Today in 1904, Russia & Japan fought the Battle of the Yellow Sea
The Battle of the Yellow Sea (Japanese: 黄海海戦 Kōkai kaisen; Russian: Бой в Жёлтом море) was a major naval engagement of the Russo-Japanese War, fought on 10 August 1904. In the Russian Navy, it was referred to as the Battle of 10 August.
The battle foiled an attempt by the Russian fleet at Port Arthur to break out and form up with counterparts from Vladivostok, forcing them to return to port. Four days later, the Battle off Ulsan similarly ended the Vladivostok group's sortie, forcing both fleets to remain at anchor.
The Battle of the Yellow Sea was naval history's first major confrontation between modern steel battleship fleets, so with the exception of Admiral Togo's 20 minute duel with Russian Admiral Stark's battleships at Port Arthur on 9 February 1904, both Vitgeft and Togo were new to fighting modern steel battleship fleet actions.
Although Admiral Stark had been replaced by Admiral Stepan Makarov shortly after the Port Arthur battle, Makarov in turn was replaced by Vitgeft, following Makarov's death in April 1904, when his battleship Petropavlovsk blew up and sank in the Yellow Sea, after striking mines.
Had Admiral Stark remained in command at the time of the Yellow Sea battle, Admirals Togo and Stark would have met on equal terms, both retaining about equal combat experience in battleship fleet actions. But the naval force that Togo was to meet at Tsushima the following year was not the same type of battle fleet that he engaged at the Yellow Sea either. Though Admiral Vitgeft was new, many of his men were not, most of them were veterans of Far East duty, with some of them veterans of the 1900 Boxer Rebellion in China. Thus, when Togo fought Vitgeft's fleet in the Yellow Sea in August 1904, he quickly found that they knew how to sail, and they were good gunners.
The Imperial Russian Navy's First Pacific Squadron, commanded by Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft, had been trapped in Port Arthur since the Imperial Japanese Navy's blockade began on 8 February 1904 with the Battle of Port Arthur. Throughout late July and early August, as the Imperial Japanese Army laid siege to Port Arthur, relations between Admiral Vitgeft and Russian Viceroy Yevgeni Alekseyev increasingly soured. Viceroy Alexeiev, a former Admiral, favored an aggressive sortie so as to enable the First Pacific Squadron to link up with the Vladivostok Squadron and thereby create a naval force powerful enough to challenge the Japanese fleet. Admiral Vitgeft believed in a fleet in being, which simply stayed at anchor, while at the same time contributing some of his weaponry to the land battle as the safest course to follow. Although passive, Vitgeft's preference was actually more in keeping with the Russian Navy's doctrine, which was building up strength (waiting for the arrival of the Baltic Fleet, also known as the 2nd Pacific Squadron), and then engaging the Japanese navy in decisive battle.
Alexeiev appealed to St. Petersburg, and Tsar Nicholas II replied that he fully shared the Viceroy's opinion. Faced with an Imperial writ and threat of legal action, Admiral Vitgeft was ordered to sail for Vladivostok immediately.
By 06:15 hours, on 10 August 1904, Admiral Vitgeft, flying his flag in the battleship Tsesarevich, began leading his battleships from the harbor.Result
The Russians wanted to breakout and sail to Vladivostok (relocating the fleet to there would have left the Japanese needing to mount a new campaign if it wanted to besiege the Russian fleet again and such a campaign would have overtaxed the resources of Field Marshal Oyama). The Japanese had an underlying objective to destroy the Russian fleet while minimising their own losses. Once the Russian fleet left Port Arthur the Japanese initially sought to prevent it returning there, when the Japanese realised the Russians were not returning to Port Arthur they also sought to prevent the Russians reaching an alternative port, the Japanese prevented the Russians from reaching Vladivostock but failed to stop most of the fleet returning to Port Arthur. Neither side fully achieved its goals.
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