|Battle of Sea of Japan|
|Part of the Russo-Japanese War|
Admiral Tōgō on the "Compass Deck" above the bridge of Mikasa, at the beginning of the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. The signal flag being hoisted represents the letter Z, which was a special instruction to the Fleet.
|Empire of Japan||Russian Empire|
|Commanders and leaders|
16 torpedo boats
plus auxiliary vessels
3 coastal battleships
plus auxiliary vessels
|Casualties and losses|
3 torpedo boats sunk
(450 tons sunk)
6 battleships sunk
1 coastal battleship sunk
14 other ships sunk
2 battleships captured
2 coastal battleships captured
1 destroyer captured
6 ships disarmed
(126,792 tons sunk)
The Battle of Tsushima (Japanese:対馬沖海戦, Tsushimaoki-Kaisen, Russian: Цусимское сражение, Tsusimskoye srazheniye), also known as the Battle of Tsushima Strait and the Naval Battle of Sea of Japan (Japanese: 日本海海戦, Nihonkai-Kaisen) in Japan, was a major naval battle fought between Russia and Japan during the Russo-Japanese War. It was naval history's first, and last, decisive sea battle fought by modern steel battleship fleets, and the first naval battle in which wireless telegraphy (radio) played a critically important role. It has been characterized as the "dying echo of the old era – for the last time in the history of naval warfare, ships of the line of a beaten fleet surrendered on the high seas".
It was fought on 27–28 May 1905 (14–15 May in the Julian calendar then in use in Russia) in the Tsushima Strait located between Korea and southern Japan. In this battle the Japanese fleet under Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō destroyed the Russian fleet, under Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky, which had traveled over 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km) to reach the Far East. In London in 1906, Sir George Sydenham Clarke wrote, "The battle of Tsu-shima is by far the greatest and the most important naval event since Trafalgar"; decades later, historian Edmund Morris agreed with this judgment. The destruction of the fleet caused a bitter reaction from the Russian public, which induced a peace treaty in September 1905 without any further battles.
Prior to the Russo-Japanese War, countries constructed their battleships with mixed batteries of mainly 6-inch (152 mm), 8-inch (203 mm), 10-inch (254 mm) and 12-inch (305 mm) guns, with the intent that these battleships fight on the battle line in a close-quarter, decisive fleet action. The Battle of Tsushima conclusively demonstrated that battleship speed and big guns with longer ranges were more advantageous in naval battles than mixed batteries of different sizes.
On 8 February 1904, destroyers of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the Russian Far East Fleet anchored in Port Arthur; three ships – two battleships and a cruiser – were damaged in the attack. The Russo-Japanese war had thus begun. Japan's first objective was to secure its lines of communication and supply to the Asian mainland, enabling it to conduct a ground war in Manchuria. To achieve this, it was necessary to neutralize Russian naval power in the Far East. At first, the Russian naval forces remained inactive and did not engage the Japanese, who staged unopposed landings in Korea. The Russians were revitalised by the arrival of Admiral Stepan Makarov and were able to achieve some degree of success against the Japanese, but on 13 April Makarov's flagship, the battleship Petropavlovsk, struck a mine and sank; Makarov was among the dead. His successors failed to challenge the Japanese Navy, and the Russians were effectively bottled up in their base at Port Arthur.
By May, the Japanese had landed forces on the Liaodong Peninsula and in August began the siege of the naval station. On 9 August, Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft, commander of the 1st Pacific Squadron, was ordered to sortie his fleet to Vladivostok, link up with the Squadron stationed there, and then engage the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) in a decisive battle. Both squadrons of the Russian Pacific Fleet would ultimately become dispersed during the battles of the Yellow Sea, where Admiral Vitgeft was killed by a salvo strike from the Japanese battleship Asahi, on 10 August; and the Ulsan on 14 August 1904. What remained of Russian Pacific naval power would eventually be sunk in Port Arthur.
With the inactivity of the First Pacific Squadron after the death of Admiral Makarov and the tightening of the Japanese noose around Port Arthur, the Russians considered sending part of their Baltic Fleet to the Far East. The plan was to relieve Port Arthur by sea, link up with the First Pacific Squadron, overwhelm the Imperial Japanese Navy, and then delay the Japanese advance into Manchuria until Russian reinforcements could arrive via the Trans-Siberian railroad and overwhelm the Japanese land forces in Manchuria. As the situation in the Far East deteriorated, the Tsar (encouraged by his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II), agreed to the formation of the Second Pacific Squadron. This would consist of five divisions of the Baltic Fleet, including 11 of its 13 battleships. The squadron departed the Baltic ports of Reval (Tallinn) and Libau (Liepāja) on 15–16 October 1904 (Rozhestvensky and von Fölkersahm fleets), and the Black Sea port of Odessa on 3 November 1904 (Armored Cruisers Oleg and Izumrud, Auxiliary Cruisers Rion and Dnieper[b] under the command of Captain Leonid Dobrotvorsky), numbering 42 ships and auxiliaries.[a]
The Rozhestvensky and von Fölkersahm fleets sailed through the Baltic into the North Sea. The Russians had heard fictitious reports of Japanese torpedo boats operating in the area and were on high alert. In the Dogger Bank incident, the Russian fleet mistook a group of British fishing trawlers operating near the Dogger Bank at night for hostile Japanese ships. The fleet fired upon the small civilian vessels, killing several British fishermen; one trawler was sunk while another six were damaged. In confusion, the Russians even fired upon two of their own vessels, killing some of their own men. The firing continued for twenty minutes before Rozhestvensky ordered firing to cease; greater loss of life was avoided only because the Russian gunnery was highly inaccurate.
