

east. It is

in the

Red Sea

Hong Kong,

Singa-

crossed the path of the heir,

quite possible that within the interval of just a few

days the two young

men

encountered the same prostitutes; sharing

with Nicholas more than just fascination with the Orient, Chekhov

was

also

an enthusiastic habitue of brothels.

He summed up I

have

lived! I've

and

Sakhalin,

his impressions in a very revealing

had everything

which

in Paradise,

While Chekhov's

I

wanted. is

I

way:

"I

can say

have been in Hell, which

is

Ceylon."

trip to the East

was the fulfillment of

all

his

dreams, Sergei Witte described Nicholas's journey through Asia

as

his "first ball."

3

Arguably, Sergei Witte was even for Russians than Przhevalsky.

man, he had

on

realized early

more important

An

energetic

and

in discovering Asia

ruthless self-made

Europe or

that the path to

to the

Middle

East was blocked by Western powers. Instead of threatening London, Paris, or Berlin

many of his

with pan-European war, which was the inclination of

colleagues, he suggested an alternative option: Shift the

imperial spearhead to the Pacific.

Liked and trusted by Alexander

monarch rection

that the Far East

was obvious: Build

managing tential

Witte

railroads.

persuaded the

easily

The

a great future.

first

step in that di-

Witte had started

European Russia and

railroads in

his career

fully appreciated the

by po-

of steam power.

At the turn of the today.

had

III,

last

century, the steam engine was

Monarchs boasted about

their railroads

what the

more than

jet

is

their armies.

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

14

New

Railway stations, be they in Leipzig or

London, resembled

palaces. Fortunes

York,

Petersburg or

were spent to construct opulent

A midsize European

depots with cathedral ceilings and ornate facades. city

St.

could easily commission a railway station rivaling

St.

Peter's

Cathedral in Rome.

The Great ers

and

spies,

many

Trans-Siberian Railroad, which inspired so

When

was Witte's brainchild.

writ-

the heir was present at the

inaugurating ceremony in Vladivostok, he was on Witte's mission.

When

appointed him Chairman of the

his father, the reigning tsar,

bow

Trans-Siberian Construction Committee, Nicholas, again, had to to Witte's iron will

and exceptional

qualities

Witte always seemed larger than inspired awe; he was

tured,

tall

life.

of persuasion.

His physique alone invariably

and heavy, and

his

prominent nose was

which made people say he "looked

like a crocodile." Sergei

Witte deserved the metaphor; he was cunning, future

tsar,

this

Tsar Alexander

dominating

III,

figure

of Russian

and

tireless,

extremely insecure, shy, and secretive,

ment toward

frac-

felt

The

fierce.

enormous

resent-

For his

father,

politics.

the self-confident, peace-loving giant towering over

continental Europe in a

merely a clever and

way no

other Russian

efficient associate.

monarch

did,

Witte was

For Nicholas, Witte became a

problem. Witte, in his turn, did not make a secret of the contempt he felt

toward the

heir.

Tsar Alexander forty-eight.

III

died prematurely in October 1894, at merely

His son, though twenty-six

prepared to assume the crown. friends.

Of course,

He

was

at that point,

totally

explicitly said so to his closest

he could have rejected

it,

but he did not. Instead,

he started looking for something capable of turning him into a spected

ruler.

sidered the

War

Middle

looked

like the easiest option.

East, Nicholas

un-

moved

Having

to the Pacific.

briefly

Here

re-

con-

his plans

interfered with Witte's.

In order to reach

its

eastern terminus, Vladivostok, the Trans-

Siberian Railroad had to cross the whole of continental Eurasia. Be-

cause the Russo-Chinese frontier in the Far East curved northward,

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

further costs were

added

to the already

enormous expense of complet-

ing the railway. Witte decided a shortcut was possible

—through Chi-

nese territory in Manchuria. In 1896 Witte persuaded Chinas strongman Li a treaty.

China acquired an

ally against

war between the two countries

hand

in

By

Hongchang

Japan (there had already been a

in 1894-1895),

and Russia got

was

that time, several other foreign powers

and therefore had unlikely.

had already become

to be very careful.

With Japan



absolutely possible.

In such a situation, the

tsar's

late to the

It

had almost occurred Chinas

flesh.

personal insecurities and idiosyn-

were of paramount importance.

nation's support for

in-

War with England over China

in 1894-1895, during Japans first powerful thrust into

crasies

a free

Manchuria.

volved in colonial annexations in the Far East. Russia was feast

to sign

launching a war.

He

did not have to secure the

He was

an autocrat and could or-

der any war he wanted. In

November

Wilhelm

II

1897, the worst happened.

The

tsar's

cousin, Kaiser

of Germany, ordered his troops to land on Shandong

Peninsula in the Yellow Sea.

The two monarchs were competing ing

who

Nicholas

in politics like boys

compar-

can do more push-ups or whose genitals are bigger. felt

he had to demonstrate equal strength.

ships to the tip of Liaodong, a peninsula barely

He

Now

sent Russian

one hundred miles

away from Wilhelm's new colony. Witte's plans of peaceful penetration of

China

More

ships were sent to the Yellow Sea,

founded there free

collapsed.



Port Arthur.

throughout the whole

had been used

as a staging

It

year.

and

a naval base

was

had a spacious deepwater harbor,

ice-

Known

to the

Chinese

as

post since the second century B.C.

going from Bo Hai Gulf to the Yellow Sea can avoid the

Hai Gulf is the gateway

to the

Liaodong and Shandong matter, squeezing

Lushun,

Chinese

are like

No

area,

it

ship

and Bo

capital, Beijing.

two hands guarding

— Bo Hai. Port Arthur

lay



on the very

or for that tip

of the

16

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

northern peninsula, Liaodong.

It

quickly became the most noticeable

The

stronghold on the Manchurian coast.

capital of

Manchuria,

Harbin, was merely 500 miles to the northeast; Vladivostok was 600 miles away; the Korean border just 200.

Japan was enraged. outsiders, Russia jing,

It

regarded China as

its

natural prey.

Now two

and Germany, were controlling the naval path

and Russia was speedily turning Manchuria

into

its

to Bei-

protectorate.

In 1894, Japan had captured Port Arthur. Then, under pressure from Russia, France,

and Germany,

it

had abandoned

its

claim.

Now

the

Russians were stealing the area for themselves.

To

Russia, Japans involvement in continental Asia

overstretch of a parvenu. Until the

was the

typical

end of the nineteenth century, the

Japanese had never expressed any interest in reaching the world outside their beautiful archipelago.

The

nation had remained largely

absorbed, preoccupied by domestic feuds, maintaining closed-circuit

economy and

lingering in

its

its

self-

low-cost,

amazingly rich cultural co-

coon. However, in the mid-nineteenth century, this calm came to an

abrupt end. Western guns awakened Japan.

When

Western ships reached Japan, the nation was

alternatives:

modernize or continue

bor, China,

had chosen the

Japanese decided to

An period

latter

to hibernate.

and turned

left

with two

Their biggest neigh-

into a semi-colony.

The

act.

ambitious program of sweeping reforms was launched. This is

now known



as the Meiji era

after

Emperor Meiji who

as-

cended the throne in 1867. In an amazingly short period of time, Japan developed

its

own

version of a

modern

state,

based on the supremacy

of money and technology. The pursuit of profits led

its

industrialists to

continental Asia. Battleships provided an impressive convoy.

Unlike Russia, Japan reined in the semi-divine sovereign was

made

peace,

and concluded

still

its

II

He

Officially,

declared wars,

and Parliament had no say

Emperor Meiji had surrendered

authority to a group of oligarchs.

Tsar Nicholas

monarchy.

in full control.

treaties,

these matters. However, in reality

absolutist

kept his power intact.

in his

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

17

4

By

1904, Nicholas had been

on

over the largest country

and he spent

his

and daughters cised,

on the throne

earth.

The



tsar disliked grandeur,

time in bourgeois pursuits.

He

read books to his wife

most

polite

exer-

and took pho-

letters to relatives,

He was

a fashionable novelty in those days.

scribed as "a

however,

—mostly Russian humor, sometimes Chekhov—

took long relaxed walks, wrote

tographs

for nine years, presiding

rightfully de-

young man," "with the education of a colonel

of the Guards from a middle-class family." State affairs were not of great interest to him.

heart was firmly occupied by his wife

The

pursuit of glory

came

third.

The

and children.

He managed

first

place in his

God came

second.

the huge empire very

poorly. In order to secure his attention during an audience, a minister

had

to incorporate as

many

anecdotes as possible into a report. Hiding

and incompetence, the

insecurity

tsar

would often

take the advice of

the last person he had spoken with and then curtly inform his ministers,

"This

The

is

my will."

tsar also presided over the

Romanov

family

haughty individuals, each extremely wealthy and

Some he could command, some he could

dozen

several

of self-importance.

full

and sdme he

ignore,

Romanovs were part of a greater European

obeyed. All of the

The most



still

royal family.

notorious relative was Kaiser Wilhelm. Wilhelm was a

grandchild of

alone did not

Queen

Victoria, as

was the

tsar s wife.

make "Willy" and "Nicky"

(as

Of course,

that

they addressed each

other) close. Their Uncle Bertie, or

King Edward VII of England, was

closer to republican France than to

any of his royal

or Germany.

with the

tsar:

The

kaiser

had

He wanted

relatives in Russia

a specific reason for cultivating the

the two nations to

become

Willy kept insisting on being intimate with Nicky.

allies.

He

This

posed

bond

is

why

as a soul

mate, an elder brother, a mentor in the arcane art of politics and war.

The sentiment was not Eccentric, despotic,

European

royals.

returned. Willy's was a difficult mission.

and rude, the

Fond of masquerades,

kaiser

was the enfant

jewelry, exclusively

terrible

male

of

society,

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

i8

and loud military camaraderie, the same-sex desire.

among

mosexuals garia, the

No

Many

kaiser was, perhaps, repressing a

people suspected that Wilhelm envied open ho-

and

his relatives

King Ferdinand of Bul-

friends like

Duke of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, and Count

matter what was gnawing the

German

Philipp Eulenburg.

emperor,

it

was becoming

worse over time. Erratic behavior developed into recurrent

and

With Wilhelm, people

offensive escapades.

"sitting

on

a

powder

keg."

Once he

his "violent objection."

on the behind from

Any remark,

"whose

felt

they were

even a harmless one, could cause

King of Bulgaria

playfully slapped the

Grand Duke Vladimir,

in public; the tsar's uncle,

his field-marshal's baton; to the

aides

always

of rage

fits

suffered

King of Italy, Wilhelm always sent

accentuated the diminutiveness" of the Italian

tallness

monarch.

The Romanovs Germans

"filthy."

July 1869

when

But above

He was

an avid

sailor (like

infatuation with warships felt

his nation profoundly, calling

they must have loathed the day in first set his

eyes

on the

sea.

fascinated with the ocean despite being prone to sea-

painted marine pictures

who

all else,

the future kaiser had

Wilhelm was sickness.

him and

disliked

and

a patron of the navy,

Nero, he aspired to master

had

a strong impact

on

and he even all arts).

his cousin

His

Nicholas

obliged to compete with the kaiser in everything.

Wilhelm suspected

knew

that the tsar did not like him, but he also

he could manipulate Nicky,

like a capable

boy scout leader manipu-

shy teenagers in search of a role model. Willy hoped Nicky would

lates

eventually forsake his alliance with France and join Germany's camp.

He was close



unable to persuade the

to the consternation of his

But he succeeded

rope.

tsar to

in

do

own

something

this

—though he came

diplomats and the

else:

rest

pretty

of Eu-

pushing Nicky toward war

in the East.

Wilhelm repeated cific,"

become "Admiral of the

Pa-

leaving him, the kaiser, "Admiral of the Atlantic." These exhor-

tations self,

that the tsar should

were extremely

magnanimously

Wilhelm was

self-serving; the kaiser

letting his cousin

wanted Europe

expand

in Asia.

sincere about his hatred of the Japanese.

He

for

him-

However,

detested the

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

"pagan" East and maintained that

monarch

to

oppose the "yellow

Nicky was sympathetic

madman's sword back

was the duty of every Christian

it

peril."

he was a very fundamentalist

to this. First,

Christian himself. Second, he

19

still

in 1891.

carried a scar left

by the Japanese

Each year he quietly celebrated

his

miraculous survival in Otsu.

Nicky never

He

suspected that his cousin was in-

much

However, Wilhelm hypnotized him with so

sane.

and

Wilhelm.

liked

regal stature,

which the

tsar totally lacked, that

assertiveness

Nicky

yielded: All

he would leave Europe alone and try to conquer the East instead.

right,

However, he ran into a problem. Seeking personal glory and viewing Asia as the ideal place for his military debut, Nicholas nonetheless felt

intimidated by people like Witte.

own,

decided that he needed his

For

secret policies, bypassing his ministers.

a private cabinet, almost a

hotheads

all

that,

he had to

The

Far East excited

select

shadow government.

There were plenty of people

son

He

to choose from.

over Russia. Nicholas could not seek advice from the per-

who had

ignited his passion for Asia. Przhevalsky, the great spy

and adventurist, had died

in 1888, just forty-nine years old.

But there

were others.

A Tibetan

healer, Peter

Badmaev, had created a sensation

tersburg society by distributing exotic drugs

However, Badmaev believed that

somnia and impotence but court connections, he had bizarre

his true mission lay

Tsar" from the

Alexander

alted immigrants, this

—longed

his

with long,



for Russian rule.

Tibet,

He

as-

cherished an ancient legend of a "White

did not believe him.

and

III

Using

that the heartland of Asia

North who was destined III

not in treating in-

bombarded Tsar Alexander

Mongolia, and perhaps even China still

the aristocracy.

in guiding Russian policy in Asia.

memorandums, claiming

serted that the Orient

among

in St. Pe-

to rule over the

He

esoteric concepts.

whole of Asia.

disliked exotic drugs, ex-

But

his

son did not inherit

healthy skepticism. Nicholas listened intently to Badmaev. Later

in life

he would even

was yet to come.

start

taking medicine from the healer. But that

20

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Another person he

listened to

was a

relative.

Grand Duke Alexan-

der was a cousin and the most trusted friend of his youth. Together

they had cruised

St.

Petersburg, out for every kind of mischief, sharing

amorous adventures and binge-drinking confident and intelligent than the lasting influence

women,

remote

—which was hardly

Romanov dynasty.

had married Nicholas's case,

it

would be

him

for his

own

a

beautiful

He also minor mem-

unfair to say that he

Xenia, for the sake of his career. In any

he mercilessly exploited the affection of

nipulating

life,

available to him, only a

Probably

sister,

self-

and crazy adventures.

places,

sought glory

more

Grand Duke Alexander was

on Nicholas. He loved the good

sea voyages,

ber of the

heir,

parties. Infinitely

his brother-in-law,

ma-

ends.

Grand Duke Alexander was

a born troublemaker.

He became

an

enthusiast of the Far East. But unlike Witte, he supported a militant

stand in the area.

A naval

and

officer

later

an admiral, the grand duke

advocated challenging Japan for naval supremacy in the

wrote a ficials.

memorandum

to that effect

and sent

it

out to

all

Pacific.

He

of the top of-

In this piece, he pointed out that Russia was only "two days sea

voyage" from the coast of Japan.

He

maintained that the chief target of

Russian foreign policy should be Korea,

as a

Russian presence in

Manchuria was already secured. Conflict with Japan,

insisted the

grand duke, was inevitable. Surrendering to the pressure of his energetic brother-in-law, the tsar

added Korea

to his wish

Department and put the

list.

He

also created a

Merchant Marine

royal adventurer in charge.

Another troublemaker was Captain Alexander Bezobrazov. Lowborn and undistinguished, he was the type of "favorite" plagued European courts in the Middle Ages. Talkative,

who had

fearless,

and

imaginative, striking people as extremely vulgar and surprisingly unrestrained,

pletely

he was refreshingly different from polished

courtiers.

Com-

charmed, Nicholas entrusted Bezobrazov with independent

policies in the Pacific.

Korea particularly attracted the entrepreneurial man. Bezobrazov

came out with

a fantastic plan of creating a quasi-private

company,

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

21

involved in forestry and mining, which would acquire Korea for Russia in a peaceful

manner. The

tsar

nodded. His brother-in-law had already

persuaded him that Manchuria was not enough. Expansion on the Korean Peninsula began.

This was more than Japan could take. In 1903 the country started

The

preparing for war. to find

an

tsar

was aware of this.

conduct the war for him. In August

officer in the military to

1903, he appointed

Now all he had to do was

Admiral Evgeny Alexeev viceroy of the Far

named commander-in-chief in

Alexeev was

ground troops and the navy under

his

the Pacific, with both

helm. This meant that the For-

eign Ministry, the Admiralty, and the Ministry of War were erless in the strategically

important

The admiral was

bastard uncle, sired by his grandfather, Tsar Alexander also very close to his half-brother,

the navy; as

European brothels

young

officers,

The

handsome

"his

chieftain

Grand Duke

II.

his

Alexeev was

Alexei,

who com-

they had raided the better part of

together.

Grand Duke Alexei was heroic poses.

now pow-

area.

Nicholas had every reason to trust Alexeev.

manded

East.

kaiser, a

face

and

inclined to audacious statements and

known

connoisseur of male beauty, thought

figure resembled that of

A tall,

from the Sagas."

some Germanic

imposing man, a bachelor by choice,

an insatiable chaser of women, and a darling of Parisian salons, cabarets,

and

restaurants, he sighed each time

Petersburg and his boring duties.

He was

he had to return to

a courageous

ferred to demonstrate his courage not at sea, but

on

man

St.

but pre-

private ground,

standing up to an angry husband or arguing his right to carouse in front of the

tsar.

Grand Duke in

Alexei had had his share of marine adventures; back

September 1868,

thirty-six years earlier,

the sinking of the frigate Alexander Nevsky

land

—and had been

a lover of "fast flattering flesh."

on the western

telling the story ever since. If Europe

women and

nickname

he had nearly drowned with

for

slow ships," Russian

— him "seven puds

sailors

coast of Yut-

knew him

had an even

as

less

[250 pounds] of august

Uninterested in either strategy or diplomacy, the grand duke

22

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

wasn't averse to

war against Japan; he wanted

to claim victory for the

navy he commanded.

A

number of dignitaries, although having

affairs

little

or the Far East, supported the war party in

interest in foreign St.

Petersburg for

other reasons. Domestic unrest was growing, and a shadow of revolution was starting to materialize in urban centers side.

and

in the country-

Minister of Interior Pleve coined a phrase: "In order to prevent

revolution,

we need

Inspired by his

a

little

victorious war."

new independence from meddlesome

the tsar created and chaired the Far Eastern Committee. pleasure, he fired Witte.

foreign minister,

Now

With

the only peace-loving dove

Count Lamsdorf, but he was unable

ministers,

left

sadistic

was the

to fight the

war

party alone.

Quiet and withdrawn, a deeply closeted homosexual, and unlike

many

peers in

St.

Lamsdorf lived

Petersburg, too afraid to defy the mores of the time,

a frustrated

and sheltered

life.

Refined and aristocratic,

he shied away from society and hated to speak in public, even

at cabi-

net meetings. Caustic and sarcastic with subordinates, he expressed

himself best in correspondence.

A workaholic,

a "walking archive" of

He

the Foreign Ministry, he had spent forty years in diplomacy.

opposed the in

tsar

Europe was

openly but rather

to be

maintained

skillfully

at all costs.

never

persuaded him that peace

The

however, had

tsar,

re-

cently started turning a deaf ear to his warnings.

Japan could not be held responsible for the forthcoming war. Oligarchs in

Tokyo were prepared

1904, Foreign Minister

to

compromise. As

Komura voiced

this position.

late as

October

He suggested

rec-

ognizing Manchuria as a Russian sphere of influence; Russia, in

had

to

latter.

As

turn,

the

renounce claims on Korea. The a result, negotiations with

tsar

would not agree

Tokyo ended

He

sent a Cossack officer

and

to

in a stalemate.

Meanwhile, Nicholas got absolutely carried away by sign for Asia.

its

his

grand de-

a Russian Buddhist

monk

to Tibet "to raise Tibetans against the English." Characteristically,

he

kept this secret from his foreign minister. Tibetan healer Badmaev

wrote Nicholas, calling Tibet "the key to Asia" and insisting that "a

real

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Russian" would never "allow the English to enter Tibet."

concluded

his

memo

problem

nil

when compared with

bly

felt

is

to the tsar

by

The

stating resolutely that "the Japanese

the Tibetan one."

it

was high time

to

The

tsar



and Dmitri Donskoi the Far East.

led

Oslyabya and the cruisers Aurora

by Admiral Virenius was

By January 1904 they were

two brand-new Japanese

The Nishin and

cruisers



Red

in the

the Nishin

hastily dispatched to

There they met

Sea.

and the Kasuga.

the Kasuga had a story behind them.

They had been

bought by Japan from Argentina. Argentina had been preparing

arms

race.

But by 1902 the

wasted; Argentina had ordered two ships from

from

Britain. Russia

Japan succeeded.

Far East, their crews

Italy,

and Japan both rushed

Now

to

Meanwhile, a plans.

It

commanded by

officers

special cabinet council in

was decided that

On January

6,

at the

money

and Chile, two

buy them. Russia

the two cruisers were being taken to the

of the British naval

Agents reported that they were proceeding east with

war

war

had been resolved

conflict

through diplomatic means. The two nations were stunned

failed.

for

neighbor Chile, and both countries had embarked on an ambi-

tious naval

ships

proba-

send reinforcements to Port Arthur.

A detachment of ships — the battleship

its

healer

reassured.

In any case,

with

^3

it

reserve.

sinister speed.

Japan started finalizing the

was necessary

to strike

first.

Willy cabled Nicky from Berlin: "Signal from Ad-

miral of Atlantic to Admiral of Pacific.

News from

trustworthy Chi-

nese source has arrived; governors of Yangtze valley have been apprised

by Japan

that,

war with Russia being unavoidable, they were

their protection to foreign

On

January

22,

interests."

an imperial conference of Japanese oligarchs de-

cided to start immediately. it

commercial

to lend

was severing diplomatic

On January 24, Japan

informed Russia that

relations with St. Petersburg.

At

that time,

Admiral Togo Heihachiro, leading the main force of the Japanese was already steaming for Port Arthur.

Two

fleet,

days later the war began.



u

Master the Sea!" JANUARY-AUGUST 1904

On January

29,

two

days after the Port

Arthur squadron

was attacked, another piece of bad news arrived from the Far

mine and sunk, taking the

transport Yenisei had hit a Japanese three officers,

and ninety- two men with

wrote gloomily in his Yet,

her.

"A

more horrors were had

to

On

come.

also hit a

and sunk. The navy appeared

mine

terribly

ceptionally disheartening. If Russia

1904, the Russian navy was

captain,

terrible event," the tsar

January



this

up with the

had

the tsar learned

time a Russian one

a national pet,

two centuries

rest

31,

unprepared for war. This was ex-

by Nicholas I Is ancestor, Tsar Peter the Great, his efforts to catch

The

diary.

that the cruiser Boyarin

By

East:

it

old. It

virtually

was

its

navy.

had been

from

built

scratch. In

of Europe in the 1690s, he under-

stood that he did not have a chance unless he supplied his country with a

modern

build the

fleet.

new

Russian ships.

Low Countries Peter's

sential

Tsar Peter employed skilled experts from Holland to

himself,

Earlier, the tsar

had spent some time

in the

working on the wharf as an ordinary carpenter.

devotion to shipbuilding

is

often described as one of the es-

elements in the modernization of Russia. But one cannot help 25

26

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

wondering

if

own marine

he wasn't actually modernizing Russia for the sake of his

dreams. Nothing pleased Peter more than spending a day

wheel of a naval

at the

changed the sea brought

major land

battles that

face of Eastern Europe, but his insignificant skirmishes at

him much more

The marine scendants.

He had won several

ship.

satisfaction.

child of Peter the Great

They showered sailors with

became the darling of his de-

honors, though in

strictly military

terms the navy had never been instrumental for Russia's security. Ran-

dom

sea

engagements were always secondary to land

ian empire

was

built not

by

sail

by anchors but by bayonets. teem,

still

sailor

was seen

thrilled

as heroic,

The

Russ-

but by hoof, and was held together not

navy in highest

Yet, Russians held their

by the very

battles.

fact that

and naval

The

they had one.

officers

were the

stars

es-

profession of

of the nation.

In the land of woods and steppes, boys dreamed about masts and hulls.

To people cisive

like

Grand Duke Alexander,

weapon. Cooler heads

like

Witte

should use the natural benefits of

demanded

a

grand future for

Tsar Nicholas

II

its

its

the navy looked like the de-

insisted, to

no

avail, that

continental nature.

The

Russia

nation

grand navy.

was among the strongest proponents of a naval

buildup. This was partially due to the Zeitgeist at the time; at the turn

of the

last

was firmly and universally associated with

century, the navy

national might. That had not been the case a century

had been very important, such

as in the Battle

earlier. Tall

ships

of Trafalgar, but one

simply could not compare the age of sail to the age of steam. It

had been

a revolutionary change. Finally, people did not have to

ask the gods for the right type of wind. attack

With

sails,

on an enemy's squadron or port could have

cause of calm weather or a storm. the perfect example of this.

don was downgraded

to a

The

fate

a carefully

planned

easily failed just be-

of the Spanish Armada was

Now,

at last,

people were in control. Posei-

minor

deity,

and Vulcan, the divine black-

smith, took his place.

The

revolution involved

producing bigger

shells for

faster ships. Skillfully

more than steam, however. Industry was

more accurate guns and

placed mines could bar an

thicker

armor for

enemy from any

area

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

and required no maintenance. Torpedoes compressed

Now

stroying old notions of naval might.

27

distances, de-

a tiny boat carrying torpe-

does could easily defeat a huge, heavily armed hull.

With some

luck,

several torpedo boats could sink a squadron.

Battleships

became

floating fortresses. Their

both enemy ships and enemy ground

Copenhagen, vulnerable.

them

St.

A

Petersburg,

and

gunnery intimidated

fortifications. Coastal cities like

New York started looking terrifyingly

squadron of battleships could

easily devastate

any of

in a matter of minutes.



In 1895, Britain launched the Majestic

the battleship of a

new

generation. Securely armored and heavily armed, she was also very fast

—with

a top speed

of

17.5 knots.

inches of armor at 15,000 yards.

change the outcome of an entire Cruisers were also putting

A

Her

shells

could penetrate

18

leviathan like that could easily

battle.

on armor.

of cruisers was speed and speed only.

Traditionally, the

Now

major

asset

the British started building

"protected," or armored, cruisers. If battleships were fortresses, the

new

generation of cruisers could be likened to speedy artillery batteries, ca-

pable of speeds between 20 and 24 knots. Those cruisers that bore

heavy gunnery were close to battleships in their destructive potential.

The tactics. it

also

invention of the self-propelled torpedo revolutionized naval

Now a powerful became more

torpedo could maintain a speed of 30 knots

as

accurate. In 1897 the British launched the Viper

torpedo boat, which became the model for French, Russian, German,

and Japanese torpedo ships

and

boats.

They were

transports; they also were like

invaluable escorts for battle-

hounds chasing game

—used

not only for attack, but also for reconnaissance purposes. Most of

them were

incredibly small (350 tons), but fast (26 knots).

A totally new class of ships also emerged:

submarines.

Though

were clumsy and unreliable, they were hailed by the public. could

now become

invisible,

It

was

base and ship

radio.

clear that in the near future,

would be

A warship

capable of bringing instant death.

Everybody was experimenting with a desert.

they

The ocean

ceased being

communications between

able to be maintained

anywhere

in the world.

28

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

All major nations were launching large-scale shipbuilding pro-

grams. Alfred Thayer the

power of the

Mahan

future.

European

aboard their yachts. Kings paraded

Only

half a century before, they

New

royals spent

fleets in

weeks showing off

front of foreign relatives.

had been parading

hussars.

naval strategy looked exciting and promising, but

naval battle had been fought.

In 1904, the

new

British

Theory had

was

as

technological era was

yet to be tested in practice.

still

largely terra incognita.

were the strongest naval nation by

far.

Others were

ing to catch up. Russia was trying especially hard. However, prise

it

coming of armor and steam, no major

yet only theoretical. Since the

The

United States declared sea power

in the

try-

its

enter-

government or by

elites,

was severely handicapped.

The country was run not by an but by the

tsar

and

his relatives.

elected

Almost

all

Romanov males had impor-

tant military duties. Ambition, competition,

and

vision

sailors,

their

Romanov

naval

interfered with their judgment. Moreover,

such

leaders,

and vanity blurred

as

grand dukes Alexander and Alexei, were only amateur

but their authority was absolute.

Bureaucracy and corruption, the two traditional Russian maladies, affected the fleet strongly.

Even the most minor decisions had

proved by Admiralty in

St.

pressed initiative.

The

Petersburg.

It stole. It lied. It

to be ap-

naval bureaucracy re-

cheated.

People could be promoted to high rank just because they looked

imposing or cultivated the right grand duchess. In 1904, Russia had 100 admirals. England, with the biggest France had

53,

Germany had

to sea as captains.

9.

More than

Many

fleet in

the world,

had

69,

Russian admirals had never been

one-third had not been to sea for

more

than ten years.

Happily embezzling mize on

were heard

rare, of.

Too many

essentials.

Expensive gun

state funds, the

shells

ships remained in port to save money.

were not to be "wasted" on practice. Maneuvers

and maneuvers of

Nepotism

bureaucracy tried to econo-

thrived.

bigger, squadron-size units, almost

Angry

officers labeled sons

of important people "auntie's children."

un-

and nephews

Of course, nobody

paid any



THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

attention to their grievances. If anything was changing at

only for the worse. Admiralty prevailed over over

all,

29 it

was

desk administrators

fleet,

sailors.

In addition to the problems of bureaucracy and corruption, the

Russian navy

victim to the country's geography. Russia's European

fell

oceanic outlets



the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea

the bottlenecks of narrow

straits.

the Arctic Ocean, were of

on the

tok, for a

Pacific,

warmer

was

place that

—where

low Sea

little

—were

Ports in the north,

disabled by

on the doorstep of

use during most of the year. Vladivos-

also locked

by

ice in winter. It

drew the Russians

was the search

Arthur and the

to Port

Yel-

the Japanese were waiting for them.

2

Originally, Russians did not think highly of the Japanese navy.

had an even

later start

years later,

fifty

in the world. ships, eight ers,

and

When

the Russian fleet was dying in Sev-

Crimean War, Japan had no

fleet at all;

On

the verge of war with Russia, Japan had six battle-

armored

cruisers, sixteen lighter cruisers,

the docks of their European

ally,

Britain,

it

They had invented

An

obscure

break-

a thin-skinned shell that allowed



percent typical of European

greater explosive effect. Also, a

more

10 percent instead of the normal

shells.

new

almost anything. Shells stuffed with grills.

Sasebo.

was

weight to be allotted to the charge

ing



now famous. had made an important unexpected

fishing village before 1886,

Japanese scientists

built, largely in

but national shipyards were

growing quickly. So was their major naval base

3

twenty destroy-

torpedo boats.

Seventy percent of the Japanese ships were foreign

2 to

but only

Tokyo was commanding one of the mightiest armadas

fifty-eight

through.

had

than the Russian navy, having been established

during the Meiji reforms. astopol during the

It

This provided for a

explosive it

turned

shimosa

enemy



much

set fire to

ships into float-

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

30

On

the eve of the war, the Japanese

two units with two

combined

The

battle divisions each.

fleet

overall

consisted of

command was

given to Admiral Togo Heihachiro. This proved to be an excellent

Throughout the winter of 1904, Togo kept the Russian

choice.

blockaded

Asia's waters.

The Russian

area. Yet, Togo's success

nius.

He

make

An enemy had

fortress

partially explained

by

his military geit

had been one

on the very

Enemy

artillery

and of the

A

tip

of the Liaodong Peninsula.

only to occupy the adjoining area to cut off the fortress

ships could use within.

bad news from the

Port Arthur into a trap;

from the army completely. Also, hills.

control over East

start.

Port Arthur was located

of

full

tsar received invariably

was only

did not have to

from the

His ships enjoyed

at Port Arthur.

fleet

it

fleet.

only

its

harbor was confined within a ring

placed on any of

The at

them meant the end of the

entry to the harbor was shallow. Battle-

high

tide.

Otherwise, they were locked

squadron fleeing to Port Arthur could not enter the haven

until the tide changed.

The harbor

itself was

not spacious enough, pro-

hibiting ships from maneuvering freely. Every departure was an ordeal.

The Japanese commander-in-chief watched

the Russians agonizing

from a distance.

Togo Heihachiro came from an ancient family of warriors traced

it

roots to the thirteenth century. Thus, at least in length, his

ancestry was equal to that of Nicholas little

that

II.

He was

born in 1848 in the

town of Kajiya and received an education proper

for his rank,

mastering calligraphy and the works of Confucius. At the age of eight,

he surprised people with utes,

his fencing prowess; in a

with his sword, he cut and caught about

flowing through a rice

from time

field.

He was

matter of a few min-

fifty

carp in a stream

sharp-witted and stubborn and

to time displayed shocking disobedience to his elders. In

i860 he reached the age of majority



twelve.

According to custom, he

shaved off his front hair and received an adult

He became

name

—Heihachiro.

a copyist at his clan's office with the salary of half a

bushel of unhulled rice a month. But the boy was not going to remain

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

a clerk for the rest of his

August

helpful. In

war with the

On

started learning gunnery. This proved

father

to Yedo,

he met four Englishmen

trotting across the path of his procession.

quette and rushed

upon

at this

A

the intruders.

A young samu-

unheard of breach of eti-

fight started.

One

English-

two others wounded.

killed,

When

to

had had an infuriating encounter with foreign

of his entourage exploded with rage

man was

Daimo of Satsuma, went

1863, his lord, the great

way from Yokohama

his

on horseback rai

He

British Empire.

The Daimo's devils.

life.

31

the news reached

London, Her Majesty's government, very

much displeased, instructed the British charge d'affaires in Japan to demand indemnity. The charge d'affaires thought he needed a stronger contingent and summoned a fleet of seven men-of-war to the Kagoshima

Bay.

The Satsuma

clan

had expected

precisely that. All ten forts

around

the bay had been hastily fortified, twelve light boats were prepared for sea action,

The

and three mines were

laid in the

British, sneering at this naive

the clan's steamships.

The Satsuma

war

forts

water near one of the effort,

opened

forts.

immediately seized fire.

Surprised, the

British responded.

The

streets

tion factory

of the town caught

burned

Many samurai

fire

Guns

to the ground.

chored.

A local

in the forts

ammuni-

were disabled.

threw off their clothes and went to the shore with their

swords unsheathed, prepared to fight

But the

immediately.

British never

They had done

a

came good

at close quarters

ashore. In the

and

die.

dusk the squadron an-

job; the shore across the

bay was ablaze

with flame. To celebrate the event and teach the Asian barbarians a son, captains ordered musicians

over the

fires.

The bands

on

decks.

battle,

of the youngest samurai fighters to

ter

how much

it

started drifting

played late into the night.

That was the end of the

hachiro. Perhaps

Merry tunes

les-

and the clan paid indemnity. One

mourn

was the day he decided

he must have hated the

the defeat was

to

become

British, the

Togo Hei-

a sailor.

No

mat-

only place to get

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

32.

superb naval training was England.

He

dutifully

went

there

and was

assigned to the training ship Worcester at Plymouth.

Togo was twenty-four

made

years old. His English

was very bad, and he

very slow progress. However, he was good at mathematics, and

he surprised

local hosts

with his keen interest in the Christian church.

His acquaintances reported that he attended services

hymns with

singing

the use of a hymnal.

— many King James —

desire to master the language

the help of the

baptized as a

Bible

Roman

England

stay in

Then he

to

It

regularly,

even

might have been merely a

a foreigner learned English with

yet an unlikely

rumor had Togo

Catholic. His training over, he was ordered to

watch the construction of

a

new Japanese

ship.

returned home.

The Japanese navy had

its

debut

in the

war against China

in

1894-1895. Togo participated in the campaign with distinction.

Among

his exploits

was the occupation of the Pescadore Islands in the

middle of the Formosa Channel and of Formosa

itself.

He was

noticed

and promoted.

By

the time he

became

rear admiral,

he had acquired the awe of

subordinates, rheumatism, an amazing ability to endure physical pain,

and

a

come

good reputation with later,

his superiors,

but not fame. This was to

with the war against Russia.

Togo had

set off for Port

Arthur

several days before the war.

the way, his fleet captured a Russian merchantman,

Taking sia

is

this as a

good omen,

sailors started saying to

named

On

the Russia.

each other, "Rus-

taken."

Togo dispatched Rear Admiral Uryu in Korea,

and Togo himself led the main

to cover the Japanese landing

force to Port Arthur.

On

the

night of January 27, his torpedo boats attacked the harbor and disabled several ships there.

The

first

blow against Russia

in the

war had

been orchestrated by Togo.

The

next day, seeking revenge, the Russian squadron

to face Togo's fleet. losses

A

long-range artillery duel ensued.

were minor; several Russian ships were

left

the base

The Japanese

hit badly. In

anguish and

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

anger, the Russians

Togo

headed back

The temptation

for their base.

enemy then and

to finish the

there

33

must have been very

for

strong,

but

this

would have meant

was

still

apprehensive about his adversary's guns. Demonstrating wis-

dom and

a cool head,

to put Port

on the brand-new Mikasa Sea, keeping the Russian

moment

and the admiral

Togo turned back.

Togo then decided

the right

fighting at close quarters,

battleship,

He was

He knew patience

was

it

siege.

Keeping

his flag

he started cruising the Yellow

squadron locked in

to destroy

from Port Arthur.

Arthur under

completely.

base and waiting for

its

He

spent

not in a hurry to attack the

much time away doomed fortress.

his best ally.

This paid off on the stormy night of March 30-31,

when

a Japa-

nese ship laid mines in Port Arthur waters.

3

Russian losses in the Far East caused anger throughout the nation.

Even Anton Chekhov, now

a

war that he now planned

to go to the front as a doctor

famous author, was so disturbed by the

and war

correspondent.

The commander of the

Port Arthur squadron, Admiral Stark, was

apparently incapable of providing leadership in time of war.

The

Viceroy of the Far East, Admiral Alexeev, played with the idea of

commanding

the fleet himself. Typical of his imaginative but vain

mind, he considered the possibility of making Tsushima Island

Korea

Strait his base.

The

island

was so close

would have annihilated the Russian garrison hours.

When

asked about Alexeev

in St. Petersburg

(or, for

to

opinion for the

cided to send another

commander

obvious: Admiral Makarov.

first

Japan that Togo

there in a matter of

that matter, Stark), sailors

and elsewhere responded with

to consider public

in the

obscenities.

time in his

to Port Arthur.

life,

The

Having

the tsar de-

candidate was

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOY

34

Stepan Osipovich Makarov was the most charismatic admiral in Russia. Independent, impervious to court politics, courageous, de-

manding, and

he was

stern,

phy. Leo Tolstoy, the

machine of

lent

definition

On

also

an acknowledged expert in oceanogra-

Russian

first

slaughter."

pacifist, called

Hardly intended

must have frightened Makarov's

a cold,

sunny

Makarov an

"excel-

compliment,

as a

this

adversaries, the Japanese.

day, February 4, the tsar received

ing received the blessing of the sovereign, the admiral

Makarov. Havleft for

the Far

East the same day by the recently completed Trans-Siberian Railroad.

The

cousin of the

glory,

tsar,

Grand Duke

departed with him,

as

Kyril, a naval officer

longing for

did the leading Russian battle painter,

Vasily Vereshchagin, Makarov's classmate

and an

artistic

witness to

all

the wars of his lifetime.

The

sovereign soon started receiving the

Makarov was fortifications

diary on

in firm control, ships

good news of the

first

war.

were quickly repaired, and land

were strengthened. "Thank God," Nicholas wrote in

March

his

"everything goes smoother and faster than

23,

planned!"

A

week

earlier,

on March

Six years earlier,

niversary.

17,

Grand Duke

monarch, had raised the Russian great-grandfather, Tsar Nicholas flag has

been raised

On March 31, standing

it

Port Arthur had celebrated an an-

flag at I,

never comes

Golden

used to

down

say,

Hill.

The grand

duke's

"Wherever the Russian

again."

Makarov, Vereshchagin, and Grand Duke Kyril were

on the bridge of Makarov's

Petropavlovsk.

representing the

Kyril,

The squadron had

left

flagship,

the

battleship

the harbor and was looking for

Togo. Suddenly quiet talk on the bridge was interrupted by the report

of an excited

officer:

The

Japanese squadron had been spotted on the

horizon! Vereshchagin went below to fetch his sketchbook; at this

ment

a terrible explosion

shook the Petropavlovsk. The grand duke

turned to Makarov; the admiral's body,

The it

first

had been

lovsk

a

mo-

still

vertical,

was decapitated.

thought everybody had was of a Japanese submarine. But

mine

was cloaked

laid

by the Japanese the night

in a dark cloud, her

bow diving

before.

The

Petropav-

into the sea, her stern



THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

high in the

air

and propellers

still

Under

whirling.

35

the rays of bright

springtime sun, in mocking proximity to the friendly shore, the battle-

Among the numerous bodies

ship sank in a matter of minutes.

never

re-

covered was that of Admiral Makarov.

4

Many sailors wept mass. He felt "sad" and

Masses were celebrated for Makarov nationwide. openly. In St. Petersburg, the tsar also

was glad that the

service

has just reached

went down with

me

and

brave an admiral,

who was

many

The

brave

that

heartfelt

The

Makarow

[sic]

sympathy

to

personally well

fell

and

in battle

you

at the loss

known

to

me.

me

of so

And

sailors.

live with.

was not the end of the world, but the

a hole in the Russian universe.

Makarov

from Syracuse:

kaiser cabled

of the Petropavlovsk was hard to

loss

a battleship

The

his ship off Port Arthur. Is this true? If so allow

to express sincerest

so

to

had been appropriately "solemn." His European

cousins sent letters of condolence.

Rumor

went

loss

The

sinking of

of Makarov

left

There was no other admiral equal to

in stature.

position of Port Arthur did not look hopeless yet, but

likely to deteriorate.

Even

if

the fortress stood firm for

it

was

many months,

the fleet

had no chance of getting control over East Asian waters.

Without

this,

no victory over Japan was

possible.

For Russia to win in

Manchuria, the Japanese army there had to be cut off from the homeland. This challenge

The

was a tough one.

Petropavlovsk catastrophe affected the tsar and other Ro-

manovs deeply and

personally.

Too independent-minded, Makarov

had never been popular with the

Grand Duke

Kyril

—had almost

royal family, but

one of the kin

perished in the maelstrom.

disliked his ambitious cousin, but the shock

was nevertheless

The great.

tsar

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

36

In mid-April, two weeks after the Petropavlovsk sank, Nicholas de-

more

cided to send

ships to the Far East to rescue Port Arthur

and

eventually master the sea. Ships had to be borrowed from the Baltic Fleet.

They were

ships

from now on were

become

to

2nd

the

tempted anything

like

it.

niently tight, manageable,

had

No

and

to be big

new

— but

its

start in the Baltic

all

Pacific

the Russians had in

the infamous Spanish

had

modern coal?

worry about was food,

ships

Who

had

to be fed liberally.

would provide

tion violate

its

neutrality

The

Sea and reach the Far East. Further-

technology, ironically enough, involved

to

Armada of

route was infinitely longer.

new

challenges.

In the days of sail, ships were propelled by nature, and tains

Squadron

Russian ships suitable for ac-

The squadron

it.

mind could be compared only with

more,

at-

and America had always been conve-

diverse. Practically

the sixteenth century

had ever

history

fleet in

homogeneous, but the 2nd

tion were to be dispatched with

squadron had to

other

Squadrons traveling from European metropo-

to colonies in Asia, Africa,

lises

Squadron. The Port Arthur

referred to as the ist Pacific Squadron.

was a most audacious plan.

It

Pacific

fresh water,

and allow Russia

that cap-

and ammunition. But

From where was one

transports for this?

all

to get

Would any

to use

its

all

this

foreign na-

ports in Africa

and Asia? Even food and decades

eral

fresh water

earlier;

more

than sev-

the crew of a single battleship could easily consist

of nine hundred men. To find supplies for fleet

now

were more of a challenge

transports

and more

this

friendly bases

multi-thousand-person

would be

necessary.

However, what would prevent the Japanese from intercepting the fleet in

tion



route?

an ambush made possible by modern means of communica-

telegraph and radio?

Would

The whole armada could

Petropavlovsk.

Which

monitor the enemy's sians in the areas

tropical Africa?

route

they lay mines on the squadron's

easily perish like the

would be the

activities?

Which

safest?

nations

How

would

where they had no presence of

unfortunate

could they

assist

their

own

the Rus-



say, in

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

But the most important question was, who could lead precedented

fleet

on

its

a

few looked

un-

for such a role.

fit

favored Grigory Chukhnin, director of the Naval Academy.

Other candidates were Fedor Dubasov, and Skrydlov and Alexei

when

this

unheard-of mission? Though the Russian navy

had one hundred admirals, only

Many

37

Birilev.

These four names had come up

the tsar was looking for a

squadron, but he had rejected them All of the short

lists,

to a lesser extent, Nikolai

commander all

Arthur

for the Port

of Makarov.

in favor

both in January and

in January

now

in April, included

one more name: Rear Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky. Uncharacteristically, Nicholas this time decided quickly. 19

he signed the

much

On April

anticipated decree. Rear Admiral Rozhestven-

sky was ordered to raise his flag over the 2nd Pacific Squadron.

Some

said Makarov's ghost

never been respectful of the respect a as

man

if

you

would be angry; Rozhestvensky had

now

are involved

deceased admiral. But

with

his wife,

it is

difficult to

even one so renowned

Makarov.

s

Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky was reported an iron hand. Everybody

man

who saw him on

to have

an iron

will

and

the bridge agreed that the

inspired immediate awe. Tall, powerfully built, his balding head a

proud well-proportioned dome hinting

at

determination and obstinacy,

Rozhestvensky, at the age of fifty-five, was one of the handsomest admirals in

the Russian navy.

He was

frightfully imposing, almost the

embod-

iment of a savage Russian admiral, which he was in the eyes of

Bushy eyebrows did not hide

his bright eyes,

with passion, sometimes with uncontrollable

companied by sensual lips

a sarcastic smile.

more accustomed

A short,

which were rage,

lit

many

sometimes

and occasionally

ac-

graying beard partly concealed

to foul obscenities,

by virtue of his

metier,

than to words of tender passion, which they were nonetheless fluent

in.

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

38

When

he so desired, Rozhestvensky's self-control was complete.



He could be irresistibly charming and pleasant when chatting with a woman he liked or with an enemy he hated. However, his subordinates and colleagues knew as

a very different

man:

demanding,

stern,

as often

not rude, and sometimes violent. Rozhestvensky's explosions of rage caused total horror in his vic-

tims.

Many

boxer's

He

fists,

a sailor lost a tooth

on encountering Rozhestvensky's

and people suspected he wished he could beat

his officers.

believed in discipline, was punctual and precise himself and was

determined to make others respect orderliness

Men

were

make them

which was

ship,

They hid from him

best if they

were guilty of leaving some

happened

dirt

on the

in the

cost.

to

dark corners of the

to be wearing a soiled shirt or rails.

When

he was furious but

—such

as the captain

—he would growl with anger and throw

his binoculars

unable to instantly reach the object of his wrath

of another ship

any

by him. His stern glance alone was enough

terrified

turn pale.

at

overboard.

At the same time, he generously gave poorer colleagues money from

his

modest

salary

one of the few people corruption.

No

and paid the in the

matter

Admiralty

how much

body could say he was an embezzler his

tuition of several students.

who had

He was

not been tainted by

people hated Rozhestvensky, no-



a rare distinction for a person of

rank in Russia.

He was

a splendid speaker. His vocabulary

tremely persuasive. self,

never

The

made him

was

rich, his voice ex-

presence of dignitaries, including the tsar him-

shy.

Witnesses insisted

it

even added force to his

presentation.

He

despised doctors and ignored sickness. People thought his iron

will healed

tism,

him, but

hardly helped his kidney problem or his rheuma-

which caused him a

People

who

them he was a But

it

lot

of pain though almost no one knew.

liked the admiral were doggedly devoted to him. For

difficult,

thunderous, but

regardless of whether they liked him,

fair

and wise head of family.

everybody agreed that Rozh-

estvensky was one of the most capable admirals in Russia.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky was born on October

He was part,

39

30, 1848.

nine months Togo's junior, but unlike his Japanese counter-

he was lowborn. That was obvious from

his first

name.

No

per-

son of any prominence would have given his son the name Zinovy. Zi-

novy was father

name

a

was

favored by petty shopkeepers and village priests. His

neither,

but his social status was not

military doctor. Fortunately, that was to

become

good enough

Academy

a cadet at the Naval

much

higher; he was a

to enable his son

(no child of a peasant or

petty merchant could gain entry to this prestigious institution).

boy entered the academy

in

The

September 1864 when he was almost

six-

teen years old.

The mid-18 60s were its

Only

navy.

a decade earlier, the nation

Crimean War. As in the Black Sea.

sunk by

its

Russia and even worse for

difficult years for

a result, Russia

had been defeated

in the

was prohibited from having any navy

The former Black Sea

fleet

had met a most

tragic fate,

captains in a desperate attempt to block the channel to pre-

vent the French and the British from entering Sevastopol harbor.

Russia had not suffered such a blow to

its

national pride since

Moscow had been occupied by Napoleon back Nicholas

died before the peace was signed

I,

poison. His son, Alexander

wanted Russia

to

II,



in 1812.

The

allegedly having taken

he had to do something

realized

remain a great power.

He

tsar,

new

decided on a

if

he

course:

reform.

Tsar Alexander ian courts, glasnost.

also started

Duke

and

officers

whim. The person

juries to Russ-

to life the

first

reforming the military, bringing

to modernity. Soldiers

years in the army, their

emancipated peasants, introduced

and softened censorship, bringing

He

Dark Ages

II

now

it

Russian

from the

did not have to spend twenty

could no longer flog them to death

to reform the

navy was

his brother,

at

Grand

Constantine.

Atypical for a grand duke, Constantine was a ing his hesitant elder brother, the for constitutional

from the dead.

tsar,

for

liberal.

He was

press-

more reform, perhaps even

monarchy. As for the navy, he wanted to

raise

it

40

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

The Naval Academy found

under

itself

who would

aspired to raise a generation of sailors

The

school was small

very

elite.

more

attention than those

The navy was more means

would be noticed by the

court,

who

army

entered the

received.

egalitarian financially, too.

A person of modest

Rozhestvensky) was unable to join the

(like

the army.

—and

just fifty cadets

received entry

never taste defeat.

were accepted each year



Any boy who

The expense of a thoroughbred

elite

horse alone

regiments of

amounted

fortune, to say nothing of the almost obligatory spending at the

expensive clubs in

Petersburg.

St.

away from

travel in

society. All in

a ship, class difference

members of aristocracy would fancy

noticeable. Also, very few

demanding constant

On

all,

He

his special patronage.

moveable barracks

in largely

to a

most

was

less

a career

bad weather

the navy embraced meritocracy.

Rozhestvensky became one of the best students in the academy.

He

mastered English, which was mandatory, and also French. By the time

he graduated, he had spent 227 days

became honors

familiar to



fifth in

ship was the

Two

(Firstborn).

months

first

at sea,

chose naval

him and

at sea.

The Russian

so did naval science.

the class of 1868

—and joined

He

Baltic coast

graduated with

the Baltic Fleet. His

big Russian ironclad, appropriately

named

Pervenetz

years later, having spent twenty-one remarkably long

he received the

artillery as his specialization.

choice, generally ignored

rank of midshipman.

first officer's

by professional

He

This was a very unorthodox sailors.

To pursue

his studies,

he joined the Mikhailovskaya Artillery Academy and graduated in 1873, again

with honors and by that time with a rank of lieutenant.

For the next four years he went to sea on several ships, both under sail

and under steam, and then got involved

armor

as a

member of the

for a person his age.

To

Artillery

in testing guns, shells,

Committee. This was a distinction

his superiors,

Rozhestvensky embodied the

He sought challenge and courted science. While

new spirit of the

time:

on the

Committee, he audited courses

Artillery

installation

press,

at the St. Petersburg

articles

on new naval technology

and even participated

in a contest involving the

College of Transportation, translated

from the foreign

and

of electricity in

St.

Petersburg's theaters.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

In the midst of these pursuits, Rozhestvensky

4i

somehow found

time to become a family man; he married Olga Antipova, a young

woman

of similarly modest background. She did not bring him any

dowry, and presumably they had their

first

was a love match.

it

and only

On

December

child, a daughter, Elena.

By

22, 1877,

the time the

baby was born, her father had already learned what war was about. Seeking revenge in the Black Sea, the empire was preparing an

on Turkey. Rozhestvensky was dispatched

sault

guns from

local fortresses for use

Black Sea was

on merchant

to the south to collect vessels; the

handicapped. In several weeks he had

still

as-

navy

in the

six floating

of Odessa, Ochakov, and Kerch.

batteries ready, protecting the harbors

In April 1877, soon after the war started, Rozhestvensky's efforts were

recognized, and he was appointed supervisor of the Black Sea Fleet artillery.

Rozhestvensky went to sea several times

armed according

boats

struck.

He

Baranov.

Vesta

on merchant

usually

to his instructions. In July 1877, his

boarded the armed steamer

The



Vesta,

commanded by

was old and small, but she carried new

On

Nikolai artillery

Rozhestvensky wanted to

test.

the mission to attack

small Turkish ships she found. But

dawn of the

all

duel.

flee.

The

battleship's first salvo,

There was no chance that the

battleship,

hungry

vered cleverly, preventing the

any

side;

left

Odessa with

on the

next day, she met not a schooner but a Turkish battleship.

Having answered the crew to

July 10, the Vesta

hour

from the

stern,

any

Vesta

Baranov ordered the

could win the

for a victory, pursued.

artillery

Baranov maneu-

enemy from approaching

the Vesta from

ship, particularly a small one,

is

a difficult

target.

After three hours of successfully averting the battleship, Turkish

gun

shells started hitting the

were disabled by enemy Vestas guns.

He

ship's bridge.

fire,

performed

Russian steamer. After several officers

Rozhestvensky assumed

well.

One

of the Vestas

The Turkish commander,

command

of the

shells hit the battle-

cursing his bad luck, retreated.

Rozhestvensky was credited with "having saved the steamer."

was promoted

to lieutenant captain

He

and received two honors, the



42

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Order of

St.

Vladimir and the Order of

prestigious distinction.

He was

Grand Duke Constantine and spent the

rest

St.

George, the

latter a

very

also sent to St. Petersburg to report to

in person.

of the campaign

Then he

Danube. Rozhestvensky did

at the

not get another chance to participate in

battle. Instead,

He

edly became a political combatant.

returned to the war zone

he unexpect-

did not seek fame; he was

guided by a guilty conscience.

The war was won by had been

Russia, but

totally irrelevant.

The

on

land.

The

efforts

of the navy

august naval commander, Grand

Duke

Constantine, was painfully envious; his brothers, grand dukes Nikolai

and Mikhail, had been commanding Russian land armies and were

now

praised for having wrestled victory from the

and the navy remained

in shadow.

that a bit of self-promotion

was

Grand Duke Constantine thought

The

in order.

plishment started to be trumpeted

Ottomans while he

Vestas

modest accom-

as a great feat.

Rozhestvensky did not want to be the fake hero of a fake

But what was he

to do?

He

sought the advice of a renowned com-

mander, Vice Admiral Butakov.

George Cross was "burning" in,

he

said,

was mere

fleeing.

battle.

He

told the admiral that the St.

his chest. All the Vesta

Was he

to

had been involved

renounce the award he did not

deserve?

Admiral Butakov listened to the confession told the served.

young man

that his St.

patiently,

George Cross had

also

then calmly

been unde-

However, he had received no reward for three subsequent



and quite extraordinary his just distinction.

He

battles,

and thus now claimed the

cross as

advised Rozhestvensky to use his future career

to justify the "burning" item in question.

Dissatisfied with his interview with the cynical old

man, Rozh-

estvensky talked to several other people and finally decided to rebel.

He

published an

article called "Battleships

a popular newspaper.

His major

thesis

fight battleships.

It

was camouflaged

was that

He

hastily

casually

and Merchant Cruisers"

as a piece

armed merchant

mentioned the

on naval vessels

in

strategy.

could not

Vestas battle, saying that

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

the heroic ship

all

had been doing was

much stronger adversary. The article met a stormy response. Not

from

and

fleeing for five

43

a half hours

a

only Captain Baranov, but

another war hero, Stepan Makarov, publicly accused Rozhestven-

also

sky of slander. Baranov even suggested that Rozhestvensky should be

prosecuted for

The reer



libel.

scandal had no immediate impact on Rozhestvensky 's ca-

either

good or bad.

He

returned to his duties on the Artillery

Committee, lingered ashore, pursued traveled to ders,

and

Germany

to

his fascination

with

electricity,

monitor the processing of Russian military or-

visited familiar Black Sea fortresses. Suddenly, in July 1883

was given a new

role that

he

he could never have expected.

Five years earlier, having defeated Turkey, Russia

out an independent Bulgaria from the

Ottoman

managed

to carve

lands. Prince Alexan-

der Battenberg of Germany became the compromise candidate for the

Bulgarian throne and eventually took

Battenberg was

it.

disliked Slavs, but his only chance at governance St.

was

German and

as Russia's vassal.

Petersburg approved Bulgaria's constitution and sent Russian

cers to create a Bulgarian

army and

navy.

Rozhestvensky was appointed commander of the Bulgarian It

was not much of a

and

cutters

and

that

fleet;

offi-

fleet.

Russia had given Bulgaria several steamers

was about

it.

But

still,

Rozhestvensky was the

naval commander-in-chief of an independent nation, while his class-

mates were tion

still

commanding canon

had been well deserved.

boats. This unexpected

He was

promo-

daring, creative, self-reliant,

abreast of the latest technological innovations, familiar with the Black

Sea strategic terrain, a hero of the recent military campaign, and ready a capable administrator,

power

known

to

many

in the corridors

al-

of

in St. Petersburg.

Immediately

after

he arrived in Bulgaria, he made

it

clear that

he

did not want to be a figurehead. After his persistent requests, Russia gave Bulgaria two torpedo boats.

Not everybody

in Sofia rejoiced. Bul-

garian politicians were skeptical about the necessity of having a navy.



CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

44 In a

memo

to the Bulgarian minister of war (another Russian),

estvensky expressed his concerns.

not being utilized properly, he as

The

said.

Rozhwere

vessels given to Bulgaria

The war

ministry was using

them

cargo ships. That was unacceptable. Normally, he continued, a na-

tion

on

would spend not

its

than one-third of

less

its

ground troops budget

was spending only one-twenty-fifth. Rozhestven-

navy. Bulgaria

sky pushed and pushed, and in only a few months his navy was granted first

its fair

share.

He

achieved another difficult goal

generation of Bulgarian seamen.

(remembering ity)

and

and

rituals).

He

to raise the

began a technological society

own enthusiasm during the first decade of electricmuseum (he was a firm believer in uplifting symbols

his

a naval

As the creator of

a

new

navy, Rozhestvensky

He

out with something of a general manifesto. port in which he summarized his views. attribute of



any developed

state.

He

felt

obliged to

come

prepared a special

thought a navy was a

re-

vital

Bulgarian politicians were hinting

that a strong navy belonged only in an autocracy like Russia.

gued that democracy and a strong navy were

He

totally compatible.

ar-

"The

English people," Rozhestvensky wrote, "for three hundred years enjoying the most free institutions in the world, have a national starts

anthem

that

and ends with the words

Rule Britannia, rule the waves Brittons never shall be slaves.



Of course, he did not become Bulgarian in spirit but he was not expected to. He was merely a mercenary. Like all other Russians serving in Bulgaria, he had had to nominally quit the Russian service, and the Bulgarian ruler, Prince Alexander, issued a special decree saying

Russian servicemen would not be held responsible in Russia for what they did in Bulgaria. However, Prince Alexander could not speak for the Russian

tsar.

Though merely

a guest

on Bulgarian

soil,

Rozhestvensky took

his

duties extremely seriously. In 1885, he spent 195 days with his navy

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

maneuvering or conducting

and Bucharest. His

dapest, Vienna,

many

artillery practice. title

He would

45

often visit Bu-

and mission must have

raised

eyebrows, for in the eyes of many, "Bulgarian navy" was an oxy-

moron, but he had become an

insider of intricate Balkan politics.

The

Unexpectedly, his tenure came to an abrupt end.

industrious

Battenberg decided to annex a neighbor, Eastern Rumelia, in spite of St.

Petersburg's objections.

want

to risk another

gant upstart, the

home

tsar

The Russian

tsar,

Alexander

III,

did not

major war in the Balkans, and to punish the arroordered

all

Russian officers in Bulgaria to go back

immediately.

Having spent two

years in Bulgaria, Rozhestvensky returned to the

ranks of the Imperial Navy. During 1886-1889, ne sailed in the Baltic

Sea

as a senior officer,

accustomed

He had become now he was a mere

which was a painful backtrack.

to having a position of authority, but

administrator again. However, he performed his duties with precision

and

excellence,

and

in 1890

an award arrived.

He was

appointed to the

Far East as captain of a ship. That was a breakthrough. If he was successful in the role,

The

he could aspire to further promotion.

ship Rozhestvensky was assigned to

clipper, a fine tall ship

command was

equipped with an engine. For

he and his crew patrolled the North

Pacific. In

the Kreiser

several

months,

America Bay, the

clip-

per hit a rock not marked on the map. Rozhestvensky ordered the un-

loading of some coal and succeeded in rescuing the ship and bringing

her back to Vladivostok.

On

another occasion, during a ferocious

storm, the crew was too frightened by gales to climb the mast and

lower the

sails.

They probably expected

their captain to use his

but instead Rozhestvensky calmly ordered gerous operation.

He

Men, ashamed,

officers to

perform the dan-

instantly climbed the mast.

stayed in the area for only a few months. In the

the clipper to Kronshtadt, via

Hong Kong,

Singapore,

Port Said, Cadiz, Cherbourg, and Copenhagen.

been a tremendous success

fists,

as a captain.

fall,

he took

Colombo,

He knew

Suez,

that he

Very few naval commanders

could boast the unwavering loyalty of subordinates, a successful vage,

and



a trans-Eurasian journey

all

had

in less than a year.

Now

sal-

his

46

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

credentials were fully established: an administrator, a

diplomat, a captain.

As

What

in 1883, a surprise

barely a

was awaiting him

month commanding

after his arrival in

Having spent

in the capital.

a ship in the Baltic Sea, he

He

was ap-

attained the rank of captain

London.

In 1892, the position of naval attache, or naval agent as called in Russia,

a

next?

pointed naval attache to England.

soon

war veteran,

was somewhat different than what

it

it

was

had become by

the late twentieth century. Rozhestvensky had virtually

no diplomatic

functions and few contacts with his embassy. His chief errand was to

gather intelligence, and in this he was a lone hunter. Unlike his peers in todays world,

he had no

staff or

network of agents.

He was

also re-

sponsible for monitoring Russian government orders placed with for-

new

eign producers and searching for cheap deals and

was

inventions. If he

winning weapon from an inventor des-

lucky, he could purchase a

perate for cash.

In 1892,

London was

a thrilling place to be.

It

was the

capital

of the

world. Pleasure-seekers were going to Paris, and art-lovers to Rome,

but money, science, and power dwelled in London. Rare orchids and diplomatic

secrets, blueprints

exchange news could

all

of the most recent torpedoes and stock

be found there. As for naval

thing sought could not be obtained in London,

it

affairs, if

some-

could not be found

anywhere.

Three years

earlier,

the First Lord of Admiralty, George Hamilton,

had persuaded the parliament shipbuilding program.

to adopt a

new and most ambitious

Now Britain was following a "two-powers stan-

dard"; her navy's strength was to surpass that of the next two most

powerful naval

fleets

combined. The arrogance of this strategy had no

equal in history, but few doubted Britain

would succeed. Indeed,

in

1894 Great Britain already had forty-six battleships; Russia and France

had

just thirty- five, seven

London astounded

of them wooden.

visitors

half million people lived there. ners,

and enormous railway

with

its fast

pace and noise. Five and a

Thousands of cabs

rattled at street cor-

stations spat fast trains in

all

directions

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

twenty-four hours a day. years earlier

The underground web.

It

had been the

world, and in 1892 only one other city had one

York but British Glasgow. Whistles of

factories

of boats from the River Thames. London first

twenty-nine

train, built

amid the foundations of the Plantagenets and the Tudors,

tied the city in a single steel

the

47

automobiles.

A totally new sound

closed doors of Mayfair mansions

female typists In such a

filled city,

—not

so

in the

Paris or

New

mingled with whistles were

streets

up with

filling

could be heard behind the

and Whitehall

The squeaking of pens had gone and

subway

first

had the

offices:

scribes;

telephones.

thousands of

the air with the racket of typewriter keys.

a Russian

felt like

a poor relative visiting obscenely

wealthy cousins. Hardly inhibited by London's might and splendor,

Rozhestvensky must have nonetheless

felt

and

resentful

frustrated.

London's conspicuous glamour alerted him to the dangers of Russia's appalling backwardness. However, he had a mission: to represent the interests

sued

it

of the Russian

fleet in

He

the naval center of the world.

pur-

stubbornly.

His primary task was to

assess the

chance of war.

Political declara-

tions of statesmen, parlor gossip, publications in professional journals,

and comments of the verified.

free press all

Almost every week he sent

had

to be analyzed,

compared, and

a parcel to St. Petersburg that con-

tained the First Lord of Admiralty's recent statements, a technological

advertisement from the Times, blueprints of the most recent boiler, or

samples of new armor stolen from a shipyard.

He was

also supervising

Russian orders at local plants (British private companies did not care

about strategic rivalry eled

all

over Britain.

was to look out

for

as

long

as

they got paid in

A relatively minor, new books

that

but

still

full).

For

this,

he

trav-

essential responsibility

might be of

interest to Russian

naval experts.

The

British secret service kept a close eye

on Rozhestvensky. From

time to time, he had to deal with remarkably friendly Englishmen questing his services for delicate missions. As often as not, these

represented the British intelligence community. However, estvensky lacked anything,

it

was not

distrustfulness.

if

re-

men

Rozh-

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

48

He wrote

all

reports himself in longhand; there

When

typewriter.

he asked the Admiralty to hire a retired naval

as his assistant, St. Petersburg,

More

as usual, refused.

tried to bring

its

was no secretary or

economizing on

officer

essential expenditures

importantly, the Admiralty frowned

attention to the corruption flowering

when he

among

Russian

bureaucrats placing orders with British industrialists. In a terse

recommended

the naval minister

that he

minded

his

own

business.

He had

Rozhestvensky spent two and a half years in Britain.

ready spent considerable time abroad, in Bulgaria, but as an Britain he skills,

was an

alien, if not a foe.

he developed a patriotic

the British

Isles.

sailing he, like

ened in the deal in

Also, he

became quite

ill

there.

chilly English climate.

London ended.

glad

In July 1894, he was appointed

Monomakh

coming from

cruiser

miralty had not forgiven

dangerous for

and

left for

its

him

when

commander of

Russia. first

big ship he

embezzlers, and put

him

Monomakh had once been

in charge

He could be

brutal to his

a frigate. for the

On

October

would have done Vladimir

1894,

Mediterranean Sea.

awe

in the

felt

to

too tired. Very few captains

that.

Monomakh

visited Lisbon, Algiers,

and

Piraeus. In Pi-

Rozhestvensky was introduced to the Queen of Greece, Olga, a Ro-

manov grand

duchess by birth. She was the daughter of none other than

Grand Duke Constantine who had commanded

made

2,

men, but he hired German dockers

load coal in Kiel, because his crew

raeus,

com-

of an old-timer;

Just like in the Pacific several years earlier, he inspired

The

his or-

for his anticorruption zeal, potentially

Rozhestvensky took her from Kronshtadt

sailors.

of

his years

appointment was hardly a promotion. The Russian Ad-

this

the Vladimir

In

ally.

British naval

During

He was

Although the Vladimir Monomakh was the

manded,

al-

Togo, had acquired rheumatism, and his ailment wors-

damp and

the Vladimir

Although he admired

distaste for everything else

letter,

the navy. Nostalgic, she

herself into the patron saint for Russian crews in the Mediterranean.

It is

unknown what

ten years later she course, there

still

passed between Rozhestvensky and Olga, but

expressed profound distaste for the man.

was plenty of space

for conflict;

Of

both were stubborn and

49

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

opinionated.

them

to give

Queen Olga thought icons, blessings,

and

the best

way

to deal with sailors

religious instruction.

She must have

been appalled by Rozhestvensky's coarse ways, just have sneered

he must

as

her belief in miracles.

at

Also, in the last

months of

Romanov was

1894, every

wrought; the patriarch of the family, Tsar Alexander

III,

Olga had been

at his

over-

the Peace-

maker, died in the Crimea on October 26, at only forty-eight.

Queen

deathbed and was heartbroken. The new

young Nicholas, was an unknown

knew how

was

to

tsar,

most people, but the family

insecure he was.

Rozhestvensky was developing another important relationship

at

about the same time in the same waters: Admiral Makarov had been appointed commander of the Mediterranean squadron. Makarov had not forgotten the Vesta case and his accusation of slander against Rozhestvensky.

But

in his reports to the Admiralty,

knowledge Rozhestvensky's energy and order he maintained on his ship.

He

initiative

Makarov had and

to ac-

also the perfect

soon got a chance to

test his

sub-

ordinate's abilities.

On

the evening of January 24, 1895,

cable

from

soon

as possible.

St.

Petersburg.

Manchuria had the

received an urgent

to take his ships to the Far East as

Japan was crushing China, and Russian

to be protected.

salvos in that

first

He was

Makarov

The

Japanese captain

interests in

who had

shot

war was Togo Heihachiro.

The Vladimir Monomakh was

the

first

ship to leave Piraeus.

It

took

Rozhestvensky just two days to prepare her for a transoceanic voyage.

She was the only one in the whole squadron that could act on such short notice.

In less than two months, the cruiser entered the harbor of gasaki.

Soon Makarov brought other

vessels to the Far East,

Na-

and the

unit started cruising the coastal waters of China. In spite of mutual deep resentment going back to the Vesta episode,

Makarov's respect for Rozhestvensky grew. In that campaign, he garded Rozhestvensky discuss

as his closest collaborator.

The

were extremely grave; war with Japan could

issues they

start at

had

re-

to

any moment.

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

50

There was another admiral

and

in the squadron,

Rozhestvensky were also strained. Evgeny Alexeev, a patronized by his august

and megalomaniac.

less,

Rozhestvensky did not

relatives,

had grown up

Now he kept his flag on

like

with

his relations

Romanov

bastard,

to be haughty, care-

Rozhestvensky s ship.

Makarov but acknowledged

his talent.

For

Alexeev he did not have a single good word.

among

Conflicts

performance in

and the

sure

top commanders could have influenced the unit's

battle, but, fortunately,

battle never

Japan yielded to Western pres-

came. However, for Rozhestvensky the cam-

paign brought a personal disappointment; after

it,

his career stalled.

Admiral Alexeev had not forgiven the outspoken captain and decided to

make

life difficult

for

him.

After Rozhestvensky brought the Vladimir tadt,

Monomakh

to

Kronsh-

he was showered with very demanding but definitely obscure com-

mands: the battleship Pervenetz (which was the artillery school for

noncommissioned

now

a thirty-year-old

and a

officers,

relic);

special unit for

crews practicing onshore. This would have been a stretch for any other

man

but not for Zinovy Petrovich. If his ill-wishers hoped to exhaust

him, they

Rozhestvensky was a

failed.

could not deny him

mand

that.

Within three

tireless

years,

workaholic. His superiors

he was elevated to the com-

of the Artillery Practice Unit, the floating

On

Russian navy.

