Forces Engaged: Empire of Japan - Japanese Combined FleetFirst Squadron (ADM Marquis Tōgō Heihachirō)
2 "armored" cruisers1
4 "protected" cruisers2
4 torpedo boats
1 dispatch vessel
Second Squadron (VADM Baron Kamimura Hikonojō)
6 armored cruisers
4 protected cruisers
1 dispatch vesselThird Squadron (VADM Baron Kataoka Shichirō)
1 obsolete battleship3
4 protected cruisers
3 Matsushima class cruisers4
12 torpedo boats
1 dispatch vessel
A total of 4 pre-dreadnought battleships, 1 obsolete battleship ("turret ship") 8 armored cruisers, 12 protected cruisers, 3 obsolete cruisers (Matsushima class), 20 destroyers, 20 torpedo boats under Admiral (later Fleet Admiral) Marquis Tōgō Heihachirō
1. "Armored" cruisers were the first attempt of ironclad navies to solve the "cruiser problem" that emerged with the explosive-shell-firing breechloading naval gun. Traditionally the lighter fleet units, brigs and frigates in the age of sail, were told off to remain outside the range of the battleships. With the increased range of the steel rifled cannon and prior to the advent of reliable radio communications the cruiser, successor to the frigate, could not stay far enough out of range to be safe from destruction while still remaining in communication with the admiral in his line-of-battle flagship.
The solution was to design a larger, heavier cruiser with an armored deck and "belt" - side armor designed to protect against flat-trajectory missiles.The earliest of these appeared in the last quarter of the 19th Century (around 1860-1870) as a sail-and-steam warship and persisted up until the end of the First World War. In general the class was not successful; too heavy and slow to act as a true cruiser whilst still being insufficiently protected to lie in the line of battle. The Imperial Japanese Navy, which from its inception late in the 19th Century had been based on cruisers rather than battleships, had purchased several of these, which were generally adequate to deal with its traditional Chinese prey. These vessels contributed to the victory at Tsushima but were already on the verge of obsolesence; most were scrapped in the Teens or early Twenties.
2. The protected cruiser was the next attempt to find a way to armor a fast, light warship that was still large enough to carry heavy cannon. This type of ship dispensed with the armor belt but retained an armored sub-deck to protect the engines, boilers, magazines, and enough compartments for buoyancy when hit.The protected cruiser was a better answer than the "armored cruiser", and by the 1890s had begun to be constructed in greater numbers than the earlier type. The French Navy, in fact, went a little gaga over this type of vessel, building them entirely in preference to the armored cruiser type.
Although the protected cruiser as a type disappeared around 1910, it was because improvements in propulsion and armor translated the type into the modern heavy cruiser.
3. The earliest warships protected with metal armor were literally "ironclads"; wooden sailing or sail-and-steam vessels with metal cladding along the outsides. And like most warships of the 1850s and 1860s the main gun artillery, the heavy cannon that had been the principal naval weapon since the 16th Century, were arranged in rows along the sides, with several stern- and bow "chasers" at the ends.In the 1860s several naval architects, including the Swede Erickson here in the U.S., started fooling with the notion of mounting cannons on a rotating turntable. This would allow fewer cannons to be trained fore, aft, and to both sides. These early "turret ships" (which included what were called "barbette ships", which had rotating cannon inside an open armored ring) were often monitors, low-freeboard craft designed to lower the heavy turrets to avoid instability. But by the 1880s standard hulls were being fitted with fully-enclosed turrets on the way to the modern armored warship.The single example of this early ship type present as Tsushima was the HIJMS Chin'en, formerly the Chinese warship Zhenyuan (Chinese: 鎮遠), captured in 1895. By 1904 she was old and slow, but her Krupp 12-inch guns were still capable, and she did good service for her captors. She was scrapped in 1914.
At this point I have to jump in with an utterly fascinating bit of useless trivia. Whilst researching this post I came across this website showing the process of replication of the Zhenyuan's sister, the Dingyuan (Chinese: 定遠).The entire vessel has been reconstructed from the keel up by the Weihai Port Bureau and a local "Weigao Group", together putting $6 million US (50 million RMB) for a 1:1 replica that was laid down in 2003. The replica now lies in Weihai port, where it houses a naval museum with records of Dingyuan and the Beiyang Fleet (北洋艦隊), a history of the First Sino-Japanese War and exhibits covering the Imperial Chinese Navy and its sailors. If you're ever in Weihai, drop in and tip 'em a yuan. Looks like a nice little ship.
4. The Matsushimas are a truly unusual vessel, and like many bizarrely entertaining and frivolously odd things, they are fundamentally French.
In the 1880s the young Imperial Japanese Navy, the "Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun" (大日本帝国海軍) was looking at a problem. Qing China, next on her list for a little European-style unequal-treaty fun, was arming up. The Germans had just delivered the two battleships mentioned above; nothing Japan had could match the Dingyuan and Zhengyuan. Enter the French Navy. The Japanese were getting a little hinky about their dependence on the British, who at the time were rather cosy with the Qings. The then-Minister of Marine was a Francophile, and turned the IJN's interest to the French "Young School", which was then all excited about the idea of swarming enemy battleships with masses of light craft, cruisers, destroyers, and torpedo boats.