The British were outraged by the incident and incredulous that the Russians could mistake a group of fishing trawlers for Japanese warships, thousands of kilometres from the nearest Japanese port. Britain almost entered the war in support of Japan, with whom it had a mutual defense agreement (but was neutral in the war, as their treaty contained a specific exemption for Japanese actions in China and Korea). The Royal Navy sortied and shadowed the Russian fleet while a diplomatic agreement was reached. France, which had hoped to eventually bring the British and Russians together in an anti-German bloc, intervened diplomatically to restrain Britain from declaring war. The Russians were forced to accept responsibility for the incident, compensate the fishermen, and disembark officers who were suspected of misconduct to give evidence to an enquiry. Newer heavy ships made the long trip west and south of Africa, while older lighter ships passed through the Suez Canal. Forced to take a much longer route to the Far East, the Rozhestvensky fleet sailed around Africa, and by April and May 1905 had anchored at Cam Ranh Bay in French Indochina (now Vietnam). The voyage took half a year in rough seas, with difficulty obtaining coal for refueling – as the warships could not legally enter the ports of neutral nations – and the morale of the crews plummeted. The Russians needed 500,000 short tons (450,000 t) of coal and 30 to 40 re-coaling sessions to reach Cam Ranh Bay. This was provided by 60 colliers from the Hamburg-Amerika Line.
The Russians had been ordered to break the blockade of Port Arthur, but the heavily fortified city/port had already fallen (on 2 January) by the time they arrived in Nossi Be, Madagascar. The objective was therefore shifted to linking up with the remaining Russian ships stationed in the port of Vladivostok, before bringing the Japanese fleet to battle.
The Russians could have sailed through any one of three possible straits to enter the Sea of Japan and reach Vladivostok: La Pérouse, Tsugaru, and Tsushima. Admiral Rozhestvensky chose Tsushima in an effort to simplify his route. Admiral Tōgō, based at Busan, also believed Tsushima would be the preferred Russian course. The Tsushima Strait is the body of water eastward of the Tsushima Island group, located midway between the Japanese island of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula, the shortest and most direct route from Indochina. The other routes would have required the fleet to sail east around Japan. The Japanese Combined Fleet and the Russian Second and Third Pacific Squadrons, sent from the Baltic Sea, would fight in the straits between Korea and Japan near the Tsushima Islands.
Because of the 18,000-mile (29,000 km) journey, the Russian fleet was in relatively poor condition for battle. Apart from the four newest Borodino-class battleships, Admiral Nebogatov's 3rd Division consisted of older and poorly maintained warships. Overall neither side had a significant maneuverability advantage. The long voyage, combined with a lack of opportunity for maintenance, meant the Russian ships were heavily fouled, significantly reducing their speed. The Japanese ships could sustain 15 knots (28 km/h), but the Russian fleet could reach just 14 knots (26 km/h), and then only in short bursts.
Additionally, there were significant deficiencies in the Russian naval fleet's equipment and training. Russian naval tests with their torpedoes exposed major technological failings. Tōgō's greatest advantage was that of experience, being the only fleet commander in either navy with combat experience aboard modern warships: the others were all Russian admirals whom he had defeated, including Oskar Starck, who had been relieved of his command following his humiliating defeat in the Battle of Port Arthur; Admiral Stepan Makarov, killed by a mine off Port Arthur; and Wilgelm Vitgeft, who had been killed in the Battle of the Yellow Sea.
Battleships, cruisers, and other vessels were arranged into divisions, each division being commanded by a Flag Officer (Admiral). At the battle of Tsushima, Admiral Tōgō was the officer commanding in the battleship Mikasa (the other divisions being commanded by Vice Admirals, Rear Admirals, Commodores, Captains and Commanders for the destroyer divisions). Next in line after Mikasa came the battleships Shikishima, Fuji and Asahi. Following them were two armoured cruisers.
Admiral Tōgō, by using reconnaissance and choosing his position well, "secured beyond reasonable hazard his strategic objective of bringing the Russian fleet to battle, irrespective of speeds." When Tōgō decided to execute a turn to port in sequence, he did so to preserve the sequence of his battleline, with the flagship Mikasa still in the lead (which could indicate that Admiral Tōgō wanted his more powerful units to enter action first).
Turning in sequence meant that each ship would turn one after the other whilst still following the ship in front. Effectively each vessel would turn over the same piece of sea (this being the danger in the maneuver as it gives the enemy fleet the opportunity to concentrate fire on that area). Tōgō could have ordered his ships to turn "together", that is, each ship would have made the turn at the same time and reversed course. This maneuver, the same one effected by the French-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar, would be quicker but would have disrupted the sequence of the battleline and caused confusion by altering the battle plans and placing the cruisers in the lead. This was something Tōgō wished to avoid.
Because the Russians desired to slip undetected into Vladivostok, as they approached Japanese waters they steered outside regular shipping channels to reduce the chance of detection. On the night of 26/27 May 1905 the Russian fleet approached the Tsushima Strait.
In the night, thick fog blanketed the straits, giving the Russians an advantage. At 02:45 Japan Standard Time (JST), the Japanese auxiliary cruiser Shinano Maru observed three lights on what appeared to be a vessel on the distant horizon and closed to investigate. These lights were from the Russian hospital ship Orel, which, in compliance with the rules of war, had continued to burn them. At 04:30, Shinano Maru approached the vessel, noting that she carried no guns and appeared to be an auxiliary. The Orel mistook the Shinano Maru for another Russian vessel and did not attempt to notify the fleet. Instead, she signaled to inform the Japanese ship that there were other Russian vessels nearby. The Shinano Maru then sighted the shapes of ten other Russian ships in the mist. The Russian fleet had been discovered, and any chance of reaching Vladivostok undetected had disappeared.
