Japan Navy Anniversary Day

Japan - Scott #2531 (1996)
Japan – Scott #2531 (1996)

May 27 in Japan is remembered as Navy Anniversary Day (海軍記念日 — Kaigun Kinen’bi) which commemorated the Battle of Tsushima, a major naval battle in 1905 fought between Russia and Japan during the Russo-Japanese War. It was naval history’s only decisive sea battle fought by modern steel battleship fleets, and the first naval battle in which wireless telegraphy (radio) played a critically important role. It has been characterized as the “dying echo of the old era — for the last time in the history of naval warfare, ships of the line of a beaten fleet surrendered on the high seas”. The anniversary was specifically marked by the Empire of Japan from 1906 until 1945.

Today, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (海上自衛隊 — Kaijō Jieitai), or JMSDF, is the naval branch of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, tasked with the naval defense of Japan. It is the de facto navy of Japan and was formed following the dissolution of the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) after World War II. The JMSDF has a fleet of 154 ships and 346 aircraft and consists of approximately 45,800 personnel. Its main tasks are to maintain control of the nation’s sea lanes and to patrol territorial waters. It also participates in UN-led peacekeeping operations (PKOs) and Maritime Interdiction Operations (MIOs).

The naval history of Japan can be said to have began in early interactions with states on the Asian continent in the early centuries of the 1st millennium, reaching a pre-modern peak of activity during the 16th century, a time of cultural exchange with European powers and extensive trade with the Asian mainland. After over two centuries of relative seclusion under the Tokugawa shogunate, Japan’s naval technologies were seen to be no match for Western navies when the country was forced by American intervention in 1854 to abandon its maritime restrictions. This and other events led to the Meiji Restoration, a period of frantic modernization and industrialization accompanied by the re-ascendance of the Emperor, making the Imperial Japanese Navy the third largest navy in the world by 1920, and arguably the most modern at the brink of World War II.

Nanban ships arriving for trade in Japan. 16th-century painting.
Nanban ships arriving for trade in Japan. 16th-century painting.

The Imperial Japanese Navy’s history of successes, sometimes against much more powerful foes as in the 1894–1895 Sino-Japanese War and the 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War, ended with the navy’s almost complete annihilation in 1945 against the United States Navy, and official dissolution at the end of the conflict. Japan’s current navy falls under the umbrella of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) as the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF). It still one of the top navies in the world in term of budget, although it is denied any offensive role by the nation’s Constitution and public opinion.

The Battle of Tsushima (Цусимское сражение — Tsusimskoye srazheniye in Russian), known as the Naval Battle of the Sea of Japan (日本海海戦 — Nihonkai-Kaisen) in Japan, was fought on May 27–28, 1905 (14–15 May in the Julian calendar then in use in Russia) in the Tsushima Strait between Korea and southern Japan. In this battle, the Japanese fleet under Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō destroyed two-thirds of the Russian fleet, under Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky, which had traveled over 18,000 nautical miles (33,000 km) to reach the Far East. In London in 1906, Sir George Sydenham Clarke wrote, “The battle of Tsu-shima is by far the greatest and the most important naval event since Trafalgar”; decades later, historian Edmund Morris agreed with this judgment. The destruction of the Russian navy caused a bitter reaction from the Russian public, which induced a peace treaty in September 1905 without any further battles.

Prior to the Russo-Japanese War, countries constructed their battleships with mixed batteries of mainly 152 mm (6-inch), 203 mm (8-inch), 254 mm (10-inch) and 305 mm (12-inch) guns, with the intent that these battleships fight on the battle line in a close-quarter, decisive fleet action. The Battle of Tsushima conclusively demonstrated that battleship speed and big guns with longer ranges were more advantageous in naval battles than mixed batteries of different sizes.

The battle was also the first time that wireless telegraphy was used in naval combat. The wireless telegraph had been invented during the last half of the 1890s, and by the turn of the century nearly all major navies were adopting this improved communications technology. Nonetheless Tsushima would be “the first major sea battle in which wireless played any role whatsoever”.

Port Arthur (Most likely the Battle of Port Arthur) during the Russo-Japanese War. The image depicts a Japanese ship sinking a Russian ship.
“A Righteous War to Chastise the Russians The Destroyer Force’s Night Attack”: A Japanese propaganda block print of an attack on Port Arthur (Most likely the Battle of Port Arthur) during the Russo-Japanese War. The image depicts a Japanese ship sinking a Russian ship.

On February 8, 1904, destroyers of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the Russian Far East Fleet anchored in Port Arthur (present-day Lüshun City on the Liaodong Peninsula, Liaoning province, China); three ships — two battleships and a cruiser — were damaged in the attack. The Russo-Japanese war had thus begun. Japan’s first objective was to secure its lines of communication and supply to the Asian mainland, enabling it to conduct a ground war in Manchuria. To achieve this, it was necessary to neutralize Russian naval power in the Far East. At first, the Russian naval forces remained inactive and did not engage the Japanese, who staged unopposed landings in Korea. The Russians were revitalized by the arrival of Admiral Stepan Makarov and were able to achieve some degree of success against the Japanese, but on April 13, Makarov’s flagship, the battleship Petropavlovsk struck a mine and sank; Makarov was among the dead. His successors failed to challenge the Japanese Navy, and the Russians were effectively bottled up in their base at Port Arthur.

