Feb 9th 1904 –
Admiral Togo w/ the Combined Fleet – South East of Round Island, Yellow Sea
“Climb Mount Niitaka”
Admiral Togo read the message that his radio man handed him. The coded message meant the Russian Pacific Squadron was at anchor in the roadstead, and that the attack could go forward.
Togo ordered a signal by means of both flag and lamp sent to those ships who had the next part in this plan. A signal that read “Attack as Previously Arranged. I pray for your success” was sent to the three assigned flotillas of destroyers, and to the ships they were escorting. The Commanding officer of the first flotilla signaled back “We expect sure success”. Togo had done all he could. The last two months of training and preparation has come down to this night. By dawn, Japan would be at war with Russia, and Togo would know if Yamamoto’s gamble paid off. For now, there was nothing left for Togo to do but wait. Come dawn, the Combined Fleet may still have a part to play in this drama.
Commander Arima Ryōkitsu saw the order from Togo’s flagship, and ordered his command to get underway. They would be in the first wave, along with the three destroyer flotillas. But Commander Arima’s squadron of eight vessels were not warships. They were eight large merchant ships. All have had extra watertight bulkheads installed in the lower decks and holds, and armor on their bridges. They were loaded with stone and concrete ballast, with explosive charges in place to sink them rapidly once they were in position.
“The Combined Fleet- The Destroyers”
At the outbreak of the war the Japanese Navy had thirty modern torpedo boat destroyers, organized in six ship divisions (or Half Flotillas, as the Germans called them). Eighteen of them from Germany, and twelve from Britain. The British were a powerhouse of ship building, had originated the torpedo boat destroyer concept, and had constructed and operated more destroyers than anyone else, but it was the Germans who had become the clear leader in design and construction of this type of ship. The Germans were recognized as the leaders in turbine powered ships, and in particular larger torpedo boat destroyers, which the Germans called Grosse Torpedo Boats. As with almost all of the Emergency Fleet Replenishment program, they were paid for with part of the funds from the Treaty of Shimonoseki. As a quid pro quo for the role that Germany had paid in securing the increased compensation after the Double Intervention, much of the ships that were built with those funds were built by German yards. That included the two Yakumo class armored cruisers, and the eighteen Grosse Torpedo Boats.
The German built destroyers were 650 ton ships, capable of over thirty knots. In addition to their three 8.8cm guns, the ships mounted three torpedo tubes, and carried five torpedoes. The British built types were smaller, at less than 400 tons, were triple expansion powered, and mounted only two torpedo tubes and two reloads. However, the British built destroyers did make use of the same newest type of large 50cm torpedos that the German Navy had sold to the Japanese in 1902. This gave both classes of destroyer a commonality of ammunition, and meant all of the destroyers had identical range and striking power of armaments. These torpedoes were unlike any that had come before them, and were generations ahead of what other navies were using. They had a much higher speed, nearly four times range at optimal speed, and a massively increase warhead. It was these torpedos that would be the sword Japanese Destroyermen would use to slay the Russian Bear.
*(OTL 26 were ordered, 16 from British yards, the rest from various places. Of the sixteen, only ten of the British types were > 300 tons)
Torpedo attack on port Arthur
The Russian Pacific fleet laid at anchor in the roadstead. Many of the men were ashore, celebrating after a few days of training, or were off duty. None of the ships were alert, or were on a war footing. Their laxness would cost the Russians Navy dearly.
From out of the darkness to the southeast, eighteen of Japan’s newest destroyers, the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Flotillas, all of the larger German type that Japan possessed, approached in three waves. The officers and men had been drilled to perfection over the preceding months, and their timing and formation was impeccable. The first wave of torpedos destroyed the outermost line of anchored ships, which contained Russia’s cruisers. A few minutes later, the second wave of destroyers launched all of their torpedoes at the second line. Third and final wave finished off the ships of the second line, and launched any remaining torpedoes into the third line.
In the outermost line of the roadstead, two torpedoes hit the protected cruiser Palada sinking her in a matter of minutes taking half her crew with her. The small cruisers Boyarin(3200 tons) and Novik(3000 tons) also sank from one hit each, though most of the crew of each escaped. Diana alone of the outermost line of anchored ships was unharmed, but she had not been targeted. The Japanese destroyers had far more important targets.
The second line of anchored ships was the focus of the attack. Russia’s newest armored cruiser, Bayan was hit twice and sank where she was anchored at the start of the second line, closest to the harbor entrance. That line also had the four newest battleships of the Pacific Squadron, Tsesarevich, Retvisan, and the two Peresviet class, Bobrok and Pobieda. Three torpedoes each hit Retvisan and Tsesarevich, both battleships capsized and sinking in minutes, with few survivors. They were the newest battleships in the Pacific Squadron, and the largest. They were biggest threat, and the highest priority. They were second and third in line, and had been specifically targeted by the second wave. With two hundred kilograms charges of TNT on the German made torpedoes, one hit might or might not have been fatal to a well prepared battleship with her hatches dogged and her damage control teams ready. Two hits would have been lethal to any battleship outside of the German Navy, and none of the Russian ships were prepared that night when the torpedos of the First and Second Destroyer Flotillas hit them. One torpedo hit the battleship Pobieda, fourth place in the second line, which sank in about half an hour, though most of her crew escaped, and two hit Bobrok at the end of the line, which sank in several minutes with heavy loss of life.
