At War at Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century

At War at Sea: Sailors and Naval Combat in the Twentieth Century

by Ronald H. Spector


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Beginning with a gripping account of one of the most decisive naval battles in history-the 1905 battle of Tsushima between the Japanese and Russians-and ending with the sophisticated missile engagements of the Falklands and in the Persian Gulf, naval historian Ronald Spector explores every facet of the past one hundred years of naval warfare. Drawing from more than one hundred diaries, memoirs, letters, and interviews, this is, above all, a masterful narrative of the human side of combat at sea-real stories told from the point of view of the sailors who experienced it. Exhaustively researched and fascinating in detail, At War at Sea is a monumental history of the men, the ships, and the battles fought on the high seas.

"Superb . . . Spector's account provides evocative and fresh perspectives on cultures, technologies and innovations that influenced sailors' lives and shaped naval warfare." (The San Diego Union-Tribune)

"Monumental . . . Many books have recorded the history of the United States Navy, but few have meshed that history with that of all other major navies-an unusual comparative technique that brings into often startling relief the virtues and flaws of our own navy." (The Washington Post)"

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780140246018
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 04/30/2002
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 496
Product dimensions: 5.28(w) x 7.97(h) x 1.04(d)

About the Author

Ronald H. Spector served as a marine in Vietnam. He is the author of numerous books, including Eagle Against the Sun: The American War Against Japan, which won the Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt Prize in Naval History. He is currently a professor of history and international relations at George Washington University.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


In the heavy rolling seas off Korea, as the afternoon sun gradually burned away the cold mist and rain, two great fleets of ironclads came together to fight a battle that would capture the imagination of the world and influence ideas about naval warfare for the next four decades. It was May 25, 1905, almost exactly one hundred years after the Battle of Trafalgar, and the contest known to the world as the Battle of Tsushima would be widely regarded as the twentieth-century repetition of Nelson's historic victory.

    The two unlikely protagonists in this great drama at sea were Russia and Japan. One had long been regarded as the largest land empire of modern times, the other was a small island nation which had not been regarded as a modern state even as recently as 1890. Yet here they were on that afternoon in May 1905, two fleets comprising almost thirty ironclads, some of which were among the most advanced in design, bearing down on each other at a combined speed of more than thirty miles per hour, while the representatives of the traditional sea powers, Britain and France, and the ambitious newcomers, Germany and the United States, could only watch from the sidelines.

    Tsushima was the final act of the Russo-Japanese War, a conflict that stemmed from intense rivalry for influence and advantages in Manchuria and Korea. The quarrel concerned railway concessions, leaseholds, and special privileges, the kinds of issues that absorbed the attentions of all the Great Powers during the last decade of the nineteenth century as they maneuvered for powerand economic advantage in the increasingly weak and moribund Chinese Empire. The immediate cause of the war was Japanese unhappiness with a concession by China allowing a Russian timber company to log on the south bank of the Yalu River in Korea. Japan considered Korea and Manchuria a vital area of influence. After six months of fruitless negotiations between Russia and Japan, the Japanese presented a final peace proposal in January 1904. By early February, having received no reply, the Japanese broke diplomatic relations.

    On the night of February 8, 1904, Japanese destroyers made a surprise attack on the Russian Pacific Squadron at its base at Port Arthur, on Liaotung Peninsula at the tip of southern Manchuria. Decades later, Americans would view this assault as a kind of rehearsal for the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. Yet unlike the Pearl Harbor attack, the Japanese strike at Port Arthur failed to cripple the Russian battle fleet, despite completely surprising the Russians. The Japanese destroyers only damaged two of the seven Russian battleships and a cruiser. That was enough, however, to give the Japanese, led by Admiral Togo Heihachiro, a slight edge at sea and to demoralize the Russian fleet so that the Russians made no move to interfere with Japanese troop landings in Korea.