By May, the Japanese had landed forces on the Liaodong Peninsula and in August began the siege of the naval station. On August 9, Admiral Wilgelm Vitgeft, commander of the 1st Pacific Squadron, was ordered to sortie his fleet to Vladivostok, link up with the Squadron stationed there, and then engage the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) in a decisive battle. Both squadrons of the Russian Pacific Fleet would ultimately become dispersed during the battles of the Yellow Sea on August 10 and the Ulsan on August 14, 1904. What remained of Russian naval power would eventually be sunk in Port Arthur.

With the inactivity of the First Pacific Squadron after the death of Admiral Makarov and the tightening of the Japanese noose around Port Arthur, the Russians considered sending part of their Baltic Fleet to the Far East. The plan was to relieve Port Arthur by sea, link up with the First Pacific Squadron, overwhelm the Imperial Japanese Navy, and then delay the Japanese advance into Manchuria until Russian reinforcements could arrive via the Trans-Siberian railroad and overwhelm the Japanese land forces in Manchuria. As the situation in the Far East deteriorated, the Tsar (encouraged by his cousin Kaiser Wilhelm II), agreed to the formation of the Second Pacific Squadron. This would consist of five divisions of the Baltic Fleet, including 11 of its 13 battleships. The squadron departed the Baltic ports of Reval (Tallinn) and Libau on October 15-16, 1904, numbering 42 ships and auxiliaries under the command of Admiral Zinovy Rozhestvensky.

Route taken by the Russian Second Pacific Squadron (in blue) from the Baltic to the Battle of Tsushima. Dobrotvorsky unit (in orange), Nebogatov detachment (in red).
Route taken by the Russian Second Pacific Squadron (in blue) from the Baltic to the Battle of Tsushima. Dobrotvorsky unit (in orange), Nebogatov detachment (in red).

The Second Pacific Squadron sailed through the Baltic into the North Sea. The Russians had heard fictitious reports of Japanese torpedo boats operating in the area and were on high alert. In the Dogger Bank incident, the Russian fleet mistook a group of British fishing trawlers operating near the Dogger Bank at night for hostile Japanese ships. The fleet fired upon the small civilian vessels, killing several British fishermen and one trawler was sunk while another six were damaged. In confusion, the Russians even fired upon two of their vessels, killing some of their men. The firing continued for twenty minutes before Rozhestvensky ordered firing to cease; greater loss of life was only avoided because the Russian gunnery was highly inaccurate.

The British were outraged by the incident and incredulous that the Russians could mistake a group of fishing trawlers for Japanese warships, thousands of miles from the nearest Japanese port. Britain almost entered the war in support of Japan, with whom it had a mutual defense agreement (but was neutral in the war, as their treaty contained a specific exemption for Japanese action in China and Korea). The Royal Navy sortied and shadowed the Russian fleet while a diplomatic agreement was reached. France, which had hoped to eventually bring the British and Russians together in an anti-German bloc, intervened diplomatically to restrain Britain from declaring war. The Russians were forced to accept responsibility for the incident, compensate the fishermen, disembark officers who were suspected of misconduct to give evidence to an enquiry, and banned from using the Suez Canal. Forced to take a much longer route to the Far East, the Russians sailed around Africa, and by April and May 1905 had anchored at Cam Ranh Bay in French Indochina (now Vietnam). The voyage took several months in rough seas, with difficulty obtaining coal for refueling — as the warships could not legally enter the ports of neutral nations — and the morale of the crews plummeted. The Russians needed 500,000 short tons (450,000 t) of coal and 30 to 40 re-coaling sessions to reach Cam Ranh Bay. This was provided by 60 colliers from the Hamburg-Amerika Line.

The Russians had been ordered to break the blockade of Port Arthur, but the city had already fallen (on January 2, 1905) by the time they arrived in the Far East. The objective was therefore shifted to linking up with the remaining Russian ships stationed in the port of Vladivostok, before bringing the Japanese fleet to battle.

The Russians could have sailed through any one of three possible straits to enter the Sea of Japan and reach Vladivostok: La Pérouse, Tsugaru, and Tsushima. Admiral Rozhestvensky chose Tsushima in an effort to simplify his route. Admiral Tōgō, based at Busan, also believed Tsushima would be the preferred Russian course. The Tsushima Strait is the body of water eastward of the Tsushima Island group, located midway between the Japanese island of Kyushu and the Korean Peninsula, the shortest and most direct route from Indochina. The other routes would have required the fleet to sail east around Japan. The Japanese Combined Fleet and the Russian Second and Third Pacific Squadrons, sent from the Baltic Sea, would fight in the straits between Korea and Japan near the Tsushima Islands.

