This one’s a good one, there’s nothing like a failure on such a massive and frankly comical degree, that frankly it should not have been possible, incompetence of such a staggering degree, exist today only the last few absolute monarchies, kleptocratic states, Chris Grayling and the Trump Administration.
The journey was impressive in only one regards, that the Imperial Russian Baltic Fleet somehow managed to actually reach the straits of Tsushima, by all accounts, the journey ought to have ended in only sunken ships somewhere around Zanzibar or possible Dover, frankly either would have been favourable outcome for the Tsarist navy than actually reaching their destination.
The glorious and grand Baltic Fleet of 1904 set sail, the flagship proceeded to sail aground, a destroyer lost an anchor chain, then rammed another battleship, all this IN the Baltic Ocean, well done, well done indeed.
Then rumours arose of Japanese torpedo boats station in Denmark, the fuck? I’m an amateur historian and I don’t recall the Great Japan-Danish alliance of 1904 permitting Japanese naval elements in Danish harbours, do you?
Rumours continued, with the Japanese mining and having submarines active, in the North Sea and Kattegat, 30,000 kilometres away from the nearest Japanese naval base. They fired on fishermen bringing in dispatches from the Tsar, the repair ship “Kamchatka” reported that it was under attack by multiple torpedo boats, about eight, from all directions, better get used to the proud hulk “Kamchatka”, they’ll be back, again and again, dumber and dumber.
Now, having survived the depredations of the mighty “Danish” Squadron of the Imperial Navy of Japan, you’d think it’d be smooooth sailing all the way to the pacific theatre? That an imaginary flotilla would be the end of this farcical display of ineptitude? No, not just yet.
The Glorious and Mighty and not at all Imaginary Battle of Dogger Bank against the Japanese menace and definitely not just a bunch of British Trawlers.
Having escape from the Vodka-fuelled adventures of the Danish straits, the fleet entered the North Sea, heading south towards the channel, moving past the Dogger Bank, for those who don’t know, the bank is a massive fishing hot sport, even today the area has trawler prowling around.
In 1904, the Russians spotted some British trawlers doing what you’d expect trawlers to do, which would be fishing, for those of you who are clueless glue-sniffers, the glorious Pacific Squadron, formerly Baltic, opened fire on the trawlers.
Let’s just take a short break here, Russian warships open fire on British fishing boats, in 1904, when the British Empire was the single most powerful empire on the planet, this story could have had a very different ending, something like “entire Russian fleet obliterated by the British Home fleet and Russia forced into humiliating peace agreement”.
Hmm, I guess the story wouldn’t have ended that differently, oh well, back to the comedy.
And comedy it is, several ships reported being hit by Japanese torpedoes, fired from UNARMED British trawlers, on the Borodino, the crew panicked so much, the either hugged the floor in their lifejackets or believed they were being attack by Jack Sparrow and armed themselves with fucking cutlasses.
And here comes the smallest success ever in human history, the mighty Second Pacific Squadron managed to damage four trawlers and SINK ONE, unfortunately, because this story is ever so silly, they managed to shot their own cruisers, twice, which isn’t that impressive, when SEVEN battleships are firing at you.
A little side note, one of the ships are the cruiser Aurora, note “are”, you can actually go to Saint Petersburg and see the Aurora, it’s activities in the revolution that followed ensure that it was preserved by the Soviets.
Just to punch home how bad whatever lunatics teaching Russian sailors how to shut had fucked up the training, the battleship Oroyol fire five hundred shells, without hitting anything other than Poseidon’s imaginary palace.
Now, the fleet did sail on, which the Russian government was prostrating itself before the mighty British Empire apologizing, Admiral Rozhestvensky was instructed to leave the officers responsible for this whole mess behind as he reached Vigo, Spain, which he proceeded to use to get rid of some Captain he didn’t like.
So Captain Klado did the sensible thing and, wait, no, he didn’t, he was told to gather reinforcements for the squadron, and out of spite, he got his hands on the worst of the worst, old tubs, useless junk and ships that were, I know, worse than what the squadron already had.
Except Repair Ship Kamchatka, nothing could ever be worse than that insanity.
And now, back to the beginning, welcome to Africa!
Now, the Magnificently inept Russian fleet have finally reached Africa, without shooting anymore British ships, just a certain ship having been out of contact for a while, who happened to have shot some 300 hundred shells at respectively: a Swedish merchantman, a German trawler and a fucking French Schooner, now how a Schooner, a SAILING ship get’s mistaken for a Japanese anything, is a wonder that only the utterly degenerated Captain of the Repair Ship Kamchatka could answer.
Let’s just quickly go through the event as the fleet goes from Tangier, whereas they left, one of the Russian ships managed to snag and sever the underwater telegraph line, cutting the city off for four entire days, great start.
Now, these ships are old school coal powered vessels, none of this fancy new-fangled heavy fuel oil here, good old coal, which means they need to refuel at some point, coal doesn’t have the same amount of energy oil does, not even close.
Now, this wasn’t actually fucked up, Russian Naval Command had arranged for German coalers to resupply the fleet of Dakar, Today’s Senegal, however, this is stupid as fuck, so they went with double loads of coal. Which means that EVERYWHERE HAD COAL, everywhere, which means dust, in an ultra humid environment, filled with Russian conscripts from the interior of the country.