He was

December

6, 1898,

He had had

fifty.

a

academy of the

artillery

he was promoted to

good

rear admiral.

career, exceptional in

many

re-

now had every chance of getting stuck at his present rank. Russia had too many admirals already and too few good jobs for them. His command was an inconspicuous and unappealing one, a back-

spects,

but

water for

failures

and obstinate

perfectionists.

But

it

was

difficult to

overlook Rozhestvensky. In 1900, an important errand trusted with a

most

came out of

difficult rescue mission.

The

the blue.

He was

en-

battleship General Ad-

miral Apraxin had shipwrecked at Gogland Island in the Baltic Sea. Several

attempts to take her off the rocks had

asked to give succeed,

and

it

his

another

try.

failed.

There was no reason

Rozhestvensky was to believe

enemies gleefully anticipated a spectacular

he would

failure.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

He sea

started

was

still

working on Gogland

coated with

ice.

in the

5i

middle of winter when the

Again, he proved to be a tough discipli-

narian, but unlike other disciplinarians in the navy, his discipline

not affected by as

concerns. Officers suffered from his wrath as often

class

subordinate crew members.

he could not beat his stance

when he

was

officers

Of course, even

the major difference was that

when he badly wanted

immense

discovered, to his

rage, that the

to, for in-

crew was be-

ing fed what he called "greasy garbage." Having dealt with the personnel problems, the admiral addressed the technical matters.

Instead of attempting to pull the Apraxin off the rocks, which

might have led selves.

he decided to extract the rocks them-

For that, he identified a civilian mining company, which de-

stroyed early

to her total loss,

them

in a series of micro-explosions.

May, the salvaged Apraxin was brought

The of early

Rozhestvensky's

ered with flattering cables from influential cousin,

off.

In

to Kronshtadt.

had miscalculated. Instead of being added

ill-wishers retirees,

His ingenuity paid

to a

list

name became famous. He was show-

Makarov and other

Grand Duke Alexander,

The

admirals.

tsar's

also joined the congratula-

tory choir.

In his turn, Rozhestvensky complimented liant

performance of

his brainchild



Makarov on

the unique icebreaker Ermak.

Rozhestvensky doubted the Ermafcs potential, but

was ready to

credit

Makarov.

He

also

the bril-

made

after using

sure the

Ermaks

it,

he

officers

were properly awarded.

There was generous to his

He had and

a special reason for rival,

and

St.

Rozhestvensky to be particularly

Petersburg society was quite aware of this.

developed a close relationship with Makarov's wife, beautiful

intelligent Capitolina.

Capitolina Makarova was a lioness and a femme fatale looking for a

sympathetic shoulder and handsome cult,

face.

Makarov could be very

and he was obsessed with ships and oceanography. He

diffi-

also culti-

vated a muzhik beard, and although he was the same age as Rozhestvensky, he looked

much

distinguished than his wife's

older

new

and rather unkempt. He was more

friend

(among other

things,

Makarov

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

52

had been the youngest admiral

in the Russian navy), but

estvensky lacked in stature, he

made up

devoted his whole

working

And tive

with

for in courtship. If

his dazzling looks

and

some

poise,

garden for himself

secret

he was

Makarov

who was

Rozhestvensky,

self to his profession,

just as hard, always reserved

what Rozh-

infinitely

more

attrac-

than the bearded oceanographer. Rozhestvensky and Makarova's

affair

became the

talk

of the day, and Rozhestvensky acquired a reputa-

tion for being not only a

good admiral but

At the same time he managed

also a lady-killer.

to placate his wife.

her everything he thought about his fellow admirals

shared with

—and

in

no un-

Hardly seeking advice, he nevertheless sought under-

certain terms.

standing. But

He

when he

felt

misunderstood or mistreated, he never hes-

His wife, though intimidated by his temper,

itated to explode.

remained an opinionated woman, which did not promote marital peace. She

was intensely jealous of all

his affairs

(Makarova was not

only infatuation) and closely interrogated his orderlies. But they better than to betray their

his

knew

stormy master.

Although the triumphant rescue operation of the Apraxin brought praise,

no immediate

sumed command of Makarov

came

also

mander of

career breakthrough resulted. Rozhestvensky re-

the Artillery Practice Unit. to an end;

The

armistice with

Makarov had been appointed com-

the port of Kronshtadt, and Rozhestvensky immediately

started nagging

him about long overdue

he was making Capitolina's never cared about Finally, his

women

as

more

life

much

as

repairs.

By

difficult,

tsar.

Makarov,

but Rozhestvensky

he did about ships.

devotion to the navy was rewarded

the attention of the

irritating

when he

attracted

Nicholas visited Rozhestvensky's unit and was

impressed by the fine gunnery and general orderliness of the ships. In July 1902, the

tsar's

cousin, Kaiser

Wilhelm

II

of Germany, a notorious

naval enthusiast, visited Russia, and Nicholas chose Rozhestvensky's unit to perform for the critical guest.

The monarchs watched an artillery exercise from the bridge of Rozhestvensky's flagship. They were accompanied by Russian and

German

naval

The day was

elites,

who were

sure to be an unforgiving audience.

a real test for Rozhestvensky.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

53

Remarkably, he seemed not to be disturbed by the presence of the august visitors and the unfriendly eyes of fellow admirals. Absorbed by

what

his ships

were doing, he completely forgot about them.

one of the ships lars

overboard.

Rozhestvensky cursed and threw his binocu-

faulted,

The

tsar

Artillery practice

noticed and smiled.

went very well

praised Rozhestvensky to the heavens.

had

to swallow their envy. Nicholas

sky to general adjutant

When



that day,

and Kaiser Wilhelm

Makarov and

the other ill-wishers

immediately promoted Rozhestven-

the highest court rank for the military.

He

After that practice, the tsar took a strong liking to the admiral.

was glad he had been able to

than

it

courtiers.

that. It

to impress

Rozhestvensky was distinctly different from other

was hardly possible

French accent or flowery

and had mastered the

flattery.

to impress the tsar

appealed to

danced

An

with the right

Nicholas was fluent in four languages

of hypocrisy in adolescence. Quiet, with-

art

drawn, and slightly effeminate, the earthier males.

Cousin Willy, but there was more

who

admiral

was invariably attracted

tsar

to

cursed and threw binoculars overboard

him more than one who gave compliments

to his wife

and

Rozhestvensky must have reminded the sovereign of

well. Also,

Alexander

his late father, Tsar

III,

who, when once enraged by an Aus-

trian ambassador, tied a silver fork in a

knot and threw

it all

the

way

across the table toward the culprit's plate.

In the

During the

fall,

Nicholas took Rozhestvensky on a

trip, his

admiration grew even

1903, he appointed Rozhestvensky

larger.

trip to Sevastopol.

The

following March,

Head of Naval General

Staff.

6

Now had lies

Rozhestvensky was one of the top dignitaries of the empire.

a totally

new

lifestyle

and maneuvering. It

He

became customary

dinner. This

was

—pompous and

did not enjoy for

him

stressful for the

lavish, requiring

He

constant

it.

to host as

many

as forty guests for

admiral and for his household. Ser-

vants started preparing for such occasions three days in advance.

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

54

Everything had to be immaculate, from the silverware to the menu.

The Head of Naval General

Staff could only have the best

Petersburg's standards for fine dining were

world.

By

the time the

first

was already laden with abundant

appetizers:

among

on

St.

the highest in the

guests arrived, the crisp white tablecloth

dishes. Russians traditionally started with

smoked salmon,

rich

ham,

pickled cucumbers, each smaller than a "lady's salads, oysters

—and

ice, lobster,

several kinds

of caviar,

finger," various

little

herring, jellied pork, game,

elaborately decorated with their original feathers as

and fowl

if still flying.

Guests were offered several brands of vodka flavored with herbs and berries. In

As

in

an hour or two, dinner

all

itself would start.

countries fond of food, there was a ritual to dining. Broth

with pastries was accompanied by sweet madeira. This was followed by trout with white wine, then by beef with red wine.

and asparagus arrived

Then

artichokes

that were supposed to be too delicate to be ac-

The ensuing

companied by any wine

at

demanded champagne.

Dessert, fruit, cheese,

all.

turkey with salad and quail

and

coffee were served

with liqueurs or cognac.

Many people who came to elite.

Rozhestvensky was

these dinners belonged to St. Petersburg's

at the pinnacle

of Russian

society.

There were

only two posts higher than his in the navy: naval minister called

Manager of the Naval Department) and

tion occupied exclusively

by Romanovs,

The Head of Naval General

He was

mander of

the

estvensky's

promotion

The navy had

fleet.

Staff

in 1903

(officially

general admiral, a posi-

by Grand Duke

Alexei.

was the true day-to-day com-

held responsible for everything. Rozh-

to this post of top authority

twenty-three vice admirals

who were

was exceptional.

senior to him,

still

merely a rear admiral, and he was surrounded by envious looks and malicious whispers.

His superiors liked him, though. They were glad they could

rely

on

somebody. The naval minister, Vice Admiral Fedor Avelan, though an experienced ality;

sailor,

was no match

for

Rozhestvensky in terms of person-

he was glad to have someone with a strong

command. General Admiral, Grand Duke

will

who

could take

Alexei, the tsar's uncle,

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

though a bully himself,

rarely interfered in Rozhestvensky's

was not particularly interested

in the sea, ships, or battles

any opinion on naval matters. His

interests

55

He

domain.

and

rarely

had

were limited to fine dining

and quick courtship. With Avelan too weak and the grand duke too disinterested,

He

Rozhestvensky had only one



real superior

new

spent ten months and ten days at his

the

tsar.

post before the war

with Japan started. His short tenure did not bring any dramatic change to the slow and

had

matters, the tsar

inefficient naval bureaucracy.

his

own

estvensky but never invited

inner circle of advisors.

him

He

could

lie

any other top

official

like

would

and

front of Alexei,

He

Alexei in front of

a

good

periodically feel an case.

Now,

He had

to be sure

Grand Duke Alexander

his half-brother

in front of

and buddy.

He had

Grand Duke to be careful

about what he said about both grand dukes in front of the Nicholas revered his uncle, closing his eyes to

admired

his cousin's ingenuity

his shortcomings,

and

girls.

Each pregnancy of the

was more important than a shipbuilding program. Her strained

relations

with her mother-in-law, the Dowager Empress, had to be

watched more

Of course, estvensky's cal

all

tsar;

but envied him for having several sons

while the tsarina kept giving birth to only tsarina

he

probably could bad-mouth Admiral Alexeev in

Grand Duke Alexander, but never

who was

Rozh-

of the empire, he had to maneuver through

Grand Duke

vice versa.

liked

he had in the Vesta

the perilous Byzantine reefs of the Russian court.

never praised

He

him from becoming

to superiors, but he

insurmountable desire to be honest, like

for strategic

to join that group.

Rozhestvensky's bluntness prevented courtier.

As

closely than Japan's military deployments.

the forthcoming war in the Far East had been Rozh-

major preoccupation

of using Port Arthur

for several

as a base

months.

and suggested moving the was already too

other location. But, of course,

it

opinion of the Viceroy Alexeev,

who managed

tically single-handedly,

but the

Rozhestvensky was angry dealt with.

On January 14,

He was

tsar

way

criti-

fleet to

He had

a

an-

low

Far Eastern affairs prac-

could not care

at the

late.

very

less.

that Far Eastern issues were

he was asked by a subordinate whether war

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

56

He

with Japan was inevitable. with

start

blind

artillery fire.

would not

I

see this."

bad leadership

tsar,

moody grand

in the Far East,

change things for the better in his temper.

do not always

think the war has already started. Only the

The uncommunicative nates,

curtly replied: "Hostilities

dukes, corrupt subordi-

and mainly,

his virtual inability to

of his high position did not improve

spite

His orderlies reported thunderous

fits.

They recounted

that

the admiral was crushing furniture in his apartment in anger.

Rozhestvensky

felt

out of place in the Admiralty, better suited for

the bridge of a ship than for a bureaucrat's desk. But

fered

command

when he was

over the Port Arthur squadron, he refused to go,

briskly saying to Naval Minister Avelan that Viceroy Alexeev

possible to

the

soon

as

as

Japan attacked, Rozhestvensky volunteered to go

Arthur with reinforcements, replacing Admiral Virenius

end of January was lingering

nius

any

would

But

it

Port Arthur. Although there was

days following the attack,

charismatic and capable

would

take the

it

in

at

was agreed that Vire-

enough

to be of

some confusion

in the

Makarov. Then, on March

the Petropavlovsk,

2nd

who

was believed that Port Arthur had a

commander

Makarov went down with estvensky

in Djibouti.

return to Kronshtadt; his unit was not strong

real service to

first

was im-

work with.

However, to Port

of-

Pacific

and the

Squadron

tsar

31,

decided Rozh-

to the Far East.

7

Rozhestvensky did not want the job. cess

of the enterprise.

sume

the

the tsar

command,

would

see

He hoped

He was

that

some other admiral would

Birilev or Skrydlov.

him

in the next

his associates that superiors

skeptical about the suc-

When

In a sign of appreciation, the tsar ordered it

he was informed that

few days, he grimly announced to

"had decided to get

the Naval General Staff, but

as-

rid"

him

of him. to

keep his post

at

was now a mere symbol. From now on

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

57

Rozhestvensky had to concentrate on the squadron. Virenius, recently returned from the Middle East, replaced

him

at the

General

Staff.

Courtiers close to the tsar disliked Rozhestvensky intensely and ac-

cused him of quiet sabotage.

The admiral kept openly

was not sure the expedition was himself.

He

necessary. Nicholas

remained true to

turned a deaf ear to the criticisms of his favorite

—but he

turned a deaf ear to Rozhestvensky's anxieties.

also

Rozhestvensky was busier than

up

saying that he

at

Each morning the admiral got

ever.

seven o'clock. At eight, he was in his study going through nu-

merous

letters,

memos, and

reports.

His comments in the margins

were lengthy and decisive, often unprintable;

like

many

Russians,

Rozhestvensky had an inclination for emphatic obscenities. His handwriting was terrible, especially

when he was

angry.

Until ten o'clock, people consulted with Rozhestvensky about

promotions, and

their personal affairs, like pensions,

a.m. until

i

phone on

his

p.m.,

Naval General Staff

leaves.

officers reported to

From

10

him. The

desk rang incessantly. Cables arrived in overwhelming

numbers. Rozhestvensky answered each one immediately. At one o'clock he

had

his lunch,

and

at

two he departed

conferences. At four o'clock, he returned

and

officers,

and

eight,

home where

and

industrialists

both Russian and foreign, awaited him. Between seven

he had dinner. At eight, he was back

his associates

for various visits

were allowed to

day

tions for the next

leave,

at as late as

at his desk.

At

eleven,

but he called them to give instruc-

two o'clock

in the

morning.

Preparing the squadron was a long and excruciating mission.

It

was

June 16 before Rozhestvensky's deputy, Rear Admiral Dmitry Gustavovich Felkersam, raised his flag on the cruiser Admiral Nakhimov.

Another junior

Almaz on

new

July

flag officer, i.

Rear Admiral Oskar Enkvist, moved to the

Rozhestvensky did not go to his flagship, the mighty

battleship Prince Suvorov, until

part for another four weeks.

gaining with the

mind and

tsar,

August

He was

still

i.

He

did not intend to de-

in the process

of polite bar-

hoping that the sovereign would change

cancel the reckless expedition.

his

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

58

For Tsar Nicholas

numerous

II,

1904 was a year of mixed blessings. In spite of

defeats in the East, the tsar

was happy; on July

Although fond of

finally gave birth to a son.

30, his wife

his four daughters,

Nicholas had been deeply depressed by the absence of a male all

royals,

he wanted

the empire.

Manchuria, the

news from

relaxed in spite of the disastrous

met Rozhestvensky

tsar

Like

of the dynasty to supply further rulers for

his line

Happy and

heir.

several times.

He

liked the ad-

miral very much.

Soon Rozhestvensky

realized that

nothing would make the sover-

eign cancel the expedition, and he proceeded to do everything he

could to ensure

its

success.

He knew

that if he

wanted

to get things

He

done, he had better not delegate power to anybody.

stopped in-

forming the naval minister and Naval General Staff about

He had formed

sions. tal

his

new

staff

departments and ministries

circumvent eventually had

The most debated

its

and now

directly.

dealt with

all

his deci-

governmen-

But the system he

tried to

revenge.

question concerned which ships were to be sent

to the Far East. Naval bureaucracy

was thinking numbers. Rozhestven-

sky was thinking quality. Older and slower ships were a burden rather

than an

asset,

but Naval Minister Avelan and the

commander of

port of Kronshtadt, Birilev, were insisting on sending ships, including the clunkers

Grand Duke



Alexei and the tsar agreed: the

more

and he would not take them. The

number of other antiquated

Nevertheless, a

ships, the better.

much

tsar

issue

this

such

as the cruiser

He was

very upset

but never opposed the imposition categorically. That was an

of ego.

He

realized that

ing the whole mission

cowardice.

too slow and un-

grudgingly yielded.

ships,

Dmitri Donskoi, were imposed upon the admiral. about

available

obsolete battleships of coastal defense.

Rozhestvensky rebelled. The clunkers were reliable,

all

the

He

Another

he would have been accused of sabotag-

—which

in turn

would have been

attributed to

preferred stature to reason.

issue

on which he eventually surrendered was

pairs required time,

but the

tsar

repairs.

Re-

demanded speedy work. Again,

the



THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

He

admiral gave up.

capitulated one

that he

knew

enough

for a battle but not

long

way

The

best: artillery.

—and

in the sphere

ships were given too few

enough

to the East. Again,

more time

59

gun

shells

for regular artillery practice

he was too proud to say that

it

on the

was mak-

ing his mission virtually impossible.

A

number of problems were unavoidable.

The

lacked battle experience.

Alexander

people in their

peaceful reign of the

had secured peace

III,

fifties, like

rience. Junior officers

of

First

for

the crews

all,

tsar's late father,

two generations. Only senior

Rozhestvensky, had had

and men had never been

some wartime expe-

And

to war.

the Russo-

War had hardly supplied Rozhestvensky with real battle experience. The Vestas five-and-a-half-hour flight had been the war's climax for him. He remembered how it felt to be under enemy fire and

Turkish

to see death

around him, but only vaguely,

twenty-six years

Many

in the

squadron lacked any experience. It

for

minor

St.

Of course,

tral

body



particularly

trained,

Kronshtadt, the lack of coordination would become

mistakes,

some of which could be

Another huge problem was

coal.

power would allow him

buy

to

way but

to learn

A

deal was struck with a

American Line, which promised

from

perilous.

Rozhestvensky knew that no neucoal in

its

ports, so

he needed

eign steamers to supply the squadron with coal throughout

voyage.

bal-

fit,

would be granted him. As soon

conspicuous, and they would have no other

own

Some men

Rozhestvensky had had no chance to

organize his flock, and no grace period

their

had

Petersburg where they

A squadron,

a voyage such as this, should be a living

as his ships left

service.

it

felonies.

of ships do not make a squadron.

anced, coordinated.

War with Japan was

were rushed into

were drafted from prisons in Kronshtadt and

on

had happened

needed more cannon meat than

trained. Hastily assembled crews

A fleet

it

earlier.

a great grinder for the empire:

had been kept

for

German company,

the

to deliver the necessary

coal to the armada's ports of call outside Russia.

And

its

for-

long

Hamburgamounts of

the squadron also

6o

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

needed other supplies delivered to for a

merchant who could be

son was found. His

it.

Rozhestvensky started looking

entirely trusted. Eventually, such a per-

name was Ginsburg.

Moisei Ginsburg was born in 1851 in Russia to a destitute Jewish family.

At

fifteen,

he

left

the confining world of the Pale and hitch-

hiked his way to Europe.

He pumped

water from the holds of a

schooner for forty-six days, while the ship slowly made her way from Liverpool to

New

York; he built railroads in the American West; in

Yokohama he

sold goods to Western sailors.

he opened his

own

ters



business

and

twenty-six,

started catering to ships in eastern

wa-

for nostalgic reasons, preferably, the Russian navy.

Ginsburg's was a floating supermarket. boots, books or soap, depending

became the chief supplier first

At the age of

for Port

He

could deliver food or

on what the

He

client ordered.

Arthur and stayed there during the

weeks of the war. Four days before the sinking of the Petropavlovsk,

Admiral Makarov sent Ginsburg to tering letter of recommendation.

St.

But

derestimated the merchant's fame.

it

Petersburg and gave

him

a

flat-

appeared that Makarov had un-

When

Naval Minister Avelan com-

plained to the tsar that Rozhestvensky s squadron would face supply

problems, Nicholas quickly retorted, "But you have Ginsburg!"

That response was the equivalent of sued credit for ten million rubles.

with

all

He promised

the essentials. Even official

St.

Ginsburg was

to supply the

—and highly

dence between Rozhestvensky and through

a contract.

sensitive

is-

squadron

—correspon-

Petersburg would often go

his couriers.

These and many other problems had estvensky.

to be sorted out

Overwhelmed by stress, he would

by inefficiency or outright

stupidity.

lose his

On June

15,

by Rozh-

temper when faced

Grand Duke Alexan-

der presided over a meeting appraising ships built on public donations.

Rozhestvensky angrily declared that torpedo boats built by the Nevsky shipyard were appallingly bad and not properly constructed.

argument followed. The next

A heated

day, in Kronshtadt, Rozhestvensky assem-

bled his captains to talk about Port Arthur. But no debate was possible, for the admiral started shouting that the

commander of the

Port Arthur

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

61

He

squadron, his classmate Admiral Witgeft, "deserved to be hanged."

would not

take his ships into the harbor but instead kept

when

roadstead, thus repeating the "madness" of January 26,

mistake had cost Russia

No

its first

casualties

them

at the

the

same

of the war.

matter what Rozhestvensky was saying, Witgeft was having a

hard time in Port Arthur. But for a while, so was Togo. After Makarov's death,

Togo seemed

May, under protection of fog, the Russians

The

Liaodong. capsized.

laid

mines in the waters off

next day, the cruiser Yoshino hit one of the mines and

The same

day, the battleships Hatsuse

struck mines and sank. painful;

running out of luck. In

to be

now Togo's

The

loss

had

lost

fleet

and Yashima

also

of these battleships was particularly one-third of its armored strength.

Japanese ground troops were more fortunate; Port Arthur was besieged. If the Japanese captured

any of the

strategic heights

surround-

ing the fortress, which they were very likely to do, both the fortress

and the hours.

fleet

The

would be annihilated by ordered Witgeft to

tsar

their artillery in a matter of

flee.

Witgeft was instructed to leave Port Arthur with

six battleships,

four armored cruisers, and eight torpedo boats. His destination was Vladivostok, a remote base rarely approached by Japanese ships.

Witgeft abandoned Port Arthur on July Togo's forces scattered. However, spies,

Togo immediately

after

noon

The

Russians found

warned about Witgeft 's departure by

started pulling his ships together.

good use of radio communication, and when soon

28.

that day, the

his ships faced

two squadrons, matched

in

He made Witgeft s

heavy guns,

encountered each other.

Both admirals were unwilling duel,

and

a cat

and headed

and mouse game

full

to get

started.

engaged

Witgeft outmaneuvered Togo

speed away for the Korea Strait

vostok. Using his superior speed,

ternoon, he opened

fire at

Togo

in a close artillery



a gateway to Vladi-

successfully pursued. In late af-

7,000 yards. But

it

looked

like the

gods

were making fun of him. The Japanese ships were heavily impaired.

Their flagship Mikasa, an obvious target for the Russians, suffered

damage. Then suddenly the gods smiled.

62

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Two

Japanese shots struck the bridge and conning tower of Wit-

geft's flagship.

ued

in a circle.

Witgeft was instantly

The Russian

killed.

His ship, disabled, contin-

Togo

battle line collapsed.

closed to 5,000

yards and started massacring the adversary. Witgeft's second in

mand

signaled the ships to follow

The Russian went

was

retreat

to neutral ports

him back

disastrous.

and disarmed

com-

to Port Arthur.

Two

of the ships sank; three

there; the rest returned to the

slaughterhouse, the cursed Port Arthur.

After dusk, the fortress plunged into complete darkness, with screened windows and deserted

been evacuated long ago. The only

now

were Chinese laundrymen and

pected that

From

many

women and children had people who visited Port Arthur

streets. All

coolies.

of them were Japanese

the walls of the besieged

ships of Togo's fleet

city,

The

spies.

the Russians could watch the

on the horizon. As was customary

those days, they recognized each ship by her

they could

see, all

of Togo's ships were

The Japanese kept Russian ships,

could not

now

Russians rightly sus-

really retaliate.

useless.

silhouette.

As

far as

fine.

shelling the harbor

almost

dim

for sailors in

The

and the

city,

often hitting

Russians responded, but they

Their only hope was Rozhestvensky.

8

The

plight of Port Arthur

demanded immediate

the tsar held a conference in his Versailles,

Duke

action.

summer residence,

August

11,

Peterhof, the Russian

an opulent gilded palace on the seashore.

Alexei,

On

He

invited

Grand

Grand Duke Alexander, Naval Minister Avelan, Minister

of War Sakharov, Minister of Foreign Affairs Lamsdorf, and Rozhestvensky.

That day the admiral was facing the wise men of the empire. Rozhestvensky was almost sure that the Port Arthur squadron

would be annihilated before he reached the Far cally insisted that his

concrete proposal.

East,

and he

squadron receive reinforcements.

He wanted

the tsar to

buy seven

energeti-

He had

cruisers

a

from

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

63

Argentina and Chile (the follow-up of the deal that had collapsed sev-

months

eral

earlier).

He

longed for these ships and even kept photo-

graphs of some of them in his desk.

The

dignitaries agreed.

But Rozhestvensky should not wait

cruisers to arrive in Kronshtadt, they said.

him

later, after

The new

he circled Africa and made a stop

Rozhestvensky wasn't

satisfied.

—when

join

that the squadron's

he needed that time

First,

squadron would reach the Far

for training. Second, in this case the

March

would

Madagascar.

He demanded

departure be postponed for several weeks.

East next

at

cruisers

for these

the Vladivostok harbor

would be

from

free

This implied that he had no hope for Port Arthur whatsoever.

ice.

Unexpectedly,

announced

War

He

Minister Sakharov supported the admiral.

that after the terrible defeats of the previous few months,

the

army would not be

By

that time, Port Arthur would, of course, have fallen, he predicted.

Therefore,

it

was

able to attack sooner than the following spring.

essential that the arrival

of Rozhestvensky s squadron

in Far Eastern waters coincide with the realities of land warfare.

The

conference was taking a

the squadron and the

would

new

turn.

war minister were

perish pretty soon. Everybody

vide a safe haven either.

actually saying Port Arthur

knew Vladivostok did not

The Japanese could

besieged Port Arthur. Thus,

it

Both the commander of

besiege

might make sense

in the Baltic Sea until the following spring, train

tine

and Chilean

cruisers,

it

just as they

to keep the it,

pro-

arm

it,

had

squadron

buy Argen-

to the Far East.

That

The squadron should

leave

and only then send

it

was what Grand Duke Alexander suggested. Rozhestvensky objected. No, he in the

fall.

If

its

said.

departure was delayed,

it

through the immense preparations again liers. It

would be

better to leave

would be impossible



now and

to

go

for instance, to freight col-

wait for reinforcements at

Madagascar. Naval Minister Avelan supported him. Everybody agreed.

Encouraged, Rozhestvensky demanded more. Port Arthur was

likely

before he reached the Yellow Sea. Therefore, he needed permission

to

fall

to

put up in some Chinese port. Using

anese communications



exactly

it

as a base,

he could disrupt Jap-

what was expected from him.

64

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Foreign Minister Lamsdorf exploded in indignation. Impossible,

he

Putting up in any Chinese port would

said.

neutrality.

America

Of course, China

was too weak

mean

violating

Chinas

and

to protest, but Britain

certainly would.

What

about the Pescadore Islands then, Rozhestvensky asked. No,

others objected.

To

defeat the Japanese there

squadron would need

all its

might

in Port

would be too

The

difficult.

Arthur or Vladivostok.

he

If

needed a base before he reached Russian shores, he could use only the

Korean or Japanese

coast, perhaps, or

That was the end of

would

leave Russia in a

reinforcements there.

cially

hope

in the

formulated

The

fate

it

it

archipelago there.

of the squadron was sealed.

few weeks, head

Then

to Vladivostok, to reach

inspire

it.

some minor

for Madagascar,

would proceed

and wait

east, in all

by March of the following

year.

for

likelihood

However, to

crew members, the task of the squadron was

offi-

Arthur and together with the

as "to reach Port

It

ist

Squadron master the Sea of Japan." After the conference, Nicholas took the admiral to the tsarina.

Alexandra introduced Rozhestvensky to the

weak of the

little

prince, Alexei, a

infant twelve days old. Rozhestvensky got a small icon as a token heir's blessing.

This was the ultimate farewell of the

tsar.

9

The 2nd sets

were

Pacific five

Squadron was

modern

battleships

Borodino, Orel, and Oslyabya. five

could do up to

18 knots.

and Navarin could do



a weird collection of ships.

15



the Prince Suvorov, Alexander

The former

Two

knots

if

major

Its

asIII,

four were brand-new, and

older battleships



all

the Sisoi Veliky

they were lucky. Four cruisers out of

—were

fast,

well

armed, and new. The Dmitri Donskoi was twenty-one years

old.

The

the seven

the Oleg, Aurora, Zhemchug, and

Svetlana and

Almaz were

fairly

new and

fast

Izumrud

(20 knots), but both had

been yachts; the former belonged to Grand Duke Alexei, the his half-brother,

Viceroy Alexeev. Designed

as royal toys,

latter to

they were

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

poorly protected from Five light, poorly Ural,

Kuban,

more than

armed

enemy

shells

and even more added

auxiliary cruisers were

65

scantily armed. to that force: the

and Dnieper. They were hardly anything

Terek, Rion,

with several random guns. Nine torpedo

just fast steamers

boats were to escort the bigger ships.

Naval tradition explains the names. Battleships had to be ated with something grand.

mous Russian Napoleon

in 1812, Oslyabya

and

named

Prince Suvorov was

after a fa-

generalissimo, the Borodino after the battle with

1380, the Alexander III "eagle"

The

associ-

eagle

had been the name of a

was named

monk

warrior of

after the tsar's father, Orel

meant

was the symbol of imperial Russia, and Navarin was a

reminder of a victorious naval battle with the Turks. Cruisers also represented glory. Oleg had been one of the early

Viking princes, the

rulers

Zhemchug stood

maz



for

of Russia, Aurora

for "pearl," the



the Greek goddess of dawn,

Izumrud



for "emerald," the Al-

"diamond," and Prince Dmitri Donskoi had defeated the

Tartars in 1380.

Names of torpedo

boats were adjectives praising fierce

warlike features; the Buiny meant "wild," the Bystry

Bedovy—

"reckless,"

was one thing he could be

to expect

"fast,"

the

and so on.

Rozhestvensky was making there



final preparations for the journey. If satisfied

with

it

was that he knew what

from each ship and each captain. The squadron was not an

abstract agglomeration of hulls

and men

them

knows

personally, like a gardener

His deputies, the two junior

He knew many

for him.

his soil

flag officers,

and

of

his plants.

had been

tances for forty years; he graduated from the Naval

his acquain-

Academy

in 1868,

Rear Admiral Dmitri Felkersam in 1867, and Rear Admiral Oskar Enkvist in 1869. Bruno Fitingof,

commander of the Navarin, belonged

to the class of 1870. Felkersam

had been

Rozhestvensky in the Far East in

in the

fateful 1895.

same squadron with

The commander of the

Dmitri Donskoi, Ivan Lebedev, had been invited by Rozhestvensky to Bulgaria back in the 1880s. served under Rozhestvensky sky's staff engineer,

Evgeny

The

Orel's senior officer,

Shvede, had

on the Vladimir Monomakh. Rozhestven-

Politovsky,

had participated

in rescuing the

66

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Apraxin in 1900.

and

He was

colleagues; his

also taking to sea children

deputy

of his classmates

at the Naval General Staff, Nidermiller, for

example, was sending to war his twenty-three-year-old son.

Rozhestvensky also knew the naval commanders. His deputies

and Nidermiller, had graduated from

the Naval General Staff, Virenius

Academy

the Naval 1870.

about the same time

at

Admiral Witgeft, recently

classmate. So

as

he did

was the commander of the port of Libava,

of his squadron.

officers

had been



killed in the Yellow Sea,

the current director of the Naval Academy, Kriger,

younger



and

in 1869

had been

his

Iretzkoi,

and

who had

The Viceroy of the

his fellow officer in the Far East in 1890

in 1895; they even shared a ship

at

trained the

Far East, Alexeev,

and then

his admiral

the Vladimir Monomakh. Naval

Min-

Avelan had been his flagman in the Mediterranean Sea in 1894.

ister

The squadron

also

Orel. It carried the

had one very

women

only

— squadron — nurses who had the hospital vessel

special ship

in the

volunteered to go to war. To distinguish her from another Orel, a battleship, the hospital ship

had vested was

head nurse

interests in that ship: the

his current passion.

taste for action

women who wait in

was nicknamed White Eagle. Rozhestvensky

True to himself,

this

was now combining war,

loved

him



his wife

there, Natalia Sivers,

man

with an insatiable

and

politics,

Two

love.

and Makarov's widow

—were

to

Petersburg; the third was to share the perils of the voyage

St.

with him.



All of the ships were assembling in Kronshtadt

base of the empire.

Founded by the

on Kotlin

Kronshtadt

lies

barring the

way of any

built

the Great in 1703,

Island.

It is

the guardian of

intruder.

The

first

St.

Petersburg,

red brick forts there were

by Tsar Peter himself. His successors added more. Several

cial islands

were created, each bearing a

Constantine reach

tireless Peter

the major naval

St.

doubt.

— and each boasting

a small fortress.

Petersburg without having

The

failed; the

British

Romanov name

first



Peter, Paul,

No enemy

conquered

this

II,

could

marine

and French during the Crimean War had

grandfather of Nicholas

artifi-

Emperor Alexander

tried II,

re-

and

could

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

calmly watch from nearby

the adversary's fleet bobbing

hills

67

on an-

chors in front of Kronshtadt.

Now docked

Kronshtadt was not

calm and

privacy,

summer, Kronshtadt was

doomed squadron

much

disaster.

Their superiors did

that their expedition

little

life.

In

You

many were

was charged

to dissuade them.

and we need a

it

When

the

port of Kronshtadt,

refrigerator," the admiral

will find yourself

of the sea anyway and you will not need

The

with

But Rozhestvensky s

commander of the

cheerfully replied, "Refrigerator!

a result,

streets boiled

veiled the island in gloom.

are going into the tropics

As

its

a pleasant place to be.

captain of the Donskoi told the

"We

numerous parks and

there. Its

though

Many officers and men were sure with

a fortress as a naval base. Ships

and studied

there, sailors lived

canals provided

as

on the bottom

there!"

wildly celebrating their

last

days in Russia.

captain of the Donskoi, Ivan Lebedev, set a bad example for his of-

ficers.

An

adventurous

and moved

estvensky, then retired lating

man who had

served in Bulgaria under Rozh-

to Paris,

earning his bread by trans-

French novels into Russian before joining the navy again, he was

now drinking from

the cup of life greedily. Every day Lebedev

would go

ashore for carousing and return late at night by a small steamer, the

Dachnik, which

left St.

Sailors called her the

Petersburg at three o'clock in the morning.

Drunken

Boat, for most of her passengers were in-

toxicated officers heading for their ships. Lebedev used the boat so of-

ten that he even kept his pillow there.

When

end of August, on

at the

the very eve of departure, Rozhestvensky forbade officers from going ashore,

Lebedev started quietly going

to the nearby

Oranienbaum. For-

tunately for him, the Donskoi was anchored at the edge of the

squadron.

The

captain

would return

morning,

at three o'clock in the

cleverly steering his small boat to avoid the Prince Suvorova searchlight.

Rozhestvensky had his

flag

on the Suvorov.

At the end of August, the take his mother, the trips.

tsar started visiting the ships.

Dowager Empress, and other

Nicholas was in an excellent mood.

The

He would

relatives

on these

ships looked great to

68

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

He

him, the days were sunny and warm.

remarked that the sea was

still

"like a mirror."

When on

August 29 Rozhestvensky took

tadt to Reval for the

on

first

leg of their journey, the tsar

his mother's yacht, the Tsarevna. All the ships

wrote in

Unlike the

His

sister,

diary that

The

tsar,

his sailors off

of the squadron

fired

pic-

his diary that night.

some other Romanovs

felt

the presence of

doom.

Xenia, was shaken after visiting the ships and wrote in her it

was "horrifying

sailors

to think

bid farewell to

him and

we wish

will lose half the

it

his officers:

too.

I

never surrender."

The

captain of the bat-

shocked a party that had arrived to

But there

"You wish us will

us.

victory. It goes with-

be no victory!

squadron on our way to the Far

happen, the Japanese will annihilate are real sailors.

what awaits them!"

suspected what awaited them.

tleship Alexander III, Bukhvostov,

out saying

saw

"A very solemn and beautiful

a deafening salvo to their sovereign. ture," the tsar

from Kronsh-

his ships

I

am

afraid,

we

East. If this does not

Their ships are better and they

can promise you one single thing:

we

will all die

but

H

Rumors from

the Bazaar,"

AUGUST-OCTOBER 1904

On August

29,

Rozhestvensky took

from

ships

his

Kronshtadt to Reval. This was not the formal departure. The squadron

had tic

to wait for several ships to finish repairs.

waters was also essential.

wanted

to try his flock

Another stop

An

Some

practice in

domes-

experienced shepherd, Rozhestvensky

where nobody could disturb or watch them.

in a Russian port, Libava,

was planned before the

squadron would go into the alien world.

The

route of the squadron had been discussed and approved.

shortest route

from the

Baltic Sea to the Yellow Sea

The

was through

the Suez Canal, but only a few ships were to take this path.

The

—an extremely long and tiresome

others

would have

to circle Africa

The

explanation was that the canal was not deep enough for

official

the gigantic hulls of the newest battleships, but this was a

was another reason to bypass the Red

Sea: In the Suez,

squadron could become hostage to the

Animosity between London and years earlier

when

lie.

There

Rozhestvensky s

British.

St.

Petersburg had started sixty

the two empires collided in the

Middle

bear and the whale had confronted each other in the Great

69

journey.

East.

The

Game,

in

7Q

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

which the ancient lands of Turkey, Bukhara, Afghanistan, and Iran were contested.

With

the Russian occupation of Manchuria, they clashed in

the Far East as well.

Now

the belt of Anglo-Russian rivalry stretched

from the Mediterranean Sea

all

the

way

The

to the Yellow Sea.

British

kept talking about the menacing, violent, and barbaric Russians.

The

Russians snorted at the British jingoism and warned that the current generation of politicians was taking militant nationalism to extremes.

Grand Duke Alexander, one of the icy,

was convinced that Britain

creators of Russia's Far Eastern pol-

tried to "hurt" Russia

The two

In 1902, Britain sided with Japan.

formal alliance to contain the empire of the Eurasia. Let Russians rule their

They should never be allowed

whenever

it

could.

countries concluded a

tsar

within continental

immense, barren, and cold wasteland.

to settle

on the warmer

seas

of the Ori-

Japan and Britain would drive the bear back into Siberian snows.

ent.

When

the war struck,

London became

a zealous defender of Japa-

nese interests, although the British Empire was technically neutral.

King Edward VII published are happily at Peace with

all

Sovereigns, Powers,

and

States."

structed his "loving Subjects to govern themselves accordingly,

observe a

from

all

strict Neutrality."

ports

"We He in-

a manifesto starting with the words,

and

to

Russian and Japanese ships were banned

and roadsteads of the

British

Empire



in

Europe and

elsewhere. But in reality theirs was a very biased neutrality.

The

Russians suspected that Britain would eventually openly join

Japan and attack. At the beginning of the war, Russian ships in the

Red Sea were warned by

the Admiralty of the possibility of attack by

"Anglo-Japanese torpedo boats." This was far-fetched, yet in the same

Red

Sea, Britain

was preventing Russian

cruisers

from checking the

flow of war contraband smoothly streaming to Japan via the Suez

Canal on board ships belonging to neutral nations. Soon, more serious favors to Japan followed.

decided to give

him

Togo worried

would

When Togo

closed Port Arthur, the British

a hand.

that

upon

the

fall

of Port Arthur, the Russian

try to take refuge at the British colony of Weihaiwei, a

miles across the sea. For him, that

would be

fleet

hundred

a horrible sight; he

had

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

7i

spent half a year waiting for a chance to finish these Russians

off.

Tokyo informed London of its concerns.

London took

the matter seriously.

The

British Cabinet

clined to avoid "any inconvenience" to His Majesty's couldn't

fail its ally,

but

it

also did

was wise.

It

was decided

"to close the port to

to

withdraw the

fleet

The

It

deci-

Henry Lansdowne,

both belligerents." But

the same time, the British commander-in-chief of the

was instructed

in-

Government.

not want to enrage Russia.

sion taken by the British Foreign Secretary, Lord

was

from Weihaiwei,

at

China Station "as its

presence

there would, under the circumstances, be undesirable." In other

words, the British chose to wash their hands of the problem. If the fleet

were in Weihaiwei,

it

ships seeking refuge there.

would have

With

to

do something about Russian

the harbor empty, they

would not be

forced into the conflict.

The Japanese were in the absence of

wei

"if

British.

They were

"greatly disappointed."

His Majesty's

fleet,

the Russians

certain that

would go

to Weihai-

hard pressed." They wanted more commitment from the

The ambassador

to Japan, Sir

Claude MacDonald, seconded

the grievance of his hosts. In his cable to Lansdowne, he emphatically

running before a hostile

stressed that "a ship

sider declarations, but to enter the nearest

ambassador to London Russians would be

visited

fleet is

empty

Lansdowne and

less likely to

not likely to con-

port."

The Japanese

explicitly said that the

take refuge in Weihaiwei "if British

ships were in occupation of the harbour."

Lansdowne yielded

Lansdowne

also

to pressure.

The

British fleet

was ordered back.

promised Tokyo that any Russian ship that entered

Weihaiwei would be interned without the usual option of leaving within twenty-four hours and detained in British custody throughout the remainder of the war. In other words, as

days

later,

vostok,

Admiral Witgeft

and

his ships

War between London and

St.

tried to break

good

as

sunk. Thirteen

from Port Arthur

to Vladi-

were soon unable to go anywhere.

Russia and Japan accentuated

all

the tensions between

Petersburg. St. Petersburg protested against Colonel

Younghusband's recent expedition

in Tibet.

Russia unequivocally

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

72

London of intending

accused

London denied

that

it

to turn Tibet into a British protectorate.

had any

"Roof of the

aggressive plans for the

World."

The

point; Russia

on

own

British harbored their

suspicions

was too busy fighting Japan



quite absurd at that

Manchuria

in

to encroach

British interests elsewhere. Nevertheless, in the beginning of 1904,

word spread within

the military in Asia that the tsar was planning to

invade India and Afghanistan.

The Cabinet

hardly believed this but

suspected that Russia was preparing a strike in the Persian Gulf. In

June 1904, the Foreign Office representatives in the Gulf reported that

two Russian men-of-war "would come several islands there.

to

occupy

shortly" to the

The Admiralty advised

Gulf

the Cabinet to send troops

a strategic "position at the entrance to the Gulf."

mander of the Aden Division of

annex

to

the British navy, in a

fit

The com-

of imperial

paranoia, reported that a "few years ago a Russian gunboat had an-

nexed a portion of land and hoisted the Russian

deb and had surveyed other It

was

silly to

areas

Bab El Man-

flag" at

of the Red Sea coast.

suspect that Russia,

weak

as

it

was and stuck

with Japan, would attack an empire over which the sun never colonies

all

over the globe, Britain could

in practically every region, be

to

On

minimize

this

harm, not

how

the surface, relations between

friendly; a

called

had

to solve

was

to attack Britain. St.

Petersburg and

London were

blood bond united the two countries. The Russian Dowa-

Queen Alexandra. The two

former Danish princesses, were extraordinarily

ward VII

With

Japan and harm Russia

strategists

ger Empress was the sister of the British sisters,

set.

war

the Middle East or Africa, or the Pa-

The most urgent problem Russian

cific.

how

it

assist

in

referred to the Russian tsar as Nicky,

him Uncle

Bertie.

of Wales, sent him a

warm

saying that every sailor

"Thank God

Cyril

Nicholas lis

first

close.

and the Romanovs

cousin, Georgie, the Prince

cable with condolences

on Makarov's

would mourn the sinking of the

to the miraculous survival of their relative, ill-fated battleship.

death,

Petropavlovsk.

was saved," the Prince of Wales remarked,

had been aboard the

King Ed-

Grand Duke

referring

Kyril,

who

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

However, royal blood did not dictate foreign policy the last century. Interests of nation-states late

Queen

believing

Victoria had disliked Russia and

them

to be uncivilized

for a

Romanov's

ing,

its

In addition, the

dynasty profoundly,

deficiencies,

but he himself had too

taste.

Edward had become king most

first.

turn of

and rude. Her son, King Edward VII,

was more tolerant of other people's

many

came

at the

73

at the

age of fifty-nine, having spent

al-

decades as the Prince of Wales, kept by his jealous, dominat-

six

and disagreeable mother uninformed and unemployed. Through-

out these empty years of anticipation, Bertie had developed a

debauchery and carousing. His industrialists,

aunt,

and

his

whom

of friends included actresses and

promiscuity was legendary. His wife, the

Queen Alexandra, had

mistresses,

circle

he openly paraded in continental Europe. To

himself, the behavior of

choker

at all times

tsar's

to tolerate her husband's escapades, even

Nicholas, the son of a model family

portedly, his aunt,

taste for

man and

a

model family man

Uncle Bertie must have been

Queen Alexandra, wore because she had

a

made an

repulsive.

Re-

wide pearl and diamond unsuccessful attempt to

cut her throat. This was probably untrue, but in any case, Uncle Bertie

was, undoubtedly, a black sheep.

Another

relative,

Kaiser Wilhelm, had set his heart

remains of cordiality between establish a military alliance

London and

St.

on disrupting the

Petersburg.

He wanted

to

with Russia against France and Britain.

Kind Edward VII hated Wilhelm wholeheartedly. His German nephew's

When made

taste for insincerity

Edward's mother, Queen Victoria, was dying, Wilhelm had

a total nuisance of himself, grieving loudly

Wilhelm despised the navy.

ian

and intrigue had always disgusted him.

He

tsar,

British king

and

and feared the

possessively.

British

army and

never hesitated to bad-mouth England in front of the Russ-

especially after Nicholas

had

started

war with Japan. In April

1904, the kaiser reported to the tsar from his Mediterranean cruise:

Malta very

interesting.

Interest in

war most keen, and quite pro-Japanese. To

Mediterranean

fleet in

splendid condition.

my

utter

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

74

amazement

prevail

total beat Russia

body firm conviction

and impose peace on

that ultimately Japan will

her! This

strictly confidential!

is

Willy. "Admiral of Atlantic."

Nicholas did not trust Wilhelm, but the

marks were ter

falling

of foreign

One

on

affairs

fertile

kaiser's

ground. Each time the

Anglophobic

tsar

saw

re-

his minis-

they talked about Britain's role in the current war.

constant subject was London's determination to overlook

war contraband going

to

Japan from Europe.

Terminating war contraband

is

self-sufficient in strategic supplies.

for the

enemy

is

absolutely crucial.

essential in every war.

No

nation

is

Thus, intercepting goods destined It

was particularly important

in the

Russo-Japanese war because Japan's domestic resources were extremely limited.

Therefore the Russians began an intensive search for "war contra-

band"

Or



a very loose term. For instance,

cotton?

Or

many

rice? In 1904,

how did one

categorize wheat?

British ships shuttled

between Eu-

rope and the Far East. Very few were transporting ammunition or guns.

As

The

Russians applied the term "war contraband" very broadly.

a result, almost every time Russians intercepted a British ship,

Lon-

don became thunderous. Russia sent two cruisers

Red act

Sea. It

on

is



the Petersburg



and the Smolensk

to the

not easy to ship contraband quietly; the Russians would

intelligence collected

telligence provided the

by agents

name of a

in foreign ports worldwide. In-

ship

and her

route.

When

the sus-

pect was located, Russian cruisers signaled, "Stop immediately." If the

merchant did not across her bows.

stop, the cruiser fired a couple of blank charges

Then another command

The merchant would have no Several Russians

mand

followed: "Reverse engines."

choice but to obey.

would board the suspect

ship.

They would

de-

her papers and examine her hold. If they found anything suspi-

cious, they

the crew

would

would be

transfer

all

of the crew to the Russian ship. There

interrogated.

Sometimes

sailors

would betray

their

A Russian

crew

mission out of fear or in revenge against their captain.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

would board the captured ship



or

if

75

the Russians were in a hurry or

did not have enough men, they would sink the merchant

Crews

vessel.

were detained for several days and then released in the nearest port. Russian officers

made

a point of being meticulously polite to them.

War contraband was in

London and

St.

just

one of the subjects constantly discussed

Petersburg.

The

British

ambassador

to Russia,

Charles Hardinge, argued incessantly with the Russians, and

St.

Pe-

tersburg often retorted with bravado and haughtiness. But Russia was powerless. If to the

London wanted,

bottom of the

it

could send Rozhestvensky's squadron

sea in a matter of minutes.

2

The worst

fear

of the Russians in the

that Rozhestvensky

would not be

summer and autumn of 1904 was able even to reach the Far East.

Agents reported that the Japanese, backed by the ing an

ambush on

Russia's doorstep

In 1904, there were

no



were prepar-

British,

in the Baltic Sea.

professional spies.

The

days of cloak-and-

dagger training centers hidden in the woods and conspiratorial secret service bureaucracies wouldn't arrive until well into

ernments were hiring agents like

at

random.

It

officials in

a network of agents, their agents' reports

often as not, those

the

and

Gov-

aristocrat, or a cabbie.

war ministry or foreign several institutions

office

would organize

would compete, parading

and eventually neutralizing each

who

I.

could be a well-known writer,

Somerset Maugham, a cabaret dancer, an

One or two

World War

other's efforts.

ran spy rings had other responsibilities.

As

They

could be ambassadors or military attaches, or even private merchants. Intelligence service at the turn of the last century did not differ

from spying

in Renaissance Italy or the Byzantine

jor exception

was the

three centuries earlier,

As soon

as

war

British.

Empire.

much

The only ma-

Their secret service had been founded

under Queen Elizabeth, and

now

thrived.

in the Far East broke out, the Russians realized that

they lacked an intelligence network that could be used against the

76

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Japanese.

A rush

1904 Russia had

for agents started. In

five

independ-

ent spy rings, each operated by a separate institution: the

War Min-

High

Military

istry,

Command in

Manchuria, Naval General

Department, and Foreign Ministry. Personal

lice

rivalries

Staff,

Po-

prevented

coordination. Interference of a competing department was rarely toler-

and

ated,

had

if it

to be, then the data

its

agents produced was treated

with suspicion or ignored.

The

Military

High

Command

Manchuria was

in

fully au-

tonomous. Viceroy Alexeev did not want anybody interfering

He

was

fairs

of his jurisdiction.

ians

approved by the viceroy operated in three countries

believed

it

his war. Officers

in af-

and

civil-

— China,

Korea, and Japan. In Japan and Korea only a handful of people, nor-

mally Europeans, were willing to risk their cash.

lives for a

The information they provided was of

based on hearsay and Also, in spite of est obstacle.

new

trivial

little

steady flow of

value, normally

observations, their pay largely unearned.

technology, communication remained the great-

Reports from Korea and Japan were reaching Russian

headquarters in Manchuria by telegraph via private addresses in Paris

and then

St.

Petersburg,

which guaranteed

at least a

twenty-four-hour

delay.

In Manchuria, Russian ground troops

agents

among

the Chinese.

They

spied

commanders had numerous

on Japanese movements and

were sometimes involved in sabotage, such

on

fire.

A

normal reconnaissance

trip

as setting a military

would take from fourteen

twenty days. Each agent had a special numbered to

go through the Russian front

line.

mous

pass, allowing

to

him

These passes were small so that

they could be hidden in shoes or clothes. that they existed but carried

depot

Of course,

the very fact

no photographs gave the Japanese enor-

opportunities for abuse. After a Russian spy was arrested, a Japa-

nese scout could use his pass to infiltrate the Russian

rear.

Also,

most of

the Russian agents were Chinese peasants absolutely unsuitable for the job; their experience

was

nil, their

knowledge of military matters very

superficial, their loyalty problematic.

To

verify reports, Russian officers

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

demanded

that each spy bring

dition to prove that he

something from the

had been

final leg

11

of his expe-

of course, no material ob-

there, but,

could be definitive proof.

ject

The army

sending out small units

also did routine reconnaissance,

to determinate the enemy's location

and

from Japa-

collecting papers

nese officers killed in action. But no grand strategy could be betrayed

by a

letter

a

dead boy from Nagasaki. Gossip

by Russian diplomats worldwide was

lected It

from home found on

was

a better source.

virtually impossible to distinguish the job of a

from that of a

spy.

Every Russian legation

ranean, the Pacific, or

North America

col-

—was

— be

it

diplomat

in the Mediter-

instructed to monitor Jap-

anese activities closely. Foreign Minister Lamsdorf received piles of

telegrams from Brussels, Trieste,

Hamburg, Athens,

Colombo, Melbourne,

Cairo, Beijing, Shanghai, Bangkok, Singapore,

New York and forwarded the

and

The

most important ones

to the

tsar.

of a diplomat abroad was boring. Unless stationed in a ma-

life

London, the routine consisted of

jor capital like Berlin or ters.

Algeria, Malta,

mat-

trivial

Intelligence missions gave diplomats a feeling of self-importance.

In search of

new

contacts, a diplomat started frequenting port taverns

buying drinks for every seedy character prophesying familiarity with the world of bootleggers, unlicensed pilots, and secret inlets. lighthouses cials

and

and secluded

fishing communities.

bribed customs

skippers. In order to justify their pay, the recruited agents

to fish for gossip or just to

make

things up.

monotonous, though truthful reports of coast."

He

He visited

One "All

But a report on a suspicious schooner or

on the horizon

at night

earned extra cash.

was branded a spy or saboteur; a

A

village idiot

offi-

had

did not get a bonus for is

quiet

on the

Baltic

sinister blinking lights

tourist

from the Far East

pacing the beach

at

dawn

could be sending signals to the Japanese seafaring hounds. Processing the reports in his shabby office, a diplomat was dreaming about tion;

people

partially

due

knew to his

partially because

promo-

that the tsar took keen interest in the spy reports,

hunger

for adventure,

unquenched

of his anti-Japanese paranoia.

in youth,

and

78

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Some amateur The most envoy

spies

noticeable

to Korea.

He

were serious people with consequential duties.

among

lived in

these was Alexander Pavlov, the former

Shanghai

as a private

erable power, his mission personally approved

even send minor military ships,

like

person with consid-

by the

He

tsar.

could

gunboats, as couriers. Sometimes

he would go on reconnaissance cruises himself and supply Russian

command

with firsthand information about Japanese ships, military

and merchant, and goods carried by the

The War Ministry by military

attaches.

latter.

in St. Petersburg ran

These General Staff

its

own

officers

spy web, managed

were believed to be

the stars of the army. However, their knowledge of the East was appallingly inadequate.

One

of these self-proclaimed Japan experts had

maintained before the war that one Russian soldier was worth three Japanese.

capped

They did not speak

their expertise. In

the language, which inevitably handi-

1904 the whole Russian army had

just eleven

Japanese interpreters; out of these eleven, only two could read Japanese. Military attaches

or businessmen data.

were lucky

who would

if

they could hire foreign journalists

be willing to supply them with important

However, most intelligence was gleaned from a quick

docks or a pub frequented by

The Naval General

Staff

were

the

sailors.

had

network of naval attaches

a parallel

stationed abroad. For Rozhestvensky's purposes, this was for these people

visit to

at least professional sailors

more

and had

helpful,

a clearer idea

of what information was needed. However, there were few agents, and

among

these,

many were

inclined to use their imaginations liberally.

As head of the Naval General vising the attaches himself.

He was

Staff,

Rozhestvensky had been super-

Going through

their cables,

enraged that spies were paid lavish sums of

he groaned.

money

for

doing

many Westerners who maintained and too many Russian attaches who

absolutely nothing. There were too that they

wanted

had

state secrets to sell

to report suspect information that

estvensky

felt

easily

come

by.

Rozh-

obliged to review voluntary submissions from a former

British naval officer,

of his club

was

Mr. Edward Lowdill,

as prestigious

who had

99 Piccadilly; from,

as the

given the address

Russian attache in

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

the United States put

necken

—and

it,

a "seasoned" citizen of Bridgeport,

so on. His boss, Naval Minister Avelan,

ous in giving awards to

Rozhestvensky was

spies.

79

Mr. Vi-

was very gener-

frugal.

His typical

re-

sponse was "Give So-and-So two months to prove his services are

worth

his allowance."

Logically enough, in a country as heavily policed as Russia, the Po-

Department possessed the

lice

best secret service.

Its

agents had been

trained to pursue Russian revolutionaries within the empire

major European

network

this

Now

cities.



fully

and

in

all

the department was determined to use

in spite of the fact that

connected only within the conspiratorial

its

provocateurs were well

of left-wing

circles

exiles.

Certain relatives of the tsar did not hesitate to add to the mess.

The

Grand Duke Alexander was constantly involved

entrepreneurial

in cryptic

correspondence and private secret missions. If Nicholas

was sending undercover agents of his own to penetrate the

Middle

II

to Lhasa, his cousin aspired

East.

Inevitably, the Japanese

were only too glad to use the

rivalry

and

chaos to their advantage. Sometimes their clever play would lead to a real

interdepartmental scandal in Russia. In August 1904, Lamsdorf's

spymaster in the Far East, Pavlov, sent an alarming cable to the minister.

A

person called Bekker, "a decent-looking German," had visited

one of Pavlov's agents. tok employed

him

He

insisted that

as a spy.

Now

The

to send

it

in Vladivos-

he was asking to forward a cable to

the Russian military attache in Berlin.

and asked the Russians

Admiral Skrydlov

He

dutifully provided the text

using "their code."

Japanese trap was boldly primitive. Comparing the text pre-

pared by themselves with the coded message sent from Shanghai, they

would

learn

how

to break the Russian code. Pavlov smelled a rat.

He

asked Lamsdorf to check out whether the "decent-looking German"

was

really

employed by Admiral Skrydlov.

Apparently very lan.

gleeful,

Lamsdorf contacted Naval Minister Ave-

Avelan, in his turn, cabled Skrydlov at Vladivostok. Skrydlov

sponded at all."

that he

The

issue

had never met Mr. Bekker and was

that he "had

clarified in just eight days,

re-

no agents

but the disconcerting



80

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

news was that the naval minister had no idea whether one of his commanders had

his

own network

of spies.

In 1904, the ill-equipped Russians had to compete with two hostile

spy rings: the Japanese and the English.

China and Korea and some

agents in

Britain's secret service

was by

far

The Japanese had hundreds of Europe and the Middle

in

the best in the world.

Germany

Russia could hope for cooperation with France and

France a diplomatic liances did not

to travel

and

amount

on the French

large,

Germany

ally,

cruiser Pascal

Pavlov, for example,

from Chemulpo

both the French and the Germans did

sians in the regions

However, these

a dynastic one.

much, though

to

East.

al-

was able

to Shanghai.

By

to assist Rus-

little

where they lacked agents completely

—namely,

in

Africa and Southeast Asia.

3

The admiral was numerous

receiving reports

from

all five

Russian spy rings.

The

amateur and professional, were almost unanimous:

agents,

The Japanese were

preparing an ambush. Rozhestvensky's

fleet

would

not be allowed to reach the Yellow Sea.

According to the reports, many Japanese

officers

had been

dis-

patched to the Baltic Sea coast. They carried torpedoes, which could be launched from smaller ships or from shore. that Britain

had

Some

built six torpedo boats for Japan,

reports insisted

which had disap-

peared since the beginning of the war. Hidden in secret

torpedo boats were

soon

as

he

left

still

around and ready

inlets, these

to attack Rozhestvensky as

Russia.

Reports confirming this terrifying conspiracy were reaching Petersburg daily. borg,

The

British vice consul in the coastal

Denmark, had been

St.

town of Ny-

instructed to inform the British Admiralty

of the passage of any military ship through the Great Belt

Straits.

The

Russian Police Department had intercepted two communications

from Japanese embassies

in

London and

Paris:

"Discuss seriously the

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

of using

possibility

on

search

all

electric torpedoes,"

aspects of the attack."

An

and

necessary to do re-

"It is

agent of the Russian naval

tache in France had delivered several briquettes of coal with a flaged hole in each

—presumably

a furnace, such a device could

81

at-

camou-

for installing explosives. If put into

immediately sink any of Rozhestven-

sky's ironclads.

The

last

menace

—charged

briquettes of coal

—looked very

real.

Naval Minister Avelan immediately ordered vigilance on ships and ports.

But what about the ambush?

Who could prevent it?

in

Rozhestven-

sky and Avelan decided to cooperate with the Police Department.

The Russian

police

had a permanent representative

name was Arkady Mikhailovich

in Europe. His

Garting. Stationed in Berlin, he was

fluent in surveillance, provocation, investigation, deceit,

and probably

murder. Garting's real

name was Abram Gekkelman. Twenty

years earlier

he had made the choice, very untypical for a Jew in Russia, to become a police agent,

and he had penetrated revolutionary

became legendary. He hunted down underground

exploits

lured people into the police,

making bombs only

to betray

and spied on major revolutionaries

tsar's

orders, his people

would even follow

Soon

his

printers,

them subsequently in exile.

vided security cover for Romanovs traveling abroad. the

circles.

He

When

a grand

to

also pro-

needed, on

duke suspected

of an inappropriate love match that threatened the dynasty's prestige. In short, he was a Russian James Bond. In June 1904, Garting was hastily

summoned from

Berlin to

St.

Petersburg and entrusted with a grandiose task: to protect Rozhestvensky's

armada from

was 150,000

a likely Japanese attack.

rubles.

The Naval Ministry

The rough

estimate of costs

transferred the funds to Gart-

ing personally.

He reports.

returned to Europe and immediately started sending alarming

Fishermen

carrying no

flag.

at

Skagen, Denmark, had noticed a torpedo boat

Two more

unidentifiable torpedo boats had been

spotted in the same area by a ship he had hired.

A

suspected agent of

the Japanese was seen onshore the night of September

1,

signaling

82

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

somebody

in the sea

with a red lantern. The Japanese mission in

Stockholm was hosting

five

mysterious males.

Garting divided the coast of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway into In each he selected "locally respected" agents.

The Danish

coast alone consisted of thirty-nine districts, the Swedish

and Norwe-

districts.

gian, twenty-one.

The German

coast was also watched. Garting's

agents were people experienced with the sea and ships agers, lighthouse keepers, pilots,

and fishermen. He

By September

i,

—port man-

border guards, merchants, skippers,

also freighted steamers to

watch out

for alien ships.

nine steamers were cruising the Baltic.

Denmark was

very friendly to Russia; the Danish king was the

grandfather of Nicholas

II.

Danes were proud

that their princess

was

held in high esteem in Russia as Dowager Empress and were sympathetic to her son's plight in the Far East.

The Danish Naval Ministry

ordered lighthouse keepers to take note of all suspicious ships and for-

warded

all

relevant reports to Garting.

The Danish Ministry of

nance instructed port authorities to report

Fi-

suspicious cargo.

all

Pressed by Garting, the Danes forced Japan's consul general to

measure demanded by Rozhestvensky person-

leave

Copenhagen

ally).

Danish police arrested two other alleged Japanese

ported both.

(a

The Danish

had been instructed

lice

areas,

spies

and de-

minister of foreign affairs confirmed that po-

watch out

for Japanese agents in coastal

and the Danish government sent

a squadron to guard the straits

to

connecting the Baltic Sea with the North Sea.

Garting visited Russian consulates in the area and instructed the

diplomats to closely monitor the nearby coast. the most dangerous places.

The diplomats were

"suspicious Asians," "suspicious cargoes,"

The

and

He made

list

of

obliged to follow

all

a

privately freighted ships.

consuls took their mission very seriously and in their turn started

employing lighthouse keepers and fishermen. Garting chose Copenhagen

as his base.

Hotel under the name of Mr. Arnold. His the tsar directly.

The

He

lived in the

activities

Phoenix

were reported to

sovereign enthusiastically approved of them

all.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

83

Assisting Garting in his mission, Russian diplomats approached

Scandinavian governments with stern warnings and highly demanding

The Russian envoy

requests.

in

Sweden

visited the

would be hardly

foreign affairs to deliver a harsh statement: "It

Government

ing for your Royal

base for their sorties."

The

if

terrified

coast of the Baltic to Russia only

hunt

battleship to

In the

fall

Swedish minister of

Sweden

the Japanese chose

Swedes,

who had

two centuries

lost the

earlier,

pleasas the

southern

dispatched a

for Japanese torpedo boats.

of 1904, the Baltic coast was in arms. Similar measures

were taken by Russians in the Red Sea; several ships of Rozhestvensky's

squadron were to go via the Suez Canal.

Meanwhile,

still

in friendly waters,

which they

from Kronshtadt

to Reval,

Three weeks

new and alarming

later,

Rozhestvensky took

on August

safely reached

reports reached

his flock

him

30.

there.

4

On

September

19,

the director of the Police

Department forwarded

the translation of a Japanese cable to the Naval General Staff. Allegedly,

had been sent from the Japanese embassy

it

in

The Hague

to

Foreign Minister Komura.

We have stationed our people port to us

them.

.

.

part this this.

The

.

.

.

.

all

the enemy's

in various places,

moves and,

The squadron, which month;

this

is

is

why we

to

go on a rescue mission,

will de-

have taken measures to prevent

intercepted telegram looked scary.

squadron

planned to leave Reval quite soon and then ian port, Libava.

to re-

they can, to impede

if

Everything that can be done will be

for the actual departure of the

and they have

tried.

It

quoted the time frame

correctly.

Rozhestvensky

briefly visit

another Russ-

84

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Reval was one of the oldest

many

seen

was

masters. Reval

Estonians referred to hilltop citadel,

it

the empire, a place that had

cities in

its

German and

as Tallinn. Its

name. The native

alien

cozy walled lower town, gloomy

and magnificent Gothic churches looked

like a setting

for a Scandinavian fairy tale. Russian naval officers liked being sta-

tioned there.

Though somewhat slow and

sleepy, Reval gave

them

the

advantage of living in Europe without leaving Russia.

Every hotel in town was spies

full.

and

Relatives, reporters, officials,

streamed to Reval that week. Ashore, crowds shaking hands, ex-

tending blessings, and giving occasional kisses to future heroes

mobbed Rozhestvensky s

officers.

Receptions and banquets abounded,

and many windows sported Russian

The squadron could not

men

flags.

boast a unified

mood. Some

officers

and

were hopeful and ready for the journey; others expected nothing

but disgrace and perhaps every evening to for the admiral

drown

was

disaster.

The

pessimists

their sorrows, but they

would

had

to

do

get

drunk

so quietly,

vigilant.

Ma-

Rozhestvensky spent his time in Reval tutoring the armada.

neuvers and torpedo, mine, and artillery practice took most of his time.

He made

and did not

sure everybody

worked hard;

finish until 10:30 at night. Still

exercises started at

angry

6 a.m.

at his officers' de-

bauchery in Kronshtadt, the admiral banned any communication with shore and with other ships after 7 p.m. nals

was

to be fired

upon by

Any boat

sentries after the

not responding to

sig-

second warning. Officers

complained, but order was maintained.

There was another problem very much on the admiral's mind: Several ships

were

still

infuriatingly slow.

tadt to

not ready to depart.

He

The Kronshtadt

even considered moving his

one of the handicapped

workers hurry. But, of course,

shipyard was

flag

back to Kronsh-

ships, sure his presence

would make the

it

was unimaginable that he would

the squadron. His junior flag officers, Enkvist and Felkersam, evitably loosen their grip, restart. It

drunken

would be

fleet.

leave

would

in-

and the debauchery of the despairing would

better to leave without a

few ships than to lead a

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

At nine o'clock Reval.

in the

morning of September

85

26, the tsar arrived at

As always, he admired the sharp skyline of the

fairy tale city.

He

was anticipating a busy but highly pleasant schedule.

The

sovereign arrived by train. His yacht, the Shtandart, was wait-

him

ing for

in the harbor.

and even brought

He

He

placed a lot of significance on this trip

his son, his "little treasure,"

and wife with him.

started with a tour of the five newest battleships.

sunny and the

sea rough. In the evening,

The day was

when Nicholas was

hosting a

dinner for the admirals and captains onboard the Shtandart, the sea

calmed down, and the emperor enjoyed talking

to the warriors

on

deck, in the cool but clear night.

During the sunny day of September the ships.

He

brought along four

continued visiting

27, the tsar

relatives: the

Dowager Empress,

Queen Olga of Greece, Grand Duke Alexander and sister,

Xenia.

Queen of

The

tsar

presented ships with icons, while Olga, the

Greece, weeping, kissed captains three times as the Ortho-

dox custom demanded and sailors

his wife, the tsar's

who would

left

mother-of-pearl crosses for those

be on the upper deck during the

battle.

The

crosses

came from the main church of Jerusalem, Golgotha. Nicholas took his duty conscientiously. All in

all,

he visited

twenty- two ships, from battleships to torpedo boats. However, Rozhestvensky was something of a disappointment to

him during

Bidding farewell to the sovereign, he repeated that in

all

likelihood by

the time he reached the Far East, the Port Arthur squadron

longer

exist.

But even

this

this time.

would no

did not spoil the emperor's good mood.

the night of September 27, he

left in

good

spirits.

He

On

never saw the

squadron again.

On

the day of the squadron's departure from Reval, September 28,

thousands of people came to the embankment. Relatives and friends of the officers assembled from

crewmen did not have

all

over the empire to say good-bye.

relatives there.

At

best,

some of them,

The

blissfully

drunk, were embracing girlfriends from the docks.

According to a witness, "weeping and lasted until a whistle signaled

all

cutters

tears,

embraces and

and boats

kisses"

to leave the shore.



86

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

"The crowd had

started

moving, bobbing" and stayed long

left.

The admiral was not a

after the boats

number of ships

happy

at all

He had

to leave

behind

that were not ready for the journey. Hopefully, they

would catch up with the squadron armada

that day.

later.

On

September

28,

he took the

to the last Russian port, Libava.

5

Quite a few unfriendly eyes watched

his ships leaving Reval. If at sea

Russians had to deal with Japanese men-of-war, on land they had to resist British

The best. It

espionage.

British secret service

monitored

photography

all fleets,

—and

was the oldest

lists

Suvorov



as the

document was

had

officially called.

many vessels were

On

still

to

Togo's flagship, the Mikasa, and Rozhestvensky's

among them. But by

secret service

far the

of "foreign war vessels of which

the eve of the war between Russia and Japan,

be photographed

world and by

making good use of the new technology

circulated

photographs are required,"

in the

filled in

the end of September 1904, the British

many gaps.

Captains of British warships were instantly reporting counters with Russian vessels, be

it

a battleship or a collier.

all

en-

Some-

times the Russians had no choice but to hire a British steamer to transport cargo to Port Arthur or elsewhere. In that case, their war

plans could easily be exposed; masters of merchant ships were will-

ing to share instructions given by Russian admirals with inquisitive British officers.

The

British

dio, or as

British

it

monitored Russian ships talking

was known

in 1904, wireless telegraphy. In

many

by

When

tions, they

would not

Port Said.

the British could not intercept radio hesitate to investigate

ra-

cases, the

were able to take in Russian communications, naively made

the open.

in, say,

to each other

in

communica-

"rumors from the bazaar,"

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Radio in general provided a new tool

87

for spying. Russians

were

aware of that. Viceroy Alexeev was alarmed by the way radio was used

He

in the Yellow Sea.

board neutral

vessels

insisted that

were transmitting news to the Japanese by radio.

If arrested off the coast

be treated

as spies

and

of Manchuria, he warned, such people would

vessels seized as prizes.

Viceroy Alexeev had a point. tered a vessel, the

dio to

some Western correspondents on

The London

Times had indeed char-

Haimun, and Times correspondents were using her

communicate with the

British colony Weihaiwei.

mast had been erected on shore.

