The route of Russian Baltic Fleet in Russo-Japanese War

Dec 2016
107
Spain
#1
I am reading a book covering the Russo-Japanese War, including the famous naval battle Tsushima which ended this War in 1905 and I need to understand the reasons of the route of the Second Pacific Squadron, the Russian Baltic Fleet. Russia’s Pacific fleet found itself bottled up in Port Arthur, unable to leave to harass Japanese troop movements in Manchuria, so the Russians ordered the Baltic Fleet, renamed the Second Pacific Squadron, to sail across the world to save Port Arthur. In this point I see everything as logical, but what I am struggling to understand is why russians decided to set up a journey of about 18,000 miles to reach Port Arthur, considering all the logistical barriers, being hard to find suitable friendly ports, and having problems to resupply their ships of coal. So this is a picture I found in wikipedia of the route taken by Russian Baltic Fleet, being the blue line the Second Pacific Squadron and a detachment in red that short the voyage crossing the Red Sea.



Why the Russian Baltic Fleet didn't arrived to Port Arthur bordering Russia through the north instead? They had one of the most strategical ports available in the Sea of Japan: Vladivostok.
 
Jul 2009
9,944
#2
I am reading a book covering the Russo-Japanese War, including the famous naval battle Tsushima which ended this War in 1905 and I need to understand the reasons of the route of the Second Pacific Squadron, the Russian Baltic Fleet. Russia’s Pacific fleet found itself bottled up in Port Arthur, unable to leave to harass Japanese troop movements in Manchuria, so the Russians ordered the Baltic Fleet, renamed the Second Pacific Squadron, to sail across the world to save Port Arthur. In this point I see everything as logical, but what I am struggling to understand is why russians decided to set up a journey of about 18,000 miles to reach Port Arthur, considering all the logistical barriers, being hard to find suitable friendly ports, and having problems to resupply their ships of coal. So this is a picture I found in wikipedia of the route taken by Russian Baltic Fleet, being the blue line the Second Pacific Squadron and a detachment in red that short the voyage crossing the Red Sea.



Why the Russian Baltic Fleet didn't arrived to Port Arthur bordering Russia through the north instead? They had one of the most strategical ports available in the Sea of Japan: Vladivostok.
There were two main reasons:

1) Unfortunately, the Baltic fleet left Russia in October, 1904 and did not arrive in the Far east until April or May of 1905. The northern "route" would have been frozen and impassable for virtually all of that time period.

2) Regardless of the Arctic winter, there were few if any stops further east from Archangel where the fleet could replenish and refit. That is for the most part because of that weather reality.

At around the turn of the 20th century (and on into the 1920s) the US navy used to have a rule-of-thumb that for every 1,000 miles of advance under war time conditions about 10% of the ships involved would be rendered ineffective through mechanical breakdown or damage from other causes (storms, collision, etc.). The Russians seem to have beat those odds by some way ;), but the voyage otherwise was a disaster for morale and readiness.

Port Arthur was far distant from adequate Russian logistical support, and also from any sizable naval reinforcements. It was perhaps the first 20th century example of indefensible fortified naval bases so remote from necessary support and reinforcement. It is probable that Russia should have utilized its far greater land forces to conduct a war of attrition in Manchuria and written off Port Arthur as an early defeat. The Far East being contiguous with Asiatic Russia, that would have had more strategic sense than sending an entire fleet 18,000 (or whatever) miles to fight a modern navy very close to its base of support. In any case, IIRC the Russians surrendered Port Arthur while the Baltic fleet was still far from the Far East.
 
Nov 2010
7,666
Cornwall
#3
Why? I think this whole episode is one of history's most monumental incompetent cock-ups .

Have you got to the bit where they opened fire on the Scarborough fishing trawlers yet off Dogger Bank? Thinking they were Japanese.

I mean, have you ever.....................................?
 
Aug 2014
286
New York, USA
#4
Why? I think this whole episode is one of history's most monumental incompetent cock-ups .

Have you got to the bit where they opened fire on the Scarborough fishing trawlers yet off Dogger Bank? Thinking they were Japanese.

I mean, have you ever.....................................?
Ha! You think that is bad? Wait till you read about Russian land forces. A. Kuropatkin, the commander of Russian defenses, was perhaps legitimately one of the worst generals of the beginning of 20th century. If you read about his decision making, you'd want to just scream at the book... ANY somewhat semi-competent general could've defended Mukden. It literally took Kuropatkin to snatch a defeat out of the jaws of victory.
He was so bad, they didn't even let him train new recruits at a military academy. He spend his forced retirement teaching peasants how to grow vegetables.
 
Last edited:
Jul 2009
9,944
#7
I vaguely recall that the original plan was to go through Suez, but the British made it clear that they wouldn't let them do it.
Britain had made at treaty with Japan in 1902 for mutual strategic considerations. If either party went to war with another single power, the other party would be neutral. The Russian fleet mistook some British fishing vessels for "Japanese torpedo boats" in the North Sea and fired on them. Despite its neutrality, Britain (which controlled the Suez Canal) refused to let the Russian Baltic Fleet use the canal.

I have never been quite sure how the Japanese navy was to get torpedo boats to the North Sea. The Russians and Britain having long been on bad terms, maybe Russia thought the Brits would make British naval facilities available to the IJN by the 1902 treaty. Anyway the Baltic Fleet had to take the long way around.
 

stevev

Ad Honorem
Apr 2017
3,413
Las Vegas, NV USA
#9
Ha! You think that is bad? Wait till you read about Russian land forces. A. Kuropatkin, the commander of Russian defenses, was perhaps legitimately one of the worst generals of the beginning of 20th century. If you read about his decision making, you'd want to just scream at the book... ANY somewhat semi-competent general could've defended Mukden. It literally took Kuropatkin to snatch a defeat out of the jaws of victory.
He was so bad, they didn't even let him train new recruits at a military academy. He spend his forced retirement teaching peasants how to grow vegetables.
So an incompetent army commander was an expert in growing vegetables? :rolleyes:
 
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Dec 2016
107
Spain
#10
Thank you for your replies. Rgearding the naval warfare of this war and period, what kind of ship formations / naval tactics were used in battles such as Port Arthur, Ulsan, Tsushima? I am not familiar with naval tactics of this period, I am more familiar with naval warfare of 18th century and early 19th century, but I guess Napoleonic era is far from this period, where ships were arranged in line formations and very close to the enemy fleet. However, in this war, with a wide variety of ship classes: Battleships, armored and protected cruisers, destroyers, torpedo boats, my guess is ships in line formations were no longer feasible.
 

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