Russia versus Japan. The Battle of Tsushuma Straits, 1905

In the 19th. century it was European countries that dominated east of Suez. Both China and India were mere vassals under control from Europe. Japan realising she was in danger of such domination, decided to westernise her armed forces, and hopefully control her own destiny.

Russia and Japan.
With all this activity by Japan it was inevitable she would clash with the Big Bear that was Russia, and that hostilities were very likely to break out between them.

The Rising Sun flag of Japan flown at Tsushuma Russian flag used at Tsushuma

Port Arthur.
At Port Arthur in Manchuria, the Russian navy had stationed a large fleet of Battleships, Cruisers, and Destroyers. In Vladivostok a smaller fleet was maintained. Japan cast her eyes enviously at Port Arthur, if she could win that port, control of the sealanes in the Far East would be the end prize.

Vice Admiral Heihachire Togo.
Togo, a senior officer in the Imperial Japanese Navy decided to plan an attack against the Russian Fleet at Port Arthur, and he was ready early in 1904 to make his move by the 6th. of February. The next day diplomatic ties with Russia were cut, this should have rung a warning bell at Port Arthur for the Russian Navy.

Admiral Togo on the bridge of Misaka at the battle of Tsusima Strait
Admiral Togo on the bridge of Misaka at the battle of Tsushuma Strait

On the evening of the 8th. of February, Togo sailed 10 Torpedo Boats with orders to attack the Russian ships anchored at Port Arthur. No war had been declared by Japan on Russia, it was the pre cursor to Pearl Harbor when on the 7th. of December 1941, Japan cowardly attacked the US Fleet without any warning. The Torpedo Boats approached with stealth to find the cruiser Pallada very conveniently illuminating the scene with her searchlights. The Russian ships were silhouetted nicely, like sitting ducks awaiting their fate. In two groups of five, the Japanese Boats unleashed their deadly torpedoes, to then escape seawards.

The Results of this attack.
Of the 18 torpedoes let loose only 3 struck home, Pallada was hit amidships and her coal bunkers set ablaze, the cruiser Retvezan hit on her port side had a huge hole torn in her, the battleship Tsesarvitch hit in her aft magazine which shattered her bulkheads and flooded the strategic steering compartment.

On the 9th. of February Vice Admiral Togo's larger ships poured fire into the Russian Fleet, the Russians caught unawares were decimated, no word of war being declared.

Only loss to the Japanese, 6 sailors died.

As a result of this sneak attack, Naval power in the Far East shifted from Russia to Japan.

Togo blockaded Port Arthur, keeping the crippled Russian fleet bottled up, he had only to sit and wait for Japanese troops to take the port from the landward side. The Russians try to break out from the blockade.

The Russian battleship Petropauvlovsk blows up on a Japanese laid mine off Port Arthur
The Russian battleship Petropauvlovsk blows up on a Japanese laid mine off Port Arthur

On the 13th. of April, the Russian Vice Admiral Stephen Ossipovich Makarov tried to break out, but unfortunately his flagship Petropavlovsk struck a Japanese laid mine, blowing up, killing him plus 634 of her crew.

A Japanese wood block print to honour the Russan Vice Admiral Makarov
A Japanese wood block print to honour the Russan Vice Admiral Makarov.

On the other side of the world.
Across the world in St Petersburg, the defeat of the Russian Fleet caused consternation, and it was decided to reinforce the Tsarist Fleet stationed in the Far East. But this final destination lay some 18,000 miles away, more than halfway round the world. None the less, in July 1904 the Tsar despatched four battleships, the new Kniaz Suvarov, and her sister ships Orel, Vorodino, and Imperator Alex 111, now an immense fleet of 42 ships, all commanded by Vice Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky was on its way, with 18,000 miles to go.

So jumpy were the Russian gunners, that in the North Sea passing a fleet of British trawlers they mistook them for Japanese destroyers, opened fire to sink one and damage others.

Map showing the route taken by the Russian Fleet from St Petersburg to Tsushima Strait, Masampo Bay in South Korea was Togo's Base, from here he led his forces to attack the Russians, and achieve a remarkable victory
Map showing the route taken by the Russian Fleet from St Petersburg to Tsushuma Strait,
Masampo Bay in South Korea was Togo's Base, from here he led his forces to attack the Russians, and achieve a remarkable victory

The problem of rebunkering the Russian ships.
It was a major problem to obtain both coal for refuelling the fleet, and approval to do so, after much diplomatic lobbying Dakar obliged. By mid December, the Cape of Good Hope was rounded and the fleet ploughed across the vast Indian Ocean.

It was obvious that Port Arthur would soon fall to Japan, and when the fleet bunkered at Madagascar in March of 1905, it was ordered by St Petersburg to join up with the Third Pacific Squadron, which was really just a collection of rust buckets, commanded by Naval Officers who were mainly serving out their time, having been passed over for promotion.

The rendezvous ordered was Cam Ranh Bay where the Fleet finally arrived on the 14th. of April. The long and tedious voyage at last over.

Togo was aware of the arrival of the Russian Fleet, which when joined up with the Third Pacific Fleet now numbered 52 ships. He had believed that the Russian Admiral would make for Tsushuma Strait, and had posted patrols there to alert him.

First contact is made.
With the advent of dawn on the 27th. of May 1905, the Japanese cruiser Shinano Maru on patrol sighted a Russian ship, which she shadowed for 2 hours, come full daylight, 10 ships were counted, Togo had guessed correctly, the Russians were steaming for Tsushuma Strait, but Rodhestvensky realised his ships had been sighted, his plan to sneak through Tsushuma Strait, now sprung.