Wireless telegraphy played an important role from the start. At 04:55, Captain Narukawa of the Shinano Maru sent a message to Admiral Tōgō in Masampo that the "Enemy is in square 203". By 05:00, intercepted radio signals informed the Russians that they had been discovered and that Japanese scouting cruisers were shadowing them. Admiral Tōgō received his message at 05:05, and immediately began to prepare his battle fleet for a sortie.
In response to the warning that enemy ships have been sighted, the Combined Fleet will immediately commence action and attempt to attack and destroy them. Weather today fine but high waves.
At the same time the entire Japanese fleet put to sea, with Tōgō in his flagship Mikasa leading over 40 vessels to meet the Russians. Meanwhile, the shadowing Japanese scouting vessels sent wireless reports every few minutes as to the formation and course of the Russian fleet. There was mist which reduced visibility and the weather was poor. Wireless gave the Japanese an advantage; in his report on the battle, Admiral Tōgō noted the following:
Though a heavy fog covered the sea, making it impossible to observe anything at a distance of over five miles, [through wireless messaging] all the conditions of the enemy were as clear to us, who were 30 or 40 miles distant, as though they had been under our very eyes.
At 13:40, both fleets sighted each other and prepared to engage. At around 13:55, Tōgō ordered the hoisting of the Z flag, issuing a predetermined announcement to the entire fleet:
The Empire's fate depends on the result of this battle, let every man do his utmost duty.
The Russians sailed from south southwest to north northeast; "continuing to a point of intersection which allowed only their bow guns to bear; enabling him [Tōgō] to throw most of the Russian batteries successively out of bearing." The Japanese fleet steamed from northeast to west, then Tōgō ordered the fleet to turn in sequence, which enabled his ships to take the same course as the Russians, although risking each battleship consecutively. Although Tōgō's U-turn was successful, Russian gunnery had proven surprisingly good and the flagship Mikasa was hit 15 times in five minutes. Before the end of the engagement she was struck 15 more times by large caliber shells. Rozhestvensky had only two alternatives, "a charge direct, in line abreast", or to commence "a formal pitched battle." He chose the latter, and at 14:08, the Japanese flagship Mikasa was hit at about 7,000 metres, with the Japanese replying at 6,400 meters. Superior Japanese gunnery then took its toll, with most of the Russian battleships being crippled.
Commander Vladimir Semenoff, a Russian staff officer aboard the flagship Knyaz Suvorov, said "It seemed impossible even to count the number of projectiles striking us. Shells seemed to be pouring upon us incessantly one after another. The steel plates and superstructure on the upper decks were torn to pieces, and the splinters caused many casualties. Iron ladders were crumpled up into rings, guns were literally hurled from their mountings. In addition to this, there was the unusually high temperature and liquid flame of the explosion, which seemed to spread over everything. I actually watched a steel plate catch fire from a burst."
Ninety minutes into the battle, the first warship to be sunk was the Russian battleship Oslyabya from Rozhestvensky's 2nd Battleship division. This was the first time a modern armoured warship had been sunk by gunfire alone.
A direct hit on the Russian battleship Borodino's magazines by the Japanese battleship Fuji caused her to explode, which sent smoke thousands of metres into the air and trapped all of her crew on board as she sank. Rozhestvensky was knocked out of action by a shell fragment that struck his skull. In the evening, Rear Admiral Nebogatov took over command of the Russian fleet. The Russians lost the battleships Knyaz Suvorov, Oslyabya, Imperator Aleksandr III and Borodino. The Japanese ships suffered only light damage.
At night, around 20:00, 21 destroyers and 37 Japanese torpedo boats were thrown against the Russians. The destroyers attacked from the vanguard while the torpedo boats attacked from the east and south of the Russian fleet. The Japanese were aggressive, continuing their attacks for three hours without a break, as a result during the night, there were a number of collisions between the small craft and Russian warships. The Russians were now dispersed in small groups trying to break northwards. By 23:00, it appeared that the Russians had vanished, but they revealed their positions to their pursuers by switching on their searchlights – ironically, the searchlights had been turned on to spot the attackers. The old battleship Navarin struck a mine and was compelled to stop; she was consequently torpedoed four times and sunk. Out of a crew of 622, only three survived, one to be rescued by the Japanese and the other two by a British merchant ship.
The battleship Sissoi Veliky was badly damaged by a torpedo in the stern, and was scuttled the next day. Two old armoured cruisers – Admiral Nakhimov and Vladimir Monomakh – were badly damaged, the former by a torpedo hit to the bow, the latter by colliding with a Japanese destroyer. They were both scuttled by their crews the next morning, the Admiral Nakhimov off Tsushima Island, where she headed while taking on water. The night attacks had put a great strain on the Russians, as they had lost two battleships and two armoured cruisers, while the Japanese had only lost three torpedo boats.
During the night action, Tōgō had deployed his torpedo boat destroyers to destroy any remaining enemy vessels, chase down any fleeing warships, and then consolidate his heavy units. At 09:30 on 28 May, what remained of the Russian fleet was sighted heading northwards. Tōgō's battleships proceeded to surround Nebogatov's remaining squadron south of the island of Takeshima and commenced main battery fire at 12,000 meters. Realising that his guns were outranged by at least one thousand metres and that he could be destroyed at Tōgō's leisure, Nebogatov ordered the six ships remaining under his command to surrender. XGE, an international signal of surrender, was hoisted; however, the Japanese navy continued to fire as they did not have "surrender" in their code books and had to hastily find one that did. Still under heavy fire, Nebogatov then ordered white table cloths sent up the mastheads, but Tōgō, having had a Chinese warship escape him while flying that flag during the 1894 war, did not trust them.