    Nevertheless, the Port Arthur fleet remained a threat, and Togo knew he had to deal with it. A second Japanese torpedo attack and attempts to seal the harbor by sinking old ships at the entrance proved unsuccessful. Long-range bombardments by his battleships inflicted minor damage, but were eventually frustrated by fire from Russian coastal defense guns around the port. To add to Togo's worries, in early March the Russian fleet received a new commander, Vice Admiral Stephan Ossipovich Makaroff, the foremost tactician in the Russian navy, a hero of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877, and a bold and aggressive leader. Makaroff refused to wait passively in Port Arthur while the Japanese roamed the seas. He pushed repairs on the damaged battleships and trained naval gunfire spotters to direct the fire of the battleships and harbor batteries from the hills around Port Arthur. Under Makaroff, every patrol or bombardment attempted by the Japanese met with an aggressive countermeasure by the Russians.

    In one such action on April 13, Makaroff led his five serviceable battleships out in support of some Russian destroyers that were engaging a larger Japanese force. When Togo's battleships appeared, Makaroff retired to within range of the Russian coastal defense guns. In clear view of the harbor, Makaroff's flagship, Petropavlosk, struck a mine and blew up. Makaroff and almost six hundred others were lost with her. Half an hour later, the battleship Pobieda also struck a mine and had to limp back to the harbor.

    Makaroff's death seemed to destroy any remaining initiative or determination in the Russian fleet. Less than a month later, at the beginning of May, the Japanese army defeated the Russians at the Battle of the Yalu, securing their hold on Korea and a bridgehead into Manchuria. The Japanese then landed on the Liaotung Peninsula less than sixty miles from Port Arthur. The Russian navy made no effort to interfere with the landings, and the troops came ashore unopposed. Even when two Japanese battleships struck mines in mid-May within clear sight of Port Arthur, the Russian fleet, which now outnumbered the Japanese in battleships, failed to challenge Togo's fleet. Meanwhile, the Japanese army continued its advance down the Liaotung Peninsula, capturing the important port of Dalny. By early June 1904, the Japanese had laid siege to Port Arthur.

    Things did not go all the Japanese way, however. A squadron of Russian cruisers based at Vladivostok, more active and enterprising than the Port Arthur squadron, succeeded in evading Japanese ships blockading the port. They raided the Sea of Japan and sank Japanese merchantmen, including the transport carrying special heavy mortars intended for the siege of Port Arthur.

    On June 23, the Russian squadron at Port Arthur, now under Rear Admiral Witheft, finally attempted a sortie from the port. Togo steamed to meet them with his entire fleet, expecting a decisive battle. The odds were about even, but Witheft was unnerved at the prospect of being cut off from his base by what he later claimed was a "far superior" force. He turned away and led his fleet back toward Port Arthur. Togo sent his destroyers and torpedo boats to attack the retiring Russians, but they scored no hits; only the battleship Sevastopol was damaged by a mine as she reentered the harbor.

    At sea, Togo received the news of the failure of his torpedo attack with growing frustration. The Port Arthur squadron, timid and unaggressive as it might be, was still intact. Moreover, there was now reliable information that the Russians were preparing to send an entirely new fleet to East Asia. This was the so-called Second Pacific Squadron, under Rear Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky, consisting of warships that had been in the Baltic at the outbreak of the war as well as new ships nearing completion in Russian yards.

    Ashore, the Japanese redoubled their efforts to break through the defenses of Port Arthur. Yet by late July, the Japanese army troops under General Nogi Maresuke had still failed to pierce the fortifications of the city proper. They had, despite appalling casualties, including Nogi's three sons, advanced to a point within artillery range of the harbor and begun shelling the Russian squadron. It took several days of Japanese bombardment and damage to two battleships before Admiral Witheft finally was persuaded to take the fleet out of the harbor. By that time the admiral himself had been slightly wounded by a shell splinter that had hit his flagship, Ratzvizan.