Routes of the Russian and Japanese fleets in the days leading up to the battle.
Routes of the Russian and Japanese fleets in the days leading up to the battle.

Because of the 18,000-mile (29,000 km) journey, the Russian fleet was in relatively poor condition for battle. Apart from the four newest Borodino-class battleships, Admiral Nebogatov’s 3rd Division consisted of older and poorly maintained warships. Overall neither side had a significant maneuverability advantage. The long voyage, combined with a lack of opportunity for maintenance, meant the Russian ships were heavily fouled, significantly reducing their speed. The Japanese ships could sustain 15 knots (28 km/h), but the Russian fleet could reach just 14 knots (26 km/h), and then only in short bursts.

Tōgō achieved “crossing the T” twice. Additionally, there were significant deficiencies in the Russian naval fleet’s equipment and training. Russian naval tests with their torpedoes exposed major technological failings. Tōgō’s greatest advantage was that of experience, being the only active admiral in any navy with combat experience aboard battleships. The others were the Russian Admirals Oskar Viktorovich Stark, who had been relieved of his command following his humiliating defeat in the Battle of Port Arthur; Admiral Stepan Makarov, killed by a mine off Port Arthur; Wilgelm Vitgeft, who had been killed in the Battle of the Yellow Sea; Winfield Scott Schley who had retired in 1901; and William T. Sampson who had died in 1902.

Battleships, cruisers, and other vessels were arranged into divisions, each division being commanded by a Flag Officer (Admiral). At the battle of Tsushima, Admiral Tōgō was the officer commanding in the battleship Mikasa (the other divisions being commanded by Vice Admirals, Rear Admirals, Commodores, Captains and Commanders for the destroyer divisions). Next in line after Mikasa came the battleships Shikishima, Fuji and Asahi. Following them were two armored cruisers.

Admiral Tōgō, by using reconnaissance and choosing his position well, “secured beyond reasonable hazard his strategic objective of bringing the Russian fleet to battle, irrespective of speeds.” When Tōgō decided to execute a turn to port in sequence, he did so to preserve the sequence of his battleline, with the flagship Mikasa still in the lead which could indicate that Admiral Tōgō wanted his more powerful units to enter action first.

Upon sighting the Baltic Fleet early on May 27, 1905, a signal was sent to the ships of the Combined (Japanese) Fleet and the ships weighed anchor at once. The Japanese fleet is seen proceeding toward the enemy.
Upon sighting the Baltic Fleet early on May 27, 1905, a signal was sent to the ships of the Combined (Japanese) Fleet and the ships weighed anchor at once. The Japanese fleet is seen proceeding toward the enemy. 日本語: 5月27日早朝、敵艦見ゆとの警報に接し出撃した連合艦隊

Turning in sequence meant that each ship would turn one after the other whilst still following the ship in front. Effectively each vessel would turn over the same piece of sea (this being the danger in the maneuver as it gives the enemy fleet the opportunity to target that area). Tōgō could have ordered his ships to turn “together”, that is, each ship would have made the turn at the same time and reversed course. This maneuver, the same one effected by the French-Spanish fleet at Trafalgar, would be quicker but would have disrupted the sequence of the battleline and caused confusion by altering the battle plans and placing the cruisers in the lead. This was something Tōgō wished to avoid.

Because the Russians desired to slip undetected into Vladivostok, as they approached Japanese waters they steered outside regular shipping channels to reduce the chance of detection. On the night of May 26-27, 1905, the Russian fleet approached the Tsushima Strait.

In the night, thick fog blanketed the straits, giving the Russians an advantage. At 02:45 Japan Standard Time (JST), the Japanese auxiliary cruiser Shinano Maru observed three lights on what appeared to be a vessel on the distant horizon and closed to investigate. These lights were from the Russian hospital ship Orel, which, in compliance with the rules of war, had continued to burn them. At 04:30, Shinano Maru approached the vessel, noting that she carried no guns and appeared to be an auxiliary. The Orel mistook the Shinano Maru for another Russian vessel and did not attempt to notify the fleet. Instead, she signaled to inform the Japanese ship that there were other Russian vessels nearby. The Shinano Maru then sighted the shapes of ten other Russian ships in the mist. The Russian fleet had been discovered, and any chance of reaching Vladivostok undetected had disappeared.

Shinano Maru (信濃丸) was a 6,388 gt merchantman operated by the Nippon Yusen K.K Shipping Company (NYK). Photo taken in 1905.
Shinano Maru (信濃丸) was a 6,388 gt merchantman operated by the Nippon Yusen K.K Shipping Company (NYK). Photo taken in 1905.

Wireless telegraphy played an important role from the start. At 04:55, Captain Narukawa of the Shinano Maru sent a message to Admiral Tōgō in Masampo that the “Enemy is in square 203”. By 05:00, intercepted radio signals informed the Russians that they had been discovered and that Japanese scouting cruisers were shadowing them. Admiral Tōgō received his message at 05:05, and immediately began to prepare his battle fleet for a sortie.

