Volley fire - know-how of the Japanese fleet in Tsushima

Volley fire - know-how of the Japanese fleet in Tsushima
Volley fire - know-how of the Japanese fleet in Tsushima

In this article I will try to understand the nuances of firing multiple ships at one target. It will be very difficult to do this, because I am not a naval gunner and have never seen such shooting. At the same time, the descriptions of eyewitnesses are extremely scanty, there are almost no photos, and for obvious reasons, one cannot even dream of a video. Well, I'll try to make do with what I have.

On some features of volley shooting

Unfortunately, it is still unclear how often the Japanese used volley fire in the naval battles of the Russo-Japanese War.

It is absolutely certain that volley fire was considered an important form of artillery combat in the United Fleet. In some cases, Japanese reports explicitly state its use. So, for example, the commander of the Asama mentions firing with volleys in his report on the battle with the Varyag and the Koreyets. Nevertheless, it is hardly possible to establish how often the Japanese practiced volley fire.

I have repeatedly come across the point of view that the Japanese constantly or very often fired volleys. This opinion is based on the assumption that it was the volley fire that helped the Japanese to successfully concentrate fire on one target, as well as on the descriptions of Russian eyewitnesses, who very often mention the volleys that thundered from Japanese ships. I have no reason not to trust the numerous testimonies.

However, on common reasoning, I come to the conclusion that firing with volleys does not mean exactly volley firing, but dear readers will forgive me for such a tautology.

In those years, volley shooting on land was relatively easy. The battery commander watched with the naked eye the readiness of his guns to fire and gave the order to open fire. When this was done, nothing prevented the guns from firing almost simultaneously, that is, from firing a volley.

Things turned out differently at sea.

In the absence of stabilization, the gunners had to independently "choose" the pitching correction. It was very difficult to do this constantly, keeping the enemy in sight, at every moment of time. Therefore, on a warship of those years, the command to fire a volley was, rather, a permit to open fire, after which the guns fired at readiness, "choosing" a pitch correction and firing.

It is also known that it is best to fire a shot when the ship is in the extreme heaving position, because at this time the speed with which its deck changes its position in space tends to zero.


The speed at which the ship "rolls from side to side" is not constant. When the ship is close to the maximum roll, the "rolling" speed is minimal and at the moment of reaching such a roll it becomes equal to zero. Then the ship begins the reverse movement (it shakes it in the other direction), gradually accelerating, and the rate of change in the position of the deck in space reaches its maximum when the ship stands on an even keel. Then it gradually decreases again until the ship reaches the maximum bank angle (but in the opposite direction). Here its movement stops, and then resumes, gradually accelerating, already in the opposite direction, etc.

In view of the above, it is easiest for the gunner to "select" the pitching correction precisely at the moment of the ship's extreme position, when the pitching speed tends to zero. But that is not all.

It is also quite obvious that a shot from a gun does not occur simultaneously. It takes some time for the charge to ignite and for the projectile to leave the barrel. All this time, the trajectory of the projectile will be influenced by the change in the position of the gun barrel under the influence of rolling.

Thus, a shot fired at the moment the ship is close to the maximum pitching angle will always be more accurate. It was for this reason that the textbook on artillery work by I.A.

And if so, then it is quite obvious that the best way to fire a salvo from a battleship of the era of the Russo-Japanese War would be as follows. The senior artilleryman will order to open fire at the moment when the ship has a couple of seconds left before "standing up" at the maximum bank angle. Then the gunners, having received the instruction, will have time to "select" the pitching correction and fire a shot while the deck speed is minimal. The volley itself will not be fired all at once, but within the same couple of seconds, as the gunners are ready to fire a shot.

About runaway fire

What is the fundamental difference between rapid fire and salvo fire?

The answer is obvious: if, during a volley, the guns shoot simultaneously or close to it, then with rapid fire, each gun fires a shot as soon as it is ready. But here, too, the sea makes its own adjustments.


The fact is that everything that was told about pitching above also applies to rapid fire. In this case, it is also desirable to fire shots at the moment when the ship is or is close to the maximum pitching angle. And from this it follows that quick fire, at least - at first, will very much resemble a salvo.

Let's say an artillery fire manager wants to open rapid fire. In this case, of course, he will guess the moment of opening fire in the same way as with salvo firing - a couple of seconds before the ship gets the maximum bank angle. And the gunners in this case shoot exactly the same as in salvo firing, firing shots for a couple of seconds while the roll angle is close to the maximum. Thus, visually, the first shot in rapid fire is unlikely to differ from the volley.

But what happens next?

