ON board the Angara I found myself for the first time
associated with men who had witnessed the catastrophe of February 8, and the
action of the 9th. As I became their messmate and was no longer a stranger
asking information of strangers, I learned full particulars.
must make a small digression. I do not intend to give a history of the war in
this book. The history of the war can only be written when the archives which
are now closed, are opened, and their secret reports and documents are made
accessible to the public. Until then we must content ourselves with published
reports and private sources of information. In the former much has, of course,
been left out or cut out, as the circumstances demanded. One of the most
reliable private sources of information is, I believe, my diary. I kept it from
January 29, 1904, the day of my departure from St Petersburg, until my return
there on December 19, 1905. The entries consist not only of all events which I
witnessed myself, but also of accounts of eye-witnesses, who were still fresh
under the impression of the events. In it I have not merely confined myself to
facts. Above all, it appeared important to observe the mental attitude of the
men who had taken part in these events. Here, in this book, I will, as well as
I am able, describe, with photographic accuracy, the feelings which we
experienced. I will tell of the hopes, the doubts, and the disappointments
which we had to experience in the course of events.
which I had received during my first days at Port Arthur were most strange. It
seemed as if the dangers amidst which we lived did not affect public opinion to
any great extent. I noticed that every one was dreading something, but not
disaster for the squadron or fortress. There was also no question of personal
dread of danger, but people seemed concerned at perhaps being made to suffer
owing to the Government getting into an unpleasant position.
the affair going to end?" "Who will be picked out as the culprit?" "Am I also
going to be dragged into this dirty business?" Questions such as these seemed
to perplex every one high and low.
I must here observe that the
population of Port Arthur consisted almost exclusively of State employees, or
such as were closely connected with the Government. The weal or woe of these
people naturally depended entirely on how matters stood with the Government.
That was why I had never been able to obtain from any one detailed answers,
when I enquired for particulars or even the causes of the first catastrophe.
All remained silent, or said that they knew nothing, or they suddenly
remembered most pressing business which obliged them to break off the
conversation. If they were to give an account, they would have to take sides,
and that was " very dangerous." Every one knew, apparently from the experience
of previous years, that a bold word, an independent opinion, immediately
reached a certain destination by mysterious paths, and that the rash
individual, who often did not even know what he was accused of, suddenly felt
the punishing hand. It would be false to affirm that this state of mind was
produced by an iron discipline. Discipline is the conscious and voluntary
submission to law. Discipline obtains, where old and young obey, not from fear,
but for the sake of conscience. At Port Arthur, one saw only fear, pale-faced
fear of the almighty, irresponsible Government.
Tongues were at once
loosened, when the news of Makaroff's appointment reached the town.
Notwithstanding all efforts, it could not be kept secret. Now it was quite
evident what discipline is worth, if based on fear. I could surely not be
counted, amongst the adherents of the Viceroy; but even I found more than once
the language of these very gentlemen) who only yesterday were "his most
devoted," rather too strong.
To me the Pacific Squadron does not merely
mean a collection of ships. I had spent almost my entire sea service in it, and
for me it was a living thing, permeated with a single-minded spirit. With it I
had grown up, and it was dear to me. On my journey here I felt as if I was
going home. I had already served in this squadron when it was at its
beginnings. During my last five years of service there, I witnessed its apogee
under Dubassoff and Hildebrand. Its gradual decline I was not called upon to
see. I was only a witness of its end.
' ' How could such great changes
have taken place during the three years of my absence ? " I asked myself. "How
could this great organisation fall into such a state of decomposition ?
At Cronstadt I had, of course, heard of the institution of the "Armed
Reserve of the Pacific." I knew that the votes for keeping ships in commission
had been cut down, and that the ships in reserve had only twenty days at sea in
the year. The rest of the time they were floating barracks. Finally, I was
aware of the constant changes amongst the officers. All the same, I had
preserved my faith in the "squadron."
I thought this would all pass
away. Owing to unfavourable conditions, some defects had cropped up, but one
needed only to alter these conditions to put everything once more to rights.
Now in war, I thought, those gentlemen who had played with their duties would
disappear, and the old officers would once more join "their" ships. The grand
old life in the squadron was then bound to arise anew.
remembered how we had idolised "our ship " in the squadron. I had known an
officer who had had already three years' service as lieutenant and who still
did duty as "second watch-keeper," as he had not been relieved. When he had to
move up as "first watch-keeper," he protested, as it would mean leaving "his
Nakhimoff." Another lieutenant, with fifteen years' service as a commissioned
officer, was nominated as "Senior Gunnery Lieutenant " of a battleship in home
waters. When, however, he heard that "his Donskoi," which had only just
returned from the Far East, was to go out again, he entreated his superiors to
send him back to her. In the end he was made happy by becoming once more
watch-keeper on board "his" old cruiser. I could produce such examples in large
numbers, but I fancy these will .suffice. The fiery youths were formerly ever
ready to demand satisfaction, sword in hand, for any insult offered to "their"
ship. The men had recourse to the simpler method. They fought, when they met on
shore, and thus settled the question as to which was the best ship.
not the reader imagine that this was in any way a bad sign. By no means. If the
good elements held these views, they arose from the conviction that their ship
was bound to be the best, provided each one threw his whole strength and energy
into the service of " his " ship. At every evolution, every exercise, hundreds
of jealous eyes watched the other ships. Woe betide the ship which these strict
and experienced judges found out in the attempt to cheat. This emulation
between ships was of great benefit to the squadron. Each ship did her utmost to
prove herself the best of the company. A man was just as proud of his squadron
as of his ship. Everything that took place in other waters was closely
followed. We wanted to beat all other squadrons.
