Everyone who is interested in the history of the Russian navy will remember the breakthrough of the cruisers Askold and Novik through the detachments of the Japanese fleet that blocked the squadron of V. K. Vitgefta way to Vladivostok on the evening of July 28, 1904. Let us briefly recall this episode of combat, taking advantage of … but, for example, the work of V. Ya. Krestyaninov and S. V. Molodtsov "Cruiser" Askold "". This book gives a classic, from the point of view of Russian historiography, description of the breakthrough of our cruisers.
According to the source, Rear Admiral N. K. Reitenstein decided to break through on his own in the evening, shortly after the Russian battleships turned back towards Port Arthur. At this time, the Japanese ships, in general, almost surrounded the Russians - only the northwest direction (to Port Arthur) remained open. Assessing the situation, N. K. Reitenstein saw that it would be best to break through to the south-west, since only the 3rd Japanese combat detachment was blocking the way for the Russian cruisers there. "Askold" raised the signal "Cruisers to follow me" and increased the speed:
“At 18 hours 50 minutes“Askold”opened fire and headed straight for the armored cruiser“Asama”, which was sailing separately. Soon a fire broke out on the Asama, as a result of which the Japanese cruiser "increased its speed and began to move away."
Having driven off, thus, "Asama", "Askold" and "Novik" passed along the starboard side of the Russian battleships and overtook them. Then the rear admiral turned his detachment first to the south-west and then to the south, but the slow-moving Pallada and Diana lagged behind: Askold and Novik were left alone.
The armored cruiser Yakumo headed towards Askold, firing at it from 203-mm and 152-mm guns. Behind him, the cruisers of the 6th detachment, also blocking the path of our ships, flashed with flashes of shots. From the left and from behind, the cruisers of the 3rd detachment of Rear Admiral Deva set off in pursuit. The end ship of the 1st combat detachment "Nissin" and the ships of the 5th detachment also transferred fire to the "Askold" ".
How did the lead "Askold" manage to survive, falling into the focus of three detachments of Japanese ships at once? V. Ya. Krestyaninov and S. V. Molodtsov says: "High speed, maneuverability and accuracy of return fire explain the fact that the cruiser survived the monstrous hurricane of fire." "Askold" went straight to "Yakumo", who was in charge of the 3rd detachment, and soon:
“… The fire of" Askold "inflicted damage on the cruiser of the" Takasago "class, and a fire broke out on the" Yakumo ", and he turned it away. "Askold" and "Novik" swept literally behind its stern. Four Japanese destroyers launched an attack on the Russian cruisers from the right, from the bow course angles. From "Askold" we saw the launch of four torpedoes, which, fortunately, passed by. The guns of the starboard side were transferred to the enemy destroyers, and the Japanese turned them away."
Thus, we see a fascinating picture of the breakthrough of two relatively weak ships through the many times superior enemy forces: moreover, in the course of its implementation, the Askold's artillerymen managed to damage and force two large armored cruisers of the Japanese to retreat successively - first Asamu, and then - Yakumo. " But other Japanese ships were also damaged by his fire. All of the above clearly indicates that a large armored cruiser (which was "Askold") in skillful hands was a great force capable of effectively resisting much more powerful armored cruisers. Of course, he also had Novik with him, but, of course, by default, the main laurels went to the flagship N. K. Reitenstein: it was hardly possible to believe that the 120-mm Novik cannon inflicted numerous damage to Japanese ships.
And, of course, against the background of the battle between the Varyag and the Koreyets in Chemulpo on January 27, 1904, the actions of Askold look much more advantageous: after all, the Varyag was opposed by only one large armored cruiser Asama, and, as we are today we know that "Varyag" could not inflict not only serious, but also any damage whatsoever on him. All this, naturally, forces us to compare the actions of "Askold" and "Varyag" with a very negative result for the latter.
But let's try to figure out how true the picture of the battle between "Askold" and "Novik" we are used to. As we can see, their breakthrough can be divided into 2 episodes - the battle with the Asama and the Japanese 5th Combat Unit, then a short break while the cruisers bypassed the battleships along the bow and turned first to the southwest, and then to the south. and then - the battle with "Yakumo" and the 6th combat unit. It is in this sequence that we will consider them.