It

was 170

feet high.

tance,"

at

The

senior officer

Weihaiwei had rendered the Times "considerable

assis-

and so the Times magnanimously agreed that His Majesty's Navy

would be allowed

to send their

tion too, "provided they

do not

communications through that

installa-

with the Times messages."

interfere

This time the British Admiralty, seeing

this as a

dangerous prece-

dent, unexpectedly sided with the Russian viceroy. Lords of the ralty

radio

The Times reporters

expected to be able to send messages at 140—200 miles.

of the navy

A special

ra-

announced

Admi-

that "if Great Britain were at war, the presence of

press steamers fitted with wireless telegraphic apparatus

so prejudicial to naval operations that Ironically enough, they

it

would

... be

could not be tolerated."

were thinking about war with Russia. At

about the same time, the British Admiralty kept insisting that the

Danish

straits,

leading to the Baltic Sea, should remain a free passage

for everybody, otherwise the

inviolable

European part of Russia "would become

and unapproachable"

—and His

Majesty's

Navy

always had

to "get into touch with hostile fleets with the least possible delay," as

the Admiralty wrote to the Foreign Office.

The new power of the independent

press

was too alarming

to pass

unnoticed. Even before Lords of the Admiralty snarled at the Times, the commander-in-chief of the navy's

warned

You

his senior officer in

are to have

ments.

.

.

.

China Station had already

Weihaiwei:

nothing to do with wireless telegraphy arrange-

Cancel any arrangements you

may

have made

as to their

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

from

receiving signals

men

of war. Inform commissioner that

sider that the transmission of messages for public use

I

con-

by wireless

telegraphy from the sphere of operations, unrestrained by censorship, does

not be

not conform with the obligations of neutrality and should

officially sanctioned.

The Japanese became

The Times

alarmed, too.

a double-edged sword: Russians could intercept

Japanese, the solution was easy.

radio transmitter was

By May, they had

lated to

its

tivities at

—not only

the squadron

journey. In the Baltic Sea,

all

communications.

number one

Rozhestvensky's squadron became the

itself,

London had

for the

a Japanese officer al-

ways stationed on board the Times' vessel, censoring

British intelligence

But

as well.

it

target for

but everything

re-

agents reporting ac-

Russian naval bases. British ambassadors sent urgent cables

to the foreign secretary,

informing him about

ian ships. Consular officers investigated

could be armed and consequently used

all

all

movements of Russ-

purchases of vessels that

as light cruisers.

Some of

the

information collected was passed on to the Japanese.

But the Japanese

had

to rely

upon

allies

were not in a hurry to reciprocate. London

reports of official British representatives. Captain

Hutchison was sent

to

Japan with the "purpose of obtaining naval

formation connected with the war,"

Claude MacDonald, put ficers,

sion.

it.

The ambassador

Captain Pakenham and

From time

as the

ambassador

also selected

Commander Jackson,

to time, the Japanese allowed

to Japan,

two other

for the

in-

of-

same mis-

them onboard warships

on military expeditions,

On Danish

October pilots

i,

had

Foreign Secretary Lansdowne was informed that

left for

Reval to board Russian ships and pilot them

through Danish waters. As the

pilots

and

their families

had been

in-

structed to keep their destination secret, the British ambassador in

Denmark

concluded,

mation of the is

"I

have been unable

fact that they

no doubt about

it."

as yet to get

have gone to Reval, but

I

absolute confir-

believe that there

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

89

6

It

took the squadron

just

going to be a very short

and food.

water,

It

stay.

was the

The day scheduled

Low clouds

overcast.

from Reval

to Libava.

In Libava the squadron had to take

last

chance to get supplies on friendly

October

for departure,

ever. "Perfect

said. Officers

had become stuck

ger ships

to get

1,

It

on

was

coal,

terrain.

dawned gray and

covered the sky, and fog mixed with drizzle. Faces

looked gloomier than

on the Suvorov

two days

weather for a funeral," somebody

were nervous and angry;

in

low

at

tide big-

Rozhestvensky was furious. "Some

silt.

port!" he noted caustically.

Rozhestvensky passionately wanted to Several days earlier, he tolina: "I

by the

had sent a

letter to his

cannot think about anything

and the squadron had

hounds waiting

The

now and am

It

for

it

to sea.

The

Sisoi lost

to linger in the harbor like a

living solely

her anchor,

pack of impatient

an old and sick peer.

next day, October

2,

they

left

Libava.

The day was

and

quiet

drizzled again.

The armada departed ers;

else

intimate friend Capi-

desire to overcome."

But that day they did not make

dark.

finally start his expedition.

in four units.

Admiral Felkersam, the older

Admiral Enkvist led the

battleships;

cruis-

Captain Yegoriev, the

transports. Rozhestvensky left last with the newest battleships.

At

1:01 p.m., Libava's telegraph

cable to the

tsar:

peror Alexander

"With

dispatched Rozhestvensky's laconic

ships arrived

from Reval, departed from Em-

III Port."

That night Nicholas wrote about the squadron "Bless

its

path, Lord,

let it

reach

its

in his journal:

destination whole to

fulfill its

hard

mission for the good and benefit of Russia!" Deeply moved, the emperor even added an unusually emotional supplement to his plea:

drew

a cross.

He

it

This

a Miserable Fleet,"

Is

OCTOBER 4-23,

1904,

WESTERN EUROPE

On October now

7,

Russian Dowager Empress Maria Fedorovna,

vacationing in her native Denmark, reported to her son, the

"This morning our squadron has safely passed Skagen.

them it

a

good voyage." Zealously

was her duty to add to the

day from

The

all

loyal to Russia,

pile

Maria Fedorovna

felt

over Europe.

Dowager Empress was

at 3:07 p.m. It arrived three

from Garting.

On

had

Three days Danish waters

hours

after

sent

from

an ominous cable

highest alert now, he reported: "29 ships of the

squadron taking on coal cret agents

May God grant

of cables her son was receiving that

reassuring telegram of the

Copenhagen

tsar:

at

Skagen.

tried to hire a boat, earlier,

Two

Japanese suspected to be

se-

but were detained by authorities."

on October

the squadron had anchored in

4,

at the entrance to the

Great Belt

Straits.

The journey

from Libava to Denmark had taken two troubling days. Rozhestvensky's

worst fears were proving

crews undisciplined, and

justified.

many

The

ships were unreliable, the

captains careless.

9i

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

92

The needed fell

the one that had lost her anchor at Libava,

Sisoi,

On

repairs.

A

rudder on the newly built battleship Orel

The torpedo boat

to be fixed.

rammed

the Oslyabya

ing on coal, the Russians had

demnity had Yermak,

to be paid.

The

had

Prozorlivy

her condensers that could not be fixed at the Bystry, had



damaged

permanent leak

a

While

fortunately, lightly.

Danish

three

favorite child

tak-

and

colliers,

in-

of Makarov, the icebreaker

commanded by an incompetent merchant marine

officer,

When

was

the Yer-

did not answer the admiral's signal, Rozhestvensky ordered the

Suvorov to

fire several shells

across her bow.

That helped, but he did

He commanded

not want such a ship around.

the Yermak to return to

Libava immediately, along with the Prozorlivy.

squadron was ordered to take on Rozhestvensky s

Hours

after the

arrival in

sels at

anchor

The

rest

of the

coal.

Danish waters did not pass unnoticed.

Russian ships had anchored, Lord Lansdowne received

an urgent cable from Copenhagen: "Russian

Langeland

at

fleet

of twenty- four ves-

Belt." Presumably, Japanese agents

watching Rozhestvensky's ships from the shore,

At noon on the following

name day of

court was

full

the

little

Rozhestvensky sent a celebratory

day,

prince, Alexei.

of spongers and

Rozhestvensky was truly

He

replied,

life

tsar

was

was moved. The

tongues, but Nicholas sensed that

He

decided to encourage his protege.

loyal.

"My

The

5

silver

At Skagen, Rozhestvensky learned admiral.

were

too.

telegram to the tsar from the small town of Rudkobing. October the

in

Another torpedo boat,

sea.

jeopardizing other ships by her dazzling maneuvering.

mak

said she

the Zhemchug, a pair of davits broke, and a cutter

overboard and sank.

had

now

that he

had been promoted

and energy belong

to vice

exclusively to

Your

Imperial Majesty."

While

in Skagen, the admiral

had

to

make an

decision: to finalize the route for the squadron possible, notify Russian representatives, allies,

absolutely crucial

and then,

and

as

soon

as

spies all over the

world of his choice of passage.

The

allies to

be informed about his intentions were the French. To

Rozhestvensky, they sounded wishy-washy.

They clearly did not intend

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

to

damage

Now

burg.

their relationship Paris

was nervously demanding

Did he plan

sky's exact plans were.

ports?

Had

If

Hope, he would have

Good Hope or around the Cape of Good

few French colonies. Didn't he

to visit quite a

Horn

after

all,

thus saving the French

al-

immense embarrassment?

Rozhestvensky ignored the pleas of

As

his time.

to

Rozhestven-

put up in any French colonial

to

he chose the route

think he should go via Cape the

know what

to

St. Peters-

he chosen the passage around the Cape of

around Cape Horn?

lies

with London for the sake of

93

make

for their

Paris.

He

kept silent and took

embarrassment, he couldn't care

his decision before

he

left

He

less.

expected

Skagen, but an urgent piece of news

ruined his plans.

While the admiral was exchanging wires with the Continent, squadron was

frantically taking

possible, because

hoping to grab

coal,

beyond Cape Skagen

of the hostile and powerful tremely surprised

on

when

lay the

The

British.

North

as

much

Sea, the

his

of it

as

domain

squadron's captains were ex-

before the end of the day of October

7,

Rozh-

estvensky halted coaling abruptly and gave orders for immediate departure.

The

captains did not

know that

their admiral

had

just learned that

Japanese torpedo boats had been spotted in the North Sea.

The

first

warnings arrived from Garting's agents in Norway. People

believed to be Japanese saboteurs were hastily departing the fjords.

Some

spies

The

even insisted that they'd seen Japanese torpedo boats.

admiral got another piece of evidence, from a fellow seaman. ian freighter

Bakan reported

that

on the previous

The

Russ-

night, her crew

had

seen four torpedo boats, cruising the sea with top lights only, barely distinguishable in the dark from fishermen's ships.

Until Skagen, the squadron had

was unlikely to attack Rozhestvensky ters.

felt

in

reasonably

safe.

Denmark's narrow

King Christian IX of Denmark had

Skagen

lay

on the northern

at

coastal

also dispatched several

boats to protect the fleet of his grandson, Tsar Nicholas

But prolonging the armadas stay

The enemy

II

wa-

gun-

of Russia.

Skagen was asking for trouble.

tip

Skagerrak, a wide strait leading to the

of Denmark,

North

at the

entrance to

Sea. Skagerrak's ninety-mile

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

94

width allows a generous margin for any ship wanting to

from the North Sea into the

Baltic Sea.

The

Japanese could sneak into

the area at night and attack the squadron at Skagen,

ian fleet at Port Arthur eight

and

months

a half

The only prudent

he divided

as in Libava,

each under separate precious battleships

set

it

before,

on the

first

and put

in motion,

attack. Captains

his fleet into four

command. He himself kept



his

own

it

came,

at least

detachments,

the newest

Suvorov, the Alexander

Detachments were

Orel.

other. If the worst

time

like

alert.

Again,

and the

it

choice, Rozhestvensky concluded,

was to remove the squadron immediately,

on high

coming on

That was the way they had attacked the Russ-

sharks from the high sea.

night of the war.

unnoticed

slip

III,

the Borodino,

to travel fifty miles apart

some

would

ships

and most

from each

survive the torpedo

were informed that such an attack might occur any

after dusk.

2

Rozhestvensky spent the night of October 7 on the bridge, his binoculars

jor

glued to the dark waters of Skagerrak. His

avenue of world

history.

triremes with Italian wines

with their precious vessels

waters,

pean

On and

furs.

and treacherous

them

Aristotle's manuscripts,

The North

coast,

was entering a ma-

the seabed beneath

lay

Roman

Viking ships

by drunken crews, Hansean

loot, negligently plied

with mead and

fleet

Sea,

had claimed

famous

for

its

a dreadful toll

fog,

rough

from Euro-

history.

However, the sea

itself

gave the admiral no cause for worry.

The

night was cloudless, and Skagerrak shone in the moonlight like

Nordic

By dawn

silver.

the Japanese

demons



the ships reached the if

they were there

North Sea proper, and

—were

less likely to

detect

the squadron.

At Skagen, Rozhestvensky had chosen Tangier for

all

detachments.

Now many

in the

as the

rendezvous

squadron wondered which

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

route Rozhestvensky

would



Morocco

take to reach

a shortcut along

the coastline of Europe or a longer route around the British

longer route was

safer,

95

Isles.

The

with fewer ships and wider spaces, but perhaps

would

the Japanese were hoping he

take exactly this bait. Rozhestven-

sky ordered navigators to steer right through the English Channel.

would

He

risk a shortcut.

The morning

breeze from the southwest brought thick fog that ren-

dered binoculars and searchlights useless.

phantoms

in the

smoky

veil.

The

sirens

Men on

board looked

like

of Rozhestvensky's ships wailed

continuously, their giant voices quickly rising to a climax and then slowly

dying away.

The

flagship, the Suvorov, began,

and

as

soon

as she ceased,

the Alexander III followed, next the Borodino, then the Orel.

The

trans-

port Anadyr, the smallest by far in the detachment, shrieked in the "as if to

announce some

announce

terrible misfortune." If Rozhestvensky

his arrival to the Japanese,

October

The

8,

the repair ship

first

wanted

to

he could find no better way.

Eventually the mist cleared, but the calm did not dusk, the sea became choppy, and

rear,

it

started raining.

Kamchatka reported an

last long.

At

In the

8:45 p.m.

on

attack.

radio cable that Rozhestvensky received said, "Chased by

torpedo boats."

The admiral frowned

the most worthless of

tendency to break

all

down

in disbelief.

the worthless ships

at the



The Kamchatka was

old, slow,

most unsuitable moment.

the Japanese single out this pathetic wreck? sign of a torpedo boat whatsoever.

Still,

He

and with a

Why would

himself could see no

he signaled the detachment,

"Be ready for torpedo boat attack from stern." Meanwhile, radio cables

from the panic-stricken Kamchatka continued:

"All lights shut

"Attacked from

"Torpedo boat

down." all

directions."

closer than a cable length."

"Steering in different directions to escape torpedo boats."

"Heading

East?

east at

Was

12 knots."

the wretched

Kamchatka going back

to Skagen?

96

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Rozhestvensky ordered her to turn west immediately.

He

tinizing the darkness surrounding him.

was the

boats?" the answer

Fog returned shortly

Dogger Bank,

gland.

kept scru-

could see nothing.

When

at

he called the Kamchatka and asked, "Do you see any torpedo

11:20 p.m.

the

He

"We cannot see any." midnight. The detachment was

infuriating,

after

passing

En-

a large shoal sixty miles east off the coast of

The armada was

frighteningly close to hostile shores. If secret

agents had been telling the truth and the Japanese torpedo boats were

using England as their base, this was the best place and the best time for

them At

to strike.

12:55

A

-

M

-

Rozhestvensky saw dark silhouettes. Several small

They

ships were quickly approaching the Suvorov.

The

admiral's

command, and the

first

dark just a

moment

"We

before,

He

should open

fire!"

edly counted suspicious vessels.

ordered

all

lights.

searchlights

became ablaze with

on the Suvorova

All hell broke loose

groaned,

no

thought was of torpedoes. Following his abrupt

the Suvorov changed course.

sea,

carried

on

light.

bridge. Captain Ignatsius

The

flag navigator Filippovsky excit-

The

flag captain

de Kolong pleaded

with the admiral to not hesitate and shoot. Rozhestvensky remained absolutely his binoculars. Suddenly, to the right

silent,

scanning the sea through

of the Suvorov, in the bright beam

of a searchlight, the admiral saw a torpedo boat. To the end of his

he was sure that der he gave.

it

had been a torpedo boat and never

"Open

fire!"

The

night

filled

life

regretted the or-

with roaring. The Suvorov s

heavy frame shook.

Rozhestvensky could not see the torpedo boat any longer, but in a

moment,

the Suvorov s

bow

searchlight flashed

on

a

steam trawler

ahead of the ship. The gunner next to the admiral, drunk on

showered

man by

it

with

shells.

fear,

Rozhestvensky s gigantic hand grabbed the

the shoulder and threw

him away from

In total fury, the admiral thundered, "Have

I

the barrel like a kitten.

ordered

this?

Can't you

see a fisherman!"

He commanded

the starboard searchlight of the Suvorov to be

raised forty- five degrees up,

which meant, "Do not

fire at this target."

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Then he

Now

signaled to

all

"Do not

the ships,

97

steam trawlers."

fire at

and

the guns of the ironclads were sending shells only at darker

swifter silhouettes.

A witness

wrote, "Bugles blared;

drums rumbled;

der the weight of handtrucks laden with

from the starboard and port as

heavy guns were

shells;

turrets, lighting the

un-

rails rattled

fired

darkness with flashes

they discharged and stirring the night with echoing thunder."

Suddenly, the admiral saw flashes of searchlights to the

he could say anything, the Suvorova guns tion.

A moment later,

Before

fired a salvo in that direc-

he realized that the ships under

ately flashing the familiar signals

left.

fire

were desper-

of the Russian navy. The flagship was

gunning the Donskoi and the Aurora. Rozhestvensky loathed lights up!"

he cried

at the

his crew.

"Cease

fire!"

moment,

all

the search-

of the Suvorov were extinguished. Only the port one hit the

the signal for

all

men and

sky,

ships to stop shooting.

The shooting the

yelled. "Search-

top of his voice. Remarkably, even in the

noise of the battle, his voice was heard. In a lights

he

lasted for

few more moments. "The

officers,

cursing

belaboring them, dragged them from the guns, but the

gunners broke away and continued shooting." For a while they possessed. Finally,

it

became deafeningly

The shooting had

a.m.

The

quiet.

clocks

showed

felt

1:05

lasted for less than ten minutes.

Rozhestvensky knew some of the fishermen's boats must have been

hit,

much thought to them. His utmost conattackers. He was sure that the torpedo boat to

but he did not give

cern was the ghostly

the right of the Suvorov

one, which he at

had been

hit several times,

some point had seen

to the

left,

but the second

"was lucky to have

disappeared." In the silence

southwest.

It

and cold of night, the detachment kept moving

did not stop to pick up the fishermen

drink. In his report to the trawlers' behavior

tsar,

it

had sent into the

Rozhestvensky wrote, "Since the fishing

looked suspicious and since

the torpedo boats participating in the assault the injured to the cares of their comrades."

I

was not sure that

had been

disabled,

I

all

left



CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

98 3

In four days,

on October

the squadron anchored at the Spanish

13,

naval station Vigo, having safely and uneventfully passed through the

English Channel and the rough seas of the Bay of Biscay. Throughout all

four nights, Rozhestvensky had been

self

on the

bridge, affording

only quick naps in a chair and glasses of tea to stay awake. Several

shelled

men on

the cruisers Donskoi and Aurora, which had been

by the Suvorov, were wounded. The condition of Chaplain

Anastasy of the Aurora was

critical,

and the captain of the ship sought

Rozhestvensky's permission to take the

wounded

Rozhestvensky snarled: "Permission not granted. God's

will."

The

chaplain developed gangrene.

and tiny monastery, first

him-

thirty people in

person in the squadron to

all,

to

an English port.

If he dies, this will

A monk

be

from a poor

he became the

in rural Russia,

die.

Near the rocky shores of Spain the admiral learned

that his

squadron had gunned English fishing boats, that Europe was on the verge of war, and that he was held responsible.

Unwilling to entrust his feelings to telegraph, in his the tsar from Vigo he was laconic: "Arrived with the

first

first

cable to

detachment

of battleships."

The

cable reached the tsar in the country. October was the peak of

hunting season, and he was out shooting game.

He had

scored twenty-

seven that day and was very pleased. Rozhestvensky's cable was deliv-

ered to

him

in the forest,

time, the tsar already alarmist headlines

and

that

The

during the third round of shots. By that

knew

— "English

that

European newspapers were flashing

Fishing Fleet

Sunk by Russian Guns"

London was demanding vengeance. next day the tsar held a short meeting with

Alexei, Lamsdorf,

and Avelan. Although nobody

wanted another war, the prevailing mood was

Grand Duke

in St. Petersburg

that London's behavior

was much too "audacious." Nicholas now referred

to the British as

"our filthy enemies." Presumably, he included his uncle, King Edward VII, in this insult.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

The Dogger Bank was one of

the

most well-known

grounds in Europe. Famous for cod, turbot, and herring,

it

99

fishing

attracted

fishermen from several countries. Sinking any fishing boat there would

have created trouble, but sinking English vessels was disastrous.

The fishermen had come from

the city of Hull in Yorkshire.

One

of their trawlers had sunk "like a stone," and several others had been

damaged. The tinued on

its

When

British public

was enraged that the squadron had con-

way without attempting

to rescue

its

victims.

the news reached London, Britain began rattling

Popular resentment toward Russians reached a

its

sword.

critical point.

The

Russian ambassador, Count Benkendorf, was barraged by protest at

Charing Cross Station, and the police had

from the mob. The

British press

and apology and

tion

sacre be punished.

difficulty protecting

was unanimous

in

demanding

repara-

insisted that the officers responsible for the

Newspapers urged the

Russian armada and detain

it

until that

him mas-

British fleet to chase the

was done.

Many even

hinted at

the desirability of war.

King Edward VII was boiling with indignation. The pleasure-seeking monarch, to military seriously.

who

stylish

and

preferred a carnation in his buttonhole

medals and cabarets to paperwork, for once took matters

He

called the

Dogger Bank

affair "a

most dastardly outrage."

His subjects couldn't agree more. In Britain, Rozhestvensky's armada

was nicknamed the "squadron of mad dogs." His Majesty's Navy started preparing for

battle.

4

The Home land,

Fleet,

which had been on maneuvers

was gathering

in the English

which had been scattered

The Channel tion.

The

seemed

coming

north of Scot-

Channel. The Mediterranean

Fleet,

over the Levant, was recalled to Malta.

Fleet assembled at Gibraltar

situation that

to be

all

in the

and began preparing

most of Europe had dreaded

true: Russia

for ac-

for four decades

and England were heading

for war.

ioo

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

The Channel men-of-war,

Fleet

was awesome. Consisting of nineteen superb

alone might have been worth the whole Russian navy.

it

But the

British

were taking no chances. Six battleships,

cruisers,

and

available torpedo boats

were

all

all

armored

from the Mediterranean

Fleet

also ordered to Gibraltar.

On

October

14,

the British Admiralty was informed that Rozh-

The

estvensky had arrived at Vigo.

rest

of his squadron was believed to

be off the Spanish coast, heading for Tangier; for safety reasons, the admiral kept his armada

make

all

split.

Captains

at Gibraltar

were ordered "to

preparations for action and be ready at a moment's notice."

Amazingly enough, the concentration of naval might

in Gibraltar

was not motivated only by vengeance. The Admiralty suspected

that

Rozhestvensky was capable of attacking the British stronghold. Ships there were instructed "to sink any vessel" attempting to force the

Gibraltar harbor. Torpedo boats patrolled the Gibraltar Strait from

sunset until dawn.

The commander of

Beresford, sent a confidential

the Channel Fleet, Charles

memorandum

to his captains, starting

with an ominous phrase: "Bear in mind what occurred before

at Port

Arthur

war was declared."

All ships in Gibraltar idled with steam up, ordered to be ready to

steam

at 12

knots with one hour's notice. Powerful searchlights were

hitting the sea for Russian

from the moles. Patrolling ships were told

mines and inspect

all

to

watch out

people trying to get into the harbor.

Beresford cabled the Admiralty requesting that

"all filled shell

and

other ammunition due to Gibraltar, also 25 percent of ordnance stores

beyond ordinary

On

Friday,

reserve,

October

be sent to Gibraltar 15, five

speed to watch the Russian caster entered the harbor,

fleet."

cruisers

They

at once."

proceeded to Vigo

arrived the next day.

"at full

The Lan-

and her captain saluted the Spanish

flag

and

then the flag of the Russian vice admiral. Salutes were returned. Rozhestvensky sent an officer to the Lancaster with his compliments, and the Lancaster captain hurried to

call

upon

Rozhestvensky received the British After conversing in French

on general

the

officer

topics,

Mad

Dog.

with marked

cordiality.

he asked the captain "to

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

let

him speak

and

in English,

once began to express

at

101

his great

con-

cern for the terrible tragedy which occurred off Hull." Rozhestvensky assured the British officer that "firing

on the

ble mistake, but with his searchlights he

with three funnels steaming

craft

there was nothing to

The as

do but open

Lancaster captain, in his

fishing boats

bow a low toward him. He felt

had seen on

high speed

at

own

words, listened "sympathetically

he related the sad occurrence, with evident emotion. His whole

position.

do no

On

less

The

rising to

go he grasped

to

deeply he

by the hand.

felt his I

could

than return a grasp, which expressed such deep feeling."

next day, Rozhestvensky visited the British cruiser.

that

when he

that

week the

cared

to,

The

know

a heart of stone.

was probably the only

But

British officer

with Rozhestvensky. His commander, Lord Beres-

was preparing

for war.

estvensky in battle before

It

looked

like

he would engage Rozh-

Togo would.

Beresford was ready to fight both Russian units

Vigo and the

By now,

captain did not

Mad Dog could soften

the

Lancaster's captain

who empathized ford,

me how

me warmly

the Lancaster captain was totally charmed.

rest in Tangier.

"Being quite

Channel

lence of the gunnery of the "I

either

fire."

manner and tenor of speaking conveyed

in

was a horri-

Fleet,"

should only have engaged the Russians

—Rozhestvensky

satisfied

's

with the excel-

he wrote to the Admiralty,

at

Tangier

.

.

.

with four of

my battleships, at a distance of from 5,000 to 6,000 yards. It appeared to me that this would only be chivalrous, under the circumstances. If the Russian ships had commenced to knock my ships about I would have engaged them with the whole eight Channel Fleet battleships." Beresford had planned to order Russian ships in Tangier to enter the

moles of Gibraltar, to land

all

to disable the ships' engines. ier, I

officers

and half the

"Having accounted

ship's

companies, and

for the Russians in

Tang-

intended to proceed to the northward and meet the Vigo squadron."

But Rozhestvensky saved Beresford the trouble of traveling northward. At noon on October miral had unexpectedly

left

19,

Beresford learned that the Russian ad-

the Spanish port four hours

ing south to join the rest of the squadron at Tangier.

earlier, steer-

102

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

He cabled the Admiralty: "I have steam for full speed ready and am prepared to proceed immediately on receipt of telegram from Admiralty. When ordered Beresford decided that the worst had come.

.

to act

shall order all

I

obey they will be sunk and cruisers already

.

.

Russian Fleet at Tangier into Gibraltar and shall

I

then proceed to meet Vigo

if dis-

Fleet,

my

having orders never to leave them." Eleven battleships,

and three destroyers prepared

three cruisers, seven torpedo boats,

The

depart for combat mission.

to

and

British ships fired their guns

hoisted Blue Peter, the flag of imminent departure.

5

If in

October 1904 there was a European monarch angrier than King

Edward

VII,

express

my

it

was

his

shared his feelings.

I

German

kaiser.

The

entire

The Dowager Empress wired

"How very unpleasant. With

do not doubt

sister,

"I

II.

Empress had decided

left

to stay in

infinitely easier for her to

God's will everything will be

Denmark on October

Copenhagen

the

8,

just in case.

fine.

When

the

her

Dowager

Now the

Copenhagen

it

ex-

was

apply her charms on European courts.

was a happy monarch

He had

family

her son from Copen-

tension proved to be extraordinarily helpful; from

Wilhelm.

Romanov

that those rascals the Japanese were there."

Queen Alexandra, had

If there

have no words to

indignation with England's conduct," Nicholas confided

to another relative, the

hagen:

nephew Tsar Nicholas

been trying to

Dogger Bank incident was

Europe

in

ally

at that time,

it

was Kaiser

with Russia for several years, and

a perfect occasion to demonstrate his

loyalty to Nicky.

On

October

telegram. "I

am

14,

Kaiser

Wilhelm

sent the tsar a sweet-and-sour

sorry for the mishap in the

North

Sea," he wrote, con-

tinuing with the advice that "the use of guns, especially in European waters, should be restricted as afraid

much

as possible." If

Rozhestvensky was

of night attacks, the kaiser expertly elaborated, "the use of search-

lights alone

would

suffice to

guard the ships from being surprised."

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

103

Willy also assured Nicky that the situation in Britain was not that alarming:

"The

press

and

mob make

noise, the

Admiralty some

but "government, court, and society look with greatest calm

fuss,"

at the

event as an unhappiness arising from the great nervousness." Yet,

he told the

would have gether,

tsar that the British

to be faced in

who would both

danger

community by Russia and Germany

have to remind your

ally,

to-

France, of obliga-

tions she has taken over in the treaty of dual alliance with you, the caesus foederis. tation,

would

It is

out of the question that France, on such an invi-

try to shirk her implicit

duty toward her

Delcasse [the French foreign minister] will

is

ally.

Though

an anglophile enrage, he

be wise enough to understand that the British

fleet

is

utterly un-

able to save Paris.

In 1904, Europe was decadent, corrupt, and secrets

were

safe.

The French

full

of gossip, and few

learned about Wilhelm's bad-mouthing

through their spies and panicked: The kaiser was trying "to get the Tsar to destroy the Franco-Russian alliance!"

Even without Wilhelm's

interference, the situation looked quite

precarious to Paris. France badly needed alliances with both Russia and Britain, as they felt seriously threatened

emy.

They had made an

alliance

by Germany,

their bitter en-

with Russia ten years before but had

signed the Entente Cordiale with Britain barely half a year April 1904.

The French were outraged by

helm's scheming, but perhaps they were

sword

rattling.

can see that

earlier, in

Russia's arrogance

most angered by

and WilBritain's

Foreign Minister Theophile Delcasse complained,

there's

more

to fear

from the English

side than

"I

from the

Russian at the moment." Delcasse was worried that war might start because of an accidental technicality, say,

a

mere delay of an important telegram. What

if

the British said something irrevocable, having failed to receive a

Russian response in time, "and a few hours

shows

how

later,

disastrously hasty they have been!

a conciliatory reply

Would anyone

in his

104

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

senses agree that peace between ter

two great empires depends on

mat-

a

of hours?" Delcasse decided to speak "very strongly and plainly" to the Russian

ambassador in

government

Paris,

to

Alexander Nelidov:

"It

is

absolutely vital for your

immediately send a chivalrous and apologetic message

which alone can

avert a

There

crisis.

moment

a

isn't

to lose.

think for a minute; tomorrow morning an English Squadron

open

well receive instructions to

fire

on your

tenant on one of Rozhestvensky's battleships.

responded that public opinion in Russia was

an enemy hated that

is all

the

in saying the

far

may very

to friends,

his

son was a

lieu-

The ambassador grimly

as

roused as public opin-

regards England as the traditional enemy,

it

more than the Japanese." Delcasse exclaimed, "But

more reason

word

Just

in the Far East, so that she

might get distracted from the Near East." Moreover,

ion in England, "because

.

British, nor, for that

Germans. His personal conviction, expressed

was that "Russia has been pushed into war

.

ships."

Nelidov trusted neither the French nor the matter, the

.

that can

Russian diplomats

for

still

knew

moment

your government not losing a settle the

that they

whole trouble!"

had

a

weak

case but tried to de-

fend Russia: "The Russian government had received numerous reports to the effect that Japanese agents

were

of organizing attacks on the Baltic

visiting" Britain for the

Fleet,

purpose

"and in these circumstances

it

was perhaps not unnatural that the captains of the Russian ships should have been alarmed

at finding" the

Hull trawlers in close prox-

imity to their men-of-war. St.

gize.

Petersburg was willing to pay reparations and perhaps apolo-

But London

ished.

It

also

insisted that

demanded

Rozhestvensky and

"What was

to the Far East,

out

its

be pun-

"that security be given to us against a repeti-

tion of such incidents." Foreign Secretary asked,

his captains

Lansdowne provocatively

to prevent the Russian Fleet, during

its

long journey

from carrying death and destruction with

it

through-

course?"

The Russian

naval attache to Britain, Captain Bostrom, sent a pri-

vate cable to Rozhestvensky at Vigo describing this pan-European

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

105

turmoil. Rozhestvensky responded with information so important that

Bostrom and Ambassador Benkendorf decided

to send

it

to the British

Cabinet immediately.

Knowing estvensky was

that the tsar always liked to have scapegoats,

more than

telegram would have patience.

It

willing to

made

the

tolerant

The language of his

man

in the

world lose

incident was occasioned by the action of two tor-

pedo boats which steamed

and showing no It

most

the role.

read:

The North Sea

ment.

fill

Rozh-

lights,

was only

after

at full

speed under cover of the night,

toward the ship that was leading our detachour search

lights

was remarked that a few small steam trawlers were present.

these craft

and ceased

had been turned on that

craft bearing

The detachment made firing as

soon

as the

it

resemblance to

every effort to spare

torpedo boats had disap-

peared from sight.

And Rozhestvensky made

another statement.

The

British press

were

accusing the Russians of ignoring the fishermen's plight, based on ports

by the Hull fishermen that one of the Russian

boat,

had remained

save the

at

Dogger Bank

Englishmen from the

sea.

until

vessel

the incident.

follows that the vessel

light

in the

dawn, never attempting to

include any torpedo destroyers,

and no Russian

mained

of any kind was

left

behind upon the scene of

which

neighbourhood of the small

is

declared to have re-

fishing boats until day-

must have been one of the two enemy's torpedo

had only sustained some

injuries, the

Dogger Bank

ian Kamchatka.

The

until

British

boats,

which

other one having been sunk.

But London was not swayed by the telegram. The stayed at

torpedo

Rozhestvensky triumphantly wrote:

The Russian detachment did not

It

vessels, a

re-

dawn, they

said,

ship,

which had

must have been the Russ-

government again demanded

that

estvensky and his captains should be "recalled and placed on

Rozh-

trial."

io6

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Privately,

however, the Cabinet agreed that Rozhestvensky's

mony demanded more

and began an unsuccessful search

investigation

for the mysterious torpedo boat.

They made

inquiries with neighbor-

Denmark, asking whether

ing countries like

testi-

had

their torpedo boats

been in the vicinity of Dogger Bank that night, but no one ever learned the identity of the mysterious ship.

It

was quite possible that

the fishermen were mistaken and that no ship had been there at

Negotiations between great difficulty.

London

Petersburg and

St.

all.

London proceeded with

insisted that until the crisis

was resolved,

Rozhestvensky with his battleships should remain in Vigo. The flam-

boyant Spanish port was becoming a

From

jail.

their ships, the Russians could see the lofty crests of the

Pyrenees and the azure of the southern

sea.

Many

sailors

had never

been to such a spacious harbor before; Vigo's bay provided ample

room

for a

The

hundred ocean-going

port was a historic

Drake had attacked

it.

vessels.

Twice, in 1585 and 1589, Sir Francis

site.

Now

might join old wrecks on the

it

looked

like the

Russian battleships

sea bottom; the British ships

were

cruis-

ing the adjoining waters menacingly.

Spain was neutral, but

its

bade the Russians to take on

authorities, coal.

wary of London's wrath,

There was a reason

for-

for their zeal.

King Alfonso XIII was eighteen. Charming and quick-witted, born a king

(his father

had died

six

was now one of the most sought Kaiser

man

Wilhelm

princesses,

II,

who had

months before

after bachelors in

interested. In this situation, the last thing

tween offending Nicholas

in Europe, but II

opted to offend the Russian Yet, finally,

lowed

and

Alfonso

Europe. Both

a remarkable stock of strong-willed Ger-

and King Edward VII, who had

was offend any monarch

his birth),

several nieces,

King Alfonso wanted

when he had

were to

to choose be-

and offending Edward VII, he

logically

tsar.

Rozhestvensky never surrendered

easily.

He

kept nagging, and

the governor of Vigo yielded. Rozhestvensky's ships were to take a token

lesser

amounts

do

amount of coal



al-

four hundred tons per ironclad

for the smaller vessels.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

The

107

coaling started. "Everyone lent a hand: bluejackets, stokers,

artificers,

and

petty officers, clerks, officers,

two extra

of vodka would be served

tots

quickly done."

The

if

work was

the

told that

and

well

crews worked through the night until ten o'clock

By

the next morning.

The men were

all.

that time they

had taken aboard twice the

al-

lowance specified by the Spaniards. Technically, the squadron could

London kept

to reach Tangier, but

now move the

on, having

enough

door shut. The European

jail

press reported that if Rozhestvensky broke the blockade, he

have to fight twenty-four battleships and eighteen

awed

staff read

him

many

first

four battleships, and

others will finish us off then

it

—twenty-four

would

When

cruisers.

the warning, the admiral just snorted:

able to fight only the

coal

"We

the

will

does not matter

be

how

or one hundred and

twenty- four."

The Vigo

public was sympathetic to the squadron and

and cheered Rozhestvensky on the not forget the

loss

streets

of Gibraltar to the

"The enemy of our enemy's

ally

is

its

admiral

of town. The Spanish could

British.

A local newspaper wrote,

our friend."

Meanwhile, Rozhestvensky was waiting for instructions from the

Unable

tsar.

over,

to

make any

on October

14 the tsar wired a meaningless but encouraging

telegram: "All

my

difficulty will

soon be

plicit

decision before the conflict with Britain was

thoughts are with you and settled.

Russia places

my

all

dear squadron.

The

her faith and has im-

confidence in you."

The admiral had replied:

"The

entire

the telegram read to

squadron bows

as

all

one

of the crews and dutifully

man

before the throne of

Your Majesty."

On

October

London tional

16,

Nicholas ordered his foreign minister to send to

a proposition "to subject the

commission of inquiry

as laid

whole question

down

in

to

an interna-

The Hague Conference

protocol."

That

day, Kaiser

ian frontier



Wilhelm was pheasant hunting along

a special courtesy of the

new appeasing mood

at all

tsar.

Willy did not

the Russ-

like Nicky's

and, having hastily collected his trophies,

io8

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

composed

war-mongering telegram.

a

He reminded

his cousin that

the fishermen "have already acknowledged that they have seen foreign

steam

craft

among

which they knew been foul

But

their boats, not belonging to their fishing fleet,

summed up

not. So,"

Willy

significantly, "there has

play."

this

time Wilhelm achieved nothing.

The

tsar

himself was

al-

ready quite sure that there had been foul play. But in regard to the con-

with London, he had made his choice: peace.

flict

London

accepted.

composed of

It

admirals,

was agreed that an international commission,

would

Rozhestvensky had to leave four

was

also

free to

Dogger Bank

investigate the officers in

Vigo

incident.

as witnesses.

The

case

submitted to The Hague Tribunal. Rozhestvensky himself was

proceed to his

body knew

that

fateful

rendezvous with Togo. However, every-

from now on, the shadow of the Dogger Bank would

follow the armada.

A

what the environment

top Russian diplomat sighed, "You can imagine will

be for the future voyage of the squadron."

Yet, the flagship officers

They did not know

that

were sure that the admiral was

of vigor.

on the night before the departure, Rozhestven-

sky had sent a bitter letter to his wife:

weak, and with

full

this general sick

"We

have become miserably

weakness, the crazy enterprise of our

notorious squadron can hardly count on anything, even on sheer luck."

At seven o'clock

in the

morning of October

steamed out of Vigo. The British

19, the

squadron

cruisers followed at a distance.

Rozh-

estvensky recognized three of them: the Lancaster, the Hermes, and the

Drake.

He was

very glad they were there.

guardians," he remarked.

The Japanese

attack while the British were around.

"We

saboteurs

Now

could not get better

would never dare

to

Rozhestvensky could allow

himself a night of sound sleep in his cabin.

During the

day,

away from the

eyes

tachment. only

"What

we were

this

he remained on deck though, unable to turn his perfect

maneuvering of the unfriendly

a squadron!" he finally said.

British de-

"What seamen! Ah,

if

commander

in

way. ..."

The Admiralty informed

Beresford, the British naval

Gibraltar, that battle with Rozhestvensky

was

to be postponed. Beresford

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

was ordered overt

wounding

to "avoid

shadowing of his

fleet.

any step that

to take

we cannot

that

will

of Russian admiral by

susceptibilities

Sufficient if cruisers

another cable, the Admiralty explicitly

make war

said, "It

is

do not

alert

do nothing

were not necessary for 10 knots

are quite certain

to

the

let

at four

.

.

.

Cruisers and de-

wound fires

susceptibili-

die out in boil-

hours notice

—not high

by any means.

more

The rations,

conflict

was

and agreed

England dropped trial

settled.

to

its

and stopped

went back

Only on October 29 was crisis past."

Russia apologized, promised to pay repa-

submit the case to an international commission.

demand

to put

insisting

such incidents in the future. the tsar

days.

"Government considers

the British navy informed that

Rozhestvensky and his captains

on guarantees against

The Dowager Empress

to hunting,

a repetition of

Copenhagen,

left

King Edward VII returned

However, well-informed people

ing.

we

inevitable until

Ships in Gibraltar were instructed to

Yet, the crisis lasted for ten

on

them." In

obtain complete satisfaction without war."

stroyers have imperative orders to

ers that

lose

our imperative duty not

Beresford responded: "Understand your wish.

ties."

109

like the

to

womaniz-

German Admiral Von

Tirpitz were sure that Rozhestvensky 's squadron

would

graver problems for European diplomacy.

As Von Tirpitz

marked, "Only a few more episodes of a

like

create yet

caustically re-

nature are required dur-

ing the voyage of the Russian argonauts."

6

While the squadron was waiting cally

at

Vigo, the admiral had

important choice. The Russian Admiralty

Paris that

made

officially

a criti-

informed

Rozhestvensky had rejected the Cape Horn-Polynesian

Archipelago route, which the French, intimidated by London, wanted

him

to take.

this route

Rozhestvensky 's explanation was that the marine

were too

great,

a challenging voyage.

and

his

He would

men and

officers

were not

fit

perils

of

for such

proceed instead to the French colony

no

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

of Madagascar and be joined there by the ships of his squadron that

would go by way of the Suez Canal.

The

now fully exposed

infuriated French,

on the verge of refusing

to host the

quite predictably, fear of the kaiser

to British criticism, were

squadron in

their waters. But,

made them more

cooperative.

The

French Foreign Ministry did not want to see what "the capital Ger-

many would make

out of

it"

and preferred "the

Rozh-

lesser evil."

estvensky could count on their limited hospitality.

He was Dakar and

Libreville in

man Angra There was

obliged to send

admiral's plans,

would

his itinerary: Tangier in

Morocco,

French Africa, Portuguese Mossamedes, Ger-

Pequena, and

little

them

finally,

Sainte-Marie in French Madagascar.

doubt that the French would notify London about the

Then

it

would be

of hours before Togo

just a matter

learn of them, too.

The French Foreign Ministry

started

for coaling, the transmission of news sions."

"making

from

spies

all

and

the arrangements

certain secret mis-

Rozhestvensky could only hope that they would not share the

sensitive information

with the

Beyond

British.

this,

the French in-

volvement in the intelligence network made Rozhestvensky s squadron extremely vulnerable. Spies had led

Most Sea"

probably, the provocative

had been told

him

to disaster at

Dogger Bank.

rumor of "an ambush

to Russian spies

by

in the

North

their Japanese colleagues.

The

shower of alarming reports defeated the admiral's natural skepticism

and made him overreact on the

ill-fated

night of October

only wonder what other mishaps might occur

would have

when

8.

One

could

the Japanese

a chance to play with the French secret agents, too. Yet, co-

operation with the French was crucial; the Russians did not have any

spy network in Africa beyond the Suez Canal. Rozhestvensky's detachment reached Tangier at

The

British cruisers

made

sure he

had disappeared shortly before

was indeed heading

3 p.m.,

October

his arrival,

21.

having

for Tangier. In Tangier, other ships

of the squadron were waiting for the admiral impatiently. They had reached Morocco safely and without any trouble.

in

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Rozhestvensky immediately ordered his groups before dusk

fell.

He

fleet to split into

two

himself would lead his detachment of

newer battleships and a number of other better ships around the Cape of Good Hope, and Admiral Felkersam would take

and

several transports

meet

ambush

pating another mirals

wanted

The cident,

left at

nine o'clock that night. Antici-

or even a military conflict with Britain, the ad-

to save at least

some of their

ships.

separation had been planned long before the

back in

St.

warships

through the Suez. The two detachments would

Madagascar. Felkersam

at

five older

Petersburg. Originally,

Enkvist would lead the Suez unit.

it

He was

Dogger Bank

in-

was intended that Admiral related to

Naval Minister

Avelan and therefore was expected to receive an independent com-

mand. But Rozhestvensky knew Enkvist was good changed the arrangement

at his

own

for

nothing and

risk.

After Felkersam departed, Rozhestvensky rushed his captains to coal as fast as possible.

The

British fleet

row Gibraltar

He

was only

still

fifty

had good reason

to expect the worse.

miles to the northeast, across the nar-

Strait.

Worried about Rozhestvensky 's possible intentions, the were monitoring

all

his

moves

closely.

The warship Diana was

in Tangier with precisely this mission.

The

and

large, the

and

is

said to steam well

as "a

"The men looked

well fed

very nice

and be handy." But by

Russian ships seemed lousy to the British.

to roll considerably.

placed

captain of the Diana,

Phippo-Horaby, visited the Aurora, which struck him ship with clear decks

British

and

They tended

healthy," but "the

general appearance of the ships did not give one an idea of being well disciplined

ana,

and organized

coming from

his report,

The snobbish

captain of the Di-

a country with notorious class distinctions, noted in

"Though some of the

the majority of those

decidedly

for war."

common

I

officers

looked to be of a good

saw, especially of the lower ranks,

class,

seemed of a

type."

Interestingly enough, the British captain, generally very critical

of the squadron,

made an exception

for

Rozhestven sky's detachment

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

112

of battleships: "Very powerful fighting vessels and carry large crews

who

look healthy. This division looks better prepared for war and

better

found

way than

in every

the other divisions."

Receiving visitors on their ships,

as naval etiquette dictated,

Russ-

ian officers told their inquisitive British counterparts stories about the

Dogger Bank been seen

incident, insisting that several

there.

The

enemy torpedo

boats had

Aurora

British could see for themselves that the

had been damaged during the skirmish; her chaplain had died of gangrene in a French hospital ashore.

The Russian

burned searchlights

at

night and sent boats on

Their British watchdog, the Dianas captain, in his

patrol. "also

ships

continued to prepare for war

as far as

own

words,

could be done without be-

ing visible from outside the ship."

Tangier was the

Western port the squadron

last

farewell to a familiar world. Built

visited, the final

on chalky limestone

hills,

in 1904

Tangier was one of the busiest and loveliest ports of the Mediterranean.

Its

old town, enclosed by ancient ramparts, struck the eye with

The

dazzling whiteness;

sultan's palace

and the Great Mosque created

spectacular sight, but the Russian sailors spent

row curved

streets

of the

good food. The armada

city,

left

famous

for

its

little

a

time on the nar-

prostitutes, hashish,

and

Tangier in sixty- four hours.

Apprehensive of Rozhestvensky's possible reaction, the British Admiralty canceled

its

previous order to follow the Russian ships closely.

The only information

required

now was whether

they were proceeding

via the Mediterranean or the Atlantic.

On

the

morning of October

parted from Tangier.

lowed

for a

southwest.

When

It

23,

steered west.

Rozhestvensky's squadron de-

The

British destroyer Ariel fol-

few hours, reporting that the Russians had turned west-

The Mad Dog's squadron was going around Africa. they were leaving Tangier, the transport Anadyr discovered

she could not

lift

her anchor; the wretched ship had got caught by an

underwater telegraph

cable.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Rozhestvensky became furious and spewed

all

113

the obscenities he

knew, then signaled the Anadyr. "Cut the cable and go to your place in the

column immediately." With

telegraph

On

he essentially terminated

communication between North Africa and Europe.

One of Nicholas Us

the eve of the departure, he sent two messages to Russia.

was a telegram to the

tsar; it

ascension to the throne.

was the tenth anniversary

"May God send

the admiral said politely. full

this order,

The second message was

of complaints: "One has to order

thing and then to check five times the order or not.

.

.

.

This

joy to Your Majesty's heart,"

is

five

times to do

to his wife, again

some most

trivial

more whether they have forgotten

a miserable fleet."

"We Have No

Coast

Batteries in Dakar!"

OCTOBER 23— DECEMBER

16,

1904

AFRICAN COAST

On

"Mad Dog" Rozhestvensky's men

leaving Tangier,

were told their next destination, the

To reach

it,

the squadron

had

city

to travel

of Dakar, in French Senegal.

two thousand miles southwest

from Gibraltar, skirting the Sahara and then soned

sailors

warned not

to expect

tropical rain forest. Sea-

anything good

down

there; they

prophesied unbearable heat and itching rash.

With Admiral

Felkersam's ships

now

Rozhestvensky's squadron was smaller.

columns.

He

crossing the Mediterranean,

He

organized

it

into three

himself led the right one on the Suvorov, followed by the

other four huge battleships



the Alexander

III,

the Borodino, the Orel,

and the Oslyabya. Six transports, the Kamchatka, the Anadyr, the Meteor,

the Korea, the Malaya, and the Rus proceeded in a parallel

to the

left.

The poor Kamchatka was

column

leading not due to her superb

naval qualities but precisely because of her total lack of such. After her

115

n6

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

erratic

performance

Dogger Bank, Rozhestvensky wanted

at

watch

to

her as closely as possible. Admiral Enkvist on the Nakhimov followed in the rear, leading

hospital ship Orel

two other

cruisers, the

and the French

Aurora and the Donskoi. The

refrigerator ship Esperance, carrying

1,000 tons of frozen meat, did not join any column. This was essential for

keeping their "neutral"

mune

status. Hopefully,

any potential Japanese

to

it

attack.

Even now, with Admiral Felkersam's ships was an enormous tricity

and

frailty

suffer

must have been represented

men must

become

manded

it.

human

and

St.

how

all.

No

matter

Petersburg.

The death of an

cable to the

them

tsar.

officer

Naval

personally

that privileged, but even

officers

known

to shoot his

The worst

and

to be re-

were the

elite

to foreign royalty

men

though they were frequently abused

to stay healthy, well fed,

their peers in the army.

had

was an emergency, de-

benevolently mentioned in august correspondence. Their

had

how despotic

powerless people were, military orderliness de-

the nation, quite a few of

still

20 were

suicidal before they reached the Far East.

manding an immediate

they

statis-

800 could

at least

that attention be paid to individuals. All casualties

ported to

eccen-

According to allergies,

disorder,

Rozhestvensky was responsible for them Russia was and

in

have had

from depression, 700 from anxiety

likely to

traveling separately, this

with around 7,500 people. Every

fleet,

1,500 of Rozhestvensky s

tics,

would make them im-

and

were not

physically,

much more

stable,

of

so than

thing a depressed soldier could do was

An unhappy sailor could destroy his whole ship.

commander.

Rozhestvensky 's crews had every reason to become depressed.

Modern warships looked

men. Most of them had come from earlier

and could barely

villages

read. Until they

weaponry they had ever come

landlord's hunting gun.

countless cables, meters,

were drafted, they had never

with machinery looked

across

sinister to

inside a ship.

them. In

scribed their ships as "iron monsters."

The most

would have been

They did not understand and pipes

the

only a few years or months

seen an electric bulb or heard the sound of an engine. phisticated

many of

mysterious and unfriendly to

letters

so-

their

the reason for the

Huge

hulls stuffed

back home,

men

de-

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Officers were not depressed

own

They were

concerns.

still

by steam and

steel,

but they had their

called "stars of the nation"

—but "cannon

meat" seemed more appropriate. Their journey was charged with ter.

Togo appeared almost omnipotent. To

phobia inherent to naval

huge

as floating cathedrals,

men manned no

life.

real

them.

some



nobody had an

more

Almost

watched by

officer

The

men and

latter

hierarchy

and therefore

life



confining, conserva-

find consolation in the

was always

aspects of an officer's

in the

were

unwelcome limeand

strictly regulated

his superiors.

Wardrooms were presided tains.

strict

Crewmen could

repressive.

all

his

spoiled

bedroom anyway.

anonymity of a mob, but an light.

hundred

eight

to hardship. In working-class slums or peasant huts,

individual

and often

as

in terms of private space, officers were far

Another concern was the tive,

were

A warship provided no privacy, no extra space, and

better off than the crew, but they were also

more vulnerable

disas-

claustro-

hulls, like the Suvorov,

but they were overcrowded

Of course,

comfort.

True,

was added the

this

117

had meals

over by senior officers, never by cap-

in their cabins.

The

idea was to create a dis-

tance, providing captains with special stature, but as often as not this

resulted in a split

between the captain and

his subordinates.

Daily routine was harsh. Watches were serious business cially

when

distances.

ships were traveling in

An

officer

columns

keeping watch was in

authority delegated by the captain.

at

total



espe-

uncomfortably close charge of his ship, his

The most hated watch, from

2 to

4 a.m., was called "dog." In the darkness, time crawled excruciatingly slowly; it

it

was easy not to notice the threatening hull of the next

was tempting

to close one's eyes

and

drift into a nap.

the squadron was led by the thunderous admiral, all-seeing

and ever

vigilant

and never hesitated

ship;

Meanwhile,

who seemed

to severely

to be

punish a

negligent officer.

Each warship was

a miniature replica of Russian society.

vide between officers and crew was sharp. stern

and bow. In the

stern, officers

ships like the Orel even

had

had

It

The

di-

was the division between

their

own

tiny cabins. Battle-

reserve space, in case the admiral

and

his

n8

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

whole

staff

decided for some reason to

move from

the Suvorov.

The

crew lived in the bow. Their joint quarters were so cramped that the upper

row of hammocks

allow at least

some

there

had

to be taken

away

for the

day to

space.

Torpedo boats had even

less space.

feeling of naval camaraderie

between

from bigger and more snobbish tocratic detachment,

This could

result in a special

people on board. Officers

all

ships, like the Suvorov, cultivating aris-

were shocked when they learned that torpedo

boat officers gave each other birthday presents. Occasionally, an officer

on

a torpedo boat

would be spotted ironing

palling sight even for liberal-minded peers

The

on bigger

— an

ap-

ships.

small world of a torpedo boat allowed a captain to cultivate his

idiosyncrasies to extremes. Lieutenant Bystry, for

example, liked to dress

with his men, and spent a stories

uniform

his

they

much

lot

appreciated.

Otto Richter, the captain of the

as a private,

of time in their company

bypassing

telling

Sometimes he even wore a

form onshore and was seen walking around derly, saluting

did his washing together

officers.

in the

bawdy

private's uni-

company of his

or-

This flamboyant cross-dressing, when

the captain was openly enjoying the eroticism of submissive roleplaying,

would be unimaginable on bigger

Every

officer

had an

orderly,

orderly was not only a valet

ships.

normally a young peasant

who washed

lad.

A good

the deck, did the laundry, and

ran various errands but also a nurse, a cook, a

tailor,

and sometimes

a

friend (in the case of Lieutenant Richter, a lover). However, the Russian language, with

its

two forms of "you," one

spectful, accentuated the inequality

variably addressed

men

them not

just

blagorodie,

"Your Honor.

familiar

and one

re-

of these friendships. Officers in-

with the familiar

"ty.

"

Men had

to address

with the respectful "vy" but with a very formal "vashe

The Russian Navy was based on

strict,

almost obsessive discipline.

Officers aspired to control every aspect of sailors' lives, including the spiritual. Russia's state religion

ian

was Eastern Orthodoxy.

was Orthodox. Although some

officers

A good

Russ-

and bureaucrats of German

or Baltic descent remained Protestant or in

some

cases even Catholic,

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

no

was possible on a warship. Each of the

diversity

the battleships

and

chaplain. Aside

had an Orthodox

cruisers,

large vessels, like

monk

priest or

from professional chores, such

a figure

couraged to spy and report on the crew. In some

119

was

for her

also en-

cases, a sincere

con-

fession could cost a sailor dearly.

One way to discipline crews was to make church mandatory. Many men hated going to chapel and would bowels of the ship,

commissioned

they put

as

it

attendance hide in the

them, cursing and sweating.

officers searched for

found, the culprits would be rewarded with liberal punches.

enjoyed the masses

officers

Non-

themselves, "like cockroaches."

either,

but they

felt

When

Few of the

obliged to set a good

example. Class tensions were soldier

would meet

much worse

ate or

another

watched

story. Sailors

much

but

it

dred

men

ate well.

was impossible

men

drank or spent

from

A

He

were

There was

their prying eyes.

Meals were to be cooked with fresh meat,

to stock

for several weeks.

their free time. Ships

their superiors constantly.

that an officer could conceal

In theory,

during service hours.

his officers exclusively

had no idea how they

not

navy than in the army.

in the

enough cows or

When

pigs to feed eight

hun-

the livestock supply onboard was

exhausted, meat had to be taken from the refrigerator of the Esperance. After the Esperance s stock was emptied, crews were fed solonina preserve of a yellowish color, often stinking

On

such days some Officers

had

several dishes.

Imperial

their

Good

Navy had

the crew's

sailors refused to take

own

and generally nauseating.

meals at

all.

supply of everything. Each meal consisted of

cooks prepared them. Probably no officer in the

ever eaten solonina



except

menu. Fine wine and elaborate

spirits

obliged to check

were served

wardroom.

arias

and Chopin mazurkas mixed with smells of exquisite

fee, liqueurs,

nitely better if

and

life.

was both

cigars.

For

that,

a club.

No

anything in their hearts

sailor

in the offi-

Sounds of opera

These sounds and smells told

If this ignited

not outright hatred.

officer.

a restaurant

and

when

cers'

It

—meat

sauces, cof-

men it

was

of an

infi-

bitterness,

could hope to become a commissioned

he had to be born into a privileged

class.

izo

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Some

officers

prohibited felt

beat their men.

still

but everybody

this,

man

guilty about giving a

pressed with a

sailor's

vodka or two.

It

knew

Many

captains discouraged or

that Rozhestvensky himself rarely

When

a thrashing.

performance, he would buy

was commonly believed

this

an

was im-

officer

him an

extra shot of

was the only kind of en-

couragement the brutes would appreciate. For ing,

men on

a warship, the

announced with

ately after that,

They never usually

a shriek of a flute

noncommissioned

morn-

officers started rousting the fists;

men.

by design, they

bullies

the point of being deliberately cruel. For this they were

some of them even shared

sailors hastily

jumped from

a cabin for just two.

their berths

only a few minutes to dress and turn cocoons.

at five o'clock in the

on the upper deck. Immedi-

hesitated to use obscenities or

made

rewarded;

day started

Then

and hammocks. They had

hammocks

into neat,

numbered

the cocoons had to be taken to the upper deck and put

into special niches.

The crew was ordered

der was "To prayer!"

A

Elbowing each

to wash.

with harsh seawater. The next or-

other, they hastily rinsed their faces

dreds of voices

Hundreds of

priest arrived to sing the day's

hymns. Hun-

on deck accompanied him.

Breakfast of bread, butter, and tea took half an hour. At seven o'clock the cleaning-up started.

Decks had

to be washed, brass pol-

ished, walls brushed. Shortly before eight, everybody

had

to be

deck in a solemn formation. The captain received reports from nior officer, the doctor, and others.

At eight o'clock

ously with Rozhestvensky's Suvorov, Flag, a blue cross

Officers

on white

that

and crewmen took

The day was

all

on

his se-

sharp, simultane-

ships raised the St. Andrew's

was the trademark of the Russian navy.

their caps off.

Horns and drums

played.

launched.

For two and a half hours, training proceeded.

Then

the cook

brought a portion of the crew's lunch to the captain: a bowl of meat soup,

slices

of bread, and

he approved, the senior All used the

salt.

The

officer

same spoon.

captain had to taste the soup, and

and head of watch had

to taste

it,

if

too.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

At eleven where

vessels

announced lunch.

o'clock, flutes

Men

121

rushed to the deck

with vodka already stood. Each was poured half a

glass. If

the meat was fresh, the soup was good: meat, cabbage, potato, beet, carrot, onion, pepper,

rested for

two hours, took

work. At half past arrived,

and some wheat

and

that the crew

was

and then returned

tea for thirty minutes,

five, all

vessels

After lunch, the crew

flour.

labors were finished.

At

six o'clock,

to

dinner

with vodka were brought to the deck again. After

free to relax.

the lowering of the flag

The only ceremonies remaining were

and evening

prayer.

Normally, crews were well fed and worked only eight hours a day,

with a three-hour break in the middle. However,

—be gency— crew was

wrong

it

if

the interruption of food supplies or

the

the

first

something went

some other emer-

to suffer.

Apart from these ugly discrepancies brought to the squadron by a semi-feudal society, Rozhestvensky's ships also encountered a

of ad hoc

difficulties.

They were were becoming ter

number

quickly running short of supplies. scarce, for instance, soap

(ordinary soap

would not

Some

essential items

designed to be used in seawa-

lather). Officers,

almost

all

of them

smokers, suffered from a shortage of cigarettes, and crewmen were

running out of tobacco for

where they would be able

home,

ian navy

was accustomed

They were not

to restock.

like sweets, also started

They were experiencing

rolling.

sure

when and

Other supplies brought from

looking precious.

a feeling of total

abandonment. The Russ-

to long voyages, but

had never taken such

a

desolate route. Usually the Russians kept to the busy traffic lanes like

the Mediterranean,

Red

Sea, or

North

that they were to visit places they

Pacific. Officers

complained

had never heard of before, or

if

they

had, then only long ago in school.

The

heat became unbearable. Sailors sweat profusely and slept

naked, "wearing only crosses," as they joked to each other. Officers, exploiting the privacy of their cabins, stayed naked in daytime, too.

After dark, although the heat was especially oppressive, no one was

122

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

allowed to open portholes: Rozhestvensky did not want any unnecessary lights.

Drawers would not swollen. Towels all

humidity had made the

close;

and underwear would not

wood damp and

dry. Ventilators

were working

day long but did not help. Everybody looked "sluggish and

They were water with

consumed soda

thirsty all the time. Officers greedily

and crews made

ice,

Several ships

had proven

sleepy."

kvas, a village bread cider.

and

totally unreliable

for such a journey. Their engines

basically unsuitable

would break down

frequently,

mak-

ing the whole squadron stop and wait until the unfortunate ship coped

with the problem. This was especially infuriating, because

happened

Although

to transports.

it

had been impossible

usually

it

to acquire

better battleships or cruisers, the Admiralty definitely could have

found better cargo

ships.

On

October

26, for example, the transport

Malaya kept the whole squadron waiting

The

fact that

Many of the

steam was

captains

still

relatively novel aggravated tensions.

had been trained

mechanical problems with

irritation.

the built-in frailty of machinery

for six long hours.

in the days

of sail and regarded

They were unable

and thought

to

that a turbine

apprehend

must be

as

easy to fix as a rope.

Rozhestvensky himself was somewhat guilty of that misperception. Relative technical conservatism, amplified

him

to

down

by bad temper, was leading

horrendous explosions of wrath aimed

at those ships that

broke

regularly.

But everything seemed ter to his wife,

scribe a

to be

provoking

his

wrath that

fall.

In a

let-

he called the Suvorov a den, a word Russians used to de-

messy and

totally

ship could be like that."

mismanaged

And some

place. "I never

thought a war-

other ships were even worse.

Rozhestvensky was extremely displeased with his captains and staff:

"Tons of papers, various instructions

they face a grandiose task they

of people too, then there

is

faint.

no hope

.

.

.

—but

If the

left."

inept people? Because other admirals, like

all

wrong.

.

.

.

When

army has the same kind

Why

did he have so

Makarov and

many

Alexeev,

had

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

already taken jected

the best men.

all

"The people who were

left

123

had been

re-

by them."

Tolerance was definitely not one of his virtues.

When

angry

at the

Suvorov captain and in need of sending orders to the front bridge

where the

and

this

were

that."

"this

Rozhestvensky would

culprit was,

The

kindest words he

roar, "Tell the

den

these occasions

when

the admiral was

bunch of fools."

Old

cursing the Slutty

that

Geezer, he was referring to his junior flag officer,

Rear Admiral Enkvist, a

man

of imposing looks but no substance.

captain of the battleship Orel, vain

and nervous Jung, he

with revolution in his youth, the Brainless

of the Alexander, Bukhvostov, a proud the Guards'

Of the

Uniform Hanger.

Kamchatka was the Lecherous

Rozhestvensky yelled

who had

Nihilist; the captain

member of the

Imperial Guards,

ships, the too

quick Aurora was

Whore, the too slow Donskoi was the Cabbie, and the

liable

The

called the Pol-

ished Fidget; the captain of the Borodino, Serebrennikov,

the

Slut.

When

at her, as if she, five miles

hateful, unre-

a ship misbehaved,

away, could hear.

When

exasperated, the admiral howled in impotent rage, "Whores,

whores!" and pitched his binoculars overboard. His this habit,

do

would use on

Soon everybody on the Suvorov knew

flirted

to

had ordered

fifty pairs

But the Dogger Bank incident sky's disposition,

and the

when

quite aware of

they were leaving Kronshtadt.

definitely hadn't

optical stock

staff,

all

improved Rozhestven-

was being exhausted even more

quickly than the staff had expected.

The admiral

regularly issued orders to the squadron, delivered to

every ship by messenger.

He

hibited sarcasm, bitterness, ders were long

used these for severe scolding. They ex-

and passion

remembered

for discipline.

Some of the

for their blunt language.

One

or-

of them

dealt with signals.

The Suvorov

was, naturally, setting the pace for the whole

squadron. To this end, special black dicate ordered speed. ral

balls

were raised on her mast to

in-

However, with enormous indignation, the admi-

noticed that most of the mast was normally occupied by the crew's

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

124

underwear so

that,

Rozhestvensky wrote sardonically, those following

the flagship "could see a lot of waving pants, but

In 1904, radio was

way

to

on the mast and

to

was

ships

combination of

to raise a

monitor the

on

flags

their masts care-

Obviously, in this case, no communication remained private.

fully.

to bypass

from

signals at all."

temperamental and unreliable, so the main

communicate with other

special flags

way

still

no

it

was

hand semaphore

to use



A

a signal discernible only

close range.

On one occasion the admiral ordered a signal sent to the battleship Orel via hand semaphore.

It

took the Orel captain an hour and a half

to respond. In a special order, Rozhestvensky

warned

that during the

masts could be destroyed, and the semaphore

forthcoming

battle, all

might prove

to be the only

means of communication.

If the captains

did not learn to use the hand semaphore properly before that, he continued, during the battle the squadron sheep," "losing their

unwashed

would become

"a flock

of

hair" to the Japanese.

Communication was one of the major problems

that kept sending

Rozhestvensky's binoculars overboard.

The

year 1904 was an interest-

ing time in this respect. Radio was

still

very

untested. Transmitters were extremely volatile, atingly short. Marconi, a leading

potential of miles.

It

its

was

own

new and somewhat

and

their range excruci-

maker of radios, was vague about the

products, quoting a range of ten to three hundred

rarely longer than

fifty.

Even the

British, as always the

most technologically advanced, constantly expressed

They experimented with

radio a lot

their frustration.

and scrupulously recorded

griev-

ances: "atmospherics very bad"; "no definite signals received"; signals

"mostly unintelligible." As often as not,

would be

"a

few

ticks."

He would

all

a radio operator could hear

not be even able to distinguish

which language was being transmitted. Telegraph could also be problematic. direct links

were

available,

and

it

First, it

was

slow.

Very few

took an eternity to get a message

transmitted through several terminals. All messages, even top secret

ones upon which the fate of the world depended, were transmitted

through the general telegraph network. To transmit an extremely



THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

sensitive

home

message from an embassy to the

alien telegraph lines.

With codes being

and no information was secure

as

capital,

one had

125

to use

rather basic, spying was easy

soon

as

plunged into the cable

it

web. For Russians, the situation was particularly bad. Their enemy, Britain, controlled a lot

rope. In 1904, the safest

of telegraph terminals, especially outside Eu-

way

to

conduct business was by

Communications were playing

letter.

a sinister role in the fate of the be-

sieged Russian fortress in Manchuria, Port Arthur. Very soon

from the

itself isolated

it

found

of world; the Japanese had cut the under-

rest

water telegraph cable that led across the sea to Chefoo.

The Russian

consulate in Chefoo had a radio station, and foreign correspondents

assembled in the dark around the building to watch the antennas mysterious blue gleam.

Although the Japanese consulate asserted that the

use of radio by the Russians was a violation of Chinese neutrality

and the Chinese asked the Russians

to stop



the sad reality was that

the Russian consulate could not talk to Port Arthur at

used the same wavelength

ter

were jamming the Russian

The Russian ices

Japanese

fleet,

transmit-

and the Japanese

signals.

consul in Chefoo was forced to start buying the serv-

of Chinese smugglers to deliver messages to Port Arthur and back.

Finding the tling its

as the

all. Its

new

business very profitable, junks of outlaws began shut-

between Shandong and Liaodong. Every ninth junk perished on

way.

Some were

their catch

The



intercepted by the Japanese,

who

occasionally shared

—with

for instance, a Russian officer's letter

the British.

Russians were quite aware of this and took precautions. Mes-

sages were written in code

three smugglers carried the

on

tiny pieces of thin paper,

same message. Occasionally

and two or a

junk

also

took a Russian officer-courier to Port Arthur and back. The consul ex-

perimented with dove mail, too, but not a single bird succeeded in covering the eighty miles separating Chefoo from the fortress.

Of course, his

Rozhestvensky's situation was infinitely better.

He and

crews could expect to get mail in almost every port on his route. Of-

ficers

had

left

thorough instructions for

their families

on how they

could be reached. All personal mail had to go through intermediaries

iz6

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

either through the St. Petersburg post office, or Ginsburg's

headquarters, addressed to reasons,

"The Second

Pacific

Squadron." For security

was prohibited to use international mail.

it

home were

Officers' letters

not censored; nevertheless, the ban on

independent communication was broken

many had

complained that they

and magazines were

in every port. In Tangier

home, and the lucky ones even got

sent cables back

sponse. But now, barely a

month

after

they had

felt totally isolated.

in great

left

They were

a re-

Russia, officers

bored, and books

demand.

For the admiral the isolation was

of emotional comfort but of survival.

army was

Odessa

faring in Manchuria.

Was

much worse. It was an issue not He had no idea how the Russian

Port Arthur

still

in Russian hands?

What was going on in Russia proper? When the squadron left Kronshtadt, many had been talking about the approaching revolution. Had it arrived? What did Tsar Nicholas II think about the revolution, war, and peace? What were his plans for

Was Vladivostok

threatened?

Rozhestvensky?

2

At eight o'clock on the morning of October

Dakar

in

officers

expected a party.

gave a festive lunch that day indeed.

guests: nurse Natalia Sivers affair

squadron reached

French Senegal. October 30 was Rozhestvensky's birthday,

and the Suvorov

He

30, the

with

A

surprise awaited the

from the hospital ship

this thirty-year-old blue-eyed,

Orel.

The

admiral's

emotional blonde was be-

coming public knowledge. Rozhestvensky's angel must have been smiling

was partying with the

woman

down on him. He

he was infatuated with, and ten German

steamers with thirty thousand tons of coal were waiting for harbor.

was

He hoped

to start loading

to see the shore until

problems

arose.

all

him

in the

soon and announced that no one

the coal was taken onboard. But suddenly

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

127

In the morning, the French governor was very friendly, but by af-

new

ternoon he had received

were forbidden to take on

instructions

from

number of Western

awaiting Rozhestvensky's

reporters in

arrival.

telegraph,

Dakar had been impatiently

At the turn of the

last

century, the

A century ear-

by the time the European periphery got the news about

in 1815,

Now news

Napoleon's landing in France, he had already been defeated. traveled fast,

When

Russians

plans.

public was developing a taste for quickly delivered news. lier,

The

That new technology, the

coal.

had unexpectedly interfered with the admiral's

A

Paris:

sometimes too

the

German

fast,

influencing and shaping politics.

colliers arrived at

Dakar, the press reported the

news immediately. Even before Rozhestvensky himself showed up, European diplomacy had been

set into

motion. London energetically

protested to Paris that allowing Russians to take ters

was breaching France's Paris

on

coal in French

wa-

neutrality.

was unpleasantly surprised,

to say the least.

had hoped

It

Rozhestvensky would be able to take on coal quietly before the world

knew anything about

it.