Moreover, his lieutenants found the codebook that included XGE signal and reported that stopping of engines is a requirement for the signal to mean 'surrender', so he continued firing the main batteries. The Russian cruiser Izumrud then lowered her XGE flags and attempted to flee. Running out of options and realizing about the requirement, Nebogatov ordered the Imperial Japanese Navy flag up the mastheads and all engines stopped. When Japanese flags began showing up in 12-inch gun range finders, Tōgō gave the cease fire and accepted Nebogatov's surrender. Nebogatov surrendered knowing that he could be shot for doing so.[nb 1] He said to his men:
You are young, and it is you who will one day retrieve the honour and glory of the Russian Navy. The lives of the two thousand four hundred men in these ships are more important than mine.
The wounded Admiral Rozhestvensky went to a Japanese hospital to recover from a head injury caused by shrapnel; there, the victorious Admiral Tōgō visited him personally, comforting him with kind words: "Defeat is a common fate of a soldier. There is nothing to be ashamed of in it. The great point is whether we have performed our duty".
Neither Nebogatov nor Rozhestvensky were shot when they returned home to Russia. However, both were placed on trial. Rozhestvensky claimed full responsibility for the fiasco; but as he had been wounded and unconscious during the last part of the battle, the Tsar commuted his death sentence. Nebogatov, having surrendered the fleet at the end of the naval engagement, was imprisoned for several years and eventually pardoned by the Tsar. Both men's reputations were ruined.
Until the evening of 28 May, isolated Russian ships were pursued by the Japanese until almost all were destroyed or captured. Three Russian warships reached Vladivostok. The cruiser Izumrud, which escaped from the Japanese despite being present at Nebogatov's surrender, was scuttled by her crew after running aground near the Siberian coast.
Admiral Rozhestvensky faced a more combat-experienced battleship admiral in Tōgō Heihachirō. Admiral Tōgō had already killed two Russian admirals: Makarov outside of Port Arthur in the battleship Petropavlovsk in April 1904, then Vitgeft in his battleship Tsesarevich in August of the same year. Before those two deaths, Tōgō had chased Admiral Starck, also flying his flag in the Petropavlovsk, off the battlefield. Admiral Tōgō and his men had two battleship fleet action experiences, which amounted to over four hours of combat experience in battleship-to-battleship combat at Port Arthur and the Yellow Sea. The Japanese fleets had practiced gunnery regularly since the beginning of the war, using sub-calibre adapters in their guns, gaining more experience.
In contrast, Russian battleship Borodino, as an example, underwent builder's sea trials on 23 August 1904 as a brand new ship upon her completion, and the new crew did not have much time for training before she set sail for the Pacific on 15 October 1904. Borodino's sister ship, Knyaz Suvorov, was completed, the crew was assembled, and put in service even later in September 1904. As the Imperial Russian Navy planned on building 10 Borodino-class battleships (5 were built in reality) with the requirement for thousands of additional crewmen, the basic training, quality and experience of the crew and cadets were far lower than those on board the battleships in the seasoned Pacific Fleet.
Up to the Battle of the Yellow Sea on 10 August 1904, naval guns were controlled locally by a gunnery officer assigned to that gun or a turret. He specified the elevation and deflection figures, gave the firing order while keeping his eyes on the artificial horizon gauge indicating the rolling and pitching angles of the ship, received the fall of shot observation report from the spotter on the mast, calculated the new elevation and deflection to 'walk' the shots in on the target for the next round, without much means to discern or measure the movements of his own ship and the target. He typically had a view on the horizon, but with the new 12" gun's range extended to over 8 miles (13 km), his vantage point was lower than desired.
In the months before the battle, the Chief Gunnery Officer of the Japanese battleship Asahi, Kanji Kato, aided by a Royal Navy advisor who introduced him to the use of the early mechanical computer dumaresq in fire control, introduced a system for centrally issuing the gun-laying and salvo-firing orders via voice communication. Using a central system allowed the spotter to identify a salvo of distant shell splashes much more effectively than trying to identify a single splash among the many in the confusion of a fleet-to-fleet combat. Further, the spotter needed to keep track of just one firing at a time as opposed to multiple shots on multiple stopwatches, in addition to having to report to just one officer on the bridge. The 'director' officer on the bridge had the advantage of having a higher vantage point than in the gun turrets, in addition to being steps away from the ship commander giving orders to change the course and the speed in response to the incoming reports on target movements. This fire control director system was introduced to other ships in the squadron, with the training and practice being carried out in the months waiting for the arrival of the Baltic Fleet while its progress was reported by the British intelligence from their naval stations at Gibraltar, Malta, Yemen, Cape of Good Hope, India, Singapore, Kalimantan and Hong Kong, among other locations.
As a result, Japanese fire was more accurate in the far range (3–8 miles (4.8–12.9 km)), on top of the advantage they held in the shorter distances using the latest issue (1903) Barr and Stroud FA3 coincidence rangefinder, which had a range of 6,000 yards (5.5 km), while the Russian battleships were equipped with Liuzhol stadiametric rangefinders from the 1880s (except battleship Oslyabya, which had the Barr and Stroud FA3 retrofitted), which only had a range of about 4,000 metres (4.0 km).
The wireless telegraph (radio) had been invented during the last half of the 1890s, and by the turn of the century nearly all major navies were adopting this improved communications technology. Tsushima was "the first major sea battle in which wireless played any role whatsoever".
