Saturday, January 21, 2012

Battle of the Yellow Sea - RJW

The History

The Imperial Russian Navy's(IRN) First Pacific Squadron, commanded by Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft, had been trapped in Port Arthur by an Imperial Japanese Navy(IJN) blockade since 8 February 1904 as a result of the Battle of Port Arthur.

Attack on Port Arthur
The Japanese laid siege to Port Arthur starting in July 1904.  The Russian command pushed for a sortie to enable the First Pacific Squadron to link up with the Vladivostok Squadron and create a naval force powerful enough to challenge the Japanese fleet. Admiral Vitgeft the commander of the First Pacific Fleet believed staying in port was enough as his battleships could contribute to the land battle in the defense of Port Arthur.  He was hoping to delay the fall of Port Arthur long enough for a relief by the Baltic Fleet which would then form a force capable of overwhelming the IJN in battle.

The Russian high command had other ideas and went to the Tsar in order to force Admiral Vitgeft to abandon Port Arthur and unite with the squadron based at  Vladivostok.  On 10 August 1904, Admiral Vitgeft, flying his flag in the battleship Tsesarevich, began leading his battleships from the harbor.

At 09:55 hours the fleet exited Port Arthur.  Admiral Vitgeft initially set a course to the south in hopes of hiding his intent.  Admiral Togo commander of the IJN fleet had assembled his squadron to intercept and by 1100hrs it was clear that the Russians were heading for the open sea. The Russian squadron consisted of the battleships Tsesarevich, Retvizan, Pobeda, Peresvet, Sevastopol, and Poltava, protected cruisers Askold, Diana, Novik and Pallada, and 14 destroyers.





At about 12:25 the battleship fleets sighted each other at a range of about 11 miles. Vitgeft's battle fleet was headed southeast at 13 knots, while Togo, on an intercepting course came from the northeast at 14 knots. His fleet consisted of Japan's four surviving battleships Mikasa, Asahi, Fuji, and Shikishima, the armored cruisers Nisshin and Kasuga, as well as eight protected cruisers, 18 destroyers, and 30 torpedo boats.




During this time, Admiral Dewa's four cruisers came into view, fast approaching from the south at 18 knots, and Togo attempted to squeeze Admiral Vitgeft's fleet between the two advancing columns.


Just after 13:00, Togo attempted to cross the Russian "T" and commenced firing his main batteries from the extreme range.   Vitgeft and the battleship Retvizan returned fire, but the range was excessive and no hits were scored by either side.   Togo miscalculated his speed when trying to cross the enemy's "T", and the Russians  made a quick turn to port, maintained speed, and increased  range from IJN fleet.  Admiral Vitgeft was again headed for the open sea, and Admiral Togo's pincer gamble failed, the IJN cruisers had to turn quickly to avoid the main battle line, and thus broke contact without having fired a shot. As Togo observed Vitgeft's battle line swiftly move past his own in opposite directions, he quickly ordered each warship to turn about individually, which put his cruisers into the lead, but now parallel with the IRN  battle line.
At about 13:25 hours, again at extreme range Togo's battleships opened fire on Vitgeft's flagship and the Retvizan, hitting the latter 12 times. By about 13:30 hours, the Russian flagship had returned fire, knocking out Togo's wireless communications from extreme range. For nearly half an hour the two battleship fleets pounded each other, slowly closing their range. 
At 14:05 hours the two fleets reached about 3.5 miles; at which time both fleets let loose with their secondary guns. As the fleets continued to pound each other with all available guns, Togo's flagship Mikasa was taking a pounding.  Togo tried to turn to protect Mikasa, but with his radio shot out, he had to rely on flag signals, and radio relays from accompanying warships.
The Japanese cruisers re-established contact with the Russian battle line, but were quickly driven off by their main gunfire. Both battle fleets were maintaining about 14 knots, but again, Vitgeft had managed to get past Togo, and the Japanese were forced to commence a stern chase.

Togo and his staff on Mikasa
By 14:45 hours the Japanese flagship had closed to within about 7 miles of the trailing battleship Poltava, which had been unable to maintain its fleet's 14 knots due to engine troubles. Mikasa and Asahi soon began to pound the Poltava, scoring several hits. However, admiral Ukhtomsky riding in the battleship Peresvet, observed the plight of the Poltava and ordered his division to fall back and help the Poltava, and they began concentrating their gunfire onto the Mikasa and Asahi. With Admiral Ukhtomsky's division firing, coupled with Poltava rejoining of the fight, Mikasa and Asahi began taking too many hits, and upon the urging of his chief of staff, Togo used his superior speed to break contact, race ahead of Vitgeft's fleet, and try to re-establish contact again under more favorable conditions. By 15:20 hours, the range was opened, and the firing had ceased.

