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The Battle of Chemulpo

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The Battle of Chemulpo...
The Russo-Japanese War was fought primarily over both countries interests in Manchuria and Korea. At the time Japan was wishing to expand its borders onto mainland Asia while Russia was looking to expand its territory in eastern Asia. The main drive of Russia was to obtain a port in the Pacific which was open year round. This would provide both naval bases and trading bases from which Russia could extend its power out into the Pacific.

As a result of the first Sino-Japanese war Japan gained Korea and was ceded Taiwan, Pescadores and the Liaodong Peninsula (Port Arthur). Russia wanted Port Arthur for its own. It also wanted a larger portion of Manchuria for its own to construct the Trans-Siberian railway. Using diplomacy Russia used its might to arrange for Port Arthur to be handed over to them.

Japan was reluctant to allow this, but for different reasons allowed Russia to take control of the port. During the following troubles in China Russia became more and more vocal in their wanting of more territory. Russia used the Boxer Rebellion in China as an excuse to send forces into Manchuria. After the rebellion was ended Russia failed to withdraw its forces. This was a thorn in Japan’s side since they wanted Manchuria.

Japan felt it did not have the military might to remove the Russians from territory they felt belonged to them. So they began to negotiate for the withdrawal. As talks worked their way through proper diplomatic channels it became obvious that Japan and Russia could not settle the problems through talk. On February 6th 1904 Japan broke off diplomatic relations. On February 8th Russia declared war on Japan. Japan followed suit by declaring war on Russia. But, in a startling move attack Russian forces a full three hours before declaring war.

Chemulpo Bay is located in Inchon Korea today. On Feburary 8th there were only two Russian ships located in the harbor, the protected cruiser Varyag and the gun boat Korietz. They were riding at anchor when the Japanese sailed into the harbor and began to disembark troops of the 12th Division, when all the troops were ashore all Japanese ships left the harbor, except Chiyoda.

Japanese Message

The following message was sent out to all ships in the harbor,

Chemulpo Roadstead, February 8. 1904.

Sir: I have the honor to notify you that as hostilities exist hetween the Empire of Japan and the Empire of Russia at present I shall attack the men-of-war of the Government of Russia, stationed at present in the port of Chemulpo, witli the force under my command, in case of the refusal of the Russian senior naval officer present at Chemulpo to my demand to leave the port of Chemulpo before the noon of the 9th of February, 1904, and I respectfully request you to keep away from the scene of action in the port so that no danger from the action would come to the ship under your command. The above-mentioned attack will not take place before 4 o'clock p. m. of the 9th of February, 1904, to give time to put into practice the above-mentioned request.

If there are any transports or merchant vessels of your nationality in the port of Chemulpo at present, I request you to communicate to them the above notification.

I have the honor to be, sir, your most obedient servant,


At the time there were ships from Russia, France, England, Italy, and the US inside the harbor. All ships planned to leave with the exception of the Russian ships and the American ships. The US captain argued the port was considered neutral and he did not have to leave. All of the neutral captains tried to get the Russian captains to surrender in the face of the superior Japanese force. However this was not to be the case.

Battle Action...

Varyag tried to make a run for the open water. The following is from her log book.