Lieutenant Akiyama Saneyuki had been sent to the United States as a naval attaché in 1897. He witnessed firsthand the capabilities of radio telegraphy and sent a memo to the Navy Ministry urging that they push ahead as rapidly as possible to acquire the new technology. The ministry became heavily interested in the technology; however it found the cost of the Marconi wireless system, which was then operating with the Royal Navy, to be exceedingly expensive. The Japanese therefore decided to create their own radio sets by setting up a radio research committee under Professor Shunkichi Kimura, which eventually produced an acceptable system. In 1901, having attained radio transmissions of up to 70 miles (110 km), the navy formally adopted radio telegraphy. Two years later, a laboratory and factory were set up at Yokosuka to produce the Type 36 (1903) radios, and these were quickly installed on every major warship in the Combined Fleet by the time the war started.
Alexander Stepanovich Popov of the Naval Warfare Institute had built and demonstrated a wireless telegraphy set in 1900, and equipment from the firm Telefunken in Germany was adopted by the Imperial Russian Navy. Although both sides had early wireless telegraphy, the Russians were using German sets and had difficulties in their use and maintenance, while the Japanese had the advantage of using their own equipment.
In addition to building the battleships for Imperial Japanese Navy, the United Kingdom assisted Japan in intelligence, finance, technology, training and other areas for the war against Russia. At the time, Britain owned and controlled more harbor facilities in the world, specifically shipyards and coal stations, than Russia and the allies (France and to some extent Germany) combined, and she prevented Russia from buying ships and coal as much as possible. At the end of the Argentine-Chilean naval arms race in 1903, two Chilean-ordered and British-built battleships (then called Constitución and Libertad) and two Argentinean-ordered, Italian-built cruisers (then called Bernardino Rivadavia and Mariano Moreno) were offered to Russia and the purchase was about to be finalized. Britain stepped in as the mediator of Pacts of May that ended the race, bought the Chilean battleships (which became HMS Swiftsure and HMS Triumph), and brokered the sale of Argentinean cruisers to Japan. This support, not only limited the growth of the Imperial Russian Navy, but also helped IJN in obtaining the latest Italian-built cruisers (IJN Kasuga and Nisshin) that played key roles in this battle.
Also, this support created a major logistics problem for around the world deployment of the Baltic Fleet to the Pacific in procuring coal and supplies on the way. At Nosy Be in Madagascar and at Camranh Bay, French Indochina, the fleet was forced to be anchored for about two months each, seriously degrading morale of the crew. By the time it reached the Sea of Japan after crossing the warm waters of the equator twice, the hulls of all the ships in the fleet were heavily fouled in addition to carrying the extra coal otherwise not required on deck.
The Japanese ships, on the other hand, were well maintained in the ample time given by the intelligence (battleship Asahi was under repair from November 1904 to April 1905 at Sasebo for two 12" guns lost and serious damage to the hull from striking a mine), and were divided into battle divisions of as much uniform speed and gun range so that a fleet would not suffer a bottleneck in speed, and the range of guns would not render some ships useless within a group in an extended range combat.[c]
The Japanese used mostly high-explosive shells filled with Shimose powder, which was a pure picric acid (as opposed to the French melinite or the British lyddite, which were picric acid mixed with collodion (French) or with dinitrobenzene and vaseline (British) for stability). Engineer Shimose Masachika (1860-1911) solved the instability problem of picric acid on contact with iron and other heavy metals by coating the inside of a shell with unpigmented Japanese lacquer and further sealing with wax. Because it was undiluted, Shimose powder had a stronger power in terms of detonation velocity and temperature than other high explosives at the time. These shells had a sensitive Ijuin fuse (named after its inventor, Ijuin Goro) at the base as opposed to the tip of a shell that armed itself when the shell was spun by the rifling. These fuses were designed to explode on contact and wreck the upper structures of ships. The Japanese Navy imported cordite from Great Britain as the smokeless propellant for these Shimose shells, so that the smoke off the muzzle would not impede the visibility for the spotters.
At the time of the Russo-Japanese War, high explosive shells were not used by the Russian Navy, which continued to use the older armour-piercing rounds with guncotton bursting charges and the insensitive delayed-detonation fuses, and brown powder or black powder as the propellant in the cartridge. Consequently, Japanese hits caused more damage to Russian ships than Russian hits on Japanese ships. Shimose blasts often set the superstructures, the paintwork and the large quantities of coal stored on the decks on fire, and the sight of the spotters on Russian ships were hindered by the large amount of smoke generated by the propellant on each firing. Moreover, the sensitivity difference of the fuse caused the Japanese off-the-target shells to explode upon falling on the water creating a shock to the enemy ship and a larger splash, as opposed to the Russian shells not detonating upon falling on the water. This made an additional difference in the aforementioned shot accuracy by aiding the Japanese spotters to make an easier identification in fall of shot observations.