The state of the cruiser "Askold" before the breakthrough
By the time N. K. Reitenstein decided on a breakthrough, the state of his flagship was as follows. Until that moment, the cruiser had little participation in the battle, since in the first phase of the battle in the Yellow Sea she walked in the tail of the battleship column and the distances were large enough for her guns, nevertheless, she still received damage. At 13.09 a 305-mm projectile hit the base of the first chimney, causing the latter to be flattened, the chimney blocked, and the boiler damaged. In addition, the fire main was destroyed, the navigating bridge, the radiotelegraph cabin were destroyed, and, what is much more important in the battle, the communication pipes and telephone wires were damaged, that is, the control of the cruiser was disrupted to a certain extent. As a matter of fact, only the machine telegraph and the mysterious "telemotor" remained in the conning tower of the controls (what this is, the author of this article does not know, but it is mentioned in the report of the rear admiral). Voice communication was nevertheless restored in a very original way - rubber hoses were thrown, which to a certain extent replaced the damaged communication pipes, but nevertheless, orderlies remained the main means of communication on the cruiser from that moment until the end of the battle. Due to the failure of the 1st boiler, the cruiser could no longer reach full speed and, probably, could maintain no more than 20 knots for a long time.
All this was done to the ship by a single hit of a 305-mm "suitcase", and three minutes later a shell of an unknown caliber (but it was unlikely it was less than 152-mm, in the report of I. K. Rezenshtein it is mentioned that it was 305-mm) hit the stern of the cruiser from the starboard side, completely destroying the navigator's cabin and causing a small fire. The fire was quickly dealt with, and this hit had no serious consequences, but it became a reason for a historical curiosity: the navigator's cabin was completely destroyed by the energy of the explosion and fire, and the only thing that survived in it … was a box with chronometers.
Despite the absence of combat damage, the cruiser's artillery was seriously weakened. To begin with, on the morning of July 28, "Askold" went into battle without being fully armed - two 152-mm, two 75-mm and two 37-mm guns were removed from it for the needs of the fortress. As for the fire control system, not everything is clear with it. The only thing that, perhaps, can be said for sure, is that by the time of the breakthrough, the centralized fire control was disrupted on the Askold.
The cruiser had two rangefinder stations equipped with Lyuzhol-Myakishev micrometers, one of them was located on the upper bridge, and the second - on the stern superstructure. During the battle, both of them were destroyed, but the exact time of their death is unclear. However, the nature of the damage from the hit of the first 305-mm projectile to the cruiser suggests that the bow rangefinder station was destroyed by him (the upper bridge was destroyed, warrant officer Rklitsky was killed who was in the determination of the distances). In addition, according to the general description of Askold's damage, there was no other hit that could claim to destroy the bow rangefinder station. As for the aft station, it, most likely, was functioning at the beginning of the breakthrough, but as we have already said, communication in the conning tower was disrupted, which made it impossible to use the data from this post. And even if such an opportunity remained, it would still be useless, since it was impossible to transfer data for firing to the guns from the conning tower.
As you know, these data were transmitted from the conning tower to the guns using the transmitting and receiving dials, the latter were for each 152-mm gun. Without dwelling now in detail on the architecture and design of the fire control system (we will return to this in a series of articles about the Varyag), we note that on the Askold it turned out to be too … short-lived. After the battle on "Askold" a meeting of the commander and officers of the cruiser "Askold" was organized under the chairmanship of N. K. Reitenstein, whose purpose was to generalize the combat experience gained on July 28, 1904. In the part of the artillery, it was said:
“The dials were disabled from the very first shot, and therefore, useful in peacetime for the convenience of training, they are completely useless in wartime; everything is based on voice communication and the presence of an officer, which is what we should strive for even in peacetime."
As a matter of fact, the centralized fire control devices were so bad on Askold that the officers' assembly … managed to come to the point of denying the usefulness of centralized aiming in general! "The place of the senior artillery officer should not be in the conning tower, and his place during the battle should not be in the batteries" - this is the conclusion reached by the cruiser officers.