At this point, it will be time to remember such a concept as the rolling period - the time during which a ship, which has, say, a maximum roll of 3 degrees to the port side will "swing" to the right, acquiring the same roll to the starboard side, and then return to its original condition - will again receive a roll of 3 degrees to the port side. As far as I know, the pitching period of the squadron battleships was something within 8-10 seconds, which means that every 4-5 seconds the ship occupied a position convenient for a shot. It should also be borne in mind that the gunners of a battleship undergo the same course of combat training, and therefore it is hardly worth expecting that the spread of time in preparing the guns for a shot will be too great.

Suppose that the 152-mm guns of a battleship squadron fire on average once every 20 seconds, and the rolling period is 8 seconds. All the guns will fire the first shot almost at the same time, since by the time the order is received, they are ready to open fire. The next opportunity to shoot for excellent combat and political training will be presented in 16 seconds, for average ones - in 20 seconds, for those lagging behind - in 24 seconds, because the ship will occupy a convenient position for shooting once every 4 seconds. Moreover, if, say, some weapon is ready to fire a shot in 18 seconds, it will have to wait another second or two, since at this time the ship will be on an even keel.And some weapon, after a little delay in preparation, will still have time to fire a shot in 21 seconds, when the battleship just leaves the maximum bank angle.

In other words, even if some weapon “breaks ahead”, and some - on the contrary, tightens with a shot, the bulk of the guns will still fire a shot in about 19-21 seconds. after the first. And from the side it will again look like a volley.

And only much later, when the "inevitable at sea accidents" lead to the fact that the fire is distributed over time, we can expect something visually similar to running fire. If, for example, we assume that a ship with a rolling period of 8 seconds has 7 152-mm guns on board, each of which is capable of firing 3 rounds per minute (the maximum values ​​for Japanese ships), then such a ship, with the maximum distribution of fire, will produce 1-2 shots every 4 seconds.

How does a splash from a shell fall look like?

"Rules of the Artillery Service No. 3. Fire control for naval targets", published in 1927 (hereinafter - the "Rules"), report that the height and appearance of the burst from the fall of an artillery shell depend on many factors, but still give some average values … Any splash, regardless of the caliber of the projectile, rises within 2-3 seconds. This obviously means the time from the fall of the projectile to the moment the burst rises to its maximum height. Then the burst remains in the air for some time: for 305-mm projectiles, 10-15 seconds are indicated, for medium calibers - 3-5 seconds. Unfortunately, it is not clear what the "Rules" understand by "holds" - the time until the moment when the splash begins to fall, or the time before it completely sinks into the water.

Hence, we can assume that the average burst from a 152-mm projectile will be visible for about 5–8 seconds, let's take 6 seconds for even counting. For a 305-mm projectile, this time, respectively, can be 12-18 seconds, let's take an average of 15 seconds.

About what prevents to observe the bursts from the falls of their shells

The "Rules" especially mentions the extreme difficulty of determining the position of the burst relative to the target ship, if this burst is not in the background of the target or behind it. That is, if a sighting shot (or volley) lies to the left or to the right of the target, then it is extremely difficult to understand whether such a volley gave a flight or undershoot - it is extremely difficult and is expressly prohibited by the "Rules" for most combat situations (except for specially stipulated cases). That is why almost all the instructions known to me (including the instructions of the 2nd Pacific Squadron) required first to determine the correct correction from the rear, that is, to ensure that the sighting shots fell against the background of the target or behind it.

But if several ships, shooting at one target, achieve that their shells fall on its background, then their bursts will obviously be very close for the observer, they can merge for him or even overlap each other.

How difficult is it in such conditions to distinguish a splash from the fall of your ship's projectile?

I have no exact answer to this question. Nevertheless, it follows from the reports of the Russian artillerymen that this is a problem, and that it is practically impossible to distinguish between “one's own” surge against the background of “aliens”. If this were not the case, then our gunners, determining the time of the fall of the projectile by the stopwatch, which was done everywhere on Russian ships, could easily detect and identify the rise of "their" burst, which, as I have already indicated above, took up to 2-3 seconds … However, this did not happen, and we, reading Russian reports and testimonies, regularly come across evidence of the impossibility of distinguishing the bursts of our own sighting shots.

Thus, the conclusion should be drawn: if a burst rises near or against the background of other bursts, the artillerymen of those years could not distinguish it from others and correct the fire on it.

About sighting with concentrated fire

Oddly enough, but it is unlikely that the simultaneous shooting of several ships at one target could cause significant difficulties. The fact is that zeroing cannot be carried out quickly, even with relatively rapid-firing 152-mm guns. After the shot, it will take 20 seconds until the projectile reaches the target, the fire controller must see it, determine the adjustment of the sight, transfer it to the plutong, the guns of which are zeroing in. And those, in turn, must make the necessary corrections and wait for the right moment to fire … In general, it was hardly possible to fire a sighting shot more often than once a minute.