|Russian Baltic Fleet||Primary Armament||Water Line/Turret Armor||Year Launched/Builder||Speed in Knots||Damage/Casualties/Remarks|
|Oslyabya, battleship||4 10-inch guns/11 6-inch guns||9 inch/9 inch||1898/Russia||13||First modern battleship sunk by gunfire alone, sunk at 15:10 27 May. She was the flagship for the fleet's second in command, Rear Admiral von Fölkersahm, who had died of cancer 3 days earlier. The Japanese and most of the Russian fleet were unaware of his death. Complement 769 officers and men.|
|Imperator Aleksandr III, battleship (Borodino class)||4 12-inch guns/12 6-inch guns||7 5/8 inches/10 inches||1901/Russia||17.6||Sunk by gunfire from enemy battle line at 18:50 27 May, complement 830 officers and men, 4 survivors.|
|Knyaz Suvorov, battleship (Borodino class), flagship||4 12-inch guns/12 6-inch guns||7 5/8 inches/10 inches||1902/Russia||17.6||Gunned into a wreck. Sunk at 19:20 27 May. Destroyers were ordered to administer the coup de grace, "while she had a gun above water she fired...[Suvorov's] stubborn gallantry, no words can do justice. If there is immortality in naval memory it is hers and theirs." Of her 40 officers and 888 men there were no survivors (except the injured Admiral Rozhestvensky and his staff who were rescued from the burning ship at 15:50 by destroyer Buyniy).[d]|
|Borodino, battleship (Borodino class)||4 12-inch guns/12 6-inch guns||7 5/8 inches/10 inches||1901/Russia||17.8||Sunk at 19:30 27 May from a 12-inch Parthian shot from the battleship Fuji, 1 survivor from a complement of 32 officers and 822 men.|
|Oryol, battleship (Borodino class)||4 12-inch guns/12 6-inch guns||1-10 inches/5.7-7.64 inches||1902/Russia||18||Damaged seriously. Captured at 10:30 28 May under the command of Rear Admiral Nebogatov who surrendered to the Japanese after taking command from the injured Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky.|
|Navarin, battleship||4 12-inch guns/8 6-inch guns||16 inches/12 inches||1891/Russia||15.9||Sunk in the night of 27 May by destroyer torpedoes, 3 survivors from a complement of 674 officers and men. 1 man picked up by local fishing boat, 2 picked up by a British Merchantman.|
|Sissoi Veliky, battleship||4 12-inch guns/6 6-inch guns||16 inches/12 inches||1894/Russia||15.7||Sunk in the night of 27 May by destroyer torpedoes. 47 men lost, 42 officers and 571 men saved.|
|Imperator Nikolai I, battleship||2 12-inch guns/4 9-inch guns||2.5-10 inches/6-14 inches||1889/Russia||14||Captured at 10:30 28 May as the flagship for the commander of the 3rd Pacific Fleet, Rear Admiral Nikolai Nebogatov, when he hoisted the flag signal "XGE P" meaning "Surrendered. Go still (proceeding slow)."|
|Admiral Ushakov, battleship||4 10-inch guns/4 4.7-inch guns||10 inches/8 inches||1893/Russia||16.1||Gunned into a wreck during the day 27 May, scuttled in the evening of 28 May as it was already sinking. 12 officers and 339 men saved from her complement of 422 officers and men. Her commander, Capt. Miklukha, went down with his ship.|
|Admiral Seniavin, battleship||4 10-inch guns/4 4.7-inch guns||9.8 inches/3-7.9 inches||1894/Russia||16||Captured at 10:30 28 May following the surrender together with her sister-ship General-Admiral Apraksin, flagship Imperator Nikolai I, and the battleship Oryol.|
|General-Admiral Apraksin, battleship||3 10-inch guns/4 4.7-inch guns||9.8 inches/3-7.9 inches||1896/Russia||15||Captured at 10:30 28 May following the surrender together with her sister-ship Admiral Seniavin, flagship Imperator Nikolai I, and the battleship Oryol.|
|Admiral Nakhimov, armored cruiser||8 8-inch guns/10 6-inch guns||10 inches/8 inches||1885/Russia||16.6||Sunk in the night of 27 May by destroyer torpedoes. Over 600 men saved by lifeboats, local fishing boats, and armed merchant cruiser Sado Maru.|
|Vladimir Monomakh, armored cruiser||5 6-inch guns/6 4.7-inch guns||6 inches/-||1882/Russia||17.5||Sunk in the night of 27 May by destroyer torpedoes. 32 officers and 374 men rescued by armed merchant cruiser IJN Manshu (IJN Manshu was the Italian-built cruise-ship Manchuria owned and operated by the Russian Chinese Eastern Railway). Complement 493 officers/men.|
|Dmitrii Donskoi, armored cruiser||6 6-inch guns/10 4.7-inch guns||6 inches/-||1883/Russia||17||Gunned into a wreck during the day 27 May. Scuttled in the night 28 May by her crew in Matsushima Bay, whereupon they rowed to Matsushima Island and camped out there; which turned out to be a Japanese signal station, they became POWs shortly there after.|
|Svetlana, protected cruiser||6 6-inch guns/10 47mm Hotchkiss guns||2 inches/-||1896/France||21||Sunk at 10:50, 28 May by gunfire from IJN cruisers Niitaka, Otowa and destroyer Murakumo. Estimated 169 men lost. 290 men (23 wounded) rescued by IJN America Maru.|
|Izumrud, protected cruiser||8 4.7-inch guns/4 47mm Hotchkiss guns||1.3-3.0 inches/1.3 inches||1903/Russia||24||Run aground on the Siberian coast in the night of 28 May. Destroyed by her crew. Complement of 350 eventually reached Vladivostok by land.|
|Bezuprechni, torpedo boat destroyer||3 torpedo tubes (carried 6 torpedoes)/1 3-inch gun/5 3-pounder guns||N/A||1902/Russia||26||Sunk by gunfire on 28 May from IJN (protected) cruiser Chitose which expended 68 120mm, and 39 3-inch shells; joined later by IJN torpedo boat destroyer Ariake, which expended 12 rds of her 3-inch shells at the Bezuprechni.|