In that case, Paris

would have held

the local

governor responsible, and that would have been the end of things were

becoming more complicated.

The governor went

to the Suvorov

and solemnly informed the ad-

miral that he was withdrawing his permission to take

on

estvensky emphatically objected. Wasn't France Russia's angrily.

He

The Frenchman smiled and responded

coal.

ally?

He was

just follow-

understand each other. You obey your orders from

until

instructions

from

St.

Petersburg.

I

he asked

was indeed.

"Then we

ing instructions from Paris. Rozhestvensky brightened up.

my

Rozh-

it

that, yes,

personally had nothing against Rozhestvensky.

carry out

Now

it.

shall

Paris,

and

I

shall

continue coaling

your coast batteries stop me." The governor replied mischie-

vously,

"Your Excellency surely knows that we have no coast batteries

in Dakar!"

Immediately

after the guest left,

Rozhestvensky ordered

coaling to begin.

The work was

frantic.

participate. Officers

Discrimination was put on hold;

worked shoulder

to shoulder with

all

crewmen.

had

On

to

the

128

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

To motivate

Suvorov, even the priest joined in.

promised

prizes for the fastest ships.

His battleship

hour, she took 120 tons of coal, breaking

The work

men

his crews,

all

known

won

Rozhestvensky

all

three. In

one

records.

lasted for twenty-nine hours in suffocating heat.

Those

unfortunate enough to be sent into the holds were working stark

naked.

Many fainted and had

to be taken

up

to the

deck and showered

with water. In the scarce hours of rest, people slept "in the mixed juice of sweat and coal dust." All drinks became unpleasantly warm,

was

terrible

and impossible

to quench. Ice

cream served

thirst

at the officers'

mess was steaming. Lemonade bottles were consumed by the dozens. All that people could talk about

was coal and coal alone. Faces were

black with coal dust, and the air over the decks was hazy with

was everywhere



in beds, drawers,

Several sailors died

it.

Dust

and wardrobes.

from heatstroke. One of them was Lieutenant

Ivan Nelidov. Rozhestvensky had to personally report this death to the tsar by special cable; Nelidov was the son of the Russian ambassa-

dor to France. His mother had patronized the hospital ship Orel

where he

died.

She had collected 120,000 rubles to equip the hospital

ship for her son's journey. After the funeral mass, Nelidov's

brought ashore, and a French steamer took

it

to

Europe

body was

for his par-

ents to bury.

Though islands,

built picturesquely

Dakar did not

strike the

larly beautiful place. Yet, the

was

fascinating.

narrow

streets

on the oceanic shore and exhausted Russian

several small

sailors as a particu-

mixture of African and European cultures

The European compound of Dakar, with

its

straight

and simple two-story houses with shadowy verandas,

was pierced here and there by native huts. Most Russians had never seen Africans before and watched

The

blacks

performed a

went

to the

them with

great curiosity.

squadron in tiny narrow boats. There they

trick, familiar in the

days of high colonialism. Sailors

threw coins into the water, and blacks dived in to catch them. But the next day they tried to

The

sell

back the coins: Kopeika was

useless in Dakar.

Russians were impressed by the culture: people in white and

colored tunics, naked children, everybody wearing amulets instead of

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Of course,

crosses.

preferably officers. in Dakar.

known

The

its

yellow

that there were

just

no

local French,

Europeans

elderly

few years there and

Dakar was

leave;

fever.

Russians complained there was nothing to do in town.

boredom and fruit

They noticed

They would spend

for

mixed only with the

the Russians

and

ate

curiosity, the

it.

He was

Two Japanese were spies. St.

129

Suvorova doctor picked up an

Out of

unknown

sick for the next several hours.

spotted in town. Everybody believed they were

Petersburg informed the admiral that the Japanese were plan-

ning an ambush. Three Japanese cruisers were reported to be near Ceylon, allegedly carrying formidable torpedoes. sinisterly, "It is

believed that the Japanese

The message concluded

know

the place of our

squadrons' rendezvous in the Indian Ocean."

Also of crucial importance was where they could next take on coal.

The French government knew

that Rozhestvensky intended to

make

a

stopover in Libreville, the capital of another French colony, Gabon. Paris

to

thought

this

Cape Lopez,

Virenius,

embarrassing and proposed that Rozhestvensky go

hundred miles south. Admiral

a deserted roadstead a

managing the Naval General

Staff in Rozhestvensky 's ab-

sence, questioned the French naval attache, Captain de Saint-Pair: "Is there a

good anchorage

"First class.

I'll

show

it

at

Cape Lopez?"

to you.

Give

me

a chart."

After twenty minutes' search, an officer reported to Virenius,

"The

Admiralty doesn't possess any charts of the African coast."

While the Russian Admiralty was combing Africa,

King Edward VII

and Russia. In a

talk

still

is

a war-parry there

by way of diversion

Duke

is

a

maps of

perceived a ghost of war berween Britain

Romanovs

which

is

for the

forthcoming

man

disaster:

longing to pick a quarrel with

after all the disasters in the Far East.

Alexis hates us; the

The Emperor

for

with the French ambassador to the Court of Saint

James, the king blamed the

There

its files

Grand Duke Alexander

is

us,

The Grand

pressing for war.

of peace, inspired by the best intentions, but

he always takes the advice of the

last

person

he's

been speaking

to.

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

130

The king kept "would be

repeating that a war between Britain and Russia

a cataclysm, a cataclysm."

nephew, Kaiser Wilhelm, was letters to the tsar.

Neither the

As he up

stirring tsar

justly suspected, his other

trouble, sending incendiary

nor the kaiser knew that the Russ-

ian Minister of War, General Sakharov, terrified

of the

kaiser's private

diplomacy, was reporting the

As a

to the French military attache in St. Petersburg. fully

aware of the

by the possible

kaiser's efforts, Paris

messages

kaiser's result,

being

inclined to sacrifice

St.

its

now

was getting more and more

anxious about the possibility of a Russo-German alliance and less

fruits

London

friendship with

less

and

for the sake of

Petersburg.

Amazingly enough, London

still

suspected that Russia was capable

of launching a war against the British Empire.

The Viceroy of India

re-

ported, "Influx of troops from European Russia has recommenced,

2,000

men

having recently arrived

the middle of

nowhere on the Caspian

activity in Asia

in

Krasnovodsk

at

Any minor

Sea]."

was now watched with caution.

Teheran warned, "Persian ambassador

shortly proceed to

St.

Russian port in

[a

pro-Russian

A British representative

at

Petersburg to congratulate

Constantinople will

Emperor on

birth of

Tsesarevich."

Prime Minister Balfour succumbed to the paranoia, to the king that "in the event of Port

might "adopt some course

Arthur

hostile to British interests

cided, Balfour continued, that

it

The

a superior force of battleships ready at

it



for example,

cabinet had de-

was not desirable

troops to land in the Persian Gulf yet. Instead,

He wrote

Rozhestvensky

falling"

the occupation of a port in the Persian Gulf."

too.

to send British

had decided

Bombay, and

"to

have

to request the

Russian Government to abstain from anything in the nature of a landing." St.

The Cabinet was prepared

"to

withdraw our Ambassador from

Petersburg," if necessary.

In the Orient, His Majesty's estvensky's squadron.



cific

Navy was preparing

to

meet Rozh-

Three top naval commanders of the Asian Pa-

the commanders-in-chief of the China, Australia, and East In-

dies stations

—met

in Singapore

on the

HMS

Glory.

"Under the present

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

condition of affairs," the participating admirals gravely stated, pecially necessary to consider our being involved in a

and France, with Japan them. As early

as

our

as

December

Such

ally."

a scenario

131

"it is es-

war with Russia was not news to

1903, almost a year earlier, a special letter

from Admiralty had notified the commanders that war with Russia could become a

reality.

Now

the admirals were preparing for action

against France as well, planning "a successful attack" against their cur-

rent

ally.

Even before

hostilities started,

naval bases in Indochina

London had

and shadow

they planned to watch French

their

armored

cruisers in the area.

other anxieties. Prime Minister Arthur Balfour in-

formed the king that

"a

most embarrassing question of international

law" had arisen: "British colliers are supplying the Russian coal necessary to take

them

tions," Balfour wrote, "it

supply, at his

tral to

ent. It

own

is

to the Far East."

risk, coal

"it

own

was not too persuasive.

It

how

to a belliger-

Foreign Enlistment

was decided

publication, explaining, as far as possible, letter

"Under the Law of Na-

and munitions of war

Act." Balfour informed the king that

The

with the

perfectly legitimate for the citizen of a neu-

not legitimate, however, under our

is

fleet

to write a letter for

the matter stands."

warned

British

merchants that

may have possible negative consequences, but stated traders may carry on trade even in contraband with bel-

their profiteering

that "neutral

ligerents subject to the risk

The government kept

of capture of their goods."

lists

of all ships

plying Rozhestvensky with coal. These



lists

British

and foreign



sup-

provided information on

owners, ships, cargo, and destinations. Destinations of colliers revealed the route of Rozhestvensky s squadron. British consuls around Africa

were requested to report any information relevant to Russian coaling.

When ter

a British collier failed to report to a local British consul, the lat-

would

take "measures to ensure that she should not be allowed to

leave this port." After that, skippers usually agreed to collaborate.

Meanwhile, consuls briefed not only the Foreign Office but the nearest naval

command on

The Japanese

the colliers' destinations.

also

had the names of vessels and companies supply-

ing Rozhestvensky with coal and pressed

London

to prohibit British

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

132

subjects

from getting involved. Japanese knowledge was

They knew each

ship's location

and the amount of coal she

The Japanese were prodding help.

They

their British allies for

carried.

more

significant

indicated they were "very greatly disappointed" that Lon-

don had not

insisted

At the same time,

Marquess

Ito

on Rozhestvensky's prolonged detention

official

"many courteous and

victory over

substantial:

Tokyo never

at

Vigo.

of thanking London for

tired

its

friendly acts."

Hirobumi, a former prime minister who had secured

China ten

years earlier,

to dinner at the British lega-

wore on."

He

wanted Manchuria nor was strong enough

"to

tion, "speaking English better

said Japan neither

came

and

better as the evening

maintain large garrisons indefinitely on the remote borders of that province." Japan

would

respect the integrity of China, he said.

"Manchuria would thus be restored

to China."

by the Russians would be maintained itable for

any country,

The

railway built there

internationally. It

Ito continued, "to

endeavour to go beyond

those limits which appear to have been set by nature to

While Japanese diplomats kept trying did not have to fear Japanese

Togo was preparing 8,

to

hegemony

that they

dock and

in a

Europe that

Komura

it

Admiral

On November met with the

had been found imperatively

necessary," he

fit

state to

of the Japanese

fleet,

so

cope with the numerically superior

force" being brought against them.

minister continued, "to

powers."

in continental Asia,

effect repairs to the vessels

might be

its

Jutaro

Minister of Foreign Affairs Baron

said, "to

to persuade

meet Rozhestvensky's squadron.

British ambassador. "It

was unprof-

It

make another

had been decided, the foreign general assault

on Port Arthur,"

time "quite regardless of loss of life, and to endeavour to capture a

this fort,

or forts, which

commanded

the entire harbour, and from there

ther to destroy, or to drive out in a

damaged condition,

ei-

the Port

Arthur squadron to be dealt with by Admiral Togo's ships outside."

The emperor "had ordered The

that the fortress

attack was scheduled for

By

November

that time, Rozhestvensky

departed from Dakar on

must be taken

at

any

12.

was heading further south.

November

3,

cost."

He had

having sent a coded cable to the

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

tsar:

Gabon." As

"Left for

fated war,

and

if to

"Gabon"

this

ill-

annoyance of the august addressee, the

to the extreme

telegraph distorted

emphasize the confusion of

133

into "Gabulen."

3

As the squadron was leaving the inhospitable Senegalese tailed report

about

by Lansdowne spying.

its

stay in

personally.

He had

Dakar was heading

The author of the

report

tration)

London

to be read

had done thorough

registered not only the death of Lieutenant "Jean de

Nelidoff " (the French spelling of the Russian

name

had been using documents of the

British scout

for

shore, a de-

indicated that the

local colonial

He

but also a number of more political matters.

adminis-

reported that

the French governor had taken "no efficient measures" to prevent Rozh-

estvensky from coaling. As a result of this, the Russians had been able to

on tremendous amounts of

take

each warship calculate

coal.

The

scout enclosed figures for

—very important information, allowing

how

far

British agents

Rozhestvensky would be able to

had been unable

the Admiralty to

travel.

However, the

to get verifiable information

about

Rozhestvensky s next destination, for "great secrecy has been maintained

on the

tion between

subject." Basing his

judgment on an overheard conversa-

two supercargoes from German

report suggested that Rozhestvensky

the author of the

colliers,

had departed

for

some other German colony

to the south of Dakar.

Rozhestvensky was taking his

fleet to yet

The

He was

or

wrong.

another French settlement.

rains started after they left Dakar.

hours of the morning, and lasting for three to so ferocious that they broke tents

Cameroon

Beginning in the early five

minutes, they were

on decks and soaked

sailors sleeping

underneath.

Morning brought

heat,

and heat brought itching

was the only known cure, but

made

itching worse, yet

temporary

relief

from

its

it

many

was

available only

could not

coolness.

resist

rash. Fresh

from

rain.

water

Seawater

the temptation to get

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

134

The

heat lasted

day long. At lunch and dinner,

all

thirsty officers

drank everything they could: water, mineral water, white and red wine, beer,

lemonade. Rozhestvensky suffered from heat more than others.

After

all,

two weeks

he could hope

Around

ness

for,

The

night came.

six o'clock,

Each evening brought

Men, former

The

air

temperature

all

portholes opened.

tropics

relief to the

do not have

twilight.

moments and then

dark-

squadron.

peasants from the northern plains, had never seen so

The

stars.

brighter

with the ventilator on and

blushes purple and scarlet for a few

falls.

many

fifty-six.

was reaching 45 degrees Centigrade; 27 degrees was the best

in his cabin

The sky

he had turned

earlier

nights were ablaze with them,

and bigger than

and they were much

in the north. Officers searched the sky for the

magnificent constellation of the Southern Cross.

Few had

seen

it

ex-

cept in astronomy textbooks.

At night the ocean was calm and motionless, almost

"The monster

slept

and guarded

its

repose." Absolute silence

terrupted only by the sound of propellers. Each ship

wake; the ocean,

still

mirror-like.

left a

was

in-

glowing

unpolluted, became phosphorescent with the

passing ships.

Men and ful.

A

officers all slept

on deck now. Their

new annoyance had manifested

itself

sleep

on the

was not peace-

ships: rats.

One

the beasts attacked the Suvorova senior officer every night, piercing

sharp teeth into his

The weather

suggested leisure, but the admiral was permitted none.

thing went

wrong with

had

and

valves.

the Orel throwing the squadrons formation

The Borodino became handicapped and

was unable to proceed

to stop

wait.

faster

the

Then

than

7.5 knots.

Malaya

transport,

shallower than the

map

still

Eleven hours

later,

some-

and the whole squadron

disaster; the

ocean was

much

suggested. Ships immediately turned seaward.

expected time of their arrival at

they were

for thirty-six hours

the Donskoi reported sand in her Kingstone

This incidence presaged potential

The

its

leg.

The Suvorov nearly rammed into disarray.

of

on the high

seas.

Gabon had come and

gone, but

Rozhestvensky demanded explanations.

His navigators had to admit that they had

failed to calculate their

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

position correctly

and now did not know where the mouth of the Gabon

River was. Rozhestvensky showered

Fuming with

rage,

The Rus its

them with well-deserved

he sent the steamer Rus to search

did a good job.

and anchored

destination

135

On November at the

13,

reproaches.

Gabon.

for the

the squadron reached

mouth of the Gabon

River, three

miles from shore, outside French territorial waters.

German mediately.

steamers were there, and the admiral ordered coaling im-

It

was

crews a reward:

their first coaling in the

visits to

open

sea.

He

promised

his

The

shore after the coaling was completed.

coal rush started once again.

The

vegetables

and

Libreville,

tal,

French governor sent Rozhestvensky some

local

a request not to enter the

mouth of the

form him of developments

for

at the front. Also,

selves

knew nothing about what was going on

estvensky s

News from lieved to be a

in the

allies.

did not receive officers

in the world.

them-

When

ca-

a

good

its

present anchoring was too

Rozhestvensky ignored the order.

the front was mixed.

had been assigned

was

to in-

mood: the Admiralty recommended moving the squadron

embarrassing for French

lull fell

capi-

Petersburg finally arrived, they did not improve Rozh-

even further away from Libreville, for

ing

Gabon

from telegraph agencies, and the French

service

St.

Gabon

Rozhestvensky in

news

from

The

was twenty miles upstream.

There were no cables waiting

bles

river.

and

fruits

The Russian army

new commander,

general, but

no

in the Far East

Alexei Kuropatkin,

offensive

had

resulted,

who was and

be-

a linger-

over the whole of Manchuria. Port Arthur, to the contrary,

middle of a storm. So

far, all

Japanese attacks had been

re-

buffed, but the future looked gloomy.

Admiral Felkersam was heading for Djibouti

in the

Red

Sea,

and

Captain Dobrotvorsky, bringing more cruisers and torpedo boats from the Baltic, was

making

for Tangier.

Rozhestvensky was that the to the Far East

The lai



tsar

But the news most shocking

to

was considering sending another force

the 3rd Pacific Squadron.

3rd Pacific Squadron was the brainchild of Commander Niko-

Klado. Klado had been Rozhestvensky's chief of naval intelligence on

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

136

Dogger Bank

the Suvorov. After the

him

incident, Rozhestvensky

to St. Petersburg, together with three other officers, to testify be-

fore the international tribunal for Russia.

cer it.

was not content to be a mere witness

Using

his strong court

manovs, the

connection

for Rozhestvensky.

society parlors,

Of course,

However, the ambitious

to history;

—he had been

He

— Klado

he wanted to shape

two Ro-

a tutor to

started advocating reinforcements

published impassioned

and he talked

to the

he cruised high

articles,

tsar.

Rozhestvensky did not mind reinforcements.

had bought ships from Argentina and Chile,

as the tsar

If Russia

had promised

would, Rozhestvensky would have willingly taken them. But what

Klado was suggesting leftovers

of the Baltic

now Fleet,

looked incredibly

most of them

silly:

assembling

old, poorly

These ships would be a burden rather than an at

offi-

brother Michael and his cousin Kyril (the lucky sur-

tsar's

vivor of the Petropavlovsk)

it

had sent

asset.

Madagascar meant wasting time. Rozhestvensky

that the tsar

had broken

and Chilean

tine

cruisers

his

he got another cable from rious.

The

was a

flotilla

British

still

armed, and slow.

To wait also

for

understood

St.

earlier.

Petersburg that

government was

made him

caustically

absolutely fu-

warning him that there

of British fishing boats in the Indian Ocean near Durban. rage. "I

beg you to ask the English

government," he cabled the Admiralty, "to warn their African

off,

them

digesting this unsettling information,

Rozhestvensky exploded with

men

the

word, and he would never see the Argen-

promised

While the admiral was

all

not to intrude into the squadron's route

at

fisher-

night with their lights

otherwise they will be sunk without any mercy." To

make

sure his

message was heard by the British immediately, Rozhestvensky sent

it

uncoded. St.

Petersburg winked. Foreign Minister Lamsdorf, quietly cursing

Rozhestvensky, did transfer the warning to the British but also asked the Admiralty to do something about the belligerent admiral. Lams-

dorf s patience was exhausted, and from then on he was Rozhestvensky's bitter

enemy.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Libreville, the capital

to visit, did

little

was founded

Only

sight.

of Gabon, which crews were

improve the

to

by freed

in 1849

months, cannibals had eaten

slaves, Libreville

visitors insisted

much

of a

there. In the last

two

was

still

not

four.

Russian officers visited the local king.

bored

allowed

sailors' spirits. Fifty-five years after it

few hundred Europeans lived

a

finally

137

He was

on an immediate audience.

taking a nap, but the Still sleepy,

the king

proudly sported several wives and an old uniform of a British admiral.

The dowager queen, and

pathetically drunk,

begged for money. The senior

elderly lady-in-waiting, Margarita, did not

mock

This

at

all.

court became the favorite attraction of the Russians.

The king shook hands and tainment for

wear any clothes

officers

was

readily posed for pictures.

visiting shops to

buy

rusty

Another enter-

weapons and teeth

of wild beasts.

The only tion.

They

mense

thing Russians liked about

called

a "botanic garden." Located

it

tropical rain forest,

trimmed the

tic trees

Gabon was

it

Each

visit to

lush vegeta-

on the edge of an im-

breathed with exuberant

shore.

its

life.

Huge

majes-

the nearby plantations

provided a tour of tropical miracles: pineapples, bananas, lemons, baobabs, mangoes, mimosas, and a myriad of other fruits

unknown

The

trees, flowers,

and

to Russians.

wildlife also

amazed them. One of the

butterflies that reached

the Suvorov was a foot wide. Sharks, tortoises, and pythons were abun-

dant. Officers started buying pets.

estvensky a parrot.

One

this gift caused; the

A

local Jesuit priest sent

Rozh-

can imagine the flood of unprintable remarks

commander-in-chief did not

like pets or, for that

matter, Jesuits.

The

relaxed anchoring at

Younger

officers

a collapse in discipline.

were acquiring dangerous devil-may-care attitudes.

The most outrageous tal

Gabon brought

case involved the cruiser Donskoi

and the hospi-

ship Orel.

The men.

He

Orel nurses were the greatest temptation for Rozhestvensky's

himself was infatuated with Natalia Sivers and courted her

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

138

and not too

faithfully

discreetly.

nurse from the Orel, Miss

The Donskoi

officers invited

Klemm, whom they had known

another

in St. Pe-

She was an amateur singer and promised to perform

tersburg.

in the

Donskoi wardroom. The Donskoi captain, Ivan Lebedev, readily granted permission; he was a great fun-lover himself. thusiastically

headed

The

officers en-

for the Orel to fetch their silver-tongued prize.

However, the party was destined for calamity. Rozhestvensky had banned

Dinner with Miss

five o'clock.

communication between

all

Klemm was

on the

after the

Orel, so a boat traveling

from the hospital ship

But a

woman

loading

to the cruiser

a

huge

success. Yet, in

could not possibly spend the night on a ship in the

company of strangers. The Donskoi

signaled to the Suvorov, asking for

The Suvorov

a permission to send a boat to the Orel.

"Not allowed." Then the Donskoi signaled again, asserting,

some crew members

still

falsely,

made

officers

that

it

signaled back,

They

a fatal mistake:

was necessary

to bring

back

loading coal on the hospital ship.

Rozhestvensky immediately became suspicious and answered,

The Donskoi captain,

not send a boat under any circumstances." fect

so-

curfew would not look suspicious to the vigilant admiral.

The dinner went very well. Miss Klemm was 1904 a

six.

The Donskoi crew was

lution was available that particular day: coal

scheduled for

ships after

"Do

a per-

gentleman, kept Rozhestvensky s response from the merry young

woman. He officers

sent a boat to the Orel at his

Three intoxicated

admiral gasped. His order had been disobeyed! After the boat

safely delivered

its

precious cargo, Rozhestvensky ordered

it

to the Su-

Beside himself with rage, he kept the boat at the Suvorov stern for

more than an

ment

risk.

accompanied Miss Klemm.

The

vorov.

own

hour. This was a traditional

in the Russian navy.

Totally drunk, they kept

estvensky

But the three

officers

would not

making incoherent and noisy

summoned them

to the bridge.

poured on them was extraordinary even

them over

and very humiliating punish-

The

quiet

down.

protests.

Rozh-

flow of obscenities he

him. Next morning he sent

for

to Libreville, to proceed to Russia

on the

first

steamer

shamefully discharged from service for "disobedience."



to be

The debonair

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

who had

nurse,

was punished,

indeed behaved as

too. If she

if

she had been

on

139

a country picnic,

had forgotten, Rozhestvensky was command-

ing the squadron, he reminded her.

The admiral banned

her from

visit-

ing shore for three months.

The

gallant captain of the Donskoi reported that

tirely his fault,

came

When

but Rozhestvensky ignored his plea.

to the Suvorov, the admiral refused to see

had been en-

it

Lebedev

him.

4

From

Libreville they

forty miles away.

headed farther south. The equator was barely

The day of

its

crossing was always a holiday in the

navy; since Peter the Great, Russians had held the tsar of the sea,

Nep-

tune, in high regard.

The Suvorov scheduled estvensky, the captain,

on the

and

a feast for 9 a.m., all

the officers stood

decks. Performers were half-naked

colors: black, green, red, yellow, blue.

trident.

His suite included

November on the

and painted

19.

bridges,

march was

over, the devils

crowd. Rozhestvensky was the

first

basin.

Then even

them the captain and almost

mock

all

two-and-a-half-foot razor

to this liberating

The

pagan

next day,

Christmas

fast

pointed

the church

hoses at the

for the first time

the veterans joined in

the officers.

were

— among

They were shaved with

made of wood. The

20, Christianity took

began. All ships had a mass, and the

Hymns sounded

priest

fell

a

victim

to force people to abstain

its

revenge.

men and

The

officers

appropriately solemn. Rozh-

estvensky ordered the whole squadron to observe the

was too much

When

carnival, too.

November

were dressed in white.

fire

in.

one to take the shower.

Those who were crossing the equator thrown into the

carried a

and Venus. As they marched

toward a basin made of canvas, a hellish orchestra stepped the introductory

men

imaginable

all

The bearded Neptune

devils, tritons,

Rozh-

from meat,

fast.

However,

as the strict rules

demanded, so the primary requirement was

it

of

to attend mass.

HO

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

The

admiral hoped that this would discipline the crews.

He expected

to

reach the shores of Japan in two months, by the end of January.

After the ships crossed the equator, the temperature started drop-

ping to the comfortable mid-twenties. They were approaching the Great Fish Bay.

The

spacious harbor they reached

the admiral.

German

It

was superb

colliers

on November

for anchoring,

23 looked

and hence

good

for coaling.

to

The

were already there, and so was a single gunboat,

the Limpopo, sent there by the Portuguese to assert their control over

the otherwise unclaimed wild coast of Angola.

The Limpopo was under

the

command

of

1st

Lieutenant Silva

Nogueira. Facing the awesome Russian armada, the lieutenant was unable to ask his superiors for instructions, as Great Fish

The

graph.

Bay had no

tele-

brave officer decided to protect Portugal's neutrality by his

own means.

He

reached the Suvorov and in a brisk manner, befitting his reckless

conquistador ancestors, informed Rozhestvensky that there would be

no loading of coal, food, or water and

that the squadron

would have

to

leave within twenty-four hours.

Rozhestvensky knew Portugal was leaning toward siding with Britain.

He was

also

aware of one particular danger: The Portuguese

could invite British warships from the adjoining Mossamedes in southern Angola. To the best of his knowledge, the Barrosa cruiser was lying there right now.

As

a result, his reply to the Portuguese captain

was sardonic but calm: "We can only thank the Lord that

He has made

the entrance of the bay wider than six miles, and that between the two strips

of Portuguese

course, sacred to me,

territorial waters, the neutrality

He

of which

is,

of

has placed a narrow strip of sea, open and ac-

cessible to all."

The was

silly

lieutenant, carried

enough

feeling of self-importance,

to say that in that case he

drive the Russian squadron force, if necessary.

that "he

away with the

from the Portuguese

With obvious

would look forward

the Russian fleet."

The

would be compelled territorial

to

waters by

pleasure, Rozhestvensky responded

to an attack

from the

river

gunboat on

infuriated officer threatened to call for help

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

from Mossamedes. Rozhestvensky shrugged

his shoulders.

141

As the gun-

boat was angrily steaming away, he ordered coaling to begin.

Great Fish Bay did not impress the tlement was

tiny,

Sand spread

in

some houses

all

directions.

sailors

difficult to see

with

its

beauty.

The

set-

even through binoculars.

But captains of steamers were allowed

ashore and reported that the beach was covered by beautiful shells and

was

full

of pink flamingos.

Their stay was short.

The

next day,

November

24, at

4 o'clock in

the afternoon, the squadron departed.

Meanwhile, the British were shadowing persistently.

The

HMS

their

enemy cautiously but

Barrosa was cruising West Africa's coast, dis-

patched there by the commander-in-chief of the Cape Station. visited Great Fish

Bay two weeks

earlier.

On November

It

had

23, the

day

Rozhestvensky arrived, the Barrosa was further north, in Elephant Bay. Alerted there that Rozhestvensky

had

the Barrosa captain steamed for Great Fish

left

Bay

Gabon heading

south,

again.

He reached it on November 25 and found only shells and flamingoes. He was informed that Rozhestvensky had left the previous day, after coaling. The British captain ordered immediate departure. He went tain.

to

Mossamedes where he found the very angry Limpopo cap-

The Portuguese

officer gave his British colleague a rather heroic

version of his encounter with the ferocious

Mad

tuguese believed Rozhestvensky was heading for a

Dog. The Por-

German

port,

An-

gra Pequena.

The

captain of the Barrosa, apparently very excited, immediately

shared this news with his commander-in-chief at the Cape. telegraphic response sent

was no need

him

to the peaceful Walvis

to pursue Rozhestvensky.

He had no

round the Cape. His Majesty's Navy could save on

Bay

The calm

instead.

There

other option but to cables

and

coal.

5

The

armada's journey was becoming monotonous: whales and waves.

The Malaya had more mechanical problems, and

the crews were getting

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

142

accustomed to the absence of news from

home and

to the admiral's an-

gry snarling.

A storm began, disturbed by

The

it.

coming much

but bigger battleships ships

had never seen bigger

set

sit

He had

useful as a rat-hunter.

He

hated

sneaked on

Rozhestvensky's

staff.

Flagman

also

rats passionately

and

for several hours sniffing at a suspicious-looking hole.

The sun moved

in the

demonstrating

lavishly

wrong

its

won-

new moon looked

direction, the

On November 28,

moon.

old

like the

as

a regular guest at the officers' mess,

The Southern Hemisphere was ders.

Russians

of pets, usually dogs and parrots. The

on the same day

the battleship in Kronshtadt

could

The

were

birds.

Suvorov dog was appropriately called Flagman.

made himself

was be-

it

colds. Albatrosses

sky right over the ships' bridges.

Each ship had her own

Loved by the crew,

Suvorov were hardly

had crossed Tropic of Capricorn;

and many developed

cooler,

fearlessly cruising the

like the

in a storm, the Russians

saw An-

gra Pequena. It

was an old place with

covered and

named by

Dias, back in 1487,

it

a

little

history

and no apparent

famous Portuguese navigator, Bartholomeu

Hamburg

remained neglected until a

Franz Adolf Luderitz, persuaded Berlin to annex

German

it.

It

merchant,

became the

first

settlement in Southwest Africa.

The Namib Desert diamonds would not be more

future. Dis-

years,

and

in

discovered for four

1904 Angra Pequena struck the Russians

gusting dump." For the sake of justice,

it

must be

as a "dis-

said that

it

was

hardly a lovable place. Its

harbor was poorly protected from oceanic winds and waves,

and the wind was

For several hours, Rozh-

terrifyingly strong that day.

estvensky could not dispatch a boat ashore.

Not

that the shore itself

looked hospitable. Barren rocks and sand covered

could not be seen from the roadstead, but

amount Still,

to

much. Only ten Germans

Angra Pequena happened

Tangier. Local lost

Germans

it

it.

The

settlement

reportedly did not

lived there.

to be the

first

friendly port since

gladly assisted the Russians. There was

between Germany and

Britain.

no

love

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

The commander of the was not

a diplomat, that

port, a

German

nobody had

143

major, announced that he

officially

informed him that the

Russians were coming, that he could not see their ships from the win-

dows of his house, and

that he

had no

cruiser at his disposal

and could

not be expected to "patrol the coastline in a native dugout." Therefore,

Rozhestvensky was

Glad of

do

this opportunity,

as

he pleased.

Rozhestvensky ordered coaling, but on

The wind was

occasion the weather was against him.

this it

free to

was

damaged her

vorov sult,

virtually impossible to take coal directly

side attempting to

from steamers; the Su-

approach one of them. As a

the Russians used smaller boats as intermediaries

gerous,

so strong that



re-

a slow, dan-

and very work-intensive procedure.

On

December

1,

commander of

the

the port visited the Suvorov.

Rozhestvensky gave him a royal reception.

consumed during lunch.

When

A

lot

of champagne was

the major was departing, the Suvorov

band played the German national anthem and guns saluted him. The

German was

delighted and drunk. Probably, that day was the most

memorable of his

The

Angra Pequena.

entire tenure at

German major

friendly

reported a suspicious steamer in the

local waters, cruising the sea at night

searchlights.

The Suvorov

officers

and piercing the darkness with

suspected a Japanese scout or even

worse, a saboteur.

He put in

also

at

informed Rozhestvensky that a

Durban, a seaport located on the other

on the Indian Ocean had

flotilla

coast.

German

spies

of schooners had

side of the continent,

were saying that the British

built these schooners for the Japanese in

Bombay.

Allegedly, the

schooners were equipped with torpedoes.

Rozhestvensky ordered utmost vigilance. At night searchlights scanned the horizon. The ocean was roaring and the wind howling. The port

commander

A

British

was

typical for

Angra Pequena.

newspaper brought by a steamer from Kaapstad (Cape

Town) reported bombarded by said

said such weather

gross misfortune in Manchuria: Port Arthur

had been

the Japanese from Vysokaya Hill. Another newspaper

Admiral Felkersam's ships had been attacked and damaged by the

Japanese in the Red Sea.

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

144

The admiral was alarmed by Arthur.

the news



especially about Port

He summoned Commander Semenov,

a veteran of the

Port Arthur campaign.

"Vysokaya Hill?" the admiral asked in a strange voice, staring right into the officer's eyes.

"What does

this

mean?"

"This means the end of the fortress or at roadstead and harbor are clearly visible from

The Japanese kept weeks

now fall

earlier.

the promise they had

They had captured

decimating the Russians.

It

a hill

least

of the squadron. The

it."

made

to the British three

commanding

became

the area and were

clear that Port

Arthur would

in a matter of weeks, if not days.

Rozhestvensky dispatched the hospital ship Orel to Kaapstad. For several

weeks he had had no confidential reports from Manchuria,

only newspaper reports and hearsay. Although private correspondence

He suspected St. Petouch with him. He was right,

could wait until Madagascar, war plans could not. tersburg was desperately trying to get in

but for a while he was unable to learn the most urgent message.

It

was

stuck somewhere between the Admiralty and Southwest Africa.

6

After Angra Pequena, the squadron headed for Sainte-Marie, a small island off the northeastern coast of Madagascar, designated

estvensky as the meeting place for

about 2,500 miles separated

it

all

his ships.

A

by Rozh-

huge distance of

from Angra Pequena. Rozhestvensky

suspected an uneasy journey, and he was right.

Ominous

signs were plentiful.

Angra Pequena on December

4, a

close to the Russian warships.

When

schooner was anchored suspiciously

The

officers

were told she was carrying the British guano.

The

next day,

zon. She did not

headed

December

come

for Kaapstad.

closer,

the squadron was leaving

5,

flag

dispatched to inspect her

and had arrived

a steamer

was spotted

to pick

up

at the hori-

but by the end of the day sped up and

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

December 6 was was the patron

saint

of the Russian navy. Not particularly religious but

which sounded

salvo,

Soon sailors it

a special occasion: St. Nicholas' Day. St. Nicholas

most

superstitious like

was

a real

—huge like

From

like the

swells, the

mountain

at the

pan, but

It

was an unusual storm

ranges.

between Antarctica and Africa.

Some were

flies.

waves

could see the shores of South

They were

unforested.

also

Now

the

at the longest distance

on

St.

Petersburg time

had been going further and further away from Jatheir

approach toward the

passing Kaapstad or

and the base of their

when

Its

forty feet high.

They looked gloomy and

now they started

years earlier,

for the

ocean turbulent but with no wind. However,

Petersburg as a crow

They were

battle.

southernmost point of Africa,

again. Until then, they

Africa

thunder of a naval

their rolling ships, the Russians

squadron was St.

Rozhestvensky ordered a mass and a

tempest came.

Africa in the distance.

from

sailors,

typical for the high seas

looked

145

Cape Town,

British foes.

Pacific.

the capital of South

War had ended

here only two

the British finally defeated the Boers in 1902. Russia

had been sympathetic

to the Boers.

British policies of scorched earth,

Many still

vividly

remembered

the

barbed wire, concentration camps,

and blockhouses. More than 20,000 Boer

women and

children had

died in epidemic-ridden locked and fenced camps. Although bullets

had silenced Boer commandos, South Africa nous

still

looked

like

an omi-

place.

Rozhestvensky was waiting for an encounter with suspicious schooners. However, he was

was

somewhat reassured because the storm

definitely hazardous for smaller vessels.

vorov,

they sounded like artillery guns.

No

When

waves

hit the Su-

schooner could attack in

such weather.

On December

9 the worst of the tempest struck.

It

was so

fero-

cious that the captains completely forgot about the Japanese. Bar-

tholomeu Dias, the propriately

named

first it

European

the

Cape of Good Hope was

to

round the cape

in 1488,

had ap-

Cape of Storms. The misleading name of later assigned

by King John

II

of Portugal,

obsessed with the mind-boggling prospects of Asian commerce.

146

constantine pleshakov

The Suvorov squealed as

way

It

was impossible

the stern.

The waves were running

ing walls.

The

battleship Alexander

The

air

thinkable that another ship

it

huge ship

see her

high above

der or any other ship collapsed,

vertically, in terrify-

like a toy.

vertical to the

At such moments, they could

they were flying in the

Suvorov

would be

When

she

people on the Su-

from bow

her. If the

would be

especially at

following the flagship, was an

III,

sea played with the

on deck

to stay

at the

was diving, her deck looked almost vorov.

hull

Inner decks were flooded, and water found

in.

into the engine.

awful sight.

and her

side to the other,

begging for mercy. All portholes and doors were locked,

if

but water kept pouring its

from one

rolled

to stern, as if

engine of the Alexan-

a death warrant. It

able to help.

sped up to escape the worst and disappeared from

was un-

The steamer lisight.

Then

the

wretched Malaya stopped.

The squadron did not slow down but ship to her fate.

The

putting up

Believing her to be

sails.

Storm or

last

passed her by, leaving the

that the Suvorov saw, the

not, Rozhestvensky

lost,

Malaya was bravely

the warships proceeded east.

was not inclined to deviate from

his

He invited officers to lunch in his quarters. While they were sitting down to a very formal meal, a huge wave covered the ship and flooded the deck, turning it into a pool. Crewmen had to be sumroutine.

moned, and the

officers sat

with their

up

feet

in the air waiting for the

mess to be cleaned up.

The storm stopped on December

10.

The good news was

tempest had carried the unit to Madagascar

would have normally. The admiral

much

faster

that the

than the ocean

started sending signals to the lost

Malaya, but he received no response. Suddenly, the other regular troublemaker, the Kamchatka, started to lag behind. Her captain raised a signal:

"Bad

coal.

Cannot keep up steam. Seek permission

150 tons of coal overboard.

estvensky answered: "Tell

Would

them

that

I

to

throw

be able to proceed then." Rozhallow only saboteurs to be thrown

overboard."

Remarkably, the Kamchatka continued quite

not the end of her plight.

On

the night of

nicely.

December

But that was 12,

she sent a

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

report

on her engine. The Suvorov signalman read

the torpedo boat?"

The

officer

147

"Do you

it as,

see

on duty commanded an alarm before

the misunderstanding was clarified.

Amid

these troubles, large

and

small, Rozhestvensky

had

to think

about the future. The admiral was anticipating problems in Madagascar.

He was

even

if

not sure Felkersam and Dobrotvorsky would make

they arrived

safely,

how was

Untrained,

how

it

"Where

can be useful,

I

But

he expected to turn these three

verse units into a single military force?

ocean, he wrote to his wife:

it.

On

will

I

December

12, still

di-

on the

assemble this stupid pack?

have no idea."

After the storm, the Suvorov officers noticed that the admiral had

suddenly aged. That was not remarkable, for he had spent the previous ten days

on the

bridge, taking only an occasional

recuperated quickly.

On

December

He

14,

needed not

rest,

but

nap

in a chair.

But he

stress.

the Suvorova boilers started leaking.

The crew

acted heroically, risking death in hot steam. Rozhestvensky ordered the his

men on deck, praised them to heaven, and own wallet. He looked younger again. The

"This kind of person can get tired or sick only

On

December

16,

distributed awards

all

from

Suvorov doctor grinned.

when he

is

off duty."

Rozhestvensky's ships reached Sainte-Marie

Is-

land off the Madagascar coast. But the admiral was scanning the hori-

zon in vain; Admiral Felkersam's ships were not

might have sunk them

after

all.

there.

The Japanese

i)

It

The Yacht Squadron OCTOBER 1904-JANUARY 1905 RED SEA

On November

i,

the hostess of a fashionable

burg salon, Mrs. Bogdanovich, always abreast of the cussed the war with her guests.

They agreed

St.

Peters-

latest gossip, dis-

that Rozhestvensky

would

be unable to reach the Pacific before the beginning of March. suspected that the strain of the journey would be too

and

that he

would become crippled by some

ble!"

—and

in that case the

who would On November i,

Felkersam

Crete.

Ten days

ruin

for

— "How very

him terri-

squadron would be led by "the impossible it."

the "impossible" Admiral Felkersam was

earlier, in

with independent

illness

much

They

Tangier, Rozhestvensky

command and

ordered

him

on

had entrusted him

to bring five Russian

warships to the rendezvous in Madagascar.

Dmitry Gustavovich Felkersam was

background than most of

Baltic barons

He came from

more

his peers; the Felkersams

were

either.

and were therefore entitled 151

from being "impossible," a

but he was not an outstanding character privileged

far

to

an impressive "Von"



CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

152

preceding their family name.

emy

He had

graduated from the Naval Acad-

in 1867 as the top student in his class. His path

Rozhestvensky's,

was a year younger),

in school (Rozhestvensky

first

then in 1895 in the Far East where they both

had crossed with

commanded

ships,

and

then in the Artillery Practice Unit. Felkersam had a good reputation

among

but privates were not impressed with him. In their

officers,

eyes, his

appearance did not

in little quick steps, his face ish,"

fit

was

and when he got angry,

comic when pronounced by

No

his rank.

fat

and walked

puffy, his voice thin, almost

stern his

Felkersam was

"woman-

words of command sounded rather

round mouth, "small

like a thimble."

matter what privates thought, Rozhestvensky liked and trusted

Felkersam.

To

give

him independent command

in Tangier,

he had by-

passed Oskar Adolfovich Enkvist, a relative of the naval minister, thus asking for trouble. Yet he had done Felkersam's ships sisted ers,

left

it.

Tangier on October

of two older battleships, the

Sisoi

21.

His detachment con-

and the Navarin, three

cruis-

the Svetlana, the Zhemchug, and the Almaz, and several torpedo

boats.

His were the

least reliable ships in the

belonged to an older generation of armored the shipyard already outdated.

Zhemchug

cruiser

Svetlana were just

was

fast

armed

Svetlana into a floating

The

Sisoi

squadron.

The Navarin

vessels. Built in 1895,

it left

was another aged veteran. The

and well armored, but the Almaz and the

yachts.

villa.

Grand Duke Alexei had turned

the

After he gave her back to the navy, Rozh-

estvensky vindictively ordered the dismantling of her luxurious salons,

but by and large she remained a grand ducal

toy.

There was one serious problem with Felkersam. ill,

He

seriously

apparently with cancer, and suspected his condition was hopeless.

considered retiring, but instead decided to stick to his post; he did

not want to seem cowardly. But

by

He was

his struggle

hearted

with

man by

illness.

nature,

now most

of his energy was consumed

Felkersam was a very tolerant and kind-

and the combination of kindheartedness and

sickness proved disastrous.

Now he was tolerating almost everything

including excessive drinking by officers and

crewmen

alike.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

153

His unit had to cross the whole of the Mediterranean Sea before

would reach the Suez Canal. Having passed by by British

Gibraltar, controlled

reached friendlier waters. Soon

foes, the unit

the Greek archipelago, where Russian sailors always

Queen of Another

felt

it

was

in

welcome. The

Greece, Olga, passionately patronized the Russian navy.

— though

opportunistic



Kaiser Wilhelm,

well-wisher,

resided in his favorite haunt, the Achilleion castle,

There, on

and soothing

on nearby Corfu.

amid blooming

spectacular marble terraces,

its

tique statuary, silk

it

roses, an-

springs, the kaiser sported suits of

raw

and dreamed of glory.

On Crete.

October

detachment reached Soudha on

28, Felkersam's

Greek Soudha was

a port hospitable to Russians.

gunboat Khrabry was permanently stationed sad reminder of Russian involvement:

The

the graves of two officers and twenty-six tillery shell

there.

local

"Cretan catastrophe" of 1897.

The

The town had

a

cemetery contained

men who

had exploded aboard the battleship

The Russian

died after an ar-

Sisoi in the so-called

since-repaired Sisoi was

ing again. This time she did not bring disaster

— but she

now

visit-

definitely

brought trouble. Felkersam's

men, allowed ashore

unleashed by the eral sense

warm

for the first time since Reval,

weather, the soft-spoken admiral, and the gen-

of impending doom. They used their license in an unimagi-

native but nevertheless effective way.

horrendous fight with the

The

got drunk and got into a

Reuters news agency reported the episode widely, insisting

sulted in another scandal; the as

it

was

tersburg, he

and

Mad

had

killed several locals.

Dog's squadron was

as

This

re-

dangerous

at sea!

Felkersam pleaded not

stores

They

locals.

that intoxicated Russian hooligans

on land

were

mentioned

guilty. In his report, hastily sent to St. Pe-

just "several fights in the vicinity

in certain special blocks of the

brothels). Also, there

of liquor

town" (the euphemism for

were some skirmishes with

Italian soldiers.

should be tolerant of the somewhat violent behavior of 600

"One

sailors

.

.

.

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

154

who

haven't been ashore for

more than two months,"

Soudha wrote. In any

sul in

was not another Dogger Bank.

case, this

Nobody attempted to detain the Russians in Crete. From Soudha, Felkersam proceeded to the Suez ing

artificial

lantic It

the Russian con-

Canal. This strik-

waterway, providing a dramatic shortcut between the At-

and Indian oceans, was

at that

point barely thirty-five years old.

extended for one hundred miles; the Nile River delta lay to the west

of it, with the arid Sinai Peninsula to the

east.

Felkersam's primary concern was a possible Japanese attack in this tight bottleneck. Russian spies several

months

that the Suez Canal

and the Red

for

was a

Sea, in general,

Japanese ambush.

likely place for a

As

had been informing the Admiralty

early as April 1904, the Russian Police

Department informed

Rozhestvensky that an alarming spy report had arrived: The Japanese

were aware of his intention to send the

Red Sea with

at least

some of his

ships through

a stopover in French Djibouti. Russian naval leaders

immediately included the area in their security planning. After preliminary evaluation,

it

was acknowledged that Russia did

not have a reliable spy network in the

area. It

had

from

to be started

scratch.

Foreign Minister Lamsdorf discussed the situation with the

tsar.

Nicholas ordered the creation of a substantial secret network "quickly

and

energetically."

Acting on the

sent several people to Egypt,

tsar's

mandate, the Foreign Ministry

some diplomats, some using

false

names

and papers.

A

retired

French navy captain, Maurice

the dirty work.

He was

to

command

Suez, Cairo, Ismailia, Djibouti, for sea watch.

Loir,

was hired

to

do

all

agents in Alexandria, Port Said,

and Aden.

He

chartered several yachts

Agents were dispatched to spy on Japanese

visitors in

various ports of the Middle East. Suspicious people were identified in advance, as

Cairo to

and

at least

Aden

to

on one occasion an agent was

sent

board a ship carrying Japanese suspects.

from

as far

A Russian

diplomat, Maximov, stationed in Cairo, was coordinating the whole

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

operation,

which was estimated

500,000

to cost

155

were

francs. All details

reported to Rozhestvensky directly.

However,

after the

Dogger Bank

and cautious Lamsdorf, had

caustic

incident, the foreign minister,

lost faith in spies.

He had

had been the

palled by that disaster, which, at least partially,

been apresult

of

imaginations and alarmism. Instead of applying cloak and dag-

spies'

ger methods, he decided to talk openly to the British ambassador in Petersburg. rival at

British

On

October

Port Said,

28,

two weeks before Felkersam's expected

Ambassador Hardinge promised Lamsdorf

would guard

St.

ar-

that the

Felkersam's detachment themselves to prevent an-

other Dogger Bank-type debacle. Egyptian police, the ambassador said,

would be

cruising the harbor around the clock, preventing any

vessel

from approaching Felkersam's

Canal

itself would

Both

ships.

be heavily patrolled as well.

Meanwhile, Japanese

spies

were monitoring the Russian

movements. They knew that Rozhestvensky and Felkersam were at

Madagascar.

They were

relieved to

submarines but were concerned that

graph and anti-mine sweeping ersam, Japanese agents

And, of course, British agents

nets.

know it

British eyes

Whether

and

ships'

meet

to

that the squadron carried

was equipped with

would be waiting

for

ears

to

ambush

him

in the

no

wireless tele-

or spy

Red

on

Felk-

Sea.

were surveying the

field.

had no doubt about what kind of operation the Russians

were staging in the Red Sea. closely

Suez

sides of the

was Maurice

Loir.

One

of the people they shadowed most

They followed

the

movements of

the yachts

chartered by the French mercenary, including the one reserved for himself,

the Fiorentina II Loir was an easy target. Each time the Fiorentina

//unexpectedly returned to port and Loir informed the port authorities that "the sea

was too rough

for the ladies"

on board, the

British scouts,

chuckling, checked with the post office to find out the length of the cable he

had sent

Loir's fleet the

to St. Petersburg that day.

They

"Yacht Squadron."

Felkersam's ships reached Port Said early in the

ber

11.

The

disdainfully called

morning of Novem-

admiral had every reason to be grateful to the British.

The

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

156

day before, the harbor had been cleaned of fishermen's boats and other small vessels. All merchant and postal steamers had been ordered to leave

somewhat harsh

Port Said "by a

By

the early hours of

letter

of the Canal's administration."

November

"normally so animated and

11,

full

of various voices and sounds, Port Said's harbor became empty

and

quiet."

In the

first

the harbor.

rays of the rising sun, Felkersam's ships started entering

They moved

in

smoothly and

steadily, as if "at well-

rehearsed maneuvers."

Felkersam had his flag on the

Maximov, the chief of the

Sisoi.

Russian security net, immediately went aboard the battleship.

decided that the detachment would get

1.5

It

was

million rubles in golden

coin then and there and 5,700 tons of fresh water.

There were

sam

several cables

in Port Said.

from the Admiralty waiting

They sounded most

thirty-seven Japanese privates

disturbing.

and three

officers

for Felker-

One warned

that

had passed through

Singapore heading west. Another informed that three hundred Japanese were already living in the suburbs of

Colombo on Ceylon,

the island as a base for spying and sabotage.

from Japan

Shanghai and

to

More had been

Hong Kong and

using

dispatched

possibly further on.

Many Japanese were disguised as Chinese. Could they be planning to man ships in the Indian Ocean to attack Russians there or even in the Red

Sea? Felkersam

was instructed

to brief

Rozhestvensky on

all this.

But no matter what the Admiralty was saying, Port Said looked

safe to

the Russian admiral.

Felkersam

felt

relieved

and

grateful to the local hosts.

he even gave a small dinner aboard the Cairo.

He

also sent a request to the

Trinkomali in Ceylon very

closely.

Sisoi for

That night

Russian ladies living in

Admiralty to watch the port of

He

regarded

it

as a likely

Japanese

base for attacking his detachment in the Indian Ocean.

The

next morning, the ships weighed anchor and, one by one,

started entering the Suez Canal.

ment Italy,

to

gawk at

Austria,

Crowds assembled on the embank-

the Russian argonauts. Diplomats representing France,

and other powers attended. The Navarin orchestra played

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

the "Marseillaise" to thank the French.

The

British,

157

although behaving

very helpfully, did not hear "Rule Britannia."

The detachment

spent the night at the Bitter Lakes in the south-

ern part of the canal and

—an

on Saturday reached Suez

ancient port

used for centuries for the spice trade and for pilgrimages to Mecca.

There they met

their

watchdog, the British Hermione. Felkersam's

and the Hermione exchanged greeting

Sisoi

salvos



thirteen guns.

Felkersam's request, official calls were waived; he did not have time, intending to spend just fifteen hours in Suez.

The

At

enough

next day, he

proceeded to Djibouti.

The Hermione tails

captain duly reported to the high

of the encounter.

command

Now the watch was being transferred to

all

de-

the East

Indies Station.

Many

perceived the

ersam's journey.

Red Sea

Commander

Petersburg, insisted that desert shores over will

it

to be the

most dangerous

leg

of Felk-

Klado, making loud predictions in

would be

"in the

which no supervision

is

narrow Red

possible, that

Sea,

with

St. its

our enemies

be able, without hindrance, to carry out their reckless plans."

But Felkersam reached Djibouti

safely.

Even

if

Japanese saboteurs

were hiding in the deserts of Arabia, they did not attack.

No Japanese

attack occurred in Djibouti either. Instead, Felkersam

encountered a diplomatic ambush. At about the same time, Rozhest-

vensky was facing the same problem in Africa: The French were unwilling to host the squadron. But Felkersam

estvensky was or what he was up decisions.

The Admiralty

cabled

him

to.

at

had no idea where Rozh-

He had

its

make

his

own

Djibouti saying that Japan was

"energetically protesting" against France violating

lowing Russians to take on coal in

to

ports.

its

Now

neutrality Paris

by

al-

was asking

Felkersam to leave Djibouti immediately and move to some other place



for instance, "to the very convenient"

Merbal Bay

in Arabia,

between Aden and Masqat. Felkersam curtly replied: "The administration of Djibouti has not objected to coaling yet.

The

But more trouble lay ahead.

colliers haven't arrived;

hurry them up."

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

158

On November ported that

Paris,

Admiral Virenius

21,

at the

Naval General Staff re-

intimidated by Japan, was refusing to host the Russ-

ian squadron at Diego-Suarez, suggesting instead the small island of

Nosy Be

some other inconspicuous

or

he had sent the same message to Rozhestvensky

stressed that ville

place in Madagascar. Virenius

on November

17,

was asking Felkersam

but the admiral had

failed to respond.

at Libre-

Now he

to decide.

Felkersam protested emphatically:

In order to

let

the squadron's ships meet,

I

have to reach the spa-

cious, healthy, quiet, well-described Diego-Suarez

been selected for qualities. is

purpose.

this

Nosy-Be

possesses

insufficiently described

isting plan

I

can put the

position. This

wait for

him

at

is

why

I

Cannot

some

Bay which has

find another bay of the

essential qualities

same

but the way to

and therefore doubtful. By ruining the

commander of the squadron

am

in a

it

ex-

dangerous

punctually following the instruction to

Diego-Suarez.

I

think, as in Djibouti,

possible to get the silent consent of the French

it

will

be rather

government and

I

am

asking for your energetic assistance in getting such.

In spite of Felkersam's sound reasoning,

The admiral was ordered and proceed

to

Nosy Be

to skip the

St.

Petersburg panicked.

meeting place

at

Diego-Suarez

directly.

Felkersam exploded with indignation:

"I

am

being ordered to take

my detachment by a route which is known to be dangerous and to nore my nearest commander's order in war time." He repeated his gument ships

that

Nosy Be was hardly known

had never

visited

was on the verge of disobeying and

is

and that bigger

He

understood that Felkersam

hastily rallied top support for the

option. Naval Minister Avelan cabled Felkersam:

spacious bay sheltered

is

ar-

it.

Virenius was a seasoned bureaucrat.

Nosy Be

to sailors

ig-

a splendid place for the

from hurricanes, which

last

"Nosy

Be's

whole squadron's anchoring; there

from January

to

May."

it

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

But Felkersam was

stubbornly protesting, so on

still

proceed to Nosy Be

to call

November

27,

IMPERIAL HIGH-

Avelan sent cable number 5305 to Djibouti: "HIS

NESS, General-Admiral, ordered you not

159

on Diego-Suarez and

directly."

Felkersam responded: "Orders given by cable number 5305 will be

obeyed with a heavy place

makes chances

Meanwhile, tioned at the

heart.

.

.

.

The

occurring change of the meeting

for the expedition's success slimmer."

spies reported that

two Japanese

Mozambique Channel. Madagascar

by Japanese agents, two of them stationed

The

island of

Nosy Be was

like a

Yet, all

warning

call to

premonitions and

Admiral Felkersam

was

infiltrated

Mozambique Channel,

just 180 miles southwest.

That

Felkersam. fears

brought

safely

itself

were posi-

Mahajanga.

located in the

and the town of Mahajanga was sounded

in

cruisers

proved hollow.

his ships to

On

Nosy Be

December

15,

in Madagascar.

2

Captain Dobrotvorsky's detachment

left

Libava on

November

3,

when

Felkersam was plowing the Mediterranean and Rozhestvensky was taking on coal in Tangier.

It

comprised ten

ships:

two new armored

cruis-

the Oleg and the Izumrud, two auxiliary cruisers, the Rion and the

ers,

Dnieper, five torpedo boats,

and the training ship Ocean. Like many of

the captains, Leonid Dobrotvorsky was an old acquaintance of Rozhestvensky. In 1904 he

was

forty-eight. Entrepreneurial, stubborn,

and

opinionated, he had asked for unusual assignments and expected early

promotions. Back in 1893 he went to England to prepare ships for a scientific

venture in Siberia and then

commanded

the expedition

it-

—on the Yenisei River, a northern giant that streams into the Arc-

self tic

Ocean.

He

received his

first

independent

command

in 1901; the

two ships he had commanded were the gunboat Gilyak and the old cruiser Donskoi, the latter

now rounding Africa

with Rozhestvensky.

i6o

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

He

Dobrotvorsky was immensely ambitious. ter

fit

for top

command

than any of the admirals he knew.

heading for a breakthrough in his

him hinted

entrusted to

thought he was bet-

Now he was

The independent command

career.

at the possibility

of receiving admiral's

epaulettes pretty soon.

However, by the time he departed from Libava, looking problematic.

Arthur was nearing

News from Manchuria was

its fall,

was

his mission

disturbing; Port

Rozhestvensky's squadron had

become

in-

volved in the infamous Dogger Bank incident, and at the time of Dobrotvorsky s departure,

it

was struggling

for coal

and

shelter at the pe-

riphery of Europe.

As

On

a result of

the one hand,

sighted

all this,

many of the

young mechanic,

revolver

and was now carrying

into apathy, fatalism,

Izumrud became

He

a

of the crew was highly polarized.

sailors

were roaring

it

at all times in case

near-

had bought a

he needed

it

for "ac-

medical attendant on the

drug addict, pumping himself with stolen mor-

coast

and

Skagen.

on

a day the unit

a Japanese torpedo attack

month

alarming reports from Russian at

A

and indulgence.

Just like Rozhestvensky a

been spotted

One

Others, on the other hand, had descended

nearly died from an overdose

on the Danish

patriots.

recently drafted into the navy,

tive participation in battle."

phine.

mood

the

before,

spies.

Denmark

A

had anchored

was expected.

Dobrotvorsky was getting

mysterious submarine had

allegedly

still

swarmed with Japa-

nese agents. Dobrotvorsky ordered his crews to watch out for torpedoes. Just 300 miles

away from Russian

shores,

men

slept at artillery

guns with their clothes on, unsure "where they would wake up" heaven, in icy water, or

The

place off

dense fog raised quiet

still

in

aboard their warship.

which they anchored was

its veil



called Frederikshavn.

for a while to let the Russians

town and then descended

again.

The Russian

peep

A

at the tiny

consul informed

Dobrotvorsky that the Danes were asking him to leave immediately. Their friendliness toward Russia had evaporated. The small nation was

now

afraid of getting dragged into a larger

European

conflict.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

But Dobrotvorsky ignored the

plea;

he had to take on coal

161

first.

At

the end of the day, a Danish torpedo boat approached the detachment.

Her captain used

He

a loudspeaker for a severe warning.

asked the

Russians to leave the neutral country's shores immediately.

Dobrotvorsky didn't

react.

The torpedo boat

Her captain announced,

turned.

left

and then

re-

am

or-

"After the third warning,

I

dered to have you arrested." Grudgingly, Dobrotvorsky stopped coaling.

The detachment had

without even taking on fresh water. The Danes also attempted

to leave

to prevent

Dobrotvorsky from sending any mail ashore, but the cap-

of one of the private foreign transports accompanying the detach-

tain

ment, the French

Mimu

unabashed, quipped,

"Pst, c est

pour

en-

les

fants" and volunteered to carry the mail to Danish terrain.

The morning of November n saw North

Sea.

The

sea

the detachment already in the

was rough and the ships rocked. Officers were wet,

unhappy, and cold; they had spent the night on the bridge watching for a possible Japanese attack.

The

heat system was turned

off;

Do-

brotvorsky had ordered energy conservation measures.

The

next day, the storm calmed down.

Dogger Bank. Quite

ing

did not demonstrate any

war

freely

The detachment was

a few fishermen's boats were around.

fear,

without raising any

pass-

They

crossing the path of the Russian men-ofsignals.

Meanwhile, the shortage of fresh water was becoming a big problem.

It

was

the journey cide

risky to try reaching Tangier with their limited resources;

would

which port

take at least eight days. Dobrotvorsky

to call

on

— French Le Havre

had

to de-

or British Dover. His

choice was an unexpected one: Dover. Enemies, he thought, might be

On

the evening of November

more understanding than

false allies.

the detachment anchored

two and a half miles away from the English

13,

shore.

The

night was foggy.

Still, sailors

Dover promenade and numerous

rammed

the Izumrud.

It

was

a

could see the dim lights of the

careless boats.

huge oceanic

One

liner,

steamer nearly

ablaze with lights.

i6i

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

The

frightened passengers were gawking at the angry Russians from

nobody prevented

the peaceful decks. Yet,

on

water.

As soon

as

the detachment from taking

they were done, the ships

left

the unfriendly

coast.

The journey from

Channel

the English

to Tangier

had

eventful. In Tangier, Dobrotvorsky's officers

shore. Arabs, Bedouins, leys.

Many of them were

was

ier

noisy, full

and Sudanese barefoot and

to

maze of medieval rifles.

al-

Tang-

of the loud curses of horsemen and the pestering

underground dens. The

visit

of Tangier were reputed to be extremely beautiful and willing

dance naked, but

around

largely un-

a chance to visit the

armed with antique

whispers of pimps, inviting officers to

women

the

filled

was

it

was believed

to be unsafe for

Europeans to walk

at night.

A British

torpedo boat paid a

"sniffed

visit,

and departed. The next morning, November Having passed by the

Tangier.

Trafalgar battle

around"

hound,

Dobrotvorsky

23,

site,

like a

left

the detachment en-

tered the Strait of Gibraltar.

The Rock of Gibraltar

to the north

was

like a fortress. In the har-

bor beneath, British naval ships anchored,

among them. The on, the detachment

came

felt

envious and depressed.

across a British battleship

A

bit further

under a vice admi-

She was conducting gun practice but was polite enough to

ral's flag.

fire

Russians

six gigantic battleships

a thirteen-salvo salute.

Soon, the IzumrudViA to stop; there was a leak in the

commander asked Dobrotvorsky repairs.

Dobrotvorsky

In several

The

much

tiredly signaled back,

last signal

was barely

headed

visible

Her

go to Malaga for

"Go wherever you want."

moments he added, "Buy some wine

relieved,

went on

for permission to

boilers.

for us."

on the horizon. The Izumrud,

for Malaga; the

weary but determined Oleg

to Crete.

The two

ships finally reunited at Soudha. Unexpectedly, the envy

that the Oleg officers felt toward their lucky

Izumrud brethren was

somewhat compensated. Having indeed enjoyed Spanish wine, grapes, fireworks,

and

senoritas ("beautiful,"

but "eat too

much

meals,

garlic"),

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

the

Izumrud crew had

They encountered

a

a

most unpleasant journey from Malaga

storm so

fierce that

it

was impossible

163

to Crete.

to sleep; the

rocking ship pitched sailors from their bunks like kittens.

It

was

also

impossible to cook meals. Soup, for example, would flood the stove, so for five sleepless days

and nights the crew had

to fast, loathing their

bad

luck and paying no attention to the scenic views of the Messina Strait

and charming In

islands of the

Soudha they could

Greek archipelago.

finally rest;

bay was protected from wind

its

by high mountains. However, November was It

was too hot during the

course, there

day, too foggy,

a

bad month

damp, and cold

was a British ship in the harbor, the Merlin,

for a visit.

Of

at night.

who

kept ca-

bling news about Dobrotvorsky's ships to the commander-in-chief in the Mediterranean.

There was no mail waiting

for the

crewmen. Only those

officers

who had violated the vow of secrecy and told their families the itinerary now boasted letters from home. Dobrotvorsky angrily cabled the Naval General Staff: "Officers who have broken the law got their mail, others did not.

Of course,

Am asking for justice." he knew he would not get any from

paramount concern was

to leave the place as

move on toward Madagascar. The

last

soon

his unit

Petersburg. His

as possible

and

to

thing in the world Dobrotvor-

sky wanted to be reproached for was keeping the

Squadron waiting. But

St.

was unable

to

rest

of the 2nd Pacific

move: The Izumrud kept

having problems with her engines, and the torpedo boats had reported a

number of breakdowns,

shipyard as

much

as

in St. Petersburg last

too.

The

officers

could curse the Nevsky

they wanted (Rozhestvensky had done so publicly

summer), but now they had

own mechanics. The European press had made

to rely

on the

skill

of

their

castic

comments.

St.

sar-

Petersburg kept bombarding Dobrotvorsky with

angry cables, demanding to

To make

Dobrotvorsky's unit a target of

know when he would

the situation worse,

now

finally leave

Soudha.

the Oleg too developed engine prob-

lems. In order to have several pipes repaired, they

Athens. In addition, three out of the

five

had

to be shipped to

torpedo boats had to be sent

164

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

back to Russia because

it

was impossible

to fix them.

One

of them, the

had already been discarded previously by Rozhestvensky and

Prozorlivy,

had been sent back home from Denmark. to repeat the humiliating journey.

she crawled through the Danish

Discouraged

The

straits

Now

British

the wretched ship

watched with

had

glee while

with a damaged propeller.

openly expressed their doubts about the even-

officers

of the whole enterprise. Everybody was sullen and gloomy.

tual success

Quarrels were easily sparked. People had the feeling that they already

"had spent three years together." Instead of the planned fourteen days, the detachment had spent

twenty-eight days in Soudha. pairs

were

their

men.

the ship's

finally finished,

A

fir

tree

By Eastern Orthodox Christmas,

and on Christmas Day

was decorated with

and Turkish

December

day,

lamps. Cotton from

sweets.

26, the

The

best were given

detachment

The Egyptian

and

nuts, tangerines, ap-

money

awards.

The

next

finally left Crete.

In two days, they reached Port Said.

hours there.

Russia. In a gift

gifts like socks, wallets, soap,

Each was presented with some oranges,

pencils.

officers entertained

pharmacy represented the snows of Mother

drawing, the crewmen received small

ples,

electric

the re-

The

ships spent just eighteen

police in small boats were zealously guard-

ing the Russian ships from potential spies and saboteurs. Dobrotvor-

sky was informed that a Japanese naval unit had passed the Strait of

Malacca long ago and was

now

hiding somewhere, perhaps preparing

to attack his ships.

The

police continued to guard the detachment while

it

was

ing through the canal and anchoring at Suez. Here they took coal

and got more news about the Japanese:

had been spotted

in the

Chagos

it

travel-

on more

was reported that they

Islands in the center of Indian Ocean,

halfway between Malacca and Djibouti. Like Felkersam four weeks earlier,

Dobrotvorsky suspected an ambush was possible

in the

Gulf

of Aden.

When town

lay

they reached Djibouti,

on an ugly

flat

it

struck

them

as a

dump. The

tiny

peninsula. Mountains were visible in the

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

was vast and

distance. Djibouti's harbor

wind, but the entrance to

huge and shallow

was

protected from

perilous. In the close vicinity lay a

coral reef.

The town had to the French.

it

fairly well

165

just a

The

handful of decent

wooden houses belonging

miserable huts of the locals appalled the Russians.

The Hotel des Arcades served

oysters,

but the very

predictably

first feast,

enough, ended in mass food poisoning. The only place of interest was

away from the

the widely advertised botanical gardens three miles

town. All the ical

trees there

were young and doing poorly under the trop-

sun.

The mountains there.

At nighttime

lay not far

lions

would come very

people with their roaring. tains consisted

The land between

sea,

for

town and the moun-

leather shields

The

and

lances.

ships could not proceed

Dobrotvorsky decided

to use the occasion

some war contraband. He dispatched

the Rion cruiser to

repairs.

but she did not catch anybody. While the Rion was hunting, the

other ships did

enough gun

By and

some

Enormous there,

but not much; there were not

artillery practice,

shells.

large,

it

was an

observing tropical wildlife.

the

armed with

Russians were stuck in Djibouti.

any further without

hunt

the

for prey. Abyssinian soldiers with luxurious curly

hair crossed the wastelands

to

close to Djibouti, terrifying

of sand and prickly shrubs; camels fed on scarce plants,

and vultures looked

The

from town. Lions and leopards dwelled

idle existence.

The

jellyfish

The

Russians killed time by

were huge and multicolored.

sharks cruised the waters. Their silvery shadows were always

watching out for random Russian swimmers. Sharks reacted to

immovable Russian ships with

trunks.

The

Russians were saying

ease

some

and

familiarity, like

dead

tree

sharks were "as fat as cows" and

kept asking themselves whether one day they might confront them in the water. Sharks were their obsession, but the less

conspicuous monsters. People

who had had

touching the spikes of a colorful but poisonous eral

hours groaning with pain.

Red Sea

fish

also

had

other,

the misfortune of

spent the next sev-

166

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

When

the

watch the

wind made

fish

would come

ripples in the water

sailors

could not

any longer, they switched to native children. They narrow boats and beg

to the Russian ships in

which they would then catch open portholes from which had

and the

a leather bracelet.

It

in the water.

They were

for coins,

also looking for

something valuable. Each boy

to snatch

was an amulet against sharks containing

a sen-

tence from the Koran. Sailors were fascinated by the fact that the sharks never attacked the native inhabitants.

Russian doctors were busy healing

most

common problem

from repairing the forced

had

many

to lock

was burns

ship's engines.

bites, boils,

— not from

Boredom and

and

the tropical sun, but the feeling of

to start looking for artificial stimulants,

all

narcotics in their cabins.

The

But the

rashes.

sailors

doom

and the doctors

had begun

stealing

drugs like ether.

Quarrels flared

all

over the detachment. Everybody loathed the

Nevsky shipyard and complained about the prolonged demic of dysentery could

start at

An

stay.

epi-

any moment, and the doctors began

adding red wine into the drinking water. Officers drank wine instead of water. In despair, they longed to leave Djibouti as quickly as possible.

Dobrotvorsky proved to be a bad to allow his crews to find solace in

and he was not strong enough estvensky.

leader.

wine and

to keep

He was

not

soft

enough

prostitutes like Felkersam,

them constantly busy like Rozh-

The morale of his men plummeted. They were

eager to "get

into the iron hands" of Admiral Rozhestvensky, the sooner the better.

But they

The

didn't leave the last

pumping

loathsome place until

late January.

preparations for the journey were frantic. Crews were

fresh water even at night.

A

full

moon

lit

the decks.

were quietly stealing water through holes in the hoses. In the could see sharks' noses, ghastly in the moonlight, looking

like

sea,

Men they

they were

waiting for them.

