Category Archives: russia

Ghosts of Torpedo Tubes Past

Alternatively described by the Soviets/Russians as a “submarine chaser” or a “frigate” the vintage Udaloy I-class destroyer Marshal [Boris] Shaposhnikov (BPK 543) was commissioned the same year that young upstart Gorbachev was named General Secretary of the CPSU and had been ordered while Brezhnev was still around.

The 8,000-ton Shaposhnikov recently emerged from a three-year modernization that included the installation of 16 huge vertical-launched Kalibr cruise missiles to augment his (Russian warships are always masculine) Uran anti-ship missiles and Kinzhal SAMs. Assigned to the Pacific Fleet, Shaposhnikov just pulled off a complete live-fire test of all systems in the waters of the Sea of ​​Japan.

The below shows not only the missiles, 100mm AK-190 main gun, and AK-630 CIWS going loud but has a great view of the distinctive trainable four-pack 21-inch torpedo tubes, reminiscent of old-school WWII era tubes.

I guess if it ain’t broke…

Just three Udaloys are in fleet service with the Russians today although several others are in reserve with at least two of those sidelined ships– Admiral Levchenko and Admiral Chabanenko— expected to be reworked to the same standard as Shaposhnikov.

By comparison, the oldest American Tico, USS Bunker Hill (CG-52), is still almost two years newer than Shaposhnikov and is expected to head off to red lead row very soon.

The Saga of Russian Broomhandles

Just $25 fully outfitted! Deal!

Designed by the Feederle brothers in conjunction with Paul Mauser, over a million DWM Construktion 96 autoloading pistols– in addition to their M712 Schnellfeuer machine pistol brothers as well as unlicenced Spanish Astra/Royal/Azul and Chinese boxcannon clones– were crafted between 1896 and 1945. While never fully adopted by their home country, “Broomhandle” Mausers circled the world and have been seen in nearly every conflict large and small since the days of the Boer War (where a young Winston Churchill carried his London-bought “ripper” of a pistol during his work as a correspondent) and the Boxer rebellion.

Available on the commercial market in Imperial Russia for almost 20 years before the Great War ended importation, the C96 was a favorite for Russian officers, who had to buy their own sidearms and sword.

During the Russian Civil War, this love grew rabid as high-ranking Bolsheviks loved the big, flashy German-made automatic.

Red Guards of the Vulkan factory in Petrograd dressed in their Sunday best. Note the officer in the second row with his C96

Soviet commissars with C96 Mausers

Hell, they were even present (along with Browning FN 1900s, Nagant revolvers, and M1911 pistols) at the Romanov extermination. 

One favored user of the C96 was a four-time knight of St. George, former Imperial Dragoons Sgt. Maj. Semyon Budyonny, the impressively bewhiskered Red commander of the Konarmiya, the Bolshevik’s feared 1st Cavalry Army during the Russian Civil War and Russo-Polish War.

This guy

Reds of “Budyonny’s Cavalry Army” (Konarmia) the key Bolshevik fire brigade of the Russo-Polish War. Note the mix of French Adrian helmets, Cossack shapskas, and Trotsky Budenovka caps for headgear. Also, note the Cossack at the left is wearing the 1909 pattern officer’s web gear to include a trench whistle near his left armpit. As pre-Civil War Cossack officers in the Konarmia were rare, this officer has likely had an interesting tale– though notably, he has ditched his shoulder boards.

Budyonny was presented an engraved C96 in honor of his wartime service in 1921, and it is maintained in the Russian Army Museum, where it was placed after his death in 1973.

Nonetheless, the gun remained popular with Soviet officers into WWII, showing up occasionally with those who undoubtedly remembered the status symbol of 1918-20.

Russian Soviet Cossacks watering their horses in the Elbe river 1945. Note the distinctive Mauser C96 Broomhandle pistol holster on the Cossack colonel’s belt, which has been bedazzled.

In addition, Spetnaz was schooled in the use of the vintage C96 during the Cold War, as the Broomhandle was expected to be encountered on the ground locally in the course of their operations in Asia and Africa on hearts and minds missions to support those in international brotherhood. 

Soviet Spetsnaz Special Operations in training 1980s C96 Mauser Broomhandle

No longer Fearless

Here we see the Project 956 (Sovremenny-class) destroyer Bezboyaznennyy (Fearless) arriving at the breakers to be turned into shveynyye igly, or sewing needles in the Russian naval parlance.

Laid down 8 January 1987 at built by Severnaya Verf 190 St. Petersburg, Bezboyaznennyy served with the Soviet/Russian Pacific Fleet from 1990 until 2002 when she was decommissioned. It had been thought that she would be refurbished and returned to service, after all, she had only served on active duty for about a decade, but it looks like she is in very poor shape indeed, and that will not be the case.

