Nov 28, 2023
Last time we spoke about the beginning of the Russo-Japanese war. The Japanese knew to have any chance in the war against the Russians, they needed to deliver a deadly surprise attack against her fleet within the harbor of Port Arthur. Admiral Togo took the combined fleet and dispatched a force under Uriu to neutralize Chemulpo and land forces of the IJA 12th division. Meanwhile Togo ordered 10 destroyers to toss torpedoes at the Russian warships at anchor in Port Arthur, landing a few hits. It seemed to the Japanese that the Russians were fully paralyzed, so Togo elected to bring the combined fleet in to bombard the Russians into submission. Instead of being paralyzed the Russians counter fired using shore batteries causing the Japanese to back off. War was declared afterwards by both parties and now battles would rage over land and sea to see which empire would claim dominance over Asia.
#74 The Russo-Japanese War part 2: the battle of Yalu
Welcome to the Fall and Rise of China Podcast, I am your dutiful host Craig Watson. But, before we start I want to also remind you this podcast is only made possible through the efforts of Kings and Generals over at Youtube. Perhaps you want to learn more about the history of Asia? Kings and Generals have an assortment of episodes on history of asia and much more so go give them a look over on Youtube. So please subscribe to Kings and Generals over at Youtube and to continue helping us produce this content please check out www.patreon.com/kingsandgenerals. If you are still hungry for some more history related content, over on my channel, the Pacific War Channel where I cover the history of China and Japan from the 19th century until the end of the Pacific War.
The combined fleet set out again on February 14th after just two days in port. The Fuji was still in dry dock in need of further repair. Other than Fuji, the fleet was back at sea in force. Despite taking numerous hits, it turned out the Russian shells were not as effective as the Japanese ammunition which used a new compound called Shimose, refined into a powder that gave the IJN shells a greater velocity, thus much more effective on impact. In the meantime, only a brave attack by two Japanese destroyers was brought upon the Russians at Port Arthur. Other than that nothing much had come about. While at Sasebo, Admiral Togo discussed with his fellow commanders the situation. Port Arthur’s harbor had basically become a large lake harbored the Russian ships, but at any moment they could be unleashed into the ocean. Togo needed to destroy the warships or trap them inside, and he came up with a daring plan. Togo sent out a special order, soliciting for volunteers for an extremely dangerous, practically suicidal mission. 2000 sailors volunteered, many writing their names in blood. The plan was quite simple, the volunteers were going to take ships and sink them at the entrance to the harbor. The ships selected were some very old steamers, capable of just 10 knots. On the evening of February 23rd, 5 old steamers set a course for Port Arthur with some torpedo boat escorts. Before the first light of the 24th, the Russian lookouts saw what appeared to be a steady convoy calmly approaching the harbors mouth. A Russian convey was long being awaited, thus many assumed it was them. Some Russian ships came in closer to examine the newcoming vessels closer and upon showering them with searchlights, the captain of the Retvizan quickly realized they were Japanese. Retvizan began opening fire, prompting the old steamers to run frantically through a gauntlet. The Japanese crews were blinded by searchlight as the guns of the Retvizan and shore batteries rained hell upon them. The leading steamer, the Mokoko Maru was hit by Retvizan at point blank range just due east of the harbor entrance. She sank quickly and the other steamers would face a similar fate one by one as they approached. Volunteer crews were shot to pieces or abandoned ship. Those who survived the shelling were rescued by torpedo boats. The mission was a terrible failure.
The Russians did not quite understand what had occurred. Certainly the ships were no battleships, but some assumed it was another torpedo attack attempt and thus believed some warships had been sunk. Admiral Alexeiev desperate to boost morale send a message to the Tsar claiming a great naval victory. After further investigation, the steamers were found to be what they were and Alexeiev had to send a correction to the Tsar. Now all of this was going down in Port Arthur, but the Russians did have another force at their cold water port of Vladivostok. Under the command of Rear Admiral Jessel were the armored cruisers Gromoboi, Rurik, Boegatyr and Rossiya. Rear Admiral Kamimura was leading a cruiser squadron with torpedo boats around Tsushima. His duty was that of a picquet force to meet the Russian enemy if they came out to play. Alexeiev gave Jessel orders not to steam more than a single day from port. Jessel had thus only managed to sink two unarmed Japanese merchantmen with his small patrols.