Having rounded Cape Guardafui,

at the

Ocean, the detachment spotted two steamers.

had been spotted, they quickly disappeared

entry to the Indian

When

they realized they

in the direction of Socotra

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

167

Island, barely eighty miles away. Japanese warships could easily be hid-

ing at that desolate piece of rock.

But

they were there, they did not

if

strike.

the Russians anchored at the nearby Ras low,

hills

sands yellow and barren.

its

a boat, but the Russians

The

Vigilant but undisturbed,

Hafun

Bay.

local tribe

It

was empty,

its

send a delegation in

had no way of understanding what these people

decorated with birds' feathers wanted to communicate.

When

several days later the

detachment crossed the equator,

morale was so low that they decided to skip the usual ceremony. Dobrotvorsky did not

now saying

On Salaam.

The independent command was

The commander had sunken

for him.

were

insist.

that angry

into apathy.

Neptune would have

The

too

superstitious

his revenge.

the night of January 28, the detachment reached

The torpedo

way

boats were flaring the

bay was

their powerful searchlights; the

full

of

much

Dar

es

for the cruisers with

reefs.

In the

morning

they saw a most pleasing picture. Instead of barren sands or rocks, the shore was covered with luxurious tropical rain forest. Smaller islands, also covered

with

forest,

The mouth of

were scattered about.

Grozny took a group of

were anchored. The the Gerta.

The

the colony was

officials

cove where

officers into a big

kaiser's

son was a

new

lieutenant

German

welcoming the

prince.

The

ships

on one of them,

Russians arrived in time for participating in

the orchestra played merry marches,

and

The torpedo boat

the river lay a bit further on.

festivities;

local police held a parade,

and the wives of German

officers

sported their best dresses.

But the Russians did not

like the feast.

Their faces turned sullen,

and they wandered purposelessly about town, entering various shops but never buying anything. Those

officers

who had

the night in the hotel were bitterly disappointed; already taken

not sleep

and they had

at all; the

to sleep

decided to spend

all

on the veranda.

rooms had been

Actually, they did

accompaniment of buzzing mosquitoes, the

of their comrades on the

street,

curses

and the loud noise made by the Ger-

mans singing "Wacht am Rhein" kept them awake.

168

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Soon

afterward, the detachment

morning of February

i,

left

Dar

es

Salaam. Early in the

they established wireless contact with Admiral

Rozhestvensky into whose "iron hands" they had been so eager to

At ten o'clock the same the

2nd

Pacific

day, they

Squadron practicing

saw smoke on the horizon.

at sea.

It

get.

was

"Nossibeisk,"

DECEMBER

On December the

islet

16,

1904-MARCH MADAGASCAR

16,

Rozhestvensky's squadron anchored at

of Sainte-Marie.

The

roadstead was open to

gascar, the fourth largest island in the world, lay

The

all

winds.

Mada-

only ten miles away.

next day, Rozhestvensky sent the Rus to the town of Tamatave,

number of urgent

eighty miles south, to dispatch a

been in touch with

was addressed to the ereign,

St.

Petersburg for several weeks.

tsar.

As usual

in his

cables.

One

He

still

of the cables

communications with the sov-

in Tamatave, another messenger, the hospi-

ship Orel, ordered to Kaapstad from

Angra Pequena, brought Rozh-

The

estvensky a piece of expected but nevertheless terrible news: Pacific

hadn't

Rozhestvensky was laconic: "Arrived Sainte-Marie Madagascar."

While the Rus was tal

1905

3,

Squadron had been

totally annihilated

Arthur, and worse, Port Arthur

The

itself

had

by the Japanese

fallen.

on the verge of

political revolution.

and twelve torpedo

boats,

alle-

Other

ports insisted that a Japanese squadron, consisting of eight cruisers

at Port

ship also delivered British newspapers with the unsettling

gation that Russia was

ist

re-

armored

had already passed Ceylon, heading

169

170

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

straight for

Madagascar to send the 2nd

Squadron

Pacific

to the

bottom

of the Indian Ocean. According to rumors, some Japanese cruisers had

and were now hiding

already reached the island

The become

fall

in a secluded bay.

of Port Arthur had been long anticipated.

and

smaller

On November

and

smaller, less

30, the

Its

up the

able to keep

less

commander of the

fortress,

garrison

General

had

defense.

Stessel, re-

ported that the Japanese, having captured Vysokaya Hill, were massacring Russians at Port Arthur with artillery surrender, the general concluded,

Having received the

we should

Alexei, "I think

on the

1st

cable, the tsar tell

marvelous troops

wrote to his uncle, Grand

Rozhestvensky that he should not count

It

was taking

the besieged fortress

taken from Port Arthur to Chefoo by smugglers' junks. 16, Stessel sent a

sures to prevent slaughter

The it

tsar

men

on the

streets.

artillery shells.

Scurvy

capable of carrying

late to

at

Vlastny, Serdity,

that today Arthur

December

rifles

is

Will take mea-

ruining the garrison;

and

all

of them are

is

On

I

sick."

that day,

Chefoo, Tideman, announced: "The

and Skory have arrived and informed

expected to capitulate." Later in the day, at 9:10

p.m., Stessel cabled the tsar in English:

"Today forced

tion about surrender Port Arthur. Officers

to sign capitula-

Officers allowed to

civil.

wear arms and return Russia under obligation not if

to be

think about artillery shells or scurvy. Another

from the Russian consul

torpedo boats

war,

On

did not receive the cable until December 20.

was already too

cable,

had

desperate report to the sovereign: "Will be able to hold

few more days. Have almost no

have just 10,000

had

Stessels messages four days to reach the

Palace. All cables, even those addressed to the emperor,

just for a

Duke

Squadron any longer."

but stopped.

Winter

my

unwilling to

the army."

By mid-December communications with all

of

spirit

Have no news from

bold, waiting for help.

is

"The

fire. Still

to take part present

apply to

YOUR IMPERIAL

cable reached Nicholas aboard a train

on the night of the

not remain war prisoners.

I

MAJESTY for asked obligation." The

twenty-first.

He

described the news as "shocking." "It

painful," the tsar

commented

in his diary.

Still,

is

hard arid

he suppressed his

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

emotions and kept joking with misinterpreted by

The French Arthur

earlier

many

as

His reserve was

his staff that night.

outrageous "indifference."

Foreign Ministry got the news about the

than the

tsar

171

did



at

had

the "Gibraltar of the Far East"

5

p.m.

on December

"What about

fallen,

fall

of Port

Now after

20.

Rozhestvensky's

squadron?" Foreign Minister Delcasse asked his collaborators in dismay. "Will

it

be able to continue

back and

voyage? Wouldn't

its

retire to the Baltic again? ...

Madagascar any longer;

I

can't

we

In any case,

consent to

its

doing

be running the risk of an ultimatum from Japan

be better to turn

it

can't let

it

so; in future

at

stay at

we

any moment."

Kaiser Wilhelm, warmongering as usual, telegraphed the

"The defense of Port Arthur of

all

nations.

eral Stessel]

is

will

all

tsar:

remain forever an example to soldiers

The hero who commanded your devoted admired by

shall

mankind,

by

especially

troops [Gen-

my army

and

me." Although Paris hoped Rozhestvensky would turn back, the kaiser

wanted him

to continue.

Of course, He had

Rozhestvensky was not shocked by Port Arthur's

expected that

would

it

fore leaving Russia. In

fall

and had even

said so to the tsar be-

Angra Pequena, he had made

the significance of Vysokaya Hill and learned that lost,

the fortress was

of Port Arthur but at

doomed. What made him

St.

Petersburg's decision to

fate.

inquiries about

when

had been

it

furious was not the

fall

ban him from anchoring

Diego-Suarez.

Whatever by a formal

restraints Paris

alliance.

And now there

by the French since 1895 and nal Richelieu

He could:

might have had,

— unable

he was

settled

was bound



Madagascar

to Russia

controlled

by them since the time of Cardi-

to enter a decent port.

decided to give the Admiralty

"The order

at

it

as

good

a

thrashing as he

to Felkersam to proceed to the dangerous

Nosy Be

has ruined the whole plan, which until recently had been meticulously implemented.

Am

asking you to send Felkersam to Diego-

Suarez immediately."

Of course, lier.

it

was nobody's

The Admiralty had

fault that

he hadn't been informed ear-

repeatedly tried to reach him,

first

by cabling

172

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

on November cember 7

17 to Libreville, then

to other destinations.

To add

to his

now anchored had had

ships

at

on November 27 and 30 and Dehe

Still,

betrayed.

felt

bad mood, the news from Felkersam's detachment,

Nosy

Be, was disheartening. Practically

all

of the

to start repairs of "their old limbs."

But the worst piece of news was that Commander Klado's view

had

prevailed. Rozhestvensky

being quickly equipped. I,

The

was informed that "the 3rd Squadron

unit comprises the Emperor Nicholas

first

the Senyavin, the Ushakov, the

Monomakh, and

the cruiser Rus. Will

between January 15-20 and around February 20-25 should be

leave

is

Djibouti bearing the flag of Nebogatov.

.

The second

.

.

preparing to depart at the beginning of May."

The

unit ...

in is

admiral was to wait

for the reinforcements in Madagascar.

Rozhestvensky was beyond himself with

rage.

The

third squadron?

Consisting of worthless old and slow ships, which he had emphatically rejected last

tov?

Why

summer? Under

the

command

not some other admiral,

Chukhnin? One more unit departing cally in five

cle,

to the Far East

Grand Duke

whom

whom

the navy respected, like

at the

beginning of May, practi-

months?

Rozhestvensky didn't

Squadron

of the featureless Neboga-

know

that the decision to send the 3rd Pacific

had not been an easy one

Alexei, disliked

both the enthusiastic populist Klado,

he contemptuously called

sending more ships to the

for the tsar. His un-

"a

Pacific.

newspaper hero," and the idea of

The Naval

Minister, Avelan, shared

both sentiments. But Klado continued campaigning, visiting high society salons

one by one and publishing one

article after another.

while Klado became one of the most popular

Grand Duke cember,

Alexei, to the contrary,

unknown

men

in Russia.

was hardly popular

avengers smashed several

windows

For a

at

all;

in

The De-

in his St. Peters-

burg palace. Finally, Klado's

when

argument won the

the situation at Port Arthur

tsar over.

became

On December

4,

desperate, he informed his

uncle that the 3rd Pacific Squadron should be prepared and prepared

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

quickly.

He

also

hoped

it

would

173

be possible to buy cruisers from

still

Argentina and Chile, in spite of the British intrigue.

There was one more problem

Nikolai Skrydlov had been appointed

based in Vladivostok. Theoretically, vostok, he

would have

Grand Duke Alexei

to surrender

commander of the

if

command

his

Pacific Fleet

Rozhestvensky reached Vladi-

in his letter to the tsar, this

To deprive Rozhestvensky of

ble.

Admiral

to solve. Shortly before,

to Skrydlov.

Now,

said

was becoming impossi-

command would

be "extremely

He had formed the squadron, and he knew all and many officers personally and had guided them

harmful for our cause." the captains

through a "most

The

tsar, as

difficult journey."

usual, did not

know what

Meanwhile, Admiral

to say.

Skrydlov, seeking fame, was intending to assume estvensky's

squadron not in Vladivostok but

in Southeast Asia.

how

He

command

earlier, if possible,

asked for a rendezvous

now

totally

As always, Naval Minister Avelan found the

and forwarded the request

sion to be too heavy a burden

estvensky without

perhaps

—though only God knew

Skrydlov planned to break through the Sea of Japan,

controlled by Togo.

of Rozh-

to

deci-

Rozh-

comment.

Rozhestvensky loathed Skrydlov for appalling incompetence. Yet,

on December

23,

he curtly replied from Sainte-Marie, "Sunda

January the twentieth."

Sunda

Strait

He

and suspected

intended to take the squadron to the

battle

with Togo would occur right there.

However, he knew Skrydlov could not make his response, in all likelihood,

The only

joyful

was intended

it

to the rendezvous, so

as a sarcastic joke.

news Rozhestvensky received

personal: Several days earlier his beloved daughter boy.

The grandson was named

liked the

No

at

Sainte-Marie was

had given

trust in St. Nicholas,

he must have

name.

matter what he thought about Skrydlov, Port Arthur, his

grandson, or the Admiralty, he had to attend to two lems:

birth to a

Nikolai; everybody in the family was

Given Rozhestven sky's

healthy.

Strait

how

to take

on more

coal

and where

to

mundane

meet Felkersam.

prob-

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

174

As

for coal,

he ordered the loading immediately. While

at Sainte-

Marie, the Suvorov took on 2,500 tons instead of the 1,100 that she was

supposed

As

to carry.

for Felkersam,

choice but to capitulate.

Due

rough

to

Madagascar.

He

seas,

He would

Rozhestvensky had no other

go to Nosy Be.

he took the squadron closer to the coast of

also ordered a full alert.

Radio operators had started

getting messages that they were unable to read.

That might mean Japa-

nese ships were hiding somewhere nearby.

At nighttime one-third of the

were on deck.

officers

Men

slept at

the guns. Torpedo boats were guarding the bigger ships. For the time, Rozhestvensky ordered

all

first

People spoke to each other

lights out.

almost in whispers and scanned the dark horizon.

On

morning of December

the

deciphered a message. lights shut

down

It said,

"Russian squadron

is

anchoring with

her stern.

The Aurora

slept the next night.

From

its

reported

the Suvorov bridge, officers could discern

four lights in the sea and one ashore.

The

groups were talking to each other.

eral

Nakhimov reported she had

at Sainte-Marie."

Not too many people six lights at

22, the

lights

The

were flashing

as if sev-

night was murky, the sky

overcast.

On away.

the twenty-third at dawn, Rozhestvensky sent the cruisers

He

ordered Admiral Enkvist to take them to

day, he himself led the battleships.

They had

Nosy

Be.

The

next

to cover 500 miles,

rounding the northern coast of Madagascar. At noon, they met the cruiser Svetlana

the Bodry



some

ried

accompanied by two torpedo

boats, the Bedovy

and

The Bedovy

car-

the greeting party sent out by Felkersam.

letters

might be a good

from home; thoughtful Felkersam had guessed

idea.

The

it

crews were overjoyed. officers.

Ob-

serving the three newly arrived ships from the bridge, he snarled:

"My

Rozhestvensky did not join the cheers of the Suvorov

own I

fuckers

would have been enough and now

have no idea what

He had

a point.

I

will

do with them

I

have got three more.

all."

Almost immediately

after the joyful reunion, the

Bodry s engine died, and the Rus had to tow

her.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

December

25,

Christmas Day, was spent moving

full

After mass, Rozhestvensky addressed the Suvorov crew. tated,

he held a

service,

he was

nearby noticed

glass

175

steam ahead.

As custom

dic-

man for his Officers who stood

of vodka in his hand. Thanking every

brief,

emotional, and impressive.

tears in his eyes.

He

by

finished

saying, "I trust in you.

Now to her, to Russia!" and drank his vodka in a gulp. The crew spontaneously yelled "Hurrah!"

The way

to

Some

Nosy Be was

wept;

many made

precarious; the existing charts of the area

were unreliable, the waters abundant with

marking the depth of the tain,"

"ED."

of the

reefs.

have never got into

Instead of figures

marks "uncer-

Doubtful" accompanied tentative markings

"On

Rozhestvensky joked. this

reefs.

sea, the charts carried sinister

for "Eosition

"It is all right,"

the sign of the cross.

dump.

Let's

our

own

we would

will

hope Saint Nicholas

will take this

into account."

He did. On December 27,

they safely reached

towered over the calm bay. Elentiful place.

forests

added

Nosy

Be.

Mountains

to the beauty of the

A boat departed the Sisoi. Admiral Felkersam was heading to the

Suvorov to report to his commander.

2

Rozhestvensky met Felkersam cordially: The admiral had done a neat job.

They kissed. That day Felkersam and Enkvist were

They compared

invited to lunch.

notes. Felkersam briefed Rozhestvensky

on

his

journey, but there was hardly anything in his report that Rozhestven-

sky had not already experienced himself: Earis unwilling to self, St.

commit

it-

Eetersburg pushing the squadron into dangerous backwaters to

appease

Earis,

problems with coal and fresh water, spy reports about

possible Japanese attacks. However,

cent and

demanded immediate

some of the

were

fairly re-

attention.

A report from the Russian spymaster in admirals that on October

latter

25, a special

China, Eavlov, warned the

transport had

left

the major

176

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Japanese naval base, Sasebo. She was carrying three submarines and

heading south. In a ships

more

recent cable, Pavlov reported that seven Japanese war-

had been spotted

at

Natuna, north of Borneo.

the Japanese had established stations in the

Kedah

in

Malacca and were keeping

and perhaps even submarines

boats,

Both the Sunda

Strait

and the

It

Cocos

was alleged that Islands

and

at

their auxiliary cruisers, torpedo

there. Strait

of Malacca would be

full

Japanese mines, agents warned. Several reports mentioned Ceylon possible base for Japanese saboteurs.

There were pending

fears

of

as a

of a

clandestine Japanese presence in Durban, across the sea in Africa. Also, the Japanese reportedly planned to hire small boats in Madagascar

ram

self to

or torpedo Rozhestvensky's ships.

Petersburg had absolutely no agents in South or East Africa.

St.

Even

it-

its

consul in Kaapstad (who had had to

Orel on her

visit there)

was a foreigner

tersburg in English. That

meant

who

The Count

the hospital ship

corresponded with

Pe-

St.

that the reports about Japanese activi-

the vicinity of Madagascar were even

ties in

assist

less reliable

Japanese were feeding Russian paranoia.

than the others.

The prime

Katsura, sinisterly told the British ambassador in

minister,

Tokyo

that

had most certainly not met any Japanese torpedo

"the Baltic Fleet

boats in the North Sea, but there was every likelihood of their so doing in the Indian

Ocean." By launching such provocative statements, the

Japanese hoped to

The Russian that a

make Rozhestvensky nervous naval attache in

detachment of Japanese

—and they

succeeded.

London informed Rozhestvensky

cruisers sent to the Indian

Ocean was

looking for him. Because spies were generally inclined to exaggerate, this

was much more alarming than the information that

London

actually had:

Two

auxiliary cruisers, the

Nippon MarUy had been sent look out for Russian sky's itinerary after

been sighted off straits

colliers

to cruise

insiders in

Hong Kong and

the

around Java and Sumatra

to

and gain information about Rozhestven-

Madagascar. Another

Hong Kong.

cruiser, the Niiataka,

had

Several detachments were guarding the

of the Sea of Japan. Almost

all

battleships

were in the dockyards.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Rozhestvensky did not

you not

to

squadrons

ports about ture.

this.

He

cabled

St.

Petersburg: "I ask

mention the names of harbors that the squadron

in cables addressed to for the

know

me and in your dealings with

arrival

will

Nosy Be promised

received in

be using

foreign governments,

should always be a surprise." All in

enemy activity he

177

a

the re-

all,

gloomy

fu-

However, one cable was laughable: The Portuguese government was

informing Rozhestvensky that a Portuguese steamer with troops onboard

was heading

for

Macao. Remembering Dogger Bank, Lisbon begged the

Mad Dog to prevent any possible

"misunderstanding."

The admiral was determined Sunda

and then

Strait

Nebogatov or even

him

at the

Sunda

to leave



for the

first

He did not want to wait for Of course, Togo could intercept

for Vladivostok.

for Dobrotvorsky. Strait.

curred, the better. But

Nosy Be soon

Well, he thought, the sooner the battle oc-

first

he had to get the approval of the

While the admiral was corresponding with of the two squadrons had a chance to exchange

St.

tsar.

Petersburg, the crews

stories.

Felkersams people

confirmed that the hurricane that had tortured Rozhestvenskys ships the

Cape of Good Hope had reached them Rozhestvenskys

generally,

been through food,

brothels. Felkersam

crews to go ashore.

He had even

with good port

had

as well.

facilities,

But

good

freely allowed his officers

and

tolerated his men's debauchery at Crete.

tropics continued killing people.

on the Borodino died

Madagascar

were envious; Felkersams journey had

relatively civilized places

and good

The

sailors

at

at

On

December

30,

two men

in the bowels of the ship; oppressive heat

had

ac-

tivated poisonous gases there. Rozhestvensky issued a harsh order de-

manding

attention to the hazard

son. Yet, there

and attended the funeral mass

in per-

was nothing he could do about the weather, and

in the

next few days, several people suffered from heatstroke.

The Suvorov had banned

all

its

first

deserter. In retaliation,

leave for the Suvorov crew.

A temptation

in the lush tropical landscape, never to see the

clads or their

Bored

awesome commander

officers

Rozhestvensky

to disappear forever

monstrous steaming ironfor

many.

brought wildlife aboard: parrots, monkeys,

frogs,

chameleons, rabbits.

And

again,

was obviously strong

ships were again inhabited by oxen, pigs,

178

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

geese,

and chickens, but these were

for food.

On

one of the

heap of hay for oxen sheltered a snake. The vermin

ships, a

who

bit a sailor

barely survived the attack.

Like

all

Be was not much of a for a long siesta.

went

place. Life

The French

stopped between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

barred their windows with shades and

to bed.

The town had

a decent

house, a governor's

and

school,

villa

a stone church, a convent, a customs

a city hall, plus several shops

The town Greeks

jetty,

with a tennis court, a hospital, a post

was the colonial town. The also

rest

sensation.

The

arrival

Nosy Be had never

Europeans in sedan-chairs.

Nosy

Be, Felkersam

many

seen so

some Greek. Temporary shops and

from bamboo. Proprietors immediately

huge quantities

had been

of the Russians had produced a great naval ships or so

people. Merchants began arriving from Diego-Suarez

French,

restaurants were hastily started importing food in

of them jokingly said that by the time the squadron

money

In a matter of days, sion of Port Said



many

—most of them

to sell to the Russians at ridiculously high prices.

have saved enough

and

Persians,

odd Russian who was immedi-

longhaired,

the time Rozhestvensky reached

there for twelve days.

That

restaurants.

had Indians, Jews, Malaysians,

—even one gloomy,

By

and three

office, a

of Nosy Be consisted of bamboo huts.

ately labeled a Japanese spy. Natives carried

built

Nosy

the other destinations of the squadron after Tangier,

left,

Some

they would

to retire to France.

Nosy Be grew

into a smaller

and shabbier

a place to satisfy sailors' every wish.

Gambling

verhells

appeared from nowhere. Stakes there were remarkably high. Prostitutes

from

all

over Madagascar flooded the place.

sudden abundance of options, Felkersam's

Overwhelmed by

officers

and crewmen

the felt

again unleashed.

Rozhestvensky attempted to bring

this

orgy to an end.

The

first

thing the iron admiral did was ban gambling and limit the time that officers

and crewmen were allowed

could do to fight the

vaded Nosy Be.

spirit

ashore.

But there was not much he

of recklessness and debauchery that per-

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

179

3

The

admiral spent

New

Year's Eve, 1905, in the

he had dispatched two cables to

Earlier

and another

flowery language, appropriate for

Petersburg

St.

Grand Duke Alexander.

to

Suvorova wardroom.

communications. Both Ro-

official

in their desks.

wardroom, however, the admiral gave

In the Suvorova

New Year's

simple speech: Let everyone present spend the next

company of

he has

to the tsar

In both, he used exceedingly

manovs were touched and kept the telegrams

the

—one

and

relatives

and

friends, alive

healthy,

a very

Eve in

and knowing

fulfilled his duty.

That night Rozhestvensky was very animated; the atmosphere the table was unexpectedly relaxed,

He

unusual friendliness.

and then time to

left

stayed

the younger

men

up

officers

were surprised by

two o'clock

until

to their feast,

which

in the

his

morning

lasted until

it

was

raise the flag.

The New

Year's festivities again

amazing powers of

self-possession.

being so animated and optimistic

Makarova:

"I

am

showered with absolutely does not care a

most junior Yet,

it



demonstrated Rozhestven sky's

On

January

at the party,

1,

it.

...

useless cables.

.

.

.

damn about how depressed

sailor, are

from

New

steamer. She

irritated sailors

On

am

being

people, starting with the

to

an end. Three auxiliary

—joined the squadron, hav-

and the Ural

ing independently reached Madagascar from the Black Sea.

German

I

this painful lingering."

the Terek, the Kuban,

The

after

Bureaucracy in Petersburg

all

seemed the lingering was coming

too lightly armed.

hours

Year and do

very badly.

feel

I

several

he wrote to Capitolina

not congratulating you with the

not expect anything good from

cruisers

and

at

They were

Ural, for example,

was nothing but a modified

carried paintings

and gilded decorations, which

still

immensely. But the main thing was that they had arrived.

January

4, a

French steamer brought a mail shipment. While

everybody was busy reading and responding, the departure of the squadron was scheduled for January

working day and

night.

6.

The

post office on the

hill

Sometimes there were not enough stamps

was for

i8o

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

those attempting to send letters back home. Officers suspected that

all

battle

with Togo would occur in twenty days,

Meanwhile, the to

and

tsar

his ministers

do with Rozhestvensky. They had and Chile

tine

for

still

failed to

him. They had also

Sunda

at the

had no

buy

failed to

clear idea

what

from Argen-

cruisers

send him the ships of

Grand Duke Alexander had

the Black Sea Fleet as

archipelago.

suggested. Foreign

Minister Lamsdorf insisted that Britain would greatly disapprove of

such a move.

On December 26, Naval Minister Avelan sent Rozhestvensky a very respectful cable, seeking his opinion.

squadron was ready to leave Libava minister wanted to

Nebogatov

own.

at

that Nebogatov's

—wait

some other

Nebogatov

for

was he to send Nebogatov and

also

to

do now,

Madagascar, wait

at

his

own, the minister asked, where

Dobrotvorsky from Djibouti?

Rozhestvensky answered with a short and energetic unable to say even approximately"

when

would reach Madagascar,

leave

do not

"I

for Nebogatov's detachment,

do.

I

I

am

after

proceed to the Far East on his

place, or

proceeded on

If Rozhestvensky

The

in three weeks, in mid-January.

know what Rozhestvensky planned

the surrender of Port Arthur for

He mentioned

even

text:

"Being

Dobrotvorsky's detachment

any instructions

less

sure about

for him.

what

it

As

should

myself intend to proceed in seven days."

He was

preparing to

Virenius reported from

sail

St.

for the

Sunda

Strait in

Petersburg that the

Dutch

Indonesia.

Dutch were

scared of

Japanese expansion in the area and therefore likely to help the Russians if

the latter were discreet.

some

quiet place

—not

They would

the

Sunda

prefer Rozhestvensky to call

but, say, the Bali-Lombok,

800 miles

further east. Yet, even there, fearful of Japan's vengeance, they

not allow him to take on

Grand Duke

Alexei was outraged at the apprehensive Dutch.

for

his strong views

eign minister,

He

He knew

it

Rozhestvensky to continue to Vladivostok without

taking on coal in one of the ports of Southeast Asia.

made

would

coal.

thought Japan would never attack Dutch colonies in Asia.

was impossible

on

known both

to his

Lamsdorf the peacemaker.

nephew, the

The grand duke tsar,

and the

for-



THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

As

mittal.

side it,

They

Dutch

tried to lure

and the frying pan, remained noncom-

fire

Rozhestvensky into some secluded bay out-

territorial waters,

where,

as the

Rozhestvensky s squadron could stay

Rozhestvensky did not suggested to

no chance meant

him were

to

in the

buy food, no

He

St.

Saigon.

He

as

it

needs."

from

Of course,

his route.

made

he had an-

Petersburg of the route he was going to take.

were to be sent both to Batavia

dryly promised that, in any case, the squadron

his choice: destination



January

6.

Rozhestvensky did not

changed

his

mind.

On

January

3,

them

French Indochina.

anchor "within 1,500 miles" of one of the two ports. In ready

of the places

telegraph. Also, going to any of

just curtly advised that the colliers

and

long

middle of nowhere: no good anchoring,

significantly digressing

did not inform

"as

Dutch Naval Minister put

like this idea in the least. All

other, equally unpleasant option:

He

on Holland. But the

a result, St. Petersburg exerted pressure

Dutch, caught between the

181

the

Sunda

know

Strait,

fact,

would

he had

al-

departure date

that the tsar

had already

Naval Minister Avelan sent Rozhestvensky an ur-

gent order: "The Sovereign Emperor has ordered you not to leave

Madagascar before getting further instructions." Rozhestvensky did not receive

message in time to cancel

this

tended that he hadn't. Nevertheless, he did not

German

colliers rebelled.

On

Mad Dog

The enraged day,

January the

executive of the

is

tsar:

6.

The

risky.

They

feared that

"Having prepared

to leave to-

proceed further, suddenly was notified by the

German commission

would not move any

on January

they would run into a Japanese ambush.

admiral cabled the sixth, to

sail

pre-

the departure day, they notified Rozh-

estvensky that the enterprise was becoming too

by following the

Or he

his departure.

further."

that the steamers with coal

"Each further day spent

at

Madagascar

harmful to us," he added emphatically. In the next cable to the sovereign, the admiral tried meteorological

reasoning:

"We

should not stay

at

Madagascar. In several days the hur-

ricane season starts. Will lose our ships." In a cable to Avelan, he

asking the minister "not to keep the squadron at

Nosy Be"

was

for sanitary

182

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

and men

reasons: "All living quarters of officers coal. ... In this situation

He

many may

die of infectious diseases."

also appealed to the arcane art

asked Avelan, that the

wanted

to keep the

of diplomacy. Could

had been influenced by

colliers

squadron

at

The

would go

reply from

St.

Germany had

Dutch East India and

to

be,

it

he

which

Berlin,

Madagascar, thus creating problems

for France? In that case, he continued,

that the squadron

food and

are full of

to be notified

get coal there.

Petersburg was slow to arrive. While Rozh-

estvensky was waiting, the colliers loudly celebrated the kaiser's birthday, as if to

mock

the Russian admiral.

started a drinking orgy,

which

They put up

was only

and

He knew that

the

tsar's insecurities.

He

lasted for three days.

Rozhestvensky was choking with powerless intolerable delay

colorful flags

partially caused

rage.

by the

was depending on a new technology that was

still

unreliable: interna-

tional telegraph.

To send

a cable, Rozhestvensky first

Diego-Suarez on the northern away).

From

tip

of Madagascar (seventy-five miles

the heartland of the island, then to

coast,

From Mozambique

would

Zanzibar and

travel to St. Petersburg via

leg

the wire passed through five local

custom of closing

Antananarivo in

to

Mahajanga on the west

then by oceanic cable to Mozambique.

The

to dispatch a fast ship to

would be transmitted

there a cable

Antananarivo-Mahajanga

had

Paris.

The Diego-Suarez-

was the most vulnerable one,

for there

and

desert.

offices for a six-hour siesta did

not ex-

hundred miles of rain

all

it

forest

pedite delivery either.

Rozhestvensky complained to Avelan: "Cables sent from

burg usually reach Nosy Be in four days, sometimes long kept on English

graph very slow,

While the

it

tsar

lines,"

he concluded

sinisterly.

later."

St. Peters-

"They

Not only was

are

tele-

also distorted messages mercilessly.

was taking

his time, the colliers

were

still

follow the squadron. Rozhestvensky snarled to Avelan: "I

of a chance to kick out from the roadstead these

communicating with Japanese

spies

traitors

refusing to

am

deprived

and watchers,

and agents. Myself,

I

am

not

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

The squadron

allowed to leave.

demoralized in

will get

183

this situation,

created by useless negotiations." Finally,

on January

12,

Avelan informed Rozhestvensky that the

Hamburg-American Line had

instructed

its

colliers to serve the

squad-

ron, provided the admiral agree to several conditions. Colliers were to

proceed separately. Rozhestvensky was to guarantee their

something did happen

safety. If

them, Russia was to compensate the Ger-

to

mans. The chief representative of the company had to be given Rozhestvensky's itinerary so that he could be sure

ports

all

and bays of

call

were neutral.

The he was

admiral had no choice but to agree. At

free to go.

On

But the

tsar

had decided he was

a gray, cool day, January

Admiral Nebogatov.

Satisfied

tual victory, the next

day the

Your mission

is

It

is

Nicholas received

with the interview and reassured of eventsar arrogantly

scolded Rozhestvensky:

not to reach Vladivostok with several ships, but to

master the Sea of Japan. For cient. ...

now

to stay.

after lunch, Tsar

11,

he thought,

least,

this

your Madagascar forces are

absolutely necessary for

you

insuffi-

to wait for

Do-

brotvorsky's unit at Madagascar, to reinforce your squadron. ... for Nebogatov's unit,

I

do not want

your opinion on whether you find

to

it

am

bind you and

possible to have

As

waiting for

him join you

in

the Indian Ocean, adjusting the squadron's itinerary accordingly.

Nicholas's irritability in mid-January 1905 was understandable:

Revolution had started in Russia.

The

year began with a bad

during the annual consecration of waters

omen; on

Neva River

January

6,

with

the dynasty and imperial dignitaries present, an artillery

all

fired cases

a piece of glass

Everybody thought

not, but

it

gun

of shot instead of blanks. Naval Minister Avelan was

wounded by Palace.

at the

heralded a

it

from

a

broken window of the Winter

was an attempt on the

real disaster.

demonstrations and strikes started in

tsar's life. It

was

In several days, spontaneous St.

Petersburg.

The government

184

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

used force to repel these moves, which resulted in the massacre on January

9,

Bloody Sunday, of hundreds of people by governmental troops

in front of the

Winter

Palace.

Rozhestvensky was a staunch conservative, but the current unrest in St. Petersburg as

was not

his

problem.

He had

he possibly could. Dobrotvorsky's unit was

waiting for

Madagascar meant losing

at

it

to leave still

several

Nosy Be

in the

Red

enemy

to repair his

main

force

and

soon

Sea,

and

weeks more. The ad-

miral kept arguing with the monarch: "By staying here, the

as

to let his smaller

we

allow

vanguard ships

become

familiar with the southern straits of the Indian Ocean, to study

the area

and

to prepare a concealed trap for us.

Out of Dobrotvorsky's

Oleg will reinforce us and not significantly anyway."

squadron, only the

Rozhestvensky 's argument about not giving Togo time to have his ships repaired

of the

was a strong one. London,

fact that Togo's ships,

engaging in of foreign

for instance,

was quite aware

having spent twelve months cruising and

were in a pretty bad shape. The Japanese minister

battle,

affairs told the British

oped "many

defects in

with Togo's

fleet,

ambassador that the

machinery and elsewhere."

A

fleet

had

devel-

British observer

Captain Pakenham, reported that the ships were

"very far from being in an efficient condition." Their bottoms

were "very fleet

in

foul,

reducing greatly their speed." By and

was "very seriously

want of docking and

in

repairing."

January 1905, Togo was preoccupied with exactly

Meanwhile, the

tsar

had withdrawn the

large, Togo's

initial

Of course,

that.

compromise.

Now

Rozhestvensky was to wait not only for Dobrotvorsky but also for Nebogatov. Feeling tsar,

in

freer to

argue with the naval minister than with the

Rozhestvensky cabled Avelan: "Nebogatov will reach Madagascar

May.

Am asking for your order to proceed as soon as Dobrotvorsky's

ships will be able to

He

also

move

mentioned

on."

that salted

meat and cabbage brought from

Kronshtadt were rotting already and that

coming

scarce.

To wait

for

Nebogatov

all

at

once again resupplying the squadron with

mean

the squadron

would never move on."

other resources were be-

Madagascar would mean all essentials.

"That would



THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

With utmost

Rozhestvensky thought about the role of

irritation,

the British in this war.

One

of the

from Sainte-Marie reported ing the squadron even in

first

cables he sent to St. Petersburg

his concern: "English cruisers are

somebody

else's

nese, the English are not concealing cruisers' reconnaissance.

185

watch-

waters; as allies of the Japa-

from them the

results

of their

This means they are reporting our organiza-

methods, and other things useful to our adversary."

tion, tactical

This cable unleashed another diplomatic storm in Europe. The Russian charge d'affaires in

manding

explanation.

given to our Naval

London

He was

visited the Foreign Office, de-

informed that

Commanders

to avoid

had been

"distinct orders

any action which could have

the appearance of watching or following the Russian ships."

The com-

mander-in-chief of the Cape Station ascertained that "no ships of the

Cape squadron had sighted any Russian man-of-war." The Foreign Office insisted that "after the departure of the Russian squadron from

Tangier they were not shadowed or even observed by British ships.

They might

possibly have passed one or two British vessels

bound, but except

for this they could not

homeward-

have seen a British vessel

af-

ter leaving Tangier."

Rozhestvensky 's energetic protest had probably been inspired by his

paranoid Anglophobia, compounded by his feeling of general frus-

That January, he was taking the blows of fate

tration.

aide,

from

Lieutenant Sventorzhetsky, brought St.

would shred

it

When

him newly deciphered

his

cables

Petersburg, the admiral could barely conceal his anger.

He

finger the paper ferociously as if resisting the temptation to

it

into pieces

and only then

edit the draft severely, often

ble

badly.

snapping

He would When the ca-

an answer.

start dictating

at Sventorzhetsky.

was particularly displeasing, he would say with forced calm: "Leave

with me. ...

casions

when

I

will write the response myself.

.

.

later."

the lieutenant was leaving the cabin, he

On

these oc-

would often hear

the sound of a pencil being broken and the admiral's muffled voice,

choking with

No

rage, cursing "traitors."

matter

how

frustrated he was, he never shared his thoughts or

even the content of the cables with the two junior flag officers

186

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Felkersam and Enkvist.

The only person who was kept informed was

his aide, Lieutenant Sventorzhetsky. tsar or to the naval minister, the

While preparing

cables to the

admiral sometimes would burst into

a long explanation, voicing the points that he

was unable

to

mention

in the correspondence. First,

he had a low opinion of his squadron.

brand-new and, be unfit.

therefore, untested, or they

The crews had been assembled

Its

ships were either

were old and proven to

hastily.

The squadron had

been allowed no time to practice together to develop team

spirit or

even coordination.

Nebogatov's detachment was a total outrage, "pathetic" and slow



in a

word, "archaeological." Rozhestvensky knew what he was

Emperor Nicholas

talking about; the

the Admiral Ushakov, and the

I,

Admiral Seniavin had practiced under Practice Unit.

The Emperor

tov,

As

for their

command

in the Artillery

Nicholas I had also sailed in the same

squadron with him in 1894-1895, in the Far East.

his

first

in the

Mediterranean Sea, then

commander, Nikolai Ivanovich Neboga-

Rozhestvensky knew him, too. Nebogatov had succeeded him

captain of the Kreiser and later

commanded

as

the Pervenets, Rozh-

estvensky s flagship in the Artillery Practice Unit. Rozhestvensky had

not been impressed. In a letter to his wife he plainly called Nebogatov's squadron "rot." Sardonically, he said that as

head of the Naval General Staff he should

have probably been nicer to seasoned grasping "pikes" of various salons

and

chancelleries

moded

ships" to

was, after

all,

He was

just

who were now

him

war on the

insistence of

an ordinary

officer.

to take

"bad and out-

Commander

Klado,

who

tortured by thoughts about his personal responsibility for

the armada. His nightmare was he killed in battle, in

which

able to lead his

men.

any longer. At

least,

pleas.

forcing

It

would become disabled by

case neither Felkersam nor Enkvist

also

was apparent that the

tsar

illness

would be

did not like

the sovereign was turning a deaf ear to

Overwhelmed with

these thoughts, Rozhestvensky

came

conclusion that the armada needed another leader, one

or

him

all

his

to the

who was

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

healthier

and more popular with the

He

tsar.

187

com-

respected the

mander-in-chief of the Black Sea Fleet, Admiral Chukhnin, and

wanted him

board Nebogatovs squadron in Port Said.

to

When

the

squadrons eventually met, Chukhnin would become commander-inchief

and

hoped the

would

he, Rozhestvensky, tsar

would grant him

step

down

to junior flag rank.

He

at least that.

4

The

rainy season started.

tersburg lent

fall,

but

it

To many,

it

was hot and the

now

looked

like a

gloomy

St.

Pe-

Baltic never experienced such vio-

downpours. In spite of the admiral's efforts, morale was

plummeting and de-

bauchery was escalating. The crewmen indulged in their pleasure before they

embarked

Until their arrival at

Nosy

last

gulps of

for their final, terrifying destination.

Be, Rozhestvensky's

crewmen had been

confined to their ships since their departure from Kronshtadt, nearly three

months and up

to four for some. Officers

glimpses of Dakar and Libreville. claustrophobic ships allowing ity.

little

had had

The long voyage had been or no privacy

and no

just brief

spent on

explicit sexual-

For crews sharing cramped living quarters, even masturbation was

problematic. Sexual attraction between men, magnified by solitude,

male camaraderie, regular consumption of alcohol, and close exposure of naked bodies, could hardly lead to anything. Lack of privacy, reinforced by social inhibitions, set limits to potential affairs or encounters.

Even an

officer

Now,

at

had

Nosy

to think twice

Be, they finally could

night had rushed to the

islet

from

tracted to a spectacular bloom. visitors interested in

thought

it

all

Many

let

his cabin.

out steam. Ladies of the

over Madagascar like bees atnative huts

quick copulation, and

narrow alleyways. However, officers

about taking a mate to

welcomed Russian

sailors started cruising

class distinctions

remained strong.

inappropriate to touch the Malagasy, and

could not afford French harlots.

dark

Many

crewmen

a

188

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

The crewmen

much

officers a

suspected that French courtesans were giving their

on young midshipmen and

spied

bawdy

about

stories

women

were giving them. They

lieutenants

and then disseminated

better time than local

debauchery.

"real"

across an unusual exhibit in the forest.

on the

officers

ing photos of the parently, he

were playing cards on

trio,

a

group of

came

sailors

A woman was lying dead drunk

surrounded by empty wine

grass,

Two young

Once

bottles.

Her

belly

was naked.

and the third one was

it,

advising his comrades

on how

tak-

Ap-

to best pose.

thought these pictures would help them to deal with the

boredom of seafaring.

Of course,

visiting the tropical rain forest

pleasure. Sailors

went there

sional deadly snake,

making

admire hummingbirds, to spot an occa-

to listen to mysterious voices in the

way through

their

Officers

and

to

was normally an innocent

walls of vines

and ruining

as a guide,

and depart

quiet, silent,

river.

in

crater. It

which crocodiles were abundant.

Its

was

sur-

waters were

and enigmatic.

the lake

it

was easy

to reach their ultimate destination

The path was narrow and

the sun.

There

for the jungle.

they would head for a big lake lying in a shallow

rounded by reeds

prophy-

as a

put on high boots to protect their ankles from

boy

snakes, hire a local

From

their uniforms.

went out hunting. They would take quinine

lactic against malaria,

woods,

The

river

full

was shallow but



of snakes warming themselves in full

of rapids. Here and there a

hunter would spot a crocodile's head, resembling driftwood.

would

fire,

and brush, and the dead crocodile would be

down

to the

ocean where

it

float sinisterly

would make

feast frequently interrupted

though

would

carried

by the

on waves,

river

scaring

squadron.

After the hunt, officers

parently

He

but then often be unable to retrieve the trophy amid

rapids

sailors in the

the

warmed by delightful,

a bonfire

would venture

in the cold river,

with butterflies and white

a picnic



by hordes of mosquitoes. Sometimes, ap-

alcohol, the Russians

swim

and have

a very unsafe,

under the blooming

ibises flying over their heads.

trees,

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

But hunting was not

for everybody.

189

Most Russian males knew how

to hunt, but only enthusiasts ventured to

do

so

amid the

heat, snakes,

and mosquitoes of Madagascar. Officers normally stayed

in

town.

There, after visiting the brothels, they could go to a restaurant or to a shop. All of the shops displayed signs in Russian, promising "huge discounts." But the post office

Nosy Be soon where

in Siberia.

felt

The

plying the Malagasy

still

never had enough stamps.

very confining, like a tiny provincial town someRussians jokingly nicknamed

name with

Nossibeisk, sup-

it

a suffix often used in the

foresaken Russian towns like Irkutsk or

names of

Omsk.

Nossibeisk's major attraction was gambling. In spite of Rozh-

estvensky 's orders, underground gambling continued. Stingy French bureaucrats

watched

much

who had come

to

Madagascar to earn and save money

reckless Russian officers

with shock. The governor was very

displeased; the Russians were setting a

not want his colony to continue

this

way

bad example.

after

they

left.

He

He

did

visited

Rozhestvensky and complained. The admiral knew he could not close

all

officers

those dens or ban gambling effectively, so instead he banned

from

visiting the shore

on weekdays, thus

setting limits to

the vice.

To control ships,

the crewmen, they were generally confined to their

and they were beaten

crew turned to

if

they misbehaved.

fishing; at the turn

of the

last

To

fight

boredom, the

century angling was a

sport for the lower classes.

Nighttime fishing was particularly rewarding. The Donskoi crew caught 1,800 pounds of daylight cers'

had

to

fish in

one evening. They used nets and

spend considerable time sorting the

manuals. Normally, the brighter the

One

night, a sailor

who was wading

fish,

the

fish,

less

using the

edible

it

in

offi-

was.

the bay suddenly yelled and

disappeared under the water. His body was never recovered. Apparently, a

shark had snatched him. After that incident, Rozhestvensky

scolded the captain and senior officer of the Donskoi and banned ing altogether.

fish-

190

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Deprived of this pleasure, the expectedly, they

found

it

sailors

had

Many went

in the rain.

Un-

to seek fun elsewhere. to the

deck naked and

soaped and washed thoroughly under the generous tropical torrents.

But everybody was bored and

Some were unable tropics

to

in general.

Some

had chosen not

officers

and the

leave their ships since Reval. Idleness all

alike.

spend enough time ashore; others loathed the

and foreign lands

mission magnified

and crewmen

irritated, officers

overall feeling

to

of a failed

petty problems.

In that climate, even having one's hair cut was an ordeal. Both the

customer and the barber (normally a fellow tools)

would sweat

profusely,

and the

client

sailor

with old battered

would

struggle with the

prickling reminders of the operation for hours.

There were other nuisances. The Suvorov, was running short of cups. They were not quantities necessary,

The

floor

dered

and

officers

now

were

like

available in

to bring

other ships,

Nosy Be

in the

drinking tea from jam

was getting unbearably hot during the

men

many

chunks of wood to protect

day,

feet

and

jars.

officers or-

from burns.

Nights were hot and damp. Virtually everybody went on deck to sleep in relative comfort. ficers slept

When on

the eve of a thunderstorm

sharply in English: "Stop, boy!

forest

would send waves of

darken the

sky,

leash a flood.

and

it

was too hot

air;

The

to sleep, they

others

older

would

A younger offi-

comrade would cut

sentinel listens ..."

The

rain

sweet narcotic scent, clouds would

finally lightning

The lucky ones

of the cool

its

Of-

unabashed by the presence of sailors.

would make an audacious remark, and an

him

lief

stark naked,

about Rozhestvensky, the Admiralty, and the war.

talk

cer

on mats

Many conventional norms had collapsed.

would cut the dark

veil

and un-

reposing under tents could enjoy the

had

to flee the

deck into the

sultriness

re-

of

their cabins.

The Suvorov wardroom had

a piano, but

so they were using a pianola instead.

nobody could play

When

a

it

well,

midshipman from an-

other ship visited and suggested playing the piano, officers were so excited that they started folk dancing in hastily arranged crazy attires, as if at a dress ball.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

191

But one could not dance every day; the pianola was not inspiring enough. Alternatively, they gathered the dogfight, passionately cheering their pets.

launched a

cers

rat

hunt, using dogs as

ships' canines

On

and staged

another occasion,

mock hounds,

a

offi-

but they killed

only one rodent.

Seeking

variety, officers started collecting tropical wildlife.

They

were catching chameleons and buying monkeys. Those of the noble class

dreamt of bringing them back

of their country

estates;

to Russia to inhabit the gardens

expensive heating systems could keep the ex-

year to the envy of neighbors.

Now chameleons

otic animals alive

all

were crawling

over the Suvorov, absolutely harmless, but detested

all

by many.

The crewmen

didn't share the officers' interest in exotic creatures.

Most of them were peasant

lads, so

they were happy taking care of the

cows, calves, pigs, and chickens taken aboard as foodstuff. the idea that the animals

would have

to be slaughtered

They hated

and were

shar-

ing bread with them.

Rozhestvensky seemed not to mind

was doing raising

his best to cheer

of the

flag

and

all

people up.

this

menagerie too much.

The day

started with the

the orchestras playing the national

He

solemn

anthem and

then the Marseillaise to honor the French hosts and finally Rozhestvensky's

personal march. At the lowering of the flag at sunset, the orchestras

played again.

On

Many found

these rituals soothing

and even

poetic.

Sunday afternoon, the Suvorov musicians played outside the

governor's villa



a sensation for the local beau monde; there

was no

or-

chestra in town. French families attended, wearing their best clothes,

gawking

at

young and handsome Russian

aristocrats playing

lawn ten-

Of course, the aristocrats were showing off— in 1905, no lowborn man could play that game of the privileged. Monkeys were throwing

nis.

mangoes

at the

crowd, and the Russians were looking

the deadline for returning to the boats

was 6

p.m. sharp,

planned to do some gambling in the afternoon or Discipline continued collapsing. the senior officer

at their

A sailor on

and threatened the boatswain.

watches;

and many

still

visit a brothel.

the Suvorov disobeyed

A

court-martial gave

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

192

him

and

three

They did not belong

rebelled.

no reason

to the

to fear Rozhestvensky.

leaders of the

mutiny

them was taken

no

navy and assumed that they had

They were

He had

mistaken.

and put into other

arrested

the four

ships' coolers.

One

cooler was horrible.

It

was excruciatingly hot and had

But there was

ventilation.

a

worse punishment. Rozh-

estvensky had promised to leave the four Malaya rebels ashore the squadron departed.

One

looked worse than

him.

On January

jail

to

10, the

of them burst into

Nakhimov crew

let their

men

Now

whole episode.

men on

He

Nakhimov and

left

had

prayer.

would have pun-

wise to downplay the told the crew: "I

knew

were scum, but not such scum!" Having said

this ship

he abruptly

that,

arrived at the

it

officers

crew demanded

common

he thought

exile

like the other ships

different circumstances, Rozhestvensky

ished the sailors mercilessly.

when

such an

Her

eat dried bread. Finally the

proper food and refused to disperse after the

Under

tears;

rebelled, too.

not bothered to import fresh bread from the shore, had, and

of

to the Suvorov.

The Suvorov absolutely

The Malaya crew

a half years in a disciplinary battalion.

just

the ship. After that, the crew promptly got fresh

bread and the officers a ferocious scolding. Rozhestvensky even put four of them under arrest.

Numerous minor same

episodes occurred, which were

disease: demoralization.

collection

A man

cup with money. Four

men from

destroyed and sacked a native hut. overboard, having drunk too

at the

An

symptoms of the

Oslyabya stole a church the torpedo boat Grozny

officer

from the Suvorov

much champagne. The same

vorov crew stole a case of champagne.

fell

day, the Su-

A sailor from the Kamchatka had

sneaked into the water and started swimming toward the shore, having first

helped himself to two

light

and brought back

"wanted to walk a

bit

on

life vests.

After he was spotted by a search-

to the ship, he explained that he

land." Sailors often returned

dead drunk, carried on stretchers by

their

had

just

from the shore

comrades. Prohibited from

drinking alcohol outside their daily ration of two glasses of vodka, they started

buying

it

from

local

vendors or from foreign peers.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

On

torpedo boats, order was becoming especially loose.

vorov officers were shocked to see a torpedo boat's captain

drinking tea on deck barefooted.

crewmen

On shore,

and

between

fights

193

The his

mate

officers

Rozhestvensky reported to the Naval General

started.

Su-

and

Staff:

"Sub-lieutenant Zaionchakovsky from the Ural, debauching ashore

and being beastly drunk, was heavily beaten by men. Having courtmartialed three participants in the beating

chakovsky to a private."

He was warning

.

.

.

degraded Zaion-

the naval minister: "If the

squadron continues to be prevented from proceeding to the theater of war, discipline will be totally shaken. There

is

and

gross offenses, because people die in coolers too. Capital

stay in

confirm a single death warrant.

side.

soft

Nosy

When

an

with capital punishment,

them

to death? Before the battle,

who knows,

all

officer

dared to hint that he

am

"I

How

not on the soft

can you scare people

me and men will be

arrested

am

I

taking

set free,

and

perhaps they will become heroes."

Even without executions, almost every day somebody would heatstroke, heart failure, or drowning. Officers

attention

on deck, gravely watching

a black,

and crew stood

die of at full

narrow torpedo boat head

slowly to sea, churning the water in front of her into white foam. priest

stood at the stern over the dead

ered by a

choir

St.

Andrew's

flag.

tillery shot.

felt

into cloth

and cov-

Bands played somber church hymns, and a

people on other ships heard

sea,

a single ar-

This meant that the body had been dropped into the wa-

The ceremony

charge.

be

man sewn

A

on the torpedo boat sang the funeral mass. After the torpedo

boat reached the outer

ter.

ill,

entirely."

they are following

if

most

Be, Rozhestvensky did not

on men, Rozhestvensky responded:

This just does not make any sense.

for

sentries there get

punishment would demoralize crews

Throughout the whole

was too

no punishment

Normal

life

over, boatswains whistled, ordering

resumed, but the ominous presence of

fate

to dis-

would

more hours.

for several

Diseases thrived. to Russia because

engine and even

men

When

the wretched

Rozhestvensky had

less reliable

Malaya was

lost patience

finally sent

back

with her defective

crew, she carried several dozen very sick

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

194

—including twenty-eight with

people with her

acute tuberculosis. All

through the squadron people complained of tropical rashes and

They were plagued by

malaria.

wandered around the

pests

cockroaches. Legions of these hungry

ships, eating clothes, boots,

night they attacked the sleeping and

gnawed

and books. At

at their faces

and hands.

These savage cockroaches were nicknamed "cannibals."

Many sailors were now wearing bast shoes; rated

and they had no

reserves. St. Petersburg

knew

the problem, but everybody ance,

it

would

had

deterio-

had promised

to solve

their boots

take too long.

which kept the stock of frozen meat, experienced

The

her refrigerator. current brought

nating the

The

air

rotting carcasses were

them

Esper-

breakdown of

thrown into the

where they continued

to shore

a

The

sea,

but the

to rot, contami-

with stench.

ships also suffered in

lated considerable mollusks

them down on

their

way

Nosy

Be. Their bottoms

and seaweed that were bound

to Japan.

It

was almost impossible

A proper dock was

to clean the bottoms.

had accumu-

needed.

to slow

for divers

Of course,

the Japa-

nese were going to have their ships cleaned before the eventual battle.

They were

also able to

complete

all

necessary mechanical repairs.

The

longer the squadron stayed at Madagascar, the better equipped Togo

became. The ultimate humiliation would

arrive,

though,

if

the Japa-

nese had time to salvage Russian ships sunk at Port Arthur, had repaired,

and then had the Poltava

officers regretted

On dled.

fire at

the Suvorov.

Alexander

Now the Russian

they had called the Japanese macaques.

January 20, mail arrived. As usual,

The

them

it

was outrageously mud-

battleship Alexander III kept getting letters addressed to the III

Technological College back in Russia.

addressed to ships

still

in Libava

Some

and Kronshtadt, and even

letters

were

to the ships

already sunk at Port Arthur.

Having

greedily read letters

Russian newspapers. press

Many

from home, people

were shocked by what they learned: The

was reporting revolution!

Much

Parcels received with the mail

son,

most

started browsing

families kept sending

political

debate ensued.

were disappointing. For some

warm

clothes.

rea-

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Officers were in a hurry to reply

postcards from

Nosy

ble. If a telegraphic

Be.

letters or colorful

The lucky ones were communicating by

response from a Russian addressee arrived in

was considered

days, that

and mailed

195

cafive

to be fast.

Rozhestvensky allowed the sending and receiving of private cables

through such to

as

official,

supposedly quicker, channels, only in emergencies,

death or grave

illness.

monitor the personal

affairs

In these situations, he never hesitated

of his

expedite communication.

"How

would ask Naval General

Staff.

is

officers if

he thought

it

would

so-and-so's wife's health?" he

He and

other top officers never

abused their special access to the telegraph. Naval General Staff

would inform them about the well-being of briefly

and

The

their families only very

infrequently.

admiral had his share of family problems, too. His wife had de-

cided to go abroad with their daughter and grandson,

Rozhestvensky asked her to postpone

thought

now

it

was inappropriate

travel until the

for his family to

little

Nikolai.

end of the war; he

go pleasure seeking right

She promised to stay but then changed her mind and informed

her husband they were going to the most conspicuous place of all, Nice.

5

In the beginning of February, Rozhestvensky

became

seriously

ill.

He

developed terrible pain and was moaning through the night, unable even to doze.

He

Doctors said that

Only

ice

spent several days in bed and took it

all

his meals there.

was a bout of his old rheumatism.

applied to his joints would ease his suffering.

When

one

night the Suvorova refrigerator broke down, an officer was dispatched to search other ships for ice.

Officers

who

hadn't seen Rozhestvensky since Kronshtadt were

saying he looked twenty years older.

with affair

glee.

Some worried

There was one particular reason not

with Sivers was becoming an open secret

a lot,

some grinned

to like the admiral:

among

lonely men.

His



196

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Almost every day she had lunch with him, accompanied by Rozhestvensky's niece, Miss Pavlovskaya, also a nurse

them gossiped

ing

that during the

on the

Men serv-

Orel.

meal Rozhestvensky paid no atten-

tion to the niece whatsoever, talking exclusively to Sivers. After the

meal, the niece

would

and Rozhestvensky would remain with

cers,

door to the admiral's let

anybody

Sivers's birthday.

huge bunch of flowers

the Suvorov.

would be

suite

shut,

and

his orderly

Rozhestvensky sent an

and then hosted

to the Orel

The band was

playing gay music.

Every day they exchanged

travagant gift

—an enormous

hospital ship

and

later

letters

plant.

The

and sometimes even

He

for

sure Sivers

was

On

on board.

them from

special cutter to

him an

immediately rerouted

it

ex-

to the

invited, too.

Seeing apathy

to

buy

the trip to Kaapstad, Rozhestvensky fresh supplies for the

the ship's bursary.

to St. Petersburg for

As a

result, the

all

—astronomic officers

observations,

were obliged to practice

war games, various alarms and

drills.

were saying with some satisfaction that when they

Another way

to practice

at night.

they could. At loss for the

ficult for the

Orel had to apply

around, the admiral was trying to reintroduce a

ished the voyage their naval education

squadron

squadron and to

more money.

feeling of purpose to his fleet. Junior officers

and a

parcels

scolded the courier for a single broken branch.

had ordered her captain

as

with

hospital ship, however, didn't enjoy special privileges just be-

cause Sivers was

Many

officer

the governor threw a dinner for Rozhestvensky, the gallant

Frenchman made

daily

would not

They drank champagne.

take his letters to the Orel. Once, the French governor sent

pay

the

a dinner party at

presumably with presents. Rozhestvensky dispatched a

When

Then

Sivers alone.

in.

January 19 was a

leave to have a chat with her uncle's staff offi-

would

finally

be complete.

was to send torpedo boats to attack the

Their mission was to crawl

first,

fin-

as close to bigger ships

each mission was a victory for the torpedo boats

squadron, but with each attempt

hounds of the

it

became more

sea to get to their prey unnoticed.

dif-

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

On

January

was

practice. It

and

13, 18,

19,

the squadron

went

197

to sea for artillery

their first joint exercise since Reval. Overall results

looked discouraging. In a caustic

memorandum, Rozhestvensky

said

they were "too shameful to be mentioned." In bright daylight, the

whole squadron

failed to hit

any of the

targets standing for Japanese

torpedo boats, "though the difference between the targets and Japanese torpedo boats was in our favor, for the shields did not move."

What was

the purpose of keeping gunners

Rozhestvensky sarcastically asked,

on

watch

their

at night,

they failed to hit targets in

if

daylight?

Maneuvering was

also highly unsatisfactory. In his

memorandum,

Rozhestvensky pronounced that instead of a squadron, he had seen an

On

"ugly mob." battle.

February

8,

he took

all

Felkersam and Enkvist were to play against him. But the result

was embarrassing. Instead of attacking got

of the ships to sea to simulate a

their flag, Felkersam

and Enkvist

lost.

Rozhestvensky was beyond himself with

rage.

From

the bridge of

the Suvorov, he violently cursed both, especially Enkvist, the Slutty

Old

He

Geezer.

schooling

it

spent the

most

in the

rest

of the day assembling the squadron and

basic maneuvers.

The admiral did not have

the resources to actually train his

the stock of artillery shells was limited,

number of

it

takes

months

ships into a squadron. Thus, the maneuvers

were not training, but a

Many, but not liked

and

all.

test

One



a test that

many

spirit

on

During

practice

special care to

traditional Russian pre-Lent

Aurora staged a performance

Neptune, clowns, and

"natives," but also

and running

At

contests.

and

of the ships that Rozhestvensky genuinely

his ship.

carnival, maslyannaya, the

to turn a

ships failed to pass.

was the cruiser Aurora. Her commander took

maintain team

men;

five o'clock,

— not

just

naked wrestling and shooting

the Aurora's

numerous boats ran

a race in the harbor.

That

day,

pleasure. For

Rozhestvensky was watching the Aurora with utmost

him,

it

was one of the few bright episodes

in the

loathsome



CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

198

A spirit of naval camaraderie, paternalistic treatment

stay at Madagascar.

of the crewmen, strong and

fast

masculine bodies, heavy launches low-

ered into the water or brought back to the deck in a matter of seconds it

was exactly the

schedule of the

fleet

he would

festivities

He had

like to have.

the day before.

approved the

Now he issued a special memo,

asking the other captains whether they had bothered to stage any per-

formance

On

at

all.

February

the squadron.

now

at least

He

i,

Only

Captain Dobrotvorsky's detachment

the armored cruiser Oleg was a valuable asset, but

Rozhestvensky could

insist

again

assembled his captains and junior

them on

his

correspondence with

St.

leaving.

He finally briefed

The

admiral explicitly

Petersburg.

the Sea of Japan, that Nebogatov's ships

now was

on

flag officers.

would not be

said that even in the best case scenario they

they could do

finally joined

to try to break

would be

able to master

a burden,

and that

through to Vladivostok.

In the beginning of February, Rozhestvensky addressed the

peror again. "Your Imperial Majesty," he wrote, liability

of [the Nebogatov

arrive here

Madagascar

ships'] repairs

and

"I

am

if in

em-

doubting the

three

with broken boilers, condensers, pipes, will cause a burst

all

re-

months they

my

lingering at

of general indignation." Even without

Nebogatov, Rozhestvensky firmly concluded that he could reach Vladivostok only "with

losses."

Meanwhile, he was notified that Nebogatov had journey. Naval Minister Avelan cabled,

Admiral Nebogatov's unit also carried

left

"On

Sergei Alexandrovich

Many

was

February the second, Rear

Libava for the Far East."

some bad news: "On February killed with a

just started his

4, in

The same

cable

Moscow, Grand Duke

bomb thrown

at his car-

universities

and

Rozhestvensky immediately sent a cable of condolence to the

tsar

riage.

.

.

.

plants are

on

strike again;

almost

all

schools are closed."

(Grand Duke Sergei was

new

his uncle),

revolutionary turmoil.

"traitors" sincerely

A

condemning

in strong terms the

principled conservative, he hated those

and wholeheartedly.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

He

199

did not suspect that revolution in Russia would promote his

cause. Tired of arguing

and losing

the pressure of domestic violence nasty, the tsar angrily cabled

interest in the squadron's fate

and unprecedented

under

threat to the dy-

Rozhestvensky on February

8: "I let

you

decide yourself whether to leave Madagascar without waiting for Nebogatov's detachment or to wait for to reach Vladivostok with

some

vessels,

him

there.

Your mission

is

not

but to master the Sea of Japan.

Repairs of Nebogatov's ships were done with

all

possible thoroughness.

Cable your decision." In response, Rozhestvensky sent a long telegram:

The

1st

Squadron, which before the war had 30 warships and 28

torpedo boats, proved to be insufficient for mastering the

2nd Squadron, having

just

20 warships and 9 torpedo

incapable of mastering the sea, because there 1st

Squadron but the

still

will

Rossiya. After

Nebogatov

not be enough for mastering the

sea:

boats,

nothing

is

sea.

left

is

The

now

of the

joins us, our forces

Nebogatov adds 4 bad

warships and 8 transports to defend, which will be a burden for the

squadron.

Rozhestvensky thought Admiral Chukhnin with three Black Sea battleships

and two

cruisers

should join Nebogatov in the Mediter-

ranean Sea; the addition of those ships would be useful and such a joint fleet "could master the sea, provided

"If the addition of the Black Sea ships

it

is

was constantly supplied." unrealistic,

then the 2nd

Squadron's nearest task should be reaching Vladivostok and only

having got rid of transports, would cruise the area of the adversary's

gued.

It

was impossible

The squadron would

morally.

"Now

be possible for the main force to

communications with metropoly and

for the auxiliary cruisers the area

proceeds."

it

later,

through which military contraband

to stay at

Madagascar any longer, he

get totally

ar-

undermined physically and

having the most gracious permission of Your Imperial

Majesty, will depart in the last days of February."

zoo

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Yet, the

"most gracious permission" to leave Nosy Be

Rozhestvensky would have to not

at

up

a rendezvous with

Madagascar, then somewhere

Nebogatov's unit, the cruiser

set

he liked

less

else.

it.

still

implied



Nebogatov

if

But the more he heard about

The Admiralty

reported that the

Rus had had to be sent back to Libava from Skagen due to a

mechanical problem. Rozhestvensky cabled back venomously: very sorry.

The Rus was

"We

are

the only desirable ship from the whole

Nebogatov detachment. Mechanics should be changed. These,

it

seems, do not want to go to war."

Meanwhile, the international commission on the Dogger Bank cident finished 17:

its

on February

hearings. Avelan cabled Rozhestvensky

"In their final statement, the admirals concluded that the actions of

Your Excellency and the squadron's criticism

and have been absolutely

do not deserve the

officers

right.

.

.

.

The

is

not mentioned

in the final statement of the admirals." In St. Petersburg,

Alexei

mind paying indemnity

and that he even thought

"this

Tokyo was disappointed soft

Grand Duke

magnanimously informed Foreign Minister Lamsdorf

course" he did not

allies

plans. "It

is

that the international verdict

nor what

known where

may

had been

a different reason to be upset:

all

known

were putting on a good

allies

in

and thus trying

good time and, meanwhile,

to

wring

their little secrets

were engaged in combined war,

would be improper, but while the war combatants, the alliance

is

any further knowledge of expedient to

war

now

face:

there

is

nothing

in the alliance to justify seizing ministers (metaphorically) throat,

The

their

the units of the Japanese fleet

so

be their plans for the future," a report from Tokyo

stated. Yet, the British

This will be

Hull

to the fishermen of

were not keeping the British informed about

not

that "of

had been already done."

on Rozhestvensky. London had

Japanese

least

question about the

presence of torpedo boats has not been clarified and

are,

in-

offer.

no ground their

by the

from them. ...

If

this strategic secretiveness is

confined to the present

for claiming

from the Japanese

war schemes than they may find

it

201

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

According to British

were patrolling

intelligence, Japanese cruisers

the Sea of Japan straits in February. Repairs were proceeding rapidly in

dockyards. However,

would not be

pairs

it

finished. Battleships

be "taken in hand for a water for

final refit,

and

larger cruisers

were

Vladivostok without

Sunda

Paris

had

Strait or elsewhere, so

lution was to disobey the

the

liability,

if he still

came

Gradually, the admiral

state treason. It

to persuade the tsar to let

huge

this

Madagascar made no sense

On

to

Madagascar or elsewhere gave Togo more opportunity

at

knew that he would be unable

self.

still

docking, and examination of under-

to prepare for the final encounter. Rozhestvensky realized that.

ers at the

re-

In other words, every day Rozhestvensky spent waiting

fittings."

Nebogatov

was believed that before the end of February

tsar.

Now he

him proceed

to

Nebogatov's ships. Leaving

to wait for Nebogatov's clunk-

he stayed and argued with him-

to the conclusion that the only real so-

He knew that this

could be interpreted

as

took him time to make up his mind.

morning of March

the admiral received cables from

2,

through the Havas telegraph agency. In the solitude of

his study

he went through them quickly. Today's news was alarming. Nebogatov

was hastily taking on coal shortly.

in Crete

Soon he would be heading

and was expected

for the Indian

in Port Said

Ocean.

Enough! Rozhestvensky banged the door.

He summoned

his aid.

Apparently

unsettled, the admiral issued a brisk order to the squadron: Finish

all

loading in twenty-four hours and be ready for immediate departure.

"Whom

shall

we

cable about the route?" the aid asked.

Rozhestvensky looked

at

"Nobody, nothing," he

He

him.

said.

assembled his captains and gave them brief instructions for the

voyage to Asia: Be prepared to leave in twenty-two hours, keep up the speed of nine knots, and in case they carefully, for St.

gun

met Togo, spend ammunition

Petersburg had not bothered to send

them any more

shells.

By

the time of the departure, the decks of

sacks of coal. Coal

was everywhere, even

in

all

the ships were full of

wardrooms. The battleships

202

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

were the most overloaded.

If there

were a storm or a

fire,

they would be

in real trouble.

During the gulped, and

all

had

final loading, all

Meals were quickly

to join in.

people could talk about was coal. Bands were playing,

cheering people up.

Nobody knew was curt and

the squadron's destination. Rozhestvensky's order

businesslike:

be ready to spend the Officers

twenty days on high

and

for forty-five days seas.

wondered whether they were going

Togo or

fight

first

Take aboard supplies

Sunda

to the

Strait to

meet Nebogatov. Both guesses were

to Djibouti to

wrong.

On March

4,

Rozhestvensky had

the French Foreign Ministry sighed with left

Nosy Be

two o'clock the day

at

and the Admiralty learned about

his departure

estvensky sent cables to the

Avelan, and

identical text:

to

third, the

But they did not reach

tion."

hours

"On March

tsar,

St.

him

at

Nosy

tsar

Grand Duke

Alexei with

squadron departed for

Admiralty was

March

still

its

destina-

5.

Twenty

sending cables

Be.

Neither the Admiralty nor the tion.

The

from the French. Rozh-

Petersburg until

after his actual departure, the

before.

relief;

"The route of the squadron

tsar

is

knew

unknown

Rozhestvensky's destinato us," the embarrassed

naval minister confessed to Nebogatov.

The admiral had ocean.

With no

eloped.

tools of offshore

three weeks the world

him



unless

He had

disappeared into the immense

communications

available, for at least

would have no way of hearing anything about

cunning Togo intercepted him

at sea.

Before disappearing in the Indian Ocean, the admiral sent a cable to Avelan, asking diately.

him

to dispatch

Chukhnin

to Port Said

final

imme-

There Chukhnin could join Nebogatov's detachment.

Chukhnin, he continued, should "command the

[joint] fleet,

and

I

keep commanding the squadron. Absolutely necessary to prevent anar-

chy in the case of my death or

injury."

8

Up

"Ten Guns Done

in India Rubber,"

MARCH

In

March

Rudanovsky,

1905. INDIAN

OCEAN

the Russian consul in Singapore, Mr. was the busiest man in town. Before the war started, his 1905,

position had not been an enviable one.

Though

roads of thriving Asian commerce, Singapore was the Russian Empire. Ships

Vladivostok passed

it

located at the cross-

on

the periphery of

commuting between European Russia and

by or sometimes made brief stopovers there

replenish food, water,

and coal

to

supplies. Occasionally a passenger,

overridden by sudden disease, had to be taken care of and sometimes buried in the local cemetery, but that was

had

to

do was

to attend to the needs of

it.

All the Russian consul

haughty naval captains and

boorish merchants.

Rudanovsky was ing.

a conscientious person, energetic

Russian naval officers

infinitely better

ferent

and

work was

lazy.

than

many

knew and

liked him.

other consuls,

But Rudanovsky s was an

routine, the British

and hardwork-

They thought he was

who were

unfulfilled

notoriously indiflife.

The

consulate

who had founded and now owned 203

the

204 city

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

were snobbish and unfriendly, and the climate was oppressive. In

the eyes of the Foreign Ministry personnel, a post in Singapore was

most an

exile.