    Despite Witheft's less than Nelsonian leadership, the Russian sortie on August 10, 1904, was nearly successful. Togo, mindful that he had but four battleships to face both Witheft's fleet and the much-heralded Baltic reinforcements, kept his battleship squadron at long range and did little damage to the Russians, whose gunnery, though poor, proved no worse than that of the Japanese. Togo's cruisers, closing to shorter ranges, suffered damage without slowing down the Russian line.

    By 5:45, with only thirty minutes of daylight remaining, it looked as if the Russians would succeed in escaping to Vladivostok. Then a lucky hit by two 12-inch shells on Witheft's flagship killed the admiral and most of his staff, throwing the Russian fleet into confusion. Rear Admiral Prince Pavel Ukhtomski assumed command and led the battleships back to Port Arthur, from which they would not emerge again. A few of the faster Russian cruisers managed to reach neutral ports, where they were interned. Following the engagement, known as the Battle of the Yellow Sea, the Japanese caught up with the Vladivostok cruiser squadron on its way to help the Port Arthur fleet. Finally, they were able to do some damage to this enterprising force; they sank one Russian cruiser and badly damaged another.

    Despite the bad news from East Asia, the Russians continued their preparations for the dispatch of the Second Pacific Squadron. On October 9, the new fleet assembled at Reval for a final inspection by Tsar Nicholas II. Aboard the new battleship Orel, naval constructor V. P. Kostenko described the tsar as he "passed along the line of officers giving his hand to each. The insignificance of the Tsar's very ordinary and already very worn face, as well as the dull expression of his pewter like eyes could not be concealed, not even under the contrived mask of the good natured smile, once and for all frozen on his everyday visage. There was something un-naval about the way he wore his captain's uniform and the way he walked showed his unfamiliarity with the deck of a ship ... Nickolai climbed to the central communication bridge and addressed the crew ... then turning to the officers he added 'I wish you all gentlemen officers, a victorious voyage and a safe return, whole and undamaged, to the mother land.' With these words he ran his eyes along the line as though trying to guess who, contrary to his wishes, was fated to die soon."

    The seven-and-a-half-month voyage of the Second Pacific Squadron under Rear Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvensky was both an epic and a nightmare. The squadron of worn-out old ships and hastily completed new ones suffered recurrent breakdowns and other mechanical problems that delayed Rozhestvensky's progress and added to his headaches. On the night of October 22 during their voyage through the North Sea, the Russian sailors, obsessed by persistent fears and rumors of Japanese torpedo boats operating from secret bases in Europe, opened fire on a fleet of British fishing trawlers that they imagined to be Japanese warships. One fishing trawler was sunk and others damaged, and two fishermen were killed. In the confusion, Rozhestvensky's cruisers and battleships also fired on each other. Fortunately for the Russians, their shooting was so poor that they did not inflict serious damage to their warships, but aboard the cruiser Aurora one sailor was wounded and the chaplain killed. This paranoia-induced mishap, now known as the "Dogger Bank Incident," almost led to war with Britain. In the end, tempers cooled and the Russians agreed to pay an indemnity and submit the incident to the judgment of an international tribunal.

    Meanwhile, Rozhestvensky had sailed on down the west coast of Africa and around the Cape of Good Hope. His ships were supplied with coal by colliers of the Hamburg-Amerika Line, which met his fleet in neutral harbors or sometimes on the open sea. Worried about his coal supply and expecting to be attacked en route, Rozhestvensky insisted on taking on extra coal at each rendezvous. "The bunkers were overflowing," recalled the commander of the Aurora. "Some passages and two compartments of the forward living quarters were filled. In the remaining living quarters there was a hellish temperature because all of the ventilating passages had been closed against dust...." The frequent coaling in tropical waters drained energy and morale and left little time or inclination for battle drills and maneuvers.

