Fast Torpedo Boats on a Cold February Night

Some 117 years ago today, similarly over a Monday night/Tuesday morning, a Japanese force under ADM Togo conducted a pre-emptive strike on the Russian fleet at anchor in Port Arthur– without a declaration of war.

“The Japanese torpedo destroyers, the Asagiri and Hayadori, attacking the Russian Men-of-war.” Chromolithograph print showing Japanese torpedo boats sinking Russian battleships. From The real illustration of the Japano-Russian War. No. 3, published April 1904. LOC LC-DIG-jpd-02520

Using a force of 10 destroyers, the first Japanese torpedos were in the water at 00:28 on the snowy Tuesday morning of 9 February 1904 and the force withdrew from the harbor by 02:00. Of the 16 torps fired, just a few hit their targets, damaging the pre-dreadnoughts Retvizan and the Tsesarevich and the protected cruiser Pallada— all of which were returned to duty in a few weeks.

Related: Combat Gallery Sunday: The Martial Art of Watanabe Nobukazu

“The destruction of Russ[i]an torpede [sic] destroyers by Japanese torpede destroyers at Port Arthur — the illustration of the war between Japan and Russia (no. 5).” Woodblock by Ryōzō Tanaka. Published April 1904. LOC LC-DIG-jpd-02531

The night engagement and a delusory surface action the next morning likewise was unspectacular, resulting in a total of about 100-150 dead on each side. Though tactically ineffective, Togo did achieve surprise on the Russian bear and the fleet at Port Arthur never managed to leave the harbor successfully during the resulting war, which proved disastrous for the Tsar.

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