Vladivostok Bombarded

Ussuri Bay, Vladivostok, 6 March 1904, 0700 hrs.

The attack on Port Arthur at the opening of the Russo-Japanese war was conducted in order to protect the troop transports heading for Korea. But the problems of safeguarding the army's passage did not end here. There was still the Vladivostok Squadron to consider, and it was just at this moment that the effect of the Russian Fleet having been divided began to make itself felt. On the night of the first attack on Port Arthur Admiral Shtakelberg, the commander of the Vladivostok Squadron, had received orders from Admiral Alexieff to proceed to sea in order to raid Japanese shipping with the proviso that the cruise was not to last more than seven days. He at once placed Captain Reitzenshtein in command who in the afternoon of 9 February got all four cruisers to sea and promptly headed for the entrance of the Tsugaru Strait. He arrived in the area early on the 11th but it was not till the next day that he sighted anything. His first victim was the Nagonoura Maru of 1,800 tons bound for Otaru. As soon as she was brought to, her crew was ordered to abandon ship and then she was sunk by shellfire. The next was a coaster of 300 tons that was also fired at, but managed to escape in a damaged condition into Fukuyama at the mouth of the Tsugaru Strait. Nothing further was met with, and as the weather was growing very threatening and Ruriks's engines were not to be trusted Reitzenshtein decided to head for Shinpo north of Gensan and commence operations in that area without attempting anything against the Japanese coast. But before he could reach the area he was struck by a gale, and was forced back to Vladivostok, where he arrived on 14 February.

Two weeks had passed since the opening of hostilities and the Japanese progress had more than fulfilled their most sanguine expectations. Not only had Togo dominated the Russian Fleet, but the army ashore had been equally successful. The cavalry of the XIIth division reached Ping-yang on 23 February; the infantry marching from Seoul began to arrive two days later, and with the Ping-yang-Gensan line in their hands they had possession of the vital South Korean area on which the whole war turned. The pre-occupation of the Japanese Imperial Staff was to secure and improve the initial position they had seized and to press the rest of the First Army forward to the Yalu with the utmost speed.

For the Japanese Fleet it meant no rest. The strain, which the acceleration entailed, was even greater than ever. It was not only that Togo had failed to destroy or entomb the First Pacific Squadron, but also in the Sea of Japan the activity of the Vladivostok Squadron began to call for drastic action.

For ten days after his first cruise Admiral Shtakelberg had made no further movement, but towards the end of February ships of war were being continually reported on the north east coast of Korea, and there were also reports of troops moving down from the Russian frontier at Posiette Bay in the direction of Gensan. Finally on 28 February came news that four cruisers had appeared the previous day before Gensan, and there could no longer be any doubt that it was the Vladivostok Squadron.

The fact was that on 24 February, while Admiral Togo was operating with his block ships at Port Arthur, a report of the Japanese occupation of Gensan reached Vladivostok. To prevent its use as a base was the most important part of Admiral Shtakelberg's assigned functions and he at once put to sea. Arriving at Gensan on the 26th he found no trace of the Japanese expedition that he had been led to expect. He, therefore, steamed northward along the coast, to search it, but at nightfall turned back and again appeared off Gensan on the morning of the 27th. Still no Japanese were to be found. Once more he retraced his steps, making a thorough search of all the likely bays as he proceeded, and finally returned to Vladivostok on the 29th.

It was not much to boast of, but enough, combined with the reports of Russian troops advancing from Posiette Bay, to convince the Japanese Imperial Staff that something must be done, so far as the situation in the Yellow Sea allowed, to keep the Russian Vladivostok Squadron quiet.

Accordingly, on 29 February the Naval Staff ordered Admiral Togo to: "…detach a powerful portion of your command and send them to make a reconnaissance in force in the Vladivostok area."

Owing to a snowstorm it was not till 0700 hrs on the 6th that Admiral Kamimura sighted Askold Island off the eastern arm of the extensive Peter the Great Bay, within which Vladivostok lies. Here was a signal station that immediately reported his presence. It was Sunday. The Russian crews were all ashore, but they were at once recalled and fires lighted, while the Japanese proceeded towards the Eastern entrance. Vladivostok is situated at the extremity of a peninsula, which projects about southwest into Peter the Great Bay, and divides its inner part into two minor bays, Amur Bay to the west and Ussuri Bay to the east. A curved inlet that forms the harbor and is known as the Golden Horn penetrates the extremity of this peninsula. Protecting it to seaward is Kozakavitcha Island, and beyond that again a range of smaller islands project still further outward into the great bay and emphasize its two divisions. Between the most seaward of these islands and the mainland is the entrance to Amur Bay, which is connected with Ussuri Bay by a channel called the Eastern Bosporus, between the end of the Vladivostok peninsula and Kozakavitcha Island. Through this strait access is gained to the Golden Horn, and at its eastern or Ussuri mouth are the principle fortifications. While the port therefore is extremely difficult to attack by sea, its double exit makes it equally difficult to blockade.

As Admiral Kamimura advanced on a course of 315° into Ussuri Bay, several columns of smoke were seen rising over the low snow-clad hills that hid the Vladivostok Squadron in the Golden Horn. They would make an excellent mark, but they soon disappeared and no sign of a ship was to be seen. By noon the Japanese reached the edge of the ice that still covered the bay. They began crashing through it, but progress was slow, for they had to constantly alter course in order to find weak spots. It was bitterly cold, the ships were covered with ice, but by 1242 hrs they had made sufficient progress for Admiral Kamimura to detach two cruisers to observe the entrance out of range of the batteries. Kamimura himself held on deeper into the bay for another three quarters of an hour, till he approached to within eight miles of the Bosporus. He then turned directly for it, and shortly before 1300 hrs, having closed the range, he altered course to starboard parallel with the coast, and opened an indirect fire with his 8" guns. As the forts did not reply Kamimura turned once again and stood in closer, till at 1410 hrs he was about 5,500 yards from the beach. While his 6" guns bombarded the forts his 8" guns indirectly bombarded the dockyards in the Golden Horn. This was where the smoke had been seen earlier in the day, but still there was no reply, and in ten minutes Admiral Kamimura turned away to course 135°, ceasing fire altogether at 1427 hrs.

Little or no harm had been done. Owing to the trouble Kamimura had with the ice the Russians had had just enough time to get under way and move down unseen to where the Golden Horn opened into the Bosporus. There a narrow escape of a serious collision caused them to stop, and the result was that the Japanese had been raining shells into an empty harbor.

As an attack on the Vladivostok Squadron the operation had little or no effect. Its moral effect, however, was considerable, from this day on the civilian population of Vladivostok began to return to Russia in large numbers. In the months following the attack General Linevich, the garrison commander, began to make serious complaint as to the inadequacy of the force at his command in the event of a Japanese landing attempt, thus drawing much needed men and supplies from the main theater of operations.