1904 "Varyag" met in the neutral Korean port of Chemulpo. The situation foreshadowed a quick war, and the cruiser commander Vsevolod Rudnev understood: if the Japanese ships block the narrow exit channel from the raid, then the only thing left for Varyag is to die heroically. But “above” they did not want to understand this. The instruction received from the tsar's viceroy, Admiral Alexeyev, read: "Do not hinder the landing of the Japanese troops, if it happened before the declaration of war ... In no case do not leave Chemulpo without orders."
Unlike the Russian naval leadership, Admiral Togo, the commander of the Japanese fleet, understood all this perfectly well. But the death of "Varyag" did not suit him, he had other types of cruiser - to present him as a gift to the emperor for the anniversary of his accession to the throne. And the “gift” was worth it. It was a powerful ship that had a high speed - 24 knots, and had twelve 152-mm and 75-mm guns, ten smaller-caliber guns and six torpedo tubes. The Koreon gunboat, which turned out to be in the port of Chemulpo at that time, was not interested in the Japanese. She had already celebrated her fifteenth birthday, and of her nine guns only three had a large caliber and a decent range.
On February 5, from the captains of foreign ships, Rudnev learned about the break in Japan of diplomatic relations with Russia. He did not withdraw the ships from the raid - he did not dare to violate the instructions of the tsar governor. It remained to seek intelligible orders from the envoy in Korea, to whom he obeyed as commander of the stationary ship. But the actual state councilor Pavlov was all hoping that instructions would come from the ministry. And only on February 8, when the American military agent found out that a Japanese military agent arrived on the ship "Sungari" (another one got into the trap) that the Japanese were planning to start a war the next day, Pavlov sent a "Korey" with a report to Port Arthur.
But the exit to the sea was already blocked by the Japanese squadron, and the “Korean”, evading torpedoes fired at it and “snapping back” with a few shots from a cannon, returned to the raid. Following him, a part of the Japanese squadron entered the bay. Destroyers surrounded the Russian ships, and transports under the cover of cruisers began to land the landing.
The moment came when the commander was forced to ask himself the Hamlet question: “To be or not to be? Step over the instructions and attack the Japanese (we don’t judge the winners) or wait for orders? ” Formally, the Japanese began a torpedo attack on the Korean. According to their artillery, their three light cruisers and four destroyers, covering the transports with the landing force, are approximately equal to Russian ships. And in the conditions of a close bay, when Japanese ships lack maneuver, the chances of success in battle increase significantly.
We do not know whether Rudnev understood that in his hands was the "key" to the beginning of the land war with Japan. If he destroys the landing ships, he will thwart the seizure of Korea by the Japanese and push their ground operation against Russia for some time. And in those conditions, every extra day meant a lot. Rudnev decided to wait. Do we have the right to blame him?
By evening, the Japanese ships left the bay, and the Russian ships did not even try to make a breakthrough in the dark, which was quite real with good knowledge of the fairway. The next morning, the commander of the Varyag received an ultimatum from the commander of the Japanese squadron. Now there was nothing to choose from. There was no question of surrender; there was an attempt to break through with a fight, and if it did not work out - a heroic death. And here again a mystery arises - why the breakthrough of two ships, and not one “Varyag”? Together with the “Korean”, the real speed of which is only 9−10 knots, the chances of a breakthrough are zero. If the team is removed from the gun, the cruiser will receive a reserve of experienced artillerymen (in the upcoming battle the greatest losses will be among them), and the lack of a slow-moving wake will allow you to fully take advantage of the speed and maneuver. Rudnev had the right to such a decision, but he went for a breakthrough with the "Korean".
Rudnev informed his commanders of foreign ships, who were already preparing to leave the raid, so as not to disturb the Japanese. Sailors of foreign ships, realizing that the Russians were going to die, escorted them with shouts of "Hurray." On the Italian ship the orchestra played the anthem of Russia.
Access to the open sea was blocked by a Japanese squadron of 6 cruisers and 8 destroyers. The ratio of 2 to 14 speaks for itself, but the Varyag and the Koreets went straight to the squadron, and at 11.45 am the first shot sounded from the cruiser Azam. In response, she hit an 8-inch Korean gun. An unprecedented battle began - “the last parade”, as the author of the song about “Varyag” then called him.
The Japanese concentrated the main fire on “Varyag”, hoping to do away with the slow-moving “Korean” later; they understood that while the gunboat was afloat, the cruiser would not take advantage of the speed. A hurricane of fire struck the cruiser, almost all the guns were damaged or damaged, the steering gears were killed, fires occurred repeatedly. Varyag received 5 underwater holes and tilted heavily. It killed 31 and wounded more than 190 people. It is hard to believe, but the "total score of the battle", which lasted about an hour, is clearly in favor of the Russian ships. They sank the destroyer and three cruisers were seriously damaged; moreover, one subsequently sank, and two stood up for a long dock repair.
The heavily wounded Varyag was forced to withdraw from the battle and, accompanied by the Korean, who did not receive direct hits, returned to the raid. The cruiser could not continue the battle, and Rudnev decided to destroy the Russian ships and place their crews on foreign ships. Only the commander of the American "Vicksburg" refused to accept Russian sailors.
At about 16 o'clock the Kingston was opened at Varyag, the Korean was blown up, the Sungari was set on fire and then drowned.
In Russia, the results of the battle, the fate of ships and people were learned only on February 18 from a telegram sent by Rudnev from Shanghai. Prior to that, it was believed that the ships and their crews were killed, as reported by the Japanese. Soon the name "Varyag" flashed on the pages of newspapers and magazines. The event, about which the journalists learned from foreign seamen who witnessed the feat, amazed the world.
For Russia, the war was extremely unfortunate, the press openly accused the military leadership of mediocrity. Under these conditions, the battle with Chemulpo turned out to be more suitable than ever; an opportunity to show the first real combat success and to raise its participants to the rank of national heroes. They preferred to forget that which preceded the battle.