As you know, the 2nd Pacific Squadron part of the route from Libava to Madagascar followed in separate detachments. She split up in Tangier: five newest battleships, "Admiral Nakhimov" and a number of other ships went around the African continent, while a separate detachment under the command of Rear Admiral Felkerzam, consisting of "Sisoy the Great", "Navarin", three cruisers, seven destroyers and nine transports went through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal. They were supposed to meet in Madagascar, more precisely, in the military port of Diego-Suarez, and the coal miners needed to continue the campaign were also supposed to come there.
The main force arrived on the shores of Madagascar on December 16, 1904. And then ZP Rozhestvensky learned about the death of the 1st Pacific squadron. The Russian commander was absolutely convinced that in the current conditions it was absolutely necessary to go to Vladivostok as quickly as possible.
However, everything turned out quite differently, and the 2nd Pacific Squadron continued its march only on March 3 of the next 1905.
What caused the two and a half month delay?
About the technical condition of the ships
Of course, the passage around the African coast required a number of maintenance work on the ships of the 2nd Pacific Squadron. Oddly enough, but with the special detachment of Felkerzam, the situation was even worse than with the rest of the forces: the refrigerators of the Navarin were malfunctioning, the steam pipes on the Almaz were unreliable, and all this required extensive repairs.
The situation was aggravated by the fact that the Russians were, in fact, expelled from the territorial waters of France. ZP Rozhestvensky counted on the repair facilities of Diego-Suarez, which, although located on the edge of geography, was still a military port. But he and Felkerzam had to go to the Nosy Be bay, where the squadron could rely only on itself. This became necessary due to the protests of Japan, which, with British support, forced the French government to reconsider its position.
Of course, the current repairs of the ships could not delay the squadron for too long. ZP Rozhestvensky himself considered it possible to leave the "hospitable" shores of Madagascar in December 1904.
Upon learning of the technical problems of the Separate Detachment, he postponed the exit to January 1, 1905. Then, having familiarized himself in more detail with the state of Felkersam's ships, he once again moved the release date to January 6. But that was all.
Obviously, by this date, the ships of the 2nd Pacific Squadron were quite ready to sail across the Indian Ocean?
One can argue that if it were not for a number of organizational problems that ZP Rozhestvensky faced, then it would have been possible to get out earlier. In addition, there is evidence (Semyonov) that on the ships of Felkerzam, before the squadron was joined, routine repairs were done, as they say, carelessly, since they were sure that after the death of the 1st Pacific, there would be no continuation of the campaign, which means there would be no hurry nowhere.
Thus, maybe the 2nd Pacific Squadron could have left earlier than January 6, but in any case, technical reasons did not delay it beyond this period.
Official history testifies that orders were made for anchoring, prescriptions were prepared for coal steamers, etc., that is, had it not happened otherwise, on January 6, our squadron would have continued on its way.
On supplying the squadron with coal
The exit of the 2nd Pacific Squadron on January 6 was thwarted by the decision of the Hamburg-American Line, with which an agreement was concluded for the supply of coal for the squadron.
The chief commissioner of this company said quite unexpectedly that in connection with the "newly announced" by Great Britain the rules of neutrality, namely, the ban on the supply of ships going to the theater of war in the colonies of the Indian Ocean, the Strait of Malacca, the South China Sea and the Far East, the company refuses to supply coal to the Russian squadron is different, except in neutral waters, and therefore there can be no talk of any overloading of coal in the ocean.
Having received such a "surprise" on January 6, ZP Rozhestvensky immediately reported it to St. Petersburg. Negotiations with the German government and with representatives of the Hamburg-American Line began immediately, but they proceeded long and difficult, so that the necessary consensus was reached only at the end of February.
Still, it would not be a mistake to assume that the 2nd Pacific Squadron could leave Madagascar much earlier than the end of February - the beginning of March. Of course, the decision of the Hamburg-American Line was like a bolt from the blue. Having received coal for warships and transports, our squadron could not accept more, and the German coal miners had 50,000 tons of coal, which ZP Rozhdestvensky had counted on. Without these fifty thousand tons, the Russian commander could not continue the campaign.
But the whole point was that the German coal miners were not the only source from which he could get this coal.
ZP Rozhestvensky informed St. Petersburg that he was going to continue the campaign no later than in a week, and asked, in case of failure of negotiations with the Hamburg-American Line, to charter other coal miners in Saigon and Batavia. It would have been quite possible if such a decision had been made in St. Petersburg.