The upshot of this was the arrival in the Japanese navel shipyard of one Emile Bertin. Staring in 1885, Bertin directed construction, either in France or at Yokosuka, of over 20 hulls, from torpedo boats to the Matsushimas. They were Japan's largest capital ships.But they were utterly, absolutely weird.
These ships only displaced about 4,000 tons and mounted mostly light guns, 5-inch and below. But the each one had a single, ginormous 12-inch cannon in a barbette. This so-called "Canet gun" loaded at the breech, but so frigging slowly that you could have timed the crew drill with a sundial. At the day-long Battle of the Yalu in 1894 the Matsushimas together fired less than 20 main gun rounds total, and apparently the effect of the monster gun firing was truly frightening; the entire ship would stagger, even seeming to lose way altogether.By 1904 these cruisers were unfit to lie in the line of battle, but the simple reality was that the IJN had no other warships. The Matsushimas went where they were ordered and did what they could; no commander could have asked for more.
Of the three Matsushimas at Tsushima one, the Matsushima, was lost to a magazine explosion in 1908. The two remaining cruisers were scrapped in the late 1920s.
Empire of Russia - Second and Third Pacific SquadronsBattle Fleet - First Division (ADM Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky)
4 battleshipsBattle Fleet - Second Division (no commander - the notional officer in command, RADM Baron Fölkersahm, had died of disease earlier but this had not been announced to the fleet)
1 old battleship
1 armored cruiser
Battle Fleet - Third Division (RADM Nikolai Ivanovich Nebogatov)
1 old battleship
3 coast defense battleships5
Battle Fleet - Attached Cruisers
2 protected cruisers
Battle Fleet - First Cruiser Division
4 protected cruisers
Battle Fleet - Second Scouting Division
1 protected cruiser
1 "armed merchant cruiser"
9 destroyers in two divisions
9 vessels, including the armed yacht Almaz (classified as a "2nd class cruiser"), 2 cargo ships, a repair ship, an ammunition ship. 2 tugs, and 2 hospital ships.
A total of 6 battleships, 2 old battleships, 3 coast defense battleships, 1 armored cruiser, 7 protected cruisers, 9 destroyers, and 10 assorted odds and sods including two with some pretense of military value under ADM Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky.
5. The "Third Pacific Squadron" (more of which later) was sent out after political dyslexia in Russia forced the Tsar's naval ministry to dispatch additional warships to "reinforce" Rozhestvensky...even though the vessels consisted of old, slow, outdated, or breakdown-prone units that the admiral had personally rejected earlier. The bulk of these floating logs were the three "Admiral Ushakov" class coastal defense craft.Designed in the 1890s as a counter for the similar Svea-class small armored ships of the Swedish Navy, these things might possibly have done decently at what they were intended to do; fight other small pre-dreadnoughts in littoral waters. They were never intended to fight in blue waters and certainly not at the other side of the world. They proved to be an endless source of difficulty on the voyage out and contributed little or nothing to the engagement at Tsushima, as we will see.
The Sources: As always when dealing with engagements fought by industrial nations in a largely literate age both parties involved typically preserve the occasion in multiple layers of military record-keeping.Primary documents include ship's logs, reports, official "war diaries", as well as logistical paperwork such as ship's musters, damage reports, resupply, repair, and expenditure records. Modern militaries typically document engagements and campaigns as they happen, and 1905 was well inside the age of public "news" reportage.
The primary difficulty for the Western reader is that all the primary sources and much of the reportage is in two languages not typically accessible to the English-speaker; Japanese and Russian.
Fortunately since 1905 significant Western scholarship has resulted in a large body of work addressing the events that transpired in late May in the waters between Japan and Korea. Tsushima is included in nearly every "Decisive Battles" work including Paul Davis' "100 Decisive Battles: From Ancient Times to the Present" and Geoffrey Regan's chapter "The Battle of Tsushima 1905" in The Guinness Book of Decisive Battles. Contemporary or nearly-contemporary accounts of the engagement include Vladimir Semenoff's "The Battle of Tsushima" published in London in 1907 and Albert Thayer Mahan's article "Reflections, Historic and Other, Suggested by the Battle of the Japan Sea" published in the US Naval Proceedings June 1906 issue.
For the battleship buff Robert Forczyk's "Russian Battleship vs Japanese Battleship, Yellow Sea 1904-1905" dues the usual well-illustrated Osprey job of laying out the mechanics of pre-dreadnought combat.
Perhaps the most interesting, certainly the most curious, and possibly the most infuriating work I encountered is "The Tsar's Last Armada; The Epic Voyage to the Battle of Tsushima" written by one Constantine Pleshakov.
Mister Pleshakov has the tremendous advantage of being a native Russian speaker who thus has access to the old Imperial records in the original. Mister Pleshakov has the disadvantage of being perhaps the worst writer I have ever read outside of slash fiction and juvenile prose. It's hard to do justice to the true level of awfulness Pleshakov manages, but I'll try. Here he is describing the political maneuvering between the Tsar of Russia and the Emperor of Germany in 1897:
"The tsar's cousin, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany ordered his troops to land on Shandong Peninsula in the Yellow Sea. The two monarchs were competing in politics like boys comparing who can do more pushups or whose genitals are bigger."I have no idea what Pleshakov's youth was like, but mine wasn't ever THAT much fun. But you get the idea; the man has something less than a gift for expression.