Now upon the land, the former Minister of War, General Kuropatkin was appointed the land commander in Manchuria. He would depart St Petersburg on March 12th and arrive to Harbin by the 28th. For the sea, the disgraced Admiral Starck was to be replaced with Vice Admiral Makarov. The Russian government was trying to showcase to its troops, that the very best officers would lead them, it was a much needed boost of confidence. However Tsar Nicolas II also appointed Alexeiev as the Viceroy of the Russian far east, which gave Alexeiev higher authority than all government ministries in the region, making him beholden only to the Tsar himself. Alekseyev was a key member of the “Bezobrazov Circle” a politically motivated investment group led by Aleksandry Mikhailovich Bezobrazov whom sought to create a commercial enterprise, modeled after the British East India Company, reigning over Manchuria and Korea. A skilled lobbyist, Bezobrazov was the one who persuaded Tsar Nicolas II for Alekseiv’s appointment. This would prove ruinous.
Makarov departed his previous command at fort Kronstadt and received news cruisers Novik, Bayan and Askold were damaged. While enroute he received a report the Bezstrashni and Viestnitelni were intercepted by Japanese picquet forces while returning to port. They were attacked trying to race to Port Arthur and Vistnitelni was unable to get away, being destroyed around Pigeon bay. Thus the new commander was getting this picture of his forces accumulating unacceptable losses without even engaging the enemy. Makarov unlike Starck was not so conservative, he sought real action. Makarov was what you would call “a sailors sailor”. He was in excellent shape, was a noted naval tactician and had a copy of a book on his adversary Admiral Togo in his cabin at hand. During his voyage to the far east, Starck retained command and continued to fly his flag upon Petropavlovsk. Makarov would hoist his aboard the soon to be repaired Askold by march 14th. Soon Retvizan and Tsarevitch were patched up adequately to be battleworthy and destroyer flotillas were sent out of the harbor to hunt the Japanese. On March 10th, the blockading forces were attacked by the Russians. The Japanese were surprised at the sudden aggressiveness of the Russians, Togo believed they were finally willing to come out and battle.
At the beginning of the war most eyes were set on seeing the performance of torpedoes, they were a relatively new weapon. They actually proved to be quite a disappointment. The weapon that would really make its mark was the seamine. The Japanese made continuous efforts to sent destroyers out at night to lay mines near the entrance of Port Arthur. The Russians did their best to watch these actions and when the tides rose high they would employ grappling hooks to clear fields. This simply pushed the Japanese to lay mines 10 feet below the surface. This resulted in mines actually being placed at various depths, thus when the tides were much higher most ships could pass right over, but if the tides lowered, this led to collisions.
Now back to March 10th, that night the Japanese attempted a ruse. A flotilla of 4 IJN destroyers approached Port Arthur and began parading outside to trying to lure out some Russian warships. Now emboldened, the Russians sent out 6 warships to chase the Japanese who lured them in the direction of Laoteshan. While they were chasing, another IJN destroyer flotilla came from behind and began mining the waters at the harbors entrance at around 4:30am. Eventually the Russian shore batteries saw what was going on and began to fire on the mining destroyers who made their quick escape. The Russian warships chasing the other flotilla heard the gunfire and quickly turned back. The 4 IJN mining destroyers got into position to attack the incoming Russians. 4 out of the 6 Russian warships dodged this and ran for the harbor, but the Ryeshitelni and Stereguschi found themselves blocked. It was 4 against 2 as the destroyers battling it out. The Ryeshitelni was hit a few times causing steering problems but she managed to flee to the harbor, the Stereguschi however was not so lucky. A 1 pounder shell struck a steam pipe in her boiler and engines causing an explosion that killed most of her engine room staff. Stereguschi’s captain tried to keep her on course, but her speed dropped and she was soon raked by all 4 Japanese destroyers. Her crew tried to fire back, until only 4 men of the crew were even capable of moving anymore. The IJN destroyer Sasanami let loose a cutter boat to board her as the Stereguschi was captured. The boarding party stepped over corpses and human body parts as they raised the Rising Sun flag. Suddenly the Russian cruisers Bayan and Novik were charging towards the mined harbor entrance. The Sasanami crews leapt back aboard to flee the scene as the Russians opened fire upon them.