A big, almost cruiser-sized tin can, the 8,500-ton Sovremennys were Moscow’s answer to the Spruance-class with the bonus of toting big carrier-killing SS-N-22 Sunburn AShMs.

Some 21 were completed.

The Russians still have at least six Sovremennys on active service, one (Bespokoynyy) as a floating museum in St. Petersberg, and two others– Nastoychivyy and Burnyy— formerly in mothballs, being refitted to rejoin the fleet.

The Chinese also have four variants on their own.

End of the Kwantung Army

Soviet Defeat of the Japanese Kwantung Army, 1945

75 years ago today, the largest Imperial Japanese military force on the planet, the fabled Kwantung Army, was instructed to surrender its remaining 500,000+ men into Soviet hands.

Formed in 1906 in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War to police the Empire’s slice of mainland Asia, it had long been the key command in the IJA and by 1945 was in actuality a large army group composed of no less than six numbered (3rd, 4th, 5th, 30th, 34th, and 44th) armies in addition to the forces of Manchukuo, those of various White Russian exile units, and assorted Chinese warlord allies.

That is, until the Soviets crashed in and burst that bubble, showing the force to be a hollow Easter bunny of sorts.

A Lend-Leased M4A2 Sherman with a Soviet crew making friends

Soviet Motorcyclist column on Harley-Davidson WLA-42 and Dnepr M-72 in Manchuria, August 1945.

Soviet soldiers sitting on the throne of emperor Pu Yi, leader of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo, China, September 1945

Gen. Otozō Yamada, an old horse soldier, cumulated 40 years of service in the Imperial Japanese Army on 16 August, the day after the Emperor ordered national surrender, by issuing a command to lay down the Kwantung Army’s arms and banners at the feet of the invading Soviets in Manchuria.

However, many of Yamada’s units kept fighting for several days until Field Marshal Hata Shunroku, son of a samurai of the Aizu domain, met with Soviet Field Marshal Aleksandr Vasilevsky in Harbin on the 19th and a further cease-fire order circulated directly after.

A former Minister of War, Hata had experience with surrender, having been a member of the Japanese delegation to the Versailles Peace Treaty negotiations as a young colonel in 1919, although on the winning side.

Nonetheless, the Soviets kept advancing even after Stalin had announced the end of hostilities on 23 August. Red paratroopers hit the silk into Heijō, a Japanese colonial outpost since 1905 and known today as Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, on 24 August, the same week as the Soviet Pacific Fleet arrived in Wonsan– on American Lend-Leased LSTs.

On 9 September, a full week after the instruments of surrender were signed in Tokyo Bay, 100,000 Japanese troops in Nanking laid down their arms. Even with that, there were still isolated Japanese garrisons in China that remained intact well into November 1945.

Japanese surrender in Peking (Beijing), China to combined U.S./British/KMT forces, October 1945

The Soviets remained a presence in Manchuria and North Korea for several years, going so far as to keep troops in the Manchurian hubs of Mukden, Harbin, Dairen, and Port Arthur– all notably former Tsarist stomping grounds– until 1955, more than eight years after the Communist Chinese had taken over the supposed governance of such areas.

PPS-43 armed Soviet tankers in Mukden, 1946. Note the officer with an upcycled Japanese Army tanker winter suit that he has installed shoulder boards on. Also, note the bronze plaque behind them with T-34s on it.

Soviet Naval Infantry raising their flag on the famous 203 Meter Hill in Port Arthur– now known as Lüshun in Liaoning province– 22 August 1945. The Baiyu Tower, constructed by the Japanese in the 1930s to commemorate 1904-1905 war dead, is visible in the distance. The Japanese Army used 203 Meter Hill in late 1904 to destroy the besieged Imperial Russian Navy’s Pacific Squadron below. RIAN Archive Photo 834147

Throw away the key

As for Yamada, the former Japanese general was taken as a prisoner of war to Siberia and sentenced to 25 years in the Soviet gulag for war crimes, primarily related to the heinous activities of Unit 731, but was repatriated to Japan in the mid-1950s after Stalin’s death along with the remnants of his surrendered Army.

Ironically, most of those crimes had occurred under Hata’s period as commander of the Kwantung Army from 1941 through 1944, rather than Yamada’s. Sentenced to life imprisonment after a war crimes trial by the Americans, Hata was paroled in 1954.

On 10 May 1962, Field Marshal Hata Shunroku, the last surviving Field Marshal of the Imperial Japanese Army, died while attending a ceremony honoring Imperial war dead, age 82.

The Soviets said they ended up with 594,000 Japanese EPWs by October 1945, but Japanese authorities contend it was well over 700,000 when other, non-military, subjects of the Emperor under Stalin’s control were counted. Although 60,000, mostly ill and elderly or females with children, were quickly paroled, some the same day, the Soviets hauled the rest back to Siberia.

