Tsushima and the Russo-Japanese War at Sea


Book Reviewer
I remember from reading it over half a century ago the classic ‘Battle of Tsu-Shima’ by Vladimir Semenov, a Commander in the Imperial Russian Navy who was present at the battles off Port Arthur in 1904 and then at Tsushima (1905), and kept careful notes of everything that he worked up into three books, now available as free pdf downloads:

1. 'Rasplata, the Reckoning' about the run up to Tsushima: https://archive.org/details/rasplatatherecko00semerich

This is in two parts, the first his experiences going out to and in PortArthur and eventually, as executive office of the cruiser Diana, being interned in Saigon; and then his going out East again on the staff of Admiral Rojdestvensky, and what an appalling journey that was, with the crank ships suffering almost daily mechanical breakdowns.

Besides insights into the Imperial Russian Navy it contains a lot of lessons about leadership - and for all we read about the separation of officers and men, it is clear that under good leadership like Semenov's the junior officers were very close to the troops, formalities notwithstanding - and it is also a potted guide in how to lose a war, with lessons by extrapolation to our own day including pusillanimous RoE. The IJN equally were not supermen and made a number of mistakes, but their commanders were far bolder than the Russian ones.

2. ‘Tsushima’ itself: https://archive.org/details/32882005754901

3. 'The Price of Blood' about the aftermath: https://archive.org/details/priceofbloodsequ00semerich

There effectively two parts to this book, first the tribulations of the very badly wounded Semenov and his even more damaged admiral as PoWs, and then following the peace, their train journey home across Asia to St Petersburg through a country by now ruled by revolutionaries.

The voyage of the relief fleet from Libau in the Baltic to its destruction at Tsushima ia also covered by Eugene Politivsky, a Russian naval constructor officer in the same ship (Suvarov) as Semenov: http://www.allworldwars.com/From-Libau-to-Tsushima-by-Eugene-Politovsky.html

The text has been cobbled together by cut-and-paste from Politivsky’s surviving letters to his wife which take the tale up to Shanghai from which the last mail was sent. However the sorry litany of dilatoriness, breakdowns, collision damage, shortages, indiscipline, desertion, mutiny, deaths and rats makes informative reading.

This narrative is tailed by a remarkable selection of illustrations of the Russian warships involved.

There is a rather slangy but very comprehensive American overview of the whole political situation, campaign, and battle at http://firedirectioncenter.blogspot.co.uk/2011/05/decisive-battles-tsushima-strait-1905.html

This is copiously illustrated but, extremely irritatingly, hardly any of the fascinating illustrations in the text are captioned. Some appear to be modern internal views from within the Russian cruiser and Tsushima veteran Aurora, preserved as a museum ship (and shrine) in Leningrad, now St Petersburg.

Constantine Plekhanov’s ‘The Tsar’s Last Armada’ is not available as a free download but is available at modest cost via


The campaign was covered in English by Richard Hough in 1958 (various subsequent editions), see


A fine series of reproductions of Russian ships from Peter the Great to the modern by the excellent Russian marine artist Vladimir Emyshev, some of which are used in the blog referenced above, can be found at http://www.allworldwars.com/Navy-Paintings-by-Artist-Vladimir-Emyshev.html

Google Images ‘Tsushima battle’ is well worth a look, particularly the curious (to western eyes) Japanese examples.

As to the consequence of all this, with Russia flat on her back navally and riven by revolution, the author quotes the historian Barbara Tuchman in her ‘The Guns of August’, stating that ‘defeat in 1905 produced a fatal contempt for the Russian Imperial forces in Germany that helped convince Wilhelm II to push Austria into a hard line in 1914 - he did not believe the hapless Russians would ever mobilize. Geoffrey Regan is quoted to the effect that the easy victory of Tsushima emboldened the Japanese into thinking, in 1941, that the effete forces of the West would be a pushover.

If they are correct, then Tsushima was epochal for the entire world.