It was a bit of excitement to be sure, but Makarov wanted real action, he sought to give battle. He began a intensive training of the fleet, performed tours and raised morale. Meanwhile on March 22nd the Fuji and Yashima were now stationed in Pigeon bay to fire to enforce the blockade effort. Suddenly they found themselves being fired upon by the Russians and saw cruiser Askold flying Makarov’s flag. Fuji took a minor hit and had to return to Sasebo for repairs. Togo and his fellow commanders now were realizing the Russians were growing in stature. Meanwhile the IJA guards division was only beginning to unload ashore in Korea. The Russian navy charging out of Port Arthur serious threatened the Japanese troop transit, Togo had to stop them.
The same suicidal plan was employed again. The crews were taken from 20,000 volunteers, another 4 old steamers were allocated to the mission. This time each ship was ballasted with cement and stones alongside a fail safe detonating system. On the night of march 26th, the 4 old steamers sailed 10 knots for the entrance to the harbor. Just before 2:30am their escorts departed and at 3:30am they were two miles from the harbor mouth when they were detected. A gun went off on Electric Hill signaling the presence of the enemy. Search lights blasted everywhere as the 4 steamers began a marathon while dodging incoming shell fire. The frontrunner, Chiyo was making good progress until the Russian destroyer Silny came in close and torpedoed her side. The steamers behind her were fired madly upon causing massive casualties as one by one sank. Two Japanese escort destroyers tried to fire torpedoes at the Silny and maged to hit her in the engine room. In the end both sides took casualties, but Port Arthur remained open.
Makarov’s patience was waning, on April 12th he was aboard the cruiser Diana searching for lost Russian destroyers who had been sent out to hunt the Japanese but failed to return. Diana’s lookout spotted a ship and her captain requested permission to open fire. Makarov was not sure if the ship was the enemy or one of his own, so he simply said to approach it cautiously. Unbeknownst to Makarov it was another ruse. Togo had been studying the Russian warship maneuvers, schedules and behaviors. He had noticed a pattern, when ships approached port arthur, the Russians would come out to investigate them by going north and south and east to west under the protective range of the shore batteries. He had formed a plan, led by the Koryu Maru who was hiding in the area ready to lay mines at the harbor mouth. 48 mines had been laid at the harbor mouth. As daylight was coming upon the morning of April 13th, Makarov’s force got close enough to the unidentified ship to realize it was the lost Strashni and she was being fired upon by 4 IJN destroyers. Strashni was being hit at point blank range, the majority of her crew were dead, she was a goner. Alerted by the naval fire, Makarov took the fleet in to battle. Cruiser Bayan was the first to arrive, joined by Askold, Diana and Novik. The Japanese quickly withdrew from them heading towards the main fleet. The slower Russian battleships were making their way with Petropavlosvk flying Makarovs flag, next to her was Poltava. They passed over the minefield without mishap. Makarov had ordered the area swept the previous night, but the sweep never occurred, he just got very lucky.
Admiral Dewa watched the Russian fleet as they departed the harbor, Sevastopol, Peresvyet and Pobieda followed behind the flagship. Dewa sent word to Togo to spring the trap. Dewa opened fire drawing the Russians further south while Togo brought up the first division hoping for battle. When Makarov saw Togo's battleships on the horizon he quickly ordered his fleet to pull back under the range of their shore batteries. Aboard the Petropavlovsk was the grand duke Cyril, a cousin to the tsar, a famous artist named Vasili Verestchagin and Captain Crown. Makarov had expected a historic moment and wanted to share it with others. As Makarovs fleet got closer to the harbor he ordered the smaller warships to go inside it while the larger ships formed a line of battle. When the Japanese approached within 6 miles they would fall under the range of the shore batteries, Makarov expected a massacre upon them. Then at 9:43am a terrible explosion hit the bows of the Petropavlovsk rocking her, a second explosion ripped open a magazine and a third blew up her boiler. The ship quickly keeled over and went down bow first, as her propellers continued to spin. Within two minutes the flagship had hit 3 mines and fell under the waves, a complete disaster.
