Battle of Cape Sarych - Discussion

Steve McLaughlin's account of the Battle of Cape Sarych led to some interesting discussion on MARHST-L (uploaded by permission).

6 July, 1998 Byron Angel asked:
>While on the topic of First World War navies (one of my big favorites), can
>any listmembers shed light on Sumida's brief comment in the _Pollen Papers_
>that the Russian navy purchased several sets of the Pollen Argo range
>computing devices prior to the the outbreak of war. Various accounts of
>Black Sea naval engagements speak not only of the notable range of Russian
>guns, but also of very accurate shooting.

The Russians did indeed purchase some Pollen gear before the First World War, although the extent of the purchases is not clear. Pollen gear was tested (in 1913, IIRC) on the old ironclad PETR VELIKII, which was then acting as a training ship for (seaman) gunners. It would seem that Pollen gear was then purchased; according to a Russian pen-pal of mine who specializes in battleship design, Pollen gear was fitted in all the dreadnoughts, but it is not clear if it was fitted in the pre-dreadnoughts.

The Black Sea Fleet (and the Russian navy as a whole) had absorbed a lot of very difficult lessons from the Russo-Japanese War, and these fed directly into the Black Sea Fleet's training regime. In the immediate aftermath of the war, Rear-Admiral Tsyvinskii (who had lost a son at Tsushima) was appointed commander of the "Practical Squadron" -- the front-line fleet of battleships and attendant cruisers and torpedo boats. One of his stated goals was that the Russian fleet should master the technique of concentrating the fire of multiple ships on a single target, as well as improving the gunnery of individual ships. The concentration of fire issue was very prominent in Russian thinking because this is precisely what Togo had done to Rozhestvenskii at Tsushima -- by using his superior speed, Togo had overlapped his battle- line with the head of the Russian line, then pummelled the leading ships one after another, while the trailing Russian ships remained out of effective range. Tsyvinskii wanted the Russians to be able to do this to the enemy in the next war.

This eventaully led to a master ship/slave ship system, where the central ship of a three-ship group controlled the fire of all ships, apparently using massed salvos. Special radio gear was developed for transmitting the range and correction data between ships.

Gunnery improvements made in the Black Sea (and presumably applied in general) included a revision of the range-tables for all major guns (the old tables proved to be very inaccurate); experiments that led to new model shells with improved aerodynamic forms; numerous minor improvements to the gun mounts (smoke evacuating gear to keep the turrets from becoming fouled, the introduction of new couplings that allowed for both rapid slewing of the turrets and very fine adjustments in bearing; similar gear was fitted to the elevating mechanisms); and intensive gunnery drill, with fire controlled by the spotting officer at the masthead. The targets used in these drills were often unmanned sailboats, whose small size and erratic course must have made for interesting targets. (All this from Mel'nikov, "Bronenosets Potemkin").

I forgot to mention the introduction of Scott's "dotters" and Barr & Stroud rangefinders.

The actual computational gear carried is still not clear to me, nor is the detailed system of fire control. The latest pre-dreadnoughts (EVSTAFII and IOANN ZLATOUST), and probably PANTELEIMON (ex-Potemkin), were probably fitted with a special gunnery position for the Senior Gunnery Officer, in or near the conning tower; the masthead spotting top was usually manned by the junior gunnery officer. But beyond that, I don't know if Pollen clocks had been fitted. The Russian system still seems to have been heavily dependent on spotting for maintaining correct ranges, and does not seem to have been "helm free." A recent Russian publication has stated that none of the First World war ships had a full-fledged director system.

That's the quick version of everything I know at the moment. I have some more stuff on file at home about Russian fire control; if you're interested, I can send something off-list.

Sorry if this is disjointed -- working fast so I can get to lunch! Steve McLaughlin

9 July, 1998
From: Byron Angel
Dear Steve,

Further to your post regarding the engagement off Cape Sarych, do you have access to _North of Gallipoli: the Black Sea Fleet at War 1914-1917_ by George Nekrasov ( Columbia University Press, 1992) ISBN 0-88033-240-9, LoC CCN 92-81594? This book provides a useful account of the battle. Nekrasov claims that _Goeben_ was hit by both 12 inch shells of the first ranging salvo fired from the fore turret of _Sv. Efstafi_ at a range of 8,000 yds (40 cables). Even he admits that this was extraordinary luck. His belief in two hits is based upon Russian observation of two flashes aboard _Goeben_ portside. He also mentions the appearance of smoke, which gives credence to the likelihood of a subsequent fire.

