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Rasplata — Vladimir Semenov
Chapter 02b

Both destroyers steamed through the bay on a curve, went out into the open sea, and searched the next bay in the same way. Again no one. All our keenness was thrown away.

As soon as I had reported by signal that both bays were clear of the enemy, Amur ordered Gilyak and Gaidamak to stop engines and wait for her, while she went in herself to lay mines. We, the destroyers, were to follow her, slightly on the quarters. We were to fire on and sink any mines which might have been badly placed, and have come to the surface, thus revealing to the enemy the whereabouts of the line of mines. This convoying the mine-layer was very dull work. When we returned to the place where the two vessels were to wait for us, we did not find them. We steamed backwards and forwards looking for them, but were obliged eventually, as night came on apace, to go into Dalny without them. At Dalny we found the Vsadnik. Next morning, on enquiring by telephone, -we heard that our two consorts, not being able to find us in the snowstorm, had returned to Port Arthur. Whether they did so on their own initiative or by superior order, I do not know. I confess that this simple solution of their task did not specially please me. After the sinking of the Yenissei we only possessed one mine-layer, the Amur. She had to be preserved. That was why she had been given the two above-mentioned gun-boats and the two destroyers as a protection. And now she had only the two latter with her. Moreover, the Gilyak's 4.7-inch guns were our principal strength.

The Amur went into the inner harbour. The destroyers had to watch the northern and southern entrances. It was horrible lying there at anchor. The tide was running either towards the entrance or out of it, keeping the vessel permanently broadside on to the heavy sea running from the southward. I had learnt during my long experience how to wedge myself into a bunk, but now we were rolling so heavily that one could no longer sleep. Perhaps we were thus more useful as guardships, but we suffered greatly. The sad experience of the Boyarin was, as it seemed, not in vain. Orders were given to lay out the mines in Talienwan Bay strictly according to plan.' The next morning the harbour boats began the preparatory work of placing beacons. These were carefully charted and the mines were laid between them. On February 18 an incident occurred, trivial in itself, but which irritated me greatly.

I had gone alongside the Amur to coal. When nearly finished, the Admiral sent for me.

"Can you start at once?"
"Yes, sir."
"The boats are coming back for some reason or other. They have orders to return if they see anything suspicious. Go and see what is the matter. If there is nothing, let them continue their work." "Aye, aye, sir."
A few seconds later my vessel was steaming out of the harbour towards the boats which were slowly returning. When alongside of them, we stopped.
"What's up?"

"A Japanese torpedo-boat appears to be in sight to seaward. "

"How many?" One." A large one ? We could not make out: she is too far off."

It was evident that they had either been mistaken, or sighted something else. The weather was clear, without fog or snow. What should a single hostile torpedo-boat be doing here in these circumstances in broad daylight? If, however, one had gone astray by accident-so much the worse for her. I did not hesitate for a moment. "Return to your work. I'll drive off the enemy."

The clumsy steamboats, with the row boats in tow, turned slowly. Meanwhile, the Reshitelny hurried towards the passage between the San-chan-tau Islands, against the spray of a very high but short sea.
Again " Clear for action ! " Once more officers and men hurried to their stations in cheerful excitement.

We reached the open sea. The horizon was perfectly clear. We could see 10 miles, and there was nothing in sight but a Chinese junk. Her square sail, which was foreshortened, might at a distance have been taken for a funnel. The old seaman at the helm could not suppress a confidential remark: "Your Honour has no luck," he said ; " this is the second time." " Perhaps there is another one, and she is only hiding behind a point," mumbled the sub-lieutenant at the engineroom telegraph. I did not think this likely, but the two remarks appeared to be the vox populi-that is, of the crew. I should have considered it a great mistake not to encourage this ardour for the fray. " Well, we'll have a look. Perhaps he'll come out. He shan't hide from us. Full speed ahead! "

The engine-room telegraphs rang out. We ran up to one point, then another, but no sign of anything.

"They dare not face the daylight. We have been kicking about three days and have met no one," some voices amongst the crew were heard to say: " We've got no luck at all," complained the sublieutenant. We re-entered the harbour of Dalny to report to the Admiral. On the way we were met by the Vsadnik. " Remain underweigh near the entrance and protect the boats," she signalled. We turned, and rolled about in the swell all day.

When I got back to my billet in the evening I went on board the Amur to make my report. The Admiral received me very curtly. After he had heard my report he said :
"You only had orders to enquire, look around, and report, and not to embark upon adventures."

