The Irtysh surrender incident (イルティッシュ号投降事件)

The Irtysh surrender incident is the incident in which the crew of a special service vessel of the Russian Baltic Fleet called the Irtysh, which had been damaged in the Battle of Tsushima and stalled at sea, surrendered in Waki district, Tsuno village, Naka County (present-day Waki town, Gotsu City), Shimane Prefecture at about 2:00 pm on May 28, 1905.

The Irtysh
The Irtysh was built in Germany in 1903 as a collier of the German Navy, named Belgien (7,500 tons). Russia purchased the vessel from Germany in 1904 and remodeled her with 2 million rubles to attach her to the fleet. By this remodeling the coal hold was divided into a drying room and a coal room in order to store various kinds of freight and the vessel was named the Irtysh after the Irtysh River (the total length: 4,248 km), a tributary on the left bank of the Ob River in Western Siberia. She had a displacement of 15,000 tons, a length of 180 m, a breadth of 17 m, and a maximum speed of 10.5 knots. She was armed with eight small-caliber guns.

The crew consisted of 251 members (17 commissioned officers, 6 warrant officers and 228 seamen) and 235 out of them, who were from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Tatar, Germany, Latvia, Estonia and so on; were on duty when the Irtysh surrendered. 62 percent of the crew was accounted for by 12 or 13-year-old boys who worked for a lighter in the basin of the Oka River and the Kama River: tributaries of the Volga River, and former servicemen.

Officer of the Deck Graf was the purser kept the logbook, of which pirated copies later went around to raise the gold-bullion disturbance described below.

Details of the incident
From departure to the Battle of Tsushima
The Irtysh was to join the Baltic Fleet which had Lieutenant General Rozhdestvensky as the admiral in the Russo-Japanese War. However, when they were loading coal in a hurry before departure, the loads were thrown off balance and damaged the ship; it required two months to repair. For this reason, about two months behind the main unit of the fleet left on October 15, 1904, the Irtysh left the naval port Libau on the Baltic Sea on December 24. At that point the main unit was anchored at the Island of Madagascar. The ship was supplied with 8,000 tons of coal, 15,000 pud (245.70 tons) of nitrocellulose, 3,200 pud (52.41 tons) of pyroxenes, some bullets, torpedoes, provisions, and some bulls at the port of Libau. In addition, a check for 8,000 pounds drawn by the Navy was handed over.

After the ship joined the main unit, she participated in the battle off the coast of Tsusima on May 27, 1905. The Irtysh was shot in three places of her body (on the right of the second hatch, the social hall on the deck, and the foreship) during the naval battle and filled with water; the compass also got broken and the steam boiler exploded. The captain, in such conditions, still tried to reach Vladivostok going along the coast of Japan as far up north as possible.

Until landing in surrender
Around 10:00 am on May 28, the Irtysh appeared off Cape Mashima in Waki town. There had been strong west winds for several days and there were nearly 100 fishing boats on Waki beach to stay away from the storm. In those days steamships were in service on the route from Yunotsu Port to Hamada Port. Since the service was irregular for cancellations because of stormy seas and so on, people on the shore watching the large vessel slowly going up north thought it could be a steamship or hospital ship.

The Irtysh went up further north and came to a point off the coast of Kakushi (present-day Kakushi town, Gotsu City) to find fishing boats lining up at the estuary of the Gono-gawa River to stay away from the storm. Mistaking them for battleships, the Irtysh turned back the way she came. However, she was badly flooded for the body damages and when she came back to off Cape Mashima in Waki town, a little after 2:00 pm, she finally stalled at sea. Therefore she anchored at the point two nautical miles off the coast and lowered six boats in which the crew was to go ashore in order of the degree of injury. They displayed B flag (I was severely attacked) and N flag (ask for aid) along with the white flag, the Red Cross flag and the Russian flag at the head of the boat to surrender. However, buffeted by strong winds blowing from the west at the time, the boats went onto the rocks over and over and was capsized throwing out the Russian sailors in the sea.

After landing
The residents of Waki where the crew landed braced themselves for a possible attack, but when it turned out to be the surrender, all the residents went to the rescue. All 235 crew members, including Captain ゴムイセフ, reached land by 6:00 pm and were supplied with food and drink under the residents' protection for the night. 53 wounded (including 13 severely wounded) were taken to the two elementary schools in Waki and Kakushi to receive treatment. Among the severely wounded, some people had broken their jaw and others had a bruise on their thighbone.

Before dawn on the following day, May 29, the Irtysh sank.

In the morning of the same day all the crew was handed over to Hamada regiment to be sent to Hamada town.

Since the following year (1906) Russian Festival has been held (taking a few hiatuses for a war and so on) by the residents of Waki to remember the Russian sailors.

There was a rumor that the Irtysh might have held gold bullions so that salvage operations were conducted several times. Although the largest-scale operation was conducted in 1959, they only found the mines.

Today Waki Community Center keeps the personal effects and so on of the Irtysh crew. Many people come to Waki district from Russia for inspection and interviews in recent years.

[Original Japanese]