At 06:34, before departing with the Combined Fleet, Admiral Tōgō wired a confident message to the navy minister in Tokyo:

In response to the warning that enemy ships have been sighted, the Combined Fleet will immediately commence action and attempt to attack and destroy them. Weather today fine but high waves.

The final sentence of this telegram has become famous in Japanese military history, and has been quoted by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe.

At the same time the entire Japanese fleet put to sea, with Tōgō in his flagship Mikasa leading over 40 vessels to meet the Russians. Meanwhile, the shadowing Japanese scouting vessels sent wireless reports every few minutes as to the formation and course of the Russian fleet. There was mist which reduced visibility and the weather was poor. Wireless gave the Japanese an advantage; in his report on the battle, Admiral Tōgō noted the following:

Though a heavy fog covered the sea, making it impossible to observe anything at a distance of over five miles, [through wireless messaging] all the conditions of the enemy were as clear to us, who were 30 or 40 miles distant, as though they had been under our very eyes.

ZULU flag
ZULU flag

At 13:40, both fleets sighted each other and prepared to engage. At around 13:55, Tōgō ordered the hoisting of the Z flag, issuing a predetermined announcement to the entire fleet:

The Empire’s fate depends on the result of this battle, let every man do his utmost duty.

By 14:45, Tōgō had ‘crossed the Russian T’ enabling him to fire broadsides, while the Russians could only reply with their forward turrets.

The Russians sailed from south southwest to north northeast; “continuing to a point of intersection which allowed only their bow guns to bear; enabling him [Tōgō] to throw most of the Russian batteries successively out of bearing.” The Japanese fleet steamed from northeast to west, then Tōgō ordered the fleet to turn in sequence, which enabled his ships to take the same course as the Russians, although risking each battleship consecutively. Although Tōgō’s U-turn was successful, Russian gunnery had proven surprisingly good and the flagship Mikasa was hit 15 times in five minutes. Before the end of the engagement she was struck 15 more times by large caliber shells.

Rozhestvensky had only two alternatives, “a charge direct, in line abreast”, or to commence “a formal pitched battle.” He chose the latter, and at 14:08, the Japanese flagship Mikasa was hit at about 7,000 metres, with the Japanese replying at 6,400 meters. Superior Japanese gunnery then took its toll, with most of the Russian battleships being crippled.

Commander Vladimir Semenoff, a Russian staff officer aboard the flagship Knyaz Suvorov, said “It seemed impossible even to count the number of projectiles striking us. Shells seemed to be pouring upon us incessantly one after another. The steel plates and superstructure on the upper decks were torn to pieces, and the splinters caused many casualties. Iron ladders were crumpled up into rings, guns were literally hurled from their mountings. In addition to this, there was the unusually high temperature and liquid flame of the explosion, which seemed to spread over everything. I actually watched a steel plate catch fire from a burst.”

First ship sunk in the Battle of Tsushima on May 27, 1905 - Imperial Russian Ironclad warship Oslyabya, photographed at Bizerte, Tunisia, on December 27, 1903.
First ship sunk in the Battle of Tsushima on May 27, 1905 – Imperial Russian Ironclad warship Oslyabya, photographed at Bizerte, Tunisia, on December 27, 1903.

Ninety minutes into the battle, the first warship to be sunk was the Russian battleship Oslyabya from Rozhestvensky’s 2nd Battleship division. This was the first time a modern armored warship had been sunk by gunfire alone.

A direct hit on the Russian battleship Borodino‘s magazines by the Japanese battleship Fuji caused her to explode, which sent smoke thousands of yards (meters) into the air and trapped all of her crew on board as she sank. Rozhestvensky was knocked out of action by a shell fragment that struck his skull. In the evening, Rear Admiral Nebogatov took over command of the Russian fleet. The Russians lost the battleships Knyaz Suvorov, Oslyabya, Imperator Aleksandr III and Borodino. The Japanese ships suffered only light damage.

At night, around 20:00, 21 destroyers and 37 Japanese torpedo boats were thrown against the Russians. The destroyers attacked from the vanguard while the torpedo boats attacked from the east and south of the Russian fleet. The Japanese were aggressive, continuing their attacks for three hours without a break, as a result during the night, there were a number of collisions between the small craft and Russian warships. The Russians were now dispersed in small groups trying to break northwards. By 23:00, it appeared that the Russians had vanished, but they revealed their positions to their pursuers by switching on their searchlights – ironically, the searchlights had been turned on to spot the attackers. The old battleship Navarin struck a mine and was compelled to stop; she was consequently torpedoed four times and sunk. Out of a crew of 622, only three survived, one to be rescued by the Japanese and the other two by a British merchant ship.