What he does have is a nose for gossip and the willingness to chatter away about it. You may not learn much about the military capabilities of the Borodino-class battleships from Pleshakov, but you'll certainly learn who was screwing ADM Rozhestvensky. And he does a decent job of telling the story not of the battle itself but of the incredible journey of the Second Pacific Squadron, all 18,000 miles of it, to their fate at Tsushima.
If you don't have to purchase it, it's worth a look just for the smut and the sea story.
The Campaign: The two large geopolitical forces that drove the fleets to Tsushima begin in Japan in 1868 with the Meiji Restoration, and in Russia in 1894 with the ascension of Nicholas Romanov, second of that name to rule in Russia, to the throne of the Tsar of All the Russias.You're probably familiar with the outline of the story of modern Japan. After the first re-encounters with Europeans in the early 19th Century the "opening" of the land in the 1850s began a period of over a decade saw a rebellions, wars, foreign incursions, and overall a deep division in Japan over what the best response to these intrusive barbarians would be. The eventual winners turned out to be a group of oligarchs, many from the Satsuma and Chōshū Provinces.These men wanted to see Japan equal, or surpass, the Westerners, and they set the nation on a course of westernization and industrialization. Thirty years after the Meiji restoration the reformed professional Japanese army and navy swept through the Qing Chinese like a dose of salts. The Japanese leaders, now including the leaders of the army and navy in an increasingly militarized nation, wanted the Korea they'd taken from the Chinese, along with Taiwan and parts of the Chinese mainland. But they were forced to give up much of their territorial war gains in the "Triple Intervention" (三国干渉 or "Sangoku Kanshō") of 1895. The Russians, with the French and the Germans, forced Japan to remove her forces from their Korean and Manchurian bases.
The Russians proceeded to occupy them.
The Japanese were furious at the Western powers, especially Russia. As the Wiki entry says, it "lead to the Gashin Shōtan or "Persevering through Hardship" (for the sake of revenge) ideology in Japan to increase heavy industry and strength of the armed forces, especially the navy, at the expense of individual wants and needs." It also made for a very vengeful nation that was merely awaiting a reason to take a slap at the Russians.Russia had been on a collision course with Japan and China since the beginning of the 19th Century. The emergence of Germany as a power to her West had closed off any hopes of expansion there, and the British and French had proven in mid-century that they took a dim view of meddling with the Turks or in the Austrian Balkans. So the only place a late-Victorian Russian could swing his arms was eastward.
The problem there is that the only good natural harbor on the Russian East coast was Vladivostok, and that wretched icebox was frozen in for half the year. To become a Far Eastern Power Russia needed a "warm-water port". The port she had her eye on was the one the Japanese had just been run off of, Lüshun Port on the Liaodong peninsula.And in 1895 she occupied what she called "Port Arthur" (after a British officer whose vessel had put in there in the Opium War of 1860), the entire Liaodong Peninsula, and much of Manchuria and showed no eagerness to leave. The Japanese were, not surprisingly, furious. When the aftermath of the 1900 "Boxer Rebellion" allowed the Russians (along with the usual other European suspects) to carve off even more Chinese and Korean territory, the Japanese decided that they'd had enough.They tried to trade the Russians Manchuria for Korea, but the Tsar's ministers weren't interested; they felt they had the muscle to slap the little asian monkeys around if they got to uppity. Talks continued through 1902 and 1903, even as Japan and Britain signed a formal alliance in 1902. This was a hard knock on the Russians, who now could not count on French or German support, either, since neither of the European countries wanted to risk war with Britain over the Russian Far East. If Japan attacked, Russia would stand alone.
Perhaps the greatest single unsettled question about the Russo-Japanese War is the role of Tsar Nicholas II. A haphazardly trained, rather emotionally impulsive man, Nicholas seems to have truly despised the Japanese. Our friend Pleshakov suspects that the 1891 assassination attempt on Nicholas known as the "Ōtsu Incident" may have been the reason. Certainly the Tsar seems to have never even entertained the thought that these "infantile monkeys" (as he called the Japanese) could defeat his imperial forces. But did he, as has been claimed, help engineer the war so as to deflect domestic dissent in Russia?
Nicholas was, by any general measure, an incompetent ruler and an overmatched Tsar. Russia throughout its history has show itself to be merciless to weak men, and while the brutality of its rulers often seems excessive, one wonders if Russia's rulers were brutal because they were brutal men, or whether they were brutal because Russia was a brutal land. From Paul I to Nicholas to Kerensky, a Russian leader shows mercy at his peril.
The lightening of the imperial hand on the mass of Russians had been the great issue of the 19th Century. Beginning with the reforms of Alexander II in mid-century, the idea of popular sovereignty began to spread in a society that until the 1840s and '50s had to be called "neo-feudal". Tsar Alexander's assassination in 1881 not only destroyed the momentum towards liberalism but brought to the throne two men absolutely determined to uphold the autocratic rule of the tsars; his son, Alexander III and his grandson, Nicholas II. Many historians believe that the assassination convinced Nicholas that any liberalism was weakness, and that weakness would only invite more assassination.So the formation of liberal organizations in the early 20th Century was worrisome to Nicholas. Several researchers have suggested that he was more than willing to go to war because he believed that war would rally the nation around the Tsar.