As the battleships broke contact, Admiral Dewa with his cruisers attempted to get into action, when suddenly the Russian battleships opened up on him. At about 15:40 hours one shell hit Dewa's cruiser, the Yakumo from a range of over 8 miles; which was well out of range of his guns.   Admiral Dewa wisely decided that his four Japanese cruisers had no business tangling with any Russian battleships.

As a result only Togo's 6 warships (4 battleships and 2 armored cruisers) were chasing Vitgeft's 10 warships (6 battleships and 4 cruisers).   With darkness only 3 hours away, Admiral Vitgeft believed that he had outranged Admiral Togo, and would lose him totally when darkness came. Togo knew this as well, and ordered a 15 knot speed to catch up to the tail end of Vitgeft's fleet. By 17:35 hours Togo's warships had closed to within 3.5 miles of the battleship Poltava, and opened fire upon her. Admiral Dewa also showed up with his cruisers, and Togo ordered all battleships and cruisers to shell the Poltava, hoping to at least sink one Russian battleship. However, the Russian commander, Captain Ivan P. Uspenskiy of the Poltava would not go down meekly, and his crewmen scored several hits on Admiral Togo's flagship Mikasa. At this time, the Shikishima shells loaded inside the became unstable and began detonating inside the gun barrels; knocking out of action one main gun on the Shikishima at 17:45 hours, and two  barrels on the Asahi at 18:10 hours. By 18:30 hours, Togo only had 11 of his original 17 main guns still in action.

 Although the range had dropped to about 3 miles, the secondary batteries were still ineffective, and Poltava and Peresvet although heavily damaged, were still with the Russian battle line. By 18:30 hours, Togo was still having trouble controlling his battleship's gunfire; Shikishima and Asahi were blasting away at the crippled Poltava, Fuji was shooting at Pobeda and Peresvet, while the flagship Mikasa was dueling with the Russian flagship Tsesarevich. No IJN warships were shooting at the Russian battleships Retvizan and Sevastopol, which allowed them to freely blast away at the Mikasa. With darkness only 30 minutes away, the Japanese flagship Mikasa was almost no longer combat effective, and Russian gunfire seemingly becoming more accurate and effective with each cannon shot; the flagship signaled to the Asahi to take over (known as a battle handoff) the shooting upon the lead Russian battleship.   Within 10 minutes of being relieved by the Asahi, Admiral Togo got his lucky break, when at 18:40 hours Asahi fired a salvo into the Russian flagship Tsesarevich, instantly killing

Admiral Vitgeft and his immediate staff, and jamming the flagship's steering wheel. The explosion had wedged the wheel into a port turn, sharp enough so that Tsesarevich heeled over 12 degrees. Retvizan, which was unaware of the situation on the flagship, followed in her wake. By the time Pobeda arrived at the turning point, Tsesarevich had swung around 180 degrees and was heading back into her own line. With no signal to indicate what had happened, the other ships were unaware that Tsesarevich was not only out of control and without its admiral, but was actually without anyone in command at all.

Prince Pavel Ukhtomsky of the battleship Peresvet soon realized that the flagship was out of action, and attempted to gain control of the Russian squadron. But a Japanese shell, falling wide, cut the foremast of Peresvet, preventing the signal flags from being hoisted as usual; they had to be hoisted along the bridge instead. Being thus almost hidden from view, the signal apparently was only seen on Sevastopol, as no other Russian capital ships followed Ukhtomsky's lead.

At the same time Captain Eduard Schensnovich commanding the battleship Retvizan, immediately turned his battleship towards Togo's battleline, charging directly them firing every weapon he had, despite being down by the bow from battle damage. Frantically Togo's battle line shifted their fire onto Retvizan, pounding the warship with every gun, as the range dropped to less than three miles. There were so many shell splashes surrounding the charging battleship, that Japanese gunners were unable to adjust their fire. However, as Togo's battleships were running low on shells, and many of his main guns were out of action, he decided to play it safe, and with the Russian squadron scattered, he turned the fight over to his cruisers and destroyers.

As Togo's battlewagons began their turn, they fired a final salvo, hitting the enemy battleship with several shells, one of which seriously wounded Captain Schensnovich in the stomach. The Retvizan laid smoke and also began to turn away, but the battleship had effectively ended the duel between the opposing pre-dreadnaughts, and had saved the flagship from destruction.   There was little choice but to give up the attempt to reach Vladivostok and to return back to Port Arthur.  This soon proved impossible to coordinate, and many ships wandered off on their own.

 Two hours later, the bulk of the Russian fleet returned to the relative safety of Port Arthur. Five battleships, a cruiser and nine destroyers made it back. The damaged Tsesarevich and three escorting destroyers sailed to Kiaochou, where they were interned by German authorities. The cruiser Askold and another destroyer sailed to Shanghai and were likewise interned by Chinese authorities. The cruiser Diana escaped to Saigon, where it was interned by the French.   Only the small cruiser Novik sailed east around the Japanese home islands to try to reach Vladivostok. However, on 20 August 1904 pursuing Japanese cruisers forced the ship aground at Sakhalin, where it was destroyed by the crew after engaging the Japanese at the Battle of Korsakov.

