Monday, May 23, 2011

"The fate of the Empire rests on the outcome of this battle. Let each man do his utmost"

This month's "decisive battle": Tsushima Strait, 1905.The Game of Thrones, Far Eastern style - now with more battleships!


  1. Wow, chief, that was impressive! As a student of Russian history and a swabbie this battle has long been of great interest to me. That's a fine piece of writing!

    I'm reminded of when I was in the USSR almost 20 years ago - I remember a memorial to this battle which was a sculpture (bas relief IIRC) which showed sailors trying to save their ship (forget which one) by plugging a hole in the side with their own bodies. I can't find a picture of it on the internet but when I get a chance I'll have to go look through my slides from that time and find it.

  2. Agree with Andy, very impressive.

  3. Andy, seydlitz: Thanks. This one took a while because the more I researched it the more I wanted to put into the post. I finally had to leave a bunch of naval architecture stuff out because it was just too detailed, but I can't let it alone and will probably revisit it as a stand-alone post.

    One thing I was a little surprised by was the Russian naval tradition; I always thought that Gorshakov more-or-less invented the Russian blue-water navy in the late Forties. But I kept coming across all these incredible stories of seamanship and courage from this battle and got a taste of the depth and richness of the naval history there. There's practically an entire story to be had just in the epic of the little tub "Admiral Ushakov", going down with her flags flying rather then surrender.

    It's easy to write a good story when you have great material...

  4. I agree with the guys above.

    I've always had a deep fondness for the ships designed 30 years prior to this battle. They REALLY didn't know what they were doing and spent the equivalent of billions of dollars in today's currency on "free-thinking" experiments.

    Fischer was a bit of a kill-joy when he laid down the Dreadnought and ended this era.

    The epic nature of the cruise is also attractive. This was one of the most popular battles back when I taught military history classes. The endurance and perseverance of the average Russian sailor is astonishing.

    The other battle I taught from this era is Manila Bay but it did not resonate as well and I dropped it so I could spend more time on Tsushima Straits.

  5. Pluto: I'm going to write up Manila in July along with Santiago-de-Cuba. They weren't "decisive" in the sense that the outcome was decided before the shooting started (especially Manila, where the poor Spanish "fleet" was really a bunch of revenue cutters and pirate chasers), but they fall into the category of "battles that changed history"; their "story" was that the young, vigorous United States takes on the old, tired European Great Power and hands it a ferocious licking. The heady wine of victory sets the U.S. firmly on the imperial course it holds for the next thirty years or so, until Depression and the ugly realities of colonialism (you end up spending twice what you get in return) brings the nasty little period to an end.

    But the reality - that Spain ISN'T a "Great Power" - is kind of lost in the scuffle. What's ironic is that the U.S. gears up to become first an imperial and then a global superpower...and a lot of the enthusiasm for it, like the excitement over battleships between Tsushima and Midway, is founded on a pretty throughly mistaken understanding of the actual factors acting on the battle involved.

    Manila and Santiago are interesting to me just because they represent a very brief period in our naval history - the steel and coal navy - where we actually seem to have done pretty well...tho it's hard to say, the Spanish were SO dire.

    But we never got the chance to see if we managed the transition to dreadnoughts as competently as the British and Germans did (though I'd opine that the Surigao Strait suggests that our battleship navy would have done at least as well as the fleets at Jutland did); the predreadnought battles of the Spanish-American War are our only data point for the entire era.