|Buyniy, torpedo boat destroyer||3 torpedo tubes (carried 6 torpedoes)/1 3-inch gun/5 3-pounder guns||N/A||1901/Russia||26||Sunk by gunfire during the day 27 May.[d] Many of Buyniy's survivors were aboard the armored cruiser Dmitri Donskoi, and paddled ashore with the rest of the men to Matsushima Island when Donskoi went down on 28 May.[e]|
|Gromkiy, torpedo boat destroyer||3 torpedo tubes (carried 6 torpedoes)/1 3-inch gun/5 3-pounder guns||N/A||1904/Russia||26||IJN torpedo boat destroyer Shiranui duelled with Gromkiy on 28 May for over an hour at ranges from 4,000 to 5,000 meters without effect. Destroyer Shiranui was equipped with 2 3-inch guns and 4 6-pounder guns, with 2 torpedo tubes and 4 torpedoes, with a complement of 52 men. IJN Torpedo Boat #63 arrived, and Gromkiy surrendered. Japanese prize crew boarded Gromkiy, but she was so heavily damaged that she began to sink, forcing the prize crew to quickly abandon ship. She rolled over and sank at 1243 hrs.|
|Blestyashchiy, torpedo boat destroyer||3 torpedo tubes (carried 6 torpedoes)/1 3-inch gun/5 3-pounder guns||N/A||-/Russia||26||Scuttled on 28 May by her crew. 6 men lost.|
|Bistriy, torpedo boat destroyer||3 torpedo tubes (carried 6 torpedoes)/1 3-inch gun/5 3-pounder guns||N/A||-/Russia||26||Scuttled on 28 May by her crew.|
|Byedoviy, torpedo boat destroyer||3 torpedo tubes (carried 6 torpedoes)/1 3-inch gun/5 3-pounder guns||N/A||-/Russia||26||Surrendered and captured by IJN Destroyer Sazanami in the late afternoon on 28 May with Admiral Rozhestvensky and over 80 of his men (staff) onboard according to a Japanese Navy record.[d]|
|Japanese Fleet||Primary Armament||Water Line/Turret Armor||Year Launched/Builder||Speed In Knots||Damage/Casualties/Remarks|
|Mikasa, battleship, flagship||4 12-inch guns/14 6-inch guns||9 inches/14 inches||1900/Great Britain||18||Took over 30 large-calibre hits; ventilators and funnels holed, armor penetrated in several places, top part of front mast lost; over 100 casualties, complement 875 officers/men.|
|Shikishima, battleship||4 12-inch guns/14 6-inch guns||9 inches/14 inches||1898/Great Britain||18||Several large-calibre hits in the total of nine times. Lost one 12-inch gun barrel to a "burst" (barrel exploded).|
|Fuji, battleship||4 12-inch guns/10 6-inch guns||18 inches/14 inches||1896/Great Britain||18||Several large-calibre hits in the total of 12 times. Lost eight men and nine wounded. One 12-inch gun barrel shot off by a 12" shell from Imperator Nikolai I.|
|Asahi, battleship||4 12-inch guns/14 6-inch guns||9 inches/14 inches||1899/Great Britain||18||A few large-calibre hits in the total of 6 hits. Complement 835 officers/men, lost 1 officer and 6 men, 5 men seriously wounded, 1 officer and 18 men lightly wounded.|
|Kasuga, armored cruiser||1 10-inch gun/2 8-inch guns/14 6-inch guns||5 1/2 inches/5 1/2 inches||1902/Italy||20||One 12-inch, one 6-inch, and one unidentified hits. Complement 609 officers/men.|
|Nisshin, armored cruiser||4 8-inch guns/14 6-inch guns||5.9 inches/5.9 inches||1903/Italy||20||Hit by 6 twelve-inch, 1 nine-inch, 2 six-inch and 4 unidentified shells, which were the most hits received after Mikasa. Two 8-inch gun barrels shot off, another 8-inch gun lost to a "burst". Complement 609 officers/men; 50 casualties.|
|Torpedo Boat #34||1 3-pounder gun/3 torpedo tubes||NA||1899/Germany||24||Sunk by Russian gunfire, 27 May.|
|Torpedo Boat #35||1 3-pounder gun/3 torpedo tubes||NA||1899/Germany||24||Sunk by Russian gunfire, 27 May.|
|Torpedo Boat #69||2 3-pounder guns/3 torpedo tubes||NA||1902/Japan||24||Sunk in the midst of a torpedo attack in the night of 27 May, after colliding with IJN torpedo boat destroyer Akatsuki. Akatsuki was a Russian prize from a 1904 battle, the ex-Ryeshitelni.|
Total Russian personnel losses were 216 officers and 4,614 men killed; with 278 officers and 5,629 men taken as Prisoners Of War (POW). Interned in neutral ports were 79 officers and 1,783 men. Escaping to Vladivostok and Diego-Suarez were 62 officers and 1,165 men. Japanese personnel losses were 117 officers and men killed and 583 officers and men wounded.
The battle was humiliating for Russia, which lost all its battleships and most of its cruisers and destroyers. The battle effectively ended the Russo-Japanese War in Japan's favour. The Russians lost 4,380 killed and 5,917 captured with a further 1,862 interned. Two admirals, Rozhestvensky and Nebogatov, were captured by the Japanese Navy. The second in command of the fleet, Rear Admiral Dmitry Gustavovich von Fölkersahm, died of cancer in the night of 24 May 1905 onboard battleship Oslyabya. Vice Admiral Oskar Enqvist fled to Manila onboard cruiser Oleg and was interned by the United States.
The Russians lost eleven battleships, including three smaller coastal battleships, either sunk or captured by the Japanese, or scuttled by their crews to prevent capture. Four were lost to enemy action during the daylight battle on 27 May: Knyaz Suvorov, Imperator Aleksandr III, Borodino and Oslyabya. Navarin was lost during the night action on 27–28 May, while the Sissoi Veliky and Admiral Ushakov were either scuttled or sunk the next day. Four other battleships, under Rear Admiral Nebogatov, were forced to surrender and would end up as prizes of war. This group consisted of only one modern battleship, Oryol, along with the old battleship Imperator Nikolai I and two small coastal battleships General Admiral Graf Apraksin and Admiral Seniavin.
