Conflict chronology (Part Three)

Journey of Russia's Second Pacific Squadron

After the death of Admiral Makarov, the First Pacific Squadron remained passively in port. As the Japanese began to tighten their stranglehold on Port Arthur, the Russians decided to send part of their Baltic Fleet to the Far East. The Russians' objectives were to relieve the siege on Port Arthur and to link up with the First Pacific Squadron to defeat the Japanese Imperial Navy.

Consisting of five divisions of the Baltic Fleet, the Second Pacific Squadron, under the command of Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky, departed on 15 October 1904. As the Russian fleet traveled from Europe to Asia, covering the distance of half the world, a highly volatile incident occurred.

Due to rumours that there were Japanese torpedo boats in the North Sea, Russian ships mistakenly fired a British trawlers at Dogger Bank, damaging the ships and killing at least seven fishermen. This incident almost brought Russia into war with Britain, which sent Royal Navy cruisers to shadow the Russian armada until a diplomatic agreement had been reached and that the Russian ships had passed the Bay of Biscay. 

Two battleships and three cruisers were detached from the main fleet to pass through the Suez Canal, while the rest sailed around the Cape of Good Hope. The Russian fleet was plagued with problems like getting coal supplies and repairs in neutral ports. (They often had to buy coal at sea from merchant vessels during their long voyage due to the lack of friendly fuelling ports on the journey.) After a long delay, both components of the fleet finally met up again at Madagascar before sailing across the Indian Ocean on 16 March 1905. One last stop was made at Van Fong Bay in French Indochina before the Russian prepared for battle. On 14 May,  the Russian fleet sailed north and headed for Vladivostok.

Route of the Baltic Fleet

On paper, the Russian fleet looked strong, comprising 8 battleships, 8 cruisers, 9 destroyers and several smaller ships. However, it was, in reality, a group of obsolete vessels, whose personnel were weak in gunnery, discipline and leadership. After a long and arduous voyage, the Russians, whose initial plan was to break the blockade of Port Arthur, decided to sail for Vladivostok instead, as Port Arthur had fallen on 2 January 1905.  

Meanwhile, waiting for them at the Tsushima Strait were Admiral Togo's fleet of 4 battleships, 8 cruisers, 21 destroyers and 60 torpedo boats.

27 - 28 May 1905 - The Battle of Tsushima began when Admiral Rozhesvensky, hoping to sail undetected to Vladivostok, entered the Tsushima Strait on the night of 26 May in a line-ahead formation. However, the Russian fleet was detected by a Japanese cruiser, which quickly notified the rest of the fleet. Once Admiral Togo received this news, he ordered an immediate attack on the Russian fleet. With the aid of torpedo boats, wireless telegraphy and the familiar knowledge of the waters, the Japanese, within two days, were able to inflict extensive damage on the Russian fleet within a short time. Russian ships trying to flee were either sunk or severely damaged. 

In the end, out of the entire Russian fleet, only one cruiser and two destroyers escaped to Vladivostok. Three other destroyers escaped to Manila, Philippines where they were interned. The remainder of the Russian fleet were either captured or sunk. The Russians suffered 10,000 casualties. Admiral Rozhesvensky himself was also captured by the Japanese. On the other hand, the Japanese lost less than 1,000 men and 3 torpedo boats. The overwhelming defeat in the Battle of Tsushima marked the end of Russia as a Pacific naval power. 

Battle of Tsushima

Conclusion of the conflict

With defeats on both land and sea, Russia, now facing seething internal discontent as well, was ready to make peace. For Japan, its limited war aims had been achieved. Hence, both sides had no wish to prolong the war. Through the efforts of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, both countries engaged in peace negotiations which led to the Treaty of Portsmouth on 5 September 1905.

The terms of the treaty were as follows.

  • Russia and Japan will return return their control of Manchuria to China.
  • Russia surrenders its de facto control of Port Arthur.
  • Japan will lease the Liaodong Peninsula (including Port Arthur and Dalian) and the Russian rail system in southern Manchuria (for access to strategic raw materials)
  • Japan will get the southern half of the Sakhalin Island from Russia.
  • Korea is recognised as being within Japan's sphere of influence.

Interestingly, despite Japan's territorial gains from this war, there was a public uproar in Japan over the treaty terms as Japan had initially wanted the whole Sakhalin Island and a financial indemnity from Russia. This actually led to the downfall of the Katsura Taro government in the following year.

Treaty of Portsmouth

Tactical significance of the war

The horrendous human losses in the land campaigns made plain the enormous defensive value of the machine gun, as well as the offensive value of artillery fire. Ironically, Western European countries would fail to grasp the significance of these weapons nine years later at the outbreak of World War One. In a way, the costly Battle of Mukden ushered in an era of 20th century land battles that would take a tremendous toll on human lives. 

The naval battle of Tsushima marked a significant milestone in naval military history as it demonstrated that battleship speed and big guns with longer ranges were more advantageous in naval battles than mixed batteries of different sizes. Wireless communications were also used for the first time, marking the beginning of electronic naval warfare.

Scholars believed that the Russian solders had once again proven their courage and tenacity in the face of overwhelming odds, in spite of the incompetence of the Russian officer class.

The Japanese also displayed considerable professional skill and fanatical devotion to duty in their conduct of the war. Through their victories on both land and sea, the Japanese also showed the world that an Asian nation, that was barely developed four decades ago, could defeat a leading European one.

Battle of Tsushima(72393)