    Arriving at Madagascar in late December 1904, Rozhestvensky rendezvoused with his cruisers and destroyers, which had made the shorter voyage through the Suez Canal. He also received the news that Port Arthur had fallen and that a "Third Pacific Squadron," composed mainly of old coast defense ships, was being sent out to join him. Rozhestvensky was instructed to wait at Madagascar for these reinforcements, then to make for Vladivostok, if necessary engaging the Japanese fleet on the way.

    At the beginning of February 1905, the fleet was joined by the Oleg and Izumrud, modern fast cruisers that had not been ready to leave with the fleet in October. One month later, Rozhestvensky, disdaining to wait for the antiques of the Third Pacific Squadron, led his ships to sea and disappeared into the Indian Ocean. Japanese scouts searched the East Indies and South China Sea in vain while newspapers speculated that the Russians might be planning to circumnavigate Australia. Then on April 8, at 2:30 in the afternoon, excited crowds on the promenade along the shore of Singapore sighted four long columns of ships, their bright yellow funnels belching great clouds of black smoke as the Russians sailed majestically past the city at a speed of eight knots.

     Four days later the Russians anchored in the broad waters of Cam Ranh Bay off French Indo-China. Here direct orders from St. Petersburg obliged Rozhestvensky to await the arrival of his reinforcements. The fleet remained off Indo-China for a month, shifting its position a few miles from time to time to avoid the appearance of violating French neutrality. On May 8, the Third Pacific Squadron, consisting of the old battleship Nikolai I with the cruiser Vladimir Monomakh, both dating from the 1880s, and three small coast defense ships, General Admiral Apraksin, Admiral Ushakov, and Admiral Seniavin, steamed into Cam Ranh Bay. The squadron under Rear Admiral Nebogatov had made a surprisingly rapid voyage from Libau to the Mediterranean and through the Red Sea, arriving off Singapore only three weeks after Rozhestvensky.

    Scarcely more than two weeks after his arrival at Cam Ranh Bay, Nebogatov became Rozhestvensky's de facto second in command. Rear Admiral Dimitri von Felkerzam, who commanded the second division of older battleships and was next in seniority to Rozhestvensky, died aboard his flagship on May 11, after a long illness. Nebogatov was senior to the only other flag officer in the fleet, Rear Admiral Oscar Enkvist, who commanded the cruiser division. Felkerzam's death was kept secret from the fleet, perhaps to avoid hurting morale; but for reasons never fully explained, Rozhestvensky also kept the secret from Nebogatov, who sailed into battle unaware that he was now second in command. As the Russian fleet left Indo-China in mid-May on the final leg of its voyage, tension in Japan increased.

    Journalists and naval experts began to speculate about the outcome of a confrontation between the Japanese and Russian fleets. Few doubted that there would be a fight to the finish, not simply a running battle like Witheft's ill-fated thrust toward Vladivostok the previous August, but the first full-scale battle between fleets since the introduction of the modern battleship.

    On paper the two fleets seemed fairly evenly matched. The Japanese battle fleet included only four battleships, Fuji, Shikishima, Asahi, and Mikasa, each mounting four 12-inch guns. Togo, however, planned to use his eight modern armored cruisers in the battle line as he had done earlier against Witheft. Most of these ships were armed with four 8-inch guns.

    The Russian battle fleet included a division of four new battleships, the Borodino, Alexander III, Orel, and Kniaz Suvorov, with the same general armament as their Japanese counterparts. In addition, there was a less homogeneous second division comprising the modern battleship Oslyabya armed with four 10-inch guns and two obsolescent battleships, Sisoi Veliky and Naravin, mounting four 10-inch guns each. Attached to the second division was the old armored cruiser Admiral Nakhimov, mounting eight old 8-inch guns and ten new 6-inch "quick-firing" guns. With a top speed of sixteen knots, she was slower than many of the newer battleships.