The Japanese were only 10,000 yards away, cheering the explosive sounds. Togo ordered the men to take their caps off in silence when they realized it was Petropavlovsk that had struck the mines and sunk. At 10:15am Pobieda hit a mine, the Russians thought it was some sort of submarine attack and began firing wildly out the sea. When the Russians regained order they got back into the harbor one by one. Pobieda was the last to limp in. 630 men died aboard the Petropavlovsk, including Admiral Makarov, Vasili Verestchagin and Captain Crown, the Grand Duke Cyril had been launched off the warship from the explosion and although severely injured would survive. The death of Makarov shattered the morale of the Russian navy and in the motherland added fuel to an emerging revolutionary clamor. The Japanese fleet were anchored off Elliot island on the 14th when they received the confirmed news of Makarovs death. Togo read out the telegram from Reuters and he ordered his fleet to fly their flags at half mast to give a day of mourning for an honored opponent that they esteemed a samurai for his aggressive behavior.
Makarovs death signaled an end to aggressive naval actions for quite some time. On May 3rd Togo launched further blocking actions. 8 steamers tried to perform the same suicidal mission as down twice before and failed like the others. Togo was so ashamed by the loss of life from these 3 missions that he stated the third mission had been a success, lying to the army. He did this under immense pressure, for it was his job to secure the sea lanes so Japanese troops could be safely landed along the Liaodong Peninsula. Luckily for him, the death of Makarov basically kept the Russian fleet bottled up in Port Arthur. Unluckily for him the Japanese saw their own losses to sea mines begin in May. On the 12th a destroyer hit a mine at Talienwan; the next day the battleship Hatsuse ran into a minefield laid out by the Amur and just like the Petropavlovsk was lost within a minute. She had hit two mines, one blew up her magazine, breaking apart her deck. The battleship Yashima closed in to help her but also hit a mine, but was able to limp away out of the sight of the Russians before she too sank. News of these ship losses were not released to the Japanese public.
Chemulpo had been seized easily, the 12th division began landing there with ease. Now the 2nd, 12th and Guards division were of the 1st IJA, mobilized before the offset of the war. The Japanese held the advantage of being able to send troops faster via the sea, for the Russians the trans siberian railway still took a considerable amount of time. Thus the Japanese wanted to hit hard and fast, so alongside the 12th division the 2nd and guards were hoped to make a landing quickly after. The 12th division with some components of the 2nd division landed between the 17th and 22nd of February and began a quick march towards Pyongyang. The Japanese first entered Pyongyang on February 21st who quickly ran out some Cossacks. They set up supply posts enabling the rest of the 12th division to follow suit by the early march. Pyongyang became a focal point for supplies and provisions, the Japanese employed numerous Koreans for the logistical war effort. They bargained for provisions at a fair rate, for example purchasing pigs. A coolie army was hired, nearly 10,000 men strong. They were paid wages above the market norm and leaders amongst them received red bands to signify privileged positions within the Imperial Japanese Transport Corps.
On March 18th the 12th division advanced from Pyongyang to Anju dislodged two squadrons of Cossack cavalry there. Patrols from the first IJA indicated Chinampo lying around the mouth of the Taitong diver would make for an excellent landing point for men and supplies. Thus the commander of the 1st IJA, General Kuroki dispatched some forces of the guards and 2nd division from Hiroshima to land and secure Chinampo on March 13th. By the end of March the entire 1st IJA had landed in Korea. By this point the Japanese were confused at the lack of Russian interference, unbeknownst to them the Tsar had issued a directive to Alexeiev to overt any Russian action against the Japanese in Korea. The Russians still believed there was a chance the Japanese would just skirmish on the borders and not advance into Manchuria. Thus Alexeiev ordered the forces to allow the Japanese to land “on the whole extent of the western coast of Korea as high as Chemulpo and to permit their exploration as far north as the Yalu”.
