Courtesy of our friends at History.com, I am pleased to begin each and every day of the week here at Bulldog Pundit with a snippet of some important event that occurred on this date sometime in the past. Some events might come readily to mind while others may take a bit of effort to recall. Not all are historically portentous and some may even seem whimsical. Nevertheless, each and every one is a grain in the hourglass of human history.
As my faithful readers know by now, I’m an unrepentant naval history nutbug and I love everything about warships, navies and naval warfare. When I was in my 20s, I tried to enlist in the U.S. Navy (submarine service) but was turned down because of my poor eyesight (20/1000) and congenital mitral valve prolapse (heart murmur). Still, that never diminished my enthusiasm for the sea and the ships that traverse those storm-tossed waves.
During the Russo-Japanese War, the Russian Baltic Fleet is nearly destroyed at the Battle of Tsushima Strait. The decisive defeat, in which only 10 of 45 Russian warships escaped to safety, convinced Russian leaders that further resistance against Japan‘s imperial designs for East Asia was hopeless.
On February 8, 1904, following the Russian rejection of a Japanese plan to divide Manchuria and Korea into spheres of influence, Japan launched a surprise naval attack against Port Arthur, a Russian naval base in China. It was the first major battle of the 20th century, and the Russian fleet was decimated. During the subsequent war, Japan won a series of decisive victories over the Russians, who underestimated the military potential of its non-Western opponent. In January 1905, the strategic naval base of Port Arthur fell to Japanese naval and ground forces under Admiral Heihachiro Togo, and in March Russian troops were defeated at Shenyang, China, by Japanese Field Marshal Iwao Oyama.
Russian Czar Nicholas II hoped that the Russian Baltic fleet under Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky would be able to challenge Admiral Togo’s supremacy at sea, but during the two-day Battle of Tsushima Strait, beginning on May 27, more than 30 Russian ships were sunk or captured by the superior Japanese warships. In August, the stunning string of Japanese victories convinced Russia to accept the peace treaty mediated by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt at Portsmouth, New Hampshire. (Roosevelt was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for this achievement.) In the Treaty of Portsmouth, Russia recognized Japan as the dominant power in Korea and gave up Port Arthur, the southern half of Sakhalin Island, and the Liaotung Peninsula to Japan.
Japan emerged from the conflict as the first modern non-Western world power and set its sights on greater imperial expansion. However, for Russia, its military’s disastrous performance in the war was one of the immediate causes of the Russian Revolution of 1905.
What the History.com writer didn’t tell you is this: Russia was always close to France, while Japan was close to both the U.S. and Great Britain. In fact, it was the British, and not the Americans, who introduced the Japanese to the automobile – which is why they, like the Brits, drive on the wrong side of the road to this day.
French naval technology at the turn of the 19th century was a joke: their ships were cumbersome, sea-going versions of medieval castles while British warships were sleek and deadly. The Russian fleet consisted largely of vessels based on the French model while the Japanese fleet could have easily passed for the British.
Hence the debacle at Tsushima Strait: