Proud Varyag

When naval history geeks have conversations about battles that were hopeless before they started, the battle of Chemulpo Bay comes up as one of the top examples .. a battle for the honor of the Navy, against overwhelming odds, that did not manage to overcome those odds, and made the names of the ships that fought it probably the most known in Russia.

On February 8, 1904 a Russian gunboat Koreets, sent from Chemulpo Bay to Port Arthur to report sighting of a large Japanese force, met Japanese cruiser Chiyoda. Chiyoda launched torpedoes (all of them missed), Koreets fired two shots from her cannon (also missed). Both sides denied afterwards that they were the first to fire. These were the first shots of the Russo-Japanese War 1904-1905.

Koreets returned to Chemulpo, rejoining another Russian ship, cruiser Varyag. Chemulpo Bay at the time was host to warships of several major powers: Great Britain, France, Italy, United States and Russia, and was considered a neutral port. In response to an ultimatum from commander of the Japanese force, admiral Uryu, on February 9th Varyag and Koreets left the port to attempt to break through to Port Arthur. Their Captains knew they had no chance to succeed. They knew the odds: one modern protected cruiser and one outdated gunboat against two armored cruisers, four protected cruisers and eight torpedo boats, all modern. The Japanese force was sufficient to block each exit from the port with superior force. Captains of the neutral ships were advising Varyag‘s Captain Vsevolod Rudnev to surrender. His decision: “Make every shot matter”.

Cruiser Varyag

As Varyag was leaving the port, English and Italian crews cheered, the orchestra on Italian cruiser was playing Russian anthem.

There are examples of battles won against the odds in naval history. This isn’t one of them. Varyag came under fire of six cruisers. Koreets’ old guns couldn’t reach Japanese ships. First shots from Asama destroyed one of two range finding stations on Varyag. Soon after, the other range finding station was also destroyed, most of the guns were damaged, rudder drive was damaged, crew was fighting multiple fires, Captain was wounded… Unable to maneuver and with almost all guns damaged, Varyag returned to port. Russian casualties: 31 dead, about 191 wounded. Japanese casualties: 30 men and one torpedo boat, according to Russian sources; none, according to Japanese sources.

As the ship, damaged below the waterline, starts to sink, the crew is evacuated to neutral warships. Varyag was sunk, Koreets was blown up. The crew made it back to Russia, where they received heroes’ welcome. In 1907 Captain Rudnev was decorated for valor in battle of Chemulpo Bay by the Japanese. He received the order of the Rising Sun, 2nd degree, and never wore it.

Varyag was raised by the Japanese, converted to training ship and renamed Soya. In 1916 she was purchased by Russia from Japan and renamed back. In 1917 she went to Great Britain for repairs, and was confiscated there after the Russian revolution. In 1920 she was sold to Germany for scrap, and ran aground while getting towed, near Scotland. She sunk in 1925.

There were two more Varyags in the Russian Navy after that.

Aircraft Carrier Varyag

Next Varyag was an aircraft carrier, that started construction in 1985 as Riga, and renamed to Varyag in 1990. In 1993, following the collapse of the USSR, the Black Sea Fleet was divided  between Russia and Ukraine. Varyag ended up in Ukrainian fleet. Her construction was never fully completed and in 1998 she was sold to China. She’s now known as Shi Lang.

And the latest Varyag started construction earlier than the one before – in 1979, as missile cruiser Chervona Ukraina (Red Ukraine) – ironic, isn’t it? This ship ended up in Russian fleet, and in 1996 changed her name to Varyag.

Missile Cruiser Varyag

Rocket launchers P-1000 Vulcan (П-1000 Вулкан), anti-sub launcher RBU-6000 Smerch-2 (РБУ-600 Смерчь-2) and anti-aircraft gun AK-630 on cruiser Varyag (Варяг)

Which brings us to why I started writing this bunch of historical trivia in the first place: two weeks ago Varyag arrived on the first visit of major Russian warship to San Francisco since … I’m tempted to say since Juno, but Juno wasn’t technically a major warship.

Interestingly enough, her stay in San Francisco coincided with a visit from three Japanese cruisers …

Japanese cruisers visiting San Francisco

Chemulpo Bay

Published in: on July 5, 2010 at 2:50 am  Leave a Comment