Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Today In History: A very long run for a very short slide.

The Russo-Japanese War opened in February of 1904 with the Japanese launching a surprise assault on the Russian fleet at Port Arthur without benefit of a declaration of war, something that would grow to become a lovable Japanese trademark throughout the 20th Century. The remainder of the Tsar's Pacific squadron was soon either sunk or bottled up in Port Arthur.

A relief force consisting of most of the rest of the Russian navy set sail from the Baltic in October, its objective being the relief of besieged Port Arthur. Since they were in something of a tiff with Great Britain, the Suez canal was barred to them, and as a result the had to take the long way 'round Africa while Port Arthur fell to the Imperial Japanese Army.

After a seven month, 18,000-mile voyage, the mighty battleships of the Tsar's navy were sighted in the Tsushima Straits by the navy of a country that had been dragged kicking and screaming from a medieval agrarian existence not forty years before. Most of the Baltic Fleet ended their epic voyage on the bottom of the sea.

By the morning of May 28, the few surviving Russian ships surrendered to Admiral Togo, who had beaten their pants off with superior technology, superior seamanship, and superior tactics. To say the rest of the world was stunned would be something of an understatement.

9 comments:

Earl said...

The Tsar wasn't up to the task of world domnination, but then neither were the Japanese, and Teddy would win a peace prize. Lovely old coal fired battleships, what lovely trench warfare in Asia unstudied by the General Staffs of Europe. Hindsight is marvelously clear, and still the past will haunt our future. Nice to remember, you and I make two.

Anonymous said...

They were also somewhat hamstrung by a small lake in Siberia, to the point that they ran trains over the ice, until it thawed in the spring.

Anonymous said...

"They were also somewhat hamstrung by a small lake in Siberia, to the point that they ran trains over the ice, until it thawed in the spring."

Frozen lakes are generally considered a blessing from god in Permafrost country.

You can move stuff easily on ice, but unfrozen bogs and lakes are a a misery in every sense.

Oldsmoblogger said...

John Van Duyn Southworth devotes considerable space to the Russo-Japanese naval war in his highly readable War at Sea: Age of Steam (vol. 3 of a four-volume set). There's also a nice operational history of the ironclad Huascar in there.

Anonymous said...

"Frozen lakes are generally considered a blessing from god in Permafrost country.

You can move stuff easily on ice."

Generally, yes they are a blessing, unless they are keeping you from running troop and supply trains from Moscow to Vladivostok.

Oldsmoblogger said...

The ice road over Lake Ladoga helped save Leningrad....

Anonymous said...

But if it had been a railroad into Leningrad, instead of an ice road?

alex. said...

Great post! My dear old departed dad (a first generation American whose parents came over on the borscht boat from Holy Mother Russia) would wax poetic about that epic journey and curse the damned British for their aid to the Japs. As I recall, the Russkie fleet actually shot up some limey fishing boats during the trip, either for the hell of it or because they believed them to be torpedo boats. And didn't one of the Czar's fleet end up in the P.I.?

Ritchie said...

Somewhere I read or heard that the Pearl Harbor attack was preceded by an official Declaration of War delivered to the Japanese Embassy in D.C. and that it was So Super Seekrit Sensitive that the code room staff was sent home and the diplomats tackled the job (perhaps using the legendary Purple Machine?) with predictable results.