Thus, when zeroing in with single shots, one Russian battleship gave only one splash per minute, visible for about 6 seconds. In such conditions, 3–5 ships could shoot at one target at the same time, hardly experiencing significant difficulties. Another thing is when at least one of the battleships, after taking aim, switched to rapid fire, not to mention two or three - here it became extremely difficult to shoot single ones, and in some cases it was impossible.

In essence, the task was reduced to discerning "one's" splash among "strangers", while the time of appearance of "one's own" splash was prompted by a stopwatch. Accordingly, it can be assumed that the better the bursts are visible, the more chances you have to find “your own” in them and determine the correct adjustment of the sight.

If this assumption is correct, then we have to state that the use by the Japanese of smoky shells exploding into the water gave them an advantage in zeroing in on a target at which other Japanese ships were already conducting concentrated fire.

On the advantages of concentrated firing with volleys at one target

Here is a simple math calculation. Suppose that 152-mm guns of a squadron battleship, when firing to kill, are capable of firing volleys twice a minute. Each volley is fired within 1-3 seconds, when the ship is at or close to the maximum bank angle - let's take 2 seconds for an even count. Taking into account that the burst from the 152-mm projectile is visible for about 6 seconds, it turns out that from the moment the first burst begins to rise until the last one settles, it will take about 8 seconds.

This means that the bursts of 152-mm shells from the battleship firing volleys will be visible at the target for 16 seconds per minute. Accordingly, the maximum number of battleships that could fire, without interfering with each other, at one target with volleys with an ideal distribution of the time of volleys between them is three ships. In theory, they will be able to shoot so that the bursts in time do not "mix" with each other. But only on condition that they will shoot only from 152-mm guns. If we recall that, in addition to six-inch guns, the squadron battleships also had 305-mm guns, the bursts of which lasted for 15 seconds, then we understand that even a salvo fire of only three battleships on one target in any case will lead to the fact that that their bursts will overlap with each other in time.

Well, taking into account the fact that the ideal distribution of volleys (the head shoots at 12 hours 00 minutes 00 seconds, the next one - at 12:00:20, the third - at 12:00:40, etc.) in battle to achieve is impossible, then it is not difficult to come to the conclusion: even three battleships will not be able to effectively adjust their volley fire, observing the falls of their shells when firing at one target.

Thus, in my opinion, the replacement of rapid fire for defeat by salvo with concentrated firing would hardly have significantly helped the Russian ships in Tsushima.

So is concentrated fire in volleys useless?

Of course not.

Volleys still minimize the "standing" time of bursts from one ship.It should be expected that two ships, firing to kill with volleys at one target, will well distinguish the bursts of their shells, but in the case of rapid fire, it is hardly.

But when firing three or four ships at one target, one should expect the impossibility of observing the fall of "our" shells: either when firing in volleys, or during rapid fire.

But excuse me, what about Myakishev's instructions? What about Retvizan?

This is a perfectly fair question.

It would seem that the report of the "Retvizan" commander completely refutes everything I have outlined above, because it directly says:

Volley fire - know-how of the Japanese fleet in Tsushima

There is no doubt that firing with volleys allowed the Retvizan's artillerymen to adjust their fire. Just let's not forget that this happened in conditions when all the others were either quick fire, or were being targeted by single shots. In such conditions, the drop in the mass of shells of one salvo, obviously, gave some advantages. But if the rest of the ships of the 1st Pacific Ocean fired volleys, it can be assumed that the salvoes of the Retvizan would have been lost among them, just as its individual shots had been “lost” among the runaway fire of Russian ships before.

As for the instructions of Myakishev, we can state: their compiler realized the impossibility of determining the results of concentrated rapid fire of several ships on one target, for which he was honored and praised.

But what could he offer in return?

Myakishev quite rightly assumed that a salvo fire would have an advantage over a fugitive in this matter, but he had no opportunity to test his positions in practice. Thus, the availability of recommendations to conduct concentrated fire in volleys at Myakishev should not at all be considered as a guarantee that such a fire will be successful.

There is also other, circumstantial evidence that volley fire did not solve the problem of controlling the effectiveness of fire in concentrated firing at one target.