But this must be balanced against Nicholas' own comment "...there will be no war because I do not wish it." and the overall unpreparedness of Russia for the war once it commenced.
I personally consider it unlikely that the Tsar or his ministers wished for war; however, I do believe that they were complacent, and racist, enough to believe that no "yellow man" would attack a Caucasian empire, and one as supposedly as strong as Imperial Russia. So I'm very sure that they greeted the Japanese declaration of war issued on 8 FEB 1904 with confidence.
The news that arrived from Port Arthur the next morning must have shaken him, then. At about 0028 on 9 FEB 1904, Japanese destroyers had launched a torpedo attack against the Pacific Fleet in Port Arthur, heavily damaging the cruiser Pallada, and the battleships Retvizan and Tsesarevich. The Japanese destroyer Oboro made the last attack, around 0200.Despite the Japanese experience with torpedoes (from their association with the French philosophy of light attack units, torpedoes, and mines) of the sixteen torpedoes fired, all but three either missed or failed to explode.
One tradition was established; that of Japan attacking at the very moment - or before - war was declared.
The Japanese landing at Inchon was unopposed, and by spring, 1904, the Japanese Army held all of Korea south of the Yalu. In the first serious land engagement of the war the Japanese drove in the Russian defenses along the Yalu in May, and proceeded to push the Russian troopers back into Manchuria.The Japanese Army was not tactically sophisticated, and the land campaign introduced the elements that would make land war so horrible ten years later; machineguns, barbed wire, mines. By late May the Japanese ground forces had pushed onto the Liaodong Peninsula and defeated the Russian defenders at the Battle of Nanshan. The collapse of LTG Folk, a political general whose command had been given him by his connections to the Tsar's household, wrecked the defense of Port Arthur and left the fleet there under the guns of the Japanese Army.The Pacific Fleet, meanwhile, had fought several inconclusive actions with Togo's Combined Fleet. Each action had resulted in damaged ships and dead and wounded men. None had materially changed the situation; the Russian Pacific Fleet penned inside Port Arthur, where resupply was nonexistent and repair yards inadequate, while the Combined Fleet had excellent facilities at Sasebo and, well supplied, were able to command the waters off Korea and Manchuria.
What didn't help the Russians was their appalling bad luck; if it wasn't for shit luck the Pacific Fleet would have had no luck at all.
For example; early in the war St. Petersburg sent VADM Makarov east to command the Pacific Fleet.
Makarov was a tough and daring commander, and a sort of sailor's sailor well loved by his swabs. He shook up the fleet, like most of the imperial navy more used to nepotism, sloth, graft, and time-serving. He kept the guys at their stations, drilled them hard, and chased the Japanese when they appeared. He gave the Pacific Fleet the feeling that they could beat the slanty-eyed sonsofbitches if they could ever get a hold of them; in other words, he was a real fightin' sailor.
And just as he was starting to make a difference, in April, 1904 his flagship Petropavlovsk struck a mine, exploded, and sank within minutes, taking Makarov and most of his staff with it.
By August the Japanese 3rd Army had invested Port Arthur. For the next four months the 50,000 Russian defenders were slowly driven back in a grinding, bloody slog any poilu and landser would have recognized from Verdun, or Tommy from the Somme, with Japanese wave-attacks butchered by interlocking machinegun fire, hung on wire, shredded by mines and artillery. The ring did slowly tighten, however, and unless the defense could be relieved the loss of Russia's "warm water port" was only a matter of time.At this point the Russian Imperial Staff was confronted with a difficult choice. The strategic problem was that the Japanese forces controlled most of the southwestern part of Manchuria as well as the Yellow Sea around it. The obvious solution would be to mount a counterattack to drive the Japanese back down the Korea peninsula. A powerful enough naval force could cut off the Japanese ground units from the base of supply as well as supporting the counterattack.
But this would require assembling, organizing, and transporting this relief force all the way across Asiatic Russia. The events of 1904 had exposed the Russian imperial organization as vastly incapable; riddled with corruption and incompetence that only a deep well of nepotism and official indifference could provide. As poor as the frontline troop leadership had been - and it was leavened by individual competence and even brilliance - the logistic, intelligence, command, and control capabilities of the Imperial Russian military had proved to be FAR less competent that even the most critical pre-war observer had speculated.
The Russian response was, therefore, in keeping with the incoherent and incompetent prosecution of the war to date. No serious attempt was made to plan a coordinated ground-sea campaign. In fact, no relieving force was sent overland at all. The plan produced in St. Petersburg involved assembling the most capable units of the Baltic Fleet to sail halfway around the globe, somehow lift the siege of Port Arthur by sea (although the "Second Pacific Squadron" - the new designation for the Baltic Fleet task force - did not embark any significant landing force beyond its organic marines).Once the Baltic and Far East fleets had combined the idea was that the Russian navy would defeat the IJN and by cutting the sea-lanes between the Home Islands and the mainland weaken and delay the Japanese advance into Manchuria until a Russian offensive could be mounted from the Trans-Siberian railheads. Viewed in retrospect the entire plan seems ridiculously complex, and, given the performance of the Russian command and control elements to that point, flatly impossible.