There, over the next decade, many perished.

The remnants of the Kwantung Army went home in 1956 although some elected to stay behind and “go native” in the Worker’s Paradise.

“A Japanese mother is reunited with her son after he is released from a Soviet POW camp in Siberia, 31 December 1956. He and his fellow prisoners are arriving at Maizuru port in Japan, having been captured at the end of World War II and held for another 11 years.” (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive via History Forum)

Japanese artist Nobuo Kiuchi, who during WWII was a Japanese paratrooper, spent years in Siberia after the Kwantung Army laid down its arms, and chronicled what he saw.

His art reflects those experiences and is on exhibit at the Maizuru Repatriation Memorial Museum located in the principal port where some 660,000 Japanese POWs and civilians were sent back home from China, Russia, and North Korea in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Be sure to recycle

Outside of Moscow, reportedly on the location of one of the principal stavkas of the 1941 defense of the city from the German invasion, now stands the so-called Main Cathedral of Russian Armed Forces.

Built by popular subscription (with lots of help from the military and government) the immense Eastern Orthodox church is a living, breathing memory to the Russian (not Soviet) effort against Hitler in the Great Patriotic War. Opened over the weekend in a 3 hour-long ceremony attended by much brass to include the Minister of Defense, the facility is half WWII shrine/half church

Of interest, the giant steel doors to the cathedral include a fallen German eagle at the feet of very un-Soviet-like traditional Russian martial patron saints and is reportedly cast from metal that includes recycled German panzer treads, armor, and road wheels.

Going a step further, the steps and walkway into the door are made from reclaimed steel drawn from crates of German MP40s, Walther P-38s, and MG42s, a small part of the 3 million former Wehrmacht arms taken back to the Motherland in 1945.

If a part of you that is interested in collecting vintage WWII guns screamed out into the night, have no fear, as the Russians still have warehouses full of the stuff and they reportedly just melted down the low-end of their stock for the cathedral.

A video of part of the arms holdings still on hand in Vladimir, outside of Moscow, is below.

In Soviet Russia, the Breakfast Club had Kalashnikovs

For generations in the CCCP, there was NVP= Nachal’naya Voyennaya Podgotovka: Initial Military Preparedness lessons for Soviet teenagers.

Typically starting in 9th grade, twice a week a retired soldier (vojenrúk) would hold class on everything from proper military drill and courtesy to chemical/biological warfare.

This would include sessions on basic nomenclature and manipulation of small arms, firing pellet guns in the basement, taking trips to local Army ranges for a little AK live fire, basic small unit tactics, first aid training, and grenade throwing.

While you would wonder why these 1960s/70s era kids are learning about DP28s and PPSh-41s in class alongside AKMs, keep in mind that the Soviets had (and the Russians still have) warehouses full of that old stuff, just in case

Sergei in the back just can’t get with the program. Don’t be like Sergei

NVP class with Izhevsk МР-512 Мурка pellet rifles, 1969. Odds are these girls had mothers, aunts, or grandmothers that may have picked up a rifle as a partisan in WWII, especially in places like Belorussia. 

The Ushanka Show has a great installment below on what it was like to go through such a class.

The practice lasted from the 1930s through the end of the Cold War when it was largely abandoned as compulsory in Russia and most of the former Soviet Republics with the exception of the Central Asian “stans.”

A lil basic bayonet training with wooden fencing rifles in the 1930s– just behind the village schoolhouse

However, it has become popular as an elective class, and, in 2014, Ukraine once again made it mandatory for their high schoolers.

Further, so-called Yunarmia elective classes and groups are surging in popularity, and largely replace the old NVP program, only on a smaller scale. With a degree of sponsorship from the Ministry of Defense, Moscow aims to have 1 million kids enrolled annually in the program in the coming years, with the bottom age limit starting around age 6.

Ivan don’t HALO…or maybe they do

Deputy Minister of Defense of the Russian Federation, Lt. Gen Evkurov Yunus-Bek , an Ossetian who graduated from the Ryazan Airborne Command school back in 1989– back when it was Soviet– was in the drop zone over the weekend watching a VDV recon unit somewhere in the Arctic hit the silk from a reported 33,000 feet, which is about the upper practical edge of a HALO/HAHO insertion.

About as Red Dawn meets Ice Station Zebra as you can get…

Those AK-12s do look good in an arctic scheme, though

The Russians say it is the first time in their history that they have jumped from that height. Once on the ground, they carried out a simulated direct-action against an “intelligence target.”

Roll that beautiful propaganda footage. Yunus-Bek appears at about the 2:27 mark of the first video.