    Admiral Nebogatov's squadron, which had joined Rozhestvensky off Indo-China, comprised the old battleship Nikolai I, smaller and slower than the more modern ships and armed with two 12-inch and four 9-inch guns. Nebogatov's three coast defense ships were less than half the size of the most recent battleships and carried 9- or 10-inch guns in their main batteries. There was also an old cruiser, Vladimir Monomakh, a contemporary of the Admiral Nakhimov but smaller and less heavily armed.

    Overloaded by extra coal and supplies, their metal hulls fouled by marine growths acquired during the long voyage through tropical waters, even the newest Russian battleships could not hope to match the speed of their Japanese opponents. Rozhestvensky's fastest ships, the nine modern destroyers, were grossly outnumbered by Togo's fifty-eight destroyers and large torpedo boats.

    In addition to decreasing their speed, the overloading of the Russian battleships also made them less stable and more likely to capsize. It also gave them a much deeper draft, which placed the important belt of armor, intended to protect the ship's waterline, beneath the water, leaving the unarmored portion of the hull exposed to hits at the waterline. In addition, many of the smaller antitorpedo guns, which fired through ports or sponsons in the hull, were now much lower in the water and thus unworkable in heavy seas.

    Russian shells had a higher muzzle velocity and thus greater penetrating power, but they were somewhat smaller than equivalent Japanese shells. In addition, the Japanese had begun to employ a new explosive called shimose that was more powerful than guncotton. A Japanese shimose shell exploded on impact, blowing the shell case into dozens of deadly metal fragments and producing clouds of smoke that often incapacitated those not killed by the blast.

    Yet the greatest disparities between the Russian and Japanese fleets were the least quantifiable: the disparities in personnel. Togo's ships and squadrons were commanded by officers who had long experience at sea and had served in the campaign against the Port Arthur fleet. Five of his vice admirals and seven of the rear admirals had previously served under his command. Rear Admiral Shimamura, who commanded one of the cruiser divisions, had been Togo's chief of staff at the Battle of the Yellow Sea, nine months before. Neither Rozhestvensky nor his two rear admirals had been in action against the Japanese before, and many of his officers were inexperienced or overage. Russian officers were on average about five to eight years older than their Japanese counterparts. The oldest rear admiral in the Japanese navy was younger than almost every rear admiral in the Russian.

    Compared to the Russian navy, which traced its lineage back to Peter the Great, the Japanese navy was a comparatively recent creation. The modernizing oligarchy that planned and directed Japan's great "leap across time" during the Meiji era, 1868-1912, was particularly interested in acquiring an effective modern navy at the earliest possible date. The Japanese were convinced that only with a strong Western-style navy could they confront the Great Powers in East Asia on an equal basis.

    As Japan began placing orders for modern warships with European yards and developing her own shipbuilding industry, the Meiji government turned to the task of developing an appropriately trained force of sailors. In 1871, a naval academy for the training of officers was established near Tokyo. Many of its first students were young samurai who were veterans of the civil wars that had led to the Meiji restoration in the late 1860s. These high-spirited young men, whose primary loyalty was still to their clan or province, were in no state of mind to welcome a regimen of book learning under instructors who were primarily academic and technical experts. When Admiral Nakamuta Kuranosuki, who served as superintendent in the 1870s, arrived at the academy he found that "a mood of bloodthirstiness" prevailed among many of the unhappy samurai-turned-students. "They had earlier received their baptism of fire and were too proud to receive instruction from those who had had no experience of battle." He recalled two young students in particular who, when angry with certain professors, would "get a crowd together and break into their offices. They would fight hand to hand ... break chairs and tables." Discipline improved markedly with the appointment of Nakamuta and the arrival in 1873 of a British Royal Navy training mission under Commander Archibald L. Douglas. Douglas, a man of "great dignity and short temper," quickly moved to introduce British styles of discipline, ceremonies, uniforms, and customs. Douglas even introduced Sunday sermons delivered by Christian members of the Japanese staff, a proceeding the students soon dubbed "the amen lectures."