Hello lung diseases, how are you? Fucking up Russian sailors? How delightful.
At this point, Kamchatka decides that sailing along the Angolese coast during a storm needs a bit of drama and send “Do you see torpedo boats?” instead of “We are all right now”.
At Cape Town, the Admiral was informed about the reinforcements that the enraged and spiteful Captain Klado had arranged were on the way, I don’t think any fleet in history have ever actively tried to avoid their own reinforcements.
Now, you can imagine that there were certain issues with morale on board at this point, as in their morale were fucking gone. To try and keep themselves amused and moderately happy, the sailors started bringing exotic pets onboard, mostly birds, which is pretty harmless, the crocodile and the poisonous snake, that bit a captain, less so. And then the refiguration systems onboard the “Esperance” broke down, meaning a lot of rotten meat had to be thrown overboard.
Now, sharks can detect a drop of blood in water with a frankly amazing range, how easy do you think it was for them to detect tons of rotting meat being dumped off a supply ship?
So this is the image as the Russian Squadron rounds the Horn of Africa, a sailing Zoo, filled with despondent sailors, the Kamchatka causing mischief every few days and they are followed by a trail of rampaging sharks.
Circus of nightmares at this point.
From the Cape of Good Hope to the inevitable.
The fleet had reached Madagascar, when Admiral Rozhestvensky fell ill for two weeks, his Chief of Staff? Brain haemorrhage and partial paralysation, what does this mean? Nobody’s in fucking command, apparently having a chain of command was to much work for the Russian Imperial Navy, shit, no fucking wonder Lenin won.
Now the crew just go and do R&R on their own, diseases start just killing crew on a daily basis and of course Kamchatka during a funerary salute, fires a LIVE round hitting the Cruiser Aurora, but it’s fine, they were getting used to it at this point.
Now, let’s talk about some of the supply ships, the “Malay” was sent back with a whole bunch of revolutionaries, mutineers and general fuck ups, oh yeah, did I mention the fleet had actual revolutionaries on board? Yeah, being in command of Russian ships of this era was basically hard mode, some crazy office had bought cigarettes filled opium, TWO THOUSAND OF THEM.
Then came the supply ship “Irtysh”, it was supposed to bring fresh ammo loads, having spent so many shells in the Glorious Battle of the Dogger Bank, however, in the finest tradition of utter incompetence, it brought twelve thousand fur-lined boots with lovely matching winter coast, perfect for the Indian Ocean.
They meet the Transport Ship “Gortchakoff”, hoping to get that most precious thing for any military service personal, letters from home, instead it carried the letters they had themselves send from Madagascar.
Now, to try and restore some degree of order and morale, the Admiral orders gunner drills, let me recap:
The destroyer couldn’t hit the side of barn even if it hit them in the face.
The Battleships managed to hit the ship towing the target, well, one of them did, fortunately, it was the flagship.
One of the destroyer squadrons, ordered to sail line abreast, scattered instead, someone forgot to get them their new codebooks.
Seven torpedoes were in fact fired, which seems miraculous, one jammed, two where so slow they missed, three just weren’t aimed properly and swung wide and the last one went in a circle causing panic amongst the ships.
The last thing may sound funny, but that happened way to often in the World Wars, torpedoes are actually pretty hard to get to work properly.
Oh yeah, and the Kamchatka signalled that they were sinking, because of course they did, turns out if was just some steam leak in the engine room.
While this mess is happening, the reinforcements, now named “The Third Pacific Squadron” had left Tallinn with some old fossil Admiral Nebogatoff as commander, the Russian Admiralty issued him the following orders: “You are to join up with Rozhestvensky, whose route is unknown to us”, the comedy continues. And Rozhestvensky then read in a newspaper, that when he’d beaten the Japanese and made it to Vladivostok, he’d have to surrender command to someone else arriving by train.
And you know what? The Third Squadron actually managed to join them, one of the signs of divinity I’ve heard of, on the 11th of May 1905, the second and third squadron actually merged and proudly head towards Vladivostok.
The end of this comedy of failures
On the 27th of May, the Russian Imperial Fleet engaged the Japanese Imperial Navy, the Russians lost, badly: 126.792 Tons of shipping versus 450 tons of Torpedo boats.
The Kamchatka did not survive the battle, sinking with her captain and most of her crew.
The Aurora actually did survive, together with three other cruisers they made it to Manilla, at this point in time an American protectorate, and were thus interned for the rest of the war.
“Dmitrii Donskoi” managed to survive an engagement six against one, but was to badly damaged in the engagement.
Only ONE lonely ship actually made it to Vladivostok: Almaz, which was barely a cruiser, being more appropriately an armed yacht.
Russia lost the war, Japan won, Revolution came in Russia a short while later.
Not only is the Aurora a survivor from this battle, that you can see today, the flagship of the Japanese? The Mikasa is moored in Yokosuka as a museum ship too, making the pair the only survivors from the same battle on opposing sides.
The lesson? Don’t let Captains drink Vodka.