And it can be assumed that on January 13-16, ZP Rozhestvensky could well have withdrawn the forces entrusted to him into the Indian Ocean.
Here it can be argued that subsequently an attempt to acquire coal to supply the 2nd Pacific squadron, which approached the shores of Annam, suffered a fiasco.
But you need to understand that this happened as a result of an interesting "commercial maneuver" by the British, who prohibited merchants from exporting coal except with a certificate from local authorities that it was not intended for Russian ships. However, this ban appeared only after the ships of ZP Rozhdestvensky entered the Indian Ocean and passed Singapore.
While they were still near Madagascar, it was still quite possible to buy coal in Saigon or Batavia.
In addition, you need to understand that the squadron burned a lot of coal during its 2.5 months stay at Madagascar, and if it went ahead in mid-January, then this coal would remain at its disposal.
But none of this was done: the problem was that our northern capital did not see any reason for the speedy movement of the 2nd Pacific Squadron to Vladivostok.
On the position of the Maritime Ministry
Already on January 7, 1905, ZP Rozhestvensky received a direct order from St. Petersburg: to stay with Fr. Madagascar pending further notice. And they were like this: the commander was instructed to wait at Madagascar for the approach of the Dobrotvorsky detachment, which was based on the armored cruisers "Oleg" and "Izumrud".
As for the 3rd Pacific Squadron, the decision on whether to wait for it or not, St. Petersburg left to ZP Rozhestvensky.
The Dobrotvorsky detachment joined the main forces only on February 2, but the squadron did not move even then. Of course, the newly arrived ships took some time to put themselves in order. On the same "Oleg" the boilers were alkalized and the bottom was cleaned. But the most important thing was not this, but the fact that agreements on the supply of the 2nd Pacific Squadron with coal during its further transition had not yet been reached.
That is, it turned out quite interesting.
If Petersburg in early January, upon receiving news of the refusal of Hamburg-American Line, would immediately attend to the hiring of transports and the purchase of coal in Saigon and Batavia, then such a negotiation (deal) would have every chance of success.
If Petersburg would have attended to the purchase of coal later, at the end of January - early February, then this coal could have been purchased, and the 2nd Pacific Squadron could have left for the Indian Ocean no later than February 7-9, as soon as it was ready for the campaign ships of Dobrotvorsky.
But instead, the Naval Ministry preferred to conduct complex and lengthy negotiations with the Hamburg-American Line, which delayed the departure of our squadron until the beginning of March.
Why didn't St. Petersburg act energetically?
Apparently, there were two reasons for this.
One, I would like to believe that the secondary one, was that for the coal of the Hamburg-American Line it had already been paid, and it would not be so easy to recover the indicated amounts from the Germans on the fly. Accordingly, it was necessary to look for additional funds for the re-purchase of coal.
The second reason, and the main one, was how the continuation of the war at sea was seen from under the Admiralty Spitz.
Simply put, initially the 2nd Pacific Squadron was sent to the rescue of the 1st, by joining with which, the Russian fleet received a numerical advantage and seemed to be able to seize the sea. But the 1st Pacific was killed. Both ZP Rozhestvensky and the Naval Ministry quite rightly believed that the 2nd Pacific Squadron was not capable of independently routing the Japanese fleet and gaining supremacy at sea.
But the conclusions they made from this fact were exactly the opposite.
ZP Rozhestvensky believed that his squadron should go as quickly as possible to Vladivostok with the available forces, and from there act on the enemy's communications, avoiding, if possible, a general engagement. The commander of the 2nd Pacific Squadron quite rightly believed that after the battles with the ships of Port Arthur, after a long basing at an improvised base on the Elliot Islands, the main forces of the Japanese fleet were far from being in the best technical condition, although they did not suffer significant damage in battles. The appearance of the 2nd Pacific Squadron will force the Japanese to keep their main forces in a fist, will not allow them to carry out any serious repairs of ships, and, ultimately, will complicate the interception of the main forces of the Russian squadron, "pirating" on communications between the continent and Japan. And ZP Rozhestvensky did not set any other tasks for his forces, realizing their weakness in front of the Japanese fleet.