While the Japanese were consolidating their logistical supply bases in Korea, the Russian logistics were facing countless problems. The Russians simply did not have the logistical organization that the Japanese had, they were basically living off the land. The Russians were coming into conflict with the local Manchurian populations who were actively resisting them. This was largely due to the recent war they just fought in Manchuria, Japanese funding Honghuzi forces and the Chinese and Koreans simply sympathize more with their fellow asian Japanese against the Russians. Honghuzi guerilla forces were working with Koreans along the northern border to harass the Russians, attacking and pillaging their supply lines.
The Japanese war plan sought to have its 1st IJA attack and advance over the Yalu, while the 2nd IJA led by General Oku would land near Nanshan to cut Port Arthur off from the mainland. Now Kuroki’s 1st IJA may have had better supply lines, but to move the entire army north into Manchuria was still a logistical nightmare. To be more efficient the 1st IJA would focus its bulk along the western part of Korea where sea access was easier. The port of Rikaho was selected as a new forward landing and supply base. After securing it the Japanese continued north towards the Yalu and by the second week of April were in the same spot their forebears had taken in August of 1894. By April 21st they were concentrating due south of Wiju drawing supplies from Chinampo, Boto and Rikaho. At this point many foreign military observers and correspondents were arriving. There was a deep hunger to study how new modern weaponry and tactics would work out on the battlefield, both the Russians and Japanese would have foreigners amongst them taking notes. It was an interesting time after all. Since the American Civil War, Taiping Rebellion and even Franco-Prussian War of 1870, military technology had advanced exponentially. There would be as many as a hundred foreign military observers from over 16 different nations in Manchuria and Korea during the war. This would also be exploited heavily for spying. Many of the observers were British who held obvious sympathies with the Japanese and thus would covertly hand over information.
Now back on February 15th, General Kuropatkin presented the Tsar his campaign plan to win the war against Japan, a war might I note he never favored having. Kuropatkin estimated he would require 6 months to achieve a force of 200,000, the number he believed was necessary to undertake an offensive. Thus he sought to spend the 6 months assessing the Japanese strength while establishing strong defenses to the north of their perceived limit of advance. Basically he wanted to trade space for time, he did not seek to establish defenses too far south. But Kuropatkin was not the top brass, it was Alexeiev and Alexeiev ordered Kuropatkin not to abandon any territory. Thus Kuropatkin was forced to form a line of defenses near the Yalu. He dispatched General Zasulich, the new Eastern Detachment commander on April 22nd with specific orders “to retard the enemy in his passage; to determine his strength, dispositions and lines of march; to retreat as slowly as possible into the mountains”.
Opposite and across the Yalu from Wiju is Chuliencheng, the town sits about 2 miles north of the river. The Yalu splits into two rivers and at the split point are a chain of islands. There were no bridges between the two banks, thus crossings would need to be made by small junks and sampans. Taking some of the islands in the Yalu was imperative to ease crossing points. At Fenghuangcheng the Yalu divided and going north became the Ai river. At the junction was a 500 foot high hill called Tiger’s head another important strategic location the Japanese would have to seize. Closer to the mouth of the Yalu on the northern side was the fortified town of Antung, which the Russians believed was extremely vulnerable to a Japanese landing attack.
The Russian forces at the Yalu consisted of the 3rd Siberian Army corps alongside our old friend General Mishchenko’s trans-baikal cossack brigade. At Antung, led by Major General Kashtalinksi were 2580 riflemen, 400 cavalry scouts, 16 field guns and 8 machine guns. On the right flank 4 miles to the north at Tientzu was a reserve of 5200 riflemen and 16 guns; at Chuliencheng led by Major General Trusov were 5200 riflemen, 240 cavalry scouts and 16 guns. The right flank extended from the mouth of the Yalu to Takushan all under Mishchenkos command who held 1100 cavalry, 2400 riflemen, 8 field guns and 6 horse drawn guns. The left from going from Anpingho to Hsiapuhsiho around 40 miles northeast on the Yalu was 1250 cavalry, 1000 riflement and 8 mountain guns. Excluding the reserves, there were over 16,000 riflemen, 2350 cavalry, 630 cavalry scouts, 40 field guns, 8 mountain guns and 6 horse drawn guns covering a distance of over 170 miles. Facing them around Wiju would be a Japanese force of 42,500 men.