Then

al-

the war came.

Totally unprepared for the war, lacking any infrastructure in Asia,

from navigable ports

to coal depositories, Russia also lacked secret

and

agents. In Europe, vital

delicate missions associated with

Rozh-

estvensky's journey could be entrusted to professional spies like Gart-

Greedy and self-promoting, those men knew how

ing.

ring, get rid

to

run a spy

of enemy surveillance, conduct sabotage, and move

around unnoticed. Almost no Russian agent

They were chosen

from those present

hastily

in Asia

had such

at the time.

skills.

Rudanovsky

was one of them. In the

fall

of 1904, to his surprise, he was given a task of para-

mount importance: sage.

to prepare the scene for Rozhestvenskys safe pas-

Nobody knew which

looked

route the admiral

would take but Singapore

like a viable option.

Denmark

or

Maximov

in Egypt,

was not given much money or many

associates.

The Admiralty and

Unlike Garting in

Foreign Ministry

No

matter

felt

that

it

would be

how much money was

a waste of time

spent, the British

Rudanovsky

and

the

resources.

would not

let

the

Russians run a serious support operation anyway.

Rudanovsky was on

his

own.

He communicated

with people in

other remote places, also involved in secret missions, but they were

Commander

thousands miles away:

Polis in Batavia,

all

Ambassador

Pavlov in Shanghai, others in Ceylon and Saigon. Singapore, or the Lion City, was a fairly old settlement by colonial standards.

Founded by

Sir

Stamford Raffles of the British East India

Company in 1819, by the twentieth century it was almost a patriarch among imperial outposts. Its roadstead always full of ships, its merchants selling tin and rubber from Malaysia, rubies and sapphires from

Thailand, Indian ivory, and Chinese handicrafts, Singapore was the center of

commerce and

death at distant stations traders, bureaucrats,

and

social life for

numerous

expatriates,

lost in the jungle. Spies officers.

bored to

operated amid the

B

Wilhelm

Kaiser

II

of Germany had pushed his cousin, Tsar Nicholas

into

The

European

including seamanship and even painting

royals, aspiring to excel in everything,

Here he holds Divine Service aboard

Tsar Nicholas

mged le

II,

annexations and, eventually, war in the Far East.

II

for glory,

thought he could

:hieve

it

by occupying

lanchuria and Korea.

kaiser

was the enfant

his yacht, the Hohenzollern.

terrible

of

B

Grand Duke Alexander,

a cousin

and the most trusted friend of the tsar's

youth.

A born

troublemaker,

he supported a militant stand in the Far East.

B

King Edward VII sporting an

Known

opalette.

the

tsar,

as

uncle Bertie to

the playboy king was

concerned Russia and Britain

might go

to

war

in 1904.

B

Admiral Evgeny Alexeev, the Viceroy

of the Far East.

An

Emperor Alexander uncle.

He

illegitimate son II,

he was the

of

tsar's

believed that the war against

Japan would be

won

easily.

B

The Romanovs were

part of a greater European royal family.

Maria Fedorovna, and her

sister

Alexandra, princess of Wales.

Emperor Alexander [Hoover Institution]

III,

Empress

B

Port Arthur, a Russian naval base in the Far East.

of discord between Russia and Japan and also the

first

It

became the apple

Japanese target

during the war. As a base, Port Arthur was very vulnerable; ships could not leave

its

harbor during low

maneuvering an excellent

in the bay.

site for

As

tide. Also, there

for the

Japanese

surrounding

artillery in the fall

was not enough space hills,

for

they would provide

of 1904.

B

The moonlight

in Port Arthur.

1904, and the Russians

might visit

attack.

still

The time

is

early

do not suspect that Japan

Meanwhile, Chinese boatmen

still

Russian ships. Later, they will be banned as

potential spies.

freely

B

Admiral Zinovy

Petrovich Rozhestvensky.

He

fought in the Russo-

Turkish War, created Bulgaria's navy, served as Russia's naval attache in

London, headed the Naval General

Staff,

and

finally,

led the Russian fleet in the battle

of Tsushima. The

British press

nicknamed

him Mad Dog.

B

The

Kreiser clipper. Rozhestvensky

1890-1892. She had ship

and

safely

hit a

was her captain

in the

North

Pacific in

rock in America Bay, but Rozhestvensky rescued the

took her back to Vladivostok.

B

Admiral Stepan

Osipovich Makarov, a popular naval leader

and Rozhestvensky's rival in

He

everything.

died in the sinking

of the Petropavlovsk battleship at Port Arthur

on March 31, 1904.

B

April 6, 1904. Admiral Skrydlov, appointed commander-in-chief of the Pacific

Fleet after

Makarov's death, arrives in

enthusiastic about the war,

St.

and Skrydlov

Petersburg. is

The Russian

warmly welcomed by

public

is still

his fans.

K

The new

technology, steam, allowed ships to cross huge distances

notwithstanding the weather, but

prompt

supplies of coal.

The

it

made them

ships were also

totally

more

dependent on

easily detectable

because of the lush plumes of smoke they emitted.

K At the turn of the last century, torpedo boats were the hounds of the sea. They were fast and armed with torpedoes. In 1904, the Russians suspected that such a ship could stage an ambush in the Baltic Sea, attacking Rozhestvensky's

armada

after dark.

B

A curve of the Suez Canal. The narrow and busy highway looked

to the Russians,

who

native boats, like the

suspected a possible Japanese

one on the

left,

believed the deserted shores could harbor

B

A British

trawler

damaged by

ambush

could carry torpedoes.

armed

saboteurs.

the armada's gunfire in October 9,

1904. She had been mistaken for a Japanese torpedo boat.

dangerous

there. Reportedly,

The

Russians also

H

A British

ship salutes a foreign flag

on high

seas.

B

The

city

of Tangier in Morocco.

October 21, 1904. There the ships

The armada

split into

two

reached units,

some of his

ambush, Rozhestvensky wanted

ships.

on

one

going through the Suez, another traveling around Africa. anticipating an

it

Still

to save at least

K

Admiral Togo Heihachiro.

He masterminded and

led

the major operations of the Japanese navy in 1904-1905.

May

14-15, 1905, he decimated the Russian

fleet at

all

On

Tsushima.

B

May

21, 1905.

after the battle, visits

A week

Admiral Togo

Rozhestvensky in the

naval hospital at Sasebo (a

contemporary Russian

sketch).

B

The Izumrud cruiser.

On May

15, 1905,

surrounded by Admiral Togo's twenty-seven she decided to give it

it

a try.

The

gallant ship

when

ships,

made

through the Japanese blockade but then

shipwrecked on the Russian coast.

B

The

city

of Vladivostok.

only three ships reached

it

It

was the armada's destination, but

out of the squadron of thirty-eight.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

The on low

city,

hills,

stretching north

from the spacious and

covered by spectacular

safe harbor, lay

Numerous

forests.

islets

the harbor were also covered by tropical groves.

The

Malaysian Peninsula was very

narrow Johor

close, across the

the north. Tigers crossed the strait as

much by

studding

great jungle of the Strait to

and raided suburbs. Frightened not

by dysentery and malaria, Europeans stuck

tigers as

compound. There,

their

205

and darkened

in claustrophobic clubs

they exchanged gossip and

made

March

deals. In

to

bars,

1905, the biggest

news and the dearest commodity was war. Consul Rudanovsky was a pessimist by nature. performance did not encourage optimism.

good

for Rozhestvensky's

would not be attacked

intercept Rozhestvensky's

his country's

didn't expect anything

squadron and hoped only that the squadron

in the area

Rudanovsky reported

He

And

of his responsibility.

to St. Petersburg that

armada before

Togo was inclined

to

reached the Far East. Ac-

it

cording to the consul's informants, Togo planned to attack the

squadron in East India. Perhaps there was something to

December

9

Rudanovsky saw two Japanese

that, for

on

cruisers in the Singapore

harbor.

The

He

felt

him

consul was sure that the British were quietly assisting Togo.

he was living in enemy

that the

Danish consul

territory.

in the city

When St.

Petersburg informed

had been instructed

to help

him

provide Rozhestvensky's squadron with food, Rudanovsky immediately replied, "I

have to warn you respectfully that the content of the

cable will be reported today to the English

government and the Japa-

nese consul."

He

kept warning

nese spies

St.

—which was

these allegations.

The

don informed about

Petersburg that Singapore certainly true.

swarmed with Japa-

London was concerned about

Japanese were secretive and did not keep Lon-

their plans, but these reports gave credence to

He had

earlier

statement of the Japanese Foreign Minister.

British

ambassador that torpedo boats might attack Rozhestvensky

the Indian Ocean.

An

attack near Singapore

embarrassing for His Majesty's government.

would have been

an

told the in

terribly

206

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

The ter

The

British Foreign Office contacted the Colonial Office.

promised to investigate "the alleged movements of Japanese

in the Straits settlements with a

close

watch

is

sailors

view to attacking ships of the Russian

The governor of Singapore

Fleet."

lat-

cabled the Colonial Secretary: "A

being kept on suspected agents of both belligerents."

The Singapore

moves of

police were monitoring the

subjects in the territory of the colony.

steamers closely, keeping track of

They were watching

all arrivals

Japanese

all

passenger

and departures, and pay-

Some of

ing special attention to passengers' itineraries.

the Japanese

were proceeding further west, to Port Said on the Suez Canal, which

was

a suspicious destination given the current Russian concerns.

As

for the alleged Japanese preparations for sinking Rozhestven-

sky's ships off

Singapore, local authorities were skeptical.

The

chief of

police reported to the governor:

I

don't believe a

how

the torpedoes and

that story got about. Early in

prostitutes cers

word about

nese, he asked

what

this

came

for the Straits Times)

can explain

thirty Japanese

it

when young Jennings (who in.

done up

told his father,

Mr. Jennings,

had brought

a reporter

in thirty torpedoes

in turn told the Russian Consul.

senior,

is

offi-

Hearing something about the Japa-

in India rubber for the Baltic Fleet.

who

is

was and was told by one of the boarding

cers (as a joke) that the Japanese

that

last,

I

and ten men came here from Japan. The boarding

were talking about

ten guns

December

think

I

I

He

offi-

and

probably

may mention

in the Russian Consul's pay.

Rudanovsky was a simpleton. He believed every rumor he heard.

Having swallowed the

story of a playful boarding officer, he reported

to St. Petersburg that

Togo had dispatched torpedo boats and sub-

marines to the vicinity of Singapore.

A

grand military

strategist like

many desk

clerks,

thought Rozhestvensky had to attack Togo immediately.

Rudanovsky

He

thought

the prolonged stay at Madagascar was the admiral's choice and blamed

207

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

him

for that.

that

it

The squadron

disappeared.

The world was

Nosy Be on March

finally left

Nobody knew where

it

Had

ambassadors, and spies were making bets. secret order to turn

back to Russia? In that

Or was he

Africa's coast via the Suez?

The

route did he plan to take?

stronghold of the British

The Sunda

Strait

Mad Dog

the

case,

kings, presidents,

received a

would he go along East

heading for East Asia? But which

of Malacca, bypassing Singapore, the

whom the Mad Dog hated and who hated him?

Strait in the south?

Or had he

moving along Australia's northern

chosen neither and was

now

observed solely by crocodiles but

coast,

on one of the treacherous

risking losing his ships

after

was.

commanders,

intrigued. Military

but

3,

reefs?

Or

could Togo

have already intercepted the Russians somewhere in the Indian Ocean?

The ral

commander-in-chief of the China Station, Vice-Admi-

British

Gerard Noel, was

and France was

him

sent

also at a loss.

still likely.

your

A

month

fleet to

Noel

believed that

war against Russia

At the end of December, the Admiralty had

a bellicose cable: "Should Russian reinforcements continue

their eastern progress,

gapore."

He

you

later,

will receive orders to take

your

fleet to Sin-

another order came: "Be prepared to

Singapore on receipt of telegraphic orders to that

felt

bound by

the warnings. However,

was maintaining an enigmatic

silence.

And

there

now

move

effect."

the Admiralty

was no news about

Rozhestvensky. Noel's intelligence officers were working hard, but to

no

avail.

After the Russians

passed by Singapore. Could the Indian Ocean? For already be lying

On

March

on the

20,

Polis in Batavia.

all

left it

Madagascar, four Japanese warships

mean

his fleet to

sea bottom.

Rudanovsky received

The

Togo had taken

people knew, Rozhestvensky 's ships might

a message

hastily written letter advised

"especially watchful." If everything ships,

that

was

fine

from Commander

Rudanovsky

to be

with Rozhestvensky 's

he should be approaching Asian shores. Not wasting any time,

Rudanovsky

started cruising the sea every night

on

a

steam

cutter.

He

did not encounter Japanese ships in the offshore waters. But he did not

encounter Rozhestvensky s ships

either.

zo8

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Rudanovsky became

Admiral Nebogatov's

hysterical.

ships, dis-

patched from Kronshtadt to reinforce Rozhestvensky's armada, were already in Djibouti, preparing to cross the Indian Ocean. Where, in heaven's name,

would they meet the

disappeared in the

sea,

having

no

left

Mad Dog who

resourceful

had

instructions or even a hint, as if

he were not His Imperial Majesty's general-adjutant but a buccaneer?

Where was

the

Mad

20,

when Rudanovsky,

Dog's squadron?

2

On March

Admiral Nebogatov's ships were

his nightly watch,

same

cursing Rozhestvensky, was starting

Rudanovsky and perhaps

day, as perplexed as

just as angry,

Nebogatov cabled Naval Minister Avelan: "In three days to

move

on.

Am

asking for instructions on whether

I

will

where the joining can take

information about where he It

is

place, for

or which route he

had taken Nebogatov's ships

less

I

is

be ready

should go to

Vladivostok independently or join Rozhestvensky. In the please inform

That

in Djibouti.

latter case,

have absolutely no taking."

than seven weeks to get to Dji-

bouti from Libava. That was not bad, particularly since the 3rd Pacific

Squadron,

The

as

it

was rather pompously named, was not impressive

many

Baltic Fleet did not have

squadron consisted of older

vessels



and the

any value was the

cruiser Rus. Last

to take older ships

with him.

the battleships Nicholas

I,

Seniavin,

The only ship of

summer, Rozhestvensky had refused

Now they were forcibly given to him.

In 1905, Nikolai Ivanovich Nebogatov was cer's

all.

ships remaining. Nebogatov's

cruiser Vladimir Monomakh.

Ushakov, Apraxin,

at

son born in the vicinity of the

capital.

fifty-six.

He became

He was

an

offi-

a naval cadet at

the age of sixteen and later served in the Baltic Sea Fleet. At the age of forty, in 1889,

—not

he was appointed captain of the gunboat Grad

desirable post for a

he was

forty-five

man

his age.

He

and rear-admiral

received the rank of captain

in 1901, at fifty-two.

a

when

209

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

In 1904,

ing

its

when

the

war

struck, he

in the Black Sea,

December he was

the 3rd Pacific Squadron for

command-

Unexpectedly, in September he was trans-

artillery practice unit.

ferred to St. Petersburg. In

was

its

voyage.

It

sent to Libava to prepare

was assumed that some other

admiral would eventually lead the squadron to the Far East. Temporarily,

Nebogatov

surrender

raised his flag

command

to

somebody

other candidacies would viously

unknown

on the

I,

Nobody thought

else.

somehow

to the public,

battleship Nicholas

expecting to

that

all

of the

evaporate and that Nebogatov, pre-

would

receive this high

command by

default.

On January 11,

Nebogatov was received by the

sovereign was preoccupied with other matters.

tsar.

Two

Of course,

the

days earlier the in-

famous Bloody Sunday had occurred, and now the country was plung-

much thought

ing into a revolutionary storm. Probably not giving it,

to

the tsar confirmed Nebogatov's appointment.

Three weeks

Grand Duke on them

on February

to be as heroic as their Port

all

2,

the august chief of the navy,

Alexei, laconically blessed Nebogatov's squadron, calling

were dead or in Like

later,

Arthur comrades (most of whom

captivity). Later that day, the ships

from Kronshtadt, they were heading

ships sailing west

Skagen, the bottleneck of the North Sea. insisted

on constant

drills; like

a nighttime torpedo attack.

From

the

start,

for

Nebogatov

Rozhestvensky, he was concerned about

Not

a disciplinarian at

optimistic, he visited various ships of his

came popular with the

weighed anchor.

all,

cheerful

and

detachment regularly and be-

crews.

Like Rozhestvensky four months alarming news in Skagen:

earlier,

Nebogatov received

The Japanese ambassador

to

The Hague was

darkly hinting at a clandestine attack in Danish waters. However, this

time the Admiralty wisely warned Nebogatov that cation, intended to cause another

From Skagen, Nebogatov engine was down.

Dogger Bank

might be

a provo-

incident.

sent the cruiser Rus back to Libava; her

Though he was

already losing ships.

it

far

from the theater of war, he was

no

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Approaching the infamous Dogger Bank, cautious Nebogatov

moved

closer to the

Dutch

Radio operators scanned the airwaves

shore.

that night with extreme care, but heard only reassuring talk in British cruisers

Having passed through

nel.

German.

were waiting for Nebogatov in the English Chan-

detachment

this sinister screening, the

reached the Bay of Biscay, which met them with a ferocious storm. To

Nebogatov's delight, the old ships survived the tempest three-fourths of the crews got seasick

and a

lot

nicely,

though

of furniture and dishes

were broken. After that they proceeded to Tangier and then through the Gibraltar Strait.

There Nebogatov, suspicious of

almost

lights out.

all

From

and

coal. Instead,

With uous

practical:

their lights

at sea,

ashore, the

make

the

most

Crete. Their stay

and take on

essential repairs

down, Nebogatov's

ships could remain inconspic-

but on Crete they became the talk of the day.

of Felkersam's debacle three months

men

and with

was

they got into trouble.

act repetition

cals

Soudha on

Gibraltar they headed for

to be quick

British intentions, ordered

immediately got drunk and started

sailors

of other nationalities.

It

was an

earlier.

fights

ex-

Allowed

with the

lo-

The debauchery continued

for several nights.

British newspapers exploded with well-practiced rage. Foreign

Minister Lamsdorf, always glad to snap at the arrogant Russian navy, caustically asked

Naval Minister Avelan what he knew about "the inde-

cent behavior" of Nebogatov's men. Avelan

demanded

explanations

from Nebogatov.

The commander of the response sounded

silly:

3rd Pacific Squadron was intimidated. His

"The behavior of the crews ashore

is

absolutely

not something extraordinary." British reports were "overstated," he

humbly

suggested.

Meanwhile, the behavior of

his

men was

creating problems for

one particular Russian: Queen Olga of Greece, the advocate of her homeland's navy. She was heading for Crete to welcome Nebogatov, while his

men were punching

her subjects. She was sailing on the

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Greek warship was with

Sfakteria,

and the

211

heir to the throne, Prince George,

But Olga pretended that nothing had happened. She

her.

ceived Nebogatov

on March

3

and two days

re-

later started visiting the

Russian ships.

To

belittle this

eyes, her

endorsement of the Russian war

effort in British

husband, the King of Greece, would have to

squadron

Corfu four weeks

at

later.

The plague of

visit

the British

the greater Euro-

pean royal family, Kaiser Wilhelm, took advantage of the occasion and

on

sailed to the British flagship

He

the admiral.

anticipated

ciously report to the

No

how

matter

his yacht the Hohenzollern to dine

some

gossip,

with

which he could then mali-

tsar.

flattering the attention

of Queen Olga might have

been, Nebogatov had another important meeting in Crete: Captain

Essen was returning to Russia from Japanese captivity.

Nikolai Essen had been the captain of the Sevastopol in Port Arthur.

He

experience.

Russian

possessed what Nebogatov and his officers lacked: battle

The Admiralty

flotilla

rerouted

permanently stationed

boat to bring Essen to Crete "in

Essen had

mine

him from

many

stories to

in the Yellow Sea

tell.

a torpedo

After his battleship had struck a

and panic broke

sunk

Soudha dispatched

and the

strict secrecy."

back to their stations with drawn that calamity only to be

at

Paris to Piraeus,

six

out, he

revolver.

months

The

had

to order his

had survived

Sevastopol

later off Port

men

Arthur.

Among

other things, Essen informed Nebogatov that the Japanese were hellishly

good

at high-speed, long-distance shooting.

commanded

artillery practice,

but that single effort could not help

much. Dispirited by the

talk

pline, the admiral led the

squadron to Port Said.

A month

earlier,

Alarmed, Nebogatov

with Essen and his crews' lack of

the Admiralty and the Foreign Ministry had

agreed to restore the secret network they had used in the

Felkersam and Dobrotvorsky several secret deposits

disci-

number of Japanese

significantly increased again.

for

Now spies were reporting that Japan had

of explosives on the Red Sea coast.

ported from Cairo that the

Red Sea

Maximov

visitors to the area

re-

had

212

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Nevertheless, Nebogatov passed through the canal safely and

headed

The person

for Djibouti.

to cushion his stay there

eran of the previous cloak-and-dagger campaign,

By

that time everybody

was

tired

was the

Commander

of spy games, and

it

vet-

Shvank.

was decided that

he would not hide and that the French would be notified of his presence and of the purpose of his mission. To Shvank's satisfaction, local

French bureaucrats were understanding and accommodating, allowing

him

to send cables

when

the telegraph was officially closed at night

and during the long afternoon Nebogatov spent 25.

siesta.

days in Djibouti, from

five

He anchored six miles away from shore.

It

March 20

March

to

took a steam cutter more

than an hour to reach the squadron, and from the port the silhouettes

of Nebogatov's ships were barely

visible.

Nebogatov had done

that not

because he was afraid of Japanese saboteurs but because he wanted to oblige the French;

now nobody

could say France was violating

its

neutrality.

In Soudha, Nebogatov learned that Rozhestvensky had gascar

on March

3.

Mada-

left

In a cable to Nebogatov, the Admiralty evasively

wrote that Rozhestvensky was heading for "his destination." The

fact

was that the Admiralty had no idea what that destination was. In 1900-1902, Nebogatov had assisted Rozhestvensky in the Artillery Practice

Unit and had had a chance to get to

Thus, he was probably not surprised by behavior. Nevertheless,

want him and intended

it

must have hurt

his

to

know him

well.

commanders unorthodox

know that his

boss did not

to skip their rendezvous altogether.

Instructing the embarrassed admiral, Naval Minister Avelan cabled:

"Try to find the squadron.

We do not know what its route

is.

estvensky has set the breakthrough to Vladivostok as his goal.

cannot join his squadron, go to Vladivostok." That was

On March 25, Nebogatov cabled back: for Rozhestvensky; will

go through the

.

.

.

.

.

RozhIf you

it.

"Leaving Djibouti to search

Strait

Nikolai Ivanovich Nebogatov was not a polite

.

of Malacca."

fighter.

He was

a soft

and

man. In Tangier, the kind-hearted admiral had discharged

lieutenant suffering from nothing else but seasickness.

a

From Soudha



THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

he begged the Admiralty to send to Djibouti "an experienced officer" to finally

equip his squadron with a

real expert.

to tolerate his men's violent debauchery. In the

Dutch

dently crawled along the

In Djibouti he kept the French waters. Probably, he

rial

He

213

artillery

continued

North Sea he had pru-

coast to avoid irritating the British.

happy by staying out of their

would have been an

ideal

territo-

commander

for a

pursuing a diplomatic mission. But would he stand up to the

fleet

challenge of leaving the Middle East and heading for war

Would he have enough

self?

table but

awesome

stamina?

And where

all

by him-

the hell was his

irri-

boss?

3

It

was seven o'clock

was

morning of March

26.

A small steam cutter

hastily leaving Singapore harbor. It carried just

the Russian consul,

had

in the

arrived,

Rudanovsky An hour

one passenger

ago, a British mail steamer

and the skipper had informed the consul

that the night

before he had seen the Russian squadron between Penang and

Not

Malacca.

Rudanovsky ordered

losing a second,

Several hours passed.

The

cutter

his cutter west.

bobbed on the waves. There was

no squadron.

It

mistaken.

not that easy to be sure about what you see in the ocean

It is

was quite possible that the skipper had

at night, especially if

proach, like the

At eleven miles

Mad

you notice something too frightening

to ap-

o'clock, the cutter passed the Raffles lighthouse, thirty

away from the

city.

Suddenly, the consul saw numerous plumes

They were from

the advance ships of Admi-

Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky

The

cutter leaped forward.

the flagship. to

been

Dog's squadron.

of smoke on the horizon. ral

lied or

The mast of his

communicate

the admiral

on

personally."

The

enthusiastic consul

to

cutter carried a signal in English:

He wanted

his successful voyage,

Japanese activities in the area.

hoped

board

"Want

to shake hands, congratulate

and

deliver recent reports about

214

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

But when the cutter approached the Suvorov, Rozhestvensky curtly signaled that he was "in haste"

and asked the consul

Rudanovsky took

the torpedo boats instead. Deeply hurt,

He

the Bedovy.

reported to her captain and gave

one of

to contact

his cutter to

him mail

for the

squadron.

Not

satisfied

with

this,

Rudanovsky then headed

for the cruisers

Oleg and Donskoi. Through a megaphone, he told their crews the

burning news: In Manchuria, the Russian army had

retreated, aban-

doning huge amounts of foodstuffs; Linevich had become the new commander-in-chief

after

Kuropatkin had been

lier

four Japanese warships had paid a

the

main

force,

was believed

visit to

two weeks

fired;

ear-

Singapore; Togo, with

to be at Borneo, probably just

300 miles

away; and Nebogatov was in Djibouti. After this public briefing, there

was nothing

left for

poor Rudanovsky, unrewarded by the unsenti-

mental admiral, but to dejectedly follow the squadron in

At two

o'clock, to the utter

squadron passed by Singapore. The

his cutter.

amazement of people

ashore, the

city itself remained seven miles away,

but the Russians could see the high spire of St. Andrew's Cathedral.

The silence.

fleet

Not

behaved.

passed the hostile stronghold in perfect order and proud

a single ship, not even the slow

Columns were

precise,

and messy

transports, mis-

solemn, and dignified.

Rozhestvensky must have been pleased. This time, the hateful British

were seeing not a flock of sheep but a disciplined naval forma-

tion, speedily

and

fearlessly

watching the

fleet

should have been very

proceeding to

its

destination. Hostile eyes

much

displeased with

what

they saw.

They were.

A British report related the scene:

They were steaming N.E. by North

at a

varying speed of from 5 to 8

knots, the battle squadron in single line ahead at irregular intervals

of about three cables, the cruisers ahead and astern

at a distance

of

about one mile, the destroyers on the port quarters of the battle ships. ... All ships

were

partially cleared for action, the

men-of-war

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

painted black with white funnels with black tops.

Some

apparently ready for coaling, but whether about to finished

was not quite

Having returned

215

ships were

commence

or

clear.

to the city,

Rudanovsky learned through

his in-

formants that the Japanese consul had already sent ciphered telegrams to

Padang

in Sumatra, Batavia in Java,

Borneo, and

last

but not

least,

Tokyo.

Makassar in Celebes, Labuan

in

"A Hole Coated

in Iron,"

MARCH 26-MAY

1,

1905,

INDOCHINA

At seven o'clock

the evening, March

in

26,

the squad-

ron entered the South China Sea. They had reached the third ocean of their journey, the

one

in

confirmed the course:

which

NO

their final destination lay.

Cam Ranh

21,

Bay

in

French Indochina.

Keeping the speed of eight knots, the squadron continued Rozhestvensky was voyage. Having stayed for

left

with the

spirit, it

most unlikely place of

all

had



twenty-three days of the

ridiculed

by the whole world, losing

safely arrived in East Asia

the Strait of Malacca.

Rozhestvensky would dare do

this.

must have found new appreciation

The

last

in the dark.

loathsome Madagascar where the squadron had

more than two months,

and combat

face

satisfied

The admiral

—and

in the

Few had thought

His invisible counterpart, Togo,

for the Russian leader.

choice had not been a simple one.

The

Strait

of Malacca,

which separates the Indonesian island of Sumatra from continental Asia,

was one of the busiest commercial venues

of Singapore at

its

eastern

end was the 217

in the world.

The

British capital of the area.

city

The

218

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Strait

of Malacca was

than

shaped

thirty,

like a perfect strategic trap.

which continued the even narrower

hundred miles long and often not wider

five

The Singapore

of Malacca to the South China Sea, was

Strait



just ten miles



a perfect place for a torpedo attack,

particularly with the Japanese naval bases relatively close

abundant with secluded bays of all

would not be allowed

Strait,

Of course,

sorts.

But what

tation of the British Empire.

if Togo

Togo's

would

to stage a battle there; that

main

force

stain the repu-

waited for Rozhestven-

mouth of

sky in the South China Sea right at the

and the coast

the strait? That

would be an unavoidable ambush. Another option had been the Sunda south.

The Russian Admiralty had

hundred miles

Strait, eight

believed that Rozhestvensky

would

go there. In the beginning of January, he himself had intended just that. It lay

between Java and Sumatra and was world famous; the vol-

cano Krakatau in people.

That

its

was

strait

narrowest, but

it

middle had erupted in

36,000

kind of a bottleneck, sixteen miles

also

was short

1883, killing

—one hundred

miles.

Even

pace of eight knots, the squadron could hope to pass

at its

at the creeping

it

between dawn

and dusk. There were three other gateways: through the the Celebes Sea; by the

Timor Sea and

Strait

of Lombok and

the Torres Strait, edging the

northern coast of Australia; or by the south of Australia and the Coral Sea.

These three routes were extremely long, and the southern

full

of unmarked

ters

were Togo would be unlikely to

reefs,

world by

had

safely passed

his diary,

When

Western naval experts

Strait II

of Malacca,

it

took the

learned that the squadron

it

would take

this particular route!"

like the Suvorov, crossing the

The ocean

but modern steam and

new

in wait.

through that bottleneck, he wrote with admiration in

For a battleship

unit of five

on the

Tsar Nicholas

"Nobody thought

easy excursion.

lie

as the wisest options.

the admiral decided surprise.

were

but they would take the squadron through wa-

were publicly advocating them

When

seas

Indian Ocean was an

covers one-seventh of the Earth's surface,

steel

could easily deal with such space. For a

battleships, this

would have been

a routine voyage.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

But

for a

squadron consisting of

219

from the newest

forty-five vessels,

ironclads to the oldest transports, the crossing was a challenge.

They had

left

Nosy Be on March

3.

Anticipating a long and boring

voyage, officers had acquired numerous companions

The



exotic beasts.

captain of the cruiser Aurora, Yegoriev, brought a python and a

young

crocodile. His officers brought several crocodiles,

two huge

tor-

lemurs, and chameleons. This entire menagerie crept and

toises,

jumped around

The Auroras men complained

cabins and decks.

that

they were afraid to go to sleep.

The Suvorov

also carried

unusual

having stolen an icon and thrown ship

and the nickname

The ocean did not

it

pets.

One

of the monkeys there,

overboard, earned exile to another

Iconoclast. tire

of exhibiting

its

own

pets.

Huge

sharks es-

corted the squadron, nibbling at everything the crews threw or

dropped overboard, even wood. The sharks hoped course.

An

insane sailor from the

Zhemchug jumped

for finer food, of

into the water but

was rescued before the sharks got him. The day before, another one

had dived from the Kiev and perished. This

terrible suicide

had

a

gloomy impact on the crewmen.

Of course,

huge hooks and fished

shark from the water, for the

shark

and

watched them snapping

its life.

Once

would

They put lumps of meat on

for monsters. Sharks

tion in those lonely waters, sailors

cheer up.

sailors tried to

in the transparent

at the bait. It

wounded

aboard, an officer

were not spoiled by atten-

was very

difficult to pull a

creature desperately fought for

would shoot

it

with a revolver, and the

When it was finally dead, sailors would stomach. No human remains were ever found.

At night the squadron proceeded, organized miles long.

reminding

sea,

die in slow agony.

check the contents of its

five

aquamarine

The

sailors

in

two columns, each

ships were illuminated with multicolored lights,

of downtown

St.

Petersburg with

its

glorious

Nevsky

Prospect.

Nostalgic, officers

They tle

and crewmen thought and talked about home.

started exchanging relatives' addresses; discussing

would come and who would

survive

it.

when

the bat-

220

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Many on

tures

lights,

doctors started giving lec-

Cruisers, doing reconnaissance at night, reported

first aid.

mysterious

were

The

expected to meet Togo soon.

suggesting they were Togo's scouts. Others said they

just bright tropical stars crawling over the horizon.

Transports were a disaster. Often, their engines would break down,

and the whole armada would have port's

crew fixed the problem. The older battleship

icapped twelve times.

move

and wait

to stop

at the pathetic

Due

to this,

speed of

immense fury of

the

tried, transports

became hand-

Sisoi

sometimes the squadron had to

five knots,

ample, was almost always capable of doing

To

until the trans-

the admiral,

while the Suvorov, for exat least fifteen.

no matter how hard they

could not stay in a disciplined column.

When

he was

not too exhausted by the twenty-four hour watch, Rozhestvensky

would summon

a guilty ship to the Suvorova stern

and scold her

through a megaphone. Yet,

he had no choice but to bring

him. Transports were

horde with

they were carrying coal. By

essential;

the squadron needed to coal at sea. ships took

this undisciplined

From 6

March

8

a.m. to 4 p.m., the battle-

two hundred tons each.

The torpedo

boats were a headache as well.

stock of coal and

would

They could not

carry a

therefore run out of fuel before the squadron

reached Asia. Often, Rozhestvensky ordered the bigger ships to tow

them

to save precious coal.

Then

there were constant reports about suspicious ships that de-

manded urgent seemed the

attention. His paranoia

disease

was on the

rise

among

had calmed down, but

it

Because of

all

his captains.

these concerns, throughout the voyage the admiral rarely left the

bridge before nine o'clock at night. That meant dinner at the ward-

room had

to be postponed, too.

With each for officers.

day, dinner

The

first

was becoming

less

and

less satisfying,

ships to run out of good food were, of course, the

torpedo boats, and the officers from bigger ships

would bring them

even

luxuries: sardines, lobsters,

by the time the squadron reached the

Strait

like the

Suvorov

and smoked meat. But

of Malacca, everybody in

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

wardroom had

the Suvorova at

to eat the detested stinking solonina.

221

Even

Rozhestvensky's table, they stopped serving not only vodka and cof-

fee

but meat, too. Smokers were running out of cigarettes and

matches. Soap became hard to find as well.

The

of Malacca was reached

Strait

at

noon, March

23.

The

squadron was bound to be discovered any minute. Indeed, almost immediately they met a ship heading west. Rozhestvensky ordered exceptional vigilance. Again, at night

of the

officers

slept at the guns; one-third

were ordered on deck. Electric bulbs had been painted

dark blue, and Silence

men

human

faces acquired

an unpleasant deadened shade.

fell.

Cruisers probed passersby with powerful searchlights. Alien steamers

Mad Dog's squadron,

panicked and steered away. The

rialized

from nowhere, inspired awe. Rozhestvensky's

liciously saying that steamers

Bank

officers

were ma-

their lesson after the

Dogger

incident.

The sible,

had learned

having mate-

admiral wanted to go through the bottleneck as quickly as pos-

but

this

time the gods were against him.

The

transports were

mov-

making just

eight

ing excruciatingly slowly. As a result, the squadron was knots. Meanwhile, everybody

knew

that Togo's battle speed

was

fifteen.

Suddenly, Admiral Enkvist reported that he had seen twelve tor-

pedo boats with

his

Rozhestvensky.

No

own

eyes.

That was too many even

for suspicious

extraordinary measures were ordered, and the

squadron continued calmly. The next day, the cruiser Izumrud an-

nounced

that she

"whales."

It

was

had noticed clear to

a suspicious steamer followed

by

several

everybody that the captain of the Izumrud,

notoriously overcautious Baron Fersen, thought he had seen Japanese

submarines, but did not dare to openly say

The ral

British

Noel, in

so.

commander-in-chief of the China Station, Vice Admi-

Hong Kong

received "intelligence of the arrival of the

Russian Fleet in China Seas" on

March

sky was already halfway through the

25.

At that point Rozhestven-

strait.

Noel immediately dispatched the warships Singapore.

They were

in a hurry,

Sutlej

and Iphigenia

to

although the Thetis and Amphitrite

222

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

were already

there.

The two

warships headed quickly south "with

all

boilers alight."

On

the night of

March

Malacca. Russians admired

was

also clear that if they

spies in

its

25,

embankment

awake that

town of

blazing with lights. But

it

could see Malaccas illumination, Japanese

town were watching the

officers stayed

the squadron passed the

of the squadron, too. Almost

lights

night.

But nothing happened.

It

looked

all

like

Rozhestvensky had fooled Togo. The Japanese hounds had taken the

wrong

trail.

The pore.

next day at two o'clock in the afternoon, they reached Singa-

The

in the harbor. islets

was

city

clearly visible

The wind brought

were very

tatoes, onions,

close.

Looking

cucumbers,

at

salad,

and so were the two

British warships

scents of flowers in bloom.

Tiny

coral

them, the crewmen talked about "po-

and

garlic"



the fresh food they had

been denied. Seasoned hands were recounting bawdy

stories

about

Singapore's brothels.

Rozhestvensky was looking left side

at the city, too.

He was

standing at the

of the bridge, closest to the shore. "In several minutes the

graph will report

this to the

whole world

.

.

.

,"

he said

tele-

quietly.

2

With

the Strait of Malacca lying behind them, the Russians

now

ex-

pected to meet Togo at the Natuna archipelago in the South China Sea, barely three

some

hundred miles northeast.

officers

On

the evening of

on the Suvorov put on clean

pockets with cotton to stuff into their ears

clothes

when

March

and stocked

26,

their

the cannonade started.

Rozhestvensky himself thought they might be attacked any mo-

ment. If the Russian consul in Singapore was close.

The admiral ordered most

Aurora and other ships with too

posh furniture to throw ceptible to

fire

it

during the

lights out.

He

many wooden

right,

also

commanded

panels and too

overboard; that would battle.

Togo was very

make them

the

much

less sus-

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

On March force

28,

Dnieper,

The

he announced that they might meet Togo's main

any time. The Oleg and the Aurora had to stay with the

commanding

ships, Enkvist,

223

and the torpedo

light cruisers, led

battle-

the cruisers Almaz, Donskoi, and Rion,

boats,

was ordered

to cover the transports.

by Captain Shein, preceded the squadron

in a

reconnaissance chain.

But the next

day, instead of the Japanese, they

and the

a.m., the Sutlej

met

the British.

5

from

Iphigenia, speedily racing to Singapore

Hong Kong, encountered Mekong River Delta. The

At

the Russian fleet 150 miles southeast of the Sutlej saluted Rozhestvensky's flag

with sev-

enteen guns, "but whether this was returned was uncertain," the Sutlej s

captain reported

(it

The

was).

Oleg, the captain continued, "was

sent close under our stern to read the ships' name,

and then rejoined

her consorts."

At eleven

o'clock, the hospital ship Orel left the

That was

Saigon.

a strange

prive the squadron of

its

squadron for



move on

the eve of a possible battle

hospital.

Some people must have thought

Rozhestvensky was evacuating

Sivers.

to de-

However, there was a practical

reason for the Orel's departure: She had to carry the admiral's cables to St.

a

Petersburg and, hopefully, bring back the incoming mail. She carried

Red Cross

The

flag and, supposedly,

could not be stopped by the Japanese.

cables sent via the Orel were of a critical importance.

estvensky was contacting the three key decision-makers in

burg



the

that he

tsar, his

uncle,

and the naval

minister.

was three hundred miles away from

He

St. Peters-

informed them

Cam Ranh

planned to go there and wait for orders, unless the Japanese tacked

him

Rozh-

Bay.

He

fleet at-

before that.

In the evening, radios started registering strange messages. Several

merchant

ships,

when met

at sea

and interrogated, announced

that

they had seen torpedo boats. These might have been French, but the three fastest cruisers, the Oleg,

horizon to check out

On March

all

Zhemchug, and Izumrud rushed

to the

suspicious smoke.

30, sixty miles

from

Cam

Ranh, the squadron suddenly

stopped and started taking on coal from the transports.

The admiral

224

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

was behaving oddly that

amazement.

Why

this

on the Suvorov looked

day. Officers

urgent coaling at sea

when

at

him

a comfortable

in

bay

was only a few hours away? Rozhestvensky kept his thoughts to himself. ing, nervously

and from time

to time disappearing into his suite. to himself,

mysterious inner debate.

tween

the coal-

pacing the bridge, frequently consulting his notebook,

sometimes smiling

ing,

He watched

He

he was apparently involved in some

demanded

also

Sometimes frown-

a chart of the ocean "be-

Hong Kong and Vladivostok."

Right before lunch, he suddenly asked coal they

all

had and whether they were ready

the captains were calculating, he

went

to

of the ships

how much While

for a long voyage.

officers.

Con-

Immediately

after-

lunch with his

trary to custom, he kept silent during the meal.

ward, he retired to his study.

At one o'clock he was on the bridge

again. All of the ships

ported sufficient resources of coal; only the Alexander III was report. Finally, she sent a signal.

not believe his tions.

It

had

re-

late in its

was appalling. Rozhestvensky could

She was reporting a mistake in previous calcula-

eyes.

Four hundred tons of coal were missing.

the Alexander had always been the

champion

Rozhestvensky looked a broken man. stood on the bridge

silently,

was

finally clear

why

in coaling.

He

clutching the

It

did not even swear.

He

Then he waved

his

rail.

hand and went below. His audacious intention to rush to Vladivostok immediately, skipping

Cam

Ranh, Nebogatov, and the

vious course was reconfirmed:

new moon,

NO

tsar's

21.

permission

failed.

The

pre-

In the uncertain light of the

the squadron plowed the South

China

Sea,

approaching

Indochina.

3

On March entrance to

31, at six

o'clock in the morning, the squadron reached the

Cam Ranh

Bay. Rozhestvensky ordered torpedo boats to

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

225

The

other

sweep the bay for mines; then he sent the transports ships,

not to remain

the battleships

do now was

When

cruisers entered

Nosy Be and 16,600

miles from to

and

idle, started coaling.

Cam

On

the

in.

morning of April

1,

Ranh. They had made 4,560

miles from Kronshtadt. All they had

to cover 2,500 miles to Vladivostok.

Foreign Minister Delcasse of France was informed that

Rozhestvensky would doubtlessly stop in Indochina, he "almost

jumped out of his

skin"

and moaned: "What can

I

do? Refuse Admiral

Rozhestvensky an anchorage and thus rob him of any chance of taking in supplies, waiting for his reinforcements

and

fitting his

squadron out

for the critical encounter?"

He official

said his

hope was

that

it

would take

at least a

to get the

information from Saigon and then send Rozhestvensky a for-

mal order

to sail away. "So the Russian

time to take in fresh supplies before

Cam Ranh

squadron

we compel

was a two-part deepwater

north to south and ten miles wide.

It

bay,

armada.

The

shores were steep

it

will

twenty miles long from

fit

seen here and there. Sandy beaches were of two kinds Port Arthur.

to be the best

accommodate any

to

and rocky; patches of

The bay reminded some of

have plenty of

to leave our waters."

was considered

deepwater harbor of Southeast Asia, perfectly

low.

week

forest

could be

—white and

yel-

The comparison was

a

sinister one.

Rozhestvensky sent torpedo boats and two cruisers to sea to protect the roadstead.

To him,

Cam Ranh

did not look good at

If the

all.

Japanese succeeded in catching the Russians unaware, they could easily

blockade the bay and slowly and meticulously annihilate the squadron there.

Under

these circumstances, vigilance

was a

necessity.

He

even

dispatched Suvorov officers to the torpedo boats, apparently distrusting their captains. It

appeared that the cruisers assigned for the reconnaissance mission

could not be trusted

either.

On

rors, essential for surveillance,

xht Aurora, one of the searchlights' mir-

became dim, and an imaginative

used chocolate wrappings, rubbed with mercury, to

mend

its

officer

surface.

Despite the unusual repair, Rozhestvenskys favorite missed two ships

226

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

approaching the harbor on April 2

and the



fortunately only a French cruiser

back from her mission to Saigon. With

Orel,

fear

and remorse,

they read Rozhestvensky's signal, "Shame on you, Auroral"

At

least

now

Cam Ranh

patch cables. 31,

the admiral did not have to use messengers to dis-

had

a telegraph

and a post

office.

On

March

Rozhestvensky received a telegram informing him that seven days

earlier,

Nebogatov's detachment had

was confused and

left

The Havas

distorted.

Djibouti.

Some of

the news

agency, for example, was re-

porting that Rozhestvensky's squadron was involved in battle with

Togo

off Borneo.

What was

anese cruisers had visited

On

April

flag officers.

Ranh from

certain

Cam

was that

five

weeks

earlier,

two Jap-

Ranh.

summoned a conference of captains and They discussed how to protect the squadron in Cam 1,

the admiral

They decided

a possible Japanese attack.

four torpedo boats

would be dispatched

guard the entrance to the bay, and

six

to sea,

that each night

two

cruisers

would

torpedo cutters would form a

protective chain. All other ships should be prepared for action. Nets

were to be put out nightly to guard the squadron from submarines. Several days after the conference, the only associate Rozhestvensky

Admiral Felkersam, had

trusted,

mistic, saying

it

a stroke.

Doctors were

was a minor one. But days passed

by,

fairly opti-

and Felkersam

stayed in bed.

Cam Ranh lay two hundred miles northeast from tal

of Indochina, beautiful Saigon. Indochina had been colonized



recently

River valley and

its

vultures. Paris

Rozhestvensky's presence in

Everybody

Mekong

was very nervous when confronted by the two



the British and the Japanese.

thing Paris wanted was a conflict with

first,

riches of the

it

excellent strategic location attracted other colonial-

stronger empires in the area

At

fairly

in the mid-nineteenth century. In the eyes of the French,

was both vulnerable and precious. The natural

ist

the colonial capi-

Cam Ranh

Cam

looked

tried to get ashore.

took their pet goat for a walk

London

or

The

last

Tokyo aroused by

Ranh.

like paradise after the tiring journey.

The Bezuprechny torpedo there. In

boat crew even

terms of indulgent treatment of

227

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

pets, the

Bezuprechny crewmen were not an exception.

The

captain of

the Aurora, Yegoriev, was passionately fond of his python; the snake

him while

coiled next to

the captain read in his lounge chair. Every

other day, the cruiser's doctor would feed the python with meat

through a special

glass

tube inserted into the snake's mouth, sometimes

adding cognac to enhance the

On

beast's spirits.

mainland,

their excursions to the

encountered dense

officers

forest, ravines, fat lizards, vicious ants, bright birds,

unknown even

who

to the doctors

and exotic flowers

represented the knowledge of

sci-

ence in the group. Wild pigeons were easy prey for hunters, bathing

was wonderful, the beach

At

night, the shore

full

was

ing a nibble at the jungle. settlers said that after

of magnificent coral formations. of dancing flames; a forest

full

The

Russians found

"spectacular." French

it

came

dusk, tigers and panthers

Watchmen on

looking for prey.

four o'clock each morning,

was tak-

fire

to the

beach

the Russian ships complained that at

some

beast roared

on the

shore,

sounding

an apocalyptic messenger, and received an equally awesome

like

sponse from

its

mate

in the distance.

The French

said

it

was a

tiger,

re-

the

sacred animal of the Vietnamese. Engineers constructing the railroad to Saigon

complained that elephants had taken a particular

telegraph posts

The

and were

persistently destroying

heat was as bad as in Madagascar.

all

dislike to

vertical intrusions.

Crew and

officers slept

on

decks in relative comfort. However, their sleep was troubled; they ex-

pected a Japanese submarine attack. able shield against these

On

April

2,

the

commander of

Rozhestvensky exchanged

was not

Animated and cause.

He

He

reli-

visits.

the French Indochina Squadron,

at

Cam Ranh

on

a cruiser.

The French admiral

his fault that Paris

He and

liked the Rus-

had made him

a watchdog.

of life, de Jonquieres openly supported the Russian

thought that Japan intended to conquer the whole of Asia.

said he

first.

full

nets did not look like a

monstrous challengers.

Rear Admiral de Jonquieres arrived

sians a lot. It

The

"Let

them even

had honestly believed they would attack French Indochina

them

attack!" de Jonquieres kept saying theatrically. "Let

target

my

cruiser!

I

will take the colors

of France to the

228

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

border of our estvensky a

territorial waters!" Later,

poem he wrote

Quite predictably,

praising the heroic defense of Port Arthur.

Paris eventually

commanded

On

Jonquieres to drive the Russians out.

He was

squadron again. sians

had

de Jonquieres sent Rozh-

April

the romantic de

8,

he visited the

heartbroken; the order stated that the Rus-

to leave in twenty-four hours.

Cam Ranh, de Jonquieres included, knew what was going on in Paris. When Foreign Minister Delcasse was informed that Rozhestvensky had anchored at Cam Ranh, he frowned: "If there aren't any French officials at Cam Ranh, there are French cruisers at Saigon; Nobody

we

in

pretend

can't

we

are unable to police

our

coasts.

today" he expected to be handed "an insolent nese Minister,

which might lead

socialists,

Wire

Motono, and then

to Saigon for

.

.

.

one of our

is

if not

the

it

spirit,

not

the Japa-

He

ordered:

Admiral Rozhestven-

to put to sea again within twenty-

needn't be inquisitive about where the

going next. If

the coast of Annam after leaving cruiser to ask

if

promptly interpolated by the

cruisers to find

him

Of course, we

Russian squadron

summons" by

to a full-blown political crisis.

sky immediately and request four hours.

to be

Tomorrow,

to leave. In that

it

anchors in another bay on

Cam Ranh, we will again dispatch a way we

shall

be respecting the

letter,

of international law and giving Admiral Rozhestven-

sky time to join up with the battleships that Admiral Nebogatov

is

bringing him.

Delcasse hoped that de Jonquieres would be able to cope with the

problem; the admiral had the reputation of a

and

tact."

The

rocky,

also

"of great ingenuity

Japanese ambassador in Paris was told that the Foreign

Ministry did not

He was

man

know

exactly

reminded that

it

where Rozhestvensky's squadron was.

was extremely

difficult "to police the long,

and almost uninhabited coast between Touran and Saigon."

These half-truths

didn't help

much. The "insolent summons" of the

Japanese anticipated by Delcasse began. Tokyo was angry with

Paris:

France was "allowing the Russian admiral breathing time to get his



229

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

As

ships into something like order."

a British naval observer in

Tokyo

remarked, the Japanese were realizing that Rozhestvensky's squadron

They

"was a reality and not a bogey."

trusted Togo, he continued, but

may

could not "get over the fear of what a few lucky shots

had

referring to the lucky shot last year that

Witgeft and "virtually settled the

The Japanese

fate

Admiral

killed Russian

of the Port Arthur Fleet."

A

British report

Tokyo was considering ceasing diplomatic

and was appealing that she can rely

He was

press "protested in the strongest language against the

action of the French Government." that

do."

"Our

to Britain:

on the

from Japan

said

relations with France

has never been in doubt but

ally

entire support of the British nation."

France had no other option but to give assurances "that she had

adopted the necessary measures to ensure

That meant,

neutrality.

strict respect"

in plain language,

was paid

to

its

that Rozhestvensky's

squadron was a homeless wanderer. Loathing Paris and

Petersburg, Rozhestvensky decided to

St.

Cam

to the outer roadstead of

France.

He promised

to intercept

Ranh, outside the

territorial

move

waters of

de Jonquieres that his cruisers would not attempt

any Japanese

The

vessel.

transports were to stay in the bay.

This seemed a sensible compromise.

The day

his warships left the bay, April 9,

He summarized

the second conference of captains.

During the forthcoming slowly,

daily

battle,

to

handle their guns

shells. Sailors efficiently. If

the ships were not to panic, or they

damaged column.

would

"I will

A special plan was made

is

Cam Ranh

wait at sea until

not our fault

Remember

were to be instructed

torpedo boats attacked,

Togo attacked

in case

we

for

this

—we

use up

..."

will

St.

Nebogatov. all

Only

a badly

move

on.

.

at

Cam

"I will wait,"

he grimly

amount

Nebogatov does not .

.

Ranh.

Petersburg had ordered

the coal except the

sary to reach Vladivostok. If by this time, this

if

unable to sustain the squadron's pace, could leave the

ship,

to wait in

even

carefully,

hit their peers.

Rozhestvensky told his captains that

him

his earlier orders.

gunners were to target

and not waste precious

how

Rozhestvensky hosted

said.

neces-

arrive

Forward! Always forward!

230

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Normally a very good

speaker, Rozhestvensky

was unusually

mal and even

bleak. After the meeting,

many

tov and, even

more

Nebogatov had been sent

so, St. Petersburg.

for numerical satisfaction, they said.

One

cursed Neboga-

officers

officer said,

for-

just

always good

it is

to have an extra gun, but not "a hole coated in iron."

In three days, another order from Paris arrived: to leave

Cam

Ranh,

too.

The

Admiral de Jonquieres on the

watched them weighing anchor, then

tactfully steered

transports

cruiser Descartes

toward Saigon.

Rozhestvensky waited for him to go. Then he ordered north. In the evening, the Russians entered another bay coast,

all

ships

on the same

Van Fong.

That was plain cheating. But how could he possibly keep in the

had

his ships

ocean for several more weeks while he waited for Nebogatov?

4

By It

nightfall

on April

13,

the squadron found itself at a

had taken them only four and a half hours

was badly protected from wind, but settlement,

it

no French, no telegraph

to reach

had one

new

Van Fong Bay

it.

great asset:

no colonial

—nothing. However, even

they were unlucky; a fishing boat was visiting, and from

was

anchorage.

there

Van Fong

she

sailing straight to Saigon.

Within three

Dog was on depart,

days, the

whole world learned that the cheating

Mad

French territory again. Another order came from Paris to

and the squadron steamed away from the

Jonquieres watched

it

from the bridge of

shore.

his cruiser.

Admiral de

The

next day,

however, Rozhestvensky returned. This time he was allowed four days

of

relative

territory

peace before he had to pretend that he was leaving French

one more time, on April

26.

De

Jonquieres, the reluctant

watchdog, was back on the cruiser Guichen.

For two weeks, the squadron yoyoed in and out of Van Fong.

Rocky mountain

slopes surrounded the beach.

with stone was covered with

forest.

The

space not covered

The Vietnamese visited

the ships in

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

their tiny boats

made of bamboo,

the Asian tropics.

They brought

231

the universal building material of

pigs, chicken, tea, tobacco, garlic, or-

anges, bananas, papaya, mangoes, tangerines



they would give change with forged Russian

money

all

overpriced. Often

—indisputably

a

Japanese invention. Rozhestvensky advised prudence. In any case, this food was extremely useful, for the squadron was

preparing for Easter

home was

—always

and brought heaps of flowers

chapels and wardrooms. However,

commanded

Rozhestvensky

That year the joyous

spirit

The

Russians

their

own government. The

Suvorov ted,

felt like

many men

and

St.

many

of the masses had to be can-

urgent coaling.

refugees, betrayed

by

allies

and forgotten by

Easter mass was depressing. Even

on the

stood in the chapel barefooted; their boots had rot-

Petersburg hadn't yet bothered to send replacements.

cers "Christ's kiss."

He

rituals.

After mass, he gave his

did not share their

wardroom now housed plenty of coal, and

feast,

there

offi-

though; the Suvorov

was no space

him

for

staff.

Instead, he lating

to decorate the ships'

of the Easter holiday was very subdued.

But Rozhestvensky kept most

or his

if this

rocking on waves in front of a hostile shore. Officers went

into the forest

celed:

homes, even

a feast in Russian

all

boarded a steam cutter and cruised the bay, congratu-

of the ships. Bands were playing; people whispered to each

other that the strain had

become too much

for the admiral;

he had

lost

weight and looked unwell. Officers exchanged

visits.

In St. Petersburg

would have

visited other people's

wardrooms,

all full

homes;

now

on Easter Day they

they visited other ships'

of coal, their pianos shielded from dust with rough

canvas.

Easter was also spoiled by unrest

crew was not

known

for

to be unruly; recently

On sick, or

its

discipline.

on the

battleship Orel.

The Orel

The crewmen drank and tended

one had attacked one of the doctors.

Easter the crew rebelled.

A cow onboard

perhaps she was just very old.

The

her slaughtered and cooked for the crew.

the Orel had

become

senior officer had ordered

The crew consumed

their

232

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

ration of

rum but

They demanded

a bet-

panicked and immediately suggested that the

sailors

refused to touch their meat.

ter lunch. Officers

pick any two cows.

The

next day, Rozhestvensky visited the disorderly ship.

nesses present reported that they

He

roared at both the

also gave a

men and

had never seen him

The

wit-

in such a rage.

the officers in the foulest language.

He

proper scolding to the captain of the Orel, Jung, for being

too "liberal" with his men. In conclusion, Rozhestvensky informed the

Orel officers that they were "shameful superiors of a shameful crew."

Eight sailors were arrested and deported to one of the transports.

The

incident

on the Orel was not an

A new spirit of squadron. On the

isolated case.

anger and despair had descended on the whole transport Irtysh, the captain, mate,

and

officers

and loud, causing indignation among the the painter Ignatsius, started appearing

without

his jacket.

Many officers

crew.

were constantly drunk

The Suvorova

captain,

on the bridge barefooted and

discovered

opium

cigarettes.

People were tired of everything. Officers were complaining that in St.

Petersburg they

would make

a special trip to the Vasilievsky Island

Spit just to

watch the spectacular sunset, but here they had stopped

feeling the

amazing beauty of the nightly performance. For uncaring

descending sun gilded blue mountaintops, and the red

eyes, the

the

moon

down from

rolled

the

hills to light

ball

of

up the majestic squadron

in the bay.

A Sea.

rumor spread

that they

Amazingly enough,

"Did we

would be returning

this piece

to the foggy Baltic

of news invoked protest in many:

suffer these millions of deprivations, storms, starvation,

northern cold and tropical heat, spend eight months without news

from home, cut off from the whole world, surrounded by constant anxieties, waiting for the attack

end

this all in a

of torpedo boats or submarines

battle

to

draw?"

In the absence of news and action, a lot of vain talk occurred. favorite



theme was which ship would perish

with Togo.

Of course,

first

in the

The

forthcoming

the Suvorov had the best chance of all.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

This caused

mean

could

much

anxiety

among

233

the crews. Rozhestvensky's death

catastrophe for survivors. In spite of constant complaint

about the admiral's rudeness, the majority of officers and crewmen

who

held their leader in the highest esteem. Even those officers

him

liked

intensely

home from

wrote

and firmly

expressed their confidence in

still

"We

Indochina:

believe in his experience

all

still

dis-

him when they

place our hopes in the admiral

and knowledge,

of

in spite

all

his

shortcomings." At about this time, French observers reported from In-

dochina that "high above the noble figure

officers

and men, there stood a

—Admiral Rozhestvensky. Always calm and

and

lofty

collected,

keeping the secrets of his loneliness and gnawing anxieties locked up in his

own bosom, he was

the very incarnation of courage, energy, and

determination." Virtually Sivers,

knew

his wife,

nobody

in the squadron,

that the admiral

was

with the possible exception of

at the

end of his

tether. In letters to

he explicitly said that "the continuation of war

more and more shameful

catastrophes."

He

will result in

suspected that his

squadron would perish. With some remorse, he admitted creasingly staff,

sick,

bad temper.

He was ashamed

Captain Kolong, wept he reported.

months

He

his

own

in-

of the fact that his chief of

after their meetings.

Many

people were

himself had "fallen to pieces, having spent seven

in the tropics."

Good

health was a particularly rare

commodity

Every prolonged stay on a tropical coast brought more

in the squadron. diseases.

problems were the most common. To make things worse, the not trust doctors. Like their rural ancestors in times past,

who

Stomach

men

did

killed the

doctors at every outbreak of cholera, suspecting that these mysterious

men

"poisoned" the water and food, the sailors would

doctors had put

some medicine

In general, the

men

into the water

were bearing their

whenever

it

became

illnesses quite patiently.

only thing that really scared them was vomiting; started

insist that the

as

soon

as a

foul.

The

man

throwing up, he would pronounce himself "dying" and the

doctor would be informed that "so-and-so

is

passing away."

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

234

Such attacks would often occur ited a ship; the

crew would buy tropical

for nutritious food, eat

and

officers

fresh

day,

fruit

like fruit badly.

all,

the

toll

both crewmen

fruit

eating

and vegetables was

of disease and accidents was heavy. According to

very incomplete data, the squadron had lost

and twenty-

five officers

crewmen between Kronshtadt and Indochina. Ten

forty-two

crewmen had been

would have been much

toll

officers

and

sent back to Russia (three insane, twenty-

eight with tuberculosis). If the squadron

the

from them and, hungry

The squadron was

but the supply of fresh

vis-

Doctors were afraid that scurvy would soon break out.

All in

five

Vietnamese had

Of course,

immediately.

it all

needed things

meat every

scarce.

after the local

had not had

heavier, though.

The

its

hospital ship,

ship doctors had

the luxury of sending a person with appendicitis to the white Orel,

where proper surgery could be performed. But hospital ship or not, no force

in the

world would have been

able to heal the widespread depression, as long as the poselessly

armada kept pur-

wandering along the coast of French Indochina.

5

By

April, Rozhestvensky

and

matic embarrassment for

his

St.

squadron had become a huge diplo-

Petersburg.

Nobody knew what

to

do

with them. In addition, people in the capital suspected that Rozhestvensky was capable of openly defying the French.

The

tsar instructed his uncle,

ferocious admiral.

Grand Duke

Grand Duke

Alexei, to contact the

Alexei cabled Rozhestvensky with a

stern warning: "Following the Sovereign Emperor's will,

you

are

once

again ordered to coordinate your moves with the French colonial administration,

demanding nothing from them

the rules of neutrality."

The

that

would contradict

next paragraph of the cable was nothing

but plain hypocrisy: "The French government does not mind the squadron uses the bays for anchoring, but ations that

might turn these bays into bases

it

at all if

does not permit oper-

for a fleet at war."

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Rozhestvensky after yet

abandoned, and angry.

felt frustrated,

another expulsion, he cabled Avelan:

"It

is

On April

provided

sary.

Having wandered around and

for anchor-

get involved in operations against an adver-

ing,

in disorder

26,

a real pity that our

diplomacy did not support firmly our right to use the bays

we do not

235

for

one month, we

are left with engines

a lot of coal used up."

However, there was an even bigger

now

French. Vladivostok was

issue

than

how

to deal with the

only 2,500 miles away. But did

make

it

sense to go there?

Cam

Even before reaching tsar for instructions. "If

it is

Ranh, Rozhestvensky had asked the

necessary to proceed,

we have

to

do

this

very quickly," he stated bluntly, stressing both the urgency of the

sue and his personal unwillingness to go any further.

would make sense

needed the squadron,

and

move on

to

if it

coal for the ships.

these "if

He

It

He

said

to Vladivostok only if the city

had food

for thirty

isit

still

thousand more people

was obvious he himself was answering

all

V negatively.

suggested that

if it

was "too

late" to

send the squadron to

Vladivostok (which was his opinion), then the squadron should return to Russia, for

it

could not function without a permanent base.

Anticipating that the tsar would said that in that case he

The

waiting for Nebogatov.

make

to leave

loss

on moving on, the admiral

Indochina "immediately, not

of even one week would be

difficult to

up."

The ever,

had

insist

cable was sent

by the hospital ship Orel from Saigon. How-

no urgent reply awaited Rozhestvensky when he

arrived in

Cam

Ranh.

As

in Madagascar, logistics

had been decided

made communications

in St. Petersburg not to use

estvensky's telegraph address;

it

would

Cam Ranh via local

difficult. It

Cam Ranh

as

Rozh-

greatly embarrass the French.

Cables for the admiral were to be sent to Saigon to

very

first

and then sent on

telegraph.

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry had no representative Saigon

—an

incredible situation at such a critical time.

As

a result

in

of

236

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

this stupid bureaucratic blunder, the

"This

squadron

felt

"absolutely cut off."

outrageous," Rozhestvensky snarled in a cable to the naval

is

minister.

Fortunately for the squadron, the Russian cruiser Diana having y

escaped from Port Arthur to Saigon several months

end of the war,

there until the

had

earlier,

to stay

law demanded.

as international

Now

her captain, Prince Liven, was to serve as an intermediary. However, he

was not

confusion, such cables were to contain three Latin letters for

Cam Ranh

and

hoping

still

Rozhestvensky ordered Liven to forward also

demanded

that the French this

The alarmist

daily briefings

Hong Kong, and

pore, Batavia,

but

—ZIN,

short

Zinovy Petrovich.

Having reached

He

To prevent

to decipher confidential cables to Rozhestvensky.

all

for a quick departure,

mail to

him

immediately.

from the Russian consuls

Shanghai. At

first

in Singa-

he even suggested

embassy in Tokyo might keep him informed

as well,

was nothing but wishful thinking. reports that Rozhestvensky started getting were, as usual,

and contradictory. During the months of his forced

stay in In-

dochina, Prince Liven had developed something of a spy network.

Now

he informed Rozhestvensky that Togo's main force was in Formosa, while other ships were spying on the squadron in Indochina's waters.

The Russian Admiralty

insisted that

on March

23

with four battleships and the best cruisers for an Later, the

main

Admiralty said that according to

force

was

at

its

Togo had

unknown

left

Sasebo

destination.

British informants, Togo's

Kure, a naval base in southwestern Honshu.

In April 1905, Admiral

Togo

still

flew his flag

on the legendary

Mikasa. As a British observer remarked from Tokyo, now, after several

months of "a his fleet

had

life

of ease" (since the

matched."

of war."

thought that Rozhestvensky would be a strong

Togo could

number of

of Port Arthur in December),

to "re-awake to the graver aspects

British observers

adversary.

fall

place four battleships "in line against a similar

the best Russian ships," so the combatants were "well

Yet, the report continued, "heterogeneity will bring to the

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

237

Russians a reduction of speed," whereas Togo was perfectly capable of

maintaining a battle speed of fifteen knots.

"The

Baltic Fleet has

may

said. "It

been systematically cried down," the report

be beaten, but there seems no other reason for

so than that the Japanese have

Most

likely,

would be using

won

other victories."

his favorite

"T" maneuver: placing

his line so as to

ahead or astern the enemy, thus concentrating the

ships

upon head

its

or

tail

fire

of the Russian squadron. There was

Togo would make good use of such

had given

Togo

experts thought, during the forthcoming battle

cross

that

being

its

a

of several

little

doubt

maneuver; the Japanese

fleet

great attention to target practice recently, to say nothing of

impressive battle experience. "It

must be presumed," the report from Tokyo continued,

Vladivostok rather than the Yellow Sea

was indeed. But there were

is

the destination of the Baltic

several routes leading to Vladi-

Fleet."

It

vostok.

Which one would Rozhestvensky

Togo be waiting

for

"that

choose?

And where would

him? The report was categorical about

this:

In their approach the Russians could be compelled to fight either in

the neighborhood of Tsushima

with somewhat

or,

in the north.

Should the Japanese go in search of

seas are large,

and they might miss him.

they await

him

coasts, they

coast towns being

it

in her

many

power

in

there, she

enemy, the

on or near

improbable event of their

their

own

bombarded.

that if Japan

is

willing to run this slight risk, she has

to give her fleet a central watching-position, offering

advantages. Such a position

merous bays

From

for the

their

the other hand, should

in the best position they can find

must be prepared

The map shows

On

less certainty,

may

be found in one of the nu-

south-western Japan, or in south-eastern Korea.

could bar the Korea

.

.

.

Strait.

At about the same time, Rozhestvensky's mind was turning over the

same

set

of names mentioned in the British report: Togo,

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

238

Tsushima, the Korea

hoped

that the tsar

Vladivostok. However, Rozhestvensky

Strait,

would come

back to Kronshtadt. But

as

soon

and order the squadron

to his senses

monarch

that the stubborn

from

as the first cables

started arriving, Rozhestvensky learned to his

ment

St.

Petersburg

immense disappoint-

wanted him

still

still

to continue to

Vladivostok.

Rozhestvensky did not

know

Alexei had chaired a special meeting

The grand duke himself sky's valor

and courage."

nephew, the

Yet,

could lose most of its

sea." Russia

had already

in the conference,

such

it

lose

not only

lost Port Arthur.

working on the

also

Nicholas received

him

to persuade

him

at

Other participants

make any

ex-

Every week or

so,

to be

spoken

itself.

tsar privately.

Tsarskoe Selo and each time Lamsdorf tried

that peace with Japan

In April 1905, virtually

had

all St.

was necessary.

Petersburg dignitaries thought the war

brought to an end and Rozhestvensky

tsar

remained

but

its fleet

Foreign Minister Lamsdorf, Minister of War

as

statement. Their silence spoke for

Lamsdorf was

be-

fleet

to sign peace. Minister of Fi-

Sakharov, and Naval Minister Avelan, preferred not to plicit

navy.

he continued, the squadron could not

nance Kokovtsev suspected that Russia could as

Grand Duke

on the future of the Russian

would be ready

tsar,

even Vladivostok,

22,

expressed his trust in "Admiral Rozhestven-

win the war and "master the fore his

on March

that

bellicose.

He

recalled.

Only

the soft-

sought fame and recognition, and

he also sought vengeance. That spring, keeping his yearly routine, Nicholas wrote in his diary on April 29: "The memorable day of Otsu."

But should the war continue, Vladivostok was not the only gic choice.

Another

possibility for

somewhere on Chinas

coast

strate-

Rozhestvensky was to find a base

and wage war from

there, avoiding expos-

ing his squadron to attack on the perilous route to Vladivostok.

At the

fateful conference in

Peterhof the previous August, Rozh-

estvensky had mentioned that option.

A

Chou-shan archipelago,

hundred

hai.

The

islands,

a group of four

likely candidate

was the

islands off Shang-

with their steep peaks, covered with cave temples

and monasteries, provided

excellent harbors,

and

their location

was

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

strategically

239

important for cutting supplies between Japan and

its

continental army.

But Rozhestvensky

now knew

that

it

admitted that Britain would never allow

powers

like

was not a this to

realistic

happen. Other neutral

many

which could

excellent cruisers,

blockade any island, thus depriving his squadron of also believed that

with Port Arthur

to continue naval operations along

Chinas

ter

it

made no

coast. In other all

easily

basic supplies.

all

long ago,

lost

did not like the Vladivostok option and thought sible.

sense

words, he

others were impos-

In his cables, he implicitly begged the tsar to prevent the slaugh-

and

recall his fleet.

But the

tsar

would hear nothing of this

defeatist talk.

He

instructed

On

naval authorities to prepare Vladivostok for Rozhestvensky s arrival.

April

He

France would also be hostile to such a move, he thought.

In addition, Japan had

He

option.

2,

Virenius reported to the admiral that Vladivostok was not

blockaded by the Japanese from land.

Its

seven submarines would soon

be functional. Five older torpedo boats were ready, and three more

would be

Three others had arrived and were be-

fixed in a week's time.

ing assembled. In three weeks, a powerful radio station

would become

operational as well. All available vessels were ready to depart at short notice to meet Rozhestvensky's squadron in the Sea of Japan.

The Admiralty knew

that the squadron

would not be

able to reach

Vladivostok without a major battle with Togo. Virenius sent a special cable to Rozhestvensky concerning Togo's tactics. Togo, Virenius said,

preferred to stay at a long distance bles (8,000 yards).

original plan

The Japanese

from

"easily" fooled

The the

ca-

side," that

by

u

a sudden, unex-

Such a maneuver could actually

pected, perhaps even risky maneuver."

weaker

—around 40

admiral always stubbornly stuck to his

and therefore could be

deliver victory to "a

his adversary

is,

to Rozhestvensky's squadron.

What mattered most was And Nicholas had made up his mind:

instructions were not very helpful.

tsar's strategic

decision.

Rozhestvensky was ordered to wait in Indochina for Nebogatov and then proceed to Vladivostok. In the admiral's eyes, this was asking for disaster,

but he understood the

futility

of further arguing with the

tsar.

240

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

6

If there

was a

helpless, frustrated

week of April 1904,

it

diplomat in Southeast Asia in the

was Consul Rudanovsky.

