Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Varyag and Korietz

"From the Ship's Log of the Russian Cruiser Varyag, 9th of February 1904:

11:10 All hands on deck, Varyag

11:20 Cruiser goes to open sea, Korietz in 1 cable length (200m) behind. English and Italian crews cheer Russians, on the Italian Cruiser Elba, the Russian anthem is played.

11:25 Battle alarm on Varyag, Japanese Cruisers Asama, Naniwa, Takachiho, Chiyoda, Akashi, Niitaka bearing line from Richy Island to Northern Passage. Japanese Torpedo Boats behind Cruisers.

11:45 Varyag opens fire with port guns.

11:47 Asama opens fire with 8" gun, all Japanese squadron then opens fire......"

What the Japanese would call the "Jinsen Oki Kaisen" was about to begin. Rear Admiral Uriu's ultimatum was to expire at four o'clock on the 9th, when he threatened to attack the Russian ships in the Port of Chemulpo itself if they had not left the roadstead by midday.
In reality, then, and perhaps in contradiction to the affront felt by the English, Italians and French, Uriu was giving the Russians every chance to clear the neutral port, or even to scuttle their vessels in place, and have four whole hours to evacuate crews to the mainland or neutral shipping before he would pre-emptorily 'invade' the harbour.

Of course, this was really no choice at all; leaving the harbour meant an engagement that could only end in one way, and scuttling without even testing the enemy was bordering on cowardice; the advice and counsel of the European nations would err on the latter side, and meanwhile, mayhap their fillibuster reply to the Japanese might delay any real action - perhaps even a blockade of sorts might result; but Rudnev was made of sterner stuff - the honour of his naval service was at stake, the pride of his nation, and he would not concede without making some form of defiant gesture.

Whether he truly believed that his Varyag and her consort the Korietz could actually have a chance of breaking the ring of steel laid by the enemy, or whether he intended on going down in a 'blaze of glory', perhaps we shall never know, but clearing for action ten minutes before the midday deadline, both ships weighed anchor and set out for sea.

Within minutes of opening fire, the Japanese were able to bracket the Varyag before her own 6" guns had a hope of reaching the Asama, and tore away the port wing of the forebridge, started a fire in the chart house, and broke the foreshrouds. Casualties resulted at once, crucially amongst the personnel of the range finding equipment (However primitive it may have been in this era), and before midday, both main guns at the bow, and all of the secondary weapons on the port side, including their crews, were put out of action.

Rudenev was severely wounded in the head by shell splinters, the staff bugler and drummer who stood by his side were killed, and there were fires blazing on the bow and quarterdeck. The ship was now being steered from the steering compartment below, although damage to the rudders was making control difficult.

A useful map of the action:

Having passed Yo-dol-mi island, and with the distance to the enemy coming down to less than 30 cables, the decision was taken to turn about, but the steering was unresponsive with the rudders jammed at 15-20 degrees on the port side, so under fire, a slow turn to port was commenced only for the ship to be hit below the waterline by a large calibre shell which caused water to rush in and threaten the furnaces; desperate repair efforts were required to patch this and remain afloat.

There is some controversy as to whether the Varyag inflicted any damage upon her tormentors in return, the ship's log claims a hit on the bridge of the Asama, engulfing her in smoke and flame, which caused her to cease firing for a time whilst it was put out; the Japanese, for their part, strenuously deny that any such damage took place....

The Korietz had made slow progress on the starboard quarter of the Varyag, and for a time had been shielded from the Japanese, but now she too warranted the attentions of the enemy when Chiyoda, Naniwa and Niitaka entered firing range astern of the Asama.
Her own muzzle loaders were woefully out of range, but not to be outdone, she fired away for all she was worth, and quite possibly with no effect whatsoever, other than to cheer the spirits of her own crew.
Perhaps mercifully, the Japanese fire on her seems to have been largely ineffective, yet she could now do no more than follow her fellow warrior back toward the harbour.

By 12:40, both ships, the Varyag listing 20 degrees to port, and down by the bow, began to approach the harbour, and the Japanese broke off the pursuit, probably in order to prevent any 'overs' falling amongst the neutral shipping, which had stubbornly remained in place. I would guess it is for this reason also that Uriu did not send in his torpedo craft to finish the duel, given the damage an errant torpedo might do in the narrow confines of the port.

The endgame was yet to be played out, but given the international Press presence in the region, the legend of the gallant and defiant actions of the two ships was already being written; astoundingly, that early pioneer of film, Thomas Edison, ever one to grab an opportunity for publicity, made the following 'Short', seen from the Japanese side:

An Austrian poet was soon penning the words of a song that was soon translated into Russian, and became the soundtrack to this film made some years later:

I suggest you turn the sound up, and sing "Urrah" for the men of the Varyag and Korietz.....


  1. An interesting clip from Edison. Thank you.

    -- Jeff

  2. http://fjodinvsf.blogspot.com/search/label/russo%20japanese%20war

    Some Russo Japanese War clips. It will be good, if you can post them on your blog to inspireother players :)