In these opening assaults Japan gained almost half of the essential points for which she fought.
Continuing The Russo-Japanese War,
with a selection from Article in Great Events by Famous Historians, Volume XX by Charles F. Horne published in 1914. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages. This selection is presented in nine easy 5 minute installments.
Previously in The Russo-Japanese War.
Let us follow the course of the fleet which thus bore with it the fate of a nation. Passing Fusan and Masampo, it advanced up the western coast of Korea. On February 8th, a squadron under Admiral Uriu, detached from the main fleet, approached Chemulpo, the principal port of Korea, about midway up the coast of the peninsula. Chemulpo is the harbor for Seoul, and is connected with it by twenty-five miles of rail way. At Chemulpo lay a powerful Russian cruiser, the Varyag, and a gunboat, the Korietz, placed there to be at the service of M. Pavloff in Seoul. That gentleman was still unaware that hostilities were begun; Japanese strategy or treachery had shut off all news from Korea. But the Korietz was dispatched to Port Arthur to secure information. As she steamed out of Chemulpo, she met the Japanese approaching in battle array. She fired a gun at them — by accident, we are told — and turned back into the harbor. That was the first shot of the war.
Admiral Uriu had not come idly to Chemulpo. One main object of Japan was to secure control of Korea, which she hoped to do at the outset; and so two thousand troops accompanied her fleet. These were landed at once, without opposition from the startled Russian ships. Next day the troops were in Seoul, not to conquer it, but “to protect Japanese interests.” The Russian diplomats were hurried out of the country; and the Korean Emperor, ever submissive to the power of the moment, became the obedient ally of Japan.
The commanders of the Varyag and Korietz were notified by Admiral Uriu that war existed, and that they must come out of Chemulpo and fight, or they would be attacked within the harbor. The latter plan might have led to awkward international complications, for Korea was at least nominally a neutral state, friendly to both sides. There were several foreign warships in Chemulpo, and the captains of these held a formal meeting to discuss what action they ought possibly to take to prevent a violation of neutral waters. In this conference the commander of the United States cruiser Vicksburg refused to have any part, thereby intensifying Russia’s resentment at what she considered the pro-Japanese attitude of the American Government. No serious infraction of neutrality occurred, however, because the captain of the Varyag heroically — or foolishly, according to one’s view-point — resolved to accept the Japanese challenge. Followed by the Korietz, he steamed out of the harbor to attack the entire fleet of the foe (February 9th).
The neutral warships cheered lustily as the brave Russians passed them. Then came a brief half hour of cannonading. It is said that the firing by both sides was wild; but if so it was less wild by the Japanese, for soon the Varyag returned to port, badly injured, and with her decks covered with dead and wounded. The Japanese ships remained unharmed. The Varyag sank in the harbor. The Korietz and also a Russian transport vessel were then blown up by their commanders, to keep them from the enemy; and the quiet waters of Chemulpo were filled with bleeding and drowning Russian seamen. As many as possible were rescued by the boats of the neutral warships, a service in which the tars of the Vicksburg were as active as any. A single brief naval encounter thus cleared Korea of the Russians and placed Japan in control of the entire country.
Meanwhile the main Japanese fleet under Admiral Togo had made an even more important stroke. During the night of February 8th, it reached Port Arthur, where the Russian ships were drawn up in battle array outside the harbor. In size and number they were little, if at all, inferior to their foe, but vivid and picturesque accounts have reached us of their lack of readiness and discipline. Port Arthur was a gay city in those days; many of the Russian naval officers were ashore that night enjoying life, each after his own fashion; and we are told that the scenes of disorder within the city when the cannonading began, beggar description. Outside the harbor the surprised and startled Russian fleet made such defense as it could. Cannon thundered on both sides, and under cover of the darkness and the noise, a flotilla of Japanese torpedo-boats stole close to the enemy and discharged their deadly missiles. There was much confusion, much wild firing, and tumult; but three at least of the torpedoes reached the mark. The two largest of Russia’s battleships and one of her best cruisers were struck and so badly injured that more than four months elapsed before either battleship was again ready for use. The crippled Russian fleet drew closer under protection of the land forts, and when dawn and tide permitted, withdrew to the inner harbor. Unlike Seoul, Port Arthur was in direct telegraphic communication with the outer world; and on the morning of February 9th everybody knew of the sudden, successful attack, knew that the long threatening war- cloud had burst at last.
In these opening assaults Japan gained almost half of the essential points for which she fought. Not only was Korea in her hands, but the command of the sea was hers, at least temporarily. Before the war, Japan had six first-class modern battleships; the Russian Asiatic fleet had seven, which, while slightly smaller individually than the Japanese, excelled them in total tonnage. In cruisers and smaller boats, Japan had considerably the advantage; but such vessels are regarded as only auxiliary to battleships, against whose heavier armor and huger guns the strongest cruiser would be helpless. It had seemed, therefore, as if the Russian ships might easily cruise along the Manchurian and Korean coasts and prevent any land invasion. If attacked, they could at worst involve the enemy with themselves in one common and awful ruin, and so leave Japan helpless before a new fleet, which could be dispatched from Europe.
We want to take this site to the next level but we need money to do that. Please contribute directly by signing up at https://www.patreon.com/history