    At the end of the 1880s the Naval Academy moved from Tokyo to the beautiful but isolated island of Etajima, near Hiroshima. By that time the influence of the clans on naval officers' appointments had considerably declined, and by the turn of the century, entrance to the Naval Academy was based entirely on merit. Between 1900 and 1904, an average of eighteen hundred young men a year took the entrance examinations, which consisted of a rigorous medical examination followed by academic tests. In 1904, 1,175 men out of an initial 2,326 survived the physical exam to sit for the competitive examinations in English, algebra, trigonometry, and Chinese. Only 349 passed, of whom 183 were finally admitted to the academy. Having cleared this last hurdle, the successful candidate was enrolled in a four-year course at the Naval Academy, an institution so isolated and austere that an American naval attaché who visited in 1907 wondered whether American youth would be able to stand it.

    Cadets were divided into buntai or companies under the supervision of upperclassmen and were mercilessly hazed. One foreign observer described the physical training as "undoubtedly the most strenuous of any institution of learning in the world." Each cadet was required to complete a ten-mile swim from the nearby island of Miyajima to the Naval Academy? A favorite team sport was botaoshi, which literally means "knock over the pole," a kind of "capture the flag," in which two teams competed to pull down the opponent's pole while protecting one's own "with nothing in the shape of personal assault barred."

    After four years of this regimen, the cadets received their appointments as midshipmen in a solemn ceremony in the presence of the emperor. The top three graduates received a dirk as an imperial gift. The three honoraries "march on to the stage one at a time while the band plays 'See the Conquering Hero Comes,' bow very low before his Highness, who slightly inclines his head, bow to an Aide de Camp who gives them the dirks which they hold high with both hands." Bowing again, the cadets backed stiffly off the stage, dirks held high, and remained motionless until the departure of the imperial party.

    At the conclusion of graduation, the newly commissioned midshipman, who had entered the academy from the land gate four years before, now departed from the sea gate to be rowed out to a warship that would carry him on a training cruise to Europe or America. As the band played "Auld Lang Syne," the ship steamed slowly down the bay between a long line of cutters manned by cadets and into the Inland Sea.

    Japanese enlisted sailors, both conscripts and volunteers, received their training at the naval bases at Yokuska, Kure, or Saseba. The recruits were lodged in plain, unheated barracks, and during the summer months the hours of training ran from 5:30 A.M. to 9:30 at night. Foreign observers were universally impressed by the physical strength and endurance of Japanese sailors. An American naval officer described Japanese enlisted men as "splendidly developed physically and little affected by cold or bad weather conditions." British journalist and naval expert Hector C. Bywater described how in a torpedo boat attack on the Chinese base of Wei Hai Wei during the Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, "in weather conditions that might have daunted the boldest," some men aboard the "attacking boats were frozen to death but the survivors carried on." A German naval officer observed that "Japanese bluejackets compare well in intelligence, physique, and courage with any Navy in the world."

    Russian naval cadets attended the far more pleasantly located Naval School at St. Petersburg. Competition for entry was limited to sons of officers and of some government officials. Unlike Etajima, which provided free room, board, and tuition, the Naval School required parents to pay for a good portion of their sons' education.

    Most Russian sailors were conscripts who served for a period of seven years. Because the best-trained, most experienced sailors were already serving in the Far East, Rozhestvensky's fleet had a high proportion of new recruits as well as chronic troublemakers, suspected revolutionaries, anarchists, and other undesirables whom the authorities in St. Petersburg sought to rid themselves of by sending them on a long voyage halfway around the world.

    Russian sailors normally worked from 5:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. and were subject to corporal punishment for a wide variety of offenses. Engineer Lieutenant Alexi Pleshkov was "dumbfounded by the convict-like appearance of the crew. Their clothing is almost always terribly dirty. Their faces are pale and puffed."