But let us return to the description of the state of "Askold" - the moment of dials failure is unclear, since the term "from the very first shot" is very difficult to tie to a specific time. Before the start of the breakthrough, the cruiser fired very little at the enemy - for a long time following the battleships into the wake, "Askold" could not expect to send its shells to the enemy, and at the beginning of the second, when the cruiser became the target for the battleships of H. Togo, he tried to answer them, but fired only 4 shots, because his shells did not reach the enemy. Then, not wanting to leave their ships an easy target for enemy battleships, N. K. Reitenstein transferred his squadron to the left traverse of the battleships, thereby being "fenced off" by the last from the 1st combat detachment H. Togo, but at the same time having the ability to quickly move forward if, for example, the Japanese would concentrate their destroyers for an attack. Being in this position, the ships of N. K. Reitenstein remained invulnerable to enemy battleships, but they themselves could not fire at them, and other Japanese ships were too far away to shoot at them. Therefore, it is possible that 4 152-mm projectiles are all that Askold used up before the breakthrough began. It is unlikely that this could lead to the failure of all dials of 152-mm guns, but, by and large, whether they came out before the breakthrough or at the very beginning is a purely academic question, since in any case, "Askold", breaking through, did not had the ability to centrally control the fire of his artillery. As for the material part of the guns themselves, then, as you know, four of the cruiser's guns were out of order from the breakage of the lifting arcs, while the teeth of the lifting gear broke on all four, and most likely this happened already during the breakthrough, as well as other damage guns. It can be assumed that at the beginning of the breakthrough, all ten 152-mm guns were in good working order and could fire.
Thus, serious damage to "Askold" could be considered a slight decrease in speed and failure of the centralized artillery control system - the rest was of little significance.
The position of the Russian and Japanese squadrons before the start of the breakthrough
The following diagram allows you to represent the approximate location of the Russian and Japanese forces:
The battleships of the Squadron stretched out a lot - the Retvizan was in front, the Peresvet and Pobeda were moving behind it, and the Poltava, which held the course behind them, lagged well behind. "Sevastopol" lagged even more behind, having damage in the car, the last was "Tsesarevich". It is impossible to indicate the exact distance between the ships, but, according to the commander of the Japanese armored cruiser Asama, Tsesarevich lagged behind Sevastopol by 8 cables, and the distance between the rest of the battleships was 4 cables. Such an assessment, for all its conventionality, can still give some idea of the distances that have taken place. Three cruisers N. K. Reitenstein: "Askold", "Pallada" and "Diana" went on the starboard side of "Peresvet" and "Victory", possibly "between the traverses" of "Pobeda" and "Poltava". The fourth cruiser of the detachment - "Novik" at that time went separately, located to the left and in front of the "Retvizan".
As for the Japanese, they, in fact, surrounded the retreating Russian ships. During the second phase of the battle, the 1st combat detachment of H. Togo followed parallel to the column of Russian battleships, and then, when the squadron formation disintegrated, turned to the east, preventing their further breakthrough. Then, when it became clear that the Russian battleships were leaving to the north-west, H. Togo turned again to Port Arthur, and this time went north. Shortly thereafter, his terminal "Nissin" and "Kasuga" went out and built and went to catch up with the Russian ships from the southwest.
At the same time, to the right and in front of the Russian squadron, the 5th combat detachment ("Chin-Yen", "Matsushima", "Hasidate") and, separately from them, the armored cruiser "Asama" were walking towards it. Well, in the west of our battleships, Japanese destroyers were concentrated. The direction not south-west was also not free - there, towards each other, the 3rd combat detachment, consisting of the armored cruisers Kasagi, Takasago and Chitose, together with the armored Yakumo from the east and the 6th combat unit ("Akashi", "Suma", "Akitsushima") - from the west. It is interesting that on Russian ships it was believed that they were surrounded by destroyers from all sides, some eyewitnesses indicated that more than 60 ships of this class were visible, which, of course, was much higher than their actual number.