The battleship Sissoi Veliky was badly damaged by a torpedo in the stern, and was scuttled the next day. Two old armored cruisers – Admiral Nakhimov and Vladimir Monomakh – were badly damaged, the former by a torpedo hit to the bow, the latter by colliding with a Japanese destroyer. They were both scuttled by their crews the next morning, the Admiral Nakhimov off Tsushima Island, where she headed while taking on water. The night attacks had put a great strain on the Russians, as they had lost two battleships and two armored cruisers, while the Japanese had only lost three torpedo boats.

Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō on the bridge of Mikasa, at the beginning of the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. The signal flag being hoisted is the letter Z, which was a special instruction to the Fleet. Left to right: messenger Yamazaki Genki, navigator Second Lieutenant Edahara Yurikazu, staff Major Iida Hisatsune, chief navigator Lieutenant Colonel Nunome Mitsuzō, aide-de-camp of gunnery officer Lieutenant Imamura Nobujirō, captain of Mikasa Captain Ijichi Hikojirō, gunnery officer Major Abo Kiyokazu, 4th grade sailor Noguchi Shinzō, chief of staff Rear-Admiral Katō Tomosaburō, measurement officer Cadet Lieutenant Hasegawa Kiyoshi, Commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet Tōgō Heihachirō, staff Lieutenant Colonel Akiyama Saneyuki, 1st grade sailor Miura Tadashi, cadet Tamaki Shinsuke 日本語: 東城鉦太郎『三笠艦橋之圖』 右から左へ:伝令・玉木信介少尉候補生、伝令・三浦忠一等信号兵、参謀・秋山真之中佐、連合艦隊司令長官・東郷平八郎大将、測的係・長谷川清少尉、参謀長・加藤友三郎少将、伝令・野口新蔵四等水兵、砲術長・安保清種少佐、艦長・伊地知彦次郎大佐、砲術長附・今村信次郎中尉、航海長・布目満造中佐、参謀・飯田久恒少佐、航海士・枝原百合一少尉、伝令・山崎厳亀少尉候補生
Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō on the bridge of Mikasa, at the beginning of the Battle of Tsushima in 1905. The signal flag being hoisted is the letter Z, which was a special instruction to the Fleet. Left to right: messenger Yamazaki Genki, navigator Second Lieutenant Edahara Yurikazu, staff Major Iida Hisatsune, chief navigator Lieutenant Colonel Nunome Mitsuzō, aide-de-camp of gunnery officer Lieutenant Imamura Nobujirō, captain of Mikasa Captain Ijichi Hikojirō, gunnery officer Major Abo Kiyokazu, 4th grade sailor Noguchi Shinzō, chief of staff Rear-Admiral Katō Tomosaburō, measurement officer Cadet Lieutenant Hasegawa Kiyoshi, Commander-in-chief of the Combined Fleet Tōgō Heihachirō, staff Lieutenant Colonel Akiyama Saneyuki, 1st grade sailor Miura Tadashi, cadet Tamaki Shinsuke 日本語: 東城鉦太郎『三笠艦橋之圖』 右から左へ:伝令・玉木信介少尉候補生、伝令・三浦忠一等信号兵、参謀・秋山真之中佐、連合艦隊司令長官・東郷平八郎大将、測的係・長谷川清少尉、参謀長・加藤友三郎少将、伝令・野口新蔵四等水兵、砲術長・安保清種少佐、艦長・伊地知彦次郎大佐、砲術長附・今村信次郎中尉、航海長・布目満造中佐、参謀・飯田久恒少佐、航海士・枝原百合一少尉、伝令・山崎厳亀少尉候補生

During the night action, Tōgō had deployed his torpedo boat destroyers to destroy any remaining enemy vessels, chase down any fleeing warships, and then consolidate his heavy units. At 09:30 on May 28, what remained of the Russian fleet was sighted heading northwards. Tōgō’s battleships proceeded to surround Nebogatov’s remaining squadron south of the island of Takeshima and commenced main battery fire at 12,000 meters. Realizing that his guns were out ranged by at least one thousand yards (meters) and that he could be destroyed at Tōgō’s leisure, Nebogatov ordered the six ships remaining under his command to surrender. XGE, an international signal of surrender, was hoisted; however, the Japanese navy continued to fire as they did not have “surrender” in their code books and had to hastily find one that did. Still under heavy fire, Nebogatov then ordered white table cloths sent up the mastheads, but Tōgō having had a Chinese warship escape him while flying that flag during the 1894 war did not trust them, and continued to fire his main batteries. The Russian cruiser Izumrud then lowered her XGE surrender flag and attempted to flee. Running out of options, Nebogatov ordered the Imperial Japanese Navy flag up the mastheads and all engines stopped. When Japanese flags began showing up in 12-inch gun range finders, Tōgō gave the cease fire and accepted Nebogatov’s surrender. Nebogatov surrendered knowing that he could be shot for doing so. He said to his men:

You are young, and it is you who will one day retrieve the honor and glory of the Russian Navy. The lives of the two thousand four hundred men in these ships are more important than mine.