Only the Greybeards Left

100 years ago in Ukraine, after four years of the Great War and two of Civil War:

Official caption:

Only the Greybeards Left. When the principal men of the Cossack village of Prochnookopskara, South Russia, were called together to meet the representative of the American Red Cross there were none of the fighting age left. Only the old warriors, whose scars gave a good account of their former days but whose bodies had no longer enough vigor to fight under the fearful campaigning conditions of the struggle against the Bolshevists, met in the market place and doffed their astrakhan hats in honor of the visitor who brought help. The American officer at the left of the center surrounded by hetman in huge white caps is Prince Ourousow

Sadly, once the Reds won the Civil War in South Russia in November 1920, just months after the above photo was snapped, commissars began a state campaign of Raskazachivaniye (decossackization) that was genocide by any other name. Many of the old greybeards shown here soon likely found themselves labeled as “kulaks” or “money bags” (bogatei) for owning a few acres of land and were deported to Siberia in chains or stood up against a wall. The lucky ones just lost their land, horses, and guns and were allowed to join the local collective.

Although the Don and Kuban Cossacks were deemed “counter-revolutionaries” by Moscow and targeted for special treatment, it should be noted that at least one-fifth of all of the men in arms from the stanistas (about 30,000) did so under Red banners, with a full division, the First Don, being composed primarily of Cossacks. As such, many of the young men who rode with Budyonny’s Red Cavalry (Konarmiya) returned home to the farm in 1921 to be shown the light of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Paradise.

Babel didn’t cover that.

78 Years Ago: Ivan’s Field Expedient Stock Repair

A Finnish alikersantti looks quizzically at his new trophy rifle, a Soviet M91/30 Mosin whose rifle stock has been replaced by two pieces of plywood nailed together on a wooden block, 10 March 1942, Lahdenpohja, Finland, during the Continuation War. Also, note the “dog collar” sling attachment has been swapped out for what looks like a piece of leather.

Meh, it probably still works, though.

Photo via SA-Kuva.fi

Warship Wednesday (on a Thursday) Jan 2, 2020: One Tough Russian

Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger

Warship Wednesday (on a Thursday) Jan 2, 2020: One Tough Russian

Here we see, under what looks like an albatross circling, the gently listing Petropavlovsk-class battleship Sevastopol of the Imperial Russian Navy in early December 1904. The olive drab warship is terrain masking as best she could in besieged Port Arthur to avoid the Japanese Army’s 11-inch howitzer shells which had sent all the rest of the Tsar’s Pacific battlewagons to the bottom. She would enter 1905 as the sole combat-ready Russian battleship still afloat on that side of the globe– only to fight her last on 2 January, some 115 years ago today.

At 11,500-tons (standard), the trio of Petropavlovsk were essentially improved versions of the previous one-off Sissoi Veliky and Tri Sviatitelia-class battleships.

Russian Petropavlovsk-class battleship Poltava fitting out in Kronstadt, 1900 

Packing four 12″/40 (30.5 cm) Pattern 1895 Obukhov guns in a pair of twin hydraulic turrets forward and aft, which had a two-minute firing cycle between rounds, they also carried a secondary armament of eight 6″/45cal guns in four twin mounts (rather than casemates as commonly seen around the world).

Imperial Russian battleships Poltava and Sevastopol in Kronshtadt, 1899 under construction–note the turrets being constructed

Imperial Russian battleship Sevastopol in Kronshtadt, September 1900

Topping the cake was something on the order of 40 37mm and 47mm anti-torpedo boat guns and a half-dozen torpedo tubes. Armor was an impressive mix that ran up to 16-inches thick. Speed, just 15.3 knots on 16 coal-fired boilers and a pair of VTE engines, was typical of the era.

Russian battleships Poltava and Sevastopol in Kronshtadt, September 1900. Note the myriad of 37mm and 47mm light guns slathered throughout the ship from fighting tops to decks

Petropavlovsk and her sister, Sevastopol, were laid down at the Galerny Island Shipyard in St. Petersburg while the third ship of the class, Poltava, was laid down at the city’s Admiralty Yard at the tail-end of the 19th Century. All were named after famous Russian battles, with our featured ship honoring the epic 11-month Siege of Sevastopol during the Crimean War.

Commissioned 15 July 1900 after a second set of builder’s trials– during which she made 16.41 knots– Sevastopol was dispatched to join the rest of her class in the Pacific where the Russians were hedging in on Korea and Manchuria, much to the heartburn of the Japanese Empire.

From 1900 to the beginning of 1904 the Petropavlovsk-class vessels carried a Far East scheme that included white sides, turrets, deckhouses, masts, and fans with black-capped yellow stacks and gilded bow and stern decorations. This would later switch during the Russo-Japanese War to an all-over dark olive-green and black.

