A/N: There's a second chapter, btw

May 27, 1905 was a cold and misty morning in the Korean Strait, and through these waters sailed a ragtag Russian fleet, the Second and Third Pacific Squadrons, sent around the world from the Atlantic to engage the Japanese fleet in the culmination of the Russo-Japanese War. Ahead of them, off the island of Tsushima, the Japanese sat waiting in ambush, infesting the waters of the strait with numerous merchant patrol ships. At three o'clock in the morning the call came from the Japanese ship Shinano Maru: "The enemy sighted in number 203 section. He seems to be steering for the Eastern channel."

What would follow was the first true naval engagement of the 20th Century, the first great clash of the ironclads. For the first time since their creation, these modern warships would be put to the test, and naval experts around the world were jumping with anticipation.

The Russian fleet was commanded by Admiral Zinovy Petrovich Rozhestvenksy; they had just made a seven-and-a-half month journey from the Atlantic side of Russia, overloaded with coal, thus sinking too low on the draft and sitting very unstably, and crewed by conscripted men and sons of government officials, neither of which had the expertise necessary to engage anybody in battle. In addition, the ships of the Russian Second and Third Pacific Squadrons were either old or hastily assembled, and some were never meant to see deep-sea combat at all. In numbers and overall technology, however, the Russians equated rather well with the Japanese.

Admiral Heihachiro Togo commanded the Japanese fleet, which had a distinct advantage in several ways: the Japanese were fighting in familiar water, and had a rather large fleet of merchant patrol ships to give them an early warning of the Russians' arrival; in contrast with the ships of the Russian fleet, Togo's warships were all modern and well-built; and Togo's crews were well-trained and had undergone extreme amounts of target practice in the months preceding the battle. By contrast, during the Russian fleet's en route firing practice, conducted off the coast of Madagascar, "not a single hit was scored by the whole fleet." (Spector)

Upon receiving news of the enemy sighting, Togo's fleet departed into the strait to take the Russians by surprise. Togo's scouts were reportedly so accurate in their reporting that "all the conditions of the enemy were clear to us," and Togo, seeing that the Russian fleet was arranged in two columns, devised his plan in detail, using his main force to attack the port column of Russian ships. Togo's fleet sighted the Russians at 1:45 in the afternoon, and ten minutes later Togo's plan commenced.

Watching from the Russian ships, it at first appeared that Togo was going to cross the enemy fleet at a right angle and round about to their stern; to the Russians' apparent astonishment, however, Togo's fleet commenced a risky maneuver to bring them parallel to and facing the Russian line, which was by this time working to affix itself into a single-column formation. The Japanese ships were turning about in a single line, an "in succession turn", rather than each ship simply turning on the spot, which would have left the rear ship, with the most inexperienced captain, at the head of the attack. The in succession turn was dangerous: each Japanese ship would be crossing a single spot, making easy targeting for the Russians against the momentarily defenseless enemy.

For the ill-trained Russian crews, however, almost nothing was easy targeting. They fired upon the turning Japanese ships, scoring not one hit, and when the first two of the Japanese line – the Mikasa and the Shikishima – had turned about, the exchange began. Before the Japanese had even completed the turn, the Russians had taken significant damage, and within an hour, the the Russian ships Suvorov and Alexander III were alive but burning, while Togo lost no ships, with only one, the Asama, having taken any serious damage at all.

The Russian fleet was now heavily disordered, with smoke from their own burning ships mixing with the fog the reduce visibility even further, such that the Japanese temporarily stopped firing. By this point the Russians had also noted one important difference between the two fleets: the Russian armor-piercing shells were adequate, but the Japanese explosive-tipped shells tore through metal and flesh, spreading damage out in a grotesque fashion.

For the next fifteen minutes, the Japanese fired casually as the spotted the Russians through the smoke and fog. At three o'clock the two fleets met again, the Japanese heading southeast, and the Russians attempting to bypass them to the north. Togo's fleet turned to port and forced the Russians to turn southward. The Russian ship Oslyabya took several major hits, and the Suvorov, further damaged, was out of the battle entirely. The Russians lost several more ships before they turned east and made to retreat, with the Japanese pursuing and pushing them ever southward.

At 4:40 pm, the Russian fleet turned due south and soon disappeared in the heavy smoke and fog. The Japanese fleet sailed south eight miles, firing casually at sightings on Russian support vessels, then turned north again around 5:30 to search for the main portion of the Russian fleet, which would eventually have had to make its way north to the safety of the harbor at Vladivostok. The Japanese sunk the Russian service ship Ural at 5:40, and soon after spotted the remainder of the Russians' main squad, which they promptly engaged, steering to a parallel course and using their superior speed to pull ahead of the Russian ships. The fighting continued from 6 o'clock to nightfall, with the Russian ships taking horrendous losses: the Borodino and Alexander III were sunk, and the Suvorov, having fallen behind after taking heavy damage, attempted to fight off several Japanese battleships before she finally lost the downhill battle and plunged into the sea.

Nightfall saved the remaining tatters of the fleet: Togo withdrew his primary force and waited until morning, when he cleaned up the remainder of the Russian squadron, almost all of which had taken some amount of damage. In the end, only three Russian ships of the original thirty-eight escaped to Vladivostok, and four others reached the United States naval base at Manila to be interned.

The Russians lost thirty-one ships and 11,000 men – 5000 killed, 6000 captured. In contrast, the Japanese lost only three small torpedo boats, and 117 men. The Russo-Japanese war, formerly a minor skirmish with little loss of life, had culminated in a massive and bloody battle that would define naval combat for decades to come.

A/N: There is a second chapter. Don't leave me now!


Spector, Ronald H. At War at Sea. New York: Penguin Books, 2001

Togo, Admiral Heihachiro. "Report of the Battle of Tsushima." The Russo-Japanese War Research Society. 2002. The Russo-Japanese War Research Society. http://www.russojapanesewar.com

Semenov, Captain Vladimir. "The Battle of Tsushima." The War-Times Journal. 1996-2003. The War-Times Journal. http://www.wtj.com

"Battle of Tsushima." Wikipedia. 2004. Media Wiki. http://en.wikipedia.org