Battle of the Yellow Sea

Battle of the Yellow Sea

Japanese Admiral Tōgō’s flagship, Mikasa

The Battle of the Yellow Sea was a naval battle fought between the Imperial Russian Navy and the Japanese Navy during the Russo-Japanese War.

At the time, Russian forces docked at the Port of Arthur had been under siege for six months. 

Russian Viceroy Yevgeni Alekseyev formulated a plan to break the blockade with the First Pacific Squadron, and then to consolidate with the Vladivostok Squadron. With this added strength, the Imperial Russian Navy was then to engage the Japanese Navy. 

Russian Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft, however, opposed this strategy and wanted to keep Russian forces anchored at Port Arthur and supporting land forces until the Russian Baltic Fleet could arrive. 

Admiral Vitgeft

Vitgeft believed Russian naval forces would then overwhelm the Japanese and win a decisive victory on the seas. Despite his concerns with Alekseyev’s strategy, Vitgeft became overruled by Tsar Nicholas II. And so the Russian fleet would sail on August 10 of 1904 a sortie out of Port of Arthur.

Upon leaving the harbor, Admiral Vitgeft feigned movements to the southwest which diverted the opposing fleet of Admiral Tōgō.

Admiral Tōgō

Eventually, however, Japanese forces figured out that the Russian sortie was headed for the ocean and most likely, they deduced, the Russian port of Vladivostok. 

The two belligerents first sighted each other 11 miles apart, with Japanese Admirals Tōgō and Dewa en route to intercept and sandwich Admiral Vitgeft’s fleet. Due to the extreme distance between the two forces at the time, no gunfire resulted in hits. 

Within 8 miles of each other, Admiral Tōgō tried to steer his battleships to ‘cross the T’ on Vitgeft’s forces, a naval maneuver where you move your ships perpendicular to your opponents so your guns can fire a full board side while only receiving fire from enemy front batteries. 

A miscalculation in speed, however, allowed Vitgeft to adjust the course of his fleet to avoid this unfavorable position and continue to head to Vladivostok, putting even more distance between himself and the Japanese fleets of Tōgō and Dewa. 

Eventually, Admiral Tōgō was able to maneuver his ships parallel to Vitgeft’s fleet and once again both sides opened fire upon one another. 

Despite starting at the extreme range of over 8 miles, after about half an hour of continuous shelling, the opposing fleet had closed  about 3.5 miles apart. 

During this skirmish the Russian battleship Retvizan was hit 12 times, while the Japanese flagship Mikasa was also struck several times, forcing Admiral Tōgō to back out. 


For the next several hours, Japanese forces chased the Russians until they were within 3.5 miles of the Russian battleship Poltava, which had been lagging behind. Despite facing an outnumbered enemy in this scenario, the Poltava was able to outgun the Japanese, further crippling the Mikasa. 

As nightfall continued to creep closer, Russian and Japanese forces found themselves at a distance of 3 miles and once again heavily shelled each other. 

While Russian battleships were able to render the Mikasa no longer combat effective, continued gunfire from the Japanese battleship Asahi scored a devastating hit on the Russian flagship Tsesarevich, killing Admiral Vitgeft and jamming the controls. 

Left with no clear leadership, the Russian Navy became disorganized and unable to maneuver into proper battle positions. 

Recognizing the severity of the situation, Captain Eduard Schensnovich of the Russian battleship Retvizan charged alone into the Japanese battle line while firing all weapons, drawing the attention of most Japanese guns. 

Due to the vast amount of shell splashes around the Retvizan, Japanese gunners were unable to aim effectively, and Admiral Tōgō ordered his wounded fleet to retreat, but not before crippling the Retvizan and Captain Schensnovich.

Midship view of the Russian flagship, Tsesarevich
The majority of the scattered Russian forces returned to their own or foreign-controlled ports. 

Although there was no clear winner of the Battle of the Yellow Sea, based on logistics alone the Japanese Navy was able to inflict more damage on the Russian Navy. 

However, it is important to note that the Japanese Navy had a much more powerful fleet during this battle, the precise reason why Admiral Vitgeft didn’t want to engage the Japanese in this manner. 

Had the Tsar sided with Admiral Vitgeft instead of Alekseyev, the Russian Navy likely would have seen a different outcome from this battle.

Battle of the Yellow Sea