Sevastopol photographed at Algiers in 1901 while en route to the Russian base at Port Arthur where she was scuttled in 1905. Courtesy of J. Meister, Zurich Switzerland, 1975 NH 81876

Battleships Sevastopol and Petropavlovsk (in the background) in Vladivostok, August 1901

Russian battleships Sevastopol, Poltava, and Petropavlovsk in Port Arthur, 1903

The Balloon Goes Up

When Port Arthur was attacked by the Japanese in the opening act of the war on the night of 8/9 February 1904, the Russians had their fleet in three lines anchored in the outer harbor.

The innermost line included Sevastopol and her sisters Petropavlovsk (fleet flagship) and Poltava along with the two similar 15,000-ton Peresvet-class battleships Peresvet and Pobieda. The middle line included the new battleships Tsarevich and Retvizan as well as several cruisers. In all, seven Russian battlewagons swaying at anchor in a “peacetime” Pacific port. (Similarly, at Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. had seven along Battleship Row as well as the dreadnought Pennsylvania in dry dock.)

Within 20 minutes, three flotillas of Japanese destroyers swept in, delivered their fish, and slipped out to sea, suffering no casualties. The middle line took the worst of it with both Retvizan and Tsarevich taking torpedoes and having to run aground to prevent a total loss.

Japanese Ukiyo-E woodblock art depiction, “Illustration of Our Torpedo Hitting Russian Ship at Great Naval Battle of Port Arthur” by Kobayashi Kiyochika, 1904

Japanese Ukiyo-E woodblock art depiction by Toshihide Migita of the torpedo ship attack, Port Arthur

Nonetheless, the undamaged Russian ships stood to the next morning and engaged Japanese Adm. Togo’s squadron in a 40-minute battle that was a tactical draw in the respect that it left the status quo with the Russians in Port Arthur and the Japanese in control of the water outside the range of the base’s coastal guns.

Print shows Japanese battleships bombarding Russian battleships in the surprise initial naval assault on the Russian fleet at Lüshun (Port Arthur) 1904

During the said engagement, Sevastopol fired 10 12-inch and 65 6-inch shells at the Japanese with no reported hits, taking three small hits in return which caused little damage.

Sevastopol. This photograph might possibly have been taken at Port Arthur on the Yellow Sea during the early stages of the Russo-Japanese war in 1904, after the opening engagement but before she got her olive drab paint. Courtesy of J. Meister, Zurich Switzerland, 1975 NH 81875

Togo next decided to try and bottle up the Russian fleet in Port Arthur by sinking old merchant ships, manned by volunteer IJN crews, in the approach channel. Said one-way volunteers would be plucked from their doomed ships by accompanying torpedo boats.

The first attempt, with four blockships– Bushu Maru, Buyo Maru, Hokoku Maru, and Jinsen Maru-– took place on the night of 24/25 February and but was unsuccessful after the grounded battleship Retvizan caught the lead ship in her searchlights and plastered it.

Second attempt to block Port Arthur, 27 March 1904 William Lionel Wylie RMG PV0976

The second attempt was in the early morning of 27 March and, like the first, involved four blockships: the Chiyo Maru, Fukui Maru, Yahiko Maru, and Yoneyama Maru. The whole thing fell apart when Fukui Maru was spotted and promptly sunk by the patrolling Russian destroyer Silnyii well short of the outer harbor and the other three condemned steamers scuttled too far out to fill their intended role.

Blockade of Port Arthur by Hannosuke Kuroki 1904

A third attempt was made a few weeks later using a doubled force of eight blockships– but this was also unsuccessful and cost the lives of more than 70 of the volunteers who rode them to the bottom.

It was roughly at this point that Sevastopol’s skipper, Capt. Nikolai Chernyshev, was relieved by the newly-installed squadron commander, Russian Vice Adm. Stephan Makarov, after the battleship had a collision with Peresvet that was ruled Chernyshev’s fault during a rushed inquiry. The career officer was sent back to St. Petersburg on one of the last trains out of the fortress and would be found dead in his apartment the same week the Treaty of Portsmouth formally ended the Russo-Japanese War, aged 48.

Relieving Chernyshev was the commander of the fast cruiser Novik, Capt. Nicholas von Essen, from an esteemed Baltic German family with a long history of service to the Tsar. Although the crack up between the two battleships left one of Sevastopol’s rudders and screws damaged, an ersatz repair was able to semi-fix the warship enough to consider her still fit for service.

Makarov, who was seen by the Russians as essentially their equivalent of Chester Nimitz, led the patched up Russian squadron on a patrol out of Port Arthur on 13 April, with his flag on Petropavlovsk and Sevastopol just to her stern.

However, Petropavlovsk stumbled across as many as three unmarked Russian mines (!) and sank in about a minute with the loss of 646 lives, to include the good admiral and Russian combat artist Vasily Vereshchagin.

