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Friday, September 18, 2020

The Battle of Tsushima, the beginning of the end for Czarist Russia

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During the Battle of the Tsushima Strait, a channel located between Korea and Japan, the Russian Baltic Fleet was nearly destroyed by the Japanese Navy on May 27th and 28th, 1905. It proved to be the last big clash of the Russo-Japanese War. Fought over supremacy in China and Korea, it had started on February 8th 1904 with a Japanese surprise attack on Port Arthur, a Chinese port on the Pacific managed by the Russians.

After a stunning string of Japanese victories, Czar Nicholas II had hoped that Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky would be able to challenge Marshal Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō’s obvious supremacy at sea. The attempt ended with a decisive defeat for the Eurasian empire, which had underestimated the military potential of its Fast Eastern opponents. At the end, only 10 of 45 Russian warships escaped to safety in Vladivostok. While Russia’s losses amounted to almost 6,000 men, Japan only suffered 700 casualties. A feeling of deep humiliation finally convinced the government in Saint Petersburg that further resistance against Japan’s imperial ambitions in East Asia was useless.

Under mediation of then US President Theodore Roosevelt, a peace treaty between the two nations was signed at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, on September 5th, 1905. As a result, Russia recognized Japan´s dominance over Korea, which after the unequal Eulsa Treaty of November 17th, 1905 fist became a protectorate and was later annexed. It also gave up the Liaotung Peninsula where Port Arthur was located, as well as the southern half of Sakhalin Island. Nippon renamed it Karafuto, and kept the territory until the end of World War II. Even though he was never actually present at the negotiations, Roosevelt in 1906 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his achievement.

After easily defeating China in 1894/95 and making Taiwan its colony, Japan emerged from this conflict as the first modern non-Western world power. In August 1914, right at the beginning of World War I, it seized Kiautschou, a German concession in China. The invasion of Manchuria would follow in September 1931, which ultimately led to the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War in July 1937 and the start of World War II in Asia in December 1941. Only Japan’s unconditional surrender to the US in August 1945 brought its growing expansionism to an abrupt halt.

On the contrary, Russia’s military disastrous performance was one of the immediate causes of the First Russian Revolution in 1905. 12 years later, two more uprisings would bring down the 300 year-old Romanov Dynasty. Eventually, in July 1918 the Czar and his whole family were murdered by the Bolsheviks under Lenin.

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  1. Under mediation of then US President Theodore
    without a family name, it looks as if you knew him personally. 🙂

    An interesting episode, this war. You may wonder how the Baltic Fleet managed to arrive to East Asia, because it is one of the most disastrous trips ever done.

    • Oops! Many years ago I did the same thing with Dwight D. Eisenhower. While still at school, I called him Ike and was reprimanded by the teacher. Thanks for letting me know this time!
      It was indeed already an accomplishment to get the Baltic Fleet to Asia. What a pity that things went so wrong…


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