In World War I, dreadnoughts and battlecruisers fired volleys all over the place, but avoided focusing fire on a single enemy ship. It is also known that Russian sailors after Tsushima began to study artillery much more thoroughly, and by the First World War, obviously, they fired better than during the Russo-Japanese War. But the attempt to concentrate fire on the German minelayer "Albatross", undertaken by the four cruisers of Admiral Bakhirev in the battle of Gotland, gave disappointing results.

Finally, there is also the lecture notes of K. Abo, who served in Tsushima as a senior artillery officer of the Mikasa, read by him at the British College of Military Education. In this article, K. Abo told the British about a number of nuances of artillery battles in the Russo-Japanese War, but there is no mention of volley fire as a kind of "know-how" that made it possible to effectively focus the fire of a squadron or detachment on one enemy ship.

How, then, did the Japanese gunners manage the fire to kill?

Let me give you one very simple guess.

The Russian artillerymen were forced to evaluate the results of their firing on the bursts from the falling shells, because they could not see the hits on the Japanese ships. Well, he did not give a projectile equipped with pyroxylin or even smokeless powder, a clearly visible and smoky burst. At the same time, the Japanese, firing high-explosive shells with shimosa, which gave both a flash and black smoke, could observe their hits very well.

And it is quite obvious that when firing at least rapid fire, at least with a salvo, most of the shells, even with the correct sight, will not hit the target. Even if only every tenth shell hits, this will be excellent accuracy, and, say, for six-inch guns, such a result is prohibitively high: in the same battle at Shantung, the Japanese did not even come close to doing it.


A very simple conclusion follows from this.

Watching your shells hitting an enemy ship is much easier, simply because there are fewer of them.For example, the three best battleships of H. Togo, having in an onboard salvo 21 six-inch guns with a combat rate of fire of 3 rounds / min per minute, were capable of firing 63 shells. If we assume that the shooting is carried out with rapid fire evenly, and the burst is visible for 6 seconds, then at each moment 6-7 bursts will rise or stand next to the target ship, and try to single out your own! But with an accuracy of 5%, only 3-4 shells would hit the target per minute. And it will be much easier to identify these hits by timing the fall of their shells using a stopwatch - either in rapid fire or in volley fire.

If my assumptions are correct, then the Russian artillerymen, focusing their fire on one target, had to look out for the fall of their shells into the water, trying to determine whether the target was covered or not, despite the fact that the bursts from our shells were seen much worse than the Japanese ones. For the Japanese, it was enough to concentrate on hitting Russian ships, which were much easier to observe.

Of course, there were also some difficulties there - fires, smoke, shots of Russian guns could mislead the observer. But thanks to the use of high-explosive shells, which gave a lot of black smoke when hit, it was much easier for the Japanese to track the effectiveness of their fire than our sailors.

Thus, I would venture to suggest that it was thanks to their shells that the Japanese could achieve much better results when concentrating the fire of several ships on one target than was possible for our gunners. Moreover, for this, the Japanese did not need either volley shooting or any special, advanced methods of controlling concentrated fire. They simply watched not for the fall of the shells, but for the defeat of the target.

Could the 2nd Pacific help the use of cast iron shells loaded with black powder?

In short, no, it couldn't.

Apparently, the use of cast iron shells during zeroing would give a certain effect. Without a doubt, their falls would be seen better than the falls of the steel high-explosive and armor-piercing shells used by the 2nd Pacific Squadron. But, due to the low content of explosives and the weakness of black powder in comparison with shimosa, the ruptures of cast-iron shells were much worse than the explosions of Japanese landmines on the water.

So the use of pig-iron shells with black powder could not equalize the capabilities of our gunners with the Japanese. But all the same, most likely, with the use of "cast iron" our gunners would be easier to shoot.

But when shooting to kill, such shells could not help anything.

No, if our battleships completely switched to cast-iron shells with black powder, then this would have a significant effect - it would become possible to observe hits on the enemy. But the problem is that by increasing the accuracy of shooting, we would certainly reduce the destructive effect of our hits. Simply because cast iron shells were too fragile to penetrate armor (they often split when fired from a gun), and black powder as an explosive had negligible capabilities.

Theoretically, it would be possible to order parts of the guns to fire steel shells, and others - cast iron shells. But even here there will not be a good balance. Even firing cast-iron shells from half of the guns, we will not have a good chance of hit control using the Japanese method, but we will cut the firepower of our ship by almost half.


In this material, I put forward the assumption that the success of concentrated firing of Japanese ships at one target is primarily due to the peculiarities of their material part (shells with an instant fuse, stuffed with shimoza), and by no means salvo firing, the widespread use of which, in general, is still under great doubt.

In my opinion, this hypothesis best explains the effectiveness of Japanese concentrated fire on one target in the Tsushima battle.

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