A Japanese Ukiyo-E depiction by artist Yasuda Hampō of the sinking of Petropavlovsk. The original caption reads: “Picture of the Eighth Attack on Port Arthur. The Flagship of Russia Was Destroyed by the Torpedo of Our Navy and Admiral Makaroff [sic] Drowned.” Photo via Museum of Fine Art, Boston

“The Russian battleship Petropvavlask sinks as Adm. Makarov stands bravely on deck”

“Faith, Tsar, and Fatherland 1905 Forgotten War” by Pavel Viktorovich Ryzhenko showing Russian military artist Vasili Verestchagin aboard battleship Petropavlovsk with Admiral Makarov just before it sank. I love the sailors in the background.

Among the 89 survivors from Petropavlask plucked from the water was Lt. Grand Duke Kirill (Cyril) Vladimirovich, the Tsar’s first cousin and the man who would go on to be the pretender to the Romanov throne in exile from 1924 until he died in 1938, a position his granddaughter continues to style today. Kirill would suffer from burns, back injuries, and PTSD for the rest of his life.

Sevastopol, along with the rest of the squadron, was able to return to port after the loss of her sister.

Under newly promoted and deeply fatalistic Rear Adm. Wilgelm Vitgeft (aka Withief), the fleet at Port Arthur was ordered to sortie from the doomed base to the relative safety of Vladivostok to the North, fighting their way through Togo if they had to.

Sailing out on 10 June with six battleships, seven cruisers, and six destroyers, they made it some 20 miles outside of the port before they clashed– briefly– with Togo’s slightly smaller force (four battleships and 12 cruisers) and turned tail.

On re-entering the port, Sevastopol was hit by another unmarked mine and suffered 11 wounded.

Russian naval mines of the 1904 era were not that much more advanced than the black powder Jacobi mines of the Crimean War, a design that predated Farragut’s damnation in the Civil War. Nonetheless, they worked. The Russo-Japanese war experience led the Russkis to develop the M08 mine shortly after, one that is still used extensively today.

Russian naval mines on the beach on the east coast of Heishakow, Port Arthur 1905. In addition to Japanese mines, the loss or the Russian minelayer Yenisei, struck one of her own devices two days after the war began while laying an unmarked minefield, would haunt the Russian fleet. NH 94783

Japanese sailors inspect captured Russian sea mines during the Russo-Japanese War. The IJN lost the battleships Hatsuse and Yashima, the cruisers Miyako, Saien, and Takasago; auxiliary cruiser Otagawa Maru, the destroyers Akatsuki and Hayatori, blockship Aikoku Maru, the torpedo boat No. 48, gunboat Heien, transport Maiko Maru, and corvette Kaimon to mines during the conflict. Photo via USNI photo archive

Left with a 12×14-foot hole in her hull and a 5-degree list, Sevastopol went to the port’s naval yard once again for repairs. It was during this period that a few of her 6-inch and most of her light guns (37mm Maxims and 47mm Hotchkiss) were removed to be installed ashore, manned by her gunners. One of her 12-inch guns was cannibalized to repair a similar one that had been damaged on Poltava.

Japanese sentry with a captured Russian naval gun overlooking Port Arthur after the siege. At least 10 of these were removed from Russian battleships, with many coming from Petropavlask. 

Six-inch naval gun in a Russian hillside battery commander seated at left Port Arthur, LC-DIG-ppmsca-07978

The Beginning of the End

The hourglass was upended on Port Arthur on 1 August when the fortress city was cut off from the rest of Asia on land by the Japanese Army. With no more trains or supply columns, fresh troops or stock coming, and the port blockaded by the Japanese fleet applied against a single point, Port Arthur was withering on the vine for the next 154 days as the world watched.

Sevastopol was ready for action again by the end of July and fell in with the squadron once more for Vitgeft’s second attempt to break out on 10 August. The flag officer, in a meeting with his commanders before the sortie, reportedly told the assembled as they departed, “Gentlemen, we will meet again in the next world.”

Proving himself correct, the mission saw the unlucky admiral killed on the bridge of his battleship Tsarevich and most of the force– except for the battered Tsarevich herself which made for neutral Chinese shelter along with a trio of German-made destroyers— returned to Port Arthur a final time. In that lengthy (10 hours) running fight, known today as the Battle in the Yellow Sea, Sevastopol fired 78 12-inch and 323 6-inch shells and was hit twice by Japanese shells in return, causing 61 casualties.

With the likelihood of breakout evaporating, the fleet then turned to provide extra hands for the shrinking siege lines in the hills to fight off Gen. Baron Nogi Maresuke’s entire Third Japanese Army. Mobilizing nearly half of her crew to serve ashore in an ersatz infantry company, Sevastopol’s bluejackets were given rifles and cartridge belts and sent packing.

Imperial Russian battleship Sevastopol in Port-Arthur, 1904, with her crew sending off a scratch naval battalion armed with Mosin M91 rifles. Note, she now has an olive drab scheme. 

