Saturday, January 26, 2008

Incompetence in the Russian Navy - 1904

This article caught my eye:
Zinovy “Mad Dog” Rozhestvensky was charged with taking 46 warships of the Russian Baltic Fleet 18,000 miles round the world to relieve Port Arthur, in Manchuria, from Japanese forces. This operation got off to an inauspicious start when one of the warships opened fire on an approaching steamer carrying a message from the Tsar promoting Rozhestvensky to the post of vice-admiral.
Within days, the manoeuvres had almost succeeded in unintentionally triggering war with Britain. Passing through Dogger Bank, the Russian fleet sighted some small craft on the horizon. The logical and correct explanation was that they were Hull fishing boats. However, the Russian sailors decided they must be Japanese torpedo boats (off Grimsby) and started shelling them. One trawler was sunk and four others damaged. Only the bewildering inaccuracy of Russian marksmanship (the Orel fired 500 shells and missed with every one of them) prevented serious slaughter.
In Britain, there were calls for vengeance. The Royal Navy was put on alert and a cruiser squadron dispatched to “escort” the Russian fleet as far as the Bay of Biscay.
After the Russian fleet docked at Tangier to resupply, its departure was marred when an anchor ripped-up the telegraph cable connecting North Africa to Europe. Several days of intercontinental radio silence ensued. Off Madagascar, illness and disease took its toll. A live shell was fired to mark one sailor's funeral but was not aimed away from the fleet and scored a direct hit on the battlecruiser Aurora.
Clearly in need of gunnery practice, a line of stationary targets was attached to a support vessel. The shelling missed the targets but hit the vessel. The torpedo practice was no less farcical. One torpedo started whizzing round and round in circles, forcing the fleet to disperse in fright.
Amazingly, the arrival proved worse than the journey: at the Strait of Tsushima, the Russian fleet was pulverised by the Japanese, and Rozhestvensky taken prisoner. But as far as preventing international incidents are concerned, it is perhaps right to be more fearful of the underpractised navy than the one that goes in for expensive war games.

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