But pressure from the worsening situation in the Far East pushed the Tsar into doing something, anything. Eventually five divisions of the Baltic Fleet (including 11 of its 13 battleships) departed Libau (in what is today Latvia) on 15 OCT 1904 for the Far East.The voyage of the Second Pacific Squadron is an epic tale in itself, complete with mystery, intrigue, hardship, and adventure, and would be worth its own blog post. This website has a decent summary of the odyssey. Perhaps that worst element of the voyage was the effect of the wretched Russian "intelligence" dumps. According to the various incompetent Russian sources the Japanese had stationed torpedo boats from the Skagerrak to South Africa. Rozhestvensky's crews were already half-panicked before they left the quays; Pleshakov has some purple tales of drunken despair on the part of both sailors and officers as the fleet prepared to depart.
The inevitable disaster this paranoia produced occurred on the night of 21-22 OCT. The Russian fleet was steaming southwest across the North Sea fishing grounds of Dogger Bank. Earlier in the evening one of the the least competent captains in the Second Pacific Squadron, the OC supply ship Kamchatka, began radioing that he was being attacked by a Japanese warship (which was, in fact, a warship, but a Swedish one). Having put the wind up the rest of the fleet, when the fleet sailed into the Dogger Bank trawl fleet a frightened lookout reported the small trawlers as torpedo boats and the entire squadron shot up the startled (and probably irked) British fishermen.It's worth noting that other than revealing an organizational cravenness and a high level of ship recognition incompetence this so-called "Incident of Hull" showed how utterly worthless the Russian gunners and fire control systems were.
For on a mild evening with good visibility and a very gentle sea the hundreds of main and secondary gun rounds fired the Squadron managed only to sink the trawler Crane, damage several other vessels, including the cruiser Aurora, and kill a grand total of three Britons and two Russians while wounding six or seven on both sides.The British public was enraged, and Royal Navy raised steam to shadow and possibly engage the Russian squadron. Under diplomatic pressure the Russian Admiralty forced Rozhestvensky's squadron to put into Vigo, Spain and leave behind several officers for an international inquiry; eventually the Russian crown apologized and paid a reparation to the British fishermen.
The remainder of the voyage was less exciting, but no less troubled. Since Britain controlled the Suez Canal the Second Pacific Squadron was barred from the shorter route in retribution for the Dogger Bank Incident. Most of the coaling stations en route around the Cape of Good Hope were also either in British hands; the Russian squadron was forced to coal from contract freighters - typically German - in neutral waters.Most of these neutral anchorages were French and, despite her official friendship towards Russia the French were chivvied into strict enforcement of the rules of neutrality by British and Japanese diplomatic pressure. The Russian ships we not designed for long cruises, tropical climates or deep ocean weather and both vessels and crews suffered proportionately.
Worse yet, as the squadron laid up in Madagascar in January, 1905, Rozhestvensky (who was ill at the time) was informed that 1) Port Arthur had capitulated - the Japanese had finally captured several critical hills around the port, hauled up heavy artillery, and started pounding the harbor itself, sinking most of the First Pacific Squadron as well as destroying most of the port facilities.And 2) his Admiralty had "reinforced" him with a Third Pacific Squadron consisting of RADM Nebogatov's ancient warships, the sweepings of the Baltic Fleet.
The Madagascar anchorage was a frigging nightmare.
Here's a good summary from the Dogger Bank website:
"For two weeks, Admiral Rozhestvensky was severely ill and remained confined in his cabin. His Chief of Staff suffered a brain haemorrhage and was partially paralysed. No one was really in command of the fleet and the crews spent increasing amounts of time ashore at various saloons, brothels and gambling houses. Disease broke out with daily deaths from malaria, dysentery and typhoid. During the funeral for one of her dead, the "Kamchatka" fired a salute. Unfortunately a live shell was used which hit the cruiser "Aurora" which was by now becoming used to being a mobile target for Russian gunnery. The fleet also needed to be re-supplied with ammunition, (but when) the supply ship "Irtysh" arrived...it was found to be loaded with 12,000 pairs of fur-lined boots and a matching number of winter coats.Add to all this the news that his Admiralty expected the commander to wait about for the "reinforcements" that he termed a damned "archaeological collection of naval architecture". It was enough to drive a man to drink, and for many of them it did.
(At one gunnery exercise )...none of the destroyers scored any hits on a stationary target. Of the battleships, the flagship scored a single hit which was on the ship towing the target. A destroyer squadron ordered to sail in line abreast formation scattered during exercises, as the officers had not been issued with new code books. Seven torpedoes were fired - one of which jammed, three swung off target, two chugged slowly and missed the target altogether and one went round in a circle causing ships to scatter in panic. For good measure the "Kamchatka" sent a signal saying she was sinking - on investigation this turned out to be nothing more than a cracked steam pipe in the engine room."
But eventually the fleet made its way across the Indian Ocean, through the Sunda Strait, and met the Third Pacific Squadron at Cam Ranh Bay in French Indochina on May 11, 1905. From there, the combined squadrons had to sail northeast along the Asian coast to the assembly point at Vladivostok.Rozhestvensky had three possible routes; the closest was through the Korea Straits, the water passage between Korea and Japan. The second was the Tsugaru Strait, between Honsu and Hokkaido. The third route would have taken the Russian fleet in a wide swing east of the Japanese archipelago, through the East Pacific and then west and south again, either through the Soya Strait between Sakhalin Island and Hokkaido or the Strait of Tartary between Sakhalin and the Asian mainland.
