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Battle of Port Arthur

The Battle of Port Arthur (February 9, 1904) was the opening battle of the Russo-Japanese War. It was inconclusive, although it was technically a minor Japanese victory.

Near the Russian port of Port Arthur, Admiral Heihachiro Togo commanded the Japanese fleet. One of his subordinates, Admiral Shigoto Dewa, who commanded the First Fleet suggested that the Japanese ships attempt to attack the Russian ships, which were anchored under the cover of various land artillery batteries at Port Arthur. Dewa's actual orders had been to lure the Russian ships toward the Japanese heavy ships, which were commanded by Adm. Togo. The latter reluctantly agreed, after hearing the report of the Third Fleet and Dewa's own reconnaissance efforts.

Dewa's reconnaissance, however, had been somewhat incorrect, mainly because he was more than three knots away from the Russian fleet when he made his closest approach. It seemed that the twelve battleships and cruisers were mostly aground and/or listing (after the recently successful Japanese destroyer attack), while the screening ships (namely destroyers, gunboats, and mining vessels) were in no formation. However, all of the Russian ships were ready and had their battle flags up, which was not visible to Dewa.

The Japanese ships concentrated their heavier fire on the batteries, while lobbing six and eight inch shells at the Russian ships. However, after about thirty minutes of inconclusive fighting, Togo, with his First Fleet (the Third Fleet had been left in reserve, and took part in none of the fighting) decided to make a highly dangerous move: he turned his ships around and retreated, in full range of the artillery and Russian ships. As the Japanese ships reached their most vulnerable point, the Russian ship Novik fired a salvo of torpedoes at the Japanese armored cruisers, which returned fire, hitting the Novik below the waterline. Because of the heavy fire encountered, and the higher state of readiness than previously assumed (by the Japanese), Togo decided not to use the Third Fleet, and retreated completely.

The Japanese had suffered no more than 90 casualties, with no seriously damaged ships, while the Russians suffered about 150 casualties, with the Bayan, Askold, Diana, and Novik having relatively serious damage. Dewa's half-hearted reconnaissance had underestimated the Russian fleet's state of readiness, and Togo's reluctance was justified.

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