"But, Your Excellency, on the information which reached me, I considered myself justified in taking action." "You had no right to risk your destroyer. You are bound not to endanger the safety of the vessel entrusted to your care." "What!" I thought; " not to risk anything? Warfare surely means permanent risk to men and ships. Every torpedo-boat attack is a desperate venture, even in the most favourable conditions, if looked upon from the point of view of praiseworthy caution. Not to endanger one's vessel ? Why, we do that even in time of peace, so as to be ready for war. If we are to guard our vessels from a meeting with the enemy we had better hide them in some inaccessible harbour. But then, in the devil's name, what is the fleet there for? " "Risk nothing! "-that was the maxim to which they clung, Alexeieff at sea, Kuropatkin on land.

How often, in the course of the war, have I had to think of this maxim with bitter anger? Later on we were forced to risk something. Meanwhile, we had had a whole string of failures, had indeed thrown away a great part of our fighting strength, and had allowed the first enthusiasm of our men to evaporate. Mukden and Tsu-Shima are the consequences of this maxim. Then, of course, I could not guess how the war would end, but it must be owned quite honestly: in my diary it is clearly indicated, that inwardly I grumbled quite as much as so many around me did aloud, although I had, outwardly, to "bring them up " as in duty bound. When I returned on board, I of course did not mention a word of my conversation with the Admiral. Zeal, love of fighting, spirit of enterprise, I considered the foundation of success, especially in a destroyer. These happened to be present in my officers and men in a specially high degree. According to my view, it would have been criminal to kill these qualities by telling the men that we were to risk nothing" (that is, that there was to be no hostile meeting), and that we were not allowed to " expose the vessel confided to us to any danger" (that is, to the enemy's projectiles). On February 20 our labours were at an end, and we returned to Port Arthur. The whole time we had seen no Japanese, but we had suffered a good deal under the constant changes of weather. On some days the thermometer stood at 37' and 38' F., in spite of the wind, on others it went down, in calm weather, to 20 degrees. Then the harbour was covered in a few hours with a crust of ice, which, however, remained so thin as to form no obstacle or danger even to a destroyer. In those days our mines developed a very unpleasant quality. They had been tested in protected ports, such as Transund in the Baltic and Tendra Bay in the Black Sea. There they thoroughly answered all requirements. But here they lay in bays subject to both the rollers of the open sea and tidal streams. A small error in construction made them here dangerous alike to friend and foe. The steel wire mooring rope, which joins the mine to its anchor, and is intended to secure the mine in place, is rove through a small hole in one part of the anchor. These holes are made by machinery in all the anchors, and no one remembered that they had sharp edges. In a seaway, however, and in alternating currents, the mine moved, and with it the mooring rope. The latter became gradually worn through, and the loaded mine, fitted to explode at the slightest touch, drifted about at sea. Once such a mine drifted up in front of the hut of a Chinese fisherman built on the edge of the water. The mine bumped on the rocks of the coast, and nothing remained of the hut and all it contained. Another floated in a calm up on to a flat beach and was left high and dry by the receding tide. A military patrol discovered it and decided to remove it. When the men began to drag it away, the mine naturally exploded, and of the twelve men of the patrol only one escaped by a miracle, and was able to report the circumstance. Of course, we were constantly exposed, as were the Japanese, to the danger of hitting one of these mines drifting about at sea. As we left Talienwan we saw two of them, and had to destroy them.

At Port Arthur, a heavy blow awaited me. I had just secured abreast of the coal shed and begun coaling, when an officer arrived alongside in the duty steamboat and informed me that, by order of the Viceroy, he had been appointed to the command of the Reshitelny, At the same time I had been appointed second-in-command of the Angara.
"The destroyer is, I suppose, to have some rest now?" asked the new captain without leaving his boat.

"What? Rest? She is to fill up with coal, then go to the dockyard to make good some defects developed during the night (they are in the engine-room), and to have steam up by 8 A.M. to-morrow to go out into the roads-kindly take over the command." The "novice" at once altered his tone. He came up on deck, and began to shake me warmly by the hand.
"You don't say so. I never expected that. I'm in no way prepared. Pray do me the kindness to take the vessel to the dockyard after coaling. This is the first time I have been on board of her, and I can't be expected to take her through this mass of shipping at dusk, or even at night." I was so stunned by this naive remark that I answered mechanically.
"Verywell. Be off. I'll do it."
The steamboat departed in haste.

When I had secured the Reshitelny alongside the other destroyers at the slip, and was preparing to leave her, it was already pretty dark. I had not much to pack - a handbag - all my other gear had remained in the house of my friend, whom I had to leave so hurriedly. As it was so late I intended sleeping again at his lodgings and starting on my new duties in the morning. In the cabin the officers were assembled to say goodbye, as is customary. They clinked their glasses with mine and emptied them, but their good wishes were somewhat vague. It seemed that in the short space of only five days we had become good friends. The parting was not easy ; I had to end it quickly. "Gentlemen," I said, "I have only been your captain a very short time, but I thank you for your services. Everything was excellent. One must not quarrel with one's fate. I shall now rust away on board a transport. But for you I wish that on the first coloured chocolate box pictures that are made during the war, the photograph of the Reshitelny may appear."

