Battle of Tsushima
Conflict in the Far East
On 8 February 1904 destroyers of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the Russian Far East Fleet anchored in Port Arthur; 3 ships—2 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 neutralise Russian naval power in the Far East. At first, the Russian naval forces remained inactive and did not engage the Japanese, who staged unopposed Japanese landings in Korea. However, the Russians were revitalised by the arrival of Admiral Stepan Makarov and were able to achieve some degree of success against the Japanese. Unfortunately, Admiral Makarov's flagship, the battleship Petropavlovsk struck a mine, and 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 IJN in decisive battle. However, both squadrons of the Russian Pacific Fleet would ultimately become dispersed during the battles of the Yellow Sea on 10 August and the Ulsan on 14 August 1904. What remained of Russian naval power would eventually be sunk in Port Arthur.
The Second Pacific Squadron
Battleships, cruisers, and other vessels were arranged into divisions, each division being commanded by a Flag Officer (i.e. Admiral). At the battle of Tsushima, Admiral Tōgō was the officer commanding in Mikasa (the other divisions being commanded by Vice Admirals, Rear Admirals, Commodores and 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.
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, the Russian fleet approached Tsushima Strait.
In the dark, misty night, a thick fog blanketed the straits, giving the Russians an advantage. At 2:45 AM, however, the Japanese auxiliary cruiser Shinano Maru observed three lights on what appeared to be a vessel in the distant horizon and closed in to investigate. These were lights on board the Russian hospital ship Oryol, who in compliance with the rules of war, had continued to burn them. At 4:30 AM, Shinano Maru approached the vessel, noting that the vessel carried no guns and appeared to be an auxiliary. The Oryol 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 vessels 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 4:55am, Captain Narukawa of the Shinano Maru sent a wireless message to Admiral Tōgō in Masampo that "Enemy is in square 203". By 5 AM, intercepted wireless signals informed the Russians that they had been discovered and that Japanese scouting cruisers were shadowing them. Admiral Tōgō received his message at 5:05 AM, and immediately began to prepare his battle fleet for a sortie.
Beginning of the battle
At night, around 8 PM, 37 Japanese torpedo boats and 21 destroyers were thrown against the Russians. The destroyers attacked from the vanguard while the torpedo boats from the east and south of the Russian fleet. The Japanese were aggressive, continuing their attacks for three hours without intermission, and 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 11 PM, it appeared that the Russians had vanished, but they revealed their positions to their pursuers by turning 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, and consequently was torpedoed four times and sunk. Out of a crew of 622, only three survived to be rescued by the Japanese.
The battleship Sisoy Veliki was heavily damaged by a torpedo in the stern, and was scuttled the next day. Two old armoured cruisers — Admiral Nakhimov and Vladimir Monomakh — were heavily damaged, the former by a torpedo hit to the bow, and the latter by colliding with a Japanese destroyer. They were both scuttled by their crews the next morning, the Admiral Nakhimoff 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 only lost three torpedo boats.
XGE signal and Russian surrender
During the night action, Admiral Tōgō was able to rest his main fleet of armoured ships. At 9:30 AM on 27 May, what remained of the Russian fleet was sighted heading northwards. Admiral Tōgō's battleships proceeded to surround Nebogatov's remaining squadron south of the island of Takeshima. At 10:34 AM, realising that his situation was hopeless, Admiral Nebogatov ordered the six ships remaining under his command to surrender. XGE, an international signal of surrender, was hoisted; at 10:53 AM the Japanese agreed accept to the surrender. Realising the battle had become futile, Nebogatov was unwilling to sacrifice the lives of his sailors simply to save his own honour. He decided instead to accept the shame of surrender, knowing full well he might be shot when he returned to Russia. He said to his men
The Japanese fleets had practised gunnery regularly since the beginning of the war, using sub-calibre adapters for their cannon. The Japanese had experienced gunners. Furthermore, the Japanese used mostly high-explosive shells with shimose (melinite), which was designed to explode on contact and wreck the upper structures of ships. The Russians used armour-piercing rounds with small guncotton bursting charges and unreliable fuses. Japanese hits caused more damage to Russian ships relative to Russian hits on Japanese ships, setting the superstructures, the paintwork and the large quantities of coal stored on the decks on fire. (The Russian fleet had to often buy coal at sea from merchant vessels on most of their long voyage due to the lack of friendly fuelling ports on the journey).