The Russians had spread themselves out thinly along the river. At the base of numerous hills were Russian trenches, uncamouflaged, in full view from the opposite bank. The Russian artillery likewise was in full view, a large mistake. The Japanese had employed spies, often disguised as fisherman going along the rivers mapping out the Russian artillery positions, by the 23rd the Japanese had acquired the full layout and order of battle. General Kuroki made sure to conceal his strength and more importantly his main crossing point. Using screens of large trees and kaoliang, if you remember the boxer series that is a tall type of millet, well they used this type of cover to move their artillery and troops in secrecy. The Russians occupied the islands in the Yalu called Kyuri, Oseki and Kintei. On the 25th 6 batteries were brought up to support an infantry attack. IJN gunboats began harassing the forces at Antung as a diversion, trying to deceive the Russians into thinking their right flank was where the fighting would be had. At 9:45pm two battalions of the 2nd division crossed using pontoons to Kintei island completely unopposed. Sappers immediately went to work constructing bridges. At 4am a force of 250 soldiers of the Guards division landed and attacked 150 Russians on Kyuri, dislodging them at the cost of 12 men. The Russians quickly abandoned Kyuri and Kintei seeing them as lost causes, but suddenly without orders the men atop Tiger Hill also began withdrawing when they saw men leaving the islands.
The Japanese engineers began constructing 10 bridges using pontoons as a feint attack was launched against Chuliencheng. A bridge was erected made up of native boats placed side by side going across the Yalu. This bridge was a decoy. Russian artillery fired upon numerous positions giving their locations away as the concealed Japanese artillery systematically took them out one by one. Over at Antung a small flotilla of 6 gunboats continued to harass the fort and trenches. The local commander was convinced the Japanese would land and attack, again this was a deception. After a few days Kuroki had all he needed to unleash a blow. He sought to advance to Tangshancheng, between Fenghuangcheng and Antung. He had orders to work in concert with the 2nd IJA’s landing, this meant he was to a cross the Yalu on April 30th. However, Generals Oku, Kuorki and Admiral Togo met on April 25th where it was determined the deadline had to be pushed until May 1st or 2nd. Thus Kuroki was ordered to delay his attack until May 3rd.
Kuroki concentrated his attention towards the weak Russian left flank. He required a crossing point over the Yalu to reconnoiter between the Yalu and Ai rivers. The Russians believed crossing the Ai would require boats, but the Japanese found a crossing point over at the right bank around Sukuchin. Kuroki had the 12th division focus on the right flank, the Guards in the middle to cross the Yalu via the Kyuri and Oseki islands to take a position on Chukodai island to the north and south of Tiger Hill, the 2nd division would hit the weak left. On May 1st the Japanese received some new toys from Chinampo, 20 4.72 inch howitzers organized into 5 batteries. Under the cover of darkness, these huge guns were placed into camouflaged trenches. Meanwhile back on the 29th of april the 12th division covertly crossed the Yalu during the night and moved 3 batteries into Chukyuri to cover the bridge making effort. At 11am on May 1st the Japanese artillery began firing, covering the 12th divisions as they crossed the right bank brushing aside light Russian opposition. Zasulich received word of this and tried to order reinforcements to Anpingho, but he still believed the activities of the 12th division to be a feint, a IJN flotilla was harassing Antung still. The reinforcements were thus delayed heavily. On april 29th and 4pm Zasulich despatched a battalion of the 22nd east Siberian rifle regiment with some mounted scouts and 2 guns to cross the Ai river and retake Tiger Hill. The Russians easily dislodged the Japanese platoon atop the hill who quickly joined their comrades over on Kyuri island.
The next morning the Japanese could see the Russians digging in on Tiger Hill, so the Guards divisional artillery on a hill south of a bridge leading to Kyuri island opened fire on them. There was no artillery response from the Russian artillery. At 10am two groups of sappers set out in boats to survey the waters opposite of Chukodai and at 10:30 were fired upon by a battery on some high ground north east of Chuliencheng. 6 4.72 inch batteries of the 12th division responded and within 16 minutes the Russian battery was neutralized suffering the deaths of 5 officers and 29 men. Another Russian battery east of Makau began firing and was smashed quickly by the Guards artillery.