• 1110 All hands on deck on "Varyag".
• 1120 Cruiser goes to open sea, "Korietz" in 1 cable length (200 meters) behind.
• English and Italian crews cheer Russians; on the at Italian cruiser Elba the Russian anthem is played.
• 1125 Battle alarm on "Varyag". Japanese cruisers Asama, Naniwa, Takachiho, Chiyoda, Akashi and Niitaka in bearing line from Richy island to Northern passage. Japanese torpedo-boats behind cruisers.
• 1145 "Varyag" opens fire with port guns.
• 1147 Asama opens fire with 8" gun; all Japanese squadron then open fire.
• One of the first Japanese shells that hit cruiser, destroyed the port wing of front bridge, set fire in chart house and broke the fore shrouds. Junior navigating officer midshipman Count Alexey Nirod was killed, all personnel on range finding station #1 were killed or wounded.
• Damaged 10.2" gun #3, all personnel killed or wounded, battery commander midshipman Gubonin was wounded, but refused to go away until he fall. Fire on bow and quarterdeck (was put out by midshipman Chernilovsky-Sokol). With the same shell, that caused fire was damaged guns: 10.2" #8 and #9, 75mm #21 47mm #27 and #28. With other hits was nearly destroyed main battle top, destroyed range finding station #2, damaged guns #31 and #32, fire in lockers on accommodation deck (was put out lively).
• 1205 After passing traverse of "Yo-dol-mi" island trunk with rudder drive was damaged. At the same time, Captain Rudnev was shell-shocked in head by fragments of another shell, hitting foremast. Staff-bugler and drummer, who stay astride him was deadly killed, helmsman petty officer Snegirev was badly wounded in back, and orderly of captain quartermaster Chibisov was lightly wounded too. Ship from now was steered from steering compartment, but orders were stiffed, so course permanently was corrected with engines. At strong current cruiser steered badly.
• 1215 Willing to go out of fire range to repair as possible steering drive and put out fires in different places begin to turn with machines, as cruiser steered badly. Near Yo-dol-mi island engines on full back.
• Cruiser was put in disadvantage position relatively to island when steering drive was broken with rudder at 15-20° on port side.
• Distance to enemy shortens to 28-30 cable length, fire strengthens, hits increase. • Near the same time large caliber shell hit port side under water, water gushed into huge hole, stokehold #3 begins to full with water, which level raised up to furnaces. Chief Officer and chief boatswain placed patch under the hole, water was pumped all time, its level decreased continuously, but cruiser continue to listing at port side.
• With shell passing through officer cabins, which were wrecked, deck was pierced and meal in provision berth was inflamed. Then cot netting at waist under the sick quarters was pierced, wherein fragments get into sick quarters, cots in netting catch fire, which was put out lively. Serious damage forced us to get out of fire range for a more long time, that is why we come to roadstead at full speed, firing with port and bow guns.
• Throughout the battle with one shot of 10.2" gun #XII bow bridge of Asama cruiser was destroyed and put afire, Asama stop fire for some time. bow turret on her was apparently damaged, as it not fired up to the end of battle.
• 1240 With cruiser approached the berth and Japanese fire become dangerous for neutral ships on roadstead, two cruiser pursuing us stop the fire and return to the rest of squadron out of Yo-dol-mi island.
• 1245 Distance to the Japanese so increased, that our fire become ineffective, so we stop it.

With both of the Russian ships damaged and unable to make open sea they returned to port. Here both captains readied their ships for destruction. Korietz was scuttled by an explosion in her powder magazine. The ship was blown to bits and several came dangerously close to the neutral vessels still in the harbor. Seeing this Varyag was scuttled by flooding. She sank and was later repaired by the Japanese. The Russian sailors were returned to Russia by the neutrals ships present at the time.

In commemoration of that battle which took place 105 years ago this last February MSW crewmember D.T. [DrWho2] was written a series of reviews dedicated to the Varyag and Korietz. There are eight in all cover models of both ships, after market items, and a book written on the Varyag.

Associated Reviews...
The reviews are as follow:
1/350 Protected Cruiser Varyag
1/350 Russian Gunboat Koreets
1/350 Varyag Wooden deck
1/350 Flyhawk Varyag PE Detail set
1/350 WEM PE Detail Set
1/350 Varyag Barrels
1/350 Varyag Brass Masts
Varyag Russian language book
Links to follow as published.
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About the Author

About Jim Adams (goldenpony)


Simply stunning! Thank you for this in depth article about the battle and the involved russian ships. The writing is superbly balanced giving all relevant information. I am kind of speachless at the moment and wished I could write half as good as you do. Again, thank you so much for the efforts and dedication!
AUG 19, 2009 - 02:37 AM
Hey Jim thanks for sharing! that's a very good history paper, Here is my contribyution from my small postcard collection, Varyag after scutling
AUG 19, 2009 - 03:23 AM
Thank you both. JBA, I added that postcard image to the Varyag section. Thank you!
AUG 19, 2009 - 05:44 AM
An easy to read piece of history here, and it makes the ships we build so much more interesting, and somehow gives them life and meaning. Very enjoyable, Jim. Best regards, peter F
AUG 20, 2009 - 08:22 PM
Today I posted the last review in the series of reviews dealing with the Battle of Chemulpo. I would like to take this time to thank Dariush [Dr_Who2] for taking his time to do this for MSW. Those of us who have written reviews and features for the site know how much time is required. So, writing eight was a major undertaking. Thank you all for your support and comments.
AUG 28, 2009 - 01:24 AM