In the third line, one torpedo hit each of the battleships Peresviet and Poltava. By that time, the men on watch had enough time to close all the hatches below deck, and start raising steam. Poltava was able to weigh anchor and beach herself near the harbor entrance. Peresviet was listing badly, and down by the bow, but still afloat with the flooding contained, when the dawn came. Battleships Petropavlovsk, Vyborg, and Sevastopol, all of which had been anchored in the third line, were unharmed.
*(OTL 10 smaller torpedo destroyers were used, and mounted puny 35cm torpedos, of a basic Whitehead compressed air design with fifty kilogram warheads of shimose or picric acid)
Blockade attack on Port Arthur
At same time as the torpedo attack was going in, Commander Ryokitsu’s squadron made its approach. None of the shore batteries were prepared to fire on them, and none of the Russian ships at anchor spared them a thought until it was too late. By the time any of the Russian ships thought to fire on them, the eight ships managed to get well into the narrow channel that entered the harbor. One after another, the ships cut their engines, and had dropped anchor, opened their valves, and triggered their scuttling charges.
Lt. Commander Takeo Hirose, commanding the second ship in the column, drops anchor behind the first ship, open valves, triggered the scuttling charge himself on his way out of the bridge. All the extra training helped. He had perfectly nailed his ship’s spot next to Ryokitsu’s ship, and it looks like the third in line would as well. Takeo was glad he decided to leave his sword back on Mikasa. He had forgotten the sword a few times during simulations, and having to climb up and down the ship’s ladder was not made easier by wearing a sword. He was the last man off of his ship, and once he was aboard the coxswain ordered the boat to head out of the channel and away from the sinking and burning Russian fleet. A few desultory shots chased the volunteers back.
One by one, the small boats filled with the blockade ship volunteers made their way back out of the roadstead, to be picked up by the waiting ships of the Third Flotilla. Third had came in the last wave, and unlike the others been instructed to swing back to the east after launching their torpedoes, to pick up stragglers. They proceeded to gather in the small boats, and the volunteers climbed aboard the destroyers to cheers and claps on the back from the men awaiting them. As more and more came back, it became more certain that the blockade attack had worked.
The captain of the leader of the third destroyer flotilla, the last wave of torpedo boats, transmitted the message back to Togo. The harbor entrance was blocked, and the Russian Pacific squadron was trapped outside. The destroyers headed back towards Round Island to rejoin the Combined Fleet. The men aboard the destroyers began the slow and dangerous process of reloading the torpedo tubes. They would have need of them again soon.
(OTL he forgot it, he went back to look for it, found it, made it back to the boats, and then was killed by a shell)
Admiral Togo –
Togo received the message he had been waiting for: Attack a success, multiple ships sunk, harbor blocked. In the darkness, none of the attacking force could know how successful it had been. Discovery that Askold alone was trapped in the harbor, while the remains of the Russian Pacific Squadron, now missing four battleships and four cruisers, were trapped outside of the harbor, would come later.
Togo ordered fleet to to prepare for a follow up attack. They weighed anchor, and headed towards Port Arthur. It would be dawn in a few hours, and it would be up to the Combined Fleet to finish the night’s work.
The three squadrons of destroyers reloaded their torpedos enroute to rejoin with the Combined Fleet. The rendezvous with the fleet half way back to Round Island, turn around, and began to head back towards Port Arthur.
Dawn – Admiral Stark on the Bridge of the Petropavlovsk. Steam is raised.
With the growing daylight, Admiral Stark could see the entrance to the harbor. It is blocked many times over, with several merchant ships in a line scuttled in the narrow main channel. It could be opened again, but that would take weeks. That was time his Pacific Squadron didn’t have. The Japanese could return at any time to finish the job, and it was not safe to remain in the roadstead overnight, as had just been proven beyond all doubt.
Admiral Stark’s squadron had been cut in Half. Of the nine battleships he had at sundown, only five remained, and of those, only three were undamaged and battleworthy. To that he could add the protected cruiser Diana, which providence had seen fit to spare the massacre of the previous night. His only remaining ship of any consequence was Askold, now trapped inside the harbor.
Admiral Stark knew that he must withdraw his squadron from Port Arthur to a safer port, or it would be destroyed piecemeal. Just as he was making his decision to what withdraw what he could to Vladivostok, he received a report from the lookouts on shore, whose higher elevation allowed them to see farther to the horizon. Ships sighted on the horizon to the south. Many ships. The Japanese Combined Fleet had arrived. Time, for Admiral Stark and the Russian Pacific Squadron, had just run out.