Major General Kashtalinski took command of the Chuliencheng sector from Major General Trusov who became ill on April 28th. So severely had the Russian artillery and infantry suffered from the Japanese artillery, that at 11pm on April 30th, Kashtalinski requested permission from Zasulich to withdraw to some hills behind Chuliencheng. Zasulich refused this as Alexeiev’s orders were clear, not to give up any ground. Zasulich then received news, the men on Tigers Hill had abandoned it fearing encirclement, some elements of the Guards and 12th division linked up and took it. The 12th division were advancing in three columns towards the Ai river during the night and as Thomas Cowen of the Daily Chronicle reported “The men had to march, wade, wait their turn at a plank bridge or shallow ford, help each other up a slippery bank, pass, in single file sometimes, through a willow copse, wait, climb, jump, mud-scramble, and march again, for about six hours, getting into positions, ‘lining out’ in front of the long-extending Russian trenches. No light was allowed, nor a voice above an undertone, for the most part there were no roads to march on, but the men had to cross fields, grope in the gloom for strange paths, or struggle past obstructions where no path could be found, using dry water-courses as tracks till they led into pools, over stubbly cornfields, in and out among tenantless farm buildings, up country lanes and hillside footpaths, each officer and NCO peering into the gloom, feeling his way to the appointed spot, consulting a rough sketch plan and drawing his men after him.”
At 3am the Russian 12th regiment reported back to Zasulich that they heard the sounds of wheels on the islands and believed artillery were crossing bridges, he did nothing. At 5am the morning fog dissipated and the Russians could now see opposite of them at Chuliencheng to Salankou at a distance of 6 miles, 3 Japanese divisions were in trenches waiting to pounce on them. Regimental priests egan sermons just before the scream of Japanese howitzers broke the morning quiet. The Japanese artillery were focused first on hunting Russian artillery, eventually some batteries at Makau fired back and within a few minutes were silenced. After this the Japanese artillery focused its full weight upon the Russian infantry in their trenches absolutely devastating them. In view of the lack of Russian artillery fire, Kuroki changed his plans somewhat and ordered the 12th division to perform an encirclement maneuver prior to the Guards and 2nd divisions attacks. By 7am all 3 Japanese divisions were advancing.
The Japanese stormed out of their trenches and rushed along the 200 yard wide waters of the Ai to the various crossing points like ants going through funnels. The Japanese troops carrying packs full with rations for 3 days moved as fast as they could through the water before being hit by the first Russian volley at a range of around 500 yards, about halfway across the river. It was an extreme range for the Russian rifles, but with the Japanese so packed up it was brutal. The Japanese did not loss momentum and soon were charging through Russian volleys up the river bank and knolls. Japanese officers began screaming ‘take cover and fire at will”. The 2nd division suffered tremendous casualties around Chuliencheng. The Japanese leapfrogged forward using fire and movement to great effect and soon were crashing into the forward Russian positions. When the Russians abandoned their forward positions for interior lines the Japanese artillery devestated them. The 12th east Siberian rifle regiment made a brave but hopeless counterattack and were swept aside. By 10am the main body of the Russian force were in a full retreat at Chuliencheng. The Japanese tried to storm a the road leading to Fenghuangcheng due north of Chuliencheng, but the full weight of the Russian retreat dislodged them. General Kashtalinski watched in horror as the right flank collapsed, however there was still hope. If Colonel Gromov held the left flank, they could maintain thir foothold on the Yalu.
Colonel Gromov and his men were holding a position on the forward slopes overlooking the Ai river in the area of Potetientzu. His command held two battalions of the 22nd regiment and his focus was upon the right side where the guards division were now getting over the river and penetrated his thinly held line. Gromov then received news the 12th division were beggining to get over their part of the river. Gromov went over to see it for himself and he estimated there to be around 5 or 6 battalions advancing directly upon his position. He had no choice, he orderd a partial withdrawal, and as best as he could he tried to maintain order but a general withdrawal emerged as the Japanese gradually turned his flank. Gromov’s intent was to pull back to Chingkou, but the rapid advance of the Japanese forces him to saddle between Chingkou and Laofangkou.