There was no real choice; with limited coal supplies, his ships badly in need of overhaul, and their foul bottoms slowing the fleet speed to below 11 knots, the Russian commander needed to get to a safe harbor. The Korean passage was the only real option, and Rozhestvensky chose the wider, eastern passage as the optimal route.
Unfortunately for the Pacific Squadrons, ADM Tōgō had come to the same conclusion.
The Engagement: The Russian fleet had sailed from Cam Ranh Bay on 13 MAY 1905, fifty ships in the formations described above. The squadron coaled on 23 MAY 1905, having begun a maskirova designed to confuse the Japanese about the location of the fleet; ten ships, including six transports and four light or auxiliary cruisers, were dispatched to do some commerce raiding and generally make trouble elsewhere in hopes that these reports would draw off Japanese surface units. The next four days saw the Russian vessels steaming slowly north as Japanese radio traffic grew inescapable.At about 0245 on 27 MAY 1905, the Japanese auxiliary cruiser Shinano Maru observed lights on the horizon. These lights were the Russian hospital ship Oryol.
At 0430 the two ships closed; the Russian vessel mistook the converted Japanese merchantman for another Russian ship and warned them that there were other Russian ships nearby, just as the Japanese scout's lookouts made out the loom of ten other Russian ships in the misty pre-dawn gloom. At 0455am, the Shinano Maru reported "Enemy is in square 203".At 0505 ADM Tōgō's flagship Mikasa received the scouting reports. The Combined Fleet was at anchor in its Korean port, but with steam up and ready to sail in hours. The fleet was under weigh by 0645, with scouting cruisers already vectored in on the Russian fleet's course. This was critical, because the weather had turned; a stiff breeze from the southwest had begun to raise a choppy sea, and although the sun was bright overhead a sullen haze lowered visibility to 15,000 feet or less.
The Daylight Action, 27 MAY 1905
The two fleets closed courses slowly; Rozhestvensky because his ships could not steam much above 9 to 10 knots, the speed of the slowest coastal battleships, Tōgō because he was in no hurry and wanted to gain the most decisive tactical advantage. The Russians were divided into two columns, with the most powerful, the First (flag) Division on the starboard side, the other two Divisions to port, with the weak Third Division (the three Ushakovs and the old Nikolai I) astern.The Combined Fleet closed from the northeast, turned across the course of the oncoming Pacific Squadrons, and then down to the southwest on a reciprocal course. At about 1329hrs the leading ships in the Russian formation, the battleships Suvorov, Alexander III, and Borodino, opened fire on the leading ships in the Japanese column. The Mikasa was first hit at about 7,000 yards.This distance is worth noting. In the early steam era most naval officers still thought that naval artillery combat would resemble the sort of thing that had been going on since Trafangar, or even the Armada; the line-of-battleships would close and blast each other at several thousand or even hundreds of yards. One of the mould-breaking elements of Tsushima was this; the effect of improvements in cannon and shell design, propellent chemistry, and fire control. The Japanese had smaller caliber main batteries but still replied and scored hits at about 6,500 yards.Tōgō was busy turning his fleet and held his fire. The poor Russian gunnery saved him; only nineteen of the hundreds of shells fired in the first fifteen minutes hit the Mikasa, and the poor quality Russian ordnance proved again its incapacity at doing damage. The Japanese flagship was not badly damaged.
At 1352 the Combined Fleet had completed its turn and began to reply. Note the battlemap below; as the Japanese completed their turn with their better turn of speed they were in position to steam across the front of the Russian formation. This "crossing the T" enabled the Japanese ships to bring most of their main batteries to bear while confining the Russians to the use of their forward guns.The Japanese battleships concentrated their fire on the Suvarov, lead ship and flagship of the First Division, Tōgō's cruisers on the lead ship Oslyabya in the Second Division column.Another factor in the gunnery contest was the effect of the Japanese "furoshiki" projectile on the upperworks of the Russian vessels. This round, filled with a form of the pyric acid explosive known in Britain as "lyddite" and in France as "melanite", was powerful (but unstable - "schimose" shells exploded in their gunbarrels at the Battle of the Yellow Sea in August, 1904), burst with much greater force than the gunpowder filling of the Russian shells, and produced a much hotter blast. The wooden superstructures of the Russian ships, and even some milder metals were ignited by the schimose explosive.The combination of better gunnery and better projectiles was quickly effective. Within half an hour the Suvorov had been pounded nearly into a wreck, and ADM Rozhestvensky put down with a head wound - he was eventually evacuated to a torpedo boat but played no further real part in the action. The flagship lost weigh and fell out of line, motionless and sinking.Captain Bukhvostov of the Alexander III, the next battleship in line, took over and continued to lead the Pacific Squadrons northeast into the hammering Japanese gunfire.
About this time the Oslyabya rolled over and sank. Alexander III lasted about another 40 minutes; by 1520 she was staggering out of line, heavily ablaze and her main batteries silent. Borodino, the next of her class in line, took over as lead ship. She lasted nearly four hours, gradually pounded to pieces, continuing to attempt to lead the squadrons northeast towards Vladivostok.