    Relations between officers and men in the Russian fleet ranged from resentful and suspicious in many ships to near mutinous in some. Pleshkov noted the almost constant verbal abuse and curses to which enlisted sailors were subjected by officers and midshipmen. The officers' disdain for their sailors was warmly reciprocated. "Those noblemen's sons, well cared for and fragile, were capable only of decking themselves out in tunics and epaulettes," recalled one sailor in the battleship Oslyabya. "They didn't even know our names." A captured Russian sailor was "astonished by ... the informality which existed between the officers and men of the Japanese crew. With what respect and trust the Japanese sailors regarded their officers ... our sailors ... in their thoughts and conversations naturally began to compare the Russian with the Japanese officers, and the result of this comparison was, of course, not to the advantage of the former."

    With better-trained and better-led seamen, it is not surprising the Japanese battleships and cruisers could maintain a rate of fire almost twice as high as their Russian counterparts. British naval attachés with the Japanese fleet in the months prior to Tsushima reported that firing practices were so frequent and lengthy that "a year's peacetime allowance [of ammunition] was consumed each week and that in aiming practice the general average of hits for the fleet had increased from forty to sixty percent." By contrast, Rozhestvensky's fleet had held only one long-range firing practice during its long voyage. This took place off Madagascar, and "not a single hit was scored by the whole fleet." Many of the Russian gunners had also had insufficient time to train with and become accustomed to their new telescopic sights. A midshipman aboard the Vladimir Monomakh claimed that he had to teach his sailors how to count up to one hundred before they could use the sights at all.

    As the day of battle neared, Captain W. C. Pakenhem, the British naval attaché in Japan who had been present during the Battle of the Yellow Sea, speculated that the desperate but determined Russians might attempt to ram the Japanese. "If one fleet has been headed by another the position of the inner fleet calls for bold remedy and it may be questioned whether that which promises extraction soonest is not by a prompt attack by the ram."

    Most naval observers and journalists, noting the great disparity in torpedo boats and destroyers between the two fleets, predicted that the battle would probably begin with a desperate mass torpedo attack by the Japanese. Admiral A. T. Mahan, the American naval prophet, compared Togo's situation to Nelson's just before Trafalgar. Both were about to fight a decisive action. Yet, unlike Nelson, "behind whose inferior numbers stood other numerous unconquered fleets of Britain," Togo could not afford heavy losses. "Nelson expected to throw away his squadron if need be, confident that by so doing he would also sweep off the chess board a hostile piece of far greater value and so leave the situation decidedly bettered." Japan, however, "now has not the reserve Britain had then and her methods must conform to her means."

    Mahan expected the battle to begin with a night torpedo attack. He hoped that "the tactical precautions and steadiness of the defense may equal the preparations and heroism of the offense for so only can an instructive military lesson be afforded."

    Lacking Admiral Mahan's enthusiasm for providing "an instructive military lesson," the sailors of Rozhestvensky's fleet could only hope that the heavy mist and intermittent rain would continue to obscure their ships as they began the final stage of their voyage through the Korea Strait between the island of Tsushima and the west coast of Japan on the night of May 13. The route through the Korea Strait was the shortest and most direct route to Vladivostok, but it would also bring the Russian fleet close to the Japanese bases in southern Korea and southwestern Japan. Had Rozhestvensky chosen to avoid the Korea Strait entirely, sailing up the east coast of Japan and then taking the Tsugaru Strait between Hokkaido and Honshu, or the more northerly La Pérouse Strait between Hokkaido and Sakhalin, he might have led Togo, who had concentrated all his ships near the Korea Strait, on a merry chase. Yet there were navigational problems in transiting the two northern straits, and Rozhestvensky's confidence in the seamanship of his sailors was justifiably low. In addition, the long voyage around the east coast of Japan would have involved coaling in the open seas and the unpredictable weather of the North Pacific. So Rozhestvensky led his squadron into the Korea Strait on the night of May 26.


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