Other than Gromov’s two battalions, the Russians were maintaining a reasonble withdrawal to defensive lines further back around the Hantuhotzu stream around two miles beyond the Ai. The force at Antung were being shelled by the IJN gunboats, aside from that they alongside the reserves at Tientzu had done basically nothing in the battle thus far. Kuroki ordered the Guards to occupy some hills above Hamatang, the 2nd division to advance upon Antung and the 12th to advance southwards to Taloufang. The 12th swept right through Chingkou en route to Hamatang smashing Gromov’s men. General Kashtalinksi’s men held the Guards and 2nd division back along the Hantuhotzu giving General Zasulich time to withdraw his troops at Antung to Tientzu. To over this withdrawal two battalions of the 11th east siberian regiment and a battery were detached to bolster Kashtalinski’s position along the Hantuhotzu. The Guards and 2nd division had to wait for their artillery to catch up to them as the 12th were putting pressure on Gromov’s men. At 12:15pm Gromov was forced to pull back to Liuchiakou and he sent a messenger to report such to General Kashtalinski’s HQ. At 1pm a messenger of General Zasulich arrived at Gromov’s HQ ordering him to retreat via Laochoutun. Meanwhile the messenger failed to get to Kashtalinski until 4pm, thus Kashtalinski would have literally no idea and thought everything was holding. Later Gromov would be courtmartialled for withdrawing the way he did. He would be exonerated later, but before that occurred he would shoot himself in shame.
Around 12pm Kashtalinski received word to his surprise that Gromov was withdrawing from Chingkou with the 22nd regiment in disarray and that the Japanese had seized Liuchiakou. His scouts were also telling him the Japanese were advancing on Laofangkou. Kashtalinski wanted to see this for himself douting his own scouts. What he saw was a complete disaster and he quickly ordered an immediate withdrawal from Hantuhotzu to Tientzu. His rearguard was the 11th company of the 22nd regiment who took up a position on a 570 foot high hill east of Hamatang. At around 2pm the 5th company of the 24th IJA regiment, the 12th divisions vanguard smashed into the southeast part of the Hamatang defensive line. Soon the 5th company held a blocking position forcing the retreating Russians to move further south of the 570 foot hill. Three batteries of the 12th division the narrived and began smashing Hamatang as the Guards and 2nd divisions men stormed forward positions.
The 11th east Siberian regiment buckled and began fleeing into the valley beyond Hamatang already 26 officers and 900 men had been killed. The valley was around a mile wide, extremely open with fields extending up hillsides. There was basically no cover at all and when the Japanese took the heights they had an excellent view into the valley to fire upon the fleeing Russians. Suddenly the regiments priest in full regalia, grabbed a large cross and stood up. The surrounding surviving Russians around him stood up and the priest led the men through the valley to safety as he cried out “god have mercy” for Russians were being blown to pieces all around them. The priest was hit by 3 bullets before he fell bleeding over his cross as soldier grabbed him and carried him to the other side. The firing gradually lessened as the Japanese shouted banzais atop their hills and saluted the Russians withdrawing before them. The hero priest was evacuated to the Red Cross hospital at Mukden where he made a full physical recovery, though psychological he did not, he reportedly went insane.
The carnage was not found so great everywhere. 650 men of the 24th and 56th regiments who were holding out on a hill south east of Hamatang were pounced upon by a company of the guards division who screamed Banzai charging with their bayonets. The Russains lifted up a white flag and the Japanese allowed them to surrender. At 5:30pm the sun was setting across the battlefield, it had been a truly bloody sight. 2700 Russians lay dead, wounded or captured. The Japanese reported 1036 casualties. The Russians had lost 45 artillery pieces, 8 machine guns and 19 wagons full of munitions. The Japanese did not pursue the Russians fleeing to Liaoyang or Fenghuangcheng.
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The Russian fleet was trapped firmly with the harbor of Port Arthur allowing the Japanese to commence their land campaigns. The first major battle was at along the Yalu river which turned a crimson red with the blood of both sides. It was going to be a terrible war.