Russian battleships had been trapped in Port Arthur since the Japanese naval blockade following the Battle of Port Arthur on 8-9th February. The Battle of the Yellow Sea developed when the squadron attempted to break out and reach the rest of the Russian Pacific fleet at Vladivostok on 10th August 1904.
Russian Rear Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft was opposed to the mission but under the direct order of Czar Nicholas II, reluctantly made a break for the open sea with six battleships, four cruisers, and fourteen destroyers. Slow to organise his fleet, Admiral Togo’s blockade, consisting of four battleships, ten cruisers, and eighteen destroyers, failed to stop the Russians slip past but pursued them into the Yellow Sea. Before long both fleets sailed in line and exchanged fire with heavy guns for several hours. Both sides suffered, as the Japanese flagship Mikasa was forced to transfer command to the battleship Asahi, who in turn hit the Russian flagship Tsesarevich on the bridge, killing Rear Admiral Vitgeft and destroying the ship’s steering. With Tsesarevich out of commission, the Russian battleship Retvizan boldy charged Asahi with all guns firing, before being forced to retreat from the Japanese onslaught. Most of the battered Russian fleet turned back to the safety of Port Arthur, while some including Tsesarevich sought refuge in neutral ports.
The engagement represented one of only three major fleet actions involving steel battleships, together with the Battle of Tsushima in 1905 later in the conflict and the Battle of Jutland in 1916.