Magazine article Sea Classics

Tsushima: Prelude to Pearl Harbor

Magazine article Sea Classics

Tsushima: Prelude to Pearl Harbor

Article excerpt


In all naval history no battle was as decisively won as the furious gun duel that took place between the Mikado's fleet and the Imperial Russian Navy in Japan's Tsushima Strait in May 1905.



SYNOPSIS OF PART ONE (November 2001 issue): In the world's first major sea battle to be fought unhampered by the restrictions of the wind the Russo-Japanese War saw Japanese Admiral Heihachiro Togo mastermind a series of attacks against Russia's Port Arthur that virtually crippled the Tzar's Pacific fleet. Seeking retaliation, the powerful Baltic-based main Russian Fleet, under Admiral Zinovi Rodjestvensky, put out from Libau for the Sea of Japan in mid-October 1904. Though well-equipped and superior to the Japanese in firepower with its twelve battleships and nine cruisers, the Russian Fleet was hampered by inadequate training, festering political unrest on the lower decks and the poor condition of some of the older battleships.

In what was considered the slowest ocean trek ever attempted by a major fleet it took more than six agonizing months for the Russians to reach the Sea of Japan. Hampered by the fact that adequate coating stations were not negotiated with foreign powers as they steamed southward, the Russians were further harassed by a series of minor mutinies, the illnesses of many crewmen and top officers, poor planning and the naval inadequacy of many of their ships. The problem finally became so acute that shortly after the battleships had rounded South Africa's Cape of Good Hope (the cruisers transited the Suez Canal) Rodjestvensky wired Moscow that "I have not the slightest prospect of recovering command of the sea with the force under my command." Though reinforcements were despatched they too were untested, poorly-built vessels with inadequately trained crews. With morale low and little hope of a quick victory Rodjestvensky announced that they would use all force to break through to Vladivostok and from their threaten Japanese communications. By early April the main Russian Fleet had reached the Straits of Malacca, but having failed to gain permission to enter British-- controlled Singapore, the Russians relentlessly steamed toward Indo-China and their tragic date with destiny...

The weeks had become months and Rodjestvensky realized that each delay merely added a stitch to the shroud of every man in his command. When the first week of March brought news that Nebogatoff was still in the Mediterranean, he decided to move out. His contempt for the Naval Ministry was displayed by the failure to designate a rendezvous point for Nebogatoff or advise of the fleet's destination. On the afternoon of 16 March, the overheated, emaciated command stood out of Hellville with a cryptic message to the Admiralty, "The squadron has sailed east."

While the Russians suffered through the ordeal at Nossi-Be. Togo was holding orderly, unhurried conferences with the Naval Staff and indoctrinating his commanders with the plans and his expectations from all units: The Japanese fleet efficiency continued to rise steadily. During February, with the enemy safely locked at Madagascar, Togo took several days' leave to relax with his wife and maturing children. He was prepared for the ordeal to come. On the 5th of April, Rodjestvensky turned into the Straits of Malacca and by the afternoon of the 8th was steaming, for once in perfect formation, under the noses of the British officers lining the rails of the English squadron at Singapore. Realizing they were unwelcome, the fleet sailed on without hesitation. The Russian consul at Singapore was caught flatfooted. He had news but there had been no attempt to contact him. Desperately gathering his papers and dispatches, he boarded a steam launch and hurried in pursuit of the ships now disappearing over the horizon. By semaphore his intentions were made known and Rodjestvensky ordered a destroyer to await him. …

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