First

first

he had spent

weeks watching out for Rozhestvensky. The thunderous admiral had finally

emerged from the waves of the Indian Ocean

like

much

tune and proceeded to his destination without so

angry Nep-

as saying hello.

For the consul, that humiliating episode had also become highly embarrassing.

While

talking to the Suvorov

from

his cutter

and

insisting

on being received by the admiral, Rudanovsky had thought he was talking not to Rozhestvensky but to Enkvist.

man

In his triumphant cables to the Admiralty, the wretched

re-

ported that on March 26 he had met "Admiral Enkvist's squadron" and that Rozhestvensky

had taken

his battleships

by Singapore

at night-

time, "positively unnoticed by anybody."

The Admiralty personnel had an agent of the

rival

derived malicious joy from seeing

Foreign Ministry blunder. But

now

they had an-

other top-secret errand to run, and Rudanovsky was the only person

they could use in Southeast Asia. This time he had to find Admiral

Nebogatov.

Admiral Nikolai Ivanovich Nebogatov might have been a mediocrity,

but he was a very practical man.

estvensky at

all costs.

He knew

he had to join Rozh-

Otherwise his whole journey was meaningless.

But when Nebogatov was

in Djibouti,

Rozhestvensky was quietly

plowing the Indian Ocean, hoping to skip the unwelcome rendezvous.

Nobody knew where he was.

On March

25,

Nebogatov cabled Avelan: "Am leaving Djibouti

search for Rozhestvensky via the Strait of Malacca."

He

to

set three ren-

dezvous points in the ocean. Russian agents were to contact him and brief him

on Rozhestvensky s whereabouts.

Starting April 7, his transport, the Kuronia,

days at sea not far from Colombo.

would reach the Nicobar

Islands

Then on

and spend

would wait

April

five

12, his

for

two

squadron

days there, waiting for

messengers. Finally, on April 22, he would be waiting for

Commander

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Russian agent in Batavia,

Polis, the

China

Sea, roughly

at

i°N and io5°23'E

one hundred miles

In the cable sent to

east



of Singapore.

Rudanovsky by the naval minister

and send him

was to wait

for

Nicobar

to the

Nebogatov and

Islands.

him

deliver to

himself, the

him on

a

There the messenger

Avelan's cable. After that

the messenger was to take his steamer not to Singapore but to

thus preventing the crew from talking too

South

in the

consul was instructed to select a "trusted person," put steamer,

241

much

Bombay,

about Nebogatov in

spy-infested Singapore.

In addition, Rudanovsky himself was to requisition a ship or cutter

and intercept Nebogatov on April 21-22 was

to personally

in the

South China

Sea.

convey to the admiral more instructions from

St.

He Pe-

tersburg and also the most recent news about Rozhestvensky.

The Russian "Top

Secret.

consul in

Colombo

also received

an enigmatic

cable:

Immediately freight a steamer for one month for a secret

mission and keep her ready. certain place.

.

.

.

.

.

.

You

will

have to take our cables to a

Report on the readiness of a steamer. Price does not

matter."

The

consul in

Colombo

started looking for a steamer, but very

how much money he suggested, skipHe panicked. The British secret service conspiracy. He reported the failure to St.

soon he found that no matter pers just

was

shook

their heads.

clearly orchestrating the

Petersburg.

Naval Minister Avelan responded impatiently: "Try somehow, be

on

it

a yacht, or a sailboat, or a cutter, or a fishing boat to reach the Russ-

ian transport Kuronia

On

Finally, a

boat was found and dispatched to the meeting place.

April

the consul sent a triumphal cable to Avelan: "Just re-

ceived

11,

my

messenger's ciphered telegram saying your instructions

have been delivered promptly."

The Admiralty could

relax;

Neboga-

tov had been briefed.

However, "Very urgent. see

in several

My

hours another cable from

messenger

is

Colombo

back. Spent three days at sea.

our transport. Did not deliver the cable.

I

arrived:

Did not

was misinformed."

242

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Meanwhile, the Kuronia was there and could not locate the messenger. Apparently, the person dispatched

igator



or

on the

British payroll.

All that the Russian Admiralty could

and amateur

by the consul was a bad nav-

do now was curse diplomats Disappointed, Nebogatov

secret agents in general.

headed eastward,

an ocean so

to celebrate Easter in

his crews christened the area

Sharktown.

full

of sharks that

Of course, Nebogatov

did

not suspect that had he received the message, he would have been even

more

frustrated.

The

undelivered cable read: "To Rear Admiral Nebogatov. Admiral

Rozhestvensky's squadron safely passed the Strait of Malacca. 4,

he was in

Cam Ranh

Bay

unknown. Cannot wait

On April

to the north of Saigon. His further route

for you.

At the Nicobar

Islands

you

is

will get

further instructions."

Now

Rudanovsky was again the Admiralty's only hope. However,

he faced the same problem that couple of weeks

The Admiralty and send

it

to

earlier:

his colleague in

There were no ships

Colombo had had

a

available for freighting.

urgently instructed Prince Liven in Saigon to find one

Rudanovsky immediately

—but even

in Saigon skippers

kept saying no. Finally,

Rudanovsky did dispatch

a boat to the

Nicobar

Islands.

His messenger waited there for three days but did not see anybody and

on April

Penang.

21 returned to

The Admiralty was

in despair.

Rozhestvensky a month

lost

The

cables

Nebogatov

It

had

lost

Nebogatov

just as

it

had

earlier!

Nicobar Islands con-

failed to receive at the

tained a different message: Rozhestvensky was waiting for

him

in

Van

Fong.

While Nebogatov

traveled between

Ceylon and the Nicobars, the

Admiralty suggested various options to the

arm

in a neutral port.

Sunda

He

He

Nebogatov could

could return to Russia.

Strait for a while, intercepting

in Saigon.

tsar.

He

dis-

could cruise the

war contraband and then disarm

could try to reach Vladivostok on his

own

via the

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

remote and foggy La Perouse

Strait.

But the

243

tsar firmly insisted that

Rozhestvensky wait for Nebogatov.

The Admiralty had only one more chance Rudanovsky was

Nebogatov.

to find

to send a boat to the last rendezvous place



off

Singapore.

This time the French

The French

leagues:

consul arranged for a merchant boat.

who was to carry the vital kin. He had been captured wounds were

so

(so

much

man

own

make

in Port

The

The messenger April 20.

man

let

passed, but there was

no

him go

his

to Russia via Singa-

Baboushkin jumped ship and

consul, apparently

now

apprehensive of

one warship from another, was glad

as a

boat, with

They reached

Vasily Baboush-

sailor,

heard that Nebogatov was expected to pass

ability to distinguish

use of the brave

The person

Arthur on the cruiser Bayan, but

for Russian secrecy).

reported to Rudanovsky. his

mail was a Russian

bad that the Japanese

pore. In Singapore the

by soon

did help their frustrated Russian col-

allies

to

messenger.

Baboushkin onboard,

Singapore on

left

Two days men onboard

the designated area and waited. sign of Nebogatov.

Two

other

were on the verge of mutiny. Baboushkin, a giant with muscles of steel,

promised

to "crack their

heads like nuts." Grudgingly, they

agreed to wait several hours more. Suddenly, scanning the horizon

through

"Ours

his binoculars,

are

Baboushkin muttered

in a

throbbing voice:

coming."

The boat

steered to the battleship Nicholas

Having delivered the mail asked, "Your Excellency,

may

I.

to an overjoyed Nebogatov, I

stay

the Japanese another thrashing."

It

on your

battleship?

I

Baboushkin

want

to give

goes without saying that Neboga-

tov enthusiastically agreed.

He

unsealed the envelope. Rozhestvensky was waiting for

Van Fong. Another don reported

that

him

in

cable bore alarming news: Russian agents in Lon-

Togo planned

the Russians in Indochina.

The

Nebogatov had been awarded the

move south of Formosa

to

third cable

St.

was

Anna's Cross.

to attack

a pleasant one:

244

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Two

days before, on April 20, Nebogatov had had his fifty-sixth

birthday.

Now,

at least for a while,

he could believe that a lucky

star

guided him.

1

On the night of April

having received a report from Singapore that

25,

Nebogatov had passed the

of Malacca, Rozhestvensky dis-

Strait

patched four cruisers to look for the 3rd Pacific Squadron.

He was

angry and nervous.

One

of the ships reported that her

ra-

dio operators had heard something that might have been Nebogatov's wireless.

Rozhestvensky snarled, "If you motherfuckers want to gain

then

favor,

raise a signal saying

All right,' then go for

He was

right;

morning on April 26

the

want

to gain favor,'

and

if I

respond

it."

was a

it

'I

false

alarm.

It

was not

until eleven o'clock in

that the Suvorova radio

was able to

establish

contact with Nebogatov's flagship. Rozhestvensky transmitted his curt instructions.

At

northwest.

was Nebogatov.

It

At three

o'clock, the

staff was invited to

on duty saw smoke

to the west-

two squadrons exchanged greeting

Nebogatov was on the Suvorov.

four,

The

2:25 p.m., officers

He and

salvos.

At

Rozhestvensky embraced.

drink champagne to the "happy reunion."

Rozhestvensky kept them for exactly thirty minutes. Nebogatov boasted a safe and successful journey. ally,"

he

said.

He

The

also started briefing

ships

had behaved

"ide-

Rozhestvensky on his ideas

about traveling to Vladivostok around Japan, via the La Perouse Strait.

To

save coal

on

this

long journey, he

said, battleships

could be

tugged by transports. Apparently, Rozhestvensky was not sufficiently impressed by the

image of

He coal

his battleships

being tugged by transports in hostile waters.

interrupted Nebogatov and began instructing

and making

all

him on

necessary repairs in the next four days.

taking on

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

He

He

did not discuss his strategy for the forthcoming battle.

not even

Nebogatov which route he planned

tell

cated that

it

was time

to take.

245

Then he

did

indi-

for Nikolai Ivanovich to leave.

In spite of generous congratulations and praise from Rozhestven-

Nebogatov

sky,

that they

knew

would have

confused and slightly hurt.

supposed

a proper conference later. Rozhestvensky already

o'clock at night, both squadrons entered long

leaving soon

The



and did not bother

ships stayed in

this

and dark

two miles north of Van Fong. They sneaked

Bay, just

smugglers, anticipating trouble, but the French

coal

He

they would not.

By seven

Kua

felt totally

time for the

had some minor

Kua Bay final leg

in like

knew they would be

to protest.

for four days.

As

usual, they

took on

of their journey. Nebogatov's ships also

repairs to do.

Rozhestvensky's and Nebogatov's officers exchanged

visits.

spent hours retelling ordeals from their respective journeys.

Nebogatov squadron's

The cellent"

ent

stories,

tsar sent a cable to

performance of a

command was

over.

will

.

.

.

The

though, were blissfully void of drama.

Nebogatov, congratulating him on the "ex-

"difficult task."

But Nebogatov's independ-

Rozhestvensky was in charge.

formed the monarch: "On April detachment.

They

26,

He

curtly in-

was joined by Nebogatov's

After inspection and repair of engines the squadron

go on." Nebogatov's battleships were

now

called the 3rd

commander. In the

early

morning of May

Unit, and he was the

reorganized and hopefully reinforced

fleet

weighed anchor.

Armored 1,

the

10

"Be Prepared for Full Steam Ahead,"

MAY

It

1-13, 1908. PACIFIC

OCEAN

was eleven o'clock in the morning on May

NO

40

its



speed to nine knots. to

Formosa

were drinking

The commander

Island. In the Suvorova

in-

defined the course as

wardroom, the

officers

Mumm champagne.

The admiral was

taking his squadron into waters that had only re-

cently seen Togo's ships.

The

battle could begin at

Rozhestvensky was leading the armada of presided over the Borodino, and Orel. Sisoi,

and the

The squadron

shores of Indochina were melting into the distance.

creased

i,

— the The 2nd Armored Unit— 1st

Armored Unit

any moment.

fifty ships.

He

himself

Suvorov, Alexander

III,

the battleships Oslyabya,



Navarin, and the armored cruiser Nakhimov

flew the flag of

Admiral Felkersam. Nebogatov led the 3rd Armored Unit: four older battleships, the clunkers, Nicholas

The

cruisers

I,

Apraxin, Senyavin, and Ushakov.

were organized in two detachments: the

—the Aurora,

by Admiral Enkvist on the Oleg

247

1st

Unit led

Donskoi, Vladimir

248

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Monomakh,

Rion,

the Svetlana



and Dnieper; the 2nd Unit

led

by Captain Shein on

the Kuban, Terek, and Ural.

The torpedo

boats were split into two units, the

the reconnaissance cruisers led the transports.

Two

first

one joined by

Zhemchug and Izumrud. Captain Radlov

hospital ships, the Orel and Kostroma, the latter

brought to Van Fong by Nebogatov, were proceeding on their own. Rozhestvensky's armada was one of the biggest

been amassed on the high

The

Togo's.

fleets that

but that did not mean

seas,

had ever

surpassed

it

much

Russians had more battleships, but Togo was

more

stronger in torpedo boats and cruisers. Rozhestvensky's ships had

heavy

artillery guns; the

Japanese prevailed in lighter weaponry.

Togo's hugest asset was speed. ships

was normally

a winner.

An

admiral

who commanded

The Russian heavy

untested, the gunners unpracticed,

and

artillery

guns were

Of

their shells scarce.

men, 99 percent had never heard person blown to pieces by a gun shell,

faster

Rozh-

cannonade and never

estvensky's

a

seen a

to say nothing of a ship

taking her final dive. Togo's

he had

as

much ammunition

tillery shells stuffed

gun

fleet

as

had spent the previous year

he could possibly wish

for,

in battle,

and

his ar-

with shimosa were more powerful than any other

shell in the world.

Rozhestvensky's crews had had a most demoralizing journey;

had spent the

last

nine months with scarcely a glimpse of shore, with

the daily vodka ration as

life's

only pleasure. Just recently, they had

spent a most frustrating

month

colony, secretly crawling

from one secluded bay

abandoned by he would be

their

at

in an oppressive climate in their

own government. As



ally's

to another like thieves,

for Togo, in the Sea of Japan

home.

For the next few days, the sea remained absolutely calm. tleships

many

the Sisoi and Orel

Two

bat-

—developed mechanical problems, but

they were quickly fixed. All looked well.

However,

officers

had

lost their

peace of mind. Everybody was ar-

guing about what the admiral planned to do and where he was taking the squadron.

Only one person knew

for sure: the admiral himself.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

There were three possible routes rea Strait, the

The La miles.

The

Tsugaru

Strait,

249

through the Ko-

to Vladivostok:

or the La Perouse Strait.

—about 3,700

Perouse Strait promised the longest journey

separated Russian Sakhalin Island from Japanese Hokkaido.

It

strait

was only twenty-seven miles wide

at its

To

reach

notorious for extremely strong currents.

narrowest point and it,

ships

had

to

The

area

prom-

pass through the rough necklace of the Kuril Islands.

first

of fog, and the ships were likely to hit each other or the rocky

ised a lot

coast while they forced their

of the Kurils.

A

slight

way through

the misty and

foamy chain

mistake in navigation and several ships could

perish in a matter of seconds.

And

Rozhestvensky did not have a high

opinion of his navigators; in the Atlantic, in fine weather, they had

al-

ready missed Gabon.

Even more important, he was sure a long journey without

abandon ters.

major breakdowns.

a peer immobilized

That meant

his ships

by

that each time

a mechanical

ships

The

would eventually be

number,

how many would

pire to attack Vladivostok

What

a perilous trap

labors of the

Then

it

if

be

fit

wa-

would be

if

And

out of

this

Of course, Togo would

after

Rozhestvensky reached

for his disabled ships

problem of

How many

to be scuttled.

for action?

immediately

gested towing battleships, as

in hostile

a major mechani-

able to reach Vladivostok?

immense journey would be

there was the

problem

And what

would have

ship

squadron could not

There had been dozens of

too.

such occasions throughout the journey. occurred?

A

survive such

one ship slowed down or stopped, the

whole squadron would be disabled,

cal failure

would not



all

asit.

of the

in vain.

coal.

To

solve

it,

Nebogatov sug-

they were cruising the roadstead of

Tow warships just one hundred shores! What a battle-ready fleet that

Kronshtadt and not Japans backyard. miles

would

away from the enemy's be!

Also, Strait? If

who

said Togo's ships

would not be waiting

at the

Rozhestvensky 's squadron disappeared for weeks

Indochina,

its

route

would become obvious. And

it

La Perouse

after leaving

would be

totally

250

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

unrealistic to try to break

through the narrow

was guarded

strait if it

by Togo.

The admiral

also discarded the

the Tsugaru Strait.

The Tsugaru

shu and Hokkaido.

— through Hon-

separated two Japanese islands,

was merely

It

second possible route

fifteen to twenty-five miles

wide and

could be easily blockaded by a handful of torpedo boats. Also,

its

shores were populated not only by fishermen and woodcutters but also

by Japanese troops who watched the coast zealously day and

The

of Hakodate had

city

and naval

a garrison,

Togo.

all

facilities,

final

and would be an

hundred

feet

—by

to as the

The Korea

Strait.

and was divided into two channels

Tsushima

Strait. Its

Strait separated

had a very comfortable depth of three

It

the Tsushima Islands.

excellent base for

in the Tsugaru.

option was the Korea

Japan from continental Asia.

ern

of the modern means of communication,

The squadron had no hope

The

night.

The

—western and

eastern channel

east-

was often referred

narrowest part was only twenty-five miles

wide, but this bottleneck was very short. There were no rocks there, so

misty weather would be the Russians' also

by

far the fastest

passed through the

way

strait,

ally

and not

their

enemy.

to reach Vladivostok. After the

the safe haven

would be only

It

was

squadron

six

hundred

miles away. Yet, this

option looked pretty bad, too.

central Japan to be left unprotected

main

force

would be

The

by Togo.

It

strait

was too

was very

close to

likely that his

there. Nevertheless, in Rozhestvensky's eyes, the

route through the Tsushima Strait was the "easiest," or in other words, the lesser

evil.

The admiral knew Fong he wrote

the deficiencies of his

fleet.

to his wife: "Well, whatever the

Before leaving

Van

developments of the

next few days might be, nothing will result from them but more shame for Russia." Yet, even given

all

the weaknesses of his squadron and

mind

his

pessimism, he did not

far

from being hopeless, he thought, and

a battle.

The his

correlation of forces

duty was

to the adversary."

was

"to seek a battle

in order to break through to Vladivostok, having caused

damage

all

all

possible

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Though choosing

the Korea Strait, the admiral was sure that he

would meet Togo's main

force there

Just before Rozhestvensky left

Virenius informing

on duty

boats were

him many times

him

and maybe even the whole

Van Fong, he had

in the

Tsushima

and seven torpedo

Strait. Intelligence

he did not need

fleet.

received a cable from

that four Japanese cruisers

in the past but

Togo would never

251

it

now.

had deceived

He knew

that

leave the place unprotected.

why not play cat and mouse for awhile? Perhaps it made down a bit. Let Togo get nervous. Let Togo, waiting at

However, sense to slow

the Korea Strait, lose his sleep;

let

him send

a

few ships to look for the

Russian armada in the misty waters of the Tsugaru or La Perouse.

Rozhestvensky also decided that he would dispatch four auxiliary cruisers in different directions to

hunt

for

war contraband and thus

stir

trouble elsewhere, distracting Togo's attention from the Tsushima area.

But what kind of

What

else?

tactics

The Russian

would Togo apply? Crossing the "T"?

naval attache in

London

reported that the four

newest Russian battleships looked particularly awesome, especially

if

they stuck together. Apparently, Togo would attempt to disunite them. Allegedly, the Japanese

Nelson planned to attack transports

first,

then

lone cruisers, and finally deal with battleships. So what was Rozhestvensky to do? Send transports away? Protect his cruisers with the battleships'

powerful guns?

He had nates.

to

do

all

the planning alone.

He

Rozhestvensky had none.

flag officers.

daytime

Togo had

trusted subordi-

could not rely on any of his junior

Admiral Enkvist was a joke.

He

could lose his ships in

as easily as a toddler loses his toys in a sunlit garden.

Nebogatov was too

soft,

Admiral Felkersam, but

That was

too unmanly, too shy. Rozhestvensky trusted in

May

1905 Felkersam was dying.

a matter of special concern for Rozhestvensky; he

losing a friend and, even

more importantly,

a pillar.

deathbed he did not cease being a sensible associate,

been

a

good servant of the throne

wrote to the Admiralty. sam's

widow

Admiral

"a

Now

for forty years,"

he was asking the

"Even on

just like

was his

he has

Rozhestvensky

tsar to give Felker-

guaranteed pension," for she had to take care of



CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

252

"many miserable

He

relatives."

considered these personal matters ur-

gent enough to report them to the capital before the battle.

With Felkersam waning officer ther.

He

he trusted.

Of course,

quickly, he

from the

flag

did not think highly of most of his captains,

there were several people

them, Captain Dobrotvorsky, ers

was losing the only junior

who had

whom

he respected.

make

the thunderous admiral. Dobrotvorsky insisted that there

But even

brotvorsky, could he entrust

One

of

taken the detachment of cruis-

Baltic Sea to Madagascar, even dared to

battle before Vladivostok.

ei-

if he liked

a bet with

would be no

younger people

Do-

like

them with independent command,

pass-

ing over the two worthless but nevertheless senior admirals, Enkvist

and Nebogatov? He could Rozhestvensky

not.

he could endure no more of this job.

felt

take the squadron to Vladivostok, but then he

would

the eve of the departure from Indochina, he sent

very personal cable: capable

"I

fleet

fleet.

..."

Grand Duke

or of the squadron.

and cannot move around the deck of my own

command

is

very bad. If

am

I

ship.

Madagascar.

The

Therefore the

had denied him

his

situ-

can continue to

commander of the

asked for the same thing two months

tsar

Alexei a

can hardly walk

I

still alive, I

the squadron under the leadership of the

He had

On

down.

beg you to send to Vladivostok a healthy and

commander of the

ation of the squadron

step

He would

wish then.

earlier,

from

What would

he

now?

say

who would lead the squadron if he There he made a smart move. He could not possibly disin-

Meanwhile, he had to decide were

killed.

herit

Nebogatov and Enkvist

by

officially.

But they could

lose leadership

default.

On May 10,

Rozhestvensky issued a special order. Everybody knew

that according to rules of subordination, the next in

command was

dy-

ing Felkersam, then Nebogatov, then Enkvist. But Rozhestvensky in-

troduced a quiet revolution to the rules of succession. If his battleship, the SuvoroVy was line

damaged

—had

Alexander III

or sunk, he said, then the next battleship in to lead the

squadron to Vladivostok;

Alexander was damaged, then the Borodino, then the

if

the

Orel. Basically,

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

meant

that

commanders of the

that the

253

three newest battleships were

given superiority over the two admirals.

No

rendezvous in case the squadron became dispersed was indi-

cated in the order. it

was

was unnecessary.

It

were to meet anywhere,

If they

in Vladivostok.

2

Late at night on

May

5,

the squadron caught

search took several hours.

She was the

prey.

heading north without any papers.

British steamer Oldhamia, carelessly

The

its first

The squadron

any further; Rozhestvensky was taking

his time.

waited, not

The

moving

ship was sitting

too deep in the water for the merchandise her captain had declared.

Rozhestvensky decided to capture

her.

He was

neath her trade goods, the ship was carrying

The admiral put

a Russian

proven

right, for

under-

artillery guns.

crew on the smuggling

vessel,

provided

her with coal, and sent her to Vladivostok via the La Perouse

Strait.

Before the Russian crew came aboard, the Oldhamias officers at-

tempted

to sink her.

Orel, while the rest

The

They were

arrested

and sent

to the hospital ship

of the crew went to the cruiser Dnieper.

Orel was surprised. She signaled the Suvorov,

five perfectly

healthy Englishmen.

What

should

"We

have got

we do with them?"

Rozhestvensky replied, "Make sure they stay in good health until Vladivostok."

His subordinates, drunk on their

hamia

officers

first

action, suggested the Old-

should be shot. Rozhestvensky was thoroughly surprised:

"To shoot neutrals? Just because they

are involved in

war contraband?"

Meanwhile, the cruiser Zhemchug, her appetite whet, stopped a

Norwegian steamer shortly before noon on

May

6.

The

ship was in-

spected and then allowed to go, and the squadron continued on.

May ist,

6 was the

Tsar Nicholas

received at birth



tsar's

II

birthday.

A whining mystic and reluctant fatal-

was very much upset by the patron saint he

Saint Job, the one

who was

tortured by

God without



CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

254

any apparent reason. The

tsar

merous misfortunes of his

reign.

To ing,

celebrate the

tsar's

used

this as

an explanation for the nu-

birthday was a must. At 11:06 in the morn-

Rozhestvensky signaled, "The admiral congratulates you

all

with

the birthday of His Imperial Majesty, Sovereign Emperor." In nine

minutes, another, more practical, signal was raised: "An extra glass of

vodka

to the crews."

The

Wind

next day, they

left

Rozhestvensky started

rea Strait. Also,

cruisers

make Togo

trans-

fulfilling his plan.

rid

some of his

Kuban and

from the Ko-

of transports. Between

Terek

went

believe Rozhestvensky

May

and

8

to the eastern coast of Japan

was heading

Strait. Six transports,

and accompanied by two

Rion, were sent to Shanghai

squadron was on

forces

ships.

ouse Strait or the Tsugaru tain Radlov,

at least

he was getting

he sent away ten

The to

Sea.

sent auxiliary cruisers to various parts of the Pacific to confuse

Togo and make him withdraw

12,

China

now towed by

brought waves. Shaky torpedo boats were

ports. Despite the weather,

He

the boundaries of the South

May

12.

just ninety miles

cruisers

La

Per-

commanded by Cap-

cruisers, the



The

for either the

Dnieper and the

away from where the

were to escort the transports to

land and then head for the Port Arthur area.

The Dnieper

still

the Oldhamia crew. Rozhestvensky's instructions were to set

carried

them

free

in the first foreign port.

The

cruisers

were ordered to inspect and,

suspicious foreign merchant vessels. If they were chased, or supplies were used up, they were to go to Saigon

The

three transports that the squadron kept

—were

and Anadyr

military ships.

Korea carried ammunition.

The

destroy

if necessary, to

when

and disarm



all

their

there.

the Kamchatka, Irtysh

Three others were indispensable. The

Svir

There was one more unneeded

and the Rus were tugboats. light cruiser



the Ural. But Rozh-

estvensky decided to keep her. Reportedly, her captain intended to get to the nearest port

and disarm

there.

saying that he could not be trusted.

Everybody on the Suvorov was

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

On May

10 the squadron stopped and took

on

255

Radios were

coal.

receiving indecipherable signals. Rozhestvensky sent cruisers to probe for Togo's ships, but they did not find anything. It

seemed they were

in

a void.

The world was of

On May

squadron.

May

1

the same opinion. Even the British lost the

the Russians were spotted leaving Indochina.

2 they were seen 140 miles east, steering north.

On May

On

12 their

transports safely arrived at Shanghai. Otherwise Rozhestvensky's

whereabouts were unknown.

The admiral ordered

May

After

10, the ships

his ships "to

shut

However, the two hospital ily

detectable,

way

to

lit

be ready for battle

down most of

ships, the Orel

as brightly as usual.

make them immune

any time."

at

their lights every night.

and Kostroma, were

still

eas-

Unfortunately, that was the only

to a potential Japanese attack.

Rozhestvensky pretended he was not particularly alarmed or excited, yet

times he

and a

was obvious that the admiral was very unsettled. Some-

it

would send

as

many as

fifty signals to

half.

Everybody was nervously preparing his

various ships in an hour

own

sailors

for the battle, each person in

way. Uncertain what to do with their personal belongings,

were putting in bags

family photographs.

all

their portable treasures

Some wrote

letters

back



home and

icons, letters,

sent

them with

the transports going to Shanghai. Others were bravely saying that they

would send

their letters

"from Vladivostok." Quite a few were

laughing; they

would be

they would get

letters,

friends or family there

There were

also

in Russia in a

few days

stage.

and were already

some

inspiring

One was Vasily

sitive

Commander

Polis

and reassuring examples. Several

own

initiative at the later,

Baboushkin, the one



Many had

inviting people to parties.

mail to Nebogatov off Singapore and was

Another was

just imagine,

newspapers, and news in Vladivostok!

people had joined the squadron on their

gloomier

—and

carelessly

who had

now sailing on

delivered

the Nicholas

I.

the Russian agent in Batavia. His sen-

mission over, he had boarded the Alexander

HI at Van

Fong.

256

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Crews

still

stuck to their rather relaxed routine: waking at 5:20,

vodka and lunch around 10:40, then then

drills for a

a long

nap

until 2:00, then tea,

couple of hours, then another shot of vodka and din-

ner at 5:40, and then to bed after prayers at 8:00.

On May

11,

Admiral Felkersam died. Rozhestvensky was prepared

for this blow; the doctors

ably not live beyond

concealed from the

had warned him

May

rest

12.

that Felkersam

By Rozhestvensky s

of the squadron, and his

would prob-

order, his death flag

was

remained on the

Oslyabyas mast. Heading for battle was bad enough. Sailors were superstitious.

The

thing Rozhestvensky wanted to hear was vain talk

last

about "a bad omen." Captain Ber of the Oslyabya was ing the 2nd

Armored

Unit, though

its

now command-

crews believed they were follow-

ing the orders of the bedridden Felkersam.

However,

a potential disaster lay in wait. Treating

Nebogatov with

cold contempt, Rozhestvensky did not bother to inform he,

and not Felkersam, was

sky was killed or disabled.

command

to

He

the squadron

him if

that

now

Rozhestven-

probably thought that he had ensured

proper succession already by entrusting

command

to the next battle-

ship in line.

On May and

fog, the

12, at

nine o'clock in the morning, in wind, rain, cold,

squadron turned to

were hoping that

if

NO

73



to the

the fog continued, they

Korea

would be

Strait.

Some

able to sneak

into the Sea of Japan unnoticed.

On The

that night, the ships' radios started getting Japanese signals.

closer they got to the

Togo's ships.

The

Korea

cruiser Ural

the admiral's permission to

Strait, the clearer

had a strong

jam the

air to

they could hear

wireless; her captain asked

cut the enemy's

tions.

Rozhestvensky answered in the negative.

fered,

Togo would have immediately

If the

communica-

Ural had inter-

realized that the Russians

were

approaching.

For the same reason, he did not send out reconnaissance Togo's scouts could spot them.

was

close.

The

cruisers;

admiral was absolutely sure Togo

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

At dawn, clearly.

May

13,

the Russians started hearing the Japanese quite

The horizon was

foggy.

No

ships could be seen.

wireless broadcasts abruptly stopped. Apparently,

Russian

At

night,

the

all

Togo had smelled the

steel.

That day the squadron moved very so close that

many were

Rozhestvensky,

shocked.

fairly superstitious as

agree to seek a battle

on Friday the

A

slowly.

The Japanese

by scheduling the

fleet

was

popular explanation was that

an old school

sailor,

would never

13th.

Unfriendly voices were saying that he wanted to tsar

257

May

battle precisely for

14



kowtow

to the

the anniversary of

Nicholas's coronation. Others said he was waiting for cruisers

from

Vladivostok. In

all

likelihood, the delay could be explained differently.

The

ad-

miral had sent out the Kuban, Terek, Dnieper, and Rion just a few days ago.

He wanted

to allow

them more time

to attract Togo's attention.

At noon the Russians saw a white steamer

—presumably

a spy. Yet,

the admiral did not order to pursue her. Instead, Rozhestvensky

manded time-consuming maneuvers from nine from two to

four.

Soon

after, at

to eleven

com-

and then

4:30 p.m., he raised a signal: "Get ready

for battle."

Many were

excited

and even

joyful;

tomorrow the Japanese would

have to pay for "Port Arthur, for our dear sunken ships, for our con-

Manchuria

stant misfortunes in

room



for everything."

The Auroras ward-

served champagne.

At

six o'clock

be prepared for

Rozhestvensky announced, "By tomorrow's dawn

full

steam ahead." Both tea and dinner

passed in tense silence. their orderlies: Rats

Some

officers

at his quarters

were impressed by reports of

were crawling out of their holes and assembling

on decks. At dark, the ships turned on very few

lights.

"Unusual solemn

si-

lence descended."

At eight o'clock the rhythm; crews were

silence ended.

summoned

Drums

roared their throbbing

for evening prayer.

That night the

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

258

priests'

words seemed

especially distinct

and meaningful. For the

first

time during the voyage, crews did not go to their bunks that night. In the "black velvet" of the night, the ships could not see each other.

Only

"Christmas

the hospital ships were bobbing

on the waves

like

two

to the

left.

trees."

At ten o'clock they noticed

They were approaching

brief light

from a searchlight

the Tsushima Strait.

Suddenly, Japanese radio communications resumed.

were able to make out several words: "Ten bright stars ..."

The squadron had been

detected.

lights

.

.

.

The They

Russians are like

11

5!

"They Are All There! 6:30 a.m.-5:30

Dawn

did not bring

The sun had climbed hazy gloom.

It

p.m.,

MAY

1905

14,

much light that

chilly morning.

the sky, but the horizon remained shrouded in

was impossible to

see farther than three miles.

The Su-

vorov raised a signal: "Keep the speed of nine knots."

Rozhestvensky had spent the whole night on the bridge.

Now

he

stood there next to the Suvorova captain, Ignatsius.

The armada was Three

entering Japanese waters in meticulous order.

Ural and Almaz,

light cruisers, the Svetlana,

gle in the vanguard.

Two awesome columns

made

a broad trian-

followed them. Rozh-

estvensky on the Suvorov led the right one: the five best battleships (the Suvorov, Alexander

III,

Borodino, Orel, and Oslyabyd) and three older

battleships, the Sisoi, Navarin,

metrical

column

and Nakhimov. Nebogatov

Donskoi, and Vladimir

two torpedo

umn;

boats, the Bedovy

the cruiser

sym-

to the left: four older battleships (the Nicholas

Apraxin, Senyavin, Ushakov) and four armored cruisers rora,

led a

Monomakh. The and

Bystry,

cruiser

the Oleg,

Au-

Zhemchug and

escorted Rozhestvensky s col-

Izumrud and two other torpedo

261



I,

boats, the

Buiny and

26z

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Bravy,

accompanied Nebogatov. All of the transports and the remain-

ing five torpedo boats kept in the middle, the hospital ships in the

At 6:30

a.m., forty miles

six miles to the right.

make out enemy

from Tsushima

Island, they

rear.

saw a warship

She had two masts and two funnels. Trained to

ships, the Russians

cruiser Izumi. In several minutes,

when

immediately recognized the

gloom darkening the

the

zon started to shrink, they saw three more Japanese

hori-

scouts.

Rozhestvensky ordered three light cruisers to move to the rear to

guard the transports.

He

also

commanded

his battleships to

aim

at the

Izumi.

Minutes passed, but nothing happened. The Japanese maintained their six-mile distance. sailors

were hastily putting on clean underwear;

Russian

way of preparing

At eight

o'clock, the

many

Rozhestvensky waited. Meanwhile, this

was the customary

for death.

squadron raised

flags to celebrate the tsar's

coronation day, but there was no time for celebration.

The

hospital

ship Kostroma informed Rozhestvensky that from her position in the rear,

she could see four

more Japanese

ships

—apparently Vice Admiral

Dewa's unit.

2

In the early hours of

May

14,

Togo's main force was

southern coast of Korea. Vice Admiral Kataoka waited Island,

and four

cruisers

were

at

Goto

still

at

on the

Tsushima

Island further south. Six

were shuttling back and forth between the

more

islands, looking for

Rozhestvensky.

At

2:45 a.m., the light cruiser Shinano

lights piercing the velvet darkness. It trees," a

Russian hospital ship.

cautiously.

right prey.

Her

in the

discovered bright

was one of the two "Christmas

The Shinano Maru crawled forward

captain wanted to

At four o'clock

Maru

make

sure that he

had spotted the

morning, he distinguished numerous

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

dim

silhouettes steering for the

Tsushima

Maru withdrew

Squadron. The Shinano

Strait. It

quietly

was the 2nd

and sent

a

263 Pacific

warning

to

Togo.

The news reached

the Mikasa at 5:05 in the morning. Togo's adju-

tant rushed into the admiral's quarters to break the news.

conceal his

By

He commanded immediate

joy.

6:45, Togo's

main

force

departure.

had weighed anchor. But the Japanese

commander-in-chief did not rush to the Tsushima

wanted Rozhestvensky

to get into

not to see the whole Japanese

A

its

sea

The

he

Russians were

fleet yet.

scene:

A very stiff breeze was blowing from no heavy

bottleneck.

Strait. First

was present on one of the Japanese ships

British naval observer

and described the

Togo did not

was able to

rise,

the south

and west, and though

great inconvenience

was suffered

throughout the day from the water dashed through casemate and turret gun-ports,

and from the constant wetting of the object

of the sighting telescopes.

.

.

.

glasses

Besides this wind, a rather thick haze

hanging over the sea made ships indistinct outside ranges of 5,000 meters.

The

bright sun was quite unable to clear the

though everyone was

in

high

spirits at the

deferred meeting, the weather caused

The annoying to keep

some

air,

and

thus,

prospect of the long-

anxiety.

thing was that the smaller torpedo-craft were unable

up with the

fleet

and were therefore ordered

closer to the coast

for shelter.

The

first

ship to detect Rozhestvensky in the daylight was the

Izumi. She reported to fleet

and

that

it

Togo

was led by a

that she could distinguish the Russian vessel

of the Zhemchug type.

(It

was

in-

deed the Zhemchug.)

Togo decided cruisers,

progress.

to stay at a distance of thirty to forty miles. Light

dipping into the gloom, kept informing him of the Russian

He

took his time. At eleven o'clock, he sent

men

to lunch.

264

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

"The haze continued, and

ships in the rear of the line could hardly be

distinguished."

Togo had been waiting course, until the

fall

for

of Port Arthur, he had been very

pied with the diminishing, but

but

after its

fall,

Rozhestvensky for nearly a

still

Rozhestvensky was

impressive

much

1st Pacific

time to get

all

as

of his ships repaired and ready for

lingering at

the

had

The

Japanese

work had been left

Madagascar

he had hoped to do, he would have reached the Sea of

Japan before Togo's ships had finished Japanese

battle.

still

finished only in late February. If Rozhestvensky 6, as

Squadron,

Rozhestvensky had warned, Togo had utilized that

dockyards had worked around the clock, but

on January

preoccu-

only adversary.

his

Togo had made good use of Rozhestvensky s prolonged Madagascar. Just

Of

year.

repairs.

Now he

faced the whole

fleet.

Togo had had plenty of time were dispatched

in

to prepare. Reconnaissance ships

directions. All straits leading into the Sea

all

The Sea of Japan

of Ja-

pan were heavily

patrolled.

numbered



ten minutes of latitude and longitude each

cruisers, the

Hongkong Maru and the Nihon Maru, were

squares

itself

was divided into



to

ease the planning.

Two

far south.

On

morning of December

the

and then headed

to the

February, Admiral

On

again.

Sunda

Strait,

Dewa, with four

9,

sent

they arrived in Singapore

Sumatra, Java, and Borneo. In

ships, explored southern waters

Cam

Ranh, then

Togo was

training his

February 23 they visited Van Fong and

Singapore and Borneo.

While scouts were cruising remote

many

of

gunners had had plenty of battle practice, hitting Russian hulls

at

men, paying his

waters,

special attention to gunnery.

By

that time,

Port Arthur and in the Yellow Sea. Spies kept

matter tainty

how

Togo informed of the

Russians' whereabouts.

Still,

no

hard they worked, there were long periods of uncer-

—when Rozhestvensky, Felkersam, Dobrotvorsky,

or Neboga-

tov had plowed the ocean far from ports and popular trade routes.

On

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

such occasions, only a happy accident could help Togo

on March

17,

when Togo was informed by



as

53 °E

happened

spies that eleven days ear-

Rozhestvensky had been spotted in the Indian Ocean

lier

265

at

9°S and

heading north. This was an invaluable piece of intelligence; hav-

ing departed from Madagascar three days

earlier,

the squadron was

heading not for the Australian coast and not for the Sunda

but

Strait

for Singapore.

However,

after

Rozhestvensky made his spectacular appearance

at

Singapore, the Japanese admiral could only guess what the Russians

would do

next.

Togo thought Vladivostok was the most natural destination armada, yet he also suspected that the Russians might land on Chinas coast and operate from there. Even

know which

Vladivostok was right, he did not

seize

if his

for the

some

is-

guess about

route the

Mad Dog

would choose. Togo

sent Admiral

Kamimura

and prevent the Vladivostok

From

his base in Korea,

three straits ter all to

—and

sky had

him

left

at the

from

easily

mines

assisting Rozhestvensky.

watch and quickly reach

all

the Chinese coast, should Rozhestvensky prefer afthere.

mid-May was

Indochina

Korea

cruisers

he could

occupy some island

Nevertheless,

to the Vladivostok area to lay

a difficult time for Togo. Rozhestven-

—but where was he

Strait,

but the

going? Togo was waiting for

Mad Dog was

late for the fateful ren-

Had he indeed chosen some wild route around Japan? On May 11, Togo cabled Tokyo that if Rozhestvensky did not

dezvous.

pear in the next few days, then

aru Strait up north. But on

May

had been spotted near Shanghai Strait.

Togo was

Now

relieved

13,



take his fleet to the Tsug-

he learned that the Russian ships

a natural transit point for the

lay in wait for just

the Japanese admiral was standing

his talisman ship the

1:20 they

and

Togo would

ap-

one more

Korea

day.

on the forward bridge of

Mikasa, scanning the mist through binoculars. At

met Admiral Dewa's squadron. Dewa was advancing ahead of

the Russians.

266

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Togo turned

when

course

to the south-southwest, "but

had not gone

the Russians suddenly hove into sight a

board bow. The

moment was one

calling for

little

on

far

on

this

his star-

prompt and decided

ac-

tion," a British observer thought. "It

was

the right all

now

possible to see

column the four big

down

battleships

The

others to insignificance."

the Russian lines.

first

At the head of

loomed enormous, dwarfing

one was the Suvorov with Rozh-

estvensky on the bridge.

3

Rozhestvensky seemingly paid no attention to Dewa's ships, which had

accompanied the squadron since eight o'clock nine, he ordered regrouping. His

move ahead and heavy

cruisers.

to

form

in the

column sped up

a single formation with

all

morning. At

to eleven knots to

the battleships and

Now the squadron was moving in a straight thread four

miles long.

He

raised a signal: "At

noon head

meant Vladivostok. Was

this

it

for

NO

possible that

23."

Everybody knew

Togo would allow the

Russians to pass through the Tsushima Strait undisturbed?

At

more enemy

10:20, four

made no attempt

to attack.

cruisers

appeared to the west, but they

The Zhemchug, proceeding

in the van-

guard r noticed a Japanese steamer intending to cross the squadron's path

—perhaps

The Zhemchug

to

check Russian alertness or launch a torpedo

fired several shots at her.

Rozhestvensky curtly

At

11:20 people

battleship Orel.

commanded

the

The

fired,

intruder turned back.

Zhemchug not

to pursue.

on the Suvorov bridge heard another

shot. It

was the

She semaphored apologetically to the admiral that

been an accidental discharge. But some other

had

attack.

opened

The Japanese

fire,

too. Nebogatov's ships

ships, uncertain

were especially

cruisers spat several return shots

the fog. Rozhestvensky signaled,

it

had

who

active.

and turned west into

"Do not waste your ammunition."

267

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Almost immediately he allowed crews

men were

While

to have lunch.

his

having their meal, more Japanese ships emerged from the

fog and then dived into

What

heated debates.

it

again.

Drinking

their daily

rum, people held

did such a limp start of the long-awaited battle

promise? Quite a few were sure that the battle was practically over and that they could calmly proceed to Vladivostok. Officers

rooms where the

tsar's

At tok.

a proper lunch

went

to

ward-

was served and they drank champagne

to

health.

12:05 tne

They were

zon started to

About

squadron changed

in the

its

course to

middle of the Tsushima

NO

Strait.

23: to

Vladivos-

Haze on the

hori-

swell.

this time,

Rozhestvensky saw enemy ships again. This time

Japanese light cruisers were accompanied by torpedo boats.

It

looked

like

they intended to cross the course of the Russian squadron. If this

was

their intention, the

lay drift

mines on

its

armada was

way. Rozhestvensky decided to

The admiral ordered

a

more awesome formation meet Togo's main

in danger; the torpedo boats could

force.

new

He

regrouping.

act.

thought he needed a

to drive the torpedo boats

He

decided that he wanted

away and all

also to

twelve of his

battleships line-abreast.

Changing from line-ahead

to line-abreast formation

quick and prompt maneuvering. The first

to

torily,

perform

it.

The

first

Suvorov, Borodino,

four battleships were the

and Orel executed

but the Alexander misinterpreted the admiral's

turned in the wrong direction.

What

dicted by Rozhestvensky three

months

demanded

resulted

it

satisfac-

command and

was the "ugly mob" pre-

earlier.

Rozhestvensky canceled the maneuver. As a

result

of the abortive

regrouping, his ships were going in two parallel columns: he with the Suvorov, Alexander slightly If the

ahead of the

III,

Borodino, and Orel in the right column,

rest

of the ships in the

Japanese attacked from the

would be unable blocking the way.

to fire at

left

left.

That was precarious.

now, the four newest battleships

them, for the other Russian ships were

268

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

But the Japanese did not want

to attack yet. Their cruisers

and

tor-

pedo boats turned back.

Having no

failed

with the line-abreast formation, Rozhestvensky had

better option but to bring

single thread order. For that,

was not allowed

L

that.

all

the ships back into the line-ahead,

he needed

at least half

an hour. But he

'

The Suvorov officers were eating their lunch when they were suddenly summoned to combat

in the

wardroom

position.

At

1:20,

seven miles northeast of the Russian squadron, four battleships and eight

armored

cruisers

had appeared. One of the

battleships

was the

Mikasa, Togo's flagship.

As soon

as Togo's

commanding

main

force

went

officers

mained on the forward view of the

full

sea.

had got him into

was spotted

to the

in the distance, the Suvorova

conning tower. Rozhestvensky

new regrouping with

bridge, watching the

knew

Yet he already

trouble.

Now there was

re-

that his brisk

no chance

a

maneuvering

that the Russians

could meet Togo in good battle formation. In several minutes, the admiral

The

battle could start

One iar

of the

would have

any moment now.

officers, a

veteran of Port Arthur, having noticed famil-

Japanese ships, said, "There they

them,

like

on July

to leave the bridge.

are,

Your Excellency! All

six

of

28."

Rozhestvensky shook

"No, more," he

said.

his head.

"They

are

all

there!"

In the conning tower, everybody stood in complete silence. Officers expected the admiral to

Togo's moves instead. to

left,

command

fire,

The Japanese main

but he quietly monitored

force

was moving from

right

crossing the Russian squadron's "T".

Crossing the "T" was a winning weapon.

The

ing line of this "T" could shower the vertical with

horizontal, advanc-

gun

shells

using

all



269

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

its

artillery

only

its

The

might.

vertical line

would be

significantly disabled, for



vanguard ships could use their guns properly

not, for their

own

if

not destroy, the ver-

matter of several minutes.

However, crossing the "T" was a risky

which required staying

in the

had

a

to turn around,

same place and therefore becoming an

excellent target for the enemy. Until

all

ships involved in the

regrouped, the attacker could not open

maneuver

fire.

we

Russians on the Suvorov were excited: "In another minute

A British

be hammering their flagship!"

At

tactic for the attacker.

certain point during the maneuver, each ship

vessels

"T"

peers were shielding the enemy. Crossing the

enabled the horizontal line to seriously damage, tical line in a

others could

shall

observer aboard one of Togo's

was equally astonished: "The Japanese approach could hardly

have been worse. ... In the few minutes the approach

lasted, the fate

of Japan depended upon what happened to her leading ships."

Rozhestvensky knew ately.

The Suvorov

this as well

shot the

and ordered

open

the Mikasa.

first shell at

two admirals began. The clocks stood

to

at 1:49 P

-

M

fire

The

immedi-

duel of the

-

However, due to the previous unfortunate maneuvering, the Russians

were unable to use their advantage

the Suvorov, Alexander, and Borodino the others were

Despite

still

this,

—could

taking their place in

the

fully.

Only

participate in the battle;

line.

dropped only twenty yards astern of

first shell

Togo's flagship. Others, equally close, succeeded

became

tion

hours."

The

as she

tion

flagship

Togo wanted

The Japanese

posi-

to

fire

that

like

grew hotter

range of each successive Russian fire,

the Mikasa did not return a

accomplish the regrouping of his forma-

first.

perfect,

less

than

five

minutes to

hammer Togo. Timing

but marksmanship was not. The sea around the Mikasa

churned with Russian

man

fire

of the Russian

Rozhestvensky had

was

had come under

passed into the

sole object

single shot.

it.

For those onboard the Mikasa, "minutes were

The Japanese

and hotter ship.

critical.

three battleships

shells,

but only nineteen hit the Japanese

in the first fifteen minutes. Inexperienced

flag-

and nervous Russian

270

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

gunners did better than they might have but

much worse

than they

should have.

At

"The

1:52,

the Mikasa replied. Minutes earlier she had raised a signal:

empire's fate depends

one do

upon

the

outcome of this

battle.

Let every-

his best."

The

shots of the Japanese were chaotic, but in five minutes

first

Togo's gunners started hitting the Russian ships, using the advantage

of the "T" maneuver to

The Mikasa and

its fullest.

other battleships

concentrated on the Suvorov. Cruisers fired on the Oslyabya. Felkersam's flag

was

still

flying

on her mast, and Togo had no way of know-

ing that the Russian second-in-command was lying dead in a zinc coffin in the ship's chapel.

The

Russians were immediately overwhelmed by Togo's

guns spat

steel incessantly,

and

his

gunners targeted well.

fire.

The

His

shelling

was so heavy that the sea around the Suvorov "seemed to be boiling."

The

Russians

still

had not straightened out

their battle line,

and ships

in the rear could not yet respond.

The

first staff officer to

Tsereteli, a

young

aristocrat

wounded was Midshipman Prince from Georgia who had charmed the

be

French ladies in Nosy Be with

He had

game.

2:15 the

now

a blood-stained stretcher.

Suvorov experienced

hit the captain's quarters.

structive

and great tennis

chosen to stay on the Suvorova forward bridge and

was carried away on

At

his dazzling looks

its first fire

The Suvorov was now

power of the shimosa. The Japanese

when one of the

shells

feeling the terrible de-

shells

were not

just tear-

ing her into pieces, they were also burning her.

Shimosa was a picric acid explosive that the Japanese had devel-

oped

a

new

more space

type of shell

for.

The

for the explosive itself

shell

was thin-skinned, allowing

— 10 percent of the

total

weight of

the shell instead of the normal 2-3 percent. These shells bore the

of furoshikiy

after the thin

Japanese kerchief. Also, a research group

headed by Admiral Ijuin Goro had developed the the shell to explode like the

upon impact,

Russian shells did.

name

It

caused

instead of just piercing the

armor

Ijuin fuse.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

The Russian

sailors

were

by what looked

terrified

flame" leaping on the sides of the ship as

But

was

it

just shimosa feeding

on

like "liquid

the steel itself was

sight. Sailors

could easily

air

over the decks got so hot that

were stumbling over numerous dead bodies; a single

kill as

many as

armored conning tower. Two

on the

sailors

and Colonel Bersenev were

officer

grabbed the helm he discovered that

men's brains.

"It

stunk

its

spot.

When

handles were covered

spotted with pieces of the dead

He was

standing next to Captain Ig-

Both were looking through the embrasures.

It

quickly

impossible to watch the battle from this allegedly safe place; splinters

another

terribly."

Rozhestvensky was not hurt. natsius.

killed

own uniform was

with blood. His

shell

Blood covered the decks.

a dozen.

Several splinters hit the inside of the

become

more and

were penetrating the tower. Smoke, chips of wood,

and splashes of water reached the admiral. All he could fire

fire.

could only see fluid streams of heat, blurring everything from

officers

more

on

paint.

The

Binoculars became useless.

if

271

see outside

was

and smoke.

The Suvorova

captain kept begging

him

to

change the course, say-

ing that Togo's gunners had adapted to the existing distance. Contrary to his normally short temper, the admiral patiently repeated, "Vasily Vasilievich,

We

calm down.

have adapted to

it

too."

Only when

it

was

reported that the battleship had an underwater hole did the admiral

command Then them sat

to turn to starboard.

a

number of splinters

hit the admiral,

down

in a chair

ing around him. there

was

but the

When

later,

He

of

not serious. Rozhestvensky

his watch. Six

one of the

more

were quite serious, both

One

dead people were

ly-

an officer reached the tower to report that

shoulders: "Try to extinguish

tower.

wound was

and continued

a severe fire in

Five minutes

pierced the embrasures again.

it.

turrets, the

There

is

nothing

splinters hit

in the

head and

admiral shrugged his I

can do from here."

him. This time the wounds

legs,

but he did not leave the

kept sitting there, his head bandaged with a towel. Almost

immediately another splinter

hit the

Suvorova captain.

The

skin of his

272

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

skull

opened

He was

an envelope," and blood poured from the wound.

"like

He

taken below to the doctors.

never returned.

5

At

2:25 the Suvorova situation

conning tower next Fires

to

became

An

precarious.

officer in the

Rozhestvensky thought, "Hell has started."

erupted at the stern and on the bridge. Because of the underwater

hole, the ship

was now

helplessly listing

left.

Her masts were gone, and

worse, her steering gear was damaged. Half an hour after the battle started, the Russian flagship

Range totally

finders

and other

was already destroyed. were heavily damaged or

artillery devices

smashed, but the battleship kept stubbornly shelling the Japa-

nese ships.

The Japanese thought

it

was "surprising" that the Russian

gunners were able to continue targeting and Staying in the conning tower no longer

firing at

made

all.

sense.

There were only

four survivors there: the admiral, his flag-captain, the flag-navigator, and

one

sailor.

They could not

and smoke.

move

Fire

see anything outside because

had made the

air

to the lower fighting position

of the flames

unbearably hot. They decided to through a special armored

shaft. In

order to open the hatch leading to the shaft, they had to push dead bodies aside.

Rozhestvensky did not spend sition either.

He

time

at the

lower fighting po-

instructed his officers to try to keep the battleship

the original course.

He was

he could observe the

He must

much

leaving,

he

said, to find a place

One of the Japanese shells and "forty men instantly fell there

have seen a hellish spectacle.

without a single groan." Burnt corpses were spread people were trapped by

fire

they rushed topside through flame; steel grill.

from which

battle.

had exploded over the upper deck,

Many

on

below decks. if not,

all

over the ship.

If they

were lucky,

they died screaming in the

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

The

ship herself was mortally

ing slowly and unsteadily. der, Borodino,

When

wounded. She

273

the column,

left

mov-

the Suvorov turned aside, the Alexan-

and Orel followed her

sheepishly.

They did not

realize that

with the masts gone, Rozhestvensky simply could not send them any signal. In a

few minutes, the captain of the Alexander

III,

Rozhestven-

sky s favorite, Bukhvostov, realized what had happened. Following Rozhestvensky s instructions issued before the battle, the Alexander steered north, bravely leading the squadron. tion

had straightened up, but It

that time, the Russian forma-

late to



a difference now.

farther.

was already

She stayed

in

one

Bukhvostov took the squadron

a stationary target. Captain

away from

make

for the flag ship the battle

The Suvorov could not move any

over.

place

was too

it

was half past two, and

By

her.

Rozhestvensky wandered slowly through the burning ruin that had

been

his ship. All

some pinned by

around

lay

handrails,

recognition. Finally, he

dead

some

made

it

sailors,

still

some

totally disfigured,

handsome, some burnt beyond

to a place

from which he could watch

the sea.

The new

leader of the squadron, the Alexander

III,

was steaming

Togo knew

that for a real

massacre, he had to keep decapitating the Russian line.

The Alexander

away. She was under the heaviest shelling.

was already struggling with

several fires.

Another gigantic ironclad, the Oslyabya, was sinking. The ship was listing to port

crowded on her starboard a

more and more. side, hesitating

Several

hundred

battle-

sailors

between diving or staying

for

few more minutes. Some of them were already completely naked. Suddenly, the Oslyabya started capsizing. Her glossy bottom

emerged from the sea

Knowing

like the skin "of

an enormous sea monster."

that if they waited longer, the terrifying maelstrom

them under, the Oslyabya crew were ready

to

jump

into the sea. But they

could not dive, for the keel was barring the way. So they

some on heels.

their stomachs, others balancing

Many

on

would suck

slid

downward,

their feet, others

head over

of them were hitting the keel and breaking their bones.

274

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOY

Those who were already peers.

The Japanese kept

"watched the seen



a

were crushed by

in the water

firing

on the drowning mob. Togo's men

tragic spectacle intently; this

mighty warship, sunk by

In a matter of a few

gray surface of the

sea.

was something they had never going to the bottom."

their gunfire,

moments, the Oslyabya disappeared under the Four hundred survivors remained

Izumrud

water. Russian torpedo boats, the

boat rushed under

frantic, yelling

fire to

rescue them.

hull, quickly sinking to the sea

cruiser,

in the icy

and the Svir tug-

Somewhere

inside the

huge

bottom, rolled Admiral Felkersam's

zinc coffin.

The that he

Oslyabya was the only ship that Rozhestvensky saw sink. After

wandered around the Suvorov without any evident purpose.

After a while,

nobody knew where he was or whether he was

still alive.

6

At

3:20, the

The

Alexander III, ablaze with

suicidal position

her place in the column.

of the leader was assumed by the Borodino.

Battleships were Togo's prey.

ports to other predators, but he

two o'clock

fire, left

He left the would not

until four, the Russian

Russian cruisers and trans-

let

the battleships go.

column made two

From

full circles, try-

ing to shake off the pursuers like a hunted bear shakes off hounds, but the Japanese were following

them

4:10 p.m., the fog intensified.

each other. rear,

The

battle

closely

The

and watchfully. Suddenly,

at

Russians and Togo could not see

between the two main forces stopped, but

in the

Japanese cruisers and torpedo boats continued massacring dis-

abled Russian ships.

One

of these ships,

left far

behind, was Rozh-

estvensky s Suvorov.

At

4:45 four Japanese torpedo boats rushed to the Russian flagship

to finish her off.

One

of their torpedoes hit the Suvorova

disabled ship kept responding.

awe:

"It

was hard to imagine

The Japanese

how any

sailors

stern,

watched her

living creature could

foothold on that mass of twisted, fire-blasted iron."

but the

still

The torpedo

in

find a

boats

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

retreated.

There was no rush. They would get the Suvorov

275

dusk

after

if

she did not sink by herself.

was

It

clear that the ship

was doomed. Should

where were the torpedo boats that were supposed ral in

case his ship

The "Where

was badly damaged?

be abandoned? But

it

And where was

Rozhestvensky?

flag-captain started rushing about the hull, asking everybody, is

Nobody seemed to know. He had been seen Reportedly, he had been wounded one more time.

the admiral?"

various places. Finally,

he was spotted in the right six-inch

by himself on a box amid

steel debris

turret.

He

him around

sitting

He had

his left ankle,

and ap-

When

staff

to find

new

parently a nerve was damaged, for his foot was paralyzed.

reached

was

at

flesh.

and torn human

A splinter had hit

been badly wounded indeed.

officers

admi-

to evacuate the

four o'clock, he told

them

gunners. But the turret had been totally disabled, and no gunner

would be of any

use.

Having been

told that, the admiral just sat there

box, sometimes asking fell

what was happening

outside.

immobile on

An

hour

later

his

he

unconscious. In despair, his officers went to the deck. Suddenly they spotted a

Russian torpedo boat. She came very close. the face of her captain

They

the admiral

on board. Kolomeitsev

captain yelled,

them had

— Kolomeitsev. That meant

semaphoring him with

started

"Move



closer

told

there are

proaching the

ship's starboard side.

during the day, but

she was the Buiny.

their hands, asking her to take

them

to

send a boat. The

no boats

but

how

still

it

a

try.

He had

He

left."

Indeed,

flag-

all

of

started cautiously ap-

seen a lot of destruction

could not believe his eyes: "Yes,

terrible she looked.

side the ship. ... Finally, the

It

looked

it

was the Su-

Masts gone, funnels gone, the

board beaten and holed, paint burnt, tongues of

They

recognize

already burned.

Kolomeitsev said he would give

vorov,

They could even

like a roaster full

fire

leaping from in-

of charcoal."

torpedo boat came close enough.

It

was now or

ran into the tower, lifted the admiral, and brought

him

never. to the

deck. Rozhestvensky was very pale, his features totally changed. If not

276

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

for his

uniform and

his staff

members around him, he would have

been unrecognizable.

He had

lost a lot

of blood but was conscious again.

when

groan and said nothing, even

awkward move, causing him to be assembled to

The

pain.

Then he ordered

all

did not

him made an

the staff officers

accompany him.

ladders were long gone. Fortunately, the sea was swelling

up

the torpedo boat could rock

men

the people carrying

He

to

and

meet the deck of the Suvorov. The

carrying the admiral stopped in hesitation. Suddenly he said in a

quiet but firm voice: "Listen, folks,

Having chosen the



the Buiny

actually,

right

do not

cast

me."

moment, they transported

almost cast

him

there.

the admiral to

The Buinys crew

yelled,

"Hurrah!"

There was not a moment

to spare.

Those who wanted

to leave the

Suvorov had to do so immediately. Rozhestvensky's staff officers

jumped on happened

them any

the torpedo boat. So did

to be around.

As

some other

for the rest, the

Leaving the sinking ship, Rozhestvensky's

fire,

all

any moment. staff officers

electric lights out,

most of the guns destroyed. They noticed

quarters

had been annihilated.

had refused Kursel.

to leave the ship

A third,

On

and men who

Buiny could not wait for

longer; a Japanese shell could hit her

her in anguish: no masts, no funnels,

officers

looked

at

decks on

that Rozhestvensky's

the deck stood two officers

—Lieutenant Vyrubov and Ensign

who Von

Lieutenant Bogdanov, had already vanished in the

vis-

cera of the burning hulk. It

was

5:30.

The

evacuation was complete.

Buiny, unconscious again.

The admiral was on

the

12

n

Follow the Admiral, 5:30

MAY 14-1

p.m.,

MAY

In late

So

far,

afternoon, May

his ships

Admiral Nebogatov felt

had been doing not badly

saw from the bridge of his

at

but everything

all,

flagship, the battleship Nicholas

I,

lost. else

he

was aw-

the Russians were losing the battle.

ful;

now called

Nebogatov's ships,

the 3rd

that

had

had

fired barely thirty-five shots

started shelling

manded them

When the

1905

15.

14,

p.m.

to stop.

Admiral Dewa's

cruisers in the

commenced, Nebogatov's

cause their peers were blocking the way.

When

fire at

their

came, Nebogatov, pacing the bridge impatiently,

the 3rd

mored

morning. They curtly

ships were at

Togo's force be-

chance eventually

commanded

He did not single out a major target. As a result,

Armored Unit were

cruisers.

At 2:09

firing at

a shell

com-

hit a ship.

end of the Russian formation. They could not

the crowd."

Unit, were the ones

when Rozhestvensky

They had not

the real battle finally

Armored

random, mostly

from the Nicholas

hit the

at

to "hit

the ships of

Japanese ar-

Asama. But the

cruiser stayed disabled for only forty minutes. Nebogatov's ships also

277

278

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

started hitting

two other

moved away

these immediately

Unable

on the

to

cruisers



own

survival of his

speed of fifteen knots.

at the enviable

damage the adversary

Nebogatov concentrated

seriously,

The

ship.

Nicholas started zigzagging, and

the Japanese could not keep her under constant

fire.

That paid

only a few shells hit the battleship. Inspired by this relative

Nebogatov decided

—but

the Nissin and the Kassuga

off;

safety,

remain on the unprotected front bridge.

to

Nebogatov's unit was following Rozhestvensky in a line-ahead col-

umn. Togo was not centrated der,

them

interested in reaching

on the Russian

leaders



fire

was con-

the Suvorov, then the Alexan-

first

and then the Borodino. The Suvorov

the Alexander forty-five. At 3:20 she too

squadron was led by the Borodino. In

His

yet.

lasted thirty-five minutes,

became of

spite

disabled.

Now

the

fierce fire, the gallant

ship stayed at the head of the squadron for almost four hours, by the

end of the day reduced Enveloped

in flames, the

mast already gone. orously."

to just a

burning

shell.

Borodino was heeling heavily, her

she "continued to

Still,

work her foremost guns

Meanwhile, she herself was receiving the

Japanese battle

A

line.

British observer

after-

fire

vig-

of the whole

watching her agony from one

of Togo's ships described the scene:

The unexampled were carried

lengths to which

of

in defence

on her

glory not only

on humanity.

.

.

.

this ship

human

bravery and fortitude

were such

gallant crew, but

on

undying

their navy, their country,

Flames had crept to the

smoke emitted was being

as reflect

rolled horizontally

stern,

and the dense

away by the wind. Less

than half the ship could have been habitable; yet she fought on.

Although he was next

in

command, Nebogatov did not attempt

to

replace the floundering Borodino at her suicidal place at the head of the

column. leave the

He was

disheartened and confused.

column

like "a

seen the Suvorov

barely half an hour after the battle started.

watched her plight with looked

He had

utter terror. In his

peasant hut on

fire."

own

He had

words, the Suvorov

But where was Rozhestvensky?

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Lying dead under a pile of bodies on his flagship?

Still

where inside the dying ironclad? Or had he moved

By

left far

thought

it

The

behind.

was time

"Course

raised a signal: his unit

acknowledged

that time, the

go somewhere";

"it

NO

23"

trying to

other ship, Nebogatov nevertheless



to Vladivostok.

commander of

Only

the ships of

left

the Nicholas, Captain Smirnov,

the bridge.

six o'clock the

Nebogatov assumed com-

admiral saw a torpedo boat cruising the

column. Apparently, she was a messenger. nally reached the Nicholas, with voice

When

the torpedo boat

pedo boat Buiny, and was surrendering

him

fi-

and semaphore she announced

Admiral Rozhestvensky had been wounded, was

command

now on

the tor-

to Nebogatov, or-

to proceed to Vladivostok.

In the heat

and chaos of battle, Nebogatov and

preted the message.

They

surrendering actual

command.

failed to

tion to proceed to Vladivostok.

with

still

sense

of the battleship himself.

At around

dering

all.

it.

had been wounded and had

that

made no

whether Rozhestvensky was

command the squadron from some

mand

to another ship?

admiral finally decided to act on his own.

"to at least

to stick around." Uncertain

By

some-

evening, Nebogatov could not distinguish the Suvorov at

She was

He

sheltered

279

relief, "this

means

I

his staff misinter-

apprehend that Rozhestvensky was

All they understood

was the instruc-

"Thank God," Nebogatov announced

have given the right order."

2

At 6:20 Nebogatov

The

very

with two fire,

first

raised a signal: "Follow the admiral.

instants of his

disasters. In ten

independent

command

NO 23."

coincided

minutes, at around 6:30, the Alexander, on

suddenly capsized and sank almost

at 7:12, the

Course

instantly.

Forty minutes

later,

Borodino also capsized.

In the blood-red rays of the setting sun, the overturned hull of the

Borodino looked like a bleeding whale. Several

sailors

were

still

standing

28o

on

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

it,

scared to dive.

Many more

were already in the water. The over-

turn had been sudden, and dozens remained trapped inside the ship to die in anguish, darkness,

and pain. Witnesses on the other Russian

ships shuddered in terror.

The

next battleship in

line,

the Orel, to the

consternation of her crew, inadvertently passed over the fresh grave of

her mate.

At the

sight of the Borodino sinking,

overturned battleship reminded that fish "stood about eight

did not hear what."

He

him of

—perhaps

the

He was

the spine of

to us, but

his

own

particularly terrifying

created by his ship

had swept those miser-

them

into the drink.

ship, the Nicholas,

would have been sunk

to three minutes, totally destroyed, "as a pile of

found herself under

we

He had one

glad that the dusk was bringing the massacre to an end.

thought that

Enemy

On

did not stop. Battleships were not supposed to

wake

able people off and sent

a great fish.

men, screaming something

get involved in rescue missions.

thought

Nebogatov was "shaken." The

direct

fire.

wood,"

if

in

He two

she had

But the dusk did not promise calm.

torpedo boats were spotted on the horizon



harbingers of a

night of fear.

Only

after the

Alexander and the Borodino sank and the badly

damaged Orel slowed down, did Admiral Nebogatov dare force.

His timing was superb;

at

7:40 p.m., in the advancing twilight,

Togo stopped action and withdrew

into the night.

Nebogatov's situation was not bad

at

all.

His ships were hardly

damaged. Rozhestvensky's four battleships had been 250

shells,

killed.

The

Nebogatov's by just

12.

Only

tov's

Nicholas had lost just one gun.

ably

damaged was

Now

hit

by no

less

than

eleven of his sailors had been

Senyavin had not experienced a single hit at

the Ushakov

to lead the

The only

all.

Neboga-

ship that was consider-

whose bow was smashed.

Nebogatov's major concern was

how

to escape

from enemy

torpedo boats, the hounds of the dark. With several already sniffing the terrain nearby to the northeast, he turned southwest,

Vladivostok.

away from

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

At eight

ships that

Nebogatov dared

o'clock, already in total darkness,

He was

turn back northeast.

happened

281

to

followed by his unit and by five other

to be around.

The squadron

whole had

as a

col-

lapsed. Instead of the armada, the Sea of Japan carried dispersed ships

independently struggling for survival,

By nine

o'clock,

Nebogatov

started losing followers.

was one. She was too badly damaged

The Ushakov Cap-

to keep the required speed.

tains

of three other ships did not trust Nebogatov and decided to act on

their

own. As a

result,

by midnight the only ships

left

with the Nicholas

were the Apraxin, Senyavin, the cruiser Izumrud, and the badly damaged battleship Orel.

He

Nebogatov had no idea how many ships were following him.

He

did not dare to check by sending light signals.

still

was not

commanding

the squadron.

He

thought that

estvensky had survived, he

would perhaps

join

him during

sure he was

Some

if

Rozh-

the night.

ship was probably carrying him, say, the Izumrud.

Between dusk and dawn, torpedo boats attacked Luckily, Nebogatov's ships escaped.

on the bridge

in fear

The admiral

did not

several times.

spent the whole night

and doubt.

At dawn, Nebogatov discovered that

He

entirely

know where

him.

just four ships followed

the others were. For

all

he knew, they

all

might have perished.

3

The morning of May

15

brought bad news: bright sun and no

was the worst possible weather

for

any ship wanting

fog. It

to sneak

away

from her enemies unnoticed.

Soon

after

dawn,

at 5:15,

on the horizon. The next uncertainty.

them

The

Nebogatov saw

forty-five

ships were too far

several

minutes passed

plumes of smoke in agitation

and

away and nobody could make

out. All binoculars targeted them, but to

no

avail.

They were

28z

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

warships, not steamers; that was clear.

distinguish the fastest ship, the

porting that

The and

it

Nakhimov and

the

Some argued

Sisoi.

that they could

Nebogatov dispatched

Izumrud, to take a closer look. She quickly returned

his re-

was the enemy.

ships belonged to Admiral Kataokas 5th Unit; they were older

inferior to Togo's

main

force.

asked his ships, "Are your guns matively.

all

Nebogatov cheered up. At

right?"

The

7:15

captains responded

Nebogatov commanded, "Get ready

for battle."

He

he

affir-

started

taking his ships toward the enemy; Kataoka retreated.

Nebogatov's ships were poor pursuers; their speed could not match Kataokas. So Nebogatov gave up and ordered a course to Vladivostok

He

instead.

started praying to St. Nicholas for divine help.

But

St.

Nicholas turned a deaf ear to Russian prayers that morning: more

smoke was spotted on Nebogatov made

He was

the horizon.

was Togo.

It

inquiries about the prospects of an artillery duel.

away and

told that the Japanese were too far

guns had no chance of reaching them.

He

felt

that the Russian

"crushed" by that re-

sponse.