However, this strategy did not suit St. Petersburg at all. They wanted a victorious general battle and domination at sea. And, since the 2nd Pacific did not have enough power for this, it should have been strengthened by the ships of the 3rd Pacific squadron. Precisely those that Z. P. Rozhestvensky categorically refused during the preparation of the 2nd Pacific.
But the 3rd Pacific left Libava only on February 3, 1905.
So why did St. Petersburg have to rush somewhere in the coal issue?
It made sense to run somewhere, urgently buy coal only if St. Petersburg agreed and approved the strategy of Z. P. Rozhestvensky. This was not done.
As a result, as mentioned above, the 2nd Pacific Squadron left Madagascar only on March 3.
A bit of an alternative
Let's imagine for a second that by some miracle Zinovy Petrovich managed to convince the high authorities of the need for the speedy movement of the 2nd Pacific to Vladivostok. In St. Petersburg, they strained, they would find coal, and somewhere in the middle of January our ships moved from Nosy Be to Kamrang.
What could have happened next?
In fact, the transition from Madagascar to Kamrang took 28 days, so one should expect that, having left Nosy Be somewhere between January 15 and February 12, the Russian squadron would have ended up in Kamrang. Having spent 10-12 days on reconditioning and combat training, the 2nd Pacific was able to move to a breakthrough no later than February 22-24.
As you know, in reality, she went on her last campaign on May 1 and, 13 days later, on May 14, she entered a battle that became fatal for her.
Accordingly, if the squadron had left the coast of Annam on February 22-24, then on March 7-9 it would have already been in the Korea Strait.
If, however, completely dream and imagine that Z. P. Rozhestvensky would have been able to leave Madagascar on January 1, as he was going, then his squadron would have entered the Korea Strait no later than February 23.
What could such a shift in time lead to?
On the state of the Japanese fleet at the beginning of 1905
Dear naval_manual, in one of his articles on the Russo-Japanese War, indicated the time and terms of the repair of the main forces of the United Fleet:
Mikasa - 45 days (December 1904 - February 1905);
Asahi - 13 days (November 1904);
Sikishima - 24 days (December 1904);
Fuji - 43 days (December 1904 - February 1905);
Kasuga - 36 days (December 1904 - January 1905);
"Nissin" - 40 days (January - February 1905);
Izumo - 21 days (December 1904 - January 1905);
Iwate - 59 days (December 1904 - February 1905);
Yakumo - 35 days (December 1904 - January 1905); 13 days (March-April 1905);
Azuma - 19 days (December 1904), 41 days (March-April 1905);
Asama - 20 days (December 1904);
"Tokiwa" - 23 days (November-December 1904), 12 days (February 1905).
To be sure, the Japanese had first-class, mostly British military equipment, and were well trained in their use.
But the operating conditions were very difficult.
From the very beginning of 1904, Japanese cruisers constantly went to sea, consuming their resources. Squadron battleships also walked a lot, but even when they just stood at Elliot, they still remained in constant readiness to intercept the Port Arthur squadron, if it went to a breakthrough.
The Novik cruiser is a textbook example of the consequences of such an attitude towards the material part. The brainchild of German shipyards could hardly be blamed for the poor quality of the building, and the fact that the ship during the entire siege of Port Arthur was almost always ready to go out and went to sea on demand testifies to the good preparation of its stokers and engine crew.
But work for wear and tear led to the fact that after the battle on July 28, 1904 at Shantung, the cruiser's power plant "fell down" - refrigerators failed, pipes burst in boilers, "steam escapes" were observed in the machines, and coal consumption increased from the prescribed 30 to 54 tons per day, although later by various measures it was possible to reduce it to 36 tons. On the night after the battle, "Novik" was unable to follow "Askold", the state of the cruiser was such that at some point two of the three vehicles had to be stopped, and serious problems were observed in 5 of the available 12 boilers.
So, the Japanese, with all their undoubted talents, were not supermen, and the main forces of the United Fleet at the end of 1904 demanded urgent repair. At the same time, knowing about the most serious preparations for the march of the 2nd Pacific Squadron, the Japanese expected it almost from day to day, admitting the possibility of its appearance even in 1904. Accordingly, it was decided, starting from the beginning of November 1904, to send several ships for repairs in order to restore the combat capability of at least part of the main forces of the United Fleet for a decisive battle.
