The Battle of Tsushima, Phil Carradice

The Battle of Tsushima, Phil Carradice

The battle of Tsushima was one of the most one-sided naval battles in history, famous for the completeness of the Russian defeat, for being the first major battle between steel battleships, as one of the first victories over a European power by an Asian power, and for the 18,000 mile voyage undertaken by the Russian Baltic Fleet to reach the battlefield.

The Russo-Japanese War began with a series of Japanese naval victories that left the Russian Pacific Fleet crippled and its surviving ships trapped in port. Tsar Nicholas II decided to send most of the powerful Russian Baltic Fleet to the Pacific, with the hope that it could join up with the remaining ships of the Pacific Fleet. The combined force would then defeat Admiral Togo’s smaller Japanese fleet, restoring the Russian position. The Russian fleet included four powerful Borodino class battleships, only recently completed and just as powerful as their Japanese opponents. The Russian fleet also included four older battleships and three coastal battleships, although the Japanese had more cruisers and destroyers. Despite apparently having at least as powerful a fleet as the Japanese, the Russians suffered a crushing defeat in the battle, the only major class between fleets dominated by pre-dreadnought battleships (and indeed the only major victory won without air power during the battleship era). 

This book does include good sections on the outbreak of the war, the early Japanese victories, the battle itself and its aftermath, but the focus is on that impressive 18,000 mile journey. It began badly, when the nervous Russians opened fire on trawlers from Hull while crossing the North Sea, almost triggering a naval war with Britain, and was reported as something of a running joke by much of the world’s media, but the voyage was actually quite an achievement. For most of the voyage the Russians were unable to take shelter in any neutral ports, and had to take on coal at sea. The larger ships went all the way around Africa, finally reaching relatively friendly waters in French controlled Madagascar. Carradice’s account of this voyage is fascinating and tragic – many of the Russian sailors believed they were sailing to their doom, their commanders squabbled amongst themselves, and the ships seethed with revolutionary activity. Even so the Russian commander, Admiral Rozhestvensky, was able to get the vast majority of his ships half way around the world, before they met their doom right at the entrance to the Sea of Japan.

The only false step comes in the brief section on the Japanese plans for the battle, in which Nelson’s decision to break the Franco-Spanish lines at Trafalgar is described as an attempt to ‘cross the T’, a tactic that only really appears during the age of the steam powered turret armed battleship. There is a point early on where plans of the two battles look similar, with two lines of ships from one fleet heading towards a line of ships crossing ahead of them – the difference is that Togo and Nelson were in opposite positions in the respective battles! In some of the individual battles between ships, Nelson’s captains were able to get into place for raking fire, but that’s a tactic for battles between individual ships, not an overall battle plan. However this is the only minor slip in an otherwise excellent book.

This is an utterly compelling story, well told by Carradice. We really sympathise with the Russian sailors, trapped on their ironclad warships for months as they battled against the elements, a largely hostile world, and even each other. The result is an excellent book that reminds us of the human cost of these massive naval battles.

 

Chapters
1 – A Samuri Attack
2 – War, Terrible War
3 – Rozhestvensky
4 – Early Disaster
5 – On Into the Wastes
6 – Felkersam’s Fleet
7 – A Stagnant Pause
8 – Togo Waits, Mad Dog Moves
9 – Towards the Donkey’s Ears
10 – Battle at Last
11 – Last Acts
12 - Aftermath

Author: Phil Carradice
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 256
Publisher: Pen & Sword History
Year: 2020


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