When I had been three
years navigating officer of the Dmitri Donskoi, Admiral Dubassoff sent to ask
me whether I would like to join his staff as senior flag- lieutenant. The
question found me quite unprepared. It so upset me that I asked for twenty-four
hours to consider the matter. Back on board, I consulted the captain, the
commander, and another old messmate, whether I might leave the ship without
committing treason. After lengthy discussions, we came to the conclusion that I
was not bound to refuse. After all, I was not to take up a higher appointment
on board another shipthat would have been treason towards the old
Donskoibut was in future to serve the squadron as a whole. Our Donskoi,
it was felt, was certainly the best ship of the entire squadron, but still only
one amongst many.
I had thought of all this, and preserved my faith in
the "squadron." I believed its old spirit was still alive. I did not know all
that had happened out there at the foot of Golden Hill in Port Arthur to kill
this spirit, during the three years I had spent at Cronstadt. If a captain
loves his ship truly, he must not neglect to attend to the smallest defect in
her. He must report it, and see that it is made good. In time a small defect
may become the cause of a very big one. But if a captain at Port Arthur did his
duty in that manner, he was an " inconvenient subordinate." The Viceroy
desired, as long as he reigned, to see no other reports than those in which it
was stated that "everything was in the best condition." Then he was able to
report most respectfully that "the fleet confided to his care was completely
prepared for war, and would valorously repel every attack of the
Were we serving the Viceroy and not His Majesty? Were we not
merely subordinated to His Excellency, but subjects of the Emperor alone ? Are
not, in the eyes of the "Supreme War Lord," the youngest bluejacket and the
commander of a squadron equally the servants of the Crown and
countryquite independently of their relative position ? Any one who dared
to hold such views as these was looked at askance in Port Arthur.
justice to the Viceroy it must be admitted that whatever he wanted he carried
through. In his immediate surroundings he soon had only his own creatures. He
cared nothing for the " common herd." These did not require to be handled with
gloves. But in the body of officers every feeling of cohesion and solidarity
was stifled by constantly moving them from ship to ship. If an officer duly
subordinated himself to the authorities, he could serve in a harbour craft and
yet advance more rapidly than another who was wearing himself out in doing his
duty with the utmost zeal on board a fighting ship.
When I reached Port
Arthur the second time, one never heard, either at the Casino or on board ship,
the beautiful old terms "our ship," "our squadron." All interest was centred on
"getting on" quickly. A man would say: "So-and-so was in luck!" and speculate
as to places with higher emoluments, or where he would be more immediately
under the eye of the authorities. Sometimes, indeed, I heard that some one was
proud of belonging to the garrison of Port Arthur. But in the mouth of a naval
officer this did not sound well. Makaroff once said: "A naval officer should
only feel at home on board." The turning of ships into floating barracks has
produced fine fruits.
I was horrified at all this. It was hateful to
see this collapse of the personnel of our squadron. Only in a very few ships
some remnants of the old traditions had been preserved. Still, I stuck to my
hopes, and perhaps I was not wrong. The outer pressure need only be removed to
awaken the spirit of the squadron out of its sleep of the last three years. The
flame was glowing under the ashes. There were indications of this. "Above," the
stillness of the grave was still preserved. The office work went on in the old
style, as if nothing had happened; but the joyful news already flew through the
ranks Makaroff had started from St Petersburg. I now resume my narrative.
The truth of the rumours I had already heard at Harbin interested me, of
course, most. They were probably being disseminated all over Russia by now,
through the fugitives.
" Is it true," I asked, "that the squadron was
guilty of absolutely incomprehensible carelessness? Was it, in fact, lying at
anchor in an open roadstead with all lights burning, without steam, without
torpedo-nets being out and without any guard vessels? Is it a fact that at the
moment of the attack not only many officers and captains, but the Admiral
himself, were ashore to celebrate the latter's birthday?"
conversation took place on board the Angara with one of my new
"We of the Angara are certainly in a position to form an
unbiassed judgment," he said. "We only joined the squadron quite a short time
ago, and are not bound to it either by tradition or common service. We could
indeed consider ourselves slighted, as we are not serving in a man-of-war, but
in an armed merchantman. Therefore to reply without reserve: the first part of
your question is bitter truth. The only excuse one can find is that the
squadron is not to blame for this criminal carelessness, which you mildly call
incomprehensible. The second part is gossip, which has been launched into the
world with the very evident intention of burdening Admiral Stark with the
entire responsibility. This was bound to happen at the outset. When the first
staggering news flew through the town and fortress, one heard the ugly word
'treason,' on all sides. Thank God it was never uttered aloud! It might have
"The old gentleman was passing through a bad time, but he
was equal to it. He resisted the temptation to defend himself publicly against
all the accusations which were hurled at him. So he kept. his famous document
in his pocket, and only reminded certain persons of the existence of the paper.
The ' brave ' calumniators at once became dumb. They had probably received
orders to hold their tongues. In this attitude of Stark's there is something of
the old Roman, is there not? Pereat mea gloria, vivat patria. However, my Latin
is weak; but judge for yourself. If he had then said: ' I did not receive
permission to prepare against an attackhere is the proof,' not a stone of
the Viceroy's palace would have been left standing by next morning." " So that
the second part of my question is untrue?"
My messmate shrugged his