Still, Sevastopol, by then a battered and half-manned floating war engine, shuttled around the harbor and provided direct gunfire support in late August, during which she exchanged fire with the Japanese armored cruisers Nissin and Kasuga. Once again, she struck a mine, which put her in repair until October.

It was while she was the Navy Yard that the Japanese had begun to bombard the base and its defenses with over a dozen Armstrong-designed 11-inch (280mm) L/10 howitzers which had been pulled from the coastal defenses of Tokyo Bay and manhandled to the fortress. Each of the behemoths fired 478-pound AP shells to a range of nearly 5-miles.

Enormous 11-inch shell from Japanese siege gun, beginning its deadly flight into Port Arthur LC-USZ62-67825

Drydock in Port Arthur Navy Yard showing cruiser Bayan, left and Sevastopol, right, under fire from Japanese 11-inch howitzers, likely in October. Courtesy of Mrs. John B. McDonald, September 15, 1966. NH 111897

Hit by five such shells while in repair, Sevastopol’s deck was reinforced with a layer of sandbags and slag under a cover of an inch of plate steel. Such up-armored, the battered Russian was able to clock back in and provide counter-battery fire throughout November.

However, once the Japanese on 3 December seized control of the strategic key to Port Arthur, 203 Meter Hill, which commanded the harbor itself, and with a gunfire support team atop the crest directing fire, it was game over for the Russian fleet.

Destroying Russian ships and town terrific rain of great Japanese shells in Port Arthur, LC-DIG-ppmsca-07969

On 5 December, Sevastopol’s remaining sistership Poltava was hit by plunging howitzer shells and suffered a magazine explosion, sinking her to the mud of Port Arthur.

The Russian pre-dreadnought battleship Poltava sunk at Port Arthur as a result of bombardment by Japanese land-based artillery during the siege of Port Arthur (December 1904). She would later be salvaged and put into service with the Japanese then repatriated to Russia in 1915 and be finally scrapped in the Baltic in the 1920s. 

The next day, Retvizan was pounded to the bottom.

Port Arthur, 1905 Russian battleship Retvizan sunk by Japanese 11-inch howitzers shallow water

On 7 December, Peresvet and Pobeda went.

Russian Peresvet Class Pre-Dreadnought Battleship IRN Pobeda under intense Japanese artillery fire at Port Arthur on December 6th, 1904.

On 8 December, the cruiser Pallada was destroyed.

Destroying a fleet — battleship Pallada struck by a 500 lb. Japanese shell — Port Arthur harbor via LOC LC-USZ62-68822

On the 9th, the cruiser Bayan joined the butcher’s list. The minelayer Amur and gunboat Bobr followed.

Port Arthur from the top of Gold Hill in 1905. From the left wrecks of battleships Peresvet, Poltava, Retvizan, Pobeda, and the cruiser Pallada

The Final Act

After the first week or so of December, Sevastopol and a retinue of small ships were all that was left of the once-mighty Russian Pacific force in Port Arthur. Though missing some of her armament and still suffering damage from two mines, a collision, five 11-inch hits, and a dozen from smaller 8- and 6-inch naval guns, she was still the only combat-effective Russian capital ship available.

Therefore, Essen, with his ground-fighting sailors repatriated back from the frozen trenches to their floating steel home, fought the last naval battle for Port Arthur from 10 December onward, with the big howitzers firing another 300 rounds indirectly at the theorized location of the Russian ship in a real-life game of Battleship without success, forcing the Japanese navy to tap back into the fight.

A fleet in being, although trapped, the Sevastopol and her escorts pinned down the bulk of the Japanese fleet for the rest of the year.

As described in Richard Connaughton’s Rising Sun and Tumbling Bear: Russia’s War with Japan:

Von Essen, formerly captain of the Novik, placed Sevastopol in the roadstead at the southern end of Tiger’s Tail behind a hill that shielded her from 203 Meter Hill. She was protected by an anti-torpedo boom and a small, hurrying, anxious destroyer flotilla. Wave after wave of Japanese destroyers sped in to release no fewer than 124 torpedoes in six successive attacks against the luckless target. For three weeks, Essen survived…

Sevastopol repulsing a night attack. Painting by A.V. Ganzena

In the series of attacks, the Russian force sank at least two Japanese torpedo boats, No. 53 and No. 42, and damaged as many as 13 other vessels. Meanwhile, the protected cruiser Takasago was sent to the bottom on 13 December when she struck a mine while shepherding the small attack craft, with a loss of 273 of her crew.

Japanese Torpedo boats returning to base after night attack

It was downright embarrassing to Togo that, even after the Army had dismantled the Russian squadron piecemeal, his force still could not shut the lid on its coffin.