The Russian Navy lost five of its nine cruisers during the battle, three more were interned by the Americans, with just one reaching Vladivostok. Vladimir Monomakh and Svetlana were sunk the next day after the daylight battle. The cruiser Dmitrii Donskoi fought against six Japanese cruisers and survived; however, she was scuttled on 29 May 1905 due to heavy damage. Izumrud ran aground near the Siberian coast. Three Russian protected cruisers, Aurora, Zhemchug, and Oleg, escaped to the U.S. naval base at Manila in the then-American-controlled Philippines where they were interned, as the United States was neutral. The armed yacht (classified as a cruiser) Almaz, alone was able to reach Vladivostok.
Imperial Russia also lost six of its nine destroyers in the battle, had one interned by the Chinese, and the other two escaped to Vladivostok. They were – Buyniy ("Буйный"), Bistriy ("Быстрый"), Bezuprechniy ("Безупречный"), Gromkiy ("Громкий") and Blestyashchiy ("Блестящий") – sunk on 28 May, Byedoviy ("Бедовый") surrendered that day. Bodriy ("Бодрый") was interned in Shanghai; Grozniy ("Грозный") and Braviy ("Бравый") reached Vladivostok.
Of the auxiliaries, Kamchatka, Ural and Rus were sunk on 27 May, Irtuish ran aground on 28 May, Koreya and Svir were interned in Shanghai; Anadyr escaped to Madagascar. The hospital ships Orel and Kostroma were captured; Kostroma was released afterwards.
The Japanese lost three torpedo boats (Nos. 34, 35 and 69). Total casualty of 117 men killed and 500 wounded.
Imperial Russia's prestige was badly damaged and the defeat was a blow to the Romanov dynasty. Most of the Russian fleet was lost; the fast armed yacht Almaz (classified as a cruiser of the 2nd rank) and the destroyers Grozny and Bravy were the only Russian ships to reach Vladivostok. In The Guns of August, the American historian and author Barbara Tuchman argued that because Russia's loss destabilized the balance of power in Europe, it emboldened the Central Powers and contributed to their decision to go to war in 1914.
The battle had a profound cultural and political impact in the world. It was the first defeat of a European power by an Asian nation in the modern era. It also heightened the alarm of "The Yellow Peril" as well as weakening the notion of white superiority that was prevalent in some Western countries. Mahatma Gandhi (India), Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (Turkey), Sun Yat-sen (China) and Jawaharlal Nehru (India) were amongst the future national leaders to celebrate this defeat of a colonial power. The victory established Japan as the sixth greatest naval power while the Russian navy declined to one barely stronger than that of Austria-Hungary.
In The Guinness Book of Decisive Battles, the British historian Geoffrey Regan argues that the victory bolstered Japan's increasingly aggressive political and military establishment. According to Regan, the lopsided Japanese victory at Tsushima:
...created a legend that was to haunt Japan's leaders for forty years. A British admiral once said, 'It takes three years to build a ship, but 300 years to build a tradition.' Japan thought that the victory had completed this task in a matter of a few years ... It 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. Perhaps no power could resist the Japanese navy, not even Britain and the United States.
Regan also believes the victory contributed to the Japanese road to later disaster, "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.
Takano Isoroku, the future Japanese admiral Yamamoto Isoroku who would plan the attack on Pearl Harbor and command the Imperial Japanese Navy through much of the Second World War, served as a junior officer (aboard Nisshin) during the battle and was wounded and lost two fingers by an accidental explosion of an 8" shell in a forward gun. Had he lost a third he would have been medically discharged from the IJN.
Britain's First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, reasoned that the Japanese victory at Tsushima confirmed the importance of large guns and speed for modern battleships. While Captain Pakenham of the British Royal Navy, who had been present aboard the Japanese battleship Asahi as an official observer during the Tsushima Battle, "famously remarked...the effect of the fire of every gun is so much less than that of the next larger size, that when 12in guns are firing, shots from 10in pass unnoticed...everything in this war has tended to emphasize the vast importance to a ship, at every stage of her career, of carrying some of the heaviest and furthest shooting guns that can be got into her." In October 1905 the British started the construction of HMS Dreadnought, which marked the beginning of a naval arms race between Britain and Germany in the years before 1914.
Upon the breakout of World War I, the British and Germans were both aware of the potentially devastating consequences of a naval defeat on the scale of Tsushima. Britain needed its battle fleet to protect its empire, and the trade routes vital to its war effort. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, described British Admiral John Jellicoe as "the only man who on either side could lose the war in an afternoon." German naval commanders, for their part, understood the importance Kaiser Wilhelm II attached to his navy and the diplomatic prestige it carried. As a result of caution, the British and German fleets met in only one major action in World War I, the indecisive Battle of Jutland.
Crossing the T: Japanese are in white, the Russians in red
The Knyaz Suvorov, Oslyabya, Imperator Aleksandr III, and Sissoi Veliky breaking off from the main battle
The first and second Japanese fleets sandwiching the Russian fleet
The Russian ships fleeing
The battle has been the main focus for two historical films in Japan. The first, 1969's Battle of the Japan Sea (日本海大海戦, Nihonkai Daikaisen), directed by Seiji Maruyama, starring Toshiro Mifune as Admiral Tōgō, with music by Masaru Sato and special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. It was dramatized again in 1983's Battle Anthem (日本海大海戦・海ゆかば, Nihonkai Daikaisen—Umi Yukaba) with Mifune reprising his role.
The naval battle of Tsushima, the ultimate contest of the 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War, was one of the most decisive sea battles in history.
In retrospect, the battle of Tsushima in May 1905 was the last "decisive" naval battle in history.
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