Damaged and sunk fleet at Port Arthur

The strategic objective was obvious for both sides: breakthrough to Vladivostok with at least a substantial part of the force for the Russians, and preventing this for the Japanese.  Strategically the battle had been a Japanese victory, since the Russian fleet never again attempted to break out into the open sea. By December 1904, the land battles had converged around Port Arthur itself, and heavy artillery would soon be brought to bear on the Russian warships remaining inside Port Arthur; sinking or damaging all of the survivors of the Yellow Sea Battle.

Tactically, the issue is less clear; for the Japanese side, the goal would most likely be destruction of the Russian squadron (or at least the capital ships) without incurring too many losses of their own. This was not achieved. Whether the tactical outcome is considered a draw or a Russian victory depends on what the Russian tactical goal was: causing more significant damage to the Japanese than vice versa (this was not achieved), or forcing the Japanese to withdraw while preserving the Russian squadron as a "fleet in being" (this was achieved).

The Battle Refought
The below account is my first ever attempt at a major engagement using the then new to me Naval Thunder Rise of the Battleship rules.  I had played at cons and also fought the Battle of Ulsan with other experienced gamers.  This time it was me verses my then 13 yr old eldest son meeting on the high seas.  The below account is a testament to how easily this rule system plays out as we had no issues once we had the basic turn sequence down.
Initial deployments:

IJN Battle line poised to intercept the Russian fleet:

IJN Cruiser force shadowing Russian main battle line at a safe distance:

Russian Battle line making a run for safety to escape Port Arthur:

In 1904 the Battle of the Yellow Sea did not last long after the Russian Flagship took a critical hit to the Bridge and the fleet basically broke up in disarray with the survivors retreating back to Port Arthur.  What the Russians did not have in 1904 was a teenage boy in command determined to best his father against the odds.

Displaying keen accumen the Russians choose to engage the IJN forces in parts instead of as a whole in hopes to divide and conquer.  The Russian opening move was to execute a line abreast and engage the IJN Cruiser force shadowing them before they would be forced to face the big guns of the main IJN battle line.The other thing the Russians did not have is the unexplainable ability to roll dice like they were possessed....  Rolling Eyes

The Russian Battle line tore into the IJN Cruisers decimating Chitose in quick order and setting Kagusa ablaze while the fast moving flotilla moved in for a kill.

 IJN reiforcements were on their way, but would they arrive soon enough to impact the battle?
 As the Main Russian Battle line dealt with the IJN cruiser force the Russian Cruisers along with the 2nd flotilla effectively screened the Batttle Line and engaged the other IJN Cruiser force that was closing in.

A heated seperate battle evolved as the two Cruiser forces exchanged salvos while the Main Battle line continued to rake the other IJN cruiser squadron.

Despite the inital Russian Successes (excellent die rolling) the inevitable could not be avoided.  Russian Success depended on their force getting past the IJN Battle line and escaping to the open sea.  While the Russian line was hotly engaged the IJN Battle line was closing the distance.

Soon the two lines were exchanging blows while the cruisers continued to deliver passing shots and cross the rear of the Russian line.

The initial salvos were devastaing for both sides.  Flotillas rushed the two lines in hopes to get off their fish and sway the balance of power.  The Russians had already taken some punishment, but were still giving a good fight.  The IJN struck the first Critical blow forcing the Presviet out of line while the IRN scored two devastaing hits on the Asahi.

Then Just like History the Russian Flag ship was crushed under the ovewhelming fire of the IJN line as they attempted to make a turn back to the East with victory in sight.  With two Battleships out of the fight the Russians could not witstand the withering fire from the IJN Line along with the remaining cruisers that swarmed like sharks to blood in pursuit of the kill.  Only a small Russian Cruiser force was able to make a break for it unscathed.

Like history this day would belong to the IJN.  Unlike history I paid a lot higher price than Togo for this victory over the IRN Squadron commanded by their youthful admiral with a smart mouth.   Fortunately for the Japanese trash talk did not count toward victory conditions.  Had it a Russian victory surely would have been in order. Wink

Not quite the historical results of the actual battle, but that usually tends to be the case with hsitorical wargaming as tabletop captains and admirals will usually stay in the fight much longer than the real life figures ever would have as there is not real loss involved.

Overall a great battle and always a great time gaming especially when I can get my son involved  as sometimes he actually is interested in the history.   Of course it is always that much better when the old man can "school" the youngster. Smile

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as we did playing. 

Next up the Tsushima.......


  1. Great background info in addition to the battle report, Aaron. I really like the artistry of the Japanese battle paintings.


  2. Yes, but you need to achknowledge that a lot of it is taken word-for-word from:

  3. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

  4. Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.