At this point another of the significant incapacities of the Russian fleet came into play. Observe the map below:Look at the track of the Japanese Combined Fleet.
Between 1500 and 1700hrs the Combined Fleet executes three line-ahead-to-line-abreast-back-to-line-ahead maneuvers and changes course nine times. This was not pointless caprioling; Tōgō was fighting his fleet, maneuvering for advantage, for the best range, and to bring the most guns to bear.You'll note that the officer in notional command of the Russian squadrons, VADM Nebogatov, tries a couple of abortive turns to shake the Japanese - whose immediate and more effective responses head him off - and finally turns to run south at 1620. Although this pulled away from the Japanese battleships Tōgō's cruisers closed and drove the Russian fleet north again.The Russian vessels were no longer really a fleet at this point but a collection of individual vessels desperate to escape. One that would not was the Borodino; about an hour before sunset, already listing to starboard she was struck in one of her 6-inch secondary batteries by a 12-inch shell from HIJMS Fuji resulting in a massive series of secondary explosions. The ship sank within minutes; one man, Seaman First Class Semyon Yushin, was pulled out of the water twelve hours later.As the sun set the Combined Fleet's capital ships withdrew to the northwest, and the Russian congeries continued to try and run for Vladivostok as best as possible.
The Night Action, 27-28 MAY 1905After nightfall The light units of the Combined Fleet - a total of 37 torpedo boats and 21 destroyers - continued to attack the Russians with torpedoes and mines. These attacks tapered off around 2300 when darkness and bad weather hid many of the scattered Russian ships, but resumed when the Russian searchlights gave away their positions. The attacks lasted through most of the night.
Japanese losses amounted to three torpedo boats.The Russian battleship Navarin struck a mine and was torpedoed four times. Four men survived of her crew of over 600.
Three other vessels, the battleship Sisoy Veliki and the armored cruisers Admiral Nakhimov and Vladimir Monomakh scuttled after damage from torpedoes or, in the case of the Monomakh, colliding with a Japanese destroyer. All three were scuttled by their own crews, either that night of the following morning.
The Daylight Action, 28 MAY 1905As the map shows, on the morning of 28 MAY the Russian fleet was shattered, fleeing any way they could. The largest single intact unit was the rump of the Third Division, consisting of the old battleship Imperator Nikolai I and two of the the three Ushakovs (The Admiral Ushakov herself had lost contact during the night attacks). The badly damaged Orel, last of the Borodinos of the First Division, had taken refuge with Nebogatov. as had the cruiser Izimrud. As the sun rose on the morning of the 28th VADM Nebogatov was still attempting to execute Rozhestvensky's last orders and head for Vladivostok.But by 0930 the Combined Fleet returned to action and ADM Tōgō's battleships cornered Nebogatov south of Takeshima Island. One hour later Nebogatov ordered his command to surrender, and by 1100 the Japanese had taken possession of the four battleships; the Izimrud fled east through a gap in the Japanese line. This hapless group had the unenviable distinction of being the last time capital ships struck their flags to an enemy on the open sea.
The postscript to the story is that the Imperial Japanese Navy took the Russian vessels in as prizes, but they were dogs and continued to be dogs; several were scrapped even before WW1, and all were gone by the 1920s, after considerable expense and little value to their captors.Not all the Russian vessels were through yet. Perhaps the most pointlessly brave was the little coastal defense ship Admiral Ushakov. This tiny "battleship" never knew of Nebogatov's surrender order. When she was overhauled by Japanese pursuers on 28 MAY - her bow had been smashed in the day before and she could barely move - she fought as best she could until she was smashed, holed above and below. Her crew sank her to keep what remained of her out of the hands of the Japanese.The Russian destroyer flotilla suffered all day, losing the destroyers Buiny, Buistry, Bezupreshchny, Gromky and Blestyashchy as combat losses and the Byedovy (with ADM Rozhestvensky aboard) to surrender. In addition to the DDs, the Pacific Squadrons also lost the cruisers Svyetlana to combat and the Dmitri Donskoy, although she successfully fought off six Japanese cruisers, was scuttled when she could not raise steam. The Izumrud ran aground near the coast of Siberia.Of the rest, the fleet auxiliaries Kamchatka, Ural and Rus were sunk on 27 May, and the Irtuish ran aground the next day. The protected cruisers Aurora, Zhemchug, and Oleg escaped to be interned in Manila, the destroyer Bodry and the auxiliaries Koreya and Svir were interned in Shanghai.
The auxiliary Anadyr escaped to Madagascar. Both hospital ships were captured and interned by the Japanese.