Finally, it was all for naught as Gen. Baron Anatoly Stessel (Stoessel), the Russian commander at Port Arthur, moved to surrender his force on New Year’s Day 1905, without consulting his shocked staff. Apparently, while in a tactically bad position, the besieged base could have held out much longer in theory.

From W. Bruce Lincoln’s, In War’s Dark Shadow:

When they entered Port Arthur, the Japanese expected to find a handful of desperate defenders short of weapons, ammunition, and food. Not counting doctors, nurses and noncombatants, they found 13,485 able-bodied men, another 5,809 suffering from scurvy or minor wounds, and 13,856 who were in the hospital or on light duty because of wounds or serious illness. There were over 600 pieces of artillery still in good order, over 200,000 shells still unfired, and about 2.5 million rounds of machine gun and rifle ammunition. There were tons of food and fodder: flour for 27 days, groats for another 23 days, beans and lentils for 34 days, and dried vegetables for 88 days. There were nearly 200 days’ worth of salt and tea. Most amazing of all, perhaps, there was 2,944 horses in the fortress, enough to supply the garrison with fresh meat for many days to come in view of the large quantities of fodder remaining. With their sense of honor that drove them to fight to the death for their Emperor, the Japanese were dumbfounded.

Of note, Stessel was later court marshaled and sentenced to death by a Russian military tribunal, although his sentence was eventually commuted.

Just before the Nogi’s forces moved into Port Arthur on 2 January, the last of the Russian fleet in the harbor pulled a Toulon 1942 and scuttled. These included the Puilki-class destroyers Storozhevoi, Silni, and Razyashchi; the Delfin-class destroyers Bditelni and Boevoi; the gunboats Djigit, Guidamak, Guidamak, and Razboinik; and the battered but not broken Sevastopol.

Von Essen, with a crew of 50, moved the ship to the deepest water available to him, 30 fathoms, and opened her seacocks after passing the word to dog closed only the portside watertight doors. This caused the ship to keel over starboard and sink by the stern in about 15 minutes. Notably, while the Japanese were able to raise and ultimately repair all the Russian battleships sunk at Port Arthur (apart from the shattered Petropavlovsk) Sevastopol was declared a loss and not salvaged.

In all, some 507 of Sevastopol’s crew and 31 of her officers, to include Von Essen, were captured by the Japanese, bringing their ship’s battle flag with them.

Russian sailors from the wrecked battleships – surrendered prisoners of war in Port Arthur. LC-USZ62-11832

Stossel and Makarov over Nogi and Togo on the cover of The Sphere, 115 years ago this month. Makarov was, of course, already long dead when this was published while Stossel would live under a commuted death sentence until 1915. As for Nogi, grieving for the loss of more than 14,000 of his men on the costly Port Arthur campaign– including his eldest son– he would commit ritual suicide in 1912 upon the death of the Emperor. Notably, Nogi after the war spent most of his personal wealth on the construction of memorials to both the Russian and Japanese soldiers of the 1904 campaign. Togo, Japan’s most decorated naval officer of all time, died of throat cancer in 1934, aged 86, and is still seen as “The Nelson of the Pacific.”

Essen would go on to be appointed commander of the Baltic Sea fleet during the first part of WWI before he died of pneumonia and today a frigate in the modern Russian Navy carries his name.

The Sevastopol’s Port Arthur St. Andrew’s flag remains in the Russian Navy’s collection to this day, housed in the building of the Naval Cadet Corps.

Via Ocean-Magazine.ru

The name Sevastopol went on to be used both on a Gangut-class battleship that served in both WWI and WWII before going on to be scrapped in 1956 as well as for a Kresta-class cruiser during the Cold War.

Our circa-1904 battlewagon is remembered in maritime art as well.

Battleship Sevastopol by Nikolay Konstantinovich Artseulov

Finally, Combrig released an excellent 1:700 scale model of Sevastopol, #70102.

Specs:

Line drawing via Combrig

Displacement: 11,842 long tons
Length: 376 ft
Beam: 70 ft
Draught: 28 ft 3 in
Machinery: 16 cylindrical boilers, 9368 ihp, 2 shafts, 2 triple-expansion steam engines
Speed: 16 knots
Range: 3,750 nm
Complement: 27 officers and 625 sailors as designed
Armor, nickel-steel Harvey type:
Waterline belt: 10–16 in
Gun turrets: 10 in
Secondary turrets: 5 in
Conning tower: 9 in
Deck: 2–3 in
Armament:
2 × twin 12″/40 (305 mm) guns
12 (4 × twins, 4 × single) 6″/45cal (152 mm) guns
12 × single 47mm Hotchkiss guns
28 × single 37mm Maxim guns
4 × 15-inch torpedo tubes, broadside
2 × 18-inch torpedo tubes, below the waterline
50 mines

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