It is not entirely clear whether the squadron was fighting the main forces of H. Togo by the time the breakthrough began. It is known for certain that after the Russian battleships lost their ranks and turned to Port Arthur, they exchanged fire with the Japanese for some time, and some sources (including N. K. Reitenstein's own report) note that at 18.50, when Askold”Began his breakthrough, the shooting was still going on. However, this raises some doubts, because from other sources it follows that the shooting stopped when the distance between the squadrons was 40 cables, and taking into account the fact that at 18.20 the Russian ships were already going to Port Arthur (to the northwest), and Japanese - in the opposite direction, to the east, then, most likely, this moment came earlier than 18.50. Perhaps this was the case: the Russian ships stretched out strongly and some of them stopped firing when the end ships were still firing. It is likely that Peresvet, Pobeda and Poltava stopped the exchange of fire with the ships of Kh. That was shortly before 18.50, and the Retvizan, which was leading the lead, of course, did it even earlier. But the end Russian battleships "Sevastopol" and, especially, "Tsarevich" could still shoot at the Japanese - they, having passed to the east, then turned north, and the distance between the squadrons did not increase so quickly. Official Russian historiography testifies that Japanese battleships fired at the Tsarevich until dusk.
The breakthrough goals set by N. K. Reitenstein
Everything seems to be clear here - the head of the Cruiser Detachment tried to fulfill the order of the deceased V. K. Vitgefta and follow to Vladivostok, but in fact N. K. Reitenstein took a broader view of things. The Rear Admiral himself stated his reasons (in a report to the governor dated September 1, 1904) as follows:
“In my opinion, it was extremely necessary to break through the ring, and to break it at all costs, even sacrificing a cruiser - to free the squadron from the trap invented by the Japanese and to divert some of the fire from the battleships; otherwise the ring would have had time to close tightly, leaving, perhaps, a small passage to Arthur to drive the squadron to mines, and darkness came - and I don’t want to think - what could have happened further with the squadron, surrounded by an enemy squadron with a large number of destroyers” …
It is interesting that N. K. Reitenstein was sure that his breakthrough saved the main forces of the Russians from enemy destroyers: "… the Japanese plan - to surround the squadron and make constant mine attacks at night - failed" (in the same report).
However, during the breakthrough, the head of the Cruiser Squad saw another goal for himself - to carry the battleships with him. "Not seeing any signal on the Peresvet … I lowered the call signs of the cruisers, leaving" to follow me "hoping that if Prince Ukhtomsky was out of action, then the" Peresvet "would follow the cruisers." I must say that this statement by N. K. Today in some circles it is not customary to take Reitenstein seriously, and some have already reached the point of accusing the rear admiral of lying: they say, if N. K. Reitenstein really would like to lead the battleships and lead them to Vladivostok, why then did he develop a speed of 20 knots during the breakthrough, which no Russian battleship could support? The answer to this is given by N. K. Reitenstein in his testimony to the Commission of Inquiry: “I was convinced that if at least one cruiser breaks through, the Japanese will certainly send a pursuit, and send two or three cruisers (they do not engage in battle with small forces) and the ring will be broken, which will facilitate the passage of battleships ". I must say that such a position is more than logical - in the south-west of the Russian squadron there were only the 3rd and 6th detachments, and, taking along, for example, the Takasago-class cruiser, or even Yakumo, " Askold "really could make a gap in the forces surrounding the Russian squadron in the direction that would allow to resume the breakthrough to Vladivostok.
Maneuvering Russian ships in the initial phase of the breakthrough
In fact, it was extremely simple, although, nevertheless, it contains some oddities. At 18.50, "Askold" began a breakthrough, moving along the line, on the starboard side of the Russian battleships, and then turned left and passed in front of the stem of the Retvizan, keeping a course to the southwest and then turned back to the south, where, in fact, followed during breakout (minor exchange rate changes do not count). The situation with "Novik" is also understandable - if "Askold" was on the starboard side of the battleships, then "Novik" - on the left, and he went to the wake behind the "Askold" when he overtook the battleships and moved to their left side. But why “Askold” was not followed by “Pallas” and “Diana”, who followed him into the wake before the breakthrough began? N. K. Reitenstein believed that the whole point was in the poor running characteristics of these two cruisers: in his opinion, they simply did not have time to follow the "Askold" and fell behind, and he could not wait for them, because speed was the most important prerequisite for a breakthrough.