Neither Nebogatov nor Rozhestvensky were shot when they returned home to Russia. However, both were placed on trial. Rozhestvensky claimed full responsibility for the fiasco; but as he had been wounded and unconscious during the last part of the battle, the Tsar commuted his death sentence. Nebogatov, having surrendered the fleet at the end of the naval engagement, was imprisoned for several years and eventually pardoned by the Tsar. Both men’s reputations were ruined.

Until the evening of May 28, isolated Russian ships were pursued by the Japanese until almost all were destroyed or captured. Three Russian warships reached Vladivostok. The cruiser Izumrud, which escaped from the Japanese despite being present at Nebogatov’s surrender, was scuttled by her crew after running aground near the Siberian coast.

The Japanese fleets had practiced gunnery regularly since the beginning of the war, using sub-calibre adapters in their guns and gaining more experience than the Russians. The Japanese also used mostly high-explosive shells with shimose (melinite), which was designed to explode on contact and wreck the upper structures of ships. The Russians used armor-piercing rounds with small guncotton bursting charges and unreliable fuses. Japanese hits caused more damage to Russian ships relative to Russian hits on Japanese ships, setting the superstructures, the paintwork and the large quantities of coal stored on the decks on fire. The Russian fleet often bought low-quality coal at sea from merchant vessels on most of their long voyage due to the lack of friendly fuelling ports.

Russian protected cruiser Oleg, showing battle damage after the Battle of Tsushima. Photo taken on June 27, 1905 in Manila Bay, Philippines. Original sepia-tint photograph slightly digitally-enhanced and cleaned up.
Russian protected cruiser Oleg, showing battle damage after the Battle of Tsushima. Photo taken on June 27, 1905 in Manila Bay, Philippines. Original sepia-tint photograph slightly digitally-enhanced and cleaned up.

Japanese fire was also more accurate because they were using the latest issued (1903) Barr and Stroud FA3 coincidence rangefinder, which had a range of 6,000 yards (5,500 m), while the Russian battleships were equipped with Liuzhol rangefinders from the 1880s, which only had a range of about 4,000 yards (3,700 m). By May 27, 1905, Admiral Tōgō and his men had two battleship fleet actions under their belts, which amounted to over four hours of combat experience in battleship-to-battleship combat at Port Arthur and the Yellow Sea.

Lieutenant Akiyama Saneyuki had been sent to the United States as a naval attaché in 1897. He witnessed firsthand the capabilities of radio telegraphy and sent a memo to the Navy Ministry urging that they push ahead as rapidly as possible to acquire the new technology. The ministry became heavily interested in the technology, however it found the cost of the Marconi wireless system, which was then operating with the Royal Navy, to be exceedingly expensive. The Japanese therefore decided to create their own radio sets by setting up a radio research committee under Professor Shunkichi Kimura, which eventually produced an acceptable system. In 1901, having attained radio transmissions of up to 70 miles (110 km), the navy formally adopted radio telegraphy. Two years later, a laboratory and factory were set up at Yokosuka to produce the Type 36 (1903) radios, and these were quickly installed on every major warship in the Combined Fleet by the time the war started.

Alexander Stepanovich Popov of the Naval Warfare Institute had built and demonstrated a wireless telegraphy set in 1900, and equipment from the firm Telefunken in Germany was adopted by the Imperial Russian Navy. Although both sides had early wireless telegraphy, the Russians were using German sets and had difficulties in their use and maintenance, while the Japanese had the advantage of using their own equipment.

The battle was humiliating for Russia, which lost all its battleships and most of its cruisers and destroyers. The battle effectively ended the Russo-Japanese War in Japan’s favor. The Russians lost 4,380 killed and 5,917 captured, including two admirals, with a further 1,862 interned.

The Russians lost eleven battleships, including three smaller coastal vessels, either sunk or captured by the Japanese, or scuttled by their crews to prevent capture. Four ships were lost to enemy action during the daylight battle on May 27: Knyaz Suvorov, Imperator Aleksandr III, Borodino and Oslyabya. Navarin was lost during the night action, on May 27-28, while the Sissoi Veliky, Admiral Nakhimov and Admiral Ushakov were either scuttled or sunk the next day. Four other battleships, under Rear Admiral Nebogatov, were forced to surrender and would end up as prizes of war. This group consisted of only one modern battleship, Oryol, along with the old battleship Imperator Nikolai I and the two small coastal battleships General Admiral Graf Apraksin and Admiral Seniavin. The small coastal battleship Admiral Ushakov refused to surrender and was scuttled by her crew.

Almaz (Алмаз; literally
Almaz (Алмаз; literally “Diamond”) was a 2nd-class cruiser in the Imperial Russian Navy, built by Baltic Shipyard in Saint Petersburg, Russia,[1] as a yacht for Viceroy Yevgeni Alekseyev.