That is, in reality, the armored ships of H. Togo and H. Kamimura received a long respite between the death of the 1st Pacific Squadron and the battle in Tsushima. Heihachiro Togo ordered his main forces back to Japan on December 11, 1904, so the Mikasa dropped anchor at Kura on December 15. The bulk of its ships underwent repairs in January-February 1905, and the Yakumo and Azuma were further repaired in March-April. The rest of the battleships and armored cruisers of the 1st and 2nd combat detachments were able to restore their combat skills from the end of February until May 1904 through intensive exercises. On the same Mikasa, which returned to service on February 17, 1905, regular barrel firing was carried out, etc.
There is no doubt that the combat training conducted from February to May 1905 not only restored the combat capability of Japanese ships, which was lost to a certain extent due to the need for forced downtime in repairs, but also raised it to new heights.
But if the Russian squadron appeared in the Korean Strait not in mid-May, but in late February - early March, then the Japanese would not have had such an opportunity. It is far from the fact that all the ships of the 1st and 2nd combat detachments, in general, would have undergone repairs and were able to engage in battle - remember that the Yakumo and Azuma were repaired again in March-April.
It is also possible that the news of the 2nd Pacific Squadron that had left Madagascar, if this had happened in the first half of January 1905, would have forced the Japanese to limit the amount of work on the ships being repaired. But in any case, even if the Japanese fleet was able to restore its combat capability technically, it would have almost no time left for combat training.
And who knows? Perhaps, in this case, the Russian squadron could, according to the expectations of ZP Rozhdestvensky, "reach Vladivostok with the loss of several ships."
In fact, the Russian navy had an interesting choice.
It was possible to try to break through to Vladivostok no later than February - early March 1905, abandoning the 3rd Pacific Squadron, in the hope that the Japanese would not have time to restore the combat effectiveness of their fleet after the siege of Port Arthur.
ZP Rozhdestvensky was inclined towards this option.
It was possible to wait for the 3rd Pacific, which to some extent would strengthen our fleet, but at the same time it also gave the Japanese time to prepare well and meet the Russians at the peak of their combat form.
As a result, the Naval Ministry came to such a decision.
In my opinion, ZP Rozhestvensky was absolutely right in this matter.
In the article "On the quality of the shooting of the Russian squadron in the Tsushima battle", I came to the conclusion that the effectiveness of the fire of the 3rd Pacific squadron was near zero.
Indeed, of the 254-mm shells recorded in time, there is not a single one, 120-mm - 4 pieces, but some of them, presumably, hit the Japanese from the Pearl or Izumrud, 229-mm - one hit. Perhaps, of course, a certain number of 152-mm and 305-mm shells hit the Japanese from the "Nicholas I".
But even if this was the case, hardly one old battleship could strengthen the 2nd Pacific Squadron to such an extent to compensate for the long combat training of the Japanese while waiting for the reunification of the Russian squadrons. And, in general, the accuracy of Nebogatov's flagship is in great doubt.
As you know, during May 14, the Japanese paid almost no attention to the ships of the 3rd Pacific Squadron, and in the same third phase they were close enough to the Japanese for effective fire. Nevertheless, in the third phase, in 1 hour 19 minutes, only 9 timed shells hit the Japanese. In the first phase of the battle, which lasted only a few minutes longer, there were 62 of them.
Thus, the addition of Nebogatov's ships did not significantly increase the firepower of the 2nd Pacific Squadron.
The Russian squadron entered the Battle of Tsushima, collecting the maximum number of ships that the Baltic Fleet could give it, and its artillery preparation was very good. The latter is confirmed both by the statistics of hits on Japanese ships, and by the opinion of British observers who were on Japanese ships, and by the Japanese themselves.
But none of this saved the Russian squadron from defeat.
Alas, the determining factors were: the level of the material part and the training of Japanese sailors.
If the breakthrough of the 2nd Pacific Squadron took place in late February - early March 1905, the Japanese would have met the Russians far from being in their best condition. This, of course, did not give our sailors any chance of victory, but perhaps they could “endure” the battle and go, at least with the main part of the squadron, to Vladivostok.
Or perhaps not. But in any case, an earlier breakthrough gave our fleet a chance, which in the real battle of Tsushima it did not have.
On the artillery preparation of the 2nd Pacific squadron
In the article by respected A. Rytik “Tsushima. Factors of Accuracy of Russian Artillery”it is indicated that the last caliber firing was carried out by the Russian squadron in Madagascar in January, and the barrel firing in Cam Ranh, on April 3-7, 1905.