We will allow ourselves to doubt this. The fact is that "Askold" first moved at a very moderate speed, N. K. Reitenstein in his report to the Governor indicates: "Passing the squadron, he had a speed of 18 knots, and breaking through the ring - 20 knots." Of course, the driving characteristics of the "goddesses", as the "Pallada" and "Diana" were called, were far from the sailors' expectations, but nevertheless "Pallada", according to its commander, 1st rank captain Sarnavsky, gave 17 knots in battle, and "Diana", according to the report of the commander of the cruiser Prince Lieven, confidently held 17, 5 knots. Thus, both of these cruisers could well hold on to "Askold" while he overtook the battleships, perhaps with a slight lag, and he could only break away from them when he went to the left side of the squadron and gave 20 knots. However, nothing of the kind happened - the cruiser Pallada, for example, did not go anywhere at all, and remained on the starboard side of the Russian battleships! Why did it happen? Most likely, N. K. himself should be blamed for the fact that Pallada and Diana did not rush to the breakthrough. Reitenstein, or rather, the confusion in flag signals, which was arranged on the "Askold". But - in order.
So, at 18.50 "Askold" began a breakthrough, increasing the stroke to 18 knots and raising the signal "Be in wake formation". And this was his first mistake, because this order allowed a double interpretation.
If such an order had been given in the first or second phase of the battle, but before the "Tsarevich" raised the "Admiral transfers command", then no confusion would have arisen. As you know, N. K. Reitenstein was the head of the Cruiser Detachment, well, and he could, of course, give orders to the cruisers - the battleships had their own commander. Thus, at this time, his "Be in the wake ranks" was an order for cruisers, and only for cruisers.
However, at 18.50 confusion arose with the leadership of the squadron. It was supposed to be headed by Prince Ukhtomsky, and he tried to do it, but his "Peresvet" was so beaten by Japanese shells (this battleship suffered the most in the battle on July 28, 1904) that he simply had nothing to raise flags and signals. This gave the impression that no one was in command of the squadron, and many could think that Rear Admiral N. K. Reitenstein is now the senior officer of the squadron - he himself allowed this. So, in such conditions, the flag order "Be in the wake ranks" could be perceived not as a command to cruisers, but as an order for the entire squadron. And that is exactly how, it seems, they understood it on "Pallada" - well, and of course they began to execute it.
The fact is that, having received the order "Be in the wake formation", addressed to the cruisers, "Pallada" should have followed the "Askold", but in the case when this signal addressed the entire squadron, "Pallada" had to take place in the ranks according to the original disposition - that is, behind the battleships. And so, apparently, this is exactly what they tried to do on the Pallas. As a result, instead of accelerating to follow the "Askold", "Pallada" tried to take a place in the "armored" formation … … Prince Lieven cannot be blamed for such a decision, for one simple reason: the fact is that the signals raised on the flagship are clearly visible only on the next ship, on the third in the ranks - already very so-so, and the fourth, often does not see them at all. Therefore, often the commander can be guided not by what he sees (or does not see) on the halyards of the flagship, but by how the matelot going ahead acts.
On the "Askold", it seems, they realized their mistake, and 10 minutes after the first signal they raised the "Cruisers to follow me", which clearly indicated their intention. But "Askold" had already moved forward by that moment, and "Pallada" and "Diana" could not quickly catch up with him, and most importantly - passing by "Peresvet" and not seeing the admiral's flag on it, N. K. Reitenstein decided to carry the battleships with him, and the signal "Cruisers to follow me" was released. Now "Being in wake formation" again and obviously referred to the entire squadron, and what were they supposed to think on "Pallas" and "Diana"?
At the last, however, they guessed what exactly N. K. was going to do. Reitenstein (apparently, when he, having developed 20 knots, rushed to the south), and "Diana" made an attempt to catch up with "Askold" and "Novik", which by that time had gone after "Askold", but here, of course, " Diana "with her 17, 5 knots could not catch up with the squadron runners in any way.