The Russian Navy lost four of its eight cruisers during the battle, three were interned by the Americans, with just one reaching Vladivostok. Vladimir Monomakh and Svetlana were sunk the next day, after the daylight battle. The cruiser Dmitrii Donskoi fought against six Japanese cruisers and survived; however, due to heavy damage she was scuttled. Izumrud ran aground near the Siberian coast. Three Russian protected cruisers, Aurora, Zhemchug, and Oleg escaped to the U.S. naval base at Manila in the then-American-controlled Philippines where they were interned, as the United States was neutral. The armed yacht (classified as a cruiser), Almaz, alone was able to reach Vladivostok.

Imperial Russia also lost six of its nine destroyers in the battle, had one interned by the Chinese, and the other two escaped to Vladivostok. They were – Buyniy (“Буйный”), Bistriy (“Быстрый”), Bezuprechniy (“Безупречный”), Gromkiy (“Громкий”) and Blestyashchiy (“Блестящий”) – sunk on May 28, Byedoviy (“Бедовый”) surrendered that day. Bodriy (“Бодрый”) was interned in Shanghai; Grosniy (“Грозный”) and Braviy (“Бравый”) reached Vladivostok.

Of the auxiliaries, Kamchatka, Ural and Rus were sunk on May 27, Irtuish ran aground on May 28, Koreya and Svir were interned in Shanghai; Anadyr escaped to Madagascar. The hospital ships Orel and Kostroma were captured; Kostroma was released afterwards.

The Japanese lost three torpedo boats (Nos. 34, 35 and 69), with 117 men killed and 500 wounded.

Imperial Russia’s prestige was badly damaged and the defeat was a blow to the Romanov dynasty. Most of the Russian fleet was lost; the fast armed yacht Almaz (classified as a cruiser of the 2nd rank) and the destroyers Grozny and Bravy were the only Russian ships to reach Vladivostok. In The Guns of August, the American historian and author Barbara Tuchman argued that because Russia’s loss destabilized the balance of power in Europe, it emboldened the Central Powers and contributed to their decision to go to war in 1914.

The battleship Mikasa, Admiral Tōgō's flagship at the battle of Tsushima, preserved as a memorial in Yokosuka, Japan. Photo taken on August 30, 2010.
The battleship Mikasa, Admiral Tōgō’s flagship at the battle of Tsushima, preserved as a memorial in Yokosuka, Japan. Photo taken on August 30, 2010.

The battle had a profound cultural and political impact upon Japan. It was the first defeat of a European power by an Asian nation in the modern era. It also weakened the notion of white superiority that was prevalent in some Western countries. The victory established Japan as the sixth greatest naval power while the Russian navy declined to one barely stronger than that of Austria-Hungary.

In The Guinness Book of Decisive Battles, the British historian Geoffrey Regan argues that the victory bolstered Japan’s increasingly aggressive political and military establishment. According to Regan, the lopsided Japanese victory at Tsushima:

“…created a legend that was to haunt Japan’s leaders for forty years. A British admiral once said, ‘It takes three years to build a ship, but 300 years to build a tradition.’ Japan thought that the victory had completed this task in a matter of a few years … It had all been too easy. Looking at Tōgō’s victory over one of the world’s great powers convinced some Japanese military men that with more ships, and bigger and better ones, similar victories could be won throughout the Pacific. Perhaps no power could resist the Japanese navy, not even Britain and the United States.”

Regan also believes the victory contributed to the Japanese road to later disaster, “because the result was so misleading. Certainly the Japanese navy had performed well, but its opponents had been weak, and it was not invincible… Tōgō’s victory [helped] set Japan on a path that would eventually lead her” to the Second World War.

Isoroku Yamamoto, the future Japanese admiral who would go on to plan the attack on Pearl Harbor and command the Imperial Japanese Navy through much of the Second World War, served as a junior officer (aboard Nisshin) during the battle and was wounded by Russian gunfire.

Britain’s First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, reasoned that the Japanese victory at Tsushima confirmed the importance of large guns and speed for modern battleships; in October 1905 the British started the construction of HMS Dreadnought, which upon her launching in 1906 began a naval arms race between Britain and Germany in the years before 1914. The British and Germans were both aware of the potentially devastating consequences of a naval defeat on the scale of Tsushima. Britain needed its battle fleet to protect its empire, and the trade routes vital to its war effort. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty, described British Admiral John Jellicoe as “the only man who could lose the war in an afternoon”. German naval commanders, for their part, understood the importance Kaiser Wilhelm II attached to his navy and the diplomatic prestige it carried. As a result of caution, the British and German fleets met in only one major action in World War I, the indecisive Battle of Jutland.

Following Japan’s defeat in World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy was dissolved by the Potsdam Declaration acceptance. Ships were disarmed, and some of them, such as the battleship Nagato, were taken by the Allied Powers as reparation. The remaining ships were used for repatriation of the Japanese soldiers from abroad and also for minesweeping in the area around Japan, initially under the control of the Second Bureau of the Demobilization Ministry. The minesweeping fleet was eventually transferred to the newly formed Maritime Safety Agency, which helped maintain the resources and expertise of the navy.

