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History: August 10, 1904: First Battle of Modern Battleships Ends in Victory For Japan

A Brief History

On August 10, 1904, during the Russo-Japanese War history observed the first battle between modern steel battleships in the Battle of the Yellow Sea. (A minor battle had taken place a few months prior that lasted only 20 minutes that trapped the Russians at Port Arthur.)

Digging Deeper

The Battle of the Yellow Sea took place between what is referred to as Pre-Dreadnought type battleships, which were being built during this time. Still, the all steel Pre-Dreadnoughts were heavily armed with a main battery of 12 inch guns that could shoot to an unprecedented range of 8 miles. Naval thinkers of the time figured battles to start at the 3 to 4 mile range, and then the ships would close to short range as they had always done in the past. The Battle of the Yellow Sea changed that thinking.

The Russian fleet at Port Arthur was trapped, blockaded by the Japanese and unable to join the other Russian Pacific fleet from Vladivostok since February 1904, and an attempt was made to break out of the blockade and join the other fleet. The Russians sent 6 battleships, 4 protected cruisers and 14 destroyers against a Japanese fleet of 4 battleships, 4 armored cruisers, 8 protected cruisers, 18 destroyers and 30 torpedo boats.

Facing long odds against success, Admiral Vitgeft of the Imperial Russian Navy was ordered to make the breakout against his own best judgment.

Admiral Togo of the Imperial Japanese Navy was apprised of the Russian fleet steaming out of the harbor and raced to position his ships in a blocking formation, opening fire at the extreme range of 8 miles. The battle continued into the early evening until the Russians had had enough and returned to port about 7 hours after the sortie began. Admiral Vitgeft and his staff had been killed by a Japanese 12 inch shell and a Russian battleship was severely damaged. The other 5 Russian battleships had lesser damage, and some of the smaller vessels fled to neutral ports where they were interned. Only 48 Russian sailors died, and 292 were wounded, while the Japanese suffered a total of 226 killed and wounded. The Japanese had 1 battleship severely damaged, another battleship slightly damaged, and a protected cruiser slightly damaged.

The Imperial Japanese Navy had contained the Russian fleet and went on to win the Russo-Japanese War, with American President Theodore Roosevelt playing a major role in negotiating the peace treaty. The battles during the Russo-Japanese War confirmed the wisdom of the naval planners of the world to make a switch to all big gun Dreadnought type battleships, and World War I which would begin 9 years after the end of the Russo-Japanese War would herald this new age of battleships, which would quickly be superseded by the Super-Dreadnought design of World War II. Of course, during World War II it became clear the age of battleships was over and the aircraft carrier was the new capital ship of the leading navies.

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