Accurate detailed information by eyewitnesses who are technically qualified to speak concerning the behavior of war material in great engagements is never available to the public until many months after the event. The Russo-Japanese war, and particularly the naval side of it, has been no exception; and it is only recently that independent outside observers have been making public the result of their experience and observation. By far the best account of this kind that has come to our notice was published in the last issue of the Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute, by Lieut. R. D, White, of the United States navy. In an introductory note the lieutenant states that the account is compiled from information obtained from one who was present on one of the ships of the Russian fleet at the battle. As this observer had no station in battle, he was selected to observe and record the various events as they occurred, a duty which he performed with admirable care and accuracy.' ' Although for obvious reasons the writer does not give his name, he states .that his willingness to speak on the subject with honesty and without prejudice, his keen appreciation of the military strength and weakness of ships built and building, his power of observation in general and in detail and his mastery of the principles of modern naval construction and warfare, lend to his statements the greatest value inthe strong light they throw upon the theory and practice of modern naval design and construction. We cannot do more than briefly review this article in the Scientific American, but the full text with its illustrations will be found in the current issue of the Supplement. The morning of May 27, 1905, is described as dawning raw and cheerless on the Baltic fleet as it steered for Tsushima Straits. The Russian sailors are spoken of as a 'hopeless band of men, huddled around the fire-room hatches or seeking shelter in some favoring lee about the deck, while a spirit of pessimism seemed to pervade the whole fleet. As day was breaking, a Japanese cruiser loomed through the fog, and the clicking of the wireless instruments on the Russian ships intimated that a message was being sent to Togo giving the position of the Russian fleet. Strange to say, no attempt was made to intercept or break up this message. Soon afterward the Russians sighted one of the Japanese armored cruisers, which for two hours kept abreast of the Russian battleships on the starboard side at a distance of about 8,000 yards. The fleet entered the' battle at a speed of 9 knots and this was its standard speed throughout the engagement. When the Japanese fleet was sighted, it consisted of twelve ships in line ahead standing almost directly across the Russian course. The observer on the Russian ships speaks of their formation as being faultless and their speed sixteen knots an hour, a disparity in speed which seems almost incredible and must,' of course, account largely for the baffling and overwhelming tactics displayed by the Japanese throughout tiie battle. Without following the course of the conflict as seen from the Russian ship, we draw attention to some of the salient features. As the Japanese column 'cleared the path of the Russians, they turned and steamed parallel-in a 'directly opposite course to that of the enemy and then, judging his time with beautiful exactness, Admiral Togo countermarched and brought his entire fleet into action, opening fire at six tliou;-sand yards' range. As each ship made the turn, ' she opened fire on the battleship Oslyabia with results that were fearfully destructive. The forward turret was put out of action when she had fired only three shots, A ' shell striking the embrasure beneath one gun jammed the gun in Its full elevation and by the force of its 'explosion lifted the top of the forward turret. The water line of the Oslyabia from the forward turret to the bow was unarmored. Five high-explosive shells each made an enormous hole in the bow plating, and the water, entering, brought the ship down until her three-inch battery gun ports were awash. Three twelve-inch shells striking in succession an armor plate on the water line amidships, first loosened, then tore it off, and finally opened a huge hole in the side of the ship. In one hour after the opening of the engagement the Oslyabia turned over and sank. Early in the action a shell entered the embrasure in the forward turret of the Suvaroff and, exploding, ignited several bags of powder, with the result that the roof of the turret was blown off and landed on deck, leaning against the turret. These two embrasure accidents emphasize the necessity for using port shields to guard this vulnerable spot; and we are glad to note that in our later ships an excellent design of very heavy port shields has been fitted to the guns of the main battery. As further showing the terrific destruction ' at modern high-explosive shell, it is recorded that all the forward shell plating of the battleship Suvaroff above the armor belt was shot away nearly as far aft as the turret, causing the vessel to resemble a monitor, and at 2: 25 P. M. (the firing opened at 1: 55 P. M.) she left the line, ablaze fore and aft and unable to withstand longer the terrific bombardment. With the Oslyabia and gone, the Alexander III., sister to the Suvaroff, received the concentrated fire of the Japanese fleet at a range of from 5,100 to 5,600 yards, and she was forced to turn to the eastward in the effort to escape it. A remarkable and very disconcerting fact noted by the observer was the number of fires that broke out on board the new Russian battleships, and this in spite of the fact that woodwork had been eliminated as far as possible, in accordance with modern theories. On one of the new ships, the Orel, thirty-four different fires broke out during the day. Several fires occurring in the hammocks stowed just forward of the bridge, drove the occupants from the conning tower. Hawsers proved to be exceedingly troublesome, catching fire easily, producing much pungent smoke, and being difficult to extinguish. One of these, burning abaft of the bridge, again drove all hands from the conning tower. The smoke also was drawn by the blowers into the forward fire room, and this compartment had to be abandoned. This last contingency is one surely that no naval architect had ever contemplated. The smoke also filled the port forward six-inch turret with smoke, which penetrated to the lower decks, causing consternation there. Another curious fact developed in the fight was that there was great danger of fire in the war-paint on the side plating of the ships; for when the Alexander III. fell out the August ii, 1906. Scientific American 95 war-paint over the whole of her side facing the enemy was ablaze. In turIl, the Borodino and then the Orel were selected as the principal target. In six minutes the former was struck twelve times with 12-inch, and thirty to forty times with 6-inch and 8-inch shells. Tile eyewitness of this' tremendous drama has this to say of high-explosive shells: To realize the terrific effect of this shelling, one must consider that a shell filled with Shimose powder is really a small torpedo; that each 12-inch shell striking an unarmored portion made a hole 7 feet high and 6 feet wide; that the fragments of these shells were minute particles that filled the air like driving mist; and that a dense black smoke settled 'down after each explosion, blinding and suffocating all in the vicinity. One sailor is known to have been struck 130 times by fragments from a single shell." The great lesson of the conflict, as deduced by this spectator, is that gunnery and tactics must ever be the determining factors in naval battles between equal forces. In the sortie of August 10, the Japanese made poor shooting Betwren that date and the battle of Tsushima, no effort was spared to perfect their marksmanship. It is estimated that, between them, the 12-inch guns fired 1,275 shots, and of these 19,6 per cent were hits. The average range was 5,000 yards and the condition of the atmosphere hazy. Lieut. White remarks very aptly that this record is enough to make all who think, think hard. On the other hand, the Japanese had little to contend with in the way of interference by the fire of the Russians, the Mikasa being hit only a few times throughout the battle. Although telescopic sights were used on the guns by the Russians, they were greatly interfered with by mist and spray and in some cases rendered quite useless. Coal had been stowed everywhere on the ships, and the shock of the shells and firing stirred up coal dust from corners and crevices, making it impossible to see either with or without the telescopes; moreover, shells falling short and striking the sea, deluged the ship with salt water and blurred the telescopes, leaving them salt-incrusted.
This article was originally published with the title "With the Baltic Fleet at Tsushima" in SA Supplements 62, 1597supp, 94-95 (August 1906)