Hence the conclusion was drawn:
“Thus, 4 months have passed from the date of the last practical shooting to Tsushima. It was a long enough time to lose those few skills that I managed to get."
In fact, the issue of artillery exercises of the 2nd and 3rd Pacific squadrons is still not fully disclosed.
So, for example, my esteemed opponent mentions that in Madagascar, shooting was conducted at a distance of no more than 25 cables, while many officers of the 2nd Pacific Squadron indicated much greater distances. The senior artillery officer of "Sisoy the Great" Lieutenant Malechkin, in his testimony to the Investigative Commission, reported:
“Shooting was carried out at long distances, starting from about 70 cab. and up to 40 cab., but "Sisoy the Great" usually started firing from 60 cab. from 12 "guns, and from 50 cab. from 6" guns, because the elevation angles of the guns did not allow using a larger tabular range."
The Eagle's senior artillery officer, Shamshev, indicated: "the longest distance is 55, the smallest is 15 cables." Senior officer of "Admiral Nakhimov" Smirnov mentions a distance that is less, but still greater than 25 cables: “the shooting took place at a distance of 15–20 cab. for small artillery and 25-40 cab. for large ". But here we can assume that there was some kind of relaxation for the old guns of the Nakhimov.
It is also known that some artillery exercises on the Russian squadron took place even during the last transition to Tsushima.
However, the content of these teachings is unknown to me, and, perhaps, they were carried out without firing, even with a barrel.
Of course, the Russian squadron in the outset of the battle in Tsushima demonstrated outstanding accuracy, which indicates a very high level of combat training. Therefore, in my opinion, it is absolutely impossible to talk about the "few and confused" skills of Russian gunners. But I agree with respected A. Rytik that carrying out caliber firing almost 4 months before meeting the enemy, in any case, looks both strange and ridiculous.
Nevertheless, the answer to why this happened is extremely simple.
The fact is that ZP Rozhdestvensky initially had no intention of conducting any large-scale artillery exercises in Madagascar. As mentioned above, he intended to go forward, first back in December 1904, then on January 1, 1905, and when it turned out that Felkersam's ships would not be able to carry out the order, on January 6, 1905. However, after that he was detained, directly forbidding him to continue following, and then there were still problems with coal, which Petersburg still could not settle.
During the forced downtime in Madagascar, in far from the best living conditions, under the influence of news of the death of the 1st Pacific Squadron, the morale of the squadron was rapidly falling, the crews were chattering. Z. P. Rozhestvensky did what any commander would do in his place: in full accordance with the saying "whatever the soldier does, just to be … tortured," he rolled the squadron into "military and political" training courses.
In doing so, ZP Rozhdestvensky did not risk anything at all. Yes, most of his ships shot the stock of training shells taken with them, but he was expecting replenishment of ammunition - they were to be delivered by the Irtysh transport. Thus, the exercises in Madagascar could in no way prevent Z. P. Rozhestvensky from conducting another caliber firing, say, somewhere near Kamrang.
However, when the January shooting had already died down, and on February 26, the Irtysh arrived in Nosy-Be, it turned out that there was no ammunition on it. In the testimony of Z. P. Rozhdestvensky to the Investigative Commission, it is said about this:
"I was promised to send after the Irtysh transport ammunition supplies for training in shooting, but after the squadron left the Baltic Sea, the supplies received from the factories received a different purpose."
At the same time, military shells in the Russian Empire were in great shortage.
The 1st Pacific squadron lacked them, which is why it had to use the already decommissioned cast-iron shells. Vladivostok also lacked them.
Taking into account the fact that Z. P. Rozhestvensky, of course, did not expect a crushing defeat in Tsushima, but believed that he could “endure” the Japanese fire and still go to Vladivostok, and then operate from there, he could not afford to spend the available he has ammunition for training.
As a result, in Kamrang, the 2nd Pacific Squadron was forced to limit itself only to barrel firing.
Who is to blame for the fact that the 2nd Pacific did not receive the required supply is not entirely clear.
Official history suggests that there was some kind of misunderstanding, but is that so? It's hard to say today.
One thing is certain - Z. P. Rozhdestvensky did not initially plan large exercises in Madagascar, and when he nevertheless decided to hold them, he did not at all assume that he would not have another opportunity to conduct caliber firing with training projectiles.