He now ordered Battle Order, and pressed on into the Straits. Both fleets were formidible, but it should be noted they contained a large percentage of tired old ships. The Russain count numbered the flagship Kniaz Suvarov plus 11 battleships, 4 heavy cruisers, 4 light cruisers, 9 destroyers and assorted auxiliary type vessels.

On the Japanese page, the list read, the flag Mikasa, then 27 capital ships, 21 destroyers, gunboats and 70 torpedo boats. The Russians were outnumbered by just adding the ship totals available, but the huge Russian battleships could well carry the day via their heavy armament which might well counter the extra number of Japanese ships in this fight.

Battle of Tsushima The Approach
Battle of Tsushuma The Approach

Let the Battle commence.
The two opposing forces slowly closed one another, the Russian Fleet in line ahead formation in two columns, whilst the Japanese Admiral chose to fight in single line ahead.

Togo struck first, on the Tsarist port column as it was closer to Vladivostok, and he wanted to shut off that possible bolt hole, also the slower and weaker Russian ships made up that column. Togo crossed this column some 5 miles ahead, with the Russians opening fire and hitting the armoured cruiser Yakumo and Asama, the latter with damaged steering gear staggered out of the line, the end result, 3 Japanese ships hit.

It appeared that the Russians had gained a crucial advantage, but it soon slipped from their grasp, the older ships could not maintain the cracking pace set, and started to falter and then fall behind.

Now it was he turn of the Imperial Japanese Navy, as shells went crashing into the Russian flagship Kniaz Suvarov, fires broke out as smoke billowed skywards, their Admiral badly wounded, his ship in disarray as she slowed.

Imperator Alexander 111, and Borodino were engaged, and the Japanese ships using semi armoured piercing shells tore open the hull of the Russian flagship allowing sea water to pour in through these breaches in her hull. The funnel now collapsed, and the maimed flagship listing, out of control was smothered by smoke and flames, her end seemed close at hand as torpedo boats closed in for the kill. Her wounded and unconscious Admiral was transferred to the destroyer Buiny, the flagship, pride of the Russian Navy mortally wounded, rolled on her side and sank. Out of the 5 new Russian battleships, only Orel was left afloat.

Togo now called off his battleships ordering the torpedo boats to attack through the night as the remainder of the Russian ships sough the shelter of Vladivostok. A final shot from the battleship Fuji found its mark on Borodino, her boilers exploded, as she went down to the ocean floor a series of huge explosions followed.

Battle of Tsushima Phase 2
Battle of Tsushuma Phase 2

Dawn on the 28th. of May.
Come dawn on the 28th. of May, Japanese cruisers surrounded the remnants of a once proud Russian Fleet. With Vice Admiral Rozhestvensky unconscious in a destroyer, a lesser Admiral had assumed command of what was left of the Russian Fleet. But given the current situation, Admiral Nebogatov decided to surrender, he still had 2,000 sailors left, he was 300 miles from the santicity of Vladivostok, but no chance of making it.

Battle of Tsushima Phase 3
Battle of Tsushuma Phase 3

Togo in his flagship Mikasa, his ships surrounding the enemy, knew victory was in sight. With the Russian Fleet battered, they lowered their colours and the international code signal of surrender, XGE fluttered to the masthead.

Togo was amazed and suprised, a Japanese Admiral would never hoist such a signal, was it a trick? He decided to ensure his victory, and ordered his large guns to blast the Russian ships out of the water, but then, he could see the enemy was utterly defeated, Togo ordered a cease fire.

The Japanese pursue the Russians ships after Tsushima
The Japanese pursue the Russians ships after Tsushuma

The final score card.
All the Russian battleships had been destroyed, 4 of the 8 cruisers, and 7 of the 9 destroyers were sunk, 4,830 Officers and Sailors died, many others wounded or captured. The Japanese lost 3 destroyers and some 699 men.

All but 3 of the Russian ships that had sailed into Tsushuma Straits were sunk, captured or interned. The 3 limped into Vladisvostok.

A Japanese Victory.
Togo had won for his Emperor a great victory, laying the foundation of the Japanese Empire.

The Russian Admirals face Court Martials.
Vice Admiral Rozhdestvensky slowly recovered from his wounds, he was devasted by the total destruction of his ships, and the utter defeat he suffered from his Japanese counter part. On returning to Russia, both he and Admiral Nebogatov faced a Court Martial, the latter given the death sentence for surrendering the Fleet, but it was commuted to life imprisonment by the Tsar. Rozhdestvensky was dismissed from the Naval Service, in 3 more years he died in 1909.

The Battle of Tsushuma Straits, and the resounding Japanese victory sent shock waves round the world as Japan emerged as a powerful nation, no longer in isolation. From now on, the Japanese Navy was a force to be reckoned with, as we witnessed its sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on the 7th. of December 1941, it was Port Arthur revisited.

Russia sued for peace, and on the 5th. of September 1905, the Portsmouth Treaty was signed in that city in New Hampshire. It had been brokered by the American President Theodore Roosevelt.

Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Theodore Roosevelt for negotiating the Peace Treaty between Russia and Japan. It resulted in signing of the Portsmouth Treaty on the 5th. of September 1905
Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Theodore Roosevelt for negotiating the
Peace Treaty between Russia and Japan. It resulted in signing  of the Portsmouth Treaty on the 5th. of September 1905

Japan gained the Liaotung Peninsula, the port of Port Arthur, plus the southern part of Sakhalin Island, up to the 50th. parallel.

The nation of Japan had arrived on the world stage.

A postcard produced after the signing the Portsmouth Treaty
A postcard produced after the signing the Portsmouth Treaty


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