Battle of Tsushima Straits propaganda postcard, Russo-Japanese War, 1905.

1900sHistoric EventsPatriotism/Military
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“The rise or fall of the Empire depends on this battle.
Let every man do his utmost.”

– Admiral Togo Heihachirō

Battle of Tsushima Straits propaganda postcard, Russo-Japanese War, 1905. This pivotal sea battle was fought May 27–28, 1905. It was naval history’s first, and so far the last, decisive sea battle fought by modern steel battleship fleets. The Japanese fleet under Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō annihilated the Russian Baltic fleet, under Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky, which had traveled over 18,000 nautical miles to reach the Far East, sinking all its battleships and most of its cruisers and destroyers (while the Japanese fleet lost only a total of three torpedo boats). The battle effectively ended the Russo-Japanese War in Japan’s favor.

See also:
“This is the Japanese greatest admiral …”, Admiral Togo, 1906.
IJN battleship “Mikasa”, c. 1910.
Imperial Japanese Navy Cruiser “Soya”, c. 1910.

“The history of Japan has demonstrated that the control of her destiny depends upon the control of the Straits of Tsushima.

“At first, when craft were frail in structure and propelled by sail and oar, the Straits of Tsushima formed a natural zone of neutrality barring successful invasion of either side. Fleets of hostile junks had to overcome the physical difficulties of the passage first and naval resistance as a minor second.

“In more recent times, however, the physical hazards were practically nullified by modern vessels, and the situation became reversed. What through the ages had been a dividing moat became a connecting drawbridge. There remained no effective obstacle to its use by an attacking fleet except an opposing fleet.

“… [Imperial Japanese Navy Fleet Admiral] Togo’s battle plan called for annihilation. The time for caution was past. ‘The way to win a naval engagement,’ he later said to a close friend, ‘is to strike hard at the right moment, and [the] ability to judge the opportunity cannot be acquired from books but only from experience.’

“His tactics were designed to enable him to select the ‘right moment’. The Japanese fleet had been indoctrinated by Togo with the concept that the approaching battle would not be a contest between ships manipulated by men but a contest between men using as weapons these great floating fortresses as those men’s forefathers had wielded swords.

“‘The Russian Navy,’ he commented in after years, ‘was not weak but lost to us because of the belief that a battle can be won by the ships as distinguished from the complements. In the end they relied upon the vessels and, when these were damaged seriously, gave up hope. In our Navy, on the other hand, every single man was prepared to fight until he individually was incapacitated, no matter how badly his ship might be injured.’

“Emphasizing that distinction was not splitting hairs; it went to the essence of Tsushima; it went back generations; and it was the eternal bushido as instilled into the Japanese fleet.”

Togo and the Rise of Japanese Seapower, by Edwin A. Falk, 1936

Battle of Tsushima Straits propaganda postcard, Russo-Japanese War, 1905.

“The naval battle that began to rage [at Tsushima Straits] on 27 May 1905 and ended more than 24 hours later shocked laymen and naval specialists alike.

Maps: Battle of Tsushima Straits, 1905. 1. Imperial Japanese Navy fleet disposition around the Tsushima Straits before the battle. 2.Fleet admiral Togo’s approach toward the Russian Baltic Navy after its sighting. 3.Togo’s fleet turns towards the Russian fleet and decisively “crosses the ‘T'”. [Maps source: Togo and the Rise of Japanese Seapower, Falk, 1936.]

“This is not because the Japanese victory was surprising. In fact, the Imperial Japanese Navy had won almost all earlier engagements against its Russian foe. Nonetheless, no one expected such a decisive victory, and even more so, no one expected such an extensive display of Japanese superiority, both in tactics and fighting spirit.

“In the end, almost every Russian warship was sunk, captured, or interned, with only three small vessels reaching safe haven in Vladivostok. In terms of aggregated tonnage lost, captured or interned, the imbalance is even more apparent: Russia’s total losses [during the course of the war, 1904-1905] were 198,721 tons (92.5 percent of the entire fleet) compared to a mere 265 tons lost by Japan (a ratio of 749:1). A comparison of the aggregate tonnage of warships sunk in the battle [of Tsushima], 97,000 vs. 265 tons, is no less astonishing (a ratio of 366:1).

“Overall, the Battle of Tsushima marked the most devastating defeat suffered by the Imperial Russian Navy and its Soviet heir in its entire history.”

Time to Remember, Time to Forget: The Battle of Tsushima in Japanese Collective Memory since 1905, by Rotern Kowner, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 20 No. 3, June 2022

Battle of Tsushima Straits anniversary commemorative postcard, 1912.

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