Tsushima, Battle of

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In the early twentieth century Russia expanded its economic and military presence in the Far East, inspired by Minister of Finance Sergei Witte and Russian nationalists close to Nicholas II. Three events were interpreted by Japan as a direct assault on its own continental expansion: the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, begun in 1892; its subsequent shortcut, the Chinese Eastern Railway, built across Manchuria at the turn of the century; and the Russian acquisition of Port Arthur to the south as a naval base. After diplomatic efforts yielded little satisfaction, the modern Japanese navy suddenly struck at the two major Russian bases, Vladivostok and Port Arthur, in February of 1904. By this action they destroyed most of the Russian Far Eastern fleet, and blockaded what remained of it. Russia fared badly in the ensuing Russo-Japanese War on land, because of poor leadership and geography, and because of the domestic unrest that resulted in the Revolution of 1905.

Belatedly, and as a classic example of poor planning, Russia dispatched the much larger Baltic fleet, under the command of Admiral Rozhdestvenski, to sail around Africa to the Pacific with the goal of regaining naval dominance in its Far Eastern waters. Large, unwieldy, and exhausted after the long voyage, the Russian fleet entered the Straits of Tsushima (between Japan and Korea) on its way to Vladivostok in May 1905. The new, modern Japanese navy, under the command of Admiral Togo, was waiting for it. The result was one of the worst disasters in naval history, with most of the Russian ships quickly sunk or immobilized, and with little loss on the other side. Only a few Russian ships, including the cruiser Aurora, of 1917 revolutionary fame, managing to escape.

The consequences of this defeat were enormous. The battle signaled the end of the war and a search for peace, negotiated through the arbitration of President Theodore Roosevelt at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. The loss was a major blow to Russian military prestige, lowering morale especially in the navy. Moreover, it prepared the background for the June 1905 mutiny of the battleship Potemkin when it was rumored to be among the next ships to be sent to the Pacific. The defeat also fomented antigovernment agitation that crystallized in the October Uprising and the Moscow Uprising in November. The navy, often referred to, subsequently, as the Tsushima department, never recovered, and was prone to radical revolutionary activism in 1917.

See also: potemkin mutiny


Hough, Richard. (1958). The Fleet that Had to Die. London: H. Hamilton.

Pleshakov, Konstantin. (2002). The Tsar's Last Armada: The Epic Journey to the Battle of Tsushima. New York: Basic Books.

Norman E. Saul