Russian Submarines in the Far East 1904

The first Russian submarines were delivered to Vladivostock on request by Rear-Admiral Vitgeft at the end of 1900. The submarines had no engine and were propelled by a hand drive (or rather by a foot drive like with a bike ). The submarines were transported by the steamer Dagmar which on her way called in at Japan so that the Japanese could see them. In this way these submarines played the part of psychological weapons. Though they were equipped with torpedo tubes their combat value was very low. One of them was later transported to Port Arthur.

When in April 1904 the battleships Yashima and Hatsuse * hit mines outside Port Arthur the Japanese believed that the ships had been attacked by the submarines and fired for a long time at the water. To add to this deception Rear Admiral Vitgeft sent a fake wireless thanking the submarine crews for a successful attack.

Apart from these primitive submarines , in 1903 the battleship Tsesarevitch brought one submarine designed by the French engineer Gube (10 t, 5 knots during 6-7 hours, 2 torpedoes). It is believed that at a break in the war another submarine was delivered to Port Arthur by the railway to be assembled there, though this is not proved by documents. On February 28th 1904 Vice-Admiral Macaroon ordered the men to paint on the free boards of each ship a silhouette of a submarine.

The Russians also feared Japanese submarines which actually did not exist. For example, when Admiral Makarov's flagship Petropavlosk exploded * on a mine, the Russians believed at first that the battleship had been torpedoed by a submarine. The same happened at Tsu-Shima where there were no Japanese submarines either.

The Russian Admiralty tried desperately to deliver submarines to Port Arthur via the railway but due to lack of experienced crews it was not possible before the fortress was completely blockaded by the enemy. At the same time a number of submarines , either hastily built in Russia or purchased overseas were transferred to Vladivostock. The assembly of submarines at Valdivostock presented many problems as the electric batteries had to be removed during the transit. Besides they were built in haste and many of them had numerous manufacturer faults which were discovered only en situ.

By July 1905 there were four submarines in the Baltic ready to be forwarded to Vladivostock - Delfin *, Forel * , Osetr and Som (the first two built by Krupp, the latter two in the USA ). The first submarine to arrive in Valdivostock was Forel * (forwarded on 25 August 1904 - arrived September 29 ). By the end of December 1904 there were seven submarines in Valdivostock - Forel, Som, Kasatka, Nalim, Skat, Delfin, and Feldmarshal Graf Sheremetiev.

A special submarine unit was set up under command of Lt.Plotto. By January 1905 Som and Delfin were ready for combat operations. It was decided to tug the submarines to the Sangar Straight by torpedo-boats and by the supply ship Shilka. Another plan was to wait until all seven submarines were ready and to employ them off the coast of Korea. It should be noted that torpedoes for the submarines were not available until March 1905 so therefore their use prior to this was out of the question. In addition, nobody in Russia (and in the world for that matter) had any idea of how to employ the submarines and technically the available submarines were not capable of carrying out the assigned missions. C-in-C in Vladivostock , Vice-Admiral N. Skridlov and his later replacement Vice-Admiral A. Birilev did not consider the submarines as a serious weapon and treated them with mistrust.

Despite all difficulties, both engineering and moral, on Feb. 14, 1905 Delfin and Som put to sea for a test run. On March 13-16 they sailed on their first mission. On April 9th Delfin made a 9-day cruise to the Korean coast. Later in April the Russian headquarters received an intelligence report that the Japanese were planning to attack Vladivostock with their cruiser squadron. On April 29th Delfin, Kasatka and Som put to sea to intercept the enemy by the Islands of Russki and Askold. 70 miles from the Cape Povorotni Som sighted the Japanese destroyers and the commander Prince Trubezkoi ordered to dive which normally required 5 min. The Japanese sighted the submarine, opened fire and maneuvered to ram her. By that time the submarine was submersed and Prince Trubezkoi was getting ready to attack. He saw through the periscope that the enemy had turned South. The submarine immersed with torpedoes ready to fire. Suddenly a heavy fog fell and when it dispersed the destroyers were too far away for an attack.

This sortie which brought no kills nevertheless demonstrated to the Japanese that the Russian submarines could operate in high seas. The submarine detachment went on with regular patrol missions in high seas and some historians believe that the submarines eventually saved Vladivostok from decisive attack of Japanese fleet, especially after Tsu-Shima.

By the end of the war Vladivostock had 13 submarines but due to engineering problems only two or three were operational at the same time. Port Arthur had four submarines: Petrk Koshka,PortArturez, one Gube type and one Dzhevetskii type. All four were scuttled before the surrender.

After the end of the war the Russian Admiralty concluded that a submarine was a defensive weapon of a very limited value. Therefore no serious attempts were made to go on with development of submarine forces ; hence at the break of WWI Russia had very few submarines to inflict any losses upon the enemy.


NOTE - The photographs used in this webpage have been in the common domain for over ten years. However, if you are the copyright holder and wish for an acknowledgment to be made, or for them to be removed, please email the webmaster at