Meanwhile, the captain of the Nicholas, Smirnov, had no intention of dying a hero. Having received a light never returned to the bridge again.

wound

Around nine

the day before, he

o'clock he sent a mes-

senger to carry his advice to Nebogatov: Surrender! "Well,

Nebogatov

replied to the officer

who

we will

see,"

whispered Smirnov's words into

his ear.

The

picture the admiral observed from the bridge was dishearten-

ing. Five

Russian ships found themselves surrounded by twenty-seven

Japanese

vessels, led

by Admiral Togo himself. However, the enemy's

ring was imperfect; there was a considerable gap in

Nebogatov to the

lingered. Finally, he

summoned

conning tower. This time crafty Smirnov

climb the ladders.

Nebogatov told

He was

it

to the east.

the defeatist captain felt

strong enough to

persuasive. After a conference with him,

staff officers that resistance

would be impossible and

ordered them to raise the capitulation signal. But unexpectedly he faced something very close to mutiny.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

The sisted

Commander

senior officer of the Nicholas,

on an urgent war

283

Vedernikov, in-

Nebogatov agreed. Meanwhile,

council.

his

ship raised a signal indicating surrender.

As the custom demanded, junior

They

vigorously advocated opening

Nebogatov repeated that ral

pointing

at

resistance

younger

started living yet,

fire

was

are

"Look," said the admi-

"some of them haven't even

going to drown them." Captain Smirnov

openly advocated surrender. The flagships

The

—but

his voice did

conference was only about

shelling the ship,

and the

Nebogatov made up

do not want

to

drown

much

not carry

his

last

drop of

weight. Kurosh was drunk.

minutes long; the Japanese started

five

officers

Comman-

artillery officer,

der Kurosh, expressed his readiness "to fight until the

blood"

to speak.

first

or sinking the battleship.

useless.

sailors outside,

and we

were the

officers

had

to

go to their battle

stations.

mind. "God help me," the admiral

said. "I

my people." Had

not

he already raised the capitulation signal? Meanwhile, the Japanese

fire

He

ordered not to respond.

He

did not understand Togo.

continued. In a matter of ten minutes, the Nicholas, her guns

by Nebogatov's

order,

had

six ruptures. Finally,

muted

exasperated Nebogatov

ordered the Japanese flag raised.

Some

Nebogatov's crews were shocked. belief,

some wept, and

others rushed to

people stood frozen in dis-

commanders and

pressed for

the immediate sinking of their ships.

But the captains were adamant; they had

The

der.

acting

wounded

commander of the

to

obey the admiral's

or-

Orel (her captain had been mortally

the day before) thought resistance was utterly impossible.

There was no time

for real decision-making.

No

lifeboats

even the crewmen's floating bunks had been destroyed by

had already been defeated "senseless massacre."

and

yesterday,

battle

were fire.

left;

They

today would be just a

Almost no ammunition was

left.

Out of nineteen

officers

only three were not injured; he himself had been hit twice. All

rangers

had been destroyed

The Not

Orel, Apraxin,

—and

so

on and

and Senyavin

so the Izumrud. She

so forth.

started preparing for surrender.

had repeated the capitulation

signal,

XGH,

284

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

everybody

like

Ferzen

but then hastily pulled

else,

commanded

full

down.

it

steam ahead to the

east.

Instead, Captain

As she was boldly

breaking through Togo's blockade, thousands of envious and admiring eyes followed her.

Togo ordered

his

torpedo boats to pursue.

Meanwhile, the three other ships were

swiftly raising Japanese flags.

4

Nebogatov summoned the

Nicholas's crew.

He

told his

men

that he did

not want two thousand people to die purposelessly. Few cheered,

many

wept.

my oath!"

A junior

At

exclaimed in anguish, "But

Nebogatov responded, "They

while, Captain

among

officer

Smirnov was

officers, as

They were taken

officers to the

straight to Nebogatov's cabin.

announced: "Admiral Togo its

Mean-

in time."

it

custom suggested.

looked friendly and invited them to

proaching

have given

feverishly distributing the ship's purse

Togo dispatched two

10:53 a.m.

will get to

I

end.

He

is

sit

Russian flagship.

The Russian

admiral

down. The senior messenger

glad that the ferocious battle

is

ap-

wants your squadron to have an honorable sur-

render and thus will allow you to keep your personal weapons."

The

messenger informed Nebogatov that Togo was expecting him to

visit

the Mikasa immediately. nates to keep

all

machinery and guns

Nebogatov and pedo

boat.

The admiral was

intact.

his staff departed for the

Mikasa on a Japanese

ironclads, the Russians could not

no matter how

closely they looked, they could

not find a single mark of a Russian

had passed through

shell. It

yesterday's battle

looked

like Togo's

couple of minor holes.

The

Russians did not

know

actually been hit thirty times, that eight people

and that her bridges had been

seriously

main

unharmed.

Approaching the charmed Mikasa, Nebogatov could

had

tor-

As they passed by Togo's

believe their eyes;

force

also to instruct his subordi-

see only a

that the

Mikasa

had been

killed,

damaged. Apparently, they

were blinded by the striking contrast between the Mikasa and their

own

ships.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Togo's chief of staff

285

met the Russians. The Japanese Nelson was

waiting for them in his cabin.

"What "I

are

cannot

"But

insist

on any conditions," Nebogatov

replied.

still."

" First, I

my

your conditions?" Togo asked.

want you

to let

me

my

immediately report

misfortune to

emperor. Second, the personal belongings of officers and crews

should be

left to

them. Then,

if

the emperor allows us to return to

Russia, the Japanese should not try to prevent this."

Togo responded

that only the

quest.

But he would ask him. As

happy

to grant

They

Mikado could for the

sanction the

two other

last re-

he was

requests,

them.

also discussed the practicalities

—where

to take Russian

crews and when. Nebogatov begged the Japanese to treat his "well."

turn,

He was

assured that such was the custom of his hosts. In re-

Togo demanded

their ships.

He

that the Russians should not attempt to

"How did you conclude that our

squadron would pass through the Korea ouse or the Tsugaru and that

me

cap-

cruel battle.

Simple-hearted Nebogatov asked:

appears to

all

Togo served champagne and congratulated

Nebogatov on the termination of the

It

damage

advised Nebogatov to give stern instructions to

tains to this effect. Finally,

Tsushima?

men

Strait instead

we should advance on

of the La Per-

the east side of

almost supernatural."

Togo answered modestly,

"I

only thought so."

the conversation, congratulating Nebogatov

Then he changed

on bringing

his fleet with-

out harm from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean.

Meanwhile, Togo was watching attentively to see whether Russians

would show "any

sign of resentment" while drinking to his health. "As,

however, they raised their glasses quietly," he concluded, that there

would be no danger

in

"I felt

sending only a few of our

surrendered vessels to take them with

all

their crews

assured

men

on board

to the

to our

country."

Soon, the Japanese started arriving on the Russian ships. Neboga-

summoned all captains and briefed them on Togo. He met no resistance or strong comments. tov

his

meeting with

286

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

The crews became

totally demoralized.

sacked the wine cellar and got drunk. tributed to the spirit of chaos.

On

Many officers

was almost in

tears:

"We

will

would

all

men

involuntarily con-

machinery and guns

get angry, he said.

Another

be stripped of our nobility!"

having had a quiet exchange with the senior distributing the ship's purse

the flagship,

the Orel, Colonel Parfenov was run-

ning around, urging the crew to leave order; otherwise the Japanese

On

among

officers.

The

in fine officer

bursar,

officer in French, started

Later he claimed he had

thrown part of the money overboard. People kept saying that Rozhestvensky would have never allowed

such a thing to happen. But they did not

whether he was

still alive.

know where he was

or

13

I!

(I

Slutty Old Geezer,

MAY 14-21, 1905

the navy, Admiral Oskar Adolfovich Enkvist had a reputation as a dummy. His powerful, if somewhat short, figure and

In

magnificent white beard gave tic



look

as

long

as

he kept

him an imposing and sometimes majes-

his

mouth

shut.

Enkvist had had a very undistinguished career and was appointed to Rozhestvensky's

squadron only because

his relative, Avelan,

was

naval minister. Enkvist was kind-hearted and soft-spoken; unlike

Rozhestvensky, he always treated his

was not ers.

fit

for the job

and

men

well.

The

officer

also

knew

that he

on the advice and guidance of oth-

relied

His favorite expression was, "If we do

right?"

He

who answered

yes or

this, is it

going to be

all

no would thus make the de-

cision for him.

Rozhestvensky disliked Enkvist intensely. traditional Russian malady,

He

hated nepotism, a

and he despised weak and shy males.

On

the bridge of the Suvorov, Rozhestvensky contemptuously referred to his junior flag officer as "the Slutty

Old

Geezer." As early as in Tangier,

he had deprived him of independent command, choosing Felkersam instead of Enkvist to lead the separate unit through the Suez Canal.

287

288

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

On

the eve of the battle, Rozhestvensky virtually stripped Enkvist

On May

of any significant leadership.

commanded

thirty-eight vessels, Enkvist

out of the squadron of

14,

just

two

cruisers



the Oleg

and the Aurora.

The crewmen of

sneered at the admiral. the voyage he kept to the

started

He knew

that he

moving from one ship

Nakhimov and

commanded

every ship that Enkvist had ever

then, in

Van Fong,

was unpopular, and during to another:

to the Oleg.

from the Almaz

The Oleg officers

grumbling even before he came aboard. Their own captain,

Dobrotvorsky, was a capable and strong-willed officer

who had

brought a whole detachment intact from the Baltic Sea to Madagascar. Enkvist immediately found himself under Dobrotvorsky's influence.

The

latter treated his superior

no captain could "grow with an admiral

On May 14, at

into a Nelson" as long as he

had

to share a ship

like Enkvist.

Enkvist s ships fired their

Admiral Dewas

that day.

with cold disdain and complained that

Between

cruisers. 11:13

and

Both 11:19,

first

shots at 11:13 a.m., aiming

his captains

hoped

for

an active

role

the Oleg fired twenty- two shells, until

Rozhestvensky s curt order advised "not to waste ammunition."

Dobrotvorsky was ambitious. ing detailed instructions for the tically,

He had

taken the trouble of prepar-

upcoming

battle.

Gloomily, but

realis-

he started with an order to figure out a way of either sinking or

exploding the Oleg in case she was overwhelmed by the enemy (points

one and two of the instruction). Other

entries discussed

straighten the cruiser if she started listing,

what wooden

ship had to be dismantled before the battle

—and

how

to

parts of the

so on, forty-five en-

tries in all.

The commander of the Aurora, Captain Evgeny Yegoriev, was well a

known

to the squadron.

model commander, and

Unlike on

many

and wore clean

He had

the reputation of a fearless

a father figure for

other ships, the Aurora

clothes.

both

officers

and

crewmen were always

also

sailor,

crew.

well fed

Never harassed, they gave the impression of a

"merry and energetic" bunch of people, "not walking, but flying over the deck, to

fulfill

orders." In striking contrast with the Suvorov, they

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

were not afraid to look an

officer in the eye.

The Aurora

of his

all visitors.

pride in their ship and boasted that Rozhestvensky had

Aurora a model

called the

were

officers

mostly young and exceptionally friendly to each other and

They took

289

vessel.

he also

favorites. Probably,

Dogger Bank,

had

several shells

He had felt

indeed.

The Aurora was one

a bit guilty about the cruiser; at

hit the Aurora,

one of them

killing her

chaplain.

Both

officers

and crew loved the Auroras band.

Doodle" accompanied the most loathsome work,

They even had cal

their

own

the Aurora march.

It

Its

merry "Yankee

like taking

on

coal.

was decided that musi-

instruments would not be put away for the battle. Perhaps they

would be needed,

for even a sinking ship could

go

down

"with her flag

on and her march playing."

When

alized that they could not participate in

it

They had

end of the

battle

watch the swift destruction of the four

to helplessly

Russian leaders. Only

at the

re-

they would

as actively as

have liked; both the Oleg and the Aurora were line.

and Yegoriev

the battle started in earnest, Dobrotvorsky

at 3:12,

when

the Suvorov had already been dis-

abled and the Alexander was leading the squadron, did the Oleg and

Aurora find themselves under Japanese

crossfire.

The Oleg experienced

on board. But the Aurora suffered more;

a fire

a Japanese shell ex-

ploded in the conning tower lightly wounding three killing

officers

Captain Yegoriev.

Admiral Enkvist was

just a passive observer that day. In dismay,

watched the Suvorov, engulfed by flame, leave the column to

fall

prey to the enemy's torpedo boats.

"We

burnt black chunk with tongues of

fire."

did not recognize the

Nishin and the Kasuga.

Soon

after they passed

Oleg spotted a torpedo.

It

Soon

after,

still

shooting

"

by the dying

flagship, the

helmsman of

the

was a short torpedo, cutting the surface of the

water and approaching the Oleg survived.

some

Yet this paralyzed heap of

"which used to be the battleship Prince Suvorov, was

at the

he

—obviously

Suvorov," one of his officers admitted. "It was not a ship, but

iron,

and

The

cruiser zigzagged

and miraculously

they saw a second torpedo heading for the Aurora.

290

CONSTANTINE PLESHAROV

Fortunately, the Aurora

was warned. Those two torpedoes led Captain

Dobrotvorsky to believe that Japanese submarines were around.

At 6:05 the squadron's ships repeated an important

command

admiral transfers

what had happened

to

Admiral Nebogatov."

now, for to the people on the Oleg and Aurora,

the Russians off before dusk?

The

vious defeat.

"The

was unclear

and what Nebogatov could do

to Rozhestvensky

battleships were intensifying their

It

signal:

Did

fire.

seemed

the Japanese

The day of May

best Russian ships

it

14

that Togo's

want

was ending

had been

lost,

to finish

in

an ob-

and the com-

mander-in-chief was apparently handicapped.

At sunset, Enkvist saw

They menacingly loomed tively sealing the

but to no

avail;

way

several lines of Japanese torpedo boats.

in the north, not

moving forward, but

The Oleg

to Vladivostok.

fired a shot at

effec-

them,

they were too distant. Shortly afterward, they wit-

nessed the terrible death of the Borodino.

Only

a

minute before, the battleship had been stubbornly shoot-

ing at the enemy, and

now

she was lying on the sea bottom; the

Borodino sank in barely thirty seconds. the sky, "as

if it

A whiff of white steam flew to

were the soul" of the sunken ship. The survivors on

Enkvist's ships could not help imagining the

crew, especially those staying with the engines. slowly, tortured alive

agony of the Borodino

Now

they were dying

by boiling water and hot steam, perhaps even chewed

by the machinery.

Dobrotvorsky again emphatically maintained that Japanese submarines were cruising beneath the surface. difficult to sink a battleship

with only

He

argued that

artillery shells.

throughout that war had been sunk by

artillery fire,

Not

he

it

was too

a single ship

said.

Ships had

been sent to the bottom of the sea by either torpedoes or mines.

Torpedoes or not, they had to think about

though Enkvist's ships were not they

been

still

had

inflicted

wounded, the

No

damaged

own

survival. Al-

as the battleships,

how few people had effect was nevertheless terrifying. Wounds

their share of destruction.

killed or

made by

as severely

their

matter

the shells' splinters were horrible, incomparable to those

by

bullets; flesh

was torn and burnt, threads of cloth mixed

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

The wounded had

with blood and broken bones. anesthetic. fierce

Morphine was being saved

without any

exclusively for people dying in

agony; chloroform was not applied, as there were too

wounded and hand.

doctors had

He

the sick bay. his

to suffer

looked

"What do

I

little

lost

time.

On

this,

many

the Aurora, a sailor entered

and was holding a

do with

291

bloody lump in

dirty

Your Honor?" he asked the doctor.

The doctor looked and shuddered. The man was holding

the scalped

face of his mate.

In the dusk, the battle started receding.

and

there,

Cannonade was heard here

but the terrifying unceasing roar stopped. Willing to break

away from the enemy, they turned south. This did not

came

eight o'clock

and

it

was impossible

knew

they

the

attack of torpedo boats.

first

to

tell

a torpedo boat

the

enemy from

help.

It

At around

was pitch-dark,

the Russian ships. But

was close when they heard a

characteristic

dry coughing sound: The hostile ship was discharging deadly tubes. Luckily, the

turned north. they

two

Then

remained unhurt. At 8:30 p.m. they

cruisers

Then

northwest.

tried, the terrifying

northeast.

But no matter where

coughing sound kept reaching them from the

gloom. Togo's torpedo boats were guarding the road to Vladivostok.

At ten o'clock

at night,

having

lost all

hope of continuing north-

ward, the Oleg and Aurora turned southwest.

2

In the night,

on rough

seas, Enkvist's ships started

wounds. The Oleg had twelve

Two and

officers fifty-six

had been

lightly

holes. Several areas

wounded. By the standards of May

a lot of

the death of her

had been flooded.

wounded, twelve crewmen were

damage. The Aurora was even better

had used up

patching their

off.

14, that

commander, Captain

Meanwhile, Admiral Enkvist had of several hours, the sun would

rise.

was moderate

The bad news was

ammunition. But, of course, the

killed,

that she

greatest loss

was

Yegoriev. to

make

a decision. In a matter

Where would he head

then?

He

292

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

had no idea how many ships were following the few? After

He

Oleg. Perhaps quite a

he was an admiral.

all,

decided the Korea Strait was out of the question; Togo was

Should he proceed to Russia via the La Perouse

there.

Tsugaru

He

Strait?

thought

his ships

gines were damaged. She could not

would not make

move

very

fast.

it.

Strait or the

The

Olegs en-

Also, they might

run out of coal. Enkvist decided to turn south.

away from Russian

the squadron,

By dawn

daged.

Though

all

pale

and

the battle,

away from

shores.

the sea calmed down.

morning prayer were

Away from The

faces

of people assembled for

Many

expressionless.

heads were ban-

pools of blood and pieces of flesh had been swept

overboard, a terrible smell of rotting flesh pervaded the deck.

By

that time, Enkvist

had discovered that only the Aurora and

Zhemchug followed him. He been

killed.

Captain Yegor iev had

also learned that

The admiral immediately announced

that he

would move

to the Aurora.

His decision seemed strange. The Auroras senior Nebolsin, had proved in the

last

had not prevented him from

ing the battle the day before.

Dobrotvorsky. with.

He

The admiral

decided to

flee

Arkady

twelve hours that he was perfectly ca-

He had suffered

pable of commanding the cruiser. that

officer,

several

visiting every corner

The

wounds, but

of the ship dur-

truth was that Enkvist was tired of

liked advice but not the disdain

with his

staff,

who were

also

it

came

annoyed with

Dobrotvorsky. They started packing enthusiastically. But very soon they were interrupted.

The

senior officer of the Oleg

the Oleg officers

had taken

or to turn back north.

tok or seek

and then

a vote

They chose

Enkvist instantly

not challenged.

He

to the bridge

on whether

much damage on

that

either reach Vladivos-

the

enemy

as possible,

north.

knew

that

it

was not a mutiny. His authority was

did not have to worry.

thanked the patriotic

and reported

to continue to the south

Going north, they could

battle, inflict as

die.

came

officers:

With

tears in his eyes,

he

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

understand you only too well! As an officer

I

completely, but as an admiral

I

share your feelings

cannot agree.

I

We

kept trying

throughout the whole night, but we could not go north.

First the

enemy's squadron, then his torpedo boats blocked the way.

had

changed our course many times before we turned south.

We Now

it is

also the

Au-

too rora

late.

To go north means

and the Zhemchug.

longer to will

am

but besides

I

doom

an old

me

your cruiser and

man

already,

When To

I

there are 1,200 younger lives, tell

briefed

which

the officers that I

cannot

responsibility will be mine.

on the

start with,

much

don't have

wholeheartedly share and appreciate their choice,

The whole

agree.

nant.

live,

I

to

be able to serve the fatherland. No, dear,

though

admiral's stance, the officers

became

o'clock.

One

of the



him

a boat

sail.

But that was a

at ten

persuade the senior officer to give

officers tried to

summon

to

indig-

Enkvist had not been trying to break through to

Vladivostok "throughout the whole night"; he had turned south

der

293

volunteers and try to reach Vladivostok un-

totally unrealistic plan.

Enkvist started hesitating.

He

asked the Auroras acting com-

mander, Nebolsin, what he thought. Nebolsin interviewed

his officers

and then replied that during the next night the unit should

try to

break through the Korea Strait once again. Enkvist was not convinced. either

He

decided he would take his ships to

Shanghai or Saigon. But that was not the end of his tribulations

that day.

Everybody seemed

to be willing to interfere with his deci-

sion-making. At lunch, Captain Dobrotvorsky, seeing that his cus-

tomary prey was

more

time.

He

hastily leaving the ship, decided to try his

suggested Manila as their destination. At the Ameri-

can-owned Philippines, he argued, they were armed. Also, their

way

way one

it

less likely to

be dis-

was unlikely that they would meet the Japanese on

there.

Enkvist quickly agreed with Dobrotvorsky, as he always did. His chief concern was to leave the ship

soon

as possible.

and her domineering captain

as

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

294

Admiral Enkvist arrived on the Aurora

by

his

whole

The crew was not

staff.

at 1:30 p.m.,

accompanied

there to greet him; the

men

were allowed their daily nap. But the kind-hearted admiral did not

mind.

Those who rival

happened

still

saw an "imposing old

to be

man

on deck

at the

time of Enkvist's

with a long gray beard,

parently, shaken

by the outcome of the

what he planned

to do.

Rumors were abundant. The Auroras

battle."

They

who

ar-

was, ap-

started guessing

officers believed that

they were

going to Shanghai to get more coal and then to Vladivostok via the La Perouse

Strait,

As soon

or perhaps they

would even

return to the Baltic Sea.

they learned their actual destination, Manila, officers

as

and crewmen became equally angry; they were leaving the basically deserting.

Many agreed

nothing they could do about

He

in the

meet

it.

postbellum calm, Enkvist could afford to complain.

no meeting place had been designated

said

That was a to

that last night the Aurora should have

Oleg with the wretched admiral on board. But there was

"lost" the

Now,

battle area,

at

lie.

Rozhestvensky had made

all, it

Enkvist

still

was

it

for dispersed ships.

clear that if the ships

were

to be in Vladivostok.

hoped

to

come

across other ships of the squadron.

parently,

he was uncomfortable with

to share

it.

his

new

safety

Ap-

and wanted others

For a while, no ship crossed their path. But suddenly a

steamer was noticed to the northeast.

At British.

first,

the Russians thought

She could be Togo's

spy,

it

was the

but that was not sufficient reason for

an attack. Instead of being sent to their battle sent to

At

do

stations, the

men

were

repairs.

3:55

The men

But no, she was

Irtysh.

the Aurora slowed

killed the

The dead were sewn Numerous

splinters

down and

lowered the

day before were buried into canvas

at sea.

flag itself.

her stern.

Enkvist attended.

and covered by the

had pierced the

flag at

From

St.

Andrew's

flag.

the strain of the

previous day, the priest had lost his voice, and words of prayers were

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

now inaudible. made

It

was decided that the

and wooden

zinc

coffin,

295

captain's body, placed in a hastily

should be buried

later, in

firmer

soil.

3

The way

to

Manila was long

—around

1,500 miles. Meanwhile, the

wounded started worsening. The ship's "What for? What for? What have I done to

condition of several of the

drummer

kept groaning:

the Japanese?

I

was not shooting

at

all.

psychosis and started hallucinating.

man was

..."

Soon he developed acute

Day and

night, the unfortunate

saying that he kept seeing the overturning battleships and the

two awesome admirals, Makarov and Rozhestvensky, the for

more than

days

a year, the

second one probably buried

first

one dead

at sea just several

earlier.

On May 16, a Russian ship

they saw smoke again.



The

unit stopped.

It

was

finally

and crew of

the tugboat Svir. She carried the officers

the sunken cruiser Ural.

Enkvist took a megaphone: "Where ing?"

and

A lieutenant,

clearly:

is

our squadron?

How

is it

do-

saved by the Svir from the Ural, responded loudly

"You, Your Excellency, are in a better position to

where our squadron

know

is."

Enkvist reddened and put the

megaphone down. Then he advised

the Svir to go to Shanghai.

He

started hesitating again.

Shanghai

after



Zhemchug

all,

leave the

there, take

tok via the La Perouse ble.

two damaged ships

on more

Strait?

Should he perhaps take

coal,



the Oleg and the

and bring the Aurora

But he was advised that

this

In order to enter the harbor of Shanghai, the ships

wait for a tide, and only then coaling.

That meant

would they be

that the Aurora

able to

his unit to

to Vladivos-

was impossi-

would have

move

in

and

to

start

would spend more than twenty-

four hours in Shanghai, and according to the rules of neutrality, a ship

of a belligerent

who

did that was supposed to disarm immediately.

296

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

Enkvist

let

make any

did not

Chinas

himself be persuaded by the argument, though in

The Aurora could

sense.

reality

it

wait for a tide outside

then go to Shanghai and accomplish the coal-

territorial waters,

ing speedily within twenty-four hours.

The admiral decided From

self.

there, she

that the Svir

would go

Shanghai

to

all

by her-

was to send a cable to Saigon asking for two

trans-

ports with coal to be sent to Manila.

They continued. Soon people had become meaningless.

The

complained.

started feeling that their existence

"Life seems so boring,"

one of the

stench of rotting flesh kept torturing

discovered that blood had got under the linoleum.

and threw

The

it

recent

ship's doctor,

trials,

They took

Kravchenko,

finally

in Kronshtadt. In spite of the

splinters in his patients' bodies. It

To many men,

It

it

looked supernatural.

One

was the

on the

who had been pawhen he saw his own

hot; they were back in the tropics.

saw land

German steamer met the

—an

cer

On May

cruiser Dnieper to the northeast. Rozhestvensky

was

still

some

to get news, send urgent cables,

captains of the Oleg

if possi-

frustrating journey.

no

coal supplies

and no

coal.

The

telegraph.

and Zhernchug, Dobrotvorsky and

for a conference.

no other option but

offi-

coal.

place was abandoned. There were

and

An

and

But they got neither news about Rozhestvensky nor

met with Enkvist

had

hunting.

the end of the day, they stopped in Sual Bay in Luzon.

ble, negotiate

At 6:20

passed by. She raised a friendly signal saying

was dispatched ashore

The

19, at 11:35

island to the north of Luzon.

selected the Dnieper for independent cruising; she

By

after a battle.

screen.

a.m., they finally

she had

time that

first

sailor,

enduring ten painful wounds, fainted

became

p.m., a

off

it

assembled the X-ray appara-

an X-ray apparatus had been used on a Russian warship

skeleton

They

the fragile device was working, and he was able to locate

many hidden

tiently

sailors.

overboard.

borrowed from Nikolaevsky hospital

tus,

officers

Levitsky,

Both looked exhausted by the long

There was not much

to proceed to Manila.

to discuss.

Now they had

297

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

That

The

night, a thunderstorm swept over the harbor.

and the echo of thunder roared

the bay pulsated with lightning,

mountains. In the morning, they

On May

sky above

left

in the

the harbor, heading south.

noon, the Aurora stopped her engines so that Cap-

21, at

tain Yegoriev could be given a funeral before they reached land. It

becoming hotter and spite

and

hotter,

body had

started to

decompose

with an iron

Strait,

the boy was a lieutenant

Having

fired a salute

Ten minutes

Dewa or

in a

commander,

When

a soft-spoken

they had been ap-

he was anticipating seeing his son soon;

on one of the of seven

cruisers in Vladivostok.

salvos, the cruiser

resumed her jour-

column. Perhaps Togo, or one of his admirals,

Uriu, had reached

them

after

all.

— roughly seven or

Manila was one hundred miles away hours. There was

no chance

by unharmed. At 12:30

He

man

they saw five plumes of smoke to the right.

later,

They were moving

their

"gentleman."

will, a perfect

proaching the Korea

pass

in

of all precautions.

The Aurora crew mourned

ney.

his

was

that the Japanese

p.m.,

eight

would allow them

to

Admiral Enkvist commanded alarm.

stood on the bridge, gleaming with satisfaction and pride. His

whole appearance had changed. Instead of a an inspired military

redeem himself.

leader.

Men

He

tired old

man, people saw

thought that he would

were sent to their battle

now

stations.

be able to

Suddenly the

signalman yelled, "These are not Japanese!" Instead of

Togo they met Americans: two

battleships

cruisers, the Oregon, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, Raleigh,

Enkvist was obviously crestfallen.

and Ohio.

He frowned and

could do was order a salute to the American admiral's

and went downstairs

At 7:45 that

learn

squadron.

slumped. All he

flag.

He

did that

to shut himself in his cabin.

night, they reached Manila.

closely following them,

would

and three

The American squadron,

anchored nearby. In several minutes, they

what had happened

to

Admiral Rozhestvensky and

their

14

"Throw Me Overboard," 5:30

It

MAY 14-6 MAY 16. 1905

a.m.,

p.m.,

was half past five in the evening of May

The

14.

Buiny was moving away from the Suvorov amid dark fountains raised

by Japanese

shells.

One

of them

so close that water splashed

fell

all

over the Buiny s bow.

The torpedo boat was overcrowded

that night. Earlier she

cued two hundred survivors from the Oslyabya. Her were

full

persed.

of naked men. Rozhestvensky's

Some

stayed with the admiral,

Rozhestvensky's condition looked there

was no doctor on board, only

was summoned immediately

man was soon

terrified

staff



by what he saw.

To make

with the admiral's

He



dis-

deck.

a medical assistant,

to deal

res-

quarters

six officers in all

some went on critical.

officers'

had

things worse,

who wounds. The

Kudinov,

thought the admiral would

die.

Rozhestvensky had a large bleeding bleeding

wound under

wound

in the forehead

his right shoulder blade; a piece

299

of

and

flesh

a

had

300

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

been torn from

his right thigh;

and an

and blood was streaming from

aged,

"How do you

feel,

but

it

was dam-

Your Excellency?"

added, "For Christ's sake, delirious,

his left heel

it.

Instead of replying, the admiral asked,

sound

on

artery

tell

them not

was not.

When

that the Suvorova masts were gone,

"How

the SuvorovV and

is

That could

to lower the flag."

Kudinov informed the admiral

and

that there

was no place

for the

Rozhestvensky angrily retorted: "Let them somehow find a way.

flag,

It

could be put up on an oar or on some hook."

Kudinov

started dressing the admiral's

wounds. During the

ex-

tremely painful process, Rozhestvensky kept talking to his staff and the

torpedo boat's commander, Kolomeitsev.

head

He

ordered the squadron to

He also commanded the raising of a signal: "The command to Admiral Nebogatov." Later everybody

for Vladivostok.

admiral transfers

agreed that the signal was raised almost immediately after the Buiny

departed from the Suvorov

The

signal

eral ships

—around

was kept on the mast

of the squadron repeated

"The admiral

on the torpedo

is

To prevent

possible

5:35 p.m.

for at least half an hour, until sev-

it.

Then another

signal

was

raised:

boat."

confusion,

another torpedo

boat,

the

Bezuprechny, was ordered to go straight to Nebogatov's flagship and orally

inform somebody there that Rozhestvensky was transferring

command

to

Nebogatov and was ordering Nebogatov

to take the

squadron to Vladivostok. The Bezuprechny departed but didn't come back to report on the

reply.

Until nightfall, the Buiny traveled with four cruisers rora,

Monornakh, and Donskoi. For the admiral's

ing his presence

looked

like

on board had been quickly taken

From

the Buiny

Togo was

gawked

moved

at the sinking

Au-

the signal indicat-

and now the Buiny epi-

finishing off the Russian bat-

the Buiny s bridge, the panic-stricken

estvensky's staff fell,

off,

the Oleg,

an ordinary torpedo boat carefully staying away from the

center of the battle. Meanwhile, tleships.

safety,



members of Rozh-

of the Borodino.

When

closer to the Donskoi. Together, they

darkness

headed south.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Shortly before eight o'clock, Rozhestvensky opened his eyes.

asked for an officer of the

The person who

staff.

veteran of Port Arthur, Semenov.

He

it

was too long

for Rozhestvensky.

last

He

was the

first

briefed the admiral

had seen from the bridge. His report did not minutes, but

arrived

301

on what he

longer than a few

Semenov

believed that

during that time the admiral became delirious twice.

At

He was

9:30, the admiral regained consciousness again.

told that

The admiral

together with the Donskoi they were heading south.

or-

dered both ships to proceed to Vladivostok. If he had any plan for the

squadron now,

However,

it

was

for

his order

dangerous to use

ships to go to Vladivostok independently.

all

was not transmitted to the Donskoi.

lights, for

for a Japanese torpedo boat

It

was too

other Russian ships could take the Buiny

and

shell her. In darkness,

no other means

of communication were available. While staff members discussed what to do, the

Donskoi started moving northward on her

The torpedo boat followed to nine knots

and

a mechanical problem.

as a result lost the

Donskoi.

They slowed

They were mov-

ing toward Vladivostok by themselves. Late at night, the ficers

initiative.

the cruiser.

At night the Buiny developed

down

own

from the Oslyabya heard Rozhestvensky issuing

wounded

of-

delirious inco-

herent orders.

2

Meanwhile, the senior members of the

staff

assembled in the ward-

room. All bunks there were occupied by the wounded, so they

on the

settled

floor.

At around

woke up

3

a.m., Captain Kolomeitsev entered the

wardroom. He

the flag-captain, Constantine de Kolong. In the darkness, they

started conferring. Kolomeitsev

informed Rozhestvensky s chief of staff

that the torpedo boat could not continue for

much

was damaged, and she did not have enough

coal.

longer.

Her engine

He recommended

302

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

that they go to the Japanese coast, land

all

people ashore, and explode

the ship.

De Kolong approved. The flag navigator Colonel Vladimir Filippovsky, who was lying next to him, also woke up. He said that in order save

to

the

admiral's

in battle even if they

they

life,

met enemy

should

not

become engaged

ships.

— Commander Vladimir Semenov and Lieutenant Evgeny Leontiev— woke up De Kolong

lingered.

At

least

two other

officers

also

and agreed

that they

would have

to surrender in order to save the ad-

miral. Kolomeitsev refused to consider surrendering his ship.

He

sug-

gested asking the admiral himself.

Rozhestvensky was lying in a separate cabin. Kolomeitsev and ippovsky went in and de Kolong stayed

Fil-

cabin being

at the door, the

too tiny for the three of them.

The admiral was

dozing. Kolomeitsev took his hand. Rozhestven-

sky opened his eyes. Filippovsky started arguing that they would have to surrender

He

they met with the enemy.

was more important than that

was

feel

bound by

his presence.

meant: His

Yet

life

estvensky s

They should

officers

act as if

he were not on the

had no doubt about what the admiral

was not worth any

they

life

Rozhestvensky gave a reply

Feebly he answered that they should not

special consideration. In other

they met the enemy, they should

when

left

fight.

the cabin, Filippovsky repeated his point: Rozh-

was too important

to risk a fight

with the Japanese.

Kolomeitsev, to the contrary, thought the admiral's reply had it all

up:

No

life

all.

At that point, the

if

a torpedo boat.

later misinterpreted.

torpedo boat at

words,

bluntly informed the admiral that his

if

summed

surrender was possible.

He demanded from

de Kolong a written protocol of

this

debate

about surrender and returned to the bridge. In darkness, Kolomeitsev waited in vain; the protocol was never delivered to him. sent a messenger downstairs.

When

the staff officers were fast asleep.

the

man

Finally,

he

returned, he reported that

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Kolomeitsev shrugged his shoulders.

He had more

303

than enough to

worry about that night.

The

were not asleep

officers

at

all.

They were

quietly continuing

their conference. After a while, they reached a consensus. If they

Japanese ship, they would raise a white flag and also a to indicate that the torpedo boat

De Kolong ordered it

commander

to the

Vourm took

Red Cross

threw

Lieutenant

Vourm

to find a

mander of a naval

away:

ship,

flag,

bed sheet and give

to use as a white flag at the time

it

a

was carrying many wounded.

of surrender.

the sheet upstairs. Kolomeitsev, outraged at the

plicity, angrily

met

"What

a tragicomic thing!

my admiral

should take

staff's I,

a

du-

com-

to captivity! This will

never be." In the morning, the debate resumed. Kolomeitsev confirmed that the torpedo boat had coal for just twelve hours

more and

that her en-

gines were damaged.

Soon

after seven o'clock, they spotted the cruiser

torpedo boats



Donskoi and two

the Bedovy and the Grozny.

Kolomeitsev went downstairs to talk to the admiral.

He

told Rozh-

estvensky that he was running out of coal and that the engine was ously damaged. boat. In

all

The

suggestion was explicit:

likelihood, Kolomeitsev

and Filippovsky. But the only way

wanted

to get rid

move

seri-

to another torpedo

to get rid of de

Kolong

of them was to send the

admiral away.

Rozhestvensky agreed to go to the Bedovy The admiral liked the clean

and

tidy torpedo boat

Commander

and her handsome and imposing captain,

Nikolai Baranov. Generally, Baranov was not liked in the

squadron; he was rightfully accused of careerism, stinginess, and

pompousness.

He

probably appealed to Rozhestvensky because they

were both disciplinarians and the Bedovy was always

as spotless

and

or-

derly as a royal yacht.

On

the previous day,

May 14,

away from the heat of the of two ships

He



the

first

deliberately passed

battle.

Baranov had steered

He

failed to assist the

his

torpedo boat

drowning crews

victim of the day, the Oslyabya, and the Suvorov.

by both. However, he had vested

interests in the

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

304 fate

of another ship, the Alexander; his young son was a midshipman

there.

When

the Alexander

ish bonfire,

Baranov took

He

ironclad.

left

the battle line, quickly turning into a hell-

his

torpedo boat to the side of the dying

and semaphored, trying

yelled

to

make somebody on

the

Alexander respond and go find the boy, but his efforts were in vain.

Those on the Alexander who had not been busy extinguishing

The Donskoi to the Bedovy.

fires.

killed or

wounded were

Baranov wept and steered away.

sent a cutter to transport Rozhestvensky

The admiral was

carried

on

and

a stretcher. His

his staff

first

on the Bedovy were "Throw me overboard." Yet he greeted the

He

also

shook Baranov's hand and

The Bedovy steamed the Donskoi,

who

said,

when he was awake,

crew.

"They've smashed us."

north. She carried a doctor, borrowed from

inspected Rozhestvensky 's wounds.

condition was very bad.

words

From time

The

admiral's

to time, he lost consciousness

and

mind was

just

the doctor suspected that often his

not there.

Meanwhile, the torpedo boat was to go to Vladivostok together with the Grozny Only four hundred miles separated them from Russian shores.

3

They were moving boilers

at twelve knots.

were shut down.

It

But soon two of the Bedovy s four

was explained

to the

crew that they were

short of coal.

Men

started getting angry. In the heat of their flight, Rozhestven-

sky's officers forgot

about decorum and dignity and were openly

dis-

cussing surrender. Colonel Filippovsky said that they had to have the

two

flags ready.

"We

are a hospital ship

was overheard saying that not

fight.

if

now!" he explained. Baranov

he encountered enemy ships, he would

Rozhestvensky himself was lying in the captain's cabin, from

time to time shouting unintelligible words and orders.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

At around ten

nalman "Are

o'clock,

make

Sibirev to

we

really

Midshipman O'Brien de

a white flag

ordered us to prepare

man

Three hours

just in case," the

it

later, at

one

Lassi ordered sig-

from the wardroom's

going to surrender?" the

asked.

tablecloth.

"The admiral has

midshipman

o'clock, they noticed

305

replied.

smoke. Baranov and

The

Rozhestvensky's officers assembled on the bridge.

officers

asked

each other whether the ships were Russian or Japanese. Should the tor-

pedo boat increase

By emy.

its

three o'clock,

speed?

became

it

The two Japanese torpedo

The Bedovy crew, having to their battle stations.

clear that the ships

boats were the Sazanami

received

and

proaching.

What

The Bedovy

raised a signal: shall

asked,

we

captain,

crewmen wanted

He

went

on the

the officers, conferring

Grozny's captain was confused.

the Bedovy

and the Kagero.

no orders from the

They watched

bridge with anxiety; unlike them, the

The

belonged to the en-

to fight.

brought his ship closer to

"The Japanese torpedo boats

are ap-

do?"

"How fast

can you go?"

"Twenty- two knots," the Grozny answered.

"Go

to Vladivostok," the

Bedovy advised.

Even more confused, the Grozny's captain, Commander Andrzhievsky, asked,

He busy.

"Why flee and

did not receive a reply.

Midshipman O'Brien de

nalman

not fight?"

The

Lassi

officers

was

now

on the Bedovy were too firmly

Sibirev to prepare the white flag. Baranov

driving the crew

De Kolong

commanding

sig-

and de Kolong were

away from the guns.

ordered Leontiev to go downstairs and inform Rozh-

estvensky that the ship was raising a white flag and a

Red Cross

flag be-

cause two Japanese torpedo boats were approaching.

Leontiev went downstairs, accompanied by a Bedovy

officer,

and

reported as he had been ordered. But Rozhestvensky was almost unconscious. Leontiev did not get anything from

ent words: "What?

him but

a

few incoher-

How?"

Leontiev returned to de Kolong and briefed him that there had

been no response.

306

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

The enemy was

Even the Donskoi doctor

the cabin where he had been staying with

left

the admiral. Rozhestvensky was

At

3:25 p.m. the

went on deck.

already very close. All the officers

alone.

left

Japanese opened

Bedovy stopped and raised a

signal:

Baranov ordered the Russian

fire.

"Am

The Grozny

The

carrying heavily wounded."

down and

flag

responded.

the two others raised.

Seeing that the Bedovy was surrendering, the Grozny sped up in disgust. Sailors downstairs heard the admiral's shouts: will sink us!" ing.

The

his eyes

At about the same

officer

time,

Semenov heard

the admiral curs-

peeped into the cabin. Rozhestvensky was lying with

wide open.

"What

is

going on,

who

is

"Probably, the Japanese,"

"Why aren't we

shooting?" he thundered.

Semenov

The Bedovy crew was on long, Filippovsky,

it

God damn

returned to report that

Rozhestvensky did not recognize him.

saying that

replied.

answering? Find out,

When Semenov

fight,

"Steam ahead, they

it

He was

find out!"

it,

was already too

late,

delirious again.

the verge of mutiny.

Men demanded

a

was one torpedo boat against another. But de Ko-

and Leontiev kept

telling

them

that the admiral's

life

was more important.

The Grozny was disappearing Kagero.

It

was 4:30

p.m.,

May

The Sazanami paid no

chased by the

in the distance,

15.

attention to the flags raised

and

fired again.

4

The Sazanami s

shells

did not hit the Bedovy

The

fire

ceased.

The Jap-

anese launched a boat to inspect their trophy.

The Sazanami commander badly wanted

distinction, for the previ-

ous day his ship had developed a condenser problem and had been forced to withdraw to port for urgent repairs. At 9:30 in the morning,

she was back to the hunt together with the Kagero.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

The Japanese were

surprised

when one torpedo boat

started slow-

ing down, while the second one sped up, angrily firing at them.

they saw the two

Then

flags.

The Sazanami sent

a party of several

armed men and one

the Russian torpedo boat. Unexpectedly, de that the

307

awesome commander,

officer to

Kolong informed them

the thunderous

Mad

Dog, Admiral

Rozhestvensky, was lying downstairs, barely conscious.

The

captain of the Sazanami,

ously happy.

He wanted

Commander

Aiba, became deliri-

to bring the precious captive to his

but the Russian doctor begged him not to risk the admiral's

own

ship,

life.

Aiba

agreed.

He

ordered the Bedovys guns and torpedoes disabled. Four officers

from the Bedovy and

several

crew members were transferred to the

Sazanami. Rozhestvensky, his

six staff officers, the

Bedovys captain,

and seventy-seven crewmen stayed on board. Commander Aiba took the two ships toward Urusan.

At 7:20

p.m., already close to

Urusan, they heard a cannonade and

then saw several plumes of smoke. Both the Russians and the Japanese

were anxious, but they encountered no

The

ships, Russian or otherwise.

next morning, at around six o'clock, the Sazanami met the

Japanese cruiser Akasi. ing the Bedovy.

The

The

cruiser

victorious

ing her prized trophy to the

was entrusted with the task of tow-

Sazanami proudly escorted them,

main Japanese

base,

tak-

triumphant Sasebo.

15

a

I!

Return Soon

MAY-NOVEMBER

1905

News about the Tsushima disaster started reaching Petersburg on May 16. Until then, the Admiralty kept working on

St. the

Vladivostok end of Rozhestvensky's journey. Vice Admiral Birilev de-

new

parted for Vladivostok as a

naval commander-in-chief; Rozh-

estvensky had informed the tsar that he

anything bigger than a squadron.

would be unable

The

local

to

command

commander, Admiral

Greve, was sent a cable headed "Extremely urgent. Extremely secret.

For your eyes only": "According to our information, General Adjutant Rozhestvensky's squadron departed the shores of Annam around i,

heading north." But every

The ties.

initial

effort

was

in vain.

unconfirmed reports quoted enormous Russian casual-

Japanese losses were not mentioned at

tersburg

knew

strikingly

The

May 1 6,

May

all.

The only

thing

St.

Pe-

and

that

ship to reach Russian shores was the cruiser Almaz.

On

for sure at first

was that there had been

a battle

few ships were reaching Vladivostok.

first

her

cruiser Ural

commander

cabled that the Suvorov, the Oslyabya, and the

had sunk, the Alexander had been badly damaged, and

Rozhestvensky had been wounded and taken to the destroyer Buiny. 309

3io

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

The Almaz had

when

left

the squadron was

captain's cable asked incredulously:

"Could

now

whole, and

still

her

be that none of the

it

squadron's ships has reached Vladivostok?"

The

next day, on

pedo boat Grozny

May

17 at ten o'clock in the morning, the tor-

arrived, the

same one that had

shortly before her fateful surrender.

have had his

own

ideas about

Her

captain,

left

the Bedovy

though he might

what had happened on the Bedovy, dryly

unknown."

reported: "Fate of the admiral

If the

Bedovy had sped up,

Rozhestvensky would have been in Vladivostok, too.

The

third warship to

come

to Vladivostok

was the torpedo boat

much difficulty; in order had cut down her mast and

She had reached Russian shores with

Bravy.

from enemy torpedo

to hide

boats, she

hastily painted her funnel white to

misty silvery

become inconspicuous on

the

sea.

For a while, reports from these three ships were the only solid material in a liquid less reliable

world of hearsay and

networks than the news agencies.

been staying

at

of Malacca;

made

it

now

to Vladivostok

the squadron had

they were trumpeting that Rozhestvensky had

on the

and contradictory information

Hour by

When

Suvorov.

The

tsar called the

hour, however, reports were becoming clearer

By May

19

it

was confirmed that almost

all

Izumrud came very

close,

— and

the Russian ships

in captivity.

No

reached Vladivostok out of the squadron of thirty-eight.

all

incomplete

"terribly depressing."

had sunk and that Rozhestvensky was

served

were few

Indochina, they had reported ferocious battles in the

Strait

gloomier.

gossip. In 1905, there

other ship

The

but became shipwrecked. Yet she

cruiser

still

de-

the praise in the world. Surrounded by twenty-seven Japa-

nese ships together with Admiral Nebogatov's battleships, the Izumrud

had decided list

to break through.

of survivors and thanked

deed in the St.

battle,

Petersburg society was

marching the

all

streets

tsar

included the Izumrud on the

four ships for "a self-sacrificial heroic

which happened

by revolution, with peasants ers

The

to be ill-fated for us."

terrified.

The country was

setting landlords' estates

on

with red banners, and a defeat

already seized fire

and work-

like

Tsushima

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

promised more result

of

"There

revolt.

no person who would not say

is

that the

be a constitution," a society lady wrote

this battle will

311

down

in her journal.

Seasoned admirals

like

Skrydlov were wrestling with the surrender

of Nebogatov's ships. They knew their captains personally and insisted

would have been incapable of such cowardice. They

that they

pected that the crews had mutinied and

Of course,

later,

the

tsar's

uncle,

lently accusing

nephew

but

felt

had

to step

down

he "did not believe in

badly about

Vice Admiral

it.

about the disaster while

From Kliukvennaya

He

human

beings."

The

tsar agreed,

dispatched to Vladivostok, received the news still

traveling

on the Trans-Siberian Railroad.

Station, he cabled the emperor:

tsar to let

wrote to

diary.

"With

fleet

him

return to the capital, as he

a feeling of

which

Unfortunately, the naval war in this campaign

begged the

He

because he was too tired and also

mortal anguish learnt about the annihilation of the

command.

public was vio-

leadership.

"Poor soul!" he wrote in his

Birilev,

Alexei, the august

initiative; the

him of ineffectual and corrupt

that he

now

Grand Duke

own

chef of the navy, resigned on his

because

the captains surrender.

they could not have been farther from the truth.

Eleven days

his

made

sus-

is

I

was

to

finished."

no longer had

a mission in Vladivostok. Nicholas satisfied his wish.

Now

peace was the

tsar's

only option.

Theodore Roosevelt mediate and sent nent of the war, to the United

portant.

It

Of course,

all

and

May

24 and was

on

May

fairly brief

and

14 his squadron

ships, including Togo's

several staff officers

were put on

command to Nebogatov." The next Bedovy. "On the evening of the 15th

"transferred

day he had been "carried" to the learnt that the Bedovy

who had

Suvorov had been disabled, he continued, he

himself, "losing consciousness,"

and he had

oppo-

with Tokyo.

three of the admirals

had been confronted by twenty-four Japanese

the Buiny,

President

Rozhestvensky's was by far the most im-

was sent from Tokyo on

force. After the

let

Sergei Witte, a notorious

formal. Rozhestvensky started by saying that

main

agreed to

States, to negotiate a treaty

Nicholas received the reports of survived the battle.

He

had surrendered

to

two Japanese torpedo

boats.

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

312

The Bedovy was brought Nebogatov was

The

May

from Tokyo on tsar.

for Vladivostok, his ships

Unlike Rozhestvensky's,

15,

was

in French.

while heading

not counting torpedo boats. With resistance impossible,

matter

sacrifice his

men.

He

admit-

Izumrud had escaped.

ted that the cruiser

how contemptuous

Nebogatov, he thought that

from the wrath of the

tsar.

He cabled the tsar,

it

was

Rozhestvensky could be toward duty to protect

his

He wanted no

his subordinates

scapegoats.

asking for "grace" for those

who had found them-

such a "cruel position." In yet another cable, he insisted that

selves in

Nebogatov's surrender was exclusively his explicitly asked the

The

May

it

had been surrounded by twenty-seven en-

he had decided to capitulate, unwilling to

No

that

came

24, but five hours later,

reported to the sovereign that on

emy warships,

Was informed

of course, was a euphemism for Nebogatov's sur-

Nebogatov's cable to the

The admiral

18th.

in Sasebo."

latter phrase,

render. Also

on the

to Sasebo

emperor

to forgive



Nebogatov and

third admiral, Enkvist, cabled not

from Manila, on chugy arrived at

May

21:

"With the

Manila where

I

hope

Rozhestvensky's

from Japanese

make

"sin."

He

his officers. captivity,

cruisers Olegy Aurora,

to



repairs, take

but

and Zhem-

on

coal,

and

proceed according to the expected instructions." Nicholas responded with a gracious cable.

They could

relax;

he did

not consider them deserters. Instead, he called their performance "exceptional

But idea

and honest."

for quite a while, the sovereign, typically indecisive,

what

to

endless

lists

he was

now

the

first

do with those who were

of Russian

officers killed at

getting long rolls of those

had no

in captivity. Together with the

Tsushima or missing

on Japanese

in action,

terrain. Naturally,

person on the register was General Adjutant Rozhestvensky.

2

For Nicholas, Rozhestvensky's case was the most gave Enkvist; after

all,

difficult one.

He

for-

the admiral had not surrendered. His three

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

would eventually return

cruisers

to Russia

and be used

Nebogatov's case was also a relatively simple one.

tles.

313

in future bat-

The

surrender of

four battleships by a perfectly healthy admiral, unscathed by a single

could not go unpunished. But what to do with Rozhestven-

splinter,

sky?

—but

He was

in captivity

hadn't he been seriously

wounded, un-

conscious, and therefore blameless? His fleet had been destroyed, but

who was

responsible for that, Rozhestvensky or Providence?

He

Finally, the tsar sent a gracious cable to Sasebo.

thanked Rozh-

estvensky and the squadron for having "honestly fulfilled their duty."

"The Almighty chose not tic

to

crown your

monarch wrote, "but the fatherland

exceptional courage.

you

I

wish you a

fast

feat

with success," the

will

be always proud of your

recovery and

let

fatalis-

the Lord console

all." It

was

an absolution. But Rozhestvensky

practically

still

he could not keep the material privileges he was entitled to Naval General

Staff.

He

thought

as

head of

cabled the Admiralty to give up his spacious

subsidized apartment. Their response was amazingly friendly: His initiative

had been reported

and ordered the dacha. It

to cancel .

.

looked

.

to the tsar,

"very

your instruction. Your family

is

much fine,

surprised

they are at

Return soon."

like the tsar

did not want to hold

catastrophe. Nevertheless, the admiral

perpetual culprit.

The

for the public to

exempt him.

tails

who was

him

now had

responsible for the

to master the role of

destruction had been too ugly and too complete

He was

gradually accumulating the de-

of what had happened to his ships and his men.

It

was

a terrifying

picture.

His

own

ship, the Suvorov,

had sunk on the evening of May

ished off by Togo's torpedo boats.

Nobody

lived to

tell

14, fin-

the tale of her

final hours.

The

heroic Borodino had just one survivor,

peasant from turret

two

Tambov

province.

During the

with a 75-millimeter gun and never

shells hit the area

manded by outside.

Semen Yushchenko,

battle,

a

he was in the stern

left his post. Finally, after

almost simultaneously, a

fire started.

Com-

the only surviving mate to seek help, Yushchenko rushed



CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

314

He and

He saw

did not meet a living soul.

flames.

He

just destruction, corpses,

panicked, forgot about his mate, and headed for the

upper deck to jump into the water. Racing along the abandoned dors,

corri-

he thought he was "the only living person on the ship."

The Navarin

also

had

just

one

survivor.

The Alexander, with

a crew

of nine hundred, had none.

The

old battleship Admiral Ushakov had no chance

May

rounded by enemy ships on

15.

a sailor started reading the message to the Ushakov tain

Miklukha, the

sur-

Admiral Shimamura raised a

"Advising surrender. Your admiral has already capitulated."

nal:

we

when

latter interrupted: "I

sig-

When

commander, Cap-

do not need

to hear the

end

are starting a fight." In forty minutes, the crippled Ushakov,

sunk

by her crew, went

to the

sea, "teasing the

Japanese with

her Russian

Captain Miklukha did not outlive his

ship. After the

flag."

bottom of the

battleship sank, the Japanese kept the Russian survivors in the water

under

fire for several

nesses

saw

minutes.

When

a shell hit a

group of twenty, wit-

a red fountain rise to the sky. Later, the Japanese told their

Russian captives that they had not expected resistance from "such an insignificant enemy."

The

light cruiser Svetlana

was a royal yacht, yet on

May 15

she died

a warship. Surrounded by Japanese cruisers, she was massacred by their

Captain Shein, wounded, having sent off his

fire.

fused to leave his ship.

Andrew's

flag.

The

cruiser sank proudly,

The Japanese did not

and crew,

re-

carrying the

St.

officers still

stop the shelling until the ship was

already half-submerged.

The odyssey of one June

17,

more than

a

particular ship looked almost ludicrous.

month

cable from the transport

after the battle

He had

on

his

May

own and had

been too afraid

tsar got a

Anadyr from Madagascar. Her captain

informed the sovereign that on to Vladivostok

had ended, the

On

to call

14,

he had not been able to get

decided to head south instead.

on any port and, using up

coal re-

served by Rozhestvensky for several warships, had finally reached the tropical island.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Rozhestvensky surely recalled that

Anadyr whose anchor had caught

315

was the same clownish

it

a telegraph cable in Tangier.

But that

story belonged to another age.

3

On May 21,

Admiral Rozhestvensky, staying in the Sasebo Naval Hos-

had an unexpected

pital,

to the

His archenemy, Admiral Togo, came

ward where Rozhestvensky, bandaged and

and shook

common down by

his

to the lot of fighting it if

and

my

still

weak, was lying

hand. "Defeat," he said magnanimously,

men, and there

we have done our

for the courage with tle,

visitor.

duty.

which your

I

an accident

no occasion

is

can only express

sailors

"is

to be cast

my admiration

fought during the recent bat-

personal admiration for yourself,

who

carried out your

heavy task until you were seriously wounded." Rozhestvensky kept Togo's hand in

then said quietly, "Thank you for having

am

not ashamed to come off a In the

man

ular

tle a

own

his

come

few moments and

to see

me. With you,

I

loser."

summer of 1905, Admiral Togo

was, arguably, the most pop-

He knew this. When

in the world.

for a

immediately

British naval officer, Jackson, called

on Togo

after the bat-

in Sasebo,

he

He

sat

thought that he had "never seen anyone so thoroughly happy.

and chuckled delightedly and asked many questions: 'Did you think they would sink so

fast?'

'Did you expect

night and fight again the next day?' der?'

and many

with a

shell

others."

fragment.

During the

battle,

his cabin

Togo had had

only,

seriously.

So

much

Togo suggested officer

"a close shave

and very few of them."

wrecked. Admiral Misu, the

only one using a conning tower, had been

not

to steer north during the

'What did you think of the surren-

A matter of inches

Admiral Shimamura had had

me

wounded

in the head,

but

for the losses of the Japanese admirals.

The

British

The Russian crew had been brought

ashore,

that Jackson visit

chose the Apraxin.

some of the

"prizes."

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

316

and the ship was manned by Japanese. Nebogatov's people had ship hastily; Jackson even found a chart "that was in use

information

as to the

left

the

which gave us

Russian movements for twenty four hours or so

before the battle."

No the

matter

how

bottom of the

willingly Rozhestvensky

sea,

he had a

lot

would have

sent

Togo

to

of personal respect for him. In Sep-

tember, Togo's Mikasa blew up in the Sasebo harbor.

The

official expla-

nation was that her powder magazine had exploded. However, suspected that this had been a terrorist act



it

was

a protest against the soft

peace treaty negotiated with Russia. This was quite possible; at that point Japan was experiencing

riots in the streets

against officials. In any case, Rozhestvensky

Togo

his condolences.

Togo

sages. Since the

women who

found

mob violence

proper to send

it

replied with a laconic thank-you note.

But correspondence with Togo

unhappy admiral.

a burden to the

and even

or, for

that matter, with the tsar

was

was getting other mes-

Luckily, he

beginning of June, he had been in touch with the four

were central in

his

life.

The

first

to contact

him were

his

wife and daughter: "Take good care of yourself. Waiting. Missing you."

Admiral Makarov's widow, beautiful Capitolina, cabled: always with you. Makarova." His love of the Sivers, also

gasaki.

wrote to him. The

The white

Oldhamids

to arrest the ship.

next cabled

heart

is

troubled year, Nataliya

message from her was from Na-

Orel had also been captured by the Japanese. This was

partially his fault;

gling

first

last

"My

he had ordered the hospital ship to take the smug-

British crew,

But

him from

Sivers

which gave the Japanese

sufficient reason

was soon released and went

to Europe.

She

the Hotel Orleans Richelieu in Paris.

4

Russian prisoners of war were held at Sasebo, Osaka, and Maizuru.

Never before had Russian

soldiers or sailors

such numbers or under such

strict

been held in captivity in

confinement.

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

By

the beginning of August, most Russians were taken to Kyoto and

put in Buddhist monasteries. Guarded by high

walls, these spaces

The Japanese

finement and learning became prisons.

take walks in the city; a foreigner did not have lost in Japan.

They were

ernment paid each St.

chance of getting

also allowed to write three letters a

officer six rubles a

month, and

of re-

allowed officers to

much

could subscribe to Russian and Western newspapers.

by

317

month and

The Japanese

fifty

gov-

rubles were paid

Petersburg through the French consulate. Meals were on the hosts.

Rozhestvensky and his

staff

occupied a separate wing of a

monastery, facing a narrow pond. Otherwise, they did not have any special privileges. local garrison

Even the admiral had

commander on how

sky did not say anything during the

bones kept twitching. curtly polite.

you" or

When

Normally

"All right."

to

behave in

talk,

captivity.

by the

Rozhestven-

but the muscles on his cheek-

addressed by Japanese

his responses

When

to attend a lecture given

officials,

he was

went no further than "Thank

he was offered permission to leave the

monastery between eight in the morning and

six o'clock in the

evening, he said he wasn't interested. In any case, as one of his officers

remarked, the monastery was "much bigger than a battleship."

No trees

matter

how much

the Russians admired the amazing bonsai

and elaborate bridges and ponds, they

felt

awful. In order to

cheer up, younger officers studied languages and staged tactical games.

They

often replayed Tsushima.

Games and

classes

did not help much;

people complained that the "nightmares" of the battle



particularly

—were

the sinking of the Oslyabya, Borodino, and Alexander

still

"tor-

turing and haunting" them.

Another thing that made cipline

among

officers

unhappy was

the collapse of dis-

the sailors. Their respect toward officers after the cata-

strophic battle had naturally diminished,

Russia aggravated the situation.

crew had looted the tion, the officers

officers'

were

left

On

the

and news about revolution

way

in

to Sasebo, the Nicholas's

food supplies. To their enormous indigna-

with only tea and dried black bread for two

days. Sailors also used the officers' toilets, taking delight in

making the

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

318

places as foul as possible. Officers called

and

started talking exploitation

them "rude swine";

sailors

class struggle.

In the monastery, Rozhestvensky lived with the Suvorova crew and

Nebogatov

lived with the

crew of the Nicholas. Nebogatov was friendly

practically everybody.

to

After a

young

from the

officer

Orel,

Kostenko, gave a shocking talk on the Russian performance in the battle,

Nebogatov invited him

to his

room, summoned

asked Kostenko to repeat the lecture.

The

and

his staff,

all

admiral was probably moti-

vated by more than just curiosity; Kostenko's talk was a ferocious

cri-

tique of Rozhestvensky.

Rozhestvensky was not interested in the strategic analysis of mid-

shipmen and

He was

lieutenants.

preparing for something different.

Peace v/as in hand. Soon he would be able to go to

St.

Petersburg and,

hopefully, launch a reform of the navy.

He

did not in the

least like the

new

liberalism in the prisoners'

camps. Discussing Tsushima and even blaming him for everything was

one thing. Sympathizing with revolution was another.

When

same

the

troublemaker Kostenko started receiving revolutionary pamphlets by mail, Rozhestvensky as

fearsome

as

summoned him

joviality.

to Russia, but rather to

but

still

The

admiral looked

he had on the Suvorova bridge. Scars on

not lend him any

minded him

to his study.

He

curtly advised

move

to

Hawaii

his

head did

Kostenko not to go back

He

"to plant bananas."

that distributing antigovernment pamphlets

was

a crime,

which had been

dutifully returned the officer's mail,

re-

inter-

cepted by his associates.

Nebogatov Nebogatov

visited the

insisted that

rendered, his ships

Mad Dog several times. Their talks were long.

he had done the right thing.

If

he had not sur-

would have been massacred. He knew

that in Russia

he would be prosecuted, and he repeated that he was ready to face consequences. If Rozhestvensky did not approve, he did not say In September Nebogatov

been discharged by the angry soldiers, the

left for tsar.

Russia.

He and

all

the

so.

his officers

had

As they automatically ceased being

Japanese government decided to

let

them

go. Before leaving

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

Kyoto, Nebogatov visited Rozhestvensky for the their talk remains

Very soon

unknown, but

after

Nebogatov

British allies

—Admiral

China Station and

left,

new was

Rozhestvensky needed

said.

all

his

conferred decorations

Gerard Noel of His Majesty's Navy

Sir

his senior officers. In October,

Some of them had been

ships to Japan.

The subject of

time.

likelihood nothing

all

The emperor of Japan

willpower to stay calm.

on

in

last

319

Noel brought twelve

involved in shadowing Rozh-

estvensky in Indochina.

The

were received by the emperor himself and then

British officers

entertained by

him

crewmen spent

luncheon

at a

for eighty guests. Junior officers

their time in the parks

fencing, jiujitsu, wrestling, fireworks,

with excellent meals for

and all,

and band music. "Nothing could

exceed the heartiness of their welcome," Noel noted with satisfaction in his report to

A

London.

group of British

toured Kyoto.

sailors

The Japanese

hosts ad-

vised Rozhestvensky s officers to stay indoors that day "to prevent possible trouble."

Several weeks earlier, Russia

and Japan had signed

a peace treaty.

Russian diplomacy had done surprisingly well. Kaiser Wilhelm sent the tsar his insincere

would

"most heartfelt compliments"; he had hoped the war

last longer,

King Edward VII,

keeping Nicky's attention distracted from Europe. to the contrary,

spoke his mind when he called

this

peace "a universal blessing." Russia lost the southern half of Sakhalin Island

and Manchuria

— but

it

was

a small cost of defeat. In

mid-

October, people of the squadron were allowed to go back to Russia.

Rozhestvensky refused to steamer via the Suez Canal. ian ship

bound from Japan

He

on

travel to St. Petersburg

a foreign

asked for permission to board a Russ-

straight for Vladivostok.

A week

later,

the

Russian military responsible for the repatriation finally agreed.

On

the eve of his departure from Kyoto, he received

Several crews sent official delegations to wish 31,

him

many visitors.

well.

On

October

he went to Kobe and boarded the steamer Voronezh. Like half a year

before, Vladivostok

was

just a

few hundred miles away.

16

"The Insulted Russian People," NOVEMBER

On the

1906— JANUARY

3.

night of November

poor health,

home

to Russia.

the Voronezh left Kobe. She

3,

was bringing twenty-five hundred

1909

1.

soldiers

They were

and

sailors,

angry and in

agitated, singing revolution-

ary songs, swearing by the red banner hidden in a dark corner of the hold,

and drinking vodka by the mugful.

The to the

very

first

men. After

most around the served hatred.

day ended in a that, sailors

clock.

and

Many

letter

—you

at officers

was found

will all

in the

the Port Arthur

with unre-

wardroom:

go overboard."

These twenty- five hundred were confronted by one general, two admirals, and

meal served

soldiers started holding rallies al-

of them stared

An anonymous

"Wait until we get to the sea

riot over the disgusting

five revolvers.

fifty-six officers,

The second

admiral was

commander, Admiral Viren. The two admirals had

been in touch during their

captivity,

and Rozhestvensky had invited

Viren to join him on the Voronezh.

They

started their travel in relative comfort.

Rozhestvensky

his cabin.

Although

this

The

concession

captain gave

may have been

granted because of his high rank, the admiral did need privacy because 321

322

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

of his ailments. The Tsushima wounds had not healed in

He had become much

thinner and

still

crippled old

Soon

daily.

But

if

months.

walked with a cane. His head,

pierced by a fragment of a Japanese shell half a year

be rebandaged

six

earlier, still

had

to

anybody thought the admiral was now a

man, he was mistaken.

after departure,

Rozhestvensky went on deck to take a

There he stumbled upon a group of

and paying no attention

men

to him. For the

leisurely lying

on the deck

time since May, Rozh-

first

estvensky exploded in public: "Take these dirty

Not waiting

stroll.

scum away! Now!"

for officers to carry out his order,

he limped into the

group himself, and with few energetic kicks made them jump and hastily retreat in

amazement and

The Mad Dog had Only

fear.

Soon the whole steamer knew:

recuperated and was out for

drills.

in the night did they dare to take revenge. Several sailors

crept to the admirals cabin.

was bold enough

to

peep

They were drunk,

yet only a single person

in.

Rozhestvensky was lying on his bunk reading a book.

He looked up.

"What do you want?" "I

want

to talk to you."

"About what?"

"About your behavior."

He called Rozhestvensky a coward; beating Russian sailors was much easier than beating Togo! Rozhestvensky should leave the ship! They should be given as much vodka as they wanted! They had sacrificed their blood and now deThen

the sailor started yelling.

served respect!

The

noise attracted attention,

and the

sailor fled. After that inci-

dent, officers were posted outside the admiral's cabin at night.

In the morning, the captain was informed that they could not go to Russia; Vladivostok

They anchored Every day

was experiencing

political unrest

and

rioting.

in Nagasaki.

at

lunchtime the

waltzes under the

ship's

windows of the

band played merry marches and admiral's cabin. Rozhestvensky

thanked the musicians and dutifully paid for their drinks. For

several

THE TSAR'S LAST ARMADA

days everything was fine.

He

liked the music,

323

and the musicians

appreciated free liquor. But eventually their peers started rebuking

them: They were betraying "the

The band

free proletariat."

hastily

learned to play the Marseillaise. Rozhestvensky was highly displeased,

and the musicians had

pay for

to

their

own

drinks.

Meanwhile, revolutionary chieftains demanded that they

sail

red Vladivostok immediately. Otherwise, they were saying, they

throw Rozhestvensky and Viren overboard.

which played

The

all

situation began looking very dangerous.

the Marseillaise,

The

officers

decided

former enemies. The Nagasaki police promised to

help. Indeed, seventy

policemen immediately boarded the steamer.

night, five Russian officers bribed local

caped from the mutinous

By

would

the time, sounded threatening.

to appeal to their

That

Now

November

had arrived from Sasebo. With for launching, they

boatmen and

quietly es-

Rozhestvensky stayed on board.

vessel.

the next morning,

6,

four Japanese torpedo boats

their torpedoes demonstratively ready

menacingly cruised the waters around the Voronezh.

General Danilov, responsible for the repatriation of Russian oners of war from Japan, arrived

tween him and Rozhestvensky.

had chosen not

for

on board. There was no

When

to visit the admiral.

pris-

love lost be-

Danilov had been in Kyoto, he

Now he was

very glad that Rozh-

estvensky was in trouble.

Danilov met with the revolutionary quite a while that there

and then informed the

leaders.

officers that

He

talked to

them

for

he had been reassured

would be no violence on board. They could depart

for

Vladivostok, where the rioting had stopped.

This time the captain of the Voronezh

nounced mutinous

that he

and

his

crew refused to

lost his patience.

risk their lives

He

an-

by taking

a

vessel to the sea.

Danilov took

this

opportunity to

inflict his

revenge.

He

rightfully

noted that the revolutionaries were upset by Rozhestvensky s presence

on board and, even more importantly, by

With obvious move

his challenging behavior.

pleasure, he suggested that Rozhestvensky

to another ship.

and Viren

CONSTANTINE PLESHAKOV

324

They did not

argue.

On November

on the Yakut transport. In

10,

three days they

they sailed from Nagasaki

saw Russian

shores.

2

The

first

thing they encountered in the Vladivostok harbor was a

number of small warships Pacific.

The

buildings



all

that

was

left

of the Russian

fleet in

the

next thing they noticed was even more disturbing: Several

on the waterfront had been destroyed by

had not reached Vladivostok; these were the

when drunken mobs had

looted the

city.

fire.

The

Japanese

signs of the recent rioting,

The commander of the

port,

Admiral Greve, took Rozhestvensky and Viren ashore. Rozhestvensky received two greetings by cable garrison

commander and another from

rather ambivalent.

The

garrison

—one from

the city mayor.

the local

Both were

commander welcomed him

"as

an

honest Russian officer" but reserved the right of history "to judge"

him; the mayor stressed the admiral's role in "taking the squadron through the great space result

full

of dangers," no matter what the ultimate

of "his mission" had been. Nevertheless, for Russians to hail a

home from captivity was highly unbeen known for empathy toward failed gener-

defeated military leader returning usual; Russia als. It

man

had never

was obvious that

at least

some people hoped

that the admiral, a

of steel will and impeccable honesty, would be able to bring about

change in the

capital.

This was becoming clearer with every day. Rozhestvensky received

an invitation from the commander-in-chief, General Linevich: "If your health allows,

I

am

begging Your Excellency to

visit

me

at the

army." Rozhestvensky cabled an immediate response, apologizing that

he had to spend several days in Vladivostok to have a new uniform

made. (Naturally,

all

his clothes

had sunk with the

prominent commander, Kuropatkin,

He

spent just four days in the

sky and his staff officers

was

to take

them

left

also

city.

was eager to

see

On November 17,

Vladivostok.

straight to the capital.

Suvorov.)

The