Many thanks. We will do our part. But what do you say? You are ordered to a transport?"
I hurried on deck. By contrast with the bright light in the mess it seemed doubly dark. (As it was war time we were not allowed to show any lights on deck.) Only the messenger showed the way to the gangway with a shaded lantern. " And the men? " asked the lieutenant, who had seized my hand just as I was about to step into the boat. When I turned round I had already got accustomed to the darkness, and saw that rows of men were standing along the ship's side. "Why this parade? Surely this is not necessary. It is night, the men must sleep."

"I have not ordered it. They have come of their own accord to say good-bye."
I took a few steps along the front. "Thanks for your services, my brave lads. God grant that you and your destroyer may soon meet the enemy and give you glory in the fight. Good- . bye.' " Respectful thanks," I sounded back from the ranks somewhat confusedly, but so heartily-I was glad it was dark.
The customary embrace of the boatswain's mate, a last grip of the hand with the officers, a few strokes of the oars, and everything seemed far, far behind me. "What has happened? Why have I been superseded ? " I shouted to my friend of the staff. " Surely you told me that all was in order."
"Yes, but--"

"No;. you listen first. I have given up my good billet at home for the sake of the war. If I had wanted to join a transport, one starting from Cronstadt would have done as well. The transports at Cronstadt are just as fine as those at Port Arthur. I have not come out here for that sort of thing. In time of peace I have always served in fighting ships, and now in time of war I am to join a transport. What is the meaning of it? Couldn't a worse man be found for the Angara? Such a post is hardly a coveted one, I should think." " Peace! Curse as you like, it remains as it is. Everything was in order, as I told you. When the draft appointment was submitted, it was, as usual, a mere formality. Then he suddenly struck out your name with his green pencil. 'The other is senior,' ' He' said. Vityeft tried to stand up for you, and asked where you were to go. You had been sent out as a second-incommand. 'To the Angara,' was the reply. He at once wrote it in himself. He forgets nothing." That night I did not sleep well, hardly at all.

My want of seniority was evidently a mere pretext. Amongst the destroyer captains were many who were considerably my juniors. But what was the real cause? Did " he " now, in his present position and in time of war, bethink himself of an old story? Years ago a certain lieutenant had declined to blow "his" trumpet. That young officer had told "his" A.D.C. that his pen was as little for sale as his sword. If he were even base enough not to forget such like personal affairs in times of peace, now we had war, and in the face of this all else must give way. Honour, duty, conscience demanded this. "It can't be," I thought, and threw myself about in my bed. "We are now at war - a real war, not merely Chinese riots. In war one lets volunteers fight in the front rank." I involuntarily thought with bitter wrath of an anecdote which is told of one of our best known admirals. He was once second-in-command to a very autocratic captain. On the latter saying: " While you are serving me, you must do this differently," he replied : " I am not serving you, but with you I serve His Majesty the Tsar. You are not rich enough to keep me in your service." In Port Arthur at the time of the Viceroyalty such views would have been considered rank heresy.

When the day broke, I was already up, and no sooner were the Viceroy's offices open, than I was there.

Admiral Vityeft received me at once, but seemed still more busy than at my first interview..

"It is not right of you to be so excited about the Angara," he tried to calm me. "She is by no means a transport, but already attached to the cruiser division. Perhaps she will be told off to most important duties. The vessel has only just been taken over from the Volunteer Fleet and has a somewhat mixed crew. We count on you to put things right there. Very responsible and difficult duties await her executive officer." "If the service is so honourable, you will easily find candidates, who are older and worthier than I. I don't aspire to this at all. I was appointed second-in-command of the Boyarin. She has gone down, and it would be absurd for me to demand to be appointed to another ship in a like capacity. I don't think of it. But I merely ask to be sent to a fighting ship. That is what I have come for. You know me. I am an old navigator and know every spot hereabouts, Can't I become navigating officer, or even watchkeeper? I shall be content with anything." The Admiral had never been a good diplomatist, and now ceased acting. He leaned over the table and raised his arms in a helpless attitude. "What can I do? just consider: he wrote it with his own hand, and with the green pencil."

What I thought when I left the office I would rather not say. At the door I was stopped by one of my old friends.
"Makaroff is appointed to the command of the Pacific Fleet," he whispered in my ear..
"What! And what about you people?"
"We depart-are you satisfied? Now you won't remain long in the Angara. But say nothing of this. It is still a secret."
I squeezed his hand in my joy, and began my new duties with a lightened heart.
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