The armed yacht Almaz and the destroyers Grosny and Bravy reached Vladivostok.The Outcome: Decisive Japanese tactical and strategic victory
The Impact: The immediate impact of the victory at Tsushima was to devastate the Russian Imperium and, effectively, win the Russo-Japanese War.The Tsar was stunned, finally shaken in his belief that the simian Asians weren't capable of European-style military victory. The Imperial treasury was drained, the Pacific and Baltic Fleets destroyed, the ministries in disarray. The terrible year 1905 gave Russia utter defeat on land and sea, and the costs of defeat savaged the Russian economy. The shocking defeats added to the revolution of that year, and helped undermine the foundations of the Russian Imperial state; in many ways, 1905 is needed for 1917 to occur.Barbara Tuchman, in "The Guns of August", stated that defeat in 1905 produced a fatal contempt for the Russian Imperial forces in Germany that helped convince Wilhelm II to push Austria into a hard line in 1914 - he did not believe the hapless Russians would ever mobilize.Japan was both enlarged and diminished by the results of the battle, and the war. The Japanese people had been bled for their successes; the offensive tactical simplicity of the Japanese Army (a trait they would never truly overcome by 1945) foreshadowed the horrific losses of WW1. The Japanese economy was in little better shape than the Russian. But both the leadership and the public believed that their decisive victory over a supposedly "superior" European power demanded respect; their demands at the meetings that eventually resulted in the Treaty of Portsmouth were fairly typical and reasonable given the standards of the period.When the Russians refused, and U.S. President Roosevelt finessed, to provide the territorial and financial concessions the Japanese government demanded rioting erupted across Japan. The distrust and racial animosity many Japanese felt towards the Caucasian West was reinforced, while at the same time the Japanese military, especially the Navy, took in another lesson entirely.
Geoffrey Regan contends that Tsushima:
"...had all been too easy. Looking at Tōgō's victory over one of the world's great powers convinced some Japanese military men that with more ships, and bigger and better ones, similar victories could be won throughout the Pacific." But this was problematic "...because the result was so misleading. Certainly the Japanese navy had performed well, but its opponents had been weak, and it was not invincible ... Tōgō's victory [helped] set Japan on a path that would eventually lead her" to the Second World War."So the gunsmoke in the Korea Strait fogged the vision of the admirals of the Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun. They felt that technical and tactical superiority were enough to defeat a much larger Caucasian adversary, and that through combat victory political victory was inevitable. All misleading lessons, and all the more dangerous when combined with a sense of national destiny.And, as always, the war between the Powers killed most ruthlessly amongst the weakest. Russian losses at Tsushima amounted to some 5,000 sailors, Japanese less than 200. But more than 100,000 footsoldiers died in the land battles, and as many as 20,000 Chinese civilians. Damage to the battle areas in Korea and Manchuria was typical of the sort of thing the world would get accustomed to in the 20th Century, meaning extensive. Perhaps the worst local consequence was the Japanese invasion of Korea five years after Tsushima. The resulting occupation was fairly brutal, even by occupation standards, and some of the effects are still being felt today.
One other significant consequence was to the mental outlook of naval officers, admiralties, and warship designers around the world. Tsushima was thought to be the perfect model for the next generation of capital ship actions; heavy-gun battleships slugging it out a long range to a decision.
The critical mistake was the general assumption that the battle had been roughly even-sided, and that the defeat of the Pacific Squadrons was the result of better techniques, tactics, and ship design - and could thus be duplicated if the navy in question could recreate those same advantages.
The possibility that the engagement had been a one-sided slaughter of an incompetent organization with suicidally-inept abilities just wasn't really considered. Russia was a Great Power, you see, and the Japanese were, well, you know...asians. That they were also better sailors, gunners, shiphandlers, and tacticians...well, that was just impossible. They were so...asian.
So for the next decade all the industrial powers but especially Britain and Germany engaged in a battleship race that cost them millions and became a big factor in the rush to war in 1914, only to find that the real lesson of Tsushima was that two well-handled fleets of roughly equally well-designed capital ships were very likely to fight to a draw.The lesson that Tsushima had taught them was the wrong one. The "decisive" naval action turned out to be a fantasy, a chimera, a mistaken conclusion based on a mistaken understanding of the mismatch between the abilities of the fleets, ships, and cannon that met in 1905.
Touchline Tattles: Perhaps one of the most interesting characters in the entire Tsushima story is the commander of the doomed Second Pacific Squadron. Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky was very...Russian.
He was also a hell of a sailor; not many men could have flogged his ramshackle fleet around the globe as he did. It was his misfortune to serve a corrupt and incompetent empire, and to meet in his first and last combat action a man who was both experienced in naval war and luckier.
But the thing that I found most humanizing about the Russian commander was his love of women.
Because the admiral LOVED women. He had a wife, Olga Antipova, of whom he appears to have been quite fond. But not quite so fond as to keep him continent; while in St. Petersburg in the late 1800s he took up with the delightfully named Capitolina Makarov. wife of the during-the-Russo-Japanese-War-to-be-late Stepan Makarov, her lover's superior officer. While Makarov was the coming man militarily, he seems to have been something of a hairy-arse sailorboy, and Zinovy Petrovich found the wooing congenial and the woman consuming.
But...not THAT consuming. He seems to have had atd least one other paramour, a young woman named Nataliya Sivers, who shipped out with the fleet as a hospital ship nurse. The admiral seems to have spent several evenings in his cabin playing "ship ahoy" with La Sivers during the journey; one hopes that the lovers found some consolation together in what seems to have otherwise been a wretched experience.
As an admiral, perhaps not in the Nelson class. But as a mighty pleasurer of women, ah, Zinovy Petrovich, let others make war; you, happy fellow, make love.
Would that fate had made you a gigolo instead of a naval officer - perhaps then the only thing you would have broken were hearts, and spilled only tears instead of blood.But as any Russian could tell you, Fate is often unkind, and usually unjust.