I have a theory about the silence of _Goeben's_ 5.9 battery. Since _Goeben_ had deployed to the Mediterranean prior to the outbreak of war, it is highly likely that she departed Germany with a peacetime complement. If such was the case, she may not have had sufficient men to crew the port and starboard secondary batteries simultaneously so early in the war (Nov 1914). This becomes a potentially important consideration when the track chart of the battle is examined. _Goeben_ initially turned to port to open her starboard gun arcs for engagement of the now evading Russian light cruiser _Almaz_, which had been heading the Russian squadron column. Some minutes later, the Russian main body was seen to be deploying out of the mist and Souchon chose to reverse his course by a turn to starboard, which would now put the Russians on the port side of _Goeben_. Nekrasov remarks that there was even a delay in the opening of fire by _Goeben's_ main battery (takes time to rotate those big turrets 180 degrees). If the peacetime complement theory is correct, (a) it would have taken time to move the 5.9 crews from one battery to the other, and (b) their first order of business would have been to deal with one or two major caliber hits on the engaged 5.9 battery. Nekrasov further claims that Russian intelligence reported 173 casualties suffered by _Goeben_. Since there is no mention of any other hits suffered by Goeben, it is also possible that the 5.9 crews might have been caught and decimated during their transit from starboard to port.

With respect to maneuvers after the action, Nekrasov states that the Russian commander Admiral Eberhardt << expected _Goeben_ to reappear from the fog at any moment>>. The action ended at 1232 hrs; at 1245 the Russian formation executed a 16 point course reversal and then headed for the swept channel leading back into Sevastopol harbor. Visibility at the time was quite misty and very poor: 7-8000 yards maximum, often down to 4000 yds; at times, one ship in the column was able to see _Goeben_, while her next astern was quite unable to do so (sounds a bit like very late in the day at Jutland). If _Goeben_ did attempt to re-establish contact with the Russians, she would have faced several considerations: (a) find _Breslau_, who had earlier evaded out of Russian visibility range; (b) carefully hunt in poor visibility conditions for a now alerted enemy; (c) give a wide berth to the Russian Sevastopol minefields, which were nearby. Souchon probably did not pull out all the stops trying to re-locate the Russian force.

Nekrasov also refers to use of the three ship fire concentration procedure developed by the Russians.

9 July, 1998
From: Byron Angel

Received and read both your emails. Cape Sarych article was very interesting on several points. First of all I was surprised by the very low shell expenditures on both sides. For example, GOEBEN's expenditure of only 19 shells indicates the discharge of only four half salvoes (allowing for one gun missing the fire gong on one salvo) which would represent not more than 2 or 3 minutes of fire at 8,000 yards. Since your article mentions GOEBEN's shooting at EVSTAFI as first salvo over, second short, third and fourth straddles, it can be inferred that GOEBEN gave up a perfect gunnery solution and then ceased fire in sight (??) of the enemy for 10 or more minutes before disappearing into the mist. It seems the more we dissect this engagement, the more curious it becomes. If Kopp's reference to a magazine flooding is accurate, is it possible that the wing turret magazines were flooded as an additional precaution after the outbreak of fire in the secondary 5.9 battery? The only other explanation I can imagine is complete obscuration of the EVSTAFI by her leader's drifting smoke. Visibility must have been terrible.

I'm also surprised by the low ammunition expenditure aboard the Russian ships, not more than 3 to 6 salvoes from EVSTAFI, depending upon whether she fired full or half salvoes. Timewise, this seems to track with GOEBEN. Perhaps there was an initial period of visibility, followed by a loss of same, followed by momentary glimpse (later 6 inch salvoes). All in all, very strange.

Last Updated: 13 July, 1998

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