Japan’s 1947 Constitution was drawn up after the conclusion of the war, Article 9 specifying that “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” The prevalent view in Japan is that this article allows for military forces to be kept for the purposes of self-defense. Due to Cold War pressures, the United States was also happy for Japan to provide part of its own defense, rather than have it fully rely on American forces.

In 1952, the Coastal Safety Force was formed within the Maritime Safety Agency, incorporating the minesweeping fleet and other military vessels, mainly destroyers, given by the United States. In 1954, the Coastal Safety Force was separated, and the JMSDF was formally created as the naval branch of the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF), following the passage of the 1954 Self-Defense Forces Law.

Japanese sailors on board JS KONGO (DDG 173) watch pier-side line handlers as the ship moors pierside Naval Station Pearl Harbor. Currently in Pearl Harbor, KONGO is the first Japanese ship with the capability to detect, track and intercept short to medium range ballistic missiles. Later this year, KONGO will conduct a flight test, designated Japan Flight Test Mission-1, at Pacific Missile Range Facility, Hawaii. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James E. Foehl (RELEASED)
Japanese sailors on board JS KONGO (DDG 173) watch pier-side line handlers as the ship moors pierside Naval Station Pearl Harbor. Currently in Pearl Harbor, KONGO is the first Japanese ship with the capability to detect, track and intercept short to medium range ballistic missiles. Later this year, KONGO will conduct a flight test, designated Japan Flight Test Mission-1, at Pacific Missile Range Facility, Hawaii. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James E. Foehl (RELEASED) Photo taken on October 15, 2007.

The first ships in the JMSDF were former U.S. Navy destroyers, transferred to Japanese control in 1954. In 1956, the JMSDF received its first domestically produced destroyer since World War II, Harukaze. Due to the Cold War threat posed by the Soviet Navy’s sizable and powerful submarine fleet, the JMSDF was primarily tasked with an anti-submarine role.

Following the end of the Cold War, the role of the JMSDF has vastly changed. In 1991, after much international pressure, the JMSDF dispatched 4 minesweepers, a fleet oiler (JDS Tokiwa) and a minesweeping tender (JDS Hayasse) to the Persian Gulf in the aftermath of the Gulf War, under the name of Operation Gulf Dawn, to clear mines sown by Saddam Hussein’s defending forces; and starting with a mission to Cambodia in 1993 when JSDF personnel were supported by JDS Towada, it has been active in a number of UN-led peace keeping operations throughout Asia. In 1993, it commissioned its first Aegis-equipped destroyer, Kongō. It has also been active in joint naval exercises with other countries, such as the United States. The JMSDF has dispatched a number of its destroyers on a rotating schedule to the Indian Ocean in an escort role for allied vessels as part of the UN-led Operation Enduring Freedom.

U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ships underway in formation as part of a photo exercise on the final day of Keen Sword 2011. The exercise enhances the Japan-U.S. alliance which remains a key strategic relationship in the Northeast Asia Pacific region. Keen Sword caps the 50th anniversary of the Japan-U.S. alliance as an “alliance of equals.” (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Jacob D. Moore/Released. Photo taken on December 10, 2010.)

With an increase in tensions with North Korea following the 1993 test of the Nodong-1 missile and the 1998 test of the Taepodong-1 missile over northern Japan, the JMSDF has stepped up its role in air defense. A ship-based anti-ballistic missile system was successfully test-fired on December 18, 2007, and has been installed on Japan’s Aegis-equipped destroyers. The JMSDF, along with the Japan Coast Guard, has also been active in preventing North Korean infiltrators from reaching Japan and in December 2001, engaged and sank a North Korean spy ship.

Scott #2031 was the second of two stamps released by Japan on July 19, 1996, to mark a different maritime related Japanese holiday, Marine Day (海の日 — Umi no Hi), also known as “Ocean Day” or “Sea Day”,  celebrated on the third Monday in July (July 16 in 2018). The purpose of the holiday is to give thanks to the ocean’s bounty and to consider the importance of the ocean to Japan as an island nation.

Many people take advantage of the holiday and summer weather to take a beach trip. Other ocean-related festivities are observed as well. The date roughly coincides with the end of tsuyu (rainy season) in much of the Japan mainland.

The day was known as Marine Memorial Day (海の記念日 umi no kinen bi) until 1996. Communications Minister Shozo Murata designated the day in 1941 to commemorate the Meiji Emperor and his 1876 voyage in the Meiji Maru, an iron steamship constructed in Scotland in 1874. The voyage included a trip around the Tōhoku region, embarking on a lighthouse boat in Aomori, and a brief stop in Hakodate before returning to Yokohama on July 20 of that year. However, it was not designated a national holiday until 1995, when it became the first holiday in the summer months.

First observed on July 20, 1996, the Happy Monday System legislation moved the date to the third Monday of July beginning in 2003.

Naval Ensign of Japan

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