Japanese fire was also more accurate because they were using the latest issued (1903) Barr & Stroud FA3 coincidence rangefinder, which had a range of 6,000 yards (5,500 m), while the Russian battleships were equipped with Liuzhol rangefinders from the 1880s, which only had a range of about 4,000 yards (3,700 m). And finally, by 27 May 1905, Admiral Tōgō and his men had two battleship fleet actions under their belts, which amounted to over 4 hours of combat experience in battleship to battleship combat at Port Arthur and the Yellow Sea—experience which would eliminate the miscalculations and rash decisions made during those battles, while applying the learned lessons from those sea engagements with both finesse and ruthlessness at Tsushima.
The battle was a devastating loss for Russia, which lost all of its battleships, most of its cruisers and destroyers, and effectively ended the Russo-Japanese war in Japan's favor. The Russians suffered 4,380 killed and 5,917 captured, including two admirals, with 1,862 interned.
The Russians lost all eight battleships and all three of their smaller coastal battleships in the defeat, either sunk or captured by the Japanese, or scuttled by their crews to prevent capture. Four ships were lost to enemy action during the daylight battle on 27 May: Knyaz Suvorov, Imperator Aleksander III, Borodino and the Oslyabya. The Navarin was lost during the night action, on 27–28 May, while the Sissoi Veliky, Admiral Nakhimov 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 the two small coastal battleships General-Admiral Graf Apraksin and Admiral Senyavin. The small coastal battleship Admiral Ushakov refused to surrender and was scuttled by her crew.
The Russian Navy lost four of its eight cruisers in the battle, had three interned for the war by the Americans, with just one reaching Vladivostok. The Vladimir Monomakh and Svetlana were sunk the next day, after the daylight battle. The cruiser Dmitri Donskoy fought against six Japanese cruisers and survived; however, due to heavy damage she was scuttled. The Izumrud ran aground near the Siberian coast. Three Russian protected cruisers, Aurora, Zhemchug, and Oleg escaped to the United States Navy base at Manila, where they were interned. The armed yacht classified as a cruiser, Almaz, alone was able to reach Vladivostok.
Imperial Russia lost six of its nine destroyers in the battle, had one interned by the Chinese, with two escaping to Vladivostok. Five destroyers - the Buiny, Buistry, Bezupreshchny, Gromky and Blestyashchy - were sunk on 28 May, and the Byedovy surrendered that day. Bodry was interned in Shanghai. The Grosny and Bravy reached Vladivostok.
Of the auxiliaries, the Kamchatka, Ural and Rus were sunk on 27 May, Irtuish ran aground on 28 May, Koreya and Svir were interned in Shanghai and the Anadyr escaped to Madagascar. The hospital ships Oryol and Kostroma were captured, with the Kostroma released afterwards.
The Japanese lost only three torpedo boats (Nos. 34, 35 and 69), with 117 killed men and 500 wounded.
Imperial Russia's prestige was badly damaged and the defeat was a severe blow to the Romanov dynasty. Nearly the entire Russian fleet was lost in a single battle; 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 make it through to Vladivostok. In The Guns of August Barbara Tuchman argued that Russia's loss destabilized the balance of power in Europe, emboldening the Central Powers and contributing to their decision to go to war in 1914.
The battle had a profound cultural and political impact upon Japan. It was the first defeat of a European power by an Asian nation, using the full breadth of then-modern industrial technology. It also weakened the notion of white superiority, widely accepted in Western society before that. 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 Guiness Book of Decisive Battles, 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 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.
Dreadnought arms race
27 May 1905 (JST)
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