The Tsar's Last Armada: The Epic Journey to the Battle of Tsushima

The Tsar's Last Armada: The Epic Journey to the Battle of Tsushima

The Tsar's Last Armada: The Epic Journey to the Battle of Tsushima

The Tsar's Last Armada: The Epic Journey to the Battle of Tsushima


On May 14-15, 1905, in the Tsushima Straits near Japan, an entire Russian fleet was annihilated, its ships sunk, scattered, or captured by the Japanese. It was among the top five naval battles in history, equal to those of Lepanto, Trafalgar, Jutland, and Midway. The Japanese lost only three destroyers, but the Russians lost twenty-two ships and thousands of sailors. To this day Russian ships throw wreaths on the waves when passing the Korea Strait.

The Russians had traveled for nine months to be destroyed in a few hours. Because they were afraid of capture in the Suez Canal, their legendary admiral, dubbed "Mad Dog, " led them on an extraordinary 18,000-mile detour from the Baltic Sea, around Europe, Africa, and Asia to the Sea of Japan. They were burdened by the Tsar's incompetent leadership and the old, slow ships that he insisted be included to bulk up the fleet. Moreover, they were under constant fear of attack, and there were no friendly ports to supply coal, food, and fresh water. Thelevel of self-sufficiency achieved by this squadron was not again attained in naval practice until the Second World War.

With a novelist's eye and a historian's authority, Pleshakov tells of the Russian squadron's long, difficult journey and swift, horrible defeat.


The modern world was born at the turn of the last century. Correspondence gave way to telephone conversation. Electric lights added spirit to the most despondent dumps. Steel and steam ousted wood and sail. The globe became united not by roads but by cable—international telegraph, the initial prototype of the World Wide Web. No element remained unconquered; planes conquered space, submarines the deep sea.

There were also more sinister accessories of modernity. In South Africa, the British built the first concentration camps. Physicists in Paris were exploring radioactivity. Narcotics, until then available only in the Orient and to the unhappy few in the West, began spreading worldwide. Means of manslaughter—gun shells, bombs, mines, and torpedoes—multiplied in a fierce arms race. Theoreticians of totalitarian terror, like Lenin, developed strategies of political cannibalism.

It was at the turn of the last century when the Russo-Japanese War occurred. It went on for twenty months in 1904-1905 and resulted in unprecedented human losses and material destruction. Hundreds of thousands were killed, dozens of ships were sunk, hundreds of settlements were raided, looted, and devastated. It was the first war of the modern age.

It is largely forgotten in the West, ousted by memories of another military holocaust—World War Two. When in 2000 a British poet . . .

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